Science and spirit yet again

Let me suggest that ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Reason’ have the same origins and face similar problems, although they can be used to ‘correct’ each other. They work better together than apart, but they are still vulnerable. In particular, they are both vulnerable to social factors and to being used in power struggles

Let me begin by asserting that most human knowledge is fallible. This is a proposition usually agreed to by theologians, philosophers and scientists. They may disagree on what is required to fix the problem, but they agree on the problem

I’d suggest that most people who disagree with this proposition are likely to be destructive, because they will not try to modify their actions to suit the world but the world to suit their ‘truth’. Indeed one of the problems we face is that climate change is being ignored because of the ‘truth’ of the virtues of capitalism. This is a truth which has little reason behind it, but perhaps lots of intuitive/spiritual value

Reason always depends upon either a spiritual vision or intuition or a dogma for its axioms. Axioms exist outside of the field of reason or science. They cannot be proven in themselves, they simply seem obvious. Because the axioms seem obvious they may not even be perceived as axioms they may be seen as reality itself. If the axioms are wrong then reasoning from them will eventually produce incorrect results

Spirituality can give a ‘direct perception’ of the workings of the world. However, this perception can be as wrong (in parts) as the axioms deployed by Reason. Acting on this perception may also not have the results which are intended.

As I have argued previously, modern ideas of ‘Reason’ made their way into the West as part of a spiritual vision that God had made the world in a way which was uncoverable by human thought processes and deduction. God did not cheat and God was not irrational. Reason is based on this intuition/tradition that reality is reasonable and explicable.

There are two big differences between modern patterns of science and traditional patterns of reason.

Firstly scientists try to interact with nature to find out if the conclusions from their theories are the same as expected. The reasonableness of the proposition is not recognised as enough to guarantee its truth. Science demands an open interaction with reality, not with hunches or intuitions – although hunches, intuitions and spiritual experiences, may lead to suspicions the theories do not work, or to new theories (which then need to be tested).

Secondly, scientists frequently attack the axioms of science, or conduct thought experiments to see what would happen if the axioms were different.

Frequently these processes lead to power struggles (scientists are humans, and they work for the State or private enterprise, both of which may have their own non-reasonable drives). However, the ultimate ideal arbiter is the interaction with Nature – the experiment.

One of the axioms of science is that, ideally, the people participating in the experiment should not make a difference to the experimental results. The experiment must be replicable to be true.

Scientists tend to ignore things which are not replicable, not testable or which seem to be personal. This may limit their effectiveness, or their ability to relate to other humans.

Spirituality, especially in an organised form, rarely does any of this. Rather it tends to ignore any inaccuracies and teach them to students, holding that any deviation from the teaching is a problem. It is also expected that different people might get different results depending on their virtue, dedication or whatever. So failure to replicate the experiment is easily explained away as a moral or spiritual failing. Spiritual people tend to include more of what seems to be human, and can thereby seem more persuasive, as we all know that non-replicable, personal events are important to our lives. However, because of this, there is often nothing to decide between different visions other than violence – unless reason or science is admitted into the debate.

So the point is:
Both science and spirituality depend upon an ‘irrational’ intuition, or perception, of the nature of reality.

Scientists tend to deduce things from this intuition/vision and test them in interactions with nature. Testing is built into the discipline. Nature is the final arbiter. They tend to suppress personal factors which are important to people’s lives.

Spiritual people tend not to test their intuitions or perceptions. They accept them as truths, until they are superseded by new visions. They do generally accept and elaborate on personal issues, making those issues relevant and conceivable in life.

Both factors are needed for the whole human.


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