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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:


Perhaps Science
and Spirituality
Can Go Together

A Response to the Lanes

Elliot Benjamin

It is in the tradition of William James' radical empiricism that I am advocating for the uniting of science and spirituality.

I found the recent Integral World article Mysterium Tremendum by David Lane and Andrea Diem Lane (2010) to be very interesting and stimulating reading, as I have found virtually all the Lanes' previous Integral World articles to be. In this recent article the Lanes intelligently describe the unfathomably complicated and sophisticated theories from physics that are currently used to explain the notion of matter; in particular quantum physics and related theories. They make the important point that the true nature of matter is too deep for anyone to truly understand, and that the subatomic and energetic nature of what matter appears to be may actually explain the essence of what has been construed as “spirituality” for thousands of years.

However, the Lanes also acknowledge that perhaps there is a bona-fide spirituality that is separate from matter, but they contend that we should first allow science to endeavor to explain spirituality before jumping to unwarranted conclusions about the “non-material” notion of spirituality. Finally, the Lanes discuss the importance of utilizing one's own experiences to truly understand consciousness and spirituality, and I couldn't agree with them more about this.

The main difference of opinion I have with what I understand the Lanes to be portraying in their article, concerns the very notion of science itself. I have written about the legitimacy and importance of how I have described experiential science, which includes the relevant experiences of the researcher in her/her research investigations (Benjamin, 2010a). In the realm of transpersonal psychology, which is the field of study that investigates the kind of phenomena the Lanes are writing about, inclusive of consciousness, spirituality, and psychic phenomena, I believe that what I refer to as experiential science methodology is invaluable.

Of course this immediately opens up the dilemma of using subjective experience in scientific research (Macmurray, 1939; van Kaam, 1966; Wilber, 1983/2001), and there is enormous opposition to doing this from the psychology mainstream as well as from qualitative research in general, inclusive of phenomenological psychology (Giorgi, 1970; A. Giorgi, May, 2009, personal communication).

However, there have also been psychology researchers who have realized the importance of including this kind of research in an “extended science” (Braud & Anderson, 1998; Josephson & Rubik, 1992) context, most notably William James in his formulation of “radical empiricism” nearly a hundred years ago (James, 1912/1976). Braud and Anderson (1998) have described James' radical empiricism as follows (with italics as used by Braud and Anderson):

Any and all sources of evidence, ways of knowing, and ways of working with and expressing knowledge, findings, and conclusions can be brought to bear on the issues being researched. Both emic and ethic; both subjective/experiential and objective/ observational modes of knowing are recognized and honored. There is an epistemological stance of what William James (1912/1976) called radical empiricism--a stance that excludes anything that is not directly experienced but includes everything that is directly experienced, by anyone involved in the research effort. Thus, the research participants' subjective experiences and self-perceptions are treated as valid data, as are the experiences and perceptions of the investigator. There is an important place for intuitive, tacit, and direct knowing; for various arational ways of processing information, and for a variety of forms of creative expression in conducting and communicating research. (p. 241).

More recently, the inclusion of this kind of experiential research as legitimate science has been promoted through the heuristic research of Clark Moustakas (Moustakas, 1990; Sela-Smith, 2002), the intuitive inquiry research of Rosemarie Anderson (1998, 2004), and the auto-ethnographic research of Carolyn Ellis (2004, 2009). I have applied this kind of experiential research in the context of a qualitative/quantitative experiential analysis to my study of the cult dangers of modern religious/spiritual groups (Benjamin, 2005, 2006), license plate synchronicity (Benjamin, 2010b), and the exploration of the phenomenon of life after death through the communications of mediums (Benjamin, 2009). I have acknowledged the pitfalls as well as the benefits of a researcher focusing upon his/her relevant experiences as part of his/her research, and I have reciommended that an experiential science researcher be highly skilled in self-awareness and mindful inquiry (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998), as well as highly trained in professional research methodologies (Benjamin, 2010a).

It is in the tradition of William James' radical empiricism that I am advocating for the uniting of science and spirituality. The Lanes discuss the difficulties of engaging in a higher level experience of awareness and subsequently trying to describe the experience. I don't disagree with them that this is an enormously difficult task to accomplish, but I believe it is fundamentally important for at least some transpersonal researchers to engage in the effort to effectively conduct this kind of research. In this context I agree with Ken Wilber in his formulation of utilizing one's own experiences as a bona-fide means of scientific inquiry into the higher realms of human consciousness (Wilber, 1983/2001).

I believe there is just no substitute for using your own experience in order to truly understand these higher realms. Both your transcendental experience and your conscious description of your experience, which Wilber (1983/2001) described respectively as Noumenological sciences and Mandalic sciences, are necessary requirements to engage in this kind of experiential research. This is the kind of research that I am doing in my Ph.D. psychology dissertation at Saybrook University, as I continue to experientially study the phenomenon of life after death through the communications of mediums. It is natural to me to both experience the transpersonal realms that I am exploring, and subsequently to do my best to “consciously” make sense out of it all.

I think that this kind of research in an extended science context should go hand in hand with more traditional quantitative/experimental research as well as with more traditional qualitative/ experiential research that focuses upon understanding the experiences of research participants other than the researcher. For me it all goes together as part and parcel of what William James promoted through his formulation of radical empiricism, and I believe it goes together in an especially crucial way in the field of transpersonal psychology. Thus in conclusion, I offer an alternative perspective to the Lanes in regard to the separateness of science and spirituality, and I can phrase this alternate perspective most simply by the title of this essay: perhaps science and spirituality can go together.


Anderson, R. (1998). Intuitive inquiry: A transpersonal approach. In W. Braud & R, Anderson, Transpersonal research methods for the social sciences: Honoring human experience (pp. 69-94). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Anderson, R. (2004). Intuitive inquiry: An epistemology of the heart for scientific inquiry. The Humanistic Psychologist, 32(40, 307-341.

Benjamin, E. (2005). Spirituality and the cults: An experiential analysis. The Ground of Faith Journal, April/May, Retrieved April 1, 2010, from

Benjamin, E. (2006). On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from

Benjamin, E. (2009). An experiential analysis of mediums and life after death. The Ground of Faith Journal, Jan./Feb. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from

Benjamin, E. (2010a). Extended science, auto-hermeneutics, and an experiential analysis of the phenomenon of life after death through the communications of mediums, and the cult dangers of a Spiritualist camp. Unpublished manuscript.

Benjamin, E. (2010b). License plate synchronicity: An experiential account and analysis. Retrieved November 15, 2010, from

Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful inquiry in social research. London: Sage.

Braud, W., & Anderson, R. (1998). Transpersonal research methods for the social sciences: Honoaring human experiences. London: Sage.

Ellis, C. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about ethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Ellis, C. (2009). Revision: Autoethnographic reflections of life and work (Writing Lives). Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Giorgi, A. (1970). Psychology as a human science. New York: Basic Books.

James, W. (1976). Essays in radical empiricism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1912).

Josephson, B. D., & Rubik, B. A. (1992). The challenge of consciousness research. Frontier Perspectives, 3(1), 15-19.

Lane, D., & Lane, A. D. (2010). Mysterium Tremendum: Exploring why the conflict between science and spirituality is trapped in a linguistic conundrum. Retrieved November 18, 2010, from

Macmurray, J. (1939). The boundaries of science. London: Faber.

Moustakas, C. (1990). Heuristic research: Design, methodology, and applications. London: Sage.

Sela-Smith, S. (2002). Heuristic research: A review and critique of Moustakas' method. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 42(3), 53-88.

Van Kaam, A. (1966). Existential foundations of psychology. New York: University Press of America.

Wilber, K. (2001). Eye to eye: The quest for the new paradigm. Boston: Shambhala. (Original work published 1983).

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