The following may sound a bit complex, but I do encourage you to persevere. The issues are really interesting and important, particularly for anyone interested in spirituality. I get personal toward the end and talk about my back!!
I recently had the privilege of addressing the Canberra Jung Society. My last slide said this:
As much as we may value science and its incarnation in technology, we seem to be increasingly blinded by an objective view of the human being. We lose touch with our subjectivity. The antidote I suggest is spirituality based on a clear understanding of the psychic nature of all subjectivity and its complete dependence on the evolved structures of the unconscious; and upon religion as intersubjectivity in which love, care and compassion are paramount.
Modern science brought about a huge change in human consciousness. Through the language of mathematics and empirical experimentation, we were able to find an objective stance to the world around us in which all subjectivity could be removed. We now had objective truth about the external world regardless of anyone’s subjective experience. It became more complicated in the twentieth century, but only for the experts. The rest of us simply enjoy this objectivity, particularly all the technology that science has made possible. In fact the belief arose that the explanation for everything could be reduced to physical laws alone.
Paradoxically, at the same time modern science was emerging, with its emphasis on the external objective world, western philosophy asserted the reality of mind. We only experience the images of our minds. Our personal experience of the world around us, including our own bodies, is entirely in phenomenal or mental images. This is simply the case. There is a duality between body and mind. Science doesn’t and cannot deny mind, but most scientists say that it is only epiphenomenal. That is, mind appears as a result of the increasing complexity of the body. Body is the reality; mind in the end will be entirely understood as functions of the body, especially the brain. The implication of this is that there is no more complex intelligence in the universe than human intelligence. Other thinkers say this is not true, and that reducing all life to physical/chemical laws denies the mystery of mind and subjectivity at a truly fundamental level. Modern science as it now stands cannot explain mind. It is a much bigger mystery than this. We cannot reduce subjectivity to physical laws. If you are interested in reading more about this could I recommend Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.
So, we can in good faith, affirm human subjectivity as a reality science cannot as yet grasp. We are more than our bodies, however intricately our minds are interwoven with our bodies. We can and should assert this with confidence against thinkers such as the scientist Richard Dawkins. Neo Darwinism does not explain human subjectivity. It excludes it. Equally we can assert the mystery we call spirit, which we experience subjectively. Spirituality is subjectively real, and when it creates a transformation in someone’s personality, this can in fact be observed objectively.
When we think of ourselves as primarily subjects consisting of a flow of conscious images, including images of our bodies and the external world, along with images arising from our unconscious, I believe we open ourselves more readily to the mystery of spirit, the basis of any spirituality worth its salt. In my own life I consciously seek the Holy Spirit, and I can name subjective experiences as the presence of the Spirit. I don’t know if these feelings and thoughts, all psychic images of my subjectivity, come from outside me or rise up from the depths of my unconscious. The important fact is that I experience this presence as something I can address and feel in relationship with. It prompts me, comforts me, challenges me, enlivens me. It affirms the reality and importance of love and care between us all.
I had an experience recently that remarkably illustrated the mind-body connection. I had back surgery at the end of last year and was having very bad days of pain afterwards. One particular day it was so debilitating that I remembered a book a friend had suggested called Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by Dr John Sarno M.D.. I read it. I did what he suggested I do, which was very simple, fell asleep and woke with no pain, and have not had any since apart from a twinge now and then for sitting too long. The wonder of it was I felt that I had been put back in charge of my own body. I felt empowered. I was asserting my own spirit over my body, and it worked. I can recommend this book. This is at the heart of the issue I am raising. Are we primarily body, or are we primarily mind/spirit? This is at the heart of spirituality.