Pari Center Dialogues in Religion and Science, 2003-2004

F. DAVID PEAT

Report for the Templeton Foundation

Policy

At the conclusion of the first year of the Pari Dialogues the group decided to move towards a mixture of public lectures, that would explore issues in religion and science at a level accessible to the general public, and more concentrated roundtables where specific issues could be focused in depth.

It was also decided to videotape all public lectures. These would be then made available in the Center’s library. In addition, edited excerpts will be placed on the Center’s website.

During the year 2003-2004 the group was approached by the administration of Civitella-Paganico, of which the village Pari is a part. They felt that the Dialogues were of such importance that the talks series should be published as a booklet that could be made available to the general public. Work on the booklet and editing of the videotapes will take place during the fall and winter of 2004.

Advertising

Before each public talk, posters are displayed in bookstores in Siena, Grosseto as well as in shops in the surrounding towns and villages. Posters and flyers are also distributed to various local associations as well as to a mailing list. Press releases are sent to the newspapers Il Tirreno, Corriere della Maremma and Siena Dove which in most cases would then carry an article announcing the talk. The talks are also advertised on the Pari Center’s website and several email announcements are sent out.

In the case of roundtables these events are by invitation only.

Public Talks

The first public talk of the season was given by Arnold Smith at the University of Siena. Smith discussed the nature of embodiment, bringing in certain spiritual teachings and commenting on possible limitations within the scientific approach, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence. In part, the purpose of a Pari Dialogue talk being held Siena was to further our relationship with the university.

August also saw a public talk by Manuela Minacci, who is an icon maker from Florence. Her talk was assisted by Susan Scott, a curator with the Siena Cathedral who compared contemporary and medieval symbolism in sacred art and the link between earth and heaven in our personal lives.

In September a public talk was given during the running of the Conference ‘Unlimited Love’ to explain the nature of the international meeting.

In February a talk entitled ‘Living as a Hindu, was given by Gaonkar Narendra Sakharam. He stressed that, in its origins, the Hindu approach should be properly considered as a science; as a way of understanding the cosmos and our relationship to it. ‘It is more a way of life, a form of conduct in society and the world, than a theology,’ Narendra explained. He also stressed that the origins of Hinduism lay in a science that sought to understand the nature of reality and mind. ‘The very earliest roots of Hinduism,’ he said, ‘were experiments and proposals for experiments.’ He discussed the emphasis placed on the nature of appropriate action. ‘To act we must stay within the moment and not focus beyond that moment onto outcomes or rewards. A perfect action arises out of the moment itself and is not judged as being “good” or “bad,” Hinduism does not engage in such dualities.’

At the end of February David Peat and Arnold Smith, two representatives from the Pari Dialogues, traveled to Cork, Ireland to assist in the creation of ETHOS, an international, interdisciplinary research group, that will explore ways in which lessons learned from the study of complex adaptive systems can be applied to the praxis of governance and accountability.

David Peat pointed to the importance of a trust and ethics in the maintenance good order in society, governance, commerce, and economic stability. Traditionally, ethical rules have been the province of religions and philosophies, but today we can learn a great deal from the study of self-organizing systems. Systems like these are self-sustaining and what’s more they can adapt to change and even repair themselves. The key is the multiplicity of their feedback connections and their tolerance of diversity and levels of competition. What’s more, each subsystem contributes to the well-being of the whole.  Too much selfishness or dominant behaviour on the part of one player would destroy the very ecosystem on which it is dependent.

Arnold Smith spoke of the possibility that we might be much closer than we imagine to a society in which far greater levels of trust and openness, and even love are widespread, rather than the high levels of mistrust, alienation and fear that seem to be dominant at present. In speaking on the subject of ‘open-hearted society’ he said, ‘We would like to create models for governance that are consistent with a society that we would really want to live in, a society in which our children are encouraged to grow well beyond what has been possible for us. I believe we need to be vivid and bold with our imagining, as well as careful and pragmatic and detailed. If we are timid, or half-hearted, or naïve, governments, and therefore society, are likely to evolve in ways we really don’t want at all.’ He emphasized the power of love as being basic to human relationships. ‘Any discussion of the good functioning of society cannot ignore the place of love.’ He asked if science could be widened to take into account qualities and the more subjective elements of our experience.

In March Prof Andrea Pasquino of the University of Pescara spoke on ‘Buddhism and the Science of the Mind.’ He explained the concept of the ten worlds and the passage between them, as well as concepts of duration and transformation. During his discussion of the nature of form and the void several participants made connections to ideas from quantum theory. ‘To understand the nature of mind it is important to move beyond a logic based on rigid distinctions of dualism,’ Pasquino added. ‘In fact one must be able to contain the paradox of “both non-duality and duality” and the same moment.’ He pointed out that some of our earliest understandings about Tibetan Buddhism came from the journal of an Italian priest who lived for some time in Tibet.

Also present at the talk was Nityama Masetti, a representative of the journal Scienza e Conoscenza, who will be advertising future meetings as well as publishing papers arising from the Pari dialogues

Prof Fernando di Mieri of the Dominican University in Naples drew on the philosophical approach of Thomas Aquinas to ask, ‘How is it possible to know and to believe in God?’ Di Mieri stressed the importance of critical thinking when applied to fundamental questions in both science and religion.

Father MichelDavid Semeraro asked ‘Do we have sufficient bread?’, his metaphor referring to the deep spiritual hunger of our modern age. As a Benedictine monk he compared the contemplative life of many of the world’s religious traditions as well as speaking of the dedication of the scientist in the pursuit of truth.

Alison MacLeod spoke about a book she had just written The Wave Theory of Angels which mirrored religious ideas that circulated during the building of a medieval French cathedral with concepts in contemporary quantum theory, such as superstrings and M- theory.

Arnold Smith spoke on ‘Love,’ both at the level of personal interactions and as a cosmic force. Spiritual traditions, such as the ‘Sufi path of love’ and the Christian notion of love and agape, focus on both personal and impersonal love; however the notion of love does not enter into an objective science. How then, Smith asked, can we describe love as a cosmic force? Is this no more than a poetic metaphor or is it a pointer towards limitations within the scientific approach?

Roundtables

Dr Lee Robbins visited Pari for a week in August to work on her new book The Wound in Matter: A Discussion of the Spiritual and Scientific Dimensions to Nature. She found her roundtable discussions with members of the Pari Center valuable in her final revisions of the manuscript.

October saw a one-day visit from two religion teachers. Our discussion revolved around the degree to which science could enter in the religious curriculum

‘The Liverpool Philosophers’ visited Pari for a week of informal discussions plus two days of formal discussions on chosen topics. The group had been created several years ago by Robert Lewis, in coordination with The Society for Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education, with the idea that when laypeople learn the tools of philosophical enquiry, they are able to think critically and serve as more effective citizens. Since that time several other groups had been formed that meet together on a weekly basis.

In 2003 David Peat had been invited to address the group in Liverpool. In return they visited Pari for an intensive two-day discussion on science, philosophy and religion. In addition to roundtable discussions and lectures with David Peat and Arnold Smith, the group was also addressed by Franklin Abrams on the philosophy of Dewey, while David Oakley introduced the Quantum Delayed Choice experiment as a doorway into deep questions within religion and science. At times the discussions were robust with a strong resistance to organized religion being expressed by some participants. However, at the conclusion of the meeting there was general agreement that, at its deepest, the sense of wonder and mystery experienced by the scientists also touches a spiritual dimension. One participant said that the meeting had produced a profound change in his worldview.

A similar conclusion was reached in a roundtable on the Quantum Measurement Problem. This troublesome issue of measurement in quantum theory appears to take physics to an impasse and to a deep questioning of the nature of reality and the limits of language. In this context, several participants referred to the mystical traditions and the way in which the essence of the deepest experiences can be compromised when put into words.

The Pari group also had two roundtable meetings in Siena with members of the group EFA, economists from the University of Siena, and directors of Monte dei Paschi bank. The discussions began with applications of complexity theory to economics and then focused on the ethical and moral dimensions of economics—or ‘how can the spirit of St Francis permeate modern economic theory.’

Francesco Rinaldi, one of the bank’s directors, called for a major paradigm change in economics and in the role of money which has become increasingly ‘dematerialized.’ This shift would involve new approaches to banking, particularly relevant in the case of Monte dei Paschi which had been formed during the Middle Ages in the religious context of caring for widows and orphans. The conclusion of the first meeting was to hold a joint Pari/EFA International Conference on ‘New Paradigms in Economics’ in 2005, a tentative title for the conference is ‘Money in the Service of Humanity or Humanity in the Service on Money?’ Further meetings will be involved during the planning stage.

The Pari Group also made a visit to the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo to meet staff of the Vatican Observatory. An afternoon of discussions was held with the director, George Coyne SJ, who expressed an interested in a collaborative program involving Pari. Professor Coyne will visit Pari at the end of September 2004 to give a public talk in our LSI series and to explore future collaboration between the Pari Center and the Vatican observatory.

The group also enjoyed a visit from Eric Weislogel, director of Metanexus’s Local Societies Initiative. Together we discussed possible futures for the LSI network and future collaborations. We also explored one of our current research interests: rather than seeking rational answers and resolutions it seems more important to stay with the deepest questions. To this end we are seeking to frame some of the deepest questions that occur in science and in spirituality.

Conferences

The LSI group organized two conferences during the 2003- 2004 season. One was inspired by remarks made by Professor McWeeney of the University of Pisa at an earlier LSI meeting: that the roots of conflict, corruption, and disorder in many Third World countries can often be traced to lack of education. McWeeney felt that education, particular that which would open the doors to the development of science and technology, is critical. The weekend conference explored this issue from a variety of perspectives and then discussed in detail a program to write and post science textbooks on the Pari Center’s web site where they could be downloaded without charge. The goal is to provide a complete course in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology from the most basic level to the end of high school. At present fifteen texts in have been planned, three of these have already been written and work is now progressing on several others. The meeting discussed how the first of these texts are to be tested by educational groups in Africa and Jordan.

In addition, the proposal was made and accepted that Pari should become involved in publishing by making use of the new technologies whereby books as pdf files that be transmitted electronically and printed on demand by book chains and companies such as Amazon. Several possibilities were discussed. (See below).

The other conference, co-sponsored by the Summit Alliance for Global Health, was entitled ‘Unlimited Love: Self-Transcendence and Personal-Social Transformation’ and brought together workers from Habitat Jordan, a priest, nurses, scientists, social workers and a neuroscientist. The group learned about the neuroscientific correlates of love and altruism and then addressed the role of love and transcendence in the fields of social service and economics. Scientific ideas of self-organization and complex adaptive system suggested new models for organizations that would be more responsive to human needs. Participants from Habitat Jordan spoke about their work and showed two videos. There was also the opportunity to present the conclusions of the conference more widely during a public lecture. Spin off from the conference included several of the participants spending time as volunteers in Jordan and planning of a follow-up conference to be held in the United States. Two of the participants are now working to create a Friends of the Pari Center non-profit within the United States.

Arnold Smith, as a representative of the Pari Dialogues, attended a conference on ‘Art, Science and Spirituality’ held in Melilla (a possession of Spain on the coast of Morocco). The conference was sponsored by the Al-Andalus Society and Leonardo journal.

Business Meetings

September 2003 saw a business meeting/roundtable lasting three days with John Hondras of Radiant Digital (a London based media company) and Catherine Christof of the University of Canterbury. Discussions revolved around questions on the ultimate nature of reality both from a scientific angle and as seen through various spiritual traditions. One possible outcome would be the development of a CD-rom that would expose the general public to these ideas.  In December, David Peat followed up this idea with a visit to the Radiant Digital offices in London for continued discussions.

During that visit he also held a meeting at Birkbeck College to explore the possibility of an International Conference on ‘The Legacy of David Bohm,’ this was followed up by a second meeting in London in May 2004.

Following the Unlimited Love conference, the Center held business meetings with the Summit Alliance for Global Health, who had co-sponsored the meeting. Future collaboration was discussed along with plans for one or two follow-up conferences to be held in the USA or Pari.

The Center also held business meetings to discuss future directions for the Pari Dialogues, what questions and issues should be discussed and the possibility of forming stronger links with other groups. The Center also met to plan the format of September (2004) international conference on Religion and Science ‘The Next Horizon.’

The ‘Pari Dialogues in Religion and Science’ form one of the most important activities of the Pari Center for New Learning. In the context of the Pari Center, a group of supporters are incorporating a ‘Friends of the Pari Center’ as a 501c3 in the United States with the view to raising funds and promoting some of the Center’s activities within the US.

In concluding the year, the LSI group met to plan an International Conference ‘The Next Horizon: Re-examining Deep Values in Religion and Science’ to be held in September 2004.

Outreach

Bodhisattva Productions, Ltd, visited Pari in 2003 to carry out a series of interviews exploring the connections between Buddhist teachings and modern physics. The video they made is now commercially available.

David Levitt of Comcast, a US documentary film unit will be visiting in September to videotape interviews during ‘The Next Horizon’ religion and science conference.

The Center has made contact with the new LSI groups based in Italy. We intend to visit the two Rome-based groups later this year and propose some joint programs.

During 2004 ongoing discussions were held, both internally, and with a number of experts in the UK and USA, regarding a Pari Publishing Project that would take into account the current transformation of the publishing industry. Publishing in this way would involve producing books in Pari in the form of pdf files which can then be transmitted to book chains that print on demand, to individual printers and to Internet sales companies should as Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Since we have been asked to transcribe and publish, in Italian, our past LSI talks, it makes sense to and collected together, along with other papers on religion and science already on the Pari Center website or in the process of being written. These would then be published as a book in English. A second proposal is to request Dr Edy Altes, author of A Heart and Soul for Europe and President of the World Conference of Religion and Peace, to write a book based on his experiences following his resignation as Dutch Ambassador to Spain in favour of working with scientists and religious leaders.