30 Mar An Attempt to Convince the Scientists of Spirituality by Trinh Huynh
A scientist says to a so-called spiritualist: “Someday science will explain everything in the world.” The spiritualist may then ask: “What about human feeling, human thinking? What about life?” “Those too!” is the scientist’s response. The spiritualist walks away in disagreement.
This brief conversation hopefully characterizes countless ongoing debates among thinkers over the last few centuries, as well as the debate between the scientist and the spiritualist inside every thinker. On the one side, we have scientists who firmly believe that the progress of science will someday solve all the riddles in the world. On the other side, we have spiritualists who believe no less strongly that there are sacred regions in the world and the human soul that science will never, or should never reach.
In this article, I attempt to completely settle these debates. I will do so by giving convincing arguments that are products of logical thinking. I hope the thinker who reads my arguments will follow them with logical thinking free of any preconception. I also modestly request that the reader patiently follow through my arguments. On my part, I will be as condensed and direct as possible while capturing all the important points I want to make. The arguments I will give here are not new — they are simply based on my reading of literature and my contemplation of the world. In this article, I attempt to collect the most important arguments in one place and re-word them based on my understanding so that the product is hopefully a sufficiently condensed and convincing article.
I will show that, if one thinks thoroughly enough, then one will be unable to deny the real, significant existence of spirituality (the precise meaning of which will also become clear later in this article). So here it goes…
The world confronts man with countless, disconnected phenomena, or perceptions. As a thinking being, man tries to explain them, that is, to reconnect them again into a whole. There are various scientific approaches to this activity; among them, the two most interesting approaches are, in my opinion, the so-called materialistic approach and the so-called monistic approach. I will now describe these two approaches in detail.
These two approaches are similar in that, while seeking to explain a certain kind of phenomena, the thinker tries to get as close as he can to the pure phenomena (also called “archetypal phenomena” in ), which would be defined as a minimal set of phenomena that the thinker regards as capturing the essence of the whole set of phenomena that he is seeking to understand. The finding of pure phenomena requires the thinker to conduct as many experiments and observations and to engage in as much reasoning as he deems necessary in order to discover the purest or most essential results from among his observations. On arriving at the purest phenomena that he has found, the thinker may then seek to understand this smaller set of phenomena. At this point, the two scientific approaches – the materialistic and the monistic – differ significantly.
The materialistic approach
I will first describe how the materialistic approach proceeds. In this approach, the thinker explains the phenomena by making conjectures (or theories) about them. These conjectures logically explain the given phenomena (hence, they are in this sense objective) by making assumptions about not-yet-known phenomena.
For example, in understanding the appearance of colors, the thinker observes that when a beam of white light passes through a prism, it is dispersed into a rainbow of colors on a screen. He may then make a conjecture that the white beam of light is actually a composition of individual lights of definite colors traversing through space on certain wavelengths. Or, in understanding matters, he may make the conjecture that everything is made up of atoms, nuclei, electrons, quarks, or other increasingly smaller particles or kinds of strings.
Aside from presupposing the validity of certain conjectures, which may be refuted or refined in the future as more understanding is gained, much more significant here is the fact that the materialistic approach presupposes matters that are left open by those conjectures. How does it come about that light takes on the form of waves? Where do particles like electrons or quarks come from? Or, what makes the blood flow? If it is the heartbeat, then what causes the heart to beat? If it is electric impulses from the brain, what triggers the impulses? Or, what causes the tree sap flow up to the top of the tree despite gravity? If it is pressure, where does the pressure come from? Or, how does a human being think? If it is caused by the activities of brain cells, what gives rise to these activities? One can easily think of many further examples.
Thus, in all of its methods of explaining the world, the materialistic approach tries to capture the phenomena in mechanical or mathematical models, and leaves open the questions as to how the axioms in the models have come about. I would like to call the parts of the phenomena explained by the models the dead aspects, and the parts unexplained by the models – i.e., the axioms — the living aspects. Thus, we may say that the materialistic approach leaves open the questions of how its models come to life. As materialistic science progresses, it penetrates more and more into the living aspects, increasingly extracting the dead aspects out of them. However, because any scientific approach must presuppose something in order to explain anything, the materialistic approach will always presuppose the living aspects in its models. I would like to call these living aspects the spirituality within the materialistic approach.
Thus, in order more clearly to see the contrast of this approach in relation to the monistic approach (still to be described), we may sketch the materialistic approach as follows. In the sketch, the contents of the right column explain what is listed in the left column.
|World of Perceptions (All phenomena)
● Given through the 5 physical senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch)
● Presupposes spirituality / the living aspects (i.e., what is “left open” in the conjectures)
However, the materialistic thinker may argue as follows: “Fine – it is true that I always take for granted the living aspects. But as I gain more and more understanding, the significance of those living aspects will become almost zero, and can be ignored. Then my understanding of the world will be complete, or as complete as mankind will ever need for it to be.”
The problem with the above argument is that, he will never know for sure whether or not his understanding of the world is nearly complete. At any point in time, he must acknowledge the possibility that in the near or far future, his conjecture will be found to have overlooked some significant living aspect. In fact, he must acknowledge the possibility that even at the current moments, his conjecture is missing something significant, and he never knows for sure what that is (A scientific model cannot evaluate the significance of its axioms in world-reality. To do that, one would need to stand outside of the model.). This perpetual doubt is a hallmark of the materialistic approach. The materialistic approach can, therefore, never refute the importance of spirituality to its own approach.
Having argued that one cannot deny the real, significant existence of spirituality within the materialistic approach, I will next describe the monistic approach to understanding the given phenomena.
The monistic approach
The monistic approach  (see also ) clearly establishes all of its presuppositions right from the outset. Namely, it presupposes the reality of pure thoughts. A pure thought is a thought that is free of any influence from perceptions received through the senses, which includes the 5 physical senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch), feeling, as well as any supersensible senses that a human being (or any thinking being) may be equipped with (These sensing activities exclude thinking activities, which differ essentially from all other sensing activities in many important ways. See  for a comprehensive discussion on this.). Mathematical thoughts are examples of pure thoughts. Monism asserts that the thinker must understand the reality of pure thoughts before thinking about anything, before seeking to understand the world. Then, in order to understand the given phenomena the thinker seeks – via thinking – the pure thoughts that explain, or manifest themselves in, the phenomena.
Here is an example to illustrate: In understanding the rainbow of colors that appears on a screen when a beam of white light passes through a prism, a monistic thinker may find that it is actually the effects on the border between light and darkness radiating from the prism that cause the appearance of the rainbow. Further observations and contemplation of these border-effect phenomena may lead him to discover the pure thoughts of ideal light and ideal darkness. He may then realize that physical colors are simply one among the manifold manifestations of the interplay between these two ideal realities (see [2, 3] for much more on this).
Let us take another example: In understanding human happiness, a thinker observes that one’s love for a deed gives rise to the happiness experienced while carrying it out. Contemplation and observation may further lead him to discover that a human being finds happiness in an action when he is able to act out of his own free will, his own motives, which may or may not need love as a precursor. Further contemplation of these phenomena may lead one to discover the reality of the will and the spirit of other human beings, as well as of his own will and spirit (see [4, 5] for much more on this).
Monism asserts that although the perceptions are subjective because they depend on the bodily organization of the thinker, there is only one world of pure thoughts. I would like to call this world the spirituality in monism. This objective world is the same for all those who enter it. This is because, as monism asserts, the forces that form our thoughts and the forces that create the whole universe are of the same nature. Also, for this reason, from the perspective of monism there are no limits to human knowledge, except the presupposition of thoughts. In monism, pure thoughts are to the universe what axioms and proofs are to mathematics. The thinker is required to apply logical and rigorous reasoning to his thoughts in order to discover truths. The truths that one establishes with one’s pure thoughts stand eternally, in spite of the passing of time. This is in sharp contrast with the perpetual doubt inherent in the materialistic approach.
Thus we can sketch the monistic approach as follows. In contrast with the materialistic approach, the monistic approach also regards as real perceptions those given by feeling or any other supersensible senses that a thinking being may be equipped with. I would like to invite the reader to reflect on the significance of this difference.
|World of Perceptions (All phenomena)
● Is given through the senses (including feeling, supersensible senses, etc.)
|World of Pure Thoughts
● Is presupposed
At this point, I believe I have argued that if one thinks thoroughly enough, then one will be unable to deny the real, significant existence of spirituality. Although I only argued with regard to the materialistic approach and monistic approach, I believe the same arguments apply to any other scientific approach. I believe I have given my arguments based on logical thinking that will hopefully be convincing to any reader with a logical mind free of preconceptions.
What if the materialistic approach were true? A thought-experiment
Before concluding this article, I think it is very interesting to imagine what consequences would result for humanity if the materialistic thinker’s argument given previously should turn out to be correct, even though I have logically refute it. In other words, let us assume for the sake of our discussion that only the following is correct:
“Fine – It is true that I always take for granted the living aspects. But as I gain more and more understanding, the significance of those living aspects will become almost zero and can be ignored. Then my understanding of the world will be complete, or as complete as mankind will ever need for it to be.”
Let us imagine that in a future society, materialistic science has come to the point where it understands world phenomena to the extent that the significance of the living aspects can be incontestably ignored. That is, everything can be completely understood by understanding the dead aspects alone. I think it is then reasonable also to imagine that it would take no time for technology to catch up with science and to succeed in mass-producing computing machines that perfectly and automatically simulate those dead aspects, which amount to, by our assumptions, everything, including human thinking, feeling, and everything in nature. We would live in an extremely efficient society in which everything a human being would ever need could be done for him by a machine.
I am aware that my following arguments will not be as logical as the preceding ones, due to my incomplete understanding of the world – but I hope they are convincing enough.
Now, man in general does not appreciate what he can receive with great ease. He simply takes such things for granted. This can be easily seen by observing the world around us. Disposable products are so cheap that we just buy them, use them once, and throw them away, with little knowledge and care given to how they are created, how they come to us, how efficiently they are recycled, how damaging is their impact to the environment, etc. This is just one example.
Given all the assumptions and observations I have made, we can see the following consequences for mankind in a society where science and technology have advanced to such a degree (Here I exclude the possibility that smart machines will undertake a revolution against human beings. As I will argue next, I assume that human beings would make the machines so smart that they would just serve human beings and thereby let human beings wither by themselves.):
- Man would become totally isolated from nature. The appreciation which man has towards nature has been based on the fact that man needs to work with nature to provide for his needs. The appreciation comes from man’s reliance on nature. Once man takes for granted everything he needs from nature, his appreciation for nature is gone.
- Man would become totally isolated from his fellow human beings. Once human thinking and feeling can be simulated, how could a man any longer have appreciation for his fellow beings? He can no longer appreciate the love and the hard work of another human being in a hand-crafted scarf, a homemade meal, or a piece of music composed by another human being. Any of these can now be imitated and produced perfectly by machines.
- He would no longer need to exert any effort of thought in understanding himself. A machine could simply tell him whatever he needs to know.
Now that man takes everything for granted, he will lack the motivation to do anything, and lack the love towards anything, whether it is nature, a fellow human being, or himself. All possible sources of his happiness as a human being are gone. At this point, it may be better for him if he were a rock.
In the last few centuries, materialistic science has been bringing mankind further and further into the depths of knowledge of the universe than in any other time in human history. But our aggressive and non-logical belief in materialistic science as an all-explaining worldview has also burdened us, and future generations, with so many problems. I believe that a much brighter future will awaits mankind if materialistic science would admit that it can understand only the mechanical or, at most, the lifeless aspects of Nature, and if mankind as a whole would then embrace other scientific approaches — such as monism — and allow them to flourish. Then, and only then, I believe, can we look forward to a bright future for ourselves and all generations to come.
The author greatly appreciates the editor of Deepening Anthroposophy, Thomas O’Keefe, for his help in revising this article.
 The Philosophy of Freedom. Rudolf Steiner. GA 4. 1894. Available online at http://www.rsarchive.org/Books/GA004/
 Goethean Science. Rudolf Steiner. GA 1. 1883. Available online at http://www.rsarchive.org/Books/GA001/
 Theory of Colours. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 1810.
 Occult Science — An Outline. Rudolf Steiner. GA 13. 1910. Available online at http://www.rsarchive.org/Books/GA013/
 Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. Rudolf Steiner. GA 10. 1910. Available online at http://www.rsarchive.org/Books/GA010/
 My understanding is that there are only three sources of human happiness: gratitude (which is in opposition to taking something for granted), love (including love for one’s deed born of moral intuition, see ), and the self-motivation to carry out one’s duty. This “self-motivation” includes the transformation of external motivation into self-motivation upon understanding the needs of the duty.