Science and Subjectivity: Are They Mutually Exclusive?
“We say Newton discovered gravitation. Was it sitting anywhere in a corner waiting for him? It was in his own mind; the time came and he found it out. All knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind; the infinite library of the universe is in your own mind. The external world is simply the suggestion, the occasion, which sets you to study your own mind, but the object of your study is always your own mind.” ~ Vivekenanda
“There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.” ~ Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein spent years living within his imagination, experientially diving into the virtual dimensions of his intuition, and being thereby convinced that his theory of special relativity was true long before it could be proved mathematically or experimentally. All of the various records we have of this paradigm-busting visionary indicate that he highly esteemed the intuitive capacity of the human imgaination to reveal higher complexities underlying normal perception. Certain interpetative communities within modern science, however, tend to automatically shoot down new scientific hypotheses that daringly follow similar approaches to new scientific understanding, particularly pointing out how fallible such subjective processes can be. While it’s certainly important to question the validity of such new hypotheses, the degree of emotionally charged biases that often accompany the aforementioned attacks cannot so easily be attributed to purely logical reasoning processes.
The same subjective mind that makes judgmental errors based on interior experience is the same mind that assumes the scientific method to be more or less infallible because of a supposed absolute separation between exterior reality, which is operationally instituted using double-blind, placebo-controlled protocols and other controls with sophisticated statistical analysis, and interior subjectivity. It’s this supposed separation between pure objectivity and pure subjectivity, combined with peer reviewed replicability, that somehow keeps the fallible interior mind from interfering with purely objective results. I am certan that the scientific method is very useful and is indeed helpful in minimizing fallible subjectivity. Yet not all scientists agree on the infallibility of the scientific method.
The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, for example, questions whether any such separation between external reality and inner subjectivity is absolutely real. While many scientists consider this interpretation to be in error, the possibility of subjective consciousness playing a role in the collapsing of the wave function does present a potential weak link in the scientific method chain. This could conceivably explain why certain types of experiments, using identical methodologies, obtain very different results, depending on who is conducting the experiment and what their conscious and unconscious assumptions are. Studies on the efficacy of prayer, for example, have shown such varying results.
Could it be possible that different researchers and participants, who hold conscious and/or unconscious values and emotionally charged expectations regarding the results of an experiment, somehow affect the results, even when the research protocols are identical? Could it be that the overall consciousness level of the researchers and participants influences the outcome? Research in epigenetics, for example, suggests the possibility that various types of subjective and inter-subjective emotional dispositions may trigger different genetic potentials, and thereby affect experimental outcomes.
One of our recent Facebook fan page commenters, when responding to a post on the importance of interior inquiry and first-person practice within Ken Wilber’s Integral Framework mentioned that “Integral teaches that the lens of faith and religion cause [sic] people to view the same state as individual validation of the dogma that lead them there.”
In response to that reader, I’d like to point out that one of Ken Wilber’s influences (and, as far as I’m aware, the person who originally coined the term “Integral”), Sri Aurobindo, taught that it was possible to receive revelation knowledge of the universe inwardly via an aspect of consciousness that transcended the fallible human mind. Aurobindo, in fact, would enter into samadhic states while writing his treatises on integral spirituality. Likewise, the Tamil Siddha master Vethathiri Maharishi would enter into samadhic states and receive revelations of the nature of the universe, which he later translated into scientific language and lectured about at MIT. To this day, many aspects of his theory of universal magnetism continue to be corroborated by modern science.
“Transform reason into ordered intuition; let all thyself be light. This is thy goal.”
~ Sri Aurobindo
One of the main ideas in Ken Wilber’s work revolves around using the Integral Framework as a model for creating an intuitive balance, in practice, between the quadrants, levels, lines, states and types in a way that allows us as individuals and as a collective society to cultivate wholeness of body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature. When this wholeness is allowed to grow, transformation from one level of consciousness to a higher level occurs, and this transformation includes a transcending (and including) of the conditioned, rational, subjectively fallible mind. And it’s no mistake that some of the technologies used in Integral Spiritual Practice to achieve this transcendence are of an interior, subjective nature. The key is to combine the various exterior AND interior methodologies for a more complete view.
(By the way, I should point out that even Wilber’s brilliant work is not fully accepted by the scientific community, and has in fact been accused of being more a work of subjectivity than scientifically validated objectivity.)
Ken Wilber himself has expressed this higher aspect of consciousness in terms of gradations or levels, in part borrowed from Aurobindo: vision logic, illumined mind, intuitive mind, overmind, and supermind. On these he has stated, “Vision Logic is thinking wholes, Illumined Mind is seeing wholes, Intuitive Mind is feeling wholes, Overmind is witnessing wholes, and Supermind is being whole.”
The transcendence (and including) of the subjectively fallible mind has been traditionally achieved, in one form or another in the world’s various wisdom traditions, through a process of turning within to observe the mind. This in fact is a kind of phenomenological empiricism, and is a much needed and valid perspective necessary for a complete science. While science typically defines empiricism as a form of knowledge obtained by observation through the senses, the meditative traditions have long known that it is possible to observe the mind itself, beyond the five senses. Gautama Buddha, in fact, included the mind as a sixth sense.
Out of the practice of turning within eventually emerged the question, “What is it that is observing the mind?” The deeper into that question one delves with steadied awareness, the less likely an intellectual, linguistic answer can emerge, and the more likely a nondual realization of a being/consciousness/bliss beyond the conditioned mind will occur, however brief the conscious embodiment of that state may be. The whole point here is that the main objective of such interior practices as vipasyana meditation, mindfulness practice, and jnana yoga is to transcend (and include) the fallible subjective mind by becoming more deeply identified with aspects of our interiority that run beneath, above, and beyond the conditioned mind. And with each of these interior practices, as Ken Wilber has eloquently shown, comes an injunction that must first be followed by the individual in the interior, followed by peer review. And in order for these reviewing peers to be experienced “peers,” they must have also practiced this injunction and evaluated it in the interior to some level of proficiency.
While it’s true that subjective states of consciousness are used by religious individuals to substantiate the dogmas that led them there in the first place, the same can be said of some circles within the scientific community. The dogma of scientific materialism, for example, is often injected into scientific discussions, and yes, even in college classrooms, as being synonymous with scientific fact. As individuals holding the interpretation of scientific materialism examine further research, their resulting subjective states tend to reinforce their closely held dogma that only matter is real.
But shouldn’t scientists be obligated to observe their own minds, actually and quietly and prolongedly WATCH them, without rationalizing what they see? If they are to be truly “objective,” should scientists not be required to transcend and include the fallible subjectivity of their own minds using something other than the scientific method, which fails to directly penetrate into and beyond the habitual nature of the conditioned mind? Should not subjective human consciousness itself (i.e., pure and steady awareness, rather than mere rational thought processes) be acknowledged as THE principal instrument with which we conduct scientific inquiry and therefore be thoroughly trained and developed as such?
While it may be true that the fallible subjective mind can in fact usurp scientific theory to validate its own ingrained worldview, it can be said that there is a deeper, higher aspect of the mind, beyond the conditioned mind, per se, that is capable of glimpsing truth long before it can be validated using modern methods. And it is this higher intuitive mind, in fact, that has been responsible for advancing science to its position today.
As previously mentioned, Einstein spent many years intuitively exploring his imagination to arrive at his discoveries, long before they could be scientifically validated. While reading about the motion of the sun in Goethe’s Faust, Nikola Tesla spontaneously envisioned the polyphase motor. Roy Harrigan, going against all the known principles of magnetism, invented a form of magnetic levitation, principally because an intuitive spark within him told him it was possible. Henri Poincare received instantaneous insight into a rarefied form of mathematics at precisely the moment of stepping one foot onto a bus. The entire theory came in a flash of insight. While many of these examples may be the result of years of previous memories and experience coalescing and merging into new ideas, not all such scientific discoveries are easily seen as being the collective result of years of previous experience. There are documented cases of individuals, some of which are considered to be savants, who accurately express forms of knowledge that cannot in any way be traced to past experiences.
In my experience, it’s impossible to divorce subjectivity from science, because science itself has emerged from human subjectivity. When, for example, was the last time you witnessed any portion of the orca whale population writing doctoral theses on the propagation of photons in living tissue? The word “thesis” itself denotes an idea or proposal, presented by a human being with subjective consciousness, attempting to link a mental theory with factual evidence. There is something about human subjectivity that longs to understand the mysteries of nature that science so fervently studies. Even the fallacious statement (which my psychology professor stated to me in college), that “science is valueless,” is itself the product of an interior value judgment placing peer-reviewed scientific objectivity “above” fallible human subjectivity. The very statement itself, by implication, contradicts itself, precisely because human subjectivity cannot be separated from science.
It could be said that, through the quest of both science and spirituality, consciousness is fathoming and realizing itself. Beneath, behind, and beyond the striving of spiritual aspiration and scientific exploration lies consciousness. And until we can acknowledge just how ubiquitous consciousness and subjectivity are, even within the confines of supposed scientific objectivity, we will never have a complete or fully trustworthy science.
That being said, it is not my intention to wage war with these dogmatic views of science, which in various ways deny the primacy of consciousness and the importance of intuition, but instead to merely point out how their negations of consciousness actually reveal the important and powerful roles that consciousness and subjectivity play in science.
Eric Thompson is a co-founder of iAwake Technologies, LLC and was its Chief Technology Officer. Although no longer with iAwake Technologies, his contributions have been immense. Eric is also an inventor, researcher, and producer, and is considered one of the world’s foremost brainwave entrainment experts. In addition, Eric is a pioneer in the development of biofield entrainment technology, which digitally captures and transmits life-enhancing and beneficial subtle energies to the human biofield via any digital medium, including pictures, audio, and film. By combining this emerging technology with an unconventional, innovative, and original approach to audio brainwave entrainment, Eric strives to make profound spiritual development and emotional freedom more easily accessible to all. He writes and speaks on the intersection between neuroscience, psychology, subtle energy, and spirituality.
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