Since the Renaissance and the emergent preeminence of science, the debate between science and religion/spirituality has raged to a stalemate. Understandably, science wants proof of any claims made and religion relies on faith and belief independent of proof. The most conservative corners of the scientific community has taken the extreme view that anything non-physical, including our subjective inner experience, since it cannot be seen or measured, does not really exist or have any “real” bearing on truth.
In the opposing camp, religion often presents fundamentally irrational mythological arguments claiming them to have physical reality at some time in the past, which of course ends the conversation with the scientific mind.
Ways of Knowing. Before the dominance of science with its bias on the physical realm, ancient wisdom traditions from both the east and the west, knew that there were at least three ways of knowing:
- The Eye of Flesh (Empiricism; to verify by observation or experience). This is the stance of modern science. Seeing (or sensing) and independently measuring is believing.
- The Eye of Mind (Rationalism; opinions or actions based on reason and knowledge). We are all familiar with the realm of mind. Tools like language, mathematics, and psychology occupy this realm. Observations made with the scientific method using the eye of flesh depend on the tools of language and mathematics to validate measurements and to communication and confirm independent experiments.
- The Eye of Contemplation (Mysticism; subjective experience existent beyond the mind, attained through contemplation and self-surrender). This is the apprehension of religious or spiritual of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect.
To Know That, Do This
Each of these ways of knowing require specific injunctions. That is, to see, know, or experience something through each of these ways of knowing, I am required to do something specific to gain that knowledge, experience, or understanding.
Here’s a physical example. If I claim that it’s dark outside, the only way you can really know this for sure is to go outside and see it for yourself (injunction for eye of flesh). Or if I claim that my drink tastes like mango juice, the surest way for you to confirm this for yourself is to take a sip (injunction).
Here’s a mind example. If I claim that 321 x 152 = 48792, the only way for you to know this for sure is to work this out yourself using the mental abstraction we call mathematics (injunction for eye of the mind) to prove or disprove this to yourself.
Here’s a spirit example. If I claim that our entire experience is arising from a field of Infinite Love and Divine Grace, the only way for you to know this for sure it to sit and dedicate yourself to some form of meditation practice for perhaps several years (injunction for eye of contemplation).
To distinguish these various ways of knowing and their requisite and unique injunctions, the potential arises to move us from never-ending debate to responsible research. For no amount of data or rational argument will help me experience the taste of mango. I have to taste it myself. No number of MRI brain scans will tell me what you love without having an intimate and heartfelt conversation with you. And finally, no scientific measurements or rational arguments will lead you to experience your connection with the Divine without taking the requisite personal internal journey yourself.
Adapted from: Marriage of Sense and Soul, Ken Wilber, Broadway Books, 1998