Coherent Self, Coherent World: Synthesising Myth, Metaphysics & Bohm’s Implicate Order
DIANA DURHAM was the speaker this month and her presentation presenting her latest book. Diana is a poet and author of 3 collections of poetry, a novel, The Curve of the Land (1915) and her first non-fiction book, The Return of King Arthur: Completing the Quest for Wholeness (2004). The essence of her argument this evening was that when we live a coherent life, when our ‘personality self’ is in a meaningful relationship with a deeper quality of awareness and identity, the world we experience is also coherent. The opposite being true as well: when the relationship between our ‘personality self’ is not in meaningful relationship with our identity, disconnected from our inner intuitive source, then the world in which we live is experienced as chaotic, confusing and difficult. Using the lens of myth, Diana mentioned the story of the Wounded Fisher King who rules over Wasteland. The wasteland is a result of the wound of the king, who deals with his pain or distress by going fishing, in other words, finding ways of negating, denying, or distracting himself. This resonates with ways people find not to attend to their wounds, through distractions and addictions. The kingdom is a reflection of the ruler and in order for the land to flourish, healing needs to occur in the king rather than to the land. Coherence needs to be restored internally. Coherence in this context is the quality of forming a unified whole, in which a meaningful relationship exists between the parts.
What Diana called the ‘inner self’ and the ‘personality self’ need to be in a meaningful relationship, and the relationship with world will be coherent as a result. In this state of being, we experience harmony and balance, and feel happy and fulfilled; we feel connected with our intuitive self, are open-mined, tolerant and can think clearly. We feel centred. Lama Govinda talked about this in terms of the overlap between the ‘universal spiritual’ and the ‘empirical individual’. Said with different words, the ‘intuitive mind’ looks both ways, to the inner and the outer. David Bohm refers to this process through the idea of consciousness experiencing itself in the unfolding of the universe by way of its implicate and explicate order. The implicate order unfolds into the explicate which then infolds into the implicate again, a holomovement. This dance of in and unfoldment exists on a personal as well as the universal level. The intuitive flash for example, is the result of the interrelationship between two aspects of awareness: the ‘empirical individual’ and the ‘universal spiritual’, the implicate and the explicate order. Bohm saw creativity as a result of this dance which enables new meanings to emerge. We participate in the universe by way of our creativity. So coherence between the inner and outer facilitate harmony in living as well as creativity.
Bioelectric fields, Where Biology and Reincarnation Intersect
This month we hosted a talk by Prof RICHARD SILBERSTEIN who was on a visit to London. Richard is Prof Emeritus at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, where he served as head of Dept of Physics and subsequently director of Brain Sciences Institute. He is the founder and chairman of Neuro-Insight Pty, a consumer neuroscience company with offices in Melbourne, London and New York. Richard has over 40 years of neuroscience research experience and is the originator of the Steady State topography (SST) brain imagining methodology.
Richard’s talk was based on the research on past lives memories in children, conducted by Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) coupled with the work of Michael Levin who researches bioelectric fields and their influence on the body.
Since the evidence of reincarnation relies heavily on memory, specifically on what people might remember of their previous lives, Richard quoted examples from the literature of research with children who, when very young, remember having lived before, including in their narratives details which are subsequently confirmed by records.
Addressing the biology part of the talk, Richard spent some time explaining how cells create the bioelectric fields with measurable voltage. This is in itself a fascinating subject as these fields play a remarkable role in certain physical diseases, including cancer. Richard told us about experiments conducted by Levin with planaria, a fascinating water flatworm which reproduce asexually by separating its tail which will generate another head, and the head another tail. We spent some time learning about these experiments and within the context of the lecture, heard about experiments showing that planarian with regenerated heads have memories of learnings the tail part had achieved with the previous head. This indicates that those memories were stored outside of the physical brain. So alongside bottom-up process of genetic and epi-genetic constituents that affect generations of animals, the planarian experiments may indicate a top-down process involving bioelectric fields and memory.
With regards to birth marks found in people who recall past lives it is suggested that bioelectric fields constitute a plausible mechanism whereby consciousness influences the developing human foetus producing birthmarks coinciding with the site of past life lethal injury. It is further suggested that bioelectric fields can constitute a plausible mechanism whereby consciousness influences the developing human foetal brain producing the conditions necessary for the conscious recollection of first-person past life memories. If past-lives memories can indeed be recalled, they must be associated with specific synaptic processes in the brain, most likely taking place in the temporal lobes and the hippocampus. These may be mediated by modifications in bioelectric fields controlling development, probably around birth and shortly after. Richard mentioned research in mice which shows that in infancy the hippocampus undergoes fast neurogenesis, with new synaptic connections replacing older ones indicating loss of memories previously established. In humans, this could explain why past lives become forgotten at an early age of 5 or 6 in humans, at a time when fast neurogenesis occurs. Research shows however that memories may be forgotten but not gone and may manifest in later life behaviour. These preserved memories may be unconscious and remain in what Richard called ‘implicit memory’ which may cause its emotional and procedural content to manifest in automatic responses to circumstances and relationships, as well as other behaviours later in life. An example may be the manifestation of skills in children at unusually young age, such as the case of ‘Hunter” a young golf prodigy in the US who was born after 2000 and recalled a past life as Bobby Jones, a golfing superstar of the 1920s.
Inner Transformation through the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita
At this time of the year, Prof RAVI RAVINDRA visits the UK and often comes to speak to our group, so we were delighted to have the opportunity this year also to host his talk. Ravi is Prof Emeritus at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada, where he served for many years as professor in three Departments: Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Physics. He is the author on a number of books on science, religion and spiritual disciplines. The backdrop of his talk on the message of the Gita is that, as all sages in all spiritual traditions throughout human history have affirmed, one cannot come to the Truth or Light, or God unless a radical transformation of the whole being of the searcher is undertaken. That is the yoga taught in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita is part of the Hindu epic The Mahabharata and tells the story of a war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas in which the prince Arjuna is faced with having to engage in violent battle with members of his own family, friends and teachers. Within the wider narrative of the Gita, Ravi focused on the dialogue between Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna. Krishna is the incarnation of the Highest Divinity. Whereas a lot has been written about the symbolism of the narrative as the war and Arjuna’s role in the war as an external scenario, Ravi told us that the fundamental message of this sacred text, is that the battle is to be understood as an internal dynamic. An internal battle between ‘us 1’ and ‘us 2’. This is the interpretation of Indian sages. The battle is driven by the preoccupation with wealth and power amongst others, which runs society, and our struggles with those. Arjuna is facing a crisis of karma. Karma here is understood as duty, responsibility, order, law and so on. Ravi pointed out that some key words in Sanskrit need to be understood within the context in which they are used. In this context, karma points to these words, in the context of right and wrong. This kind of crisis is common in life, whenever there is a choice to be made. Arjuna does not want to fight, he wants to give up his weapons. Krishna, the incarnation of the Higher Self or Divinity, is there to show him that if his choice is to develop spiritually, he must engage. Spiritual development is a move towards ‘home’ towards a ‘higher’ or ‘deeper’ level of consciousness. Higher for the Abrahamic traditions and deeper for the Indian. For this to happen, ‘sacrifice’ needs to take place. The motivations of physical pleasure and comfort need to be kept in check in service of the process. Desire and fear need to be confronted.
Throughout the talk Ravi kept bringing in examples from Abrahamic teachings to show this perspective to be a universal spiritual message. The message of the Bhagavad Gita is that to evolve spiritually one must engage in Buddhi Yoga, the most comprehensive yoga of all. This is the yoga of awareness leading to the right kind of knowledge. It allows divine action to manifest and teaches non-attachment to outcome. No action can be right until the actor is right, said Ravi. That is the message of transformation in the Bhagavad Gita.
Harmonic Resolutions 12, Science, Business, Spirituality and Healing
In August we welcomed DANIEL STONE who talked about the subject of his book, Harmonic Resolutions 12, Science, Business, Spirituality and Healing. Daniel is the founder and director of the Centre of the Conscious Dream in the desert of San Luis Potosi in the Mexico, where he runs retreats. He presents courses and seminars in Europe, the US and Australia and is also an exhibiting artist and musician. He started the evening by telling us what brought him into this work. He had vivid dreams as a child and described his experience as living a double life, the night life in his dreams, in which he experienced other dimensions where he met animals and other beings, and in the day, his daily life. At the age of 19 he could not keep these two experiences apart. To understand the meaning in his dreams he tried psychology, especially Jung, but it was when he engaged in spirituality, particularly Toltec, Australian aboriginal and Buddhist shamanism, that things started to make sense for him. In time, he realised that the different worlds people live in, whether culturally, professionally or spiritually the language may be different, but he found a common denominator in their representation in numbers within the teachings of the Medicine Wheel in shamanism, where those different worlds can be understood through a single representational lens. The Medicine Wheel goes from zero to 12 and represents the journey of the soul. These numbers find their meaning in all areas of human experience and activity. Daniel explored only two numbers this evening, zero and twelve. Zero is nothingness. In religion it is represented by the great void which is god, the Great Spirit or Creation. This emptiness is full of potential. In the body it requires letting go of everything, reverting to basic existence of breathing. It can be experienced by focusing the attention on the basic experience of being. In physics it is represented by singularity and in business Daniel suggests it is the withdrawing of the attention from the stress of decision making, onto something totally different to allow a different perspective to emerge. The number 12 manifests in many areas of our experiences, as in the 12 musical notes, 12 basic colours, 2 x 12 vertebrae and so on. There are a number of elements associated with each number, such as colour, frequencies and harmonic vibrations. Numbers are powers. It sounded a fascinating perspective which however, we did not have time to explore in further detail but came away with the realisation that in this culture, each number represents a particular way of perceiving the universe from any number of angles.
We did not have a meeting in July as regrettably, our speaker had to cancel.
Lucid Dreaming: Transformation While you Sleep
CHARLEY MORLEY was our speaker for the month of June. Charlie is a teacher of lucid dreaming and shadow integration, having been “authorised to teach” within the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism by Lama Yeshe Rinpoche. He has written three books on the topic, which have been translated into 13 languages. He called the talk for this evening, Lucid Dreaming: Transformation While you Sleep. He started the session by asking people to close eyes and relax into their deeper selves and ask the question: why have I come to this talk? Having set the scene, he explained what lucid dreams are, what they achieve and their place in the Buddhist tradition. Lucid dreaming is making friends with ourselves he said, it is connecting with the very deepest and most unconscious part of ourselves. In the lucid dreaming state, we “wake up” inside a dream with awareness that we are dreaming. We can consciously follow the narrative and to a certain extent control it, but as Charlie pointed out, if the control is too heavy, the dream will chuck us out. We are not meant to deeply control it. The idea is to learn from it. Dreaming in general are ways in which our minds try to process difficult experiences. Nightmares, for instance, are efforts to integrate traumas. They are not to be dismissed, says Charlie. In lucid dreaming we face the deepest projections of our psychology. Psychological work can be undertaken in lucid dreams, when a person confronts a personalised manifestation of their fears for instance, which can help integration. Other benefits include increased insights and also rehearsal and training. Many of the studies on lucid dreaming we were told, come from the field of sports sciences. It has been found that athletes can train in a lucid dream and improve performance in the waking state. Creative people have more lucid dreams and conversely lucid dream helps creativity. It can help with healing of low-level ailments, along the lines of a placebo effect. For the Buddhist lucid dreaming is a path towards dying consciously in order to know the visions of the Bardo. This is when our true nature will be realised or recognised. In lucid dreaming we encounter hyper reality. We can feel physical pain and emotions, taste and touch, within a clear awareness that we are dreaming. It is safe. The majority of children can lucid dream because it is a natural capacity. The way in therefore Charlie tells us, it through the inner child. First of all, we need to train ourselves to remember our dreams, which most of us don’t, so the training for it involves repeating upon falling asleep ‘I remember my dreams, I have excellent dream recall’ and other such affirmations. The next thing we need is to keep a dream diary, in which we record our dreams even if only fragments. We can then look out for patters. Patterns are triggers. If we recognise a pattern in a dream, we become aware that we are dreaming. A sign of lucid dreaming is to look at the outstretched hand in quick movement of palms up and down, and notice if the hand changes to some impossible state. It was a fascinating evening, and I am sure many people present will have been surprised to have recalled a dream that night, as I did.
The Nature of Consciousness
This month we invited RUPERT SPIRA to speak to the group. Rupert is a spiritual teacher and author of a number of books on spirituality. From an early age Rupert had an interest in the nature of reality and developed his path through the teachings of various non-dual teachers, eventually settling with the perspective of Kashmir Shaivism. He called his talk The Nature of Consciousness. He started by encouraging the audience to observe their own experience by exploring their inner space directly. So, with closed eyes, most of us went inside and noticed our experience to the sound of his words. He encouraged us to become aware of our awareness. To discern the ‘I’ of having feelings and sensations, but not beingthe feelings and sensations. We were asked not to think and to focus on the experience of being. Rupert used the metaphor of a screen on which a movie plays. Consciousness is like this screen. The activity happens on the screen but it is not part of the screen. He then asked us to observe whether our awareness or consciousness have an edge? A border? Can we leave the field of consciousness? Consciousness, he said, is single but is also shared. It has no dimension it is a knowing void full of potential. The ‘I’ awareness is infinite, it is the same 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 month, 10 years ago. A discussion arose over Rupert’s use of the words ‘consciousness’ and ‘awareness’, which for him are interchangeable. A number of people disagreed. Pointing out that, whereas they could understand that consciousness is infinite and we – our consciousness – participate in this infinite consciousness, we do however have our unique experience of our personal consciousness through awareness. But Rupert could not accept that, and insisted that although our perceptions are personal, consciousness is universal. So, what could be seen as a discussion about semantics, became a frustrating case of talking at cross purposes for some people…
The Computer and the Psyche
On a cold Spring evening, Dr. JEREMY NAYDLER gave one of the most interesting lectures – in my view – we had at the London Group. Jeremy holds a PhD in Theology and Religious Studies. He has written several books on religious life and antiquity and on the history of consciousness. He entitled the talk The Computer and the Psycheand the subject was part of his new book In the Shadow of the Machine: The Prehistory of the Computer and the Evolution of Consciousness(Temple Lodge 2018). Computers have become intrinsic in our lives. At the most fundamental level, these machines work on the binary system of electrical on/off signals in a transistor. Binary logic is pervasive in our culture but where does this logic come from? Jeremy’s research uncovered the myth of Binarius developed in the late 16thcentury by the alchemist Gerhard Dorn. On order to give us the context, Jeremy took us back to much earlier times. He explained that ancient Egyptians lived in an animated world of gods and goddesses. A tree was the abode of the goddess Knut and therefore sacred. And so were all elements in nature, sacred dwellings of gods and goddesses. He told us that Egyptian priesthood. Wishing to protect their holistic culture, resisted the introduction of machines, which are based on logical thinking, even though contemporary Mesopotamian culture made wide use of them. It is in Greek culture that we see binary logical first staking its place in philosophy. Aristotle formalised it in various laws, for example, ‘a thing is what it is and not anything other than what it is’. This was his most fundamental law and was backed by other binary laws. Aristotle was nevertheless aware of a further, deeper level of thinking beyond the binary, a middle place, the moral level. That is where virtue lives. For example, generosity is not the opposite of meanness, generosity is a middle, moral value. It lives somewhere on the spectrum between the opposites of meanness and profligacy.
From a different perspective, the binary theme is the model offered by Pythagoras. He introduced the idea of Creation as the Source represented by the number 1. Multiplicity arises from Creation and is represented by the number 2. The world of opposites was thus created and from this much conflict and strife arises. And with it the concept of evil. Moving into the Middles Ages, Jeremy used the Fall from Paradise as example. The snake represents duality and carries the connotations of evil. We now come to Dorn who developed the myth of Binarius, the core of his presentation. In the Bible it is stated that God determined that his creation was “good” on every day, except on the second day. That day God separated the waters into upper and lower levels. Binuarius is born. According to Dorn, God is the point (Unarius). It has no dimension and is prior to all. From the point comes multiplicity represented by the line (Binarius) which creates a circle (Ternarius). On this circle revolves the human soul – which (for Dorn) is the pinnacle of creation. But Binarius is not content, wanting to create his own world bends itself (the line) around and develops two heads. He is full of envy. Binary thinking seeks its own popularity. Leibniz takes binary thinking further and tries to develop a thinking machine based on binary logic. This becomes reality when electricity is introduced in the 20thcentury and then culminates in the computer. Binary thinking is attractive but traps us into simple (simplistic?) thinking. Jeremy argues we need to avoid this trap and encourages us to connect with nature, where real knowledge resides and through which we find our way to freedom, the excluded middle, the voice of consciousness. A particularly relevant subject in these febrile, Brexit contaminated days!
The Shape of the Soul
DR. PAUL MARSHALL was our speaker this month. Paul studied physical sciences and holds a PhD in Religious Studies. He has a deep interest in mystical experiences of the natural world and the philosophy of consciousness. This evening he talked about his new book, The Shape of the Soul. Paul had a profound mystical experience, in his sleep many years ago, from which he woke up feeling a sense of wholeness, different from anything he had experience in his life. In his dream he was by a seashore looking at the horizon, and was pulled into a profoundly meaningful expanded consciousness, which led him to a deep sense of having found what he was looking for. His thought was – no more searching. He understood everything, he knew everything. Worries dropped away and so did his ego self. In this expanded state he became aware of other living things which had a circular shape, from which the title of his book arises. He was totally clear minded, aware of the unbearable intensity of the love he felt.
Paul took us through his book chapter by chapter. The first chapter introduces the concept of non-duality and explains mystical experiences: their potential triggers, characteristics, types and classification. As a definition, he proposes that mystical experiences bring a sense of deepened contact with reality, the contact consisting of unity or at least intimate connection or presence, and often an intuitive type of knowing. Chapter 2 describes his own experience and chapter 3 Into the House of Death exploring Near death Experiences and observing that mystical experiences have an affinity with NDEs. There is a sense of coming back fromreal life, a threat to the ego, and experiencing self-judgment (as opposed to judgment from some other source). In chapter 4, Paul explores the higher dimensions of the Self, explaining the two aspects, the ego self and the Cosmic Self, which he speculates, may be a communal Self. In chapter 5 he takes a look at other types of consciousness, such as angels and spirits and explores the experiences of Hildegard of Bingen. In chapter 6 he refers to a theory of the nature of reality based on the idea of primacy of consciousness and develops Leibniz (1646 – 1716)’s philosophy of monadology. Monads according to Leibniz, are fundamental units of the universe, each expressing the universe from their own point of view. They are complete in themselves, including all of its relations to every other monad in the universe. Monads are ‘laden’ with the past and ‘pregnant’ with the future. The soul is an advanced monad. The last 5 chapters develop monadology further and include slight modification of the system to make it more consistent with modern understanding. He develops the idea of evolutionary monadology incorporating theories and principles not available in the 17thcentury, and includes a discussion on the existence of evil. The last chapter explores The Making of God.
This month we welcomed back DR MIKE KING an old friend of the SMN whose last presentation was in 2013. Mike is retired from the London Metropolitan University where he was a Reader, and is now an independent multi-disciplinary scholar in areas spanning religion, the arts, philosophy and science. He has published over 60 papers, book chapters, film and book reviews and is the author of 9 books which include 3 novels. He is a Quaker and a great lover of nature. This evening he talked about his environmental novel Mountain Calls, a semi-biographical account of his animistic encounters with a mountain in Austria. The experience which gave rise to this book happened in Austria some 10-15 years ago, when he was in Vienna during winter visiting relatives. He wanted to be in snow which was absent in the region so he jumped on a train and found himself on a mountain where he met a couple of people debating theology in a blizzard! They almost got lost! On his way back, in the beautiful sunset, Mike felt the mountain spoke to him. Not in words, but what he understood was the message WE ARE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT YOUR KIND IS DOING. He was intrigued and the message stayed with him. He decided he needed to do something about it. He had another paranormal experience some months later, when he felt the presence of some 20 Native Americans spirit guides reminding him of his promise. The book is the fulfilment of the promise. Mike went back three times to the Mountain, and although he did not get much on the first visit, because his attention was elsewhere, he made himself available in the following two. He felt the Mountain used him as the eyes and the ears of humanity. He also felt he and Mountain became less anxious as they got to know each other better.
The novel is structured as periods in the Mountain and in the debates in the Viennese coffee shops, where future scenarios are discussed. The novel leads to the idea of recapitulationism, which Mike sees as a spirituality for the Anthropocene. Recapitulationism, is not a new idea, it goes back to our shamanic past, though Pythagoras then through the New Platonist tradition, Pico dela Mirandola, flowing into the work of Leibniz, in his monadology. To recapitulate means to encompass everything that exists inside us. The principles of Recapitulationism which Mike identifies are:
- Each human recapitulates the universe within him/her. This is well known in the mystics of all traditions. Everything is ultimately one.
- A human can know this fully or not at all. This is connected with spiritual development. The person is either open to it or is not.
- Each human recapitulates the universe both truly and uniquely. This is where Mike sees the contribution of the West by endorsing individuality, which Eastern philosophies do not. Each individual recapitulates the universe fully and truly, in his/her particular way.
- Non-human persons cannot recapitulate either knowingly or fully. Mike calls non-human persons all other beings belonging to the animal kingdom. They are not lesser beings but cannot knowingly recapitulate. Only in humans can we say that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
Recapitulation can be achieved through various routes: memory, Darwinian inheritance, Lamarckian inheritance, culture, past lives, collective unconscious, morphic resonance, Plat’s ideas, Leibniz monadology, Shamanism, and the Akashic Records.
The future Mike says, should not be seen as frightening because nothing is ever lost.
The I Ching, Synchronicity and Time
The year started with a presentation by DR. SHANTENA SABBADINI, a theoretical physicist who worked in the US and Italy researching the foundations of quantum physics. He contributed to the first identification of a black hole. His interests took him to become scientific consultant to the ERANOS Foundation in the 1990s and there he was drawn to study Chinese classics, including the I Ching. He is the current director of the Pari Center for New Learning, and the author of various books including The Original I Ching Oracle, which he co-authored with Rudolf Ritsema and his latest, Pilgrimages to Emptiness: Rethinking Reality through Quantum Physics. Shantena started his talk by explaining what is meant by ‘changes’ in the title of I Ching, which translates in English [The Book of] Simple Changes. Life rises out of the interplay of chaos and order. The natural cycle is best understood as being made of unpredictable changes. The I Ching originates from shamanic practices and indicates the dance between the two basic principles of Yin and Yang which are constantly moving. The Chinese cosmology is a superposition of various cycles and understands the cyclical nature of all phenomena. The principles of the I Ching as a divination tool relies on the understanding of reality by resonance, not by cause and effects which we in the West are used to.
Jung, who was very interested in the topic, developed the concept of non-causal coincidences, to which he gave the name synchronicity. He refined the understanding of the concept through his discussions with Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli with whom he corresponded for 25 years. He posed two questions to Pauli: 1) is synchronicity a scientific principle that can be tested statistically? To which the answer was – no, it is not. Synchronicity does not depend on reduction of reality that allows it to be measured and compared. It is unique. And 2) does synchronicity have something to do with quantum observation? And here Pauli confirmed that there is a correspondence in the uniqueness of a synchronistic event and a quantum observation. So, the I Ching is a way of accessing synchronicity. The questions asked in the divination needs to be emotionally significant and should not involve a yes/no answer. If the question relates to a choice of alternatives, the question needs to be about the viability of one of the options, rather than describing the alternatives. It is also suggested that quite specific questions can be asked as they will be given detailed answers. The other important principle is that questioner needs to ask a question for himself, not for someone else. The answers will be understood by resonance. Whatever feels right to the questioner. This explains the nature of the language which in the original and in translations is obscure. The I Ching translation authored by Shantena and Rudolf Ritsema follows the principle of the original by providing each word that appears with a range of meanings accessible to Western minds. Working with the I Ching requires one to trust our own associations. There is no right or wrong.
Science Technology and Contemplative Inquiry
Senior scientist at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) DR. MARCO SCHORLEMMERwas our speaker this month. Marco has a broad interest in Computational Concepts Systems, i.e, modelling those systems of conceptual entities that we continuously create and adapt to apprehend and describe the world we live in and interact with. The talk was entitled Science Technology and Contemplative Inquiry and he addressed the discrepancy which currently exists between the core values of scientific enquiry and practice.
Marco started by pointing out the principles of scientific inquiry as being:
- Vocational, permeated by an attitude of aweand wonderrelying on open communication, sharing and trust.
- It creates community
- It cannot be rushed into, it is gratuitousand loving
- It is transformational, freeing our experience from mythical understandings of reality
That is a contemplative attitude. However, the reality of scientific practice today is very different. It:
- Exploresfashionable research lineswith short-term objectives and pragmatic applications.
- The teams are opportunisticto attract funding, they are competitive,wary of sharing ideas, set into rigid power hierarchies
- There are constant interruptions, ideas are often half-bakedbut must get published or the research perishes.
- Research is supported by big business leading to powerand enhancement of egos,wary of challenging orthodox theoriesas it may affect credibility and scientific careers.
- And there is a certain arrogancebehind the objectivity, evidence, proof, rationality, …
These are the values of the social economic model which arose from Modernity. The overarching aim of investors in scientific research is to increase productivity and that of the scientists themselves is to sell their work. In Marco’s own field of Artificial Intelligence, this paradigm may bring with it certain dangers. He explained AI as an endeavour which aims to design autonomous systems that will produce best outcomes based on “memories” of what he called “vicarious perceptions” the system has of an environment. So, in the light of its “memories” of past recorded “perceptions”, an AI system will produce autonomously, the best possible outcome in response to the demands of a current environment. The danger however is that we forget that we are using metaphors and endow the models with an ontological reality leading to an over reliance on the system. An example is the algorithmic trading which can potentially tip markets into free fall. Marco says that rather than idolising productivity, technology should be measured against its ability to enable us to devote time to creative freedom, the freedom of creation. Scientific inquiry is naturally dualistic yet considering the non-dual nature of the ultimate nature of reality, true science should be able to help us transcend our attachment to duality if conducted according to its true principles. To this effect, finding himself in the mid of his scientific career, Marco seeks out other scientists and organisations which share his motivations. He mentioned a few which included the SMN in the UK, The Slow Science Academy in Germany, the Association of Contemplative Minds in Higher Education in the US, L’Atelier des Chercheuers in Belgium and the World Community of Christian Meditation in the UK.
What Makes Us Humans
PROF FARANEH VARGA-KHADEM was our speaker this month. She is Prof of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Head of Section on Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychiatry at the UCL Institute of Child Health. She is also the clinical-academic lead for the Department of Clinical Neuropsychology at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. She conducts research on the effects of brain injury on neural circuits serving memory and learning, speech and language, special navigation and movement organisation. She is also a member of the Baha’i faith and this evening she gave us an overview of her work and Baha’i spiritual principles and how they inform each other. Faraneh started by explaining what she felt when her daughter started to speak at around age 2, it felt like magic! She became motivated to understand how the brain allows this to happen and went on to study the brain. Her studies led to the understanding that memory and language go together in the mind and are a particularly human attribute. Her research with amnesiac children who have impaired memory due to oxygen deprivation in the brain as a result of birthing difficulties, illness or injury, show that although these children can learn to speak, read and write, they have no memory which means they live exclusively in the present. They cannot remember the past or plan for the future. They listen but cannot remember. They also cannot use their imagination. Another set of children Faraneh researches are those who have no language. She told us about a family which presented some 25 years ago with difficulties in speaking. Studying this extended family she found that within three generations of this family some could speak normally and others could not, due to physical difficulties in jaw articulation. Her research identified a gene mutation as responsible for this condition. So based on these two sets of patients, no memory and no language and the science behind these conditions, Faraneh went on to explore What Makes Us Humans– the title of the presentation. What is it that energises the brain to do the job of being human? Is it something we don’t see, science cannot physically find in the brain, such as memory or muscles that move the jaws? Mind, memory and language are the elements that in particular, differentiate us from animals. Even without language, as per some of her research subjects, or without memory, those children are still human, because they have whatever it is that energises the human brain to do the job of being human. Faraneh went on to give us an interesting overview of evolution through various stages and transitions and noted that at one point in the process, a particular gene became inactive in order to allow the jaw to recede and the skull to grow to accommodate a larger brain, which came to include the all important frontal lobes. The jaw became able to articulate sounds which then developed into language. Our hand also evolved to allow the thumb and forefinger to touch, which our ape ancestors could not do. Archaeology shows that around 25,000 years ago burials became elaborate affairs and included artefacts designed to help the individual in the afterlife. Discoveries don’t tell us how metaphysical experiences came about but they indicate that they did. The belief in an afterlife indicates that those beings felt a connection with the transcendental, which is, as far as we know, specifically human. Faraneh then read from some beautiful Baha’i texts, addressing the harmony between science and religion. Science is important but if it stops the interface with spirit, it will not serve humanity. The brain is regarded as the oxygen of the infinite, as a facilitator, not the originator of consciousness.
Typology of Spiritual Feelings
This month we welcomed DR. OLIVER ROBINSON, principal lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich, who describes himself as an amateur philosopher and a committed spiritual explorer. He is also the author of various books, including his latest, Paths Between Head and Heart. This evening he explained one aspect of his book, the Typology of Spiritual Feelings, the title of his talk. Olly started by telling us about one of the differences between the approaches of science and spirituality, science resting on the cultivation of a particular kind of thinking, analytical, deductive, critical etc and spirituality emphasizing feelings. This difference is also reflected in the different kind of trainings, scientific and spiritual which relies on practice. The feelings experienced in spiritual practice facilitate a deep knowing which is epistemic in nature and also moral. It cultivates virtue. This evening Olly developed four types of feelings associated with spiritual experiences: positive, ecstatic, aesthetic, and sublime. Positivity is what he called, a spiritual playground, and is developed through mindfulness, breath work, generally practices that induce a positive state of mind and joyful living. Laughter is a manifestation of positive feelings and we were asked to talk in gibberish to one another in order to experience laughter. Ecstatic feelings are those beyond the range of normal emotions and are often associated with trance phenomena, such as shamanic experiences, orgasms, dance, music etc.. They are infrequent and sometimes engender a depressive mood after. Aesthetic feelings are associated with the sense of the beautiful, nature, visual arts, music etc, and Olly pointed out that the opposite of aesthetic is anaesthetic, which colloquially relates to loss of consciousness. And the last on, the sublime is a deeply paradoxical state, a mixture of pleasure, pain and fear, the concept of awe encapsulating the phenomena. It shatters the ego and moves us close to the mystery which is life. It is experienced sometime in nature, in powerful natural phenomena, at times in childbirth and other such unique experiences. He mentioned the work of Rudolph Otto who coined the word numinous and encapsulated the sublime with the word Mysterium Tremendum.
Digital Consciousness and Platonic Computation- Unification of Consciousness, Mind and Matter by Metacomputics
Our August meeting slipped into the last days in July because our speaker Dr SIMON DUAN had to travel during August. Simon came to the UK from China in the 1980s to study and was awarded a PhD in Materials Sciences by Cambridge University. He has worked for many years in research and development, technology commercialisations and management consultancy both in China and the UK. He has a longstanding interest in parapsychology and is currently Vice President of the Chinese Parapsychology Association. In addition, he is the founder of Metacomputics Labs which researches a new theoretical framework that unifies consciousness, mind and matter. This research was the topic of this evening’s presentation. Simon began his study of consciousness following a psychic experience in China, when a damaged wisdom tooth was released from his jaw by a simple slap from an unconventional practitioner. Other extraordinary phenomena followed. As a scientist he is intrigued by what cannot be explained using physics so, he told us, he gave up physics. He uses the computer as metaphor in his model, acknowledging that humanity has historically used the technology of the moment to understand the world around it. The model, which Simon confirms is a map, not the territory, identifies Ultimate Consciousness as being empty of properties. It is timeless, nondual, dimensionless, formless, infinite, boundless etc. it can only be described by what it is not, not what it is, an idea familiar to mystical religions. It is potentiality. Simon uses the terminology of pixels which helps make the concept graphic. Ultimate consciousness is a grey pixel. As it creates duality, it creates a white pixel and a grey pixel, a mirror in which consciousness can see itself. The second step, the first computation, creates trinity, in computer terms data, the processor and the program. Step three creates diversity represented in 3D. Individual consciousness (as in pantheistic principles) is part of Ultimate Consciousness. Consciousness is the hardware in which the software of reality operates. For further information, see http://www.metacomputics.com. Time in this model is a progression of the pixels as they become created. The present moment is when the computation occurs and space is the 3D display of the computation. This model allows for the idea of multiverses, as each time Ultimate Consciousness creates a duality, a new universe is formed. Many levels of reality can also be formed in this model and psychic phenomena occur when a mind enters a different level of reality. The computation in this model is done at the level of a platonic computer and reality is a projection on a 3D screen. The phenomenon of entanglement is therefore explained by the participation in the same 3D screen of the elements entangled, whether two particles, the coordinated flock of birds or school of fish. Simon’s speculation is that we may be living in a computer simulation, an idea which has been expressed by scientists in the past and more recently suggested in the film The Matrix. The model leaves a few questions unanswered, such as what of free will, where/when does the “programmer” emerge in the process, and Simon has promised to come back to explore these questions at a future occasion.
Recent Thoughts on the Hemispheres Hypothesis,
Dr. IAIN MCGILCHRIST spoke to a packed room this month about the topics he is exploring in the book he is currently writing. Iain’s scholarly and professional career took him first to the field of humanities and then to medicine. He is a former Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and former Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director at the Bethlem Royal & Maudsley Hospital, London. He has been a Research Fellow in neuroimaging at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, and a Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Stellenbosch. He is the author amongst others, of the seminal book the Master and his Emissary which has helped many people to understand how the different kinds of attention and perception of the two brain hemisphere can, through their predominance, influence the way we see, understand and interact with life. We were told about the communications Iain had from the general public, expressing gratitude for being able to understand themselves and others better based on what they learn from his book. This evening Iain started by giving us an overview of his theory as expressed in the original book, and described the left hemisphere type of perception as informed by certainty, quantification, analysis, clarity, abstraction from context etc. The right hemisphere on the other hand, perceives the world as possibilities, qualities, change and fluidity, inherent in context, with emotion and awareness of body etc. The current paradigm has a left brain bias which has the effect of narrowing down our understanding and appreciation of reality. This is not to discount the benefits of left brain perspectives, which have been essential for the development of science and technology which have so improved the conditions of life. However what Iain stresses are the limitations of this bias. The left hemisphere can be likened to a computer it is excellent if it knows how to proceed but it has no handle on the meaning which requires the process. The mechanistic perspective is unhelpful to understand and appreciate living organisms. The book Iain is now writing, There are No Things, examines metaphysics and epistemology of his two hemisphere theory. Due to the limitations of time, he could only cover a few of the subjects explored in the book. A hot topic at the moment is truth. What is truth? In the paradigm in which we live, with reason as tool, science is seen as the sole credible source for truth. This kind of left hemisphere approach looks for facts and certainty to support truth. It side lines intuition with the effect that a whole range of possibilities is ignored and overlooked. Imagination is also not valued yet it is fundamental, all ideas as well as all our experiences have their origin in imagination. The bias, when it exists on a personal basis, is intrinsically connected with the personality and tendencies of the communicator. The left hemisphere approach jumps to conclusions whereas the right brain approach is more tolerant, embracing and inclusive. It is more nuanced and understands that truth may not be fixed, it can be fluid and relative. An interesting explanation of paradox describes it as a conflict in the perspectives of the two hemispheres. The new book will look at many other aspects which Iain however, did not have time to cover, such as why the brain has evolved the way it did, how the hemispheres look at time, space, values etc. We had a lively Q&A session which could have gone on until the early hours of the morning …
Diamonds from Heaven: a 20 year Journey into the Mind of the Universe
This month we had a fascinating evening listening to PROF CHRIS BACHE talking about his experiences of 73 high dose LSD sessions conducted between 1979 and 1999. Diamonds from Heaven: a 20 year Journey into the Mind of the Universe was the title of the presentation, and is also the title of the book he is finalising. Chris Bache is professor emeritus in the Dept of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio, where he taught for 33 years. In the late 70s he was introduced to the work of Stanislav Grof with LSD and was convinced of the power of such research into non-ordinary states of consciousness. Grof had developed a 3 session high dose psychedelic therapy for dying patients as a way of preparing them for their death. On that basis Bache felt that if 3 sessions were safe, more would also be safe and he embarked on this journey of what he called, psychedelic exploration taking 73 such high doses. However, because by that time the use of LSD had become illegal, he had to keep his research confidential, and therefore lived a double life not being able to share his experiences with friends and colleagues. He recorded each of the sessions phenomenologically, systematically and meticulously within the following 24 hours. He found himself exploring the core of the meaning and the structure of existence in dimensions of universal transcendence. He was engaging with a consciousness of universal proportion which was taking him personally through various levels and dimensions on a journey of collective historical unfoldment. He experienced the spiral of death and rebirth into various personal identities countless times as well as the death and rebirth of our species. He learned to surrender to the process that repeats itself as he experienced ever deeper levels of consciousness. He experienced the depths of despair and suffering in the process of detoxification and purification as well as heights of ecstasy including a power of love impossible to describe. He felt always met and to be in dialogue with a vast consciousness who took him systematically where it wanted to take him, and even when he interrupted the process for 6 years, the following session resumed where the last one left off. When he asked who/what this vast consciousness was, the answer pointed to himself. At first he found the experiences ineffable but in time he learned the skill to retain them in his memory in order to record and articulate them. He was taken beyond the collective psyche, beyond humanity to a level of platonic and archetypal forms but not the way we understand them. He found them to be vast energies structuring time/space, living and growing in galactic dimensions. Part of his experience was a domain of incredible light, which he called Diamond Light in which he felt himself dissolving. He had flashes of what he called God but it was not the theistic God although it had traits of it. He was guided into the unfolding of the future, the Big Awakening for humanity, which he found movingly beautiful. But before that, the big breakdown, the Dark Night of the Soul of humanity which is indeed taking place in the 21stCentury, giving birth to a new form of human being already implicit in our history – a diamond soul. This will be achieved by personally coming to terms with our lives in service of our collective existence. He got the insight that human beings are built for evolutionary speed – the core of the soul shifts to accelerate evolution. Reflecting on this experience, he confessed that for the following few years he was waiting to die in order to reconnect with the experience, but it then became clear that he needed to share this with others. So now that he is retired, he can speak about it, which is what he is doing. His book will be published in the course of 2019 but his lecture on this topic is available here https://slideslive.com/38903724/diamonds-from-heaven-a-20-year-psychedelic-journey.
Seeking Wisdom – A Spiritual Manifesto
The speaker this month was Dr. LARRY CULLIFORD, a retired physician and psychiatrist who has now turned his attention to the ailments of society. “Where is humanity heading, towards misery and destruction or a far more glorious future?” “How can people – as individuals – make a difference?” He has written a book– Seeking Wisdom – A Spiritual Manifesto, in which he comments on various aspects of politics, leadership, religion, education, health and social care, capitalism, and art, and examines the human predicament in terms of both intellectual understanding, and deeply personal yet universal spiritual experiences. He uses the ideas of Iain McGilchrist as a lens through which to identify left and right brain hemisphere predominance in our ways of thinking as they affect our worldly and spiritual values. He argues that the world’s major problems are interrelated. The solution Larry says is for people to spend more time pursuing activities involving right hemisphere kinds of attention, especially being still and meditating. He argues we need to take responsibility and engage with suffering at the level of compassion and at a personal level to engage in activities which will lead to growth and maturity. And we can encourage others to become wisdom seekers.
Chaos, violence, wars and barbarism, why Humanity and Peace will prevail
This month we welcomed from the US, PROF JERRY KROTH who entitled his talk Chaos, violence, wars and barbarism, why Humanity and Peace will prevail. Jerry is an Associate Professor in the graduate Counseling Psychology programme at Santa Clara University. He is an author of over 12 books and this evening he explored the contents of his book The Psychic Immune System: a Hidden Epiphenomenon of the Body’s Own Defenses. He started by quoting Jung who said ‘to a quite terrifying degree, we are threatened by wars and revolutions, which are nothing other than psychic epidemics’. It is in this sense that he uses the word “psychic”, as meaning of thepsycheor mind, rather than in a paranormal sense. The core of the book addresses the possibility that a “psychic” immune system may exist that protects humanity from decimation, in a corresponding way in which the physical body relies on its immune system for protection. To support his theory, Jerry went over some statistics, and showed us examples of major catastrophes in history, all of which came to an end. We saw the Bell curves of the events rising, peaking and then falling into nothing. All events have an end. From Genghis Kahn to the Spanish flu, something happened that brought those terrible events to an end. What might that be? The most interesting (for me) parts of the talk were examples he gave of large part of humanity coming extraordinarily close to being obliterated through nuclear war, and the ensuing deadly nuclear winter. He mentioned that there have been close to 20 such incidents and expanded on the details of three: in September 1983 the Soviet early warning system indicated that 5 US ICB missiles were heading towards the Soviet Union. The officer on duty found this strange, why only 5, and decided not to tell his superior. Had he told his superior officer the whole soviet machinery would have gone into operation with unforeseen consequences. The next incident addressed was the Cuban Missile Crisis, considered the most dangerous moment in human history. What we don’t know about this incident is that whilst the US were dropping depth charges on a Soviet submarine, they were unaware that this submarine was equipped with nuclear tipped torpedoes. Three officers in the submarine discussed their orders which were that if under attack they should launch these nuclear devices. Two were in favour of following these orders, and one (Arkhipov) was against. His arguments won. Had these nuclear missiles been launched, the US would retaliate with nuclear bombs, and WW3 would most likely have been upon us with terrifying consequences. The American military acknowledged that had they known that the submarine was armed with nuclear bombs, they would never have attacked it with depth charges. Arkhipov could be said to have saved the world from annihilation! One other example Jerry gave was the incident involving a computer simulation of WW3, the US called Able Archer, at the time of president Ronald Reagan. It was essentially a game, which the US tried to make as realistic as possible. The Soviets who were monitoring it did not believe it to be a game, and prepared for a massive retaliatory strike. Ten warheads were aimed at particular US cities. The Soviet code for the launch of their nuclear missiles was issued. At the last minute the game finished and the missiles did not get fired. These and other examples make Jerry ask, what is it that protects the human race. Is it luck? Rationality? God? He proposes that a collective self-preserving instinct in mankind, the workings of which remain a mystery, but something written in humanity, outside of our consciousness, works towards preservation of the species and ultimate peace. He quoted Ghandi who said ‘when I despair I remember that through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fail. Think of it …. always!’. The intriguing and hopeful message of his talk prompted an interesting discussion. This talk is on Youtube and can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA1Zz5cFngo
Science and Spiritual Practices
RUPERT SHELDRAKE PhD, old friend and honorary member of the SMN was our speaker this month. Rupert is a biologist and author of more than 85 scientific papers and 12 books, including his latest Science and Spiritual Practices, which was the theme of his presentation this evening. In this book, Rupert explores the scientific interest that has blossomed around spiritual practices since late 20th Century. Many research papers have been published showing the benefits of spiritual practices to health and happiness. In addition, we know that some high profile academics who are overt atheist such as Sam Harris and Susan Blackmore, have taken up meditation and promote their benefits. This interest has spread to other areas, for instance media personality Russell Brand talks openly in his podcast, about spirituality which he embraced following the 12 step programme he engaged in to deal with his addiction. He has an audience of more than 750 thousand mostly young people. By validating spiritual practices, science is giving it a seal of approval, which our scientific paradigm requires. Rupert identified 6 spiritual practices which he himself undertakes: gratitude, meditation, nature, singing/chanting, rituals and pilgrimages. In this brief overview, starting with gratitude, he pointed out that thanks-giving is at the root of all religions. Research shows that being grateful correlates positively with happiness and by contrast the opposite, taking things for granted and feeling entitled correlates with unhappiness. Meditation was introduced to the West by theosophists in the 19th Century. In the mid 1950s we saw the arrival of Zen Buddhism and in the 60/70s we saw the rise in popularity of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in the West. The book The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson in the mid 1970’s endorsed meditation as beneficial to health and in the late 70’s Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine realised the benefits of mindfulness to patients and started a world wide revolution in the treatment of stress and anxiety. Singing and chanting is a practice found in every spiritual tradition and drawing on the work of his wife Jill Purce, Rupert invited us to experience in the body the resonance of chanting different vowels. We then experimented with amyn, similar to the mantra ohm (or aum), which lost its powerful resonance as it became translated into amen in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Mantras resonate in the body, with other people and through morphic resonance across time. And finally we heard about pilgrimage as an ancient practice, probably started as people followed their animals in their movement. Many pilgrimage paths are being revived all over Europe but they have on the whole lost their religious aspects and are more about connection with the land. In fact tourist are, Rupert told us, frustrated pilgrims!
This month we welcomed TIM FREKE, author of 35 books, who spoke here some 16 years ago, on one of his first books, The Jesus Mysteries. This talk was about his most recent book, Soul Story. Kicking off his shoes and pulling his shirt out of his trousers for more freedom, Tim shared with us with energetic enthusiasm, his theory about evolution. A few words are key for his theory and were repeatedly drawn upon to explain his views: evolution, potentiality, information, process, imagination and time. And of course soul. We did not hear the word consciousness mentioned once. At the core of his theory is his perspective on time, which he points out, does not pass, but accumulates. Time is not an illusion, it is very real. Every moment is a meeting of the past with the possible, therefore the arrow of time is unidirectional. In every moment some potentiality becomes realised. The universe has come into being all those billions of years ago and is itself a process. The process is to bring ever more potentialities into being moving towards ever greater complexity. Out of this process, also understood as emergence, soul or psyche emerged from the potentiality of the universe. The quality of soul is awareness, its tool imagination and its eye is attention. Through imagination, we bring potentials into being. Psyche or soul exists in a different dimension where love is the central experience (which he himself has experienced from a very early age). We experience the world in two realities: the material and the psychic. Stories is the language of the soul, consequently we have two stories addressing these realities, science and spirituality. Soul is immortal and central. The universe is objective information, subjectively experienced. The body is biological information changing in time. We however stay the same at the level of our essence. Soul has its origin in the body, but transcends it. To understand the world and the reality we live in, we use stories. With stories comes magic, synchronicities, understanding. This is how the universe experiences itself. It has no purpose other than realising ever more emergent potential. And our purpose is the same, to realise the most emergent potential we have. God has also emerged from the evolution of the universe and continues to evolve, as with other potentialities coming into being. Tim’s central message is that life is good, death is safe and what really matters is love!
Gnosis, Initiation and Transformation
Our first speaker of the year was Programme Director of the SMN, DAVID LORIMER. David is amongst others, the founder of Character Education Scotland, founding member of the International Future Forum and was editor of its digest, Omnipedia – thinking for Tomorrow. He is also author and editor of over a dozen books. The title of this evening’s presentation was Gnosis, Initiation and Transformation. David started by talking about the two approaches within Christianity, pistiswhich is faith and gnosiswhich includes faith but goes beyond it, incorporating direct experience as a source of knowledge. We heard briefly about the early Gnostics who posed a direct threat to the authority of the Church because they followed their own internal authority. Gnosis was always going to be for the few as the strict initiation training would naturally exclude the many. The principles of gnosis have been expressed by many mystics and thinkers over the centuries, and David gave us select quotes from a number of those addressing gnosis, initiation and transformation, including:
Clement of Alexandria: Faith is a compendious knowledge of the essentials, but gnosis is a sure and firm demonstration of the things received through faith and scientific certainty.
Plotinus: We are within a reality that is also within us.
Gospel of Thomas: The Kingdom is inside of you and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realise that you are the sons of the living Father.
Elaine Pagels: Gnosis as self-knowledge and knowledge of the Self. Insight. To know oneself at the deepest level is simultaneously to know god.
David Hawkins – the Self is its own message and truth can only be realised, not explained.
Mircea Eliade: Initiation lies at the core of any genuine human life. And this is true for two reasons. The first is that any genuine human life implies profound crisis, ordeals, suffering, loss and reconquest of self. “death and resurrection”. The second is that, whatever degree of fulfilment it may have brought him, at a certain moment every man sees his life as a failure.
Plato: To die is to be initiated.
Walter Russell: The rhythm of life is to unfold from the One, the unmanifest, the invisible into the Many, the manifest, the visible and then to re-fold back into the One. This is birth, awakening, emergence, creation, individualisation followed by a return in terms of sleep, decay, disintegration and death. The Creating Universe grows out of the One in a radial fashion, ultimately disappearing back into the One.
The “quantum pleasure principle” – Did life evolve to feel good?
Prof STUART HAMEROFF was the speaker this evening, and he picked up the theme he had developed at the Beyond the Brain conference of the previous weekend. Stuart is Prof of Anaesthesiology and Psychology and is also the director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. His interest in consciousness, how the brain creates it and how anaesthetics erase it, dates back to his years in medical school in the 1970s. Building on Prof Roger Penrose’s theory of Objective Reduction (OR), Stuart Hameroff and Penrose a theory which they called Orch OR (Orchestrated Objective Reduction) suggesting that consciousness derives from quantum vibrations in microtubules, vibrations which are connected to the fine-scale structure of the universe. This evening Stuart started by going back to the Big Bang and exploring when, what he called BING – the emergence of consciousness – happened. The question here is whether consciousness precedes life or whether life precedes consciousness, and he is aligned with the view that life emerged from consciousness. But what is life? He went through the various theories which carry definitions of life. What can be asserted is that consciousness and feelings are essential elements of life. To the question of ‘what is consciousness’, he resorted to computer modelling and explained how messages are transmitted from neurons through the firing of dendrites and the chemical synapses. We heard a comparison with Artificial Intelligence and then the three waves of conscious perception and some interesting information on how anaesthetics work. Using the examples of the single cell Paramecium, Stuart explained the microtubules structures – basic to the Penrose-Hameroff theory – which are the same as those in neurones. These structures have an important role in memory, and their disintegration is present in Alzheimers. He then moved into physics and explained the Copenhagen Interpretation, which dictates that consciousness causes the collapse of the wave function. The Penrose-Hameroff theory of Orch OR, which includes a quantum computational mechanism indicates the exact opposite, that the self-collapse of the wave function undergoing Orch OR creates consciousness. He theorises that in the primordial soup of the early universe, BING (conscious) moments were moments of pleasure and that this pleasure fed a fitness function and the creation of microtubules further optimizing pleasure. His conclusions lead him to challenge Darwinian ideas that life evolved to promote behaviour for the survival of genes. Evolutionary Theory ignores consciousness which is fundamental in his own theory, which is that behaviour, the fundamental impulse of evolution, is driven by (conscious) pleasure, in which he includes not only hedonism but also altruism, spirituality etc. This argument then leads to the assertion that life did indeed evolve to “feel good’!
Future Consciousness: a Path to Purposeful Evolution
Prof THOMAS LOMBARDO came this month to talk about his ideas about future consciousness expressed in his new book Future Consciousness” a Path to Purposeful Evolution. Tom is the director of the Center for Future Consciousness, and Managing Editor of the online journal Wisdom and the Future. He is Prof Emeritus and retired Faculty Chair of Psychology, Philosophy and the Future at Rio Salado College, Tempe Arizona. He also holds posts in various future oriented organisations. His ideas – that we as humans have an important role in shaping the future of our planet- are not original, but what is interesting, is the perspectives he takes on our role and interaction towards this aim. He says the question at the root of every consideration and decision is ‘how do we create a good future?’. On a macro scale he reminds us that wars have been fought over this question, and on a personal ambit, we are constantly engaged with such a consideration, even when deciding what to cook for dinner. To consider the future of reality, we need to engage with the nature of reality, and here Tom explains that whatever the wider answers to this question are, reality has two characteristics: evolution and reciprocity. He explained those two elements in quite some detail, and showed us that we have an active role in evolution, and our insights, discoveries and developments have, over time, accelerated evolution. By considering the impact of technology for instance, we see how we have changed the reality in which we live and how evolution has accelerated from 200, 2000, 2 million years ago. Significant events in evolution are happening faster and faster and becoming more and more complex. From this he reaches the surprising conclusion that ‘playing God well is our purpose’. To guide ourselves, our future evolution is our mission as humans. Reciprocity is symbolised by the yin/yang concept of complementarity, an example is how life modifies the Earth and how the Earth modifies life. A good future then is achieved by what he calls ‘flourishing’ which he defines as the flow of purposeful evolution, and equates with personal happiness. He criticises the ideas around sustainability, arguing that nothing can sustain itself, and trying to sustain is unnatural. We need to focus on moving forward, on the process of evolution. By good, in a good future, he means wise and this wisdom is achieved at a personal level by means of the development of some character virtues, amongst which are self-responsibility, self-evolution, the development of skills, learning and so on. Wisdom narratives in science fiction when well written expand our consciousness of possibilities of the future. It was a fascinating evening which the limitations of this short piece is unable to do justice and I refer the reader to his book, available on Amazon.
The Rule of St. Benedict, a little Rule for Beginners
This month we learned about The Rule of St Benedict, a 6th Century monk who wrote what became the most influential book since the Bible. LAURENCE FREEMAN OSB was the speaker for this evening. A Benedictine monk he is the Director of the World Community of Christian Meditation, Meditatio. This organisation teaches meditation in all walks of life, from schools to MBAs, from political offices to religious organisations and retreats.
We heard that Benedict was not a personality and very little is known about him, but his legacy is known to have influenced people, families, communities, organisations ever since. The power of this Rule (which is indeed a collection of rules, propositions and advice) is its practical and down to earth approach, dealing with the daily reality of real life, rather than being mystical and esoteric. To achieve the depth and insights of this text, one needs to read and re-read it over and over. The originator of this Rule was John Cassian, who brought the monastic tradition from the desert fathers of Egypt to France around the 5th Century and adapted it to the European culture. The principle of this monasticism was the experience of interiority to a transcendence of duality. The Rule evokes this way of living with the clear objective of seeking God. Three promises are part of the Rule: obedience, stability and conversion. Obedience means not only obedience to the authority of the day (vertical), but also obedience to colleagues (horizontal) and above all, to the inner self. Obedience comes from the latin word oboedire which means to listen and the concept is used in this sense. The second promise is stability by which is meant inner stability. This involves a commitment to the rhythm of life, which includes time to study (read) and time to work (to live by their labours). Conversion (the promise the Dalai Lama could most relate to) refers to the continuous process of change and transformation, the continuous process of detachment from achievements.
This Rule, Benedict says, is for beginners. The next step is ambiguous: it talks of continuous transformation and determines the person to be ready for solitude. The tension is between community and solitude. Laurence made the connection with meditation, which itself addresses the three promises of obedience = silence, stability = stillness, conversion = transformation. We had a 10 minute meditation with the mantra used by Laurence, Maranatha. Questions and discussion followed.
Introduction to Sacred Geometry and Mystical Mathematics
August brought Olly Robinson who presented a fascinating insight into Sacred Geometry and Mystical Mathematics. Dr. OLIVER ROBINSON is an ex member of the SMN Board of directors, now a consultant, as well as a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Greenwich. His book Paths Between Head and Heart: Harmonies of Science and Spirituality is due to be published in 2018. This evening he showed us hidden patterns in both geometry and mathematics, which bring to light inbuilt harmony and beauty. Although a meaningful explanation of those patterns goes beyond our understanding, their uncovering is awe inspiring. Sacred geometry we were shown, point to forms as a source of intuition into spiritual truth. When present in works of art and architecture it gives them a sense of sacredness. Olly recommended the book A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael Schneider as a comprehensive guide for an exploration of the topic. We had an insight into the nature of the humble point: it is the start of everything and yet, in itself has no physical form. It manifests the unmanifest. It is the arrival of the second point which allows a line to come into being expressing certainty and directness, or a curve, the source of infinite possibilities. One point can be the centre of a circle and two points can create the overlapping of two circles. The multiplicity of circles creates harmonious forms and Olly showed us the importance of the number 6 and its multiples in geometric forms originating in circles in nature as well as in the symbols of sacred traditions. On mystical mathematics Olly showed us the mystery of the digital root, which involves adding up the digits of numbers until a single digit (between1 and 9) is achieved. For example, we found out that by dividing the number 360 on a continuous basis for as long as we’d like allowing for the expression of the fractions in full, the digital root of all the digits of the resulting numbers will be always the number 9. Other interesting patterns emerge in such an operation. We heard that the digital root in the Vedic Square are an indication that the mysteries hidden in mathematics were already being explored by the ancient people of Vedic times in India. And time was devoted also to the exploration and examples of the Golden Ratio, the proportions which universally denote beauty and which are frequent in nature. It was a fascinating evening and I for one, will be looking forward to learning more when reading his book next year.
Near Death Experiences (NDEs) in Japan
Dr. ORNELLA CORAZZA is a medical anthropologist, author of Near-Death Experiences: exploring the mind-body connection (Routledge 2008). She held fellowships at the 21st Century Centre of Excellence (COE) on Death and Life Studies at the University of Tokyo and this evening Ornella explained the different perspectives the Japanese have on what it means to be a human being, through the lens of Near Death Experiences. We were told about the ubiquitous phenomenology of an NDE from the reports of people who have experienced it. The sense of peace, being out of their bodies, entering the darkness, or tunnel, seeing the light and entering that light, in the presence of friends and family who had died, entities and sometimes people from sacred traditions. Reports of life review is often present. People who have had those experiences invariable mention the realisation of a sense of mission they have to accomplish in this lifetime. She also mentioned ketamine and its effect which are similar to NDEs which help explain the attraction young people have however, as she explained, not knowing how to integrate these experiences in their lives can have serious consequences to users. Whereas in the West the experience of an NDE involves leaving the body behind, in Japan the interpretation is very different. The unity of the mind-body connection is an aim to be cultivated during a lifetime. This is the teaching of Ornella’s master Yasuo Yuasa. The contemplation of the cherry blossoms in the Spring, which involves people looking at them for hours, is an example of the meditation on the meaning of being embodied, as well as the impermanence of life. The mind-body connectivity is externalised to include others and the environment. A human being is a being within a context and the whole context participates including the ground of being, which is called Basho. The visible Basho is the connection with the lived reality and the invisible Basho is the ground of being, or cosmic consciousness. Whereas in the West the experience on an NDE is of disconnection from the physical body, in Japan the experience is of an embodied connection with the invisible Basho, expressed in imagery for instance of rivers which typically is associated with death, the Tori gate, the symbol of the perennial connection with the transcendental, or the Shimenawa, the belt around a tree indicating that the tree is itself a divinity.
Facing up to Mind and Spirit: do we need a Post-Materialist Science?
This month we welcomed back Bernard Carr who spoke to the group a few times in the past. PROF BERNARD CARR is Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary University of London and is a former chair of the SMN. Bernard started by telling us how he found out about his personal life’s passion. When sent to his room for being a naughty boy in boarding school, he read books and out of those, three fundamentally determined his future: Bertrand Russell’s ABC of Relativity, Dunne’s An Experiment with Time and Rampa’s The Third Eye. These books underlie his three passions: science, psi and Buddhism and his talk this evening brought all three together. With the use of the Uroboros, Bernard showed us the history of the advance in scientific knowledge towards the very large and the very small scale. He explained in detail the various milestones in the progression towards what we know today. On the small scale end, we find the search for a theory that unifies all the forces, the M-theory and at a macro-scale we speculate the existence of a multiverse. This narrative demonstrates the triumph of physics. However, in this quest, one element is missing: consciousness. And this is what his lecture explored. Without consciousness, the physical reality is only a mental model. Scientists are looking for a theory of everything but how can that be achieved without the consideration of consciousness, our subjective experience? Bernard argues that we must move away from the matter centric perspective and include mind in our models. And, he says, the bridge between mind and matter is psi. Psi, includes phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis etc. Psi has the potential to explain Quantum Mechanics and vice-versa. We heard about entanglement and evidence for the non-locality of mind from psi experiences, giving us a glimpse into the holistic fabric of reality. As well as what we call the paranormal, psi includes also spiritual experiences and creativity. It is recognised and expressed by many artists that their creativity comes “through” them, rather than being the creation of ego. The evidence seems to point to mind having access to other levels of reality, explained by the principles of non-locality. Bernard’s “cri de coeur” is that we need an extended physics which will connect matter and mind, and an extended transpersonal psychology to connect mind and spirit. And connecting the extended physics and the transpersonal psychology is the new paradigm proposed.
Stephen Hawking nearly talks about God
This month we welcomed Keith Ward who spoke at many SMN conferences but nor yet to the London Group. PROF KEITH WARD is a philosopher and a priest in the Church of England. He is the author of over 25 books and numerous articles and has in the past taught philosophy, religious studies and theology. Amongst many other posts, he was the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. His talk this evening had the intriguing title, Stephen Hawking nearly talks about God and it addressed the content of Hawking’s book The Grand Design (Bantam, 2011) in which Hawking asks questions such as when and how did the universe begin? Why are we here? Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Two aspects of Hawking’s explanation caught Keith’s attention: 1) space-time, the reality of our universe, does not come from nothing, but comes from a quantum vacuum. In other words, it depends on something beyond it. 2) Quantum vacuum is not empty, but is full of ‘stuff’’, understood as energy. This means that the reality beyond space-time has qualities, it has non-material laws. Laws of nature require wisdom, intelligence. So, what he is saying, is that the universe depends on something eternal, beyond time, with laws that are necessary. In other words, the material world is dependent on non-material reality. Later in his book, describing the two slit experiment, Hawking points out that the observation by consciousness of the experiment, will determine a particular outcome, i.e. particle behaviour, which is different from the wave behaviour when the experiment is not observed. This shows that consciousness has an effect on the outcome of this experiment. This conclusion leads him to state that we create history by our observations, rather than history creating us. The philosophical approach that is best aligned to this conclusion is Idealism. Until the collapse of the wave, which is the term used to describe the outcome of the experiment, the status is one of probabilities. Bringing into his argument the concept of Mind, Keith pointed out that Mind is intentional. Consequently, asks Keith, in the quantum world of probabilities, might the universe be a creation of God’s observation? Might God have created the universe by actualising probabilities through intentional observation? He started the talk by saying that he would talk not about what Hawking thinks but about what he writes. Keith knows Hawking is an atheist, but in his writing, there are clear indications that God, or Mind terminology could find a place in it!
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.