London Group – Meeting Reports 2009

November 2009 (2)

Blackfoot Worldview and its Quantum Implications

Prof Leroy Little Bear from the Blackfoot Confederacy was an invited speaker at our SMN conference on the Legacy of David Bohm. Leroy founded the Native American Studies Dept of the University of Lethbridge. He met David Bohm and had many conversations with him in which they explored the similarities of the Blackfoot worldview and Bohm’s theory of implicate and explicate order. The Blackfoot are a Native American Indian tribe with very different worldview from that of the colonizers who came from Europe. Although much of the Western values have had to be adopted by the culture, the Blackfoot maintain their relationship with the world according in their own ancient tradition, with their customs and ceremonies. The core of their worldview is that everything is in flux. Creation is in a state of flux, everything moves, changes, transforms ‘ a perspective familiar to quantum physicists. The process never stops. This flux consists of energy waves and in the particle/wave duality the Blackfoot are wave thinkers whereas western scientists are mostly particle thinkers. We as human beings, manifest a particular combination of waves in relationship with each other, which express our own individuality. These waves are Spirit and death is understood not as the disappearance of the waves, but the dissipation of that particular combination. The flux also relates to the notion of relationship in which everything and everyone is interconnected, man, animal, plant, rock, everything with their particular wave combination. Nothing is inanimate, everything is Spirit. Successful living is to surf the flux as it changes and transforms identifying regular patterns to use as reference, always knowing that things will change. Another important principle of the Blackfoot is renewal. Whereas we in the West are constantly looking to progress onto the next thing, to move on from where we are, the Blackfoot focus on the renewal of that pattern which has proved to be successful. Most of the ceremonies are renewal ceremonies in which they try to maintain those things that make for continuing existence. The ceremonies are therefore age old, and so are the songs they sing and stories they tell. The aim is for stability in change. Another difference is regarding time, and space. Whereas we in the West think in dichotomies, such as day/night, good/bad etc, for the Blackfoot such clear boundaries do not exists and everything is part of everything else or merges into everything else. Blackfoot language has no nouns, nothing that can be pinned down, everything is moving, transforming. Whereas time is major reference for us, for the Blackfoot the significance is in place and space. It was a wonderful insight into a culture with a worldview which resonated with many people in the room!

Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.

November 2009 (1)

The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

Psychiatrist Dr. Iain McGilchrist’s fascinating new book identifies a most interesting phenomenon, how the different hemispheric skills influenced Western culture. In his talk, Iain started by describing the first half of the book in which he examines those different skills and how they influence our ways of being and behaving as individuals. Although the two hemispheres have specific skills in healthy people they work together in balance and make their own unique contribution to the individual’s world. To illustrate the differences, Iain explained that the right hemisphere apprehends the world whereas the left evaluates and plans sequences of actions. The right hemisphere is open, without preconceptions of what it is trying to do, and therefore is subject to a negative feedback loop, meaning that if something pushes it too far one way, it will compensate towards the other to try to correct that. The left hemisphere on the other hand is focusing on something which it has already prioritized, and as a result, the more one uses it, the more one narrows the focus resulting in a positive feedback loop, i.e, the more we do it, the more we have to do it, a loop from which it is hard to escape! Both hemispheres have their job to do, each deals with an aspect of the world we need. The right hemisphere is primary, the Master of the title, which is betrayed by the left, its emissary. ‘The Master needs to trust, to believe in his emissary, knowing all the while that that trust may be abused. The emissary knows, but knows wrongly that he is invulnerable. If the relationship holds, they are invincible; but if it is abused it is not just the Master that suffers, but both of them, since the emissary owes his existence to the Master’ (p428). This struggle of hemispheric tendencies is explored in the context of Western civilization where the balance has at times, not been kept in equilibrium. In the second half of the book Iain examines specific periods of Western civilization beginning with the ancient world of Athens and Rome, through to the present, showing how those hemispheric aptitudes determined the tendencies of the times. In the ancient world it can be said that the right and left hemisphere were working in balance. When we get to Socrates and Plato things start to go wrong with the more subtle, nuanced living sense of the world being replaced by a bureaucratic, militaristic, regimented attitude. Evidence of these swings can be seen in the arts and we were shown some striking examples. For example in contemporary paintings of the Renaissance we note right hemispheric tendencies whereas the Reformation is very clearly under left hemispheric control. The presentation sparked a very interesting discussion, with insightful questions and comments.

Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.

October 2009

Science and Imagination

This month, Prof Marilyn Monk, UCL Emeritus Professor of Molecular embryology at the Institute of Child Health and a member of the Board of Directors of the SMN, discussed Science and Imagination. She told us that scientists stand shy of accepting an engagement with imagination because imagination can lead to belief! Imagination is the mental faculty of forming images of external objects not present to the senses and this can lead to belief – the acceptance of an imagined object as true – and for this reason the concept is drummed out of young scientists. But imagination is necessary to postulate a hypothesis and the one she presented is in two parts: that epigenetic programming determines life view, and that the reverse may be also true, that this programming can be reversed by changing life view. Epigenetic programming is the software of our genome, determining which genes are on and which are off. DNA can be modified in various ways and Marilyn’s scientific work has involved the modification of one of the components of DNA ‘ the methylation of the DNA base cytosine. Methylation has the effect of turning a gene off. Studies with animal models have shown that this process is reversible. Rat pups with bad mothers have methylated their glucocorticoid receptor gene in the hippocampus and are in a constant state of stress. When however these pups are moved to a good mum, this can be reversed. Similarly, recent studies on suicide victims have shown that methylation of the glucocoticoid receptor gene in the hippocampus was present in people who had a childhood of abuse. Imagination may be the key to reverse this process of programming by early experience of the environment to a lifetime of stress and compromised well being. Imagination triggers one’s neurology and physiology in the same way as the real experience. Evidence of its power exists for example in the success of sports psychology and psychoneuroimmunology, both based on the power of suggestion, sometimes erroneously dismissed as placebo effect. Brain imaging studies show that the same areas in the brain fire up whether the individual is having an experience in the external world or innerly, as a product of imagination. Mirror neurones seem to show that we can even experience the world by affinity, through the experience of others. In the past, people have debated the influences of Nature (genes we inherit) versus Nurture (conditioning by the environment). But these are not competing influences and it is more relevant to consider the constant interplay of our genes with the environment. This interface is the epigenome. The epigenome determines our lived experience. It is a continuous dynamic interplay and we have the power to change our environment as well as the way we experience our environment. Could our imagination may be trained to re- programme our genes? Research on this part of the hypothesis would need to be undertaken by professionals in the areas of molecular biology and cognitive neuroscientists.

Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below. Apologies for the quality of this recording!

September 2009

The world is our Cloister: the modern religious life

Following a childhood of devotion, Jennifer Kavanagh abandoned her Anglican faith at the age of 18. She was a literary agent for many years until she started to feel disillusioned at the same time as she started to feel the need to re-engage with her spirituality. A life of faith she feels, in not a rational choice but an inner felt need. Realising that everyone may have different experiences and ways of expressing their faith, hers is in a connecting principle ‘ a life force ‘ something deep within every part of Creation and when she is aware and open she sometimes gets a glimpse of this connection ‘ which becomes a guiding force in her life. Jennifer is a Quaker and silence is the fundamental way for her to connect with this principle. By silence she means more than lack of spoken word, it is a stillness, a withdrawal from communication. Jennifer was baptised Anglican, born of a agnostic Russian Jewish mother and a Catholic convert father and is interested in commonality of faith, rather than religion. Wanting to know how other people experience their faith Jennifer wrote a book with the same title as the talk, for which she interviewed a number of people. Her view is that beliefs, practices and creeds divide us whereas the quest for the divine, the attempt to live a faith a spiritual life can be universal. Although spiritual direction is important she is interested in people without labels – people who pick and mix, which although can be quite superficial, she thinks can also be a deep search for authenticity. Praying is an important aspect in her spiritual life but in her prayers she does not ask for results as she does not know what the right outcome should be. She also realises that ‘Thy will be done’ ‘ the only thing that can be said ‘ will be done anyway, but she uses it as a way of aligning herself. Prayer for her is therefore about this intention and also about mindfulness, which she engages with as a way of life. She does not separate the sacred and the secular which paradoxically she says, is one of the hardest as well as the simplest thing to do. The moral aspect of faith, involves being true to one’s values and principles, which for her includes a withdrawal from news and media, an area she knows well having worked in the industry for many years. And then there is work. A spiritual life involves a life of service for others, and in her case the work is in the field of prison reform, conflict resolution and micro-credit in Africa. She is also working on her third book.

Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.

August 2009

Medicine and Modernity: from Botticelli to Botulus.

In this talk, Dr. Athar Yawar, a member of the Board of the SMN, psychiatrist and former senior editor of The Lancet expanded on his view that although scientific and medical knowledge has advanced exponentially over last 200 yrs, so has dissatisfaction with medicine. Many rigorously validated treatments have been developed over the years but we are sicker than ever. We have worldwide more mental illnesses, infectious diseases, malnutrition, chronic and degenerative illnesses etc. Modernity sees science as the only credible source of knowledge. Just like modern science, in which we distance ourselves from the object studied, modern medicine has moved away from the humanity of the patient. Modernity has left us with a medicine without soul and without a choice, for it excludes competing worldviews, and yet, although a body of knowledge can be coherent and consistent within its own terms it can never be comprehensive for there are an infinite number of ways to look at something. Modern medicine is unambiguous in its view that people are matter and illness happens when the structure of matter breaks down. This is an epistemological belief held even in the absence of evidence for, as Athar pointed out, nobody has ever proven that the most common mental illnesses are caused by neurotransmitter imbalances. But we hold this belief as an article of faith. Athar on the other hand acknowledges that modern medicine has the ability to ease much suffering with things like anaesthesia, antibiotic, pain killers, etc yet, the further away we go from problems of ‘brute matter’, eg. a broken bone, the less effective we are in handling suffering. The broken heart for instance gets treated by anti depressants which cut us off from our own emotions. Even more deplorable is the fact that nowadays it is difficult to do good science in medicine without the backing of the state or of multinational corporations who have their own agendas. The result is that we are treated with toxins rather than tonics and the trials which validate those drugs are themselves often questionable. Members can listen to this talk by going through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.

July 2009

Postsecularism: The Hidden Challenge to Extremism

Dr. Mike King is a Visiting Research Fellow at London Metropolitan University, former director of the SMN and also an author, whose previous book, Secularism: the Hidden Origins of Disbelief shared in the Network Book Prize 2008. This evening Mike talked about the second book of this project, Postsecularism: The Hidden Challenge to Extremism. In the first book Mike examines the emergence of secularism, with its dismissal of all things spiritual, and in this latest book he traces the path of what he calls postsecularism, a quiet voice running between the pre-secular and the secular, which amongst others, refutes extreme views. Mike defines the term as ‘a renewed opening to questions of the spirit retaining a secular tradition of critical thought’. It is a fourth way emerging from a combination of the best and most valuable aspects of old religion, secularism plus the New Age. From old religion comes spirituality, from secularism, critical thinking and the New Age contributes enthusiasm and inclusiveness. The book is composed of extensive conversations with representative thinkers of the three strands, conversations which Mike explored throughout his talk. We heard how the project, which was developed over a long period of time, had to be reconsidered with the event of 9/11. In the previous book Mike suggested that in the 20th century there was what he called, a mutual ignorance pact between the faith traditions and the secular world. With the atrocities of 9/11 this had to be abandoned and a new strengthened atheistic position with a strident voice emerged to participate in a new debate, retrenched into two distinct camps ‘ secular and pre-secular. Mike explores this debate in the first part of this book and notes the development of an openness towards questions of faith coupled with deep critical thinking. The second part of the book examines how postsecular thinking emerges within eight specific disciplines: physics, consciousness studies, transpersonal psychology, the new age, nature, arts, post modernism and feminism. Mike thinks that the book is dense and might be a useful source of reference, but having read the first one with great interest, I am looking forward to taking this one on my hols. Members can listen to this talk by going through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.

June 2009

The Spiritual Gift of Apollo

Dr. Chris Riley, is a science writer and documentary film maker, fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and has directed and produced over 50 films for the BBC’s technology program Tomorrows World. This presentation commemorated the 40th anniversary of mans first walk on the moon and Chris used clips from the film In the Shadow of the Moonreleased in 2007, which he produced and directed.

The Apollo mission was responsible for progress in technology in many industries, from fabric to communication and information, but there have been important spiritual gifts too. The impact of this amazing feat had a unifying effect which translated in the universal psyche as an achievement of mankind. For example, Michael Collins commander of Apollo 11 became aware of this as he spoke about the mission around the world. People everywhere were exhilarated as they identified themselves collectively with the achievement. The reaction of nations around the world to the predicament of Apollo 13 was another example; the craft suffered an accident on board which disabled some of their equipment and put in peril their return to Earth. Political enemies put aside their differences and offered whatever help they could and prayed for their safe return. On a personal level, several of the astronauts also had deep spiritual experiences; for instance Edgar Mitchell, the lunar module pilot of Apollo 14 had an epiphany on the way back to Earth and went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, as a centre for the exploration of consciousness. Rusty Schweickart was deeply moved by the realization that from space, there are no borders or boundaries to be seen on Earth yet people kill each other over imaginary boundaries that dont exist! The photographs showing the Earth as a blue jewel hanging in space, fragile and vulnerable also had a great impact on the way we see ourselves, and marked the beginning of ecological activism and organizations such as Friends of the Earth, Gaia, etc started to appear. Chris completed the presentation with the famous words of Archibald McLeich ‘to see the earth as it truly is, small blue beautiful in that eternal silence in which it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold, brothers who know they are truly brothers. Humanity is not the centre of the universe as we once thought, but part of a vast unknown universe – now even known to be a very small part with most of it being invisible dark matter and dark energy- but nevertheless a beautiful part, which like the frost on a winters day makes the whole universe more beautiful. Members can listen to this talk by going through the Members Circle portal and clicking the link below and articles by Chris on the Apollo mission can be found on

www.chris-riley.com/articles.htm

May 2009

Scientific Revolution or Evolution? Conquest vs Consortium as the Future of Science

This month we welcomed Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris, an internationally known evolution biologist whose current interest is to identify the next paradigmatic step in science. Elisabet argues that the current supremacy of Western science has silenced and displaced valuable and important sciences from other cultures around the world. Paradigms are based on culturally informed assumptions and although the materialistic assumptions on which the Western scientific paradigm is based have led to the successful development of technology, these assumptions are not universally helpful. For example consciousness studies are much better served by the assumptions from the Vedic traditions, agriculture by those of the Incas and economics by Islamic cultures. Elisabet explained that her evolutionary biology is informed both by Darwin, who saw the competitive side of nature, as well as by Kropotkin who focused more on the cooperative side. This both/and approach forms the basis of her view that the current competitive superiority of Western science could evolve to a more cooperative one in which sciences from different cultures address the areas of their expertise for a more inclusive world. Consortium as opposed to conquest as the future of science. This was discussed at the first Evolution of Science Symposium in Hokkaido, Japan organised by Dr. Sahtouris which hopes to raise E75,000 to fund a study to examine the beliefs and assumptions underlying the science of 5,000 credential scientists around the world. It is well known that whereas only 50 years ago consciousness was considered an epi-phenomenon of matter, today primacy of consciousness is a belief widely held by many people, including mainstream scientists. This shift is a consequence of a generation of young people going to India, learning about yoga and meditation through first hand experience and bringing this knowledge back to the West. Science, as Elisabet pointed out, cannot establish truths; it can only establish working hypothesis and look for consistency in the result of research methods, and for patterns and regularities that can lead to reliable predictions in the world. Ancient Vedic and Chinese science, Persian and Egyptian sciences, Aztec and Inca sciences have all done this. No religion she noted, has succeeded in taking over the world as Western science has. We need the whole range of human intelligence in science as much as we need it in religion and cultural values. Members can listen to this talk by going through the Members Circle portal and clicking the link below. Elisabets website is

www.sahtouris.com

April 2009

Beauty: a Master Key for Sustainable Relationships

In April we hosted a presentation by Shakti Maira, whose talk was entitled Beauty: a Master Key for Sustainable Relationships. Shakti is an Indian sculptor and painter, who started life as an economist and business manager working for multinational banks and international corporations. He has for many years written about art, aesthetics and education for magazines and newspapers, and has formulated the ‘Asian Vision of Arts in Education: Learning through the Arts’ for UNESCO. This evening we also had the pleasure of welcomingSatish Kumar, the editor of Resurgence, teacher, ecological and peace warrior who introduced the speaker. Shakti started his presentation by pointing out that the economic crisis we are enduring presently in the West is a symptom of the materialistic values we have become dominated by, which see the world as populated by things that are unrelated and disconnected from each other. In this world beauty has lost its meaning and what we see is skin-deep appearances. The Indian perspective of beauty is a dynamic process of interconnection, an experience which encompasses as a unit – the observer and the observed. He asked us to close our eyes and think of something we consider beautiful and through this made us aware of the experience we variously call pleasure, gladness, joy, timelessness etc. Beauty is the property of an object on the one hand, but it is also a personal, transient one on the other. The fact that it is subjective should not be an obstacle to universal understanding. It incorporates balance, harmony, truth, goodness etc, but its main attribute is its transformative potentiality. Beauty leads to bliss and transformation. It may be complex but is never complicated! It is active and animate, it connects us with others in delight. By demanding our attention, it activates our consciousness! If we were to embody this reality and become homo aestheticus instead of the current status of homo economicus, we would move towards a better world. Shakti and Satish had a dialogue about beauty and sustainability, in which the hope emerged, for a world in which BUD (Beautiful, Useful and Durable) becomes the order of the day. Shakti is author of Towards Ananda: Rethinking Indian Art and Aesthetics was published by Penguin/Viking in 2006. Members can listen to the presentation by reaching this page via the Members Circle portal and clicking the link below. Shakti Mairas website is

Shakti Maira

March 2009

Reporting Climate Change: Reflections in the Ice

This month we welcomed my friend and colleague Martin Redfern, who is a senior producer in the BBC Science Unit and he showed us some wonderful pictures of ice and snowy landscapes, sea, blue skies and cuddly penguins – but the news are not great! Martin was selected as one of the very few journalists that the British Antarctic Survey takes South and he sailed from the Falklands aboard HMS Endurance spending five weeks travelling the full length of the Antarctic Peninsula. HMS Endurance has two Lynx helicopters, enabling scientists — and lucky journalists — to land in some inaccessible places, some of them where no human has ever been before.

The Antarctic Peninsula, with its towering mountains and glaciers, contains some of the most spectacular scenery in the continent. Martin compared it with someone flooding the Himalayas so that only the mountaintops and their glaciers remained. But the Peninsula, though as big as Britain, only contains 1% of the continents ice. Altogether, 90% of the worlds ice, 70% of its fresh water, is locked up in the great ice sheets of East and West Antarctica. The question everyone is asking is -is it going to stay there?

If the ice melting or breaking away as bergs around the edges is balanced by fresh snow falling in the interior, all is well. But some regions do not seem to be in balance. The biggest glacier of the continent, the Pine Island Glacier in the Western Antarctica, drains ice from an area the size of Texas. Explorers Martin met had been measuring the flow of the glacier and told him that it has accelerated by about 7% just this season. Were that to continue, this glacier alone could raise world sea level by a quarter of a metre. This summer scientists drilled an ice core to see if the changes observed are part of a natural cycle or something new. So far, the evidence suggests the latter. The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by around 2.5 deg C. in the last 50 years — more than anywhere else on Earth. And the change shows no sign of slowing. Now, the Wilkins ice shelf on the other side of the Peninsula is poised to collapse. Antarctica is changing beyond recognition and the consequences may affect us all.

February 2009

Weaving Middle East Peace

In February we heard William Morris the Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, an organization involved in peace processes around the world producing policy papers for submission to governments. Although organised many months back, this talk came right at the heel of the conflict in Gaza and William was able to give us a first hand report on the situation. The picture that emerges reveals hopelessness and helplessness. People, old and young are traumatised by the ferocity of the recent war. Israelis used phosphorus and also sonic bombs, which traumatise children, and destroyed a huge number of buildings, including residential. William says the ordinary Israelis have no idea of what the army has done in Gaza. On the other hand, Hamas did not come out of the conflict well. The casualties amongst fighters were low because they failed to fight, but high amongst Hamas members. The other reason for the low popularity is the ongoing violent conflict with Fatah, with its many shootings. On the West Bank however, its popularity increased. Fatah is a corrupt organisation and there is no credible government there. The party that has gained popularity as a result of the conflict is Islamic Jihad, who were themselves responsible for shooting rockets into Israel after the cease fire which ended in November. Although the finance comes from Iran and the United Arab Emirates, the weapons used come from China. They are smuggled through Khartoum in Sudan by Bedouins who take them across the desert into Egypt and then to the tunnels into Gaza. A long term solution will have to include a restructuring of Fatah, by which younger men are allowed into the political circles of the organisation to replace the corrupt old guard. It also has to include peace between Fatah and Hamas. A change of attitude towards Hamas must also occur as we are at the moment, trapping Hamas into their own rhetoric, telling them what they believe ‘ as for instance, the desire to throw the Jews into the sea. Inclusion rather than exclusion is required, and Israel needs to change its stance in different ways, including letting go of the need to show their power over Gaza by closing the crossings to prove its might. The talk was interesting and left us with a sense of sadness and me personally baffled that competent people on both sides are unable to find a better solution than wanting to beat each other to pulp. For further information on the work of the organisation, go to

www.ncfpeace.org

January 2009

Madness, Mystery and the Survival of God

Isabel Clarke is a consultant clinical psychologist with a particular interest in spirituality – which she sees as being at the heart of what it is to be a human being ‘ as well as in psychosis and the overlap between the two. This evening Isabel talked about her most recent book, Madness, Mystery and the Survival of God, in which she seeks to find a scientific explanation for mental experiences which are distressing and overwhelming and are often labeled psychotic. She explained how this interest came out of the experience of observing the breakdown of a good friend when she was young, which led her to take a degree in clinical psychology. Her ideas started to fall into place when she came across a theory rooted in experimental cognitive science, called Interactive, Cognitive Subsystems or ICS, developed by John Teasdale and Phillip Barnard in the early 90’s. This theory describes how the pathways in the brain connect, postulating that there are two main subsystems at the top of the hierarchy, the Propositional, which is verbal, logical and manages boundaries, and the Implicational, which is emotional. This one Isabel prefers to call ‘Relational’ because it organises relationships. These two subsystems are equally influential and when they are in sync, all works well. They do however at times become disconnected, such as in sleep or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In addition, at times of unusual stress or perhaps for some other specific reason, the relational subsystem can become uncoupled from the propositional, boundaries collapse and emotions become overwhelming. Depending on personal context this can lead to psychosis or else induce the sense of cosmic significance of mystical experience. Isabel explained the model and process which has become the framework of reference she uses in her successful work with psychotic inpatients at the psychiatric hospital Woodhaven. Her interest in the field has led her in the past to edit a book entitled, Psychosis and Spirituality; Exploring the New Frontier ( 2001), and she has also organised three conferences on Psychosis and Spirituality in 2000, 2001 and 2005. At present Isabel is actively developing important resources in the Spiritual Crisis Network (www.SpiritualCrisisNetwork.org.uk).

Members can listen to the presentation by reaching this page via the Members Circle portal and clicking on the link below. Isabel Clarke’s website is:

www.isabelclarke.org

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