The Scientists’ Aversion to the Spiritual Implications of their Own Science

I have written a few posts so far about modern science. I have explored some of the tenets of quantum mechanics, astrophysics and brain neurology looking for connections to spiritual issues and practices. One question is very important within spirituality and it comes up repeatedly in the face of some of the most cutting edge science today. That question is “who am I?” A corollary to that question is “What is the nature of “reality?” since that question is so dependent on the answer to the first question, “who am I?”

I have found that most contemporary scientists I have studied come face to face with these questions quite quickly when explaining their latest discoveries. Even though they often just as quickly dismiss such questions in order to proceed with their experiements or explanations of their experiments, these questions remain for the discerning spiritual practitioner. I have found that these scientific treatises can be very helpful, in fact, for going deeper into these questions.

TOUCHING A NERVE by Patricia Churchland is a new book about brain neurology that I have found interesting for these reasons. In it Patricia admits right away that the new discoveries in brain science are making a lot of people uneasy because they are forcing us to introspect in very spiritual ways. Brain science is leading a lot of scientists to ask that pesky question, “Who am I?” Patricia, of course, isn’t writing a book with that intention. She deflects the question in an interesting way, as I will go into in a bit, but that she is forced to acknowledge the issue is significant.

At first she writes,

“You may wonder: how can have control over a domain of the brain I am not even aware of? Do I have control over brain activity I am aware of? And who is ‘I’ here if the self is just one of those many things my brain builds, with a lot of help, as it turns out, from the brain’s unconscious activities?”

Even Arjuna, in The Bhagavad Gita, asks Krishna “can I really control my brain?” If Arjuna, a great warrior/yogi, can ask that question we certainly can’t blame Patricia for doing the same. Both Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita answer unequivocably yes but I am not interested in that right now. What interests me is not Patricia’s denial that “I” can control my brain but her deduction that the “I” is a creation of the brain.

The mistake that Patricia makes, from a spiritual point of view, is mistaking the package for the contents. Put another way, the details of “I;” that is, my memories, my opinions, my aspirations, etc.; are not what makes me “me.” Patricia writes as if there would be nothing left of her without all of these “trappings” of the ego. She expresses that unwillingness to consider the existence of a soul or some “essence” of life within her again here:

“In death brain cells quickly degenerate with massive loss of information. Without the living neurons that embody information, memories perish, personalities change, skills vanish, motives dissipate. Is there anything left of me to exist in an after life? What would such a thing be? Something without memories or personality, without motives and feelings? That is no kind of me? And maybe that is really okay after all.” (page 12, emphasis hers)

Patricia doesn’t recognize anything that she would call “me” if it doesn’t have the details of her ego connected with it. In other words, Patricia doesn’t recognize a true self that is indistinguishable from the true self located within every other person and thing. For her, a “me” has to set her apart from everything else. That is the ego in a nutshell. Thank you Patricia for helping us to see it so clearly.

Going further, Patricia explains that the possible absence of an essential “me” that will survive death is okay with her: “And maybe that is really okay after all.” She goes on to explain that she is able to accept these nihilistic conclusions of brain science because she feels that she is still connected to everything. She reveals however the source of this happy feeling of acceptance on page 23: “How fine a thing is an indoor toilet on a winter morning when it is -10 degrees Fahrenheit and there are 2 feet of fresh snow.” In other words, she can accept the anti-soul nihilistic implications of modern science because it allows her to be comfortable. If it gives me my food, my clothing and my shelter I am okay with it, says the slave to her master.

Patricia pretends that her “feeling” of being okay with the conclusions of modern brain science are grounded in logic. She writes “The background logic has three main points and essentially goes like this: First, reality does not conform to what we want it to be. The facts are the facts. . . . By working with reality, we can sometimes change it by finding a new vaccine or a new machine to harness electricity. Science–testing, being guided by facts, revising, testing again–is the best deal we have for getting a bead on reality. . . . Second, . . . fighting the truth about reality does not work in the long run. . . .  And third, we can regulate how we use science.” (page 23)

She has to ignore a very real aspect of her own science in order to argue this way. Even though, earlier on, Patricia explained that the “self” that speaks, thinks, asks questions is entirely a construct of the much larger encompassing brain, she still insists she can trust this mechanism to find truth, or “reality,” within its parameters. She already stated that the truth is bigger than the questioning, talking or thinking mind but then insists that we can blindly follow this thinking mind’s lead in order to discover that “reality.” Even the most conservative of scientists would admit there is a problem with the logic there. Modern neurology is upending the assumption that the thinking mind is dependable to pursue the question “what is real.” Patricia admits the game-changing nature of the most recent discoveries but refuses to be shaken by them.

The fact is that brain science, along with quantum mechanics, along with modern astrophysics, along with other cutting edges of modern science, are giving good reason for the scientist to question the scientist himself. In other words, the forefront of science is exposing holes in the ego’s logic. They are threatening the castle of the ego and it is mainly the discoverers themselves, like Patricia Churchland, that are denying this or trying to discount it. Although I haven’t finished reading “TOUCHING A NERVE: Our Brains, Our Bodies” it is so far appears to be another book of science written by a scientist who has figured out a way to avoid the most poignant and important questions that their experiments are really raising.

 

 

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About Kilaya

Kilaya is a yogi who is also well-versed in the sciences. He studied physics and mathematics at college, biology and molecular biology on his own, fluid dynamics while working as a professional plumber and has always had a passion for in-depth psychology. Now he adds what he has learned from his spiritual master, Amma, and from his life as a professional astrologer to his writings in order to make discoveries that may inspire others.

Posted on January 3, 2016, in Spiritual Neurology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. How is your pronounced and unexamined bias as a spiritual practioner (backed up by your own study , practice, and experience no less than this scientists approach backed up by her study, experimentation, and experience) different than hers? I don’t argue with your conclusions in the slightest; it blows my mind to see “science” and “spirituality” set as conflicting ideas still. And yet, I remember my own journey to come to terms with my study of the sciences (particularly biology) in an academic setting with my inherent nature and experience as a mystic.

    We have here two fundamental world views. In my own journey I’ve found that there is a larger View that holds both with no pull it conflict. To access this space I had to let the awe of discovery and the rigor of the scientific method open and touch me (just as one might do inside a vigorous and disciplined spiritual practice) and I had to allow my experience of (for lack of a better or larger term) God to open my eyes to the subtler mysteries I tackled in the lab.

    These are not two systems and yet each of us can only write (or interpret the data) from the level of consciousness we have obtained and stabilized through our experience. Churchland’s culture in the scientific community is biased towards one world view. You, my friend, to another.

    My question is how do we get these to talk to eachother without triggering a kind of defensiveness of view, favoring instead innocence, curiosity, and awe?

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    • I am sorry you felt that I was attacking science in my post. I love science, that’s why I read books on the latest in quantum physics, neurology and astrophysics. My argument is against this author’s unscientific ramblings. The author of this book made arguments that were flawed concerning the existence of Spirit or soul. I didn’t argue with any of the science she was covering. I argued with the non-scientific conclusions she was drawing towards her own science. For me, the science itself shows that her anti-soul/spirit conclusions are weak and really indefensible.
      In short: she admitted that the latest neurological findings are making people nervous because they are undermining the ability to be confident in the power of the superficial consciousness (the ego) to make conclusive statements about reality. In response to this panic, the author states that she is not disturbed by these findings because science has made her life more comfortable (and therefore it must not contain anything to worry about).
      I don’t have a problem with science making her life more comfortable but I think her argument that science’s ability to make (some people’s) life comfortable does not remove the profound revelations about the question of what is “me” vs. what is “reality.” Neurology is questioning the scientists ability to answer that question by pointing out how limited the thinking “me” really is. That questioning process is making a lot of scientists uncomfortable and for good reason. This author dismisses all those who are made uncomfortable by the latest in neurology too easily for my taste. The dilemma within the science still stands for any deep thinking person who is unwilling to stop studying the subject just because they are physically comfortable.
      There is no real antagonism between spirituality and science. In its purest, unemotional, form science supports spirituality. Spirituality has no enemies because it doesn’t deny anything but the supremacy of the ego.

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      • I know you love science and don’t think you are attaching it in the slightest.

        The thing I was hoping to pull forward with my reply (which you touch on in your reply) is how the smallness of the box is a limiting factor. Moreover, in its fullest expression science is no more closed or limiting than true spirituality (at at some point, as I think we are both pointing to and even our scientist here is alluding to, they get mighty close which sometimes makes people nervous).

        At the same point an individual practitioner be that of spirituality or science is only as open as their practice, experience, and consciousness allows them to be.

        I’m arguing on the point of compassion and meeting someone where they are at. And offering the prayer that through that compassion a softening can occur and an expansion of awareness and consciousness as a result.

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