In-Formation at the Centre of Creation: consciousness, causality and coherence
Our speaker for this meeting, DR. JUDE CURRIVAN is a cosmologist, as well as a mystic. She has a Masters Degree in Physics from Oxford University specialising in quantum physics and cosmology, and a PhD in Archaeology researching ancient cosmologies. She had mystical experiences from a very young age and worked with the wisdom teachers of many traditions furthering over many years, her interest and research into the nature of reality. Jude started by telling us that the evidence-based and the faith-based worldviews can be reconciled into a whole worldview of a conscious, evolving and unified Cosmos where we, humans, are both creation and co-creators. This is based on 21st century science which describes our Universe as a cosmic hologram where consciousness expresses itself as space and time, energy and matter through in-formational patterns and relationships at all scales of existence. Time, Jude says, is the universe thinking and space is our universe breathing. In the first moments of the Big Bang, or Big Breath as she likes to call it, time flowed which also implies an ever increasing level of enthropically expressed information. At that moment also, space started to expand and so holographically contain ever more evolutionary information – and, emergent self-awareness. Jude says that recent scientific discoveries show that information is more fundamental than energy-matter and space-time. She says that the same digitised information that underpins out technologies, is also the basic stuff of our universe. Our universe is in-formed, by which she means formed by information shaping space-time and energy-matter. That information is not random, and the Big Breath which brought our Universe into being, was not chaotic but highly ordered and fine tuned. The in-formation is physical, as exemplified by excitations and processes of physical reality and is more fundamental than energy-matter. Interestingly, the in-formational patterns embodied in our Universe at all scales of existence are the same when plotted on a graph– whether natural or man-made. Examples shown were incidence and violence of earthquakes, events in Iraq and the number of casualties, the internet, stock markets, growth of cities, etc. And she showed that the holographic nature of the Universe follows fractal patterns. At the core of her proposal is the idea that what we call Reality is integral information/consciousness which within physical spacetime expresses itself as interconnected holographic fractal patterns of energy/matter on all scales of existence. So more fundamentally, nothing is random, everything has meaning and purpose. Jude’s book The Cosmic Hologram,: In-formation at the Centre of Creation is now out and her website is http://www.judecurrivan.com.
Experiences of Angels – Intimation of Ultimate Reality?
MARIANNE RANKIN, is the Communications Director of the Alister Hardy Society and she started by telling us that she has had in the past reservations about the existence of angels, and only when she was asked to look into this subject for a conference, did the topic come alive for her. She found that a MORI poll in 2009 established that 46% of the adults in Britain believe in guardian angels (58% of those being women) and 3 out of 4 of those believe that their Guardian Angel has helped them in their daily life. The concept of angels is deeply embedded, especially in the Abrahamic religions. The word comes from the Greek angelos, which means messenger. Angels are messengers from God. Many religions recognise beings that exist between the divine and humans. The Buddhists call them devas and the Zoroastrians, daevas. In the Abrahamic religions, angels are understood to have been created by God. They are purely spiritual beings, mainly male, beautiful and have wings. They sometimes take on human form. We heard about the angels mentioned in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments and Dionysius the Areopagite talks about hierarchies of angels. In the New Testament Archangel Gabriel brings important messages from God, announcing the birth of John the Baptist to his parents and the birth of Jesus to Mary and in Islam Archangel Gabriel gave Muhammad the revelations of the Qu’ran. But angels do not belong only to the distant past, Archangel Michael was reportedly seen by soldiers during the assault on German trenches in the Battle of Mons in 1914. Marianne showed us a number of paintings of angels by various artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Chagall, for more recent works, we saw Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, erected in 1998 in Gateshead and is 20 metres tall and has a wingspan to 54 metres. We also heard about reports from the Alister Hardy archives of strangers warning people of danger, who subsequently are found to have disappeared. Those experiences leave the impression of an encounter with an angel. In our discussion we had the opportunity to hear personal stories of members of the audience of unexplained events, which could have been angelic encounter or intervention.
Science, Religion and the future of the Afterlife
This month we heard Dr. Peter Moore, an academic who back in 1972 pioneered the new area of Religious Studies at University of Kent, and later introduced an MA in the Study of Mysticism and Religious Experience at the same university with the late Leon Schlamm.
Peter started by stating that our ideas of the afterlife are necessarily anthropocentric, geocentric in character and culturally constructed, aligned with priorities we give to our present life. The question itself however is of serious interest because if we were to be able to establish that survival after death is a reality, this would throw light on many aspects of life including facts at present dismissed. It would explain the long held belief in ghosts and also give insight into the benefits or otherwise of rituals and customs for the newly deceased person. Therefore, experiences currently labelled as paranormal, mystical, or spiritual need to be taken seriously which does not mean accepted uncritically or at face value, but given due consideration. One of the difficulties is that the tension which exist between the domains of science and religion, means that the question of parapsychology is regarded with suspicion by both camps, science seeing it as too “mystical” and religion as too “materialistic”. On the question of the eschatologies, Peter pointed out that these have historically been commentaries on a whole spectrum of relevant human ideas and experiences. As with so many other ideas within doctrinal systems, they are also subject to revision, and he suggested that this is a good time to revisit those. Reincarnation has taken hold in the collective psyche and is seen to be compatible with some empirical data. Recent Christian thinkers have attempted to incorporate this idea in the Christian doctrine but this move has been seen as controversial. Peter concluded his thoughts by talking about the two principles which he thinks are important in the consideration of life after death: the first being the principle of corporeality – the idea that in the afterlife we must be embodied in some sense and the principle of continuity, the idea that whatever the experience in the afterlife, it cannot be completely discontinuous with what came before. These ideas gave rise to an animated discussion which lasted well beyond our normal ending time!
Is the Sun Conscious?
We started the year on a high, with a full house and 35 people on the waiting list to hear Rupert Sheldrake. The question posed invites reflection that goes beyond the sun, galaxies and encompasses the whole universe. Rupert started by reminding us that many traditions and mythologies consider the sun as conscious even sacred, and salutations to the sun or sun-god are not unusual. He himself salutes the sun every day. The idea that the sun is composed of very hot but dead matter, has its roots in the Cartesian split, which determines that all matter is dead and unconscious. This applies also to the Earth and the rest of the universe. On the other hand, pantheism or panpsychism, considers that mind is primary, and all nature in the universe is permeated by mind.
Rupert recalled the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead, who saw matter as process in time and not as objects. The relationship between matter and consciousness or body and mind, so central to the understanding or reality, is explained as body being the realm of the past and mind being the realm of the future (possibilities). They intersect in the present. Mind is therefore the realm of possibilities not facts, and it permeates the universe. Whereas the prevailing metaphor is mechanical, Whitehead chose the metaphor of the organism to explain the universe, with nested hierarchy. Each level of organisation includes lower, and is included in higher levels. Eg, atoms in molecules, molecules in cells, cells in tissues etc all the way to planets in solar systems, in galaxies etc. The idea of the universe (and everything in it) being an organism, was developed in detail by Rupert (including his own theory of morphic resonance and Whiteheads principle of prehension) and leads to the idea of a conscious sun having currency. Rupert told us that in 1997 he and some other scientist colleagues got together to discuss this subject and although they came to the conclusion that a conscious sun could not be proven, they also agreed that it could not be disproven. Exploring this idea further, what would a conscious sun be thinking of, what would be its purpose? Consciousness presupposes the potential for action, and the sun is in constant activity, flares, sun spot cycles, mass corona ejection, may not be automatic patterns. If these are conscious actions, what might be their purpose? Could it be to influence in some way its “body”, the solar system? We know that electro magnetism plays an important role in all areas of life, including the thought activity within our own brain. It is also known that the sun has an electro-magnetic field. Might communication within the universe be across this field, through what we understand as thought? Might the sun be the big eye of mythology and be omniscient? These were some of the question explored this evening by Rupert and by an animated audience.
The November presentation was given by Geoff Crocker, who has a career in business strategy working with international corporations, and who, following a re-evaluation of his relationship with the Anglican Church, developed a model of spirituality which he calls Atheist Spirituality. He is the author of An Enlightened Philosophy: Can and Atheist Believe Anything? and of A Managerial Philosophy of Technology: Technology and Humanity in Symbiosis.
Geoff started by positioning himself, stating that he does not dismiss religion and considers the Bible valuable if understood as myth. He acknowledges the relevance of religious and mystical experiences, but points out that only very few people have experiences of that nature. This fact inspired him to develop a model designed to be useful for the majority of people who have no track with religion or have never had mystical experiences, i.e, the majority of the population. It aims to bridge the reductionism of secular atheism and the remoteness of religion. It is based on something he maintains we can all share, which is virtue. Virtue is where theist and atheist spirituality meet. He pointed out that we see the world in various contexts, economy, social, political, etc but there is currently no forum where virtue, such as kindness and generosity, can be meaningfully discussed and encouraged. God, he says, is exogenous and conversely virtue is intrinsic to human nature and can be understood as the connection between people. He offered no certainty on whether virtue is a subjective component of human nature, or whether it is objective, a part of Nature or the Cosmos, manifesting in human nature.
In his work towards an inclusive spirituality, Geoff explored emergence, naturalism and meaning as parameters for the understanding of human spiritual nature. He critiqued the use of physicalism as an adequate hypothesis, pointed out the moral ambiguity of nature with its beauty and its horror and explained his understanding of the spiritual parameter of meaning in life as interpretation rather than achievement. Geoff quoted André Comte-Sponville as the philosopher on whose list of values he developed his own thoughts on the subject, and mentioned that his full ideas are available on his website www.atheistspirituality.net.
The Universe as Artist
This month we heard Charles Jencks, who is amongst others, an artist, landscape designer, scientist and historian. The universe is the inspiration to his work, and teh idea of the universe as artist goes back to Plato, an understanding that the universe is the author of violence and ugliness as well as immense beauty and harmony. Nature in all its dimension is the inspiration for Charles’ work, which he describes as metaphysical and social realism. He illustrated the talk with many picture and what emerged in each and every one, was a depth of meaning and symbolism. Taking humanity as one of the eyes of the Universe, he portrays in his works science, cosmology, philosophy, as well as psychology. He is critical of modern architecture which tends to dismiss meaning, and go solely for aesthetics and he illustrated this showing buildings by famous architects amongst other places, in Las Vegas. His work includes enigmatic icons, a signature of post-modern architecture. As well as meaningful, it is also polemical, as highlighted by the fact that a more robust material had to be used to replace an element in one of his works which was broken by an anonymous disgruntled person no less than 6 times! He says that he does not mind being critiqued, but he does not accept censorship. Charles is the force behind the Maggie Cancer Centres, which he started in 1995 with his late wife Maggie, and which now has more than 20 centres in Britain and other countries.
Charles explained the symbolism and meaning portrayed in his landscapes which he showed us in a wonderful sequence of pictures. Many of his creations reflect scientific principles. His most recent work is the Crawick multiverse in Scotland. This was a commission by the Duke of Buccleuch on a site which belonged to a bankrupt coal company. The area was not only desolated but also polluted. After due clearing and cleaning, Charles created a wonderful garden around the theme of the multiverse which, as well as symbolic and enigmatic, abounds with meaning. ‘We humans are meaning making beings, and any art which does not communicate meaning, is no art at all’, he says! It was a fascinating presentation, followed by most interesting questions and observations on a variety of topics within Charles’ wide breadth of knowledge.
This month we welcomed back Prof Ravi Ravindra who has been coming to speak to our group for the past three years as part of his yearly UK tour. Ravi is an honorary member of the SMN and is Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served for many years as a professor in three Departments: Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Physics. This evening he addressed the theme of Eternal Wisdom.
He started by pointing out that we are all scientists and philosophers, we are all curious and strive to understand the world in which we live. We tend to seek out and trust the statements of scientific and spiritual leaders, but Ravi stressed that we should be wary of accepting such accounts, whether from scientists or spiritual leaders, as ultimate truth. Especially when it comes to understanding fundamental questions of meaning, we need to find the “truth” for ourselves, within ourselves. Eternal Wisdom is something we experience internally, it is not rational, intellectual knowledge. Starting with the word “eternal” which is not, as we may think, an extension of time. Ravi says, it is at right angle to time. As an example, he pointed out that marriage has an extension in time, but love does not. Love intersects marriage and other relationships at different or at all times, but it has no extension in time. Another example is the Buddha, who became outside time when he became enlightened. The eternal is timeless. Eternal Wisdom therefore cannot be grasped by the mind. It is a fact that feelings have been sidelined since the Age of Enlightenment, but it is through feelings, through direct experience that we learn about Eternal Wisdom. We see this wisdom expressed through poetry, painting, music, etc, and different cultures will express it differently according to the history, philosophy, language etc, which constitute their cultural framework.
Ravi told us that like Einstein, he sees the cosmos as being manifested by an underlying intelligence, which we call God, Allah, etc. The current paradigm however, maintains that consciousness has evolved from dead matter and the project of physics is therefore not surprisingly, devoted to the study of matter in motion. And when it comes to neurology and psychology, the study is neurons in motion. The primary qualities of reality in this paradigm are length, time and mass. This is the scientific world and in this world mysteries can be solved. Spiritual mysteries however, cannot. The word solved, indicates a solution. Spiritual mysteries have no solution, they are individual (not universal as in science) and the right word here is dissolved. St Paul pointed out that the eye that sees determines the quality of seeing! The eye of flesh (matter) sees things of flesh (matter). The eye of spirit sees things of spirit.
Spiritual practice will help us to enter different levels of consciousness and to understand the spiritual realities as expressed by the mystics, the highest of which is the experience of transcending fear and ambition to a place of no self. Different laws operate at different levels of consciousness which indicates that mystical vision is nothing more than vision beyond the laws of the lower level consciousness. In order however to see things of spirit we need to radically transform. Internally. The aim is not to attain freedom for ourselves, but freedom from ourselves. Ravi repeated to stress the point: do not believe what I say, find it out for yourselves by focusing the attention on your inner world and listen to the quiet voice within!
The Secret Teachers of the Western World
This month we welcomed Gary Lachman, an old friend of the London Group who this evening talked about his recently published book, The Secret Teachers of the Western World. Gary is the author of some 19 books and is a professor in the evolution of consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies. The Secret Teachers of the Western World is a historical account of what is variously called as Inner Traditions, Esotericism, Hermeticism, Neo Platonism, etc. It is an understanding of the world and our place in it with insights achieved through inner journey. In his book, Gary used a fascinating lens through which to examine this historical account, and that is the work of two thinkers, Jean Gebster and Iain McGilchrist, both of whom have looked at structures of human consciousness and how they influence perspective and understanding. Gebster argues that human consciousness has evolved throughout history and he identifies the emergence of structures which he called archaic, magical, mythic and mental. Iain McGilchrist’s approach is based on the different kinds of attention given to the world by the left and right hemispheres of the brain, the left being analytical and detail oriented whereas the right is whole oriented, participatory and integrating. These lenses enabled Gary to explain that prior to the 17th C the world was seen and understood through a right brain perspective, the power of myths, rituals and divination. With the advent of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, which brought about the emergence of the scientific, evidence based examination of reality, the esoteric traditions were forced underground. It was, Gary argued, a left brain “coup d’etat” which invalidated the right brain thinking and knowledge of the esoteric traditions.
The ancient, right brain, esoteric traditions have their roots in the Axial Age around the globe, with the teachings of the Buddha, Plato, Confucius, Zoroaster, Lao Tse, the Hebrew Prophets etc. Around the same time, a flicker of left brain thinking emerged in Greece when a different type of more logical curiosity appeared, requiring answers about the world in which we live. Rational explanations rather than myths were sought and Plato’s disciple Aristoteles was the first to consider this new perspective. Left brain, analytical, scientific enquiry, so prevalent in Western thinking, has evolved from there.
An important historical event which would determine the survival of the right brain thinking was the persecution of Pagans and their teachings in early Christendom which caused many to flee to Alexandria in Egypt. As a consequence Alexandria became the cradle of the Western Esoteric tradition adopting two powerful symbols: its library and its lighthouse. The mystery schools which carried the tradition thrived, and their teachings then spread, often covertly, to the rest of the Western World.
Time became a limiting factor in the presentation and we heard only briefly about two well known thinkers who incorporated this esoteric thinking in their work, Isaac Newton (who wrote more about spirituality than about physics) and Dante Allighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, where the move from hell to heaven, as well as the ostensible, is also a description of an inner journey. There was no question for me, that I needed to get the book to read about others!
Gary concluded by voicing the possibility that the 1960’s revolution may have been a compensating movement in an effort towards the emergence of this repressed tradition, an urge towards a more embracing, right brain way of seeing the world, a challenge to the left brain impulse which has led humanity towards so many of its current problems not least seeing ourselves as exploiters rather than part of nature.
Gary’s website is https://garylachman.co.uk
The ISIS Crisis
In July, we hosted Usama Hasan who addressed the subject of the ISIS crisis. Usama was an astronomer and in his academic life, taught at Middlesex University and at the Greenwich Observatory. For the past 4 years however, he has been senior researcher in Islamic Studies at the Quilliam Foundation, a Muslim led think tank which aims to challenge extremist narratives while advocating pluralistic, democratic alternatives that are consistent with universal human rights standards. It stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy.
For every aspect of this evening’s talk, Usama referred to the relevant publication from the Quilliam foundation. These publications address the current debate about the Islamist threat and are free to download.
Usama acknowledged the dangers ISIS is posing to civilians in countries throughout Europe and the world, and pointed out that in Iraq and Syria civilians are killed on an unacceptable scale every day of the week. We heard some statistics: ISIS is estimated to have between 30 to 100,000 foreign fighters from every nation on Earth. From Western Europe the number is estimated to be 5,000 of which 25% are white skinned young people and out of which 10% are women. These young Western Europeans are converts to Islam and are mainly thought to be unemployed people from depressed areas, who are seduced by the idea of becoming heroes for God, earning a reward in the afterlife. These are the foot soldiers of the war. Many others who have joined however, are highly educated, they become leaders and join not a religion, but an ideology. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS for instance, has a PhD in Islamic Studies from Bagdad University. The beliefs that motivates these leaders are rooted in the apocalyptic notions of ancient Abrahamic religions including Islam, which talk of the end of the world and this is what ISIS wishes to accelerate. In those prophecies, it is understood that certain areas of the Middle East, including Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus etc will be within the domain of God, and will be spared the apocalyptic end of time. This is the caliphate as defined geographically. Caliphate is a Sunni political model with Sharia as its law. Sharia means law of the land, and what is not widely known is that there is not one Sharia, but many, all of them incorporating an ethical element. There is a debate as to what is primary in Sharia, revelation or reason, but what is certain, is that Sharia in Islam is constantly evolving, especially in regard to women’s rights. Jihad, a term which send shivers through people’s hearts, was hijacked by the Islamists, for it means struggle, primarily internal struggle always for towards good, never for evil!
We then moved the discussion to a more practical/philosophical area. How do we define extremism. The counter terrorism strategy in the UK is the “4 Ps”: pursue, prepare, protect and prevent, the last one being the most difficult. There is no definition for what defines extremism. Usama unpicked the terms radical and extreme. For him personally, the word radical has positive connotation, whereas for the word extreme the connotation is negative. In the Qu’ran and the Hadith there is a warning that extremism will destroy. In the Arab language the word has two meanings, both of them indicating out of balance due to excess. The government seems to accept the difference between the meaning of the words radical and extremism, but confusingly talk about radicalization leading to extremism.
From the psycho-spiritual perspective of ISIS, Usama pointed out that good an evil exist within us and ISIS is a social phenomenon comparable to Nazism in the early 20th century. The deeply rooted human tribal instinct is present in this situation. To buy into this narrative will only increase the difficulties. ISIS must be destroyed, but when that happens in a hopefully not too distant a future, many of the people who have joined ISIS will return to their countries and families. He advises us to be compassionate and rather than ostracize them, we should find a way to work towards healing the wounds that have been created. It is, he acknowledges, a big ask, to remain loving in the face of evil and that, he says, is the only way of healing the profound wounds created by ISIS. The website for the Quilliam foundation is http://www.quilliamfoundation.org.
Human Evolution from the Origin of the Universe
John Hands was our speaker for the June meeting, presenting his newly published book, Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution from the Origin of the Universe. John explained that he had to write this book, which took 10 years to complete, because he could not find the answers to questions he had in the current literature. His aim was to understand humanity and its place in the Universe and for this he set out to investigate what science sees as facts, uncovering in the process, the limitations of science in answering fundamental questions. John points out that much of the early data which would explain matters of evolution, for instance have been irretrievably lost in the development of the planet from the very early times, in addition to which the selection plus interpretation of data such as there is, is necessarily questionable. Importantly, John argues, these flawed theories have become beliefs, which in turn lead to the suppression of alternative theories. Materialism is the domain and pillar of credibility of science, and yet there is much which cannot be tested empirically. Examples mentioned include the origin and reason for the existence of physical and chemical laws, the origin of matter and energy, and how to explain are the narrow conditions which allow life to exist on planet Earth. We were given examples of those arguments against the background that many theories are explained by mathematical models, with facts being mapped onto these models and unknowns often artificially created to explain dissonances. Dark matter and dark energy are examples, having been introduced by scientists in order to bring coherence to their mathematical models to explain the physical nature of the universe. Another example is the Concordance Model, a mathematical model which is based on the assumption that the Universe is homogeneous, yet observations and experimentations show that this is not the case.
Economic predictions show that mathematical models are not reliable yet, as John pointed out, the current paradigm of evolution is Neo Darwinism which uses mathematical models. Neo Darwinism has become a belief system, and in his book John shows that it causes the destruction, not the evolution of species. He argues that collaboration, not competition is at the root of evolution. He spelt out what he sees are the 4 laws of biological evolution:
!. Competition and rapid environmental change causes the extinction of species.
- Collaboration causes the evolution of species.
- Animals evolve by progressive complexification and centration along fusing and diverging lineages that lead to stasis in all but one lineage.
- A rise in consciousness correlates with increasing collaboration, complexification and centration.
The human is the only species that has reflexive consciousness, which transforms and generates new abilities. This marks a difference in kind, not only in degree, from other animals. Uniquely, humans are the self-reflective agents of our future evolution says John, for good or ill.
John’s website is http://johnhands.com
The Hit: Derangement and Revelation
Our speaker this month was Andrew Rawlinson PhD, who taught Buddhism for 20 years. He is also the author of The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions in which he offers a creative taxonomy of spiritual masters. His latest book is The Hit: Into the Rock’n’Roll Universe and Beyond, and this evening he explored those ideas. Although the book addresses primarily the hit in Rock’n’Roll, it also contains examples of the hit in other areas of life and culture. This evening’s talk concentrated on its phenomenology and the philosophical underpinnings.
Andrew started by stating that he would not define the hit because he says, everybody knows that it is, so he described his own experiences, in a bid to explain what he meant. His first hit was age 18, when he was on Mount Olympus in Greece and an electric storm broke out of the blue. A lightening simultaneous with its attending thunder shocked him into a hit in which he had a realization of the experience of nothingness. Two other examples followed, once when he injected himself leaving a bubble in the syringe which caused his heart to beat on nothing which caused him to have the same experience of being hit! The third example happened in meditation when he found himself with no sense of physical position, he didn’t know who he was, what time it was or where he was. Other examples followed both from his own life and from other people’s. All hits are the same, Andrew says, irrespective whether small, as when one ‘gets’ a joke, or big as in the realization that the nature of reality is beyond one’s comprehension. The hit is not knowledge or accomplishment, it is realization. Both meanings of the word apply: realization as in making something real, and realization as in insight. The hit is a realization of being alive and there is only one question: what is it like to be alive? With only one answer: to be alive. The hit knocks you out of yourself, to strip back identity to the point of knowing who you are is no longer important. The hit is revelation, it is grace. The hit can come through love or death, through fear or surrender. The hit is enlightenment coming through. The realization of the paradox that opposites are true is a hit. Love is the easiest thing and it is also the most difficult. Love and death are only separate from the outside. When close to death, we realize that only love really matters. And all love is the same. Whether between parents and children, between lovers, love of nature, the hit of love is the same. Impediments can lead to hits. Nothing in life must be rejected, everything is meaningful. There was not a lot of time left to discuss the derangement aspect of the hit, but for people who are interested, the book website is, http://thehitbook.com. And if you wish to find out even more, Andrew also gave an interview to Conscious TV http://bcove.me/2ogiigof.
What Emerges from Complexity Sciences? (the first harvest)
In April we hosted a talk by Dr. Vasileios Basios, who came especially from Brussels for the occasion. Vasileios is a senior researcher at the Physics of Complex Systems Department of the University of Brussels, conducting interdisciplinary research on self-organisation and emergence in complex matter as well as aspects of the foundations of complex systems. In his early years he worked in the team led by Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine.
Mechanistic reduction is a useful tool says Vasileios, but it is limiting as a dogma. In this post materialistic era, we have exhausted this dogma and complexity offers us a radically new approach to science. It reflects on its own foundation and accepts that reality is multifaceted. The world that emerges from this approach is an interconnected and organic whole. It sees the universe as a mindful cosmos rather than as a machine. Vasileios describes it as the third scientific revolution, coming after relativity and quantum physics.
The first move towards complexity can be identified as being the introduction of the concept of the field, which allowed for connection over distance, movement in non-linear way. As part of the wave of new discoveries of the 19th C is Faraday’s electromagnetic induction and Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory of light.
Since then various scientists contributed to the development of the science of complexity, and we heard about and saw some representations of their work on screen. Amongst them there was Poincaré and Hadamard (on dependence on initial conditions of non-linear systems), Zhabotinsky and Belousov (on complexity in chemistry), Mandelbrot (fractals), and Goedel who developed the concept of self-referential non-linear thinking. We watched a fascinating demonstration of this principle based on one of Escher’s work and then the beautiful example of self-organisation of flocks of birds in which each individual contributes to the chaotic and reassembly motion of the whole over and over.
Going beyond science, Vasileios used the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant to illustrate the problems we sometimes find when an insight about a part is taken as the truth about the whole. Complexity with its inclusiveness and holistic stance overcomes this difficulty because it is based on dialogue and consensus. It overcomes for instance what has been called the Tragedy of Commons, in which people participate in a communal resource, with the aim of taking out as much as they can without thought for others. This mindset for example, caused the financial crash of 2008. Complexity operates according to different principles, which include reflection, dialogue, holistic thinking. On a personal note, Vasileios gave us an example of complexity in operation by describing a group he participates in, which comes together to share ideas and their implementation. They meet in an old mill near Brussels bringing their individuality in the service of the whole. They call itMycelium as symbolic of the process envisaged.
In short, Complexity is a new kind of science, a new approach to problem solving. It allows non paradigmatic thinking, with validation and dialogue across disciplines. Metaphor can guide research, such as the idea of an ensouled cosmos. It requires awareness of assumptions, keeping in perspective the origins, nature and aims of the research.
Love and Integrity in Business
We were delighted to host a talk by Oonagh Harpur this month, not only because Oonagh is a trustee of the SMN, but especially because her talk brought an unusual and not frequently considered perspective on an important aspect of life, business. She entitled her talk Love and Integrity in Business, a word combination which she says, may be understood as an oxymoron. Oonagh is an accomplished business woman who first became a CEO in 1989 and has served on company boards for over 25 years in executive, advisory and non-executive roles, as CEO, as non-executive Director and as Trustee in the private, public and not for profit sectors. She has worked in the UK and USA in local and global organisations in the energy, health, and financial and professional services sectors.
This evening we were a small group and so started by introducing ourselves and saying something about our interest in the topic of the presentation. Oonagh then asked us what we did during the day with a view to show us something about our understanding of what constitutes work. She then explained the concepts by using a model devised by Hazel Henderson which shows the different types of work in the form of a cake in which the monetised type, incorporating the private and the public sectors, occupies the top layers, and the non-monetised type, including the love economy, the work we do because we care, child care, housework etc occupies the bottom ones. In between the two, we find the underground economy, cash driven and non accountable. The idea of love as an intrinsic impulse in work occurred to Oonagh in the early 90s and she noted that this principle, manifested in business ethics, community investment, sustainability etc, which made business more productive and more enjoyable. It can also however, manifest in contradictory ways. For example, whilst working in a law firm many years, ago, she noticed that figures were not shaping up as expected, ringing alarm bells. She went to the Board and advised them that the business was becoming unsustainable. The executives in the organisation, acknowledged that the company, rather than the employees were the ones who had failed, and whilst letting go 25 people, they helped each one of them to find an alternative job. This shows that love is also about not keeping people when this will sink the whole. The tone of a business she pointed out, comes from the top.
A few years later Oonagh set up Love and Integrity in Business, an organisation as the name implies, to explore the impact of these concepts. She invited executives to discuss the topic and learned the following from the chairmen that participated:
1. They set direction. They inspire the workforce through purpose and values and align the corporate strategy with it.
2. They have a line of sight. They incentivise values-based leadership and behaviour and evaluate those values through the behaviour of the workforce.
3. They provide ethical leadership. They use ethical values to guide decisions and promote values-based leadership.
Oonagh went on to explain to us the attitude to staff and business of companies who work along those lines, and used the examples of Old Mutual Wealth, Unilever and Walgreens Boots Alliance. Stanford University, who undertook a long term research (over 40 years), found that companies who operated on the basis of such values outperformed those who did not.
We had a good discussion on the topic, which included hearing about personal experiences which members of the group had of working within companies which did and did not operate with the value of love and integrity in business.
How do we Know What’s Real?
This month we welcomed Max Velmans who is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and the author of Understanding Consciousness (2009) and The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007) as well as some 100 publications on the topic of consciousness. This evening Max explored the question – How do we Know What is Real? and started by pointing out the two basic ways we use to apprehend reality, direct experience and rationality. Betrand Russell described it as knowing by acquaintanceand knowing by description. But these modes of knowing can be challenged: which of them is more trustworthy? The tradition of this dual mode of knowing goes back to the ancient Greeks where the camp was divided between the rationalists and empiricists. In reality as we know, we need both modalities.
One further perspective on how we know what we know looks at where we place our attention. If our attention is placed outside of ourselves, we see that knowledge as ‘objective’. And if inside, the knowledge is ‘subjective’. Either way, says Max, we are one step removed from reality. We make a representation of the external world, and to explain his point, Max went on to show the model he developed, in which a subject observes a cat in the outside world, and relies on the representation of the cat in his mind (shown in the model, as his brain) to apprehend the observation. So we could say, we only know the world through the representations we make, which for most people, most of the time is fine. The problems however, arise with experiences which are fleeting, or illusory, such as hallucinations, psychotic experiences etc. We then have to face the question, are they real? And this leads to a more generalised question, what is real? Ultimately we must accept that our cognitions can be incomplete, inaccurate etc. Accepting this to be the case, must we however always doubt the veracity of anomalous experiences? When neuroscientists look at correlates in the brain to these subjective experiences, they do so with a view to solving the problems of subjectivity, in a materialist way. The weakness of this approach however is that brain states cannot be reduced to subjective experience. Neuroscience cannot access someone else’s experience or its antecedents. Correlation does not get us causation. The world we experience is a construction of the physical world we see in our internal psychology at that time. These experiences are real and cannot be reduced to brain states. At the centre of this discussion are mystical experiences. How real are they? For the people who have them they are more real than everyday reality. These states however are unexpected and for that reason, cannot be subject to rigorous research procedures. They are however ubiquitous and Max went on to quote William James, who described mystical experiences as having the qualities of ineffability, noetic, meaning, imparting knowledge, transience and passivity. So the message is that rational, awake consciousness is one type of consciousness but there are others, and we may make a mistake if we go through life thinking this is the only one credible and much will be missed if we ignore all the other types and states of consciousness. In our questions sessions we heard two people’s interesting, meaningful and profound experiences in altered states, which for them were not only real but transformative. A very interesting discussion followed.
Andrew Glazewski and the Science of the Human Field
We started the year with a presentation by SMN Board member Paul Kieniewicz, who is a geologist, astronomer, novelist and the author of Gaia’s Children and also with Andrew Glazewski, Harmony of the Universe. The subject of this evening’s talk was Andrew Glazewski (1905-1973), priest and physicist, who was seminal in the founding of the Scientific and Medical Network. An energetic and charismatic person, Glazewski was interested in the Science of the Human Field – which was the title of Paul’s talk. He had personal experience of interacting with this field as a healer and wrote a series of papers on the science of this phenomenon.
We heard that Glazewski was born in the Ukraine into a landed gentry family, who had to flee their home during the First World War. Nevertheless he received the finest education including a degree in physics. He was fond of the good life, which included ladies and parties, but had a religious experience during a retreat at a Carmelite convent, and decided to become a priest. It took him some time to convince his parents of this change of plans, but they eventually gave in. He came to England and during the war was mobilized as a chaplain to the troops and did sustain war injuries. Upon his return to Britain, he took up a post of chaplain to the Polish community in Newton Abbot. During this time, he wrote a number of scientific papers on his theory of the Human Field and submitted them to Dr. Patrick Shackleton, Dean of Postgraduate Medical Studies at the University of Southampton. At some point he heard about George Blaker, and realised that both men shared with him an interest in the greater reality of which the material world is only a part. Realising the benefit of a meeting, he put the two men together and that was the very first step towards the founding of the SMN in 1973. Unfortunately Andrew died a short while after, following an unexpected and massive heart attack.
Paul first met Glazewski as a young man, on a retreat and although he was a priest, Paul was surprised to hear no mention of God for the first few lectures. This was because Glazewski’s focus was first and foremost on human psychology. He talked about the unconscious, which he called George, and the ‘overconscious’, which he called Peter. He explained those concepts and expanded on the need as he put it, of dialogue betweenGeorge and Peter. Amongst other benefits he would say, this allows for an integration of our intuitive abilities. Turning to the physical body, Glazewski identified three modalities of the biological field which all living beings possess: the electromagnetic field, the sound (acoustic) field and the electrostatic field. Underpinning and interconnecting everything, he postulated a non-local, primary field, with which to explain ESP, distant healing etc. To understand how we can interact with these fields, his theory maintains that we distinguish objects with our perception of the proportionality of those objects. Music can explain the basic concept; the notes form a set of proportions and as we listen to the flow, we can distinguish the proportionalities of the various tones which create the musical harmony. In healing, the use of imagination enables the healer to focus on the proportions of a particular person, or something belonging to this person. Based on these proportionalities, even at a distance, the healer uses his imagination and feelings to perceive the smooth flow of energy from an inner organ to the field and back again. When this flow is interrupted, there is disease. Healing therefore is about clearing blockages. Distance healing is possible because of the interconnection of the primary field and because our mind is non-local. The language of the Implicate Order of David Bohm he says, is the best way of understanding the theory of this process.