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RSA Fellow and fine artist Degard recently hosted a cross-disciplinary symposium in the Shipley Room at RSA House – inviting leading physicists, mathematicians, music and spirituality academics, as well as an art gallery owner and art magazine editor, to consider the potential of Aethericism.

Aethericism is a new movement which is exploring the merits of reuniting two major schools of thought – the mystical and divine with the scientific; or to put it another way - injecting the divine into both science and art.  A great deal was discussed during a full day of debate but we decided to share just one stream of the discussion here.

The question posed by Tom McLeish, Professor of Physics at Durham University and chairman of the Royal Society’s education committee in this, the first Symposium on Aethericism, was as follows: “Does a consideration and awareness of the spiritual or religious shed light on how art and science articulate human endeavours and expressions?”

Tom’s view is that the splitting of the arts from science early in people’s educational life – forcing them to decide whether they are an ‘arts’ or ‘science’ student by the time they get to university today - is both a very dangerous and counter-productive development which “at its worst makes us all half-people”. By so doing, “we risk a desiccation of thinking which can only reduce our capacity to innovate for the good of all,” Tom adds.

You only must look back at the origins of Science before the nineteenth century as Natural Philosophy, etymologically-meaning the love of wisdom of all things natural, to see what Tom is driving at.

However, with the very modern division of the sciences from artistic and spiritual endeavours, all elements of this trinity are diminished. His argument is that this division is already causing a desiccation of thinking or as he summarised: “if you remove the spiritual, philosophical, and religious from the scientific, everything starts to fragment and fall apart.”

He is not alone in his thinking: Iain McGilchrist, psychiatrist, doctor and author of The Master and His Emissary, subtitled The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, writes powerfully on this subject, expounding the view that we must reconcile the analytical with the imaginative and creative to promote balance and harmony in the world by using right and left-brain thinking.

Failure to think holistically is also leading to a rise in a sort of scientific fundamentalism, called Scientism, which can be defined as promoting the ideology underpinning science, rather than simply the scientific method.

David Lorimer, programme director or the Scientific and Medical Network, author and lecturer, summed up the dangers of moving away from more holistic thinking: “At the moment, we have a very unbalanced culture, in which many major scientists are also proponents of scientism. We need to find a middle way between materialism and idealism – holding these tensions within us.”

Reverend Professor June Boyce-Tillman, Professor of Applied Music, agreed and confirmed that the media seems to act to reinforce reductionist ways of thinking, where alternative health therapies (including music therapy) are derided and constantly in danger of losing public funding.

James Brett, curator and owner of the Museum of Everything, argued that the education establishment continually load the dice against the creative arts because they take the view that the primary purpose of public education being to help pupils into highly-paid jobs – a fact that works against students of arts subjects.

Tom McLeish summarised by saying that if scientific discovery is given free reign, without reference to humanity or morality, you end up with an arms race in which we potentially kill each other - as evidenced by the Holocaust, Hiroshima and the millions of lives being lost in both world wars.

Aggravating this way of thinking, David Lorimer argued, was the current headlong pursuit of a technotopia instead of working on creating a more human-centred future, as sketched out by Jennifer Gidley in her‘A very Short Introduction to the Future’book.

One proposal towards the end of the discussion was to look at deploying new language to stimulate a re-connection between art, science and the divine. Degard has created the word Aetheric and recently published her first book to lay out the foundations of an Aetheric Movement.

There was also talk of finding a way to ‘Aethercise’ the curriculum to a point where students don’t have to take sides between science and the arts, with one ruling the roost and disenfranchising the other in teenagers’ minds as early as the age of 15 as they begin selecting their prospective A level subjects. All agreed that the launch of an Aetheric Movement was worthwhile. Work on a new website called Aetheric.Life is now underway.

Our next symposium linked to Aethericism is planned early next year. 

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