Scientific Connectedness

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In July 2012, Kirk Schneider gave a presentation in Brooklyn, NY, on creating a toolkit for cultivating experiences of awe. The presentation stemmed from two of his books, and Awakening to Awe. He defines awe in the former book as a sense of “humility and wonder” regarding the mysteries of the universe (p. 8). Through awe, we discover the “fluid center”:

The fluid center begins and unfolds through awe, the humility and wonder of living, It is precisely through awe that we come to know how daunting life is, and how readily our presumptions crumble; and yet, conversely, it is precisely through awe that we are awakened to life’s majesty, and how dramatically our despair is misplaced. Somewhere in that dynamism is vivacity—the heart, soul, and core of which is both fluid and central. (pp. 10-11)

As part of the presentation, Schneider showed several film clips that tried to give viewers a sense of our place in the universe. Among these clips was one culled from a website and projected called the Symphony of Science. Symphony of Science is a project created by John D. Boswell, combining music, philosophy, and science into informative, visually and musically evocative video shorts.

I discovered these videos a few months ago when a friend posted a link to one, “The Quantum World,” starring Morgan Freeman, along with Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, and Brian Cox. I was astounded not only by the beauty of the video and music, but of the simple way very complicated quantum physics was conveyed. Understandable by both children and adults, this video taught me a tremendous amount about quantum physics in a mere four minutes.

Completely hooked, I headed to the website to check out the other videos in the series. Here, I discovered one with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan, entitled, “We Are All Connnected.” The video starts with deGrasse Tyson saying/singing:

We are all connected;
To each other, biologically
To the earth, chemically
To the rest of the universe atomically.

When I heard this, I thought, “Yes! Science gets this existential truth of relatedness.” But if science—as in the physical sciences—“gets it,” why does psychiatry not get it?

Carl Sagan says/sings:

The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it
But the way those atoms are put together
The cosmos is also within us
We’re made of star stuff
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.

Psychiatry and the medical model of psychology often suggest just the opposite—that “mental illness” is biological, that it is a sign of something “wrong with us.” But if we are “star stuff,” how can there be something “wrong” with us? If we are all connected—collections of atoms living together— then how can mental illness be solely biological?

In Schneider’s book Awakening to Awe, one of his interview participants talked about how relationship is vital to the experience of awe. And we know from the research of Bruce Wampold (1997, 2006) and others that the therapeutic relationship is more important to healing in psychotherapy than the type of therapy in which a client engages.

When we consider our Being-in-the-World, we are also considering our Being-in-the-Universe, not just in the “known world.” Is that the loophole medical model psychiatry and psychology are using—that they are dealing with “known world,” a world supposedly populated by “facts” and “truths.”

Schneider says in Rediscovery of Awethat Truth—i.e., the ultimate objective Platonic ideal of Truth—is contradictory to awe. Thus, a medical model view of psychiatry and psychology would not have room for the mysteries and unknowns of the universe. That, to me, is perhaps the saddest part of the medical model. Once we believe that on some level, we “know it all,”—that psychological ailments can be treated biologically or that we truly know something about that most mysterious world of all, the human brain—where is there room for exploration, discovery, learning, and awe?

That is the point where I would like to politely suggest to the believers in the medical model to listen to the words of Richard Feynman in “We Are All Connected:”

And it’s all really there
But you gotta stop and think about it
About the complexity to really get the pleasure
And it’s all really there
The inconceivable nature of nature.

— Sarah Kass

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