Does science have anything to say about enlightenment? Here's a quick answer:
It can help.
Science is a tool. Alas, like so many of our mental tools, it can take people over and blind them to the big picture. If you read this blog regularly you already know about this danger. In this article, though, I wish to highlight a peculiarity about science:
Some people throw away the tool because it scares them.
Within the community of people seeking and finding (or claiming to find) enlightenment you will find a habitual rejection of the objective. Some people will respond to certain types of ideas (such as those found in this blog) with comments like these:
“Those are interesting theories, but theories are distractions.”
“You think too much about these things.”
“One day you will realize that this is all a waste of time.”
Their warning is clear: stop searching!
Some people can explain the warnings (which do have a certain validity!), but most cannot. Why is this?
I invite the reader to look around the world of enlightenment studies and notice how many fakers are out there. (I said “fakers”, not “fakirs.”) Look at how many people are simply parroting old teachings with a bit of rephrasing. Above all, please observe how carefully these people avoid saying:
“I have not actually attained that which I am speaking about.”
It's satisfying to the ego to pretend to be wise, and this includes uttering statements like, “You cannot understand this intellectually.” But many — probably most — of the people who talk like this are simply hiding their ignorance.
It's clear to any intelligent person that intellectual understanding has limitations. I can explain to you, in great detail, why that is. But that's for another article. The point I'd like to make here is this:
By stigmatizing intellect fakers protect their beliefs from inspection.
How easy it is to sit in the lotus position with a placid expression, while pretending to have overcome the frailties of the unenlightened! How simple it is to reply to every question with a mystifying answer! How convenient it is to interrupt every attempt to seek deeper understanding!
Much Eastern and mystical philosophy was built up by people who were hugely ignorant about the universe. They knew nothing — literally nothing — about neurology, genetics, memetics, cosmology, information theory, quantum physics. Heck, they didn't even understand basic physics.
In addition, they did not understand the revolution in cognition that resulted in the Scientific Method. It was too far outside their paradigm; they did not see how mere method could enforce principles of error correction.
It probably sounded to them like some people were claiming that honesty could be bottled. The ancient sages were not all-knowing; they were only human, after all. But humanity does not need to be stuck in medieval or Bronze Age memes. Ancient understanding is not inherently superior to modern understanding. Older does not automatically mean better. That is why I say:
The generation that can supersede mysticism is now alive.
I do not recommend that we go too far in the opposite direction. Ultra-rationalism is just as big a trap as mysticism. There are modes of cognition that should not be assigned to tackling certain types of problems. But please:
Let us not throw away what humanity has paid so dearly to obtain.
We have the ability to understand — actually understand — what universal oneness means. We do not need obscurantist mysticism to see this.
I've had countless self-proclaimed gurus tell me that it is not possible to “understand” such things. They will tell me that I am merely engaging in intellectual play. Some have even called it mental masturbation.
Yet the strange thing is, I actually do explain, in clear terms, what they cannot and do not explain. They are like people who discovered fire by mistake and have concluded that it must forever remain a mystery.
The theory of such people seems to be:
IF ........ you can't intellectually understand all of it,
THEN ... you can't intellectually understand most of it.
I will admit that I've never heard them state it that clearly. Indeed, I rarely hear them state anything clearly.
There remain two major mysteries for me. And if there is a mystical dimension to all this, perhaps it will be found while addressing these enigmas.
The first issue is: Where did our universe come from? I have some opinions about this, none of which are mystical, but I haven't a shred of evidence. The only honest answer I can offer is: I don't know.
The second issue is: What is the essential nature of awareness? I have explained “consciousness” in an earlier article. But awareness itself — the pure perceiving that does not compare or judge — is still a mystery to me. It is as if the universe has found a way to recognize itself. What does that even mean? I don't know.
So there you have it: two clear failures on my part. I ask for your help if you can give any.
That's pretty much how science works, by the way. It's nothing to be afraid of.