Yogi Scientist — Marginal Man

Scott Virden Anderson Intro

The one course in sociology I ever took was as an undergraduate in 1966.  It included a number of readings from Robert Ezra Park, one time student of William James.  He was said to have been the founder of sociology in America as a serious and “scientific” discipline.  His description of the “marginal man” has stuck with me ever since for its accurate description of my own life circumstance:

The marginal man… is one whom fate has condemned to live in two societies and in two, not merely different but antagonistic cultures… his mind is the crucible in which two different and refractory cultures may be said to melt and, either wholly or in part, fuse.           Robert E. Park (wikipedia)

The following year I met Swami Satchidananda and began my study and practice of Yoga.  He always encouraged that I also keep up my study and practice of Science.  Thus began my life as a “marginal man.”  For the 40 years since, I’ve “led two lives,” in both Yoga and Science, living simultaneously in spheres of thought and activity that are “worlds apart” in so many ways.

The majority of those I’ve known in each world have known virtually nothing of the other, and most often, have held strong opinions about the other that were on the whole antagonistic.  Most practicing Scientists, if they think of Yoga at all, think of it as a fad perhaps, of interest primarily to slender young women, of no scientific import.  If they know a bit more, they may know Yoga as an ancient tradition of mystical teachings associated with Hinduism, and, keeping company with most self-respecting and serious Scientists, appreciate that Science had to work hard to get beyond mystical metaphysics in its long early struggles.

The vast majority of Yogis who have ever lived have known nothing of Science (as we know it).  Yoga is itself a pre-Scientific tradition and in many circles remains as such.  Given how commonly Science is antagonistic towards religion in general and mysticism in particular, many Yogis are deeply suspicious of Science, and perhaps rightly so, for Science has systematically and specifically excluded the personal, interior, and subjective life that is the province of Yoga .

It has only been in the past 20 years or so that a more serious “dialog” of sorts has begun between Yoga and Science.  The steady growth of interest in Yoga in the West and the parallel growth of Buddhism, with the emergence of the Dalai Lama as a key champion of the dialog with Science, have all played important roles in this development.  In addition, Scientific studies of Yoga have increased as part of the emergence and steady growth of “Complimentary and Alternative” and “Mind/Body” movements within Medicine in recent decades. (note added 5/21/09 — since originally writing this in early 2007, I’ve discovered that the “dialog” I refer to here has actually been going on much much longer—probably by at least a factor of ten, and, it might even be argued, a factor of one hundred.  At what point it became “serious” is a matter of opinion.)

What happened to me, and what I am looking to describe here and open up for further discussion in the forum, is exactly what Robert E. Park described – the two “different and refractory cultures” of Science and Yoga, may be said to have “melted, and, either wholly or in part, fused” in my mind into what I’m calling Yoga~Science.  This site will include my confession of that fusion and further exploration of it.  It seems likely that similar fusions may have taken place in other minds.

As I’ve reflected on this in recent months, I’ve come to appreciate that the result for me has a living quality — Yoga-Science, as I observe it in my own life and mind, has quite literally “a life of its own.”  It is not just a Marriage of Sense and Soul as Ken Wilber suggested might be possible.  It seems to have more of the character of a hybrid offspring of such a marriage.

My career has been that of neither a great Scientist nor a great Yogi, my descriptions here may seem muddled, halting, perhaps sometimes even confused, overly general, or abstract.  However, I feel enough has come clear to make it worth devoting the balance of my life to trying communicating about it.  I have the clear intuition that Yoga-Science, this offspring of my life as a “marginal man,” may be something of potential use to humankind in the future.

Yoga-Science has a life of its own, I’m certain of that.  It is not “mine” any more than my children are.  It has undergone a development over the past 21 years that has been delightful, surprising, and sometimes troubling, just as my children have.  It seems that it is now “coming of age” and beginning to move out into the world just as my children have.  My job is to love it and help it along as best I can.