A Sea-Change In Science

NEW EMERGENCE AND COMPLEXITY SCIENCE (Postmodern Science) also recognizes spirituality. Indeed, there has been a sea-change in science, for while spirituality has made a return in ‘secular’ society, science itself has become less materialist, reductionist, mechanistic and deterministic. For example theoretical biologist and complexity theory pioneer Stuart Kauffman notes that the “process of reinventing the sacred requires a fresh understanding of science that takes into account complexity theory and the idea of emergence. It will require a shift from reductionism, the way of thinking that still dominates our scientific world view.”[i]

James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Rupert Sheldrake, David Bohm, Roger Sperry and John Hitchcock are just a few of the more notable scientists who have challenged the traditional axioms of science, revolutionising perception of the world in such a way that the spiritual and the immaterial are allowed a foot in the door. The blurring of mind and matter, or spirit and matter, challenges the materialist and reductionist, mechanistic science of the modern era – advocates of which have separated off and marginalised the concept of ‘spirit’, often relegating it to the realm of formal, traditional and archaic religion.

The modernist view of an objective science which discovers Truth by examining what is ‘out there’ – hence the material and empirical world – has been further undermined by questions from biologists about the independent nature of cognition. Biologists and neurophysiologists Maturana and Varela argue that the act of cognition does not simply mirror objective reality “out there”. Cognition is an active process, rooted in our biological structure, by which we actually create our world of experience through our coexistence. In arguing thus, they walk on the razor’s edge, eschewing the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism).[ii] This new view of the world is relational and holistic.

Arguably, a new postmodern science is called for with new tools required for the description of this reality. Indeed, quantum physicist David Bohm, argued in 1988 for a “Postmodern Science and a Postmodern World”.[iii] For Bohm, a postmodern science would not separate matter and consciousness; meaning and value are as much integral aspects of the world as they are of us.[iv] Elsewhere Bohm has proposed that the workings of the subatomic world only make sense if we assume the existence of other more complex non-local levels of reality beyond the quantum.[v] The level in which we live, where the particles appear to be separate, he called the ‘explicate order’ – but behind this is a deeper reality, in which separateness dissolves; and he called this the ‘implicate order’

Roger Sperry summed up the changes in science in the latter part of the twentieth century and maintained that the prospects for uniting science and religion are brightened by recently changed views of consciousness and mind-body interaction.[vi] In essence, Sperry’s argument is that when the molecules and atoms of our world are seen to be moved by higher level forces that are not reducible in principle to the fundamental forces of physics – then mental, vital and spiritual forces, long excluded and denounced by materialist philosophy, are reinstated in non-mystical form. Sperry’s concepts of spirituality and theology are broad and not equated with traditional religious institutions. Sperry concludes:

“…a naturalistic, scientific, or pantheistic theology is seen to yield a moral framework and outlook that has new credibility, satisfying spiritual and esthetic appeal and at the same time promotes values that would appear to be of the type needed to counter current global trends toward worsening world conditions.”[vii]

A broad concept of spirituality, unconfined to conventional religions is also held by quantum physicist John Hitchcock. In (1991) The Web of the Universe: Jung, the “new physics” and human spirituality, Hitchcock states that scientists can no longer ignore spirituality because spirit is inherently within matter; “…our “models” evolve toward greater and greater depth and subtlety. The case, as we now understand it, amounts to a spiritual imperative, even for physics itself.”[vii] Hitchcock also argues that:

“With the new visibility of the dimension of spirit in the atom, we can now see that from the point of view of physics, the physicist cannot avoid dealing with spirit, but must take account of the “models” evolve toward greater and greater depth and subtlety. The case, as we now understand it, amounts to a spiritual imperative, even for physics itself.”[ix]

A new postmodern science has opened up the concept of spirit within matter and behind matter.


[i] Stuart Kauffman, ‘God of Creativity’, New Scientist, 10 May (2008), 52. See reference to Stuart Kauffman, Re-inventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason and Religion (New York: Basic Books, 2008).

[ii] For example see Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge – The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (Boston: New Science Library, 1987), 241.

[iii] David Bohm, ‘Postmodern Science and a Postmodern World’ in: David Ray Griffin ed., The Re-enchantment of Science – Postmodern Proposals (State University of New York Press, 1988), 57-68

[iv] Ibid, 68.

[v] David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981).

[vi] Roger Sperry, ‘Changed Concepts of Brain and Consciousness: Some Value Implications’, Zygon v.20. no.1 (1985), 41-57.

[vii] Ibid,56.

[viii] John Hitchcock, The Web of the Universe: Jung, the “New Physics” and Human Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1991), 45.

[ix] Ibid,45.

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