martes, 17 de agosto de 2010

Wicca & science

Then I will tell you a great secret, Captain. Perhaps the greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff, we are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. As we have both learned, sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective. We are the universe, trying to understand itself. -- Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5

Wicca & science

(Yvonne Aburrow)

Wicca has no quarrel with much of modern science. Many Wiccans are from a scientific background, and so the experiential basis of Wicca appeals to us; also many scientists are motivated by a response of awe and wonder to the universe, and so are many Wiccans. However, the main problem with science for any spiritual person is its insistence on materialism and rationalism, and its failure to grapple with the moral consequences of its discoveries. Many Wiccans would regard themselves as rationalists (in preference to New Age vagueness or 'irrational' faith), but they would go a lot further than most rationalists in that they assert that the spiritual realms are real. However, there are some major flaws in the rationalist worldview, which lead to purificationism, conflict, and destructiveness; and its one-sided view of life is actually inimical to the dynamic and inclusive tendencies of Wicca.

The rationalist view regards everything primarily in terms of Euclidian geometry – we are all separate entities surrounded by empty space – mere points of awareness in a void. In this view, space is something that is outside us, and separates us from each other. The body becomes an object for the mind to control, and other people become objects in empty space – objects we can manipulate and control. The extreme form of this view was expressed with tragic consequences in nineteenth-century imperialism, and it can still be heard in the rhetoric used to justify modern imperialistic adventures.

A major tenet of rationalism which is frequently taken for granted is the notion of objectivity: the idea that it is possible to stand outside any given situation and comment upon it without being involved or affecting it in any way. However, even at quantum level, the observer affects the observed, and this is obviously true in the social sciences, where the presence of an authority figure has been shown to affect the outcome of the activity, because the subject tries to second guess what the observer wants them to do (Walkerdine, 1988). The history of anthropology is littered with examples of the anthropologist influencing the society under observation.

Another consequence of the rationalist view is the notion of reductionism – that everything can be reduced to its smallest indivisible unit, the monad or atom. The problem with this procedure is that you may be able to extrapolate from the workings of a complex system to predict the behaviour of one of its constituents, but you cannot deduce the behaviour of a complex system from the behaviour of its isolated elements. In astrophysics, this is known as the Three-Body Problem: “The problem of determining the motion of three celestial bodies moving under no influence other than that of their mutual gravitation. No general solution of this problem (or the more general problem involving more than three bodies) is possible.” If even an apparently simple problem like the behaviour of three planets moving under the influence of mutual gravitation (a single variable) cannot be predicted, it is hardly likely that we will be able to predict the outcome of a complex social interaction from the behaviour of isolated individuals.

In order to maintain an illusion of control, rationalists ignore the obvious conclusions that can be derived from Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and continue to regard the individual as a monad, unconnected with its context. The notion of the individual as an entity-in-its-own-right, a Ding-an-sich, leads us to quantify the rights and responsibilities of each individual, assessing them “rationally” and to weigh them against each other. This quantitative approach, where the will of the majority always outweighs the needs of the minority, inevitably leads to conflict.

Similarly, the assumption that the norm of any group can be determined statistically has led to the oppression of minorities (e.g. homosexuality was only removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1974). Anyone who deviates from the norm is regarded as dysfunctional, even if they are perfectly content with their lot. A better model for determining psychological health is homeostasis or equilibrium (which can be briefly summarised as “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”). The use of probability and statistical models is rationalism’s attempt to paper over the cracks resulting from the unpredictability of complex dynamic systems.

Postmodernism has rightly criticised this rationalist-reductionist view of the individual, but the conclusion of many postmodernists appears to go to the opposite extreme, implying that there is no such entity as the self. Because we are all subjected to the conflicting currents of various discourses and social contexts, the self vanishes in a miasma of artificial constructs. Because we can dissect a person’s utterances and discern the influences of various discourses, whether academic or popular, scientific or artistic, some have argued that people merely occupy a position in a complex nexus of social interactions, and have no self-identity at all1. This is clearly unrealistic; I am aware of myself as a person uniquely situated within the social and intellectual dynamic. This self-awareness or consciousness is what gives one identity. To be sure, we are not isolated entities, but we do have identity (Alan Rayner, pers. comm.).

However, it must be admitted that the scientific method was an improvement on its predecessor, the process of deduction from a priori assumptions with no reference to actual experience or experiment.


Inclusionality is an awareness that space, far from passively surrounding and isolating discrete massy objects, is a vital, dynamic inclusion within, around and permeating natural form across all scales of organization, allowing diverse possibilities for movement and communication. Correspondingly, boundaries are not fixed limits - smooth, space-excluding, Euclidean lines or planes - but rather are pivotal places comprising complex, dynamic arrays of voids and relief that both emerge from and pattern the co-creative togetherness of inner and outer domains, as in the banks of a river. (Alan Rayner)

Let's unpack the above statement and see where it leads.

“Space... is a vital, dynamic inclusion within, around and permeating natural form across all scales of organization, allowing diverse possibilities for movement and communication.”

In the rationalist paradigm, space is seen as an empty void external to discrete objects; it is a void that nothing can cross. This is why magic and religion are regarded as nonsensical in the rationalist paradigm. However, if space is included within us and all around us, and can change and move (is dynamic), then influences (physical and spiritual) can cross the space between us, because it is a presence of absence, a vital dynamic inclusion. Indeed, the space itself can be seen as the divine presence, or consciousness.

“Correspondingly, boundaries ... are pivotal places comprising complex, dynamic arrays of voids and relief that both emerge from and pattern the co-creative togetherness of inner and outer domains, as in the banks of a river.”

Rationalists see boundaries as fixed, impermeable, and places of severance. (Holism tries to abolish boundaries altogether.) However, inclusionality sees them as places of joining and permeability. Boundaries are holey, full of holes. Consider a cell membrane or the human skin. Both of these are permeable membranes, opening and closing to emit and receive. On a larger scale, we ourselves open and close all the time, when we breathe. As the boundary opens and closes, the inner and outer domains change reciprocally. As we breathe in, the inner space expands and the outer contracts; as we breathe out, the inner space contracts and the outer space expands, and the process is mediated through the boundary. (If the boundary was removed we would cease to exist; if it was completely closed we would die.) The banks of a river are another example of inner and outer interacting through the intermediary; as the river (inner) flows through the landscape (outer), the river moves through the landscape via the path of least resistance, but as it moves it also erodes the banks, and deposits silt elsewhere, building the landscape up again in a different place.

So, to my mind, this is a more realistic model of how stuff works, and accounts for much of the dynamic nature of reality. It also gives us a new model of the self, the complex self.

The ‘Complex Self' represents a fully contextualized understanding of ‘self-identity’, based on ‘inclusional logic’ (as distinct from conventional rationalistic ‘impositional’ or ‘box’ logic), which reciprocally couples distinct but not discrete inner (local) and outer (non-local) spatial aspects through an INTERMEDIARY domain or ‘dynamic self boundary’. Our cultural denial of this ‘triple-aspect Self’ through our conventional rationalistic focus on ‘discrete individuals’ as ‘contents abstracted from context’, is, I suspect, the source of profoundly damaging and abusive internal and external conflicts, including those that induce human beings to indulge in going to war and to punish others who do not share their beliefs and values. In sensitive people, these conflicts manifest in various kinds of ‘escape mechanisms’, including addictions and psychoses, and are at the root of the epidemic of ‘stress in the workplace’. 2

Ecology – Gaia theory, Pagan ethics, inclusionality

Evolution – Darwinian, Neo-Darwinian, and inclusional perspectives

Cosmology and cosmogony


1 The preceding six paragraphs are part of a paper written by Alan Rayner and Yvonne Aburrow and presented at the International Conference of Critical Psychology, Bath, 2003. The full text of the article, Feeling Beyond the Logic of Conflict can be found at

2 Alan Rayner (2004), Introduction to the Complex Self,

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