Giordano Bruno’s Science of Nonduality - submitted by Keith Turausky
For most Westerners—indeed, for most attendees of the upcoming Science and Nonduality Conference—the concept of metaphysical nonduality is associated with Eastern religion and/or the spirituality of “native peoples.” However, Western philosophy can in fact lay claim to a strong, if underappreciated, nondualist tradition of its own—one that also walks hand-in-hand with science.
Perhaps no thinker better epitomizes this tradition than Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), an excommunicated Italian monk whose radical philosophy earned him a death sentence from the Roman Inquisition. Ironically, the Catholic Encyclopedia provides perhaps the clearest summary of what might be called Bruno’s “science of nonduality.” Bruno taught that:
· * “God and the world are one;
· * matter and spirit, body and soul, are two phases of the same substance;
· * the universe is infinite;
· * beyond the visible world there is an infinity of other worlds, each of which is inhabited;
· * this terrestrial globe has a soul;
· * in fact, each and every part of it, mineral as well as plant and animal, is animated;
· * all matter is made up of the same elements (no distinction between terrestrial and celestial matter)…”
The recalcitrant Bruno was ultimately burned at the stake for (among other things) the “theological error” of claiming “that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world”—or, as he himself wrote in De magia, “every soul and spirit hath a certain continuity with the spirit of the universe…. The power of each soul is itself somehow present afar in the universe [and is] exceedingly connected and attached thereto.”
Notably, this “soul and spirit” were not metaphysically distinct from the universe—that is, Bruno did not argue for Cartesian-style substance dualism. Rather, he believed in monistic matter that expressed itself in two ways: potenza (power) and soggetto (subjectivity), the physical and the mental. And just as the physical and the mental were two sides of one coin, likewise, in Bruno’s view, there could be no real separation of man (or matter) from God.
Bruno’s cosmology was influenced by thinkers from Epicurus to Copernicus, and his ideas were picked up in turn by such luminaries as Spinoza and Goethe. Though he knew no calculus—it wouldn’t be invented for another hundred years—Bruno’s argument for an infinite, relativistic universe full of earthlike planets could have come straight from the 20th century, and has even been called a forerunner of quantum multiverse theory!
Appropriately, a statue of Giordano Bruno now stands near the Vatican at the site of his public execution, erected by modern students in solemn tribute to his unique and lasting vision. This October in San Rafael at the Science and Nonduality Conference, we may feel fortunate to freely and enthusiastically engage in the sort of speculation that once, in the West, doomed freethinkers like Bruno.