Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Three types of science

Science is today's religion. If science has established something, it must be true. If science has not established something, it cannot be true. That's how modern day philosophy has it.

But does science cover all of reality? Since science is based on what the physical senses (often with the help of instruments) tell us, is it wise to rely totally on that source of knowledge? Who has ever seen emotions or thoughts with the physical eye? Is that reason enough to deny them existence? Or are we missing something?

"Absence of proof is not proof of absence", we might say. To believe that science covers ALL of reality is not really scientific, because we have to deny other forms of human experience, even our own deepest feelings of identify, any reality. This is properly called "scientism". Not science proper has rejected the belief in the soul, in higher spheres, in transcendental realities, as many well educated people believe, but scientism. It is time to correct that extremely lopsided state of affairs.

Basically, reality covers at least three domains: that which we can see with our senses, that which we can see with our "inner eye", and that which does the seeing, both outer and inner: the Self. All three can be approached in a scientific manner! Then what is the meaning of "scientific". Wilber contends science in no way should automatically imply materialism. Science involves the following three elements:

  1. We follow an instruction, an injunction or a paradigm
  2. We perceive a certain state of affairs
  3. We compare our findings to those of others

These three "strands" operate in science, as should be obvious: an astronomer (1) looks through a telescope, (2) observes a certain part of the universe and (3) discusses his findings with fellow astronomers (and NOT with us mortals, a very important point).

Wilber argues for the existence of two other types of science, which follow the same formal procedure:

Mental or social science (what Europeans call Geisteswissenschaft) does not observes physical objects, but mental meanings, as can be found in documents, stories, myths, reports and books. The meaning of a text cannot be seen with the physical eye, but only with the "eye of reason". Following the three strands of science, mental science is perfectly scientific. (Of course, mental objects are not as concrete as physical ones, so the conclusions of mental science can never match those of physics. But so what?).

And there is a third type of science, according to Wilber. For does reality comprise only of things and thoughts? What about the principle in us that sees and thinks? The self which sees and thinks, cannot be seen and is not a thought. But it can be approached experimentally in meditation. Thus "spiritual science" is born. Meditation and yoga count as "science" because they too follow the three strands: (1) instruction -- we sit on a cushion for hours, (2) observation -- we notice a state of mind, and (3) confirmation -- we discuss our findings with fellow meditators.

To sum up: Wilber has argued for three types of science, since reality is composed of at least three domains, and all three domains can be approached in an experimental, experiential and therefore scientific way.

Back to the Core Concepts page.

Comment Form is loading comments...