An invitation to Sages and Scientists Symposium, Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville Arkansas
One of the fastest ways to make a breakthrough occurs in an “aha” moment, a flash of insight that delivers an answer all at once. “Aha” moments are very desirable. Isaac Newton had one about gravity when he saw an apple fall from a tree (even though this popular story was never told by him), and Alexander Fleming had one about penicillin when he saw that a common green mold had spoiled his carefully cultured dishes of bacteria.
Yet “Aha” moments are unpredictable by their very nature, and no one knows—or even has a clue—why or how they occur. This doesn’t decrease the urgent need for breakthroughs in all kinds of fields where conventional answers, and the method for reaching them, has failed. More than 200 promising Alzheimer’s drugs have failed, for example, leading some drug companies to give up the effort to find one that works. We have no proven answer for aging despite dozens of theories. We don’t have a viable technology to reverse the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Leaving these problems to science is the typical way, and for many the only way, to achieve solutions. But a growing number of theorists believe that every department of human knowledge should be allowed to contribute. If you divide the world into the objective domain “out there” and the subjective domain “in here,” science is very good at the one and drastically lagging in the other. If you want to understand all kinds of inner experiences—love, beauty, curiosity, creativity, pain, wonder, suffering ecstasy, or even what a thought is—there is little science can tell you compared with what centuries of personal experience can tell you.