The Beginner’s Mind and the Mind of God

The Beginner’s Mind and the Mind of God

Duquesne University in Pittsburgh is a Catholic university with schools of both theology and sciences, which means that people in different departments often develop friendships across disciplines. Joyce Konigsburg, a doctoral student in theology, got to know Dr. Kevin Tidgewell, a professor of Medicinal Chemistry, and they discovered a shared interest in thinking about how our minds influence the way we live in this world.

After all, we human beings don’t experience the world as it is — we experience the world through the filter of our minds. How we look at and think about the world informs the way we act in it, which then informs the way both religion and science are practiced.

So as part of Sinai and Synapses’ series “More Light, Less Heat,” both Konigsburg and Tidgewell share how they see the relationship between religion and science.

Joyce Konisgburg explains how the wonderment of science helps her connect with what she sees as “the mind of God”:

Dr. Kevin Tidgewell shares how the Buddhist idea of “beginner’s mind” helps him advance his scientific work:


Joyce Konigsburg:

Hello. My name is Joyce Konigsburg and I’m a PhD student in Theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Some of my research interests include interreligious work, theological anthropology and relationality, particularly between science and religion.

A little bit about myself. Prior to becoming a graduate student, I earned degrees in Computer Science and Environmental Studies. I also held executive positions at several information technology companies. Growing up, my spiritual upbringing in the Roman Catholic faith and my passion for science and religion always seemed to support and affirm each other.

For me, God reveals God’s self in the created world, which makes both science and religion relevant. As I learn about the world, I gain an appreciation for and an understanding about, if you will, the mind of God.

One of my earliest reflections happened in a high school biology class when we were studying about blood types and universal donors and recipients. I marveled at the organized and logical way all of these components seemed to form one complete system.

God then is in the grandeur of the universe and also manipulates the smallest of known subatomic particles. Scientific discoveries then open up the rational mind to ideas once held by superstition or faith, if you will. Some of these same discoveries generate additional questions and, once again, they’re taken on faith or, in scientific terms, hypothesis until proven or not.

In my studies of both science and religion, I find that each seeks answers to the ultimate questions: Who are we? How did we come to be and what is our purpose? In the sciences, such as biology, chemistry and physics, they each seek answers from various viewpoints and methods. So, too, can a theological perspective achieved using solid methods also provide valuable solutions. I often employ the scientific method myself as a good check on my theological results. For wonderment and questioning and research and critical thinking are all valuable tools when you are seeking knowledge about both the secular and the sacred.

Science and religion for me serve as complements, double checking each other. Faith keeps my scientific work ethical by supporting and nurturing my mind, heart and soul. Reason augments religion’s tenets, directs my studies systematically and causes me to question both myself and my findings. These questions strengthen my faith and lead me to explore more deeper the mystery of God.

Dr. Kevin Tidgewell:

Hi. I’m Dr. Kevin Tidgewell at Duquesne University and I’m in the School of Pharmacy in the division of Medicinal Chemistry. And my lab does marine natural products drug discovery. So what we do is we search the ocean and discover new compounds which can be used to treat diseases. Our main focus is on anxiety, depression and addiction. And today I’m here to talk to you a little bit about how religion has influenced and does still influence my research and science.

While I was raised Catholic, and attended a Catholic college and am currently a professor at a Catholic university, I feel myself and my science is more highly influenced by the Buddhist philosophies which I was introduced to in religion classes on Buddhism and Eastern Religions in college.

One of the main things that I feel which has influenced my pursuits of science is in Buddhism and especially in Zen Buddhism is the idea of beginner’s mind. And in Zen Buddhism, this beginner’s mind philosophy is the idea that you should come in your practice with no ego. And so, where in the mind of the expert there is only a single answer, in the mind of the beginner, there are many answers.

And so when you come at your science and when you come at questions of science, you should come with an open mind in that all things are possible, not simply the previously held beliefs and the standard beliefs of the field. And I think that this is really important when you answer scientific questions — to not already come in with preconceived notions of what the answer and results of your study will be.

Another major tenet of Buddhist philosophy is the four noble truths. And the four noble truths are that life is suffering, suffering is caused by cravings and that this suffering can be overcome by following a path. And the eightfold path involves aspects such as to be moral, to be aware of your surroundings and yourself, and to develop wisdom.

And so I feel that these paths and these four noble truths are also along the lines of the beginner’s mind in that you should not approach your science in order to achieve fame, or achieve a grant or publish a paper. You should simply approach your science in order to answer a question and to use the results and the observations that you make to further the wisdom and the knowledge of those around you.

It shouldn’t be simply that you know the results you expect beforehand, but that you should expect the results you get. You should always look at the results of your experiments as they come and judge them solely on their own and not merely as tools to answer what to say what you already wanted to say.

Thanks for talking with me today.


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