Science and Nonduality Conference

Science and Nonduality Conference
Science and Nonduality Conference, October 20-25, 2010.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Giordano Bruno’s Science of Nonduality

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 ownone 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.


  1. Wow, I didn't know about him. So sad, his ending. May his spirit be extra-blessed by this tribute. Thanks for it.

  2. I there, just learned about the conference. My name is Isabelle Vallin-Thorpe, I am the daughter of Georges Vallin,PhD, professor of philosophy and philosopher, one of the very first exponents of non dualism in France and Europe. My father's work on Shankaracharya and the Vedanta in particular introduced french philosophers to non-dualism.My father who was a follower of Sartre's after the war and who published in the Temps Modernes discovered Kierkegaard and then Rene Guenon, through whom he discovered Indian philosophy and thought. He learned Sanskrit to be able to understand the sacred texts properly and discovered non dualism through Rene Guenon.He was professor of philosophy at Nancy II and then Lyon III and died quite prematurely at the beginning of the 80s, but left an important contribution in the form of several books and articles, including the Metaphysical Perspective, and I would like your conference to acknowledge his work, in one form or another. I am happy to send you more information, or direct you to some of his students should you need. email: regards

  3. American poet Heather McHugh just won a MacArthur "genius grant". This poem is her meditation on Bruno:

    What He Thought, by Heather McHugh

    We were supposed to do a job in Italy
    and, full of our feeling for
    ourselves (our sense of being
    Poets from America) we went
    from Rome to Fano, met
    the Mayor, mulled a couple
    matters over. The Italian literati seemed
    bewildered by the language of America: they asked us
    what does "flat drink" mean? and the mysterious
    "cheap date" (no explanation lessened
    this one's mystery). Among Italian writers we

    could recognize our counterparts: the academic,
    the apologist, the arrogant, the amorous,
    the brazen and the glib. And there was one
    administrator (The Conservative), in suit
    of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
    with measured pace and uninflected tone
    narrated sights and histories
    the hired van hauled us past.
    Of all he was most politic--
    and least poetic-- so
    it seemed. Our last
    few days in Rome
    I found a book of poems this
    unprepossessing one had written: it was there
    in the pensione room (a room he'd recommended)
    where it must have been abandoned by
    the German visitor (was there a bus of them?) to whom
    he had inscribed and dated it a month before. I couldn't
    read Italian either, so I put the book
    back in the wardrobe's dark. We last Americans

    were due to leave
    tomorrow. For our parting evening then
    our host chose something in a family restaurant,
    and there we sat and chatted, sat and chewed, till,
    sensible it was our last big chance to be Poetic, make
    our mark, one of us asked

    "What's poetry?
    Is it the fruits and vegetables
    and marketplace at Campo dei Fiori

    or the statue there?" Because I was
    the glib one, I identified the answer
    instantly, I didn't have to think-- "The truth
    is both, it's both!" I blurted out. But that
    was easy. That was easiest
    to say. What followed taught me something
    about difficulty,

    for our underestimated host spoke out
    all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

    The statue represents
    Giordano Bruno, brought
    to be burned in the public square
    because of his offence against authority, which was to say
    the Church. His crime was his belief
    the universe does not revolve around
    the human being: God is no
    fixed point or central government
    but rather is poured in waves, through
    all things: all things
    move. "If God is not the soul itself,
    he is the soul OF THE SOUL of the world." Such was
    his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die

    they feared he might incite the crowd (the man
    was famous for his eloquence). And so his captors
    placed upon his face
    an iron mask
    in which he could not speak.

    That is how they burned him.
    That is how he died,
    without a word,
    in front of everyone. And poetry--

    (we'd all put down our forks by now, to listen to
    the man in gray; he went on softly)-- poetry

    is what he thought, but did not say.


  4. Wonderful poem by Heather McHugh. Thanks for sharing this. I would like to add that Bruno's "non-dualism" can be traced back through Plotinus to Plato himself. Plato was indeed an "arch-dualist," in his Phaedo. But in his Republic, Symposium, Timaeus etc. he went beyond his previous dualism into a mode of thought that resembles advaita vedanta. Through this mode of thought he influenced Plotinus, Bruno, Spinoza, Hegel, Emerson and Whitehead, not to mention Rumi, Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Whitman, and Rilke. The west has a rich tradition of non-duality!
    Best, Bob Wallace