Thoughts have consequences

Thoughts have consequences.

Patterns of thought have consequences.

Paradigms, or world views, are patterns shared by many people. They have world changing consequences.

“Our world view is not simply the way we look at the world. It reaches inward to constitute our innermost being, and outward to constitute the world. It mirrors but also reinforces and even forges the structure, armouring, and possibilities of our interior life. It deeply configures our psychic world. No less potentially, our world view—our beliefs and theories, our maps, our metaphors, our myths, our interpretive assumptions—constellate our outer reality, shaping and working the world’s malleable potentials in a thousand ways of subtly reciprocal interaction. World views create worlds.”
Richard Tarnas

Humanity is resistant to changing its dominant paradigms. Habits of thought are so strong. So crisis tends to be necessary before the paradigm changes.

Today sees several interconnected crises, including global warming, species extinction, global environmental pollution, inequality/poverty in and between states, inability to provide an environment for meaningful lives to many young people, population movements due to combinations of these, resulting international conflict.

All suggest major paradigm change is needed, but what? One of the most important is the materialism and reductionism evident in mainstream science, indeed the religion of scientism. Such has been the ‘success’ of this mindset in terms of technological advancement, that it has inspired many fields of human endeavour, notably economics and politics, to also aim to be similarly ‘scientific’.

The problem of course is that this denies the interiority of the human being, shared with the natural world, denies the importance of values in human affairs, enables the scientist/politician to ignore the need to examine themselves in the context of their work.

“I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives us a lot of factual information, puts all of our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”
Erwin Schrödinger

The Scientific & Medical Network initiated the Galileo Commission to look at this question of a new paradigm for science, in the spirit of the original Galileo whose observations precipitated the change of paradigm of astronomy from earth-centred to sun-centred. [Not to be confused with the Galileo satellite navigation system!]

There is an excellent summary of the first stage of its deliberations in the current issue of Paradigm Explorer, the SciMed magazine. The Commission’s summary report is available here, well worth a read. The introductory articles alone, by Peter Fenwick and David Lorimer, are both rich in insight.

Of course, the attitude to consciousness is a key to whatever new paradigm might emerge. This quote from the report gives an indicator:

“Therefore, we need to assume, as a minimal point of working consensus, that consciousness is an entity in its own right, perhaps co-arising with material phenomena or presenting the inner aspect of material organisation.”
Galileo Commission Report

 

Are Humans Special?

Most characteristics of human beings are shared in different ways with other species. Humanity is special in its ability to dominate all other species and in its capacity for abstract thought. Other species are special, each in its own way.

Because that abstract thought has become increasingly dominant, humanity has increasingly lost touch with the rest of nature. The tragic phenomenon of today’s many threatened species and rapidly changing climate, still substantially ignored by our ‘business as usual’ political mindset, is leading in a clearly unsustainable direction.

In Blind Spots, Christian de Quincey suggests that the roots of this modern crisis lie in this presumption of human specialness – and squarely places scientific materialism and religion in his sights as substantial causative agents.

  • Materialism treats the matter of nature as ‘dead’, insentient and of no intrinsic value – (in this view) only creatures with consciousness have intrinsic value and that comes from brains, especially that great human brain. Doubts exist on the consciousness and sentience of various species, because of course you cannot measure consciousness.
  • In the previously dominant paradigm of Christian religion, biblical scripture reinforces the myth that ‘only humans have souls, or consciousness’.

We cannot do without science and religion; we do need them to eschew this crazy materialism and habit of perceiving human specialness, and forge a new path that sees humans as an integral part of nature, perhaps with a special responsibility to just not screw it up.

 

 

Consciousness

Scientific materialists claim that consciousness presents a ‘hard problem’ that will ultimately be solved by science demonstrating how consciousness is created by brain activity. Personally I think this is nonsense – consciousness lies outside the domain of science. In this post I explore what consciousness is through the lens of the philosophy of panpsychism, as presented in philosopher Christian de Quincey’s book Blind Spots.

Consciousness (or mind) is subjective, it is undetectable, is not measurable, and is not located in space.

Physical entities have extension in space, consist of matter-energy and can be measured by science.

Consciousness and matter/energy are the inner and outer of existence. They always go together. Consciousness is the capacity for knowing, feeling, being aware, making choices. It needs energy to act. Consciousness is pervasive throughout the universe, and goes ‘all the way down’ to the smallest components.

Consciousness gives meaning to the universe, gives an order that would otherwise dissipate through entropy, according to the laws of thermodynamics.

Consciousness provides a potential explanatory ‘mechanism’ for phenomena of action at a distance, such as intentional healing, remote communication, quantum interconnections and other well-documented phenomena – which provide great difficulty for science.

To me, this all seems rather more plausible than scientific materialism, and seems consistent with the world as I see it, and as it is reported by others.

Does this matter? Well yes, it is crucial. Scientific materialism and the relentless focus of materialist economics and everyday life on the outer, as opposed to the inner, is actually in the process of destroying the world it has created, through a lack of the wisdom that comes from inner focus. Do I need to mention the evident lack of sustainability again: global warming, pollution, wars, inequality, lack of concern for the poor etc.?

Do read Blind Spots or another of de Quincey’s books.

Featured image entitled ‘The path to consciousness’ is by Sar Maroof, via Wikimedia Commons

Exploring Ontology

Ontology – the fundamental nature of being

Something exists. As sentient conscious beings, we each know this for certain.

Nothing cannot cause something. So something must have always existed, as must consciousness.

Big Bang theory models the creation of space-time out of nothing, which is ontologically suspect.

Materialist philosophy suggests that consciousness emerged from no-consciousness, which is ontologically miraculous.

At the heart of things is mystery, which leaves plenty of space for God.

Inspired by Christian de Quincey’s book Blindspots.

The Inner Life of Animals

“The idea that there was an abrupt break in the course of evolution, and that at some point everything was reinvented, is an idea whose time is past. The only major point of contention today is whether animals can think; that’s what we do best, after all.”

inner life animalsIn a way this quote summarises the essence of Peter Wohlleben’s important book The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World. He presents much evidence that the inner life of animals is very much like our own, perhaps except for the thinking faculty.

The evidence is extensive and overwhelming, a combination of scientific research and the personal observations of one who works on the land. For example:

  • ravens have a strong sense of right and wrong, and are very intelligent, using their beaks much as we do our hands.They and other species that live in social groups can match, and in some cases even exceed, the mental prowess of primates.
  • wild boar know exactly which other boar they are related to, even if the connection is a distant one. Indeed, pigs are extremely intelligent animals. They teach their young and help them deliver their own children later in life. They and other animals understand their own names, and thus have some degree of self-consciousness.
  • crows are known for recognising people and for having strong emotional reactions to those they don’t like.
  • horses know just by how tense their rider’s body is and enjoy being directed and exercised.
  • doe’s grieve for their dead offspring.
  • shame and embarrassment are evident in dogs, and function as a kind of act of contrition – they are mechanisms for asking for forgiveness.
  • animals are capable of empathy, and experience fear and pain.
  • it’s quite clear to foresters and hunters alike that wild animals learn from experience. Wild boar hunt at night when they themselves are hunted, but not otherwise.

As well as all this evidence, there is also the suggestion that humans have actually largely lost touch with a capability that animals still have – the sixth sense, which is a necessary tool for survival in the wild. Why is it that, in comparison with animals, we are so unaware of changes in our environment? The answer lies in the way our modern home and work environments overwhelm our senses. How much more accurately must early peoples have been able to read the woods and the meadows, exposed, as they were, to all those stimuli day in and day out?

For us, the wild largely no longer exists. We have already cleared, built on or dug up 80 per cent of the Earth’s land mass. Our disconnection with nature has major impacts, including hundreds of thousands of wild boar and pigs killed every year in EU alone.

In Europe at least half the night sky is affected by light pollution, disorienting many species of animals that depend on stars to orient themselves at night. Moths, for instance, rely on the moon when they want to fly in a straight line.

Instead of the sixth sense we have this highly developed abstract thinking capability. We act automatically and subconsciously, but the conscious part of the brain then comes up with an explanation for the action a few seconds later – a face-saving explanation for our fragile ego, which likes to feels it’s completely in control at all times. In many cases, however, the other side – our unconscious – is in charge of operations. Emotions are the language of the unconscious and as we have seen the evidence is that animals also experience them.

Our scientific society  denies these emotions in animals, so that we can continue to exploit them without troubling our conscience too much. We are living a lie.

Wohlleben actually identifies a root cause in humans: the capacity to feel empathy wastes away in people who are denied early exposure to this skill. So upbringing of children outside of an empathic environment is probably a root cause of our denial of the suffering of animals, as well as that of our fellow humans. One can only reflect on the typical English upper class childhood, sent away to impersonal boarding school at an early age.

We have so much in common with animals and they have so much to teach us, if only we will listen before we’ve exterminated every last one of them. Wohlleben leaves us with this wonderful thought:

“Squirrels, deer and wild boar with souls: that’s the thought that makes life special and warms my heart when I have the opportunity to watch animals.”

See also Wohlleben’s superb and even more gripping book The Hidden Life of Trees.

What’s primary?

I was interested in this post from The Two Doctors which brings philosophy into the consideration of wine tasting. He writes of the philosophy of  John Locke (1632-1704):

“Among Locke’s simple ideas is a distinction between those experiences that are primary qualities of objects and others that are secondary qualities. The distinction divides those qualities thought to be essential and inherent to all objects and those that are apparent only on account of the effect that the objects have on our senses. Primary qualities include solidity, shape, motion or rest, and number. Secondary qualities are those such as scent and taste. These are secondary because, according to Locke, they do not inhere/reside in the objects themselves, but are causally produced only in our minds by the effect of an object’s primary qualities upon our senses. Another way of conceiving them is to say primary qualities are objective (really exist) and secondary ones subjective (only exist in the minds of observers).”

This suggests an interesting point in history, where a judgement is applied to the inner/outer or subjective/objective polarity that lies at the heart of existence. In defining the objective (left brain) stuff as primary, and the subjective (right brain) stuff as merely secondary, Locke is applying a judgement that resounds in history, leading to the modern materialistic world and much denial of interiority and spirituality.

Locke could have expressed it the other way round, ie that the subjective is primary (really exists) and the objective merely secondary (only exists as a mental construct). This might have led to a world view where consciousness is seen as primary, rather than the material world. How different history might have been!

Of course, actually there’s no question of primary and secondary, we are speaking of two aspects of a fundamental polarity of existence.

Can computers ever be conscious?

This question is posed in an interesting paper True Artificial Consciousness – Is It Possible? from Sean Webb on the IONS blog. The paper is quite detailed and worth a read if you’re interested in the subject. My take is somewhat simpler, as follows.

Everything has an ‘inner’ and an ‘outer’. Science and technology deal with the ‘outer’, consciousness is a feature of the ‘inner’. Could the twain ever meet? Explaining consciousness is regarded as a ‘hard problem’ of science – too right – they operate in different domains.

So-called artificial intelligence is basically technology that emulates the real intelligence that flows forth from consciousness. This emulation can increasingly appear to be conscious, and even pass the so-called Turing Test of intelligent behaviour, but I would suggest it is not really conscious – could its ‘inner’ conceivably emerge from the ‘outer’ algorithms?

So, if we let machines control things we finish up with a mechanistic universe that is devoid of the spark of consciousness, indeed could become its persecutor.

Featured illustration of the Turing Test by By Mushii , via Wikimedia Commons

 

The mystery

Individual consciousness is undeniable.

The existence of other consciousnesses and the external world is the only sensible basis for living.

According to cosmologists, space-time began with a ‘big bang’ and things gradually evolved into increasing complexity. At some point life emerged, and eventually so did individual consciousness.

So what happened/ what was the cause of (or ‘before’) the ‘big bang’? Does the question have any meaning?

And it leads to the question what if life/ consciousness did not exist?And how could it have started?

At which point the brain hurts.

There is always a mystery at the heart of existence! Some call it God.

Featured image is a universal timeline from NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Cause of The Renaissance?

We’ve travelled around Europe a fair amount over the years and it is clear from the evidence of art and architecture that something special happened around the 12th/13th centuries and again the 15th/16th centuries. The Romanesque and Gothic architectures, the paintings and sculptures of Tuscany, the establishment of universities, printing, the beginnings of great literature,…

What was it that led to this original Renaissance? What special combination of circumstances caused that great explosion of the human spirit? Philosopher Jean Gebser had an answer in his book The Ever Present Origin (1949), and it goes back to the basic nature of our own consciousness.

Humanity has gone through four basic ‘structures of consciousness’: the ‘archaic’, the ‘magical’, the ‘mythic’ and the ‘mental-rational’. He dates the period when the transition began from ‘mythic’ to ‘mental-rational’ at around 1225. This was the period when left brain consciousness began to assert itself against the submersion into a right-brain dominated world. For a period the two were in some sort of state of balance which led to the creative explosion of those periods of Renaissance.

Then as time progressed the dominance of left brain was gradually asserted (see The Master and His Emissary), interconnectedness was reduced and the emphasis moved to individuality and competition. Of course, this has been creative in its own way, see the explosion of science and technology, but it has been at a cost of the basic connection with life itself. Hence increasing problems of pollution, environmental degradation, global warming, species extinction, mega-wars, terrorism,…

Gebser postulated that we are on the threshold of a fifth structure of consciousness – the ‘integral’ – which would begin to redress the balance that has gone too far one way. Such a new consciousness would re-establish that creative balance between the two halves of the brain, but at a higher level – leading to a New Renaissance.

Many thinkers have since then built on Gebser’s ideas, including Ken Wilber and Iain McGilchrist.

I am indebted to Gary Lachman’s book The Secret Teachers of the Western World for inspiring this post.

Featured image of Botticelli Venus courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Defences of Atheism 

My previous post on atheism provoked quite a lot of comments. Atheists are obviously very attached to their position.

A lot of the discussion came from my asking, what is this god you don’t believe in. It seems to come down to not accepting that there is some superior being, a sort of philosophical Brexit, taking back control by the new god science from sclerotic old religion.

This still appears to me a rather limited perspective. What about the mystery that always lies at the heart of existence – such as the uncaused cause that came before the big bang. What about the reality of spiritual experience, attested by the personal experience of so many over the ages. What about the inner of things, eg consciousness, that cannot be explained by materialistic outers.

An immanent and transcendent one God offers one perspective that would relate to all these. I’m not saying I believe or have faith in this perspective, but it does appear a valid position. I’m more inclined to the view that consciousness is as much part of reality as matter, ie everything has inner and outer, the whole being a mysterious evolutionary  emergence (see eg Steve McIntosh’s book in recent post). I’m still open/agnostic to the concept of the one God.

I’m not clear whether atheism has anything to say here, other than cling to its scientific materialistic certainty. But no doubt I’m misrepresenting atheism and some kind person will enlighten me!

Battle of ideas

There is a battle of ideas in understanding the human situation and its history.

On the one side, we find the ardent materialists, who profess to be scientists but in reality follow the pseudoscience of scientism. They present a history of the ‘big bang’ and the gradual coalescing of matter into galaxies, stars and planets. Then, on planet earth, came land and sea and a favourable atmosphere, whence emerged plants and the panoply of animals, fish, birds and so on. And eventually random mutation led relatively recently to the human being, who at some point mysteriously became self conscious and completely different from the other animals. And the inexorable march of science is slowly explaining all these things, and will eventually be able to explain the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness.

In this sort of world view there is little room for astrology, which is hence denigrated by its popularisers, such as Richard Dawkins and the ex-rockstar Professor Brian Cox. Indeed, there is little room for the ‘interiors’ of things, as opposed to their exterior manifestation.

In the other side, we find a view from inside out, taking consciousness as the primary feature of existence, and showing how consciousness itself has evolved since its dawning. In the beginning is a seamless unity with the world; then the emergence of self consciousness, magical and mythical stages moving into rationality, a super rationality of the divorced ego and ultimately a purported more integrated participatory consciousness.

secret_history_of_conscIn this sort of world view astrology, and particularly astrological psychology, finds a natural place in meaningful relationship of the individual and the whole. And it is
this sort of viewpoint that is explored by another ex-rockstar Gary Lachmann in A Secret History of Consciousness.

This is really an exploration into ideas rather than the telling of a particular story. Lachmann looks at the work of many thinkers who have spent their lives investigating aspects of such stories. A partial list of these explorers will give some idea of the vastness of his scope: William Bucke, William James, Henri Bergson, A.R.Orage, P.D.Ouspensky, Helena Blavatsky, Rudolph Steiner, Goethe, Erich Neumann, Stan Gooch, Julian Jaynes, Colin Wilson, Owen Barfield, Jean Gebser, and so on.

This is a very readable, but also quite demanding book to read, covering such a wide range of extraordinary human beings and their major contributions to understanding consciousness. A veritable tour de force!

Do read it if this is an area that is of interest to you. You might also be interested in my earlier post on materialism.

Based on an article that first appeared in Conjunction, magazine of astrological psychology, in 2012

Featured image of ‘big bang’ by cédric sorel, via Wikimedia Commons

The Meaning of Aging

What is the meaning of getting old? Is it something like this:

“the challenge of growing old is not to conquer aging but to enter a natural, meaningful, and profoundly transforming process”?

three_secrets_of_agingIf you think it is, then you will probably like John C. Robinson’s book The Three Secrets of Aging. 

It is good to think that aging can be a meaningful process that can positively contribute to society, rather than just a desperate hanging on in the face of increasing tribulations and eventual infirmity. Again, Robinson gives a positive vision, akin to playing a part in a New Renaissance:

“…the aging experience described here can eventually become the path to a collective transformation and the discovery of a new world.”

Part 1 tells the story of the authors own coming into the aging process and becoming aware that it is not about more ‘business as usual’ with the preoccupations of earlier years, but more about an emptying of consciousness, a spiritual transformation to awareness of who we really are – a sort of modern form of enlightenment, away from the everyday concerns of the ego and its thinking monkey mind. It is the ego and the personal identity that actually keeps us away from our inner core. From this perspective, aging is a process of transformation of consciousness, and the individual is contributing to a collective process of transformation.

Part 2 offers three ‘secrets of aging’. The result of aging is seen as the creation of Elders, wise people who have always been valued by native peoples. The work involves both psychological and spiritual work, transforming loss and change, away from the life we knew with its materialistic concerns, into meaning, wisdom and renewal. Squarely facing our own personal death is a key task of aging, catalysing our initiation. We can finally reach a state of pure consciousness, untroubled by the previous interminable concerns of the ego mind. The author refers to the Cosmic Consciousness promoted by Richard Bucke over 100 years ago.

Eventually, yes, the body will in some way break down, and it will eventually be time to pass on into the Mystery. But that too is all right, a natural part of the process, no longer resisted by the ego.

In part 3 the author offers ‘A Spiritual Blueprint for the Enlightened Elder in the Twenty-First Century’. He highlights the need, in that the effects of our separation from nature are becoming increasingly apparent – the technological ego-maniac period is increasingly running into the buffers.

“Coming to our senses means experiencing the Earth directly as a vast, intelligent, living and divine being everywhere expressed in a marvelous diversity of forms and processes.”

The Master must regain control from His Emissary, in the terms of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and his Emissary, reviewed elsewhere.

There is much food for thought in this book. For me, John C. Robinson offers an inspiring vision for the process of aging, and its relevance as part of our collective experience.

The bottom line is if you like the overall thesis you are likely to benefit from reading it.

 

 

 

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