Humanity’s Endgame, or New Beginning?

I was struck by the juxtaposition of two book reviews in the recent edition of Paradigm Explorer – magazine of the Scientific and Medical Network.

uninhabitable earthFirst, David Lorimer reviews The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells, a book that suggests that our institutions and leaders are simply not up to the task of addressing the challenges of climate breakdown. Humanity is basically not an intelligent species en masse and will go down the pan.

planet remadeThis is followed by Paul Kieniewicz’s review of The Planet Remade – How Geoengineering Could Change the World, by Oliver Morton. This sort of accepts the premise of the previous book, except suggests that humanity will increasingly resort to geoengineering to try to alleviate the resulting problems. Of course, geoengineering is a largely unknown, untested and inherently unpredictable.

At the end of the day, neither of these mindsets seems likely to do more than scare us, which is perhaps what is needed, in addition to the positive work being done by Extinction Rebellion and many others.

The problem is enormous, almost beyond comprehension, and involves every living person. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If the majority of people did their little bit every day, always making the carbon-reducing, climate stabilising, non-polluting choices – so that individuals, communities, businesses, corporations, towns and cities, regions, national governments, international institutions were all moving in the same direction, we would soon realise that we were solving the problem.

We just have to give up caring about money more than people and nature, and about power and fighting more than peace and cooperation. Nothing less than total transformation of our politics and economics!

When did this ever happen before? Well, after WW2 there was a recognition of the need for change and the establishment of institutions to improve cooperation (UN, EU) and reduce the chance of wars, and to establish improved living standards for peoples. The game of sovereignty and ‘interests’ of nation states and powerful individuals has since undermined all this. It has to stop, or the ‘interests’ of the big boys will destroy us all.

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

 

An unfortunate legacy of Justus von Liebig

Every good idea that takes off in human thinking seems to have its downside that eventually requires correction, as it is taken to extremes. I think this is what Hegel’s dialectic of thesis –> antithesis –> synthesis was about. The German chemist Justus von Liebig provides an example very relevant today, in a story told by Beata Bishop in the recent SciMed newsletter.

Von Liebig (1802-1873) is variously regarded as the founder of organic chemistry and the father of the fertilizer industry. He notably discovered that nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are key minerals that plants need to grow and thrive. Thus came about the modern fertilizer industry, which gradually supplanted traditional farming techniques based on manure, compost, crop rotation, leaving fields fallow, etc.

Of course, initially this approach appeared successful and crops thrived. With the development of modern pesticides the industrial approach to agriculture seemed sensible and was commercially successful. But what has only become apparent after many decades is that this approach is over-simple and other vital minerals and organic matter are being gradually lost from the now-depleted soils. The organic movement arose to try to counteract this, but still only has a foothold where people can afford it. And the agrochemical industry has become so powerful that it is difficult to change towards the organic antithesis, or indeed any new synthesis.

Of course the pendulum will swing back, they always do. Unfortunately, this is also a critical time of climate change, caused by the related explosion of fossil fuel exploitation over the same period.

Historically, civilisations come to an end when changes of climate and crop yields eventually make them unsupportable. We really now are in a critical period of human history, partly thanks to the worthy efforts of Justus von Liebig. But never say die, necessity is the mother of invention, and humanity is a very inventive and adaptable species.

 

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.

Fearful times

We have nothing to fear but fear itself

FDR expressed it well.

Fear is of the ego and is concerned with separation from the other. 

Love is of the soul or higher self and is concerned with coming together. 

In the process of growth we grow from fear to love, from ego to soul, from competition to cooperation. 

The Brexit and Trump phenomena are both based on fear, separation, ego. This is the problem of current times – a resurgence of fear based politics. 

Only through love and raising our level of being can this be transcended. 

Thanks for the inspiration from Richard Barrett’s recent article in SciMed Network Review. 

Science and Spirituality

Are science and spirituality compatible?

yin_yangOf course they are. Science deals with the ‘outer’ of things and spirituality is of the ‘inner’ of things – which science has little to say about, other than correlation with the outer. Readers of my posts on Materialism and Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm will be familiar with this. In a sense, they are complementary.

I recently came across a neat way of expressing the difference in a report of a talk given by Ravi Ravindra to the London Group of the Scientific & Medical Network.

Ravi is reported as defining his understanding of the word spiritual as pointing to subtler levels of reality than the body, or indeed than the mind – and the mind is the tool to acquire knowledge of the spiritual through approaches such as meditation. Such knowledge is directly apprehended knowledge – objective in its own way. “With a quiet mind spiritual mysteries can become dissolved and realised.” This knowledge cannot be directly transmitted to others.

Science also starts with mysteries to be solved, but using the active, intellectual, logical mind. The unknown sought by science is knowable, and once understood, this understanding can be transmitted to others. Science becomes institutionalised to organise this knowledge – which is not actually possible with spirituality – although of course individual religions can organise their own paths which can help along the way.

Ravi compared the processes involved: science uses experiments and spirituality uses experience. Experiments are external; experience is internal – which is where we came in…

Footnote

This whole subject of inner and outer is of course related to the question of consciousness, which is now the subject of much focus, after being on the ‘too hard’ pile for decades. There is an interesting recent IONS paper pointing to the fundamental role of consciousness: Consciousness and the New Paradigm, by Adrian David Nelson.

It’s going to be all right?

Climate Change

So we had the Paris climate accord and everything is going to be all right? Unlikely. Nothing is binding and business goes on as usual, with exceptionally low oil prices.

My_village
‘My Village’ in Bangladesh

Scientific voices are increasingly strident about the dangers. Have we actually already reached a tipping point? We do not know. In one recent piece of research, former top NASA scientist  James Hansen and 18 co-authors suggest that current climate models grossly underestimate the effects of climate change on ocean currents. It seems that ice sheets may melt much faster than current models have anticipated – leading to much faster rise in sea levels than currently predicted. And storms could become much more severe that we have experienced so far, resulting in unimaginable tsunamis.

In the recent ‘Network Review’ of the Scientific & Medical Network, David Lorimer reviews the book ‘Paris and the Survival of Civilisation’ by David Ray Griffin, retired American professor of philosophy of religion and theology. Griffin, a meticulous scholar, analyses the current situation. Lorimer’s review gives a good overview, which you can read if you join the network.

Here’s my 3 point summary:

  1. There is already clear evidence of disruption caused by climate change in the increasing incidence of extreme weather events and related political problems, such as Syria, which are leading to increasing refugees and terrorism. This can only accelerate with current emission trends.
  2. There has been a massive collective failure of media and politicians across the world to respond to the challenge, encouraged by fossil fuel interests funding climate denial and a mindset dominated by the need for short term economic growth in a system that is clearly failing us.
  3. 80% of known fossil fuel reserves would need to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophe, yet governments continue to subsidise fossil fuels when in fact the rapid transition to ‘mostly renewables’ is the only real viable option.

In the above, I’ve just picked out a couple of examples of the voices calling for sanity. There are many.

What is really needed is a clear vision of a sustainable future with renewable energies, such as that being pioneered by Elon Musk and Tesla, and a worldwide programme to manage the transition. And then a sense of urgency, that was not evident in the conclusions from Paris.

Minimal first steps would be removal of all carbon subsidies and their transfer to renewables, and immediate carbon taxes to establish the funds needed to fight the consequences. Then at least we’d know our leaders were taking it seriously.

The economic/banking system also needs some sort of overhaul, so that it will support the transition and not be a continuous obstacle.

Will it happen? Not today. A sea change in the cultural and economic climate is needed. Every mind changed will help. Every piece of research, personal interaction, tweet, post and book will help. Every vote for right thinking politicians will help, in the democracies. Every choice to reduce personal carbon emissions will help.

We have to believe that collectively we can act in time.

The danger is that we get bogged down in fighting the symptoms, such as flooding, wildfires, water shortages, refugees and terrorism – and forget about the real problem that will eventually overwhelm many or all of us, or our children and grandchildren.

Picture of ‘My village’ By Almunimsajib2014,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36054289

 

 

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