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Sages and Scientists 2011 with Deepak Chopra

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"If anyone wants to understand what my Dad's true passion is, this is it," Gotham Chopra, the film maker and author son of Deepak Chopra, told the crowd of several hundred people gathered at the Sages and Scientists Symposium in Carlsbad, California, last weekend. The Chopra Foundation hosted the annual event, now in its second year.

For those familiar with TED, with its four-day gatherings of talks, entertainment, and conversation, Sages and Scientist is a beyond-TED, in-depth excursion into emerging discovery at the nexus of science and spirituality.

At the Symposium, distinguished scientists and researchers searched for scientific answers to the perennial questions posed by the spiritual wisdom traditions.

Physicists, neuroscientists, neurologists, social scientists, ecologists, and living systems biologists detailed new findings, advanced promising theories, and defined some of the open questions in their specialties. Their multi-disciplinary dialogue and open-minded inquiry bodes well for science's future.

"We're in a transition between different stories and conflicting perspectives about how we define reality," said Marilyn Schlitz, President and CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, one of the presenters.

Moderating the panels in his familiar low-key style, Deepak Chopra deftly plucked gems of insight from complex theories, interweaving diverse disciplines. Far from preaching to the choir, as some claim, Chopra is a master synthesizer. He regularly partners with his critics and bridges the gap between the conventional and the frontier edge.

Leonard Mlodinow, Ph.D., a theoretical physicist who co-authored two books with Stephen Hawking, is now writing a book with Chopra. Although Mlodinow and Chopra don't always hold the same scientific perspective, they say the differences enrich their dialogue. And there is a side benefit, Mlodinow says. "Being friends with Deepak has helped me to be calmer about life."

Though often cast as opponents, classical science, quantum science, and spiritual disciplines also have much in common. For one thing, they share the same preoccupations: "Is there an ultimate reality?" and "Is that ultimate reality material?"

"The purpose of science is to figure out 'Who are we?' 'How did we get this way?' and 'Where are we going?'" evolutionary biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris, Ph.D. told the gathering.

At first glance, such matters can seem esoteric, but with the authority to embed its core assumptions in so many areas of modern society, science, and its fundamental tenets, deserve closer scrutiny.

For if science's measurements don't extend fully into significant dimensions of reality, there are decidedly un-esoteric consequences. Put simply: Following incomplete coordinates could lead humanity off course.

That's why Duane Elgin, Ph.D., visionary and author, urged that humans first ascertain whether science has correctly located and defined the ground beneath our feet.

"Where are we?" Elgin asked. "To transform our planetary crises it is vital to move past the current paradigm, and recognize the universe as alive."

Amit Goswami, Ph.D., a theoretical quantum physicist revealed his method for evaluating scientific theories. "Is it useful? " he asks himself. "The theory that integrates the most aspects is most likely to be correct."

Conventional science has been framed by its quest for objectivity. The presumption is that if science can excise all forms of human subjectivity, the end result will be accurate. But if, as Goswami contends, the most complete theory will account for all phenomena, then it may be neither desirable nor possible to omit human experience, knowledge, and consciousness, the defining human attributes. What's more, without these qualities, how could scientists even do science?

"The premise of science--that as the observer I can study objectively--assumes that the observer can step out of the experiment," Chopra said, but "how can you account for the observer without including the process of the observer?"

Goswami agreed that even for scientists, the "consequences of our observation, intention, and awareness are always present."

In its quest to over-rule subjectivity, science has essentially attempted to close the lab door on the fact of human awareness itself. Instead, it has defined matter, or material substance, as the universal building block. Life, knoweldge, and even consciousness, all arise from matter, according to that view.

"How can all of human awareness, intelligence, knowledge, and feeling arise from the secretion of a few chemicals?" puzzled Deepak Chopra.

Henry Stapp, Ph.D., Stuart Hameroff, M.D., Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Dean Radin, Ph.D., and other scientists at the Symposium, contend that knowledge, or consciousness must be present as the foundation for an accurate and inclusive theory of everything.

In their view, science won't be able to provide accurate answers to a question like "Who are we?" if it's foundational theory is based solely on material mechanisms.

As evidence mounts that the materialist explanation of the universe is a theory of something, but not of everything, scientists can take comfort from the words of Buckminster Fuller: "Everything you've learned in school as 'obvious' becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe."

"The universe is infinitely creative and self-regenerating," said Chopra.

In session after session, the presenters created scaffolding for an evolving theory that accounts for living, breathing, feeling, and conscious organisms in a living, conscious universe.

Their exchanges reminded me of the classic Indian folk tale of the blind men who were asked to describe an elephant. Because each one touched a different part, the foot, the ear, the trunk, or the tail, each man imagined that the whole animal resembled the part he knew. But none of them was able to perceive the whole elephant. Only by working together could they arrive at an accurate description of a complex reality. The cross-disciplinary dialogue at Sages and Scientists was a reminder of that truth. For anyone, and for scientists, too for that matter, humility, and cooperation can lead to deeper understanding.

"We can have Western science, Eastern science, Islamic science, indigenous science, and they can all talk to each other as equals. Why should we have the hegemony of a single science?" Deepak mused. "Let's go into the collaborative model, and value them all for their strengths."

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