Somewhere in the background of this discussion is the whole premise of what it is to be human and what it is ‘to know’. The difficulty in determining this is that we are, in all things, acting in response to the subjective qualia that is a function of the structure of our brain. The closed loop that is our sensory interface and brain system makes it essentially impossible to become a fully reliable observer. Our very measuring instruments are extensions of that system. Nonetheless, we have performed a very neat trick from looking at stars as the lights of heaven showing through rents in the sky to seeing a physical universe that is ‘very big’. And then, wow, to see that universe having foundation in a foam of energy probabilities. We have come to this largely through the ‘genius’ developments of reflection, enquiry, and imagination, but also the necessary tweaking of whatever went before. And then, from the 19th Century – Kapow! – so many extraordinary insights blossomed.
Yet the nature of the closed loop makes it much more difficult to get inside our own black box. The mystic might look at this truth of closed loop and mysterious qualia as a sign of things outside that loop, outside the qualia, outside the measuring instrument, and presume that effort to be able to communicate ‘outside’ will create that connection. The problem with taking that view to its logical conclusion is the delusion that people can talk directly with God. And no doubt for many people, a sense of God, is a vital aspect of their lived experience. Religion actually makes sense of this by presenting the ‘outside’ in some vital story in which the core outcome is to increase cooperativeness among people rather than get trapped in delusion. For me, that story is, that to be human is to be a spiritual embryo that will one day be born into a greater reality, and all my investment here is towards the spiritual nourishment of that babe in the womb. For me, this notion motivates a continual reflection upon my own love and generosity towards kith and kin. It requires another layer, a value system story so that I can be in a work of social integrity. Among other things the value story I have chosen says that all humans are the fruit of one tree, humanity is one. Thus becomes my kith, my love and generosity.
The scientist, though, perhaps more so, the lay person listening to the sound bite from scientists, might move (and have moved) to despair under the existential discomfort caused by an acknowledgement that at some fundamental physical level, the universe doesn’t truly exist, nor we, nor can we truly know anything. The very challenge that the mystical turn presents, allows the scientist and the layperson a clearing into which they can create their own meaning, a purpose to go on with the measuring, the proving, the creating. As one of the Great Educators noted, “by their fruits you will know them”. Here in this one phrase, is a common way forward for the mystic and the scientist, the peacemaker, the developer, and the environmentalist.
We can know that we are only tenuously real, while choosing not to lie down and die because of that insight, even choosing that there is an enormously powerful way to act in the world. On that path, no-one’s lived experience needs come under threat while no-one’s lived experience comes under threat. While anyone’s lived experience comes under threat from any source, as is common about this planet, then we are all retarded in our search for truth. Yet, to the extent that we explore and share our lived experience with each other, whether of an enthralment we feel while in prayer or meditation or the lived imagination of an Einstein zooming like a photon through the universe, we can hope that all boundary conditions can be continually pushed back.