Science and Gnosticism may seem unlikely allies, because science is commonly believed to be the opposite of Gnosticism. It is assumed that science proposes a Materialist philosophy which teaches that matter is all that exists. But nothing could be further from the truth. None of the great physicists who have shaped our modern scientific understanding of the world – such as Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, De Broglie, Jeans, Planck, Pauli and Eddington – were Materialists. Quite the opposite. They were self-professed mystics or Gnostics.
Scientific research has found that it simply doesn’t work to conceive of the universe as a giant machine made of matter. On the contrary, science has discovered that the best way to understand the universe is as a giant thought arising within awareness. Sir James Jeans, who made important contributions to the dynamical theory of gases, the mathematical theory of electromagnetism, the evolution of gaseous stars, the nature of the nebulae and so on, writes
‘Today there is a wide measure of agreement which, on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality: the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter – not, of course, our individual minds, but the mind in which the atoms out of which our individual minds have grown exist as thoughts.’
Sir Arthur Eddington, who made important contributions to the theoretical physics of stellar systems and was a leading exponent of relativity, announces:
‘The idea of a universal Mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the present state of scientific theory.’
‘I assert that the nature of all reality is spiritual, not material nor a dualism of matter and spirit. The hypothesis that its nature can be, to any degree, material does not enter into my reckoning, because as we now understand matter, the putting together of the adjective “material” and the noun “nature” does not make sense.’
The Nobel Prize winner Erwin Schroedinger, whose work became the heart of modern quantum mechanics, claims:
‘The overall number of minds is just one. I venture to call it indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable namely mind is always now.’
‘We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe that we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture.’
The great scientists reject Materialism because it is a flawed philosophy. It is a soulless vision of an outside with no inside. It just doesn’t make sense. Of course more exists than we can sense and measure. This idea we are considering right now, for instance, has neither weight, nor place, nor any tangible qualities. As Eddington quips
‘If those who hold that there must be a physical basis for everything hold that these mystical views are nonsense, we may ask: What, then is the physical basis of nonsense?’
Science describes the world in terms of mathematics, but numbers have no material existence. Scientific ‘laws’ are formula which, although they inform physical reality, have no physical existence themselves. You can search the physical universe forever, but you will never find a single ‘law of nature’. They are not things within the physical world. They are the information which shapes the physical world.
The scientist Rupert Sheldrake has suggested we stop thinking of science as revealing the ‘laws of nature’, which is an analogy taken from the Christian idea of a creator God who decrees the laws which govern the universe. We should think instead of science as revealing the ‘habits of nature’. When we discover the so-called ‘laws of nature’ which underlie physical reality, we are exploring the primal habits of awareness which define the nature of the life-dream.
Materialists claim that, because matter is all that exists, consciousness is a sort of side effect of the brain. But the fact is, even if someone knows what every neuron in your brain is doing, that won’t give them access to a single one of your thoughts. This is because thoughts don’t exist in the world. They are not things. They are not made of matter. This leaves Materialists with a fundamental duality between mind and matter they can neither explain nor avoid. And this completely undermines their claim that matter is all that exists.
Gnosticism, however, is able to resolve the duality of mind and matter very easily. If we take awareness, rather than matter, as the ground of reality, everything exists as an experience within awareness. Some of our experiences are private thoughts and feelings. Others are sensual experiences of our shared world. There is fundamental polarity here, but like all polarities it is an expression of an underlying unity. Our mental and sensual experiences are qualitatively different, but they are both experiences which exist in awareness. And awareness is only conceptually different from what it is aware of, so this polarity also resolves to an essential unity.
Science is commonly assumed to give us a down-to-earth understanding of the world. But science has actually undermined our common-sense view of reality, and replaced it with an extremely weird and wonderful account of the universe. Common-sense tells us that the things around us, such as this book you are holding, are solid objects. Science has discovered that ‘solid objects’ are actually mostly empty space and mysterious quantum particles. Ideas don’t come much stranger than that!
Scientists and Gnostics both suggest that our common-sense ideas are not adequate and suggest radically different ways of seeing things, which at first seem extraordinarily bizarre. When Galileo suggested that the earth goes around the sun it was ridiculed. Yet, although this idea is more difficult to understand than the notion that the sun goes around the earth, it actually gives us a simpler and more elegant understanding of the cosmos. In the same way, although the Gnostic idea that the world exists in awareness can be difficult to understand and contrary to common-sense, it actually gives us a much simpler and more elegant understanding of reality.
The insights of science harmonize with the insights of Gnosticism. Gnostics say that time and space are a sort of illusion. Science has found this to be true, because if we could move at the speed of light, these fundamental dimensions would cease to exist. Just as Gnostics teach that from the I-perspective of awareness there is oneness and eternity, science has found that from light’s point of view there is no space and no time. Physics has wrestled with the paradox that light sometimes appears to be made up of particles and sometimes to be a wave. This is comparable to the Gnostic observation that from the it-perspective each individual is a discrete ‘particle’ of consciousness, but from the I-perspective individuals are like waves on one ocean of awareness.