What is the APV approach to teaching science?
We say that ‘Sa vidya ya vimuktaye’- knowledge is that which liberates. From that perspective, what is science? Although we haven’t done much in terms of structuring classroom activities, we are beginning to explore new ways of going about it. Right now, science textbooks make us believe that what we can perceive with our senses and with our machines is the only reality. But new science is now giving us a new perspective, beginning with the idea that only 4% of the universe is material. Even if we were able to explore all of it, the entire material universe that is available to our senses and instruments, that would still only be 4%. The remaining 96% is dark matter, dark energy, and scientists are unable to say anything about it, which means that everything in this universe is composed of 4% tangible material and 96% something else. Our bodies, then, are 4% material and 96% something else. Now, can we begin to present things in this way, that 96% is unknown? That what we are talking about is only 4%, and that there has been this fallacy in the last 300 years that what is visible and provable is the only reality. It’s not that way. So now let us take an example. When we say that a balanced diet should have proteins and carbohydrates and this and that and that, we have to keep in mind that that is only 4% of the issue- 96% has to be something else, something else that makes a healthy diet besides the known components of our food. What is that 96%? So that is one thing. Another thing is the question: what is our relationship to everything around us? So far the relationship that science talks about is a utilitarian relationship. When they talk about water, they say that our bodies are 3/4ths water, and so we need water to keep healthy. As if the existence of water mattered only in terms of our need; that we need it, and therefore we need to keep water clean and this and that. But what is water in itself? Is there any other relationship? So if you talk about people like Imoto, this scientist who conducted experiments about how state of mind is registered in water; he showed it photographically, in the crystal patterns of water. The crystal patterns were different depending on the mind of the person that that water was exposed to. There is evidence that we are influencing everything and everybody around us all of the time. It makes up an aspect of the lives of all of the people and things around us. I think most people have felt this- almost a physical effect of being around a very negative person. So a question is: does prayer bring about better health, if you pray for somebody? And some scientists have shown evidence that it does, the real effects of mental action. And this type of discussion is currently outside the bounds of science as it is taught today; there is no discussion of the way that prayer can affect health in the same way that we teach how heat affects ice. One thing is taken to be categorically unreal, the other real, only because one we can perceive directly and the other we cannot. But our instruments are so limited- every century, every decade we look back and realize how crude the instruments of our predecessors were. Certainly we will feel the same way about our own current technology. From that perspective, I think we should be very careful in how we present anything in science. We can do science for fun- okay, this is how matter behaves within this lens, but this is only 4%, at most, of what we know. The rest we don’t know.
We have to take care not to present science as a dogma, that the current understanding is the final understanding.
And mysteries are always there in science. Like, how did life emerge on Earth, in the beginning? Life came out of non-life. Even now, whatever we consume is turned into the life of our body. How does that happen? Who does that? They say that the heart does this, the lungs do that, but not always. Sometimes something goes wrong, and things cease to function properly- so what is that energy that governs everything? And then there are cases of people getting cured through faith. There is a woman who had a near-death experience, and her cancer, which doctors had declared as being in the end-stage, they had given her only a few days to live- she not only survived her cancer but put it into remission within three weeks, miraculously. And all the doctors said that they had never seen this before. And she says that she was in another world, and she met her father who had died ten years earlier, and he told her that it was not her time to come here yet, that she had to go back to her body. And she knew that her body was going to be okay, and it recovered very quickly. So just because we don’t know the science behind it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t mention it. We can admit that we know very little, that scientists know very little. Just the tip of the tail; the rest of reality is unknown. So we have to be very careful not to represent this tip as the whole. We have to ask: ‘What part of the whole is this tip?’
It seems that science is taught now by this economic model. That the extent of the relationship between things is producer and consumer, and that’s it.
And that categorization is a great fallacy. They say that a human being is a mammal, just as a cow or a dog is. So there isn’t, according to scientists and teachers, any inherent difference between a human being and another mammal- they all give birth to live babies, they are vertebrates, etc. Because they know nothing about consciousness. If they did they would talk more about things like neuroplasticity- they would say that this is something that humans can uniquely benefit from, this incredible ability to change the brain. Other animals can’t do it willfully; they do it only under tremendous stress from the environment, from external factors, but not from their own effort and insight. So if we don’t want to talk about those things, the deepest things, then what is the point of saying matter has three states, and food has carbohydrates and protein, and so on? We have been eating a balanced diet without knowing about carbohydrates for millions of years. People have known what is good for them without this narrow scientific explanation- maybe the body teaches them what is good and what is not good. Science has to go deeper. And even in this narrow sense of explanation they have been mistaken. Like the health of the teeth; wherever I read about keeping teeth healthy they only talk about brushing teeth. But there is another school of scientific thought that says that this brushing with plastic bristles is harmful, that it wears down enamel and irritates the gums. Though it shines the teeth, it also weakens them. And they rarely talk about exercising teeth, which is very surprising to me. They talk about exercise of the body but never exercise of the teeth. So even in these things I think there is a lot that is not purely scientific, but influenced by the commercial world. The people who make toothpaste and toothbrushes and advertise on TV, I think all of that influences the scientific view of health, and I think it leads to this confusion. And a lot of this confusion arises because they know so little about consciousness, and refuse to include discussion of it in the textbooks. Like neuroplasticity should be included wherever they talk about health or happiness. They talk about food and exercise; they should also say that a lot is influenced by our emotions. If we can regulate our emotions, we can change our minds, and change our bodies. They don’t talk about meditation. They have started talking about yoga, but just about postures, just about yoga as physical exercise.
They seem to present the body as merely a machine, a commodity that you need to protect at all costs from injury or change.
When they talk about hygiene, for instance- you should cut your nails, you should brush your teeth, you should wear properly washed clothes, you should bathe. But they don’t talk about cleanliness inside the body, they never talk about cleanliness of the mind, not holding onto negative emotions or cravings. So when they talk about having a bath, they should say ‘but having a bath only touches the outside of your body. It may improve your blood circulation for some time, but it doesn’t touch the inner organs, on which our health depends.’ You don’t wash your heart or your lungs with water. So what will ensure the health of those parts inside? And the big thing to consider is: if it is true that 96% of the universe is this dark matter- and they say that it is what is holding things together, this blanket is made of atoms and there is such empty space between the atoms- they say if you squeezed all the nuclei of atoms together the universe could fit within a football field – so if this blanket is made of atoms, then what is holding it together? What is holding our body together? Some believe it may be this dark matter, this dark energy. What we call gravity may be an aspect of this dark matter and dark energy. So if these things are true, then that clears the ground for many things that are unthinkable today. Is there another realm of reality that opens up after death? If it does, then looking from that perspective, things change, because you are looking at everything from the perspective of life coming to an end, after some time. Science books never talk about what happens after death, because they are not qualified to yet. But there is some scientific evidence now emerging, and they are afraid to touch it. I think any approach to science should keep this in mind first, and then we can do all of this other stuff, the things that the science textbooks talk about, as a kind of game. ‘Okay, let us see how matter behaves in the way that we perceive, though it may behave in other ways that we cannot perceive.’ But this is how it behaves in space with respect to our senses. How it would behave from another perspective, we don’t know. Another thing is that science is intensely focused on the individual- the individual body, individual organs- and less so on the individual within a group. The science of meditation, and what that energy can do to a group, is neglected. They have gathered some evidence that good energy can change the behavior of other beings- the behavior of birds, plants, etc. So this is a direction that we would like to go. We don’t have proper methods yet, how to go about all of this. But in my opinion, this is how it should be, ideally. Teaching the understood science while keeping it contextualized in larger mysteries, in the deeper search.
Are there any scientific activities that APV has done that strike you as emblematic of this way in which you want to present science?
I think we talked about this before in a previous interview, but there was one class we did on the Big Bang in which we told the story of the Big Bang as currently understood, and encouraged the children to use their imagination within the outline of the story. Using the power of imagination, we asked the children to visualize from the Big Bang to Earth becoming a living planet, the emergence of life in all of its forms. And so many insights sprouted from this visualization. So that is one way of presenting things, although you are not sure that this theory is exactly right. But at least you are allowing space for children to be creative, to use their imagination creatively in relation to science. In other classes we have talked about Imoto’s water experiment. We even made a drama out of the experiment. So we have done some things, but not much. Generally we want to use these known scientific facts to push farther and make a larger point. Like the idea of continental drift and Pangaea; you can discuss the idea that if the Earth was once one mass, it indicates this common source of life. And from this concept of Pangaea came our song about creating a Pangaea of humanity, of relationships. We are using a scientific image to make a philosophical and moral point. And I think we should push even beyond these known scientific facts, not shy away from the areas that are dark at the moment. Explore things like out of body experiences or telepathy with an open mind. And through these explorations teachers and children might begin to have a notion that tomorrow science may say something new. For instance, right now we say that there are these electromagnetic waves that carry signals from here to there. But if there is this dark matter and dark energy also involved in it, they may modify this theory and say something else. There may be something else that influences these waves, and this something else may have other fields of energy, with properties we previously thought impossible. In teaching science we must teach the children the accepted science while showing them that it is still open, unsettled, that the boundaries are always expanding and modifying what came before. We must encourage the children to push science towards the service of the most profound questions and the inner journey.