Systems science and spirituality, spiritual experience, idealist philosophy,
epistemology, spirituality and cognition, intuition, science and religion,
Science and Spirituality
Relations between Two Modes of Cognition: Rational-Scientific
By Axel Randrup firstname.lastname@example.org
International Center for Interdisciplinary Psychiatric Research, CIRIP
Written 1994 with revisions 2002. Electronic publication only.
Considerable evidence indicates that the human cognitive system comprises
two subsystems, one rational-scientific and the other intuitive-spiritual.
Differences as well as harmonies and interactions between the two subsystems
are described. The advent of systems science has improved the understanding
of the harmonies and interactions. Consideration of cultural differences
is important for understanding spirituality and communicating about it.
Key-words: Spirituality and cognition, systems science and spirituality,
science and religion, spiritual experience, intuition, epistemology, idealist
philosophy, cultural differences.
Twenty years ago I read about an Australian medicine man whose soul
travelled to the center of the earth, where in a bright cave he saw the
two Ungud serpents, the fundamental creative force of life and the earth
(1), and I still remember, how I immediately conceived the reading of this
story as a peak of my scientific career. Not for a moment did it occur to
me that the language and background of the medicine man, so different from
my own, were of any importance for the relevance of his spiritual experience
to my own vision of scientific research: a striving to see (understand)
the most important features of life and nature.
"Spiritual" is not a well defined term, but study of the literature
shows that a number of knowledgeable authors have developed the opinion
that a spiritual essence exists and can be understood cross-culturally (2
- 6). This view with its philosophical ramifications is often called the
"Perennial Philosophy". Other authors, also knowledgeable, believe
that the cultural differences are more fundamental (7), but all seem to
agree that every mystic or spiritual person expresses or has expressed him/herself
in the language and general frame of reference of his/her own culture.
In the sessions of the Spirituality group in the International Society for
the Systems Sciences (ISSS) we have had several valuable inputs from non-Western
cultures (Japanese,Indian, American Indian, Aboriginal Australian etc.),
but for those of us who are rooted in Western scientific culture it seems
that we will obtain our best chance for communicating about spirituality
by expressing ourselves on the background of our familiar scientific attitude.
A better understanding of both simlarities and differences among the cultures
may then become possible.
Here it must be recalled, however, that during its relatively short history
modern science has undergone several fundamental changes, called paradigmatic
shifts in the literature on the philosophy of science (8). I find that the
advent of modern systems science constitutes such a paradigmatic shift,
and one which is important for the communication about spirituality. Thus
a spiritual experience is often said to have a strong feature of unity,
an intuition that everything is connected with everything. This general
idea can also be expressed and understood in systems science, but not so
readily in old fashioned science with its focus on one cause - one effect.
Systems science does not replace or even describe the spiritual experience,
but I think, it can give a correspondence with spirituality in words or
mathematics which is helpful in our attempts to communicate and perhaps
obtain intersubjective agreement.
In the International Society for the Systems Sciences, ISSS some people
have expressed concern about spirituality being discussed in a scientific
society like ISSS, apparently because they think that there may be some
disagreement or even conflict between science and spirituality. In the beginning
this came as a complete surprise to me, as may be understood from the first
paragraph above. Now I understand the reasons for these concerns better.
One reason seems to be that some spiritual people do not live up to the
ideals of science concerning a critical attitude. Lack of critical reflection
is, however, also observed with many non-spiritual people and within science
itself; and conversely, some persons to whom spirituality is important do
practice the level of criticism ideally required by science. From an engineer's
viewpoint it may also be a matter of concern, that spiritual people often
envisage or relie on empowerment coming from spirituality, while engineers
tend to presume that everything is done by rational means and individual
willpower. The engineers viewpoint is, however, not an inevitable consequence
of science; rather the difference of opinion is a problem amenable for further
study, within both science and spirituality.
Considerable evidence indicates that our cognitive system consists of (at
least) two subsystems, one rational-scientific and the other intuitive-spiritual
(9). Since these subsystems work on overlapping data bases, it seems understandable
that sometimes they come up with comparable results as briefly mentioned
above. Only, these results are experienced consciously in widely different
ways. Further, although the two subsystems are working in parallel, they
probably influence each other, because the human person appears to function
as a self-organizing system.This is also brought out by more detailed studies:
intuitive and spiritual ideas can be contemplated rationally and in the
end give rise to rational-scientific conclusions, which may again give rise
to new intuitive ideas (9), so that a progressive development of knowledge
occurs. Indeed, our discussions in the ISSS may be regarded as an example
of this self-organizing interaction in progress.
1. Lommel, Andreas 1969, Fortschritt ins Nichts. Atlantis: Zürich.
See in particular pp. 137, 156-158.
2. Ferrer, Jorge N. 2000, The Perennial Philosophy Revisited. The Journal
of Transpersonal Psychology Vol. 32 (1): 7-30. Many references.
3. Forman, Robert K. C. (ed.) 1997. The Problem of Pure Consciousness. Oxford
University Press: New York. Chapters by Donald Rothberg, Stephen Bernhardt,
and Norman Prigge & Gary Kessler.
4. Randrup, Axel 1998, The Perennial Philosophy. Lecture 42nd Annual Conference
of The International Society for the Systems Sciences, 1998 http://www.isss.org
Publ. on CD rom
ISBN 0-9664183-0-1, eds. Janet K. Allen and Jennifer Wilby. With references.
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, in press 2003.
5. Smith, Huston 1987, Is There a Perennial Philosophy? Journal of the American
Academy of Religion, Vol. 55 (3): 553-566.
6. Underhill, Ruth M. 1965. Red Man's Religion. University of Chicago Press:
Chicago. USA. See particularly p. 94 and chapter 23.
7. Katz, Steven (ed.) 1992, Mysticism and Language. Oxford University Press:
8. Brier, Soeren 1994, Verdensformlen der Blev Vaek. Aalborg Universitetsforlag:
Aalborg, Denmark. Much on paradigmatic shifts.
9. Marchais, P., Grize, J.-B., Randrup, A. 1995, Intuition et psychiatrie.
Annales Médico-Psychologique, Vol.153 (6): 369-384.