Andrew Cohen introduced his dialogue “Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry” with Rupert Sheldrake at the EnlightenNext Centre last week in an intriguing way. He suggested framing the discussion in the context of the tension between “certainty” and “uncertainty”. At first I didn’t get what he was pointing to, and it’s tricky…
We don’t easily trust certainty do we?
Because we know instinctively I think that it was certainty that brought us Hitler’s gas chambers and the Soviet gulags –so obviously not good. Hence our postmodern stance of not being certain about anything and the existential angst and narcissistic myopia that seem to go along with it. And yet, as Andrew pointed out, human beings need a sense of certainty, it provides us with a reason to “be” and a reason to “act” without fear.
It seems to boil down to what we are certain about.
Rupert told us that most of the people he meets these days that are certain are scientists. And it’s this certainty of “Scientism” that is the subject of Rupert Sheldrake’s new book, “The Science Delusion”. A great insight from Rupert here – “scientism” leads directly to “an agnosticism that prevents action.”
Where can we find a certainty that is neither dangerous nor one that incapacitates us?
And how does this kind of certainty relate to “uncertainty”. As the evening progressed this question became I thought a profound dialectic for the whole discussion, and also a place or a space of meeting between our speakers – in spite of their opposing positions on several significant points.
It came out in some transparent moments when they both expressed in their own words, that it was their experience of the truth of a fundamental spiritual reality to existence, that had given them certainty. A certainty which had paradoxically freed them to be –uncertain. As Rupert explained, it was his conviction in the spiritual nature of existence that was making it possible for him to fearlessly question his own Scientific roots – a truly scientific spirit, it could be said.
This paradox between certainty and uncertainty is reflected in Andrew Cohen’s new book, “Evolutionary Enlightenment”, in the shift of identity he describes that takes place in ourselves when we embrace both aspects of absolute Spirit – timeless Being out of which the whole Universe emerged and the creative thrust forward of evolutionary becoming. In that shift of identity, he says, we become more concerned with the process itself – with where are we all going, than we are with only ourselves.
Andrew left us with the thought that it is in fact, uncertainty, ‘nuance’ – in which lies the greater challenge of this paradox. As he explained, “there is only One, but how does one thing relate to another?” in other words, how do we make distinctions that make sense of the complexity of our own experience and of the world itself. Indeed, as the world changes ever faster it could be argued that we need to be lighter on our feet than we have ever been, ready to continually see it all afresh and think again. Certainty to uncertainty to…perhaps what Andrew refers to as “emergence”, that which has literally not come before.