Scientific Interest in Spirituality
Re “Seeking the Biology of Spirituality,” April 26: The assumptions of materialist philosophy penetrate our thinking so thoroughly that most people accept without question the idea that depression, addiction and other behaviors and conditions are rooted in our biology.
Your article asks “what are the physical foundations of metaphysical enlightenment?” The brain and body chemistry register the effects of our being and doing; they are not causes. The reductionism that turns things upside down and attempts to explain the “higher” in terms of the “lower” never gets to the root of the matter, nor to what is most valuable in us.
SHARON R. SMITH
* Science writer Robert Lee Hotz’s report on scientific investigation of spirituality demonstrates one great barrier to a rational effort in this regard: a lack of a consensus among the investigators as to what “spirituality” is.
Current research in mental function and abnormal behavior seems to be coalescing in agreement that there are important feelings within the normal human mind known generally as a sense of purpose and a sense of moral propriety. These have been related to nurturant experience in early childhood, and are often described as the result of “imprinting” or “primal programming” of the human mind.
I believe that there will be a consensus that “spirituality” is the emotion experienced when one’s primal sense of moral purpose is satisfied and validated. Indeed, the importance of such satisfaction and validation is widely recognized; it remains to be identified as the experience of “finding spiritual fulfillment”; but I believe that that is what “spirituality” is in the normal course of life experience, and what researchers will come to accept.
IRVING LAWRENCE SELK
* I was surprised your article neglected to mention any of the psychedelic drug research of the ‘50s and ‘60s--some of the results of which imply a neurochemical basis for mystico-religious experience. Unfortunately, because of government suppression of psychedelic research, this important area of investigation remains taboo. I suggest your reporter consult the work of Stanislav Grof, Charles Tart, John C. Lilly and Timothy Leary for their important contributions to this area of inquiry.