The Soul of Science

In my column on selling out when buying a minivan, I wrote about how the teenage me used to believe in the establishment but not in the concept of a soul, and now as an adult "I believe in souls, but not in the establishment."

Steve, a Lutheran minister now making his living as a full-time musician, e-mailed, "Can you tell me more about why you didn't believe in souls at age 14 and what makes/made that change for you?"

I suppose it was mainly due to science. During high school, I planned to become a physicist, probably specializing in cosmology--the study of the origin, structure, and nature of the universe. I took two years of physics, the second spent as the teacher's assistant and doing independent study in relativity and quantum mechanics. Instead of going to MIT, I joined a traveling college which broke apart after six months, so I continued traveling and studying on my own.

Many scientists think if you dig deep enough, you will find evidence of God. The Big Bang theory of creation is one. Loren Eiseley sees it in evolution. Instead of a God activating clay figures in a childlike process, we've discovered One Who works over eons using multiple generations of stars to create complex molecules which reproduce and change in a process we are only now able to appreciate. And in math, the queen of sciences, many non-intuitive discoveries abound. My favorite is Godel's Incompleteness Theorem which implies that there will be unprovable truths in any system of logic. (That discovery in 1932 is far more important than anything else we learned this century.)

Finding God through science surprised me, although it shouldn't have. If there really is a Creator, then It would underlie everything so I began investigating nonscientific approaches to truth.

The classic way of studying science is The Scientific Method with a formulated testable hypothesis verified or disproved through repeatable experiments. Yet there is non-experimental astrophysics. And there are human truths to be gleaned from psychology and anthropology that anyone with open eyes and an inquisitive mind can verify.

There are also religious and spiritual truths. One commonality between many traditions is concentration: focused study on repetitive non-thoughts. Thus, you can find Nirvana in meditation or in prayer. You can also find it in concentrated physical pursuits such as fire walking or yoga. Chanting, singing, or playing memorized songs can also lead you to the same place. Talking won't do it though.

I tried some of the "experiments" handed down over the centuries and reached non-intuitive truth several ways. Then I looked at the great world religions anew. They have motivated and inspired far more people than science ever has, and they all agree on the concept of soul.

This spiritual/scientific view of reality is probably best encapsulated in Ken Wilber's A Brief History of Everything. He lays out all of humanity's categories and schemes of knowledge into a two-by-two grid with inner (personal) and outer (scientific) on one axis and individual and group on the other. Each of the successful schemes is true in some way (which is why they're successful), yet Wilber shows how they each balance or expand on the other. One method isn't the correct one and everything else wrong.

Science works very well studying objects externally. Religion is excellent at explaining the inner life of individuals and cultures. I can't slough off fifty thousand years of human evolution or 3 billion years of life's history by ignoring something that works. That's how our ancestors got us to our point, and that's how we'll move our descendants further along toward the truth about the origin, structure, and nature of the universe. So I'm still studying cosmology, but it ain't just physics anymore.