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What is a Rational Mystic?

Rational Mystics, wise men and women
Rational Mystics

Today seems to be a divide between science and spirituality.

Historically this is quite a recent thing. Venerated scientists and thinkers were doing "science" before it was called science.

It is suggested that Isaac Newton wrote more on alchemy and mystical topics than he did on what we now call science.

He, like many before him, would best be called, "Natural Philosophers". They we concerned with learning about the nature of nature; the way things worked and the patterns behind perceived events.

Our belief system and the "frame of reference" we use to interpret the world influences what we experience as reality.

“Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?” - Carl Sagan

Rational Mystic

I identify as a rational mystic - but what do I mean by that?

In 2004 the author John Horgan wrote a book entitled "Rational Mysticism: Spirituality Meets Science in the Search for Enlightenment: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality"

In this book, Horgan dives into the realm of spirituality and its connection to science. He takes a closer look at the spiritual beliefs of some of the most well-known scientists and theologians of our time, including Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Deepak Chopra.

He examines the similarities between the scientific and spiritual realms, and how these two seemingly disparate entities can coexist and even complement one another.

He also makes an effort to bridge the gap between science and religion, highlighting how certain aspects of spirituality can be understood through scientific reasoning. In doing so, he challenges the notion that science and spirituality are mutually exclusive and demonstrates how having a strong spiritual belief can be beneficial to the scientific process.

In this book John Horgan seeks to bring together science and the spiritual, highlighting how they are more intertwined than we often think.

What is interesting to me is that I was using the term Rational Mystic several years before John's book.

I can't claim any credit for the term, however.

The term "rational mysticism" was in use at least as early as 1911 when it was the subject of an article by Henry W. Clark in the Harvard Theological Review.

In a 1924 book, Rational Mysticism, theosophist William Kingsland considered rational mysticism as a kind of "scientific idealism".

Idealism is a movement that suggests that "reality" is equivalent to mind, spirit, or consciousness and that it is a "mental" construct.

If you've seen The Matrix you'll get the idea.

If I'm honest, I don't remember reading any of this stuff before "discovering" the term Rational Mystic and using it.

As you may have read in my biography on this website I have a background in science and mysticism so the "label" seemed to work nicely for me.

John Horgan's insightful book Rational Mystics serves as an interesting resource for those interested in understanding the relationship between science and mysticism. He brings to light how spirituality can be beneficial to the scientific process, and ultimately, encourages readers to consider the intersections between science and spirituality for a more holistic view of life.

John Hotgans Key Points are

1.   Science and spirituality can work in harmony and can even complement each other.

2.   Certain aspects of spirituality can be understood through scientific reasoning.

3.   There is a benefit to having a strong spiritual belief in the scientific process.

4.   Religion and science are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

5.   Understanding the intersections between science and spirituality can give us a more holistic view of life.

Final Thoughts

We need to remember that science and mysticism are ways of experiencing the world and asking questions about it.

Science progresses through careful analysis and specific methods thus seeking a consensus view. 

Mysticism is a more personal approach to understanding the world and is, by definition, subjective, often not open to "scientific" validation.


Each seems to answer some very profound questions and neither has a complete answer. 

Rather than be an "either/or" thinker I like to consider myself a "Rational Mystic". 

The Universe
The Universe

I'd like to end with some quotes from the Scientist and Author Carl Sagan who, for me and many others, is an inspiration.

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”

Alan /|\

If you are interested in Mysticism you may like my other blog The School of Mystery and Magick

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