Scientific inquiry and spirituality – objective truth or subjective truth
By HENRY KWOK
I have acquired many interests in life to engage in meaningful discussions over a broad range of subjects from nature photography to wine appreciation, from reading to music, and of course from spirituality to faith. I chose to be a jack of all trades and not to be a master of any one. I chose to wear many hats and not a crown. This is because I have learnt that the learning in life is a circle.
In school I was taught the basic skills of the three Rs (as in the letter R) of reading, writing and arithmetic. In college I did business management. In career I ended up being a slave to my business. I have gone from being a generalist to a specialist to a generalist again. My career followed this path. I started life as a management trainee, became a specialist in running my own department and then back to be generalist to run my own company. Ironical but true. I have learnt to look at life from many angles.
I can narrate my learning curve in life as follows: As a baby, I am unaware what is going in the world. I have zero knowledge of the world except to cry for milk. I started my career with a business degree. I had knowledge a yard wide but no more than fraction of an inch deep in experience. When I took charge of a department, I gained knowledge that was a foot wide and an experience about a foot deep. At the peak of my career I believe I have acquired knowledge about a yard wide and experience a yard deep. But I am aware that the knowledge out there is more than a mile wide and a mile deep. I cannot claim to know it all. I do not have a mind that matches Google’s AlphaGo and its computational capability.
In my pursuit to make sense of this world, my constant challenge is to balance objective truth with subjective experience, or rather absolute truth with relative truth.
In school I like the sciences. They provided my inquiring mind with objective answers that are repeatable and verifiable. They provided me the methodologies to find answers with truth. Of course I have to lean on my limited understanding of higher mathematics and quantum mechanics. I struggled but I managed to capture the bear essence of their findings.
As I progress with age, my search for the meaning in life became more intense. It turned out to be a big challenge. The honest search for truth can be an absolute brutal exercise. It hurt to find out what I had believed all my life was a lie! It hurts when I had to confess to those who had borne the brunt of my animated defence of my prior beliefs? I looked like a complete FOOL!
I also began to engage in discussions on spirituality. I soon discoverede I have entered into a world very different from the material world. Finding spiritual truth from subjective experiences is like walking through a field full of landmines! The beliefs can range from a belief on NO god to belief on ONE god to belief on MANY gods and finally to belief that EVERYONE is a god. The beliefs can range from a world and its diversity in fauna and flora being formed by chance collisions of quantum materials to form atoms and subsequently molecules with the finale in the evolution of life to a world and its diversity being created by god and that man was made to the image of god.
Spiritual beliefs are often experientially based. Some make capital mistake to theorising by twisting facts to suit the theory instead of theory to suit facts. They became victims of their beliefs when they believe selective facts that would support their beliefs, instead of questioning the contradictions. Thus I am not surprised by stories of snake oil gurus making it rich by charming innocent and gullible followers to donate their money. Someone standing from outside could see the blatant lies. I have the experience of being told not to question what I am told, just believe!
I am not trying to make judgemental call on the spiritual beliefs. I am trying to present the range of spiritual beliefs. Can all of them be correct when contradictions exist among them? Two wrongs cannot make one right. This is not mathematics where there is this concept that the multiple of two negatives is a positive. I said that I do not have two sons and I do not have 2 daughters but this does not make me a father of four.
So can we surmise that since there was nothing but pockets of energy before materials came into existence, human has to be one with energy because human came from energy and will return to energy? This line of arguments falls into problem of infinite regression where propositions are built upon a series of prior propositions. One has to go back to the first cause. What is the first cause of those pockets of energy to exist? What causes these pockets to have sub-consciousness? What caused this sub-consciousness to roll out the physical laws of nature that we consciously accept today? If so can the very physical laws rolled out contradict the claims by sub-consciousness aficionados? I will refrain from making any judgemental call. I will leave it to the reader to reflect on these questions
Spirituality is a complex issue built on many suppositions – some solid facts; some not so. Some believers are blind to their flaws, others are more discerning. At the end of the day each individual will the one to decide what to believe.
Another perspective is to look at how the heart and mind work differently. The heart follows spirituality, the mind follows rationality. My experience is this – too much spirituality kills the curiosity of the mind. Too much rationality can cause the fire of spirituality. At the end of the day, we can approach these with a reductionist mindset that the two are incompatible and thus we must choose one at the expense of the other. A systems thinker will think of their complimentary relationship and balance the two. When spirituality becomes too overpowering, one needs to reset and look at the reality out there. When we become too secular, then we need to ask what spiritual values have been compromised. The two can check on each other.
My experience with discussions on spirituality is that the exchange can be emotionally charged and acrimonious. It is for this reason I suggest why we should leave our belief in spirituality out of the discussion in topics concerning LTE. Discussion on LTE topics is complex and they can be very opinionated. It can be very divisive already. So why do we want to add another dimension that can potentially add more division? We can discuss social issues and values without calling on spirituality.
I think beyond spirituality and not be restricted by it. I follow what Chinese sages had described in DaoDeJing. The challenge is to interpret the way nature works by not imposing one’s spiritual belief on the physical world. When Chinese talked about Qi in the room, they are not referring to the “spirit” in the room. They are referring to the mood in the room; they are referring to flow of discussions and energising that flow from talk into action. Thus there is a right time to continue and there is a right time to take a break.