The Spirituality in Science
Updated: Jul 16, 2021
"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." Planetary scientist, astronomer and astrophysicist, Carl Sagan
Rabindranath Tagore and Einstein in 1930
Our reality is made up of atoms – yet matter doesn’t exist in the way it is constructed through our senses and brain as firm and solid. Atoms are made up of a nucleus (formed of protons and neutrons) at the centre which is surrounded by one or more electrons bound to the nucleus, yet accurately predicting their behaviour is not possible due to quantum effects. When a nucleus has a certain energy level, each nucleon can occupy a range of locations for example. It’s not easy to conceptualise this with our minds.
The Schrödinger model of the 1920s helped physicists understand more about the waveform function of atoms, instead of seeing them as point particles. Understanding particles as waveforms meant that it was mathematically impossible to obtain precise values for the position and momentum of a particle at a given moment in time – this became known as the Uncertainty principle which was formulated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927. Understanding reality as waves of vibration and energy is exactly how reality has been described in spiritual texts and communities for centuries.
(Photo from 1933)
Erwin Schrödinger, who was a reader of the ancient Indian Upanishads texts once wrote, “there is only one thing and that what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian Maya); the same illusion is produced in a gallery of mirrors.” In his book ‘What is Life?’ he reflected on the topic of the unification of minds or consciousness and wrote: Their multiplicity is only apparent, in truth there is only one mind. This is the doctrine of the Upanishads.”
Nikola Tesla (Photo in 1896)
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” Nikola Tesla
Energy and Reiki Research
Our thoughts and words are also not separate from this fabric of reality. Scientific studies have shown that energy healing for patients such as reiki helped to diminish the negative effects of their treatments, giving positive effects for some and helping to alter people’s experience of pain associated with their illness. In one study from a peer-reviewed journal, research was collected at a community teaching hospital in New York which revealed that 76% of patients who received energy medicine showed marked improvement in reports on pain.
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” Planetary scientist, astronomer and astrophysicist, Carl Sagan
Rachel Carson (Photo USFWS)
“I believe that natural beauty has a necessary place in the spiritual development of any individual or any society.” Marine biologist Rachel Carson
Data Analysis and Estimation
For my Masters thesis in an environmental science I needed to use and study data analysis and learnt more about how estimates are used in science. When a scientist is developing a theory, a hypothesis is presented, which is then tested out through experiments and data analysis which can provide us with a conclusion. Data analysis includes the measure of central tendency which is a single value that attempts to describe a set of data by identifying its central position and according to the types of data the mean, median or mode will often be used. These are estimates only and science cannot provide us with neat boxes of understanding. Mathematics and laws can be found in science, but science is more than mathematics. Theories in, for example, quantum physics are constantly being refined and changed - they evolve according to the latest understandings, technologies, experiments and the recognition of uncertainty.
When the evidence for a theory appears strong, it is generally accepted in society, yet our paradigms of science evolve just as our understanding evolves. Sometimes scientific theories are in conflict with each other and scientists compete to gain a domineering stronghold, yet there have been times when scientific theories have been proven to be wrong, for example it used to be thought that electrons in atoms orbited the nucleus like planets around the sun in earlier quantum mechanics models. Our models are refined according to the evidence and our most cutting-edge thought and understanding.
“I have approximate answers and possible beliefs in different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything.” Physicist, Richard Feynman.
Maria Mitchell (Photo from 1899)
"Scientific investigations, pushed on and on, will reveal new ways in which God works, and bring us deeper revelations of the wholly unknown." Maria Mitchell, America's first female astronomer
Discernment in Science
I feel that it is humbling to remember the uncertainty in science – it keeps us open-minded and allows us to appreciate the inherent mystery of our reality. Our intuition (which is the way the subconscious mind communicates to the conscious mind) can always guide us regarding what theories seem appropriate and what needs to be re-examined or updated, particularly in cutting-edge fields such as quantum mechanics, yet also in health-related studies where there can be conflicting evidence and some studies can be funded by organisations or industries with certain agendas.
In 2007, a review of 206 studies that looked at the health benefits of milk, soda and fruit juices discovered that those funded entirely by a food or beverage company were four to eight times more likely to demonstrate positive benefits from consuming these items compared to scientific articles without industry funding.
Some recent examples which come to mind of conflicting evidence includes some research from 2014 in Sweden which demonstrated the link between milk consumption and an increased risk of bone fractures and mortality whereas another study in Spain examined the intake of dairy as a preventative of osteoporosis and found a positive correlation between bone mass density and milk consumption.
It’s important to be discerning and to question who is funding the studies and if the research is peer-reviewed or has received criticism. We can also question if the evidence or results are conducive enough to make substantial conclusions. Life is constantly evolving and so is science and our societal patterns.
Mae Jemison (Nasa image: 1992)
“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.” Astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space.
For my masters I conducted research at a wetlands centre and examined public perceptions about wetlands which can be associated with negative beliefs such as being unsafe or unkept - these can be a hindrance in terms of their conservation. Over the years, wetlands have often become overused and undervalued and many have disappeared.
One study conducted in the USA showed that context played a large part in whether wetlands were appreciated, since the appearance of wetlands generally conflicted with cultural values of neatness; therefore signs or cues that natural environments were being managed were recommended for helping people to respect those areas. Another study in Sweden revealed that citizens valued certain aspects of constructed wetlands such as biodiversity and walking features but didn’t value other areas such as the fenced waterline, meadow land and crayfish introduction– demonstrating how we can often ascertain what has value according to our human-centred needs.
The philosophy of deep ecology teaches about the inherent value of every living being outside of its utility to human needs and also reconsiders human society in relationship with these themes. This standpoint is not anthropocentric and takes a holistic view of the world in which humans occupy roles as part of a much larger system. Other living beings process the world through their senses and nervous systems in very different ways and it is impossible for us to conceive of this with our limited senses – this perceptual world was called the umwelt by Jakob von Uexküll in 1909.
Natural Selection and Spirituality
Charles Darwin (Possibly 1854)
Many people are aware that Charles Darwin developed the theory of natural selection but not many might remember Alfred Wallace, who was the first to compile together the theory in written form, which he sent in a letter to Charles Darwin – the letter was published in 1858 without Wallace’s awareness, alongside a paper by Darwin. Yet Wallace’s advocacy of spirituality and his non-material view of the higher capacities of human intelligence led to Alfred Wallace experiencing strained relationships with Darwin and the scientific establishment at the time and some were openly hostile towards him – this controversy affected the public’s perception of him and his work. However, Darwin never denied the existence of a God and if pushed for a label, he felt that the term agnostic suited him best.
Alfred Wallace in 1896
“The whole history of science shows us that whenever the educated and scientific men of any age have denied the facts of other investigators on a priori grounds of absurdity or impossibility, the deniers have always been wrong.” Alfred Wallace
It has not always been safe to have a spiritual view of the universe – in the past people were persecuted or killed for their beliefs if they were not in alignment with the power dynamics of the church. I believe that spirituality is essentially empowering – it places the spirit or power back in all beings, rather than seeing them as separate from the universe.
“This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits in.” Marine Biologist, Rachel Carson
“Scientists, after having successfully used analytic reductionism (“taking things apart”) as a powerful tool for centuries, are now converging with the nondual view, seeing the whole as more than just the sum of its parts.” From the Science and Non-duality website.
Vyasa, the sage thought to have composed the Upanishads. Art by Ramanarayanadatta Astri
"It is everywhere, though we see it not. Just so, dear one, the Self is everywhere, within all things, although we see it not. There is nothing that does not come from it. It is the truth; it is the Self supreme. You are that.” The Upanishads
“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man." Albert Einstein
The psychological shift in consciousness and sense of awe experienced by many astronauts is known as the overview effect.
"…I was connected to everything. I felt much more connected to everything else in the universe, and sometimes on Earth I felt much more separate from the rest of the universe. I felt like I had as much right to be in space or in this universe as any speck of stardust. I was as eternal as that." Astronaut Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison (Nasa image)
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.” Astronaut, Edgar Mitchell
“Sometimes we focus too much on our differences, but when we all look up into space, we see the same stars and we see the same sun. It really can be unifying.” Astronaut, Anne McClain
“My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.”
Astronaut, Edgar Mitchell
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