Seeking Cosmic Awe

It should be little surprise to anyone that I lurk on the futurology subreddit over at Reddit. Lurking there is how I came across the video above that adds some pretty visuals to a part of an interview with Dr. Neil DeGrasse-Tyson. If you haven’t watched it, yet, do so. I’ll wait.

Okay. Watched it? Good.

The sentiment expressed by Dr. DeGrasse-Tyson is one that I’ve recently realized typifies a form of nature mysticism that likely sits at the core of Science. Ken Wilber define nature mysticism as “experienc[ing] a oneness with all phenomena in the gross-waking state” (Wilber, 93); which typically describes the experiences of various spiritual and religious practitioners when they have spiritual experiences that give rise to such ideas as the Anima Mundi or that the World itself is alive in an animistic fashion. But it has occurred to me of late, that nature mysticism can be expanded to fit those approaches to science and the scientific worldview that cultivate the awe that figures such as DeGrasse-Tyson, Carl Sagan, and Albert Einstein have expressed and advocated throughout the years.

The realization that, in the words of Dr. DeGrasse-Tyson, “we are all connected – to each other, biologically; to the Earth, chemically; and to the rest of the universe, atomically” bears little difference to the insights of mystics and shamans of previous ages and other cultures who exhort us to remember our oneness with the World and its other inhabitants. Granted, the insightful view of those scientists like Dr. DeGrasse-Tyson comes from rigorous empirical observation of the Cosmos of which we are a part and not from intense meditation or vaunted mystical states of consciousness. But in the end, does the differing methods by which similar views are reached make a huge difference? The mystic engages in deep contemplation and experiences a flash of insight that makes them realize the oneness of reality; the empiricist engages in deep contemplation and intense observation, slowly building logical arguments and empirical evidence to back up a claim that all of reality is interconnected and, in some sense, one.

One appeals to intuition, the other appeals to logic.

Both are knowledge, though.

And when intuition and logic appear to back each other up, one should take a step back and think on that. It could very well be that, despite  the arguments of atheists, that science is a form of religious/spiritual philosophy (in the sense of the ancient Greco-Roman philosophies that sought to understand the individual’s place within the Cosmos and how they could go about living a “good life”): the physical sciences tell us about the Cosmos and how its constituent parts operate (Cosmogony/Cosmology); the social sciences describe how individuals and groups work, and under what conditions they work positively or negatively (Moral Philosophy); the psychological sciences delve into how the mind works and how best to heal it (the nature of the “soul”). You got the bulwark of most religious traditions right there – narratives on the Universe and how we relate to it, on how we relate to each other as individuals and groups, and how we work as individual sentient beings.

And with individuals like Dr. DeGrasse-Tyson or Carl Sagan stating that “we are stardust” or that “we are a way for the Cosmos to know Itself” you have mystics, prophets, and sages who seek to enlighten the masses as to the benefits of the path that they walk.

I’m not making this comparison to denigrate science by any means, but to look at the institution, the method, the philosophy in a new light. Religions don’t need to be focused on deities or adhere to rigid dogma: Buddhism at its core is an exemplary model of both those facts. Thus it would seem that, in a certain light, Science is a non-theistic religion, a philosophy much like ancient Stoicism that seeks to help us understand the Cosmos as best we can and to provide us with the best possible means of achieving eudaimonia – “the good life”.


Wilber, Ken. Integral Spirituality, p. 93


~ by crow365 on February 20, 2013.

One Response to “Seeking Cosmic Awe”

  1. This is beautiful. I was trying to communicate this with some grovies recently, but could not put it so eloquently!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: