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What is the role of science in spirituality, spirituality in science, and the role of both in our world today?

Science is said to be the process of looking outside and observing the world in order to learn more about it, and in doing so, use it to our benefit. Spirituality is said to be process of looking inside, and in doing so, learning more about ourselves individually, and also the essence of who we are as a collective whole. Both play a deep and important role in our lives, each and every day.

(To make an important distinction, spirituality is not the same as religion. Most religions have spiritual characteristics to them, but spirituality and religion are still separate entities. Spirituality is the exploration and discovery of life's truths through one's own exploration of himself or herself. Spirituality is one's connection to the consciousness or energy that lies at their very essence and gives life to a person.)

Yet so far both have been mutually exclusive in study and application. If you look closely, you find that spirituality without a scientific basis is unfounded. Without a scientific methodology, we will be hard pressed to separate experiences that are truly grounded in spirituality and experiences that are simply grounded in someone's conditioning and cultural belief blueprint. Likewise, without a spiritual basis, science can easily become irrelevant. What is the point of observing and learning so much about the outer world if we cannot relate it to our inner experience?

So what is the role of spirituality in science, and science in spirituality. Most importantly, what is the role of both in our daily lives?

  • Dec 19 2011: Spirituality is to Science what dark is to light. Science is everything we know, Spirituality much like darkness is full of unknown. Just like darkness we don’t know much about spirituality only how it makes us feel. One thing is for certain about darkness and spirituality is that as troubling as they both may seem they can potentially lead us into the light.
  • Dec 10 2011: Hi Usha,

    I think what you meant by spirituality in your definition of it, would also be introspection as a psychological process. It was formerly used as a method in science by Wilhelm Wundt in experimental psychology (though not invented by him), and I would say it formed a founding basis for the evolving of scientific methods in cognitive sciences thereafter, though largely unprescribed as the primary method in these fields nowadays. However, i think that a lot of scientific discoveries in our time (and in the future), depends and will continue to depend on introspection and metacognition, since science is about solving insight problems in the first place. The only way that we can move beyond what empirical methods can offer us and to be totally 'out of the box', is to refine our thinking within ourselves first, and then the methods we are using to test these ideas.

    One line of work within psychology that i enjoy is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's work on flow, it's definitely relevant to the topic that's being discussed here. Experiences, though largely subjective, often offer a glimpse into the common points between people across all cultures that could contribute to optimal human performance. I would suggest that spirituality is part of these experiences, and highly necessary for human adaptation in the rapid changing, information reliant world we live in. Neuroscience plays a role here as it seems - if we could find out how our brain wiring changes according to the stimuli we are exposed to the environment, and how this wiring contributes to it's structuring of consciousness within our mind. I'm still a student starting out as a major in psychology, so my knowledge on this will be constricted, sorry about it. Hope to be hearing more from this thread though! :)
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    Dec 10 2011: I don't understand why so many people talk about the need for spirituality.
    We have minds, sure. Could we be otherwise? Could we NOt be spiritual?

    Or perhaps I just need someone to explain what spirituality is, in a sentence.
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    Dec 10 2011: Spirituality deals with the soft unknown truths about life. It accepts that there is an aspect of reality that is inherently unknown and it is up to us to decide that the meaning is to this unknown. Like the question about meaning of life. It is a soft question as each and everyone has to answer it for ourselves. It's our free will to do so.

    Science doesn't see the world like this. It's only interested in hard truths. Unknowns are only aspects the beckons further research and exploration. Science approach the universe in a purely deterministic way. Unknowns only exist because we lack the facts and it is our purpose to move these unknown to the realm of the known.

    In this regard science and religion is the same. Everything can be explained. Either through science or god(s). There are no such thing and random events. They have a cause and effect. If there is no such thing as a totally random, undefined, events then there is no such thing as free will. Something is always driving us to make those decisions. Either our brain chemistry of some divine guidance or fate.

    I agree that religion preaches free will but they then in the same sentence what you should decide on. You don't get to decide what's good and evil. It's been decided for you.
  • Dec 10 2011: I believe that science encompasses your description of spirituality. Through understanding the inner workings of the brain we will be able to pursue "the exploration and discovery of life's truths through one's own exploration of himself or herself" at a much more founded level. The deliberate, intentional, slow thinking part of the brain (better known as 'self') has the most confidence for answers grounded in rationality. In principle, if one were to learn through science the nature of consciousness; how our brains generate a world map, how an object evokes a flurry of semantic associations, how some of those associations reach awareness, what the origin of our emotional responses and behavioral tendencies are, etc., then one would have a sense of self liberated from the easy answers of spiritual thinking.

    Science has the potential to enable a much more confident understanding of ourselves than introspective, existential pondering can. But until neuroscience catches up with our heuristic notions about the nature of ourselves, one may have a greater sense of well-being embracing their 'spirituality'. But science is our best attempt at finding true answers in this universe and once we begin to uncover profound questions that are at the core of spirituality, it'll be difficult to regress.
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      Dec 10 2011: The brain isn't thinking. The brain calculates. That's what we call rational. Thoughts are popping up and mostly because of associations derived from comparing sensory data with memory. More than 99 percent of all brain activity is subconscious and from that activity some information surfaces what we call thoughts.

      The mind is a tool to be able to accuratly respond to the environment in serving the survival of the body.
      Brains are for the most part evolved to run our movements.
      http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/daniel_wolpert_the_real_reason_for_brains.html
      • Dec 10 2011: Okay. Awesome and seemingly sound, random tangent and link. But you seem to be confusing the fact that within the brain is a mind that thinks. So technically the brain thinks. Sorry for bursting the bubble on the (unnecessary?) semantic dispute that didn't even seem to have anything to do with what I was trying to say. Ironically, though, I was referring to consciousness when I mentioned thinking.
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    Dec 10 2011: From the description, I would say that in our spiritual endeavors, science reminds us of the world without---and in our scientific endeavors spirituality reminds us of the world within. And both conspire to generate this intensely rich, deep world we enjoy today.