from nature to science to spirituality and back

an essay in the series views from the mountains

first: May 11, 2019, last: May 22, 2019 leave a comment

Science developed a number of powerful concepts and theories for explaining phenomena in our physical world. Once established, after a number of scrutinizing tests, they have precise meaning and fit consistently into an entire network of further theories and experiments. An example is the still enigmatic quantum mechanics, which describes a range of experimental phenomena with extraordinary accuracy, while at the same time escaping our everyday intuition.

Scientific theories and the tools they develop and employ are esoteric, however, i.e., inaccessible to most and deeply understood by only a minute fraction of scientists from the respective field. On the other hand, there is a strange beauty to their formalisms that turns them into art. Finally, and most importantly, there is their demonstrated power to do in our physical reality, to recognize, predict, or build some thing. Inaccessibility, beauty, and power make such theories immensely attractive for our imagination. They are indeed sometimes hijacked to “explain”, even “prove”, concepts that are completely foreign to their nature.

Short of their illegitimate invocation in foreign territory, the fascination of scientific theories, and of their tools, may indeed be employed to fire up our imagination and to widen our perspectives on completely unrelated topics. Such transfers – images – may be powerful aids, even though they almost never represent the reality of the current focus. They often function like filters that highlight coincident structures, or like projectors that deepen or extend the current focus. The nature of the filters and projectors in their proper world – for instance in quantum mechanics – is thereby immaterial and indeed not used at all. It is the structures that matter, and guide.

Transferring images of some reality to a completely foreign situation can open new perspectives but it also comes with dangers. One of them is over-interpretation, all the way to projecting complete rubbish. Another one is partial or even complete blindness for more fitting views. Relentless scrutiny helps and so does the understanding that the dream must not be mistaken for the real thing.

He who wants to find gold must test it in fire…

A transfer of images akin to that from science to other realms also occurs from nature to other realms, again as inspirational filters and projectors. Yet another and more delicate transfer arises between material and immaterial realms, like between science and nature on the one hand and our psychological, mental, and spiritual worlds on the other. Testing in fire is more delicate here, however, and it needs an easier hand, for fear of burning the house instead of just the idol.

…but beware of burning the house instead of just the idol.

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