Consciousness: The Bridge Between Science and Religion
Science and religion often seem poles apart – and in many ways they are. But I believe the two can, and will eventually be, united; and their meeting point will be human consciousness.
That we are conscious beings is the most obvious fact of our existence. Indeed, all we ever know are the thoughts, images, and feelings arising in our consciousness. Yet as far as Western science is concerned, there is nothing more difficult to explain. Why should the complex processing of information in the brain lead to an inner personal experience? Why doesn’t it all go on in the dark, without any awareness? Why do we have any inner life at all?
This paradox-the undeniable existence of human consciousness set against the absence of any satisfactory scientific account for it-suggests there may be something amiss with the current scientific worldview. Most scientists assume that consciousness emerges in some way or other from insentient matter. But if this assumption is getting us nowhere, perhaps we should consider an alternative worldview-one found in many metaphysical and spiritual traditions. There, consciousness is held to be an essential component of the cosmos, as fundamental as space, time and matter.
Interestingly, expanding the scientific model to include consciousness in this way does not threaten any of the conclusions of modern science. Mathematics remains the same, as do physics, biology, chemistry, and all our other discoveries about the material world. What changes is our understanding of ourselves. If consciousness is indeed fundamental, then the teachings of the great sages and mystics begin to make new sense.
Those who have penetrated to the core of their minds have frequently discovered a profound connection with the ground of all being. The sense of being an individual self-that feeling of I-ness that we all know so well but find so hard to define-turns out to be not so unique after all. The light of consciousness that shines in me, is the same light that shines in you-the same light shining through a myriad of minds.
Some have expressed this inner union in the statement “I am God.” To traditional religion, this rings of blasphemy. How can any lowly human being claim that he or she is God, the almighty, supreme, being? To modern science, such statements are nothing more than self-delusion. Physicists have looked out into deep space to the edges of the universe, back into “deep time” to the beginning of creation, and down into “deep structure” to the fundamental constituents of matter. In each case they find no evidence for God; nor any need for God. The Universe seems to work perfectly well without any divine assistance.
But when mystics speak of the divine, they are not speaking of some supernatural, supreme being who rules the workings of the universe; they are talking of the world within. If we want to find God, we need to look into the realm of “deep mind”-a realm that science has yet to explore.
When it does, it may find it has embarked upon a course that will ultimately lead it to embrace spirit and-dare we say it-God. To the scientific establishment, rooted in a material worldview, this is anathema. But so was the notion of the solar system four centuries ago.
By Peter J Russel