The synergy of science and spirituality
As we embrace 2022 as the year of Wholistic Wellbeing, one thing I’d like my readers to consider is the subject of synergy: when two or more agents meet and the result of their association is greater than the sum of their parts. Concretely speaking, this can occur from mixing two ingredients together in a recipe; but it can also occur in more abstract ways, such as when two friends grow into lovers and their separate lives become one, greater, shared whole. I want to consider synergy because, in a way, it underpins Wholistic Wellbeing. Indeed, Wholistic Wellbeing is the product of synergy; of the sum of all eight pillars which gives us something much greater than a mere patchwork.
Today, I want to consider the synergy between science and spirituality, which has become more apparent on a global scale over the course of my lifetime. This development is particularly interesting for me to witness as an Indian man on American soil; whereas science and spirituality have been traditionally opposed in the Western world, this is not the case in my homeland, where the two have always gone hand in hand. Yoga is a particularly poignant example of the synergy that has existed between science and spirituality for millennia in certain parts of the world, but that the West has only just begun to explore, with the uptake of yoga practice in the U.S. and Europe reflecting a growing interest in the possibilities of this synergy.
This development also interests me because I am both a trained scientist and a Sikh. However, unlike some of my Christian friends, I have never felt the need to reconcile my religious beliefs with my scientific principles: I don’t feel forced to choose between Darwin and the Bible, between evolution and divine creation, for example. My Spiritual Wellbeing and scientific mind are simply two different facets of my being, coexisting happily and providing different benefits at different times. I appreciate my Sikh heritage as I do my scientific training (first as an engineer, then as a computer scientist): on their own terms.
So although I have never had to manifest it for myself, this sentiment of reconciliation between science and spirituality is one that I welcome when I observe it on a cultural scale. In a world so often torn apart by division, greed and partisanship, the increasingly global dialogue between science and spirituality is comforting to me.
How did this dialogue begin? It can be broadly traced back to the early 1900s, when the emerging scientific field of quantum mechanics first acknowledged the issue of falsifiability, best summarized in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which posits that there is inherent uncertainty in the act of measuring a variable of a particle. The old style of strict, scientific rationalism, introduced by Descartes in the 17th century, where science and rationalism were seen as 100% objective, became increasingly questioned by the leading scientific minds. Their explorations into the often bizarre and unpredictable quantum world have led them to reexamine their long-held assumptions about how the world works. In this spirit of reevaluation, which fosters humility and understanding, science and religion were drawn closer together, in synergy.
Where once there were only arguments, disagreements, and occasional accusations of heresy, now there are constructive dialogues. An example I find particularly inspiring is those between the American-British physicist David Bohm, and the Indian guru Krishnamurti. The two men view dialogue as “a free flow of meaning between people in communication, in the sense of a stream that flows between banks” (The Ending of Time, 1985): an exchange that is open, democratic, and tolerant of every speaker in the circle of debate. It is this principle of openness — this pursuit of a free-thinking conversation on existential meaning — that has allowed science and spirituality to touch hearts and minds together.
This synergy suggests that we are moving toward a kinder, more tolerant, and more compassionate world, that is welcoming and accommodating of different perspectives and lifestyles. It accepts that no belief is “right” or superior over another, while also encouraging further dialogue and research, thus nourishing the quest for existential fulfilment. This intellectual revolution is not just a rarified debate, but has immediate, real-world ramifications, particularly for issues like cultural diversity.
We are reaching a stage in human history where the development of our own wellbeing, so often dismissed in the mainstream media as ‘woolly’ or ‘New Age’, not only involves spiritual development, but can also be rationally supported by science as a step forward; a way to live together in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world. By developing yourself through Wholistic Wellbeing, you are engaging with this exciting new world. Embrace the synergy of science and spirituality for your own Wholistic Wellbeing.