Summary of the 13th session (Friday, Dec. 1, 1995)
Intersection of Science and Mysticism
by Don Brautigam

Don Brautigam started the discussion about science and mysticism by recalling a personal out of body experience, while walking with a friend at the beach many years ago. He made the point that instances, such as this experience, lend themselves to a clear argument for explanations that would lead beyond science as we know it. This triggered a brief discussion whether this is something we just cannot yet explain or whether we have something unexplainable in principle. Over and above this question, the number one problem in such a case has to do with the fact that a personal experience cannot be taken as a scientific experiment that would stand up to scrutiny and can be repeated in a controlled fashion. As we will see, that is the case with all the "mystic experiences". They are experienced by individuals, and controlled sharing is impossible. However, is this experience less real??? The second type of argument for something that goes beyond science comes from philosophy of science. Don quoted from "How is Quantum Field Theory Possible?" by Sunny Auyang: "The subject is no more than the abstract bounds of experience and knowledge", where knowledge of the object (science) is connected with the experience (mystics) of the individual. In fact, quantum mechanics connects the experiment with the observer (individual). Don presented an analogy for this interconnected view: a vortex in a liquid representing the individual. A scientist would look at the world outside and see the liquid is standing still, while the boundary is swirling around with the vortex. A mystic would focus on the interior, towards the center, and would see the stillness there. He would perceive the boundary as an illusion while seeking unity. Looking at this analogy we could conclude that the stillness inside and outside are similar. (Remark by the author: There is even a mathematical transformation that would image the outside world into the inside and vice versa: w = 1/z, where w and z represent variables in the comlex plane and the boundary of the vortex would be at |z| = |w| = 1)

Science and mysticism: Two complementary paths of knowing

Mysticism (Wisdom): Experience of the moment, arational and non-intellectual, perception of unity behind the phenomenal world. It is mostly perceived as connected with eastern practices and philosophy. However, there has been a strong tradition in the west with the medieval Christian mysticism, which got under strong fire from the institutional church.

Science (Knowledge): Reflective analysis, rational and intellectual, explanation of unity of phenomenal world. It is seen as emerged mainly from the western European tradition. Whereas science (knowledge) tries to teach how to see the world, mysticism (wisdom) gets at how to live and what to live for. Both paths are very potent and can be seen as rather esoteric by individuals not trained in either mysticism or science. Don made the statement that a good balance between both is needed in today's world. Having started science with the assumption that the natural world is a multiplicity of individual things and events, we have come to the point where everything is in fact interwoven and connected, as is directly sensed in "mysticism". (after Alan Watts "The Joyous Cosmology"). Paul stated that science now gets the view of the whole which evolved from a singularity. This description can be seen as parallel to creation stories. Science escalated to teaching us a way to wisdom. This conclusion stirred some uneasiness in the group in the sense that we might try to derive religion and/or mysticism out of science. Eberhard pointed out that we should make clear to talk about parallelism (in terms of an analogy; in the tradition of Hermetian philosophy) and not about a causal connection here. Scott furthered the analogy with "knowledge as a field with fertilizer -> to produce wisdom".

What is Mysticism?

Don started this part by quoting from "Mind and Nature" by Gregory Bateson in the sense that "all experience is subjective" (not just a subset). Although the processes on the way to visual recognition are accessible, the very process of conscious perception is inaccessible. He followed with a brief description of some meditation practices that rely on the complete loosening from conscious perception in order to be able to be and to experience (without object!!). Mysticism strives towards the experience of unity. We should make it clear that unity is not another object out there, it is the one experience to be in. Therefore, the subject - object relationship that is so essential for science, becomes non-existent. In analogy we can see us lifted out of the lower dimension of being in the material world; on a higher dimension (3-D) all boundaries drawn in the lower dimensionality (2-D) become meaningless, there is a natural connection through the higher dimension (through the third dimension). Let us look from this angle at particle creation in vacuum in the material world: A sphere pushed through flatland (2-D world) suddenly appears as a point (particle creation), then expands into a growing circle, contracts and finally disappears (particle annihilation). This analogy of mysticism or spirituality as a way to look at the world from higher dimensions drew fire from Heath, who argued that this can only be seen as a copout from a problem that we may not yet understand. This is the standpoint taken by a number of physicists, probably most prominently by Steven Hawking. We have to admit that science will make constant progress. However, this may well be limited to what was called the "easy problems" in the recent article "The Puzzle of Conscious Experience" by David Chalmers in Scientific American, December 1995. The "hard problem", namely what consciousness is and what it is like having the experience, is left out. The example of a blind and deaf physicist was brought up, who has all the knowledge in the world about light and acoustic waves (wavelengths, intensities etc.), but lacks the experience of the beauty of a color or a sound. Paul pointed out that this is exactly the criticism brought forth by Kierkegaard against Hegel: Hegel couldn't deal with his being and experience.

We then circled about what meditation means: from strange experiences -> no experiences, only illusions (which would be opposite to what mystics claim, namely that the objects around us are illusions). We finally arrived at the point that a real meditation focuses on "being" only (not to have an experience). Only then unity can be achieved, since to have something means: there is separation.

Are Quanta real?

Finally, the discussion turned to the meaning of quanta. They are as real as messages, since phenomena, as described in QM, are messages. They remain random, until someone comes to decipher them by using a code (algorithm) within an experiment. In this sense the message and the code are complementary and both needed to see the phenomenon. "Thus a code presupposes a free choice among different complementary aspects, each of which has equal claim to reality, if I may use this dubious word" (Jauch, "Are Quanta real?").

We can extend this picture of QM in a parallelistic tradition to form an analogy for science and mysticism: the complementary aspects in QM, message and code - necessary to decipher a phenomenon, or the wave and particle aspect of a physical entity - necessary to catch all angles of it, can be seen as corollaries to science and mysticism as complementary ways to see the world, including ourselves and our experience. Concluding: "We are conscious of the world, but not of the process how this consciousness comes into ourselves".

Personal response

This word from the end of our class constitutes the greatest mystery to me, and I don't believe we will be able to solve this "hard mystery" intellectually. (To be on the safe side: this is a metaphysical statement, not a scientific conclusion!!) The discussion of this session was very rich, partially controversial, but this was very refreshing. I think we touched the problem from many different angles, and everybody should have plenty of stuff to think about in the future. After writing this summary, I feel even more that Don has presented very rich material and we had great discussion! Personal comment: I feel strengthened in my own thinking that both science and mysticism (or spirituality) have the same right to be seen as ways to explore the world and ourselves. Speaking (freely) with Yehuda Elkana: There is nothing whatsoever in science and/or religion that puts the perception of our senses (science) or revelation (spirituality) into a general advantage over one another. Again this is a metastatement!!!

Eberhard Möbius, 12/11/1995