Consciousness, the rose and the fire


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 Eliot

Any static theory of consciousness feels incomplete. Reality is much closer to a process than a material. Whitehead’s “Process and Reality”, is impenetrable, but so much is clear. Consciousness, our awareness of self and the universe, is transitory, fleeting for most of us. This is to be expected if reality is the intersection of process and the material. It takes intense meditation and study to be able to hold oneself within the stream of the process that is reality as it pours through us. (I am told).

To quote Max Tegmark (New Scientist “Solid, Liquid, Consciousness”) “consciousness is a process that can occur in certain physical systems”. Whilst he invents new language (consciousness is for instance renamed as perceptronium) – it’s an old truth restated. As old, or older than zen. The mathematics are apparently called “Integrated Information Theory” or IIT for short. The system conditions necessary are interesting involving a fluctuation dynamic balance between various factors – system integration and internal separation for instance.

Reality may in fact be the same thing as consciousness (since observation crystallises out particular reality from the infinity of potential). In any case both are a process within a material setting. Matter doesn’t exist without the process of observation and the process can’t flow unless it is materialised. Just as gravitons need material to interact with to create weight. Matter matters – like the zip travelling through time, along the zipper. In this metaphor, what is reality? The changing space that the opening zipper reveals?

And what of the observer phenomenon? After 100 years of quantum investigation there is still no explanation of who or what the “observer” is. In the quantum world at least the observer certainly affects the observed – crystallising out one particular reality from the infinity possibilities that exist. Tegmark states “recent papers have argued that the observer is the key to understanding other fundamental physics mysteries, such as why our universe appears so orderly, why time seems to have a preferred forward direction, and even why time appears to flow at all”.

But is this not what we, each of us are? Fundamentally we observe. For me at least, the words observer and soul are interchangeable – as are the words observation and witness. As Teilhard de Chardin puts it – together we are the phenomenon of man and through us “the universe becomes aware of itself for the first time”. And Teilhard de Chardin also makes the powerful case that consciousness must have been a property of matter from the outset (his inner and outer), and that evolution has led along the path to emergent self-awareness and will eventually lead to (re)unification with God’s love at the Omega Point – when individual units of consciousness, our separate selves – unify and merge.

It seems to me that the separate strands of enquiry – scientific, spiritual and philosophical – are converging or possibly a better description is co-emerging; and toward a knowledge of the presence of God’s love. A rose is a rose by whatever name – love, connection, truth, God.

The Power of Will

Faith moves mountains. Positive thinking really works. The thought is father of the deed. I believe this. It has been my experience. Positive intent, creates the desired result. (Though willing is different from wishing). It almost appears as if the universe conspires with sudden co-incidences that arrange for the willed event to materialise.

Will is potent.

Indeed we should take great care with our thinking – because what is willed out of hatred or fear also comes to pass. Be careful what you wish for, not just what appears on the surface – but the undercurrents that motivate.

We should live pretentiously. That is, to pretend already to have achieved one’s aspiration – and simply let reality catch up. Someone once told me that the Lord’s Prayer is a supreme act of pretension. Our Father….

And of course, the mechanics of this are mapped out by quantum physicists as well as by those in touch with the reality behind this dream that is life – Buddha, Christ…

Observation creates reality, and that materialised reality bounds us; the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that we, as observers, crystallise out one particular reality from infinite – unbounded – potential. (Quantum physics also points up an explanation, I believe of the mechanics of free will, evil and evolution.)

So of course it is our observation, our witness, our intention – our will – that materialises the world – physically. This is in addition to the attractive effect of intention, where others are pulled toward the story that your will weaves.

Will is potent.

You don’t have to be Christian to want that will to be a good one. A will that fosters love, community, connection. For me though, since Christ lights my path (though Christ is Christ by whatever name) I would call that God’s Will. Let it be done.

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.


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.