Spiritual science

Can science and spirituality be reconciled? Is there a way of looking at things that brings them into alignment? Of course, the answer is ‘yes’. In his book Spiritual Science, published 2018, Steve Taylor gives a convincing answer. His subtitle is ‘why science needs spirituality to make sense of the world’. Steve gives the reasons and, from my perspective, comprehensively demolishes the arguments for the recently dominant paradigms of materialism and scientism.

Steve looks at the origins of materialism. Science originally developed alongside religion through pioneers such as Descartes, Kepler and Newton. They were not seen as incompatible. it was around the second half of the 19C that Darwin’s theory of evolution came to put into question whether the biblical stories could actually be true; there came a theory that religion was not necessary to explain the world. TH Huxley was a leading proponent of what became the materialistic viewpoint. The inner content of experience and consciousness itself were mysterious elided. After the world wars further discredited religions, materialism gradually took hold, and there came about a new faith that materialism could explain everything. As Steve points out this has denigrated the experience of the spiritual/religious life, and indeed has become a new religion. The result has become increasingly clear as humanity in the large degrades the natural world, and even imperils its own existence.

Steve then goes on to ask the simple question ‘What if the primary reality of the universe is not matter? What if there is another quality, which is so fundamental that it actually pervades matter, and matter is actually a manifestation of it? What if this othe quality also pervades living beings, and all non-living things, so that they are always interconnected?’ Of course, this sort of idea has been adopted by many cultures in history, and is similar to the perspective of the ageless wisdom propagated by Helena Blavatsky. Steve refers back to the ancient Greek philosophy, to the world’s religions, to indigenous cultures, all of whihc had similar viewpoints. It is the modern materialism that is the aberration.

Steve’s panspiritism, and the similar panpsychism, have much greater explanatory power than materialism, which tends to reject the numerous phenomena that it cannot explain, not least the question of consciousness itself, which tends to be ‘explained away’ from the materialist viewpoint (the ‘hard problem’). In the panspiritist vew, consciousness exists everywhere and in everything, and the brain acts as some sort of receiver which channels it. And of course this view allows for the possibility of ‘spiritual experiences’, which are well understood and documented.

Steve goes on to explore the correlates between mind, brain and body, near-death and awakening (spiritual) experiences, psychic phenomena, an alternative view of evolution, the puzzle of altruism, and the problems of quantum physics, which has long been known to be inconsistent with simple materialism. Finally he outlines key tenets of panspiritism and the significance of the expansion of consciousness in the evolution of our universe. This is what it’s all about!

Steve’s book is a genuine tour de force, expressed in language that is not deeply technical. Well worth reading.

Herring gull investigating

A visit to the English seaside has always featured herring herring gulls, which are both an attraction and a bit of a nuisance when they steal food. Over recent decades some have moved inland, finding food quite plentiful there, as they are omnivores. But I think their preference is still to be by the sea. This one, at Mortehoe in Devon, was looking for food at the local teashop.

Despite this versatility, herring gulls are on the UK red list of endangered populations.

The astute observer will notice that the verticals and horizontals are not quite right – one of the hazards of impulsive candid shooting, which was on this occasion not easily corrected by editing.

Where you stand

I imagine that there is always a wonderful sunset in progress somewhere on earth; whether you see it is just a question of where you stand – a metaphor for the inner spiritual world that lies always within and is accessible with the right inner stance, or so we are told by countless mystics and sages.

The process of seeing the setting sun is, for me, in itself a spiritual experience, bringing me closer to that inner world. So the chance to stand on these Devon cliffs at the recent full moon, as the sun went down, was a privilege indeed. My trusty Panasonic ZX200 superzoom made a fair interpretation of the true glory of the colours, here presented in time sequence.

I was watching out for the green flash as the sun disappeared, but it was not to be on this occasion.

Meanwhile, behind me the unusually large April supermoon was coming up fast, a reminder that these two lights are inseparable and interdependent, as are mind and feelings, which they represent in astrology.

Diaphaneity: Unfolding the Wings of Perception

Another great post by Scott Preston which draws together many different but related threads in the study of our two modes of consciousness.

The ideas of Jean Gebser, William Blake, Carlos Castaneda, Iain McGilchrist, Buddhism, Christian mysticism are woven together and related. All are clearly describing the same reality with different terminologies. And what a wonderful title word: diaphaneity.

The Chrysalis

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” — William Blake

“Purify your eyes, and see the pure world. Your life will fill with radiant forms.” — Rumi

“The mystery, or the secret, of the sorcerers’ explanation is that it deals with unfolding the wings of perception. The nagual by itself is of no use, it has to be tempered by the tonal. The sorcerers’ secret in using the nagual is in our perception.” — don Juan to Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power.

In his book The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser describes the new (integral) consciousness as being chiefly characterised by “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”. The citations above are other attestations to the fundamental reality of the “diaphainon

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Everything Comes from your Depths

From time to time I include on this blog a poem by Steve Taylor from his latest newsletter. This one reminds us about the source of what is really important, rather than what is on the surface – listening to the intuition, as opposed to the instant reaction of emotions or monkey mind…

Everything Comes from your Depths

Nothing real or valuable 
comes from the surface of your mind –
only the most trivial thoughts,
the most mundane impressions
and the most selfish desires.   

Everything real and valuable 
comes from the depths of your being –
the intuitions that guide your life 
as surely as a compass
the creative flow that carries you 
to places you never knew existed 
the inspiration that lifts you 
to peaks you never knew you could reach
the insights that are shared with you
like whispered secrets from a stranger.  

So let your the mind be soft and clear 
free of assumptions and beliefs 
and of dense swirling mists of thought 
so that there is no barrier
between you and your mysterious soul
and so that the endless riches of your depths
keep rising to your surface.

Beech tree avenue

Tatton Park’s avenue of majestic venerable beech trees, before the leave come out, as they soon will.

The lower branches grow almost sideways, but not downward as is their wont, as Tatton’s red deer are efficient pruners.

You can still see brown leaves retained throughout the winter, typical of beech (marcescence).

The Power of Systems Thinking: Beyond the Reductionist Mindset

Systems thinking and an moving beyond the limitations of a reductionist mindset are vital aspects of the thinking needed for a New Renaissance. In this post Andrew gives an excellent summary.

A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life

It is unfortunate that it often takes a crisis for us to become acutely aware of how interconnected the world really is. We see how everything is immersed in a web of interlinked systems ranging from the economy, natural environment, health systems to our own personal wellbeing. Each input is a unique part of the puzzle, and is connected to the system at large through a series of information flows and interdependent feedback loops.  

Systems are everywhere. We see them in the complexities in our own bodies to the harmony that exists in natural ecosystems. Every unique organism has its role to play in the sustainability and continuation of our vast and diverse natural habitats. The success of a well-functioning system is dependent on how well its parts are organized to achieve a common goal.     

In nature we never see anything isolated , but everything in connection…

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Magpies in the spring

Magpies are common in UK, and can be a bit of a pest, thieving food intended for other birds. But catch them in the right light and they can be rather beautiful, like the above recent shot from Tatton Park.

They are particularly active in spring, with spells of amorous behaviour interspersed with avid feeding from what they can find in the ground.

Booths Mere

The featured image could be of a swamp in Texas, but it’s actually alongside the small lake known as Booths Mere in Knutsford. We’ve known this lake exists for many years, but only recently got to see it close up, as we discovered a short stretch of the bank that is accessible.

Otherwise, it’s private land reserved for fishing. This is a great shame, as it could be a valuable local amenity for walkers. Maybe one day…

You can see a small jetty, presumably used for fishing purposes.

There are some venerable trees around the bank, this one with magnificent roots visible.

Dark Regions of The Country of The Mind

In this post Victor Negro suggests how we are influenced and manipulated by outside forces and individuals pursuing their own agendas, encouraging us to give away our own power.

All around we see how political agendas are pursued by subtle means to ensure a population compliant with their agenda (eg ‘economic growth’, ‘consumerism’).

Our task is surely to become aware of these manipulations (not necessarily conscious), and become our authentic selves. As Victor says, ‘It depends on whether you have your power or you have given it away.’

The Victor Negro

There are some happenings around you that will make you think that you are being wasted, being finished. You are living your life and doing what ought to be done to the best that you can, but something seems to be undermining you, something seems to be in resistance, tugging at your sense of completeness, trying to deflate you.

Sometimes, it is difficult to place a hand on what is going on, because most times these impressions are most active when you are alone, and at other times when you are with others. You can feel a lessening on your body and some dark thoughts within you. You can feel, sometimes, your strengths waning and everything seem dark and you question the truth of your being and of what you desire. You may even entertain the thoughts of giving up. At some points, these things happen to you not because…

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Beyond the Res Cogitans

I love this post from Scott Preston with a great title. It draws together ancient philosophical/ spiritual/ religious ideas and more modern thinking to suggest the direction that human consciousness is moving in, letting go of Monkey Mind and coming into presence.

And there’s a great poem by Rumi.

The Chrysalis

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.”
Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.”
Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.”
“There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified it for you.”

It is often very difficult for Westerners, especially, to understand the meaning of this parable. Generations of conditioning has inculcated the belief that the res cogitans is fundamental to who and what we are — that is “the thinking thing”. “I think, therefore I am”, pronounced Descartes, and divided being into incommensurate domains of the res cogitans and the res extensa — the subject which thinks and the objective realm that it thinks about, the realm of extension, of space and motion. Cogito ergo sum — I am because I think.

This formula (called “metaphysical dualism”) has generated all sorts of problems for the modern mind, which are not…

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Blackthorn

It’s spring blossom time. One of the first out in the hedgerows was the blackthorn. Contrary to the similar hawthorn, blackthorn gets the flowers out first, with leaves following later. At a distance, there is an ephemeral feeling to the vista presented by blackthorn en masse, as in the featured image from Anderton Country Park.

Closer in the individual branches have their own lacy beauty, especially set against the recent blue sky.

Blackthorn is also called sloe, and its fruits are used to make sloe gin. And the wood was traditionally found suitable for making walking sticks.

Third is the Horse Chestnut

The weeping willows by Knutsford’s Moor Pool are now well out, and trees and hedgerows are covered with new hawthorn leaves. Third in line of the big deciduous trees to come out with leaves is… the horse chestnut.

The current spell of warm sunny weather means that this was a close race for third. A sycamore was in a similar state the next day. Thus spring develops apace. What a time!

See previous posts on willow and hawthorn.

Mellow yellow

Serenaded by blackbirds on a country walk, coming up to sundown. The pattern of clouds in the luminescent sky, or archipelagoes out to sea?

Silhouettes of the living intricate skeletons of trees, soon to be bedecked with thousands of leaves.

Shot just to the left of the declining sun.

Once I was taught to write proper sentences.

All doomed?

“A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Will Durant

To make up for a significant gap in my scientific/technological education, I once waded through Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History (abridged version, a mere 1003 pages summarising the original 12 volumes), with significant help from a large Webster’s Dictionary. The ebb and flow of humanity and its civilisations was indeed fascinating. But always there was the question at the back of my mind ‘Why do civilisations fail? This has inspired many historians to produce their own stories and analyses. William Ophuls is familiar with many of these and has produced this short book Immoderate Greatness in which he summarises the conclusions, not the stories.

So why do civilisations fail? Ophuls suggest there are six fundamental reasons:

  1. Ecological exhaustion through systematic exhaustion of the civilisation’s periphery and nature. The money economy tends to become an abstraction disconnected from the real world.
  2. Exponential growth. Essentially the future is valued at a great discount to the present. Decisions are taken for now, not for future generations.
  3. The law of Entropy, disorder tends to increase despite technological advances. Technologies tend to require more energy than they can generate. The natural system based on living processes does not have this problem.
  4. Excessive complexity. Eventually the level of problems created exhausts the capacity of people to manage them.
  5. Moral decay. Glubb identified that civilisations pass through natural ages: pioneers, commerce, affluence, intellect, then decadence. Over a period of around 250 years. In the latter age politics is increasingly corrupt and life unjust with huge wealth discrepancies – with bread and circuses to distract the people.
  6. Practical failure. The previous problems inevitably lead to increasing failure. Inflation,  debasing currency and wars have been the desperate paths historically taken. Reform and revival is possible, but is not the path most taken.

Now we have a global civilisation that has been around for about 250 years. It exhibits many of the symptoms mentioned. Collapse is possible, are we all doomed? Not necessarily.

What is clear is that fundamental change is needed – not least re global warming, catastrophic decline of the natural world, pandemics and global security. All require global cooperation.

The evident reversion of some countries to populism and posturing nationalism are moving in the wrong direction – that of moral decay, privileged elites, bread and circuses. This is the last thing that is needed.

Lockdown King Street

Knutsford’s King Street, early evening

The lockdown goes on. Knutsford’s King Street is full of restaurants and usually (ie pre-covid) very busy early evening as people size up where to eat or drink. Now deserted and, apart from this short stretch, largely in darkness.

My phone’s camera has made a fair go at conveying the extreme contrast in lighting, but its representation of the sky is rather optimistic, better than the real thing!

The current UK government roadmap says we return to ‘normal’ opening of restaurants on 17 May. We shall see!

And next is the hawthorn

With the lighter days, some shrubs are beginning to show leaf. Most trees are still bare, some with catkins, like the featured pussy willow. But now the hawthorn is coming into leaf, second only to the willow (earlier post).

Fresh hawthorn leaves at Shakerley Mere.

Soon all will be covered in leaves, all in the rush of the new energies of rapidly increasing light, of the spring equinox.

Entangled Life

I’ve always known that there are mushrooms and fungi and yeasts and strange underground things called truffles. And I’ve increasingly become aware of just how interconnected is all life on earth, which shows through as one of the themes in this blog. What I had not fully realised is that fungi are fundamental building blocks of this interconnected life, even to the extent that plants could not exist without them,  and live in symbiosis with them. Of course this also applies to animals, including human beings. Indeed, some of the largest beings on the planet are fungi.

The actual fungal body is the mycelium of threads (hyphae) that runs through the earth, the compost heap, the rotting corpse, the living being. The mushroom and truffle are the fruit, which provides the mechanism to facilitate spreading of the spores.

For millennia fungi have provided the means for human relaxation and psychological transcendence, through psychedelic mushrooms and the alcoholic beverages that come from fermentation through yeasts, which are also simple fungi. Who knows what role they played in the visions of prophets and mystics, and the evolution of the human psyche.

All this and more is the subject of Merlin Sheldrake’s book Entangled Life. It is a very readable story of the discoveries of modern science related to fungi, woven with Merlin’s own personal journey. Well worthy reading for a better insight into the ever-increasing complexity of our understanding of the natural world, which is just about keeping pace with our ignorant destruction of it.

I should perhaps declare a minor bias, in that Merlin’s  illustrious father Rupert Sheldrake stayed overnight at our house in the early 90s, in order to give his Knutsford Lecture on Visions of a New Renaissance. Rupert’s innovative approach to science, that led to his theory of morphic resonance, appears to have rubbed off well onto his son Merlin, who is proving to be another great communicator of science.

Featured image of edible fungi in a basket is by George Chernilevsky, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It Felt Love

I was recently browsing through some poems by the 14C Persian poet Hafiz, and reminded just how evocative his poetry can be. How about this piece?

It Felt Love

How
Did the rose
Ever open its heart

And give to this world
All its
Beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light
Against its
Being,

Otherwise,
We all remain

Too
Frightened.

To know more about Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz, see this excellent BBC article on Hafiz and his significance by Daniel Ladinsky.