Science and spirit

mkuvhXzAmgiDS_4LuSIVTVQOn the marvellous (and advert-free) brainpickings.org site, Maria Popova reviews a book about the spiritual inspiration that drives major, meaningful scientific discovery: From Galileo to Gell-Mann…

Popova’s fascinating—and beautifully illustrated—review is excellent reading. She writes:

“What profound element of the human condition could compel us again and again to seek to transcend our human confines and pierce the mystery of the universe? That’s precisely what Marco Bersanelli and Mario Gargantini explore in From Galileo to Gell-Mann: The Wonder that Inspired the Greatest Scientists of All Time: In Their Own Words […]— a magnificent collection of fragments of thought and personal testaments strung together onto a common thread that reveals the immutable sense of awe and imaginative intuition that propelled the great researchers, experimenters, and thinkers who made history’s most meaningful scientific discoveries. Underpinning these first-hand accounts, which come from such celebrated minds as Nikolas Copernicus, Marie Curie, and Richard Feynman, is the eternal question of how reverence and spirituality fit in with impulse for science.” [my italics]

In their study of the drive behind great scientific discoveries, Bersanelli & Gargantini find that reverence, wonder and awe are as central to science as they are to spirituality and religious seeking. Also central is paying attention to what isa state of mind essential for making new discoveries (and prayer and meditation?).

But does the advance of scientific knowledge lead to a loss of wonder and awe in individuals or society? On the contrary, if the accounts of many brilliant scientists are to be believed, the effect of scientific discovery is the opposite. Bersanelli & Gargantini say,

The wonder is not in fact circumscribed and delimited in advance of knowledge, as is commonly thought. Indeed the very acquisition of knowledge is the cause of another wonder. It is as if the advance in our capacity to describe nature scientifically inexorably increases our perception of the inexhaustible character of reality.

Click here to read Popova’s review. It is full of inspiring quotations from some of our greatest scientific thinkers.

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