The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science of Consciousness

B. Alan Wallace
Oxford University Press
book cover

This book takes a bold new look at ways of exploring the nature, origins, and potentials of consciousness within the context of science and religion. Alan Wallace draws careful distinctions between four elements of the scientific tradition: science itself, scientific realism, scientific materialism, and scientism. Arguing that the metaphysical doctrine of scientific materialism has taken on the role of ersatz-religion for its adherents, he traces its development from its Greek and Judeo-Christian origins, focusing on the interrelation between the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.

Wallace argues that the metaphysical principles of scientific materialism have long impeded scientific research into subjective states of awareness, including the nature of consciousness itself. Drawing on the writings of William James, Hilary Putnam, Augustine, and Indian Buddhist contemplatives such as Buddhaghosa, Asanga, and Padmasambhava, he presents a theoretical framework and mode of inquiry into human consciousness that combines both extrospective and introspective methods of research. He also looks at scientists’ long-term resistance to the first-hand study of consciousness, detailing the ways in which subjectivity has been deemed taboo within the scientific community. In tracing the impact of scientific materialism in modern scientific writing, journalism, and education, Wallace shows that the empirical facts of scientific research are often fused with materialistic interpretations and argues that we must take greater care in distinguishing between the two. In conclusion, Wallace draws on William James’s idea for a “science of religion” that would study the nature of religion and, in particular, contemplative experience.

In exploring the nature of consciousness, this groundbreaking study will help to bridge the chasm between religious belief and scientific knowledge. It is essential reading for philosophers and historians of science, scholars of religion, and anyone interested in the relationship between science and religion.