Interview with René Descartes

I recently came across this interview, dated 2001/1649.

Interviewer: Bonjour, Monsieur Descartes. Can I call you René?

Descartes: Allô, allô. Mais of course!

Interviewer: I have come back from the twenty first century to ask you a few questions. People there are very interested in your ideas, but you have been getting some bad press lately. Are you happy to take part?

Descartes: I think so.

Read More »

Isaac Newton, Mystic

Isaac Newton is generally seen as a key founder of modern science, via his major work Principia Mathematica and theory of gravity – which led on to the theory of the ‘clockwork universe’ and much of the modern materialist/atheistic world view.

Newton was indeed a great polymath. What is less known is that his work was inspired by his studies of religion and mysticism, which were at least as important to him as the natural sciences. The idea of a clockwork universe would have been anathema to Newton, as would the idea of atheism.

This is all explained in Edi Bilimoria’s well-researched article ‘Newton’ in the current issue of Paradigm Explorer, magazine of the Scientific and Medical Network.

Interestingly, Newton’s gravity and its attraction were ‘a purely mathematical concept involving no consideration of real and primary physical or mechanical causes’ – which is why his book is about ‘mathematics’ and not ‘mechanics’.

As Edi explains, Newton’s religious ideas were well developed and have little in common with the Christianity of the time, being more related to the view that God is everywhere immanent and transcendent. Quoting Newton himself:

[God] endures forever , and is everywhere present; and by existing always and everywhere, he constitutes duration and space. In him are all things contained and moved…

Of course, many modern scientists have come to a similar viewpoint on the importance of religion. For example, that more modern polymath Albert Einstein:

“Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

Edi’s article is well worth reading.

James Robertson

james-robertsonI was sorry to learn that James Robertson is to no longer produce his regular newsletter or maintain his website, This is a great shame, but one can well understand it at the age of 89.

I first came across James at Schumacher Lectures in Bristol, maybe in the 1980s, and was inspired by his ideas on economics and the money system, which originated in a career at times closely associated with UK governance. This inspiration has continued over the years since then, in his articles, books, talks, seminars and then his regular newsletters – Turning Point 2000 up to the turn of the millennium, and his regular email newsletter since then.

James’s ideas deserve to be more widely known. I won’t try to summarise; the following from the front page of his website gives a good idea. This truly does indicate a necessary component of a New Renaissance, as indeed James said in his Knutsford Lecture in the 1990s.Read More »

Uncle Arthur

Uncle Arthur was actually my mother’s uncle. My strongest memory of him is on Lincoln High Street outside the Saracen’s Head Hotel, just near the Stonebow, the stone gateway spanning the High Street. It was the mid-to-late 1950s. Arthur was chasing after his hat. My father, brother and I were in stitches, so failed to help.Read More »

Chris Lyons

It was a shock to learn in early December that Chris was terminally ill and then that he passed away on 9th December 2016. I’d just been rereading the last communication I had from him a year ago, when he was very positive about moving on to a new stage of life in Didsbury. Another contemporary has moved on, from a world that begins to look increasingly strange.

A GP in Horwich, Bolton, Chris turned up at just the right time in 1994, when we had started our New Renaissance lectures in Knutsford, but needed more experience and more hands to keep moving on. Chris was a vital part of the operation from thereon, looking after the finances and playing an increasing role helping to get good speakers as we moved on to the series of Manchester Schumacher Lectures.

In the later years we shared chairing the sessions until waning energies led us to close down the lectures in 2004.

For me personally Chris was a great sounding board and a good friend. It was Chris who got me interested in the work of Ken Wilber, one of the most advanced thinkers of the time. We had many a chat over the phone mixed up between discussing the latest lectures crisis and the most exciting philosophical books and ideas we’d come across.

Chris also introduced me to the Scientific & Medical Network, which I have been glad to have been a member of ever since. He became SciMed Treasurer, a post he held until fairly recently, so he was evidently closely involved in their affairs.

Recently I sensed a certain disillusion in Chris, with SciMed, with the reality of mysticism and non-material phenomena. A great shame that I never got to really explore this with him. The end just appeared out of the blue for me.

Thank you so much, Chris, for helping to spread the light around.

Featured image shows Chris Lyons introducing the afternoon session at Manchester Schumacher Lectures 2002

Beautiful

If you read my post on goodness, truth and beauty, you will know that I attach great importance to these three fundamental values. Not surprising then, that I was delighted to have the recent opportunity to go to the show ‘Beautiful’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London.

The West End does these blockbuster shows superbly, and it was indeed a beautiful experience – superb set and production, a well told story, evocative music and singing.

It tells the story of Carole King, the precocious 1960s songwriter (with then husband Gerry Goffin), who became a world class singer in her own right with publication of the album Tapestry in 1971. It is quite amazing how many pop songs have had Carole King involved in their writing.

This provides a nostalgic, informative and entertaining evening that most will enjoy.

This 2-minute video tells the story of Carole King’s unscheduled appearance at the London opening night of ‘Beautiful’ – good for King addicts.

Featured image part of the pre-show set of ‘Beautiful’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London

Grace and Favour

Gerald Grosvenor, sixth Duke of Westminster died on 9th August, aged only 64. I happened to be present at several events he attended in Manchester during the 1990s. He was a keen supporter of local business in the north west of England and I was fortunate to become one of the judges of the annual  Duke of Westminster Awards. At the award ceremonies the Duke was usually present,  he was introduced as His Grace, the Duke of Westminster. He was indeed a gracious man and usually gave an appropriate and amusing speech, with that easy assured confidence imbued into the British aristocracy.

That he was not inwardly so confident was indicated by his evident chain smoking, which was probably a contributory factor to his early death. It is said that he would rather not have inherited the huge responsibility of managing the family fortune and took this responsibility very seriously, which was probably another factor – there must be a burden in being psychologically set apart from your fellow citizens.

I once attended a reception at Eaton Hall near Chester, the ancestral country estate, and suitably opulent for such a rich family, with a reputed wealth of over 9 billion pounds – built up through the favour of kings and queens over many centuries. The duke was obviously very confident and polished in the small-talking routine of being introduced to all the guests, and a pleasant time was had by all.

Media reports suggest that little of that wealth will be paid in inheritance tax as it is held in trust. Also, the law of primogeniture means that it will mostly pass to the duke’s son, rather than to his daughters.

Now I am not necessarily in favour of dismantling these historic estates. However, large inheritance of this scale clearly gives a highly privileged life – and money makes money, which gives power over others and increases inequality. Society needs a way of levelling the playing field over time, which would be achieved in some degree by a reasonable level of death duties on the estate. As for it all going to the male heir – come on, get real, this is the 21st century!

Featured image cropped from one by Allan warren, via Wikimedia Commons

 

A decent life

The recent interventions of David Milband and Angeline Jolie Pitt in the debate about refugees are timely and appropriate.

The refugee system across the world is in crisis, at a time when we can expect massive increases in the numbers, due to increasing effects of global warming and related warfare. Chickens are coming home to roost.

As Miliband says,

  • There are currently 60 million displaced persons around the world.
  • The average time someone remains a refugee is 17 years.
  • A total of 80% of refugees have remained without any economic status for over a decade.

As Jolie Pitt says

  • people feel “angry” and “cheated” by the huge numbers crossing borders around the world… eroding public confidence in the ability of institutions in power to deal with the issue.
  • It has created the risk of a race to the bottom, with countries competing to be the toughest in the hope of protecting themselves whatever the cost or challenge to their neighbours and despite their international responsibilities.

It seems a time when political ‘leaders’ lack vision and empathy. Why don’t we give the UN the resources to really get on and solve the problem, before it gets many times worse – and if necessary create ‘new frontiers’ that will provide a good living and employment and education for all refugees. Central Asia has been mentioned, but there must be other possibilities such as greening and solar farming parts of the Sahara.

Is there really a problem of resources? This is the United Nations of the Earth! Try a simple thought experiment. Each central bank, at the same time, ‘creates’ say 1% of its annual money supply (out of thin air) and puts it in an account to be spent by the UN. Since it happened to all currencies at the same time there can be little effect of devaluing one against another.

Maybe not the right answer, but it shows that the problem is one of political will, and is not insoluble. But of course it would depend on a massive parallel effort to keep corruption in check.

Retreating inside the walls of our nation-state-egos [eg Brexit] might make us feel temporarily safe, but is long-term self-defeating in a world that will become increasingly unstable because of this lack of empathy.

Everyone deserves a decent life.

Featured image of Rwandan refugee camp in Zaire by CDC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Field of stars

It’s Alf’s funeral today – a good neighbour and friend for 30 years. Always ready for a friendly chat and a great fund of terrible jokes. I remember with particular fondness the two weeks we spent together in 1990.

During our chats we had discovered a common interest in the pilgrimage of St James, from various starting points in Europe to Santiago de Compostella (campus stellae = field of stars) in northern Spain. I had been captivated by the idea when I first heard of it – taking time out from the everyday grind to follow an essentially spiritual objective seemed right. Perhaps I had been a pilgrim in a previous life. In Alf’s case it was less easy to understand, as he professed to be an atheist, despite his many religious friends.

In a busy working life it remained a pipe dream for me until one day just after Alf had retired from his work at the BBC. He wanted to follow the pilgrims’ route to Compostella in his caravan, but wife Janet had herself not yet retired, so did not have the time. Eventually, Alf came up with a proposition – why didn’t I come with him on the route as far as Burgos, and Janet would go out to meet him and complete the trip. Could I get enough leave from work and family?

So it was the two of us set out in Alf’s caravan, complete with bicycles so that we could at least cycle small sections of the route.

Alf had travelled the route before, so he knew the places to visit. This included his own favourites – such as Pegasus Bridge, which played a key part in the Normandy Landings – the small village of Putanges, where Alf said ‘bonjour’ to the Madame who ran the restaurant – and Bourges Cathedral. I just had to climb the cathedral tower, much to Alf’s disgust, but in the end he did climb up with me to enjoy the view, the first time he obtained a ‘plus de soixante ans‘ reduced entry fee.

We joined the pilgrim route proper at Le Puy. At St Michael’s church, Alf was most put out that two nuns took him to be my father. He enjoyed telling the tale for ever more. Here began my education into the many magical churches that await the pilgrim: Estaing, Conques, Moissac, Sauveterre be Béarn and St Jean Pied-de-Port. We had a restaurant meal here near the Spanish border – welcome relief from both our attempts at cooking in the van.

Travelling with Alf was an education in itself as he introduced me to various wildlife and flora – I particularly remember the many red kites and celery flowers by the wayside. And, of course, Alf knew all the tales and legends of the pilgrim way, unfailingly recounting them at the appropriate point.

Then came the pass of Roncesvalles into Spain, and on to Puente la Reina, Estella, Torres del Rio, Najera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Burgos. Stopping to pick up something for lunch at Puente la Reina, Alf enjoyed chatting up the pretty lady selling olives, and then proceeded to eat the whole packet one by one as he drove onwards. At Burgos, we chained our bicycles to railings outside the magnificent cathedral and I was overwhelmed by  the magnificent exterior, but somewhat underwhelmed by the oppressive interior.

We then cut across to Santander to pick up Janet and deposit me for the ferry back to England and everyday life. Thank you Alf for sharing this journey, for being a good friend, and for the great pleasure you have given to many along your way.

I think you’re now up there in the field of stars, even if your professed atheism would have denied the possibility…

Featured image shows Alf at the top of the tower of Bourges cathedral

 

Fare Well Louise

Today we say goodbye to the end of an era, and to Louise Huber who died in January. With her husband Bruno Huber, Louise established the system of astrological psychology – called ‘Huber astrology’ in astrological circles.

The Hubers had a strong spiritual and psychological background – they were instrumental in founding the Geneva branch of the Arcane School in 1956-58, and worked with Roberto Assagioli, founder of psychosynthesis, in Florence from 1959-61. Both astrologers and psychologists, they researched the stories of Assagioli’s clients, making a number of new astrological discoveries. On their return to Switzerland they furthered their research and began teaching, eventually founding Astrological Psychology Institute in Zürich in 1968.

Many psychologists, counsellors, astrologers and ordinary individuals have since studied with the Hubers and schools subsequently established in UK, Switzerland, Germany and Spain. Even more people have read one of their series of books on the subject. This growth psychology based around astrology really does repay the effort to study it.

Louise Huber was the organisational driving force behind API. When I first met her in the mid 1990s, she was a formidable lady, brooking no nonsense but with an enormous sense of humour. Attending her seminars was a joy and a privilege. It was also a pleasure to arrange with her the publication of the Hubers’ books in English by our publishing vehicle HopeWell.

After husband Bruno died in 1999, Louise was able to carry the work forward well into her 80s, assisted by her son Michael.

Fare well Louise, powerful yet gentle soul…

To find out more about astrological psychology or the UK-based English-speaking Astrological Psychology Association and its courses, follow the links.

Reality and consciousness

Nasa_blue_marble
NASA image of Earth

The space programme of the 1960s and 1970s had a profound effect on the psyche of its astronauts, and indeed upon us all. For the first time we could really see the beauty, the wholeness and yet the vulnerability of our planet.

Ed_Mitchell_Apollo_14
Ed Mitchell, astronaut

I first became aware of Edgar (Ed) Mitchell as an astronaut, the sixth man to walk on the moon as part of the NASA mission Apollo 14 in February 1971. That experience changed his whole perspective on life, as reported by Cassandra Vieten in a recent ‘in memoriam’ following his death in 2014. Contemplating the earth and its history from space, he ‘was engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness’.

“I realized that the story of ourselves as told by science—our cosmology, our religion— was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description. What was needed was a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming.”

As a scientist and engineer, Mitchell had grown accustomed to directing his attention to the objective world “out there.” But this experience from space had a profound effect.

“My understanding of the distinct separateness and relative independence of movement of those cosmic bodies was shattered. I was overwhelmed with the sensation of physically and mentally extending out into the cosmos. The restraints and boundaries of flesh and bone fell away…”

This experience led him to the idea that ‘reality is more complex, subtle, and mysterious than explained by conventional science, and a deeper understanding of consciousness was needed’.

After retiring from NASA in 1972, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), which aimed to sponsor research into the nature of consciousness. I first became aware of IONS maybe 20 years ago and was delighted to find an organisation in the US which had a similar breadth of interest on the boundaries between science and consciousness as that I had earlier found in the UK through the Scientific & Medical Network.

Being essentially UK based I have only admired the work of IONS from afar, but the organisation is clearly still going strong and has achieved much over more than 40 years since its foundation. For more detail on just how influential Ed Mitchell and IONS have been over the years, I recommend you read Cassandra Vieten’s words in full.

The study of, and hence truer understanding of, consciousness will result in profound change to our world.

Pictures courtesy of NASA

A Living Manchester Sage

Not I, Not other than I

Review of a book by Russel Williams

A modern sage living modestly in Manchester, UK for many years? How could I not have heard of Russel Williams, living as I do within commuting distance of Manchester and having worked there during much of that time? This essentially humble man has pursued his teaching for many years at the Manchester Buddhist Society, without receiving accolades or wide recognition. Yet he would appear to be the genuine article.

not_i_coverIt is only because Steve Taylor persuaded the now-93-year-old that his tale and teachings should be told that we now have access to them in this fine book Not I, Not other than I, edited by Steve.

The book interweaves the highly improbable-sounding and adventurous early years of Russel Williams’ life with summaries of the realisations and teachings of his later years. The young Williams had a string of perilous experiences, including finding himself in a lion’s cage, living through the London blitz, saving lives from a small boat during the evacuation of Dunkirk, and so on. Improbable but almost certainly true, Williams passed through a rare intensity of experience that was probably necessary for his subsequent spiritual awakening and later undoubted spiritual authenticity.

The essence of his teaching is a simplicity of experience that does not get into verbalisation at all. Steve says in his introduction:

“Russel’s spiritual teachings are very ‘naked’ and pure – that is, they are very free of theories, concepts and categories. This gives his teachings a rare clarity and power. There is no system. There are no rituals or rules to follow, no ideas to take on board. You don’t have to believe anything. You don’t have to accept  anything. You don’t have to become anything. All you have to do is be.”

The teachings are not even actually Buddhist theories, but they are largely consistent with Buddhist teachings about the essential nature of man.

Steve goes on:

“Russel teaches us how to uncover this state – how we can nurture it, and remove  some of the obstacles which stop its expression. He makes it clear that this is our natural state, and that it’s only due to confusion that we have lost access to it. He helps us to remove the confusion, to disentangle our minds from the mess of concepts and thinking habits which cloud them, so that we can become who we really are. In this state, we are naturally one with everything, and with the universe itself…”

This is a fascinating book, which deals well with trying to get over an essentially nonverbal practice. It would be difficult to read it and not come away in some way changed.

Steve Taylor is himself an interesting man who has written a number of books on psychology and spirituality, and is an accomplished poet, so was well qualified to undertake the editing of this book.

 

 

 

John Muir

yosemite_half_dome
Half dome in Yosemite NP

“So extraordinary is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees….”

John Muir

After our son and daughter-in-law moved to work in the USA, they kept telling us how great the US national parks were, and eventually got to lead us on a few road trips taking in some of the most spectacular: Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Arches, Monument Valley, Canyonlands, Big Bend, Zion,… We were blown away by the magical scenery and the wildness of it all.

John_Muir_Cane
John Muir

It was only then that I became aware of the name John Muir, a Scotsman who was apparently prime mover in the establishment of the US National Parks. It was to people like him that we were indebted for the continued unsullied nature of these landscapes in an over-exploited world. You can read all about him in the Wikipedia entry.

During this time we also came across the John Muir Way – a long-distance trail along by the south side of the Firth of Forth in Scotland, near where he was born in Dunbar. He was also mentioned in books I was reading. The magic of synchronicity had struck and I was impelled to add him to my reading list.

my_first_summer_in_the_sierraI recently began with ‘My First Summer in the Sierra’, first published in 1911 and now available as a free ‘public domain’ ebook. Once I had stopped trying to speed read and slowed to a pace consonant with the material, I found myself drawn into his wonderful descriptions of the summer he spent notionally herding sheep up to the high pastures around Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. He was truly at one with the magic of the landscape, yet at the same time had the scientific knowledge and understanding to correctly describe the various plant and animal species he encountered at the varying heights they traversed. Readers with a greater knowledge of botany than I would probably gain even more from reading this.

This is nature writing of the highest order, able to get over the wonder of being at one with such an enticing environment. I will read more of his work.

Muir was obviously an inspiring individual, in that he was instrumental in establishment of the early national parks, including Yosemite and was founder of the influential  Sierra Club

John Muir has been described as “one of the patron saints of twentieth-century American environmental activity” – truly one of the towering figures of his age. And a great writer.

Photos of Yosemite and John Muir courtesy of Heiko von Raußendorff, Francis M. Fritz and Wikimedia Commons