Keeping the “Awe” in Science

by | Mar 26, 2024 | Spiritual Insight & Humor | 0 comments

I think some people are reluctant to rely on science as the ultimate guide to a deeper understanding of the world. Science seems too analytical; by articulating our understanding of something in scientific terms  – a tree, a bird, the birth of a child, etc. – it seems that we inevitably reduce it.

I remember reading a quote from Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, the great Hungarian physiologist who, along with other ground-breaking research, explored the chemistry of muscle contraction. I can only paraphrase it now, but he said something like “I started out studying one of the fundamental mysteries of life – the jumping of a frog. I broke it down to the individual frog muscle, then the protein filaments in the frog muscle, and finally the individual electrons moving between proteins. I had learned how the system worked. But the ‘life’ which I was trying to study had somehow vanished in the process.”

Fortunately, those with a scientific orientation can still experience awe. That was my emotional state when viewing the recent total solar eclipse from Lake Placid. Astronomers can calculate the exact times and places of eclipses. But when I actually viewed one I had a primitive visceral response to the sudden disappearance ( and subsequent reappearance) of our sun – the basic source of all life.

Those with a religious or spiritual orientation don’t have a monopoly on the mental and emotional benefits associated with a spiritual outlook.

Those are the findings of researchers at the University of Warwick (in the UK), who studied the “awe” that can spring from scientific appreciation of the universe. They found a whole range of emotional benefits that parallels those found in people who are inspired by religion: psychological well being, happiness, and a rich sense of life’s meaning. The “spiritual” experience of science also led to better learning, creativity, and memory.

I continue to be amazed by the resilience of the human body. People can recover from threatening illness and serious injury. People can enjoy extraordinary bursts of creativity and productivity and achieve ambitious athletic results. These experiences can seem like a miracle. I guess they are miracles, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to understand the mechanisms behind them.

Dr. Lavine has been an innovator in the use of movement and touch to promote health since 1981. He practices in New York City and Princeton, NJ.

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