Sunday, January 7, 2007

Objectivity, Science, and Spirituality

It may seem paradoxical that science depends, for the good that it does, on the objectifying of Nature. Coupled with mathematics, and aided by technology, it enables us to convert vast amounts of information into usable forms, and to make reliable predictions of the consequences of our actions. It is the most useful tool we have to cope with the complexity of the Universe.

The evil of objectification comes from our confusion of abstraction with reality. Phenomena too complex (or different from experience) for us to grasp, with our senses and mental apparatus for processing sensory input, are all too easily relegated to the status of objects; and we naturally deal with objects by manipulating them. When those “objects” are other people and species, we can inadvertently hurt or destroy them.

Spirituality, often maligned by people who are comfortable with abstraction (until recently, me among them) can bridge the gap between the personal and the impersonal. Often defended as the “source of values,” spirituality (and its cultural manifestation, religion) allows us to as much as possible internalize the rest of Nature, partly by accepting, on an emotional level, the value of the parts of it that we cannot comprehend. It uses (and nurtures) faith, which, in this context, is the ability to live fearlessly with the unknowable.

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