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Duality

 

“I would like 2016 to be the year when people remembered that science is a method of investigation, and NOT a belief system.”

-John Cleese

 

A religion is a belief system, and by that definition, science is frequently also a religion. Yet the more firmly one believes in science, the less scientific one becomes. One defending his scientific beliefs may resort to words like “fact.” Yet, science is a method of inquiry that proposes “theories” to explain and predict observations. A theory may withstand centuries of challenges, experimentation and observations, remaining the best available explanation of a phenomena, and yet be completely false. It may simply be a story, one that makes the best possible sense of a set of observations, but doesn’t actually describe what’s happening. Yet, by scientific standards, it would still be a damned fine theory. Science is honest enough to accept its own limitations. 

 

There are limits to our ability to observe phenomena. There are limits to our thinking. Science is a process by which we get closer and closer to the truth, without ever arriving at it. To be a scientist, an actual scientist, practicing the scientific method, continually and honestly attacking, scrutinizing and challenging even one’s own theories, is to daily practice the most rigorous spiritual disciplines. One of the most essential of which, is non-attachment.

 

“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.” 

― Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize, Physics 

 

Spirituality is not a belief system. Spirituality is a seeking of truth. Subjective, experiential truth, yet truth nonetheless. Truth may or may not ever be amenable to replicable, independent observations. It may be impossible to prove a truth and it frequently is. A truth may contradict observations, and frequently does. Yet a truth remains true, even if only one person knows it to be true. The universe is rife with paradox and contradiction, and yet clearly it exists. Or doesn’t. And we aren’t sure which. 

 

In spite, however of such devotion, what may appear as Truth to one person will often appear as untruth to another person. But that need not worry the seeker. Where there is honest effort, it will be realized that what appear to be different truths are like the countless and apparently different leaves of the same tree. Does not God himself appear to different individuals in different aspects? Yet we know that He is one. 

-Mohandas Gandhi

 

Science is being comfortable with uncertainty. Spirituality is remaining certain in the face of that which makes us uncomfortable. Science is staring into the dark, straining to see what’s there. Spirituality is not blinking when the darkness stares back.

 

"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'"

-J. Robert Oppenheimer, Manhattan Project, on the Trinity Test

 

That an American physicist, at the most pivotal moment of the 20th century, and perhaps in the history of mankind, should be put in mind of this particular passage from Hindu scripture is a moment so rich with meaning, so poignant and telling, that it has since defined the experience of that moment. 

 

Oppenheimer had a curious and diverse intellect and delved as deeply into religion and mystery as he did into physics. Did he want the title “father of the atomic bomb?” Did he want the responsibility? What he wanted was irrelevant. He was prepared by the unique events of his life for this particular duty. He assumed the duty and all it entailed, because he was the right man in the right place at the right time. 

 

Oppenheimer did his duty, neither ignorant of, nor dissociated from, its consequences, but with complete consciousness of all it’s implications, not rising merely to the unprecedented scientific and administrative challenges of the Manhattan Project, but also to the full, and equally unprecedented, spiritual and moral challenges. 

 

In battle, in the forest, at the precipice in the mountains,

On the dark great sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows,

In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,

The good deeds a man has done before defend him.

-Oppenheimer, Two days to Trinity, Quoting from Bhagavad Gita

 

The nature of the universe is duality, opposing forces and the energy created by their separation and opposition. Particles and antiparticles. Fact and Myth. Democrat and Republican. Good and Evil. Science and Religion. Conservative and Liberal. Male and female. Thinking and feeling. Reason and Faith. True and False. 

 

We are conditioned to approach these dualities as choices. Sadly, most of us do most of the time. Yet the space between opposites is like the movement of a piston, creating the energy that feeds, sustains and supports the universe. They are meant to work together. Would you choose between the tire and the air inside it? 

 

Is there a difference between yes and no? 

Is there a difference between good and evil? 

Must I fear what others fear? What nonsense!

-Tao Te Ching, Lao Tse, 20

 

Duality is not an opportunity to choose sides, but to embrace the totality, the paradox. Consciousness is simultaneously holding the light and the dark, without judging one over the other, without dimming the light, or brightening the darkness. 

 

In the diverse, often chaotic, inexplicable and seemingly unrelated events of our lives, we are being uniquely prepared for events we cannot foresee, roles that will be thrust upon us, duties we can not shirk. Rather than reject or regret the events and choices of our past, we can embrace them and allow them to enlarge us. At the end of the day, we may end up with things in our pockets that we do not need. But I feel certain that everything that ends up in our psyche, belongs there. If we have not yet needed it, we will.

 

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