Thursday, February 27, 2014

Science, Religion and Magick

A savvy and intelligent occultist and ritual magician would never attempt to rewrite scientific knowledge nor would he or she attempt to prove that religious doctrine is somehow objectively scientific. A wise occultist knows that there are very important boundaries between what science has determined and what religion has determined. Magick, as a practical spiritual discipline, occupies that nether region or undefined domain that lies somewhere in between science and religion. A smart ritual magician wouldn’t make assumptions that oppose scientific thought, such as denying physical evolution or climate change on one hand, nor would he or she deny that religions are based on subjective spiritual truths that can’t be proven or measured, only experienced.

As I have maintained previously in my articles and in my books, science has its domain and religion has yet another domain entirely. Perhaps they might intersect here and there, but they remain exclusive to the objective and subjective worlds in which they occur. Where problems arise is when science denies the possibility of subjective spiritual truths or when religion attempts to make its tenets objective or as absolute truths. Sacred writ is allegorical and based on subjective spiritual truths and science is governed by the scientific method. One perspective cannot over-rule the other, and they should, therefore, live happily side by side. This is especially true when you consider that science has done a pretty good job in defining the objective physical world, and religion has been good (more or less) at defining the subjective spiritual reality. Yet we live in a secular society so that our very freedoms to believe, worship or practice our faith as we choose is not dictated by the government. So, living in a secular nation, using the fruits of technology as driven by science, and choosing to believe and practice our spiritual faith in whatever manner we choose is the foundation for a diverse, harmonious and democratic society. 

Unfortunately, we human beings live in a world of consciousness that intersects all of these realities, and at times, due to the nature of our subjective experience, they can seem to blend or merge into each other, even they are and should remain distinct. While dreams, imagination and intuition play very important roles in both religion and magick (and I might add, even science), they need to be disciplined so that they won’t lead us to make erroneous assumptions about ourselves and the world that we live in. Magick, much more so than religion, can be a great source of personal and subjective misinformation, especially when we take those experiences that we had while undergoing conscious transformation out of the context of our subjective experience. Even if other individuals who were either with us when we underwent this magical experience or who performed the same rite at a different time might make what is experienced by the individual more objective if it is corroborated by a group, it doesn’t make it an objective physical fact that can be tested by the scientific method. This particular issue with the nature of subjectivity represents one of the critical areas where magick can cause delusions or supply us with erroneous assumptions.   

Problems arise when someone takes religious doctrines (or occult tenets) and attempts to understand them as an objective physical reality, or correspondingly when science attempts to explain away or deride the paradoxes and inexplicable events that lie within the subjective experience of the observer. What we get when these domain boundary incursions occur is either pseudo-science, aggressive atheism or religious literalism, all of which are fraught with erroneous assumptions and overly simplistic explanations. As magicians who work with the shadowy fringes between the objective physical world and the subjective spiritual world it is our responsibility to carefully judge and understand the basis ofo both worlds. Simply put, it means that we should not attempt to overly objectify our subjective occult experiences, since in doing so we will open the door to personal delusion and adopt a propensity for mythic thinking. We should also be able to recognize hyperbole when it emerges in the declarations of scientists, religious leaders or particularly other occultists. 

We saw this contrast between world views on display when Bill Nye recently debated physical evolution vs. creationism with Ken Ham, who happens to own and operate the Creationist Museum in Petersburg, KY. To declare that the world is not older than 6,000 years based on the chronology of the Old Testament Bible is to open oneself to ridicule and derision, since there are trees alive today that have been measured as being older than 6,000 years. Even Pat Robertson, who has publically maintained some pretty ridiculous notions rejects “Young Earth Creationism,” saying that it gives secularists and atheists grounds to ridicule and reject Protestant Christian theology. What wasn’t in evidence at the time of this debate was a corresponding agreement in either Catholic or Jewish circles, who seem to have an altogether different perspective for interpreting their sacred literature. I never heard of any Jewish Rabbi or Catholic theologian argue for interpreting the Bible literally, and I think that this is a key point that they seem to understand and that fundamentalist Christians don’t, and these different groups are reading the same texts!

In my opinion, and it would seem that it is an accepted fact in many religious organizations, sacred writ consists of allegories disguised as spiritual truths, but these truths were never meant to contradict or replace the theories as generated from the scientific method. To force these religious truths into direct contradiction of established scientific theories is to foster a kind of pseudo-science that is more mythic than factual. That is how I would classify such hypotheses as Creationism or Intelligent Design. Correspondingly, there has lately been a lot of public buzz about a new hypothesis called Biocentrism that attempts to explain away the possibility of an objective physical world governed by the objective although relative phenomena of space and time. What might not seem obvious to the layperson is that Biocentrism, Creationism and Intelligent Design are all unprovable religious-based doctrines, as we shall see.

When unqualified individuals attempt to re-explain or abrogate scientific theories without any evidence or for that matter, any counter theory, it ends up promoting the worst kind of pseudo-science. This is the crux of the problem facing our post-modern age. We seem to be haunted by the profound absolutist beliefs and propositions of our pre-scientific past and are unable or unwilling to embrace what modern science has been able to aptly prove. While it is true that we don’t have all of the answers and that the scientific community continues to mature and develop its understanding along with the tools they use to demonstrate and prove their scientific hypotheses, there is more than enough of a foundation to be able to determine the boundary between the objective and subject worlds.

I believe that it is important for occultists and ritual magicians to understand this important boundary between the objective and subjective domains of their experiential worlds and to ensure that their beliefs and perspectives are scientifically “neutral.” What occultists and ritual magicians want to avoid is attempting to reinvent the metaphorical wheel when the “wheel” has been so well established and is an integral part of the world that we live in. To attempt such an exercise in futility is to invite ridicule and mockery from those not so aligned to occult and metaphysical truths. Let’s face the reality that someone else’s hypocrisy or hyperbole is quite amusing to us, but it isn’t so amusing when we are the butt of the same kinds of jokes. If we proceed in a manner that respects the accepted theories of science and the also the tenets of religion and occultism, and thereby avoid making unwarranted claims on the objective world, then we will experience our occultism and magical phenomena in a sane and rational manner. What we experience subjectively must be kept within its individual context, but it still should be subject to the scrutiny of peer review. Such a regimen is not only optimal, but it should be pursued in exclusion to other more dubious approaches.

This brings me to the topic of my article, and that is to deliver some ponted opinions about Biocentrism. There’s an old adage that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably isn’t true. This could be an important truism as to why Biocentrism has become popular amongst New Age types but is not accepted by the scientific community. When the biggest name of those either agreeing with or promoting your scientific counter-theory is Depak Chopra, then your hypothesis is already in trouble. I say this without any disrespect to Depak Chopra, whose writings I have found interesting and useful. However, he is hardly the objective judge of a new approach to interpreting Quantum Mechanics, which, by the way, has spawned a lot of hopeful imaginings from occultists and metaphysicians who have grasped onto an overly-simplified version of this discipline in order to explain metaphysical or spiritual phenomena. Still, I digress from the topic. I have read the book “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe” written by Robert Lanza, MD with Bob Berman, and I must admit that it did indeed intrigue me at first.

Biocentrism is a hypothesis that defines the material world as having arisen due to the impact of consciousness acting as the “observer” so that the universe, which was in an indeterminate state of probability, became resolved into a material universe predisposed to supporting life. This is a case of the tail wagging the dog in order to explain what might otherwise be a minor paradox. Thus, Robert Lanza has reversed the basic scientific assumption that living conscious beings evolved out of an essentially lifeless and soul-less material universe. Those who are occult students will immediately see that this is the Mind Before Matter perspective that has been prevalent in occult metaphysics and is a staple of the religious theology of the west.

So, according to Dr. Lanza’s hypothesis, consciousness was the driver for the materialization of the universe. This would mean that this field of consciousness would have had to exist, or perhaps pre-exist, from the very beginning of the universe. It would almost seem that Dr. Lanza is proposing some kind of intelligent design by an unknown conscious entity or by a field of unified consciousness, but he doesn’t quite go that far. Instead, he just doesn’t define what that disembodied consciousness actually is. In fact, he fails altogether to define what consciousness is, and this is a subtle but fatal flaw in his entire hypothesis. At least in the occult metaphysics of the Mind Before Matter theme, the mind that existed prior to the manifestation of the universe is obviously either a Deity or represented by the Neoplatonic definition of the One.

I admit that I was intrigued by Lanza’s speculation since it turns our notions about the nature of the universe and the power of human subjectivity into the reverse of what scientists have been saying since the 19th century. Such a hypothesis, if it were true, would put the subjective mind into the driver’s seat for all material creation, and that would shine a whole new light on such occult practices as magick. After getting excited by this new perspective, I decided that the prudent thing for me to do was to browse the web and read what other scientists thought of his hypothesis. What I found is that the scientific community has flatly rejected what Dr. Lanza has written, and I might add, for some really good reasons.

This debate between the New Age proponents of Biocentrism and the adherents of accepted physical sciences, such as those who are on the cutting edge of Quantum Mechanics, reminded me of the debate about physical evolution between Nye and Ham. While Dr. Lanza does at least understand the science of Quantum Mechanics from the perspective of the layman, he is not an accredited physicist. He is, in fact, a medical researcher/engineer of some renown. However, despite his disdain of New Age fads and beliefs (as stated clearly in his book), Lanza has become something of a darling amongst the New Age populous, and his ideas about Biocentrism are already being mutated to propose concepts and ideas that he never states in his book. You can find a website here that pretty much demonstrates what his backers think and how they are using Quantum Mechanics to bolster all kinds of metaphysical truths. There is even a video on that web page that has captured Lanza’s basic public presentation of Biocentrism, just in case you want to get the gist of his hypothesis without having to read his book.

Unavoidably, the scientific community has also responded to Biocentrism, and I might add, they have more or less excoriated his hypothesis quite completely. It would seem that Dr. Lanza’s popular book has taken some basic Quantum Mechanics experiments and given them an interpretation that they were never intended to support. You can find a good critique of Robert Lanza’s Biocentrism, and also Depak Chopra, in an interesting website managed by Indian scientists (Nimukta) who know all too well the metaphysical sources of this hypothesis. As I have stated previously, the argument about a conscious universe is a staple of the occult Mind Before Matter perspective, and it is a tenet that has not been scientifically proven so far. In fact, the scientific evidence still supports the Matter Before Mind perspective, and I doubt that will change in the future no matter what shape or form science takes. As occultists, we can appreciate the scientific perspective on this issue, and we can also see the spiritual truth associated with the occult and metaphysical perspective. Both represent the greater truths about the universe and the nature of the human spirit, yet one is materially objective and the other is spiritually subjective. 

Some of Dr. Lanza’s seven principles of Biocentrism are very popular and in evidence today amongst those who are engaged in occultism and magick. Lon Milo Duquette has stated that the reality of occultism is all in our minds, it’s just that our minds are a lot bigger than we think. This might presuppose that Mr. Duquette is aware of Dr. Lanza’s hypothesis, but the similarity is rather compelling whatever the truth. However, the fifth principle for Biocentrism is the main argument, and in it you can see an interesting bias appear. That principle is basically stated as, “The universe is fine-tuned for life, which makes perfect sense as life creates the universe, not the other way around. The ‘universe’ is simply the complete spatiotemporal logic of the self.” Lanza’s premise that “life creates the universe, not the other way around” is pretty much taken from the annals of ancient metaphysics and western occultism in general. It is also the underlying theme for most religious cosmogony, and it is the crux of the debate between Creationism and Evolution. We can find it variously promoted in the New Thought religious paradigms of the turn of the 20th century, and it is also evident in the New Age.

Robert Lanza has come up with this startling perspective because he has followed the Quantum Mechanics maxim that it is the power of the observer who determines what is perceived when performing and measuring the results of the behavior of sub-atomic particles. In other words, Dr. Lanza is interpreting this classical QM theory that all matter requires a conscious observer in order to collapse the probability field and determine an outcome. Of course if we take this to its ultimate conclusion, then we would expect the mind to formulate all reality and that physical reality doesn’t really exist. It reminds me of the New Age maxim that we make our own reality, although the opposite is a more powerful but obvious truth - that reality shapes and makes us who we are. The error in this logic is that the physical world does have an objective and verifiable quality despite the fact that how we perceive it is derived from our sense organs.

For instance, light still has objective and measurable qualities that determine the spectrum of colors that we observe, since these are represented by different wave lengths as detected by the nerve cells in our eyes and processed by our brains. (We don’t just make up the colors in our head as an interpreting factor.) This is also true about time and space, while they might be relative, they are still an objective fact. Our minds are indeed powerful, but they are bounded and limited by physical laws that uniformly affect all of us. If this were not true, then our world would be run by mentally projected magical powers and not by technology that is based on physical laws.  

Robert Lanza has made pronouncements that have overly simplified and distorted the actual science of Quantum Mechanics. He disregards the most important question that his hypothesis leaves unanswered, namely, if conscious life shaped the universe then why is the origin of life quite recent compared to the relative age of the universe. Consciousness is localized to living beings with a brain yet somehow it is expanded to encapsulate cultures and languages, thus making it a shared phenomenon. This is part of the mystery of consciousness that has yet to be tackled in a satisfactory manner by scientists. Then there is the question, is consciousness energy, and if so, what kind of energy? While energy itself might be indestructible, the death of the brain causes all body-centered consciousness to cease. Consciousness seems to be beyond and prior to the material brain (according to metaphysicians), but there is no objective truth, so far, that would lead scientists to presume that this is indeed a fact. Dr. Lanza’s hypothesis also says that space and time aren’t objectively real, but in fact they are real, just not absolute. In this, I believe that science has the better explanations, even though there are still some questions not yet answered.

We can see Biocentrism (like other creationist based beliefs) functioning as a typical domain distortion between a religious based philosophy and empirical science, and as such, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Occult philosophy declares the principle that the Mind originated before Matter, and Science has declared the opposite theory, that Matter precipitated Mind. Both perspectives present an element of truth, but the context for either one is completely different. One is a materialistic and objective perspective, and the other is a spiritual and metaphysical perspective. Thus, both are true as long as they retain their appropriate boundaries. It is foolish for occultists to meddle with science and engage in pseudo science, and it’s probably foolish for scientists to attempt to define or debunk spiritual beliefs based on physical laws.

A quote from the website Nirmukta seems to define the nature of the problem of Biocentrism and why it is a seductive but erroneous proposition. According to the latest cutting edge scientific perspective on Quantum Mechanics, the nature of the “observer” has been redefined in a significant way, and there is experimental evidence to back up that hypothesis.

A different resolution to the problem of interfacing the microscopic quantum description of reality with macroscopic classical reality is offered by what has been called ‘quantum Darwinism.’ This formalism does not require the existence of an observer as a witness of what occurs in the universe. Instead, the environment is the witness. A selective witness at that, rather like natural selection in Darwin’s theory of evolution. The environment determines which quantum properties are the fittest to survive (and be observed, for example, by humans). Many copies of the fitter quantum property get created in the entire environment (‘redundancy’). When humans make a measurement, there is a much greater chance that they would all observe and measure the fittest solution of the Schrödinger equation, to the exclusion (or near exclusion) of other possible outcomes of the measurement experiment.”

This new hypothesis in QM pretty much destroy’s Lanza’s hypothesis since the environment itself can be the witness, and also that there are multiple copies of the quantum property and the “fittest” is the one that gets measured. So it would appear that consciousness (i.e., a direct observer) is not required to collapse a probability field into an observable material manifestation. After fully examining what the scientists had to say, I found that the hypothesis that they provided which debunks Biocentrism is far more interesting and compelling. I have always found science to be intriguing and fascinating because it establishes the nature of the objective universe that I live in. I also know that science is limited in what it can study and prove, and I am at peace and comfortable with the ambiguities, the realm of the unknown, the mysteries of mind and spirit as well as the established scientific facts. 

Will science ever be able to define consciousness or determine the nature of the human soul? While the nature of the physical phenomenon of consciousness that is associated with the human brain is something that can be measured and could be experimentally proven, I suspect that the human soul and even the nature of Spirit itself will be far beyond the boundaries of science, at least for the foreseeable future.

Frater Barrabbas