science chemist with periodic table
Devotions,  Something to Think About

Reducing Consciousness 2

“A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms–it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude.” – Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

There is something within us that resonates with the divine. Einstein was certainly not religious in the conventional sense: he didn’t believe in a personal god and felt certain that physical death was the end for the individual. In his worldview there was no survival of the human personality and no accountability to a Divine Judge in the afterlife. But he couldn’t deny the attraction of the spiritual Power that charges the cosmos:

“Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.” – Albert Einstein, The Human Side

In no way am I trying to read more into Einstein’s words that what he is actually saying, nor am I quoting him as an expert in human spirituality. There is, however, an unspoken consensus that there is a reality beyond what we can perceive with our senses. Even the strictest materialist acknowledges such a thing as the human mind, which resists all attempts at definition within a purely materialistic framework.

Einstein said a person that “can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.” He evidenced a continuing fascination with the scientific realities and theories which fuelled his imagination.

This same delight in the material world runs like a leitmotif through the writings of Oliver Sacks, the brilliant neurologist made famous in the movie Awakenings. In his charming memoir Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood he describes the joy he experienced as a child exploring the wonders of such scientific marvels as the periodic table, and explosive chemical reactions. Like Einstein, Sacks is not a religious man. He was overwhelmed with delight and had no one to worship. I wish he knew what he is missing.

Science as we know it would not be possible if we didn’t start with the premise that, for all its quirkiness, there is a rationality behind the universe. The scientific method would not exist but for the hypothesis that truth is predictable and verifiable. These fundamental beliefs are themselves inherently religious, and point to the existence of a more profound reality than an accidental and random universe would suggest.

To quote Einstein:

“While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge.”


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