Spirituality informs science, and science strengthens spirituality—explore a lifelong peace activist's thoughts on the intersection of the two.
Humanity is on a journey—a journey from separation to relationship, from lust to love, and from dualism to unity. One of the dominant dualisms of our time has been the disconnection between science and spirituality, between reason and love. Since the age of pure reason, our educational system has been working hard to establish the conviction that science must be free of spirituality, and that spirituality should have nothing to do with science. In other words, reason must rule while love is relegated to the personal realm.
Following the Example of Spiritual Scientists
For the past hundred years, millions of graduates have been leaving universities inducted into the belief that spirituality is a matter of private life, if not something to be dismissed altogether. And yet this tendency has ignored past and present scientists who see no dichotomy between the scientific and the spiritual, between love and reason.
The outstanding German poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang Goethe worked with a profound scientific spirit. In his books Metamorphosis of Plants and Theory of Colors, he challenged a narrow and linear view of science. With his phenomenological understanding of Nature, he expounded a more interrelated, cyclical, and holistic science. But Goethe’s idealistic and spiritual science has been neglected by students of science in most universities. Instead, he has been valued as a great poet and not as a scientist. The same is true of Leonardo da Vinci, who is remembered as a great artist but rarely as an influential scientist. Because he was concerned with living forms and embraced the science of quality as well as quantity, our contemporary science of complexity and systems thinking finds its roots in da Vinci’s work. The moment we think of a science of quality, the spiritual comes into play.
Albert Einstein was also a spiritual scientist. He said, “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe and in the face of which we, humans, with our modest powers, must feel humble.” Einstein respected the religious dimension of human experience, claiming that “science without religion is blind and religion without science is lame.” He was not talking about organized religious establishments; he was talking about religious experience, which is beyond measurement and institutional dogmas.
How Science and Spirituality Balance One Another
Bringing spirituality and science, love and reason together helps to bring meaning and measurement together. These two should not be fragmented or separated. A sense of unmanifested wonder and curiosity, of intuition and inspiration exists before empirical knowledge from the experimentation, evidence, and proof that lead to scientific hypotheses and theories. Dismissing unmanifest intuition or inspiration, as some materialist scientists do, is a grave folly.
The word “spirit” simply means breath, or wind. We cannot see, touch, or measure the wind, but we can feel it. As a tree’s limbs are moved by wind, humans are moved by spirit. Breath, or wind, is the invisible and subtle force that makes life possible. The visible is sustained by the invisible. Outer material reality is held together through the power of inner spiritual reality. Acknowledging one and denying the other is like wanting a bird to fly with just one wing.
The reality of wholeness is composed of two interrelated aspects. Chinese call it the harmony of yin and yang. Indians call it the balance of Shiva and Shakti. Positive and negative, dark and light, silence and speech, emptiness and fullness, spirit and matter—the unmanifest and the manifest are part of one single whole.
Uniting science and spirituality has a very practical purpose. Science without spirituality can easily lose an ethical perspective. Scientists without the guidance of spirituality have engaged in the invention of nuclear bombs and other weapons of war, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, factory farming in which animals are reared in cruel conditions, and technologies that create waste, pollution, and destruction of the natural world. Science without the guidance of spiritual values is responsible for many of the problems that the world faces today. Science needs the helping hand of spiritual wisdom in order to maintain its integrity and modify its power. Science by itself is not benign, value-free, or neutral. Without spiritual wisdom, science can be dangerous. It can be subject to manipulation by the wealthy and politically powerful.
As science needs spirituality, spirituality also needs science. Without science, spirituality can easily and quickly turn into blind faith, dogmatism, sectarianism, and fundamentalism. Unscientifically minded people too easily claim: “My god is the only true god and I have the truth. Everybody must be converted to my truth.” Such narrow religious exclusivity has also led to wars, conflicts, terrorism, and division. Science helps to keep our minds open so we can seek truth and act for the benefit of the whole of humanity and for the good of all living beings, human and other-than-human.
Do we want to live in a fragmented way, either as materialists discarding the subjective dimension of spiritual wisdom or as spiritual seekers denigrating the objective world of scientific discovery? The choice is ours. I suggest we embrace spirituality with scientific minds. For me, science and spirituality are complementary parts of the whole. Science is built on reason, and spirituality is built on love.
Balancing the Brain's Hemispheres
According to the well-known neurologist Iain McGilchrist, our brains have two hemispheres. The left hemisphere is the place of science and the right hemisphere is the place of spirit, intuition, and love. In his book, The Master and His Emissary, McGilchrist says that the right hemisphere of the spirit is and should be the dominant force, while the left hemisphere of science and reason is and should be the emissary. Enduring love is achieved through the union of the two hemispheres of the brain.
But influenced by the workings of our social, economic, and political lives, and even supported through modern education, we have come to privilege the left hemisphere and suppress the right. The emissary rules while the master is imprisoned!
Science and reason are about theory and measurement. Spirituality is about implicit and internal reality. Science looks at the world and sees its various parts in fragments. Spirituality looks at the world and sees it whole. Science considers the Earth, Nature, and even the human body in mechanical terms. Spirituality views them all as living organisms.
From a holistic and nondualistic perspective, we need both sides. We need to have the left hemisphere of our brains as active as the right hemisphere. We are born with two incredible gifts. What sense is there to cherish only one or the other?
How to Keep Spirituality and Science in Balance
Let us restore the spiritual qualities of love, compassion, humility, and mutuality to our education system, and to our social, economic, and political worlds. And let us allow science, reason, measurement, and mathematics to inform our religious, spiritual, and emotional worlds.
The question is, where do we start? How do we ensure that there is no fragmentation between love and reason, between science and spirituality? The answer is education. We have to start with our children. At home and at school, in colleges and in universities, we must introduce the big picture, the whole story: inner and outer, spiritual and material, love and reason, heart and head. Let us bring love back into education.
From Radical Love by Satish Kumar, Parallax Press 2023.
Explore these three lessons from science and religion.