Ever since coming across Integral Theory and the work of Ken Wilber several years ago, I do a fair amount of thinking about science, religion, spirituality, wellness, enlightenment and all sorts of topics like these. Since then, the New Atheists have come along, and the science vs. religion debate has really heated up. I find this whole debate to be mostly pointless, though — two extremes fighting it out with no hope of ever establishing any meaningful common ground.
In recent years, I’ve drifted away from the whole “Integral scene” for various reasons. Some things about the movement began to turn me off, while others I feel I may have just outgrown or otherwise no longer felt a need for them. But despite distancing myself from “Integral” (big “I”) specifically, I still like to try viewing life and the world around me in the most “integral” (small “i”) — or “integrative” or “holistic” — way I can.
One of the things about “Integral” that began to turn me off was all the theorizing and discussion and debate and “level ranking” that was going on. Thinking about this sort of thing now, I see that I have an aversion to trying to rationalize the “ineffable” in general. Rationalization is the realm of science. Spirituality (and so religion in its purest sense) came about in response to that which we are unable to rationalize. Problems arise, I think, when we try to apply the scientific method to spirituality and spiritual methods to scientific (materialistic, if you will) realms.
One area where science and spirituality butt heads is in the field of “alternative” medicine (call it what you will). On the one hand, we have traditional, evidence-based medicine. On the other, we have treatment approaches that are largely based on various spiritual belief systems. Somewhere in the middle, we have efforts to see the patient in more “holistic” (in the least “New-Agey” sense possible) ways, integrating various medical fields with other approaches to overall wellness (e.g. exercise, diet, psychotherapy, meditative practices, and so on).
But why do we need to try to create specific techniques like “reiki”, when really all we’re talking about is good ol’ kindness or human contact. I’d imagine just giving a sick person an extra hug every day would do more good than pretending to work some sort of “mystical” healing practice like reiki. Homeopathic remedies (and so the placebo effect, too, I’d say) are essentially the same thing. They’re a way of saying to another person, “Hey, I care about you and hope you feel better soon.” A happy person heals faster than a depressed one, after all (see this article, for example).
In other words, why give a fancy name — often backed by all sorts of complicated and largely (if not entirely) pointless pratices and procedures — to something that has been around for as long as there has been consciousness? Keep it simple. Loving kindness. Caring. Giving. Thoughtfulness. Not homeopathy, anthroposophy, reiki, complementary and alternative medicine, integrative medicine (I’d exclude diet, exercise and the like from these “alternative” approaches, as do the Wikipedia articles I’ve linked to, for what that’s worth), and on and on and on.
Leave science to the scientists and “spirituality” (in its broadest sense) to the philosophers, theologians and mystics, and all the rest of us can just revel in the wonder that is life and in the joys of being a member of the human race. After all, science doesn’t explain away spirituality any more than spirituality negates science. The rational (concrete, material) and the ineffable are two sides of the same coin that is life as we know and experience it.
(P.S. I was going to throw meteorology into the mix as an example of the limitations of science, how science evolves and improves to explain more of the world around us, and how little we still know, but then it didn’t end up fitting in anywhere. I like the title though, and didn’t want to change it, hence this little P.S.)