Thursday, August 28, 2003

Can Science Seek the Soul? (科學能搜尋到靈魂嗎?)

Can Science Seek the Soul? (科學能搜尋到靈魂嗎?)
[創意組織 ]

Can Science Seek the Soul?

DO you have a soul? Are you a soul? What is a soul? Why do so many people in so many cultures believe in an immortal soul, while so many scientists do not? In lives often capricious and filled with despair, belief in an immortal soul offers hope for the forlorn and comfort for the bereaved. This spiritual essence, which is somehow associated with each human being, is said to transcend death, offering a promise of better tomorrows than todays. But given the remarkable advances in neuroscience--the physics, chemistry, and biology of understanding how the brain senses, thinks, feels, and behaves--most scientist are materialists, who believe that only the physical is real. Materialists reject dualism, denying that any independent, nonphysical component--call it a soul--is part of our makeup. Can science seek the soul? History records ancient and protracted conflict between science and religion, and the battles still rage. To hear from all sides, we invited five soul-savvy experts.


Dr. Warren Brown is a professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he is director of research at the Psychophysical Laboratory. A committed Christian, Warren surprises us by denying the necessity of a traditional Christian soul.

Dr. Dean Radin, an experimental psychologist, is the former director of the Consciousness Research Laboratory at the University of Nevada. Though Dean believes that scientific research validates extrasensory perception and other psychic phenomena, he, too, doubts that good evidence supports the existence of a soul.

Dr. John Searle, the Mills Professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of numerous books about the mind, takes a rigorous approach to consciousness and a dim view of a disembodied soul.

Dr. Charles Tart, a professor of psychology emeritus at the University of California, Davis, is now at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, in Palo Alto. Charles believes that we need both science and spirituality to make us human.

Fred Alan Wolf, a theoretical physicist, is an international lecturer and author of many books on physics and the mind. Fred envisions spiritual underpinnings to all existence.

ROBERT: Charles, your recent book, Body, Mind, Spirit, propounds the importance of spirituality. What's the relationship between the existence of the soul, if such a noncorporeal entity exists, and spirituality?

CHARLES: Spirituality is predicated on the idea that human life is more than just a short-term show here and now, with nothing ever to happen after we die--that there are long-term consequences. This idea can have enormous impact on how people live their lives. Personally, I don't think the deciding factor should be belief--that we should just either believe in souls or spirituality or not believe in them. I think we should look at the evidence that there is something that transcends death, that transcends the physical body. And I find there's some evidence for just such an assertion, which makes spirituality much more interesting to me than if it were just a belief.

ROBERT: And if solid evidence could demonstrate life beyond death, and/or mind beyond the body, how would that affect our lives?

CHARLES: It would affect our lives a great deal. Suppose you know you're going to die in a short while. What are you going to do with your last hours?

ROBERT: I'm going to do more shows like this. Do you think that's a good investment for the really long term?

CHARLES: I think it is.

ROBERT: Fred, your book The Spiritual Universe claims to use scientific methods to prove that the soul exists. How can you use physical methods to prove the existence of something that's not physical?

FRED: First of all, we have to define what we mean by a soul. If we can get a definition that lends itself to some scientific test of probability, then we could prove its existence. I think we already have enough groundwork to start the search: there's enough in the way the physical universe is constructed to indicate the presence of something called soul. Where I begin looking for this soul is in the nature of quantum mechanics, or quantum physics, which says that there may be spiritual underpinnings to the physical world.

ROBERT: Warren, you're a neuroscientist and a psychologist--and also a committed Christian. You've coedited a book called Whatever Happened to the Soul? So tell us, what happened?

WARREN: The position we take in the book is that the idea of the soul as a separate metaphysical entity isn't necessary to explain humankind. That doesn't mean that God doesn't exist or that there's no spiritual world. But it does mean that you don't have to add a nonphysical element to our physical nature in order to explain what it means to be human.

ROBERT: Denying the existence of an immortal soul doesn't sound like Christian orthodoxy, even to my unordained theological ears.

WARREN: Right. Most Christians would probably find the negation of immortal souls a tough road to travel, but this is what I would call nonessential theology. That belief is not a critical point for most Christian theology.

ROBERT: John, you've been a leader in the rediscovery of the mind, the title of one of your many books. But rediscovering the mind does not mean defending the existence of the soul?

JOHN: It depends on what you mean by the soul. There are different definitions of "soul," and so because of this confusion I don't find the notion of soul much use. There is Aristotle's notion of soul, which is a kind of principle of organization of the body. And I have no objection to that. And if by "soul" you just mean "mind," I'm all for it. But there's another definition of soul--which we get from Descartes, and dualists, and so on--which says that there's this thing attached to your body, and when your brain and body are destroyed this thing is going to cut loose and have a life of its own. Now, that's very comforting to believe, but I've never seen any evidence for it. All the experiences I've ever had were caused by processes in my brain. And it's kind of depressing, but it turns out, as far as I can tell, that when my brain goes, those experiences go. I'm not going to have any soul after the destruction of my brain, any more than I'm going to have any digestion after the destruction of my stomach.

ROBERT: Dean, your book The Conscious Universe claims to apply scientific methods to the investigation of the paranormal, or psi phenomena. Can the same kinds of methodologies be used to assess the soul?

DEAN: Yes, these same kinds of methodologies can be, and actually have been, applied to search for after-death phenomena. Now you might think that as a parapsychologist I would be highly sympathetic to the idea of the existence of a soul, but in fact I'm fairly doubtful that, so far, we have any good evidence for something like a soul--something that actually survives bodily death.

ROBERT: In the early days of parapsychology, research focused on after-death survival and out-of-body and near-death experiences. There were many investigations of mediums and seances, where supposed spirits of the dead would come back to communicate with the living. Such survival research is no longer the focus of parapsychology. Why?

DEAN: It's true that parapsychology began pretty much as a study of mediumistic phenomena. But within a matter of a decade or less, it had transitioned into laboratory studies of phenomena like telepathic communication between a medium and what was thought to be the departed loved one. The reason for the transition was that if telepathy proved to be a real phenomenon, it would cast enormous doubt on just what or whom a medium was actually communicating with.

ROBERT: It isn't easy--even if you believe in psi--to distinguish between a medium reading the minds of the living relatives or truly communicating with the dead. So has survival research, at least in this technical sense, become less important to this question?

DEAN: No, I think it's still very important. It just turns out to be extremely difficult to find a valid empirical way of testing for survival that excludes the possibility of telepathy.

ROBERT: Do you agree with that, Charles?

CHARLES: I want to qualify that a little bit. When you look at the old mediumistic research, of course you find a lot of nonsense there. But occasionally an ostensible communicator says very specific things about his or her past life--things that could not possibly have been known to the medium. So you've got to postulate either that there's a surviving soul of some sort that can communicate, or that the medium has great psychic abilities to pull this information out.

ROBERT: There is a lot going on here. First, you are assuming that such "very specific things" could truly not have been known by normal means, even through subconscious communication--which must be shown to be statistically significant amidst the innumerable clutter of ordinary specific things that would not be so surprising. Next, if you could jump this first hurdle, I would agree that you still have the serious logical problem of not being able to eliminate the possibility that the medium was apprehending the surprising information through strong psychic ability and not through communication with a surviving after-death spirit or soul. Such psychic knowing would include not only telepathy, where the medium would read the minds of living people, but also clairvoyance, where the medium would somehow sense the surprising information directly without any person needing to know it, and irrespective of whether it was past or present.

CHARLES: This dual track for knowing makes the question of proving survival per se very difficult. On the other hand, if some people have minds that can access any information in the cosmos, without any known bodily limits, that's the sort of mind we think might survive death, isn't it? So, survival research is not a dead issue, if I may use that word--it's just a complicated issue.

ROBERT: Warren, how have you approached the soul from a scientific point of view? You run a neurophysiological lab, and you're interested in brain damage; you confront fundamental interactions of brain and mind when working with your patients. In addition, and equally important to our discourse here, you have a strong commitment to evangelical Christianity--the received Christian tradition, the Old and New Testaments. How do these different lines of knowledge and/or belief all come together in a scientific search for the soul?

WARREN: One thing you know from neurophysiology is that brain damage or brain malfunction causes changes in states of consciousness, awareness, and even, in a number of situations, in people's understanding of their own spirituality. An easy example is temporal lobe epilepsy, where a person can, in some circumstances, have an experience that seems quite religious. But we know that these experiences are in fact embodied in their physical brains, and there's no need to postulate a soul to explain the phenomenon.

ROBERT: How do you reconcile your views on a nonessential or nonexistent soul with your Christian belief?

WARREN: For this view of a nonexistent soul to stand within Christian theology, you do have to agree, or to postulate, that God exists, that God is spiritual, that our spirituality represents our ability to be in a spiritual relationship to God. But it's not necessary to postulate that we possess a spirit, another entity that influences or determines our behavior and our experiences.

ROBERT: Charles, one of your more well-known books is Altered States of Consciousness. In temporal lobe epilepsy, Warren is talking about a particular kind of altered state, which has at times been shown to cause religious experiences.

WARREN: Associated with religious experiences, not shown to cause them.

ROBERT: I accept the careful distinction. So, Charles, bring us up to date on your use of altered states to demonstrate the existence of worlds beyond the physical, especially in this context of brain research providing us with incontrovertible evidence that there are physical causes for seemingly spiritual experiences.

CHARLES: We're mixing up several things here. My interest in altered states is to make clear that the mind can work in very different patterns. And these very different patterns--whether meditative states, drug-induced states, hypnosis, dreams, and the like--are good for some things and bad for other things. Collectively, they give us different views of the world. But in terms of proving that there's something beyond the physical, or even that these altered states are more than merely subjective phenomena or brain-based phenomena, altered states provide no such proof per se. Altered states give you a great experience, and they may give you a conviction, but that's not the same as proving that the mind is something more than the body.

ROBERT: Can you take the next step and seek proof of a new reality beyond the physical?

CHARLES: This is where you get into parapsychological research, where you set up experiments. In the materialist worldview, it's assumed that the physical senses give us all there is to know about the nature of the world, and that it's impossible for people to communicate without the senses. So you do the careful experiments to see whether you can get some nonsensory communications between people. Or whether people can learn about or affect things at a distance. Do you get a statistically significant effect in your experiments? This is your basic parapsychological approach. And we do get extraordinary data frequently enough that, as a scientist, I have no doubt that sometimes a human mind can do things that we can't attribute to anything we know about neurophysiology or conventional physics. This basic scientific finding says to me that I should consider ideas about spirituality more seriously, because there's actual evidence for it. This isn't a philosophical position, it's experimental science; the mind can do things that the brain can't do.

ROBERT: You like to think of yourself both as a tough-minded scientist and as someone seriously interested in the spiritual. How do you reconcile the two worldviews?

CHARLES: I'm a human being and I have many facets, and if I identify exclusively with any one of them I'm leaving out part of my humanity. But I don't want to be fooled, OK? I don't want to believe things just because they make me feel good. I want the best science possible to check on the possibility of certain beliefs. On the other hand, I don't want to fall into scientism--into taking the latest physical theories as if they were revealed truth and believing that since we know so much about everything, we don't have to pay attention to any contradictory evidence. I believe that we do have evidence that mind can transcend what we know about the physical body and brain. To me, that's a vital underpinning for spirituality.

JOHN: Well, some people think we have such evidence. I have serious doubts that we have any solid evidence showing that the mind can transcend the brain. What we do have, and I hope Charles would agree with this, is a long history--particularly in our civilization, but in other civilizations as well--of all kinds of strange experiences that people have. There's no question that people have mystical experiences. They have all kinds of altered states of consciousness. But so far, nothing follows. And I think Charles would agree with that. Just from having these kooky experiences, nothing whatever follows.

ROBERT: "Kooky" is a pejorative term.

JOHN: OK, sorry--these unusual experiences. Actually, I don't mind calling these experiences kooky. To me, it's not pejorative. I love kooky experiences. But some people might think it's pejorative. The interesting question is, Do we have solid evidence that some guy can sit on this side of the room and bend spoons on the other side? I would want a stricter scientific methodology employed in these cases, because the kind of cases I know where people purport to bend spoons are very unconvincing.

FRED: We're looking in the wrong direction. The assumption everybody here is making is that only the physical is real. It's now clear that what's physical can't even be contained in the physical. For example, a magnetic field exists in space and time, and there's no physicality to a magnetic field. It's not mass and it's not energy, in that sense, yet we describe it and construct metaphors for it--it's wavy, it has lines of force, and so on--because description and metaphor is what we do. So we have a metaphor for the body--that it's a massive thing--and everything else has to be contained within it. But there's clear evidence of a subjective nature, of a spiritual essence, which indicates that people have memories of things that they could not possibly remember from their life experiences. Spoon bending may or may not be phony; I don't know about that. But there's evidence for spiritual connections that transcend the individual "I".

ROBERT: Fred, you've sought the nature of soul by searching some of the Eastern traditions and religions. Why should we, as we begin the twenty-first century, look to ancient traditions to give us knowledge about what we are?

FRED: Because of what Lenin said about the Russian Revolution: "One step forward, two steps back." You need to look back in time in order to see where we've been going. It turns out that there are ancient spiritual traditions--for example, Cabala [the esoteric interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures by rabbinical mystics], or the beliefs of the ancient people of Chaldea, around the Tigris and Euphrates--that depict the nature of spirit and soul and consciousness in a way reminiscent of how quantum physics would speak of the vacuum of space. The vacuum of space as the home of the soul or the spirit. Are vibrations in the apparent nothingness of space the consciousness effervescence of which we all partake? And the memories that we all have? We think, Oh, that's only my memory. But your brain is a million years old; it has its own memories.

ROBERT: Warren, you seem a little amused by all this. How would you evaluate Fred's view of collective memories?

WARREN: Well, it's on a level that, within my area of science, is just very difficult to deal with. One can postulate ancient nonphysical entities as being a part of who I am now, in that sense. I certainly would suggest that God exists, and that there is a spiritual universe. And what we have in ancient religious traditions are some changing attempts to represent that spiritual universe. But whether those ancient traditions have anything directly to do with my self and my consciousness--that's a big leap for me.

ROBERT: Charles [Tart] and Fred [Wolf], in your writings both of you seem to dethrone, or delegitimize, science-centered materialism, based on the following argument: Science has lost its right to explain the world with any overarching authority, since science has caused more bad things than good things throughout history. The argument continues that we need to look to other systems of knowing rather than traditional science to help us comprehend reality. But doesn't your argument confuse morality with reality? My opinion--which I do give from time to time--is that it doesn't matter what science produces. Results are irrelevant; truth is amoral.

CHARLES: You're putting me in a box where I'm not going to let you put me, Robert. I have nothing against science, and I don't attribute the bad things in the world to science--I never have. What people do with the truths discovered by science is a matter of morality and intelligence. That's a different issue. What I object to is scientism.

ROBERT: Scientism being a belief system in which science and the scientific method are virtually omniscient, able to discern all truth.

CHARLES: What I object to is science always being an open-ended process--always saying, "Let's keep looking at the data," "Here's what we make of it," "This is our best guess at the time." What I object to is when these "best guesses" turn into a religion. Consider a situation where someone has a spiritual experience--and I've counseled many such people--and he or she mentions the experience in front of someone who's "scientific," and the listener says, "That's impossible! You must be crazy!" That attitude I don't like. That dismissal of people's actual experiences is not good science. It's arrogance in the guise of science. That's scientism.

FRED: My major concern, coming out of the ranks of science, has been my own arrogance. How arrogant I was, to put down other people's ideas that didn't agree with my scientific view. When I went around the world and spent time with indigenous peoples and tribes, I realized that my arrogance just didn't fit in. Like the man in the story by H. G. Wells, I thought that in the country of the scientifically blind, the one-eyed man would be king. In fact, I was the one who was blind. I was intellectually incapacitated. As long as I held on to my scientific view, I couldn't see. I thought I saw everything; I didn't see anything. So I had to give up much of what I previously held as real, in order to see what these people saw. And when I was finally able to attain this new vision, it totally changed my view of science. And I began seeing science as a tool--not the be-all and end-all of the universe, but a tool to help us begin to dig deeper into the nature of what it means to be a human being. I don't think we've arrived at that point yet. I don't think we're quite awake yet. I think we're all still asleep--dreaming, hoping, wishing--mechanically relying on our intellect to lead us out of the morass in which we constantly find ourselves. When we can use our heart and our spirit as well as our brain, that's when science will begin to adapt to a new world order.

ROBERT: Charles, how does spirituality affect people's lives? You deal with "transpersonal psychology." What does that mean?

CHARLES: Human beings have a need for meaning. They have a need for feeling that they're part of something larger than themselves. Biological gratification is not enough. Some of the kinds of meanings humanity has created have been unreasonable. We need something deeper. Our traditional religions used to provide meaning for people, telling them, "You don't just exist alone; you're part of a big picture of the world--and there are things you should do and things you shouldn't do." These traditional religions aren't working for a lot of people anymore, because they're based too much on beliefs, many of which don't fit in with what we know scientifically about the world. We need a practical spirituality that is consistent with our scientific knowledge.

ROBERT: What does "practical spirituality" mean?

CHARLES: Practical spirituality isn't just a set of ideas but also involves the heart; however, the heart must be an educated heart. For example, one of the practical spiritual ideas that has revolutionized my personal life is the understanding that emotions can be trained to be intelligent, to tell us something about the world. Emotions need to be balanced with intelligence, intuition, and the like. I agree with Fred [Wolf] here.

JOHN: I don't see this opposition that you make between biology and nature on the one hand and spirituality on the other, because this human need for meaning and transcendence is as much biologically based as any other human need. That is, it's part of our genetic structure, and part of our culture. Sure, we would like to find things that transcend the stupidity and mediocrity of most everyday existence. But I don't see a conflict between these natural longings and the rest of nature. Transcendent needs are part of nature.

FRED: The problem with that view [i.e., the desire for transcendence is entirely generated by personal biology] is that it leads to separation, to isolation, to aloneness, to feelings of not being part of something--whereas our natural inclination is to be part of a community.

JOHN: These are old categories, like science versus non-science, mind versus body. These categories are obsolete.

FRED: I agree.

JOHN: It's just knowledge. Let's find out how the world works. Sometimes, when society is satisfied enough about how some part of the world works so that you can get a grant for doing research on it, then people are willing to call it science. I don't care if they call what I do "science." It doesn't matter. As long as we get at the truth, who cares if it's science? And if we have all kinds of strange phenomena, they're worthy of study.

ROBERT: Don't you find it fascinating that biological systems, in your terms, have a need for meaning? Did that evolve?

JOHN: Absolutely fascinating. And of course it evolved. There isn't any doubt about it. There isn't any doubt that human beings, with our pathetic forty-six chromosomes and a hundred billion neurons, have evolved this tremendous intellectual capacity for transcending the stupidity and mediocrity of most of the things that fill our ordinary lives. That's what makes life interesting.

DEAN: Right. And so the key question is, "What is the nature of the scientific evidence that supports spirituality?". And by spirituality, I assume we mean something like transcending the ordinary boundaries of space and time.

ROBERT: What evidence of such spirituality can meet the traditional standards of science?

DEAN: I was struck by John's remark earlier, about spoon bending. Of course the scientific evidence for spoon bending is very, very poor. In popular culture, spoon bending is all that most people know about psychic research. But in fact there's a huge body of additional research, much of it published in mainstream journals, which says that there are anomalies out there, affirmed by strong scientific evidence, that support ideas of spirituality.

JOHN: I welcome all the facts we can lay our hands on. I certainly don't want to suggest that we shouldn't accumulate all these data, but there's a mistake that I think we want to avoid. We shouldn't assume that these data of anomalous phenomena are either fraudulent or else conclusive proof of the supernatural. There are all kinds of other possibilities. We have the "Clever Hans" history in the nineteenth century, Hans being a horse that appeared to do arithmetic, but it turned out that he was getting unconscious cues from the trainer. That was neither fraudulent nor did it demonstrate some supernatural power on the part of the horse. I take any anomalous data as just more evidence--more stuff with which we can work. If I don't take it as evidence of a supernatural realm, neither do I take it as necessarily fraudulent.

WARREN: There's a larger problem here--the nature of God's action in the universe. But I don't think it's necessary to require the action of a soul within the psychological or mental mechanisms of a human being. We can understand all that human beings think and do as an embodied physical process, the complex workings of the brain, an emergent function of the kinds of things that the brain does.

ROBERT: Are there ethical implications of despiritualizing the soul?

WARREN: My coeditors and I had to address this issue in our book, Whatever Happened to the Soul? If you make human consciousness and free will a cognitive process, you have the problem of dealing with the cognitively impaired. So we ask about the essence of soul within the Christian religion, and we say that what "soul" is meant to convey is the nature and experiences of "personal relatedness."

ROBERT: Are you saying, in your rather unconventional Christian view, that "soul" is more an adjective than a noun--a modifier of other things rather than a thing in itself?

WARREN: Yes. "Soul" is really an adjectival term; it connotes "soulish" or "soulishness."

ROBERT: Define "soulishness," with a practical example.

WARREN: Soulishness is personal relatedness. An application is when an individual who has diminished cognitive capacity is supported in a human community; here the soulishness or personal relatedness support is asymmetrical. The community can support an individual with diminished capacity, even though the handicapped person cannot reciprocate.

ROBERT: Are there ethical or spiritual implications of this asymmetric relationship?

WARREN: The ethical implication is that the community has a responsibility to maintain soulishness, a relatedness to the individual who has less capacity for reciprocating. The spiritual implications--and the ultimate example--is the concept of grace. Grace is God's relationship with us at a level at which we are not capable of symmetrically relating back. We stand in an asymmetrical relationship with God.

ROBERT: Charles, how does Warren's description of soulishness articulate with your own view of spirituality?

CHARLES: It's too abstract. I want to bring this discussion back to a more concrete level. If you're a Christian, prayer is a central aspect of your spirituality. Now, from a conventional scientific point of view, if the mind is nothing but electrochemical processes in the brain, when you pray you're talking to yourself, and that's the end of it. Maybe it makes you feel better, but then neuroscience will develop a drug that will make you feel better [quicker], too.

WARREN: This is why I say that the real problem goes back to the nature of God's action in the universe.

ROBERT: Fred, how have people reacted to your book on the spiritual universe?

FRED: I've received very good responses--particularly from scientifically inclined people who feel that they've lost a sense of the spiritual. They want spirituality in their lives, but they feel that science has pulled the rug out from under their feet. They're looking to books like mine to help reconcile their spiritual longings with their scientific understanding.

ROBERT: Charles, you have a Web site where scientists can explore their own spirituality.

CHARLES: That's right. TASTE [an acronym for The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences] is an online journal devoted to transcendent experiences that scientists have reported. On the Web site [], scientists can anonymously post their own spiritual experiences in a psychologically and professionally safe space, without fear that they'll be laughed at. Scientists have spiritual experiences, too--and, following on Fred's point, they should know that there can be a reality to such experiences. Over the years many scientists, once they've realized I'm a safe person to talk to, have told me about unusual experiences they've had--but who later said, "Strange, it was incredible, it changed my life--except I thought, This must be crazy, it just can't be so." Too often I was the first and only person they ever told about their experiences, for fear of ridicule from their colleagues and adverse effects on their career. Such fears have, unfortunately, too much of a basis in fact--it's the social conditioning of our times. I want to change that.

ROBERT: You've said that scientists today occupy a social role like that of "high priests," proclaiming what is and isn't "real," and consequently what is and isn't valuable and sane.

CHARLES: Unfortunately, the dominant materialistic and reductionistic climate of contemporary science (what sociologists long ago named scientism, an attitude different from the essential process of science), rejects and suppresses a priori both having and sharing transcendent, transpersonal and altered states (or "spiritual" and "psychic," to use common words, in spite of their too vague connotations) experiences. From my perspective as a psychologist, this rejection and suppression distorts and harms scientists' and laypersons' transcendent (and other) potentials, and also inhibits the development of a genuine scientific understanding of the full spectrum of consciousness.

ROBERT: John, how do you react to reports of transcendent experiences?

JOHN: As I was suggesting earlier, there's no question that people have all sorts of interesting, fascinating, strange experiences, and this ought to be a matter of great interest to us. But just from the existence of the experience by itself, nothing follows. It doesn't follow that these people are in communication with the navel of the universe, or that there's a separate realm that's not part of the world we live in.

ROBERT: But to comprehend fully the human condition, we have to explore these transcendent experiences.

JOHN: Absolutely. It's absolutely crucial to take all the data. And part of the data that we have about human life is that people have all sorts of experiences that transcend ordinary everyday mediocrity. This isn't something to be lamented or sneered at. It's something to be cherished and investigated.

WARREN: I'm not sure that "nothing follows" from a spiritual experience. From most of these experiences--particularly the ones related in culture and literature--a great deal follows. Changes can occur, such as in people's beliefs and belief systems, how they conduct their lives, and how they relate to other people. I totally agree that from a scientific perspective of assessing reality, nothing follows--but from a personal perspective, a great deal follows.

JOHN: Nothing follows that could help us understand existence or reality.

WARREN: Exactly. But much follows in terms of personal perspective.

JOHN: I agree with that. When I say "nothing follows," this means that if I have a mystical experience in which I sense the existence of God, for example, it does not follow that God exists in reality. My experience is just an experience.

WARREN: From a scientific point of view, I agree.

JOHN: From any point of view. I may have had the experience, and it may have been an interesting experience, but nothing follows about reality.

ROBERT: Warren, help us understand how your concept of soulishness works in real people.

WARREN: Soulishness, as I've said, is personal relatedness--deep and rich levels of personal relatedness. The interaction between a therapist and a client, for example, is really dealing with the soulishness of that client, with the interpersonal experience of relatedness. Soulishness is not something "out there"--it's relatedness to other people, relatedness to the world.

ROBERT: Charles, does Warren's [Brown] soulishness equate to your transpersonal psychology?

CHARLES: No. It's good what he has there, but transpersonal psychology is about those experiences that seem to go beyond our biological limits. And to me the question is, "Is this possible?".

ROBERT: The question is fundamental: Can the reach of the mind exceed the boundaries of the brain? Or are these mystical experiences simply triggered by random or chaotic biological processes in the brain?

CHARLES: I can program my computer to suddenly print out, "I have contacted the great Central Processing Unit in the sky, and now I know all knowledge." And we would quite rightly regard that statement as nonsense. It's just an arbitrary arrangement of electrons within the computer. If a person comes to me and says, "I've had a mystical experience. I've been in touch with a higher being, and have received certain truths--"

ROBERT: You'd get a doctor to prescribe a tranquilizer?

CHARLES: Well, if I were the doctor, would I prescribe a tranquilizer, or would I ask if there were a possibility that the mystical experience might be worth looking into? I think we have enough laboratory evidence so that I wouldn't just dismiss these experiences as brain simulations of unrealities. There could be a nonphysical being; there could be communication through some extrasensory mechanism like telepathy, or something like that.

JOHN: I would reject the idea that if you have these intense experiences, either you're in touch with the universe or you need a tranquilizer. There are all kinds of other possibilities as well.

ROBERT: I'm just worried about not giving the person that tranquilizer. Who knows what could happen?

CHARLES: Well, having such an experience could be dangerous, but remember, our baseline is that life is dangerous to begin with. We're not always safe. But if people have such mystical experiences, and I tell them that there might be some reality there, how those people handle the experiences is a totally separate question. Is the person going to deal with a transcendent happening in a sane, mature way, or is he or she going to get inflated by the experience and go crazy with it?

JOHN: The way we think of therapeutic problems is already corrupted by our philosophical, religious, and scientific tradition. For example, we think that there's a mind and a body and therefore there are diseases of the mind and diseases of the body--and that's already a massive confusion. And it does an enormous amount of harm. For example, consider the placebo effect. You give a patient a sugar tablet, and if the patient gets better then the assumption is that there was nothing wrong in the first place. It doesn't follow. You can have some very serious illnesses that are helped by placebo effects, and the assumption that therefore "there was nothing wrong with you" is based on the mind-body dualism that we should be militant against.

WARREN: I agree with that. I think the placebo effect is the best illustration of "something follows" in terms of what may result from my beliefs--where there's a real physical outcome as expressed by my bodily immune system. So even if "nothing follows" in terms of making a metaphysical statement about God, these mystical experiences can clearly cause something that follows them.

ROBERT: But those are two different categories in which something may or may not follow from mystical experiences. The first category deals with the external world, the essence of the universe, the nature of reality--here's where John [Searle] says "nothing follows." The second category is the psychophysical aspects of the mind-body and how the mind affects the body--here's where Warren says that "something follows." It's important to keep the two categories separate.

WARREN: Correct. My comments focused on the category of psychophysical interactions, where something does follow from mystical experiences. What doesn't follow are any necessary statements about the existence of God or a spirit realm.

FRED: As human beings, we seek meaning in life, and if that meaning is eroded or destroyed by any system--whether scientism, religion, or philosophy--we're in danger. We need to be open to possibilities.

DEAN: There's a third category with which we can assess whether something or nothing follows from mystical experiences. We've been talking about the metaphysical and the psychophysical aspects of strange experiences. There's also the category of just pure physics; because if somebody said that he had an amazing experience where he somehow understood things apprehended from far away without any sensory communications, I would wonder whether there was something funny about physics. I would not wonder so much about metaphysics or psychology. I would focus on what we can study in a physics laboratory--and then suddenly these strange experiences can have consequences that do follow.

FRED: There's always something funny about physics, because physics is not the end of our understanding--it's really just a beginning.

ROBERT: In summary, let's project forward a hundred years. What more has happened to the soul?

CHARLES: We'll have evidence that one mind can communicate with another, with no known channel to account for it--and this will be recognized as a mechanism for prayer.

JOHN: A hundred years from now, we'll know enough about the brain so that the anomalous stuff we're stuck with today will no longer seem so mysterious to us.

DEAN: Actually, I completely agree with John [Searle], but I also believe that our advanced knowledge will redefine what we think of the soul.

WARREN: I agree, but there will still be some mystery in the universe. We won't be able to scientifically approach the idea of God's action in the universe.

ROBERT: Are there any more mysteries that will remain?

FRED: All of the above. There will still be mystery, as we begin to realize that there's something about us that's not just brain, not just mind--and not just self, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves, but that there's a unity to us all, of which each of us is a reflection. That unity will become very real for us.


THE question of nonphysical souls, immortal or any other kind, may be more complex than commonly assumed. Scientists and theologians, it seems, are found on both sides of the Great Divide. I limit myself to a single question: Can science seek the soul? Is it within the realm of the scientific method to even address this question? My answer is yes, and no. Yes, in that the accumulating discoveries of brain function eliminate artificial mysteries, previously the province of the soul. No, in that there may remain certain kinds of knowledge that the scientific method cannot assess. Some say that we should combine science and theology harmoniously--but sometimes dichotomy, not harmony, brings us closer to truth.

Editor's Comments:

Among the Closer to Truth round table discussions I have had the opportunity to read so far, this particular one has impressed me the most deeply. I was impressed in particular with the following observations by two eloquent debunkers of reductive materialism, Charles Tart and Fred Wolf.

CHARLES: ... What I object to is scientism.

ROBERT: Scientism being a belief system in which science and the scientific method are virtually omniscient, able to discern all truth.

CHARLES: What I object to is science always being an open-ended process--always saying, "Let's keep looking at the data," "Here's what we make of it," "This is our best guess at the time." What I object to is when these "best guesses" turn into a religion. Consider a situation where someone has a spiritual experience--and I've counseled many such people--and he or she mentions the experience in front of someone who's "scientific," and the listener says, "That's impossible! You must be crazy!" That attitude I don't like. That dismissal of people's actual experiences is not good science. It's arrogance in the guise of science. That's scientism.

FRED: My major concern, coming out of the ranks of science, has been my own arrogance. How arrogant I was, to put down other people's ideas that didn't agree with my scientific view. When I went around the world and spent time with indigenous peoples and tribes, I realized that my arrogance just didn't fit in. Like the man in the story by H. G. Wells, I thought that in the country of the scientifically blind, the one-eyed man would be king. In fact, I was the one who was blind. I was intellectually incapacitated. As long as I held on to my scientific view, I couldn't see. I thought I saw everything; I didn't see anything. So I had to give up much of what I previously held as real, in order to see what these people saw. And when I was finally able to attain this new vision, it totally changed my view of science. And I began seeing science as a tool--not the be-all and end-all of the universe, but a tool to help us begin to dig deeper into the nature of what it means to be a human being. I don't think we've arrived at that point yet. I don't think we're quite awake yet. I think we're all still asleep--dreaming, hoping, wishing--mechanically relying on our intellect to lead us out of the morass in which we constantly find ourselves. When we can use our heart and our spirit as well as our brain, that's when science will begin to adapt to a new world order.

As a recovering rationalist and reductive materialist myself, I have little to add except "Amen!"

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Can Science Seek the Soul?
Illustration(s): Warren Brown, Dean Radin, John Searle, Charles Tart, Fred Alan Wolf, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

No comments: