Posted: Thu Jan 13, 2005 10:15 am Post subject: FAITH AND SCIENCE
One of the premises or assertions of esoteric traditions like ours is that through inner development and enrichment one gets the strength to overcome and endure material discomforts and pain. The following article that appeared in today’s Calgary Herald discusses an initiative that is being undertaken to prove or establish this scientifically. It would be interesting to see how far they can progress.
Can faith reduce pain?
The Associated Press
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Call it the Joan of Arc effect.
Scientists, ethicists, theologians and philosophers want to know whether a person on a pyre feels less pain if they have religious beliefs -- like the saint who invoked the name of God when she was burned at the stake -- and they are putting this question to the test.
Researchers at Oxford University's new Center for the Science of the Mind said Wednesday they will try to discover the scientific basis for human consciousness, how beliefs are formed and whether they can ameliorate suffering.
Researchers will show volunteers religious symbols while applying mild heat to the backs of their hands, said neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Oxford who heads the new centre.
"That will enable us to look at the subjective element of pain and how it is alleviated in various ways," she told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"One of the experiments is therefore to show people religious symbols . . . to see if that helps."
Greenfield said the centre, which will have equal numbers of researchers from the sciences and the humanities, is the first of its kind in Britain, and possibly Europe.
The centre is being developed with $2.4 million Cdn in funding from the John Templeton Foundation to support the first two years of work. The foundation, based in West Conshohocken, Pa., promotes research into the relationship between theology and science.
Posted: Fri Jan 14, 2005 5:27 pm Post subject: Our Mental Habits, Brain and Ibaadat
It is generally known that bad or good habits are ingrained in our brains; i.e. they are part of the chemistry of our brains or how they are wired neurologically and hence difficult to change. The following footnote to The Second Coming of Christ explains how Ibaadat can change the wiring and the chemistry of the brain.
"Through meditation...you can set the stage for important mind - and habit -altering brain change," concluded Herbert Benson, M.D., Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, after extensive research reported in his book, Your Maximum Mind (New York: Random House, 1987), "Over the years," he writes "you develop 'circuits' and 'channels' of thought in your brain. These are physical pathways which control the way you think, the way you act, and often, the way you feel. Many times, these pathways or habits become so fixed that they turn into what I call 'wiring'. In other words, the circuits or channels become so deeply ingrained that it seems almost impossible to transform them."
However, advances in medical technology have enabled scientists for the first time to measure the profound effects of meditation on neuroplasticity - the mind's ability to alter the electrical patterns by which habits and deeply rooted behavioral tendencies are stored in the brain. An article in The Wall Street Journal (January 10, 2003) by its science writer Sharon Begley discussed new evidence that "alterations in brain wiring... could be induced by meditation." She reported research conducted by neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, which is focused on various forms of Buddhist meditation: "After eight weeks, and again 16 weeks later, EEG measurements showed that activity in the frontal cortices of the meditators had shifted: There were now more neuronal firings in left than right regions nestled just behind the forehead. That pattern is associated with positive feelings such as joy, happiness and low levels of anxiety, professor Davidson and others had found in earlier studies."
Dr. Davidson is quoted in the article as saying: "The idea that our brains are the result of the unfolding of a fixed genetic program is just shattered by the data on neuroplasticity."
"Scientific research has shown that electrical activity between the left and right sides of the brain becomes coordinated during certain kinds of meditation or prayer," Dr. Benson writes. "Through these processes, the mind definitely becomes more capable of being altered and having its capacities maximized...When you are in this state of enhanced left-right hemispheric communication...'plasticity of cognition' occurs...If you focus or concentrate on some sort of written passage which represents the direction in which you wish your life to be heading, [this] more directed thought process will help you to rewire the circuits in your brain in more positive directions...When we change our patterns of thinking and acting, the brain cells begin to establish additional connections, or new 'wirings'. These new connections then communicate in fresh ways with other cells, and before long, the pathways or wirings that kept the phobia or other habit alive are replaced or altered...Changed actions and a changed life will follow. The implications are exciting and even staggering."
Posted: Sun Feb 13, 2005 3:22 am Post subject: Human Nonlocal Connections
Our Pirs, through Farmans and Ginans, have told us in numerous ways that the Murshid is always close and connected to His Murids. One way of feeling that closeness is through love and ecstacy. Pir Sadardin in the Ginan "Sakhi Maari Aatma Odhaar" says:
sakhee hi(n)che hinnddollaa khaatt ke saas usaase re
maaraa a(n)gaddaa maa utthee chhe laher piyaajee ke paase re......3
O my Friend! My breath is swaying like a swing. Ripples of love gush within my body when I am near my Beloved.
Mowlana Rumi in his poem says:
"When in my heart the lightning of love arises
I know it is flashing and rearing in His heart also.
And when in ecstacy I can say only His Name
I know it is His Passion that erupts from me."
The following footnote from The Second Coming of Christ, illustrates the above through the scientific explanation of nonlocal connections involving humans who are in loving or empathatic relationship with each other. When there is real love between two individuals, a correlation exists between the wave tracings in their respective brains indicating that they are connected though at a distance from each other. Interesting!
Spirituality and medicine researcher Larry Dossey, M.D., reports experimental verification of the mechanism behind this form of "distant healing" in his book, Be Careful What You Pray For...You Just Might Get It (New York: HarperCollins, 1997): "For a decade, a research team led by Jacobo Grinberg-Zylberbaum at the Universidad National Autonoma de Mexico City, has performed experiments examining the electroencephalograms (EEGs or brain wave tracings) of subjects who are far removed from each other...While the distant subjects are sitting quietly, there is no correlation in the pattern of their respective EEGs. But when they allow a feeling of emotional closeness or empathy to develop between them, the EEGs begin to resemble each other, often to a striking degree. No type of energy or signal can be detected to pass between the distant individuals. Moreover, the statistical correlations between the distant EEG patterns do not diminish when the subjects are moved farther apart. This defies one of the hallmarks of energy as defined in physics - its decrease in strength with increasing distance from its source. Also, the EEGs remain equally correlated if the subjects are placed in metal-lined boxes, which block ambient electromagnetic energy...
"Grinberg-Zylberbaum's team, along with physicist Amit Goswami, of the Department of Physics and the Institute of Theoretical Science at the University of Oregon, propose that these 'transferred potentials' between brains demonstrate 'brain-to-brain nonlocal....correlations...' Nonlocal correlations have been a concern of physicists since they were proposed by Einstein, Rosen, and Podolsky in 1935....They were demonstrated experimentally in a celebrated study in 1982 by physicist Alain Aspect and his colleagues. Physicists assumed that nonlocal connections exist only between subatomic particles such as electrons and photons. But the pioneering work of Grinberg-Zylberbaum, Goswami, and their colleagues, which they have replicated, strongly suggests that nonlocal events occur also between human beings....
"But the connections between distant humans are not automatic. The researchers asked the subjects to try to 'feel each other's presence even at a distance.' If they did not, the distant EEG correlations were totally absent. This implies that love and empathy are required for distant connections between people to take place, and it is consistent with the universal belief that distant healing depends on love, caring, and compassion."
"In the concept of Islam, Allah is eternal, His creation knows no limit in time, nor in form and as a result He creates when He will, when He wishes, when He wills, how he wishes, where He wishes and man's perception of science is therefore nothing more than the perception of God's creation, His continuous creation, and there is no conflict between Islam and science but at the same time do not make the mistake of becoming vain and proud, simply because technology surrounds you. On the contrary, those who are most qualified in scientific subjects today are often the most humble and the most convinced in their attitude to the existence of Allah and therefore as you prepare for the future, do not shun the technological era, but do not make the mistake of thinking that, that era is the creation of man." (Silver Jubilee Mulaqat, NewYork, June 14th, 1983)
The following article gives an example of one of the most qualified scientist who has been able to wisely reconcile science and faith as per the Farman above.
A life where science and faith coexist
By Robert Tuttle | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
NEW YORK - When Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles Hard Townes was a professor at Columbia University during the 1950s, a colleague, Willis Lamb, asked him if God ever helps him in the lab. Dr. Townes gave the question some thought. "Well," he recalls telling Lamb. "I think so."
For centuries, scientists and religious scholars have sparred over questions about the workings of the universe. Galileo's espousal of a sun-centered universe, rather than the earth-centered model widely accepted at the time, landed the 16th-century astronomer in court, accused of heresy.
More recently, scientists and religious leaders have disagreed over everything from the big bang theory of the origin of the universe to the teaching of evolution in schools to the debate over stem-cell research.
But even in these often discordant worlds, Townes has found little difficulty in reconciling his Christian faith with the empiricism of scientific inquiry.
"I don't think that science is complete at all," says the 89-year-old physicist. "We don't understand everything and one can see, within science itself, there are many inconsistencies. We just have to accept that we don't understand."
Within the great unknowns of the universe, Townes argues there is ample room for faith in God and His presence in human experience.
On Wednesday, Townes was awarded this year's Templeton Prize for progress or discoveries about spiritual reality. The award includes a cash prize of £795,000 sterling ($1.4 million).
"The real focus of the prize really seems to resonate with Dr. Townes's interest for the past 30 years, which is how to break down the barriers between science and religion," says Sir John Templeton, president of the foundation that bears his name and which awards the prize.
The award, Townes says, is "a great honor, but it is also very humbling."
Townes is best known for his groundbreaking research in the 1950s into the amplification of electromagnetic waves, for which he shared the Nobel Prize in physics with two other scientists in 1964. The research eventually led to his invention of the maser (microwave amplification by stimulated emission) and later the laser (light amplification by stimulated emission).
Both inventions have had an impact on a range of different scientific and industrial fields. Masers are used to amplify radio waves, and lasers have become commonplace in everything from welding to communications to medicine.
Born in 1915, on a farm in Greenville, S.C., Townes was raised a Baptist. He was immersed in the wonders of the Blue Ridge Mountains near his home.
As a child, he says, he loved to explore the natural world around him, collecting insects and especially butterflies. The marvels of nature, he says, helped spark a curiosity about the universe and man's place within it. To this day, he remains an avid naturalist and accomplished bird watcher.
"I knew I wanted to be a scientist," he says, speaking of his childhood. "Which kind of scientist was the question."
Townes took his first physics class in his sophomore year of college and went on to earn a PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1939.
For much of the next decade, Townes worked on the technical staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City, where, he says, he once talked about his research with Albert Einstein.
Townes tackled a variety of problems at Bell including microwave generation, vacuum tubes, and solid-state physics.
In 1948, Townes joined the faculty of Columbia University and spent most of the remainder of his professional career in academia, moving to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1961 and then to the University of California at Berkeley in 1967.
There he focused on astrophysics, discovering the existence of molecules in interstellar space and a black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Today he remains on UC Berkeley's faculty, working with graduate students and researching.
"Now, I'm looking at stars," he says, describing his current research interests. "I'm looking at their behavior. Most people don't realize that stars are changing pretty rapidly."
For all his interest in scientific inquiry, Townes says it has never led to a crisis of faith. He exhibits a strong sense of rationalism in his approach to both science and religion.
"He is very interested in the foundations of religion and faith-based concepts and he discusses them in a manner that is very attractive for fellow scientists," says Marvin Cohen, president of the American Physical Society and a close colleague of Townes. "He really thinks before he speaks. If there is an opposite of a loose cannon, that would be Charles Townes."
In 1966, Townes published "The Convergence of Science and Religion," an article that detailed some of his thoughts on the relation between religion and science.
"They are much more similar than people generally accept," Townes says. "Science has faith. We make postulates. We can't prove those postulates, but we have faith in them."
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"As people have certainly been influenced by me, I want to try and correct the enormous damage I may have done." (Anthony Flew)
The newspapers these days are echoing with these regret-filled words by Anthony Flew, in his time a well-known atheist philosopher. The 81-year-old British professor of philosophy Flew chose to become an atheist at the age of 15, and first made a name for himself in the academic field with a paper published in 1950. In the 54 years that followed, he defended atheism as a teacher at the universities of Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele and Reading, at many American and Canadian universities he visited, in debates, books, lecture halls and articles. In recent days, however, Flew has announced that he has abandoned this error and accepts that the universe was created.
The decisive factor in this radical change of view is the clear and definitive evidence revealed by science on the subject of creation. Flew realised, in the face of the information-based complexity of life, that the true origin of life is intelligent design and that the atheism he had espoused for 66 years was a discredited philosophy.
Flew announced the scientific reasons underlying this change in belief in these terms: "Biologists' investigation of DNA has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce [life], that intelligence must have been involved." (1)
"It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism." (2)
"I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinarily complicated creature." (3)
The DNA research which Flew cites as a fundamental reason for his change of opinion has indeed revealed striking facts about creation. The helix shape of the DNA molecule, its possession of the genetic code, the nucleotide strings that refute blind chance, the storage of encyclopaedic quantities of information and many other striking findings have revealed that the structure and functions of this molecule were arranged for life with a special design. Comments by scientists concerned with DNA research bear witness to this fact.
Francis Crick, for instance, one of the scientists who revealed the helix shape of DNA admitted in the face of the findings regarding DNA that the origin of life indicated a miracle:
An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.
Based on his calculations, Led Adleman of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles has stated that one gram of DNA can store as much information as a trillion compact discs. (5)
Gene Myers, a scientist employed on the Human Genome Project, has said the following in the face of the miraculous arrangements he witnessed:
"What really astounds me is the architecture of life?The system is extremely complex. It's like it was designed?There's a huge intelligence there." (6)
The most striking fact about DNA is that the existence of the coded genetic information can definitely not be explained in terms of matter and energy or natural laws. Dr. Werner Gitt, a professor at the German Federal Institute of Physics and Technology, has said this on the subject:
A code system is always the result of a mental process?It should be emphasized that matter as such is unable to generate any code. All experiences indicate that a thinking being voluntarily exercising his own free will, cognition, and creativity, is required?There is no known natural law through which matter can give rise to information, neither is any physical process or material phenomenon known that can do this. (7)
Creationist scientists and philosophers played a major role in Flew's acceptance of intelligent design, backed up by all these findings. In recent times Flew participated in debates with scientists and philosophers who were proponents of creation, and exchanged ideas with them. The final turning point in that process was a discussion organised by the
Institute for Metascientific Research in Texas in May, 2003. Flew participated together with author Roy Abraham Varghese, Israeli physicist and molecular biologist Gerald Schroeder, and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane. Flew was impressed by the
weight of the scientific evidence in favour of creation and by the convincing nature of his
opponents' arguments, and abandoned atheism as an idea in the period following that discussion. In a letter he wrote for the August-September, 2003, edition of the British magazine Philosophy Now, he recommended Schroeder's book "The Hidden Face of God: Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth" and Varghese's book "The Wonderful World."(
During an interview with the professor of philosophy and theology Gary R. Habermas, who also played a major role in his change of mind (9), and also on the video "Has Science Discovered God?," he openly stated that he believed in intelligent design.
The "Intelligence Pervading the Universe" and the Collapse of Atheism
In the face of all the scientific developments outlined above, the acceptance of intelligent design by Antony Flew, famous for defending atheism for many years, reflects a final scene in the process of collapse being undergone by atheism. Modern science has revealed the existence of an "intelligence pervading the universe," thus leaving atheism out of the equation.
In his book "The Hidden Face of God," Gerald Schroeder, one of the creationist scientists who influenced Flew, writes:
"A single consciousness, a universal wisdom, pervades the universe. The discoveries of science, those that search the quantum nature of subatomic matter, have moved us to the brink of a startling realization: all existence is the expression of this wisdom. In the laboratories we experience it as information that first physically articulated as energy and then condensed into the form of matter. Every particle, every being, from atom to human,
appears to represent a level of information, of wisdom." (10)
Scientific research into both the functioning of the cell and the subatomic particles of matter has revealed this fact in an indisputable manner: Life and the universe were brought into being from nothing by the will of an entity possessed of a superior mind and
wisdom. There is no doubt that the possessor of that knowledge and mind that pervade the universe at all levels is Almighty Allah. Allah reveals this truth in the Qur'an:
Both East and West belong to Allah, so wherever you turn, the Face of Allah is there. Allah is All-Encompassing, All-Knowing." (Qur'an, 2:115)
The following article discusses the significance of emotional intelligence in the overall success of a person. Emotional intelligence is associated with aspect of life connected to the practice of faith viz, feelings of compassion, self control, joy, peace etc. IQ on the other hand is a measure of our rational ability which we associate with science and logic.
Emotional intelligence: more important than IQ?
by Sylvia Sensiper
Are you able to respond with the appropriate emotions in a difficult family environment? Are you empathetic with colleagues, but still able to manage stressful business situations? Are you aware of your emotions and able to cope on a daily basis? If so, you may have a high degree of what experts are calling "emotional intelligence," and it may be what brings you success in life.
Daniel Goleman certainly thinks so. As the author who first brought the term to public awareness in his 1995 best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, Goleman has positioned himself at the center of a small cottage industry concerned with the concept of "emotional intelligence." He is the CEO of Emotional Intelligence Services, the co-chairman of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, and a popular speaker on the worldwide lecture circuit.
One of Goleman's main goals is to expand our notion of intelligence and show that "self-control, zeal and persistence, and the ability to motivate oneself" are crucial life skills. Like Howard Gardner, the Harvard University educator who proposed that "intelligence" has at least seven different varieties, Goleman seeks to influence the way we educate our children and ourselves. According to Goleman, our communal and ethical life depends on self-restraint and compassion, and the skills associated with emotional intelligence. Unlike intelligence quotient (IQ), which is considered an absolute given from birth, emotional intelligence is thought to be cultivated and enhanced throughout life.
Because his ideas are so intriguing, Goleman's work has become prominent in the way our culture looks at emotions. Goleman borrowed the phrase "emotional intelligence" from two academic researchers and then used scholarly research to support his ideas. This gave the book a more "popular" orientation than the work of the original researchers, Mayer and Salovey.
Borrowing from academia
John Mayer, Ph.D., a University of New Hampshire psychologist and Peter Salovey, Ph.D., a psychologist at Yale University, began writing about emotional intelligence in the late 1980s. Acknowledging that emotions and intellect are often thought of as opposites, the two professors began to consider what might be the consequences of a beneficial interaction between the two.
Research had already shown that strong feelings can help people perceive new alternatives or make better choices. Deep emotions, they reasoned, might even make human thinking more rational and profound. This led them to propose that "emotional intelligence"—that is, intelligence inspired by strong emotions—might in fact, make the difference between a conventional decision and a brilliant innovation. In Mayer and Salovey's example, emotional intelligence might mean the difference "between constructing the Brooklyn Bridge, with its renowned beauty, [or building]...the more mundane 59th Street Bridge." The authors also proposed that emotional intelligence "allows us to think more creatively and use our emotions to solve problems."
Blending ideas with science
Goleman was granted permission by the two authors to use the phrase "emotional intelligence," and then expanded on the concept in many ways. Like Salovey and Mayer, Goleman was interested in the interaction of the emotions and the intellect. But as a science writer rather than a scholar and academician, Goleman had freer rein to generalize from a very wide range of data. Citing neurologic evidence indicating that the amygdala and the prefrontal lobes of the brain are responsible for our emotional responses while the neocortex and other limbic structures are responsible for our rational thinking mind, Goleman constructed his basic argument.
He reasoned that "in a sense, we have two brains, two minds, and two different kinds of intelligence: rational and emotional." He also maintained that our use of emotional intelligence is as important in life as our intellectual capability. Hence was born an autonomous notion of "emotional intelligence" that had very distinct and different characteristics from the kind of intelligence associated with IQ.
In his seminal work, Goleman described five domains that delineate the parameters of emotional intelligence.
Self-awareness- The ability to recognize a feeling as it is happening is fundamental to emotional intelligence. If we are unable to notice our emotions, we can be overwhelmed and can flounder at the mercy of these strong feelings.
Managing emotions- The ability to maintain an even keel or bounce back quickly from life's upsets builds on the preceding skill. We want to have a sense of control over our emotions so that we can deal with them appropriately.
Self-motivation- Underlying the accomplishment of any sort of goal is the ability to marshal our emotions in pursuit of that end. For creative tasks, focus and mastery (learning to delay gratification and stifle inappropriate desires) are important skills, and emotional control is essential.
Recognizing the emotions of others- "People" skills are based on a capacity for empathy and the ability to stay tuned to the emotions of others. Empathy kindles altruism and lies at the basis of professions that deal with caring for others, such as teaching, management, and the healing arts.
Handling relationships- Interpersonal effectiveness is dependent on our ability to manage the emotions of others. Brilliant projects and innovative insights are often never realized because of a lack of social competence and leadership skills.
The future of emotional intelligence
Goleman is not alone in the field. In fact, the concepts of emotional intelligence and the related idea of "emotional literacy"—fluency in all domains associated with emotional intelligence—have spawned a host of experts writing books and developing seminars and workshops. At the heart of the interest and discussion is one very important issue: while many abilities associated with emotional intelligence are innate, "emotional intelligence" is thought of as a set of learned skills. This, in turn, raises the question of whether it should be important to our overall social agenda.
Goleman's book, in fact, ends with a discussion of educational settings in which children are learning to attend to their emotions and manage their impact. In his later work, and in that of many of his colleagues, there is a concern about applying "emotional intelligence" to business situations and other broad life situations.
We probably all know someone whose brilliance is evident, but who has not had much success in life because of social ineptness or a lack of motivation. We probably also have friends who are vastly successful based simply on their abilities to handle social and business situations with finesse and care. The arguments about "emotional intelligence" have brought to public attention the need to consider intelligence as something other than IQ.
Gardner was one of the first to point out the limitations of IQ as a measure of intelligence. Only logical-mathematical and linguistic abilities are measured by IQ, and Gardner claims that human beings express many more kinds of "intelligences."
The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations
Applies the concept of emotional intelligence to the workplace.
The Institute for Health and Human Potential
Provides training in emotional intelligence for individuals and corporations. They also have books available for parents interested in applying the concept of emotional intelligence in parenting.
The use of prayer and other spiritual practices to improve health dates back thousands of years, to Hippocrates and also to Maimonides. The incorporation of spirituality into ancient medicine seems to be not simply because of the lack of diagnostic and therapeutic tools available during those times (vastly different from our modern-day technology), but also because spirituality provided a way for doctors to approach care for fellow human beings.Maimonides wrote, "May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain."
The sentiment of this statement points to the need for humility in medicine and the willingness for doctors to be equal to those they are treating—medicine as a partnership, an ancient concept which is gaining new recognition, respect and understanding. The acknowledgment of the influence of spirituality on healing and on the healer may help restore a balance and sense of humanity where it may be lacking in the modern practice of medicine.
For certain cultures, such as Native American Indians, the use of prayer and spiritual practices has been a constant part of medical care. In fact, one author on the subject writes that "intuition and spiritual awareness are a [Native American] Healer's most essential diagnostic tools."
The concept of prayer and spirituality seems, in some ways, to be at the crux of mind-body medicine, of how thoughts and energy may influence health and healing. Many different types of practices may help a person develop a spiritual connectedness and a balance of energy; some examples include prayer, meditation, journaling, yoga, and tai chi, among others. What all these practices seem to have in common is that they allow a person to achieve some degree of internal clarity and emotional balance with each session, while the most profound effects may occur as these techniques become part of a daily routine.
Prayer and other practices may be done alone or with a group or in a community. In a communal setting, prayer may help lessen feelings of isolation and strengthen feelings of connection and belonging as well as improve one's sense of personal identity and self-esteem.
What are prayer, religion and spirituality?
Spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing. Religion is thought to be a belief in and deference to a God or other higher being. Prayer can be thought of as an act of profound awe, respect, even love for this higher being and generally takes the form of either confession, praise, or thanksgiving.
Spirituality is described as neither tangible nor material, with the spirit representing "the essential nature of a person." Spirituality is thought to pertain to the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. There may be a heightened awareness of and concern for such matters when a person is ill or facing death.
Prayer is often used in a religious context to connect to one's own spirit, to spiritual affairs, and to God or another supernatural being. But it's important to point out that prayer can be practiced outside of a religious context, and that the connection to one's spirit and to God may occur through processes other than prayer, such as those mentioned above, like meditation, yoga, tai chi, and journal writing.
How might spirituality and prayer help?
There are differing theories on how spirituality can enhance health. First, spiritual practices, including prayer, may give a person a sense of empowerment or control. That is, the person in need of healing is actively getting involved in his or her own care. In fact, even if prayer has no direct impact on the outcome of the specific medical problem, it may bring a sense of comfort that, for overall wholeness and well-being, is very important.
For example, a large percentage of women undergoing treatment for infertility use a ritual such as prayer on the day of a scheduled procedure. While such a process does not increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant, it allows the women to feel subjectively better as they go through the process of trying to become pregnant.
Secondly, spiritual practices may make a person feel more at ease when facing death or other difficult circumstances. In one study, 13 people who used prayer prior to having coronary artery bypass surgery were interviewed following successful surgery and discharge from the hospital to find out how prayer helped them through the process. Without exception, they each said that their individual form of prayer helped them face uncertainty and the possibility of death; by the time of their surgery, they each felt accepting of whatever might happen. In addition, post-bypass patients who prayed experienced less depression, a fairly common feeling after this procedure, following the surgery compared with those who did not pray.
Two other possible explanations for the healing effect of spirituality include the placebo effect and the relaxation response. In this context, the placebo effect refers to the belief by the person that prayer will help him or her—just that belief may stimulate healing.
Prayer and other spiritual practices, such as those mentioned above, can elicit the "relaxation response," which refers to a process in the body that reduces levels of circulating stress hormones. In turn, the heart rate is slowed, blood pressure is lowered, and immune function may even be improved.
How might spirituality and prayer hurt?
There are instances, however, when trying to incorporate spirituality into health care can have negative effects. For example, some people with serious illnesses, such as cancer in particular, may feel that their prayers were not heard or that they did something wrong through their individual process of praying if there were negative outcomes.
For some people, the very thought or idea of prayer, religion or spirituality brings up feelings of self-doubt, self-judgment, fear or concern. For others, prayer and religion bring out true symptoms of depression.
Therefore, you should only use spiritual practices to gain comfort or insight if this is a fitting and appropriate approach for you as an individual. It's important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to do any of these practices. It may, though, be a matter of finding a particular practice that fits and works best for you personally.
What accounts for the resurgence of interest in ethereal matters in medicine? Some say that managed care, which has reduced the time physicians can spend with patients has raised the desire to focus attention on matters that are of deep personal importance to patients. The thought, in part, is that if a person engages in conversations about spiritual beliefs with a physician, then this may help restore the more "old fashioned" patient-doctor relationship and facilitate healing.
"Faith and healing," by L Gundersen. Annals of Internal Medicine,January 2000, Volume 132, pp 169-172.
"Spiritual conflicts associated with praying about cancer," by EJ Taylor, et al. Psychooncology, September 1999, Volume 8, pp 386-94.
By TENZIN GYATSO
Published: November 12, 2005
SCIENCE has always fascinated me. As a child in Tibet, I was keenly curious about how things worked. When I got a toy I would play with it a bit, then take it apart to see how it was put together. As I became older, I applied the same scrutiny to a movie projector and an antique automobile.
At one point I became particularly intrigued by an old telescope, with which I would study the heavens. One night while looking at the moon I realized that there were shadows on its surface. I corralled my two main tutors to show them, because this was contrary to the ancient version of cosmology I had been taught, which held that the moon was a heavenly body that emitted its own light.
But through my telescope the moon was clearly just a barren rock, pocked with craters. If the author of that fourth-century treatise were writing today, I'm sure he would write the chapter on cosmology differently.
If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.
For many years now, on my own and through the Mind and Life Institute, which I helped found, I have had the opportunity to meet with scientists to discuss their work. World-class scientists have generously coached me in subatomic physics, cosmology, psychology, biology.
It is our discussions of neuroscience, however, that have proved particularly important. From these exchanges a vigorous research initiative has emerged, a collaboration between monks and neuroscientists, to explore how meditation might alter brain function.
The goal here is not to prove Buddhism right or wrong - or even to bring people to Buddhism - but rather to take these methods out of the traditional context, study their potential benefits, and share the findings with anyone who might find them helpful.
After all, if practices from my own tradition can be brought together with scientific methods, then we may be able to take another small step toward alleviating human suffering.
Already this collaboration has borne fruit. Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has published results from brain imaging studies of lamas meditating. He found that during meditation the regions of the brain thought to be related to happiness increase in activity. He also found that the longer a person has been a meditator, the greater the activity increase will be.
Other studies are under way. At Princeton University, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a neuroscientist, is studying the effects of meditation on attention. At the University of California Medical School at San Francisco, Dr. Margaret Kemeny has been studying how meditation helps develop empathy in school teachers.
Whatever the results of this work, I am encouraged that it is taking place. You see, many people still consider science and religion to be in opposition. While I agree that certain religious concepts conflict with scientific facts and principles, I also feel that people from both worlds can have an intelligent discussion, one that has the power ultimately to generate a deeper understanding of challenges we face together in our interconnected world.
One of my first teachers of science was the German physicist Carl von Weizsäcker, who had been an apprentice to the quantum theorist Werner Heisenberg. Dr. Weizsäcker was kind enough to give me some formal tutorials on scientific topics. (I confess that while listening to him I would feel I could grasp the intricacies of the full argument, but when the sessions were over there was often not a great deal of his explanation left behind.)
What impressed me most deeply was how Dr. Weizsäcker worried about both the philosophical implications of quantum physics and the ethical consequences of science generally. He felt that science could benefit from exploring issues usually left to the humanities.
I believe that we must find a way to bring ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences. By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.
Rather, I am speaking of what I call "secular ethics," which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.
Today, our knowledge of the human brain and body at the cellular and genetic level has reached a new level of sophistication. Advances in genetic manipulation, for example, mean scientists can create new genetic entities - like hybrid animal and plant species - whose long-term consequences are unknown.
Sometimes when scientists concentrate on their own narrow fields, their keen focus obscures the larger effect their work might have. In my conversations with scientists I try to remind them of the larger goal behind what they do in their daily work.
This is more important than ever. It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with the speed of scientific advancement. Yet the ramifications of this progress are such that it is no longer adequate to say that the choice of what to do with this knowledge should be left in the hands of individuals.
This is a point I intend to make when I speak at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience today in Washington. I will suggest that how science relates to wider humanity is no longer of academic interest alone. This question must assume a sense of urgency for all those who are concerned about the fate of human existence.
A deeper dialogue between neuroscience and society - indeed between all scientific fields and society - could help deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and our responsibilities for the natural world we share with other sentient beings.
Just as the world of business has been paying renewed attention to ethics, the world of science would benefit from more deeply considering the implications of its own work. Scientists should be more than merely technically adept; they should be mindful of their own motivation and the larger goal of what they do: the betterment of humanity.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author of "The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality."
Women observe subconsciously a thousand little details, without knowing they are doing so. Their subconscious mind adds these little things together--and they call the result intuition.
From "Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom," by Christiane Northrup, M.D.:
I believe that modern medical preference for drugs and surgery as treatments is part of the aggressive patriarchal or addictive approach to disease. That which is natural and nontoxic is seen as inferior to the “big guns” of drugs, chemotherapy, and radiation. Drug-free, natural methods of treatment with well-studied, well-documented benefits, such as therapeutic touch, are ignored. Treatments that offer complementary care are denigrated. Studies that demonstrate their worth are ignored as well. A classic example of a disregarded study—and there are many—is one on the effects of prayer. This study was truly double-blind: Neither the doctors, the nurses, nor the patients knew who was being prayed for. But the patients in a coronary intensive care unit who were prayed for, by a group who didn’t know who they were praying for, were far less likely to go into heart failure, need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), need artificial breathing (endotracheal intubation), develop infection or pneumonia, or require diuretics than the patients in the unit who were not prayed for.
If a drug had shown an effect this striking, it would be considered unethical not to use it. Given these benefits and the total absence of side effects of prayer, a true scientist would be fascinated with this data and want to study the effects even further. Yet when Dr. Bernie Siegel posted this paper on the bulletin board in the doctors’ lounge of his hospital, within a few hours, a colleague had written “Bull....!” across the front page!
The addictive system considers the body to be subordinate to the brain and its dictates of reason. It often teaches us to ignore fatigue, hunger, discomfort, or our need for caring and nurturing. It conditions us to see the body as an adversary, particularly when the body is giving us messages that we don’t want to hear. The culture often tries to kill the body-as-messenger along with its message. Yet our own body is the best health system we have—if we know how to listen to it.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
From "Wellness," by Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D., p. 29 in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Discipline, Edited by Nancy Allison:
The wellness paradigm holds that there is no separation between mind, body, spirit, and emotions. All aspects of the human condition are so tightly connected that it is impossible to distinguish one from the other. An ancient theory that is supported by many experts in several disciplines suggests that each aspect of the human condition is comprised of energy, with the most dense energy being the most obvious and tangible: the physical body. Here are definitions for each aspect of the wellness paradigm:
* Emotional well-being is best defined as the ability to feel and express the entire range of human emotions from anger to love, and to control them, not be controlled by them.
* Physical well-being is defined as the optimal condition of each of the body's physiological systems. These include pulmonary, cardiovascular, nervous, immune, reproductive, urinary, endocrine, musculoskeletal, and digestive.
* Mental well-being is understood as the ability to gather, process, recall and communicate information. Like a computer, the mind can gather and store mass quantities of information.
* Spiritual well-being is defined as the maturation of higher consciousness as developed through the dynamic integration of three facets: relationships (internal, how you relate to yourself and a higher power, however you conceive this to be; and external, how you relate and interact with all people in your life), a personal value system, and a meaningful purpose in life.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
From "The Healing Power of Faith," by Harold Koenig:
Over the years, Duke University's Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health's scientists have led over fifty major research projects on the relationship between faith and health. More than seventy data-based, peer-reviewed papers published in medical and scientific journals have resulted from these projects...
Many of the center's studies have produced groundbreaking findings:
People who regularly attend church, pray individually, and read the Bibl have significantly lower diastolic blood pressure than the less religious. Those with the lowest blood pressure both attend church and pray or study the Bible often.
People who attend church regularly are hospitalized much less often than people who never or rarely participate in religious services.
People with strong religious faith are less likely to suffer depression from stressful life events, and if they do, they are more likely to recover from depression than those who are less religious.
The deeper a person's religious faith, the less likely he or she is to be crippled by depression during and after hospitalization for physical illness.
Religious people have healthier lifestyles. They tend to avoid alcohol and drug abuse, risky sexual behavior, and other unhealthy habits.
Elderly people with a deep, personal ("intrinsic") religious faith have a stronger sense of well-being and life satisfaction than their less religious peers. This may be due in part to the stable marriage and strong families religious people tend to build.
People with strong faith who suffer from physical illness have significantly better health outcomes than less religious people.
People who attend religious services regularly have stronger immune systems than their less religious counterparts. We found that people who went to church regularly had significantly lower blood levels of interleukin-6, which rises with unrelieved chronic stress. High levels of IL-6 reflect a weakened immune system, which, in turn, increases the risk of infection, autoimmune disease, and certain cancers.
Religious people live longer. A growing body of research shows that religious people are both physically healthier into later life and live longer than their nonreligious counterparts.
True healing has more to do with listening and unconditional love than fixing people.
-Gerald Jampolsky & Diane V. Cirincione
From "Love, Medicine and Miracles," by Bernie Siegel:
Exceptional patients have the ability to throw statistics aside—to say, "I can be a survivor"—even when the doctor isn't wise enough to do so. Just think of the courage it took for someone to conquer a certain type of cancer that no one else had ever conquered before...
The belief systems of physicians and patients interact, but patients' bodies respond directly to their own beliefs, not their doctors'. Physicians tend to be more logical, statistical and rigid, and less inclined to have hope, than their patients. When physicians run out of remedies, they're likely to give up. They must realize, however, that lack of faith in the patient's ability to heal can severely limit that ability. We should never say, "There's nothing more I can do for you." There's always something more we can do, even if it's only to sit down, talk, and help the patient hope and pray.
The usual attitude of doctors is summed up perfectly in the experience of Stephanie... After the diagnosis of cancer, her doctor outlined the rest of her life, as predicted by statistics, right into an early grave. She asked what she could do, and he told her, "All you've got is a hope and a prayer." She said, "How do I hope and pray?" He replied, "I don't know. It's not my line." Her experience had taught her how to hope and pray, and Stephanie has altered the course of her disease, exceeding expectations, and her doctor is now making notes about her success. Later she wrote that this doctor, in mentioning hope and prayer, "was actually prescribing the one medication that was going to cure me, and he never even knew it."
You have to take it as it happens, but you should try to make it happen the way you want to take it.
From "Close to the Bone: Life-Threatening Illness and the Search for Meaning," by Jean Shinoda Bolen:
I think of affirmations and visualizations as tapping into the power of the imagination, which is a generator and transformer, a force that precedes and shapes who we become, and what we create and achieve. Whenever we attempt something new or difficult, we have to be able to imagine it before it becomes possible. It's the combination of inspiration and perspiration that brings about tangible results. Healing is no different, especially if you have a life-threatening illness. Here, for example, your doctor's attitude and words are a powerful help or hindrance to your getting well or not.
I think of doctors as having the equivalent of green thumbs or black thumbs, as in gardening. The doctor who is a healer taps into the power of positive imagination and vice versa. He or she recruits the innate healing power of nature by expectations that come through words and attitude that this will help, that this will heal, and whatever the medicine does — or the surgery or the radiation — is enhanced by positive expectations. The message is passed on to the body through emotion-colored pictures in our mind, and the body responds.
This is also what happens when we use visualizations and affirmations. We produce, write the script, and cast these emotion-colored pictures that enhance the healing process, focusing the energies of mind and body on the possibility of positive results.
Before you read any further, stop and close your eyes for a moment. Now consider the following question: for the moment your eyes were closed, did the world still exist even though you weren't conscious of it? How do you know? If this sounds like the kind of unanswerable brain teaser your Philosophy 101 professor used to employ to stretch your philosophical imagination, you might be surprised to discover that there are actually physicists at reputable universities who believe they have answered this question—and their answer, believe it or not, is no.
Now consider something even more intriguing. Imagine for a moment the entire history of the universe. According to all the data scientists have been able to gather, it exploded into existence some fifteen billion years ago, setting the stage for a cosmic dance of energy and light that continues to this day. Now imagine the history of planet Earth. An amorphous cloud of dust emerging out of that primordial fireball, it slowly coalesced into a solid orb, found its way into gravitational orbit around the sun, and through a complex interaction of light and gases over billions of years, generated an atmosphere and a biosphere capable of not only giving birth to, but sustaining and proliferating, life.
Now imagine that none of the above ever happened. Consider instead the possibility that the entire story only existed as an abstract potential—a cosmic dream among countless other cosmic dreams—until, in that dream, life somehow evolved to the point that a conscious, sentient being came into existence. At that moment, solely because of the conscious observation of that individual, the entire universe, including all of the history leading up to that point, suddenly came into being. Until that moment, nothing had actually ever happened. In that moment, fifteen billion years happened. If this sounds like nothing more than a complicated backdrop for a science fiction story or a secular version of one of the world's great creation myths, hold on to your hat. According to physicist Amit Goswami, the above description is a scientifically viable explanation of how the universe came into being.
Goswami is convinced, along with a number of others who subscribe to the same view, that the universe, in order to exist, requires a conscious sentient being to be aware of it. Without an observer, he claims, it only exists as a possibility. And as they say in the world of science, Goswami has done his math. Marshalling evidence from recent research in cognitive psychology, biology, parapsychology and quantum physics, and leaning heavily on the ancient mystical traditions of the world, Goswami is building a case for a new paradigm that he calls "monistic idealism," the view that consciousness, not matter, is the foundation of everything that is.
A professor of physics at the University of Oregon and a member of its Institute of Theoretical Science, Dr. Goswami is part of a growing body of renegade scientists who in recent years have ventured into the domain of the spiritual in an attempt both to interpret the seemingly inexplicable findings of their experiments and to validate their intuitions about the existence of a spiritual dimension of life. The culmination of Goswami's own work is his book The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. Rooted in an interpretation of the experimental data of quantum physics (the physics of elementary particles), the book weaves together a myriad of findings and theories in fields from artificial intelligence to astronomy to Hindu mysticism in an attempt to show that the discoveries of modern science are in perfect accord with the deepest mystical truths.
Quantum physics, as well as a number of other modern sciences, he feels, is demonstrating that the essential unity underlying all of reality is a fact which can be experimentally verified. Because of the enormous implications he sees in this scientific confirmation of the spiritual, Goswami is ardently devoted to explaining his theory to as many people as possible in order to help bring about what he feels is a much needed paradigm shift. He feels that because science is now capable of validating mysticism, much that before required a leap of faith can now be empirically proven and, hence, the materialist paradigm which has dominated scientific and philosophical thought for over two hundred years can finally be called into question.
Interviewing Amit Goswami was a mind-bending and concept-challenging experience. Listening to him explain many ideas with which he seemed perfectly at home, required, for me, such a suspension of disbelief that I at times found myself having to stretch far beyond anything I had previously considered. (Goswami is also a great fan of science fiction whose first book, The Cosmic Dancers, was a look at science fiction through the eyes of a physicist.)
But whether or not one ultimately accepts some of his more esoteric theories, one has to respect the creativity and passion with which he is willing to inquire. Goswami is clearly willing to take risks with his ideas and is fervently dedicated to sharing his investigation with audiences around the world. He speaks widely at conferences and other forums about the exciting discoveries of the new science and their significance, not only for the way science is done, but for society as a whole. In India, the country of his birth, he is actively involved in a growing organized movement to bridge the gap between science and spirituality, through which he is helping to pioneer a graduate institute in "consciousness studies" based on the premise that consciousness is the ground of all being.
Goswami is considered by some to be a pioneer in his field. By attempting to bring material realism to its knees and to integrate all fields of knowledge in a single unified paradigm, he hopes to pave the way for a new holistic worldview in which spirit is put first. In fact, as far as we know, he is the only new paradigm scientist who is taking a clear stand against the relativism so popular among new age thinkers. At a time when the decay of human values and the erosion of any sense of meaning has reached epidemic scale, it is hard to imagine what could be more important than this.
And yet, for all the important and valuable work he seems to be doing, in the end we are left with serious reservations as to whether Goswami's approach will ultimately lead to the kind of transformation he hopes for. Thinkers such as Huston Smith and E. F. Schumacher have pointed to what they feel is an arrogance, or at least, a kind of naiveté, on the part of scientists who believe they can expand the reach of their discipline to somehow include or explain the spiritual dimension of life. Such critics suggest that the very attempt to scientifically validate the spiritual is itself a product of the same materialistic impulses it intends to uproot and, because of this, is ultimately only capable of reducing spirit, God and the transcendent to mere objects of scientific fascination.
Is science capable of proving the reality of the transcendent dimension of life? Or would science better serve the spiritual potential of the human race by acknowledging the inherent limits of its domain? The following interview confronts us with these questions.
WIE: In your book The Self-Aware Universe you speak about the need for a paradigm shift. Could you talk a bit about how you conceive of that shift? From what to what?
Amit Goswami: The current worldview has it that everything is made of matter, and everything can be reduced to the elementary particles of matter, the basic constituents—building blocks—of matter. And cause arises from the interactions of these basic building blocks or elementary particles; elementary particles make atoms, atoms make molecules, molecules make cells, and cells make brain. But all the way, the ultimate cause is always the interactions between the elementary particles. This is the belief—all cause moves from the elementary particles. This is what we call "upward causation." So in this view, what human beings—you and I—think of as our free will does not really exist. It is only an epiphenomenon or secondary phenomenon, secondary to the causal power of matter. And any causal power that we seem to be able to exert on matter is just an illusion. This is the current paradigm.
Now, the opposite view is that everything starts with consciousness. That is, consciousness is the ground of all being. In this view, consciousness imposes "downward causation." In other words, our free will is real. When we act in the world we really are acting with causal power. This view does not deny that matter also has causal potency—it does not deny that there is causal power from elementary particles upward, so there is upward causation—but in addition it insists that there is also downward causation. It shows up in our creativity and acts of free will, or when we make moral decisions. In those occasions we are actually witnessing downward causation by consciousness.
WIE: In your book you refer to this new paradigm as "monistic idealism." And you also suggest that science seems to be verifying what a lot of mystics have said throughout history—that science's current findings seem to be parallel to the essence of the perennial spiritual teaching.
AG: It is the spiritual teaching. It is not just parallel. The idea that consciousness is the ground of being is the basis of all spiritual traditions, as it is for the philosophy of monistic idealism—although I have given it a somewhat new name. The reason for my choice of the name is that, in the West, there is a philosophy called "idealism" which is opposed to the philosophy of "material realism," which holds that only matter is real. Idealism says no, consciousness is the only real thing. But in the West that kind of idealism has usually meant something that is really dualism—that is, consciousness and matter are separate. So, by monistic idealism, I made it clear that, no, I don't mean that dualistic kind of Western idealism, but really a monistic idealism, which has existed in the West, but only in the esoteric spiritual traditions. Whereas in the East this is the mainstream philosophy. In Buddhism, or in Hinduism where it is called Vedanta, or in Taoism, this is the philosophy of everyone. But in the West this is a very esoteric tradition, only known and adhered to by very astute philosophers, the people who have really delved deeply into the nature of reality.
WIE: What you are saying is that modern science, from a completely different angle—not assuming anything about the existence of a spiritual dimension of life—has somehow come back around, and is finding itself in agreement with that view as a result of its own discoveries.
AG: That's right. And this is not entirely unexpected. Starting from the beginning of quantum physics, which began in the year 1900 and then became full-fledged in 1925 when the equations of quantum mechanics were discovered, quantum physics has given us indications that the worldview might change. Staunch materialist physicists have loved to compare the classical worldview and the quantum worldview. Of course, they wouldn't go so far as to abandon the idea that there is only upward causation and that matter is supreme, but the fact remains that they saw in quantum physics some great paradigm changing potential. And then what happened was that, starting in 1982, results started coming in from laboratory experiments in physics. That is the year when, in France, Alain Aspect and his collaborators performed the great experiment that conclusively established the veracity of the spiritual notions, and particularly the notion of transcendence. Should I go into a little bit of detail about Aspect's experiment?
WIE: Yes, please do.
AG: To give a little background, what had been happening was that for many years quantum physics had been giving indications that there are levels of reality other than the material level. How it started happening first was that quantum objects—objects in quantum physics—began to be looked upon as waves of possibility. Now, initially people thought, "Oh, they are just like regular waves." But very soon it was found out that, no, they are not waves in space and time. They cannot be called waves in space and time at all—they have properties which do not jibe with those of ordinary waves. So they began to be recognized as waves in potential, waves of possibility, and the potential was recognized as transcendent, beyond matter somehow.
But the fact that there is transcendent potential was not very clear for a long time. Then Aspect's experiment verified that this is not just theory, there really is transcendent potential, objects really do have connections outside of space and time—outside of space and time! What happens in this experiment is that an atom emits two quanta of light, called photons, going opposite ways, and somehow these photons affect one another's behavior at a distance, without exchanging any signals through space. Notice that: without exchanging any signals through space but instantly affecting each other. Instantaneously.
Now Einstein showed long ago that two objects can never affect each other instantly in space and time because everything must travel with a maximum speed limit, and that speed limit is the speed of light. So any influence must travel, if it travels through space, taking a finite time. This is called the idea of "locality." Every signal is supposed to be local in the sense that it must take a finite time to travel through space. And yet, Aspect's photons—the photons emitted by the atom in Aspect's experiment—influence one another, at a distance, without exchanging signals because they are doing it instantaneously—they are doing it faster than the speed of light. And therefore it follows that the influence could not have traveled through space. Instead the influence must belong to a domain of reality that we must recognize as the transcendent domain of reality.
WIE: That's fascinating. Would most physicists agree with that interpretation of his experiment?
AG: Well, physicists must agree with this interpretation of this experiment. Many times of course, physicists will take the following point of view: they will say, "Well, yeah sure, experiments. But this relationship between particles really isn't important. We mustn't look into any of the consequences of this transcendent domain—if it can even be interpreted that way." In other words, they try to minimize the impact of this and still try to hold on to the idea that matter is supreme.
But in their heart they know, as is very evidenced. In 1984 or '85, at the American Physical Society meeting at which I was present, it is said that one physicist was heard saying to another physicist that, after Aspect's experiment, anyone who does not believe that something is really strange about the world must have rocks in his head.
WIE: So what you are saying is that from your point of view, which a number of others share, it is somehow obvious that one would have to bring in the idea of a transcendent dimension to really understand this.
AG: Yes, it is. Henry Stapp, who is a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, says this quite explicitly in one of his papers written in 1977, that things outside of space and time affect things inside space and time. There's just no question that that happens in the realm of quantum physics when you are dealing with quantum objects. Now of course, the crux of the matter is, the surprising thing is, that we are always dealing with quantum objects because it turns out that quantum physics is the physics of every object. Whether it's submicroscopic or it's macroscopic, quantum physics is the only physics we've got. So although it's more apparent for photons, for electrons, for the submicroscopic objects, our belief is that all reality, all manifest reality, all matter, is governed by the same laws. And if that is so, then this experiment is telling us that we should change our worldview because we, too, are quantum objects.
WIE: These are fascinating discoveries which have inspired a lot of people. A number of books have already attempted to make the link between physics and mysticism. Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters have both reached many, many people. In your book, though, you mention that there was something that you felt had not yet been covered which you feel is your unique contribution to all this. Could you say something about what you are doing that is different from what has been done before in this area?
AG: I'm glad that you asked that question. This should be clarified and I will try to explicate it as clearly as I can. The early work, like The Tao of Physics, has been very important for the history of science. However, these early works, in spite of supporting the spiritual aspect of human beings, all basically held on to the material view of the world nevertheless. In other words, they did not challenge the material realists' view that everything is made up of matter. That view was never put to any challenge by any of these early books. In fact, my book was the first one which challenged it squarely and which was still based on a rigorous explication in scientific terms. In other words, the idea that consciousness is the ground of being, of course, has existed in psychology, as transpersonal psychology, but outside of transpersonal psychology no tradition of science and no scientist has seen it so clearly.
It was my good fortune to recognize it within quantum physics, to recognize that all the paradoxes of quantum physics can be solved if we accept consciousness as the ground of being. So that was my unique contribution and, of course, this has paradigm-shifting potential because now we can truly integrate science and spirituality. In other words, with Capra and Zukav—although their books are very good—because they held on to a fundamentally materialist paradigm, the paradigm is not shifting, nor is there any real reconciliation between spirituality and science. Because if everything is ultimately material, all causal efficacy must come from matter. So consciousness is recognized, spirituality is recognized, but only as causal epiphenomena, or secondary phenomena. And an epiphenomenal consciousness is not very good. I mean, it's not doing anything. So, although these books acknowledge our spirituality, the spirituality is ultimately coming from some sort of material interaction.
But that's not the spirituality that Jesus talked about. That's not the spirituality that Eastern mystics were so ecstatic about. That's not the spirituality where a mystic recognizes and says, "I now know what reality is like, and this takes away all the unhappiness that one ever had. This is infinite, this is joy, this is consciousness." This kind of exuberant statement that mystics make could not be made on the basis of epiphenomenal consciousness. It can be made only when one recognizes the ground of being itself, when one cognizes directly that One is All.
Now, an epiphenomenal human being would not have any such cognition. It would not make any sense to cognize that you are All. So that is what I am saying. So long as science remains on the basis of the materialist worldview, however much you try to accommodate spiritual experiences in terms of parallels or in terms of chemicals in the brain or what have you, you are not really giving up the old paradigm. You are giving up the old paradigm and fully reconciling with spirituality only when you establish science on the basis of the fundamental spiritual notion that consciousness is the ground of all being. That is what I have done in my book, and that is the beginning. But already there are some other books that are recognizing this too.
WIE: So there are people corroborating your ideas?
AG: There are people who are now coming out and recognizing the same thing, that this view is the correct way to go to explain quantum physics and also to develop science in the future. In other words, the present science has shown not only quantum paradoxes but also has shown real incompetence in explaining paradoxical and anomalous phenomena, such as parapsychology, the paranormal—even creativity. And even traditional subjects, like perception or biological evolution, have much to explain that these materialist theories don't explain. To give you one example, in biology there is what is called the theory of punctuated equilibrium. What that means is that evolution is not only slow, as Darwin perceived, but there are also rapid epochs of evolution, which are called "punctuation marks." But traditional biology has no explanation for this.
However, if we do science on the basis of consciousness, on the primacy of consciousness, then we can see in this phenomenon creativity, real creativity of consciousness. In other words, we can truly see that consciousness is operating creatively even in biology, even in the evolution of species. And so we can now fill up these gaps that conventional biology cannot explain with ideas which are essentially spiritual ideas, such as consciousness as the creator of the world.
WIE: This brings to mind the subtitle of your book, How Consciousness Creates the Material World. This is obviously quite a radical idea. Could you explain a bit more concretely how this actually happens in your opinion?
AG: Actually, it's the easiest thing to explain, because in quantum physics, as I said earlier, objects are not seen as definite things, as we are used to seeing them. Newton taught us that objects are definite things, they can be seen all the time, moving in definite trajectories. Quantum physics doesn't depict objects that way at all. In quantum physics, objects are seen as possibilities, possibility waves. Right? So then the question arises, what converts possibility into actuality? Because, when we see, we only see actual events. That's starting with us. When you see a chair, you see an actual chair, you don't see a possible chair.
WIE: Right—I hope so.
AG: We all hope so. Now this is called the "quantum measurement paradox." It is a paradox because who are we to do this conversion? Because after all, in the materialist paradigm we don't have any causal efficacy. We are nothing but the brain, which is made up of atoms and elementary particles. So how can a brain which is made up of atoms and elementary particles convert a possibility wave that it itself is? It itself is made up of the possibility waves of atoms and elementary particles, so it cannot convert its own possibility wave into actuality. This is called a paradox. Now in the new view, consciousness is the ground of being. So who converts possibility into actuality? Consciousness does, because consciousness does not obey quantum physics. Consciousness is not made of material. Consciousness is transcendent. Do you see the paradigm-changing view right here—how consciousness can be said to create the material world? The material world of quantum physics is just possibility. It is consciousness, through the conversion of possibility into actuality, that creates what we see manifest. In other words, consciousness creates the manifest world.
WIE: To be honest, when I first saw the subtitle of your book I assumed you were speaking metaphorically. But after reading the book, and speaking with you about it now, I am definitely getting the sense that you mean it much more literally than I had thought. One thing in your book that really stopped me in my tracks was your statement that, according to your interpretation, the entire physical universe only existed in a realm of countless evolving possibilities until at one point, the possibility of a conscious, sentient being arose and that, at that point, instantaneously, the entire known universe came into being, including the fifteen billion years of history leading up to that point. Do you really mean that?
AG: I mean that literally. This is what quantum physics demands. In fact, in quantum physics this is called "delayed choice." And I have added to this concept the concept of "self-reference." Actually the concept of delayed choice is very old. It is due to a very famous physicist named John Wheeler, but Wheeler did not see the entire thing correctly, in my opinion. He left out self-reference. The question always arises, "The universe is supposed to have existed for fifteen billion years, so if it takes consciousness to convert possibility into actuality, then how could the universe be around for so long?" Because there was no consciousness, no sentient being, biological being, carbonbased being, in that primordial fireball which is supposed to have created the universe, the big bang. But this other way of looking at things says that the universe remained in possibility until there was self-referential quantum measurement—so that is the new concept. An observer's looking is essential in order to manifest possibility into actuality, and so only when the observer looks, only then does the entire thing become manifest—including time. So all of past time, in that respect, becomes manifest right at that moment when the first sentient being looks.
It turns out that this idea, in a very clever, very subtle way, has been around in cosmology and astronomy under the guise of a principle called the "anthropic principle." That is, the idea has been growing among astronomers—cosmologists anyway—that the universe has a purpose. It is so fine-tuned, there are so many coincidences, that it seems very likely that the universe is doing something purposive, as if the universe is growing in such a way that a sentient being will arise at some point.
WIE: So you feel there's a kind of purposiveness to the way the universe is evolving; that, in a sense, it reaches its fruition in us, in human beings?
AG: Well, human beings may not be the end of it, but certainly they are the first fruition, because here is then the possibility of manifest creativity, creativity in the sentient being itself. The animals are certainly sentient, but they are not creative in the sense that we are. So human beings certainly right now seem to be an epitome, but this may not be the final epitome. I think we have a long way to go and there is a long evolution to occur yet.
WIE: In your book you even go so far as to suggest that the cosmos was created for our sake.
AG: Absolutely. But it means sentient beings, for the sake of all sentient beings. And the universe is us. That's very clear. The universe is self-aware, but it is self-aware through us. We are the meaning of the universe. We are not the geographical center of the universe—Copernicus was right about that—but we are the meaning center of the universe.
WIE: Through us the universe finds its meaning?
AG: Through sentient beings. And that doesn't have to be anthropocentric in the sense of only earthlings. There could be beings, sentient beings on other planets, in other stars—in fact I am convinced that there are—and that's completely consonant with this theory.
WIE: This human-centered—or even sentient-being-centered—stance seems quite radical at a time when so much of modern progressive thought, across disciplines from ecology to feminism to systems theory, is going in the opposite direction. These perspectives point more toward interconnectedness or interrelatedness, in which the significance of any one part of the whole—including one species, such as the human species—is being de-emphasized. Your view seems to hark back to a more traditional, almost biblical kind of idea. How would you respond to proponents of the prevailing "nonhierarchical" paradigm?
AG: It's the difference between the perennial philosophy that we are talking about, monistic idealism, and what is called a kind of pantheism. That is, these views—which I call "ecological worldviews" and which Ken Wilber calls the same thing—are actually denigrating God by seeing God as limited to the immanent reality. On the face of it, this sounds good because everything becomes divine—the rocks, the trees, all the way to human beings, and they are all equal and they are all divinity—it sounds fine, but it certainly does not adhere to what the spiritual teachers knew. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, "All these things are in me, but I am not in them." What does he mean by that? What he means is that "I am not exclusively in them."
So there is evolution, in other words, in the manifest reality. Evolution happens. That means that the amoeba is, of course, a manifestation of consciousness, and so is the human being. But they are not in the same stage. Evolutionarily, yes, we are ahead of the amoeba. And these theories, these ecological-worldview people, they don't see that. They don't rightly understand what evolution is because they are ignoring the transcendent dimension, they are ignoring the purposiveness of the universe, the creative play. Ken Wilber makes this point very, very well in his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.
WIE: So you would say they have part of the picture but that without this other aspect that you are bringing in, their view is very—
AG: It's very limited. And that's why pantheism is very limited. When Westerners started going to India, they thought it was pantheistic because it has many, many gods. Indian philosophy tends to see God in nature, in many things—they worship rocks sometimes, that kind of thing—so they thought it was pantheistic and only somewhat later did they realize that there is a transcendent dimension. In fact, the transcendent dimension is developed extremely well in Indian philosophy, whereas the transcendent dimension in the West is hidden in the cave of a very few esoteric systems such as the Gnostics and a few great masters like Meister Eckhart. In Jesus' teachings you can see it in the Gospel according to Thomas. But you have to really dig deep to find that thread in the West. In India, in the Upanishads and the Vedanta and the Bhagavad Gita, it is very much explicit. Now, pantheism sounds very good. But it's only part of the story. It's a good way to worship, it's a good way to bring spirituality into your daily life, because it is good to acknowledge that there is spirit in everything. But if we just see the diversity, see the God in everything, but don't see the God which is beyond every particular thing, then we are not realizing our potential. We are not realizing our Self. And so, truly, Self-realization involves seeing this pantheistic aspect of reality, but also seeing the transcendent aspect of reality.
WIE: In addition to being a scientist, you are also a spiritual practitioner. Could you talk a little bit about what brought you to spirituality?
AG: Well, I'm afraid that is a pretty usual, almost classic, case. The ideal classic case, of course, is the famous case of the Buddha, who recognized at the age of twenty-nine that all of his pleasure as a prince was really a waste of time because there is suffering in the world. For me it was not that drastic, but when I was about thirty-seven the world started to fall apart on me. I lost my research grant, I had a divorce and I was very lonely. And the professional pleasure that I used to get by writing physics papers stopped being pleasure.
I remember one time when I was at a conference and all day I had been going around, beating my own drums and arguing with people. Then in the evening when I was alone, I felt so lonely. And I realized that I had heartburn, and I had already exhausted a full bottle of Tums and still it would not go away. I discovered suffering; I discovered suffering literally. And it is that discovery of suffering that brought me to spirituality, because I couldn't think of anything else. I couldn't think of any other way—although I had given up the idea of God entirely and had been a materialist physicist for quite some time. In fact, when my young children asked me one time, "Are you an atheist?" I said something like, "Yeah." And, "Is there a God?" And I said, "No, I don't believe in God." That kind of thing was quite common for me to say. But in that era, around thirty-seven, that particular world—where God didn't exist and where the meaning of life came just from brain-pursuits of glory in a profession—just did not satisfy me and did not bring happiness. In fact it was full of suffering. So I came to meditation. I wanted to see if there was any way of at least finding some solace, if not happiness. And eventually great joy came out of it, but that took time. And also, I must mention that I got married too, and the challenge of love was a very important one. In other words, I very soon discovered after I got married for the second time that love is very different than what I thought it was. So I discovered with my wife the meaning of love, and that was a big contribution also to my own spirituality.
WIE: It's interesting that, while you turned to spirituality because you felt that science wasn't really satisfying your own search for truth, you have nevertheless remained a scientist throughout.
AG: That's true. It's just that my way of doing science changed. What happened to me, the reason that I lost the joy of science, was because I had made it into a professional trip. I lost the ideal way of doing science, which is the spirit of discovery, the curiosity, the spirit of knowing truth. So I was not searching for truth anymore through science, and therefore I had to discover meditation, where I was searching for truth again, truth of reality. What is the nature of reality after all? You see the first tendency was nihilism, nothing exists; I was completely desperate. But meditation very soon told me that no, it's not that desperate. I had an experience. I had a glimpse that reality really does exist. Whatever it was I didn't know, but something exists. So that gave me the prerogative to go back to science and see if I could now do science with new energy and new direction and really investigate truth instead of investigating because of professional glory.
WIE: How then did your newly revived interest in truth, this spiritual core to your life, inform your practice of science?
AG: What happened was that I was not doing science anymore for the purpose of just publishing papers and doing problems which enabled you to publish papers and get grants. Instead, I was doing the really important problems. And the really important problems of today are very paradoxical and very anomalous. Well, I'm not saying that traditional scientists don't have a few important problems. There are a few important problems there too. But one of the problems I discovered very quickly that would lead me, I just intuited, to questions of reality was the quantum measurement problem.
You see, the quantum measurement problem is supposed to be a problem which forever derails people from any professional achievement because it's a very difficult problem. People have tried it for decades and have not been able to solve it. But I thought, "I have nothing to lose and I am going to investigate only truth, so why not see?" Quantum physics was something I knew very well. I had researched quantum physics all my life, so why not do the quantum measurement problem? So that's how I came to ask this question, "What agency converts possibility into actuality?" And it still took me from 1975 to 1985 until, through a mystical breakthrough, I came to recognize this.
WIE: Could you describe that breakthrough?
AG: Yes, I'd love to. It's so vivid in my mind. You see, the wisdom was in those days—and this was in every sort of book, The Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Fred Alan Wolf's Taking the Quantum Leap, and some other books too—everywhere the wisdom was that consciousness must be an emergent phenomenon of the brain. And despite the fact that some of these people, to their credit, were giving consciousness causal efficacy, no one could explain how it happened. That was the mystery because, after all, if it's an emergent phenomenon of the brain, then all causal efficacy must ultimately come from the material elementary particles. So this was a puzzle to me. This was a puzzle to everybody. And I just couldn't find any way to solve it. David Bohm talked about hidden variables, so I toyed with his ideas of an explicate order and an implicate order, that kind of thing—but this wasn't satisfactory because in Bohm's theory, again, there is no causal efficacy that is given to consciousness. It is all a realist theory. In other words, it is a theory on which everything can be explained through mathematical equations. There is no freedom of choice, in other words, in reality. So I was just struggling and struggling because I was convinced that there is real freedom of choice.
So then one time—and this is where the breakthrough happened—my wife and I were in Ventura, California and a mystic friend, Joel Morwood, came down from Los Angeles, and we all went to hear Krishnamurti. And Krishnamurti, of course, is extremely impressive, a very great mystic. So we heard him and then we came back home. We had dinner and we were talking, and I was giving Joel a spiel about my latest ideas of the quantum theory of consciousness and Joel just challenged me. He said, "Can consciousness be explained?" And I tried to wriggle my way through that but he wouldn't listen. He said, "You are putting on scientific blinders. You don't realize that consciousness is the ground of all being." He didn't use that particular word, but he said something like, "There is nothing but God." And something flipped inside of me which I cannot quite explain. This is the ultimate cognition, that I had at that very moment. There was a complete about-turn in my psyche and I just realized that consciousness is the ground of all being. I remember staying up that night, looking at the sky and having a real mystical feeling about what the world is, and the complete conviction that this is the way the world is, this is the way that reality is, and one can do science. You see, the prevalent notion—even among people like David Bohm—was, "How can you ever do science without assuming that there is reality and material and all this? How can you do science if you let consciousness do things which are ‘arbitrary'?" But I became completely convinced—there has not been a shred of doubt ever since—that one can do science on this basis. Not only that, one can solve the problems of today's science. And that is what is turning out. Of course all the problems did not get solved right on that night. That night was the beginning of a new way of doing science.
WIE: That's interesting. So that night something really did shift for you in your whole approach. And everything was different after that?
AG: Everything was different.
WIE: Did you then find, in working out the details of what it would mean to do science in this context, that you were able to penetrate much more deeply or that your own scientific thinking was transformed in some way by this experience?
AG: Right. Exactly. What happened was very interesting. I was stuck, as I said, I was stuck with this idea before: "How can consciousness have causal efficacy?" And now that I recognized that consciousness was the ground of being, within months all the problems of quantum measurement theory, the measurement paradoxes, just melted away. I wrote my first paper which was published in 1989, but that was just refinement of the ideas and working out details. The net upshot was that the creativity, which got a second wind on that night in 1985, took about another three years before it started fully expressing itself. But ever since I have been just blessed with ideas after ideas, and lots of problems have been solved—the problem of cognition, perception, biological evolution, mind-body healing. My latest book is called Physics of the Soul. This is a theory of reincarnation, all fully worked out. It has been just a wonderful adventure in creativity.
WIE: So it sounds pretty clear that taking an interest in the spiritual, in your case, had a significant effect on your ability to do science. Looking through the opposite end of the lens, how would you say that being a scientist has affected your spiritual evolution?
AG: Well, I stopped seeing them as separate, so this identification, this wholeness, the integration of the spiritual and the scientific, was very important for me. Mystics often warn people, "Look, don't divide your life into this and that." For me it came naturally because I discovered the new way of doing science when I discovered spirit. Spirit was the natural basis of my being, so after that, whatever I do, I don't separate them very much.
WIE: You mentioned a shift in your motivation for doing science—how what was driving you started to turn at a certain point. That's one thing that we've been thinking about a lot as we've been looking into this issue: What is it that really motivates science? And how is that different from what motivates spiritual pursuit? Particularly, there have been some people we have discussed—thinkers like E. F. Schumacher or Huston Smith, for example—who feel that ever since the scientific revolution, when Descartes's and Newton's ideas took hold, the whole approach of science has been to try to dominate or control nature or the world. Such critics question whether science could ever be a genuine vehicle for discovering the deepest truths, because they feel that science is rooted in a desire to know for the wrong reasons. Obviously, in your work you have been very immersed in the scientific world—you know a lot of scientists, you go to conferences, you're surrounded by all of that and also, perhaps, you struggle with that motivation in yourself. Could you speak a little more about your experience of that?
AG: Yes, this is a very, very good question; we have to understand it very deeply.
The problem is that in this pursuit, this particular pursuit of science, including the books that we mentioned earlier, The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters, even when spirituality is recognized within the materialist worldview, God is seen only in the immanent aspect of divinity. What that means is: you have said that there is only one reality. By saying that there is only one reality—material reality—even when you imbue matter with spirituality, because you are still dealing with only one level, you are ignoring the transcendent level. And therefore you are only looking at half of the pie; you are ignoring the other half. Ken Wilber makes this point very, very well. So what has to be done of course—and that's when the stigma of science disappears—is to include the other half into science. Now, before my work, I think it was very obscure how this inclusion has to be done. Although people like Teilhard de Chardin, Aurobindo or Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophy movement, recognized that such a science could have come, very few could actually see it.
So what I have done is to give actual flesh to all these visions that took place early in the century. And when you do that, when you recognize that science can be based on the primacy of consciousness, then this deficiency isn't there anymore. In other words then, the stigma that science is only separateness goes away. The materialist science is a separatist science. The new science, though, says that the material part of the world does exist, the separative movement is part of reality also, but it is not the only part of reality. There is separation, and then there is integration. So in my book The Self-Aware Universe I talk about the hero's journey for the entire scientific endeavor. I said that, well, four hundred years ago, with Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and others, we started the separatist sail and we went on a separate journey of separateness, but that's only the first part of the hero's journey. Then the hero discovers and the hero returns. It is the hero's return that we are now witnessing through this new paradigm.
Leave those big decisions to your unconscious
Think less, says study
Margaret Munro, CanWest News Service
Published: Friday, February 17, 2006
Deciding whether to slap down $40,000 on a car or $1 million for a house should be left to your unconscious, indicates new research that suggests the best way to make tough decisions is to forget about them.
Collect the relevant information, it says, then let the unconscious churn through the options. In the end, it makes for better decisions.
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not always advantageous to engage in thorough conscious deliberation before choosing," say psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam, who make a strong case in the journal Science Today for listening to gut feelings and intuition.
Their work on "unconscious thought theory" taps into the brain's hidden -- and many psychologists say unappreciated -- ability to juggle and weigh complicated situations.
"In short, consciousness should be used to gather information, and the unconscious to work on it," says Dijksterhuis.
A similar approach was proposed in Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which has made the author a popular figure on the corporate lecture circuit.
The new study focuses on consumer choices, but Dijksterhuis and other psychologists say politicians, managers and negotiators would also be well-advised to delegate tricky decisions to the unconscious.
"This process of just 'sleeping on it' and 'letting it sit' is not just procrastination, but is a valuable productive technique that is drawing on cognitive processes that seem to really exist," says psychologist Jonathan Schooler of the University of British Columbia.
"At a minimum, people should include this in their tool kit of decision-making."
People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live...[We] never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.
From "Forever Ours," by Janis Amatuzio, MD:
I've come to realize that there is mysterious dimension of forensic pathology that I almost missed entirely, and yet it also feels strangely familiar. Although I still document "the body of evidence," I have become fascinated with the essence of what has left. For a scientist and physician, however, the problem is that this area of study isn't precise.
It can't be measured or photographed, and people's experiences around death can't be proven beyond a reasonable degree of medical certainty. Studying death has required me to take a leap—a huge leap professionally—from my mind to my heart. And in doing so, I've remembered that what is most meaningful often cannot be measured, and that everything that counts cannot be counted.
I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.
-Harry Emerson Fosdick
From "Healing Zen" by Ellen Birx:
There is much that cannot be known by thinking or reasoning. There are other ways of knowing and there are mysteries that cannot be grasped intellectually. Healing often comes through opening to other ways of knowing, to the mystery of life, and to not knowing. In opening to both knowing and not knowing, you come face to face with the wonder of life and its boundless possibilities.
When we are studying difficult subjects like chemistry, physiology, mathematics, or philosophy, and we finally comprehend some principle or process, we say, "Oh, now I get it. Now I grasp the idea." This kind of thinking and knowing is very useful, but it is not enough. We must also be able to release our grip, stop our mental grasping, and open to something larger. This is what we call not knowing. We need the mental flexibility to both know and not know.
Not knowing is important in interpersonal relationships. There is respect and reverence in communicating to other people that you don’t know them, their life experiences, and their feelings. When some great loss occurs, you don’t say, "I know how you feel." You don’t know. All you can say is, "I’m so sorry." In not knowing, you honor their unique experience, their unique expression, and their unique truth. Rather than assuming that you already know them, you are more attentive and open to learn more about them. It is a vital, sensitive, dynamic way of relating.
Charles and I have been married for over thirty years. You may think that after all these year I know Charles. I do know what he likes to eat. Often in a restaurant he looks at the menu and asks me, "What would I like?" I know what size and color shirt he likes and what music he prefers. But there are many things about Charles I do not know. He continues to surprise me. In fact, he amazes me. As the Zen saying goes, "Not knowing is most intimate."
I believe there is a genuine relation between modern science and internal spirituality. Our bodies are the platform for all pleasure and pain at the sensory level.
At the same time, we have a sophisticated mind, which keeps track of things at the psychological level. Between these two, the experience of pain and pleasure on the mental level is superior. One could be physically ill but still be mentally happy and content. In fact, physical pain can be subdued by mental calm.
It is the basic right of all beings to achieve a happy, successful life. Today's material world is a product of science and technology — both of which bring comfort to humanity. Advancement in science and technology is helping people remedy their problems.
Which is why we need to be aware of both. But, can science and technology eliminate pain at the mental level? Unfortunately, modern machines can manufacture everything but a happy mind. And treatment on the physical level can't change your mental disposition.
I would say, while science gets us physical comforts, spirituality brings us mental calm. With the ever-growing impact of science on our lives, religion and spirituality have a greater role to play in reminding us of our humanity. There is no contradiction between the two. Each gives us valuable insights into the other.
The potential antidote to your stress lies in the mind itself. One must be compassionate to avoid tension. Spirituality deals with the mind. By nature, compassion is the source of inner strength and happiness.
It is the extremely narrow-minded and self-centred person who is always worried about something or the other. If you place your worries within a larger perspective, you will realise just how trivial they are.
This is the 21st century — if there is major progress, there are also major problems. In such a situation, awareness is important, warmth is important.
It doesn't matter whether you believe in God or a next life, we need to create a balance between science and spirituality. If the two remain distant, we're headed for trouble.
On the other hand, only radical, materialistic thoughts point towards all matter and no mind. If we don't consider the importance of our inner feelings, we will become like machines and lose many precious feelings.
We must keep our emotions — they bring colour to life. Training of the mind reduces negative emotions and promotes positive feelings. Which means we have the capacity to reduce negative emotions ourselves.
What is spirituality, anyway? In ancient times, communities remained isolated from each other — be it Indians, Chinese, Arabs — they all developed certain philosophies, thoughts and concepts that made them believe they were the best in every field.
In today's global world, realities have changed. We cannot afford to propagate our own beliefs or run down the other's faiths. That will only make things complicated.
There are two levels of spirituality — the first deals with basic human emotions. Even medical scientists have begun to realise and accept that the mental element — karuna — is very important for health, happiness and success. At another level, spirituality is your belief in religion.
I believe the concept of God was created to increase love, compassion, tolerance and understanding for humanity. Ancient Indians thought of the theory of karma to strengthen basic human values. To believe or not to believe in these theories is totally the choice of the individual.
Once you find your reality through investigation, you must accept it. If one finds a reality that is different from what is written in the scriptures, we should have the liberty to change them. I'm Buddhist.
If I refuse to budge from my faith, I should believe the world is still flat. If I stay with religion and away from science, I will be living in an unreal world. There are two extremes — denigration and exaggeration. It is up to the individual to find the levels of reality between these two.
By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.
Rather, I am speaking of what I call 'secular ethics' that embrace the key ethical principles, such as compassion and tolerance — principles that transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers, and followers of various religions.
(An excerpt from the Dalai Lama's inaugural address at a conference on Science and Spirituality in Modern India
Researchers study prayer's influence on healing
Conclusions and premises debated as investigations into issue increase
By Rob Stein
The Washington Post
Updated: 8:18 a.m. ET March 24, 2006
At the Fairfax Community Church in Virginia, the faithful regularly pray for ailing strangers. Same goes at the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington and the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg.
In churches, mosques, ashrams, "healing rooms," prayer groups and homes nationwide, millions of Americans offer prayers daily to heal themselves, family, friends, co-workers and even people found through the Internet. Fueled by the upsurge in religious expression in the United States, prayer is the most common complement to mainstream medicine, far outpacing acupuncture, herbs, vitamins and other alternative remedies.
"Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism -- every religion believes in prayer for healing," said Paul Parker, a professor of theology and religion at Elmhurst College outside Chicago. "Some call it prayer, some call it cleansing the mind. The words or posture may vary. But in times of illness, all religions look towards their source of authority."
The outpouring of spiritual healing has inspired a small group of researchers to attempt to use the tools of modern science to test the power of prayer to cure others. The results have been mixed and highly controversial. Skeptics say the work is a deeply flawed and misguided waste of money that irresponsibly attempts to validate the supernatural with science. And some believers say it is pointless to try to divine the workings of God with experiments devised by mortals.
Proponents, however, maintain the research is valuable, given the large numbers of people who believe in the power of prayer to influence health. Surveys have found that perhaps half of Americans regularly pray for their own health, and at least a quarter have others pray for them.
"It's one of the most prevalent forms of healing. Open-minded scientists have a responsibility to look into this," said Marilyn J. Schlitz of the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.
Results may 'depend of point of view'
The contentious enterprise is at something of a crossroads. Two new studies are about to report no benefit of having people pray for the sick, the only study underway is nearing completion, and the largest, best-designed project is being published in two weeks. Its eagerly awaited findings could sound the death knell for the field, breathe new life into such efforts, or create new debate.
"I will guarantee you that study will have a very interesting impact on a lot of people's thinking," said Mitchell W. Krucoff of Duke University, who wrote an editorial that will accompany the closely guarded findings in the American Heart Journal. "But how you interpret the results will probably depend on your point of view."
Many studies done over the years indicate that the devout tend to be healthier. But the reasons remain far from clear. Healthy people may be more likely to join churches. The pious may lead more wholesome lifestyles. Churches, synagogues and mosques may help people take better care of themselves. The quiet meditation and incantations of praying, or the comfort of being prayed for, appears to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, slow the heart rate and have other potentially beneficial effects.
But the most controversial research focuses on "intercessory" or "distant" prayer, which involves people trying to heal others through their intentions, thoughts or prayers, sometimes without the recipients knowing it. The federal government has spent $2.2 million in the past five years on studies of distant healing, which have also drawn support from private foundations.
San Francisco cardiologist Randolph Byrd, for example, conducted an experiment in which he asked born-again Christians to pray for 192 people hospitalized for heart problems, comparing them with 201 not targeted for prayer. No one knew which group they were in. He reported in 1988 that those who were prayed for needed fewer drugs and less help breathing.
William S. Harris of St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and colleagues published similar results in 1999 from a study involving nearly 1,000 heart patients, about half of whom were prayed for without their knowledge.
Critics: Studies deeply flawed
But these and other studies have been called deeply flawed. They were, for example, analyzed in the most favorable way possible, looking at so many outcomes that the positive findings could easily have been the result of chance, critics say.
"It's called the sharpshooter's fallacy," said Richard Sloan, a behavioral researcher at Columbia University. "The sharpshooter empties the gun into the side of a barn and then draws the bull's-eye. In science, you have to predict in advance what effect you may have."
Other studies have been even more contentious, such as a 2001 project involving fertility patients that became mired in accusations of fraud.
"I would like to see us stop wasting precious research dollars putting religious practices to the test of science," Sloan said. "It's a waste of money, and it trivializes the religious experience."
Even some advocates of incorporating more prayer and spirituality into medicine agree.
"I don't see how you could quantify prayer -- either the results of it or the substance of it," said the Rev. Raymond J. Lawrence of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "God is beyond the reach of science. It's absurd to think you could use it to examine God's play."
Perhaps most important, many scientists say, is that there is no rational explanation for how this kind of prayer might work.
"There's nothing we know about the physical universe that could account for how the prayers of someone in Washington, D.C., could influence the health of a group of people in Iowa -- nothing whatsoever," Sloan said.
But supporters say that much about medicine remains murky or is explained only over time. They say, for example, that it was relatively recently that scientists figured out how aspirin works, although it has been in use for centuries.
"Yesterday's science fiction often becomes tomorrow's science," said John A. Astin of the California Pacific Medical Center.
Proponents often cite a phenomenon from quantum physics, in which distant particles can affect each other's behavior in mysterious ways.
"When quantum physics was emerging, Einstein wrote about spooky interactions between particles at a distance," Krucoff said. "That's at least one very theoretical model that might support notions of distant prayer or distant healing."
Krucoff, a cardiologist, published a study last summer involving 748 heart patients at nine hospitals. That study failed overall to show any benefit. But Krucoff said he did find tantalizing hints that warrant follow-up: A subset of patients who had a second group of people praying that the prayers of the first group would be answered may have done better.
That underscores one of the many difficulties that critics and advocates say makes studying prayer problematic: There is no way to quantify the "dose," and no way to know whether people outside the study may be praying for its subjects, diluting the effects.
Two smaller, more recently completed studies illustrate yet another problem. Each involved about 150 patients with brain tumors or AIDS. Only some were targeted by "distant healing" and only some knew they were the recipients. But in addition to traditional prayers, many of the dozens of "healers" used other approaches, such as visualizing patients and sending a "healing intention" or "energy" or "light." Both studies, which will be published later this year, did not show any effect. But neither of the researchers who led them is advocating giving up, saying their studies may have been doomed by including too many healing variations.
The only ongoing study is also testing whether a spectrum of healers can help -- in this case, women who are recovering from reconstructive surgery after breast cancer. Doctors are inserting tiny tubes under the skin of about 90 women to measure the growth of collagen, which is necessary for healing, to see if those targeted by healers accumulate more than those who do not. The study will end this spring.
Studies won't necessarily change minds
Krucoff and others say it is also important to study prayer as an adjunct -- not a replacement -- to standard medical care, to make sure it is safe.
"Human physiology is a very delicate equilibrium. When you throw energy you don't understand into this, it would be naive to think you could only do good," he said.
In the hope of shedding light on that and other questions, researchers are awaiting the results of the study led by Herbert Benson of Harvard University, which involved about 1,800 heart-bypass patients at six centers who were divided into three groups. Only some of them knew whether they were receiving prayer.
"What that study finds will help tell us which way to go -- whether there are intriguing findings or the book ought to be closed on this topic," said Harold Koenig of Duke University.
But researchers on both sides, as well as those who believe in prayer, say the results of that and other studies are unlikely to change many minds.
"I don't think it will alter my beliefs one way or the other," said Trish Lankowski, who started a healing room at Immanuel's Church in Silver Spring this past Sunday night. "I believe in the power of prayer wholeheartedly. I know it works."
The following article which appeared in the "Self Realization" magazine of Summer 2005, highlights the issues with regard to the relationship between science and faith that are current today. The Self Reliaziation Fellowship is very active in matters pertaining to spirituality and its effects on our daily life. In this article the linear progressive notion of evolution is brought into question in the context of the cyclical theory of time promulgated by Swami Sri Yogananda, the relationship between matter and spirit and the illusory nature of reality, the limitations of logic and reason and the scientific approach to religion are some of the issues that are explored. There is strength in pluralism and I think it would be beneficial to explore how other mystical traditions deal with the same issues that effect us all.
INDIA’S SPIRITUAL SCIENCE AND THE CHANGING WORLD OF MATERIAL SCIENCE
By Steven Brena, M.D.
Future historians will look back on the modern introduction of India's ancient wisdom to the West as a turning point in the story of civilization. Swami Vivekananda made his influential appearance at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893—a year which also marked the birth of Paramahansa Yogananda.
A masterful catalyst of the spiritual dialogue between East and West, Yogananda came to the United States in 1920, to a Western world very much conformable to a solid, predictable universe ruled by the Newtonian laws of classic physics, confident in a linear evolutionary process as proposed by Darwin, and content with the theologies of conventional, historic Christianity. To this complacent world, the great master from India boldly threw three ideas so powerful that Western spiritual culture will never be the same again.
The first is the conception of a scientific practice of religion.
Traditional religious systems are based on divine revelations, dogmatically interpreted; and to be accepted as such by faith on the authority of the church that proclaims them. When Paramahansaji advocates the practice of "scientific meditation," he completely shifts religion's paradigm from blind faith to empirical experience, which is the scientific paradigm.
Perhaps a brief explanation of the scientific process may be useful here to capture truly the magnitude of this idea. In science, knowledge is acquired through several stages: First, a researcher must collect experimental observations about the phenomena under investigation. Secondly, he or she must correlate the empirical results with abstract symbols until a precise theory is worked out. Thirdly, the theory must be cross-validated by other researchers, who, following the same research method, would reach the same results. Finally, the theory must be translated into a language which can be understood by average, educated people. When all these steps are completed, the theory can be eventually applied for practical purposes.
Kriya Yoga meets all these scientific stages. Practice of the techniques taught in the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons, during which the devotee gains empirical rights about subtle forces at work within the human person, would correspond to the first stage. When these insights are correlated with the words of the Guru, the whole grand theory of Yoga is realized with its eight steps and the final glory of samadhi. Thirdly, the theory is cross-validated by the testimony of the numerous devotees who by faithfully applying the Guru's teachings have experienced the power of Kriya Yoga. Finally, the entire spiritual experience of an enlightened yogi is translated into a language capable of educating and inspiring other people, thanks to the unique ability of Paramahansa Yogananda to communicate his deep spiritual realizations in simple words, similes, poems, examples from everyday life.
The second idea is the conception of a cyclical, upward moving evolution, in sharp contrast with the traditional, linear, upward evolution postulated by Darwin. This was explicated by Swami Sri Yukteswar at the end of the nineteenth century in his book, The Holy Science, and disseminated in the Western world through numerous lectures and writings by Paramahansa Yogananda in the 1920s through the early 1950s. In December 2003 that conception was presented and debated in a public television program, called "The Great Year," with the participation of SRF minister Brother Achalananda, among several other scholars. ('Written by Walter Cruttenden; directed by Robert Ballo. Published by The Yuga Project; information available at TheGreatYearDVD.com.)
As the idea that humankind participates in 12,000 solar years of ascending and 12,000 years of descending evolutionary cycles during a "Great Year" of 24,000 years percolates throughout the world scholarly community, it is likely that archeologists, historians, and philosophers will start to revise their former concepts and reframe them in the new context of the Great Year. As Paramahansaji predicts in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, some ancient civilizations, now regarded as primitive, will be understood as examples of a humanity far more advanced than that of our own historical age. This future trend was already shown during the television presentation "The Great Year." Some theologians will likely notice that the entire evolution of "churchianity" occurred during the last Dark Age (Kali Yuga), which ended about A.D. 1700. Human understanding in the Dark Age could not generally grasp anything subtler than the material world, and therefore the deeper esoteric truths taught by Lord Jesus were not widely known or practiced. As we move farther into the higher Dwa-para Yuga, which began about 1900, it is clear that a profound theological evolution affecting the understanding of society at large has already begun. It is not by chance that at this very time in history, Paramahansaji's The Second Coming of Christ has restored to the world the full dimensions of Jesus' spiritual message.
The third idea is the warning that the material world is not what it appears to be to our sensory perceptions. Paramahansaji elucidated the ancient Vedic wisdom which has taught that duality and relativity are the hidden fabric of the universe. Today, quantum physics knows that the solid aspect of matter is the consequence of a "quantum effect" connected with the dual "wave-particle" property of matter. "Quanta" are a fundamental aspect of nature: light and every other form of electromagnetic radiation can appear at the same time both as a wave and as a particle. A particle is an entity confined to a very small volume, whereas a wave is spread out over a large region of space. This is the so-called "quantum paradox," the tricky work of maya or apara-prakritt. Indeed, at the subatomic level the solid material objects dissolve into wavelike patterns of interconnected probabilities. The equivalence of matter and energy, postulated by the Specific Theory of Relativity, is so well validated by innumerable experiments that presently the masses of particles are measured in their corresponding energy units. One is here reminded of the words of Paramahansa Yogananda: "The world is not real; do not take it too seriously!"
The Guru teaches that matter is made of intelligent thought-forces, 'the thoughtrons" (the "Mind of God'), which materialize into the lower vibrations of "lifetrons" (prana), electrons, protons, atoms, molecules, cells and organs. In other words, matter is composed of "anu" (atoms), "paramanu" (subatomic particles) and subtle energies. Modern physics has stripped matter layer after layer, has learned about cells, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, various forms of energy, and, lately, with "String Theory," (Elegant Universe, hosted by Professor Brian Greene and based on his bestselling of the same title) may have glimpsed pranic energies. "Strings" are subtle patterns of energy so called because they vibrate like the tonal vibrations from a violin. In a recent public television presentation of the "String Theory,"* the commentator remarked that String Theory evokes the image of a universe similar to a "cosmic symphony," a statement often proclaimed by Paramahansaji in his poems: the whole creation is a divine symphony, the "Magnum Opus" of Aum!
Of course, it is likely that we must await the next Treta Yuga before thoughtrons are scientifically discovered and the working of the mind properly understood. Even now, however, one hundred years into the Dwapara Yuga, some thinkers at the cutting edge of science, are hinting at the mathematical possibility of thoughtrons. For example, Nobel laureate Sir John Eccles, on the basis of his own research which won him the Nobel Prize in neurophysiology, believes that there is a nonmaterial mind, a mental world which acts upon and interacts with the material brain; with the help of quantum physicist Fredrick Beck, Eccles shows that the mind-brain linkage can be viewed as a flow of information at the subatomic level of the brain structures by means of quantum energy patterns that he calls "psychons" (from the Greek psychos, mind). Likewise, physicist Nick Herbert observes that mind is as fundamental a force of nature as gravity and electromagnetism. Mind, he says, interacts with matter at the level of emergence into actuality of quantum events. Herbert postulates the mathematical possibility of mental "quanta," which he calls "cogitons" (from the Latin cogito, to think). "Psychons" and "cogitons" express a scientific conviction that matter is fundamentally "mind stuff," just as great yogis, such as Paramahansa Yoga-nanda, have averred.
Paramahansaji often compared the universe to a dream motion-picture of God, produced by the delusive films of relativity. A new astonishing theory, first proposed by physicist David Bohm and neuro-physiologist Karl Pribram, called the "holographic principle," holds that the universe—and we in it— is like a hologram: Just as a trick of light and shadow transforms a three-dimensional image into a flat piece of film, our seemingly three-dimensional universe could be equivalent to alternative quantum fields and physical laws projected into a vast screen of time-space.
Yogananda explains that living conditions, both in individuals and in their environment, can suddenly change, dramatically and unpre-dictably, due to the coming into fruition of hidden karmic seeds from long past and forgotten actions (the "Samsara," or cycles of reincarnation). Modern scientists have recently formulated a "Chaos Theory," which postulates that the behavior of complex, nonlinear systems is unpredictable (all organic systems, including man, are complex and nonlinear). In these complex, nonlinear systems a small change in the conditions of the systems could produce a huge change in their behavior; to use the language of the computer: a small change in the input may lead to major changes in the output. In the words of one of the most respected physicists, John von Neumann, "In science as in life, it is well known that a chain of events can have a point of crisis that could magnify small changes." Albert Einstein was never reconciled to the idea of a non-deterministic, chaotic universe; in a letter to the great physicist Neils Bohr, he insisted that "God does not play dice with the universe." At present, many scientists are groping to find an underlying determinism in the behavior of chaotic systems. How long before a scientist will understand that the answer to this search can only be found in the eternal Dharma and in its corollary law of causation or karma, as beautifully stated by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, K:3? ("'Men without faith in this dharma (without devotion to the practices that bestow realization) attain Me not, O Scorcher of Foes (Arjuna)! Again and again they tread the death-darkened path of samsara (the rounds of rebirth)."—God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita) In other words, how long before empirical research shall be extended into the spiritual domain and investigate the impact that spiritual forces, such as love, prayer, meditation, faith, may have upon human behaviors? As Sir John Templeton and Robert Herman suggest, one day we may see a new science, "Experimental Theology," emerging from empirical research in the realm of the eternal Dbarma !
Paramahansaji repeatedly warns against overconfidence upon the power of reason, since reason is linked to the relativity of sensory perceptions. And yet, all successful scientific research is based upon mathematics, the rock-fortress of reason. Modern scientists believe that through mathematical reasoning they can ultimately formulate a "theory of everything." Unfortunately, a mathematician has already breached the fortress of reason and has demonstrated the limits of mathematics. Kurt Godel, an Austrian mathematician, proved that within a formal mathematical system, questions exist that are neither provable nor disprovable on the basis of the axioms that define the system. This is known as Godel's "Undecidability Theorem." A second product of Godel's genius, known as the "Incom-pleteness Theorem," shows that in a sufficiently large formal system requiring an answer to all questions, there will inevitably be contradictions. As Kriya Yoga practitioners know, there is a way to transcend the limitations of reason: developing intuition, the all-knowing faculty of the soul.
Along with the new physics, the science of neurophysiology is changing as well. Modern physics explains the apparent solidity of matter as the consequence of electrons revolving around an atomic nucleus at velocities near to the speed of light, just as a propeller revolving at high speed gives the illusion of a solid disc. Sensors in the human body pick up energy patterns and encode them in a language that the brain can understand: different energy patterns are transduced into specific sensations of light, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Sensations are perceived by the brain and cognized into categories of logical reasoning, which transforms sensations into "objects" and colors them with like-dislike emotions. In the eyes of modern science, "objects" are nothing but ephemeral creations of the human mind from patterns of energy. The cherished "objects" which so many people work so hard to acquire are nothing but some electrons orbiting at high speed around an atomic nucleus made of a few quarks! One may be reminded here of the words of Sri Yukteswar in The Holy Science. Commenting upon vibrations, time, space and atoms, the great sage remarks: "They are therefore one and the same, and substantially nothing but mere ideas."
In summary, modern science presents a world of interconnected, ever-changing, ever-in-motion processes, or events, as they are called in quantum physics—a web of energy patterns governed by the principles of relativity and uncertainty. Man is not a free observer of this world of ever-changing, unpredictable events, but a conditioned participator. At the subconscious level, man is aware of his position as an element of the cosmic restlessness, and experiences it as chronic, existential anxiety and fear. The only way out of the cosmic "dance" is to anchor one's consciousness firmly and permanently to that only changeless, essential Reality we call God.
And this is exactly the definitive message Paramahansa Yogananda has formulated into the teachings and practices of his society, Self-Realization Fellowship— his legacy to the changing world of humankind.
Believers in conventional medical wisdom tell you that heart health comes from reducing the fat in your diet, lowering your cholesterol, maintaining a reasonable weight, and getting regular exercise. Mind-body advocates tell you to relax your cardiovascular system, which is over stimulated by stress, through a regular practice of meditation or yoga. And few would argue the value of these approaches. But recent scientific findings have led the search for heart health into a new domain: that of the spirit.
An increasing number of cardiologists, mind-body therapists, and psychologists are counseling heart patients and others at risk for heart disease to harness spiritual power in the prevention and treatment of heart disease. In some medical circles, prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering drugs, beta-blockers, angioplasties, and bypass operations are no longer automatic. The new prescriptions include prayer, practicing forgiveness, going to church or temple, and surrendering to a divine authority.
These developments beg the question: Is the heart merely a pump supported by an adequate flow of oxygenated blood and a steady supply of nutrients? Or is this fist-sized muscular organ the "seat of the soul," requiring nourishment on a spiritual level? If it is both, then what is the relationship between the physical and the metaphorical heart?
There is plenty of scientific evidence linking spiritual practice to a healthier heart. Indeed, data on spirituality and the heart have been compiled for years by several research teams. A leading investigator is Jeffrey S. Levin, M.Ph., Ph.D., associate professor of family and community medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Dr. Levin turned up over 250 published empirical studies in tin-medical literature that show statistical relationships between spirituality or religiousness and various positive health outcomes. Over twenty percent of these studies involved heart disease.
"I have between fifty-five and sixty studies that involve heart attacks, angina, and heart disease," Levin explained, "and there is an overwhelmingly positive relationship between higher levels of faith or spiritual practice and less incidence of heart disease."
The Heart As Spiritual Center
If the heart is nothing more than a mechanism, then its maintenance and repair is nothing more than mechanical. But all too often, mechanical fixes for the heart, such as balloon angioplasties and bypass surgeries, are ineffective and must be repeated again and again. If the heart is indeed the wellspring of love and faith, then perhaps repairs need to be made in other ways as well.
"The importance of spirituality to the physical heart," noted Levin, "may have less to do with physiology than with the metaphoric importance of the heart, the energies and emotions captured in metaphors about the heart.
"The heart's [metaphorical] energies," he continued, "have everything to do with how we are in the world, how we are with other people, and how we manage both horizontal and vertical relationships." By "vertical relationships," Levin means our connectedness with higher entities, God, and the transcendent. Levin says, "The [metaphoric] heart is the interface between one's own self, other people, and God. I therefore think that metaphors about the heart are more than metaphors. I think they're very true. Pragmatically, heart disease is the leading cause of mortality in this country. But all these studies suggest...that something about spirituality protects against heart disease."
The heart as spiritual center, and the heart as center of the cardiovascular system may in fact be inseparable. This mass of pulsating muscular tissue at the center — the heart — of our physical beings is a reflection of mind, body, and spirit. Spirituality "lifts our hearts" by offering an experience of transcendence, as described in the theology and expressed in poetry. But it may also "lift our hearts" by reversing the negative psychological effects of stress and heartbreak.
Is there a specific aspect of spiritual practice that helps to heal the heart? Jeffrey Levin offers alternative explanations. First, people who attend church or temple and engage in religious activities gain greater social support, which is a proven protector against heart disease and early death. Although social support is a key, Levin conducted a study of believers that suggested that the healing effects of spiritual practice go beyond social support. Certain psychological benefits of belief — such as a sense of hope and a capacity for forgiveness — help people cope more effectively with loss or stress. This ability to cope protects the cardiovascular system from the harm caused by intense distress. Certain rituals, including prayer, may also protect the heart by raising people's optimism and other positive emotions.
On the esoteric end of Levin's hypothesis, spirituality may invoke healing energies that can't be measured, energies that go by different names: prana, chi, kundalini, ether, life force, and orgone, to name a few.
Finally — and this is perhaps the explanation to which most people would subscribe — spiritual commitment or prayer may summon powers beyond our plane of understanding. Levin accepts the possibility that worshipers benefit from "nonmeasurable, nonquantifiable supernatural intervention, blessing, or grace in matters of human health."
Levin believes that many individuals, be they devoutly religious or spiritual but without ties to organized religion, benefit from a propitious combination of many of these factors. (He also maintains that some believers are harmed by their religion, when extreme guilt, shame, or anxiety overwhelm the positive benefits.) Therapists and enlightened cardiologists who apply spiritual medicine seem to evoke transformations in their patients' relationships, emotional states, and perhaps in their relationships to a higher power. They help people overcome the isolation, fear, and anger that contribute to heart disease. They also help them transcend ego-centered concerns, which some people see as a root cause of emotional and spiritual suffering. From this point of view, our daily grasping for success, our clinging to objects of desire, our incessant irritation with minor disappointments, are all forms of spiritual disorientation and contribute to sickness.
Love Can Heal the Heart
In his classic, The Broken Heart (Basic Books, 1979), James Lynch provides scientific evidence that loneliness and the loss of love are root factors in heart disease. He cites research showing that married people have a lower incidence of heart attacks than those who are widowed, divorced, or single. Studies following individuals after the loss of a loved one show a marked rise in death rates, three-quarters of which are caused by coronary artery disease. Even among the married, Lynch found evidence of "a connection between marital discord and the development of coronary heart disease and premature death."
In poetry, the heart is uplifted by the love of other beings, and it is injured (as in heartbreak, heartache, or heartsickness) by profound disappointment in love. How is love for others related to transcendent experiences of spirituality? Lynch had an aptly poetic response. "To love another person," he said, "is to see the face of God."
Compelling evidence for the heart-healing effects of love was recently published in The Annals of Internal Medicine. Lisa Berkman, Ph. D., an epidemiologist at Yale University, led the search for factors that influence survival after a heart attack. After following 194 heart attack patients for six months, 39 of them had died. A whopping 53 percent of those who died had reported, at the study's outset, that they had no one they could turn to for love and care, and 36 percent said that they had only one such person. Only 11 percent of the patients who died had two or more individuals they could count on for emotional support.
The ability to procure loving support depends on the willingness to reach out. According to cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, M. D., [who directs the New England Heart Center in Manchester, Connecticut] intolerable early experiences of heartbreak — often involving abuse, abandonment, or neglect by one's parents or caregivers — cause people to erect defenses. Their psychological armor cuts off awareness of emotions, while their physical armor — such as contracted muscles in the chest — cuts off energy flow to the body. Over time, such individuals no longer realize that they've erected walls around their physical and spiritual hearts, says Sinatra.
People whose hearts have been broken get angry. But rather than express their rage, many people stifle their feelings. Their repressed anger becomes a constant low-level seething, which drives their behavior and taints their relationships over the course of decades. Research over the past fifteen years has shown that the "toxic core" of the Type A [behavior] pattern — the heart-damaging aspect — is chronic hostility.
Religion, Forgiveness Prescribed As Cure for Anger
How does someone reduce his anger and hostility? In their recent book, Anger Kills, Redford Williams, M. D., and his wife, Virginia, who has a Ph. D. in history, write, "We have no hesitation in advising that for many people, becoming more religious can be a very effective antidote for hostility and anger."
Perhaps the most important benefit of spiritual practice, they say, comes with acceptance of a core teaching common among the world's major religions. "However the details may differ, each religion has an injunction to treat others the way you would be treated." When heart patients and people at risk for heart disease actually adopt teachings of tolerance and compassion, the hostility that isolates them from the world begins to fade. Letting go of petty resentment heals our separation from self, from others, and from God.
Anger Kills recommends religious practice because letting go of nonessential concerns is both a psychological cure for hostility and a step for spiritual growth. There is something in surrender— to another person in a loving relationship or to a higher power in meditation and prayer— that frees a person from the isolating box of anxiety and anger constructed over a lifetime.
One way to let go of hostility is to forgive the object(s) of our wrath. Berton H. Kaplan, Ph. D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, advocates research on the biology of forgiveness, which he believes can help to heal the heart. "I suggest that learning how to deal with hostility through forgiveness is a potentially powerful way to expand our knowledge about the management and resolution of chronic problems with hostility."
We live in a society in which people seem perpetually ticked off — at the neighbor whose car blocks the drive, at government taxation, at striking millionaire ballplayers — but at the same time people are starving for spiritual connection. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that heart disease remains the number-one killer.
Redford Williams believes that hostility blocks people from their spirituality. But is it also possible that people become hostile because they've lost their native spirituality? Healing Words author Larry Dossey* thinks so.
"We're not born angry and cut off," Dossey said in a recent conversation. "We're born with a sense of connectedness, caring, relat-edness, and unity. To the extent that gets interrupted, we end up in the state Williams has identified as toxic to the heart. The disconnection, social isolation, cynicism, anger — all these factors are epidemic among people who have no spiritual grounding."
Dossey and Williams agree that spiritual revitalization is a key to healing. "A person free of those toxic factors would be someone who is richly connected with others and who is unified and at one with the environment, other people, the entire universe," Dossey remarked. "In my judgment, that defines spiritual connection."
The Spiritual Heart
Does the muscular mass in our chests, which we rely on to pump blood throughout our bodies, have another "life" as the center of our spiritual being? Are the heart's physical and spiritual lives separable? Can our physical hearts be positively influenced by spiritual energies?
Gerald Epstein, author of Healing Into Immortality, provides a tentative answer. "From a spiritual point of view, the invisible [gives birth to] the visible. Function gives rise to form, so we don't love because we have a heart. Rather, the possibility of love gives rise to the heart. That's the spiritual direction."
Levin believes that the heart-spirit link is not merely New Age nonsense. "Many of the laws of physics which medicine purports to stand on have been outdated for most of the century. There is a new physics, and its principles invalidate many of the foundations of so-called modern medicine."
Engaging in spiritual pursuits does not guarantee anyone a clean bill of health. As human beings, however, we are more than a collection of cells, so it stands to reason that our well-being depends not only on our physical state, but also on our psychological and spiritual state. By opening our hearts, we live more fully on every level, and in the process our capacity for healing expands.
Excerpted with permission from "Boosting Heart Health With Spirit" by Henry Dreher, Natural Health, March/April 1995. For a trial issue of Natural Health, call 1-800-526-8440.
The power of intuition which may be considered as the capacity of the individual intellect in man to connect to, be in tune with and be informed by the Divine Intellect (Aql-i-kull), is nurtured and developed in our tariqah through Ibadat in it's broadest sense, i.e Farman Bardari.
The following article which appeared in the SRF Magazine of Spring 2006 issue, discusses the notion of intuition and how it is developed through a method for Ibadat in another mystical tradition which in many ways has parallels with our Ginanic tradition.
Discovering Your Powers of Intuition
By Brother Bhumananda
SRF , Spring 2006
Most of us do not learn much about intuition as part of our formal education. Through years of grammar and high school and university, can you remember it being mentioned even once by your teachers? Rather, the emphasis is upon intellectual growth: developing one's ability to reason, memorize, analyze, and theorize.
As schoolchildren in the 1950s and 1960s, each year we were given standardized IQ tests. To have a high IQ meant you •were smart, someone special, bound to succeed in life if you applied yourself. But no one tested us for intuitional development. Did you ever consider what your intuitional "IQ" might be? For most of us, intuition seemed exotic, like ESP or telepathy: exciting in a mysterious sort of way, but without much relevance to our daily life.
But intellectual development alone does not give us all the answers answers we need to find our way successfully through life. When I was a student at University of California, Berkeley, my economics professor was one of the smartest men I have ever known On loan to Berkeley from the Brookings Institute, an internationally renowned think tank, he went on to become one of the President's mosl influential economic advisors. I remember seeing him featured in a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal.
Listening to his lectures, there seemed no limits to the insights and understanding he possessed. But studying one night I came up with a question pertaining to the core of the subject. When I excitedly presented it the next morning in class, without hesitation he proceeded to outline a reply I can only describe as dazzling. "The man is brilliant, absolutely brilliant," I thought in awe. But afterwards, though I could not put my finger on it, I felt uneasy about his answer. As the day went on, I felt uneasier. Suddenly I realized that, despite his self-assured reply, he had not actually been able to answer the question!
Intuition Insures Right Judgment in Any Given Situation
Granted, forecasting the ups and downs of the national economy is far from an exact science. But this little incident brought home to me that even the greatest intellects—the sought-after advice of today's ubiquitous "experts"—may fall short when it comes to charting the right course through the twists and turns of our daily unpredictable life. And a question formed in my mind that remained with me for some years : "What is the difference between intelligence and wisdom?" It was not until I found the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda that I discovered a satisfactory answer—and it consisted of one word: Intuition.
"Only the wise few have discovered and consciously nurtured the wisdom-producing intuition that lies hidden in the expression of intelligence," he writes in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.
"If intuition is not awakened and fully operative, the conclusions of the reasoning intelligence may be erroneous....
"Truth endures, false intelligence disappears....The works of mighty intellects can be dazzling to the eye of mankind's imagination, but if not founded in truth they are like fireworks that amaze the beholder but fade quickly."
In another passage he wrote, "The intellect can be cultured by education, but discrimination flows from intuition and is obtained only through soul force, through contact with the soul...Discrimination born of intuition through soul contact insures right judgment in any given situation. The soul, through the agency of intuition, drops divine guidance into the consciousness of the devotee; the intuitive guidance manifests as wisdom."
Intuition Connects Your Individual Intelligence With Cosmic Wisdom
To understand how intelligence differs from the wisdom of intuition, consider the Internet. If you rely upon the resources of your personal computer alone, your information is limited. But through the agency of the Internet you are connected to a vast worldwide computer network with its corresponding voluminous databases of information. Your stand-alone computer may be limited, but by using its Internet connection it can, for example, locate a rare book by searching through inventories of thousands of bookstores containing millions of titles, a task far beyond its individual capacity.
Similarly, by learning to use our soul faculty of intuition we bridge the latent connection between individual consciousness and the universal consciousness to which we belong. The resources of any individual mind, no matter how brilliant, are limited; the scope of the cosmic mind is infinite. The more intuitive we become, the more we transition from the ordinary reasoning of a single "stand-alone" intellect to the vast wisdom-perceptions inherent in a cosmic consciousness that is the real power and inspiration behind our minds and the minds of all others.
In his writings, Paramahansa Yogananda explains this universal consciousness is the consciousness of God. He said: "Christ Consciousness is that aspect of God's consciousness which is present in all creation, and of which we are a part. Each intelligence is a part of the vast Christ Intelligence. We are like the jets in a gas burner. There are many little holes through which the ignited gas is pouring, but under the burner is but one flame We are the little flames coming from the big flame of Life. Breathing through all the pores of life is the one Life, and within all flowers is the one Life, and behind all nature is the one Life."
It is because the saints and masters speak from this state of God-realization that they are able to speak with surety.
In the later years of St. Anthony (one of the "Desert Fathers"), a learned man visited him who felt drawn to his path of total renunciation but with some reservations. He told Anthony, "I understand that a man should prefer to live without men, but I cannot see how it is possible to live in seclusion without the solace of books." The saint replied, "My book is the world of all created things; and whenever I wish to read the words of God in it, it lies open before me."
Paramahansa Yogananda, speaking from a similar state of consciousness, once said, "I have not read twenty books since I came to America twenty years ago....I would have been wholly ignorant if I hadn't had, through meditation, the consciousness of Spirit. When I look at a book I see that whatever truth it contains has already been given to me from God. All thought and truth come from Spirit; if you commune with Him you receive His wisdom direct."
Develop Intuition by Practicing Calmness
To develop your intuition, begin by practicing calmness. As a youth, one summer I vacationed in Mexico along the beach and enjoyed snorkeling. Some days the water was rough and if you've ever tried to snorkel in choppy water, you know that it doesn't work! The waves stir up the sand and debris so that the water is clouded; you can't see anything. But on other days the ocean was quiet and calm. All debris settled to the bottom; and swimming through the water, you could see the beautiful fish, shells, and reefs very clearly.
We want to see truth clearly through intuition, and use it to guide our daily lives. If our minds are filled with restlessness, desires, and negative emotions, our vision will be clouded. To see clearly we have to still the mental turbulence. We have to practice calmness.
How? Begin by choosing to think calming thoughts. Psychiatrist David D. Burns, M.D., author of the best-seller The Feeling Good Hand-It book, writes: "Your thoughts create your moods....The messages you give yourself have an enormous impact on your emotions. And what's even more important, by learning lo change your thoughts, you can change the way you feel."
Try this simple experiment: Think of a serious problem in your life, a major challenge. Take a few moments to dwell on it. Now observe the impact this has upon you. Perhaps you feel anxiety arising in your heart. You may also experience mental tension and physical stress as well, such as a tightening up of some of the muscles in the back or neck.
Now visualize yourself standing before a door that leads to your favorite peaceful place. As you enter, leave your problem behind and close the door. Mentally disassociate yourself from your troubles, at least temporarily. Sit down, consciously relax the body, and repeat the following affirmation:
I am the Changeless, I am the
I am not a little mortal being
with bones to break, a body that
I am the deathless, changeless
Repeat it slowly several times: first in normal intonation, then softly, then in a whisper, and last, mentally.
Pause briefly after saying each phrase, and deeply feel the thought you are expressing.
Sit quietly for a few moments afterwards, perceiving the Truth in that affirmation.
Try doing this now. Then observe again your body and mind. Has anything changed? You will begin to find that the anxiety and tension dissipated to some degree. You will begin to feel some peace and inner strength arising from within.
In his writings, Paramahansa Yogananda gives affirmations with different orientations: will affirmations for focusing the will power, feeling affirmations for those of devotional temperament, reason affirmations for developing pure understanding, and so on. Any of these, practiced regularly, can help us to attain mental focus and calmness—clearing the way for expression of the guiding influence of soul-intuition in our various endeavors.
Balance Fast-Track Living With "Time-Outs
In our high-powered, fast-track society, the pace of modern living is intense. An architect told me that when he first started working thirty years ago, his clients were perfectly satisfied with his taking three weeks to complete a certain type of job. Now, with email and faxes, the usual expectation for the same task is twenty-four hours. If we are not careful, the frantic pace of the world becomes our pace. Our days become so filled with the whirlwind of constant activity and striving that we never allow ourselves the chance to become calm and take stock in a deeper way of what our lives are like and where we are going. Our intuition is always speaking to us through the quiet still voice within, but caught in the hustle-bustle of the moment we never take time to listen. If we want to have an existence that is more than a human version of the rat's treadmill, we have to make conscious decisions that support getting in touch with the wisdom of our higher Self.
Even businesses are acknowledging that intense activities and problem-solving sessions need to be balanced with periods of relaxation and quiet reflection. The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company conducted a study of successful executives and senior managers from a cross section of industries, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. "The study's key finding is that quiet plays a profound and active part in most top executives' methods....Many use quiet to seek a condition of inner tranquility where distractions are swept away and the mind can be focused on a point with laser-like intensity."
When I was a university student taking computer science courses, we were given an assignment to write a complex computer program in machine language, a difficult task most students in the class failed to complete. I worked on mine to a certain point; and on paper my program looked very good. But it did not run, no matter how I tried to correct it. I had never tried so hard to solve a problem, working many hours every day until about three A.M. Finally I ran out of time. It was late, the assignment was due the next morning, and I gave up. Walking home I felt exhausted but relieved. At least the ordeal of trying to accomplish this "impossible" assignment was over. For the first time in several weeks I loosened up and relaxed. Suddenly in an instantaneous flash of insight I knew what the error was. My intuition spoke to me. Or rather, for the first time in weeks I allowed enough space in my consciousness so I could listen to it. I walked back to the campus computer center, made the correction and the program ran perfectly like I knew it would.
My experiences since then have confirmed that initial lesson: If you want the best solutions, balance your efforts to reason and problem-solve with quiet periods where you can take time off from pressing demands of the day. Try having a period of silence and solitude in the early morning and late evening. As the body relaxes and the mind becomes calm, the hidden resources of intuition are more accessible.
Meditation Opens the Doorway of Intuition
Most persons, in such times of tranquility, have experienced sudden inspirations that bestow new understanding and insights. Usually these intuitive experiences mysteriously come and go, prompted by faculties that the person does not fully comprehend. Yet by practice of the science of yoga, we can learn to consciously operate subtle natural laws that remain hidden from the everyday man or woman. Regular meditation practice activates the intuitive faculties and can enable us to enter the intuitional state at will.
Today millions of people recognize the value of meditation. Physicians and therapists recommend it to patients. Companies and airports offer the convenience of meditation rooms. Numerous scientific studies have documented its diverse benefits. Unfortunately, enamored with meditation's attractive rewards for body and mind, many have forgotten its higher spiritual purpose. Some meditation teachers do not even mention the words God or Spirit or Divine.
Meditation is more than a simple relaxation technique. It was not to the goal of lowering blood pressure that the rishis of old devoted their lives! The physical, mental, and emotional benefits of meditation are wonderful, but the wise men of India searched for something greater. Realizing the transitory nature of this material world, they sought passageway to a higher existence, a new life, a cosmic awareness that fulfills the very purpose of human life. To this end they developed scientific methods of meditation that lead one to the highest states of consciousness: realization of the higher Self, the soul, and its blissful omnipresence in oneness with God.
In Autobiography of a Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda describes this state of cosmic consciousness:
An oceanic joy broke upon calm endless shores of my soul. The Spirit of God, I realized is exhaustless Bliss; His body is countless tissues of light. A swelling glory within me began to envelop towns, continents, the earth, solar and stellar systems, tenuous nebulae, and floating universes. The entire cosmos, gently luminous, like a city seen afar at night, glimmered within the infinitude of my being.
By patient, systematic effort, the yogis of India's ancient higher ages forged the key that unlocks the wisdom-door of intuition that leads to Self-realization and grants us passage into the infinite realm of Spirit: devoted, daily practice of scientific techniques of meditation.
Given persistent concerns about a link between embryonic stem cells and cancer, the race between scientists to clone a human embryo appears to be a gigantic ego trip with a shaky ethical foundation.
While Harvard's Steven Hyman boasts that "working with embryonic stem cells holds tremendous promise," for modelling diseases and developing therapies, other scientists are raising red alerts about the peril. The Canadian Medical Association Journal reports researchers worry embryonic stem cells "may be the cellular origin of cancer" -- including bone marrow stem cells being linked to stomach cancers -- and it might not be a great idea to use them for repairing organs.
Meanwhile, the University of California at San Francisco, whose scientists are trying to beat Hyman's Harvard team at the human cloning game, has observed increased activity of embryonic stem cell genes in breast and testicular cancers. That, apparently, isn't enough to deter them from salivating over the scientific glory that will come with being the first Americans to clone embryos.
All of this, of course, comes secondary to the ethical cloud over human cloning. The process involves taking an egg a woman has donated, inserting a patient's DNA into the egg after its own has been removed, and watching the embryo begin to divide. When the stem cells are taken from it at about the 60-cell stage, the embryo is then destroyed.
This tampering with nascent human life requires moral gymnastics to justify. Stem cells taken from adults have proven a far safer and more reliable method of treating disease, and using them does not involve the creation of human life that is slated solely for destruction.
Ethicists have had to scramble to catch up to this rapidly evolving science. Researchers bent on being first would do well to slow down while society ponders the implications of what they are doing.
The bigger meaning of healing is a 'wholing,' a filling out of the missing pieces of a person’s life. Sometimes this may even mean facing death in a more fully realized way. Certainly it is an opportunity to come more deeply and fully into life.
From "Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom," by Christiane Northrup, M.D.:
There is a difference between healing and curing. Healing is a natural process and is within the power of everyone. Curing, which is what doctors are called upon to do, usually consists of an external treatment; medication or surgery is used to mask or eliminate symptoms. This external treatment doesn’t necessarily address the factors that contributed to the factors in the first place. Healing goes deeper than curing and must always come from within. It addresses the imbalance that underlies the symptoms. Healing brings together the often hidden aspects of a person’s life as they relate to her illness. Healing is different from curing, though curing and the restoration of physical function may accompany healing.
One can be healed completely and go on to die of her illness. This is a key understanding that is often missing from treatises on holistic medicine: Healing and death are not mutually exclusive. As a physician, I’ve been trained to improve and preserve life. But sometimes we need to let go of that training and accept death as a natural part of a process that is much bigger and more mysterious than we realize
The following article that appeared in the spring issue of SRF Magazine, discusses the plasticity of brain. To me, this is a very liberating notion because it frees us from the slavery of the past tendencies either inherited or formed during the early stages of childhood. Through appropriate attitudes and application of will, we can change our behaviours for the better. Traditionally, in our Ginans, this phenomenon is expressed as the transformation of the soul through Ibadat as per the following verse for example.
Ginan: Sab Gat Sami Maro Bhar Pur Bethaa
ejee satgur paaras ane munivar traa(m)baa ne
bhette to sovan hoy ek jeeyo................................13
O momins: The True Guide is like the philosopher's stone and his disciple is is like copper. When the copper comes into contact with the philosopher's stone, it becomes gold.
(A momin is transformed when he/she comes into contact with the Imam and follows him).
Can the Mind Change the Brain?
Latest Research in Brain Plasticity Suggests Potential for Continuous Brain Development through Life
By Sharon Begley
SRF Spring 2006.
For the conventional wisdom on our gray matter, just open any lavishly illustrated brain book. There, detailed diagrams map out specialized brain structures: areas that generate speech and areas that process vision, areas that sense sound and areas that detect when you touch your left big toe.
The diagrams resemble nothing so much as zoning maps produced by the most rigid land-use board. Every bit of neural real estate is assigned a job, reflecting the decades-long belief that different parts of the brain are hardwired for certain functions.
This view of the brain dates back to 1857, when French neurosurgeon Paul Broca discovered that particular regions are specialized for particular functions, such as language. His and subsequent discoveries gave rise to the dogma of the hard-wired adult brain, and it had profound real-world consequences. It held that if the brain sustained injury through stroke or trauma to, say, a region responsible for moving the left arm, then other regions could not step up to the plate and pinch hit. The function of the injured region would be lost forever. And it implied that if, by the age of 12 or so, you had not recruited neurons to the specialized task of playing the violin, for instance, or learning a second language, then you might as well give up; your old brain was simply not going to learn new tricks.
But that dogma has been under assault in recent years. Although specific portions of the brain do, usually, specialize in certain tasks, the brain is much more adaptable and renewable than previously thought—that that's true throughout life.
Animal experiments provided the first hints that the brain is able to change dramatically after childhood. When lab monkeys practiced—and practiced—the trick of using a single finger to reach into a tiny dish and grab a morsel of food, the brain region devoted to fine motor control of that finger grew like suburban sprawl. And these were grown-up monkeys.
Even the adult brain is "plastic," able to forge new connections among its neurons and thus rewire itself. Sensory input can change the brain, and the brain remodels itself in response to behavioral demands. Regions that get the most use literally expand. In terms of which neural circuits endure and enlarge, you can call it survival of the busiest.
In 1993, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, then at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, led the search for what would become one of the earliest findings in human neuroplasticity. Does anyone, he wondered, habitually experience powerful tactile stimulation to a particular portion of their body? Of course: blind people who read Braille with their fingertips.
Dr Pascual-Leone recruited I5 proficient Braille readers and wired them up so he could measure their somatosensory cortex— the part of the brain that registers and processes the sense of touch. Then he administered weak electrical shocks to the tip of their right forefingers (the "reading" linger), recording which parts of the somatosensory cortex registered the sensation. He did the same thing to the blind people's left index finger and to fingers in non-Braille-readers that don't get exceptional use.
The result was unmistakable. In the Braille readers, the area of somatosensory cortex devoted to the reading finger was much larger than the comparable area for fingers in both blind and sighted people who don't have such demands put on them. It was a clear case of sensory input changing the brain. The cortical region processing that input had expanded, "with a consequent increase in sensitivity. That would explain how Braille readers are able to make such fine discriminations among the patterns of tiny raised dots.
By the spring of 1995, Edward Taub was also exploiting the ability of the brain to rewire itself. The University of Alabama, Birmingham, scientist was developing a revolutionary new therapy for stroke patients. The goal was to enable an intact area of the brain to take over for a region knocked out by stroke. But Dr. Taub was sure that neuroplasticity went beyond damaged brains. His goal was to see how normal behaviors changed brain maps.
One evening that spring, he and his wife, Mildred Alien, a lyric soprano who had been a principal artist at New York's Metropolitan Opera in New York, were having dinner in Germany with a group of neuroscientists. Casting around for a study they could collaborate on, Dr. Taub asked the group: Is there any normal activity that uses one hand way more than the other? The scientists were flummoxed, but Ms. Alien chimed in, "Oh, that's easy—playing a stringed instrument."
When a right-handed musician plays the violin, four digits of the left hand continuously finger the strings. (The left thumb grasps the neck of the violin, undergoing only small shifts of position and pressure.) The right, or bowing, hand undertakes far fewer individual linger movements. Might this pattern leave a trace on the cerebral cortex?
To find out, the scientists recruited six violinists, two cellists and one guitarist, all of whom had played their instrument for seven to 17 years, as well as six non-musicians. The volunteers sat still while a pneumatic stimulator applied light pressure to their fingers to record neuronal activity in the part of the brain that processes the sense of touch.
There was no difference between the string players and the nonmusicians in how much of the cortex was devoted to "feeling" the fingers of the right hand. But there was a huge difference when it came to the left hand. The amount of brain territory devoted to those fingers had increased substantially in string players. That increase was greatest in musicians who began to play before the age of 12.
But to Dr. Taub, the most dramatic finding was that even in people who took up the violin as adults, regular practice had changed their brains. Their cortex had re-zoned itself so that more neurons were assigned to the fingers of the left hand. "Even if you take up the violin at 40, you still get brain reorganization," he says.
As evidence accumulated that changes in the sensory information reaching the brain can profoundly alter the cortex, an obvious question arose: Can the mind itself change the brain? Can mere thinking do it? Dr. Pascual-Leone, now at Harvard University, provided a preliminary answer, with an experiment that has not received nearly the attention it deserves.
He had one group of volunteers practice a five-finger piano exercise, and a comparable group merely think about practicing it. This second group, focused on each finger movement in turn, essentially playing the simple piece in their heads, note at a time.
Actual physical practice produced changes in each volunteer's motor cortex, as expected. But so did mere mental rehearsal. In fact, as big a change as the physical practice. Like actual movement, imagined movements change the cortex. Merely thinking about moving produces brain changes comparable to those triggered by actually moving.
The existence, and importance, of brain plasticity are no longer in doubt. The brain is dynamic, and the life we lead leaves its mark in the complex circuitry of the brain—footprints of the experiences we have had, the thoughts we have thought, the actions we have taken. The brain allocates neural real estate depending on what we use most: the thumb of a videogame addict, the index finger of a Braille reader, the analytic ability of a chess player, the language skills of a linguist.
But the brain also remakes itself based on something much more ephemeral than what we do: It rewires itself based on what we think. This will be the next frontier for neuroplasticity, harnessing the transforming power of the mind to reshape the brain.
The following news article that appeared in today’s Calgary Herald alludes to the rewiring/plasticity of the human brain.
Damaged brain can rewire itself
Car accident victim regains ability to speak
Marilynn Marchione, The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Doctors have their first proof that a man who was barely conscious for nearly 20 years regained speech and movement because his brain spontaneously rewired itself by growing tiny new nerve connections to replace the ones sheared apart in a car crash.
Terry Wallis, 42, is thought to be the only person in the United States to recover so dramatically and so long after a severe brain injury. He still needs help eating and cannot walk, but his speech continues to improve and he can count to 25 without interruption.
Wallis's sudden recovery happened three years ago, but doctors said the same cannot be hoped for people in a persistent vegetative state, such as Terry Schiavo, the Florida woman who died last year after a fierce right-to-die court battle. Nor do doctors know how to make others with less-serious damage, like Wallis, recover.
"Right now, these cases are like winning the lottery," said Dr. Ross Zafonte, rehabilitation chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who was not involved in the research. "I wouldn't want to overenthuse family members or folks who think now we have a cure for this."
Wallis has complete amnesia about the two decades he spent barely conscious, but remembers his life before the injury.
"He still thinks Ronald Reagan is president," Wallis's father, Jerry, said in a statement, adding that until recently his son insisted he was 20 years old.
The research on Wallis, published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, was led by imaging expert Henning Voss and neurologist Dr. Nicholas Schiff at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
Wallis was 19 when he suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him briefly in a coma and then in a minimally conscious state for more than 19 years.
The research suggests that instead of the sudden recovery Wallis seemed to make when he began speaking and moving three years ago, he actually may have been slowly recovering all along, as nerves in his brain formed new connections at a glacial pace until enough were present to make a network.
SRF Magazine Summer 2006
Reprinted with permission from Ode magazine, issue 29, November 2005. Visit www.odemagazine.com for more information
A monumental study of near-death experiences raises fascinating questions about life after death, DNA, and everyone’s karma.
When The Lancet published his study of near-death experiences, Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel couldn't have known it would make him into one of the world’s most talked-about scientists. It seems everyone wants to know about the man who managed to get his study of this controversial topic published in one of the leading journals of medical research. Yet it's not really surprising that its publication in 2001 created a stir. Never before had such a systematic study been conducted into the experiences of people who were declared dead and then came back to life. And never before have we seen such a clear illustration of how these people's stories could affect our way of thinking about life and death.
Van Lommel, 63, isn't one to seek name and fame. On this lovely summer day in his garden near the Dutch city of Arnhem, he displays more interest in what's going on at Ode magazine than in his own story. That same deep curiosity was at work 35 years ago when van Lommel, working as a physician's assistant in a hospital, listened intently to a patient talk about her near-death experience. He was immediately fascinated. But it wasn't until years later, as he read the book Return from Tomorrow in which the American doctor George Ritchie describes his own near-death experience in detail, that van Lommel wondered if there were many other people who had undergone similar experiences.
Van Lommel decided from then on to ask all his patients whether they remembered anything that had happened during their cardiac arrests. "The answer was usually 'no' but sometimes 'why?' When I heard the latter, I extended the office visit." Over two years he heard stories from 12 patients and his scientific curiosity was piqued. Those stories were the beginning of a years-long study.
I was looking down at my own body from up above and saw doctors and nurses fighting for my life. I could hear what they were saying. Then I got a warm feeling and I was in a tunnel. At the end of that tunnel was a bright, warm, white, vibrating light. It was beautiful. It gave me a feeling of peace and confidence. I floated towards it. The warm feeling became stronger and stronger. I felt at home, loved, nearly ecstatic. I saw my life flash before me. Suddenly I felt the pain of the accident once again and shot back into my body. I was furious that the doctors had brought me back
Just about every description of a near-death experience is this beautiful. People feel connected and supported. They grasp how the universe works. They experience unconditional love. They feel free of the pressing concerns of earthly existence. Who wouldn't want such an experience? "It sounds fantastic, doesn't it?" van Lommel laughs. "But it's not always easy to deal with. When people come back, they often have the feeling they're being imprisoned. And it can take years before they are able or have the courage to integrate the insights they've gained into their everyday life."
Still, a majority of people who have had a near-death experience describe it as magnificent and say it enriched their lives. Van Lommel explains, "The most important thing people are left with is that they are no longer afraid of death. This is because they have experienced that their consciousness lives on, that there is continuity. Their life and their identity don't end when the body dies. They simply have the feeling they're taking off their coat."
That may sound like it's coming from someone who's spent a little too much time hanging around New Age bookstores. But from what van Lommel has seen, near-death experiences are not at all limited to members of the "spiritual" community. They are just as prevalent among people who were extremely skeptical about the topic beforehand.
I became "detached" from the body and hovered within and around it. It was possible to see the surrounding bedroom and my body even though my eyes were closed. I was suddenly able to "think" hundreds or thousands of times faster—and with greater clarity—than is humanly normal or possible. At this point I realized and accepted that I had died. It was time to move on. It was a feeling of total peace—completely without fear or pain, and didn't involve any emotions at all.
The most remarkable thing, van Lommel says, is that his patients have such consciousness-expanding experiences while their brains register no activity. But that's impossible, according to the current level of medical knowledge. Because most scientists believe that consciousness occurs in the brain, this creates a mystery: How can people experience consciousness while they are unconscious during a cardiac arrest (a clinical death)?
After all those years of intensive study, van Lommel still speaks with reverence about the miracle of the near-death experience. "At that moment these people are not only conscious; their consciousness is even more expansive than ever. They can think extremely clearly, have memories going back to their earliest childhood, and experience an intense connection with everything and everyone around them. And yet the brain shows no activity at all!"
This has raised a number of large questions for van Lommel: "What is consciousness and where is it located? What is my identity? Who is doing the observing when I see my body down there on the operating table? What is life? What is death?"
The body I observed lying in bed was mine, but I knew it wasn't time to leave. My time on earth wasn't up yet; there was still a purpose.
In order to convince his colleagues of the validity of these new insights, van Lommel first had to demonstrate that this expansion occurred, in fact, during the period of brain death. It was not difficult to prove. Patients were often able to describe precisely what had happened during their cardiac arrest. They knew, for example, exactly where the nurse put their dentures or what doctors and family members had said. How would someone whose brain wasn't active know these things?
Nevertheless, some scientists continue to assert that these experiences must happen at a time when there is still some brain function going on. Van Lommel is crystal clear in his response: "When the heart stops beating, blood flow stops within a second. Then, 6.5 seconds later, EEG activity starts to change due to the shortage of oxygen. After 15 seconds there is a straight, flat line and the electrical activity in the cerebral cortex has disappeared completely. We cannot measure the brain stem, but testing on animals has demonstrated that activity has ceased there as well. Moreover, you can prove that the brain stem is no longer functioning because it regulates our basic reflexes, such as the pupil response and swallowing reflex, which no longer respond. So you can easily stick a tube down someone's throat. The respiratory center also shuts down. If the individual is not reanimated within five to 10 minutes, their brain cells are irreversibly damaged." He is aware that his findings on consciousness fly in the face of orthodox scientific thinking. It is remarkable that an authoritative science journal like The Lancet was willing to publish his article. But it wasn't without a struggle. Van Lommel recalls with a smile, "It took months before I got the green light. And then they suddenly wanted it finished, within a day."
Van Lommel's work raises profound questions about what "death" actually means: "Up to now, 'death' simply meant the end of consciousness, of identity, of life," he notes. But his study topples that concept, along with the prevailing medical myths about who has near-death experiences. "In the past, these experiences were attributed to physiological, psychological, pharmacological, or religious reasons: that is, to a shortage of oxygen, the release of endorphins, receptor blockages, fear of death, hallucinations, religious expectations, or a combination of all these factors. But our research indicates that none of these factors determine whether or not someone has a near-death experience."
This experience is a blessing for me, for now I know for sure that body and soul are separated, and that there is life after death. It has convinced me that consciousness lives on beyond the grave. Death is not death, but another form of life.
Van Lommel contends that the brain does not produce consciousness or store memories. He points out that American computer science expert Simon Berkovich and Dutch brain researcher Herms Romijn, working independently of one another ,came to the same conclusion: that it is impossible for the brain to store everything you think and experience in your life. This would require a processing speed of 1024 bits per second. Simply watching an hour of television would already be too much for our brains." If you want to store that amount of information—along with the associative thoughts produced— your brain would be pretty much full," Van Lommel says "Anatomically and functionally, it is simply impossible for the brain to have this level of speed."
So this would mean that the brain is actually a receiver and transmitter of information. "You could compare the brain to a television set that tunes into specific electromagnetic waves and converts them into image and sound.
"Our waking consciousness, the consciousness we have during our daily activities," van Lommel continues, "reduces all the information there is to a single truth that we experience as 'reality.' During near-death experiences, however, people are not limited to their bodies or their waking consciousness, which means they experience many more realities."
This explains why people who have a near-death experience sometimes have great difficulty functioning in their daily lives afterwards. They retain the sensitivity that enables them to tune into different channels simultaneously, making a cocktail party or bus ride an overwhelming experience as all the information from people around them comes in on all channels.
According to van Lommel, near-death experiences can only be explained if you assume that consciousness, along with all our experiences and memories, is located outside the brain. When
I saw a man who looked at me lovingly, but whom I did not know. At my mother's deathbed, she confessed to me that I had been borne out of an extramarital relationship, my father being a Jewish man who had been deported and killed during the Second World War, and my mother showed me his picture. The unknown man that I had seen years before during my near-death experience turned out to be my biological father.
asked where that consciousness is located, van Lommel can only speculate. "I suspect there is a dimension where this information is stored—a kind of collective consciousness we tune into to gain access to our identity and our memories."
By means of this collective information field, we are not only connected to our own information, but also that of others and even the information from the past and future. "There are people who see the future during a near-death experience," van Lommel says. "For example, there was a man who saw his future family. Years later, he found himself in a situation he had already seen during his near-death experience. I suspect this is also the way deja vu works." According to van Lommel's research, during a near-death experience, people can also make contact with the dead, even if they don't know them.
But how does the brain "know" what information to tune into? How can someone tune into his own memories and not those of other people? Van Lommel's answer is surprisingly short and simple: "DNA. And primarily the so-called 'junk DNA,' which accounts for around 95 percent of the total, whose function we don't understand." He suspects that the DNA, unique to every person and every organism, works like a receptor mechanism, a kind of simultaneous translator between the information fields and the organism.
The idea that DNA works as a receptor mechanism to attune people to their specific consciousness fields sheds new light on the discussion of organ transplantation. Imagine you get a new heart. The DNA of that heart will gear itself to the consciousness field of the donor, not the recipient. Does this mean you suddenly get different information? Yes, van Lommel says: "There are stories of people who developed radically different desires and lifestyles after an organ transplant. For example, there's a story of a ballet dancer who suddenly wanted to drive a motorcycle and eat junk food."
I perceived not only what I had done, but even in what way it had influenced others.
The cliche is true: People I see their lives flash before them at the time of death. And people gain insight into the consequences of their actions. They might see themselves as at 4 years old, taking away their sister's toys, and feel her pain. Van Lommel comments, "At that moment it's as if you have the thoughts of someone else inside you. You are given insight into the impact of your thoughts, words, and deeds on yourself and others. So it appears that every thought we have is a form of energy that continues to exist forever."
People who have experienced such a "life review" say it's not so much about what you do as the intention behind it. "It is extremely intense to experience that everything that goes around comes around." Van Lommel leans forward to be sure his words come across. "No one avoids the consequences of their thoughts. That's very confrontational. Some people discover there's something they can never put right. Others come back and immediately start calling people to apologize for something they did 20 years ago."
So is there a Last Judgment after all? Van Lommel is clear: "Absolutely not. No one is judged. It's an insight experience. Most people go through this flashback in the presence of a being made of light. That being is entirely loving, absolutely accepting, without judgment, but has complete insight. The flashback changes people's understanding of life. They adopt other values. They feel they are one with nature and the planet. There is no longer any difference between themselves and others. It's not about power, appearance, nice cars, clothes, a young body. It's about completely different things: love for yourself, for nature, for your fellow human beings. The message is as old as time, but now they've experienced it themselves and they have to live by it."
Then, after a short silence, he-says, thoughtfully: "It's almost scary to realize that every thought has a consequence. If you let that sink in...every thought we have, positive or negative, has an impact on us, each other, and nature."
Do you have to nearly die to learn these life lessons? No, says van Lommel, who has never had a near-death experience himself. Thanks to his research, he learned so many valuable lessons that he decided to abandon his career in cardiology in 1992 and dedicate himself fully to further research, publishing and lecturing on the subject of near-death experiences.
"Working with it and being open to it have changed my life," van Lommel says. "I now see that everything stems from consciousness. I better understand that you create your own reality based on the consciousness you have and the intention from which you live. I understand that consciousness is the basis of life, and that life is principally about compassion, empathy, and love."
The italicized segments of this article were taken from interviews Pirn van Lommel and his research team conducted with people who have had a near-death experience. For more information on International Association for Near-Death Studies go to www.iands.org.
Faith, Reason, God and Other Imponderables
By CORNELIA DEAN
Published: July 25, 2006
Nowadays, when legislation supporting promising scientific research falls to religious opposition, the forces of creationism press school districts to teach doctrine on a par with evolution and even the Big Bang is denounced as out-of-compliance with Bible-based calculations for the age of the earth, scientists have to be brave to talk about religion.
Not to denounce it, but to embrace it.
That is what Francis S. Collins, Owen Gingerich and Joan Roughgarden have done in new books, taking up one side of the stormy argument over whether faith in God can coexist with faith in the scientific method.
With no apology and hardly any arm-waving, they describe their beliefs, how they came to them and how they reconcile them with their work in science.
In "The Language of God," Dr. Collins, the geneticist who led the American government's effort to decipher the human genome, describes his own journey from atheism to committed Christianity, a faith he embraced as a young physician.
In "God's Universe," Dr. Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard, tells how he is "personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos."
And in "Evolution and Christian Faith," Dr. Roughgarden, the child of Episcopal missionaries and now an evolutionary biologist at Stanford, tells of her struggles to fit the individual into the evolutionary picture — an effort complicated in her case by the fact that she is transgender, and therefore has views at odds with some conventional Darwinian thinking about sexual identity.
If his eminence in science were not so unassailable, a fourth author, the biologist E. O. Wilson of Harvard, might also be taking a chance by arguing that religion and science ought to take up arms together to encourage respect for and protection of nature or, as he calls it in his new book, "The Creation."
Although he writes that he no longer embraces the faith of his childhood — he describes himself as “a secular humanist” — Dr. Wilson shapes his book as a “Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor,” in hopes that if “religion and science could be united on the common ground of biological conservation, the problem would soon be solved.”
Coming as they do from a milieu in which religious belief of any kind is often dismissed as little more than magical thinking, this is bravery indeed.
But other new books, taking a different approach, also claim the mantle of bravery.
In “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and theorist of cognition at Tufts, refers again and again to the “brave” researchers (including himself) who challenge religion. In “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins, a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford, once again likens religious faith to a disease and sets as his goal convincing his readers that atheism is “a brave” aspiration.
Of course, just as the professors of faith cannot prove (except to themselves) that God exists, the advocates for atheism acknowledge that they cannot prove (not yet, anyway ) that God does not exist. Instead, Drs. Dawkins and Dennett sound two major themes: a) the theory of evolution is correct, and creationism and its cousin, intelligent design, are wrong; and b) a field of research called evolutionary psychology can explain why religious belief seems to be universal among Homo sapiens.
But these sermons, which the authors preach with what can fairly be described as religious fervor, are unsatisfying.
Of course there is no credible scientific challenge to Darwinian evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on earth. So what? The theory of evolution says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of God. People might argue about what sort of supreme being would work her will through such a seemingly haphazard arrangement, but that is not the same as denying that she exists in the first place.
In any event, as Dr. Gingerich argues, in simultaneously defending evolution and insisting upon atheism, Dr. Dawkins probably “single-handedly makes more converts to intelligent design than any of the leading intelligent design theorists.”
And evolutionary psychology as a prism through which to view contemporary human behavior is open to many challenges. Some have come from critics who dismiss much of it as little more than “Just-So Stories” designed to explain or justify the status quo. So it seems strange to see its logic cited as a weapon against the story-telling aspects of religion.
All of which leads one to ask, who are these books for? The question is easy to answer when it comes to Drs. Collins, Roughgarden or Gingerich. First would be young people raised in religious families, who as they progress through school suddenly confront scientific reality that challenges Sunday morning dogma.
“I have been struck,” Dr. Roughgarden writes, “by how the ‘debate’ over teaching evolution is not about plants and animals but about God and whether science somehow threatens one’s belief in God.”
Or as Dr. Collins put it, when religions require belief in “fundamentally flawed claims” about the world, they force curious and intelligent congregants to reject science, “effectively committing intellectual suicide,” a choice he calls “terrible and unnecessary.”
But does science require the abandonment of faith? Not necessarily, and certainly not entirely, these authors argue.
Also, people who read these books will realize that it is impossible to tar all scientists with the brush of amorality. The books challenge those who fear that science and ethics may end up at war, a possibility raised by President Bush last week, when he vetoed legislation supporting stem cell research.
On the other hand, as the (atheist) physicist Steven Weinberg has famously put it, and as Drs. Dawkins and Dennett remind their readers, good people tend to do good, evil people tend to do evil, but for a good person to do evil — “that takes religion.”
But it is hard to believe that people who reject science on religious grounds will stick with the Dennett and Dawkins books, filled as they are with denunciation not just of their ideas but of themselves.
This is unfortunate because, as Dr. Roughgarden points out, it is crucial in our society for people of faith, the vast majority of our population, to understand the issues of contemporary science. “I’d love to discuss the moral issues of biotechnology within a community of faith,” she writes. “But most church congregations and their leaders are not prepared for those discussions.”
Perhaps another book, “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast,” can help bridge that gap. It is by Lewis Wolpert, a biologist at University College London. It has been published in England, and it is to appear in the United States in January.
Dr. Wolpert writes about the way people think about cause and effect, citing among other work experiments on how we reason, how we assess risk, and the rules of thumb and biases that guide us when we make decisions. He is looking into what he calls “causal belief” — the idea that events or conditions we experience have a cause, possibly a supernatural cause.
Human reasoning is “beset with logical problems that include overdependence on authority, overemphasis on coincidence, distortion of the evidence, circular reasoning, use of anecdotes, ignorance of science and failures of logic,” he writes. And whatever these traits may say about acceptance of religion, they have a lot to do with public misunderstanding of science.
So, he concludes, “We have to both respect, if we can, the beliefs of others, and accept the responsibility to try and change them if the evidence for them is weak or scientifically improbable.”
This is where the scientific method comes in. If scientists are prepared to state their hypotheses, describe how they tested them, lay out their data, explain how they analyze their data and the conclusions they draw from their analyses — then it should not matter if they pray to Zeus, Jehovah, the Tooth Fairy, or nobody.
Their work will speak for itself.
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THE LANGUAGE OF GOD
By Francis S. Collins. Free Press, 2006.
THE GOD DELUSION
By Richard Dawkins. Houghton Mifflin, 2006
BREAKING THE SPELL: RELIGION AS A NATURAL PHENOMENON
By Daniel C. Dennett. Viking, 2006.
By Owen Gingerich. Harvard University Press, 2006
EVOLUTION AND CHRISTIAN FAITH: REFLECTIONS OF AN EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST
By Joan Roughgarden. Island Press, 2006.
THE CREATION: A MEETING OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION
by E.O. Wilson. W.W. Norton, 2006.
SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST: THE EVOLUTIONARY ORIGINS OF BELIEF
By Lewis Wolpert.
In our Ginans we frequently use the term 'man' to mean either the mind or the heart. The following footnote in Paramahansa Yogananda's The Second Coming of Christ, explains how the heart actually processes information as opposed to acting upon the information received from the brain. It participates in the way we react to a situation by influencing our feelings about it.
"Our research and that of others indicate that the heart is far more than a simple pump. The heart is, in fact, a highly complex, self-organized information processing center," report Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., and his associates in Science of the Heart: Exploring the Role of the Heart in Human Performance (Boulder Creek, California: Institute of HeartMath, 2001).
"Traditionally, the study of communication pathways between the 'head' and heart has been approached from a rather one-sided perspective, with scientists focusing primarily on the heart's responses to the brain's commands. However, we have now learned that communication between the heart and brain is actually a dynamic, ongoing, two-way dialogue, with each organ continuously influencing the other's function. Research has shown that the heart communicates to the brain in four major ways: neu-rologically (through the transmission of nerve impulses), biochemically (via hormones and neurotransmitters), biophysically (through pressure waves) and energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions). Communication along all these conduits significantly affects the brain's activity."
"Neurocardiologists have found that 60 to 65% of the cells of the heart are actually neural cells, not muscle cells as was previously believed," explains child-development expert Joseph Chilton Pearce in a 1999 interview in Journal of Family Life (Volume 5, Number r). "They are identical to the neural cells in the brain, operating through the same connecting links called ganglia, with the same axonal and dendritic connections that take place in the brain, as well as through the very same kinds of neurotransmitters found in the brain. Quite literally, in other words, there is a 'brain' in the heart, whose ganglia are linked to every major organ in the body, to the entire muscle spindle system that uniquely enables humans to express their emotions."
"Our emotional-cognitive brain has direct, unmediated neural connections with the heart," Pearce reports. He explains that the brain "makes a qualitative evaluation of our experience of this world and sends that information instant-by-instant down to the heart. In return, the heart exhorts the brain to make the appropriate response....In other words, the responses that the heart makes affect the entire human system." Thus, these scientists conclude, though the brain supplies the heart with perceptions, it is the heart, responding to the reports from the brain, that sends positive or negative instructions back to the emotional reactive centers in the brain (and, through hormones released into the bloodstream, to the entire body). (Publisher's Note)
The following are some of the quotes which allude to the efficacy of the heart in transmission of knowledge and guidance.
"Soul receives from soul that knowledge, therefore not by book nor from tongue. If knowledge of mysteries come after emptiness of mind, that is illumination of heart." - Rumi
"I realized what was hidden within me
and conversed with You in secret.
Though we were united, we still were apart.
Though awe hid You from my searching eyes,
ecstasy brought You close
to my innermost being."
-Al-Hujwiri, "The Kashf al-Mahjub"
"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Luke 6:45)
THE TIMES SATURDAY FEBRUARY 18 1984 Science and religion The search for understanding
Of all the scientific achievements of this century the most revolutionary is the discovery of quantum theory. It abolished the picturability of the physical world at its fundamental level.
The basic constituents of matter - the electrons and protons and neutrons, as they once thought; the electrons (still) and quarks and gluons, as we now think — cannot be considered as midget counterparts of the familiar objects of the world of everyday.
Heisenberg, with his uncertainty principle, forbids that. If you know where an electron is, you cannot know what it is doing, and if you insist on knowing what it is doing you will lose all knowledge of where it is. Such an elusive- object cannot be visualized, although its behaviour can be perfectly modelled by the mathematics of wave mechanics.
When one is concerned with entities as peculiar as that it is natural to ask what degree of reality is to be assigned to them. Is quantum theory a convenient and highly successful manner of speaking or does it describe what is?
The Grand Old Men who founded the subject formed themselves into a "club" which proclaimed the orthodoxy of what is called the Copenhagen interpretation. It is in essence a cautiously positivistic or manner-of-speaking point of view.
Niels Bohr, who was the "president" of the Copenhagen club, in a moment of frankness once said to a friend: "There is no quantum world. There is only abstract quantum physical description."
I do not think that is at all a satisfactory account of things. It devalues the remarkable discoveries made in elementary particle physics since the time of Bohr and his friends. An intricate and tightly-knit structure has been revealed which is the basis for our belief that objects like protons are built up from quarks and gluons.
The overwhelming impression of those who have been engaged in that investigation is that they have been involved in elucidating the way the physical world actually is. To deny reality to electrons and quarks is to run counter to that experience of discovery.
Yet whatever reality elementary particles have, it is obviously subtler than the robust objectivity that Dr Johnson felt he demonstrated when he kicked the stone.
I believe that in the unpicturable world of quantum mechanics intelligibility is the criterion we have to assign to reality. It is our understanding of the microworld which assures us that we have to deal with something that is real.
If that is correct fundamental physics has a great deal in common with theology, which can be conceived, in Anselm's phrase, as "faith seeking understanding". The theologian is also trying to grapple with the unpicturable. There are also obvious differences between the two disciplines. For one thing, science is much more successful. The question it asks usually get settled to universal satisfaction. All competent to hold an opinion will agree that protons and neutrons are composites and the quarks and gluons are their likely constituents.
That is a revolution I lived through in my professional life and a very exciting and convincing experience it was too. On the other hand the debate continues on even so basic a theological issue as the existence of God.
The reason for that difference is not hard to see. Science derives its power from the experimental method; its ability to manipulate and interrogate the objects of its investigation. There are many other realms of experience, those characterized as personal rather than impersonal, where we do not have that manipulative power.
Above all, God is not to be put to the test. The theological mode in its search for understanding is faith, not experiment, though that does not mean that its insights cannot be corrected in the light of experience.
There ia a wide range of human concern which involves commitment rather than detachment. Between science and religion at opposite ends of a spectrum there lie our experiences of beauty and of moral obligation. Our view of the world must do justice to that richness and complexity. What we as persons know of joy and compassion and worship is quits as fundamental and significant as anything we learn in a laboratory.
Science has many valuable truths to tell but it has achieved its success by restricting itself to a certain type of inquiry. There are other questions, of meaning and purpose, which can also validly be put. If I am to gain an understanding of the World I need the insights of science and religion
John Polkinghorne, FRS The author is curate
ofSt Michael and All Angels,
Bedminster. He is a former
professor of mathematics and
physics at Cambridge.
'God Is Not Threatened by Our Scientific Adventures' A genome researcher explains how he reconciles science with his deep Christian faith.
Interview with Francis Collins
Francis Collins, a medical doctor, is director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and passionate about science. But the self-described Bible-believing Christian is just as passionate about his faith, which he came to after reading C.S. Lewis and seeing how religion sustained his gravely ill patients. Collins recently spoke with Beliefnet about his best-selling book The Language of God.
In your book, you say religion and science can coexist in one person's mind. This has been a struggle for some people, especially in terms of evolution. How do you reconcile evolution and the Bible?
As someone who's had the privilege of leading the human genome project, I've had the opportunity to study our own DNA instruction book at a level of detail that was never really possible before.
It's also now been possible to compare our DNA with that of many other species. The evidence supporting the idea that all living things are descended from a common ancestor is truly overwhelming.
I would not necessarily wish that to be so, as a Bible-believing Christian. But it is so. It does not serve faith well to try to deny that.
But I have no difficulty putting that together with what I believe as a Christian because I believe that God had a plan to create creatures with whom he could have fellowship, in whom he could inspire [the] moral law, in whom he could infuse the soul, and who he would give free will as a gift for us to make decisions about our own behavior, a gift which we oftentimes utilize to do the wrong thing.
I believe God used the mechanism of evolution to achieve that goal. And while that may seem to us who are limited by this axis of time as a very long, drawn-out process, it wasn't long and drawn-out to God. And it wasn't random to God.
[He] had the plan all along of how that would turn out. There was no ambiguity about that.
That's a question that troubles so many Christians who in many ways are very open to science. What would you say to Christians who feel that the randomness or the chaos that evolution can sometimes imply flies in the face of their most cherished beliefs?
I would say that I understand that and I'm sympathetic with how jarring that realization can be. I would say that the stance that some believers take, which is simply to reject evolution, is also to reject the information that God has given us, the ability to understand. I believe God did intend, in giving us intelligence, to give us the opportunity to investigate and appreciate the wonders of His creation. He is not threatened by our scientific adventures.
The answer to that sense of concern about randomness and chaos is to try to think beyond our own human limitations of time and space.
If God is real, and I believe he is, then he is outside of nature. He is, therefore, not limited by the laws of nature in the way that we are. He's not limited by time. In the very moment of that flash in which the universe was created, an unimaginable burst of energy, God also had the plan of how that would coalesce into stars and galaxies, planets, and how life would arrive on a small planet near the outer rim of a spiral galaxy. And ultimately, over hundreds of millions of years, give rise to creatures with intelligence and in whom he could infuse this search for him and this knowledge of good and evil. And all of that happened in his mind in the blink of an eye. While it may seem to that this whole process has the risk of randomness and, therefore, an unpredictable outcome, that was not the case for God.
What is something else you've learned from all your work with DNA that you think reveals something about God or spirituality?
Well, as a scientist who's also a believer, the chance to uncover the incredible intricacies of God's creation is an occasion of worship. To be able to look, for the first time in human history, at all three billion letters of the human DNA--which I think of as God's language--it gives us just a tiny glimpse into the amazing creative power of his mind. Every discovery that we now make in science [is], for me, a chance to worship him in a broader sense, to appreciate just in a small bit the amazing grandeur of his creation. It also helps me appreciate though that as a scientist, there are limits to the kinds of questions that science can answer. And that's where I have to turn to God and seek his answers.
The Limitations of Science
Science will tell me a lot about how things work. It will not tell me why we are all here, what the purpose is in life or what happens after we die. For that, I need my faith. And I'm grateful to be able to draw upon both of those ways of knowing in order to have a full appreciation of the wonderful gift of life that we've been given.
You also touch on some of your fears related to DNA. You talk about the "Gattaca" scenario and designer babies--parents being able to pick and choose what genes they want for their kids. What are your moral concerns?
I do believe that we have been given the gift of the ability to understand aspects of our own mechanical structures and that includes our instruction book. I also argue, of course, that that's not the whole story. The knowledge that we get about human biology and human genetics is neither good nor evil. It's just knowledge. The application that we choose for that knowledge can take on moral character.
In that regard, applications that we develop to prevent or cure terrible diseases are generally things that people embrace. Certainly the mandate of virtually all of the great faiths of the world is to try to alleviate suffering and to try to help those who are sick, give them a chance to get well. And it seems to me the study of DNA of the human genome is a wonderful, unprecedented opportunity in that regard.
But what are the boundaries? Are we comfortable with the idea of going beyond the treatment of disease to try to enhance certain human traits? Part of those discussions are predicated on the kind of science that we don't know how to do. I don't think we will get to the point of being able to dial in the characteristics of future generations because so much of that is determined not by genes, but by upbringing, by free will, by all of those wonderful things about being a human that are not hard-wired into our DNA.
But I do think there are some serious questions there about how far down that path we want to go. None of those opportunities are imminent, but it would be useful for us as a society, and particularly for people who are believers, to come to the table in a rational, thoughtful, non-emotional way and try to decide where are the limits that we want this technology to not go beyond.
It seems in some ways, it's already happening; for example, sometimes when parents learn that their child has Down Syndrome, they terminate the pregnancy. What is your opinion of that sort of scenario?
I'm troubled that the applications of genetics that are currently possible are oftentimes in the prenatal arena. That is not the reason I went into this field.
The reason I went into this field was to figure out how to treat illnesses, rather than try to stop such individuals from even being born. But, of course, in our current society, people are in a circumstance of being able to take advantage of those technologies. And we have decided as a society that that choice needs to be defended.
But ultimately, that's not where genetics is going to take us. We are going to learn from the opportunities now in front of us how to treat people who have cancer, how to cure them in ways that we currently can't do, how to prevent diabetes in somebody who's predisposed so that they don't develop that terrible disease, how we do things to treat mental illnesses in ways that are much more effective than the options we have right now. Those are the real promises of this field, promises that are going to come true over the next decade.
What do you think of the recent prayer study about the efficacy of prayer for medical patients?
I find this to be an interesting but somewhat puzzling area of research--these studies in which people pray for other individuals that they do not know and where the individuals being prayed for are not aware that that is happening are potentially revealing. But, in other ways, they kind of fly in the face of what I think prayer is intended to be all about.
For me, in my Christian belief, prayer is not an opportunity to manipulate God into doing what you want him to. Prayer is an opportunity to have a conversation with God to try to get in tune with what his will is.
The words in the Lord's Prayer are not "my will be done", but "your will be done." And it seems to me that that kind of research is predicated on the assumption that if we just say the right words in a certain circumstance, we can get God to do what we want Him to.
That's not quite consistent, it seems to me, with what I read about in the Bible in terms of the role that prayer has played in the lives of strong believers.
So, the fact that those research studies seem to leave one with ambiguous answers doesn't really provide me much reassurance about whether or not prayer has value. The research studies are designed in a way that assumes a certain value of prayer that's a bit different than what I find to be true in my own life.
Do you have a favorite prayer?
His Favorite Scripture
I don't have a particular prayer that I'm attached to. I have various scriptures that I'm attached to, especially when I'm struggling, looking for answers. One of mine is James 1:5: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."
I'm always feeling like I'm lacking wisdom. This reassurance that one can ask God for that and it will happen is certainly reassuring to me.
Again, I find that happens by getting into a prayerful attitude towards God. I've never heard God speak out loud. That has not been my own experience. But oftentimes, when I'm struggling looking for an answer, looking for a wise approach to a difficult problem, a prayer seems to get me there in a way that's hard to describe. It's not the sort of thing that a nonbeliever can quite grasp. But for those of us who are believers, I think that is what prayer is all about.
The cover of your book looks like a strand of DNA made into a stained-glass window. Is that what it's meant to be?
Absolutely. It was inspired by a pair of images that I often use when I'm talking to groups about science and faith. [The images] compare what you see when you look at the rose window in Westminster Cathedral and what you see when you look at DNA. Imagine that you're looking down the barrel of the double helix. It gives you this beautiful circular pattern which has a remarkable similarity to a circular stained glass window in a church.
What do you wish religious people knew about scientists, and what scientists knew about believers?
Scientists see sometimes a caricature of what belief is about. They draw the conclusion that belief is something that is arrived at purely by emotion. They don't perceive the notion that faith can be a completely rational choice, as it was for me.
Just as scientists sometimes are exposed to caricatures of religious people, I think religious people oftentimes have a view of scientists that is based upon certain extremists. Forty percent of scientists are believers in a personal God to whom one can pray and expect an answer. That's proven by various surveys.
We need all kinds of ways of knowing. We need all kinds of ways of speaking the truth. Science is one way. Faith is another. They are not really about opposite things. They're about different ways of answering the most important questions.
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