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Knowledge, Power, and Enlightenment

Section Introduction
by Andrew Cohen

section introduction

On a plane from San Francisco to Toronto in 1996, I happened to sit next to a friendly middle-aged man who was reading a book about Tibetan Buddhism. We struck up a conversation, and the amiable stranger turned out to be Duane Elgin, the renowned scientist and environmental activist. Our wide-ranging discussion that afternoon planted the seed that ultimately became the "Can Science Enlighten Us?" issue of What Is Enlightenment? After I returned home, several of my students and I spent the next few months trying to educate ourselves about the emerging dialogue between science and spirituality. And while we all could not help but experience the tremendous thrill of unimagined possibilities that this marriage appears to offer us, the real object of our inquiry lay somewhere else. It had more to do with enlightenment itself and its implications for the scientific endeavor. We questioned the precarious relationship between the accumulation of knowledge that the scientific effort inevitably entails and the ego's addiction to personal power. Enlightened understanding tells us that it is the ego's lust for personal power that is the single most important obstacle on the spiritual path. What we became intensely curious about was this: If one's craft was entirely dependent upon one's ability to absorb and organize enormous amounts of information, what would be the effect of the power of that accumulated knowledge on the knower's ego? For the ego of the scientist, surely the greatest temptation must be the desire to figure it all out. TO KNOW IT ALL. So the ongoing question for us was simply this: Is it possible for highly intelligent human beings to engage in the all-important quest for knowledge and yet remain free from the ego's addiction to personal power? And even more importantly, to what degree do the power of knowing and the ego's thrill of being the one who knows impact the scientific endeavor itself?

So, in light of all this—what is the relationship between science and spirituality? The following interviews with biologist Rupert Sheldrake and quantum physicist Amit Goswami offer an intriguing contrast of views from two renegade scientists who have devoted their lives to proving that there is more to reality than meets the eye.


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