We often wonder about wisdom. What is wisdom, and why do we need it now more than ever? How could science add to our collective wisdom? And what is the use of science and wisdom: how can they work together to address contemporary problems and provide ethical solutions?
Science & Wisdom LIVE brings meditation practitioners in conversation with scientists to find new solutions to the problems of contemporary society. Each dialogue explores the middle ground between science and contemplative wisdom, focusing on themes such as the ethics of artificial intelligence, gender equality, climate change, and the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for mental health.
During the first Science & Wisdom LIVE dialogue, which is scheduled for the 11th of November 2020 (buy your tickets here), two scientists and two meditation practitioners will discuss the topic of ‘Destructive Emotions and Distorted Perceptions’.
We asked Dr. Elena Antonova, Father Laurence Freeman and Venerable Geshe Tenzin Namdak what they think of our name and what it covers. Here is what they said.
“Science is an objective contemplation of reality...
The humility to accept that we do not know
invites us to discover it.”
Our name is Science & Wisdom LIVE. But in order to be able to talk together, we need some definitions. What is your definition of ‘science’?
Dr. Elena Antonova: As a scientist, I see science as the systematic study of phenomena through experimentation and observation.
Geshe Tenzin Namdak: I think there is more to it than that. Science, “Scire” in Latin, is often defined as ‘to know what we can know, and can do to know more’. This means using various methods, from empirical to contemplative mind science traditions, to understand our inner and external worlds better in order to benefit society on different levels.
Father Laurence Freeman OSB: To me, science is a detached contemplation of reality, combined with holy curiosity and humility to accept that what we do not know invites us to discover it. I believe that true science benefits humanity and controls the negative use of its discoveries.
What about wisdom? This is often a complicated notion in society, and it has been given many definitions since the dawn of humanity. How would you define it?
LF: Ultimately, all wisdom relates to the vision of the whole in the part. It also implies a love for each particle, because each element contains and leads into the whole.
EA: To me, wisdom is discernment that arises from insight into the true nature of phenomena.
TN: Wisdom, as I see it, is a humanitarian intelligence that understands the reality of our mind and the world around us through various examinations, based on valid logical reasoning, taking mind science and its philosophy and scientific evidence as its basis.
“A better world depends on action, and action comes through ideas... Contemplative traditions can offer an education of the inner world of the mind.”
So where does science meet wisdom? What is the role of the dialogue between science and contemplative traditions, when it comes to promoting social, emotional and ethical learning?
TN: I believe that a better world (both on a socially local and global level) depends on action, and actions come about through ideas. To create more constructive ideas to benefit society, education is extremely important. It helps us to build awareness of the problems we are facing and explore methods to solve them. Dialogues are the catalysers in this process.
Contemplative traditions can offer an education of the inner world of the mind. Some of these traditions have examined self-awareness, self-discipline, and altruism for a few thousand years. Empirical science, although sophisticated in certain areas, is quite new. Therefore, to have scientists go into dialogue with contemplative practitioners can prove beneficial to both.
Consider, for example, neuroscience and neurophenomenology. The brain activity of experienced meditators indicates a significant increase in constructive emotions. Constructive states of mind bring inner well-being and unfold in proper behaviour and ethical discipline, that affects relations with others in a positive way.
This is something that is really needed in modern society! There is a need for more of these kinds of studies. In addition, more training programmes can be developed on different levels in society to support these investigations.
“Our biggest societal and ethical challenges are unlikely to be overcome until we are able to happily marry science and wisdom.”
LF: I definitely agree with that. However, we should realise that this kind of dialogue is almost inconceivable between advocates of reductionistic science (which, in my view, is scientism, not true science). The same goes for religious fundamentalists who place belief and external conformity above the heart consciousness.
But when a true scientist (for science is truly a contemplative activity) engages with a truly contemplative practitioner of a wisdom tradition, the dialogue that comes forth from that encounter produces a new collective attitude to solving problems and caring for the neediest in the world.
That kind of care and wisdom is no longer based on statistics or technology alone, but on a humanistic combination of respect for the sacredness of each person and a sense of practical, evidence-based realism. From this come opportunities to implement real change and action: policies that work for the greatest good of the greatest number. For example, the development and above all the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine requires this combined approach.
EA: In my view, the role of such a dialogue is absolutely crucial in bridging the chasm between science and spirituality. Unfortunately, this lobotomy has dominated especially the ‘Western world’ for far too long – with devastating effects, both on our personal and societal ethics and values, and particularly in our relation to the planet.
I believe that our biggest societal and ethical challenges are unlikely to be overcome until we are able to happily marry science and wisdom, both in our own minds and in the way we study and teach contemplative traditions.