Book Review

By Michael Dougherty

From Science to God: A Physicist's Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness by Peter Russell, New World Library, Novato, CA, 2003; 144 pages, ISBN 1577314093, hardback, $19.95.

Combining autobiography with a consideration of science and spiritual wisdom, From Science to God recounts the author's search to understand consciousness and to integrate it with a scientific worldview. Peter Russell's journey began as a knowledge-hungry child who was always asking "why": Why is the sky blue? Why do acids burn? How do we see color? As he grew up, this intense interest evolved into training for a career in math and science, studying physics under Stephen Hawking at Cambridge. When he began to investigate the sciences in depth, however, he realized that cold equations would not answer his deeper questions about the world. In pursuit of enlightenment he left college for India, where he studied transcendental meditation and philosophy, which remain central interests for him. Returning to Cambridge, he obtained an honors degree in theoretical physics and experimental psychology and a degree in computer science.

This book centers on consciousness and its existence throughout a sentient universe. The author explains in clear and simple terms what he understands consciousness to be, and every step of the journey is understandable because we follow the process used to arrive at his conclusions. He bases the concept of consciousness on experience, and theorizes that almost all objects have some experience or sensation of the world, and therefore are conscious. While a human being may have a richer experience than a rock or tree, every being has consciousness of some type. He argues that consciousness is the fundamental reality, rather than a byproduct of matter, space, and time.

Western science denies this essential insight because it still ignores whatever cannot be quantified or established in terms of empirical data. The discussion goes on to explore the nature of light in both science and self-exploration, and the various paradigm shifts that have produced modern thought. "I saw that just as science had evolved through a series of paradigm shifts, so too had religion. Moreover, the two sets of shifts appeared to be heading in the same direction" (p. 108). He perceives an evolutionary process:

Western science broke away from the doctrines of monotheistic religion, establishing its own atheistic worldview, which today is very different indeed from that of traditional religion. But the two can, and I believe eventually will, be reunited. Their meeting point is consciousness. When science sees consciousness to be a fundamental quality of reality, and religion takes God to be the light of consciousness shining within us all, the two worldviews start to converge. -- p. 116

Thus his investigations lead him to believe that all the discoveries are in place to forge a new pantheistic worldview that synthesizes science and spiritual wisdom, a view very similar to that described by the world's mystics.

Science Menu