The meeting of cutting-edge scientific and spiritual understandings of the world could be the foundation for us to live sustainably, writes Paul Fletcher
In the late summer of 1983, scientists such as the physicist Fritjof Capra and biologist Francisco Varela joined spiritual leaders such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and zen master Baker Roshi at a pioneering event in Austria.
By the end of the five-day conference, which was called Other Realities and took place in the village of Alpbach, it was hard for me to distinguish the scientists from the mystics. The conclusion of all the assembled wisdom was that spirituality without science tends to be self-obsessed and weak, and that science without spirituality was mechanistic and inhuman. There needed to be a fusion of the beauty of science and the blissful nature of spirituality.
In the decades that followed, dialogue grew between scientific researchers and those with a spiritual vision for a better world. This lead into new fields of thought and understanding about the nature of reality. Central to this in the UK was the founding of the Scientific and Medical Network in 1973, which felt that science was often guilty of leaving out consciousness and purpose, and which tried to apply scientific rigour to its investigations into consciousness. The Wrekin Trust charity also ran a series of conferences similar to the Austrian event.
The historical perspective is important because over the last three centuries western civilisation has turned away from the natural world and become more and more absorbed in the material world. It is generally accepted that science has brought major advancement and improvements in our lives, but with the acceleration of technology and communications, human activity has become more frenzied and damaging to the planet.
Yet there is an emerging vision of science that places life within an overall process of great complexity and which has led us to an understanding of the web of life, not only on our planet but also in the extended harmonies of the universe. Our minds and consciousness are part of this harmony.
Within this new model, matter, as it was previously understood, is disappearing as the fundamental feature of reality, as the notion of energy replaces it.
One of the great breakthroughs from science would be an acceptance that we are so much more than our physical bodies. Scientists now admit the reality of etheric matter, but acknowledging the ‘etheric body’ supporting the physical would bring a huge step forward for humanity and its understanding of our place in the cosmos.
In his book Harmony: A New Way of Looking At Our World, the Prince of Wales writes of a “golden thread” of perennial philosophy that will reconnect us with the natural and spiritual world. He quotes Marcus Aurelius: “All things are linked with each other and bound together with a sacred bond.”
Prince Charles draws on examples from farming, architecture, medicine and contemporary science where this idea is beginning to be put into practice, and he outlines how our fast-changing societies can break through to new and harmonious ways of living.
Here is where science has to revolutionise itself. At the same time, research into consciousness and concepts such as healing has to become more scientific and rigorous.
One of the voices from the Austrian conference, biologist Rupert Sheldrake, notes in his latest book, The Science Delusion, how science has hardened its attitude towards unorthodox ideas and is stifling the scientific spirit of enquiry. He also points out that “the power unleashed by scientific knowledge is causing the mass extinction of other species and endangering our own.”
There is a now a strong call from those like Sheldrake and others in the scientific community for a recognition of a wider transpersonal consciousness. If this breaks through into the broader world of science, it would offer a new way of thinking about the world, which could enable us to truly live sustainably.
Paul’s recommended reading:
– Changing Consciousness, David Bohm and Mark Edwards (Harper Collins, 1991)
– Third Millennium: The Challenge and the Vision, Ervin Laszlo (Gaia, 1997)
– Harmony: A New Way of Looking At Our World, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales (Blue Door 2010)
– The Science Delusion, Rupert Sheldrake (Coronet 2012)