In the first post, the question was raised whether a better future can be imagined out of the dire situation we find ourselves in. At the present moment we rely on science to answer our deepest questions. But science isn’t the only way to ask who we are and what we want from life. It’s part of the human design to want freedom, and yet freedom cannot exist when you must waste energy on fear, anger, tension, insecurity, and stress – all the natural ingredients of living behind fences.
If you want to get beyond these negative aspects, it’s a delusion to believe that fences must exist. Yet we all believe exactly that. Fences are erected first in the mind, and everyone’s mind is compartmentalized. We shut out what we fear or don’t understand. We shut out “them,” the people who are unlike “us.” We shut out the unknown – a vast, one might say infinite domain – and we even shut out the parts of ourselves we don’t want to look at. All of this fence building is delusional, however. The answer to all our fear and stress, our anger and conflict, could be amazingly simple: tear down all the fences. If life were actually safe in a state of freedom, nobody would live behind fences. The only true security anyone can have is based, not on strong defenses, but on knowing that you are secure in the first place, no matter what.
This point was quite clear to the ancient philosophers who set down the meaning of human existence thousands of years ago: they all believed in a state of enlightenment. Enlightenment is the general term for a mind that doesn’t live behind fences of any kind, a mind that is free. What I’m suggesting isn’t a return to Plato or Vasishtha – we must build our own golden age with the tools of present-day reality. Which means, in essence, that we must expand the fence of science. Fences don’t disappear by tearing them down. All kinds of fear and stress leap into the mind when you take away its defenses. Only by expanding your view of reality can you decide, in due time, that there’s nothing to fear and nothing to defend against. Then the fences disappear as if by magic.
As it stands, science is obviously the most powerful tool in history for gaining objective knowledge. It has erected a fence so wide – and so quickly expanding – that you might believe nothing lies outside the fence. However, science so far has excluded subjective experience. To be allowed inside their fence, any experience of love, beauty, truth, creativity, or anything else that happens subjectively, must be stripped down to the facts and nothing but the facts. As science expands, it casts light on many areas of ignorance. At the same time, the area that is shut out remains just as vast. Data isn’t the same as human experience, and therefore data cannot explain who we are and why we are here.
Science isn’t going to knock down the fence that separates subjectivity and objectivity. On a daily basis, gathering facts and data constitutes the working life of every scientist. Yet as the fence has expanded, the search for knowledge somehow found itself stuck. Every discovery opened up more unknowns, and most of the time the unknowns are so huge that they swamp the discovery that led up to them.
– The Big Bang was a great discovery, but it opened up the overwhelming mystery of dark matter and dark energy.
– DNA was a great discovery, but it opened up the mystery of the epigene, “soft inheritance,” and the confusing dynamics of genetic interaction.
– Mapping the human genome was a great discovery, but it revealed that diseases like cancer involve up to 500 genes and mental disorders like depression may be just as complicated.
– Quantum mechanics was a great discovery, but it dissolved the physical properties of matter and therefore removed the stability of the physical universe.
– General relativity was a great discovery, but black holes revealed that time and space can vanish, while on the other side of the spacetime continuum, there is a void about which no evidence can be gathered.
If you are a hard-core materialist and believe in the reductionist method, you must pin your hopes on future discoveries that will resolve these mysteries. The problem is that in each case, there is a breakdown in the scientific method. Looking over the fence at religion and philosophy, science has had two hundred years to feel secure and victorious. It has promoted the motto, “If it’s not science, it’s not real.” Now that smug sense of victory is fraying around the edges, because a fence is still a fence, no matter how wide it gets. Telling philosophy and spirituality that they don’t count was like whistling in the dark. As the physical universe dissolved, as spacetime vanished into the void, as the gene turned out to be fluid and dynamic, the very basis of materialism found its far horizon. At the same time, it hit a brick wall.
If we return to our original scheme that every question is based on an order of meaning, when materialism breaks down, its questions turn meaningless. Just as it is meaningless to ask a scientist if an embryo has a soul, it is equally meaningless to ask if God provides data to prove his existence. What is needed and very urgently, is a way to salvage the meaning of life, because materialism is fast petering out. Not just because there are big issues that cannot be answered by data but also because science has led to disasters like chemical pollution and the atomic bomb. I don’t want to indulge in science bashing. A kinder way to put it is that the things we really need to know, right this minute – how to live together in peace, how to save the planet, how to lift the well-being of every person on earth – don’t fit inside the fence that science has erected to divide human experience from objective facts.
For this, the final fence, to come down requires an expanded science. We are not going to be saved by a new religion or by philosopher kings. Science deals in solutions as well as knowledge. It aims to improve the quality of life and to give each of us more freedom. Yet when the time comes that science actually opposes those advances, intellectual honesty demands that a new way is found, so that knowledge can do what it is supposed to do, advance the human race. In short, science must reinvent itself to take subjectivity into account, bringing reason and light where ignorance and denial has prevailed.
It takes leadership, creativity, openness, and insight to expand science beyond mere data and raw materialism. In place of reductionism there must be wholeness. Shutting out love, beauty, truth, and spiritual experience has to end. I know that countless scientists resist such suggestions, but no one is asking the confirmed atheists, skeptics, secularists, and experimenters to change their colors. What is being asked instead is the expansion of consciousness. Consciousness has always been the province of philosophy; higher consciousness has been the province of spirituality. In order to defend its fence, science has excluded consciousness by calling it irrelevant or an illusion. Mostly, however, consciousness has been ignored. “They” – those philosophers and religious people – are interested in it, not “us.”
Freedom, like wholeness, is non-exclusive. The fence builders forgot that reality is reality. There is not a separate reality for science and another for everyone else. Although people don’t talk about it this way, the crisis facing planet Earth is actually a crisis over reality. In its separate version of reality, science dumps pesticides and genetically engineered seeds on the market, leaving out the dire consequences of these inventions because they aren’t science. Religion fights wars over who worships the right God, ignoring the untold destruction that such divisiveness leads to. Philosophy, all but extinct, sits and sings to itself in an ivory tower, ignoring that the search for truth must exist in every human heart.
Only science has the prestige and power to change the situation and bring us into a better future. No other fences are expanding. If the expansion of science, which is unstoppable, can be merged with the expansion of consciousness, there is more than hope for the future. There is a foundation for a golden age. Once we realize that consciousness is the ground state of all experience – after all, even data collection takes place in awareness – we can step on to a higher plane of creativity and intelligence. Higher consciousness is just a term for the next step in human evolution, where we consciously guide our own growth, not by manipulating Nature but by finding our source in consciousness.
We are meant to be co-creators of reality. This is one of the main conclusions of the world’s wisdom traditions. However, as long as human beings seem to stand outside the universe pretending to observe it objectively, outside forces will dominate us. We will live, as we do now, in a state of separation and division. I realize that this argument sounds abstract. You can’t get clean energy or the cure to AIDS by looking into consciousness – not right away. The inescapable truth is that answers only appear depending on the kind of question you ask. The great quantum pioneer Werner Heisenberg declared that the universe presents a different face depending on how you question it. If you ask for data, the universe is a collection ground for facts. If you ask for consciousness, the universe becomes the source of creativity, intelligence, and evolution.