The first article of this series described consciousness as the capacity to have an inner experience based on sensations and feelings, what philosophers call qualia, and highlighted the characteristics of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual qualia. The second article explored the basic properties of qualia—perception, and comprehension—which allow us to experience life and get meaning and purpose out of conscious living. The third article made the case for consciousness being a fundamental property of nature, arguing for a new interpretation of the core assumptions of physics that could reconcile the existence of consciousness from the beginning of being. The fourth article further explored the nature of reality under the hypothesis that consciousness has always been in existence, concluding that consciousness should have influenced the evolution of the universe in a non-trivial way, otherwise it would simply be an unnecessary hypothesis. The fifth article presented a model of reality based on the idea that all that exists emerges from the communication of a vast hierarchy of conscious entities. Within such model, the matter, energy, space, and time of physics, as well as the laws of physics, are all outer, informational aspects of ever-evolving organizations of communicating conscious entities. The sixth article described the nature of life, a phenomenon like no other known, for life creates an interacting and evolving web of living and conscious organisms. Such ecosystem can create evermore complex forms with the capacity to change the very physical nature of the planet in which it exists. The last article discussed whether digital computers may evolve to be conscious, potentially becoming more intelligent than human beings. This is a prediction that many scientists currently believe to be possible in a few centuries, if not in a few decades.
This article is the last of this series and will explore the union of science and spirituality, resulting in a new worldview in which science and spirituality are facets of a seamless whole, a new perspective in which cooperation replaces competition as mankind embraces its role as steward of all life in our planet.
From coexistence to union
In today’s world, the relationship between science and spirituality ranges from hostility to peaceful coexistence, but there is no union because science and spirituality have two different aims and worldviews that resist integration. Science and spirituality are like two separate silos that do not communicate with each other—a duality that is impossible to resolve without a new worldview that contains the two.
Can we go beyond coexistence and find integration? I mean, can the two worldviews be integrated in such a way that they become facets of a seamless whole?
I believe it is possible, but only if we go far beyond an intellectual accomplishment alone because union requires also the active personal effort of each human being at the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels of existence. This union can only be achieved in the “crucible” of each human soul by deliberate choice. It is not something that can be studied in a book like you study philosophy for example. The book may show the generic path, but only by walking one’s path with total commitment can union be gradually achieved. As union is progressively achieved, creativity, motive energy, and proper action will be mobilized to collectively solve the many challenges now facing humanity—for the benefit of all life.
Let us begin by defining the terms. Spirituality is the spontaneous urge each of us feels deep within to experience and explore our personal connection with a transcendent dimension of being that goes beyond the day to day necessities. Its origin is an innate sense that we are all connected somehow and that our life and experience has meaning and purpose. Spirituality relies on first-person experience of the transcendent, rather than belief in a particular doctrine. It is experiential, open, and directed toward finding our own inner truth about the nature of union.
Science is the systematic study of the natural world through observation, experiments, and the organization of knowledge to explain and predict the behaviors of the systems studied. Science, and in particular physics, is focused on the universal laws that can be mathematically expressed to represent the objective behavior of the physical world. The aim of science is to understand how a system is organized and how it works. Science is primarily concerned with the outer reality of measurable, objective phenomena that can be described from a third-person perspective. As such, the nature of the “scientific” observer is quite different from the “spiritual” observer’s one. The first is supposed to be detached and dispassionate from the observed phenomenon, whereas the latter lives the experience—she is one with it.
The spiritual observer is indeed observing herself. She is both the phenomenon and the observer of it. The spiritual person lives the experience of herself with all her aspects integrated. In fact, the height of a spiritual experience is found when the physical, emotional, and mental levels of experience are so integrated and coherent that they are no longer distinguishable within the gestalt experience. Spirituality is the human capacity to have holistic experiences in which observer and observed merge into a lived experience in which the experiencer is the world observing itself with the viewpoint of the observer. Science, on the other hand, is based on a reductionist stance in which the observer is supposed to be separate from what is observed. Therefore, the two perspectives are at opposite ends of a spectrum.
If spirituality and science were required to be this way, there would be no possibility for unification, for the spiritual person experiences the world as itself, knowing the meaning of the world from the inside, so to speak. The scientist sees himself as separate from the world, interested only in measuring the objective information that manifests in the outer, objective world. The entire “meaning” of that information is contained in its formal mathematical relationships with other information similarly obtained. For the extreme spiritual person, the world is the interiority of the universe that is not separate from the interiority of the observer and can be known only by experiencing it. For the extreme scientist, the world is only exteriority, separate from the observer, and can only be known by the mathematical relationships found between measured events. One view considers the world to be purely subjective and alive. The other view considers the world to be purely objective, in which the observer is just an abstraction and the world is like a machine. Notice that in the approach of science, the observer that asks intelligent questions about the world is not considered to be part of the observed world. In other words, the very stance of current science is to assume that the world is a machine obeying mathematical laws, therefore, this approach can only discover “mechanical” aspects, eliminating by design all others.
I think the world is both subjective and objective. It is alive and it also has machine-like behaviors. The universe has both interiority (qualia/meaning) and exteriority (information) and can be known only when it is studied and lived concurrently. This is what union of science and spirituality means to me. The current concepts of science and spirituality I have described, are only the two extremes of a continuum in the spectrum of knowing. Quantum physics (QP) has already given us a strong hint that subjective and objective are not absolutes, even though that message has been hard to accept because the world described by classical physics (CP)—the world closest to our ordinary experience of reality—is totally objective. Many would like the real world to be the one described by CP. But CP is only a theory about the world, not the real thing. QP is also a theory about the world, but a theory that happens to be much closer to the truth than CP is.
Reality is holistic
Neat categories with sharp boundaries between them—the essence of reductionism—are human creations that have shown over and over to be illusory: subjective and objective, science and spirituality, meaning and form, observer and observed are not independent and absolute concepts. For example, the observer is not separate from the observed because any observation changes what is observed from insignificant to extreme, as one goes from classical to quantum entities. Reality is not like a movie that rolls on its own, independently from our actions. We are indeed co-creators of the reality we observe and live, inseparable from it. The stance of current science tends to reduce the world to a machine made of separable parts and described by an imaginary observer that uses only his rational mind. In this view, the real observer with his physical, emotional, intuitive, and spiritual dimensions has been eliminated from the observed world.
The stance of current spirituality tends toward complete concentration onto one’s inner experience, isolating oneself from the world, in effect eliminating the other observers of the world from one’s experience. Yet the world contains many other conscious beings, each with his own inner world, and these entities interact with each other. The real world is the result of those interactions and can neither be known as an object nor as a personal experience of it with a single viewpoint. To unite the two, it is also necessary to understand that the inner and the outer worlds are both real and indivisibly interconnected by our collective actions. Only by acknowledging this crucial interdependence can mankind move beyond the repetition of the same dysfunctional patterns that have caused so much strife and unnecessary suffering to our species and to the ecosystem.
A piece of music is not just the musical score and the frequency spectrum of its sound. It is also the meaning and enjoyment it carries, and the pleasure of playing it (action) with our voice or with an instrument. The objective outer structure and characteristics of the music are not sufficient to describe the lived experience of it, and its experience is immensely enriched if we are also playing that music with other players. You can then hear not only the music you created but also the music created by the others, both individually and in their totality. Yet, each player acts and experiences parts and whole with his own point of view. The music as physical sound is just its symbolic form, the experience of it is its semantic dimension or meaning, and the two can be conceived as indivisible and correlated sides of the same coin. There is also inter-action, a third essential dimension that is often overlooked, expressing the active participation of many entities in the symbolic-semantic cooperative construction. When we artificially separate these basic dimensions, believing that reality is just one or two of them, we have denatured reality.
To know ourselves we must communicate with other selves, not isolate ourselves. And to communicate we must act by creating and using symbols (forms) that carry the meaning we wish to communicate. The study of the forms as if they did not carry any meaning, or as if they were not the result of deliberate actions by other conscious entities, cannot give us the knowledge we deeply desire. The “forms” cannot be studied independently from their meaning and their origin, for it is their meanings and origins that reveal the crucial aspects of their relationships that otherwise would escape observation.
In other words, it is the meaning that directs us to observe what is important in the forms, for meaning and form (symbol) are correlated. However, by using only our rational mind we will be only directed to observe the formal correlations between symbols and other symbols—their mechanical aspects—which will not reveal the deeper reality expressed by those forms which may be correlated in unexpected associative relationships accessible only through the semantic aspect.
The true union of science and spirituality is pointing to the necessity of understanding the essential relationships between the symbolic and the semantic aspects of reality. This is essential to know ourselves and the world ever more. A new science can then study the nature of symbols to steer experimental actions, directed by profound spiritual knowing. Likewise, a new spirituality can then experience the nature of meaning guided by profound scientific knowing to guide inner experiential journeys. In this vision, science and spirituality must exist as two integrated aspects within each conscious being to guide his evolutionary actions toward ever growing self-knowing. This means that in the future, one cannot be a scientist without also being a spiritual person, and vice versa.
Three fundamental centers
There is another way to understand the union of science and spirituality by broadening the context to account for the existence within each of us of three fundamental metaphorical centers: the head, the heart, and the belly. Head, heart, and belly refer to our mental, emotional, and acting capacity, respectively. However, these centers are neither separate nor separable because each one also contains a portion of the other two. For example, the mental level contains a bit of heart and a bit of belly, and likewise for the others. Therefore, a person who lives in his head is not completely disconnected from his heart and belly—emotions and actions. If he did, he would be a machine.
If we examine the head center, we may recognize that our highest mental capacity is the intuitive power to comprehend and to have original ideas. We also have the rational mind, which is the ability to reason based on logic and on explicit and implicit assumptions that are driven by comprehension. Finally, we have a mechanical aspect to mind: the capacity to learn and follow procedures, just like computers do. To this mechanical level belongs also the logic used by our rational minds. The rational mind, therefore, integrates the lower logical-procedural level with the higher idea-comprehension level of mind into a powerful mental process. Any attempt to reduce our rational mind to pure procedures that a computer can perform, however, would eliminate our most precious attributes that come from our conscious comprehension, as discussed in the previous article.
If we now consider the heart, its highest emotional capacity is unitive, felt as various forms of love, joy, and self-fulfillment in extraordinary experiences of consciousness. The next level consists in our ordinary emotions such as empathy, desire, sorrow, boredom, etc. And finally, there is a mechanical aspect to heart represented by automatic emotions and feelings that do not contain much self-awareness and depth, like the habitual physical sensations of form, color, and sounds that carry the aware perception of the physical world. Our ordinary emotions, therefore, integrate the lower automatic feelings with the illumination coming from the higher emotional “intelligence” that originates from the unitive level of the heart.
The belly is the least discussed and understood center. Its mechanical aspect is expressed by our automatic behaviors, i.e. the actions we carry out without emotions and forethought (free will). The next level up contains our ordinary actions, choices made with various amounts of free will and conscious intent. Finally, the highest level holds courageous actions, actions guided by our deepest desires and/or by our ethical values, perhaps against our short-term interests, risking property and/or reputation, or even endangering our lives. Our ordinary actions, therefore, integrate the lower-level automatic actions with the comprehension coming from our higher sense of “right action” and the courage to take risks.
Head, heart, and belly refer also to three different types of knowing, for we know mentally, emotionally, and interactively. The first is rational knowing, which generally defines knowing, neglecting the existence of the other two. Rational knowing is thinking-based. It is the knowing we do by reading and studying books, also by thinking and imagining with our mind. Emotional knowing is feeling-based, emphatic, and experiential. We know by “becoming” what we know. We know something from the inside. Interactive knowing is action-based. It is knowing by doing. We know by observing the actions of others and by interacting with each other and with objects. It is how an apprentice learns by observing a master, how a scientist knows by making experiments, and how we shape the correct symbols to communicate. In practice, we know by a combination of all three ways, even though our educational system uses primarily rational knowing.
If we bring this new perspective into the concept of union of science and spirituality, we can think of union as the optimal expression of the semantic-symbolic dimensions concurrently with the physical, emotional, and mental levels of being.
The union is in the heart
I think the most effective way to achieve union is through the process of collectively creating a just and loving society. The experience and the knowledge of union will then grow in each heart and will effectively guide the individual actions of all participants. Only the free-will choices of each of us, constrained by the laws of physics but informed by our hearts, can bring such a society into being. Our choices come from the semantic level of reality that hides underneath the probabilistic nature of physics and as such does not violate the syntactical laws of symbols—the laws of physics. The real “forces” that will create our future will then be the conscious cooperation and comprehension of all selves, not the forces of matter.
I predict that the strenuous efforts of those who believe that reality is mathematical and thus computers can become conscious, comprehend, and surpass human intelligence will find their efforts frustrated. Artificial intelligence, the spearhead of human technological prowess and a great source of pride, could paradoxically provide human beings with the necessary learning to discover and confront the mystery of our true nature. Mankind will eventually have to come to grips on a first-person basis with the true nature of consciousness and being—the source of our real intelligence—and finally recognize from a deeper place within, rather than from the limited viewpoint of the rational mind, the impossibility of creating conscious machines.
I hope this happens soon for the common good because there is a real danger that human beings, seduced by the rampant culture of digital consumerism, may replace true and deep relationships with virtual and superficial ones, curtailing their own spiritual development. Technology should be used to help us discover our true nature, not to further imprison us in a virtual world without meaning. Just like the invention of the engine amplified our human physical power, so too computers, robots, and AI can amplify our mechanical mental power and free us from monotonous, repetitive, and dangerous jobs. This great potential, however, must be placed at the service of the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical progress of each human being.
Before us, the mystery of life is beginning to open with the amazing possibility of teaching us how to explore the universe of light that each one of us senses in our deepest inner self. If the human journey in the information era will be illuminated by love, discipline, passion, curiosity, and courage, we will learn how to use our consciousness as the only tool capable of exploring the universe of living, meaningful information.