Over the coming months, I will be exploring a topic which is at the heart of my reluctance to name myself as a scientist – the Sacred.
I have long been fascinated by the Sacred as a concept and how it plays out in the Arts and Sciences. Within the context of academic institutions it is often confined to the realms of the theological disciplines, rendering it as separate branch of human knowledge and belief which limits its importance to our greater understanding of the world and the universe.
As I have become more immersed in the world of science and scientists I have noticed that many people who are applied scientists are also deeply spiritual or religious people. What this tells me is that rational materiality is not enough to understand this universe around us. After all we can only see with our human eyes, hear with our human ears and understand with our human brains. We are part of the puzzle of life, and while science seeks to explain our universe there will always be a gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what we understand.’
In many ways my upbringing in the Anglican faith and early exposure to Yolgnu culture triggered a lifelong interest into spirituality, earth healing and the esoteric. My first academic foray into the realm of the Sacred was in my postgraduate Art History thesis Metaphysical Visions: Theosophy in Australia, where I explored the role of Theosophy in the visual arts and emerging communications technologies in between WWI and WWII.
The subject of the Sacred and esoteric knowledge has become much more relevant as I learn more about my genealogy. On my paternal side, I am descended from generations of ‘diviners’ or dowsers, including my uncle who has been gently encouraging me to learn more. I also recently discovered that my maternal grandparents were both members of the United Ancient Order of Druids in the 1930s. From what I understand at this time Mason and Druid groups in Australia were focused on community building – fraternal organisations motivated to helping members and the community more broadly. I find both family discoveries fascinating, as these knowledges are tied to a great respect, love and acknowledgement of the natural world and its energies.
My interest in the Sacred has been further fuelled by Basarab Nicolescu’s exploration of the Sacred in the Transdisciplinarity Manifesto and his other writings. The Sacred ties together aspects from the arts and sciences, drawing on the seasons, astronomy and cosmology to better understand our earth and our place within this dynamic system. He state in Levels of Reality and the Sacred that:
It should be obvious that if we try to built a mathematical bridge between science and ontology, we will necessarily fail. Galileo himself makes the distinction between human mathematics and divine mathematics. Human mathematics constitutes, he says (through Salvati), the common language of human beings and God, while divine mathematics is connected with the direct perception of the totality of
all existing laws and phenomena. A new scientific, cultural and spiritual approach – transdisciplinarity – tries to take this distinction into account seriously. A bridge can be built between science and ontology only by taking into account the totality of human knowledge.
The last sentence for me is the most powerful and resonant. The task of taking on the totality of human knowledge is almost unfathomable and for me somewhat of a distraction from my interest in finding commonalities between cultures and knowledges. For example, I explored the role of symbolism in a previous post, making connections between cultures through the use of symbols.
The following illustration is very useful for understanding the Western premise of knowledge from the perspective of science – it is both hierarchical and catalogical …
The Sacred is not limited to a purely religious experience. Eliard says this:
When one thinks of the sacred, one should not limit it to divine figures only. The sacred does not imply belief in God, in gods or in spirits. It is, I say it again, the experience of a reality and the source of our awareness of being in the world. What is this consciousness that makes us human? It is the result of that experience of the sacred, of that partition which occurs between the real and the unreal.
Perhaps more that the ‘real and unreal’ there is the also the context of the seen and unseen. Being able to explore the unseen is an opening to the space of the Sacred. I am also reminded of the teachings I received from Dr Te Huirangi Waikerepuru exploring Māori cosmology and Te Kore: the space of both nothingness (the void) and great potentiality and possibility.
How does this concept auger when considering our more-than-human relationships with other animal and plant species? For me, the iconography of the world tree is particularly laden with meaning. The World Tree, or Yggdrasil in Norse mythology is a symbol which links through many different cultures and faiths. The tree itself is both seen and unseen as the roots draw deep inside the earth.
MetaNexus operates on the premise that “our knowledge and knowhow go deep into specializations, as our world becomes ever more fragmented. We believe this fragmentation lies at the root of many of the current threats to our wellbeing in the 21st century.” To be honest I tend to agree with this – as a researcher continually operating between art, technology and applied science disciplines, I often hear terminology which is very discipline specific which has a wider application and context in other disciplines. I see this as a Tower of Babel where each disciplinary language cries out for superiority, effectively reinforcing silos of knowledge. Hence my deep attraction to Transdisciplinarity as both process and concept.
The world tree reminds us that there are connections between worlds, whether we see them or not. Failing to recognise the Sacred and spiritual aspects of our reality limits our potential as well as our understanding of the world. Nicolescu makes the comment that “The human person appears as an interface between the Hidden Third and the world. The erasing of the Hidden Third in knowledge signifies a one-dimensional human being, reduced to its cells, neurons, quarks and elementary particles.”
What has this got to do with my other field of scientific research connected to energy efficiency and behaviour change? Lots! One of the biggest issues for understanding the potential of energy efficiency to have a mass impact on reducing emissions is to find ways to highlight more than the economic benefits. Health, wellbeing and comfort are all co-benefits which are often forgotten when measuring the impact of energy efficiency on the economy and society. Again – we need to be making those connections to truly understand the issues at stake.
So with this little teaser, I will sign off. In the coming months I will explore the Sacred from a range of perspectives which relate to everyday life, our relationship to nature and urban environments and through the understanding gained from cultural and historic perspectives.
I look forward to sharing ❤
Boutet, D., (2007) Epistemic Companions: Art and the Sacred, MetaNexus https://www.metanexus.net/epistemic-companions-art-and-sacred/
Eliade, M., (1959) The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Harcourt, Inc.
Grassie, W., (2018) The Great Matrix of Being, MetaNexus https://www.metanexus.net/great-matrix-being/
Nicolescu, B., (2011) Transdisciplinarity: The Hidden Third, Between the Subject and the Object, Keynote speaker talk at the International Higher Education Congress “New Trends and Issues”, Istanbul, http://basarab-nicolescu.fr/on_line_articles.php
Nicolescu, B., (2002) Levels of Reality and the Sacred, Invited talk at the International Conference “Foundations and the Ontological Quest: Prospects for the New Millenium, Pontificia Universitas Lateranesis, Vatican.