To unite science and spirituality would be a wonderful thing — if we could have an approach to spirituality that truly was based in deep understanding, and therefore we can be guided in the best and deepest possible ways of practicing our spirituality, and in understanding about the spiritual worlds. Imagine if instead of a plethora of unconnected gurus each teaching their own things we had united thought where each was developing on the work of the other, and building a more and more cohesive and effective system of understanding and practice of spirituality. Imagine the power and effectiveness of spiritual healing, and other spiritual technologies when dealt with in such a rational, effective way. You can imagine in the same way that we had a flourishing development of the physical quality of life under the development of rationality and the physical sciences we would have a flourishing of the inner life through the development of the inner, subtle sciences.
The difficulty is how can we do this? How is it possible to study in a scientific way such subtle things as spirituality and subtle energies? Although this seems at first glance to be near impossible — how can we even measure such extremely subjective qualities such as states of consciousness, and vital force? With a deeper look we can see that although we need to use very different methodologies, the basic principles of science can still be applied.
The Principles of Science
Science is (mistakenly) often seen as at its core about laboratory equipment and experiments, but this is only one way of doing science — a part of the field. Science is the careful pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and it at its heart consists of a few simple steps that people have been doing for thousands if not millions of years.
The first step is observation — we see things happening in the world for example we notice that things fall down to the earth. If i drop a rock or an apple or a feather it falls down. These are observations. The more observations I make that get similar results the more it seems to tell me something, and that leads me to the second step — Hypothesis — hypothesis is the development of theories, of ideas about why things do what they do. What is the invisible action behind what we can observe. For example — why do things fall down? Is it because there is a love affair between the apple and the earth? Is it because there are invisible rays pulling things together? Is it because there are a whole lot of little fairy like creatures whose job it is to make sure the apple doesn’t fly away? You can come up with all kinds of theories, and we should and do come up with a great variety of theories some of them reasonable, some of them seem kind of crazy, but at this point in the process we really have no way of knowing which theory to listen to, which one to believe in.
The next step is experiment — can we design experiments that test our theories? Can we design ways of looking carefully at these theories and seeing how likely they are to be correct. It is worth noting here that the focus in testing theories is not on proving them true, but on proving them false. It is very difficult to prove anything to be true. Edward de Bono says “Truth is only a lack of imagination”. It is not really possible to even prove the existence of the tree outside your window, that everyone considers absolute fact, so what we look for is edges that can be tested — areas where there is the possibility to show a theory to be invalid, or to reinforce the theory by giving yet another example that seems to fit the theory.
It is worth noting here a few points about our choice of theory to explore. Firstly we try to choose the theory that most simply explains all the observable facts in the simplest possible way. A theory that says that apples fall down for a different reason to feathers is awkward and complicated to one that simply says all things fall down due to one key principle — gravity. And this is at its essence why gravity is an accepted fact in the modern world. We also try to choose theories that we have some ability to test. The theory that things fall down because God tells them to has great explaining power, but as it is so difficult to test, that theory is generally left aside as not within scientific thinking. This is not to say that science says it is wrong, just that it we do not and cannot know at this point. There is always the possibility that our methods and understanding will develop and we will be able to come to a point of being able to consider this theory. So we are left with some theories that seem most likely and most productive to explore. We explore these and gradually narrow down our options until we are reasonably sure of one theory or other. After observation, hypothesis and experiment we repeat the process with more observations, more hypotheses and more experiments and move forward one step at a time in our clarity and certainty.
Spiritual Science Methodology
Now this basic approach is the universal approach of all science whether physics, or chemistry, psychology or sociology, but you can see that the methods differ extremely between the “hard” sciences like physics and the “soft” sciences like Sociology. Spiritual science is even more subtle and “soft” than the so called “soft sciences”, and so it requires even subtler methods of enquiry. The main differences lie in the different types of measurement that are possible. A physicist may be able to measure the velocity of a particle with their advanced equipment. A psychologist may be able to observe patterns in people’s experience through controlled situations (often involving rats!), or questionnaires. The subtle spiritual sciences require us to observe our own inner experience and how that is affected by different stimuli, and to compare that with other people’s experiences. A possible objection here is that our inner experience is subjective and that this means it cannot be studied — now of course it is much more difficult to make measurements in a subjective study than in an objective study, but this doesn’t mean it cannot be done. Let us explore a few of the methods that have been used, are being used and could be used in the future to study these subjective, spiritual experiences.
Homeopathy, despite its reputation as a “pseudo-science” very strictly follows this basic scientific approach, and though they have little understanding of the mechanisms behind the effects of the remedies, they have a very simple scientific methodology that can be applied not just in the field of homeopathics, but can also be extended to explore other spiritual and subtle energy technologies including spiritual practices, meditations and other healing methods. Truly with some of these it may be difficult to apply the “double blind” methodology, and yet still some observations can be made.
The way a homeopathic proving is done is that a homeopathic remedy is prepared from a particular substance and then put into a series of bottles labeled with code numbers. There are also a series of bottles with plain water — placebos as a control to be able to see the difference between the placebo effect and the homeopathic remedy. (For those who claim that homeopathy is just the placebo effect, this does not explain the differences noted between the remedies and the controls.) The person who has prepared the bottles then provides them to a homeopath who will supervise the trial, and they take no further part in the trial. Those involved in the trial have no way of knowing which bottles contain placebos, which contain the remedy, and they also do not even know what remedy they are testing.
A group of people then each take a dose of the remedy and observe the results in themselves. First they observe their current state of being, any emotional or physical issues, and then after taking the remedy observe any changes. This observation is done in great depth and for some time to try to get as much information as possible. At the end of the trial it is revealed which bottles contained placebo and the different experiences are tabulated. Any experiences that are common to the placebo and the remedy are discarded as not relevant, and experiences that are common to those taking only the remedy are treated as important results that demonstrate the effect of the remedy.
It is nice to be able to do such a sofisticated double blind test, but sometimes we do not have the time or resources to do such a test, or it is difficult to create a protocol for the particular thing you are studying. For example it would be very interesting to observe the results of practicing a particular meditation with a particular mantra, but it is hard to imagine doing this experiment without people knowing which mantra they are using. It is still worth doing the experiment, there are still observations that can be made. Only it must be remembered to put the observations in context. When an experiment has been done with a large number of people in a double blind test, the results are much more certain than a test with only a few people and they were aware of exactly what they are testing. Every observation is valid — it is important to observe and use all information available to us even if it is not entirely clear or certain — all the more in a field such as spiritual science where we are plagued with a lack of clear data.
Observing the effects on ourselves is one of the most important and core practices of spiritual science, and it can and should be done by anyone who is interested in spirituality even if it is just for exploring and finding their own spiritual path and what works for them, and it is also the method that all the great spiritual masters have used to create effective spiritual practices. Any meditation practice you have learnt, or any yoga exercise, qigong, etc. was most likely developed in this way by someone observing the effect on themselves and developing methods that therefore are good for others. When buddha sat under the bodhi tree he observed himself and observed the result of his practices on himself. He then taught others based on that experience. The same with most spiritual teachers that you have heard of — at essence these spiritual masters are spiritual scientists exploring the power of their practices on consciousness. The only thing lacking from a true expression of spiritual science is the collaboration and discussion between them.
When people do practice and develop theselves spiritually they often develop some kind of intuitive abilities. Some learn to perceive energies as colours and auras, some learn to feel and become very empathic, some learn to hear messages from angels and spirits, some simply have a sense of direct knowledge. All of these though difficult to test and prove are valid observations. In the same way that seeing something with our own eyes is an observation, experiencing it intuitively is as well, and this observation needs to be taken very seriously. One should not immediately jump to the conclusion that this is absolute truth — it should be retested and checked by others, but the more one develops this ability the more reliable it is, and hence spiritual masters are able to say with some certainty a lot about the subtle worlds that the rest of us are completely unaware of. This becomes another way to observe and therefore another way to do spiritual science. The masters may begin by observing themselves, but often they can also observe the results of different exercises in the people they work with, and can be even more certain, not only of the effect on themselves, but also of the effect on others.
Kinesiology is another method that has been developed to create more detailed, systematic observations of oneself. The idea is that the muscles of the body engage and become stronger as do something that empowers and is beneficial for our energy body. This includes telling truths, and substances and practices that are good for us, allowing us to tell what is true for us, and what is good for us. For many this is a more accessible way to begin to do spiritual science experiments, and also it gives data in a way that is easier to compare and record, so it is very valuable in the spiritual science method. Kinesiologists have already developed a lot of understandings about the workings of the human energy system that are testable and repeatable. One very interesting development of kinesiology is the Hawkins scale of consciousness which allows us to put a numerical figure on the level of upliftment that a person, or object, or practice has or creates. This can give some very clear results in exploring spirituality and subtle energies and our inner worlds.
All of these methods have their difficulties, and each of them take some skill to apply well. Observation takes practice, and the more we do it the more we notice, and the more information we are able to gain, and all of the different techniques of observation depend on our skill of observation — of observing ourselves and our own experiences, of observing others, of observing our subtle intuitive feelings, and all of this develops over time as we practice. Science takes training and experience. I love physics but I could not understand the mathematics and concepts of modern cutting edge research into physics with a lot of education and training, in the same way spiritual science takes training and practice and develops over time. This is a development that any of us interested in the field can do as we learn and practice, and it is also a development that the whole field will take over the coming years. We need to study the methods of spiritual science itself and how to teach and create effective ways of understanding the world. It is exciting to be at this early stage in the development of such an important endeavour that could have such a positive influence in the future of society. I do my best to my little bit of spiritual science research myself, and to encourage others to develop the field, and I look forward to seeing the development of the field over my lifetime. Already in the last 47 years of my life i have seen great leaps and bounds in the field moving from something barely even acknowledged to now a well known (if controversial) part of modern society. Let’s see what happens next.