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.

What is evil?

What is evil?

The anti-thesis of good. Ah, but what is good? In fact are these useful constructs at all, or simply perceived positive and negative outcomes of random events?

Is it reasonable to equate good with happiness and evil with unhappiness? If so, where does happiness lie?

It is politically (but not scientifically) correct to assume a materialistic existence built on a series of microscopic random events unfolding in intransitive time. Therein lies the evil that we must embrace. In other words we focus on and believe in, like Thomas, only on what we see. We do that at least partially because we fear there is no meaning below or beyond what our sensory organs are capable of registering.

Surely one of the great lessons of the exploration of mind started by Sigmund Freud is that the more you avoid a fear, or abyss, the unhealthier you become. All of the mechanisms of dealing with unconscious pain (projection, avoidance, repression etc) simply lead at best to neurosis, at worst to psychosis.

It seems to me that the fundamental issue that haunts each of us is insecurity. That is the symptom of existential angst. How, then, to deal with that?

And it’s worth addressing.

The more secure a person is, the more creative, compassionate, generous, and capable of joy they be. Security leads to happiness and connection.(Happiness being life lived in the expectation of joy).

Conversely when we feel insecure we experience withdrawal. We become self-centred, and disconnected. Our horizons contract to a narrow unhappy world devoid of meaning. (Unhappiness broadly equating with isolation).

The thesis is then, that good is expressed through happiness and that lies in our interconnectedness. We feel able to reach out when we are secure. Conversely insecurity leads to withdrawal and unhappiness, which is nominated – evil.

Are we right to feel insecure? Are we simply minds floating on an ocean of random events and therefore at their mercy?

What does science have to say? Experiments on matter at the most microscopic levels shows that pre-existence is an infinite series of possibilities, potential – until observed. It is the act of observation that, in effect, crystallises out this particular existence that we experience from the cloud of possibilities. That raises the issue of observation. What is it? Surely there must be an “observer” to create our particular reality. Sure enough, what our species is really really good at is just that – observation, whether through science or the arts. We each of us spend our life in observation (or as some would call it – witness, some accumulation of knowledge). Interestingly our gathering of knowledge is escalating in a geometric progression. (Are we approaching Teilhard de Chardin’s “Omega Point”? Is that the Mayan meaning to the end of time?)

It appears to me that our real individual human purpose is to be just this – engines of observation – crystallising existence from potential. (Or as our ancestors put it – we are three sisters of wyrd sitting at the foot of Ygaddrsil, the tree of life, spinning fate). That puts the onus on us collectively. We, the creators of life and goodness.

So if good and evil are the outcomes of our individual witness then what are God and the Devil?

I believe, and in my experience only, that God is expressed in the space between us, in the connection between all things. It is the smile shared between strangers that briefly connects and illuminates us. There have been those who with great discipline, have been able to sense directly the mass of loving connections underlying all things. Most of us however “see through a glass darkly”, it is in only in small moments and in our intimate circle – family, friends, community, even our pets – that we touch and feel the common good. Put another way, God is an emergent property of our connections each to each, and we feel that larger love in the individual links and bonds between us.

The Devil, then is absence of good – the opposite of shared experience. Our de-mergent selves.

There is also some evidence in science, not only that existence is cystallised by observation, but also that this can run backward in time, with reverse causality. Belief or knowledge of an outcome can cause – at least at the level of the electron/photon – history to be reshaped to create the experienced outcome.

So then, perhaps God – the personalisation of the emergent property of our observation and connections to each other – lies in our future. God is what we create together in the future, and this future God intervenes where necessary to ensure that the path of existence-formation will lead to him/her/it/us. (God, the word existing beyond time…)

Was this through the lives of Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha?

Does that not change our world view? Good and evil as made by us. A secure future, which is God beyond the Omega Point. Let us accept that good and evil do exist, as outcomes of our collective path through life. When we embrace our joint task – to work for good effect around us. In that way our eyes open to our divine purpose. We no longer need to live with our eyes tight closed against the fear that we are floating on a sea of random meaninglessness. Face up to existential angst and it disappears. As the psychological defence mechanisms fall away – we’re left with the revelation of love behind all things and experienced in our connection, in the Ich-Du of Martin Buber.

It is by embracing evil that we puncture it and experience joy.