The interplay between spirituality and science has shaped human understanding of the world for centuries. With the rise of science, many mystical experiences and ancient traditions were dismissed as unmeasurable and unreliable. However, in the early 20th century, Quantum Physics emerged, leading to a profound shift in scientific thinking. Today, science is beginning to show that our perspective and consciousness play a fundamental role in shaping our reality, a concept ancient traditions have long understood.
A Shift of Scientific Thinking
German physicist and creator of the term quantum mechanics Max Planck, famously said in an interview with the Observer Newspaper in 1931 “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness”. Plank’s statement is representative of an important shift in the scientific field, that had consumed the first part of the twentieth century. The scientific community became concerned with the larger questions of existence and began to demonstrate something that we already knew, that was integral to our being, yet was not widely accepted by the psychological communities.
Ancient traditions understood the world in a very different way to how we do now. In many areas, such as technology and agriculture, we have advanced massively. Likewise, in many ways our progression in certain areas, such as spirituality, has not. Ken Wilber believes that the emergence of science, or modernity, did for religions and any another ancient woo-woo ideas of the pre-modern world. This is mainly because mystical experiences rely on first person inner experiences, which, for obvious reasons cannot be measured. Science loves objective measurable fact, which is impossible to apply to experiences of consciousness. It’s important to realise that because we were unsure of how to measure something, we labeled everything we couldn’t measure as crap.
Ancient traditions, while difficult to scientifically analyse, gave us a manual for our minds and documented the cosmology of the universe and our place in it. The Vedas, stated that the universe was made of three components, the Gunas. These consist of the tamas, which is matter, Rajas which is energy and Sattva which is consciousness. Prakriti is the potentiality that interweaves all things, it is a changeable force in everything and in nothing. Reality has until recently been viewed as a very fixed and unchanging system, governed by set rules, that we as individuals were also subject to and had no influence on.
“Maybe this world is another planet’s hell” - Aldus Huxley
Everything is the Same: Perrennial Philosophy
Philosopher Aldus Huxley, popularised the term Perennial Philosophy, which believes that all religious and wisdom traditions are underpinned by one metaphysical truth. Huxley claimed that the world and all of its creatures are expressions of the divine reality. With appropriate training humans can come to know this reality and they can recognise their unity with this divine ground. Recognition of this divine ground was man’s highest purpose here on earth.
Central to Perennial Philosophy is the Great Chain of Being. Huxley believed that man’s true nature was that of consciousness itself or as referred to in the ancient texts as Tao, Brahman and God. Examples of such a chain can be witnessed in the levels of consciousness in many of the main traditions. Exploring the comparisons that exist within these traditions could allow us to explore the greatest truth of our reality. This truth has been confirmed by modern science, as we will discuss, and although the Buddhists, Brahmans and many others I’m sure, reached this conclusion experientially and the scientists reached it experimentally, the end result is the same.
Perception and Reality
The idea of reality is heavily based on perspectives. They shape the world that we see and everyone in it. Everyone has a different perspective, or view of the world, which to them is correct. This is the kind of mind blowing part about reality - if that was true for one person, it would be true for all people. This is obviously impossible, because we all hate different people and have a different view of how we think the world should be. Our waking life is our own, shaped by our perspectives. Philosophical concepts have aided our understanding of our realities originating in the mind and not in our external worlds. Protagoras, a Greek Philosopher who lived roughly five hundred years before the brith of Christ, suggests that a group of people could look at an object, say aluminium foil for example. One person would say that this foil is useful for cooking foods, while another would make a hat out of it and wait poised for an extraterrestrial attack. Both, I think you’ll agree, are great uses, but which one is right. The answer, lies in your beliefs.
Protagoras would suggest that the matter contains all of the qualities, but individually we can only experience certain ones, depending on our state. That’s right, one man’s baking soda is another man’s deodorant! This idea of reality suggests that if we can’t understand something, we can’t experience it. So as with confirmation bias, all matter posses the qualities to support our state and perception.
Quantum physics teaches us that things cannot be viewed without their relationship to something else and many ideas of psychology agree that this associative viewpoint is true. Galileo, the sixteenth century astronomer, believed that we were more active participants in reality. Returning to our foil, Galileo, if he was alive in 1903 to witness its invention, would have said that the foil was neither a hat, cooking implement or tanning apparatus, it was just itself and it only has qualities because we say so.
Even Time Is Subjective
The idea that perception can shape our reality is laughable to most. No one wants to think that the reason their life is a miserable mess is because they perceive their life to be a miserable mess. But, I’m afraid my friend, it is. Take for example time, what a crazy idea! We all take it for granted, but it’s not what it seems. Einstein suggested that to truly understand the relativity of the moment we should “put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity”. Anyone holding a side-plank can understand the idea that no matter how slow or fast something appears, it doesn’t affect time itself.
The convergence of scientific discoveries and ancient wisdom brings us to a profound realization: perspective shapes our reality. The shift in scientific thinking, driven by quantum physics, has brought us closer to the understanding that consciousness plays a fundamental role in the creation and experience of our world.