Commission for Extended Science
An Interim Report – by Chris Thomson
The project began to crystallise at the Network’s Annual Gathering in July this year. At first, David (Lorimer), Richard (Irwin) and I talked about “wholeness science”, to distinguish it from science as it is today, where, to a large extent, the observer is separate from the observed, man separate from nature, mind separate from matter, and science separate from spirituality. We soon changed this to “extended science”, partly to give ourselves more scope, but also to show that there was never any intention to replace science. So, what is “extended science”? One way of thinking about this is to imagine what it should be able to do. We took the view that extended science should be able to accommodate important topics that science today seems unable, sometimes unwilling, to accommodate. These include:
- The whole range of paranormal experience and phenomena
- Inherent meaning and purpose in the universe
- Altered states of consciousness
- Consciousness beyond the brain, for example NDEs
- Esoteric knowledge
Although this is useful, and we will follow it up, it tells us only what extended science should be able to do, not what it is. Looking at the contributions received to date, and at the work of the pioneers in this field – such as Plotinus, Swedenborg, Goethe, Steiner, Walter Russell and onwards – one thing stands out above all the others, and that is the idea of the extended human being. Now, this could mean many things. For example, it could mean “fuller”, “more well-rounded”, “more evolved”, and so on. At first sight, this does not seem to have much to do with science. In fact, I believe that it has everything to do with science, because these are qualities that imply so many other qualities, such as maturity, experience, empathy, openness and clarity. These are surely essential to any good scientist, and I think we should continue to draw attention to this. The pioneers, however, and some of our contributors, had something else in mind when they thought about extending the human being. For them, it was mainly about increasing the range and quality of consciousness and perception. The reasons for this are easy to understand. As your consciousness and perceptive ability grow, more of the world becomes available to you. Extended science could therefore be defined as “the extended human being exploring the world and himself/herself”.
I would be interested to hear what you think of this interpretation.
To give one example, Steiner described (in “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds”, and in “Guidance in Esoteric Training”) how to develop and use one’s “inner senses”. These are the organs of perception, dormant in nearly everyone, that, when awakened and trained, give us direct experience of the non-physical (“spiritual”) aspects of the world and human being. These are the aspects that are currently beyond the range of science, but only because they are beyond the range of scientists. And this is because scientists do not normally train and use their inner senses. If they did – and if such a training were an integral part of science – then science, and the knowledge it produces, would be very, very different. Actually, I ought to correct myself. The fact is that quite a few scientists seem to be aware of some features of the non-physical aspects of the world. But only because they infer them. For example, some parts of David Bohm’s description of the “implicate order” are quite reminiscent of the world as viewed through one’s inner senses. That said, it is one thing to infer the existence of something. It is quite another thing to experience that thing directly for yourself. I believe that I speak for many in this project when I say that the hope is that science travels in the direction of direct experience of the “implicate order”. This will not come easily, for three main reasons.
First, there is clearly much resistance within science to the “paranormal”, the “esoteric” and the “spiritual”. There are even still pockets of resistance to “consciousness”. All this may change in time, but it is likely to be a struggle for a while yet.
Second, although a growing number of scientists recognise the importance of working on themselves in general, and on their consciousness in particular, not many will make the time and effort to train their inner senses. That is likely to change only when the wider culture and zeitgeist change. The good news, I believe, is that these are already changing, and quite rapidly.
Third, although we seem to be making good progress with the project, there are still a lot of questions to be addressed before we can have much hope of making significant inroads into scepticism and resistance. Although what follows is not designed to be comprehensive, it should give you a sense of the work still to be done:
- Is it really the case that science is currently unable to accommodate the topics listed earlier?
- Is science limited, and limiting, in the ways we have described in the Remit and elsewhere?
- Do we really know what the core assumptions of science are (its ontology)? How can we be sure? In any event, are most scientists aware of them?
Similarly, with science’s rules of evidence.
- What benefits would an extended science bring, in addition to being able to accommodate our list of topics? This is important, as we make our case, not only to scientists, but also to the wider public
- Are there other important pioneers, or contemporaries, whom we have missed? What is their contribution?
- What changes within science seem to pave the way towards an extended science (e.g. quantum physics and consciousness)?
- Are we correct in assuming that an extended science will be based on new core assumptions and new rules of evidence?
- If so, how do we decide what they should be? And what is the evidential basis, if any, for the new assumptions?
- How do we translate new assumptions and new rules of evidence into new methodologies? And what other bases do we have for new methodologies (e.g. new forms of enquiry)?
All this suggests that when we produce our “final” report in 2017, we should not give the impression that we have found all the answers. But we could say, among other things, that we are coming up with new questions, and with new ways of asking questions!
Happy New Year