Light and Life
Physicists and Mystics
Light is normally treated as a branch of Physics, the science which studies the structure of matter and tries to elicit and verify the laws which determine natural phenomena. Other branches are Mechanics, Heat, Sound, Electricity and Magnetism.
Together with its close relative, Chemistry, Physics is commonly considered to be the ‘purest’ and most ‘scientific’ of all sciences. It makes use of mathematics to express the finer points of its theories and to facilitate quantitative measurement and calculation. Physical theories are tested over and over by rigorous experiments and discarded or amended if experimental results do not accord with predictions based on the theories. Theories which have stood up to experimental ‘verification’ are taken to be physical ‘laws’ which hold good everywhere and for all time. Our modern reliance on technology gives us daily assurance that our ‘faith’ in the validity of physical laws is well justified.
Physicists concern themselves only with what is assumed to be inanimate matter. When matter is imbued with life, its purely physical behaviour is modified in complex ways which are not amenable to study by purely physical methods. The laws (if laws there be) which adequately describe the behaviour of living matter will have to be verified, at least in part, by non-physical experiments, ideally conducted by individuals who share the physicist's objectivity. This is the work of the scientific mystic whose most difficult task may be the initial acquisition of the necessary detachment and mental integrity.
This is not to suggest that the two approaches are incompatible with one another. The fact that the physicist relies so heavily upon mathematics, itself a mystical phenomenon practically inseparable from the mind of a living organism, indicates that the 'laws' of physics have meaning only for a living and conscious observer. Thus any two individuals may differ in their interpretation and application of physical laws, and 'scientific' disputes arise more often from such differences than from disagreements about the phenomena the laws describe.
The history of scientific advance suggests there is another reason why the physicist should be sympathetic to mysticism. Any materialist can deduce probable effects from laws which have been thoroughly validated: it takes a mentality of a different order to infer laws from observations of complex natural phenomena. Newton and Faraday immediately spring to mind as ground-breaking physicists who were also mystics. The reader can doubtless think of other examples of insightful individuals whose imaginative concepts have provided thousands of man-years of experimental verification work for others less gifted, many of whose incidental discoveries have been successfully exploited in the service of humanity and have given rise to vast technological industries.
If co-operation between mysticism and science has proved its value in physics, the most 'material' of sciences, is it not highly probable that the mystic's insights are likely to be fruitful also in the 'life' and 'mental' and 'political' sciences whose theories do not so easily lend themselves to quantitative measurement and mathematical verification?