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"All knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind; the infinite library of the universe is in our own mind." Swami Vivekananda
A new science is arising, a science of the human mind much broader than psychology has been to date. We have called it "Noetic" science, after the Greek word for intuitive knowing. Perhaps it is somewhat inaccurate to speak of it as though it were totally new; it might be better to refer to a Noetic emphasis in the human sciences. But the radical nature of the developments should not be underestimated. It is the second stage of a two-stage process.
Noetic science — a science of consciousness and the world of inner experience
What is Noetic science and why is it important? We need to remind ourselves from time to time why this endeavor in which we have joined seems significant, and to reassess where we are.
Noetic comes from the Greek word for intuitive knowing.
The first stage, the rise of modern materialistic science, is one of the most important evolutionary leaps in human history. Its essence embodies a remarkable proposition, namely that knowledge of the objective sense-perceived world should not be based on religious or traditional authority, nor the guarded property of an elite priesthood, but should be empirically based and publicly verifiable, open and free to all.
Thus there is not Russian chemistry
and American chemistry, or Hindu
physics and Christian physics. There
is only science — the best framework
of empirical relationships and
conceptual models currently available,
continuously tested in public by
The goal of the second stage, just begun, is creation of a similar body of knowledge, empirically based and publicly validated, about the realm of subjective experience. For the first time in history we are beginning to create a growing, progressively funded body of established experience about humanity's inner life — and particularly about the perennial wisdom of the great religious traditions and Gnostic groups.
For the first time there is hope
that this knowledge can become — not a
secret repeatedly lost in
institutionalization, or degenerating
into manifold varieties of cultism and
occultism — but rather the living
heritage of all humankind.
This extension of scientific exploration, which we have termed Noetic, differs from the materialistic science of the past in a number of ways.
It is centrally concerned with subjective experience where materialistic science has dealt almost entirely with objective, sensory experience. To the reductionistic models of materialistic science it adds holistic models; to deterministic explanations of events it adds teleological, purpose - recognizing explanations.
Where materialistic science was
largely value - inattentive, Noetic
science is centrally concerned with
value issues. Materialistic science
has tended to test knowledge by noting
whether it leads to the ability to
predict and control; while the
consensus on validation of Noetic
sciences has not yet emerged, it seems
clear that it will have more to do
with understanding than prediction,
and more with joining than control.
Furthermore, it seems likely that the Noetic sciences will evolve in a way quite different from the evolution of materialistic science. The latter dealt with genuinely new discoveries, and as a result the changing view of reality in the culture tended to lag behind that of the scientists. In the case of the new science of subjective experience it is otherwise.
at least, we are dealing here with rediscovery of truths that in some
sense have been discovered over and
over again, and have left their track
in the culture more rapidly than in
the scientific community. Changes in
the view of reality held in the
culture tend to lead to corresponding
changes in the sciences; for example,
the role of psychological attitudes
such as faith in healing, and the
conviction of spiritual reality that
comes with certain altered states of
Because the Noetic sciences are partially a process of rediscovery it is possible to anticipate what some of the essential characteristics will be. The new science is not really new. It is the esoteric core of all the world's religions, East and West, ancient and modern, becoming exoteric, "going public." As Aldus Huxley describes this "perennial wisdom," it "recognizes a Divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds ... finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality ... places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent God of all Being."
Whether it is implied by extrapolation from biofeedback training or psychic phenomena and the evidence for psychosomatic origins of illness, or whether arising from immediate intuitive experience, the fundamental profound insight appears to be recognition that in some important sense "I am cause and creator." In some sense much more fundamental than is implied in conventional psychology, our belief systems create our reality.
The fact that the key characteristics of the emerging knowledge can be anticipated is very significant. It means that there is no need to wait decades, until the new science begins to take more definite shape, before beginning to act on its basic principles. The influence of these principles can be brought to bear on social and business decision-making right now.
It is generally recognized that industrialized society is at a crisis point. Choices relating to energy, environment, control of technology, growth, employment, land use, economic incentives, government and business roles, all seem to present more and more unpalatable trade-offs, and seem in this fact to indicate an underlying fundamental change of direction.
Western political tradition, based in a Judeo-Christian ethic, a force that has declined as the industrial-era paradigm has gained in influence, is wracked with self-doubts. Nation after nation is retreating from democracy. Contemporary political, economic, environmental, and social crises are reflections of an underlying moral and spiritual crisis of industrial civilization. Their resolution depends on the resolution of that crisis.
A Noetic science — a science of consciousness and the world of inner experience — is the most promising contemporary framework within which to carry on that fundamental moral inquiry which stable human societies have always had to place at the center of their concerns. We do well also to recall that it was this nation more than any other in recent times which has clearly — at its inception — given this knowledge the capstone position, as symbolized by the All-seeing Eye in the Great Seal on the back of the dollar bill.
Public acceptance of the validity of a Noetic emphasis in the human sciences has been rising. More importantly, there is widespread recognition of the need for deeper understanding of our spiritual nature and of the essential goals and characteristics of a workable humane society.
Reprinted from IONS Newsletter, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1978. Willis Harman was president of theThe Institute of Noetic Sciences