Chronicles of a recovering reductionist

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I fell in love with science at an early age. Dinosaurs were my first crush—I was known as the kind of kid who could rattle off the traits of Pachycephalasaurus in first grade. I went steady with astronomy in high school, flirted with cosmology off-and-on, and lived in sin with physics and biology in college.

I never took the path toward being a scientist, since I was too interested in being a writer and an artist. Yet science and scientific thought shaped my worldview, my personal philosophy, and  many key aspects of my character. I was happy to be regarded by most in my family as a young Mr. Spock.

But as I got older, I started to look more closely at the basic assumptions about life that had filtered into my psyche. And I wasn’t satisfied by what I found.

I was never religious. In fact, I could be loudly (all right, obnoxiously) anti-religious when I put my mind to it. If I called myself “spiritual,” I meant it to mean that I loved beauty and art, not that I believed in the existence of any kind of spiritual reality. The world was a place of matter and measurable energy. Consciousness was a phenomenon of the chemical machine called the brain, and death of the brain put a period to its existence. We could make meaning in our life, but the universe didn’t provide and didn’t care. We were on our own.

In short, I was what you call a reductionist. Meaning I was a believer that all reality can be reduced to the physical world. Also known as a scientific materialist.

(And a secular humanist, I might add, You have to think a lot about ethics when the universe doesn’t provide any.)

But along the way, that changed.

One of Sounds True’s authors, Dr. Candace Pert, describes her own shift away from scientific materialism and towards integrated spirituality in her own life’s journey. Dr. Pert calls herself a “recovering reductionist,” and I know exactly what she means. I’m going to borrow her term for myself.

My contributions to the Sounds True blog will tell the story of the points on the road when I shifted away from being a reductionist and towards… well, whatever I am today. A recovering reductionist, to be sure. A quasi-pagan/shamanic spiritual rationalist and free thinker with a twist of lemon, maybe.

grayson_blog_reductionYou see, being a recovering reductionist doesn’t mean I’ve given up on science (I still carry a huge torch for those dinosaurs). It doesn’t mean I’ve given up on logic (I can go full-Spock at any moment). And it certainly doesn’t mean I automatically believe what any given spiritual teacher has to say (even if they are a Sounds True author).

It does mean, however, that my life has gotten a lot more uncertain, interesting, and meaningful than it did in my reductionist days.

I’m looking forward to telling you more about it.

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8 Responses

  1. Joe
    | Reply

    I believe that there’s a tremendous limit to that which we can comprehend with our intellectual faculties, and, as it were, the “best stuff” is not for the mind at all but meant to be embraced and held in awe and respect in our open and loving hearts. Can’t wait to read about your discoveries!

    • Grayson Towler
      | Reply

      Thanks, Joe. My logical self spent many years believing it was more or less in charge of the show, so it’s been pretty jarring at times to realize its limits.

  2. Tara Flanagan
    | Reply

    Tell us more, Mr. Towler!

    • Grayson Towler
      | Reply

      Thanks, Tara. I look forward to it… although it can be surprisingly difficult to write about!

  3. Tristan
    | Reply

    Love to hear more about your path!

    • Grayson Towler
      | Reply

      Thanks, Tristan. I’ll be submitting regularly, so I hope you’ll enjoy the future posts.

  4. paul
    | Reply

    As a fellow recovering reductionist, I look forward to hearing more about your path!

    • Grayson Towler
      | Reply

      Thanks! I have a feeling that there are quite a few of us out there. I know the hardest part for me is dealing with the anxiety that people who got to know me as a reductionist will think I’ve gone off the deep end if I start saying otherwise. I expect I’m not the only one who has to deal with that…

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