The Spirituality of Science

(Vere, Stein Atle. ©2012. “The Spirituality of Science”. brakha.blogspot.com.)

Tora spirituality - Kabala - refers to the four levels of meaning as Pardes “Paradise”. P-r-d-s is the acronym for: Pshat “plain meaning”, Remez “gesture”, Drush “inquired meaning”, and Sod “mystery”. From bottom up, these levels function as a kind of scientific method.

• Pshat: physical activity, the evidence
• Remez: patterns, analysis and feeling, the investigation
• Drush: paradigm, synthesis of conceptual principles and ideals, the laws and theories
• Sod: transcendence, the centrality of the unknown, the decision to trust (confidence) and to doubt (skepticism).

Here Tora spirituality corresponds well with post-modern epistomology and scientific methodology.

The level of Pshat is the “plain meaning”. The raw data, the sensory experience. This is the physical level that we desire to understand and master. Science engages this level via evidence. It observes this evidence and interacts with it to test its responses.

The level of Remez is the “gesture” of meaning. This is the appearing of patterns within physical activity. Thereby the evidence provokes us to intuit explanations, research for consistency, define verifiable hypotheses, experiment, verify (confirm or disconfirm) the hypotheses, publish these findings, and corroborate, integrate, and systematize those insights that prevail by confirmations.

Most of the steps of the scientific method occur within the spiritual level of Remez. Here scientific method prioritizes logical analysis as well as repeatability of experiments. At the same time, this method tentatively values a “scientific hunch” (proto-science) if experiments are currently difficult to do, as long as the speculation coheres with current research and strives toward the formulation of hypotheses that later experiments can test.

Remez is the level of both logical analysis and emotional feeling. Consider the expression, “Cant see the forest because of the trees.” Logic sees the individual trees. Emotion sees the collective forest. Logic tends to analyze phenomena atomistically as “on” or “off”. Emotion tends to feel phenomena holistically as “clear” or “blurry”. Each method of discernment has strengths and weaknesses. While logical detachment enjoys advantages toward maneuverability and innovation, it can get lost in the details of the central “text” thus become “unrealistic”. Meanwhile emotional attachment enjoys advantages toward integration and standardization, while it also maintains some awareness of the peripheral “context”. Altho these methods of discernment are conflictive, we need both. Science prioritizes rational logic, but it is an error to underestimate the role of emotional feeling.

The level of Drush is the “inquired meaning”, or perhaps more literally the “demanded answer”. This is the level of meaning that we experience as concepts.

The Drush is within thought itself. The understanding. The paradigm. It includes both logical constructs and the emotional ideals. Principles and archetypes. It is our worldview. The world as we can understand it. Generally, whatever evidence we dont understand, we also dont experience, because we simply dont “notice” it. We tend to live in our conceptual worldview, moreso than in our sensations of the physical world.

At this level of meaning, we engage the paradigms that give meaning to our world. Often we take these paradigms for granted as “true”. They are unquestioned often unconscious assumptions. It doesnt even occur to us to doubt them. Our sensorial experiences seem to confirm these paradigms seamlessly. The paradigms often cover over contradictions and “fill in blind spots”. Often what we call “common sense” is paradigms we learned since birth.

Science strives to consciously construct more effective paradigms to enlighten the world that experience. By means of carefully examining our physical world, and consciously defining our paradigms, science achieves more powerful ways for us humans to master our physical world.

Note, while science searches for paradigms at the level of Remez, the paradigms themselves exist at the level of Drush. Drush comprises the “laws” of physical sciences and human sciences - or at least the tentative theories that seem to survive ongoing disputes. It needs to be said, but these paradigms also comprise the emotional ideals. The world of Remez is a bridge between the physical world of Pshat and the conceptual world of Drush. Remez is where scientists wrestle for accuracy and precision, to find an agreement between the physical results of experiments and the conceptual explanations for them. And discuss these results.

The level of Sod is the “mystery”. This is the level where we “know” - in the sense we personally experience - the infinite. Infinity is intimate, such as our openess to new possibilities and our capacity to learn new things. The human brain is infinite in the sense it can go beyond its current finite memory. We experience this infinite as an aspect of our consciousness. Beyond being aware of particular finite sensations or concepts, we are aware of being aware. This aspect of consciousness transcends our ability to describe it adequately, since it is no particular thing to describe. But we can use analogies to refer to it, to “point” to it, and trust our fellow humans who likewise experience the infinite to recognize what our analogies refer to. Ultimately, the infinite capacity achieves a sense of freewill. Choice.

Science is “positivist”, preferring to rely on those concepts that we can demonstrate by means of observable evidence. Science loves the known. It firmly establishes itself within the level of Pshat. Nevertheless, science prioritizes the unknown. It makes an effort to discover new phenomena and to clarify perplexing phenomena. What is known extends into the unknown. Science uses what we do understand to try to make sense of what we dont yet understand. This confidence to reach into the unknown, is where the role of choice comes into play. In this way, science engages the infinite, the level of Sod.

So science has the evidence in the form of physical activities. It has the level of discussion of the patterns and the formulation of experiments to test these patterns. And science has the paradigms that successfully explain these patterns.

These paradigms (Drush) are the models that successfully explain ... the patterns (Remez) ... of the physical activity (Pshat). ... But this method also engages the existentialist level (Sod), when choosing to be confident or skeptical, trusting or doubting either the physical evidence or the conceptual paradigms.

This trust and doubt are “more” than just the evidence and concepts alone. They are the infinite part of ourself choosing how to interact with what the infinite presents to us.

Once paradigms “win” over other paradigms, we experience them as “truth”. They organize our thoughts and emotions. They become the worldview that we take for granted. If a paradigm fails, we experience pain. The dissonance between our paradigm and our senses of the physical world, destabilize the paradigm to the point of collapse. Then the world as we know it falls apart. It feels like an apocalypse. But it is during these times of crisis, while our understandings fail, that we become accutely aware of the infinite that transcends all understanding. To be open to new paradigms, new ways of understanding the world, takes courage. Of course, not all paradigms are equal. Some paradigms are more useful and robust than others.

Science strives to avoid taking its paradigms for granted. It makes an effort to remember these are paradigms. Conceptual constructs and visions. The goal is to be able to welcome new paradigms if they cohere better with the physical evidence. (In this way, science opposes “idolatry”. It will not “worship” a finite concept.) For example, a famous paradigm shift is from the Neutonian paradigm that understands the world as resembling the machinery of a clock, to the Einsteinian paradigm that understands the world as partly resembling waves of energy - where even the flow of time becomes relative. Here the paradigm shift was less painful because it moves from one good explanation to another good explanation whose superiority is only for special situations, such as extreme speed. Even so, the worldview changed. Thus the universe as we know it became different. The openess to learning new worldviews is brave. And it requires trust. Science must trust the infinite, to provide good ways of understanding our world. Science continues the quest for new knowledge because science believes the infinite does provide.

In this sense, science makes the unknown the center of the scientific worldview. It employs what scientific discussions can explain adequately, to begin the process of explaining what currently defies explanation - or perhaps defies discovery. Science trusts the unknown to become helpful. In this way, the scientific community maintains a relationship with the infinite.

Notice the difference between theoretical science and applied science. Theoretical science is bottom up, from the physical evidence to discover new conceptual paradigms. Oppositely applied science is top down, employing the conceptual paradigms to invent new physical tools.

Science engages the infinite (Sod), especially as skepticism about the known and confidence to enter the unknown. The scientific worldview with its principles and ideals (Drush) ... strive to discuss and master (Remez) ... the world of physical activity (Pshat).

Moreover science applies its hard-won power over the physical world ... to do compassionate actions for fellow humans ... in ways that are increasingly wiser (more efficient, more effective, more self-sustaining).

Significantly, science requires a community to make this effort.

Science is a spiritual activity.