The Philosopher's Stone
This book is about a new science of the universe. It reveals a vision in which mind and matter, subjectivity and objectivity are unified into a single whole a in which every cell and atom within our body participates in the same creative process as does the human mind and spirit itself. It argues that the universe is, at every level, endlessly complex and that its subtlety can never be fully exhausted by any theory or system of scientific investigation.
The goal of this book is to transcend the traditional boundaries and distinctions between the material world and that of human experience. It is to explore the deep connection between what could be called the innerness of things and their outerness. It enters into the wholeness of our bodies, thoughts and feelings, and the link between each one of us, our society and the earth itself. And finally this book seeks to reawaken that sense that the whole of nature is alive and that a deep interconnection exists between all things.
The universe is a home for each one of us. Rather than life being an accident thrown out the endless permutations of dead matter, each of us is a living part of a limitless, creative process and, as children of the cosmos, at every instant we face an awesome freedom and responsibility.
But a belief in the endless subtly and wholeness of nature also demands a new ethics. It calls for a radically different way of acting on the part of society. For in seeing ourselves as full participators in the great dance of the world, we will no longer seek to control and exploit nature for our ends. A radical transformation in our way of being is therefore called for, one involving a totally new form of response, a response that will be given the names creative suspension and gentle action.
The Search for Meaning.
Each one of us at some point in our lives has sensed a quickening of experience and that remarkable feeling of intensity which seems to flood the whole world around us with meaning. It may involve a sudden vivid vision of nature, almost as if we were seeing the rocks and trees for the very first time. It may embrace some other person such as a child, spouse or lover. It may emerge out of the focussed intensity of our work or a creative hobby. It may simply flow out of a sense of the very vibrancy of one's body and whole being, or be an intense and gratuitous inner vision.
At the instant of such an epiphany there is a sense that we are touching something universal, so that the particular moment in time takes on a numinous character and seems to expand in time without limit. There is the sense that all boundaries between ourself and the outer world vanish, for what is being experienced lies beyond all categories and all attempts to be captured in logical thought.
Such epiphanies may occur in fleeting moments or they may pervade the whole of a person's life. Whatever their nature they allow us a feeling of hope and an abiding sense that the universe itself has a deep meaning. It is almost as if nature were alive, alive at all levels from the rock to the tree, from the molecule to the star. At such moments we believe that it is indeed possible for one to live harmoniously with the whole earth, to feel united in mind and body and able to relate in a totally satisfying way to everything around us.
A moment of illumination points towards a meaningful universe. Yet science for its part seems to be denying that matter could be imbued with meaning and significance in any objective sense of the words. The material world, we are told, functions according to fixed laws and could never be described as being free. Moreover, every structure is ultimately reducible to something simpler, ultimately to quarks or superstrings. In such an objective, material world there seems to be no room for subjective human values such as meaning, freedom, creativity and significance.
My earlier book Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind dealt with this confrontation between the immediacy of certain human experience and the distancing effect of the various theories and accounts that reason has devised in order to explain the world. The term synchronicity itself was the invention of the psychologist Carl Jung who was interested in the symbols, patterns and experiences that transcend the boundary between matter and mind, between inner experience and exterior objectivity.
Jung pointed out, for example, that a dream can spill out into the everyday world of personal contacts and material events. Sometimes the occurrences and symbols of a dream are mirrored in the external world. A person may have a vivid dream of a disaster, for example, and a day later read the same details in a newspaper, or certain forms seen in a dream may be recognized several days later in a landscape. An internal crisis that catalyses a personal transformation will often be echoed in the life of someone close to us, or in some pattern of external events. It is not unusual for a psychiatrist to heard of light bulbs exploding, knocking on doors or furniture vibrating when a patient reaches a critical part of therapy. In such cases, Jung pointed out, the internal and external, the subjective and objective reflect and inform each other.
In one real life example, a psychologist woke from a particularly distressing dream in which he was involved in a brutal murder. He attempted to analyze this dream, supposing that it referred to some events in his own life and that, somehow, he himself must have been projected into the various characters of the dream. But to his surprize the dream seemed completely remote from him. The following day, however, he received a letter asking him to act as a consultant in a case of forensic psychiatry. The details of the murder, he discovered, were identical to those that had occurred in his dream.
Another example comes from my own personal experience. I had recently made an acquaintance with an artist who showed me a number of paintings, one of which contained a curious pattern in the upper right hand corner. The pattern looked like a "star map" and he explained how it had first come to him during his initial sketches for the painting and had evolved out of a map used by Pacific islanders. He described the process by which the painting reached its final form as a sort of active dreaming, carried out while awake and working.
Some days later I want to a gathering of Indigenous people who were planning a series of canoe voyages around the Pacific Ocean. Part of the motivation for this trip came, it appeared from the vision of an Indigenous Canadian woman which had later been interpreted by a number of elders around the world. This vision was considered to be of enormous significance and consisted, in part, of a map that was remarkably similar to the one I had seen only days earlier. In some way this same map, which had a importance that was uniting and motivating people over half the globe, had also touched and entered into the artistic vision of an English painter living in Canada.
Jung called these connections synchronicities and suggested that they lie outside the normal confines of causality and physical law. These "acausal connections", as Jung called them, are not restricted by time or space and transcend the boundaries between mind and matter. Indeed Jung's collaborator, the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, realized that what was needed to explain them was a unification of physics and psychology, in fact a new science that would explore what he called the objective side of human consciousness and the subjective side of matter.
The implications of Jung's ideas were explored at length in Synchronicity: The Bridge between Matter and Mind and, in its final chapters, the existence of a new science that would be able to embrace the creativity, infinite subtlety and limitlessness of the universe was hinted at. It is the continued unfolding of this new science that is the topic of the present book.
While each one of us has experienced moments of intensity in our lives, it is also true that when these moments of illumination fade we are so often left with a feeling of separation from the world around us. So many people, walking through the streets of a busy city, push their way through an army of strangers and avert their eyes from people begging or sleeping in shop doorways. In a crowded elevator they create a private space around themselves and establish a protective territory in their offices. At times their particular profession may seem to have little meaning, or to be nothing more than an endless race for promotion, status, power and authority. Life for such people has little true meaning or goal.
The whole question of this inauthenticity of human existence in our modern age has been explored by many thinkers and writers, particularly by the group called existentialists. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, for example, discussed what he called the concept of dread and the absurdity of existence. He suggested that the only true freedom that can come in an absurd universe is that which comes from taking a leap into the unknown. For Jean-Paul Sartre the prospect was bleaker. Antione Roquetin, the central character in his novel "La Nausee" (Nausea), is distanced from all experience and overwhelmed by a violent feeling of disgust at the meaninglessness of existence. For Sartre the material world, "being in itself" (l'en soi), is "without reason for being, without any relation to another being, being-in itself is gratuitous for all eternity".
There is no point in seeking value or ethics within such a world, Sartre is saying, for we live in an meaningless universe. Yet, for both Sartre and Kierkegaard, there is still the possibility of freedom that comes through an acceptance of the absurdity of life. Indeed, it is possible to find courage and even a certain pride in facing an empty existence, for the meaning of life can then come only though one's free actions and decisions.
A more recent popular statement of this position can be found in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors. In this film the central character is driven to instigate a murder in order to hold his family and comfortable life together. Yet following the crime he experiences a torment of guilt which is symbolized by his new found belief in the ever present eye of an all seeing God. The character is struck with the realization that he lives in a moral and meaningful universe, one in which values exist and whose absolute law he has transgressed.
One morning, however, several months later, he wakes to find that his guilt has totally vanished along with it his belief in ever watchful God and an absolute moral law. In releasing himself from guilt he also rejects all pretense to meaning in the universe.
Woody Allen's feeling about the human condition is that is no comfort can be found outside human relationships and the freedom to act and make decisions. Clearly such an attitude would reject synchronicity as being a meaningless illusion and reduce epiphanies to nothing more than striking interior experiences that can claim to have no validity outside themselves.
But the danger in such an attitude is that it can lead to the distancing of a person from the whole of nature, and create values and attitudes that become centered within the individual alone, or in some abstract vision of society. In the existentialist position there can be no sense of participating within a much wider web of life, or of being a part of some much greater whole.
In its extreme form, therefore, this sense of separation spreads its dark depression over everything. Even one's own body eventually becomes silent. Are these my hands, one asks, staring at the fingers, turning them over and looking into the palms? Are these my hands, or do they belong to some alien other? Are these my hands touching my body, my thighs, my stomach, my face? And whose is this face that meets the world each morning? Could it be the same face that laughed and cried in childhood? Or is it a mask to hide behind? What face do I belong too? What body owns that face?
The body is remote. It is fed; it is washed and clothed; it becomes ill and registers pain. The body is a foreign object that can be ignored until it fails or breaks down. This distancing from one's body and all its feelings, sensations and experiences, spreads out until it encompasses the world of family and friends, natural surroundings, the planet itself and even the whole cosmos. This sense of separation spreads through everything our society creates, its policies, attitudes, movements, reactions, legislations, projections, organizations, institutions, businesses and governments.
It of key importance to realize that taking about synchronicity, or meaning in the universe, is not a mere academic enquiry, for it vitally effects the lives of each one of us and, indeed, the survival of the planet. If we truly feel ourselves to be a part of a meaningful nature, and if there is indeed a connection between the worlds of inner experience and external events, then we will think and act in totally different ways. But what hope can there be for us if we believe that the universe has no intrinsic meaning and all that exists is nothing more than inanimate matter following the directives of impersonal laws?
This book is a journey into the heart of what I believe is a living universe. Its vision of meaning and connection requires a new science of wholeness and creativity. So let us begin this journey and, as with all journeys, arm ourselves with maps to help us orient ourselves and discover our way.
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