So, what if it were wrong? It would affect everything. Now that's a pretty bold statement-and remember that I was trained as a scientist too and I have a lot of respect for science in terms of what it does. But what we've done, in modern society, is to take this scientific world view which was really aimed at prediction, and control, and creating technologies, and we've given it so much prestige and power that we put it in the position of a world view to try to live our lives by, and guide our societies by, and shape our powerful institutions by, and that's where it gets to be misleading. I could quibble and make it sound a little bit better if I just said "incomplete" or a "little bit off" but I don't want to say that. I want us to think seriously about the possibility that there is a fundamental error in there and that it's important for ordinary citizens to recognize that.
DiCarlo: Could you expand on that thought?
Harman: Science for three and a half centuries has been built on the premise that consciousness as a causal factor does not have to be included. Now nobody has every lived their lives on the basis of such a contrary premise. Nobody has ever said "I'm going to live my life as though my consciousness-my mind-weren't capable of making decisions, weren't capable of making choices, weren't capable of taking action." Science is exquisite for getting a particular kind of knowledge-the kind of knowledge that you need if your main purpose in life is to generate new technologies, to manipulate the physical environment-but the idea that consciousness might be causal in any sense was left out.
If what I really am is a collection of physical and chemical processes, modulated by some program in the DNA-if that's the essential nature of my being-then it follows that when those processes stop, when I come to the point of physical death, then I am no more. All the meanings and purposes I thought I stood for, are no more. There's little wonder that we then tend to fear death and have all sorts of other fears that link to the fear of death, or the fear of non-existence, but if you really look carefully, you will see that our whole education system teaches us- among other things-the fear of death. So imagine how much of a difference it would make if somehow, culturally, we came to conclude that death is a transition to something else-not to be feared-and that means that most of the other fears in our lives really have no basis either. Well, there's lots of evidence to suggest that that's a pretty credible point of view. For example, a lot of people have Out-Of-Body Experiences. Now, I don't mean a lot in the terms of tens, or dozens, or hundreds-I mean tens of millions of people in this society have had Out-Of-Body experiences. You can take a poll in any group and you will find a pretty good sampling. What that means is that they've had the experience-and it's very real-it's the difference between dreaming and being awake. This one experience has been known to change the lives of many people simply because if you have once experienced yourself as not totally identified with your physical body, then there are lots of implications of that in terms of asking the fundamental question - "Who am I?"
Well, if you don't want to look at that area, we'll put it on the table. But then there's this whole matter of, so-called perennial wisdom of the world spiritualist traditions. Now, it turns out-and of course nobody was really interested in comparative religion until a half or three quarters of a century ago-that when you examine the various spiritual traditions around the world, there tends to be, even though they have obvious differences in their public or esoteric forms, the inner circle, esoteric, hidden form of the various spiritual traditions are much more experientially based. It has to do with peoples' experiences in deep meditation or yoga-and that tends to be more or less the same in these different spiritual traditions. So a Christian mystic and an Islamic mystic and a Hindu mystic don't have any real trouble communicating with one another, if you pardon my use of that particular word. Those who seem to be understanding the inner circle, esoteric understanding of the tradition, recognize that there are differences in emphasis but there's an awful lot that can be agreed upon. But then, inherent in this whole perennial wisdom-which we very nearly discarded by the middle of the century which is now coming back-central to that, is the assumption that we do persist. That there is purpose and meaning in all of this; that this is a particular learning experience on this planet, but we go on with our learning; that we don't go somewhere else when we die, we simply remember where we've been all the time. And so this area, which has been a political and educational "no-no," something that you couldn't even talk about on university campuses not too long ago, is, I think, also a part of this shifting belief system.