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Book Review: Science, Sense & Soul

Great poets have always felt a deep need to peel away the gauze of our perception, to penetrate the surface of our human existence, to ask who we are, why we are here, what is important, and what becomes of us when we die. Although Casey Blood's book, Science, Sense & Soul does not concern itself with poetry, its inquiry into the mystical-physical nature of human existence comes out of a similar human need to grapple with the existential questions that have occupied the minds and hearts of poets through the ages. Through largely a process of logical argument, Blood develops a thesis for a cosmology which incorporates the laws of physics as embodied in the mathematics of quantum mechanics and the non-physical experiential realm of Sufi mysticism.

In building his cosmological view, Blood explains in simple, lay terms, with the use of diagrams, and without mathematical equations, the basics of quantum mechanics. Early on, Blood points out that quantum mechanics has a "flaw," namely, its mathematics imply that there are many versions of reality that exist simultaneously (we only being aware of one). He notes that most physicists get around this by assuming the theory is incomplete, and that a complete theory would only mathematically give one reality. Blood then makes the assertion that if we do not make this unsupported assumption that the theory is incomplete, and hence accept the existence of multiple realities, then "quantum mechanics implies beyond a shadow of a doubt that there must be a nonphysical aspect to existence!"

Beyond a shadow of a doubt? I would sell my soul for a small grain of his omniscience. Blood's cosmology stands and falls on the truth of this bold assertion. I do not profess to have more than a superficial understanding of quantum mechanics (although I did study it in university), but it seems to me that Blood's assumption that quantum mechanics is a complete theory sets up a house of cards. In the Endnotes at the back of the book, Blood braces his assertion regarding the completeness of quantum theory with several more assumptions. And in Appendix B he goes out of his way to further justify why he thinks the probability is small that the theory of quantum mechanics will be superseded. He notes that quantum mechanics is a highly unified theory that incorporates electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear forces, and the properties of many elementary particles. He leaves out discussion of gravity and how it fits into the unified theory. In a recent edition of Scientific American: On the Edge of Physics, a special edition devoted to the progress of science toward a "theory of everything," Chris Smith in his article states that the Standard Model (Unified Theory) "has a number of serious flaws," and he elaborates on these, including its failure to consistently include Einstein's theory of general relativity. Smith states: "The absence of a quantum-mechanical description of gravity renders the Standard Model logically incomplete." Helen Quinn and Michael Witherell in their article state that "deep questions remain about the Standard Model."

I have dwelled on the above to make this point: A cosmology build on the foundation of a theory of quantum mechanics that still has deep questions is at this stage of our knowledge little more than a leap of the imagination. When reading Blood's book one needs to remind oneself that what he presents are arguments and hypotheses, and each of these is open to question. As the philosopher, Wittgenstein, once said, "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language." In reading books like Blood's it is easy to become bewitched. Blood's argument for a non-physical plane of existence is built on the notion of multiple realities predicted by quantum mechanics, but this non-physical Mind and its relationship to the physical world posited by Blood is not corroborated by any direct scientific evidence. Blood ultimately turns to the mystical realm of Sufism to secure the existence of this non-physical realm of Mind. He acknowledges that logical argumentation is not the tone of the sections on mysticism, and defends mysticism's access to higher planes of reality by arguing that mysticism is more than just a belief system--it is an experience. The problem I see with this position is that once one allows for truth through religious or meditative experience, it opens the way for as many different truths regarding the existence and structure of a non-physical plane, as there are individuals claiming access to these realms, and we are left no farther ahead in developing a single cosmology. Ultimately, I think, we must rely on the tools of science in reaching a unified view of reality.

While Blood's book is far from developing a sound and convincing cosmology, I nonetheless found it to be thought provoking in terms of thinking about the relationship between the physical and mental world, body and mind, and how they might interact. This mental-physical junction remains one of the great puzzles of science we are still far from unravelling. The second half of Blood's book describes a variety of mystical practices and meditation approaches which he states have the potential to open the way for us to experience the non-physical planes of reality, including angelic realms. While I have difficulty accepting Blood's claim that "it is rewarding in the extreme, both here and after death, to be able to perceive and function in those realms," if only for the simple reason that humans have no knowledge of death (only life), I do agree with Blood that meditation and related practices whose purpose is to increase one's awareness have a great potential to reduce the huge amount of negativity that exists in our world. Our negative emotions such as anger, hate, jealousy, fear, and anxiety are not healthy or beneficial to humankind, and we would profit greatly if we freed ourselves from these. Daniel Goleman's book, Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, is relevant here. Its thesis centres around this important idea that we would all benefit by reducing the negativity that permeates our lives. It is in this intersection of science and mysticism that we can perhaps find some new solutions. With the availability of more sophisticated imaging techniques, scientific studies have already shown that meditation can alter brain activity in positive ways.

It seems to me that the strong fascination of many, myself included, with the relationship between science and religion (whether mysticism or Western belief systems) derives from the incomplete satisfaction that both science and religion provide in understanding our existence. Hence the popularity of writers like Authur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, Casey Blood and others. In our search for answers, we would be wise to consider what Wittgenstein said: "Even when all the possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched." A humbling thought, as we tirelessly seek an ever greater understanding of our world. But what if all the puzzles and questions of our existence were finally answered? What then? Would there still be a place for poetry?

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