Metamorphosis. Water becomes ice, caterpillars pupate, emerging into butterflies. We journey together in a co-evolving emergence from one state to quite another. Ancient creatures become rock, or oil or shale gas. All it takes is time – a healer, but also a wheeler-dealer. Yet; mostly we think of the material world as static and secure. How strange. We manage that by focussing on shorter and smaller time segments. Thus we can ignore the riverine flow of rocks, the evolution from raw plasma to chemicals to biology to ideas. Why? Fear, I suspect, is to blame. The terror, the existential angst that is located in our ego – which of course is definitely going down with these particular bodies that we temporarily inhabit. Why do we let our ego rule over us, when – just here, just now, in the reflection of the pool of the universe is our real deathless self. Rupert Brookes “.. and think this heart, all evil shed away – a pulse in the eternal mind, no less” There is a collection of molecules called “I”. They change completely every three years or so, but the “I” continues. Isn’t there a clue here? There will come a moment when a particular set of atoms finally disperses amongst billions of creatures. When they are bound by covalent bonds to the molecules that are in you as you become a billion others. Physically we are a constantly exchanging bubbling molecular soup. We’re not separate at all – either from each other or the rest of the physical world. That’s not how we see it though. We are ego-centric. Each of us the pivot around which existence arcs. Like Narcissus, transfixed by inner absorption. But our self-image is just a trick of the light. Look past the surface of the pool with its (reversed) image that we see reflected. There, within the water, is the flow of life which is our home. Humanity has been at the leading edge of the evolution of consciousness. And so we think we are “it”, “all that is”. But consciousness is a wave, a process. Yes we are (now) at the crest of the wave that is consciousness, but we are not, some fixed centre of existence. Not the wave – something much bigger – we are the ocean. Together, we carry all the tides and tsunamis. Constantly flowing and emerging into new realities. Profuse connection and abundant writhing change. The two things we truly know. Where to? Where from? Why? God only knows.
Love the image. Long live Pope Francis !
The media coverage of the Catholic (both the mainstream media and unfortunately many Catholic outlets) is often superficial if not downright inaccurate. Even more recent than the synod has been the reporting of Pope Francis’ remarks supporting evolution this week to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Pope Francis made his speech during a ceremony honoring Pope Benedict XVI for continuing to promote the harmony of science and faith. The remarks made by Pope Francis were consistent with statements made by his predecessors and Catholic theologians.
In other words, there was nothing new, but the media reported it as a significant event. Lazer Berman of The Times of Israel has one of the better articles on the subject. I encourage you to read the entire article here but set forth below is an excerpt:
Francis’s remarks were covered breathlessly in the media, but the coverage has not reflected…
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We think in terms of opposing forces, opposites. Duality flows from the fact of boundary created as we separate from the whole of existence – initially physically at birth, and then psychically in infancy. This schism has been expressed in many ways, often as opposing forces.For instance – good / evil ;life / death; aggressive / erotic ; Me / Not Me ; extrovert / introvert. I believe that the point of duality is in our response to it. There is a fundamental difference in outcome between choice between, and integration of – opposites.
Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein conceived of opposing Life and Death instincts. However surely a “Death” instinct is incompatible with evolution, what purpose is served by a “Death” instinct? More natural is Donald Winnicott’s expression of an Aggressive component, born of opposition and an Erotic component, born of complementarity – the birth of these components arising as an infant realises that there is a Me and a Not-Me. Carl Jung conceived of the struggle to integrate opposing forces. Many of us are familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality typing that arises from Jung with its 4 dimensions – Extrovert-Introvert; Thinking-Feeling; Sensing-Intuition; and Judging-Perceiving. From the dawn of our species we have observed the difference between Light and Dark and described our nature as Good or Evil. Martin Buber gives us the double-dual-whammy of I-Thou way of being “over against” I-It.
“There is, Buber shows, a radical difference between man’s attitude to other men and his attitude to things. The attitude to other men is a relation between persons, to things it is a connexion with objects. ..These two attitudes represent the basic twofold situation of human life, the former constitutes the world of THOU and the latter the world of IT” Ronald Gregor Smith, translator of Ich Und Du
It appears then that fundamental to our reaction to the fact of our existence; woven into the fabric of our way of thinking and being, is duality – expressed as an opposition of forces.
What then is our response? Is it passive as in choice or balance or active – as in process or integration? Admitting polarity in all things – what should be our reaction. Do we choose – for instance between Good or Evil? Should we seek balance between different drives into a kind of dynamic equilibrium – for instance striving to be at the centre point of extroversion and introversion? Is reality in fact a process budding eternally at the very boundary that arises out of duality – life within Winnicott’s Transitional Space or Whitehead’s point of prehension? Or is it there a further truth behind this duality – the point being what arises out of unification of opposites ? After all paraphrasing Beethoven – there cannot be loud without soft, it is in contrast that music arises.
Perhaps its personal taste. If so then, at least for me, integration of duality is our purpose, and one which is unceasing because there is a counterveiling force of differentiation. There is a flow of existence which is driven by splitting and unification, birth and death. Duality is dynamic not static and the fundamental creative contrast is actually that of differentiation and integration. Freud’s Life/Death instincts replaced by Integration/Differentiation forces. This isn’t an original thought, and it’s not mine. It is inherent in the world-view of eastern tradition (Yin-Yang etc) and possibly our western ancestors (see Wisdom of the Wyrd, Brian Bates). It was one of Carl Jung’s fundamental insights – “Much of Carl Jung’s writings are linked by the theme that mental illness is characterized by disunity of the personality, whilst mental health is manifested by unity” (Jung: Selected Writings, Anthony Storr).
If then we conceive of a schism-powered flow, what is the destination and what is the fundamental motive impulse? Well there you have Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the fundamental duality being spirit and material – an inner and outer. For him underlying existence is the force of Love, which powers evolution. An evolution conceived as complexification through spheres of the physical, chemical, biological to that of ideas – until we become conscious of God that is Love that is all. “There is a duality of material and spiritual, which he calls the “without” and “within”. He traces the development of the “within”, an evolution of consciousness. He names man as a stage in that process associated with the phase-shift from the evolution of biology to the evolution of ideas”.
In Teilhard de Chardin’s words:
“If there were no internal propensity to unite, even at a prodigiously rudimentary level — indeed in the molecule itself — it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, with us, in hominized form. . . . Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.”
This week’s issue of the New Scientist features an article by Max Tegmark – “Solid, Liquid, Gas, You” – which is an exposition of his article (see previous post) in Cornell University Press. Essentially it posits consciousness as a different state of matter, in the same way that solid/liquid/gas are different phases. There appears to be some evidence for this. The argument is that as matter complexifies in certain circumstances consciousness arises as an “emergent property” (see God as an emergent property).
This is a mechanical version of Teilhard de Chardin’s hypothesis – that consciousness has always been within matter and inherent in it, and that evolution is the story of phase shifts toward an awareness or consciousness of the glory and love of God. Put another way – what would you call the system where in an emergent reality the whole universe were self-aware, conscious.
What Tegmark calls “Perceptronium”, de Chardin would call the love that is God.
Physics has found a different state of matter – “perceptronium” – that is conscious. This resonates with Tielhard de Chardin’s postulate that all matter is and has always been conscious from the outset, and which is coalescing as evolution moves from the physical through chemical and biological to the evolution of ideas – the noosphere.
And it is observation which causes the infinity of potential to crystallise out into the concrete actual. (The collapse of schrodinger’s wave function – thereby forcing the choice between the alive and dead cat).
Who observes? What observes? Is it consciousncess. In any event since the observer causes the collapse or crystallisation it/he/she seems to exercise free will.
And for those who dispute the collapse of the wavefunction – the only way out is to create infinitely splitting universes (Everett’s theory). And this comes to the same thing in relation to free will. It is only that we get to choose which universe we are conscious in. In that case our observation is effectively the point of choice between different splitting universes.
It comes to the same thing surely? Consciousness is. It just is. Something observes and either creates the actually experienced world through waves function collapse or steers into particular universes by choices at each potential universe fracture.
Consciousness and free will appear then to be related and pertain to the creation of reality. And what is the wellspring of consciousness?
(Thanks to firstname.lastname@example.org for putting me on to Max Tegmark’s series of articles at Cornell University Press. Am I talking drivel??)
Why are all the great thinkers difficult to understand, at least with our mind? Perhaps because reality is so difficult for us to perceive – as through a glass darkly. That wouldn’t be surprising I guess. Our brain is evolved to help our bodies survive in jungles. We don’t see polarised light as bees do. The point is – it’s not some kind of perfect instrument designed to understand the outer reaches and meaning of creation. Neither does it have complete sensory input.
At least for me, those who have most changed my life all point to reality in relation. That is to say – reality existing in the magnetism between two points. As opposed to reality in the points themselves,
Carl Jung, for instance, in his search for integration between opposites “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed”. Martin Buber sets out his form of existentialism entirely against a backdrop of relationship – his “philosophy of dialogue” with it’s primary words I-Thou and I-It. Teilhard de Chardin saw the process of evolution (powered by love) toward a shared consciousness. Alfred North Whitehead saw the whole of reality as process.
All of these elliptical thinkers seem to expose facets of the same underlying truth. It’s connection that matters, not matter that connects.
For the Dawkins of this world it’s so simple. Matter. Of Fact. Simple(s). Nothing there but things. Science, thought and our brains have solutions. Death comes and there is nothing beyond. Love, kindness, a shared smile – all just twitchings of the material – set in the one-way street of time.(It’s not what science shows, but there you are .. better read Rupert Sheldrake on the subject.)
The writings of Buddha, the parables of Christ, the music of Bach. Complex – difficult. Mystical. Elliptical.