Quotes on Science and Mysticism

I had the honor of giving a tour of our new facility in New York to Richard Holbrook, who had shortly finished his tour of duty as ambassador to the United Nations...He starts asking these questions, and I'm saying, This guy just came out of the Balkans in conversations with the unrest over there, and he's asking me informed questions about the cosmos. So I said to him, 'Where does this come from?'

And he said, 'Oh, I'm sorry I didn't tell you. Actually, in college, I majored in physics.'

...He had this inculcation in sort of rational, scientific thought that goes on in any physics curriculum. And I said, 'Has this worked in any one way or the other, positively or negatively, in your negotiations and peace talks?'

And he said, 'I cannot imagine accomplishing what I did without that kind of thinking.' Of course, in physics, you distill a problem down to its essence...you shed what you don't need, find out what matters. When other people come in with their baggage, he cuts right through it. He's able to reach consensus in ways other people can't, or can't even imagine."

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion & Survival

"The mystics...I think that they do have experiences, and they might be more than just psychological experiences. The trouble is, those guys aren't interested in power, so they never finish up running anything...so we never hear the interesting bit. The rest of it is put forward by organizations. If the teaching of Jesus Christ is about anything, it's about trying to get your own ego under control."

John Cleese on Real Time with Bill Maher, 25 September 2015

General ideas, especially moral ones, impressed on us at an early age often become deeply embedded in our brains; it can be very difficult to change them. This may help to explain why religious beliefs persist from generation to generation, but how did such ideas originate in the first place and why do they so often turn out to be incorrect?

One factor is our very basic need for overall explanations of the nature of the world and ourselves. The various religions provide such explanations and in terms the average person finds easy to relate to. It should always be remembered that our brains largely developed during the period when humans were hunter-gatherers...Under such circumstances a shared set of overall beliefs strengthens the bond between tribal members. It is more than likely that the need for them was built into our brains by evolution. Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truths but only to enable us to be clever enough to survive and leave descendants.

From this point of view, there is no need for these shared beliefs to be completely correct, provided people can believe in them...The very nature of our brains—evolved to guess at the most plausible interpretation of the limited evidence available—makes it almost inevitable that without the discipline of scientific research we shall often jump to the wrong conclusions, especially about abstract matters.

Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul

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Updated at: 2016-01-31 01:01:58 UTC