“Success comes in cans; failure in can’ts”

.. great quote from Wilfred Bion. Our whole purpose is to make reality out of infinite potential.  I’m struck by similarity underlying Bion’s model of reality-creation and that of Alfred North Whitehead’s view of a “prehensile” crystallisation of reality in the present moment out of infinite potential.

“The art of being yourself at your best is the art of unfolding your personality into the person you want to be.” Wilfred Bion

“We cannot think first and act afterwards. From the moment of birth we are immersed in action and can only guide it by taking thought.” Alfred North Whitehead

 

Bion has this concept of our thinking as a candle actively penetrating the dark in a quest to mate with and discover the ideas or truths already there waiting.  If I understand aright Bion’s model of how this arises:

– there is a welter of “unthought” images, emotions and other stuff floating around – his Beta elements.

– if we are able to tolerate the pain of the unknown – then we begin to assemble these into the building blocks of thoughts – his Alpha elements. (Mostly we are able to do that because we’ve had a “good enough” mother and a holding environment as a baby).

– these alpha element thoughts then abstract into – pre-concepts which are “looking for” concepts to “mate with” to allow understanding of ideas. Importantly the ideas already exist and our mind and brain is a machinery that has evolved to allow us to think them.

Compare this with Whitehead’s view of the implications for reality of  quantum mechanics (see Process and Reality). The present moment – is like a zipper – moving from a past event into a future that the observer crystallises by selecting from the infinite potential. This then, the process by which reality is created. He calls the present moment prehensile, because there is an active searching or selecting of the future.

This concept (If my understanding is correct – the book is almost impenetrable) surely has resonance with Bion’s view. There is at the heart of both schemas a vital present force which is actively seeking a “mating” with a future that it is involved in helping create or crystallise.

Can we call this free will? Are we witnesses here and eternally now of all of creation?

“The foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity.” Alfred North Whitehead

 

Granular time?

Physicists say that matter is granular. Made up of tiny bits. Digital not analogue or seamless. Or so it seems? Though they seem to smash matter into smaller and smaller digital pieces and describe the smallest pieces now with equations imputed from shadows of reactions in tiny amounts of time. There is a unit measure of space – named after Max Planck – below which as Heisenberg has proved – we cannot see or measure. I wonder whether matter might be a little bit slipperier than physicists would have it? Is it possible, just maybe, that it is their search for certainty that is trying to fit it into bits?

And time? What about time. Is there then a granular unit of time. After all – as Alfred North Whitehead showed – Reality is a Process. Time is involved, within, each bubble of reality. Where materiality and spirituality are time in different directions applied to the reality-moment – now. But think about it – reality is, as Whitehead has it in the moment NOW. He points out that quantum mechanics implies that matter is a wave and that waves can only exist with time within them. So that he connects reality through time. Through moments of NOW.  But how long is NOW? Is there a reality quotient, a kind of atom of time that defines what is NOW rather than future potential and past material? I have no sense of Whitehead’s kind of maths or philosophy. Indeed I only have a tenuous grasp of his thesis – and most of that through Rupert Sheldrake’s synopsis in his excellent – The Science Delusion.

But even considering the widely read Buddhist inspired book – The Power of Now – leads you to consider surely – How Long Exactly is NOW. Is there a unit of time that is Now?

Just a thought.

 

Momentum and Reality

Reality is bound up with the present. This, according to Zen and as re-expressed by Eckhart Tolle – the Power of Now..

The present, now, is the door to reality and focus on the past and future distracts from the intensity of experience.

But…

How does that square with Alfred North Whitehead’s theory of relativity – where reality is a process and certainly not an instant?

It seems to me that the integration of these two concepts through the interpretation of the present – Now – as momentary rather than instantaneous. By this I mean to include the immediate past and the immediate future into a lengthened and extended instant. I think (though I’m never certain when trying to understand Process and Reality) that this is what Whitehead refers to as prehension.

It seems then that consciousness requires some element of time, that which immediately surrounds the instant in which we exist. It is observation that crystallises out the particular reality which we choose. (Bohr, Born, Schrodinger – the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics). The experience of reality requires the flow of time – to allow the immediate past and future to give context to the instant that is now.

Consciousness can then be described as observation surfing on time, and the fragment of time that surrounds the instant creates the moment in which we exist. Hence – reality as momentum.

Reality as Momentum

Reality is bound up with the present. This, according to Zen and as re-expressed by Eckhart Tolle – the Power of Now..

The present, now, is the door to reality and focus on the past and future distracts from the intensity of experience.

But…

How does that square with Alfred North Whitehead’s theory of relativity – where reality is a process and certainly not an instant?

It seems to me that the integration of these two concepts through the interpretation of the present – Now – as momentary rather than instantaneous. By this I mean to include the immediate past and the immediate future into a lengthened and extended instant. I think (though I’m never certain when trying to understand Process and Reality) that this is what Whitehead refers to as prehension.

It seems then that consciousness requires some element of time, that which immediately surrounds the instant in which we exist. It is observation that crystallises out the particular reality which we choose. (Bohr, Born, Schrodinger – the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics). The experience of reality requires the flow of time – to allow the immediate past and future to give context to the instant that is now.

Consciousness can then be described as observation surfing on time, and the fragment of time that surrounds the instant creates the moment in which we exist. Hence – reality as momentum.

Time as a field?

It appears that the physical world is governed by fields. Mass and energy depend upon them.

Electricity and magnetism, and therefore the cinema, facebook, light, our e-mail traffic and our clean clothes, are underpinned by the electro-magnetic field (James Clerk Maxwell).

Gravity, and therefore mass itself – structure, form, atoms, molecules and things, result from the gravitational field (Newton, Einstein).

Time results in our sense of experience. Without it nothing is. We sense and experience anything and everything NOW (Alfred North Whitehead). It isn’t the past or future – the “late and soon” of Wordsworth’s poem – where we build existence, it is here and now – the present. The experience of NOW is though only possible because of time. I am not a mathematician, but it seems logical to me to think of time as a field which makes possible NOW. In the same way that the gravitational field makes possible MASS, matter.

I am deeply convinced of our joyful and interconnected existence beyond space and time. We are part of “the Word existing beyond time”. I have a sense that we are droplets here, in this material world. We are boundaried as water is within a droplet as opposed to infinitely inter-connected as within an ocean. Boundary brings loneliness (if we let it), but is essential for experience.

Perhaps time is the field within which this transmutation occurs. Gravity has been described as a “field like treacle that sticks down energy as mass”. Is time the equivalent – a field like treacle that allows spirit to be stuck down as experience? As being.

Godel, Escher, Bach

Review of Gödel, Escher, Bach (Golden Eternal Braid) by Douglas Hofstadter.

This is an intellectual tour de force, a sweet confection of themes. Ultimately though it disappoints; he attempts to bind his thematic threads into a tightly structured fugue or rope, but achieves only candyfloss. As the title suggests, the writing pans across mathematics, the arts and music. On the way it takes in logic, philosophy, Zen Buddhism, linguistics and artificial intelligence. Indeed so extensive and brilliant are the references and insights that one suspects a touch of narcissism on the author’s part. He is certainly clever, and as a survey of thought this book is a must-read, however his final conclusions are just plain inconsistent.

One fundamental premise is that our material world is constructed around paradox and infinitely self-referential loops. The “Gödel” of the title is Kurt Gödel, a mathematician who proved that our knowledge must always be incomplete. We can not know all things. But, the link from that “voice” to the Escher and Bach of the title is not clearly formed. Rather these are separate themes which Hofstadter weaves into his “Golden Eternal Braid”, rather than inversions of the same theme which forms a satisfying fugue. The Escher leitmotif – that perception cannot be trusted, is illustrated by the manipulation of self-referential loops. Bach is recruited as a master of fugue, where the theme is woven together in different voices to create a new experience. In other words from individual threads he creates new – emergeant – reality. An epiphenomenon.

Though not appearing in the title, the concepts of Zen Buddhism are woven into the braid – pointing up the essential duality of existence and encouraging us to UN-think as a route to perception and integration. (see Karl Jung).

So in summary, Hofstadter’s braid is shaped from:

Gödel, all knowledge must be incomplete – definitively.
Escher, reality is not what it seems and comprises an infinity of self-referential loops.
Bach, threads are woven to create an epiphenomenon; whose sum is qualitatively different from its parts.

Given these premises he nevertheless concludes “I have no doubt that a totally reductionist.. explanation of the brain exists” (and he equates brain with mind and consciousness).

With all of these fascinating themes, the false logic of this eventual conclusion shocks. His statement is a axiom or belief, but is presented as a theorem (he has this in common with Dawkins and many other materialists). Having established that the great thinkers in different disciplines have all demonstrated a fundamental limit to our ability to know via thinking, he then goes on to state that he has “no doubt” that we will eventually completely understand the mind and consciousness in terms of materialist reductionism.

He would have been wiser to end with these, his own, words:

“By the way, in passing, it is interesting to note that all results essentially dependent on the fusion of subject and object have been limitative results. In addition to the limitative Theorums [eg Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorum], there is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which says that measuring one quantity renders impossible the simultaneous measurement of a related quantity. I don’t know why all these results are limitative. Make of it what you will.”

For a truly penetrating (and consistent) philosophy of the link between mathematics and reality I would urge you to turn to Alfred North Whitehead – Process and Reality.

Materialism reimagined as Spirit

Michelangelo’s unfinished statues “the prisoners” show human form partly finished and emerging from the original blocks of stone. Apparantly they are unfinished, though what a metaphor… the human form was always there within the raw block of stone. Materialists would see the rock and tell us there was nothing more. But in the imagination of a Michelangelo the form was within. Does that make his David any less real than the stone from which it was carved and from which it emerged?

 

The philosophic tradition from Descartes through Spinoza and Leibniz to Alfred North Whitehead describes the duality of all – material and spirit as different aspects of reality. (To be honest I’m wrestling to understand Whitehead so any help here – a synopsis maybe – would be very welcome).

 

This is as described by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his “Phenomenon of Man”. The evolution of material and consciousness hand in hand from the big bang, physical evolution, chemical evolution, biological evolution through to ideas evolution (the noosphere, and yes Dawkins he was first and you simply clothe his ideas in the poverty of the “meme”).

 

And scientific discovery is pointing increasingly to this understanding of existence. Of course materialists have possession of the current paradigm and are managing to suppress these discoveries from the popular media. But paradigms shift, and they do so to reveal a new truth. When that happens will we truly emerge into a common consciousness? Is the emergence of Jung’s collective unconscious to the light of shared understanding what de Chardin means by the “Omega Point”?