The Dichotomy Between Science and Spirituality

One definition of science is, “A branch of knowledge based on objectivity and involving observation and experimentation”. Spirituality by contrast often focuses on the personal subjective experience.

Science attempts to gain knowledge piecemeal through experiment and observation while spirituality attempts to gain knowledge directly from the source, all that is, God, whatever label you wish to use.

Somewhere philosophy gets mixed up in this two, since it involves a study of truths and principles of knowledge, being, existence.

I do not pursue these things separately. It is not possible to pursue either science or spirituality without a philosophical framework that defines what knowledge is valid and the valid methods towards it’s obtainment.

My view is that the absolute truth is unknowable to us as individual entities, we can only have operative theories of varying degrees of confidence and over time try to revise those theories into ever closer more detailed approximations of reality. Even Rene Descartes, “Cognito ergo sum”, “I think, therefore I am”, is not as certain as it seems because there is an inherent assumption that “I” is a discrete and separate entity, but we may not be, we may be but a drop in an ocean of consciousness, presently disconnected, but part of a greater whole. I lean heavily towards this view. As my collection of operative theories go, I have assigned this one has a high level of confidence.

I recently ran across a book on the discount table at Border Books by Gary Zukav entitled, “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” (authored by Gary Zukav). I was persuaded to let go of $7.99 by the acknowledgments, the very first person credited was “Jack Sarfatti, PhD”, whom is someone I am familiar with and have a great deal of respect for. I don’t think genius gives this man enough credit, in my view he is one of the greatest thinkers in history, right up there with Rene Descartes and Leonardo Da Vinci. I can also state, through my experience with corresponding with him, that he is an extremely cordial person, willing to talk to the lay person.

A book that started the acknowledgments with his name was a book I had to obtain and read. I’ve only just started to get into it, but just the explanation of how the title came about contained valuable information. Gary Zukav describes an encounter at a physics conference in Big Sur in which he met Al Chung-liang Huang who studied physics in Taiwan. There, he explained, it is called “wu li” (物理), which means, patterns of organic energy.

In Chinese, most words have multiple meanings which are discerned both by tone and context. In this case, “wu” (物) refers to matter or energy, and “li” (理), to the pattern. The grain in wood, that is “li” (理), the pattern on a leaf, that is “li” (理), and so on. This was a term that resonated with Gary Zukav and so became the title of his book.

It’s also a term that resonates with me because many years ago I noticed patterns in nature, when you injure skin and you can see the granularity of the cell structure underneath the exterior, you can feel that living energy, or at least I can. When you see a photograph of the granules on the sun it is recognizable as the same energy, at least to me. It pervades nature. I had no word for it, now I do, it is “li” (理).

There is a personal joy in this discovery. I am studying Chinese. One of the reasons I chose to study Chinese is that years ago I learned Swedish well enough to think in Swedish, and when I did I found my whole view of the world was different, my view of self was different, expanded, and more complete. I often found I could think things in Swedish that I could not accurately translate to English even though the latter is my native tongue, there were nuances for which no exact English word existed, or that I could even substitute an English phrase for. I came to understand that learning Swedish had actually expanded my ability to think. I reasons that the further a language was from English, the more expansion would result and Chinese is substantially different in many ways.

I had other reasons for wanting to learn Chinese. I am interested in the origins of man and civilization and China has the worlds oldest contiguous culture. If you try to read an old English document say something written three hundred years ago, it’s a challenge. By contrast, I found a Chinese star chart on the net dated to 1500 BC, 3500 years ago, and I was able to recognize every symbol on that chart save for one, and that one was also not recognized by my instructor who was a native Chinese speaker.

The contiguous culture also made for a contiguous logically structured language. Complex Chinese words are made up of simpler Chinese root words. Very different from English where most of the roots are based in Latin, which in turn borrowed from the Phoneticians who in turn borrowed from the Egyptians. This makes it very easy to understand how words, concepts, and ideas evolved in China.

There were other reasons as well, from a business perspective China is an emerging market that will in time be the worlds largest market. And then there is the more shallow reason, I enjoy Chinese films and wanted to be able to understand them in their native language so that I would not miss nuances lost in translation.

So given that background, discovering this term for physics, “wu li” (物理) which provides a much broader and encompassing description of physics than the western term, was a meaningful and satisfying experience. The western term conjures up images of insanely complex mathematical formulas scribbled on a chalk board. This is the image that I get when I think specifically of string theorists. It’s not the view of what I think physics should be, but wu li describes it better.

The individual terms that comprise the word for physics, “wu” (物) meaning matter or energy or simply things, something that happens to agree with my view of the material world, I am of the belief that matter and energy are not transformations of each other but simply different perspectives of the same thing, wu, (物), and herein lie one word that encompasses that concept. The term “li” (理), again a term that describes a concept I previously had no word for. The pattern of organic energy, it was a concept without a label, a concept that I had difficulty communicating for lack of a word, now I have a word. This is joyful for me.

That words describing these concepts, concepts that were previously orphans in my mind, no parent word to describe them, now they had words, and from the very language I had been studying in part to do exactly this. I am not a believer in coincidence, I am a believer in synchronicities. Coincidence implies circumstantial relationship which occurs strictly by random chance, synchronicity implies an underlying connection and that’s part of my view of the universe, that everything is connected and has purpose.

I believe science, and particular the field of physics, spirituality, and philosophy are all related and to evolve must co-evolve. They are all about trying to understand the nature of reality, they are different methods of examining the same reality and the more perspectives we get of reality, the more complete our knowledge will be.

Regarding the scientific approach, the idea of objective observation and experimentation, is impossible in the pure sense because in order to collect information, an observer must be involved and we are incapable of observing something outside of our own subjective experiential context. At best we can arrive at some kind of subjective consensual understanding of reality, not an absolute objective understanding.

Since eliminating subjectivity entirely is not possible, or goal then must be to acknowledge and understand our subjectivity and integrate that understanding into our process of gaining knowledge and the knowledge that results from that process.

Towards that end, let’s look at subjectivity so that we might understand it better. On the surface, we are inclined to think of subjectivity as an undesirable distortion of data as the result of filtering it through our imperfect sensory apparatus, and through our personal biases.

Subjectivity is more than that, as an observer, we unintentionally alters that which we observe. Quantum mechanics tells us this is so. I believe it goes further still, I believe that our intent also alters what we observe.

I’ll go out on a limb here and state my own personal bias, my subjective take on the nature of reality, and that is that our reality is formed and affected by our intents. I believe that our interaction with reality is entirely bidirectional and fluid.

In understanding subjectivity then we must not only account for the unintended affects on the observed, but the effect of our intents as well, the two way connection that exists between us and the reality we are attempting to observe.

Given this I still believe there is value in attempting to observe as objectively as possible and also observe as subjectively as possible. Two different perspectives on the same reality gives us a clearer more complete view of that reality. Further, studying the differences between as objective of a view of reality as we can get and our most subjective view can tell us a great deal about ourselves.

Well, unfortunately, I’m going to have to cut it short here, because I’ve got to get some sleep before a Christmas dinner with friends, but suffice it to say that I feel very good about this book, and very good about the prospect for gaining a clearer view of the universe.

All of that said, I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Quanza, or whatever holiday or cultural practice you might have associated with the time of year near the winter solstice.

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