Wonderful talk at Chulalongkorn University by Arthur Zajonc, renowned physicist, author, and the new Director of the Mind & Life Institute in Masachusetts, USA. It was a book launch for Thai translation of "The Transformation of Science & the Emergence of the New Paradigm", which unfortunately isn't widely available in English here.
He touched on many wonderful themes in his talk, ranging from the relationship between the "objectivity" driven sciences and internally-based inquiry of meditative traditions, primarily speaking of Tibetan but nodding to all Buddhist traditions.
He says that one of the pivotal questions of our time is about the gap in our method of interrogation and inquiry about who we are as human beings. Something has been powerfully right and powerfully wrong about recent scientific inquiry, which has resulted in many beneficial breakthroughs but also in the devastation of our environment and the gradual erosion in our quality of life. Science has to focus on a more wholistic approach to understanding our condition, to finding the roots of our problems and the solutions to eradicating them.
He talked about quantum mechanics and relativity theory, the Human Genome Project, and the Large Hadron Collider as being fundamentally engaged in a mechanistic understanding of the universe. But then asks, "Is that adequate?"
What is the mind?
What is reality?
Is the mind really just the brain? What is it that is left out?
It is here that Dr. Zejonc brings up a work of art. Specifically a marble sculpture, "Eros Visiting Psyche," by Antonio Canova, that depicts the rapture of the Greek god of love as he embraces his lover, Psyche. Art, compassion, love points to something beyond the grasp of science as we know it.
But why has science shied away from spirituality for so long? Here he brings up Alan Wallace's
"Taboo of subjectivity." He describes science as having a 3rd Person approach to knowledge, in an attempt to represent objectivity, while spirituality represents a 1st Person approach to reaching understanding. By explaining quantum physics and Einstein's Law of Relativity, he shows that the 3rd person approach is ultimately fallible. The only way to gauge truth in observation is by counting the perspective of the observer in the equation.
Goal: a holistic science that accommodates accomplishments of conventional science and includes experiential life-world of the individual.
Listening to his talk, I was enthralled. But as an artist, I had to ask myself, "So where does art fit into this inquiry about the mind? What is art's relationship to science and spiritual practice?"
In my humble opinion, art enables us to express the inexpressible. It gives us a means to point to that vast realm of experience that defies linear language, logic and science. It is a bridge that enables communication between mechanistic science and subjective contemplation --that is multidimensional. Because art is a language that enables and embraces multiple perspectives at once. It can be both precise and interpretable. It requires discipline, rigor and technical proficiency (an understanding of scientific principles, especially in the fields like sculpture), while also demanding a level of creative liberation.
Technique gives a piece of art it's wings, and spirit is what sends it into flight.