The Scientific Basis for Mysticism
An article, subtitled "The Science of Correspondence and the Need to Expand Our Definition of Science", by Deno Kazanis, Ph.D, the author of The Reintegration of Science and Spirituality.
We live in a contradiction of astronomical proportions. On the one hand we are a single individual on a planet of nearly 6 billion people, in a solar system which is one of billions in the milky way, and the milky way is in turn one of 50 billion galaxies in the universe. This scientifically valid fact makes us seemingly insignificant. On the other hand we are the only consciousness we can experience, and we are the center from which our consciousness views this universe. This equally valid experiential fact cannot be scientifically proved or disproved, and makes us the center of our universe.
So which are we, this seemingly infinitesimal individual in this vast universe, or the center of our universe? Well, no one would question that we are obviously both. One is a scientific perspective, the other an experiential perspective. How can these two vastly different perspectives connect?
Present day western science is based on logical connections leading to an intellectual comprehension of the universe, but a science based on analogical or metaphorical connections can be and has been developed, which leads to an experiential understanding of the universe. The concept of science can and should be generalized to include any natural connection the human mind makes between concepts.
Swedenborg referred to this metaphorical science as the "Science of Correspondence". Mysticism utilizes this broader definition of science, and in so doing has developed a basis for teaching and communicating their discoveries of the spiritual dimension of humankind. In a previous article 1, it was demonstrated that the recent western scientific discovery of 'dark matter' is consistent with and can include the mystical findings of subtle bodies and various "planes of matter" or consciousness. We will go on here to show that traditional analogical connections can form the basis of the path toward experiencing our subtle bodies, and thus toward our spiritual growth.
As David V. Tansley points out, "although a basic intellectual understanding of the subtle bodies is important, this mode of knowing must be transcended and transformed into experience; this alone turns the key to the locked door of the Mysteries and provides the student with a true knowledge of his inner being." 2One may wonder how it is that other cultures, in particular mystical cultures and third world cultures have become aware of subtle bodies, or one may wonder how one might become aware of subtle bodies and spiritual development, or one may wonder how western science must be generalized to include these mystical understandings. Well the answer to all these questions may lie in our natural thinking processes. Mystics as well as third world cultures think more often metaphorically, whereas the western scientific world is dominated by logical thinking. And it is through the metaphorical or analogical thinking process that, it appears, one turns the key to the locked doors.
This may give insight into why western science techniques have been so successful in exploring the physical universe. The best suggestion might be that scientific thought can be based on precise connections utilized naturally by the human mind. So, for example, when we utilize precise logical connections we develop our western science. But since the human mind can think and connect in other ways as well, such as analogically or metaphorically, it would therefore seem reasonable that precise analogical connections could also be developed into a science. The determinant factor for creating a science may not be dependent upon the type of mental connection, but rather the precision of the mental connection. Poor logic obviously leads to an inaccurate conclusion, as would a bad analogy.
When we generalize our definition of science in this way, then it becomes clear that some ancient cultures, some third world cultures, mystics and shamans, have already developed a precise analogical or metaphorical science, which Emanuel Swedenborg called the "Science of Correspondence" (an excellent term for this science). Swedenborg regarded this science as the "Science of Sciences", but it can also be regarded as the "Art of Arts". Indeed, this metaphorical thinking is closer to western arts (music, poetry, paintings, etc.) than to western sciences. Although Swedenborg believed that this metaphorical science was very well known by advanced ancient cultures and had mostly been lost, he did not have available to him the literature or beliefs of much of the world, of Tibet, China, India, Japan, Africa, or the shamans of the American Indians or the Australian Aborigines. The science of correspondence is more than an analogical way of organizing information, but contains the potential of an "identity" to the relationship between objects and symbols. Not all analogies have this quality. But this "identity" is not readily apparent in our normal state of consciousness. It requires a significant change in our state of mind in order to experience the "identity". Joseph Campbell equates this state of consciousness with the opening of the Heart chakra. The techniques associated with the science of correspondence can allow this shift of consciousness, in time, to occur.
Limitations of western science
Due to specialization, today's scientists are trained in a very limited perspective of knowledge. Very few have the opportunity to even explore other sciences in any depth, let alone subjects like the philosophy of science. Mainstream scientists tend to feel they understand how science operates, and as a result scientists do not know what they don't know. Their perspective paints a picture of the universe in which they may find security in, but philosophers and poets do not. The vast majority of scientists are "mainstream" or "hard-core" scientists. They perform traditional scientific tasks and do not explore that which violates the presently accepted paradigm of science. To them the existing paradigm dictates what is possible and what is not possible.
The "visionary" scientists are people like Newton, Schroedinger, Einstein, Pauli, Heisenberg, De Broglie, Hawking, Jung, and many others. The "visionary" scientist has a better understanding of the capabilities and limits of western science, whereas the mainstream scientist is a "true believer" of science and does not really understand its limitations. The mainstream scientists have been taught to distrust experience, which is regarded as deceptive and misleading. It is interesting to contrast this with the artist who views the variations and inconsistencies in human experience as what are of interest to explore. To the scientist this lack of reproducibility from person to person, this subjectivity, or personal "misconceptions", are the problems which need to be avoided in order to perform controlled "objective" experiments.
The justification for distrusting experience by scientists is partially because it seemingly has led to incorrect conclusions. The classical example is the perception of a falling object under the force of gravity. Before Galileo, it was assumed that heavy objects fall faster than light objects. Galileo performed careful experiments using an inclined plane (to slow down the falling movement), and a water clock to measure the time of this motion. He discovered that for objects rolling down the inclined plane at a given slope or angle, their motion was essentially independent of their weight. Furthermore he discovered that the distance traveled was proportional to the time squared, and not to the time. In other words, for an object starting at rest, if you double the time you quadruple the distance it travels. The object was accelerating uniformly. The concept of acceleration becomes important in developing Newton's Laws of Motion. Galileo would eventually go to the leaning tower of Pisa and simultaneously drop two objects of significant weight difference, and they hit the ground at the same time. Prior to Galileo one might have suspected that an object of twice the weight of another object might reach the ground in half the time. Without this careful experimentation and measurement, our understanding of the behavior of falling objects was inaccurate. These simple experiments open the door to Newton's laws of motion.
The scientist can point to countless situations where man's beliefs were incorrect prior to scientific exploration. This has led many scientists to simply believe that we cannot trust our intuitions, or our experiences. But there are countless situations of the following, also. We should recall that in 1903, a soon to be Nobel Prize Laureate, Albert Abraham Michelson, stated that "The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote." 3 And another well known physicist (Lord Kelvin) stated over 100 years ago that the job of physics was essentially complete and students should not bother to pursue a career in physics. Both these statements are of course, before quantum mechanics, before relativity, before high energy and nuclear physics, before elementary particles, etc. Scientific perceptions are also often incorrect. One hundred years ago, the entire universe was thought to lie in the Milky Way and there was no big bang concept, but rather a steady state universe which had no beginning or end. Even though the nuclear power of the sun was literally staring them in the face, scientists didn't see it as nuclear energy, but as thermal energy generated by the contraction of the sun. They believed they had explained all physical phenomena in terms of the laws of physics available to them at the end of the last century. It is not unusual to make things fit in terms of our understandings, or, if that can't be done, we simply discredit or ignore the phenomena.
Even today mainstream scientists really don't anticipate any major changes in their perspective of the universe or the present paradigm. They never do. Their effort is more aimed at either ignoring what they can't explain, or trying to make the observation fit the model, just as Lord Kelvin made the energy of the sun fit into thermal energy. An example of that today might be Dr. Francis Crick, Nobel Prize Laureate, who has recently published a book entitled "The Astonishing Hypothesis", about which he says that "everything that you see and feel, your emotions, and so on, all that, on this hypothesis is due to the activities of nerve cells and other molecular events going on inside your brain, and it is not necessary to postulate something external ... that you might call the soul. His book sketches the science of just one kind of consciousness, the visual, but in all that we perceive, interpret and remember, everything that we've identified with mind and spirit, all of it he says, is just the firing of tiny electrical charges in the neuron of the brain. He says his campaign is to engage scientists in the study of consciousness, to appropriate the well worked turf of philosophers and theologians, and explore it with the tools of experimental science." 4 Yet he cannot provide concrete evidence for what he wants to believe. Clearly Dr. Francis Crick does not anticipate any significant new discoveries.
If we follow the history and philosophy of science as Thomas S. Kuhn did in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", we find that transitions in paradigms ("universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners") undergo significant upheavals and are not as smooth or as clear cut or as logical as we are led to believe in retrospect. 5
Schroedinger, a great scientist himself, whose wave equation became the foundation of quantum mechanics, understood the limits of science quite well. In his book, "My View of the World", he states: "The scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.
"So in brief, we do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe that we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture. Our bodies belong to it. Not only my own body, but those of my friends, also of my dog and cat and horse, and of all the other people and animals. And this is my only means of communicating with them.
"... The scientific world-picture vouchsafes a very complete understanding of all that happens - it makes it just a little too understandable. It allows you to imagine the total display as that of a mechanical clockwork which, for all that science knows, could go on just the same as it does, without there being consciousness, will, endeavor, pain and delight and responsibility connected with it - though they actually are. And the reason for this disconcerting situation is just this: that for the purpose of constructing the picture of the external world, we have used the greatly simplifying device of cutting our own personality out, removing it; hence it is gone, it has evaporated, it is ostensibly not needed.
"In particular, and most importantly, this is the reason why the scientific worldview contains of itself no ethical values, no esthetical values, not a word about our own ultimate scope or destination, and no God, if you please. Whence came I and whither go I?" 6
Schroedinger makes it clear that present day science cannot answer, or even approach the basic questions we have about the universe, such as who we are, why are we here, and how we should live. Is there a God? A soul? etc. Many other scientists and non-scientists alike have over the years, made similar observation about science. The 20th century science has been so silent on these questions -- unable to even approach them, that mainstream scientists have tacitly concluded that these questions are not worth pursuing, and are of no value.
Schroedinger is not ridiculing science. In fact he has a high regard for his profession. He is simply stating what should be an obvious truth about the limits of science as it is practiced today. If science is to begin to move beyond these limitations, its basic premise must be expanded. Science is presently locked into logic as the only way that meaningful connections can occur and conclusions can be made. Scientists hide behind their "objectivity" to nullify any direct experiential knowledge, a striking contrast with the science of correspondence.
As Stephen Hawking points out "a scientific theory is just a mathematical model we make to describe our observations: it exists only in our minds." 7
We cannot doubt the incredible successes of western science, nevertheless it has been unable to answer one significant spiritual issue. Carl Sagan has said that what he likes about science is that if you have a question, you can determine a scientific test for this question, perform the experiment and gather the data and reach a conclusion. This "statement" has the illusion of truth because scientists limit their thinking to those situations where this is true. However, significant spiritual issues do not lend themselves so easily to this type of logical process. In an obvious sense, God not being definable cannot be put to a scientific test. But we also find that typically spiritual issues often lead to a win-win situation. Take, for example the goddess Quan Yin. In China if you pray to Quan Yin for something and she does not grant your prayer, well she has a very good reason, and one accepts that. Such a win-win situation makes it impossible to put such concepts to a logical test. The scientist might conclude one is only deluding oneself to believe such a thing, but there is no scientific proof for that conclusion either.
Spiritual enlightenment is regarded as the goal of the spiritual path, and although one might look upon enlightenment as an answer, it could equally be viewed as a question, since it is beyond duality. Being so, it does not lend itself to logical scientific exploration. Enlightenment may well be what happens between the question and the answer.
We should also consider Godel's discovery of the limitations that logic places on scientific investigation. A century ago it was believed that given a sufficient set of premises, a statement could be logically proved or disproved. However, Godel has shown that this is not true of logic -- not all consequences of a fundamental set of theorems can be proved, even though the consequence may be consistent with the theorems. Not all questions can be answered logically even if you had all the basic theorems that define the universe.
Another limitation of science comes from Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle, which limits our precision of logical knowledge, and points out that to make a measurement, one interferes with or effects the system one is measuring.
More recently, chaos theory has shown us that the solutions of certain types of mathematical equations, such as second order non-linear differential equations, cannot be written in equation form. These types of equations cannot be solved by clever mathematical tricks, but require a computer to describe the solutions. Furthermore, the path of the solution is unpredictable. All of this came as a great surprise to mathematicians and scientists alike. As long as science chose to ignore these equations (and scientists did so because they couldn't solve them), the universe looked logically predictable. Now it does not appear so.
Transpersonal experiences in general do not lend themselves to scientific scrutiny. As Stanislav Grof states: "Transpersonal experiences have many strange characteristics that shatter the most fundamental assumptions of materialistic science and of the mechanistic worldview. Researchers who have seriously studied and/or experienced these fascinating phenomena realize that the attempts of traditional psychiatry to dismiss them as irrelevant products of imagination or as erratic phantasmagoria generated by pathological processes in the brain are superficial and inadequate. Any unbiased study of the transpersonal domain of the psyche has to come to the conclusion that the observations involved represent a critical challenge for the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm of Western science". 8
To better explore transpersonal experiences, we need to understand the nature of humankind's total consciousness. What we normally regard as the unconscious can become conscious as we shift our consciousness to our subtle bodies. From the etheric body, the visible body and etheric body are conscious and the astral body, mental body, etc. are still unconsciousness. As we shift our consciousness deeper and deeper, more activities of the subtle bodies become conscious. Many techniques for experiencing the subtle bodies and the unconscious are best explained by Swedenborg's "science of correspondence". Let us look at this concept in more detail.
The science of correspondence
Simply stated, the science of correspondence is a functional metaphorical/analogical relationship between two logically unrelated objects or events. The relationship is actually an identity, but this identity cannot be experienced in our normal state of consciousness. This relationship cannot be intellectually grasped, it is not a logical connection. The science of correspondence requires a long term exploration in order to be comprehended and utilized properly, just as does our western logical science. If you combine Carl Jung's concepts of "synchronicity" and "archetypes", you will find something very much like the science of correspondence. This analogical or metaphorical science is applied in mythology, iconography, true ritual and ceremony, dreams, as well as in alchemy, astrology, the Kabbalah, and mystical symbology. An excellent example of Correspondence is the Mandala, a symbol utilized by many cultures, and which corresponds to man and to the universe. Obviously this is not a physical description or drawing of man or of the universe, nor is it just an informative symbolic representation, but when properly experienced, the Mandala is a precise correspondence to man and to the universe.
Man communicates through symbols. Whether those symbols are the spoken word, the written word, pictures or images, they are still symbols and are not the object or concept itself. We cannot directly transfer experiences from one individual to another. We cannot simultaneously share our experiences -- we can only share events. We can point to a tree or the grass or the sky, but we cannot know how the other person experiences these things, so these objects are symbols also -- symbols of themselves. Symbols come in various shapes and sizes, have various connotations, and are more or less significant or meaningful. A symbol can be representational, codified, analogical, etc. But visual or verbal symbols in mysticism are not just representational or codified or analogical but convey a basic identity with the object or concept they symbolize. That is to say they connect in a pure objective sense, but not necessarily in a logical sense. They can be experienced as an identity, the symbol and that which is symbolized. This type of "correspondent" symbology is used in all techniques which lead to a mystical or spiritual understanding of the universe and mankind. Let us explore this further.
Dreams are the personal aspect of myth. Dreams and their meaning seem to get rediscovered, and it was Freud who rediscovered the value of dreams in the 20th Century. Carl Jung says "In 1900, Sigmund Freud published in Vienna a voluminous work on the analysis of dreams. Here are the principle results of his investigation. The dream, far from being the confusion of haphazard and meaningless associations it is commonly believed to be, or a result merely of somatic sensations during sleep as many authors suppose, is an autonomous and meaningful product of psychic activity, susceptible, like all other psychic functions, of a systematic analysis. The organic sensations felt during sleep are not the cause of the dream; they play but a secondary role and furnish only elements (the material) upon which the psyche works. According to Freud the dream, like every complex psychic product, is a creation, a piece of work which has its motives, its trains of antecedent associations; and like any considered action it is the outcome of a logical process, of the competition between various tendencies and the victory of one tendency over another. Dreaming has meaning like everything else we do. It may be objected that all empirical reality is against this theory, since the impression of incoherence and obscurity that dreams make upon us is notorious. Freud calls this sequence of confused images the manifest content of the dream; it is the facade behind which he looks for what is essential - namely, the dream-thought or the latent content. Freud applies to the dream the same principle that we always instinctively use when inquiring into the causes of human actions. He asks himself quite simply: why does this particular person dream this particular thing?" 9
An earlier scientist who utilized dreams in his exploration of the inner world was Emanuel Swedenborg. His personal approach to the language of correspondence began with the symbols that appeared in his dreams. In 1744 he was completing his four volumes of the brain which threw light on the operations of the brain which were appreciated only centuries later. But still not being able to find the soul in man, he pursued an inward journey, utilizing his dreams. Instead of just occasionally jotting down dreams, he began to record and interpret them daily. "Eventually Swedenborg's feeling and imagery burst forth, presenting symbols within symbols growing, comprehending all." After a very long process of self-analysis and inner changes which he inadvertently undertook in this process, the visionary tendency broke into his waking life. He later stated "We must not, by our own power and by own intelligence, begin to doubt the heavenly truths which are revealed to us." Swedenborg was to claim that he was permitted to walk in heaven and hell, and wrote extensively about these experiences. 10
Carl Jung states that "The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends. For all ego-consciousness is isolated; because it separates and discriminates, it knows only particulars, and it sees only those that can be related to the ego. Its essence is limitation, even though it reaches to the farthest nebulae among the stars. All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood." 11