Excerpted from "Imagine," a book of essays on "what America could be in the 21st century," edited by Marianne Williamson.

I believe we all know, at the deepest level of our intuition, that the human world is changing. The shift has been slow and gradual, but the polling data accumulated over the last decade is unmistakable. We are becoming more spiritual. A Gallup poll from November 1999 contains an amazing finding. Between 1994 and 1998, the number of people reporting that spiritual growth was a very important part of their lives increased from 59 to 84 percent, and all indications suggest that this trend is continuing.

The use of the word growth in the poll and the positive reaction it elicited may, in fact, shed light on precisely how we are changing. If in the past our spirituality has been defined more by a system of belief, now our sense of the spiritual seems to be moving deeper-toward actual experiences of spirituality. For thousands of years, mystics of every religious tradition have described experiences that go far beyond an intellectual understanding, that give us a sense of being expanded and evolved; in short, experiences that provide a sense of spiritual growth. I believe that we are now searching for and discovering these experiences as never before.

Moreover, I believe that this shift toward a deeper spirituality, although quiet now, will turn out to be one of the most dramatic in history. In effect, it will usher in what can only be called a new spiritual worldview that will ultimately transcend the old Newtonian/Cartesian view of life that has ruled the West, and increasingly the East, for so long.

For 500 years or more, this scientific ethos has reduced the universe to its base material components and irrationally sought to push away any hint of the miraculous or spiritual mystery from our everyday lives. In this old reality, humans were thought to have evolved accidentally, or to have been pushed into existence by a distant force, and now are left alone to forge out a living with their wills against a dead and impartial world.

Of course, our years of materialism no doubt have been part of a necessary evolution. Faced with a chaotic medieval culture of corrupt churches, charlatans, and salvation-for-sale, our emphasis on rationalism was important. We established the scientific method as a way to build a consensus about the world around us. But there were problems from the beginning.

In an uneasy truce with the church, science focused first on the simplest and most concrete phenomenon: the outer, physical universe. Because the need was mainly to make the world orderly for technology and commerce, science tended to stop there and to assign all inner psychic or religious phenomena to the realm of the fanciful. In this way, science suffered from and created in the masses the illusion that the universe was ordinary and devoid of miracle and mystery.

That's why over the entire 20th century, the investigation of deeper spiritual experience was avoided by any scientist who wanted to be accepted by the mainstream. They were not willing to confront what I like to call the dilemma of skepticism: the fact that while a doubtful attitude is essential to logically exploring our surroundings (we don't want to jump to conclusions, to adopt theories prematurely), some phenomena of life (states of awareness, extrasensory perception, etc.) are not detectable unless skepticism is suspended, at least temporarily.

Yet we can see now that the old worldview couldn't last. At some point, the blinders had to come off. Physics woke up first, totally undermining, with the work of quantum mechanics, the whole idea that we live in a commonplace world of solid matter. Atoms, once thought of as material building blocks, are now known to be composed of mysterious vibrating patterns of energy that demonstrate unbelievable characteristics, such as moving backward and forward in time, communicating across large spaces without a known medium, and spontaneously rising from and disappearing into the nothingness of the quantum void beneath them.

Just as mysterious is the rising new consensus, since Einstein, about the universe. We now know it to be place where time slows down, where black holes possibly link multiple dimensions and parallel universes, and where time travel seems possible.

Psychology has added to the new picture, creating a fuller understanding of the transpersonal spiritual experiences available to all human beings and giving us new evidence of the intriguing powers lying latent in our own minds--including telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition. New studies on intention and prayer are finally convincing us that our mental outlooks and attitudes move out from our minds and actually affect the state of our health (and that of others), the quality of our relationships, and even our individual destinies.