Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


The Intersection between Science & Mysticism   Lead: Amy Carrington


The Consicious (Self-Aware) Universe   Lead: Angela Burr & Donn Avery


Summary by Dave McCarron:


Amy began our discussion with Weber’s assumption that unity lies within our world and man can experience it. It seems appropriate to say that there are two ways in which this unity might be revealed to us. We can either come to know it through science or through a mystic experience. The question of the day of course is how do the two relate. In order to understand whether or not it is possible for Science and Mysticism to intersect it is first necessary to label the terms the best I can.

Science defined:

Study of the physical world and its manifestations, especially by using systematic observation and experiment.

Mysticism defined:

Belief that personal communication or union with the divine is achieved through intuition, faith, ecstasy, or sudden insight rather than through rational thought.


The term ‘intersection’ seems to point towards the possibility of them ever having something in common. If they can intersect then it follows that it is possible for them to compliment each other. How is it possible for this to happen? A few people in class seemed to agree that the two intersect when one pursuit leads to acknowledgement of the other mode as a possible avenue towards the same truth. Davies relates how thinkers like Einstein, Pauli, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Eddington and Jeans had all espoused mysticism. He describes how "some scientists and mathematicians claim to have had sudden insights akin to mystical experiences" (228). The word akin is misleading here. In my mind a mystical experience is mystical regardless of context for the experience.

Common Goals?

A problem that we seemed to encounter is whether or not these modes of inquiry (if you can call them that) share the same purpose. Does the scientist have the same goal as the mystic? The group seemed to be divided on this subject. In my mind there is only one correct answer, namely that we do not have evidence to prove either case. Scientists differ just as much as Mystics do, we should be careful not to make too broad a generalization when we are really talking about individuals; the world is of course full of them. Of course, if we stuck to being Socratic we could never speak of anything at all. The generalization that follows is my own. In my eyes truth is the end of every pursuit. Science and Religion (in the broad sense) have identical goals. It is important to note that generalizations works better with science because of a greater variety that exists in the sphere of religion. Religions differ more frequently and I can only draw conclusions from the few with which I am familiar. Religion, to me, is the way in which groups of people celebrate the meaning of their world. They believe that their worldview is accurate because it works for them. The truth is very important regardless though. Religions evolve (or are at least capable of evolving) much in the way science does. The paradigm shift is not unique to the world of scientific inquiry. It is only easier to justify changing your worldview through conclusive experimentation. Religions require miracles. To say that one wants something different than the other disregards the common thread of humanity. We all want to know why we are here. There are only different paths and different justifications.

Conversation Problem

All that I have tried to say raises an interesting point about our group and its dynamics. What I am about to describe is an observation (not intended to be critical) and one that is relevant to all of our sessions. Oftentimes I get the feeling that we are failing to speak to each other. This is not because we are failing as individuals so much as because we are at the mercy of language and its limitations. The communication process is one that is familiar to all of us. In any case, it seems as though we are sometimes ignorant of its affect. The irony of what I am about to say is that I already expect for you to not understand. We are still forced to try though! When I want to communicate something I need to delve into the realm of my past experiences in order to attach symbols (words) that are appropriate for that which I hope to convey. Once I have pronounced the assigned words, the person with whom I am speaking must reverse the process. This is of course where we run into trouble. The set of experiences from which they will construct meaning from my words is entirely different. The extension of this in my mind is that as each of us sit in class we are constantly relating the conversation not only to our own experiences (as in simply translating what has been said) but we are also bouncing this produced meaning against whatever though processes have been going on in our own heads throughout the discussion. When we desire to speak we sometimes forget about the inner dialogue that we have been pursuing with ourselves. In this sense we are almost twice removed. The Lebanese Philosopher Kahlil Gibran put this best in words when he said that, "thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly" (The Prophet). In my mind the inability to fly is equated to our inability to communicate with language. This does not of course rule out the possibility of true understanding. So far it is just not capable through language. Take all of this for what it is worth to you. I have digressed.

Are Experiences 'Valid'?

Another question that was raised by our class related to the validity of mystical experiences. How do you distinguish between mystic experiences that are real (as in accurate) and those that are fabrications of the mind and have no connection to the ultimate truth? I will not attempt to answer this question. My suggestion would be that a mystical experience could have as much or as little value as you desire. There is of yet no criterion for ultimate truth. On the topic of mistrust of mysticism, Davies states that it is at the opposite extreme of rational thought. As such it is connected with the paranormal unfittingly. He prescribes that science should be pursued to its end. It is at that point, when the ‘how’ has been completely revealed, that we will be able to appreciate the ‘why’ which mysticism relates.

'Conscious (Self-Aware) Universe'?

Angie and Donn posed the question of whether or not the Universe is Self-Aware. This led to a discussion that echoed of the past week’s consciousness debate. The problem that arises is that in order to consider the Universe as self-aware, we are forced to consider it a self. In order for it to be a self it must be distinguishable from another Universe. Here we run into a greater problem, namely that the universe is known as being the composite of all things.

Professor Davis made an interesting point during the discussion that is worth mentioning in closing. He suggested that our existence is a trap. From that possibility we could conclude that in trying to know everything about the universe (since it is infinite) we are somehow being diverted. Perhaps this is in fact the meaning of life: realizing the futility of certain intellectual pursuits. Have we somehow missed the mark of our journey? It is in our nature to be curious and we all want to unlock the secrets. I have great confidence in our willingness to never stop trying.


May 7, 2001