Science and Spirituality 3: Some Questions Answered

A personal reaction to a reader's insightful and penetrating enquiry.

Posted Jul 21, 2017

Larry's Collection
1975 - Getting my medical degree at Cambridge
Source: Larry's Collection

I am grateful to Daniela Vocheci, who contacted me after my last post (Science and Spirituality 2) to ask some interesting questions. In my reply, I pointed out that the general tone of her enquiry seemed to reveal a certain way of thinking, called ‘dualist’: an either/or, right/wrong, us/them type of thinking. Dualism is more worldly and at the heart of the scientific paradigm, while at the heart of spirituality is another way of thinking and experiencing the world, called ‘unitary’ or ‘holistic’ thinking. This is a both/and type of thinking. Dualism and holism are both useful and complement each other, but in secular western culture the dualist approach has become over-dominant. This causes many problems and much human suffering. The way forward involves correcting the balance, so that spiritual values – like honesty, generosity, compassion, hope and love – regain ascendance over worldly values – like wealth, power and fame. Here are Daniela’s questions and my responses:

Q1: How would you define Spirituality?

Because it is without boundaries, no-one can actually ‘define’ spirituality. It is not like a specimen to pin down, dissect and analyse. It is much more like an adventure park to explore, providing fun, excitement and education.

I find it helpful to think in terms of five, seamlessly related, ‘dimensions’ of human experience. The spiritual dimension is one. The others are: physical (matter & energy), biological (life), psychological (mind) and social (community). The spiritual dimension involves universal experiences of love, awe, wonder, mystery, meaning, purpose, ‘something greater than each to which we all belong’, something whole and indivisible; a divine and sacred unity, in other words, that some people on occasion call ‘God’.

Q2: Do you consider religion an influential factor of Spirituality? 

All religions relate to and interpret the spiritual dimension of human experience, but – like science – they inhabit the physical world too, having life especially in the social dimension, bringing people together to discover and worship the sacred according to different formulae and traditions. On the face of things, the different religions appear separate, and – through thinking that is relatively immature, incomplete and mainly dualist – can be divisive, causing problems and suffering. Religions tend to come together, though, through their more mature, mystical spiritual pathways.

Q3: Regarding the connection between Science and Spirituality, do you think they equally influence each other, or one is more present? 

It is all one! Science and spirituality both have ways of understanding human experience of life, nature and the universe. Science deals principally with the physical and biological dimensions, also (but with less precision) the psychological and social. However, science’s dualist approach encourages, even enforces, people to take sides and ignore, even reject, spirituality. However, a scientist who is ignorant and dismissive of his or her own spiritual nature, and the spiritual nature of whatever he/she is investigating, is arguably as at as great a disadvantage as a spiritually-minded person who is ignorant and dismissive of the ways and findings of science.

Q4: Have you always put them on the same level of importance? 


Q5: Were you ever supposed to apply one's mechanism on a patient, but against your decision? 

No. My understanding of what it means to be a doctor involves a powerful kind of personal integrity: to be as knowledgeable as possible, to remain independent-minded, to take full responsibility for whatever one might say and do (also for whatever one might leave unsaid and undone), and to treat each patient as one would wish to be treated. Being a doctor, practising medicine and psychiatry, has therefore been an essential aspect of my personal spiritual journey.

Q6: Having in mind the fact that people are born with certain inclinations, as judging with their mind rather than soul or the other way around, do you think they should pursue what they feel secure with or explore and use both? 

The real security in life always involves seeking and trusting a kind of ‘spiritual’ comfort-zone, rather than a worldly one. Maintaining spiritual awareness – through prayer, meditation and other methods – gives a person the necessary discernment to follow the path that is not only right for them but that will also bring most benefit to others. It will not usually seem like the safest path, far from it sometimes, but the necessary protection, guidance, courage, hope and determination will arise and be present to help along the way. This is seldom the case when attempting to avoid suffering, or when self-seeking worldly ambitions take hold.

Larry's collection
Playing with a snake. Has this child discovered a spiritual comfort zone maybe?
Source: Larry's collection

Q7: Should kids be taught since childhood to connect the two or rather they make that decision themselves? 

There is good evidence that children, in their early years, are aware of a special relationship between themselves, other people, nature and something bigger altogether, something divine. Later, when they are discouraged from talking about their inner worlds, when they also experience conditioning into the prevailing secular culture and the ‘evidence-based’ traditions of science, this spiritual sensibility is lost or goes underground. Only in some people does it re-emerge later. There is good evidence, too, though that children introduced in school to regular meditation – or ‘stilling’ – benefit in terms of their conduct, relations with their peers and teachers, improved learning ability, creativity and imagination. They are calmer, happier and more mature. I would therefore recommend at least this. It would also help if teachers (especially science teachers) were to retain, express and share regularly their own sense of wonder concerning the subjects they teach, rather than reduce it to text book summaries and the dull repetition of ‘facts’ for later regurgitation by pupils in their exams. (I’m sure many teachers try to do this.) That way, science and spirituality will remain in harmony for each child.

Q8: Can you share one moment of your life, if you have one, when Science and Spirituality blended in together without you interfering? 

Science and spirituality are not separate. Every moment, from my first breath, my soul – like yours and everyone else’s – has dwelt in the certain knowledge, in the greatest of all truths, that all is sacred; all is one.

Copyright Larry Culliford

For information about my books Much Ado about Something, The Psychology of Spirituality, and Love, Healing & Happiness, go to my website.