Can Science And Spirituality Be Reconciled? by Amit Goswami Fall 1996 The word dialog originates from two Greek words dia meaning through, and logos meaning word. Thus etymologically, dialog means communication through the word. But the physicist David Bohm defined dialog more evocatively as "a free flow of meaning between two people in communication". Can there be a dialog between science and spiritual traditions in Bohm’s sense? At first sight, a dialog between science and spirituality does not seem likely. In order to grasp the meaning of somebody else’s system, it is very important to grasp the ontology, the metaphysical basis behind that system. And here is the rub. The metaphysics of science as developed in the last three-hundred years seems diametrically opposed to the metaphysics behind the spiritual traditions. Science, by and large, is based on the classical physics that Isaac Newton built in the seventeenth century. Classical physics agreed with, promoted, and elucidated certain ideas in philosophy that have existed since antiquity, the major one being the idea of material monism — things are reducible to matter and its elementary particles and their interaction. The success of science within this metaphysical view prompted the metaphysical assumption of epiphenomenalism — all phenomena such as the conscious self are epiphemonena, or secondary phenomena of matter and as such they are purely ornamental, having no casual efficacy of their own. But spiritual traditions dance to a dia-metrically opposite metaphysical tune. Instead of matter (and its correlates, energy and force fields) these traditions posit consciousness as the ground of all being, and all else as epiphenomena — matter and self included. I call this philosophy monistic idealism, but it is called Vedanta in India, and more recently the Perennial Philosophy in the West. Human intellectual history can be thought of as one long debate between these two "isms" — material realism and monistic idealism. Proponents of monistic idealism (correctly) point out that this philosophy is experientially based; consciousness in its suchness can be experienced directly because "we are That". They maintain that either the tenets of material realism are pure speculation or they are based on an incomplete science. To this, material realists counter-argue that subjective exper-iences vary widely, and therefore it is foolish to base one’s metaphysics on subjective exper-iences. Further complicating things, the spiritual side of the debate, at least in the West, has fallen into the great philosophical sinkhole of dualism — the idea that consciousness (often called God) and the world are separate dualities. The scientist relishes his/her challenge to this weakness — if God and the world are separate, what mediates the interaction between the two? If there are such interactions, would that not require an ex-change of energy? But the law of energy conservation shows the energy in the world to be a constant, and thus dualistic intervention must be a "miracle" in violation of the law of con-servation of energy. How then can there be a dialog, a meaningful communication when the scientific tradition feels that the spiritual tradition proposes unscientific notions such as miracles, and the spiritual tradition side feels equally strongly that scientists employ "scientism", or material monism, as a religion, instead of strictly scientific arguments in favor of materialism and against God? So the debate has languished in a stubborn impasse. But must the ontology of science be based on material realism? The fact is, the current paradigm of physics has shifted beyond Newton’s. It is called quantum physics, and is based on the notion of the existence of discrete quantities of energy, called quanta, and other such attributes of matter. The consequences of this physics are deep and unexpected. For example, matter is described as waves of possibility. Quantum physics calculates pos-sible events for electrons and the probability of each possible event, but it cannot predict the outcome of a particular measurement that always precipitates only one actual event instead of many possible events. So who/what precipitates actuality from mere possibility? Or to use physicist’s jargon, who/what collapses the possibility wave into the actual electron in actual space and time? It took us decades to see that this question has the paradigm-shifting consequences of reconciling science and spirituality, but the basic idea is extremely simple. The agency of transforming possibility into actuality is consciousness. Thus conscious observation is a sufficient condition for the collapse of the probability wave. The mathematician John von Neumann argued long ago (1955) that consciousness is also a necessary condition for collapse. All objects obey quantum mechanics; this includes any machine we may use to facilitate our observation. Any such measuring-aid machine, however, when coupled to a quantum possibility wave, comprises a larger wave of possibility that includes the machine. In order to precipitate collapse, an agency is needed outside of the jurisdiction of quantum mechanics. For von Neumann, there is only one such agency, our consciousness. But this potent idea got bogged down in a nasty debate because consciousness is (mis)understood in the West in terms of materialism or dualism. For materialism it is a paradox, because consciousness as an epiphenomenon of matter (brain) has no causal efficacy — how can it perform a causal act? And if consciousness is one of two dual worlds, then all the previously-cited objections to dualism come back to haunt us. It took all of seven decades for the light of monistic idealism to clear up the matter. So, finally, when we introduce conscious-ness as the ground of being, as transcendent, as one, as self-referent in us (as the world’s spiritual teachers have long taught), the quantum debate is settled, the paradoxes resolved. Read my book The Self-Aware Universe; How Consciousness Creates the Material world for supporting arguments and data. This way of looking at things allows a paradigm shift in science to a science based on the primacy of consciousness. In this science, matter has causal efficacy but only to the point of possibilities and probabilities. Conscious-ness, the self, has the ultimate prerogative of creating reality because the choice of what becomes actuality is always up to conscious-ness. Therefore consciousness can and does imbue reality with its creative purposiveness. Most importantly, such a science leads to a true reconciliation with the spiritual traditions because it asks not that spirituality be based on science but that science be based on the notion of eternal spirit. The spiritual ontology is never in question. Instead science concentrates on cos-mology, how the world of phenomena comes about. In the new science we can include the subjective (spiritual) as well as the objective (material) aspects of reality. What is the use of the new science? The most important use that this science gives us is public, rather than private, "faith". The scientific consequences of the ontology of the primacy of consciousness will now be experimentally tested against the ontology of material supremacy in a program that the philosopher Abner Shimony calls experimental meta-physics. Such a program has already begun. In neurophysiologist Jacabo Grinberg-Zylerbaum’s experiment, two subjects meditate together to establish "direct (nonlocal) communication between them, which they maintain even while they are separated within electro-magnetically isolated chambers. When the brain of one subject responds to a flashing light with an electrical activity (evoked potential), as recorded by electro-encephelo-graph equipment, the other brain also provides a recording of similar electrical activity (a transferred potential). The interpretation is that consciousness, acting non-locally, chooses similar actualities in both brains in response to the stimulus of only one brain, because the brains are "correlated". (Ed. note: The experimental and theoretical details are given in a published paper — a copy is available from SWC, see later). The same interpretation holds for telepathy and other paranormal phenomena. The current materialistic ‘wisdom’ is that it is impossible to transfer information via quantum non-locality. This theorem, attributed to Phillipe Eberhard, does not apply, however, when consciousness is involved. The new science thus validates paranormal phenomena which play an important role in spiritual traditions and practices. The new science is also helping us to establish ethics again, a science of ethics. The new science also helps us to see the nature of the spiritual journey in terms of "inner creativity". Creativity is a field of endeavor in which science has already made considerable contribution. Now the road is clear for science to make contributions to spirituality as well. The question of territoriality comes up. Is there any need, given the new science, of separate disciplines of science and spirituality? I think there is. Scientific research can explain how, it can even answer some ‘why’ questions, but spirituality most needs exemplars and teachers, It is these latter areas that make religion indispensable. Based on a lecture given at a forum sponsored by Ahimsa in Berkeley, on May 9, 1996.