The debate around cognitive neuroscience and mysticism was bound to become ever more interesting by the day as more and more scientists and mystics alike become aware of the opportunities each side presents. Not until relatively recently did these two seemingly opposite modes of being meet, however nowadays even parts of the general public are aware of the regular official discussions between scientists and Buddhists (mainly promoted by the Dalai Lama) as outlined by Evan Thompson and initiated by Francesco Varela.
This discussion can off course due to the depths of the fields involved run for very long, what I wish to focus on for this forum is the need for an integral non-dual approach for the mystics and scientists of the present and future. It is not that mysticism should be viewed as a partner to neuroscience or the other way around, it is more that each mode of being, that of the mystic and that of the scientist, are in and of themselves important structures and features of the development of consciousness in human form and should be each practiced and cherished to their own accord. Off course, what “to their own accord” means is a complex issue, as a reference Ken Wilber provides a detailed model of the potential of each approach in his book “The Religion of Tomorrow”.
Mystics should learn more about the intersubjective and interobjective gross realm (the world of matter, laws of physics, technology and so on) in order to reach more of the world out there with their illuminating insights and literally become one with more or even everything. Inspired by Wilber, D.P. Brown and others, I am of the belief that it is not enough nowadays to just have inner knowledge without intersubjectively and interobjectively engaging and understanding the “world out there”.
Likewise, neuroscientists should themselves be, to a given extent, mystics and practice inner transformation for otherwise they would not know themselves subjectively, something crucial in my mind and from the point of view of the world’s great contemplative traditions. If you separate ontology from epistemology, if the neuroscientist separates his research and understanding of himself, the only thing that can come out in the end is a fractured product, with something essential missing. What is needed is, in Jorge Ferrer’s words, a “participatory vision”.
Let us not forget that the injunctive ritual and approach that makes up the mystic’s lifestyle and existence is not something we should do in order to become more relaxed, better at whatever else we are doing etc.; it is in essence a soteriological pursuit, a quest for liberation and discovery, in and of itself more than worthy of standing alone.
In conclusion, it is my belief that we can have an even richer world if the two meet, but not in the sense of cherry picking what fits our own understanding of each but actually for us to understand each side and embody its core principles. This would off course ultimately also re-invigorate a ‘science of the sacred’ as the scientists would be once again in direct experiential contact with the sacred and the sacred will embrace the structure of science.
Wilber Ken, The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions, 2017 Shambala Publications
Wilber Ken, Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists, 2001, Shambala
Daniel P Brown, “Sacred Sundays Talk”, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0swudgvmBbk&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR27Ke8y4uOM29jXaaXvYqZQ6GJPAF-3skzpUevLb-h7NekbTHoiLuWe3LU
Evan Thompson, Waking, Dreaming, Being, Columbia University Press, 2014
Jorge Ferrer, Jacob Sherman, The participatory turn: spirituality, mysticism, religious studies, State University of New York Press, 2008