..from infinity, and beyond

As we enter the world we are infinite. We have no boundary. We are also zero. At three months, or so, we begin to distinguish that there is an “other” – the breast as part object. By 6 months old the boundary between us and the other (usually mother) is clear; and often frightening. Warmth, food, security and affection can be withdrawn as well as present. Our world is strait, though we do not know it. As we age and explore we push the boundary back; and back. If we are fortunate, and conquer our fear, we realise once more that there is no boundary. We are existence and all of existence is us. Death is an illusion. When we leave the world we can then fade to white and lose the loneliness and fear that haunts life, to experience all that is directly once more.

Materialists, their eye on the rear view mirror

I hear that as many images have been captured in the past 3 months, as have been taken in the history of humanity to-date (paintings, drawings, films, photos etc).

There are also increasing numbers of people missing whole longed-for events because they are bound up with capturing them on their mobile phones. Unlike our grandparents we have a constant record of our past. It is re-presented to us on Facebook and by friends and family alike.

What effect is the fixing of our image having on our psyche and soul?

(It’s not a rhetorical question).

What was the life of our senses like maybe 100 years ago, and indeed for all of the development of our species until that point?

Our world would have been smelly. We each have our pheromones and scent, which are now covered, deodorised and washed away. Then, there would have been a rich scent-scape. Smell is a sense that is strongly associated with emotion. The nerves in the nose are a direct extension of the brain and feed in to the limbic system, our emotional brain. That’s why particular smells evoke such vivid memories and sensations. We now live in a relatively odour-free environment (a non-scence world?) and what smell there is from bottles rather than bodies. What difference does that make to our development?

Our world would also have been full of natural noise, and probably less of it. Birdsong, people arguing, the clip clop of horses in the street, the sound of wind in trees. (Oh yes, and sounds of pain and anguish from the diseased and dying).

Then of course, we lived hugger-mugger and would (I think?) have been constantly in- touching – literally rather than “by phone, “by text” etc…

..and our visual sense would have been present and alive rather than past and fixed. We would, I think, have perceived ourselves through the eyes of others rather than through mirrors and photos. Yes, we aged, but without the constant record and reminder of it.

A many We would, in short have been much more fully present. Here, now, alive, available to each other human to human. We would not have been waiting for the e-mail, the text, and the call. We would not have had some part of our mind in another place or another time.

We’re increasingly going backward into the future, with our eyes fixed on the rear view mirror, rather than on the road ahead or with the passengers in the car with us.

Which fixes us as materialists. The material, physical world is always in the past. Literally (see Whitehead, Process and Reality). It does not exists in the present, but is crystallised out by our free will from the stuff and limitless potential that is the future. As quantum physicists have shown again and again – everything is potential until observed. It is the act of observation that crystallises out the particular phsyical world – and by then its already in the past. As our ancestors put it, we are the sisters of Wyrd, spinning fate at the foot of the Tree Ygrdrassl.

The past, the material, is dead and done. Let’s live in the present, with each other, and look to the future.

Golden Braid

Furbelows and curlicues

Flow tow below bellow follow glow

Hassock haired carded tows to rope gripped snake charming up to the pipe yet unremembered

Undoing unthreaded

Weft bereft

Grip strip and magnify until chrysalis burst

out to new dimensions

(We are the process of weaving existence together)

Duality, Love and Evolution

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.”

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.

Mystical Ellipticism

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.

And yet..

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.

The dictatorship of sight

I hear that as many images have been captured in the past 6 months, as have been taken in the history of humanity to-date (paintings, drawings, films, photos etc).

There are also increasing numbers of people missing whole longed-for events because they are bound up with capturing them on their mobile phones. Unlike our grandparents we have a constant record of our past. It is re-presented to us on Facebook and by friends and family alike.

What effect is the fixing of our image having on our psyche and soul?

(It’s not a rhetorical question).

What was the life of our senses like maybe 100 years ago, and indeed for all of the development of our species until that point?

Our world would have been smelly. We each have our pheromones and scent, which are now covered, deodorised and washed away. Then, there would have been a rich scent-scape. Smell is a sense that is strongly associated with emotion. The nerves in the nose are a direct extension of the brain and feed in to the limbic system, our emotional brain. That’s why particular smells evoke such vivid memories and sensations. We now live in a relatively odour-free environment (a non-scence world?) and what smell there is from bottles rather than bodies. What difference does that make to our development?

Our world would also have been full of natural noise, and probably less of it. Birdsong, people arguing, the clip clop of horses in the street, the sound of wind in trees. (Oh yes, and sounds of pain and anguish from the diseased and dying).

Then of course, we lived hugger-mugger and would (I think?) have been constantly in- touching – literally rather than “by phone, “by text” etc…

..and our visual sense would have been present and alive rather than past and fixed. We would, I think, have perceived ourselves through the eyes of others rather than through mirrors and photos. Yes, we aged, but without the constant record and reminder of it.

We would, in short have been much more fully present. Here, now, alive, available to each other human to human. We would not have been waiting for the e-mail, the text, and the call. We would not have had some part of our mind in another place or another time.

We’re increasingly going backward into the future, with our eyes fixed on the rear view mirror, rather than on the road ahead or with the passengers in the car with us.

Which fixes us as materialists. The material, physical world is always in the past. Literally (see Whitehead, Process and Reality). It does not exists in the present, but is crystallised out by our free will from the stuff and limitless potential that is the future. As quantum physicists have shown again and again – everything is potential until observed. It is the act of observation that crystallises out the particular phsyical world – and by then its already in the past. As our ancestors put it, we are the sisters of Wyrd, spinning fate at the foot of the Tree Ygrdrassl.

The past, the material, is dead and done. Let’s live in the present, with each other, and look to the future.

Depression. Real or immaterial?

Quote

The BBC ran a piece recently about depression (All in the Mind: Radio 4). Researchers have found that when depressed people find it almost impossible to call to mind any positive memories. They selectively remember dark events only. Even when specifically reminded about real happiness, depressed people recall this in monochrome and in distance, rather than the glorious technicolour happy memories of upbeat people. Which, though is cause and which effect? Who wouldn’t be chained to a black dog if their whole memory landscape was dark, fearful and painful?

I connect this with a piece from Whitehead’s Process and Reality. Working out of quantum physics and relativity he shows that “reality” is in fact a process, of becoming and not the “material” so beloved of atheists. He argues for a philosophy of organism where reality is eternally spun in the present out of crystallised past memories using the stuff of limitless potential that is the uncrystallised future. (Shocking paraphrase of course). In any event in his model, the fundamental atom of reality is an “actual entity” or “actual occasion” which inherits only a selective part of the past, and in that selection alters the path of the future, a process he calls “concrescence” ( the process of making concrete).

Is it in the selection of memory (or feelings as Whitehead describes it) that lies the mechanism of free will?

In any event, how sensible it seems that selective negative memories create depression – a state in which we can only remember negative experience. A seemingly unbreakable loop. Conversely, remembering joy, leads to joy and creates joyfulness. Perhaps a parent’s real job is simply to fix their child in a happy positively reinforcing mental rut? However, in absence of a childhood filled with love, what then? Well, according to theBBC, the researchers have found techniques that work to jolt people into remembering light rather than dark events, and that in turn works to set a new upward path. In all compassion for those of us who he been in the prison of depression- let’s keep reminding each other of all that’s good, loving and hopeful…

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.