Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Science and Spirituality

Belong to one another!

When I was at school, people often asked, “Are you an artist or a scientist?” This was the 1960’s. “Why restrict oneself?” I always thought. “Galileo and Da Vinci were both artists and scientists, so, why not both?” Likewise science and spirituality need not be thought of as separate for, it seems to me, they are also highly compatible. They are complementary, needing each other to make something whole, something bigger than either of them alone. Properly integrated, they permit a level of understanding that amounts to much more than their sum.

What do I mean by ‘properly integrated’? I’m suggesting a truly deep and intimate engagement between human beings and science, both at the individual level and at the communal level of society. To illustrate, here is a quote from science writer and particle physicist, Jeff Forshaw: “I am struck by the astonishing beauty of the central equations in physics, which seem to reveal something remarkable about our universe… the natural world operates according to some beautiful rules… We are discovering something at the heart of things… It feels like a personal thing – like we are relating to something very special”.

This is similar to, ‘Awareness of a Sacred Presence in Nature’, or perhaps, ‘Awareness that All Things Are One’, two of the eight types of spiritual experience I wrote about last time (27 Jan). As if to confirm the deeply personal nature of the experience, Forshaw added, “Let’s be clear. This is a kind of life-changing beauty”.

To give another example, Apollo 14 astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, returning to earth from the moon in February 1971, “Was filled with an inner conviction as certain as any mathematical equation he’d ever solved. He knew that the beautiful blue world to which he was returning is part of a living system, harmonious and whole – and that we all participate, as he expressed it later, ‘in a universe of consciousness’.”

Both these men of science were deeply affected. Mitchell’s experience too was obviously life-changing because in response, in 1973, he founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences. According to the website, from which Mitchell’s description of his experience is also taken, ‘Noetic’ comes from the Greek word nous, which means ‘intuitive mind’ or ‘inner knowing’. The Institute is, “A non-profit research, education, and membership organization whose mission is supporting individual and collective transformation through consciousness research, educational outreach, and engaging a global learning community in the realization of our human potential”. Mitchell and his colleagues are applying the rules and rigour of science to the mysteries of consciousness, and getting close to what I would call humankind’s spiritual nature.

To undertake scientific investigation, you have to start with an idea, with some intuition about what to look into and where you might begin to find answers. Science, in other words, begets creativity. Intuition may also be required to furnish explanations and further avenues of investigation. Creativity and intuition are among those mysteries of consciousness that link the everyday, analytic mind to the holistic insights of the spiritual dimension. A good example is that of the chemist Kekulé, who had a vision of a serpent swallowing its own tail during a kind of waking trance or daydream, and knew instantly by intuition that the structure of carbon, which he had been investigating, involved six carbon atoms formed into a ring.

The impact on Western society of science is incalculable, from the discovery of the world as a spherical planet in orbit around the sun, massively affecting humanity’s view of itself and its place in the universe, calling into question all previous explanations, myths and theories, including religious theories. Until recently, partly because spirituality has been so closely tied in people’s minds to ‘disproven’ religious teachings for so long, the spiritual dimension has been mistrusted and misrepresented by scientists and their followers who imagine science and spirituality to be somehow opposed to each other. This seems unwise.

Often dismissed and disparaged, the spiritual dimension has been consistently undervalued and largely ignored. And there may be another reason. The Persian psychotherapist, Reza Arasteh, working in USA, made the uncomfortable suggestion in the 1960’s that, “The subject of research projects is partly related to the character structure of the researcher. Accordingly, unless the investigator has reached a mature stage of personal development, he or she is unlikely to feel any incentive for researching the topic, or even be capable of fully comprehending it.”

The physicist Max Planck (1858 – 1947) once wrote, “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve”. Spiritual masters through the ages have devised methods different to those of science for investigating this great mystery by immersing themselves in it, making use of silence, stillness and solitude, for example. The conclusion is clear. Science and spirituality belong to one another… And science alone cannot give anyone the full picture.

Copyright Larry Culliford

Larry’s books include ‘The Psychology of Spirituality’, ‘Love, Healing & Happiness’ and (as Patrick Whiteside) ‘The Little Book of Happiness’ and ‘Happiness: The 30 Day Guide’ (personally endorsed by HH The Dalai Lama).

Listen to Larry’s Keynote Address to the British Psychological Society’s Transpersonal Section via You Tube (1 hr 12 min)

See Larry interview JC Mac about ‘spiritual emergence’ on You Tube. (5 min)