Social media imprisons us on the island of I-It

“No man is an island” John Donne. But social media is trying to keep us there. The communion between each of us, real warm messy and vital – has always been the anodyne to our loneliness and insecurity. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. They give the illusion of connection, but not the substance; and they are in it for their profit. Money puts up these barriers, and we follow.

“The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being” Martin Buber. The difference between the isolation of the material existence and the vibrant human living in community is beautifully expressed by the jewish existentialist Martin Buber. He describes the two modes of man’s existence as I-It and I-Thou. If we interact with the world and people as material (It), then our I – our self – is material too. We imprison ourself on an island. If we acknowledge the other as Thou, then we are connected in a true sense. We each are transformed in our communion.

Consider. In the United States children talk to their friends in their break via their mobile phone – with so-called “social” media. Even though their friend may be sitting next to them. In Japan almost half of younger men and women prefer on-line sex and will not contemplate the “horrid” actuality of love-making. Face to face. Human.

Direct interaction is certainly messy and can be frightening. But it’s where joy flies leaping. When communion is real and vital, then we are each present to the other. It is the human condition to be insecure and lonely – inside and apart. We each live on our island with our inadequacy. Life and meaning is in the flow and community between us.

“The development of the function of experiencing and using comes about mostly through decrease of man’s power to enter into relation. How does this same man, who made spirit into a means of enjoyment for himself, behave towards the beings that live round about him?

Taking his stand in the shelter of the primary word of separation, which holds off the I and the It from one another, he has divided his life with his fellow-men into two tidily circled-off provinces, one of institutions and the other of feelings – the province of IT and the province of I.

Institutions are “outside”, where all sorts of aims are pursued, where a man works, negotiates, bears influence, undertakes, concurs, organises, conducts business, officiates, preaches. They are the tolerably well-ordered and to some extent harmonious structure, in which, with the manifold help of men’s brains and hands the process of affairs is fulfilled.

Feelings are “within”, where life is lived and man recovers from institutions. Here the spectrum of the emotions dances before the interested glance. Here a man’s liking and hate and pleasure are indulged, and his pain if it is not too severe…But the separated It of institutions is an animated clod without soul, and the separated I of feelings an uneasily fluttering soul-bird. Neither of them knows man; institutions know only the specimen, feelings only the “object”; neither knows the person or mutual life. Neither of them knows the present: even the most up-to-date institutions know only the lifeless past that is over and done with, and even the most lasting feelings know only the flitting moment that has not yet come properly into being. Neither of them has access to real life.”

“There is no I taken in itself, but only the I of the primary word I-Thou and the I of the primary word I-It. When a man says I, he refers to one or other of these. .. The primary word I-thou can only be spoken with the whole being. The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.” Martin Buber, Ich und Du

Society and Leadership

Wilfred Bion believed that societies operate according to one of three basic assumptions. These are – dependent – broadly where society looks to a leader to depend upon; flight- flight – where there is a perceived external threat where the leader galvanises and curdles (my word) society; and the pairing group – where there are two leaders (archetypal parents). In this latter group system there is a hopeful expectation because the true leader, the future leader, is yet to be born. Bion termed this the messianic idea.

Bion observed that we are each as humans essentially social animals. We have these group structural tendencies within us, even before we are operating within a group.

“Our individual psychic make-up is intimately related to others, both the tendency to form constructively working groups and the potential for forming any of the basic assumption mental states when in a physical group setting with others”.

Societies do seem to me, practically to group as Bion suggests. It also seems to me that there is a tendency for dependent societies to flip to fight-flight and back, and that pairing groups emerge only after a period of stability. A quick personal review:

Russia (now) – under Putin. Dependent, but he introduces external enemies because he is failing to provide (the basic function of a dependent leader) – therefore moving toward fight-flight. This is also reflected across many middle-eastern countries, the difference being the “religious” archetype that their leaders draw upon, introducing a twisted and unreconstructed medieval view of Islam to create an enemy (all of the rest of the world). In Britain I would suggest we had a dependent/fight-fight society right through to Margaret Thatcher, but that this moved with Blair-Brown and now Cameron-Clegg toward a pairing group society. (Who will the future Messiah be for British politics, we sure are looking for one!). The USA was perhaps set up in the first place as a pairing group society (checks and balances!). It’s why it doesn’t (it seems to me) work so well when either the Democrats or Republicans have ALL the levers of power – Senate, President, Supreme Court, Congress – and why this happens so seldom. The leaders in Scotland, most recently of course attempted to carve out a new fiefdom by drawing on the dependent and fight-flight models. We are now moving back to a pairing group structure between Salmond-Sturgeon – which reflects the reality of the fundamental pairing group of Scotland-England. (Salmond as a UK MP, Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland).

Foundational to Bion’s view is that humans are interdependent, part of one-whole.

The chapter on Bion’s study of groups in Symington’s review of Bion’s work has a quote from Vladimir Soloviev (Russian 19th century Christian mystic and philosopher), which sums up this basic tenet.

“The self-deception in virtue of which a human individual regards himself as real in his separateness from all things, and presupposes this fictitious isolation to be the true ground and only starting-point for all his relations – this self-deception of abstract subjectivisim plays terrible havoc not only in the domain of metaphysics – which, indeed, it abolishes altogether – but also in the domain of the moral and political life”.

Soloviev, though, goes much further, and prefigures Teilhard de Chardin with his observation that all is connected and interdependent, all part of one.

The abyss of the spiritual the real person

So much wisdom within the Russian Orthodox  and mystical tradition..

“The serpent of evil creeps along beside one so long as one confines oneself to the world of phenomena alone. However as soon as one lifts oneself and enters the spiritual world, one lifts the serpent along as well, thus changing its nature, and the serpent then becomes one’s divinely-sent helper”. Grigori Skovoroda

“Beside the sea a green oak stands/A golden chain upon it – /By day and night a learned cat/Walks round the tree, bound by the golden chain./When he goes to the right, he begins a song/When goes to the left, he tells a fairy tale”. Alexander Pushkin

“Although to distant shores beyond/By chains unseen we all are bound/ Even in fetters we must fulfil/ The round the gods have drawn/ Within themselves, as by a higher Will/ All things create yet other wills/ Beneath the mask of matter calm/ The fire divine burns on and on”. Vladimir Soloviev

“The most important organ of a person is the heart, note the physical but the spiritual heart. The abyss of the spiritual heart encompasses and includes everything. It is the ruler of everything in the human being, it is the real person”. Grigori Skovoroda


“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


The Love that Reassembles the Fragments

“All manner of thing shall be well/When the tongues of flame are in-folded/Into the crowned knot of fire/And the fire and the rose are one” TS Elliot

I think that Elliot was pointing to a fundamental symmetry between the material (fire) and spiritual (rose) world. We have to think outside physics to find the answer to the apparent material asymmetry introduced by the dimension of time.

Time is the only thing that we know that is not symmetrical. We can travel backward and forward through space, but only forward in time. This flows from the second law of thermodynamics, where disorder (entropy, chaos), always increases. That in turn flows from the initial conditions of the Universe, which was highly organised.

There must, I believe, actually be a symmetrical partner to time. If you like – something that is running backward, creating order from disorder, which matches and balances the movement toward chaos that we observe in the material Universe.

Everything in the world is dual. Without boundary we could not know existence. Boundary defines by breaking one into two. Forces balance, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When singular differentiates into dual (when one becomes two) it creates symmetry. Everything is symmetrical, and in a state either of differentiation or integration, separation or unification. This appears to me to be a fundamental truth – equally so in psychology (see all the writings of Carl Jung) and physics. Except for time. Time is different. It’s asymmetrical. It flows only forward. There is an arrow of time.

Why is that? After all – ever since Einstein’s special and general relativity was proved, we know that time is only the fourth dimension of space-time. We should in theory be able to travel forward and back in time, just as we can in space. But we can’t and don’t. We are all travelling forward at the speed of light through space-time. (Which is why there is time-dilation. If we travel rapidly through space, we use up some of the time component of that speed and therefore we travel more slowly through time). Since we’re in motion in space-time and with a direction – forward– we have momentum. Our momentum in time is simply mass multiplied by the speed of light. mc (massxspeed of light). We also know that E=mc2 (energy is mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light). That means that “we can consider energy to be momentum in the time direction” (Andrew Thomas). In turn that implies that it is the existence of time (and a time direction) that creates energy – and therefore mass and the material world.

Haven’t we heard this all before, but in a different language – long before the discoveries of physics. “Let there be light” – spoken by God, the word existing beyond time . Doesn’t this translate into – let there be a universal speed of light (168,000 miles/second) and time. From this energy and mass flows, and therefore the material Universe.

I believe that the flow of time in the material world – creating disorder from order, is matched by a flow in the spiritual world, where order is being created from disorder. I also believe that this creation of order can be observed in the evolution of consciousness. Ideas are not material. I believe, with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, that at some point (his Omega point) we will evolve to a Universal consciousness of God. I believe that God, existing beyond time, is made manifest in this material Universe by Christ; and that manifestation is perfect Love.

That, I believe, is the answer to the apparent time asymmetry. Spirit is the symmetrical partner of Energy (=matter). This makes sense for me of that great Christian poet – TS Elliot’s final lines from The Four Quartets. The fire is the material world (energy) and the rose the spiritual (love) and it is in their integration through the loving unifying sacrifice of Christ through (the crowned knot of fire), that all manner of things shall be well.

Or perhaps more simply – as Derek Walcott puts it:

“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than the love that took its symmetry for granted when it was whole”.

Plato’s Cave and Holographic Projection

Juan Maldacena published a paper in 1997 in which he showed that you could consider the Universe to be a form of holographic projection. (Apparantly – I’ve only read about it – he’s a string theorist so by definition almost incomprehensible). This seems to tie in to the principle of the holographic bound. In the 1970’s it was shown that the amount of information in any space was proportional its area, not its volume. Weird, since space is not two-dimensional. A theory evolved to explain this – that the Universe is actually a holographic projection from the outside and only appears three dimensional here, within it. It was Jakob Bekenstein who came up with that, and implied that the Universe we experience is actually the inside of a black hole in the larger Universe.

So, if that’s true then reality that we perceive as material and final is more like the shadows dancing on the wall of Plato’s Cave. In his Allegory of the Cave he postulated that what we perceive is only the shadow on a cave wall of the “ideal” reality beyond and outside. According to Maldacena and Bekenstein- what we perceive as 4 dimensional space-time is actually a holograph inside a black hole of what is outside and beyond.

” According to the allegory, man’s condition is one of bondage to perceptions. When man is chained up with only a fire behind him, he perceives the world by watching shadows on the wall. He does not realize that there is more to be seen or known, and as such leads a largely passive, disinterested life. So long as his basic needs are met, he does not ask questions. Many believe that this is a statement about people who do not overtly seek knowledge or truth, but rather accept what they are told or what they can immediately experience.”, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.



… that the universe is really one and that we and everything in it is connected, a part of the same thing – and so a part of each other. The loneliness and insecurity that is the subtext of all of our living would be illusory. So, indeed would be death. We would be all, part of each other. The making love, the smile shared with a stranger, the sense of one-ness within a brilliant landscape, the tenderness and awe holding your baby… all intimations and pale imitations of what existence would be. If we removed our blinkers. And, this is what scientific discovery points toward. So indeed does our brother, Jesus. What did he actually say? Love thy neighbour (as thyself), by the fruits shall ye know them, forgive over and over and over again (70×7), rich men shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Christ would have been, in our modern world, a revolutionary – but not a divider of people against people. He would have been, and is, the true blueprint of a socialist radical.

Imagine, if the universe is really one and that we and everything in it is connected, a part of the same thing – and so a part of each other. After all its what the science points toward.