My previous post about the scientific method stimulated some pondering: how would a science of the soul go about trying to discover what, if anything, lies beyond the physical human brain and material universe?
I'm assuming that "soul" refers to something metaphysical.
If not, then it doesn't make sense to speak of a science of the soul, because plain "science" would be sufficient -- plenty of researchers already are delving into how our minds work, including how meditation practices affect neurological functioning.
I like the idea of applying the scientific method to spirituality, perhaps better termed personal consciousness research, because "spiritual" is a word that has lost most of its meaning for me.
Yet based on my experience of more than thirty years with an organization that termed itself a science of the soul, I've come to realize that the scientific method typically gets short shrift in metaphysical pursuits.
Sure, the word "science" gets used a lot by gurus, teachers, authors, disciples, and others who consider that their approach to spirituality is far different from that followed by traditional religions.
Let's consider, though, what a genuine science of the soul would look like if it adhered to the scientific method as shown in this diagram.
What's most striking is the circularity of scientific investigations. Theories are continually revised as experiments and observations confirm or disconfirm predictions implied by a theory.
So if someone is engaged in a science of the soul, almost certainly he or she is going to be saying, "Interesting, I didn't know that before," a lot.
Ideas about any possible metaphysical reality are going to keep changing as direct experience replaces abstract beliefs. Conceptions that once seemed to be reasonable hypotheses will be discarded as experiments fail to confirm them, while other theories arise as better candidates for explaining the cosmos.
This is the nature of the scientific method: continual refining of what is considered to be true. Yet most so-called sciences of the soul aren't really open to having their core belief system modified.
This shows that they aren't genuinely scientific, because given the marked differences between the various science of the soul teachings, it is difficult to see how they all could be in touch with objective metaphysical truth.
Somebody -- and maybe everybody -- has got to be wrong. Yet how often do we hear a spiritual teacher or leader say about a central tenet, "I don't consider this to be true any more."
In a recent issue of The New Yorker I've been reading an article by Elizabeth Kolbert, "The Sixth Extinction?" Tag line: There have been five great die-offs in history. This time, the cataclysm is us.
Geologist Walter Alvarez and his colleagues proposed in 1980 "that a six-mile-wide asteroid had slammed into the earth, killing off not only the forams but the dinosaurs and all the other organisms that went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous."
This went against the prevailing scientific understanding of how species became extinct and was met with a lot of skepticism. Kolbert says that evidence kept accumulating in favor of Alvarez' theory over the next decade.
"Those eleven years seemed long at the time, but looking back they seem very brief," Walter Alvarez told me. "Just think about it for a moment. Here you have a challenge to a uniformitarian viewpoint that basically every geologist and paleontologist had been trained in, as had their professors and their professors' professors, all the way back to Lyell. And what you saw was people looking at the evidence. And they gradually did come to change their minds."
Beautiful. This is a big part of why I love science. Scientists change their minds! Gurus, prophets, masters, sages, Popes, and such...hardly ever.
So the plural language at the end of the preceding quotation -- "people," "minds" -- is going to have to be "person" and "mind." Namely, you or me, if we're science of the soul practitioners.
Theoretically, I suppose it'd be possible for someone to delve into the question of what might exist apart from the physical and never change his or her mind. But it's difficult to imagine how this could be the case, since experience of a metaphysical reality is going to be much different from a mere conception of it, even if the conception is correct.
Which is my main point: if you're not continually changing your mind about what is true, and what isn't, then you're not engaged in a science of the soul.
On the other hand, if you are, "I was wrong" will be your frequent mantra.