"We've got to get out of our own heads." I really liked this observation by Michael Shermer near the beginning of a podcast interview featuring him and Philip Goff.
Shermer was speaking about how Eben Alexander claimed he went to heaven while in a coma, but actually there's solid evidence that he didn't. Heaven was just a place he made up in his head.
Also, Shermer notes that Sam Harris, the noted atheist neuroscientist, writes in one of his books about taking MDMA (ecstasy) that led to a rather similar mystical experience. Except, Harris never claimed to have experienced a reality outside of his own head, which shows he's much more honest than Alexander.
What I love about science is that it is dedicated to understanding reality as it exists outside of our heads. Yes, science also studies what goes on inside the human brain, but almost always this occurs largely, or entirely, as an effort to comprehend reality as it is, not merely as the human mind considers it to be.
Religion and mysticism, on the other hand, are thoroughly mental pursuits.
Believers in religion or mysticism never get outside of their own heads. They live in a world of concepts, imagination, and other forms of subjective experience. They're never able to demonstrate that they've contacted a reality which isn't the world in which we all live, yet they claim that such exists.
Which gets me to a passage from my new favorite book (until Amazon delivers another book I like even better).
"The Order of Time" by theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli is both marvelously written and scientifically fascinating. I started reading it this morning and didn't want to put it down -- but had to so I could go to coffee with a friend, where, not surprisingly, I brought the book and talked about it with him.
Rovelli is an expert on time, which is one of the most mysterious subjects in science.
I'll write more blog posts about the book when I'm further into it. Rovelli does a better job of explaining relativity theory in a way that I can understand and remember than any other book I've read that addresses this subject. And I've read a lot of them.
Anyway, below is a passage from one of the first chapters that I liked a lot.
Rovelli speaks about how scientists often start by coming to an understanding of reality that can't yet be confirmed by observation. In other words -- Einstein is a great example of this -- an understanding begins within the scientist's own head, yet eventually is confirmed by objective reality.
He also observes how things that seem self-evident often are overturned by science. When was the last time, or heck, a first time, religion has done this? Answer: never.
Reading Rovelli's book this morning, I felt embraced by the warm glow of reality, a feeling that wasn't all due to the coffee I was drinking. I find it tough to read books about religion or mysticism these churchless days because they just seem so insubstantial. Like I said, they're all about ideas, concepts, fantasies, imagination.
I love science because I love reality.
Science gets me out of my own head into the world that exists whether or not I do. Sure, I still meditate after I read for a while, and I enjoy the sense of exploring the nooks and crannies of my psyche. But science books like "The Order of Time" are where I find the most inspiration, mystery, and wonder -- not in so-called spiritual books.
Here's the Rovelli quotation:
The ability to understand something before it's observed is at the heart of scientific thinking.
In antiquity, Anaximander understood that the sky continues beneath our feet long before ships had circumnavigated the Earth. At the beginning of the modern era, Copernicus understood that the Earth turns long before astronauts had seen it do so from the moon.
In a similar way, Einstein understood that time does not pass uniformly everywhere before the development of clocks accurate enough to measure the different speeds at which it passes.
In the course of making such strides, we learn that the things that seemed self-evident to us were really no more than prejudices.
It seemed obvious that the sky was above us and not below; otherwise, the Earth would fall down. It seemed self-evident that the Earth did not move; otherwise it would cause everything to crash. That time passed at the same speed everywhere seemed equally obvious to us... Children grow up and discover that the world is not as it seemed from within the four walls of their homes.
Humankind as a whole does the same.