I recently shared a couple of love poems written by A.R. Ammons. But this poet is best known for poems which reference scientific laws and theories of various sorts. For instance:
~ A.R. Ammons
Science & Poetry
What I appreciate about these poems alluding to this or that scientific principle is how they place into conversation two realms of human functioning—viz. science and poetry—that most often seem quite contrary to one another.
What makes a poem a great poem is how the poet sees something in an utterly unique way—and through his/her words helps us, the readers, see it also in this new way.
What makes a scientific discovery valid (à la the scientific method) is that the results can be reproduced in another lab, by different scientists. No matter how seemingly unique the original scientific idea may be, its lasting value depends upon its repeatability: on lots of other scientists reaching the exact same conclusion.
While in both cases there is a sharing that happens—the poem with its readers, and the scientific discovery with other scientists who seek to reproduce it—the two ways of knowing remain distinct. In the final reckoning, a poem is valued for its uniqueness, while a scientific discovery is valued for its reproducibility.
Mystics & Scientists
A similar contrast can be drawn between scientists and yogis/mystics. While yogis and mystics value the kind of knowledge rooted in radical subjectivity, scientists value knowledge attained via procedures meant to ensure strict objectivity.
For a scientist, “being objective” means removing personal bias—viz. faulty or idiosyncratic ways of perceiving. It means making sure that one’s sense organs and perceptual-enhancement equipment (telescopes, microscopes, etc.) are functioning properly. And it means eliminating cognitive biases that might also distort perception or interpretation of data.
Yogis and mystics, on the other hand, tend to privilege a way of knowing that is radically subjective, intuitive. While scientists seek to eliminate personal bias by maintaining the body-mind instrument (along with its mechanical enhancements) at its optimal level of functioning—yogis and mystics seek to eliminate personal bias by dissolving the person, i.e. releasing the mistaken notion of an isolated, independent separate-self, which opens them to a realm of knowledge otherwise inaccessible.
But when we look more closely at actual moments of paradigm-shifting scientific discoveries—as reported by scientists themselves—these distinctions (between scientific and mystical/yogic ways of knowing) begin to blur. To illustrate this, let’s hear from three scientists generally considered to be geniuses: a physicist, a cytogeneticist, and a mathematician.
1. Albert Einstein: No Logical Path
Here’s what Albert Einstein—renowned for his reliance upon thought-experiments in the development of his Theories of Relativity—has to say about his process of exploration and scientific discovery:
There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them. … is akin to that of the religious worshiper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.
2. Barbara McClintock: A Great Pleasure to Know Them
Cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock is best known for her theory proposing that genes could transition—via “jumping”—to new locations on a chromosome. This theory and its eventual experimental validation earned her a Nobel Prize. McClintock’s inspiring life is described in the biography, by Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism.
The title of this biography—A Feeling for the Organism—describes an essential aspect of Barbara McClintock’s scientific process:
I know my corn plants intimately, and I find it a great pleasure to know them.
As is true for most great scientists, an all-consuming interest, passion and joy characterized her study:
I was just so interested in what I was doing I could hardly wait to get up in the morning and get at it. One of my friends, a geneticist, said I was a child, because only children can’t wait to get up in the morning to get at what they want to do.
It never occurred to me that there was going to be any stumbling block. Not that I had the answer, but [I had] the joy of going at it. When you have that joy, you do the right experiments. You let the material tell you where to go, and it tells you at every step what the next has to be because you’re integrating with an overall brand-new pattern in mind.
3. Srinivasa Ramanujan: A Thought of God
Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan—whose life and work is portrayed beautifully in the film, The Man Who Knew Infinity—was famously able to intuit mathematical theorems, sans any kind of formal proof. The proofs, if/when they arose, were an afterthought. As he describes it, the theorems themselves come directly from God:
An equation for me has no meaning, unless it expresses a thought of God.
In each of these cases, the defining insight of a new scientific or mathematical discovery seemed to emerge from a “place” not at all bound by formal procedures of the scientific method.
Casting the discovery in language that allowed it to be shared with other scientists—i.e. that was professionally acceptable and in alignment with the scientific method—was a second step, placing the discovery within a specific field of discourse (e.g. physics, genetics, mathematics).
Samyama: Becoming the Object
In chapter three (verses 4-5) of Yoga Sutras, the Indian sage Patanjali describes a mystical/yogic way of knowing called (in the original Sanskrit) samyama, in which one comes to know an object by “becoming the object.”
Here are those verses in their entirety, excerpted from Psychology of Mystical Awakening: Patanjali Yoga Sutras, translated by Swami Savitripriya. The English translation offered here for samyama is “becoming the object.”
These three practices—Concentration, Meditation and Samadhi—when practiced together in sequence, one after the other—are called the practice of Becoming the Object. This threefold practice enables you to enter into the underlying subtle field of matter which composes the object you are observing in order to enter into non-dual oneness with it, because the only way to truly know an object is to become the object. This is the aim of this psychology.
As you master this threefold practice, and become united in non-dual oneness with the sum total of the Divine Consciousness and Love which has become the form of the world, a new Enlightened Intelligence and Wisdom—which can only be attained through a direct personal experience of Transcendental Truth—will illumine your mind, and destroy the darkness of ignorance.
What is being proposed here is a way of knowing that would seem completely opposite to the scientific method. Instead of maintaining an objective distance from the object one is seeking to understand, one enters into the infinite intimacy of nondual oneness with it, i.e. removes all distance via transcending separation and the time-space container for apparent separation.
In doing so, I can know the object at its deepest level—the level at which we are essentially not-two. Important to note that this is a way of knowing that is wholly non-phenomenal—in which the enterprise of identifying phenomenal characteristics dissolves along with the apparent separation between subject and object.
So, does this way of knowing assist in being able to more clearly perceive and articulate specific phenomenal characteristics of the object, upon returning to the realm of apparent separation? So far as I can tell, the jury is still out on this question ….
Heart & Hand
Consider the relationship between my right hand and my heart—two parts of a single body. The separation between my heart and right hand is only apparent, since they belong to the same body and depend for their existence upon the functioning of the body as a whole. Nevertheless, each has a unique function.
Even if I were to fully dissolve the perception of my body as being comprised of separate parts—say by entering a samadhi in which my body appeared as a single field of shimmering white light—even in this case, upon returning to a more ordinary realm, my right hand would still function as a right hand, and my heart would still function as a heart.
Would my right hand ever be able to know how to function as my heart, or vice versa? After a dissolution into nondual oneness, could my right hand assume the duties of pumping blood through my body? Could my heart now have the capacity to reach out to pick up a cup of tea, or shake hands with my neighbor? It seems doubtful …
Ears Of Corn
Just so, entering into nondual oneness with an ear of corn would probably not be sufficient—upon returning to a relative realm of functioning—for me to express the same insight re: the genetics of corn as did Barbara McClintock.
Why? Because this particular body-mind does not have the requisite conditioning in order to manifest the thoughts, words and actions of a cytogeneticist—in the same way that my right hand doesn’t have the requisite conditioning in order to manifest the actions of a heart.
I could perhaps write a poem that dovetails—in its expression of some aspect of corn—with what Barbara McClintock might express, instead, in the language of cytogenetics. But it would be highly unlikely that I would be awarded a Nobel Prize in genetics for such a poem 🙂
What does seem likely, however, is that the functioning of the right hand and the heart will each be amplified, clarified, empowered—to the extent that this functioning has become more transparent to the nondual potency and intelligence of Source.
And it seems likely, also, that the right hand might be able to perceive more clearly the radiance of the heart—and the heart more clearly perceive and appreciate the radiance of the right hand; each within its respective field of functioning.
This illustrates one of the paradoxes of awakening to our True Nature: Somehow, the functional uniqueness of each apparent individual is clarified while at the same time becoming more fully transparent to the non-phenomenal nondual Source. This allows us, truly, to “celebrate difference” while not losing sight of our shared essence, our shared Divinity.
Science & Scientists
So, to review:
Scientific objectivity seeks to minimize the distorting effect of individual bias by encouraging:
* An open mind in the scientists, i.e. lack of obscuring false beliefs;
* Well-functioning sense organs of the scientists;
* Well-calibrated lab equipment; and
* Intersubjective agreement among the community of scientists, via the replication of results in other labs.
Individual scientists, however—particularly those who make revolutionary discoveries—often rely upon ways of knowing that are similar to the ways of knowing of the mystic or yogi: namely, via night-dreams, daydreams, thought experiments, intuitive insights, or even a Bhakti’s exuberant love and joy.
In such timeless moments, individual bias is dissolved not so much by perfecting the calibrations of an individual human body-mind (though a bit of this may come in its wake)—rather, by dissolving the individual person in the manner of samyama: becoming the object, entering into nondual oneness with the object of investigation, which allows the light of insight to fully penetrate.
Then, the job of the scientist/mathematician is to somehow translate this insight into the language of their tribe—physicists, geneticists, etc.—so that the results can be examined and, potentially, replicated.