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Beware pseudoscience in the guise of spirituality

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Occasionally I get emails from various bloggers, authors, or others sending me press releases because they'd like me to promote their product on my website. I suppose any blog that's been out and around a bit will end up on such lists. If something is genuinely related to the topics on which I write, and I feel it would be of interest to my readers, and I really do intend to check it out myself, then I'm more than happy to pass along word about it. Most of these messages don't fit that criteria, however.

Today I got a notice about a new book claiming that 2012 will be both the end of the world and a 'new beginning'. The language describing this book was along these lines...

Drawing on meticulous research as well as personal shamanic experience, the author clarifies the 'big picture' of planetary evolution from the perspectives of ancient wisdom and modern science. He reveals an intricate interplay between phenomena (such as galactic super-waves, magnetic pole reversals, evolutionary impulses within matter, and the descent of supramental light) shaping a new species of humanity on a rapidly evolving earth.

After reading that I thought to myself, "I hope I don't sound like this in my articles". I do use the phrases like, "ancient wisdom and modern science" to describe my subjects, but - as they say - the devil is in the details. I can see how someone could easily confuse this kind of book with the sound of some of my work if they only skimmed it.

While I do try to synthesize ancient wisdom with a modern scientific understanding of the universe, there are a few things I don't do. I don't try to stretch ancient peoples' ideas into meanings they probably didn't have in mind in order to fit it to some theory today. This would imply that I'm suggesting ancient people somehow had access to discoveries only made recently. That's not impossible, but such a claim would require a lot of evidence, not merely retrofitting some vague description to something else. More importantly, it implies I'm trying to prove things about 'what exists' by using ancient philosophy - which would never be the case. On the other side of the coin, I also do not try to bend or reinterpret scientific theories of our time into some different version of themselves in order to fulfill a predetermined belief or ancient idea (such as with the common distortions and misrepresentations of quantum physics by New Age and postmodern writers).

Genuine spirituality for the modern world should not be in the business of telling people what exists or doesn't, why the cosmos came into being, what happens in some unknowable realm, or what's going to happen in the future. Claims about reality should be left to those who do the hard work of observing the natural universe through proven scientific means. Instead, genuine spirituality takes the facts of Nature as best as science can approach them, accepts them provisionally, and builds upon that. It encourages a humble approach to knowledge. Cultivating such humility means we do not make claims about things we cannot show to others that we really know. Further, such a humble approach to knowledge is an important spiritual value itself.

Instead of trying to 'nail down' all the grand secrets of the cosmos, genuine spirituality teaches us to accept that we do not know all things, including many things we really wish we knew. Instead, spirituality is about learning to live with what we do know and learning to be open to more as it becomes rational and responsible to accept it. But most of all, genuine spirituality is about focusing on making ourselves a better person, building our character, discipline, empathy, and compassion to the point where we can enjoy a deeper joy and contentment in life that is possible only through such virtues.

The truth is, we can't know what's going to happen in 2012, and it has yet to be demonstrated that anyone has any more access to that knowledge than anyone else (including the Mayans or their modern 'interpreters'). By all reasonable standards, we have little reason to suspect 2012 will be highly unusual. Instead of worrying what will happen to the world in 2012 or any other thing that's outside our control, a genuine spirituality would direct our attention to what the person in the mirror will do in 2012 to try and make life better for themselves and those around them.

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