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"Science Without Bounds" - Towards an Exact Science
This is 15EXACT.TXT, chapter of
Science Without Bounds
A Synthesis of Science, Religion and Mysticism
The author invites comments and criticism,
and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Science Without Bounds" is copyrighted by Arthur J. D'Adamo and
may be freely redistributed.
- Towards An Exact Science -
Teachers and Guides
Those who have united with the Eternal Substance have transcended
the play of Maya. Since they're indifferent to pleasure and pain
and aloof from the concerns of practical people, such people may
seem foolish. Yet since they're obviously God-centered they're
called "God's fools" or even "God-men" or "God-women." Eckhart
That person who has renounced all visible creatures and
in whom God performs His will completely - that person
is both God and man. His body is so completely
penetrated with Divine light . . . that he can properly
be called a Divine man. For this reason, my children,
be kind to these men, for they are strangers and aliens
in the world. (,223).
Such people are consciously united with the Ultimate. Could they
help others to union? Eckhart continues:
Those who wish to come to God have only to model their
lives after these men. . . . Those who are on the way
to the same God and have not yet arrived will do well
to become acquainted with these people who have
Of course, every seeker doesn't need so advanced a guide. Those
just beginning can obtain help and advice from more advanced
seekers, or from books. But with all the traps and pitfalls along
the path, it's not surprising an evolved teacher, a spiritual
director and advisor, is often recommended.
If a man is unlikely to take an unexplored path without
a true guide; if no one will risk going to sea without
a skilful navigator; if no man will undertake to learn
a science or an art without an experienced teacher, who
will dare attempt . . . to enter the mysterious path
leading to God, and venture to sail the boundless
mental sea . . . without a guide, a navigator and a
true and experienced teacher? (,159).
The Hesychast tradition advises a seeker to find a teacher and
guide who is
. . . a man bearing the Spirit within him, leading a
life corresponding to his words, lofty in vision of
mind, humble in thought of himself, of good disposition
. . . (,174).
Having found such a guide, the seeker is advised to offer
(,174) "total and unquestioning obedience."
The dangers of such obedience are probably obvious. What if the
teacher is misled or corrupt? Wouldn't such obedience and
adulation be liable to corrupt even a worthy teacher? Would
disciples find themselves working to advance the fortunes and
fame of the teacher rather than their own journey toward gnosis?
Someone whose object is gnosis may avoid dangers and progress
faster if they obtain the guidance of a teacher who is genuine,
sane, and more advanced - but how can genuineness, sanity, and
progress be accurately judged? How can a teacher and guide be
identified? What qualities should a teacher have? How can
charlatans and fakes be avoided? This chapter discusses these
Physical Effects of Gnosis
Just as closeness to a fire may cause a physical object to
change, to melt, for example, first-hand experience of God can
have powerful effects upon the body.
The spiritual moods arising out of intense love of God
. . . cause extraordinary physical changes.
The phenomena of heat, for example, is mentioned in the
Christian medieval The Scale Of Perfection.
Not all those who speak of the fire of love understand
properly what it is. . . . [T]he presence of this fire
in the soul may produce bodily heat . . . (,38).
A footnote reads "That a feeling of bodily heat accompanies
certain mystical experiences is well known." For example,
Schimmel (,170) recounts Islamic and Hindu analogues. It
seems it's possible to control this heat which Tibetan Buddhist
call tumo. Tibetan monks sometimes compete to see whose tumo can
dry the most freezing wet blankets.
Sometimes drops of blood, like perspiration, come from the
mystic as they did (,151) from Ramakrishna, and from Jesus
before the passion. Also, Ramakrishna's
. . . chest appeared constantly reddish and the eyes
became sometimes suddenly full of tears. (,142),
a phenomena, perhaps, akin to the "gift of tears," a spiritual
gift considered important by Symeon (213],30-1) and others
Eastern Christian saints.
Yet another physical sign is the stigmata, those wounds of
Christ evidenced by Saint Francis and, more recently, Therese
Neumann and Padre Pio. Therese had the wounds for 11 years, yet
they never (,33,233) became inflamed or infected.
Therese Neumann was born in 1898 in Germany. Like Terese of
Avila, she is also said (,59) to have levitated, and to have
been simultaneously present to different people in different,
widely separated, places. The most substantiated claim, however,
is that for decades she lived with no drink or food except a
daily Communion wafer, a very thin piece of bread, 2 to 3 cm in
diameter. Theresa first began eating and drinking less and less.
[f]rom Christmas of 1926 she finally refused to take
any further nourishment at all. She took only Holy
Communion, every day . . . (,27)
and a little water. She continued until September 1927 when she
gave up water, too.
From this time until the end of her life, a period of
35 years, Therese Neumann lived without taking any food
and any drink: daily Communion was her only
In 1927, Therese underwent medical observation. Experts decided
no one could live for more than 11 days without food and water.
She was closely observed (,29,228-230) for 15 days by four
nurses who took turns watching her, two at a time. The doctor and
In the period from July 14 to 28, 1927, Therese Neumann
took no natural nourishment at all, either liquid or
solid. . . . Her weight at the end of the examination .
. . was the same as at the beginning . . . Neither
during the period of examination, nor at its end, did
any special states of exhaustion make their appearance.
Therese's case at the time was well known, so much so that when
Germany entered the Second World War and started food rationing,
the government decided not to issue (,30) her any ration
On what then did she survive? One author writes (,29) she
replied "On our Savior," referring to her daily Communion wafer
which she believed the actually body of Christ. Another author,
Paramahansa Yogananda, writes (,422) she told him she lived
by "God's light."
Paramahansa Yogananda was himself a mystic. He was born in
India but lived much of the later part of his life in California.
After his death in 1952, a Los Angeles funeral director claimed
his body remained unspoiled even after 21 days. No drying or
decay of tissues was noticed; no mold grew on the skin; no odor
was detected. He wrote (,575) "the case of Paramahansa
Yogananda is unique in our experience."
But it's hardly unique in the literature of mysticism. Physical
effects are common. In fact, Underhill writes that great Western
. . . though almost always persons of robust
intelligence and marked practical or intellectual
ability . . . have often suffered from bad physical
health. More, their mystical activities have generally
reacted upon their bodies in a definite and special
way; producing in several cases a particular kind of
illness and of physical disability . . . (,59).
She attributes such signs to
. . . the immense strain which exalted spirit puts upon
a body which is adapted to a very different form of
Indeed, some indication of mystical experience's strain on the
body is that gnosis often renders the mystic temporarily
unconscious of the exterior world. Symeon, for example, describes
a mystic to whom
. . . a flood of divine radiance appeared from above
and filled all the room. As this happened the young man
lost all awareness . . . and . . . saw nothing but
light all around him . . . [H]e was wholly in the
presence of immaterial light and seemed to himself to
have turned into light. Oblivious of all the world he
was filled with tears and with ineffable joy and
If the experience is strong enough, the mystic may lose contact
with their body as well as the exterior world.
. . . [H]is life force is withdrawn from the body,
which appears "dead," or motionless and rigid.
Such "unconsciousness" occurred, for example, in the case of
Ramakrishna, and of Teresa whose
. . . ecstatic seizures . . . left the nun seemingly
dead to the world . . . (,61).
. . . pulse would almost stop beating, her eyes remain
closed or open yet unseeing. . . . Whilst the body
remains in this trancelike state, the limbs rigid and
impervious to sensation and the pulse scarcely
perceptible, the soul seems 'raised above itself and
all earthly things'. (,65).
Sometimes, the mystic's body eventually adapts to mystical
experience. Then the mystic
. . . communes with God without bodily fixation; and in
his ordinary waking consciousness, even in the midst of
exacting worldly duties. (,278).
During Teresa's last seven years, for instance, (,66)
trances were rare.
Sometimes, however, the body doesn't adapt; some mystics can't
bear the strain.
When the powerful flood of divine moods comes on human
life unexpectedly, it cannot be suppressed or concealed
by thousands of efforts. . . . [T]he gross, inert body
very often fails to contain that powerful onrush of
divine emotion into the mind and is completely
shattered. Many sadhakas met with death that way. A fit
body is necessary to contain the abounding surge of
emotions born of perfect knowledge or perfect devotion.
(A "sadhaka" is a spiritual seeker.)
Since it can be so stressful to the body, it's perhaps
fortunate that mystical experience is often
. . . a brief act. The greatest of the contemplatives
have been unable to sustain the brilliance of this
awful vision for more that a little while. (,331).
However, a sudden achievement of permanent consciousness of union
with the Infinite (refer, for example, ,10-11) is not
"Awful," by the way, is doubly applicable: as we've seen, to
those who are not sufficiently prepared, vision of the Eternal
may be terrible and painful; to those sufficiently prepared, on
the other hand, such vision is full of awe. Indeed, some mystics
regard such vision as
. . . a foretaste of the Beatific Vision: an entrance
here and now into that absolute life within the Divine
Being, which shall be lived by all perfect spirits when
they have cast off the limitations of the flesh and re-entered
the eternal order for which they were made.
The Significance of Signs
Ramakrishna's heart and breath, it's said, stopped during his
unitive experience. Did it? Teresa of Avila and others claimed
(,63) she floated above the ground? Did she? Did Therese
actually live without food? Did Yogananda's body actually resist
Are the physical phenomena - cessation of heart and breath,
living without food, levitation, precognition, healing powers,
etc. - which sometimes accompany mystical experience really
possible? Some people answer "yes, they are possible" with great
conviction, or "they are certainly not possible" with firm
certitude. Yet they answer out of faith, not knowledge. Science
has a better way: it impartially investigates such claims and
rejects the phony. And, if any prove genuine, then science makes
room for them and adjusts its theories until they better describe
reality. Otherwise it's not science but just another variety of
ungrounded belief. My belief happens to be that some of the
phenomena we've discussed are possible, even if they're
unexplainable to science today.
But another, more important question is this: are such
phenomena significant? Are they important? Religious literature
often describes the unusual phenomena which may accompany
mysticism as valueless in themselves, and warns against seeking
the "miraculous" for its own sake. A story I once heard
Two monks were traveling and came to a river. One paid a dollar
and was ferried across. The other proudly walked across the
river. When they rejoined on the other side, one asked the other
how long he'd practiced to walk on water. Ten years, was the
answer. So, said the first monk, your ten years of practice have
just returned a dollar. A poor return!
In Christianity, St. Paul also points to the worthlessness of
abnormal phenomena as a substitute for true love of God.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,
and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or
a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of
prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all
knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could
remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
(, 1Cor, 13:1-2).
A chess master once advised students to always remember the
object is to capture the opponent's king. The advice is both
trite and profound. It's trite since it's a basic rule, one of
the first rules you learn: capture your opponent's king and
you've won. It's profound since it's easy to become so concerned
with subordinate objectives - controlling the center board,
building a strong defense, etc. - that the paramount objective is
forgotten. If you capture your opponent's king then you've won;
at that point, the position of your defense and degree of control
of the center board are irrelevant.
Similarly, the essential thing in mysticism is experience of
and union with God; subordinate objectives are ultimately
irrelevant. Suppose someone wishes to fast as an aid to prayer
and union with God. Fine. But suppose they become so concerned
with fasting, or even praying deeply, that they lose sight of
their fundamental objective: union with God. Then they may "win
the battle but lose the war." They may even fast until they're
close to death but find themselves no closer to God. Buddha seems
to have experienced this.
A human being cannot, as a rule, walk on water, live without
food, generate great quantities of bodily heat, etc. When we die
our bodies usually decay. But it's easy to imagine another
species who can do all these tricks and more. That doesn't
necessarily mean they're closer to direct experience of the
Ultimate than we are.
So the seeker should always keep in mind That which they are
seeking and not let mastering some trick become their goal. To
the mystic, extraordinary phenomena are worthless in themselves.
But suppose such phenomena invariably happened to accompany
mystical awareness, and suppose they never appear in any other
circumstance. Then, although worthless to the mystic, they would
have a very definite value for others. If certain physical signs
always accompanied mystical evolution, then there'd be an
objective way of discriminating the genuine mystic from the
bogus, the healthy from the unhealthy. A scientific religion
could judge, not only their statements, but the mystics and
alleged mystics themselves. Supposed mystics could be subjected
to scientific verification.
So although the true mystic might ignore any physical signs,
see them as worthless, and refuse to become enamored with them,
the scientist can still examine them, attempting to determine how
well they correlate with mystical enlightenment.
I don't expect a simple answer. I don't suppose the Tibetan
monk who can generate the most tumo is always the most evolved
mystic. But I do expect that any religious science would
thoroughly investigate this question. In fact, science has
already begun to do this. We'll discuss what it's found after we
examine a more basic question.
Holism and Measuring Inner States
Many things once thought unmeasurable are indeed measurable, with
the proper instruments. Centuries ago, changes in the position of
the sun and moon objectively indicated longer time spans. A day
could objectively be defined as sunrise to sunrise, or sunset to
sunset. But short time spans - a moment, a second, or a while -
probably seemed permanently unmeasurable, subjective quantities.
We are all familiar with how slowly time seems to pass when we're
bored, how quickly when we're entertained. Eventually, timepieces
were devised which accurately measured shorter time intervals,
and today they are universally available.
The feeling of temperature, too, was once subjective. Many a
husband and wife could argue over whether a room was too hot or
too cold. Today, thermometers have settled this question. Of
course, whether a room feels too hot or too cold is another
So clocks and thermometers have attach numbers to temperature
and time, transforming them into purely objective entities. Time
and temperature have become operationally defined quantities.
But time and temperature are external to ourselves. Can a
person's inner characteristics be measured too? Family traits are
intimate to the person. Once they were entirely subjective;
again, many a husband and wife argue over who a child takes
after. (Generally, desirable traits descend from one's self,
while undesirable characteristics clearly come from one's
spouse.) Then science discovered genes. Today, many physical
traits can be scientifically measured.
Inherited traits, however, are static; they remain throughout
one's life. Is it possible to measure changing emotional and
mental states? It seems that it is.
When we previously discussed personal identity, we mentally
divided a human being into body, emotion, intellect, and soul. If
a person were actually composed of entirely separate parts -
body, emotion, intellect, and soul, for example - then emotion
and body, or intellect and body, and certainly Consciousness and
body, might be entirely unrelated. There would be no reason to
expect mystical states, which are states of consciousness, to
manifest in the body, emotions, or intellect.
Yet, a human being is a holistic entity, even as we acknowledge
in that previous chapter. The division into body, emotion,
intellect, and soul is mental, not absolute. The intimate,
holistic connection between soul, intellect, emotion, and body
offers some hope that there are physical, emotional, and
intellectual phenomena which correlate with mystical states.
Let's begin by discussing some correlates between the body and
emotions. There's a well-known link between emotions and physical
signs. Everyone is acquainted with the smile of the happy person,
the redden face of the angry one. Indeed,
. . . facial representations of sadness, fear, anger,
disgust and other emotions are remarkably constant and
recognizable around the globe. (,58).
Recently, scientists have used the EEG to uncover more subtle
manifestations of emotions.
. . . [I]nfants more prone to distress when separated
from their mothers show increased activity in the right
frontal lobe, as do people with a more pessimistic
outlook. People who have at some point in their lives
been clinically depressed show decreased left frontal
lobe activity compared with subjects who have never
been depressed. (,58).
[w]hen people are anxious, cerebral blood flow - a
measure of brain cell activity - increases in the area
at the tips of the brain's temporal lobes just behind
the eyes . . . When subjects report feeling emotions
such as fear and disgust, their right frontal lobes
show increased electrical activity . . . Sadness seems
to diminish activity in the left frontal lobe as
measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG), while
certain positive emotions like happiness and amusement
increase it. (,57-8).
The electroencephalograph (EEG) measures electrical activity in
particular portions of the brain - the right frontal lobe, for
example, or the temporal lobes. The brain's electrical activity -
its "brain waves" - is roughly classified (refer, for example,
,24-5) by frequency. Brain waves seem to correlate with
certain mental states. Frequencies higher than about 13 cycles
per second (or 13 Hertz, abbreviated 13 Hz) are called beta
waves, and indicate attention. Alpha waves are 8 to 13 Hz and
correlate with a calm, relaxed state. Theta waves range from 4 to
7 Hz and are associated with the dream state. Delta waves are
produced in deep sleep and are below 4 Hz.
There are, of course, other devices which scientists use to
measure inner states. The polygraph ("lie-detector") is a
familiar one. It measures certain bodily characteristics believed
to vary with truth or falsehood. Other devices are the electrical
skin resistance (ESR) meter which, as the name suggests, measures
the electrical resistance of the skin, and the electrocardiograph
(EKG) which measures heart function. Lastly, the electromyograph
(EMG) measures voltages which correspond with muscle tension. One
researcher has found the EMG to be
. . . of considerable importance in the development of
self-awareness. Early emotional conflicts are often
reflected in the body armor a person has built -
permanently tense muscles intended as body defense. The
electromyograph facilitates specific therapy for these
states, and the ability to exercise fine control over
muscle tension may be one of the best indicators of the
subject's ability to relax at will, which is the
gateway to meditation as well as to improved general
With such instruments, science has been able to measure not
only physical and emotional states, but intellectual and perhaps
spiritual states as well. A few examples follow.
Measures of Meditative Mental States
A goal of Zen Buddhism is an increased yet disinterested
awareness of the external world. Zen adapts, therefore, should
possess such awareness in some degree. It seems that they do.
Imagine someone sitting relaxed in a quiet room. An EEG machine
indicates their brain is emitting alpha, indicating their mind is
in a quiet, relaxed state. There's a click, which draws their
attention to the room. The EEG machine detects their increased
attention and indicates their brain is now emitting beta waves.
Soon, however, they're relaxed again, and the EEG machine
indicates the alpha state. A minute later, there's another click.
Again, their mind goes from alpha to beta, but the beta frequency
is not as high. The regular clicking sound is moving to the edge
of their awareness. As the clicks repeat, they notice them less
and less. Eventually they habituate: they no longer hear the
click; their minds remain in alpha.
Habituation is a familiar phenomena to anyone who has ever
lived near a railroad track. At first, you hear every train;
after a month, you rarely notice any.
When a Zen master in a state of Zen meditation, called zazen,
was the subject () in the experiment no habituation was
detected. The Zen master heard each click.
This non-habituation . . . in response to click stimuli
during zazen is consistent with the description by one
Zen master of the state of mind, cultivated in zazen,
of "noticing every person one sees on the street but
not looking back with emotional curiosity."
In contrast, control subjects - people who weren't doing zazen
meditation - habituated.
Of course, we might wonder if lack of habituation is desirable.
Many people living near a railroad track wouldn't want to hear
each and every train, day after day. The point is, however,
science appears to have objectively verified a certain type of
mental awareness which Zen meditation masters claim to possess.
Rather than taking on faith the claim that someone has achieved a
certain level of success in Zen meditation, science can test for
itself. And anyone who studies Zen might wonder how their teacher
would perform in the above experiment.
In contrast to Zen, many types of Yoga advocate quite a
different goal, replacement of attachment to the external world
with attachment to its eternal Basis, an attachment implying a
measure of indifference to the external world. In one study
(), yogis were subjected to various external stimuli such as
. . . turning on a strong light, banging on an object,
vibrating a tuning fork, and touching the yogis with a
hot glass tube. (,234-5).
They reacted normally, except during meditation when they
evidenced insensitivity, i.e., their alpha patterns remain
undisturbed. Therese Neumann underwent a similar test (minus the
alpha pattern monitoring) with 5,000 watt carbon arc lamps while
she was in a mystical state.
The lamps were focused directly on her open eyes during
the ecstasies. . . . Therese did not even blink. This
was proof that she was completely insensitive to
external influences when she was in a state of
visionary contemplation . . . (,30).
In another yoga study
. . . two other yogis, who claimed to have developed
high pain thresholds, were able to keep one hand in 4
degree C. water for 45-55 minutes with no EEG
disturbance or apparent discomfort. (,235).
On the other hand (no pun intended) there's a type of yoga,
kriya yoga, which claims to activate and channel the meditator's
kundalini energy, supposedly a potent, highly active spiritual
force. Kundalini energy is worshipped as the divine by its
devotees. Although still aiming at detachment from the external
world, kriya yogis seek attachment to their own internal, dynamic
kundalini energy. They were found () to have
. . . extremely fast beta activity (indicative of high
arousal) with high amplitude waves (frequency up to 40
hz, amplitude 30-50 microvolts) . . . (,236-7).
. . . various stimuli applied during meditation had
absolutely no effect on the EEG. . . The latter finding
is again strong evidence of withdrawal from the
environment . . . (,237).
Here again, science tested and verified a religious inner
state: withdrawn from the external and attachment to some highly
active internal energy.
A neurochemical basis involving the pineal gland and conversion
of the body's melatonin into an hallucinogen (,297) has been
suggested as the basis of kundalini consciousness. If true, then
measurement of brain chemistry might yield another objective
measure of this kind of religious consciousness.
An Exact Science?
In India, "Nirvikalpa" refers to union with God. A swami writes:
. . . a man cannot be fit to realize the eternal peace,
till he reaches the Nirvikalpa state through the
cessation of all mental modifications and the non-dual
state of consciousness becomes natural to him.
Can science now verify if a person has reached the state of
"cessation of all mental modifications"? Perhaps. Could it ever
verify if someone has truly reached union with God? I don't know.
But science could certainly investigate any physical,
emotional, or mental phenomena that seem associated with mystical
awareness. It might find, of course, that such by-products fail
to correlate with mystical evolution: that they don't always
occur in genuine mystics, and sometimes occur in non-mystics. If
this was the case, then religious sciences might never be able to
become exact sciences.
On the other hand, some reliable physical, emotional, or mental
by-products might be found. Some signs might be discovered which
always indicate a certain level of mystical insight. If so,
objective indicators of mystical states would exist.
Someday, one's state of mind, be it holy, worldly, or profane,
may be objectively measurable. It may be an operationally
definable quantity. This would greatly help the identification of
true mystics from others, as well as truly mystical declarations
from other kinds of statements. Moreover, if these indicators
were quantifiable as well, then, perhaps, some sort of exact
relation might be found between them. Religious sciences might be
The possibility that, someday, a religious science may exist
which is not only descriptive and experimental, but exact as well
is (to me, at least) exciting. If, however, the nature of things
does not allow an exact religious science, it should nonetheless
be as fully science and as fully religion as possible.^L
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