asian yoga holidays

articles Mysticism and Science
  back to articles overview

(by Hiroshi Motoyama)

Excerpts from chapter 1 of his book Science and the Evolution of Consciousness - Chakras, Ki, and Psi (1978)

Scientist explore the diversity of life; mystics experience the unity. The aim is knowledge, and both groups expend a tremendous amount of effort to reach their goal. Each discipline demands highly sophisticated methods, years of training, and finely honed tools – requirements of the quest to understand the essential nature of reality.

In earlier civilizations, such as classical Greece or ancient China, mystics and scientists were neither separate nor antagonistic. But during the succeeding centuries, particularly in the West, the two groups diverged, to the point where they became mutually exclusive. Unity and diversity, spirit and matter, mind and body were split.

One of the more exciting aspects of the present age is that these traditions are beginning to reconverge. Advances in the natural sciences and the increasing accessibility of information about the mystic experience are forcing the two groups to take notice of each other again, with growing respect. Evidence is accumulating which indicates that the most advanced scientific and mystical characterizations of reality validate, rather than negate, each other. And the likelihood of ever-deepening cooperation between the two schools opens vast new frontiers of investigation, promising an enormous leap in humanity's understanding of itself and the reality of which it is a part.

Beginning with the Greek atomists, who formally insisted that spirit and matter are separate, scientific exploration has focused solely on the material world, the world perceived by the senses. The realm of spirit was left to philosophers and the church, which exerted widespread control over all aspects of culture throughout the Middle Ages and held that knowledge of the physical dimension is unimportant. The growth of the natural sciences was therefore fairly stagnant until the Renaissance, when people began to struggle to throw off the decidedly repressive attitude fostered by papal dominance.

This shift saw the birth of modern science, a new science which took basic nourishment from the philosophy of René Descartes and the physics of Isaac Newton. Together, the theories of these two men convinced the majority that mind and matter are completely unrelated entities; they thus created the philosophy of materialism as we know it. Cartesian dualism asserts that since mind and matter are distinct (an assertion as yet unproven), it must be possible to dissect the world objectively; hence, the scientist's own effect on the situation under study can be disregarded. The underlying concept here is that matter is inherently real, that it exists independently of the consciousness observing it, and, furthermore, that nature can be dealt with as though it were a complicated but comprehensible machine. Isaac Newton relied on this axiom when developing his mechanics, which became the basis of classical physics.

This mechanistic approach to the universe dominated and directed western civilization until the beginning of this century, when it was undermined by the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. The concept of materiality has effectively been destroyed for anyone who possesses the esoteric knowledge of relativistic and subatomic physics, but the far-reaching philosophical implications of this revolutionary realization are just beginning to touch the general public.

In the scientific view, the world is divided into subject and object. The object, all that can be perceived by the senses, is further fragmented into millions of related objects, parts of the whole. The task of natural science, accordingly, has traditionally been to "take apart" reality. The idea was that with enough effort humanity would be able to discover the basic "building blocks" of the universe and figure out how they fit together. Scientists felt that the workings of nature would be comprehended only if the essential constituents of matter could be determined, and their relationship to one another understood. The building block hypothesis ruled scientific endeavor for hundreds of years.

Here humanity was showing great faith in the simplistic notion that the most obvious tools provided by nature for understanding the world – the five senses and their corresponding consciousness – are true reflectors and interpreters of reality. The reality that our senses present to us is three-dimensional; in it time and space are absolute, and subject and object are perceived to be distinct entities.

The mechanistic world view, which depends on such sensory perception, served its masters very well: through it they accrued a staggering amount of intellectual knowledge and produced the technological revolution. Today it determines the way in which most of us construct our own personal realities and the way in which we live our lives. Yet this view has recently been invalidated by scientists themselves.

Ordinary, sensory perception does tell us that the world is made up of a collection of objects and events. Yet the substantiality of this information has been questioned by mystics of all cultures throughout history. The basic tenet of the mystical world view, regardless of cultural or doctrinal background, is that the multitude of things which we experience as distinct and real are but manifestations of the Absolute (undifferentiated reality) – that there is an underlying unity amid the seeming diversity of existence. It is only the individual, subjective mind-the consciousness informed by the senses – that fragmentizes the world.

Mystics further assert that the rational intellect, though it has a vital function in terms of biological survival, is inherently incapable of comprehending the unified nature of reality. It is therefore unable to deal with humanity's spiritual, psychological, and religious needs, all of which demand a deeper understanding of the true nature of existence. Fortunately, we are not limited to the rational intellect: other potential forms of perception/consciousness, now dormant in humanity, transcend the subject-object duality characterizing the type of consciousness that depends on the five senses (sensory consciousness). These other modes of consciousness must be awakened and developed if we are to experience reality and comprehend the meaning of existence.

Modern science is moving beyond a concept of reality bound by the dictates of ordinary perception, and coming closer to the view of the mystics. Einstein's theory of relativity and its correlates have shown that space and time are not absolute, but interconnected; they form a continuum now known as space-time. (Time and space, separately, are merely constructs of the human mind, relative to the position and velocity of the observer.) Relativity is now accepted as a working axiom of science, but our minds are still unable to experience the space-time continuum in normal consciousness, because of the limitations of our sensory conditioning.

In The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra suggests that modern physics has been forced, the more deeply it has probed seemingly dissimilar elements of nature, to admit the interdependence of all things. Concerning relativity, he says:

Unification of entities which seem separate and irreconcilable is achieved in relativity theory by going from three to four dimensions. The four-dimensional world of relativistic physics is the world where force and matter are unified, where matter can appear as discontinuous particles or as a continuous field. In these cases, however, we can no longer visualize the unity very well. Physicists can "experience" the four-dimensional space-time world through the abstract mathematical formalism of their theories, but their visual imagination – like everybody else's – is limited to the three-dimensional world of the senses. Our language and thought patterns have evolved in this three-dimensional world and therefore we find it extremely hard to deal with the four-dimensional reality of relativistic physics.

The limits of the rational intellect's ability to experience and understand nature have also been surpassed in the formulation of quantum theory. This theory was born from the experimental contradiction that matter sometimes acts like a collection of particles and sometimes like waves. Further investigation has shown that particles should not properly be designated as "things" at all, but as processes that cannot be defined apart from their interactions with other processes. There are no basic building blocks in the universe, only the continual interactions of related processes, which are, in turn, manifestations of the unified, holistic system which we call reality.

The role of scientists as "independent observers" is thus demolished. The way scientists set up experiments and the tools they use for measurement determine what they will be able to find. Werner Heisenberg said, "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." Scientists do not work "in a vacuum"; they cannot blithely characterize what they experimentally discover in nature as being absolutely “real,” for the way in which they are conditioned to think will determine to some degree what they are able to discover. Whatever they find is not necessarily inherent in nature itself but more a reflection of the way in which their minds categorize the observation. That is, whatever they are able to conceptualize with the rational mode of intellect is not the reality, but only an approximation, a formalized construct which they project onto reality.

Thus, scientists are not truly objective; they are subjectively linked to the processes of nature that they observe. The scientist is not an independent ego locked in the shell of a body; the subjective, sensory-dependent mind of the observer is very much related to what it is able to perceive.

This discovery has profound implications for the age-old problem of mind-versus-matter (spirit/body; nonmaterial/material), a subject traditionally treated by philosophers rather than physicists. But here also we see an impending unification.
The nature of mind's relationship to matter is a problem that has obsessed the human intellect throughout recorded history. Classical science, however, excluded mind as a viable topic of research because mind was not seen as an object that could be studied experimentally. A further obstacle was the fact that mind, assumed to be nonmaterial, was associated with spirit and therefore assigned to the sacrosanct dominion of the religious sphere. All branches of science have traditionally felt the need to dissociate themselves from anything remotely religious or mystical in order to be recognized as "scientific." Mind, likewise, could not be investigated until it had been divorced from spirit and subjected to this outdated ideal of scientific objectivity.

In western thought, religion came to be equated with faith and science with reason. The two standpoints were generally considered irreconcilable. A strong mystical thread does run throughout western civilization, but it has been obscured by religious and scientific dogma. Because mystical vision generally has a universalistic character exceeding the confines of narrow sectarianism, many Christian mystics were forced to limit the expression of their experience if they wished to avoid being charged with heresy.

Scientists interested in the transformation of spirit were also driven into the shadows, because they attempted to transcend the seeming limits of the physical world. Yet the large body of alchemical literature attests to their number. Newton himself considered alchemy a primary area of research; the rationally “acceptable” part of his work that was extracted and used as the basis of classical physics comprises only a small part of his thought.

In the nineteenth century psychology tried to bring the study of mind out into the light. To satisfy the masters of reason, the scope of investigation had to be drastically limited. So as not to infringe upon the dictates of faith, the larger questions of spirit and divinity had to be left closeted in the sacred halls of the Church. And the prejudice against the mystical tradition held by both religionists and scientists closed both groups to the valuable information contained within the esoteric traditions.

By the beginning of this century, materialistic tendencies were so deeply rooted that many psychologists, who were supposedly studying the "psyche," came to the conclusion that all mental functions are essentially neural processes – that, in essence, "mind" does not exist. Any inexplicable mental phenomenon that did not fit into this hypothesis was ignored. Fortunately, Freud, Jung and similarly oriented psychologists examined the mind with more than materialistic considerations and began to reveal strata of consciousness that lie beyond and below ordinary individual awareness. Parapsychologists have subsequently conducted research that indicates the existence of nonsensory forms of perception/consciousness which transcend the limitations of three-dimensional time and space. Contemporary transpersonal psychology and psychosynthetic models exist which attempt to lead consciousness into a recognition of its own deeper nature.

The real nature of consciousness and the way in which it functions still remain largely mysterious for scientists, perhaps because they objectify it just as they do other areas of investigation. As physics has shown, total objectification is no longer a realistic way in which to explore any phenomenon. And, as the mystical tradition has held all along, it is impossible to understand the true nature of consciousness by dividing it into pieces to be categorized. Mystics insist that, to gain true understanding, it is necessary somehow to go beyond the dualism of the rational intellect and to unify with the thing itself, to experience it.

Though science and psychology have begun inadvertently to validate concepts long propounded by western mystical tradition and eastern religion, there still has been no concerted attempt to test some or the basic empirical claims about human nature made by religion. Gopi Krishna makes this point in The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius:

The most rational way to attest to the truth of religion, and to accept or reject its claims, would be to test these practices and disciplines after making a comparative study of all the systems in existence in different parts of the earth, and then to pronounce a verdict on the basis of the results achieved. But to this day it was never done by any group of scientists. Dedicating their life to this research alone, in the same way that innumerable groups and societies are doing in respect to the still unexplained riddles of the physical world. The decision to ignore the claims of faith and to refuse its admission into the province of science was thus taken without trial, a most unscientific way of dealing with an obstinate phenomenon of this type.

Actually, there has never before been a time when such research was feasible. But now, because of the technological explosion that has occurred in the twentieth century, research of this type can be done. Cultural and interdisciplinary boundaries are crumbling; ancient prejudices are slowly dissolving. Today, one human being – aided by modern education, libraries filled with a vast spectrum of translated texts, unlimited travel opportunities, and an intellectual attitude more open and tolerant than that of our predecessors – may delve deeply into a wide range of subjects. In my own life and work, I have tried to show that the way of the mystic and that of the scientist can be pursued simultaneously, that the knowledge of one can be fruitfully investigated by the other, that the realms of divinity and nondualistic consciousness can be explored with the tools of science.


downloadTo download this article, click here (PDF, 4 pages, 68 KB)download

back to top of page