Stuck? 9 Reflection

Continued from Stuck? 8 Scientific and Spiritual Practice. This is the final post of the series, preenting the conclusion of the original paper.


I began by describing my own growing up, embedded in the materialistic dream that science has been a willing accomplice in imposing for hundreds of years. Mine is one of the last generations in the West to live the dream.

Analogous to my own experience, I suggested that we need to collectively embrace our spiritual potential – growing beyond our current Level of Being and gaining the wisdom to save our world. Failing which it will surely fall apart in crisis and conflict. Either way, the dream is over.

We need a new story of our place in the universe and what Thomas Berry calls the Great Work[i] we are called to achieve at this critical period in history – “to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner”.

A new dream of resolving the world crisis through the spiritual growth of humanity is surely so powerful that, once understood, many will join its cause. Indeed, understanding of the need brings responsibility for helping to make it happen. The evidence of Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson’s research[ii] suggests that millions of ‘cultural creatives’ are already engaged in the task. We may not be far from the ‘hundredth monkey’ effect [iii] when our common perception is changed, the Berlin Wall of materialism tumbles, and we later wonder what all the fuss was about!

The young adult emerging from a future education system will be comfortable with both science and spirituality, recognising their roles and their potential through models such as the Levels of Being and the Four Fields of Knowledge. They may choose to engage in science, still an important field of endeavour, with full understanding of the limitations of the stance of ‘objectivity’. And they will choose some sort of spiritual path, perhaps from a myriad of forms and guides available, eventually growing to become just their true spiritual selves.

2023 reflection: I believe that we have made progress over the twenty years since my original paper, but we still have a long way to go!

[i] See The Great Work, Thomas Berry

[ii] See The Cultural Creatives, Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson.

[iii] In a Japanese study in 1952 the knowledge of how to wash sweet potatoes was invented by one monkey, spread to a number of individuals, and then suddenly they could all do it. I was recently reminded of this in The Prophet, Thom Hartmann.

Stuck? 4 The technological/ business/ capitalist world

Continued from Stuck? 3 Personal crisis and growth

The technological/ business/ capitalist world

After many years in the business world, first as engineer, later as manager, I became aware that both these disciplines are heavily dominated by that simple materialistic paradigm of my schooldays. Science and engineering are the drivers; science discovers technology, engineering puts it to work, management makes it happen. Money making is the object. And measurement of quantity is the ‘scientific’ management tool par excellence. Highly paid managers ‘persuade’ less highly paid managers to do things by setting them quantitative objectives which they have to achieve to earn respect, bonuses, salary increases and promotion.

Unfortunately, awareness of the uncertainty principle seems low – although it appears to be applicable. The act of measuring changes what is being measured. Thus I observed many a meaningless numerical target ‘achieved’ to no good purpose.

I gradually became more concerned about the quality of what was being done, and delved into the ‘quality’ movement. I discovered that, under the influence of quality gurus such as Philip Crosby[i], qualities were essentially reduced to measurable objective things in order that they could be ‘managed’. Qualitative things such as ethics, values, meanings and aesthetics were rarely stressed in business, except when it came to marketing the company.

We can observe that such qualitative factors are often not taken into consideration by many companies. Hence companies do bad things – ENRON and Worldcom being but recent examples of a very long list. Individuals are faced with the choice of achieving the approval of their bosses, and money and career, or following their own personal values where there is a conflict[ii]. Since the action is often ‘at a distance’ from the real human effects, such as the persecuted community in Nigeria or Indonesia, it is not surprising that the senior managers mostly get their way, to keep happy the shareholders of the even more ‘at a distance’ limited liability company.

Governments also increasingly treat government as management, with a similar quantitative emphasis. Not surprisingly, the current UK New Labour government is running into problems with its long list of numerical targets, and seems to have difficulty in articulating its values.

So we have a ‘system’ of science, technology, business and government (and economics and law etc.) that is dominated by this rather simplistic pseudo-scientific way of looking at the world, quantity dominating over quality, with self-interest and money predominant.

2023 perspective: no change here, then. The list of corporate scandals grows ever longer. Government has become even more about management. Increasing inequality demonstrates the lack of human values in decision making across the piece.

Featured image of Bell Curve by User:HiTe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

[i] Philip Crosby’s ‘system’ of quality is described in Quality is Free, Philip Crosby. More comprehensive approaches to quality, such as the model of the European Foundation for Quality Management, now address more qualitative factors, but generally strive to reduce the result to numbers in the end.

[ii] Why even good companies do bad things is the subject of When Good Companies Do Bad Things, Peter Schwartz & Blair Gibb

Stuck? 3 Personal crisis and growth

Continued from Stuck? 2 Early doubts.

Personal crisis and growth

It took more than theories to really change that simplistic materialistic viewpoint that had emerged from my school days. It was in the crucible of everyday experience, of relationship and conflict in the real world – the development of the psyche that began to recognise that it was more than mind.

First, there was body and feelings to be accorded their due. Body rebelled at improper treatment through lack of exercise, late nights, alcohol, etc., and had to be accommodated. And for many years I had not really understood ‘feelings’, hardly being aware of the consequent moods foisted onto those around me. Slowly awareness dawned. The mind had a role, but it was in accepting and working with body and feelings, not repressing them. But this was not all.

After years of an unsatisfactory selfish life style, and years of denial, I eventually realised that I was in crisis. An essential selfishness in my being was leading me on a destructive path, which could destroy my material life altogether. I see retrospectively that an inner battle raged between material desires and spiritual values, with conscience as the insistent arbiter. I made painful changes to my life to get back onto a steady track, towards becoming a personality integrated within itself and with the world.

I was inspired to follow directions indicated by earlier intuitions, eventually discovering meditation. This proved a wonderful systematic tool for personality integration, and for ongoing exploration into what I term my higher self – which seems to correspond with the worlds of soul and spirit apparently universal to human experience and documented by many[i].

Expressed simply, I was embarked upon the process of integration of the personality, resolving the previous dissociation of mind/ feelings/ body, and beginning to connect with my higher self/ soul/ spirit[ii]. Inevitably this led to becoming gradually less selfish and more concerned with the general good – the real experience of a developing spirituality. [I lay no claim to great spiritual achievement, being merely an open-minded explorer and seeker.]

2023 perspective: this is a never-ending process; the only destination lies the other side of the dying process. There are many books that I have read since those days, all highly recommendable. See eg the many reviewed on this blog.

[i] The most influential of my guides (written 2002) have perhaps been the extensive works of Paul Brunton and Alice Bailey. See e.g. The Wisdom of the Overself, Paul Brunton, A Treatise on White Magic, Alice Bailey. There are many others.

[ii] A more modern description and approach to personal development is in Psychosynthesis, Roberto Assagioli.

Stuck? 2 Early doubts

Continued from Stuck? 1 Education of a Materialist.

Early doubts

I always had intimations that there might be something more to life than materialism, choosing the label ‘agnostic’ if pressed on my beliefs [atheism seemed to me to be irrational bravado].

Mathematics had given me an insight of enormous value in my subsequent deliberations. Gödel’s theorem[i] shows that any mathematical system is in a sense incomplete – there are things outside of the system that cannot be known within it. Since much science is essentially about the construction of mathematical models of reality this seems enormously relevant to our subject. There can be no complete model of the universe. Period.

Physics also suggested that the materialistic viewpoint had its limitations. Paradoxes of relativity indicated that different people apparently aged at different rates. Quantum theory seemed even more challenging. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle suggested that science could not be as precise as it had seemed. You couldn’t even know, at the same time, how fast a particle was moving and where it was. And something was a wave or a particle depending on what you were looking for!

Quantum phenomena also included non-locality, when physically remote parts of the universe appeared to be causally and instantly connected[ii]. So-called paranormal phenomena came to seem quite plausible, and indeed are well documented, despite being apparently resistant to proof by controlled experiments.

Astronomy and its bedfellow cosmology offered exciting materialistic visions of our context in space and time. ‘Big bang’ theorists argued against, and prevailed over, ‘steady state’ theorists. And yet what did it all mean – and what came before the bang?

In the background I was becoming aware of the exciting psychology of Freud and Jung, then humanistic psychology and Maslow, and later Assagioli’s psychosynthesis. People grew to self actualisation or individuation. I had special experiences that later found the label ‘peak experiences’. I was convinced that these were intimations of my own potential for something more[iii].

I was also drawn towards the Eastern religions, particularly through the evocative novels of Hermann Hesse[iv] and the philosophical writings of Alan Watts[v]. There seemed to be sense here, notably in Buddhism and Taoism. But Christianity became more and more of a puzzle. The great European Gothic cathedrals were wonderfully evocative and inspiring buildings, surely pointing to something more than material concerns. The teachings of Christ largely made sense. And yet I became increasingly aware of the great crimes done over the centuries in the name of the church and Christ, such as the persecution of Cathars, the various Inquisitions and Crusades, even the apparent tacit support of the Nazi regime in the Second World War. I realised that the church, and the religion, were not the spiritual essence.

And there were great heroes, such as M.K.Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who achieved great things for humanity, apparently driven by the fire of an unselfish spirit.

Twenty years later, there is much more evidence of the validity of a ‘spiritual’ world viewpoint, from many great researchers, including the Integral philosophy pioneered by Ken Wilber and a whole raft of inspirational spiritual and psychological teachers. Yet, the materialistic emphasis of the everyday world continues as ever, driven by the interests of those in power, across the world, reinforced by the internet and social media that encourage us to skate across the surface of things, rather than penetrate below and inwards. The contradiction between the teachings of the great spiritual leaders – Christ, Buddha, Taoism, Hindu, etc. – and the institutions established in their name, is ever apparent.

To be continued in Stuck? 3 Personal crisis and growth.

Featured image of stars by Nova Dawn Astrophotography,
CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons


[i] Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel’s theorem is discussed in The Emperor’s New Mind, Roger Penrose. Of course, chaos theory has more recently demonstrated that non-linear systems can exhibit inherently unpredictable emergent properties, but that’s another story…

[ii] A modern perspective on Quantum Theory is in Schrödinger’s Kittens, John Gribbin

[iii] The Outsider, Colin Wilson was a strong early influence.

[iv] Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse is a particularly sublime work.

[v] See e.g. The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts

Stuck? 1 Education of a Materialist

Twenty years ago, early in my retirement, I wrote an essay on ‘Science and Spirituality: Complementary or Contradictory?’ as a submission for a Resurgence Magazine Essay Competition. It expressed my understanding of the dominant thinking of the time, and its limitations, through the lens of science and spirituality. It didn’t win the prize and the essay was just filed away on the computer.

Recently, I came across it, and thought that it would be interesting to reflect on my views as expressed all those years ago. Has anything changed? Am I any wiser than I was then? Are we collectively any wiser than we were then? Did anything change, or am I/we just stuck in my/our thinking? To attempt to answer these questions, I am serialising that essay over a number of blog posts, with any commentary that seems appropriate, in italics. You are welcome to join me on the journey.


Science and spirituality are part of our collective experience. That they could be contradictory now seems strange to me, and yet once they seemed so. This series of posts draws parallels between my own personal experience of growth and the corresponding growth of humanity; reconciliation of a complementary science and spirituality is a fundamental part of this process.

Education of a materialist

My school years centred around the 1950s in Lincoln, England. Science was king. I well remember the reverence accorded to white-coated boffins on the television (when we eventually got one in 1953). What they said was treated as gospel. The pressure from teachers was for the sciences. This was the future, what the country needed. Humanities were second best, for those with no aptitude for science.

When we were kids, religion was singing in morning assembly, and being sent to the Methodist chapel on Sundays. The minister told bible stories and warned us of the dangers of alcohol, while parents kept away and did the gardening. Yet we loved the occasional lay preacher who came with song and speeches that stirred our soul with their passion. Except we had no concept of soul.

Spirituality was something we secretly found out about through reading library books. It seemed to be all to do with séances, ouija ouija boards and magic. It was not talked about in polite society, and definitely not recognised as valid by science.

So I emerged from the education system with an essentially materialistic scientific viewpoint, deeply sceptical of religion, and uncomprehending of spirituality. After studying mathematics, I took up what was then called computer science, and soon became information systems engineering. I joined the everyday world of industry, married and eventually we started a family.

That was the preamble, still valid today. To be continued in Stuck? 2 Early doubts.

Featured image of Lego city by Lamiot,
CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons