On materialism and mysticism

I don't know what to illustrate this with, so here is a photo of my cat.
I don’t know what to illustrate this with, so here is a photo of my cat.

As many of you know, in addition to divining, I also write and edit science and medical content. So what gives? What is the deal with this? How can I do BOTH?

First, in my experience, most tarot readers do believe in science. I mean, how can you not? This is the 21st century. We’ve been to school.

Second, scientists and doctors often are religious. They are not all atheists. And they don’t seem to see this as an issue.

But here are my thoughts about this.

The Dalai Lama has commented that if science proves that something religion says is wrong, then science wins. (These aren’t his exact words, but they are the gist of his statement.) I agree.

However, when it comes to mystical shit, science often is unscientific in its approach. What I mean by that is that mystical shit is dismissed out of hand without investigation. That’s not scientific. That’s pure bias.

Moreover, when it comes to mystical shit, science is often hypocritical in its approach. Because our scientific tradition, and much of its knowledge, originally came to us from mystical folks: people who were doing science before science became purely materialist. For example, we should be able to recognize that early astronomers had both practical and mystical reasons for wanting to know about the movements of the sun, the moon, and the planets. And we should be able to recognize that the tools they developed–you know, like the CALENDAR?–are still useful to us, and used by us for practical purposes, each and every day, even if we’re not into mysticism.

We should be able to recognize that the mystical tool par excellence, the quintessential mystical tool, the mother of all mysticism, meditation, has been studied by science and found to be extremely beneficial. Its benefits are absolutely evidence-based.

We should be able to recognize that a big part of magic–to pick what some might regard as a fairly loony tunes example–is based on raising energy, and that certain traditional magical tools–you know, like MUSIC?–do actually raise our energy in ways that we can recognize and observe.

We should be able to recognize that magical folk practices such as HOUSECLEANING are in fact, not contraindicated by science. In fact, science has generally found that cleaning is a helpful thing to do. Let’s remember that non-scientific midwives were washing their hands prior to attending birthing mothers long before doctors were doing so.

We should be able to have a little respect for these folk practitioners who were and are thinking things through, not just intuitively and contemplatively, but rationally and analytically, maybe not with the support of clinical trials, but with the support of their own education and background and stories passed down through the history of their community. Anecdotal evidence is not as rigorous as peer-reviewed randomized trials, but it’s also not nothing: in the modern world, anecdotal evidence may even be what inspires a clinical trial. And anecdotal evidence IS evidence; it just isn’t as much evidence as we want to have and doesn’t give us enough information to rule out other variables.

Did folk practitioners of magic and stories and divination always get their facts right? Nope, not always. Do scientists always get everything right? Nope, not always. Is one right more often than the other? Frankly, I don’t know of any studies offering a longitudinal cross-cultural interdisciplinary comparison! What I do know is that they both CARE about being right; they both try to be systematic, pay attention, and record their results.

But this sounds as though I’m taking scientists to task for not appreciating mysticism. The reverse is fair too. Because mystics must surely recognize that we have benefited from the scientific method (a lot of time is spent recording what we did, what the circumstances/context were, what happened next). We must surely recognize that we have benefited from the knowledge generated by scientists. When I teach meditation, I almost always point out that when we take time to take a slow, deep belly breath, and then exhale slowly, our brains release different hormones than the hormones that are released when we experience a jolt of adrenaline from stress. We know that because of medical studies.

Many of the rituals that mystics do have components that work in part because they help us to communicate with our own brains (which is harder than you might think). Words spoken aloud (and thus heard by our ears), words written down (with our hands, but also seen with our eyes). Gestures. Use of smelly incenses and oils. These all affect our brains in ways that science has documented with MRI studies. And we (all of us, humans, I’m not speaking of mystics or scientists particularly here) actually do often live in such a state of denial that we have to use multiple methods simply to talk to ourselves. Likewise, we often get better results when we use multiple methods to convey messages to others. Whomever those others, or Others, might be.

My cat again, this time in a box.
Pretty sure Schrodinger’s cat simply got up and wandered off before the box was even closed. We should probably listen to the cats and go find our curiosity and sense of play again–and not take these topics TOO seriously.

With regard to divinity: science was a part of breaking down, for me, the idea of One God, but science also supports my view that the universe, or, I’d prefer to say, multiverse, is diverse. If there is deity (yes, it’s a big IF, but that’s okay with me, and I also think it’s a smaller IF than you might believe, because deity doesn’t have to mean “all powerful,” “all knowing,” etc.–deity could just refer to beings with a wider skill set and larger perspective than we humans typically have), I believe deity must be many, plural, not singular, and we should follow the practice we’ve learned from trans and gender-fluid people and refer to deity as “they/them.” Though I’m speaking of deity, I’m basing my view on science. Yep, it’s all tangled up together, isn’t it?

You’d also never find a scientist or doctor, I think, advising you to ground yourself, yet our methods for grounding ourselves are quite material and physical in their nature: we breathe, we touch the earth, we come into the moment. (Yes, we also use non-material methods, like visualizing a cord or roots growing into the earth–but, is that really non-material? Science would, or could, point out that our thoughts are material: they happen in our physical brains, and can be seen in an MRI; they involve electrical impulses darting between neurons, and sometimes the release of hormones.)

The thing is: the divine and the material are wrapped in and around each other. Our visualizations, even our prayers, absolutely take physical form in our brains when our neurons start firing electrical impulses at each other. And our physical, material experiences, also absolutely affect our spirits: ask anyone who has ever taken an antidepressant (a physical pill made of chemical components that physically affect the body).

You don’t actually get to take sides in the matter of the material versus the mystical. You get both. Like it or not! And I think the honest and ethical thing to do is to recognize that.