The relevance of spirituality

The major contribution of this approach to the understanding of reality is its exploration beyond immediate sensory perception. This enables a larger perspective, from which issues that would otherwise remain hanging in the air can be addressed. To clarify this point, a parallel can be drawn with a dream or computer game. They are self-contained to some extent, but can really be understood only with reference to reality outside the dream or game. This attempt to move beyond ordinary human experience and activities is important because it keeps alive the search for ultimate answers, however elusive they seem to be. It is perhaps not surprising that even more and more scientists are prepared to admit their spiritual inclinations.

The other significant input of the spiritual approach is an attempt to grapple with the question of meaning that has a profound importance for human life. The scientific approach is inadequate to deal with this matter (which is why some reductionists simply declare that the world and life are meaningless - not on the basis of any evidence, but simply because they do not have a way to address the issue)[2]. Philosophy may take up this subject, but is lame without experiences that would provide the substance for any such consideration.

Spirituality is also capable of transcending cognitive operational processes in a different way than common sense. While common sense can deal with complex situations for which thinking is simply too slow, in this case it is a qualitative shift. Some experiences and insights may go beyond what reason would expect.

Finally, the spiritual approach is essentially holistic rather than a specialisation driven endeavour. Although some individuals in this field focus on one procedure (e.g. ‘shamanic journeys' or meditative practices) most of them acknowledge that no understanding can be complete without a reference to the whole. Such a perspective, on the other side of the spectrum from reductionism, can potentially be of a great value.

  • [2]. Polanyi, who was trained as a scientist, recognises the value of this point too. He writes that ‘the biblical cosmology continues to express - however inadequately - the significance of the fact that the world exists and that man has emerged from it, while the scientific picture denies any meaning to the world, and indeed ignores all our most vital experience of this world' (1958, p.285).