Stuck? 8 Scientific and Spiritual Practice

Continued from Stuck? 7 The Four Fields of Knowledge.

Scientific and Spiritual Practice

We would hope to find common ground in the methods and principles which lie at the heart of scientific and spiritual practice.

What is the essence of the approach of science? Its main characteristics seem to be an aim for growth of a body of knowledge through exploration or experiment; an insistence on evidence and repeatability; a body of validated recipes that can be followed; some concept of peer review and consensus; and an openness to change as new ideas and evidence come along to change the current consensus paradigm[i]. And a certain humility – remember Gödel – no model is the last word.

What is the essence of spirituality? Its main characteristics are perhaps an aim for growth of an individual or group through inner exploration, experience and service; an insistence on inner evidence, reinforced by repeatability; a body of validated recipes (yoga) that can be followed; validation of the consensus of others by oneself; and an openness to change as new ideas and experience/ evidence indicate the need to further develop. And a spiritual humility – we can never assume that ‘that’s it, I/ we finally made it’.

Not a lot of difference really! And each is ‘scientific’ in its own way.

David Lorimer[ii] suggests that a similar spirit inspires the search for truth in both science and spirituality: “Exploration expressed in wonder and curiosity; Creativity and imagination – bringing forth new models and discoveries; Critical and analytical rigour – applied to methods and procedures; Practice – through experimental prediction and testing; Openness and awareness of metaphysical assumptions.”

Lorimer suggests that it is in the last of these that history shows scientists falling down, remaining too attached to their current theories and basic assumptions – and we could add that the same is true for religions. Both can only make the progress needed for integration through openness and the recognition of an expansive metaphysics such as the ontology of the Levels of Being and the epistemology of the Four Fields of Knowledge[iii].

2023 reflection: what I never considered in the original essay was the subversion of science to commercial ends, so that much current scientific practice is not actually objective as the theory says, it is science used for specific purposes. Paradoxically this sort of science is very much subjectively driven. Also, the materialistic framework of scientism is now pretty well discredited. At bottom, there appears to be no inconsistency between the practice of science and of spirituality, albeit that the focus is different. It seems to be easier to assert this in 2023 than it was twenty years ago.

[i] The word ‘paradigm’ was first coined in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn. Its common meaning now is a body of knowledge that is generally accepted. In its original formulation I understand that Kuhn was more precise in including the recipe or approach as part of the paradigm.

[ii] David Lorimer’s reflections on science and spirituality are in his introduction to The Science of Spirit, ed David Lorimer.

[iii] Metaphysics: theoretical philosophy of being and knowing

Ontology: department of metaphysics concerned with the essence of things or being in the abstract

Epistemology: theory of the method or grounds of knowledge

So ontology is about the world as it is, and epistemology is about what we can know about the world.

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