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InnerNet Weekly: Inspirations from
When Science Is The Arbiter Of Metaphysics
by Paul Kalanithi

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2552.jpgAlthough I had been raised in a devout Christian family, where prayer and Scripture readings were a nightly ritual, I, like most scientific types, came to believe in the possibility of a material conception of reality, an ultimately scientific worldview that would grant a complete metaphysics, minus outmoded concepts like souls, God, and bearded white men in robes. I spent a good chunk of my twenties trying to build a frame for such an endeavor. The problem, however, eventually became evident: to make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning—to consider a world that is self-evidently not the world we live in. That’s not to say that if you believe in meaning, you must also believe in God. It is to say, though, that if you believe that science provides no basis for God, then you are almost obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life itself doesn’t have any. In other words, existential claims have no weight; all knowledge is scientific knowledge.

Yet the paradox is that scientific methodology is the product of human hands and thus cannot reach some permanent truth. We build scientific theories to organize and manipulate the world, to reduce phenomena into manageable units. Science is based on reproducibility and manufactured objectivity. As strong as that makes its ability to generate claims about matter and energy, it also makes scientific knowledge inapplicable to the existential, visceral nature of human life, which is unique and subjective and unpredictable. Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.

Between these core passions and scientific theory, there will always be a gap. No system of thought can contain the fullness of human experience. The realm of metaphysics remains the province of revelation. […]

In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer an eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them, where, as at the end of that Sunday’s reading:

The sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.

About the Author: Excerpted from the book, When Breath Becomes Air.

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When Science Is The Arbiter Of Metaphysics
How do you relate to the notion that no system of thought can contain the fullness of human experience? Can you share a personal story of a time you realized that you are reaping what another had sowed? What helps you remember that human knowledge can never be contained in one person?
trisha kammer wrote: Anything that brings peace to someone (prayer, music, holding hands, etc.) is very worth while and helpful. We may want to ask the patient what would bring him comfort. I think we gradually separate…
Angelica wrote: Quantum Physics is bridging the gap but old paradigms are difficult to release….
Laura Brown wrote: “Human knowledge is never contained in one person.” How beautiful and true is that? We’ve forgotten that everyone has their own world view and that there is no right or wrong in that….
Naren Kini wrote: Another lovely choice. The knowledge of Science and the wisdom of Spirituality behooves us to appreciate everyone’s perspective. Context always adds its own dimension. When the whole play of the world…
me wrote: What helps me know that human knowledge can never be contained in one person (outside Jesus Christ Himself) ⦠is the truth ⦠we are not BIG enough. We have no idea. We are but dust compared to H…
Jagdish P Dave wrote: We are a multidimentional human being. Science helps understand the body-mind complex, the physical, mental and emotional dimensions of us as human beings. Its approach is objective. There is somethin…
evita wrote: this reflection brings home the simple fact that there are different perspectives on an issue. No single system or thought can do justice to the whole picture. I am indeed reaping the fruit of hard la…
David Doane wrote: I agree that no system of thought can contain the fullness of human experience. Thought is one aspect of the human experience. The bandwidth of human experience is much greater than the width of tho…
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