Contemplative technology is not made of electric circuits or optical equipment — it’s realized in human beings. This point may make some scientists uncomfortable, as scientists have traditionally aimed for a purely objective perspective on reality, avoiding subjectivity to the extent possible. But this unique aspect of contemplative science needn’t be taboo; in fact, it’s necessary. Led by quantum physicists, scientists are increasingly seeing that a purely objective perspective is not only an impossible ideal but also a significant barrier in understanding the critical role of the subject in Nature — hence the need for contemplative technology as an instrument of observation.
Conscious human beings simply offer the most direct access to the phenomena that contemplative science tries to observe and understand: the mind and its relation to everything else. And currently, consciousness is not just the best technology that we have for studying first-person experience directly — it’s the only one. Third-person instruments like MRI and EEG give us only indirect access to the mind via its correlates in the brain, body, and behavior.
In addition to being empirical, contemplative science can also engage in rigorous peer review through inter-subjective verification — something that scientists rely on regularly, despite their objective modes of observation. Physicists, for instance, know that a mathematical proof never occurs on the blackboard or on a piece of paper. We may be able to write down the equation E = mc2, but without an understanding of what the variables mean in relation to an underlying theory, we’ve proven nothing at all.
Instead, proofs always happen in the minds of the scientists.
By engaging in dialogue using a domain-specific vocabulary, experts who share the same mental models can interrogate each other’s understanding and verify whether a new theorem is sound. Like scientists who discuss a new theorem, contemplative scientists can discuss their experiences and insights, interrogating each other’s understanding to assess the validity of a particular claim.
Contemplative science also represents multiculturalism: Its methods are based on the world’s contemplative traditions, many of which flourished in Asia, far from the birthplace of modern science in Europe.
For hundreds of years, science developed almost entirely out of a single worldview: that of white, European men who were trying to understand the “mind of God” as they conceived of this through Christian Revelation. Although science has since dropped its explicitly religious affiliations, it still suffers from ethnocentrism (Roth, 2008) — a belief that if modern science has failed to explain some aspect of Nature, then no culture in the history of the world could have made a genuine discovery about it.
Of course, this view is terribly short-sighted, ignoring, for instance, the enormous contributions of the university system in India that preceded all comparable institutions of higher learning in Europe. Unlike the European universities, which excelled at studying the object pole of experience, these Indian universities prioritized the rational and experiential investigation of the mind. It’s precisely this prioritization of first-person experience that makes contemplative techniques suitable to the empirical investigation of the subject pole of experience.