“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”
Science involves the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural world through observation and experiment. One might say that science is a process of discovery. We learn in every era of human existence new information regarding the physical nature of our universe and the relationship of human beings to the cosmos and the intricate workings of reality. The history of scientific “fact” has been one of a continuing alteration of our understanding of “certainties” as new discoveries have enlightened us and extended our sense of wonderment. Remember that we once believed that the earth was the center of the universe and all things revolved around it, until Copernicus and Galileo helped us to see differently.
Most of us recall from our high school science the definition of an atom as the smallest unit of a chemical element that consists of a nucleus composed of neurons and protons with one or more electrons orbiting about the nucleus. It can combine with other atoms to form a molecule and subsequently into matter. This seemed in the past as a fairly simple concept until we consider that we have altered this definition by the discovery of quarks which are elementary particles that combine to form composite particles called hadrons—the most stable of which are protons and neutrons. Every discovery in science that seems to have a certain finality to it (such as the smallest unit of matter) must always be understood as to be only of this moment in time and that it could soon be replaced with another discovery.
One theory associated with quarks called “Boltzmann brain” creates a scenario that self-aware entities could come out of random collections of atoms—essentially that people could materialize out of nowhere. Scientists agree that it is unlikely but the scenario is used to demonstrate the infinite possibilities of existence. Furthermore, electrons in an atom may leap from one orbit to another orbit without occupying the space in between. This is known as a “quantum leap.” In other words, material energy may disappear from one location and reappear in another location without passing through the space that separates the two locations.
The evolution of scientific theory suggests that there is much we have not yet discovered. Whether you smile or wrinkle your brow at such ideas, you have to agree that the emergence of quantum physics has strangely moved science closer and closer to a rationale for a spiritual interpretation of existence and an ultimate merging with metaphysics—that branch of philosophy that deals with the first principle of things. Because metaphysics addresses abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space, it has not had a place in the “pure” sciences, which purportedly deal with known fact. The term metaphysics has even been used to mean abstract theory or talk with no basis in reality. But the fantastical natures of spirituality seem ever more plausible as science explores equally imaginative concepts and the mysteries of both come closer and closer to merging.
The spiritual practice that seems to me to be most impacted by the alignment of science with mysticism is the ancient art of shamanism. Let me provide an example that suggests that quantum physics and shamanism might actually cross paths in their respective realms of knowledge. Shamanism employs spirit helpers, which are called forth to assist in the healing and spiritual development of the individual. The shaman “affects” the changes in the individual by this mysterious connection to the spiritual realm. Consider this in light of the quantum physicist’s reality being dependent on the interplay between how our reality manifests and how we observe it. In quantum physics this is called the “observer effect.” The theory posits that the act of observing a phenomenon alters the reality of the phenomenon. The experiment producing this theory involved a double slit through which light passes. Depending on the observer, the light could become particles or a wave. In other words the observer altered the reality of the thing being observed. In shamanism, the shaman alters the reality of what has been conceived as one thing in a way that it can become a new thing.
Additionally, experiments in quantum physics, as an extension of this double slit experiment, has hypothesized that an object might co-exist in two locations at the same time—the Co-existence Principle. If such were the case, one could see in it the possibility of the shamanic practice that allows a simultaneous life to exist in different space and time. In contemporary society such beliefs have been dismissed as fantasy but in shamanism the fantastical may be merely the alternative dimension reality that has yet to be recognized by the next discovery in science.
Shamanism involves dealing with alternative realities and transitioning in space and time into past and future realms in ways that seem to defy scientific logic, but such might not be the case. Science now sees the universe as more than a smooth fabric with straight-line sight dimensions but as containing curvatures in both time and space that do not conform to earlier assumptions of space as an infinite continuation and time as tightly controlled by the ticking of a clock. Time and space warps are the subjects of science fiction but they are derived from the science of string theory and relativity. Modern cosmology reveals that the universe has an inherent curvature and so it is possible that objects can move from one point in space to another point without passing through the space that separates the two points. Shamanism does not propose that we would act in irrational ways but that to discover the different dimensions of the possible we must act in non-rational ways. This intuitive and imaginative approach to thought and action allows the mind to free itself from the artificial constraints of a rationality that cannot see beyond the simplest forms of so-called “facts.”
As quantum physics has informed our thinking in ways that seem to violate traditional scientific principles, we seem to have opened ourselves more fully to possibilities that our ancient ancestors had grasped in their close and interdependent relationship with the universe. Shamans connected across time and space with spirit helpers and living and deceased beings that help us to restore lost soul parts and heal, discover the beauty of our perfect selves, and find unity with a seamless universe.
The so-called conflict between science and spirituality has often been argued as a conflict between reality and that which we imagine. The former has been associated with reason and the latter with intuition. Albert Einstein once wrote: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Perhaps the “observer effect” of quantum physics needs to be employed in the resolution of this perceived divergence of science and spirituality. If we can see the compatibility of reality and that which is yet to be realized, we can bring our understanding and knowledge full circle to rediscover how our past informs our future and how the wisdom of the ancients intuitively defined the reality that science now discovers.