Consciousness Perspectives Forum
As of 2022, the online London Group will continue under the name Consciousness Perspectives Forum.
Dr. MARIO BEAUREGARD spoke to us from his home in Saint Donat in Canada on a subject which is very close to his heart. He is a pioneer in the scientific community in promoting a postmaterialist scientific paradigm and is one of the founders of the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences (AAPS). He is a neuroscientist, author of more than 100 publications in neuroscience, psychology, and psychiatry. Because of his research into the neuroscience of consciousness, he was selected (2000) by the World Media Net to be one of the “One Hundred Pioneers of the 21st Century.” He has also published two books, The Spiritual Brain (Harper Collins, 2007) and Brain Wars (Harper Collins, 2012)
The current scientific assumptions of materialism come from pre-Socratic philosophers, and these dictate that the university is impersonal machine devoid of goals or purpose. Everything can be explained in terms of collections of material particles and fields. The world works like a machine, and we can study and understand it by reducing complex systems to their basic components. This is called reductionism. We, as humans, are consequently nothing but biophysical machines, our consciousness is extinguished with the death of the physical body. Scientific materialism is an ideology which has distorted and impoverished our self-understanding and our place in nature. However, Mario stressed, science is in no way synonymous with materialism. Science as understood in a fundamental way is non-dogmatic, It is an open-minded method of acquiring knowledge about all aspects of nature through a variety of means. It should be neutral regarding specific beliefs.
This is Mario’s challenge. Contrary to what mainstream science states his research shows that the mind is able to influence the physical body (both positively and negatively), including its immune system. He also showed research evidence that consciousness or mind is not produced by the brain and that mind is not limited to space and time. Mind can travel to the past and to the future. Mind is able to engage in psi phenomena, clairvoyance, remote viewing, telepathy and precognition including psychokinesis. NDE research demonstrates that these experiences are shown to be consistent across cultures. Furthermore research findings show evidence of past-lives as credible and other research into mediumship and other paranormal phenomena as verifiable.
He mentioned Kuhn’s contribution to the philosophy of science (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions -1962) pointing out that paradigms change when the current paradigm is unable to explain certain observations. Science cannot explain away these psi phenomena which he argues will eventually lead to a change of paradigm, explaining and embracing this different worldview. Scientists that are working in the field of consciousness are being instrumental for these changes and Mario is at the forefront of these efforts. In 2014 a number of research scientists published a Manifesto for a Postmaterialist Science. The fundamental arguments state: that Mind is ontologically primordial, a fundamental force – it has the capacity to affect the state of physical world and operates non-locally. Like gravity it cannot be measured only inferred. It is non-physical and therefore cannot be produced by the physical brain. Consciousness, an aspect of Mind is a pre-requisite for reality. Psyche (mental world) and Physis (physical world) are deeply interconnected and complementary, they only appear to us to be separate.
In 2017 the Academy for the Advancement of Postmaterialist Sciences (AAPS) was created. Since then, a number of books were published by scientists members and friends of the Scientific and Medical Network. Mario also mentioned the Galileo Commission, a high profile project of the SMN active in the field of postmaterialist sciences.
PROF. NEAL GROSSMAN was the speaker in our February session. He is a retired professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois in Chicago and author of two books: The Spirit of Spinoza: Healing the Mind (2014) which is a presentation of Spinoza’s remarkable system of spiritual psychotherapy and Conversations with Plato and Socrates (2019) which describes a society that is in harmony with the timeless spiritual principles recently “discovered” through survival research. The second book was the subject of this presentation.
Neal started by explaining materialism, the current mainstream worldview which is based on the idea that the brain generates consciousness and that we are separate individuals or separate souls. Such a view is congruent with Atomism, a philosophical perspective at the core of Materialism, which proposes that atoms are separate units and consequently so are we. His proposal for a post-materialist social order is based on values which are experienced in near-death experiences (NDE). People who have those, come back transformed and talk about experiencing the unity of everything, being part of the One Mind and even being the One Mind. The values experienced are compassion and lovingkindness as well as cooperation in contrast to competition. Interestingly Neal mentioned that there is a high level of divorce in couples where one person had an NDE because they have changed dramatically and their partners find it difficult to adjust.
Neal drew a connection between post-materialist social order and NDEs with the help of Plato’s understanding of the term ‘philosopher’. The word comes from Greek and means lover of wisdom. But what did Plato understand as wisdom? The explanation used a quote from Plato in Phaedo:
Wisdom is the knowledge experienced when the soul is dissociated from the body. In such a condition, ‘it (the soul) passes into the realm of what is pure, ever existing, immortal and unchanging and being akin to this it always stays with it (the eternal) whenever it is by itself and can do so. Then the soul rests from its wanderings (in the physical realm) and dwells with it (the eternal) unchangingly for it (the soul) is dealing with what is unchanging and its experience then is what is called “wisdom”’ (parentheses Neal Grossman).
This is the wisdom of a near-death experience. Plato goes on to suggest that kings and politicians as philosophers – in the sense he understands – will not be wedded to power for the sake of power and ambition. Such a king or politician would facilitate a post-materialist society with foundations on those highest values. Social order therefore will be cooperative rather than competitive. Guaranteeing every person material and psychological wellbeing – unconditional love based on the principle that we are all part of One Mind. The world is not ready for that yet but we must keep this idea in our minds. The very survival of the species depends on this. We should support our children in their natural tendency of being cooperative, rather than what we currently do, teaching them to be competitive. Politicians with such a disposition are out there, we were told, we must seek them out.
ETZEL CARDEÑA was born and raised in México and presently holds the endowed Thorsen Chair in psychology at Lund University in Sweden, where he directs the Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology (CERCAP). His areas of research include alterations of consciousness and unusual or anomalous experiences (including psi phenomena).
In this presentation he explained that by the turn of the 20th century the atmosphere within the art world was being influenced by the developments in science (relativity, quantum mechanics, radio waves etc) as well as the interest in parapsychology (psi). Psi was defined by Etzel as restricted to ostensible accurate information or influence from spatially or temporally distant events (eg. ESP – telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and retrocognition). Scientists at that time were also interested in parapsychology, Einstein for instance wrote an introduction to a book on telepathy. This combined interest influenced visual artists to turn from depicting representational art to abstract paintings in which they portrayed inner states of consciousness, visions and other interpretations of reality. Artists who depicted these realities were more likely to have had parapsychological experiences themselves, as shown by controlled research, including some done by Etzel himself (Cardeña et all 2012). Klee (1920) encapsulated that by saying that ‘what art at this time should be doing is to show that there is something beyond the surface, to make the invisible visible’.
We were shown a number of examples of such art for example the dissolution of the subjective/objective by Besant and Leadbeater (1901) and Kandinsky (1935), objective forms representing thoughts in for instance a Kandinsky abstract painting. In fact, Kandinsky wrote a book – Concerning the Spiritual in Art – mental transmission through space (1924), in which he argued that rhythm, colour and movement communicate a vibration through Hertzian waves and are translated into telepathy or emanations into a hyperspace making them real rather than subjective. There were other examples mentioned, for instance Viktor Brauner painted a self-portrait showing the absence of one of his eyes years before he lost that eye and Jeanne Natalie Wintsch (1871-1944) created an embroidery Je Suis Radio by depicting mental transmission through space by means of waves and vibrations into and out of us.
Some painters were also medium and channelled their work. Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) – said ‘pictures were painted directly through me without any preliminary drawings and with great force’. Kupka (1871-1957) – worked as a medium and produced telepathic art. He felt the finished art being ‘downloaded’ into him, his job was to put it on canvas.
Multiple dimensions of reality were also depicted for example by Gordon Onslow, Ford (1912 -2003), and Klimt (1862-1918) making it difficult to work out what is background and what is foreground.
Surrealism and its predecessor Dadaism aimed to dispense with artificial divisions between objective and subjective and portray interconnectedness of everything. Importantly to note is that this was not a fringe movement, major exhibitions happened in museums such as the Tate Britain, Pompidou Centre and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
December was the last meeting under Claudia’s leadership. The online London Group will continue under the name Consciousness Perspectives Forum.
Prof BERNARD CARR – Making space and time for survival
Bernard Carr is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary University of London and his professional area of research is cosmology and relativistic astrophysics which includes such topics as the early universe, black holes, dark matter and the anthropic principle. He also has a long-standing interest in the relationship between science and religion, and especially in psychical research, which he sees as forming a bridge between them. He was President of the Society for Psychical Research in 2000-2004 and is currently President of the Scientific and Medical Network.
Bernard’s ambition he told us, is to develop an extension of physics which can accommodate mental and spiritual experiences connecting the worlds of mind, matter and spirit. For this he argues, science must involve consciousness which is the basis of those three worlds.
What happens after death and for that matter before birth is an exploration of how consciousness becomes embodied as well as disembodied. Associated with this is the question of why I am me and not someone else which addresses the identity of what survives. He is keen to stress that these are physical phenomena, and should therefore be within the remit of physics. The same applies to other physical phenomena which come under the umbrella of psi (telepathy, clairvoyance, NDEs etc) which are explored by psychical research. What is needed therefore is a theory that addresses these types of 1stperson experiences that will be accepted by mainstream science. Such a new theory, he argued, must accommodates higher dimensions. Quantum theory is relevant but not sufficient. We need a unification of space, time, matter and mind, but also need a revision of what is meant by these terms.
Current physics suggest that more dimensions than the 4 we experience (3 spatial and 1 time) exist. Superstrings theory postulates 10 dimensions and M-theory 11. Using the concepts of ‘brane’ and ‘bulk’ Bernard explained the theory that our physical world is a slice of a higher dimensional reality. This model incorporates hierarchical dimensions with physical spaces as well as non-physical parts which accommodate mental and spiritual experiences and are accessed by the mind. Consciousness is manifested in all those dimensions and must therefore be an intrinsic part of the theory.
In this model an understanding of the concepts of space and time also become fundamental. Space is understood not as simply physical but incorporates non-physical spaces such as memory space, dream space, NDE space, survival space etc. Time is also not universally experienced. Specious present is the discrete unit of the minimum time an experience can be perceived by consciousness. Although we are not aware, for us humans it is measured as about 1/10 of a second. Different levels in the hierarchy of consciousness will experience different specious presents.
Addressing why am I me, Bernard explored ‘what is now’ and ‘who am I’. Using a graphic image he showed the extended mind as fan of feathering (signalling) lines below the line symbolising perception. This showed perception as experience of the world through signallings such as sound, touch etc in space time. Experience of the world therefore is part of space time by virtue of the connections of the object of perception (world) to your brain (self) through the nexus of the signals (time).
Why am I me and what is now begs the question of how does the universal mind (consciousness) fragments into individual minds. Bernard argues that the key is time. In higher dimensions time is different and identity is different, leading to the idea of a hierarchy of consciousness (selves) and of specious presents (time). This was exemplified by a picture of the T’ang Dynasty showing a group of individuals as offshoots of lower (higher?) set of individuals (representing lower (higher?) levels of consciousness as offshoots of sets of individuals of lower (higher?) levels of consciousness and so on, presumably all the way down (up?) to the Universal Mind. What happens before birth and after death in this model unfolds within this higher dimensional structure.
Death, Near-Death, DMT and discarnate entities
David is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Greenwich. His research focuses on transpersonal experiences, anomalous phenomena and altered states of consciousness, especially with the use of psychedelics. He is the author of 10 books, the latest of which is Otherworlds: Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience (2nd ed., 2019). In addition to his research and teaching he also directs the Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness salon and is a cofounder and director of Breaking Convention: International Conference on Psychedelic Consciousness.
In this talk David acquainted those of us not familiar with DMT (Dimethyltryptamine), with its nature and effects. We heard that DMT is a potent psychedelic and the intense experience lasts only about 10 minutes but distortion in time makes it seem like eons. These experience are often life changing. Common are visualisations of colourful geometric patterns often in 3 or more dimensions, encounters with other extraordinary sentient beings such as angels or demons and bizarre experiences for instance having their brains operated on by giant praying mantis. Frequent are encounters with little people, elves, pixies, gnomes etc. DMT seems to facilitate the experience of another world.
DMT occurs naturally in the body and some scientists suggest that it is produced by the pineal gland, which also produces serotonin. Both DMT and serotonin have a similar chemical molecule which leads some scientists to argue that DMT may be responsible for spontaneous near-death and out-of-body experiences, but David is sceptical of this theory.
We also heard about ayahuasca, the sacred drink used by many indigenous people to produce altered states of consciousness in which they travel to other dimensions, often meeting the dead and promoting healing.
There are 4 philosophical interpretations of those experiences:
The Constructivist/neuro-theological reductionism proposes that the experiences are a result of firing in the brain.
Contextualists say that the entities encountered are culturally mediated.
Essentialist/Perenialists say that the experiences suggest the person is tapping into a higher reality
Literalists argue that those entities exist as real discarnate beings.
David then told us about his most a powerful experience which he had some 20 years ago. He had previously taken 40 or 50 full doses of DMT which is more than other people would have taken and this was just one more. He admitted that he had lately in those ‘trips’ been getting the sense that he was intruding into some cosmic gatherings he had not been invited to. On this occasion he smoked the drug on the banks of the river Ganges in India. In the 10 minutes which followed, he found himself in the presence of a most intimidating being who reacted with surprise and anger. This being was all snakes and eyes in one entity. David told us that in that moment he became aware of having caught a glimpse beyond the shoulder of this being and realised he saw something he should not have seen. He cannot remember what that was, but what remained is the sense of having seen something humans should not see. This ominous being understood his curiosity and hypnotised him with his geometric patterns and multiple eyes. In a terrifying way it transmitted the message that he should not be there and especially not pry into the hallowed area beyond. David was terrified and as a consequence never smoked DMT again.
Later in his research he came across image of a Tibetan deity who has a snake body with eyes all over his body. Further research led him to understand that this being was a protector of the law, a guardian deity entrusted to guard the secret teachings of the monastic order. Interestingly other people reported similar experiences of many terrifying eyes under the influence of DMT.
Towards the transmodern: science, spirituality and the transition out of modernity.
Dr. OLIVER ROBINSON is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Greenwich. Alongside his academic research, he writes about the relationship between science, philosophy, history and spirituality, and has written a book on this topic entitled Paths Between Head and Heart: Exploring the harmonies of science and spirituality.
In this talk Oliver gave us an overview of the paradigm in existence during the pre-modern period, the modern and the post-modern to show us how some societies are transiting out of modernity into the transmodern. In pre-modern times we heard, the focus was on religion as a unifying framework for lifestyle, knowledge, belief, purpose even health, government etc. This was a time in which the life span was 40-45 years, pandemics raged and religion imposed a worldview in a coercive way. It was a highly censorious environment, and punishments were meted out to those who promoted different worldviews, eg Galileo. The transition to modernity started around 1650, 60’s, 80s, at a time of the great plague and the fire of London. Printing facilitated an explosion of knowledge and ideas and the belief emerged that the future could be better than the past in opposition to the nostalgia of the ‘golden past’. Authorities started to be seen as fallible and the idea that people should be free to experiment started gaining currency. This was a time of specialisation and academia became more diversified into more subjects. This paradigm gave way to post modernism when deconstruction became the order of the day. The quest for looking for foundations and finding none, highlighting the reliance on assumptions as part of our lived reality. And this takes us to the transmodern.
In this paradigm interconnection is key. This is evident in the reality of the internet and globalisation. We have become part of one body which resembles a nervous system. The greatest challenge which reveals the interconnectedness of humanity is climate change in which we are all implicated.
The Covid experience highlighted and interesting aspect of the transmodern. Pandemics are the inevitable challenges of the interconnected globalised world we now live in. Whether it is computer or physical viruses, in the globalised world which is now our environment, these are part and parcel of our reality. However, the response by governments to the covid pandemic took us back to the pre-modern. Coercive and punitively imposed lockdowns of whole populations for long periods, without consideration of the damaging effect on large sections of the economy and health of the population. Quarantine and social distancing were used in the Middle Ages during the plague to fight the black death. These are transactions of parent/child and not adult to adult. It infantilises people. A transmodern response to covid would be one engaging with the population at a level of trust and responsibility. Giving clear information and guidance for action. The focus would be the health of the general population using technology to test-and-trace and also develop effective vaccines and anti-viral treatments. An example coming close to this is the way Norway has treated the pandemic, and how the UK is doing it now.
Oliver expanded on MODI, his healthy model for human existence, showing that science and spirituality are two overlapping parts of one whole, with no one taking precedence over the other. The model is made up of pairs of opposites sitting in balance. They are outer/inner, impersonal/personal, mechanical (how)/purposive (why), verbal/ineffable, explanation/contemplation, empirical/transcendental and thinking/feeling. The SMN, Oliver said, is an example of an organisation modelling such a paradigm.
This talk is available free for members in Recordings on the London Group page of the SMN website.
Singularity: Jungian Psychology and Holographic String Theory
Prof TIMOTHY DESMOND teaches philosophy, religion, and ethics as an Adjunct Professor at The College of Southern Maryland. He is also Director of Administration at the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation.
In this talk, Timothy addressed the relationship between psyche and singularity to explain his findings that psyche is singularity. This conclusion comes out of principles of string theory and Carl Jung’s description of his near-death experience in 1944.
From physics we heard that Stephen Hawking’s argument that everything that falls in a black hole is erased from the universe, violates the principle of the conservation of information. The counter argument comes from Leonard Susskind, an American physicist who together with Nobel prize-winning colleague Gerard Tahoef argued that if Hawking’s proposition is true, the entire field of physics is groundless because the conservation of information is a fundamental principle. They suggested that although we don’t know what happens to the object once it falls into the black hole, from the perspective of an observer in this universe, one would see the fundamental strings of the object slowly slowing down in their vibration and being smeared out along the event horizon as the object falls into the black hole. Then little by little those strings leak back into this universe by means of the Hawking radiation thus saving the principle of conservation of information. Consequently, as seen from someone inside this universe, the information is not erased but radiated back into the observable universe.
Because the universe is an inside out black hole exploding from a singularity instead of contracting into one, cosmic microwave background radiation is therefore the echo of the big bang, the inverted Hawking radiation. The past, present and future of the universe everything that has ever happened and will ever happen is recorded as if on a holographic two-dimensional film covering the spherical border of the universe and is radiated back in as these fundamental one-dimensional string threads of energy. Which means that the 3 dimensional objects we experience are holographic projections from the horizon of the cosmos like a holographic movie.
The other part that makes up Timothy’s theory comes from Carl Jung’s near-death experience following a heart attack in 1944 as told in his auto-biography. He tells us that he experienced his consciousness rise above his body above the hospital, above the planet earth some 1000 miles. There he saw an enormous black bolder floating in space and realised it was a hallowed temple. As he approached the temple, he saw a Hindu person sitting in a lotus position who communicated that he knew he was coming. At the back of the temple was a brightly lit room where he felt that people who he knew in life, were waiting for him. They knew all about him, his past and future lives. He reflected that if he could get into that temple himself, he would know himself everything about his own lives. As he approached the temple he felt his entire biography ripped painfully from him and he experienced his life flashing before his eyes. He was about to enter into the temple when he saw floating above Europe his Swiss doctor in his astral form who told him that the earth did not agree with his decision to leave. So Jun had to stay and at that moment he woke up in his hospital bed. He learned from this experience that past, present and his future were interwoven at the horizon of the cosmos and each of us exist as if in a little box tethered to the horizon by a thread. At the cosmic horizon, the past, present and future co-exist. This image of each of us being a box tethered to the horizon by a thread is parallel to what Sosskind is proposing with his principle of conservation of information at the cosmic horizon.
Pauli– the physicist who worked with Jung – provided the final touch to the theory, by highlighting the symmetries in the laws of psychology and the laws of physics. This leads directly to the principle that mind and matter both emerge from a more fundamental source which the alchemist Gerhard Dorne called the Unus Mundus, the God archetype and the One. The principle states that because mind and matter emerged from the same source, we should expect laws of physics to parallel laws of psychology.
This talk is available free for members in Recordings on the London Group page of the SMN website.
The Frankenstein Prophecies
ROBERT ROMANYSHYN, Jungian psychotherapist and author of 8 of books was the speaker this evening. Robert was the first non-analyst elected as an Affiliate Member of The Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts based upon his scholarly contributions to Jungian psychology. A Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, he co-founded in 1972 an interdisciplinary program in existential-phenomenological psychology and literature at the University of Dallas. In 1991 he moved to Pacifica Graduate Institute to create a research approach for their innovative doctoral program in clinical psychology with its emphasis on Jungian and Archetypal Psychology. On his retirement in 2015, he was elected an Emeritus Professor in that program.
In the 980s Robert became increasingly concerned with the crisis around the question of nuclear war. How did we get to the point in which we had wired the planet for destruction? He started to research the steps that got us here in order to explore alternative possibilities that would avoid the ultimate catastrophe. He published a book (Technology as Symptom & Dream) on the origin of the modern scientific technological worldview. The book went through 6 reprints which shows that it touched a nerve in many people. The book The Frankenstein Prophecies is in way, a further step in the direction of alerting us to the unconscious impulses which are driving our uncontrolled and irresponsible development of technology.
The title of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus clearly points to the two statements on either side of the semi-colon as being equal in her intent. We need to understand the myth of Prometheus in order to make sense of the message. By stealing fire and offering it to man, Prometheus transgressed boundaries and in a way created the human being.
The Prometheus myth belongs to a sacred cosmos where the gods are real. Victor Frankenstein as modern Prometheus lives in a secular cosmos, where the boundaries between man and gods have become erased. His promethean dream is to become a god himself. Prometheus is the power of the imagination, the drive forward. His brother Epimethean is the reflective hindsight looking back to where we came from. It carries memories and acknowledges consequences. Victor Frankenstein wanted to create life, the prerogative of a god. He is a symbol of solar consciousness acting without the reflective power of memory of Epimetheus.
Whereas the myth of Prometheus is embedded in a sacred context, Victor Frankenstein’s perspective and attitude is wholly secular, concerned with effectiveness and efficiency. He was fascinated with alchemy and then throws it away as irrelevant and turns to study anatomy and chemistry. Death for him is a biological event not a human loss.
In Mary Shelley’s story, Frankenstein’s mother had just died but he did not grieve. Instead, he threw himself in the work of defeating death. His attitude carries no ethical considerations. He went to graveyards – traditionally a sacred ground – robbed graves to build his creature. Yet, when the creature came to life he is horrified and terrified and does not take responsibility for his action. He tries to destroy it but the story turns and the monster becomes the avenging angel.
Robert writes his book from the point of view of the monster, as he perceives him on the margins of Mary Shelley’s work. He notes that in order to create his monster, Frankenstein sacrificed the feminine, the receptive, reflective and its influence. His ambition is to overturn the laws of nature dismissing the sacred in favour of the secular, his creative achievements exist without the required responsibility. Frankenstein wishes to destroy death, yet his failure is highlighted as his creature kills his fiancée, his brother, his friend, his housekeeper is hanged for a murder she did not commit (which he failed to voice) and his father dies of a broken heart.
Robert shows Frankenstein’s legacy lingering today as a result of our idolising the Promethean dream without the input of the Epimethean warnings: our prowess in the field of technology. Examples mentioned are climate change, terrorism, the swelling population of refugees, genetic and computer technology etc. He mentioned Rey Kurweilz, a Google futurist, genius of a man who he called a ‘Promethean dream on steroids’. Kurzweilz wants to dispense with human biology in this century and upload all human information and achievements of consciousness in the cloud. This is an example as near as we can imagine of humans wishing to become gods.
The talk was rich in insights, too many to include in this short report. I recommend watching the recording in Recordings page of the London Group website – which is free for members.
The Enigma of Time
DAN FALK is an award-winning science journalist based in Toronto, Canada. His writing credits include Scientific American, New Scientist, Smithsonian, National Geographic, and many other publications. He’s written three popular science books, most recently The Science of Shakespeare. He started off by explaining that the subject of time is multifaceted. Man has observed and been influenced by the cycles of nature from time immemorial. Our ancestors have created structures such as Stonehenge which are finely designed to reveal an alignment with the solstice perhaps in an effort to keep track of the seasons. Sun dials were created to keep track of time during the day (provided the sun is shining) and later mechanical clocks were invented which were not dependent on weather and therefore more accurate.
To understand what time is, is difficult probably impossible, but scientists and philosophers have studied what time does. Isaac Newton for instance determined that time flows uniformly. His contemporary Leibniz, however, disagreed and argued that events can only be described in relation to other events. The most important question at the time was whether time existed before God created the universe. For Newton the answer was yes, whereas Leibniz thought this statement does not make sense. God created time together with the universe. But Newton’s idea became the accepted truth. It was only with Einstein that the question of time became understood as relative. There is no ticktock in the universe which can be considered the universal now.
The nature of time has exercised the minds of numerous scientists. So far no definite answer has emerged. These questions spiral towards ideas of parallel universes which have some support based on the quantum M theory.
Dan also addressed the question of time travel. Travelling into the future is a possibility if the travel is far and fast enough. Into the past is more problematic. He mentioned the grandfather conundrum, which points out that if a person travels to the past and kills his grandfather, s/he would not exist. He also brought up more philosophical aspects of the enigma of time. Does time flow like a river? In which case, at what rate does it flow? And what happens if it stops flowing? Dan did not offer any answers, but the questions posed were interesting and gave rise to fascinating comments from the audience.
This talk is available free for members in Recordings on the London Group page of the SMN website.
How Compatible are Science and Religion?
Dr. IAIN MCGILCHRIST is the author of the SMN Book Prize of 2009 The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale 2009). The popular reply to the question posed this evening tends to be that religion and science are not compatible. As evidence, Iain quoted the book Faith versus Facts by biologist Jerry Coyne. The title of the book says it all.
Exploring the theme, Iain looked at faith and belief, concepts that are central aspects in this discussion. Unlike what is often assumed, faith is not about certainty – it is about fidelity and allegiance. The relationship with the object of faith is therefore very different from that of science which uses observation to explore its objects.
Both science and religion explore reality but neither approach can give us certainty. The only things we can be certain about are representation of reality, not reality itself. How do we know anything? How do we know who we are, what the cosmos is etc and how do we know how to relate to it? There are many ways of knowing and understanding but none can offer us certainty. For example, the atheists’ case that the only truth that we should accept are those based on scientific or empirical basis does not itself have a scientific or empirical basis. Even the idea of objectively verifiable belief is not itself an objectively verifiable belief.
Belief, is not about certainty but a special way of knowing. The word is related to the word love in many languages and the concept is about an encounter in which something comes into being between you and the thing encountered. It is about disposition which changes who we are. It is about awe, humility and compassion. Although reason is important there are things that are not approachable through reason. In order to know we must have a connection with the object we want to know about.
Iain went on to use the lens he developed in his book The Master and his Emissary. Although the left hemisphere’s kind of knowledge is important, more important, however, is the right hemisphere’s approach with its acceptance of the unfamiliar, ambiguity and the vision of the bigger picture. It is through the right hemisphere approach to its object of exploration that science elicits insights which then gets explored by the left hemisphere.
Religion deals with everything that is beyond certainty, beyond language, beyond measurement, beyond truth. This is the remit of myth, metaphor or narrative so used by religion. Yet metaphors and narratives are also used by science. Metaphors bring things to the foreground. Without metaphors we cannot talk, produce, debate. When we reject metaphors for the world based on living things rivers, trees, mountains, and replace them with ones that are machine-like, the world we see takes on the nature of machines. As Einstein said ‘you can only observe what your theory allows you to observe’.
Summing up, the right hemisphere is much better at accepting the mystery and the unknown. It does not need to choose, it can accept either/or. It is fundamental to both religion and science. It accepts process as something coming into being and sees the importance of relationships and connections. I-though relationships rather than I-it. It is better at accepting not-knowing. We heard that of Nobel prize winners – 35% in literature are atheist/agnostic whereas for physicists it is less than 5%. Most physicists are God-prone people.
Addressing the question – are science and religion compatible? Iain showed the answer being unquestionably yes. As for an explanation of the current belief that they are not, we heard that science only came into being in late 19th C at a time when there was a war being waged against religion. That war was fed by ignorance and untruths which seem to still be with us. The theme is being explored more fully in Iain’s next book The Matter with Things, due to be published this year.
This talk is available free for members in Recordings on the London Group page of the SMN website.
Parallel Universes: Can we Model them Theoretically and explore them Experimentally?Speaker Dr. SIMON DUAN came from China to the UK to study in the ’80s. After receiving a PhD in Materials Science from Cambridge University, he worked for many years in research and development, technology commercialisation and management consultancy in both the UK and China. He currently works for the UK Government Department for International Trade as Sector specialist for Advanced Manufacturing sector trade relationship with China. In normal times he goes to China regularly to build collaboration and help UK companies to develop China markets. Simon is also the founder of Metacomputics Labs which researches a new theoretical framework which unifies consciousness, mind and matter. This evening he expanded on the model he developed and the research which he is undertaking to develop innovative healing and healthcare, learning and personal development, new materials and processes, clean energy generation and artificial intelligence.
Simon started talking about the framework of parallel universes which is proposed by quantum theory. In conventional science mathematics is used to predict this model, but the model remains theoretical without description and unverifiable. His theory aims to address this.
Humans have historically used the lens of current technology as metaphor for understanding the world in which they live. The clock was once used as the framework of understanding, so was electricity and now it is the turn of computers. Metacomputics proposes that a platonic computer exists which creates the framework for reality. The idea that we live in a computerised reality has its proponents for a long time, Konrad Zuse first proposed that the entire universe is computed in 1969. The film trilogy The Matrix develops this idea in an insightful way. The question however emerges, where is this computer, who built it? What are its properties? Who is the programmer?
The computation aspect of the question is binary as we know from our experience with computers. The principle is the understanding that consciousness is primary and the switch which inputs 0 or 1s is information or states of consciousness. The implication of consciousness as primary is that we cannot describe, define or explain it. We can only talk about it in negative terms – what it is not: Nondual, timeless, dimensionless, formless etc. Time and space arise from consciousness in the multiverse.
The model proposed by Metacomputics suggests that our physical reality is experienced in one universe, but there are a number of parallel universes manifesting different aspects of reality. Physics becomes a subset in the metacomputics model in this platonic computer therefore it cannot be the tool for understanding the nature of reality. Different universes operate in different frequencies and we humans, live in a state of superposition in different universes.
The instrument for exploring parallel universes is the third eye, a concept which has its roots in many spiritual traditions. This third eye is widely accessed by children and in China Simon showed us examples of how children are trained to use this third eye in psychic schools. Mediums are able to access those levels.
The theory is complex, the presentation was logical and coherent and the implication of this model is that we need to look at ourselves at all levels rather than just the physical.
Dr. EDI BILIMORIA started us off in 2021 with a talk based on his trilogy books, Unfolding Consciousness, due later this year. Edi is an ardent student of the perennial philosophy and he has lectured on this theme both in the UK and internationally for many years. His book The Snake and the Rope was awarded the book prize in 2008 by the Scientific and Medical Network. Edi is a member of the SMN Board of Directors and will soon be taking over the physical meetings of the SMN London Group. In his day job Edi has worked as a consultant engineer to the oil and gas, petrochemical and transport industries and is currently a safety and environmental engineer for Royal Navy projects. He is a lover of music and an accomplished pianist.
The talk was in 2 parts and involved a number of graphs and diagrams. In part I Edi addressed what we mean by man and in part II the coming into being of man. In part I Edi showed that the universal teachings of east and west acknowledge the ultimate Unity from which multiplicity arises and understand man as embodied consciousness. From Isaac Newton – ‘all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation’. All mystery teachings have the same aim – the unfolding of the nature of man according to certain universal rules, which include light and darkness, good and evil. Edi quoted Egyptian wisdom, Persian mysteries and Greek tradition. In part II Edi addressed anthropogenesis and the derivation of the human senses. He stated that in our routine reality we observe that everything is first conceived by a vision. Then comes the plan for making it happen and finally the physical realisation. The same must be true for the arising of Man. It is a downflow – an externalisation of the implicate to the explicate. From Friedrich Shiller Edi quoted: ‘the Universe is a thought of the deity’. Since this ideal thought-form has overflowed into actuality, and the world born thereof has realised the plan of its creator, it is the calling of all thinking beings to rediscover in this whole, the original design.
The conundrum which occupied many great minds of how subjective experience can arise from physical manifestation, Edi mentioned Schrodinger who pointed out that science can tell us about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight, but cannot tell us anything about the feelings of delight and sorrow that accompany the process. Ancient Indian philosophy uses the concept of the five Tattvas to explain the essence of what makes a thing what it is. These 5 cosmic elements/agents are universal in nature and understood as conscious principles. They act both as stimulators and receptors of the senses. Undifferentiated consciousness therefore at its lowest point of descent manifests as mind both as subjective stream (spirit) and mind as objective stream – matter.
The universe is therefore a phenomenon in or of consciousness and the perception of the whole manifested universe in its infinite state of subtlety right down to the physical is the result of the involution of consciousness not as matter not in matter but the appearance of matter. A phenomenon of pure consciousness. The crossover is to do with prana – the vital force which can be understood as a compound substance at the subjective-objective interface enabling mind and matter to affect each other.
An Introduction to the Study of the Mind-Body Relationship with a Focus on Extraordinary Experiences and Fear of Death
JENNIFER “KIM” PENBERTHY, Ph.D., ABPP is the Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Kim is a board-certified clinical psychologist and conducts research, teaches, and provides clinical care at UVA in psychiatry and the Cancer Center. Her research interests include studying the mind-body relationship and exploring human consciousness as well as extraordinary human experiences and abilities and this aspect was the core of this evening’s presentation which she entitled An Introduction to the Study of the Mind-Body Relationship with a Focus on Extraordinary Experiences and Fear of Death. Kim gave us an overview of the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS for short) of the University of Virginia, its history, and current research focus. The Division was started by Prof Ian Stevenson, famous for his research into children who remember past lives. This research is still ongoing with the work of Jim Tucker who is studying children with these memories in Australia. The principle guiding the scientific research at the Division, is the principle that consciousness cannot realistically be considered as a physically produced phenomena, it is non-local and operates beyond the confines of the physical body. The subjects of their research include psychic phenomena, near-death and out of body experiences, after-death communications (ADCs) etc. This latter topic is currently the subject of an international study which indicates that people who have had spontaneous communications from dead loved ones, show an increased interest in spirituality and a decrease in fear of death.
In collaboration with IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences) DOPS is currently researching by means of neuroimaging, what happens in the brain of mediums when they are receiving information. There is also research with meditators which shows an increase in intuition and work is ongoing in understanding what other types of extraordinary abilities, such as super cognition, we can develop by quieting the mind through meditation.
The research of the Division aims at finding a theoretical foundation that can help expand the field our understanding of these phenomena in order to use it in the service of the good. Reducing fear of death is high on the agenda as is disseminating the fact that we are all connected.
In response to the question whether she has had any paranormal experience which stimulated her interest in the field, Kim told us on an event in which she saw her deceased grandfather helping her mother in a moment of need. For her mother this was absolutely natural, so it became natural for her too. Kim grew up in a home in which there was an understanding that the paranormal is nothing more than the normal for which we don’t have a rational explanation yet. Not everything needs to be rational to be believable. We had many examples of paranormal experiences from the audience which enriched our understanding of these events.
Yoga and the Future of Science of Consciousness
October is normally when Prof Ravi Ravindra comes to the UK and we have in past years, been fortunate to have him present to the group. But this year things are not ‘normal’ so Ravi spoke to us from his home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
RAVI RAVINDRA is Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served for many years as a professor in three Departments: Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Physics. He has been a member of the Board of Judges for the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion and is an honorary member of the Scientific and Medical Network. Ravindra’s spiritual search has led him to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti, G. Gurdjieff, Yoga, Zen, and a deep immersion in the mystical teachings of the Indian and Christian traditions. He is the author of many books on religion, science, and spiritual disciplines.
His talk this evening was entitled Yoga and the Future of Science of Consciousness and Ravi explained that yoga is the science par excellence for the journey of exploration of Consciousness, Truth or God. It must be understood that this ultimate reality is a mystery and whereas in science mysteries are resolved, in spirituality, they are dissolved. This process in spirituality does not involve rational thinking but immersion and for this there must be a fundamental transformation of being, which is what all spiritual traditions state. The practice of yoga, stopping the reckless movements of the mind and the training of attention on some fundamental questions lead to the necessary transformation. It is through direct knowledge, direct experience, that we can get nearer to the Truth or God.
Amongst the questions Ravi raised, were ideas addressing the fact that we did not create ourselves. We were created to be here. Our breathing is another part of this mystery; we cannot stop breathing intentionally, and it could be said that we are being ‘breathed’. The exploration of these fundamental questions enables us to engage in the journey of transformation which leads to evolution, the aim of our human consciousness. Ravi pointed out that the natural purpose of consciousness is to evolve. The Christian narrative of God taking on human body exemplifies this journey back from the physical body towards the highest consciousness or God. Each one of us must find our own yoga, our Buddhi Yoga for our own spiritual journey.
Listening to Ravi Ravindra with his deep knowledge of science and spirituality sharing his wisdom is always a privilege for those of us at the receiving end!
Cardano, the Quantum and the Cosmos
Our September presentation was given by Dr. MICHAEL BROOKS, an author, journalist and broadcaster. Michael holds a PhD in quantum physics and is a scientific consultant with the New Scientist, writes regularly for the New Statesman and appears frequently on various BBC Radio 4 programmes. He is the author of a number of books with interesting titles, which can be seen on his website …. This evening’s presentation was entitled Cardano, the Quantum and the Cosmos and Michael developed many of the thoughts to be found in his book The Quantum Astrologer’s Handbook.
Michael started by telling us about the life of Jerome Cardano (1501-1574), a true Renaissance man. Cardano was born in Milan and from early on showed an interest in multiple disciplines. He was amongst others, a mathematician, a zoologist and a medical doctor. His reputation as a doctor travelled far and wide after he cured a friar from a long term illness. On the basis of this success, Cardano was asked to come to these islands to examine the archbishop of Edinburgh and was later called by the court to see King Edward VI. He was requested to provide an astrological map to determine whether the king would live or die a determination he skilfully avoided for obvious reasons. He became famous for examining the lifestyle of his patients and suggesting changes. In zoology his thinking led him to examine which species would and which would not survive, a first effort towards the idea of the survival of the fittest. Some of his ideas however were somewhat wild, such as those about elephants which he believed had highly sophisticated intellectual capacities even though he himself never saw an elephant ‘in the flesh’ so to speak.
Astrology was part of everyone’s training at the time, and so it was that Cardano studied it first to find the reason for his sexual impotence, but later for its own sake. He was a sceptical astrologer and studied astronomy and mathematics in order to become more convinced. This led him to delve deeply into the field of mathematics. That led him to develop probability theory which he did for practical reasons as he paid his way through college with gambling gains. His probability theory did not help him all that much in gambling, as he often lost more than he won. He also explored the principle of imaginary numbers – the square root of negative numbers, which is at the centre of quantum theory and generally fundamental to science today, including electronics. Michael pointed out that even though an astrologer, Cardano laid the mathematical foundations of quantum theory not only through imaginary numbers but also because quantum theory is intimately related to probability theory.
Michael showed an excellent animation of the superposition process in the double slit experiment and we heard about 5 different interpretations of what is going on including ideas about entanglement, and that of Nicolas Gisin from the University of Geneva, who wonders whether there is a reality outside space and time. Jerome Cardano also believed in such a possibility and said that most of his best ideas came from a spirit who visited him at night. Michael amusingly wondered, considering that in quantum reality time can flow forwards as well as backwards, whether he was the spirit visiting Cardano and giving him the good ideas!
Michael ended the presentation by showing us some work from Greek astronomer Eleni Petrakou who is studying the planetary conjunction in relation to solar, lunar and other activities which may have an influence on human life. Furthermore some modern scientists, such as Einstein, Penrose and Carlo Rovelli have ideas which resonate with thoughts Cardano had himself. I was delighted to be introduced to Jerome Cardano, such an important figure about whom I was totally ignorant!
Beyond Nihilism: what can we learn from Nietzsche?
Our August speaker was PROF JOHN CLARKE. John taught philosophy as well as history of ideas at various universities in the UK and abroad in the past and wrote a number of books. His previous books were about CJ Jung and also about philosophical dialogue between Eastern and Western traditions. His most recent book was an exploration of emergentist theory – The Self-Creating Universe: The Making of a Worldview.
As a former chair of the SMN, John started by mentioning that current existential anxiety, the failure of reductionism to explain the fundamental nature of reality and the subject of meaning have been ongoing themes in the SMN going back many years. These topics were also present in the life of Nietzsche as a result both of personal and societal circumstances. Friedrich Nietzsche was born in 1844 and lost his father, a priest, at the young age of 5. This was an important loss which had repercussions throughout his life. His mother was powerful and controlling as was his sister Elizabeth. Nietzsche suffered from debilitating ill health all through his life which meant that he often had to stay in a dark room for long periods of time. To make up for it, he wrote furiously. He was a brilliant academic and was appointed Professor in Classical Philology at age 24, the youngest person ever to hold this post at the University of Basel. He had to resign this post due to his ill health 10 years later. At the age of 44 he started losing his faculties and died in 1900 aged 55.
Nietzsche lived at a time of fundamental changes in German society, unification of the country by Bismarck, as well as important changes brought about by scientific progress, in particular by Darwin’s evolution theory which demoted the place of God and religion in people’s lives. A sense of anomie and world weariness was taking over Europe with the resulting breakdown of moral values. This was the backdrop against which Nietzsche lived his life. Nihilism was everywhere.
Nietzsche’s message is often misunderstood partly because he did not define the meaning of various words in his writings and partly because his sister Elisabeth was a Nazi sympathiser and twisted the message. In reality Friedrich abhorred Nazism and often mentioned the importance of the Jewish community in German society. The central message of his work – the will to power – is about self-mastery. He would say that this energy of self-empowerment is built into everything in the universe. It is a natural telos of the world, which includes human beings. The English translation of Übermensch as Superman is incorrect, Nietzsche proposes that the Übermensch is the empowered person, which is not a state of being, but a process. This aspect has been taken up by Sartre who developed the concept of the authentic being. It was a fascinating talk.
Vision and Visions of Reality
This month we welcomed FR. LAURENCE FREEMAN OSB, the Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) a global, inclusive contemplative community. As Director of the Centre, he now resides at Bonnevaux, the WCCM international home in France, and a Centre for peace where meditation is practiced and taught as a way to personal and organisational transformation. Laurence is a monk, a teacher and also the author of many books, including a collaboration with the Dalai Lama on the book The Good Heart. In 2010, he launched Meditatio – the outreach programme of the World Community – bringing meditation to the secular world in the fields of Education, Medicine, Leadership, Science, Business and Social Justice.
This evening Laurence addressed the meaning of the words Vision and Visions, in which the plural indicator points to a totally different idea and state of being. Visions we were told, are ideas formulated by means of our rational mind, based on matters learned and imagined. They can be fragmented, confused and can be at odds with other people’s visions, leading potentially to conflict and misunderstandings. A vision is something totally different. It is a felt experience an insight, a light bulb moment. Laurence gave the example of Emma in Jane Austin, who had a moment of awakening, realising that ‘Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself’. Reading from the text, Laurence underlined the insight which Jane Austin so pointedly described. When we have a vision we have a moment of purification of the heart, when the heart has no doubts. It knows. It is a moment of enlightenment and the language of ‘seeing’ expresses the experience. Everything becomes clear. What were previously visions, different possibilities or scenarios, at the moment of ‘vision’, lose their reality. Laurence also mentioned St. Augustine’s vision of God, the insight that God is beyond form, beyond understanding, yet a deep sense of knowing God. Laurence addressed the experience of taking visions as vision, or false vision. How to avoid these? The answer is self-knowledge leading to humility. Meditation is a powerful path towards such self-knowledge. Simone Veil says attention, the tool of meditation, purifies the heart. Through deepening our attention we can get to the place where we can ‘see’ God – when attention turns away from the self towards the other. We can never see God as an object, said Irinaeus, but only in participation in God’s own life. This non-dualistic vision indicates that the whole person has to take part in this vision. The dualistic approach which says the person has to repress a part of themselves before being able to participate in the divine, needs to be jettisoned. The great teachers of all spiritual traditions embody this vision in their way of being.
We have a number of – what Laurence called videos – playing in our minds, which can be confusing and at times frightening. By calming the mind through focused meditation, those videos can lose their power and we can see them for what there are – not real. The insight of vision takes us to clarity, a deeper understanding and realisation in which we have the sense of mystery of reality as infinite in which the world of contradictions becomes a world in which paradoxes can live side by side. At this time of confusion and fear in which the world is going through the Covid-19 pandemic, meditation can help individuals to be agents of transformation and embody the beatific vision of ‘seeing’ God in each other.
Are you Sure all Crop Circles are man-made?
The talk this month was given from California by PROF JERRY KROTH. Jerry is an associate professor in the Graduate Counselling and Psychology programme at Santa Clara University in California. Alongside his teaching in the field of psychology, Jerry enjoys researching subjects which are controversial. This is one of them. Jerry goes to academic professors in various disciplines to help him interpret the designs of crop circles and is aware that crop circles cannot be considered seriously by academics who have an eye on preserving their academic positions. He noted however that when they retire, the attitude changes.
Throughout his talk Jerry showed us a sizeable collection of crop circles from around the world. They are formidable in size and intricacy and stunning in design. Although he acknowledges that many crop circles are man-made, he questions whether that applies to all of them. He wrote a book about his research with the title Messages from the Gods: a Scientific Exposition on the Extraterrestrial Origin of Crop Circles which was published in 2019.
Jerry started by addressing the man-made circles and told us what he found out about the people who make them. He showed us a video made by the hoaxers. However, looking at the main body of crop circles which appear, there are those which are most unlikely to have been made by humans. There are clear tell-tale signs for instance, dead, but totally intact flies with radiation signatures have been found in crop circles. They were not squashed. The ways the stems are bent is another indication.
Following his assumptions that some of the crop circles are not man-made, Jerry investigates what message they may carry. He explained in detail the meaning he found in 3 particular circles: the first one showed two concentric circles plus two circles attached to them. He interpreted the design as showing 4 radioactive elements, Polonium, Cesium, Astatine and Beryllium. The circles appeared across the river from the Oldbury Power Plant and his interpretation went along the idea of a warning about nuclear power. Subsequent to the appearance of the crop circle, the power plant went on to experience a problem which led to its decommissioning. Jerry sees the appearance of the crop circle as a warning. The second circle he talked about appeared in a red poppy field, was interpreted by a chemist in Australia and was said to show the structure of vitamin A detailed to the ultimate electron. At the top of this design was an arc which Jerry made sense of as a retina. The message decoded referred to vision and colour perception and a warning about vitamin A deficiency. The third circle examined two circles with a spiral in each which appeared on July 13th2011. With the input from other academics, he concluded that this circle showed a magnetar, a rare event in which two neutron stars crash. Curiously the discovery of a magnetar was announced the day following the appearance of the circle on July 14th 2011 by two Spanish scientists.
Jerry used the acronym ET referring to the possible originators of the crop circles. Unfortunately the use of this character does not bring us any closer to who or what may be behind these circles. The mystery of their origins therefore remains but the idea that behind the beautiful geometric designs may lie some important messages is interesting.
Is Consciousness Everywhere? Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness.
This month we heard about panpsychism from PHILIP GOFF, a philosopher, lecturer and researcher at Durham University, whose work focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview. He has published a number of articles and is a prominent figure in consciousness academic circles. His talk was based on his recently published book aimed at a general audience Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness.
Philip started his talk by quoting the old question, if there is nobody to hear it, will a tree make a sound if it falls in the forest? This question encapsulates the thinking that took place after Galileo (1564-1642) developed his theory. Before then, the world was understood by its qualities. The taste of a lemon resided in the lemon, music, in the sounds of the instruments, the beauty of the world, in the world. Galileo’s theory changed this. Qualities are not in the outside world, but in the consciousness of the observer. The consequence was that the tree in the forest would make no sound, if there was no consciousness to hear it. That was the start of mathematical physics. Consciousness was taken out of the domain of science. Philip’s aim is to re-integrate consciousness into modern science. Current sciences approach consciousness by studying the correlations of experiences and the activities of the brain. This is very helpful but cannot establish the nature of the experience of the person whose brain is being studied. Consciousness is about subjectivity. Two approaches to consciousness are currently mainstream: materialism, which explains consciousness as produced by the brain, and dualism, which explains consciousness as external to the physical body. Both are rejected by Philip. Materialism, because no evidence exists that matter (the brain) can generate consciousness, and dualism, because there is no evidence of the mind/soul’s impact on brain activity.
An important aspect of matter as the concomitant of consciousness, is the understanding that science studies the behaviour and relationships of matter but cannot say anything about what matter actually is. In other words, we are as ignorant about the ‘intrinsic nature’ of matter as that of consciousness.
This is where panpsychism comes in. We heard that Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) and Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) brought together the problem of consciousness and intrinsic nature. Panpsychism is in fact an ancient idea. It views consciousness as a fundamental feature of reality, its ‘intrinsic nature’. Philip mentioned the hierarchy of sophistication in the nature of experience from the electron, with very primitive and basic complexity of experience, all the way to the complexity of human experience.
Philip argues that this philosophical view of panpsychism does not necessarily require a spiritual perspective, but it can accommodate it. His ideas continue to develop, and as well as this bottom-up perspective, he has also written about a top-down version, he called cosmopsychism.
Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump
As the weeks went on, it became clear that we could do our presentations online so we readjusted our programme accordingly. Providing the presentation as a webinar online meant that we could have a much wider reach than just London. Having emailed a large SMN list, we signed up 100 people from all around the world who wanted to hear Gary Lachman’s talk on Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump. This unusual spelling of the word was introduced by Aleister Crowley and means ‘the science and art of inducing change in conformity to the will’. And it is in this sense that Gary Lachman uses it.
GARY LACHMAN is the author of 22 books on consciousness, culture and westers esoteric traditions, which have been translated in 12 languages around the world. He also writes for various journals in the UK, the US and Europe.
The talk was a fascinating perspective on what might have helped the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Through his detailed attention to detail Lachman noticed material that showed up in the media following Trump’s election and followed it up with meticulous research. He noticed that Richard Spencer, a leader of the ultra-right group National Policy Institute started a conference with the words ‘hail Trump, hail our hero, we made this happen’. Lachman’s research led him to identify the connection between this utterance and New Thought. The concept of New Thought is associated with Positive Thinking. It goes back to the 19th century and a number of well-known names such as William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson have written about it. At the root of this thinking is the idea that the mind is powerful and ideas can manifest in reality. The interface between inner and outer reality is porous.
We heard in great detail how writers, thinkers, leaders representing various ideologies have used these principles to influence their followers, some aiming to induce positive changes in people’s health and living but others focusing more on power and control. Trump himself is an adept of these principles which he learned from the Rev Norman Vincent Peale. As a young man he was taken by his father to hear Peale’s sermons. Trump’s own books reflect those principles, as do his attitudes and utterances. He is forever positive even in the light of unrealistic expectations and does not entertain negativity. Everything is possible and what he dreams of, will become reality. Facts are not important, attitude is. Chaos magic was also brought into this mix, a type of magic that affects reality without the use of formal means, by using the chaotic nature of events. Lachman mentioned Trump as a natural chaos magician pointing out the chaotic nature of Trump’s early months in office evidenced by the sackings and moving of people in the Administration.
Chaos magician talk of reality not being stable. And this links-in to the current post-modernist paradigm. Lachman reminded us that Nietzsche foresaw the impending advent of nihilism, and worried about it. Heidegger also questioned the platonic pursuit of truth and we have Derrida arguing that reality is a construct. There naturally follows current post-modernism, in which there is no Reality and no Truth.
Amongst others, we heard the name of Steve Bannon as someone who was an active element in this movement (which spans the globe) associated with Putin’s Russia and the Rasputin-like figure of Alexander Dugin. This particular topic will be part of the new book Lachman is writing on Russia. Lachman went on to talk about memes and their influence via the internet, the character of Pepe the Frog which acquired a Trump face, and the concepts of Tulpa and Egregore, visualisations which become externalised in lived reality.
The ideas of positive thinking and chaos magic are considered ‘low magic’ because they are developed for personal gain. Gary’s presentation provided us with a lens to look at Trump’s behaviour which rather than unpredictable and random is in fact coherent and consistent with the tactics of chaos magic which enhance his power.
This month’s talk had to be cancelled due to the pandemic which struck early in the month.
Can Universities Save Us from Disaster?
This was the last presentation before the lockdown. We hosted NICHOLAS MAXWELL Emeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science at University College London where he taught for thirty years. Nicholas has devoted much of his life arguing that we need to bring a revolution in universities so they come to seek and promote wisdom and not just acquire knowledge. Nicholas described the difficulties we are facing globally at the moment, from climate change to destruction of natural habitat, inequality of wealth and power et. The reasons for this he argues comes from the fact that the aims of inquiry are fundamentally flawed. And the blame lies in the way universities conduct their research. He says humanity’s problems are twofold: understanding the universe and understanding self and nature. Whereas in his opinion we solved the first problem, the second he says, has not been addressed and this constitutes the fundamental problem. He identifies two kinds of inquiry: knowledge inquiry and wisdom inquiry. Knowledge inquiry is well developed in the universities but Nicholas argues that wisdom inquiry is not. Humanity needs to learn to become civilised, and the role of universities should be to help us in this endeavour. Nicholas suggests we must get clearer on the methods of science to understand the natural world, to generalise methods so they can be useful to any endeavour, not just science and then get those methods to address problems of society. Problems of living he argues, and not problems of knowledge should be at the heart of academia, and the basic aim of inquiry should change from growth of knowledge to growth of wisdom. Nicholas’ enthusiasm and passion for his ‘crusade’ were clear to see however there was scepticism voiced by academics present, with regards to the viability of his proposals.
Ways to Go Beyond: and Whey They Work
We started the year with a presentation from RUPERT SHELDRAKE on his latest book Ways to Go Beyond: and Whey They Work. Rupert is a biologist and author of 8 books and more than 85 technical papers. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, USA and also an Honorary Member of the SMN.
Rupert started by talking about spiritual practices and religious practices pointing out that spiritual practices are understood as having a more secular connotation than religious practices. Religion and spirituality as concepts are often conflated or separated in ways which creates confusion in people’s minds. But in this talk Rupert addressed practices which are available for scientific research in other words spiritual practices which have measurable effects. His first book on this theme – Science and Spiritual Practices – was on traditional spiritual practices; this one is on non-traditional ones. Rupert pointed out that spiritual practices have as their aim to quieten the mind, and many meditative techniques aim to do so by bringing the mind into the present. In sports, an activity not normally associated with spiritual practices, the mind of participants is concentrated on the present moment to the exclusion of everything else. This reduces the activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) the part of the brain involved in rumination and internal dialogue. Many people who take part in sports games Rupert told us, have spiritual experiences. Dangerous sports in particular, require the person to be absolutely in the present and a high tight-rope walker told Rupert, he feels closest to God when performing his skill on the tight-rope, often walking across the void between two high-rise buildings. Being in such a flow, shuts down the DMN and the mind quietens down.
Another spiritual pursuit of benefit is fasting, which is not only healthy for the physical body, but also gives greater clarity of mind. Next we heard about meditation and prayer, in particular petitioning prayer. This type of prayer depends on a belief in the transcendental, God, angels, ancestors or other beings. It involves the belief that the mind is transparent to the being prayed to in terms of both the form and content of the communication. An activity which parallels petitioning prayer are the candles we light in churches. They may be coping mechanism but he said, it works. Rupert considers meditation as the inbreath and petitioning prayer as the outbreath. He ended his presentation talking about the three-fold aspects of spiritual practices: the ‘I am’ – which is the presence, the Logos, which is the content and Spirit, the flow, the movement, the breath.
Coherent Self, Coherent World: Synthesising Myth, Metaphysics & Bohm’s Implicate Order
DIANA DURHAM was the speaker this month and her presentation presenting her latest book. Diana is a poet and author of 3 collections of poetry, a novel, The Curve of the Land (1915) and her first non-fiction book, The Return of King Arthur: Completing the Quest for Wholeness (2004). The essence of her argument this evening was that when we live a coherent life, when our ‘personality self’ is in a meaningful relationship with a deeper quality of awareness and identity, the world we experience is also coherent. The opposite being true as well: when the relationship between our ‘personality self’ is not in meaningful relationship with our identity, disconnected from our inner intuitive source, then the world in which we live is experienced as chaotic, confusing and difficult. Using the lens of myth, Diana mentioned the story of the Wounded Fisher King who rules over Wasteland. The wasteland is a result of the wound of the king, who deals with his pain or distress by going fishing, in other words, finding ways of negating, denying, or distracting himself. This resonates with ways people find not to attend to their wounds, through distractions and addictions. The kingdom is a reflection of the ruler and in order for the land to flourish, healing needs to occur in the king rather than to the land. Coherence needs to be restored internally. Coherence in this context is the quality of forming a unified whole, in which a meaningful relationship exists between the parts.
What Diana called the ‘inner self’ and the ‘personality self’ need to be in a meaningful relationship, and the relationship with world will be coherent as a result. In this state of being, we experience harmony and balance, and feel happy and fulfilled; we feel connected with our intuitive self, are open-mined, tolerant and can think clearly. We feel centred. Lama Govinda talked about this in terms of the overlap between the ‘universal spiritual’ and the ‘empirical individual’. Said with different words, the ‘intuitive mind’ looks both ways, to the inner and the outer. David Bohm refers to this process through the idea of consciousness experiencing itself in the unfolding of the universe by way of its implicate and explicate order. The implicate order unfolds into the explicate which then infolds into the implicate again, a holomovement. This dance of in and unfoldment exists on a personal as well as the universal level. The intuitive flash for example, is the result of the interrelationship between two aspects of awareness: the ‘empirical individual’ and the ‘universal spiritual’, the implicate and the explicate order. Bohm saw creativity as a result of this dance which enables new meanings to emerge. We participate in the universe by way of our creativity. So coherence between the inner and outer facilitate harmony in living as well as creativity.
Bioelectric fields, Where Biology and Reincarnation Intersect
This month we hosted a talk by Prof RICHARD SILBERSTEIN who was on a visit to London. Richard is Prof Emeritus at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, where he served as head of Dept of Physics and subsequently director of Brain Sciences Institute. He is the founder and chairman of Neuro-Insight Pty, a consumer neuroscience company with offices in Melbourne, London and New York. Richard has over 40 years of neuroscience research experience and is the originator of the Steady State topography (SST) brain imagining methodology.
Richard’s talk was based on the research on past lives memories in children, conducted by Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) coupled with the work of Michael Levin who researches bioelectric fields and their influence on the body.
Since the evidence of reincarnation relies heavily on memory, specifically on what people might remember of their previous lives, Richard quoted examples from the literature of research with children who, when very young, remember having lived before, including in their narratives details which are subsequently confirmed by records.
Addressing the biology part of the talk, Richard spent some time explaining how cells create the bioelectric fields with measurable voltage. This is in itself a fascinating subject as these fields play a remarkable role in certain physical diseases, including cancer. Richard told us about experiments conducted by Levin with planaria, a fascinating water flatworm which reproduce asexually by separating its tail which will generate another head, and the head another tail. We spent some time learning about these experiments and within the context of the lecture, heard about experiments showing that planarian with regenerated heads have memories of learnings the tail part had achieved with the previous head. This indicates that those memories were stored outside of the physical brain. So alongside bottom-up process of genetic and epi-genetic constituents that affect generations of animals, the planarian experiments may indicate a top-down process involving bioelectric fields and memory.
With regards to birth marks found in people who recall past lives it is suggested that bioelectric fields constitute a plausible mechanism whereby consciousness influences the developing human foetus producing birthmarks coinciding with the site of past life lethal injury. It is further suggested that bioelectric fields can constitute a plausible mechanism whereby consciousness influences the developing human foetal brain producing the conditions necessary for the conscious recollection of first-person past life memories. If past-lives memories can indeed be recalled, they must be associated with specific synaptic processes in the brain, most likely taking place in the temporal lobes and the hippocampus. These may be mediated by modifications in bioelectric fields controlling development, probably around birth and shortly after. Richard mentioned research in mice which shows that in infancy the hippocampus undergoes fast neurogenesis, with new synaptic connections replacing older ones indicating loss of memories previously established. In humans, this could explain why past lives become forgotten at an early age of 5 or 6 in humans, at a time when fast neurogenesis occurs. Research shows however that memories may be forgotten but not gone and may manifest in later life behaviour. These preserved memories may be unconscious and remain in what Richard called ‘implicit memory’ which may cause its emotional and procedural content to manifest in automatic responses to circumstances and relationships, as well as other behaviours later in life. An example may be the manifestation of skills in children at unusually young age, such as the case of ‘Hunter” a young golf prodigy in the US who was born after 2000 and recalled a past life as Bobby Jones, a golfing superstar of the 1920s.
Inner Transformation through the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita
At this time of the year, Prof RAVI RAVINDRA visits the UK and often comes to speak to our group, so we were delighted to have the opportunity this year also to host his talk. Ravi is Prof Emeritus at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada, where he served for many years as professor in three Departments: Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Physics. He is the author on a number of books on science, religion and spiritual disciplines. The backdrop of his talk on the message of the Gita is that, as all sages in all spiritual traditions throughout human history have affirmed, one cannot come to the Truth or Light, or God unless a radical transformation of the whole being of the searcher is undertaken. That is the yoga taught in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita is part of the Hindu epic The Mahabharata and tells the story of a war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas in which the prince Arjuna is faced with having to engage in violent battle with members of his own family, friends and teachers. Within the wider narrative of the Gita, Ravi focused on the dialogue between Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna. Krishna is the incarnation of the Highest Divinity. Whereas a lot has been written about the symbolism of the narrative as the war and Arjuna’s role in the war as an external scenario, Ravi told us that the fundamental message of this sacred text, is that the battle is to be understood as an internal dynamic. An internal battle between ‘us 1’ and ‘us 2’. This is the interpretation of Indian sages. The battle is driven by the preoccupation with wealth and power amongst others, which runs society, and our struggles with those. Arjuna is facing a crisis of karma. Karma here is understood as duty, responsibility, order, law and so on. Ravi pointed out that some key words in Sanskrit need to be understood within the context in which they are used. In this context, karma points to these words, in the context of right and wrong. This kind of crisis is common in life, whenever there is a choice to be made. Arjuna does not want to fight, he wants to give up his weapons. Krishna, the incarnation of the Higher Self or Divinity, is there to show him that if his choice is to develop spiritually, he must engage. Spiritual development is a move towards ‘home’ towards a ‘higher’ or ‘deeper’ level of consciousness. Higher for the Abrahamic traditions and deeper for the Indian. For this to happen, ‘sacrifice’ needs to take place. The motivations of physical pleasure and comfort need to be kept in check in service of the process. Desire and fear need to be confronted.
Throughout the talk Ravi kept bringing in examples from Abrahamic teachings to show this perspective to be a universal spiritual message. The message of the Bhagavad Gita is that to evolve spiritually one must engage in Buddhi Yoga, the most comprehensive yoga of all. This is the yoga of awareness leading to the right kind of knowledge. It allows divine action to manifest and teaches non-attachment to outcome. No action can be right until the actor is right, said Ravi. That is the message of transformation in the Bhagavad Gita.
Harmonic Resolutions 12, Science, Business, Spirituality and Healing
In August we welcomed DANIEL STONE who talked about the subject of his book, Harmonic Resolutions 12, Science, Business, Spirituality and Healing. Daniel is the founder and director of the Centre of the Conscious Dream in the desert of San Luis Potosi in the Mexico, where he runs retreats. He presents courses and seminars in Europe, the US and Australia and is also an exhibiting artist and musician. He started the evening by telling us what brought him into this work. He had vivid dreams as a child and described his experience as living a double life, the night life in his dreams, in which he experienced other dimensions where he met animals and other beings, and in the day, his daily life. At the age of 19 he could not keep these two experiences apart. To understand the meaning in his dreams he tried psychology, especially Jung, but it was when he engaged in spirituality, particularly Toltec, Australian aboriginal and Buddhist shamanism, that things started to make sense for him. In time, he realised that the different worlds people live in, whether culturally, professionally or spiritually the language may be different, but he found a common denominator in their representation in numbers within the teachings of the Medicine Wheel in shamanism, where those different worlds can be understood through a single representational lens. The Medicine Wheel goes from zero to 12 and represents the journey of the soul. These numbers find their meaning in all areas of human experience and activity. Daniel explored only two numbers this evening, zero and twelve. Zero is nothingness. In religion it is represented by the great void which is god, the Great Spirit or Creation. This emptiness is full of potential. In the body it requires letting go of everything, reverting to basic existence of breathing. It can be experienced by focusing the attention on the basic experience of being. In physics it is represented by singularity and in business Daniel suggests it is the withdrawing of the attention from the stress of decision making, onto something totally different to allow a different perspective to emerge. The number 12 manifests in many areas of our experiences, as in the 12 musical notes, 12 basic colours, 2 x 12 vertebrae and so on. There are a number of elements associated with each number, such as colour, frequencies and harmonic vibrations. Numbers are powers. It sounded a fascinating perspective which however, we did not have time to explore in further detail but came away with the realisation that in this culture, each number represents a particular way of perceiving the universe from any number of angles.
We did not have a meeting in July as regrettably, our speaker had to cancel.
Lucid Dreaming: Transformation While you Sleep
CHARLEY MORLEY was our speaker for the month of June. Charlie is a teacher of lucid dreaming and shadow integration, having been “authorised to teach” within the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism by Lama Yeshe Rinpoche. He has written three books on the topic, which have been translated into 13 languages. He called the talk for this evening, Lucid Dreaming: Transformation While you Sleep. He started the session by asking people to close eyes and relax into their deeper selves and ask the question: why have I come to this talk? Having set the scene, he explained what lucid dreams are, what they achieve and their place in the Buddhist tradition. Lucid dreaming is making friends with ourselves he said, it is connecting with the very deepest and most unconscious part of ourselves. In the lucid dreaming state, we “wake up” inside a dream with awareness that we are dreaming. We can consciously follow the narrative and to a certain extent control it, but as Charlie pointed out, if the control is too heavy, the dream will chuck us out. We are not meant to deeply control it. The idea is to learn from it. Dreaming in general are ways in which our minds try to process difficult experiences. Nightmares, for instance, are efforts to integrate traumas. They are not to be dismissed, says Charlie. In lucid dreaming we face the deepest projections of our psychology. Psychological work can be undertaken in lucid dreams, when a person confronts a personalised manifestation of their fears for instance, which can help integration. Other benefits include increased insights and also rehearsal and training. Many of the studies on lucid dreaming we were told, come from the field of sports sciences. It has been found that athletes can train in a lucid dream and improve performance in the waking state. Creative people have more lucid dreams and conversely lucid dream helps creativity. It can help with healing of low-level ailments, along the lines of a placebo effect. For the Buddhist lucid dreaming is a path towards dying consciously in order to know the visions of the Bardo. This is when our true nature will be realised or recognised. In lucid dreaming we encounter hyper reality. We can feel physical pain and emotions, taste and touch, within a clear awareness that we are dreaming. It is safe. The majority of children can lucid dream because it is a natural capacity. The way in therefore Charlie tells us, it through the inner child. First of all, we need to train ourselves to remember our dreams, which most of us don’t, so the training for it involves repeating upon falling asleep ‘I remember my dreams, I have excellent dream recall’ and other such affirmations. The next thing we need is to keep a dream diary, in which we record our dreams even if only fragments. We can then look out for patters. Patterns are triggers. If we recognise a pattern in a dream, we become aware that we are dreaming. A sign of lucid dreaming is to look at the outstretched hand in quick movement of palms up and down, and notice if the hand changes to some impossible state. It was a fascinating evening, and I am sure many people present will have been surprised to have recalled a dream that night, as I did.
The Nature of Consciousness
This month we invited RUPERT SPIRA to speak to the group. Rupert is a spiritual teacher and author of a number of books on spirituality. From an early age Rupert had an interest in the nature of reality and developed his path through the teachings of various non-dual teachers, eventually settling with the perspective of Kashmir Shaivism. He called his talk The Nature of Consciousness. He started by encouraging the audience to observe their own experience by exploring their inner space directly. So, with closed eyes, most of us went inside and noticed our experience to the sound of his words. He encouraged us to become aware of our awareness. To discern the ‘I’ of having feelings and sensations, but not beingthe feelings and sensations. We were asked not to think and to focus on the experience of being. Rupert used the metaphor of a screen on which a movie plays. Consciousness is like this screen. The activity happens on the screen but it is not part of the screen. He then asked us to observe whether our awareness or consciousness have an edge? A border? Can we leave the field of consciousness? Consciousness, he said, is single but is also shared. It has no dimension it is a knowing void full of potential. The ‘I’ awareness is infinite, it is the same 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 month, 10 years ago. A discussion arose over Rupert’s use of the words ‘consciousness’ and ‘awareness’, which for him are interchangeable. A number of people disagreed. Pointing out that, whereas they could understand that consciousness is infinite and we – our consciousness – participate in this infinite consciousness, we do however have our unique experience of our personal consciousness through awareness. But Rupert could not accept that, and insisted that although our perceptions are personal, consciousness is universal. So, what could be seen as a discussion about semantics, became a frustrating case of talking at cross purposes for some people…
The Computer and the Psyche
On a cold Spring evening, Dr. JEREMY NAYDLER gave one of the most interesting lectures – in my view – we had at the London Group. Jeremy holds a PhD in Theology and Religious Studies. He has written several books on religious life and antiquity and on the history of consciousness. He entitled the talk The Computer and the Psycheand the subject was part of his new book In the Shadow of the Machine: The Prehistory of the Computer and the Evolution of Consciousness(Temple Lodge 2018). Computers have become intrinsic in our lives. At the most fundamental level, these machines work on the binary system of electrical on/off signals in a transistor. Binary logic is pervasive in our culture but where does this logic come from? Jeremy’s research uncovered the myth of Binarius developed in the late 16thcentury by the alchemist Gerhard Dorn. On order to give us the context, Jeremy took us back to much earlier times. He explained that ancient Egyptians lived in an animated world of gods and goddesses. A tree was the abode of the goddess Knut and therefore sacred. And so were all elements in nature, sacred dwellings of gods and goddesses. He told us that Egyptian priesthood. Wishing to protect their holistic culture, resisted the introduction of machines, which are based on logical thinking, even though contemporary Mesopotamian culture made wide use of them. It is in Greek culture that we see binary logical first staking its place in philosophy. Aristotle formalised it in various laws, for example, ‘a thing is what it is and not anything other than what it is’. This was his most fundamental law and was backed by other binary laws. Aristotle was nevertheless aware of a further, deeper level of thinking beyond the binary, a middle place, the moral level. That is where virtue lives. For example, generosity is not the opposite of meanness, generosity is a middle, moral value. It lives somewhere on the spectrum between the opposites of meanness and profligacy.
From a different perspective, the binary theme is the model offered by Pythagoras. He introduced the idea of Creation as the Source represented by the number 1. Multiplicity arises from Creation and is represented by the number 2. The world of opposites was thus created and from this much conflict and strife arises. And with it the concept of evil. Moving into the Middles Ages, Jeremy used the Fall from Paradise as example. The snake represents duality and carries the connotations of evil. We now come to Dorn who developed the myth of Binarius, the core of his presentation. In the Bible it is stated that God determined that his creation was “good” on every day, except on the second day. That day God separated the waters into upper and lower levels. Binuarius is born. According to Dorn, God is the point (Unarius). It has no dimension and is prior to all. From the point comes multiplicity represented by the line (Binarius) which creates a circle (Ternarius). On this circle revolves the human soul – which (for Dorn) is the pinnacle of creation. But Binarius is not content, wanting to create his own world bends itself (the line) around and develops two heads. He is full of envy. Binary thinking seeks its own popularity. Leibniz takes binary thinking further and tries to develop a thinking machine based on binary logic. This becomes reality when electricity is introduced in the 20thcentury and then culminates in the computer. Binary thinking is attractive but traps us into simple (simplistic?) thinking. Jeremy argues we need to avoid this trap and encourages us to connect with nature, where real knowledge resides and through which we find our way to freedom, the excluded middle, the voice of consciousness. A particularly relevant subject in these febrile, Brexit contaminated days!
The Shape of the Soul
DR. PAUL MARSHALL was our speaker this month. Paul studied physical sciences and holds a PhD in Religious Studies. He has a deep interest in mystical experiences of the natural world and the philosophy of consciousness. This evening he talked about his new book, The Shape of the Soul. Paul had a profound mystical experience, in his sleep many years ago, from which he woke up feeling a sense of wholeness, different from anything he had experience in his life. In his dream he was by a seashore looking at the horizon, and was pulled into a profoundly meaningful expanded consciousness, which led him to a deep sense of having found what he was looking for. His thought was – no more searching. He understood everything, he knew everything. Worries dropped away and so did his ego self. In this expanded state he became aware of other living things which had a circular shape, from which the title of his book arises. He was totally clear minded, aware of the unbearable intensity of the love he felt.
Paul took us through his book chapter by chapter. The first chapter introduces the concept of non-duality and explains mystical experiences: their potential triggers, characteristics, types and classification. As a definition, he proposes that mystical experiences bring a sense of deepened contact with reality, the contact consisting of unity or at least intimate connection or presence, and often an intuitive type of knowing. Chapter 2 describes his own experience and chapter 3 Into the House of Death exploring Near death Experiences and observing that mystical experiences have an affinity with NDEs. There is a sense of coming back fromreal life, a threat to the ego, and experiencing self-judgment (as opposed to judgment from some other source). In chapter 4, Paul explores the higher dimensions of the Self, explaining the two aspects, the ego self and the Cosmic Self, which he speculates, may be a communal Self. In chapter 5 he takes a look at other types of consciousness, such as angels and spirits and explores the experiences of Hildegard of Bingen. In chapter 6 he refers to a theory of the nature of reality based on the idea of primacy of consciousness and develops Leibniz (1646 – 1716)’s philosophy of monadology. Monads according to Leibniz, are fundamental units of the universe, each expressing the universe from their own point of view. They are complete in themselves, including all of its relations to every other monad in the universe. Monads are ‘laden’ with the past and ‘pregnant’ with the future. The soul is an advanced monad. The last 5 chapters develop monadology further and include slight modification of the system to make it more consistent with modern understanding. He develops the idea of evolutionary monadology incorporating theories and principles not available in the 17thcentury, and includes a discussion on the existence of evil. The last chapter explores The Making of God.
This month we welcomed back DR MIKE KING an old friend of the SMN whose last presentation was in 2013. Mike is retired from the London Metropolitan University where he was a Reader, and is now an independent multi-disciplinary scholar in areas spanning religion, the arts, philosophy and science. He has published over 60 papers, book chapters, film and book reviews and is the author of 9 books which include 3 novels. He is a Quaker and a great lover of nature. This evening he talked about his environmental novel Mountain Calls, a semi-biographical account of his animistic encounters with a mountain in Austria. The experience which gave rise to this book happened in Austria some 10-15 years ago, when he was in Vienna during winter visiting relatives. He wanted to be in snow which was absent in the region so he jumped on a train and found himself on a mountain where he met a couple of people debating theology in a blizzard! They almost got lost! On his way back, in the beautiful sunset, Mike felt the mountain spoke to him. Not in words, but what he understood was the message WE ARE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT YOUR KIND IS DOING. He was intrigued and the message stayed with him. He decided he needed to do something about it. He had another paranormal experience some months later, when he felt the presence of some 20 Native Americans spirit guides reminding him of his promise. The book is the fulfilment of the promise. Mike went back three times to the Mountain, and although he did not get much on the first visit, because his attention was elsewhere, he made himself available in the following two. He felt the Mountain used him as the eyes and the ears of humanity. He also felt he and Mountain became less anxious as they got to know each other better.
The novel is structured as periods in the Mountain and in the debates in the Viennese coffee shops, where future scenarios are discussed. The novel leads to the idea of recapitulationism, which Mike sees as a spirituality for the Anthropocene. Recapitulationism, is not a new idea, it goes back to our shamanic past, though Pythagoras then through the New Platonist tradition, Pico dela Mirandola, flowing into the work of Leibniz, in his monadology. To recapitulate means to encompass everything that exists inside us. The principles of Recapitulationism which Mike identifies are:
- Each human recapitulates the universe within him/her. This is well known in the mystics of all traditions. Everything is ultimately one.
- A human can know this fully or not at all. This is connected with spiritual development. The person is either open to it or is not.
- Each human recapitulates the universe both truly and uniquely. This is where Mike sees the contribution of the West by endorsing individuality, which Eastern philosophies do not. Each individual recapitulates the universe fully and truly, in his/her particular way.
- Non-human persons cannot recapitulate either knowingly or fully. Mike calls non-human persons all other beings belonging to the animal kingdom. They are not lesser beings but cannot knowingly recapitulate. Only in humans can we say that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
Recapitulation can be achieved through various routes: memory, Darwinian inheritance, Lamarckian inheritance, culture, past lives, collective unconscious, morphic resonance, Plat’s ideas, Leibniz monadology, Shamanism, and the Akashic Records.
The future Mike says, should not be seen as frightening because nothing is ever lost.
The I Ching, Synchronicity and Time
The year started with a presentation by DR. SHANTENA SABBADINI, a theoretical physicist who worked in the US and Italy researching the foundations of quantum physics. He contributed to the first identification of a black hole. His interests took him to become scientific consultant to the ERANOS Foundation in the 1990s and there he was drawn to study Chinese classics, including the I Ching. He is the current director of the Pari Center for New Learning, and the author of various books including The Original I Ching Oracle, which he co-authored with Rudolf Ritsema and his latest, Pilgrimages to Emptiness: Rethinking Reality through Quantum Physics. Shantena started his talk by explaining what is meant by ‘changes’ in the title of I Ching, which translates in English [The Book of] Simple Changes. Life rises out of the interplay of chaos and order. The natural cycle is best understood as being made of unpredictable changes. The I Ching originates from shamanic practices and indicates the dance between the two basic principles of Yin and Yang which are constantly moving. The Chinese cosmology is a superposition of various cycles and understands the cyclical nature of all phenomena. The principles of the I Ching as a divination tool relies on the understanding of reality by resonance, not by cause and effects which we in the West are used to.
Jung, who was very interested in the topic, developed the concept of non-causal coincidences, to which he gave the name synchronicity. He refined the understanding of the concept through his discussions with Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli with whom he corresponded for 25 years. He posed two questions to Pauli: 1) is synchronicity a scientific principle that can be tested statistically? To which the answer was – no, it is not. Synchronicity does not depend on reduction of reality that allows it to be measured and compared. It is unique. And 2) does synchronicity have something to do with quantum observation? And here Pauli confirmed that there is a correspondence in the uniqueness of a synchronistic event and a quantum observation. So, the I Ching is a way of accessing synchronicity. The questions asked in the divination needs to be emotionally significant and should not involve a yes/no answer. If the question relates to a choice of alternatives, the question needs to be about the viability of one of the options, rather than describing the alternatives. It is also suggested that quite specific questions can be asked as they will be given detailed answers. The other important principle is that questioner needs to ask a question for himself, not for someone else. The answers will be understood by resonance. Whatever feels right to the questioner. This explains the nature of the language which in the original and in translations is obscure. The I Ching translation authored by Shantena and Rudolf Ritsema follows the principle of the original by providing each word that appears with a range of meanings accessible to Western minds. Working with the I Ching requires one to trust our own associations. There is no right or wrong.
Science Technology and Contemplative Inquiry
Senior scientist at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) DR. MARCO SCHORLEMMERwas our speaker this month. Marco has a broad interest in Computational Concepts Systems, i.e, modelling those systems of conceptual entities that we continuously create and adapt to apprehend and describe the world we live in and interact with. The talk was entitled Science Technology and Contemplative Inquiry and he addressed the discrepancy which currently exists between the core values of scientific enquiry and practice.
Marco started by pointing out the principles of scientific inquiry as being:
- Vocational, permeated by an attitude of aweand wonderrelying on open communication, sharing and trust.
- It creates community
- It cannot be rushed into, it is gratuitousand loving
- It is transformational, freeing our experience from mythical understandings of reality
That is a contemplative attitude. However, the reality of scientific practice today is very different. It:
- Exploresfashionable research lineswith short-term objectives and pragmatic applications.
- The teams are opportunisticto attract funding, they are competitive,wary of sharing ideas, set into rigid power hierarchies
- There are constant interruptions, ideas are often half-bakedbut must get published or the research perishes.
- Research is supported by big business leading to powerand enhancement of egos,wary of challenging orthodox theoriesas it may affect credibility and scientific careers.
- And there is a certain arrogancebehind the objectivity, evidence, proof, rationality, …
These are the values of the social economic model which arose from Modernity. The overarching aim of investors in scientific research is to increase productivity and that of the scientists themselves is to sell their work. In Marco’s own field of Artificial Intelligence, this paradigm may bring with it certain dangers. He explained AI as an endeavour which aims to design autonomous systems that will produce best outcomes based on “memories” of what he called “vicarious perceptions” the system has of an environment. So, in the light of its “memories” of past recorded “perceptions”, an AI system will produce autonomously, the best possible outcome in response to the demands of a current environment. The danger however is that we forget that we are using metaphors and endow the models with an ontological reality leading to an over reliance on the system. An example is the algorithmic trading which can potentially tip markets into free fall. Marco says that rather than idolising productivity, technology should be measured against its ability to enable us to devote time to creative freedom, the freedom of creation. Scientific inquiry is naturally dualistic yet considering the non-dual nature of the ultimate nature of reality, true science should be able to help us transcend our attachment to duality if conducted according to its true principles. To this effect, finding himself in the mid of his scientific career, Marco seeks out other scientists and organisations which share his motivations. He mentioned a few which included the SMN in the UK, The Slow Science Academy in Germany, the Association of Contemplative Minds in Higher Education in the US, L’Atelier des Chercheuers in Belgium and the World Community of Christian Meditation in the UK.
What Makes Us Humans
PROF FARANEH VARGA-KHADEM was our speaker this month. She is Prof of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Head of Section on Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychiatry at the UCL Institute of Child Health. She is also the clinical-academic lead for the Department of Clinical Neuropsychology at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. She conducts research on the effects of brain injury on neural circuits serving memory and learning, speech and language, special navigation and movement organisation. She is also a member of the Baha’i faith and this evening she gave us an overview of her work and Baha’i spiritual principles and how they inform each other. Faraneh started by explaining what she felt when her daughter started to speak at around age 2, it felt like magic! She became motivated to understand how the brain allows this to happen and went on to study the brain. Her studies led to the understanding that memory and language go together in the mind and are a particularly human attribute. Her research with amnesiac children who have impaired memory due to oxygen deprivation in the brain as a result of birthing difficulties, illness or injury, show that although these children can learn to speak, read and write, they have no memory which means they live exclusively in the present. They cannot remember the past or plan for the future. They listen but cannot remember. They also cannot use their imagination. Another set of children Faraneh researches are those who have no language. She told us about a family which presented some 25 years ago with difficulties in speaking. Studying this extended family she found that within three generations of this family some could speak normally and others could not, due to physical difficulties in jaw articulation. Her research identified a gene mutation as responsible for this condition. So based on these two sets of patients, no memory and no language and the science behind these conditions, Faraneh went on to explore What Makes Us Humans– the title of the presentation. What is it that energises the brain to do the job of being human? Is it something we don’t see, science cannot physically find in the brain, such as memory or muscles that move the jaws? Mind, memory and language are the elements that in particular, differentiate us from animals. Even without language, as per some of her research subjects, or without memory, those children are still human, because they have whatever it is that energises the human brain to do the job of being human. Faraneh went on to give us an interesting overview of evolution through various stages and transitions and noted that at one point in the process, a particular gene became inactive in order to allow the jaw to recede and the skull to grow to accommodate a larger brain, which came to include the all important frontal lobes. The jaw became able to articulate sounds which then developed into language. Our hand also evolved to allow the thumb and forefinger to touch, which our ape ancestors could not do. Archaeology shows that around 25,000 years ago burials became elaborate affairs and included artefacts designed to help the individual in the afterlife. Discoveries don’t tell us how metaphysical experiences came about but they indicate that they did. The belief in an afterlife indicates that those beings felt a connection with the transcendental, which is, as far as we know, specifically human. Faraneh then read from some beautiful Baha’i texts, addressing the harmony between science and religion. Science is important but if it stops the interface with spirit, it will not serve humanity. The brain is regarded as the oxygen of the infinite, as a facilitator, not the originator of consciousness.
Typology of Spiritual Feelings
This month we welcomed DR. OLIVER ROBINSON, principal lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich, who describes himself as an amateur philosopher and a committed spiritual explorer. He is also the author of various books, including his latest, Paths Between Head and Heart. This evening he explained one aspect of his book, the Typology of Spiritual Feelings, the title of his talk. Olly started by telling us about one of the differences between the approaches of science and spirituality, science resting on the cultivation of a particular kind of thinking, analytical, deductive, critical etc and spirituality emphasizing feelings. This difference is also reflected in the different kind of trainings, scientific and spiritual which relies on practice. The feelings experienced in spiritual practice facilitate a deep knowing which is epistemic in nature and also moral. It cultivates virtue. This evening Olly developed four types of feelings associated with spiritual experiences: positive, ecstatic, aesthetic, and sublime. Positivity is what he called, a spiritual playground, and is developed through mindfulness, breath work, generally practices that induce a positive state of mind and joyful living. Laughter is a manifestation of positive feelings and we were asked to talk in gibberish to one another in order to experience laughter. Ecstatic feelings are those beyond the range of normal emotions and are often associated with trance phenomena, such as shamanic experiences, orgasms, dance, music etc.. They are infrequent and sometimes engender a depressive mood after. Aesthetic feelings are associated with the sense of the beautiful, nature, visual arts, music etc, and Olly pointed out that the opposite of aesthetic is anaesthetic, which colloquially relates to loss of consciousness. And the last on, the sublime is a deeply paradoxical state, a mixture of pleasure, pain and fear, the concept of awe encapsulating the phenomena. It shatters the ego and moves us close to the mystery which is life. It is experienced sometime in nature, in powerful natural phenomena, at times in childbirth and other such unique experiences. He mentioned the work of Rudolph Otto who coined the word numinous and encapsulated the sublime with the word Mysterium Tremendum.
Digital Consciousness and Platonic Computation- Unification of Consciousness, Mind and Matter by Metacomputics
Our August meeting slipped into the last days in July because our speaker Dr SIMON DUAN had to travel during August. Simon came to the UK from China in the 1980s to study and was awarded a PhD in Materials Sciences by Cambridge University. He has worked for many years in research and development, technology commercialisations and management consultancy both in China and the UK. He has a longstanding interest in parapsychology and is currently Vice President of the Chinese Parapsychology Association. In addition, he is the founder of Metacomputics Labs which researches a new theoretical framework that unifies consciousness, mind and matter. This research was the topic of this evening’s presentation. Simon began his study of consciousness following a psychic experience in China, when a damaged wisdom tooth was released from his jaw by a simple slap from an unconventional practitioner. Other extraordinary phenomena followed. As a scientist he is intrigued by what cannot be explained using physics so, he told us, he gave up physics. He uses the computer as metaphor in his model, acknowledging that humanity has historically used the technology of the moment to understand the world around it. The model, which Simon confirms is a map, not the territory, identifies Ultimate Consciousness as being empty of properties. It is timeless, nondual, dimensionless, formless, infinite, boundless etc. it can only be described by what it is not, not what it is, an idea familiar to mystical religions. It is potentiality. Simon uses the terminology of pixels which helps make the concept graphic. Ultimate consciousness is a grey pixel. As it creates duality, it creates a white pixel and a grey pixel, a mirror in which consciousness can see itself. The second step, the first computation, creates trinity, in computer terms data, the processor and the program. Step three creates diversity represented in 3D. Individual consciousness (as in pantheistic principles) is part of Ultimate Consciousness. Consciousness is the hardware in which the software of reality operates. For further information, see http://www.metacomputics.com. Time in this model is a progression of the pixels as they become created. The present moment is when the computation occurs and space is the 3D display of the computation. This model allows for the idea of multiverses, as each time Ultimate Consciousness creates a duality, a new universe is formed. Many levels of reality can also be formed in this model and psychic phenomena occur when a mind enters a different level of reality. The computation in this model is done at the level of a platonic computer and reality is a projection on a 3D screen. The phenomenon of entanglement is therefore explained by the participation in the same 3D screen of the elements entangled, whether two particles, the coordinated flock of birds or school of fish. Simon’s speculation is that we may be living in a computer simulation, an idea which has been expressed by scientists in the past and more recently suggested in the film The Matrix. The model leaves a few questions unanswered, such as what of free will, where/when does the “programmer” emerge in the process, and Simon has promised to come back to explore these questions at a future occasion.
Recent Thoughts on the Hemispheres Hypothesis,
Dr. IAIN MCGILCHRIST spoke to a packed room this month about the topics he is exploring in the book he is currently writing. Iain’s scholarly and professional career took him first to the field of humanities and then to medicine. He is a former Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and former Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director at the Bethlem Royal & Maudsley Hospital, London. He has been a Research Fellow in neuroimaging at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, and a Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Stellenbosch. He is the author amongst others, of the seminal book the Master and his Emissary which has helped many people to understand how the different kinds of attention and perception of the two brain hemisphere can, through their predominance, influence the way we see, understand and interact with life. We were told about the communications Iain had from the general public, expressing gratitude for being able to understand themselves and others better based on what they learn from his book. This evening Iain started by giving us an overview of his theory as expressed in the original book, and described the left hemisphere type of perception as informed by certainty, quantification, analysis, clarity, abstraction from context etc. The right hemisphere on the other hand, perceives the world as possibilities, qualities, change and fluidity, inherent in context, with emotion and awareness of body etc. The current paradigm has a left brain bias which has the effect of narrowing down our understanding and appreciation of reality. This is not to discount the benefits of left brain perspectives, which have been essential for the development of science and technology which have so improved the conditions of life. However what Iain stresses are the limitations of this bias. The left hemisphere can be likened to a computer it is excellent if it knows how to proceed but it has no handle on the meaning which requires the process. The mechanistic perspective is unhelpful to understand and appreciate living organisms. The book Iain is now writing, There are No Things, examines metaphysics and epistemology of his two hemisphere theory. Due to the limitations of time, he could only cover a few of the subjects explored in the book. A hot topic at the moment is truth. What is truth? In the paradigm in which we live, with reason as tool, science is seen as the sole credible source for truth. This kind of left hemisphere approach looks for facts and certainty to support truth. It side lines intuition with the effect that a whole range of possibilities is ignored and overlooked. Imagination is also not valued yet it is fundamental, all ideas as well as all our experiences have their origin in imagination. The bias, when it exists on a personal basis, is intrinsically connected with the personality and tendencies of the communicator. The left hemisphere approach jumps to conclusions whereas the right brain approach is more tolerant, embracing and inclusive. It is more nuanced and understands that truth may not be fixed, it can be fluid and relative. An interesting explanation of paradox describes it as a conflict in the perspectives of the two hemispheres. The new book will look at many other aspects which Iain however, did not have time to cover, such as why the brain has evolved the way it did, how the hemispheres look at time, space, values etc. We had a lively Q&A session which could have gone on until the early hours of the morning …
Diamonds from Heaven: a 20 year Journey into the Mind of the Universe
This month we had a fascinating evening listening to PROF CHRIS BACHE talking about his experiences of 73 high dose LSD sessions conducted between 1979 and 1999. Diamonds from Heaven: a 20 year Journey into the Mind of the Universe was the title of the presentation, and is also the title of the book he is finalising. Chris Bache is professor emeritus in the Dept of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio, where he taught for 33 years. In the late 70s he was introduced to the work of Stanislav Grof with LSD and was convinced of the power of such research into non-ordinary states of consciousness. Grof had developed a 3 session high dose psychedelic therapy for dying patients as a way of preparing them for their death. On that basis Bache felt that if 3 sessions were safe, more would also be safe and he embarked on this journey of what he called, psychedelic exploration taking 73 such high doses. However, because by that time the use of LSD had become illegal, he had to keep his research confidential, and therefore lived a double life not being able to share his experiences with friends and colleagues. He recorded each of the sessions phenomenologically, systematically and meticulously within the following 24 hours. He found himself exploring the core of the meaning and the structure of existence in dimensions of universal transcendence. He was engaging with a consciousness of universal proportion which was taking him personally through various levels and dimensions on a journey of collective historical unfoldment. He experienced the spiral of death and rebirth into various personal identities countless times as well as the death and rebirth of our species. He learned to surrender to the process that repeats itself as he experienced ever deeper levels of consciousness. He experienced the depths of despair and suffering in the process of detoxification and purification as well as heights of ecstasy including a power of love impossible to describe. He felt always met and to be in dialogue with a vast consciousness who took him systematically where it wanted to take him, and even when he interrupted the process for 6 years, the following session resumed where the last one left off. When he asked who/what this vast consciousness was, the answer pointed to himself. At first he found the experiences ineffable but in time he learned the skill to retain them in his memory in order to record and articulate them. He was taken beyond the collective psyche, beyond humanity to a level of platonic and archetypal forms but not the way we understand them. He found them to be vast energies structuring time/space, living and growing in galactic dimensions. Part of his experience was a domain of incredible light, which he called Diamond Light in which he felt himself dissolving. He had flashes of what he called God but it was not the theistic God although it had traits of it. He was guided into the unfolding of the future, the Big Awakening for humanity, which he found movingly beautiful. But before that, the big breakdown, the Dark Night of the Soul of humanity which is indeed taking place in the 21stCentury, giving birth to a new form of human being already implicit in our history – a diamond soul. This will be achieved by personally coming to terms with our lives in service of our collective existence. He got the insight that human beings are built for evolutionary speed – the core of the soul shifts to accelerate evolution. Reflecting on this experience, he confessed that for the following few years he was waiting to die in order to reconnect with the experience, but it then became clear that he needed to share this with others. So now that he is retired, he can speak about it, which is what he is doing. His book will be published in the course of 2019 but his lecture on this topic is available here https://slideslive.com/38903724/diamonds-from-heaven-a-20-year-psychedelic-journey.
Seeking Wisdom – A Spiritual Manifesto
The speaker this month was Dr. LARRY CULLIFORD, a retired physician and psychiatrist who has now turned his attention to the ailments of society. “Where is humanity heading, towards misery and destruction or a far more glorious future?” “How can people – as individuals – make a difference?” He has written a book– Seeking Wisdom – A Spiritual Manifesto, in which he comments on various aspects of politics, leadership, religion, education, health and social care, capitalism, and art, and examines the human predicament in terms of both intellectual understanding, and deeply personal yet universal spiritual experiences. He uses the ideas of Iain McGilchrist as a lens through which to identify left and right brain hemisphere predominance in our ways of thinking as they affect our worldly and spiritual values. He argues that the world’s major problems are interrelated. The solution Larry says is for people to spend more time pursuing activities involving right hemisphere kinds of attention, especially being still and meditating. He argues we need to take responsibility and engage with suffering at the level of compassion and at a personal level to engage in activities which will lead to growth and maturity. And we can encourage others to become wisdom seekers.
Chaos, violence, wars and barbarism, why Humanity and Peace will prevail
This month we welcomed from the US, PROF JERRY KROTH who entitled his talk Chaos, violence, wars and barbarism, why Humanity and Peace will prevail. Jerry is an Associate Professor in the graduate Counseling Psychology programme at Santa Clara University. He is an author of over 12 books and this evening he explored the contents of his book The Psychic Immune System: a Hidden Epiphenomenon of the Body’s Own Defenses. He started by quoting Jung who said ‘to a quite terrifying degree, we are threatened by wars and revolutions, which are nothing other than psychic epidemics’. It is in this sense that he uses the word “psychic”, as meaning of thepsycheor mind, rather than in a paranormal sense. The core of the book addresses the possibility that a “psychic” immune system may exist that protects humanity from decimation, in a corresponding way in which the physical body relies on its immune system for protection. To support his theory, Jerry went over some statistics, and showed us examples of major catastrophes in history, all of which came to an end. We saw the Bell curves of the events rising, peaking and then falling into nothing. All events have an end. From Genghis Kahn to the Spanish flu, something happened that brought those terrible events to an end. What might that be? The most interesting (for me) parts of the talk were examples he gave of large part of humanity coming extraordinarily close to being obliterated through nuclear war, and the ensuing deadly nuclear winter. He mentioned that there have been close to 20 such incidents and expanded on the details of three: in September 1983 the Soviet early warning system indicated that 5 US ICB missiles were heading towards the Soviet Union. The officer on duty found this strange, why only 5, and decided not to tell his superior. Had he told his superior officer the whole soviet machinery would have gone into operation with unforeseen consequences. The next incident addressed was the Cuban Missile Crisis, considered the most dangerous moment in human history. What we don’t know about this incident is that whilst the US were dropping depth charges on a Soviet submarine, they were unaware that this submarine was equipped with nuclear tipped torpedoes. Three officers in the submarine discussed their orders which were that if under attack they should launch these nuclear devices. Two were in favour of following these orders, and one (Arkhipov) was against. His arguments won. Had these nuclear missiles been launched, the US would retaliate with nuclear bombs, and WW3 would most likely have been upon us with terrifying consequences. The American military acknowledged that had they known that the submarine was armed with nuclear bombs, they would never have attacked it with depth charges. Arkhipov could be said to have saved the world from annihilation! One other example Jerry gave was the incident involving a computer simulation of WW3, the US called Able Archer, at the time of president Ronald Reagan. It was essentially a game, which the US tried to make as realistic as possible. The Soviets who were monitoring it did not believe it to be a game, and prepared for a massive retaliatory strike. Ten warheads were aimed at particular US cities. The Soviet code for the launch of their nuclear missiles was issued. At the last minute the game finished and the missiles did not get fired. These and other examples make Jerry ask, what is it that protects the human race. Is it luck? Rationality? God? He proposes that a collective self-preserving instinct in mankind, the workings of which remain a mystery, but something written in humanity, outside of our consciousness, works towards preservation of the species and ultimate peace. He quoted Ghandi who said ‘when I despair I remember that through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fail. Think of it …. always!’. The intriguing and hopeful message of his talk prompted an interesting discussion. This talk is on Youtube and can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA1Zz5cFngo
Science and Spiritual Practices
RUPERT SHELDRAKE PhD, old friend and honorary member of the SMN was our speaker this month. Rupert is a biologist and author of more than 85 scientific papers and 12 books, including his latest Science and Spiritual Practices, which was the theme of his presentation this evening. In this book, Rupert explores the scientific interest that has blossomed around spiritual practices since late 20th Century. Many research papers have been published showing the benefits of spiritual practices to health and happiness. In addition, we know that some high profile academics who are overt atheist such as Sam Harris and Susan Blackmore, have taken up meditation and promote their benefits. This interest has spread to other areas, for instance media personality Russell Brand talks openly in his podcast, about spirituality which he embraced following the 12 step programme he engaged in to deal with his addiction. He has an audience of more than 750 thousand mostly young people. By validating spiritual practices, science is giving it a seal of approval, which our scientific paradigm requires. Rupert identified 6 spiritual practices which he himself undertakes: gratitude, meditation, nature, singing/chanting, rituals and pilgrimages. In this brief overview, starting with gratitude, he pointed out that thanks-giving is at the root of all religions. Research shows that being grateful correlates positively with happiness and by contrast the opposite, taking things for granted and feeling entitled correlates with unhappiness. Meditation was introduced to the West by theosophists in the 19th Century. In the mid 1950s we saw the arrival of Zen Buddhism and in the 60/70s we saw the rise in popularity of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in the West. The book The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson in the mid 1970’s endorsed meditation as beneficial to health and in the late 70’s Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine realised the benefits of mindfulness to patients and started a world wide revolution in the treatment of stress and anxiety. Singing and chanting is a practice found in every spiritual tradition and drawing on the work of his wife Jill Purce, Rupert invited us to experience in the body the resonance of chanting different vowels. We then experimented with amyn, similar to the mantra ohm (or aum), which lost its powerful resonance as it became translated into amen in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Mantras resonate in the body, with other people and through morphic resonance across time. And finally we heard about pilgrimage as an ancient practice, probably started as people followed their animals in their movement. Many pilgrimage paths are being revived all over Europe but they have on the whole lost their religious aspects and are more about connection with the land. In fact tourist are, Rupert told us, frustrated pilgrims!
This month we welcomed TIM FREKE, author of 35 books, who spoke here some 16 years ago, on one of his first books, The Jesus Mysteries. This talk was about his most recent book, Soul Story. Kicking off his shoes and pulling his shirt out of his trousers for more freedom, Tim shared with us with energetic enthusiasm, his theory about evolution. A few words are key for his theory and were repeatedly drawn upon to explain his views: evolution, potentiality, information, process, imagination and time. And of course soul. We did not hear the word consciousness mentioned once. At the core of his theory is his perspective on time, which he points out, does not pass, but accumulates. Time is not an illusion, it is very real. Every moment is a meeting of the past with the possible, therefore the arrow of time is unidirectional. In every moment some potentiality becomes realised. The universe has come into being all those billions of years ago and is itself a process. The process is to bring ever more potentialities into being moving towards ever greater complexity. Out of this process, also understood as emergence, soul or psyche emerged from the potentiality of the universe. The quality of soul is awareness, its tool imagination and its eye is attention. Through imagination, we bring potentials into being. Psyche or soul exists in a different dimension where love is the central experience (which he himself has experienced from a very early age). We experience the world in two realities: the material and the psychic. Stories is the language of the soul, consequently we have two stories addressing these realities, science and spirituality. Soul is immortal and central. The universe is objective information, subjectively experienced. The body is biological information changing in time. We however stay the same at the level of our essence. Soul has its origin in the body, but transcends it. To understand the world and the reality we live in, we use stories. With stories comes magic, synchronicities, understanding. This is how the universe experiences itself. It has no purpose other than realising ever more emergent potential. And our purpose is the same, to realise the most emergent potential we have. God has also emerged from the evolution of the universe and continues to evolve, as with other potentialities coming into being. Tim’s central message is that life is good, death is safe and what really matters is love!
Gnosis, Initiation and Transformation
Our first speaker of the year was Programme Director of the SMN, DAVID LORIMER. David is amongst others, the founder of Character Education Scotland, founding member of the International Future Forum and was editor of its digest, Omnipedia – thinking for Tomorrow. He is also author and editor of over a dozen books. The title of this evening’s presentation was Gnosis, Initiation and Transformation. David started by talking about the two approaches within Christianity, pistiswhich is faith and gnosiswhich includes faith but goes beyond it, incorporating direct experience as a source of knowledge. We heard briefly about the early Gnostics who posed a direct threat to the authority of the Church because they followed their own internal authority. Gnosis was always going to be for the few as the strict initiation training would naturally exclude the many. The principles of gnosis have been expressed by many mystics and thinkers over the centuries, and David gave us select quotes from a number of those addressing gnosis, initiation and transformation, including:
Clement of Alexandria: Faith is a compendious knowledge of the essentials, but gnosis is a sure and firm demonstration of the things received through faith and scientific certainty.
Plotinus: We are within a reality that is also within us.
Gospel of Thomas: The Kingdom is inside of you and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realise that you are the sons of the living Father.
Elaine Pagels: Gnosis as self-knowledge and knowledge of the Self. Insight. To know oneself at the deepest level is simultaneously to know god.
David Hawkins – the Self is its own message and truth can only be realised, not explained.
Mircea Eliade: Initiation lies at the core of any genuine human life. And this is true for two reasons. The first is that any genuine human life implies profound crisis, ordeals, suffering, loss and reconquest of self. “death and resurrection”. The second is that, whatever degree of fulfilment it may have brought him, at a certain moment every man sees his life as a failure.
Plato: To die is to be initiated.
Walter Russell: The rhythm of life is to unfold from the One, the unmanifest, the invisible into the Many, the manifest, the visible and then to re-fold back into the One. This is birth, awakening, emergence, creation, individualisation followed by a return in terms of sleep, decay, disintegration and death. The Creating Universe grows out of the One in a radial fashion, ultimately disappearing back into the One.
The “quantum pleasure principle” – Did life evolve to feel good?
Prof STUART HAMEROFF was the speaker this evening, and he picked up the theme he had developed at the Beyond the Brain conference of the previous weekend. Stuart is Prof of Anaesthesiology and Psychology and is also the director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. His interest in consciousness, how the brain creates it and how anaesthetics erase it, dates back to his years in medical school in the 1970s. Building on Prof Roger Penrose’s theory of Objective Reduction (OR), Stuart Hameroff and Penrose a theory which they called Orch OR (Orchestrated Objective Reduction) suggesting that consciousness derives from quantum vibrations in microtubules, vibrations which are connected to the fine-scale structure of the universe. This evening Stuart started by going back to the Big Bang and exploring when, what he called BING – the emergence of consciousness – happened. The question here is whether consciousness precedes life or whether life precedes consciousness, and he is aligned with the view that life emerged from consciousness. But what is life? He went through the various theories which carry definitions of life. What can be asserted is that consciousness and feelings are essential elements of life. To the question of ‘what is consciousness’, he resorted to computer modelling and explained how messages are transmitted from neurons through the firing of dendrites and the chemical synapses. We heard a comparison with Artificial Intelligence and then the three waves of conscious perception and some interesting information on how anaesthetics work. Using the examples of the single cell Paramecium, Stuart explained the microtubules structures – basic to the Penrose-Hameroff theory – which are the same as those in neurones. These structures have an important role in memory, and their disintegration is present in Alzheimers. He then moved into physics and explained the Copenhagen Interpretation, which dictates that consciousness causes the collapse of the wave function. The Penrose-Hameroff theory of Orch OR, which includes a quantum computational mechanism indicates the exact opposite, that the self-collapse of the wave function undergoing Orch OR creates consciousness. He theorises that in the primordial soup of the early universe, BING (conscious) moments were moments of pleasure and that this pleasure fed a fitness function and the creation of microtubules further optimizing pleasure. His conclusions lead him to challenge Darwinian ideas that life evolved to promote behaviour for the survival of genes. Evolutionary Theory ignores consciousness which is fundamental in his own theory, which is that behaviour, the fundamental impulse of evolution, is driven by (conscious) pleasure, in which he includes not only hedonism but also altruism, spirituality etc. This argument then leads to the assertion that life did indeed evolve to “feel good’!
Future Consciousness: a Path to Purposeful Evolution
Prof THOMAS LOMBARDO came this month to talk about his ideas about future consciousness expressed in his new book Future Consciousness” a Path to Purposeful Evolution. Tom is the director of the Center for Future Consciousness, and Managing Editor of the online journal Wisdom and the Future. He is Prof Emeritus and retired Faculty Chair of Psychology, Philosophy and the Future at Rio Salado College, Tempe Arizona. He also holds posts in various future oriented organisations. His ideas – that we as humans have an important role in shaping the future of our planet- are not original, but what is interesting, is the perspectives he takes on our role and interaction towards this aim. He says the question at the root of every consideration and decision is ‘how do we create a good future?’. On a macro scale he reminds us that wars have been fought over this question, and on a personal ambit, we are constantly engaged with such a consideration, even when deciding what to cook for dinner. To consider the future of reality, we need to engage with the nature of reality, and here Tom explains that whatever the wider answers to this question are, reality has two characteristics: evolution and reciprocity. He explained those two elements in quite some detail, and showed us that we have an active role in evolution, and our insights, discoveries and developments have, over time, accelerated evolution. By considering the impact of technology for instance, we see how we have changed the reality in which we live and how evolution has accelerated from 200, 2000, 2 million years ago. Significant events in evolution are happening faster and faster and becoming more and more complex. From this he reaches the surprising conclusion that ‘playing God well is our purpose’. To guide ourselves, our future evolution is our mission as humans. Reciprocity is symbolised by the yin/yang concept of complementarity, an example is how life modifies the Earth and how the Earth modifies life. A good future then is achieved by what he calls ‘flourishing’ which he defines as the flow of purposeful evolution, and equates with personal happiness. He criticises the ideas around sustainability, arguing that nothing can sustain itself, and trying to sustain is unnatural. We need to focus on moving forward, on the process of evolution. By good, in a good future, he means wise and this wisdom is achieved at a personal level by means of the development of some character virtues, amongst which are self-responsibility, self-evolution, the development of skills, learning and so on. Wisdom narratives in science fiction when well written expand our consciousness of possibilities of the future. It was a fascinating evening which the limitations of this short piece is unable to do justice and I refer the reader to his book, available on Amazon.
The Rule of St. Benedict, a little Rule for Beginners
This month we learned about The Rule of St Benedict, a 6th Century monk who wrote what became the most influential book since the Bible. LAURENCE FREEMAN OSB was the speaker for this evening. A Benedictine monk he is the Director of the World Community of Christian Meditation, Meditatio. This organisation teaches meditation in all walks of life, from schools to MBAs, from political offices to religious organisations and retreats.
We heard that Benedict was not a personality and very little is known about him, but his legacy is known to have influenced people, families, communities, organisations ever since. The power of this Rule (which is indeed a collection of rules, propositions and advice) is its practical and down to earth approach, dealing with the daily reality of real life, rather than being mystical and esoteric. To achieve the depth and insights of this text, one needs to read and re-read it over and over. The originator of this Rule was John Cassian, who brought the monastic tradition from the desert fathers of Egypt to France around the 5th Century and adapted it to the European culture. The principle of this monasticism was the experience of interiority to a transcendence of duality. The Rule evokes this way of living with the clear objective of seeking God. Three promises are part of the Rule: obedience, stability and conversion. Obedience means not only obedience to the authority of the day (vertical), but also obedience to colleagues (horizontal) and above all, to the inner self. Obedience comes from the latin word oboedire which means to listen and the concept is used in this sense. The second promise is stability by which is meant inner stability. This involves a commitment to the rhythm of life, which includes time to study (read) and time to work (to live by their labours). Conversion (the promise the Dalai Lama could most relate to) refers to the continuous process of change and transformation, the continuous process of detachment from achievements.
This Rule, Benedict says, is for beginners. The next step is ambiguous: it talks of continuous transformation and determines the person to be ready for solitude. The tension is between community and solitude. Laurence made the connection with meditation, which itself addresses the three promises of obedience = silence, stability = stillness, conversion = transformation. We had a 10 minute meditation with the mantra used by Laurence, Maranatha. Questions and discussion followed.
Introduction to Sacred Geometry and Mystical Mathematics
August brought Olly Robinson who presented a fascinating insight into Sacred Geometry and Mystical Mathematics. Dr. OLIVER ROBINSON is an ex member of the SMN Board of directors, now a consultant, as well as a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Greenwich. His book Paths Between Head and Heart: Harmonies of Science and Spirituality is due to be published in 2018. This evening he showed us hidden patterns in both geometry and mathematics, which bring to light inbuilt harmony and beauty. Although a meaningful explanation of those patterns goes beyond our understanding, their uncovering is awe inspiring. Sacred geometry we were shown, point to forms as a source of intuition into spiritual truth. When present in works of art and architecture it gives them a sense of sacredness. Olly recommended the book A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe by Michael Schneider as a comprehensive guide for an exploration of the topic. We had an insight into the nature of the humble point: it is the start of everything and yet, in itself has no physical form. It manifests the unmanifest. It is the arrival of the second point which allows a line to come into being expressing certainty and directness, or a curve, the source of infinite possibilities. One point can be the centre of a circle and two points can create the overlapping of two circles. The multiplicity of circles creates harmonious forms and Olly showed us the importance of the number 6 and its multiples in geometric forms originating in circles in nature as well as in the symbols of sacred traditions. On mystical mathematics Olly showed us the mystery of the digital root, which involves adding up the digits of numbers until a single digit (between1 and 9) is achieved. For example, we found out that by dividing the number 360 on a continuous basis for as long as we’d like allowing for the expression of the fractions in full, the digital root of all the digits of the resulting numbers will be always the number 9. Other interesting patterns emerge in such an operation. We heard that the digital root in the Vedic Square are an indication that the mysteries hidden in mathematics were already being explored by the ancient people of Vedic times in India. And time was devoted also to the exploration and examples of the Golden Ratio, the proportions which universally denote beauty and which are frequent in nature. It was a fascinating evening and I for one, will be looking forward to learning more when reading his book next year.
Near Death Experiences (NDEs) in Japan
Dr. ORNELLA CORAZZA is a medical anthropologist, author of Near-Death Experiences: exploring the mind-body connection (Routledge 2008). She held fellowships at the 21st Century Centre of Excellence (COE) on Death and Life Studies at the University of Tokyo and this evening Ornella explained the different perspectives the Japanese have on what it means to be a human being, through the lens of Near Death Experiences. We were told about the ubiquitous phenomenology of an NDE from the reports of people who have experienced it. The sense of peace, being out of their bodies, entering the darkness, or tunnel, seeing the light and entering that light, in the presence of friends and family who had died, entities and sometimes people from sacred traditions. Reports of life review is often present. People who have had those experiences invariable mention the realisation of a sense of mission they have to accomplish in this lifetime. She also mentioned ketamine and its effect which are similar to NDEs which help explain the attraction young people have however, as she explained, not knowing how to integrate these experiences in their lives can have serious consequences to users. Whereas in the West the experience of an NDE involves leaving the body behind, in Japan the interpretation is very different. The unity of the mind-body connection is an aim to be cultivated during a lifetime. This is the teaching of Ornella’s master Yasuo Yuasa. The contemplation of the cherry blossoms in the Spring, which involves people looking at them for hours, is an example of the meditation on the meaning of being embodied, as well as the impermanence of life. The mind-body connectivity is externalised to include others and the environment. A human being is a being within a context and the whole context participates including the ground of being, which is called Basho. The visible Basho is the connection with the lived reality and the invisible Basho is the ground of being, or cosmic consciousness. Whereas in the West the experience on an NDE is of disconnection from the physical body, in Japan the experience is of an embodied connection with the invisible Basho, expressed in imagery for instance of rivers which typically is associated with death, the Tori gate, the symbol of the perennial connection with the transcendental, or the Shimenawa, the belt around a tree indicating that the tree is itself a divinity.
Facing up to Mind and Spirit: do we need a Post-Materialist Science?
This month we welcomed back Bernard Carr who spoke to the group a few times in the past. PROF BERNARD CARR is Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary University of London and is a former chair of the SMN. Bernard started by telling us how he found out about his personal life’s passion. When sent to his room for being a naughty boy in boarding school, he read books and out of those, three fundamentally determined his future: Bertrand Russell’s ABC of Relativity, Dunne’s An Experiment with Time and Rampa’s The Third Eye. These books underlie his three passions: science, psi and Buddhism and his talk this evening brought all three together. With the use of the Uroboros, Bernard showed us the history of the advance in scientific knowledge towards the very large and the very small scale. He explained in detail the various milestones in the progression towards what we know today. On the small scale end, we find the search for a theory that unifies all the forces, the M-theory and at a macro-scale we speculate the existence of a multiverse. This narrative demonstrates the triumph of physics. However, in this quest, one element is missing: consciousness. And this is what his lecture explored. Without consciousness, the physical reality is only a mental model. Scientists are looking for a theory of everything but how can that be achieved without the consideration of consciousness, our subjective experience? Bernard argues that we must move away from the matter centric perspective and include mind in our models. And, he says, the bridge between mind and matter is psi. Psi, includes phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis etc. Psi has the potential to explain Quantum Mechanics and vice-versa. We heard about entanglement and evidence for the non-locality of mind from psi experiences, giving us a glimpse into the holistic fabric of reality. As well as what we call the paranormal, psi includes also spiritual experiences and creativity. It is recognised and expressed by many artists that their creativity comes “through” them, rather than being the creation of ego. The evidence seems to point to mind having access to other levels of reality, explained by the principles of non-locality. Bernard’s “cri de coeur” is that we need an extended physics which will connect matter and mind, and an extended transpersonal psychology to connect mind and spirit. And connecting the extended physics and the transpersonal psychology is the new paradigm proposed.
Stephen Hawking nearly talks about God
This month we welcomed Keith Ward who spoke at many SMN conferences but nor yet to the London Group. PROF KEITH WARD is a philosopher and a priest in the Church of England. He is the author of over 25 books and numerous articles and has in the past taught philosophy, religious studies and theology. Amongst many other posts, he was the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. His talk this evening had the intriguing title, Stephen Hawking nearly talks about God and it addressed the content of Hawking’s book The Grand Design (Bantam, 2011) in which Hawking asks questions such as when and how did the universe begin? Why are we here? Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Two aspects of Hawking’s explanation caught Keith’s attention: 1) space-time, the reality of our universe, does not come from nothing, but comes from a quantum vacuum. In other words, it depends on something beyond it. 2) Quantum vacuum is not empty, but is full of ‘stuff’’, understood as energy. This means that the reality beyond space-time has qualities, it has non-material laws. Laws of nature require wisdom, intelligence. So, what he is saying, is that the universe depends on something eternal, beyond time, with laws that are necessary. In other words, the material world is dependent on non-material reality. Later in his book, describing the two slit experiment, Hawking points out that the observation by consciousness of the experiment, will determine a particular outcome, i.e. particle behaviour, which is different from the wave behaviour when the experiment is not observed. This shows that consciousness has an effect on the outcome of this experiment. This conclusion leads him to state that we create history by our observations, rather than history creating us. The philosophical approach that is best aligned to this conclusion is Idealism. Until the collapse of the wave, which is the term used to describe the outcome of the experiment, the status is one of probabilities. Bringing into his argument the concept of Mind, Keith pointed out that Mind is intentional. Consequently, asks Keith, in the quantum world of probabilities, might the universe be a creation of God’s observation? Might God have created the universe by actualising probabilities through intentional observation? He started the talk by saying that he would talk not about what Hawking thinks but about what he writes. Keith knows Hawking is an atheist, but in his writing, there are clear indications that God, or Mind terminology could find a place in it!
In-Formation at the Centre of Creation: consciousness, causality and coherence
Our speaker for this meeting, DR. JUDE CURRIVAN is a cosmologist, as well as a mystic. She has a Masters Degree in Physics from Oxford University specialising in quantum physics and cosmology, and a PhD in Archaeology researching ancient cosmologies. She had mystical experiences from a very young age and worked with the wisdom teachers of many traditions furthering over many years, her interest and research into the nature of reality. Jude started by telling us that the evidence-based and the faith-based worldviews can be reconciled into a whole worldview of a conscious, evolving and unified Cosmos where we, humans, are both creation and co-creators. This is based on 21st century science which describes our Universe as a cosmic hologram where consciousness expresses itself as space and time, energy and matter through in-formational patterns and relationships at all scales of existence. Time, Jude says, is the universe thinking and space is our universe breathing. In the first moments of the Big Bang, or Big Breath as she likes to call it, time flowed which also implies an ever increasing level of enthropically expressed information. At that moment also, space started to expand and so holographically contain ever more evolutionary information – and, emergent self-awareness. Jude says that recent scientific discoveries show that information is more fundamental than energy-matter and space-time. She says that the same digitised information that underpins out technologies, is also the basic stuff of our universe. Our universe is in-formed, by which she means formed by information shaping space-time and energy-matter. That information is not random, and the Big Breath which brought our Universe into being, was not chaotic but highly ordered and fine tuned. The in-formation is physical, as exemplified by excitations and processes of physical reality and is more fundamental than energy-matter. Interestingly, the in-formational patterns embodied in our Universe at all scales of existence are the same when plotted on a graph– whether natural or man-made. Examples shown were incidence and violence of earthquakes, events in Iraq and the number of casualties, the internet, stock markets, growth of cities, etc. And she showed that the holographic nature of the Universe follows fractal patterns. At the core of her proposal is the idea that what we call Reality is integral information/consciousness which within physical spacetime expresses itself as interconnected holographic fractal patterns of energy/matter on all scales of existence. So more fundamentally, nothing is random, everything has meaning and purpose. Jude’s book The Cosmic Hologram,: In-formation at the Centre of Creation is now out and her website is http://www.judecurrivan.com.
Experiences of Angels – Intimation of Ultimate Reality?
MARIANNE RANKIN, is the Communications Director of the Alister Hardy Society and she started by telling us that she has had in the past reservations about the existence of angels, and only when she was asked to look into this subject for a conference, did the topic come alive for her. She found that a MORI poll in 2009 established that 46% of the adults in Britain believe in guardian angels (58% of those being women) and 3 out of 4 of those believe that their Guardian Angel has helped them in their daily life. The concept of angels is deeply embedded, especially in the Abrahamic religions. The word comes from the Greek angelos, which means messenger. Angels are messengers from God. Many religions recognise beings that exist between the divine and humans. The Buddhists call them devas and the Zoroastrians, daevas. In the Abrahamic religions, angels are understood to have been created by God. They are purely spiritual beings, mainly male, beautiful and have wings. They sometimes take on human form. We heard about the angels mentioned in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments and Dionysius the Areopagite talks about hierarchies of angels. In the New Testament Archangel Gabriel brings important messages from God, announcing the birth of John the Baptist to his parents and the birth of Jesus to Mary and in Islam Archangel Gabriel gave Muhammad the revelations of the Qu’ran. But angels do not belong only to the distant past, Archangel Michael was reportedly seen by soldiers during the assault on German trenches in the Battle of Mons in 1914. Marianne showed us a number of paintings of angels by various artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Chagall, for more recent works, we saw Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North, erected in 1998 in Gateshead and is 20 metres tall and has a wingspan to 54 metres. We also heard about reports from the Alister Hardy archives of strangers warning people of danger, who subsequently are found to have disappeared. Those experiences leave the impression of an encounter with an angel. In our discussion we had the opportunity to hear personal stories of members of the audience of unexplained events, which could have been angelic encounter or intervention.
Science, Religion and the future of the Afterlife
This month we heard Dr. Peter Moore, an academic who back in 1972 pioneered the new area of Religious Studies at University of Kent, and later introduced an MA in the Study of Mysticism and Religious Experience at the same university with the late Leon Schlamm.
Peter started by stating that our ideas of the afterlife are necessarily anthropocentric, geocentric in character and culturally constructed, aligned with priorities we give to our present life. The question itself however is of serious interest because if we were to be able to establish that survival after death is a reality, this would throw light on many aspects of life including facts at present dismissed. It would explain the long held belief in ghosts and also give insight into the benefits or otherwise of rituals and customs for the newly deceased person. Therefore, experiences currently labelled as paranormal, mystical, or spiritual need to be taken seriously which does not mean accepted uncritically or at face value, but given due consideration. One of the difficulties is that the tension which exist between the domains of science and religion, means that the question of parapsychology is regarded with suspicion by both camps, science seeing it as too “mystical” and religion as too “materialistic”. On the question of the eschatologies, Peter pointed out that these have historically been commentaries on a whole spectrum of relevant human ideas and experiences. As with so many other ideas within doctrinal systems, they are also subject to revision, and he suggested that this is a good time to revisit those. Reincarnation has taken hold in the collective psyche and is seen to be compatible with some empirical data. Recent Christian thinkers have attempted to incorporate this idea in the Christian doctrine but this move has been seen as controversial. Peter concluded his thoughts by talking about the two principles which he thinks are important in the consideration of life after death: the first being the principle of corporeality – the idea that in the afterlife we must be embodied in some sense and the principle of continuity, the idea that whatever the experience in the afterlife, it cannot be completely discontinuous with what came before. These ideas gave rise to an animated discussion which lasted well beyond our normal ending time!
Is the Sun Conscious?
We started the year on a high, with a full house and 35 people on the waiting list to hear Rupert Sheldrake. The question posed invites reflection that goes beyond the sun, galaxies and encompasses the whole universe. Rupert started by reminding us that many traditions and mythologies consider the sun as conscious even sacred, and salutations to the sun or sun-god are not unusual. He himself salutes the sun every day. The idea that the sun is composed of very hot but dead matter, has its roots in the Cartesian split, which determines that all matter is dead and unconscious. This applies also to the Earth and the rest of the universe. On the other hand, pantheism or panpsychism, considers that mind is primary, and all nature in the universe is permeated by mind.
Rupert recalled the ideas of Alfred North Whitehead, who saw matter as process in time and not as objects. The relationship between matter and consciousness or body and mind, so central to the understanding or reality, is explained as body being the realm of the past and mind being the realm of the future (possibilities). They intersect in the present. Mind is therefore the realm of possibilities not facts, and it permeates the universe. Whereas the prevailing metaphor is mechanical, Whitehead chose the metaphor of the organism to explain the universe, with nested hierarchy. Each level of organisation includes lower, and is included in higher levels. Eg, atoms in molecules, molecules in cells, cells in tissues etc all the way to planets in solar systems, in galaxies etc. The idea of the universe (and everything in it) being an organism, was developed in detail by Rupert (including his own theory of morphic resonance and Whiteheads principle of prehension) and leads to the idea of a conscious sun having currency. Rupert told us that in 1997 he and some other scientist colleagues got together to discuss this subject and although they came to the conclusion that a conscious sun could not be proven, they also agreed that it could not be disproven. Exploring this idea further, what would a conscious sun be thinking of, what would be its purpose? Consciousness presupposes the potential for action, and the sun is in constant activity, flares, sun spot cycles, mass corona ejection, may not be automatic patterns. If these are conscious actions, what might be their purpose? Could it be to influence in some way its “body”, the solar system? We know that electro magnetism plays an important role in all areas of life, including the thought activity within our own brain. It is also known that the sun has an electro-magnetic field. Might communication within the universe be across this field, through what we understand as thought? Might the sun be the big eye of mythology and be omniscient? These were some of the question explored this evening by Rupert and by an animated audience.
The November presentation was given by Geoff Crocker, who has a career in business strategy working with international corporations, and who, following a re-evaluation of his relationship with the Anglican Church, developed a model of spirituality which he calls Atheist Spirituality. He is the author of An Enlightened Philosophy: Can and Atheist Believe Anything? and of A Managerial Philosophy of Technology: Technology and Humanity in Symbiosis.
Geoff started by positioning himself, stating that he does not dismiss religion and considers the Bible valuable if understood as myth. He acknowledges the relevance of religious and mystical experiences, but points out that only very few people have experiences of that nature. This fact inspired him to develop a model designed to be useful for the majority of people who have no track with religion or have never had mystical experiences, i.e, the majority of the population. It aims to bridge the reductionism of secular atheism and the remoteness of religion. It is based on something he maintains we can all share, which is virtue. Virtue is where theist and atheist spirituality meet. He pointed out that we see the world in various contexts, economy, social, political, etc but there is currently no forum where virtue, such as kindness and generosity, can be meaningfully discussed and encouraged. God, he says, is exogenous and conversely virtue is intrinsic to human nature and can be understood as the connection between people. He offered no certainty on whether virtue is a subjective component of human nature, or whether it is objective, a part of Nature or the Cosmos, manifesting in human nature.
In his work towards an inclusive spirituality, Geoff explored emergence, naturalism and meaning as parameters for the understanding of human spiritual nature. He critiqued the use of physicalism as an adequate hypothesis, pointed out the moral ambiguity of nature with its beauty and its horror and explained his understanding of the spiritual parameter of meaning in life as interpretation rather than achievement. Geoff quoted André Comte-Sponville as the philosopher on whose list of values he developed his own thoughts on the subject, and mentioned that his full ideas are available on his website www.atheistspirituality.net.
The Universe as Artist
This month we heard Charles Jencks, who is amongst others, an artist, landscape designer, scientist and historian. The universe is the inspiration to his work, and teh idea of the universe as artist goes back to Plato, an understanding that the universe is the author of violence and ugliness as well as immense beauty and harmony. Nature in all its dimension is the inspiration for Charles’ work, which he describes as metaphysical and social realism. He illustrated the talk with many picture and what emerged in each and every one, was a depth of meaning and symbolism. Taking humanity as one of the eyes of the Universe, he portrays in his works science, cosmology, philosophy, as well as psychology. He is critical of modern architecture which tends to dismiss meaning, and go solely for aesthetics and he illustrated this showing buildings by famous architects amongst other places, in Las Vegas. His work includes enigmatic icons, a signature of post-modern architecture. As well as meaningful, it is also polemical, as highlighted by the fact that a more robust material had to be used to replace an element in one of his works which was broken by an anonymous disgruntled person no less than 6 times! He says that he does not mind being critiqued, but he does not accept censorship. Charles is the force behind the Maggie Cancer Centres, which he started in 1995 with his late wife Maggie, and which now has more than 20 centres in Britain and other countries.
Charles explained the symbolism and meaning portrayed in his landscapes which he showed us in a wonderful sequence of pictures. Many of his creations reflect scientific principles. His most recent work is the Crawick multiverse in Scotland. This was a commission by the Duke of Buccleuch on a site which belonged to a bankrupt coal company. The area was not only desolated but also polluted. After due clearing and cleaning, Charles created a wonderful garden around the theme of the multiverse which, as well as symbolic and enigmatic, abounds with meaning. ‘We humans are meaning making beings, and any art which does not communicate meaning, is no art at all’, he says! It was a fascinating presentation, followed by most interesting questions and observations on a variety of topics within Charles’ wide breadth of knowledge.
This month we welcomed back Prof Ravi Ravindra who has been coming to speak to our group for the past three years as part of his yearly UK tour. Ravi is an honorary member of the SMN and is Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served for many years as a professor in three Departments: Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Physics. This evening he addressed the theme of Eternal Wisdom.
He started by pointing out that we are all scientists and philosophers, we are all curious and strive to understand the world in which we live. We tend to seek out and trust the statements of scientific and spiritual leaders, but Ravi stressed that we should be wary of accepting such accounts, whether from scientists or spiritual leaders, as ultimate truth. Especially when it comes to understanding fundamental questions of meaning, we need to find the “truth” for ourselves, within ourselves. Eternal Wisdom is something we experience internally, it is not rational, intellectual knowledge. Starting with the word “eternal” which is not, as we may think, an extension of time. Ravi says, it is at right angle to time. As an example, he pointed out that marriage has an extension in time, but love does not. Love intersects marriage and other relationships at different or at all times, but it has no extension in time. Another example is the Buddha, who became outside time when he became enlightened. The eternal is timeless. Eternal Wisdom therefore cannot be grasped by the mind. It is a fact that feelings have been sidelined since the Age of Enlightenment, but it is through feelings, through direct experience that we learn about Eternal Wisdom. We see this wisdom expressed through poetry, painting, music, etc, and different cultures will express it differently according to the history, philosophy, language etc, which constitute their cultural framework.
Ravi told us that like Einstein, he sees the cosmos as being manifested by an underlying intelligence, which we call God, Allah, etc. The current paradigm however, maintains that consciousness has evolved from dead matter and the project of physics is therefore not surprisingly, devoted to the study of matter in motion. And when it comes to neurology and psychology, the study is neurons in motion. The primary qualities of reality in this paradigm are length, time and mass. This is the scientific world and in this world mysteries can be solved. Spiritual mysteries however, cannot. The word solved, indicates a solution. Spiritual mysteries have no solution, they are individual (not universal as in science) and the right word here is dissolved. St Paul pointed out that the eye that sees determines the quality of seeing! The eye of flesh (matter) sees things of flesh (matter). The eye of spirit sees things of spirit.
Spiritual practice will help us to enter different levels of consciousness and to understand the spiritual realities as expressed by the mystics, the highest of which is the experience of transcending fear and ambition to a place of no self. Different laws operate at different levels of consciousness which indicates that mystical vision is nothing more than vision beyond the laws of the lower level consciousness. In order however to see things of spirit we need to radically transform. Internally. The aim is not to attain freedom for ourselves, but freedom from ourselves. Ravi repeated to stress the point: do not believe what I say, find it out for yourselves by focusing the attention on your inner world and listen to the quiet voice within!
The Secret Teachers of the Western World
This month we welcomed Gary Lachman, an old friend of the London Group who this evening talked about his recently published book, The Secret Teachers of the Western World. Gary is the author of some 19 books and is a professor in the evolution of consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies. The Secret Teachers of the Western World is a historical account of what is variously called as Inner Traditions, Esotericism, Hermeticism, Neo Platonism, etc. It is an understanding of the world and our place in it with insights achieved through inner journey. In his book, Gary used a fascinating lens through which to examine this historical account, and that is the work of two thinkers, Jean Gebster and Iain McGilchrist, both of whom have looked at structures of human consciousness and how they influence perspective and understanding. Gebster argues that human consciousness has evolved throughout history and he identifies the emergence of structures which he called archaic, magical, mythic and mental. Iain McGilchrist’s approach is based on the different kinds of attention given to the world by the left and right hemispheres of the brain, the left being analytical and detail oriented whereas the right is whole oriented, participatory and integrating. These lenses enabled Gary to explain that prior to the 17th C the world was seen and understood through a right brain perspective, the power of myths, rituals and divination. With the advent of the Reformation and the Enlightenment, which brought about the emergence of the scientific, evidence based examination of reality, the esoteric traditions were forced underground. It was, Gary argued, a left brain “coup d’etat” which invalidated the right brain thinking and knowledge of the esoteric traditions.
The ancient, right brain, esoteric traditions have their roots in the Axial Age around the globe, with the teachings of the Buddha, Plato, Confucius, Zoroaster, Lao Tse, the Hebrew Prophets etc. Around the same time, a flicker of left brain thinking emerged in Greece when a different type of more logical curiosity appeared, requiring answers about the world in which we live. Rational explanations rather than myths were sought and Plato’s disciple Aristoteles was the first to consider this new perspective. Left brain, analytical, scientific enquiry, so prevalent in Western thinking, has evolved from there.
An important historical event which would determine the survival of the right brain thinking was the persecution of Pagans and their teachings in early Christendom which caused many to flee to Alexandria in Egypt. As a consequence Alexandria became the cradle of the Western Esoteric tradition adopting two powerful symbols: its library and its lighthouse. The mystery schools which carried the tradition thrived, and their teachings then spread, often covertly, to the rest of the Western World.
Time became a limiting factor in the presentation and we heard only briefly about two well known thinkers who incorporated this esoteric thinking in their work, Isaac Newton (who wrote more about spirituality than about physics) and Dante Allighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, where the move from hell to heaven, as well as the ostensible, is also a description of an inner journey. There was no question for me, that I needed to get the book to read about others!
Gary concluded by voicing the possibility that the 1960’s revolution may have been a compensating movement in an effort towards the emergence of this repressed tradition, an urge towards a more embracing, right brain way of seeing the world, a challenge to the left brain impulse which has led humanity towards so many of its current problems not least seeing ourselves as exploiters rather than part of nature.
Gary’s website is https://garylachman.co.uk
The ISIS Crisis
In July, we hosted Usama Hasan who addressed the subject of the ISIS crisis. Usama was an astronomer and in his academic life, taught at Middlesex University and at the Greenwich Observatory. For the past 4 years however, he has been senior researcher in Islamic Studies at the Quilliam Foundation, a Muslim led think tank which aims to challenge extremist narratives while advocating pluralistic, democratic alternatives that are consistent with universal human rights standards. It stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy.
For every aspect of this evening’s talk, Usama referred to the relevant publication from the Quilliam foundation. These publications address the current debate about the Islamist threat and are free to download.
Usama acknowledged the dangers ISIS is posing to civilians in countries throughout Europe and the world, and pointed out that in Iraq and Syria civilians are killed on an unacceptable scale every day of the week. We heard some statistics: ISIS is estimated to have between 30 to 100,000 foreign fighters from every nation on Earth. From Western Europe the number is estimated to be 5,000 of which 25% are white skinned young people and out of which 10% are women. These young Western Europeans are converts to Islam and are mainly thought to be unemployed people from depressed areas, who are seduced by the idea of becoming heroes for God, earning a reward in the afterlife. These are the foot soldiers of the war. Many others who have joined however, are highly educated, they become leaders and join not a religion, but an ideology. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS for instance, has a PhD in Islamic Studies from Bagdad University. The beliefs that motivates these leaders are rooted in the apocalyptic notions of ancient Abrahamic religions including Islam, which talk of the end of the world and this is what ISIS wishes to accelerate. In those prophecies, it is understood that certain areas of the Middle East, including Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus etc will be within the domain of God, and will be spared the apocalyptic end of time. This is the caliphate as defined geographically. Caliphate is a Sunni political model with Sharia as its law. Sharia means law of the land, and what is not widely known is that there is not one Sharia, but many, all of them incorporating an ethical element. There is a debate as to what is primary in Sharia, revelation or reason, but what is certain, is that Sharia in Islam is constantly evolving, especially in regard to women’s rights. Jihad, a term which send shivers through people’s hearts, was hijacked by the Islamists, for it means struggle, primarily internal struggle always for towards good, never for evil!
We then moved the discussion to a more practical/philosophical area. How do we define extremism. The counter terrorism strategy in the UK is the “4 Ps”: pursue, prepare, protect and prevent, the last one being the most difficult. There is no definition for what defines extremism. Usama unpicked the terms radical and extreme. For him personally, the word radical has positive connotation, whereas for the word extreme the connotation is negative. In the Qu’ran and the Hadith there is a warning that extremism will destroy. In the Arab language the word has two meanings, both of them indicating out of balance due to excess. The government seems to accept the difference between the meaning of the words radical and extremism, but confusingly talk about radicalization leading to extremism.
From the psycho-spiritual perspective of ISIS, Usama pointed out that good an evil exist within us and ISIS is a social phenomenon comparable to Nazism in the early 20th century. The deeply rooted human tribal instinct is present in this situation. To buy into this narrative will only increase the difficulties. ISIS must be destroyed, but when that happens in a hopefully not too distant a future, many of the people who have joined ISIS will return to their countries and families. He advises us to be compassionate and rather than ostracize them, we should find a way to work towards healing the wounds that have been created. It is, he acknowledges, a big ask, to remain loving in the face of evil and that, he says, is the only way of healing the profound wounds created by ISIS. The website for the Quilliam foundation is http://www.quilliamfoundation.org.
Human Evolution from the Origin of the Universe
John Hands was our speaker for the June meeting, presenting his newly published book, Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution from the Origin of the Universe. John explained that he had to write this book, which took 10 years to complete, because he could not find the answers to questions he had in the current literature. His aim was to understand humanity and its place in the Universe and for this he set out to investigate what science sees as facts, uncovering in the process, the limitations of science in answering fundamental questions. John points out that much of the early data which would explain matters of evolution, for instance have been irretrievably lost in the development of the planet from the very early times, in addition to which the selection plus interpretation of data such as there is, is necessarily questionable. Importantly, John argues, these flawed theories have become beliefs, which in turn lead to the suppression of alternative theories. Materialism is the domain and pillar of credibility of science, and yet there is much which cannot be tested empirically. Examples mentioned include the origin and reason for the existence of physical and chemical laws, the origin of matter and energy, and how to explain are the narrow conditions which allow life to exist on planet Earth. We were given examples of those arguments against the background that many theories are explained by mathematical models, with facts being mapped onto these models and unknowns often artificially created to explain dissonances. Dark matter and dark energy are examples, having been introduced by scientists in order to bring coherence to their mathematical models to explain the physical nature of the universe. Another example is the Concordance Model, a mathematical model which is based on the assumption that the Universe is homogeneous, yet observations and experimentations show that this is not the case.
Economic predictions show that mathematical models are not reliable yet, as John pointed out, the current paradigm of evolution is Neo Darwinism which uses mathematical models. Neo Darwinism has become a belief system, and in his book John shows that it causes the destruction, not the evolution of species. He argues that collaboration, not competition is at the root of evolution. He spelt out what he sees are the 4 laws of biological evolution:
!. Competition and rapid environmental change causes the extinction of species.
- Collaboration causes the evolution of species.
- Animals evolve by progressive complexification and centration along fusing and diverging lineages that lead to stasis in all but one lineage.
- A rise in consciousness correlates with increasing collaboration, complexification and centration.
The human is the only species that has reflexive consciousness, which transforms and generates new abilities. This marks a difference in kind, not only in degree, from other animals. Uniquely, humans are the self-reflective agents of our future evolution says John, for good or ill.
John’s website is http://johnhands.com
The Hit: Derangement and Revelation
Our speaker this month was Andrew Rawlinson PhD, who taught Buddhism for 20 years. He is also the author of The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions in which he offers a creative taxonomy of spiritual masters. His latest book is The Hit: Into the Rock’n’Roll Universe and Beyond, and this evening he explored those ideas. Although the book addresses primarily the hit in Rock’n’Roll, it also contains examples of the hit in other areas of life and culture. This evening’s talk concentrated on its phenomenology and the philosophical underpinnings.
Andrew started by stating that he would not define the hit because he says, everybody knows that it is, so he described his own experiences, in a bid to explain what he meant. His first hit was age 18, when he was on Mount Olympus in Greece and an electric storm broke out of the blue. A lightening simultaneous with its attending thunder shocked him into a hit in which he had a realization of the experience of nothingness. Two other examples followed, once when he injected himself leaving a bubble in the syringe which caused his heart to beat on nothing which caused him to have the same experience of being hit! The third example happened in meditation when he found himself with no sense of physical position, he didn’t know who he was, what time it was or where he was. Other examples followed both from his own life and from other people’s. All hits are the same, Andrew says, irrespective whether small, as when one ‘gets’ a joke, or big as in the realization that the nature of reality is beyond one’s comprehension. The hit is not knowledge or accomplishment, it is realization. Both meanings of the word apply: realization as in making something real, and realization as in insight. The hit is a realization of being alive and there is only one question: what is it like to be alive? With only one answer: to be alive. The hit knocks you out of yourself, to strip back identity to the point of knowing who you are is no longer important. The hit is revelation, it is grace. The hit can come through love or death, through fear or surrender. The hit is enlightenment coming through. The realization of the paradox that opposites are true is a hit. Love is the easiest thing and it is also the most difficult. Love and death are only separate from the outside. When close to death, we realize that only love really matters. And all love is the same. Whether between parents and children, between lovers, love of nature, the hit of love is the same. Impediments can lead to hits. Nothing in life must be rejected, everything is meaningful. There was not a lot of time left to discuss the derangement aspect of the hit, but for people who are interested, the book website is, http://thehitbook.com. And if you wish to find out even more, Andrew also gave an interview to Conscious TV http://bcove.me/2ogiigof.
What Emerges from Complexity Sciences? (the first harvest)
In April we hosted a talk by Dr. Vasileios Basios, who came especially from Brussels for the occasion. Vasileios is a senior researcher at the Physics of Complex Systems Department of the University of Brussels, conducting interdisciplinary research on self-organisation and emergence in complex matter as well as aspects of the foundations of complex systems. In his early years he worked in the team led by Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine.
Mechanistic reduction is a useful tool says Vasileios, but it is limiting as a dogma. In this post materialistic era, we have exhausted this dogma and complexity offers us a radically new approach to science. It reflects on its own foundation and accepts that reality is multifaceted. The world that emerges from this approach is an interconnected and organic whole. It sees the universe as a mindful cosmos rather than as a machine. Vasileios describes it as the third scientific revolution, coming after relativity and quantum physics.
The first move towards complexity can be identified as being the introduction of the concept of the field, which allowed for connection over distance, movement in non-linear way. As part of the wave of new discoveries of the 19th C is Faraday’s electromagnetic induction and Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory of light.
Since then various scientists contributed to the development of the science of complexity, and we heard about and saw some representations of their work on screen. Amongst them there was Poincaré and Hadamard (on dependence on initial conditions of non-linear systems), Zhabotinsky and Belousov (on complexity in chemistry), Mandelbrot (fractals), and Goedel who developed the concept of self-referential non-linear thinking. We watched a fascinating demonstration of this principle based on one of Escher’s work and then the beautiful example of self-organisation of flocks of birds in which each individual contributes to the chaotic and reassembly motion of the whole over and over.
Going beyond science, Vasileios used the metaphor of the blind men and the elephant to illustrate the problems we sometimes find when an insight about a part is taken as the truth about the whole. Complexity with its inclusiveness and holistic stance overcomes this difficulty because it is based on dialogue and consensus. It overcomes for instance what has been called the Tragedy of Commons, in which people participate in a communal resource, with the aim of taking out as much as they can without thought for others. This mindset for example, caused the financial crash of 2008. Complexity operates according to different principles, which include reflection, dialogue, holistic thinking. On a personal note, Vasileios gave us an example of complexity in operation by describing a group he participates in, which comes together to share ideas and their implementation. They meet in an old mill near Brussels bringing their individuality in the service of the whole. They call itMycelium as symbolic of the process envisaged.
In short, Complexity is a new kind of science, a new approach to problem solving. It allows non paradigmatic thinking, with validation and dialogue across disciplines. Metaphor can guide research, such as the idea of an ensouled cosmos. It requires awareness of assumptions, keeping in perspective the origins, nature and aims of the research.
Love and Integrity in Business
We were delighted to host a talk by Oonagh Harpur this month, not only because Oonagh is a trustee of the SMN, but especially because her talk brought an unusual and not frequently considered perspective on an important aspect of life, business. She entitled her talk Love and Integrity in Business, a word combination which she says, may be understood as an oxymoron. Oonagh is an accomplished business woman who first became a CEO in 1989 and has served on company boards for over 25 years in executive, advisory and non-executive roles, as CEO, as non-executive Director and as Trustee in the private, public and not for profit sectors. She has worked in the UK and USA in local and global organisations in the energy, health, and financial and professional services sectors.
This evening we were a small group and so started by introducing ourselves and saying something about our interest in the topic of the presentation. Oonagh then asked us what we did during the day with a view to show us something about our understanding of what constitutes work. She then explained the concepts by using a model devised by Hazel Henderson which shows the different types of work in the form of a cake in which the monetised type, incorporating the private and the public sectors, occupies the top layers, and the non-monetised type, including the love economy, the work we do because we care, child care, housework etc occupies the bottom ones. In between the two, we find the underground economy, cash driven and non accountable. The idea of love as an intrinsic impulse in work occurred to Oonagh in the early 90s and she noted that this principle, manifested in business ethics, community investment, sustainability etc, which made business more productive and more enjoyable. It can also however, manifest in contradictory ways. For example, whilst working in a law firm many years, ago, she noticed that figures were not shaping up as expected, ringing alarm bells. She went to the Board and advised them that the business was becoming unsustainable. The executives in the organisation, acknowledged that the company, rather than the employees were the ones who had failed, and whilst letting go 25 people, they helped each one of them to find an alternative job. This shows that love is also about not keeping people when this will sink the whole. The tone of a business she pointed out, comes from the top.
A few years later Oonagh set up Love and Integrity in Business, an organisation as the name implies, to explore the impact of these concepts. She invited executives to discuss the topic and learned the following from the chairmen that participated:
1. They set direction. They inspire the workforce through purpose and values and align the corporate strategy with it.
2. They have a line of sight. They incentivise values-based leadership and behaviour and evaluate those values through the behaviour of the workforce.
3. They provide ethical leadership. They use ethical values to guide decisions and promote values-based leadership.
Oonagh went on to explain to us the attitude to staff and business of companies who work along those lines, and used the examples of Old Mutual Wealth, Unilever and Walgreens Boots Alliance. Stanford University, who undertook a long term research (over 40 years), found that companies who operated on the basis of such values outperformed those who did not.
We had a good discussion on the topic, which included hearing about personal experiences which members of the group had of working within companies which did and did not operate with the value of love and integrity in business.
How do we Know What’s Real?
This month we welcomed Max Velmans who is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and the author of Understanding Consciousness (2009) and The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (2007) as well as some 100 publications on the topic of consciousness. This evening Max explored the question – How do we Know What is Real? and started by pointing out the two basic ways we use to apprehend reality, direct experience and rationality. Betrand Russell described it as knowing by acquaintanceand knowing by description. But these modes of knowing can be challenged: which of them is more trustworthy? The tradition of this dual mode of knowing goes back to the ancient Greeks where the camp was divided between the rationalists and empiricists. In reality as we know, we need both modalities.
One further perspective on how we know what we know looks at where we place our attention. If our attention is placed outside of ourselves, we see that knowledge as ‘objective’. And if inside, the knowledge is ‘subjective’. Either way, says Max, we are one step removed from reality. We make a representation of the external world, and to explain his point, Max went on to show the model he developed, in which a subject observes a cat in the outside world, and relies on the representation of the cat in his mind (shown in the model, as his brain) to apprehend the observation. So we could say, we only know the world through the representations we make, which for most people, most of the time is fine. The problems however, arise with experiences which are fleeting, or illusory, such as hallucinations, psychotic experiences etc. We then have to face the question, are they real? And this leads to a more generalised question, what is real? Ultimately we must accept that our cognitions can be incomplete, inaccurate etc. Accepting this to be the case, must we however always doubt the veracity of anomalous experiences? When neuroscientists look at correlates in the brain to these subjective experiences, they do so with a view to solving the problems of subjectivity, in a materialist way. The weakness of this approach however is that brain states cannot be reduced to subjective experience. Neuroscience cannot access someone else’s experience or its antecedents. Correlation does not get us causation. The world we experience is a construction of the physical world we see in our internal psychology at that time. These experiences are real and cannot be reduced to brain states. At the centre of this discussion are mystical experiences. How real are they? For the people who have them they are more real than everyday reality. These states however are unexpected and for that reason, cannot be subject to rigorous research procedures. They are however ubiquitous and Max went on to quote William James, who described mystical experiences as having the qualities of ineffability, noetic, meaning, imparting knowledge, transience and passivity. So the message is that rational, awake consciousness is one type of consciousness but there are others, and we may make a mistake if we go through life thinking this is the only one credible and much will be missed if we ignore all the other types and states of consciousness. In our questions sessions we heard two people’s interesting, meaningful and profound experiences in altered states, which for them were not only real but transformative. A very interesting discussion followed.
Andrew Glazewski and the Science of the Human Field
We started the year with a presentation by SMN Board member Paul Kieniewicz, who is a geologist, astronomer, novelist and the author of Gaia’s Children and also with Andrew Glazewski, Harmony of the Universe. The subject of this evening’s talk was Andrew Glazewski (1905-1973), priest and physicist, who was seminal in the founding of the Scientific and Medical Network. An energetic and charismatic person, Glazewski was interested in the Science of the Human Field – which was the title of Paul’s talk. He had personal experience of interacting with this field as a healer and wrote a series of papers on the science of this phenomenon.
We heard that Glazewski was born in the Ukraine into a landed gentry family, who had to flee their home during the First World War. Nevertheless he received the finest education including a degree in physics. He was fond of the good life, which included ladies and parties, but had a religious experience during a retreat at a Carmelite convent, and decided to become a priest. It took him some time to convince his parents of this change of plans, but they eventually gave in. He came to England and during the war was mobilized as a chaplain to the troops and did sustain war injuries. Upon his return to Britain, he took up a post of chaplain to the Polish community in Newton Abbot. During this time, he wrote a number of scientific papers on his theory of the Human Field and submitted them to Dr. Patrick Shackleton, Dean of Postgraduate Medical Studies at the University of Southampton. At some point he heard about George Blaker, and realised that both men shared with him an interest in the greater reality of which the material world is only a part. Realising the benefit of a meeting, he put the two men together and that was the very first step towards the founding of the SMN in 1973. Unfortunately Andrew died a short while after, following an unexpected and massive heart attack.
Paul first met Glazewski as a young man, on a retreat and although he was a priest, Paul was surprised to hear no mention of God for the first few lectures. This was because Glazewski’s focus was first and foremost on human psychology. He talked about the unconscious, which he called George, and the ‘overconscious’, which he called Peter. He explained those concepts and expanded on the need as he put it, of dialogue betweenGeorge and Peter. Amongst other benefits he would say, this allows for an integration of our intuitive abilities. Turning to the physical body, Glazewski identified three modalities of the biological field which all living beings possess: the electromagnetic field, the sound (acoustic) field and the electrostatic field. Underpinning and interconnecting everything, he postulated a non-local, primary field, with which to explain ESP, distant healing etc. To understand how we can interact with these fields, his theory maintains that we distinguish objects with our perception of the proportionality of those objects. Music can explain the basic concept; the notes form a set of proportions and as we listen to the flow, we can distinguish the proportionalities of the various tones which create the musical harmony. In healing, the use of imagination enables the healer to focus on the proportions of a particular person, or something belonging to this person. Based on these proportionalities, even at a distance, the healer uses his imagination and feelings to perceive the smooth flow of energy from an inner organ to the field and back again. When this flow is interrupted, there is disease. Healing therefore is about clearing blockages. Distance healing is possible because of the interconnection of the primary field and because our mind is non-local. The language of the Implicate Order of David Bohm he says, is the best way of understanding the theory of this process.
Top Down Causation in Complex Systems like the Brain
In November we hosted Prof George Ellis, Distinguished Professor of Complex Systems at the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. George is the author of 12 books, one of them with Stephen Hawkins (The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, 1973) and is considered one of the world’s leading theorist in cosmology. He is also an active Quaker and the winner of the Templeton Prize in 2004, for Progress Towards Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. This evening’s talk he updated us on the ideas put forward in his first talk to the SMN London Group, two years ago.
George started his talk by quoting Crick’s comments that we (humans) are no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules (The Astonishing Hypothesis, 1973), a clear example of bottom up causation. But is that all we are? In his talk he showed us that although bottom up causation is certainly important, it is strictly limited in terms of the complexity it can give rise to, and for that to happen, a reversal of information flow from bottom up, to top down is necessary. Higher levels have demonstrably causal powers over lower levels and this is the key to the rise of genuine complexity.
Higher levels exercise control over lower levels by constraint, which generate news possibilities. For example, imposing pressure on a gas, enables new possibilities to take place, i.e, a change of state to liquid.
We heard about neurones and their constituent parts, networks and their constituent parts and so on – explaining the way complex systems organise themselves through modules. Although the flow of information of the constituent parts is bottom up once the connections are made, activities become regulated in a top down way. For example walking is an activity determined by the mind (top down) instructing the legs which then engage muscles, cells etc for such activity (bottom up). Another example given was vision: what we see – although dependent on the neuro-physics of vision – is ultimately determined by the Gestalt of our expectations. George showed us a number of examples to prove this point, one of them a set of moving luminous dots suggesting a walking person. As he pointed out, no person was shown, only luminous dots in motion, but because of the way the dots moved, we expectedto see a person walking, and that is what we did.
We heard about the causality of epigenetics, of goal oriented feedback systems and of adaptive systems, all as top down examples. In addition, we were presented with the interesting perspective of multiple causality, which George mapped on to Aristotle’s principles of Material, Formal, Efficient, Final. As an example, he posed the question: Why does a plane fly? The bottom up causation (Material) talks of the physics of flight. But the plane also flies because there is a pilot in the cockpit (Formal), and the airline, which has scheduled the flight (Efficient), and so on. Ultimately, because the company owning the plane, must make a profit (Final). Causality can be analysed in multiple ways and, George stressed, declaring any single level as absolute, is fundamentalism! Which is his criticism of Crick’s statement, in which he used the level he understands – that of neuro-biology as determining human behaviour.
It was a presentation packed tight with interesting information which was followed by a lively discussion!
Silence, Expansion beyond Limits
At our October meeting we had the pleasure of listening to Laurence Freeman OSB, a Benedictine monk who has made it his life’s mission to spread the word about the importance of meditation. He teaches people in worlds as far apart as business and politics, including schools and his programme is now in schools in 25 countries around the world. He is the spiritual guide and director of the World Community for Christian Meditation, a worldwide organisation. Laurence is also the author of 11 books, including Jesus: the Teacher Within and The Selfless Self and is a mystic from a Catholic tradition who is comfortable in, and conducts dialogues with leaders of all traditions. He has a close relationship with the Dalai Lama, and often shares a platform with him.
Laurence started by alerting us to the noisy background against which we live our daily life, not only in terms of sounds, but mental noise, to include our digital addiction. One of the results of this is that we have become uncomfortable with silence, needing constant distraction. This has an effect on our lives at various levels, practical as well as spiritual. Going on to talk about meditation, Laurence talked about the negative experience of silence, the fear and discomfort which lead us to take out our phones all the time, and then focused on the positive aspects. In meditation, when the mind is still, we encounter ourselves at a deeper level. . The mystical traditions call this self-knowledge, which is the foundations of knowledge of God. We can’t know God without knowing ourselves, and vice versa. Quoting the Bible: “Be still and know that I am God”.
The work of meditation is simple, but can be hard. Confronting the whirlwind of the mind is not easy. We get in touch with our wounds, pain and dysfunctions but eventually it takes us to more authentic living. It liberates us from the addiction to distraction. It helps us control our attention. At this point Laurence mentioned the work of Iain McGilchrist and spoke about the important and complementary roles of the two brain hemispheres, their different ways of attention and how they influence our view of reality. The aim of meditation is pure attention and silence is the fruit of the work of attention. He spoke about two ways of looking at the effects of meditation: the benefits, which can be subject to scientific research, such as lowering the levels of anxiety, sleep improvement etc, and the fruits, which cannot be measured, but are equally, if not more important, becoming more compassionate, peaceful, patient, loving. Love is ultimately the work of attention. It is other-centred attention and Other-centred attention is central to the mystical traditions. Laurence finished with the wonderful quote from Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
It was a moving presentation, a feeling shared by all in the room!
The Harmony of the Spheres – an Old Concept in a New Light.
The September talk also slipped into the following month, and early in October we had a talk by Hartmut Warm, originally a civil engineer, a profession he abandoned a long time ago. Hartmut is also a computer programmer and has been working on his discovery, the subject of the talk, for about 20 years. We heard that the concept of the Harmony of the Spheres goes back to the old Greeks, perhaps even further. Pythagoras is known to have intuited a link between geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy. This concept was revived by Kepler (1571-1630) who wanted to prove the Harmony of the World (as the title of his book indicates) based on the heliocentric discoveries of Copernicus. Kepler furthermore thought he had found the correspondence between music and the planets, believing each to have a particular tone. Hartmut became interested in this when he was teaching music listening and he used his computer knowledge and skills to create both a graphic translation of the conjunctions of certain planets as well a musical interpretation. We were shown the graphics, by which a line is drawn between the two planets as a conjunction arises. By repeatedly drawing lines as the conjunctions occur over the years (and they never occur in exactly the same place) the software shows projections of the lines over many years, decades, centuries, millennia. The shapes that Hartmut found charting the conjunctions between the Earth and Venus, form a pentagram, as well as flower shape. Introducing Mars, we saw a virtual square around the pentagram. The conjunction of the outer planes, of Jupiter and Uranus, create a hexagram, and by combining the three most massive planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune, we see first a chaotic sequence, and then, having run over 1200 or more years, a twelve pointed star emerges. Twelve, says Hartmut, is the number of the cosmos. Within the twelve pointed star, two hexagons emerge. Twelve is also the archetype in the sense used by Kepler, a pattern ordained by God, following a divine plan. Hartmut does not imply that there is a meaningful relationship manifested by the number 12, just points out the correspondence leaving the question open.
With regards to the musical aspect, we heard a short piece of music composed based on the harmony of the planets. Hartmut explained that ‘at a certain point in time each planet in its revolution around the Sun has exactly the distance of its semi-minor axis b from the central star. The velocity of the planet at this point almost precisely equals the arithmetical mean of the extreme velocities (which occur at aphelion and perihelion, i.e. at the farthest and the nearest points of a planet on its elliptical orbit around the Sun). If we put the velocity at the distances of the semi-minor axes and that at aphelion into correlation, we find a highly significant correspondence with musical intervals’. The piece had eerie and lugubrious sounds, interspaced with long moments of silence. It had a deep resonance! For further information, see his website http://www.keplerstern.com/signature-of-the-celestial-spheres/
Scientific and Spiritual Mysteries
Our August talk slipped into September, the earliest date our guest speaker, Prof Ravi Ravindra was able to make during his visit to the UK. Ravi is Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has been professor in three departments: Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Physics. This makes him eminently qualified for the topic of this evening’s talk: Scientific and Spiritual Mysteries.
To start with, Ravi defined his understanding of the word spiritual as pointing to subtler levels of reality than the body or indeed the mind. The mind however is the tool with which we can approach those levels and for this, it needs to be quiet. For this reasons all spiritual traditions encourage their adepts to learn this skill through the process of meditation. When the mind is quiet it can potentially acquire knowledge from those realms, knowledge which he described as “objective”. This is because such knowledge is apprehended directly, not mediated by ego, personality, cultural and societal influences. The knowledge is received, it comes to the person, rather than worked out intellectually. This knowledge is the portal to freedom from the self, from fear and from the need to control. However, Ravi stressed that the ultimate spiritual mystery itself can never be solved at our level of consciousness, but with a quiet mind, spiritual mysteries can become dissolved and realized. He pointed out the felicitous meaning of the word ‘realize’ in English as it indicates both, “becoming aware of” and “making real”. This realization will lead to powerful internal transformation of the individual.
Science on the other hand also starts with mysteries to be explored, but the tool is very different. Scientific mysteries are solvable in principle through the intellectual, logical mind, which rather than quiet, needs to be active. Another difference is that in this field, the unknown, is knowable. And, when the unknown becomes knowable, the new knowledge gets published and other people will benefit from the work of a few. Not so with spiritual mysteries, which cannot be transmitted but only personally experienced. Science studies matter, and control and prediction are institutionalized. Spirituality is about the moment, lack of prediction and control.
Ravi compared the different processes of these different enterprises: science uses experiments and spirituality, experience. Both words come from the same etymological root but point to very different activities. Experiments are external, experience internal. The scientific project talks of evolution in a bottom up kind of way, whereas in the spiritual narrative the flow is top down, from more to less sophisticated levels of consciousness. Scientists work with levels of complexity, whereas in spirituality we talk of levels of awareness.
Ravi brought the two modes of knowing together by quoting a number of scientists who have had a profound spiritual understanding, amongst which Einstein, Schrodinger, Newton and Pauli. He quoted also from a variety of sacred texts and it was fascinating to hear someone who is so well informed on both science and spirituality, explain so clearly the fundamentals of both those ways of exploring the world in which we live. Ravi has written a number of books, and the one, which addresses the topic of this evening’s talk is Science and the Sacred: Eternal Wisdom in a Changing World.
Inside the Cosmic Mind
This month our speaker was Phoebe Wyss. Her talk was entitled, Inside the Cosmic Mind, the title of her new book. Phoebe is a professional astrologer and this evening she explained her quest to validate astrology, which she found over the 35 years as a professional, was often dismissed as nonsensical because it cannot be tested with the tools of materialistic science. She started by pointing out the current perspective, which sees the cosmos as meaningless, in accordance with the mainstream cosmological beliefs, which are predicated on materialist science. In contrast, ancient cultures had a more ‘right brain’ perception of the world in which they lived. Phoebe pointed out for example that the ancient Egyptians did not make a difference between inner and outer worlds. Both aspects were interrelated and the gods manifested in both. The Hermetic axiom ‘as above so below’ is the best example of this philosophy, understood also to mean inner and outer.
Phoebe joined the SMN with the intention to explore how astrology works. Looking at philosophical contributions, she singled out Plato’s realm of ideas in the Universal Mind structuring Nature, and Plotinus whose perspective was that every being, at whatever level of consciousness, participates in the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world. Pauli and Jung were also quoted extensively, supporting her argument of the correspondences between inner and outer worlds, the most well known being the concept of synchronicity. The concept of archetypes, an idea developed by Jung, helped her explain the nature of the zodiac energies.
Phoebe also mentioned the work of Rupert Sheldrake and his ideas of morphic resonance and the understanding of mind extending beyond the physical body both in time and in space, which brought her closer to understanding how astrology works. Another principle, that of fractal correspondence derived from chaos theory, also had an impact on Phoebe’s understanding which together with the nested hierarchy model helped her make sense of mind being included and transcended in levels of sophistication, throughout reality. She compared it with the language of correspondence from the ancients, between the micro and the macrocosmos. The human being is a mini universe, containing the whole within him. The seminal work of Richard Tarnas and his student Keiron le Grice helped Phoebe further and she quoted a sentence by Tarnas ‘the psyche is not in us: we are in the psyche’, which she sees as a very big idea to take in.
Ultimately Phoebe suggests that there is a top-down flow of meaning in the cosmos, from the mind of the whole downwards. The zodiac ‘is a geometric matrix in the cosmic mind’, in constant flow in which the archetypes – its core ideas – unfold and combine their qualities in ever-changing patterns. Notably, the zodiac expresses no causality but a mirroring of meaningful configurations of archetypal energies, which can be found in the events of history and our personal life stories. Astrology she said, allows us to recognise these patterns as they emerge in our lives, and help us make sense of our experience.
Living with Invisibility
For our June meeting our speaker was Graham Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford, author of a number of books, including Cities of God (2000), True Religion (2002) The Politics of Discipleship (2009) and more recently Unbelievable: why we Believe and Why we Don’t (2014). This evening Graham explored with us, Living with Invisibility, the title he gave to the lecture. He started by describing a typical day in his personal life to demonstrate that we live great chunks of our lives on the borderline between the visible and the invisible. The tool we use to make the invisible ‘visible’ is imagination. According to evolutionary anthropologists, we are unique as species for living in the symbolic. We perceive the world, and sense something more. In what is presented to us there is also an invisible aspect, which we experience as symbolic, and to which we attach meaning. These emerge through the process of interpretation. Graham quoted Merleau Ponti, who called the invisible, that which we infer from the visible, ‘intentional transcendence’. The invisible, is all around us. At the dimension of awareness, it is said that 95% of the operations of our body are unconscious, leaving only 5% conscious! In the sciences, Graham pointed to the example of multiverses, dark matter and dark energies, all of which are totally invisible and demonstrated theoretically through highly abstracted computerized mathematics.
Religious faith is another way in which we humans negotiate the invisible in the visible. It makes the hidden appear in the same way as in any other human symbolic transaction. Graham elaborated extensively on the work by the 4th C Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem. He explained in great detail, the steps Cyril took the aspirants through to ensure they had powerful experiences of all five senses: sight, sound, touch, smells, and taste, which would deliver them firmly into the intended belief system. It started with a series of intellectual lectures, culminating in the initiation through baptism into the community of believers. The teachings were to be memorized, nothing was written down, indicating that experience rather than cognitive process was the pedagogic method. The aspirants were also sworn to keep secret, what and how they learned. The use of imagination through the powerful experiences of the senses, which those seeking illumination were taken through, enabled them to learn about and participate in the divine. Furthermore, space and time was used skilfully as well, as the lectures took place in the magnificent basilica built by Constantine in Jerusalem, which had within it both the site of the crucifixion, Golgotha, and the cave of the resurrection. This made Jerusalem a sacred place both in terms of location and time, for being the ancient city of King David, the place of the crucifixion, the salvation of humankind, and the site of new Jerusalem, awaiting the second coming of Christ.
It was a most interesting perspective and Graham left us with the question: are thought, multiverses, God, etc, different forms of invisibility, or are they, what he personally thinks more likely, different logics we use to understand the influence of the invisible on the visible. Eg, brain activity inferring thoughts, gravitation suggesting a cosmological constant, etc, these ideas are all based on the work of imagination, which he feels is the most neglected area of neuroscience.
From the point of view of current world affairs, Graham expressed his interest in studying the effects of the invisible on the people who voluntarily affiliate themselves to groups like Islamic State, or Boko Haram.
We had an interesting discussion following the presentation, with challenging questions and poignant answers.
Can our Values Shift in time to Save our Planet?
Our May speaker was Scilla Elworthy PhD, nominated for the Nobel Peace prize three times for her work towards peace and disarmament. Scilla works tirelessly for her projects, which are all based on her strong belief in the basic human right for respect and freedom. In 1982 she founded the Oxford Research Group to facilitate effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide. In 2002 it was Peace Direct an organisation that helps local peace builders in conflict areas. Then in 2013 she co-founded Rising Women Rising Worlds, to advise the leadership of selected international corporations. Her most recent project is her book, Pioneering the Possible: awakened leadership for a world that works.
In this evening’s talk, Scilla started by pointing out that we live in a world that is miserable and frightening for most of its inhabitants. Although the rich/poor gap is forever getting wider, the truth is that rich people are unhappy too. Einstein pointed out that no problem can be solved from the consciousness that created it. Based on this insight, Scilla distilled 10 top values, which need to be replaced, to lead us to a more sustainable, rewarding and meaningful existence. For each stale and replacement values we heard powerful examples supporting her arguments. Some brought despair for instance, the actions of the corporation-backed TTIP agreements (see http://www.theguardian.com/global/2015/may/04/ttip-united-nations-human-right-secret-courts-multinationals) and others hope for instance, the fact that in the 1990s for the first time, more wars ended by negotiated settlement (42) than by military victory (23). This started a trend that accelerated in the new millennium, between 2000 and 2005, seventeen conflicts ended in negotiated settlements; just four ended in military victory.
Here is the list of the values and their replacement as envisaged by Scilla:
|Stale value:||Replaced by:|
1. Might makes right
Talking trumps fighting
2. Humans have the right to do as we like with the planet
Humans are responsible for the health of our planet
3. Survival of the fittest
|Survival through cooperation|
4. Science and the rational mind are what distinguish mankind
|Body, feelings and soul balance the mind in humankind|
5. Continuing economic growth is essential
Consciousness is the new capital
|6. Good fences make good neighbours||
Building bridges works better for less
7. Short-termism is fine
|Thinking long-term is the fastest way to save our planet|
|8. There will always be a technical fix in time to resolve serious problems||
We need a greater intelligence than technology to fix humans and their problems
|9. Women are too emotional to deal with the real issues of business and world affairs||A yin-yang balance is the best bet for human survival|
|10. Consuming is our right||
Connection not consumption will satisfy us
Humans, Scilla pointed out, are meaning seeking creatures with spiritual impulses. The mantra for 20th C was ‘what can I get’ and for the 21st C it must be ‘what can I give’.
We had an interesting discussion to follow and I think it is fair to say, that many of us felt more hopeful about the future, based on what we heard!
Universal Consciousness: Poetry? Metaphor? Science? OR all of the above?
Our April speaker was Prof Emeritus Richard Silberstein, who holds a PhD from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. Richard has 30 years experience of neuroscience research and is the originator of Steady State Topography, a brain imaging methodology. His interest in the workings of the brain originated from his interest in consciousness and mystical experience when he was very young and, by approaching it from the scientific perspective, he made it his life long work. This evening he presented Universal Consciousness: Poetry? Metaphor? Science? OR all of the above?
Richard started by reminding us that mystics of all traditions have spoken of their mystical experiences in which they sensed that the universe is alive and permeated by profound love. People who had NDE also consistently report experiences of harmony and profound love. The thought is comforting, but is it just the working of the brain?
Much work has taken place on the ‘easy problem’, meaning correlates, patterns, neuroactivity of consciousness. We are however very far from understanding the hard question, how matter and consciousness interact.
The field is divided: a number of academics (Daniel Dennett, Francis Crick etc) propose that although we don’t yet understand how the brain generates consciousness, the future will no doubt bring the answer. Their version proposes that consciousness is an emerging property of the brain. Brain depends on properties of matter. Matter as structured has the capacity to demonstrate consciousness. Other scholars however such as Paul Nunez, author of Brain, Mind and Structure of Reality, suggest that consciousness may be a fundamental property of the universe and the explanation may not be found in the properties of matter. Schrodinger has also proposed that ‘consciousness may not be accountable in physical terms but it is absolutely fundamental, it cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else’.
Richard argues that parapsychology is the most promising area to challenge the materialistic account for consciousness proposed by current physics. He suggested that experiments, which include random number generators (RNG), are the most effective way to study parapsychology, as cheating is virtually impossible in those. We heard about experiments, which included both human and animal subjects demonstrating psi abilities and which returned statistically significant results. Something which is not well known, is that as part of the Turing test of whether a particular form of intelligent interaction is being offered by a person or a computer, Turing mentioned psi abilities, which humans do and computers don’t have.
What crowned the evening was a challenge to this reasoning, a most interesting research undertaken by Michael Levin, Professor at Tufts Centre for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. To test whether computers have psi abilities, Levin took two computers playing chess against each other and introduced a RNG to determine the choice of each move. It is known that the chess software analyses the projection of each possible move many moves ahead and chooses the one most like to result in victory. Levin introduced a RNG in both computers by which a quantum event determines whether the computer will choose the best option for victory or the second best, meaning a lower chance of winning. The experimenter’s effect was also neutralized, by programming the computers to play at random and unknown times. To the surprise of everyone, the computers seem to influence the RNG, just as the people and animals we heard from the other experiments, opting for winning moves in statistically significant results.
For Richard this tends to support a long held view that there must be something more fundamental in the universe, of which matter and consciousness are manifestations. Not a new idea, Spinoza suggested this, so did Pauli and Jung, and scientists have been using quantum theory to demonstrate to this. Michael Levin’s studies however, seem to demonstrate for the first time that psi abilities are part of the fabric of reality.
Consciousness and psi functions as aspects of consciousness, proposes Richard, are built into the very fundamental aspect of reality and the dualistic manifestation of consciousness and matter/energy emerge when appropriate matter/energy structures come into existence in complex structures such as the brain. Perhaps birth of universe was the point in time when this broken symmetry occurred and consciousness and matter/energy differentiated themselves into what we are familiar with. That is what he refers to as the ‘Conscious Universe’.
Miracles in the New Testament. Anything comparable in modern times? The case of Sathya Sai Baba and some Catholic saints
This month we welcomed Erlendur Haraldsson, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. Erlendur is a world renowned researcher of children with memories of past lives. He has written 6 books on that and other topics, amongst whichModern Miracle Sathya Sai Baba, A Modern Day Prophet. This subject was this evening’s topic with specific focus on miracles performed by Jesus as described in the new testament, which he compared with the paranormal activities (can they be called miracles?) of Sathya Sai Baba whom he met on a number of occasions and studied for over 20 years.
We heard that there are 38 accounts of miracles in the New Testament of which 22 are cases of healings, 3 cases of casting out evil spirits and 3 cases of resurrection. Amongst the non-healing miracles, are: changing water into wine, feeding the multitudes, walking on the sea, stilling the tempest and transfiguration on the mountain. Looking at miracles in recent centuries, Erlendur explored the studies of Cardinal Prospero Lambertini (1675-1758) who, in his De Canonizatione, examined the case for canonization of saintly people. Lambertini investigated miraculous phenomena to ascertain whether those of paranormal nature could be explained as originating from God, from the Devil or from human, psychic activity. He noted that not only saints can have psychic gifts, but ‘fools idiots, melancholic persons and brute beast’ could do so as well, in other words, anyone. As an example of unexplained paranormal phenomena, we heard about St Joseph of Copertino, whose levitation was witnessed by numerous people. In fact there were other Christian levitators such as St. Francis of Assisi, who hated the phenomenon, St Ignatius Loyola and St Padre Pio who as recently as 1968 showed signs of stigmata, bilocation, distant appearances, odor sancti as well as levitation. Some mediums, we heard, have also known to levitate and the examples given date back to the 19th Century, with the most recent being Rudi Schneider (1908-1957).
Erlendur then moved on to explore the feats of Sathya Narayana Ratnakara, known as Sathya Sai Baba. He was born in Puttaparti in 1929, a son of a poor farmer, and died in April 2011. Over his lifetime, Sai Baba built a reputation for performing paranormal feats. These were extensively studied by scientists, both in India and abroad, and no evidence of cheating was ever uncovered. It is also acknowledged that he had a reputation of inappropriate behaviour with young boys. The focus this evening however, was on Sai Baba’s ability to manifest objects and food items as well as vibuti, the grey ash for which he was famous. Erlendur told us that like Jesus, Sai Baba has also made a small amount of food and water, feed an unbelievably large number of people. He is known to have transformed liquids, on one occasion filling the tank of a car belonging to a visitor with water, which then transformed into petrol allowing the person to get back to Bangalore. And there are numerous accounts of sweets and candy being produced from nowhere and given to children and adults. From a comparison chart, we learned that he was also known to levitate, to heal people and was observed to become a source of light, such as Jesus in the transfiguration. He was, however, not known to resurrect people or to influence the weather, as Jesus has done. One of the questions raised by one of our audience, was that although healing is clearly a spiritual act, in what way could producing sweets be called spiritual? The answer came from another person in the audience, who pointed out that through his paranormal powers Sai Baba was able to attract many people amongst which many rich people who donated millions, with which the Sathya Sai Central Trust was able to give 1,380 million euros to charity in the last few years, funding schools, colleges, hospitals, water projects etc.
‘Both-and’ thinking: on embracing paradox in spirituality, philosophy and science
Our speaker this month was Dr. Oliver Robinson, senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Greenwich. Olly also performs an important role in the SMN, that of Communications Manager. He is currently writing a book in which he discusses the subject of this evening’s presentation, ‘Both-and’ thinking: On embracing paradox in spirituality, philosophy and science.
To illustrate the concept of paradox, Olly started by telling us the Chinese story of the farmer who encounters a number of situations which can be interpreted as unfortunate, turning out to be fortunate and vice versa. The moral of the story is the Chinese understanding of the world as constituted by the energies of yin and yang, representing complementary rather than opposite aspects of existence. Each polarity contains its opposite. Any extreme creates energy which generates its opposite, this is the essence of Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang. The Tao is one but is composed of two. The Chinese are skeptical of too much positive, and tend to see resolution of conflict as the understanding of a synthesis of opposites. Having described the Chinese perspective, Olly turned to Western thinking and, acknowledging that there have been many philosophers who looked at this issue, he chose the Hegelian lens, associated with dialectical thinking, to explore the idea of paradox. We were told that Hegel identified three types, which share the basic dialectical process: idea presentation, critical thinking and synthesis. The three types of dialectics are: the dialectic of essence – in which, a pair of concepts, which seem to be opposites are in fact complementary, such as the yin/yang duality. The dialectic of being, in which some thing or being can be in two different states at the same time. Different but reconcilable – such as the wave and particle duality, or the Trinity in which the Father (masculine, authority etc) together with the Holy Spirit (originally understood as Sophia, the feminine) bring about the Son, the concrete element. And the dialectic of notion, in which two concepts are brought together by a synthesis in which a new concept is created which incorporates them both. The example given was the tension between theism and atheism, resolved by the introduction of transtheism, an example of which is the Jain religion where Moksha is said to include concepts of deity as well as an impersonal state of liberation.
We heard other examples of paradox or dialectic thinking, including Jung’s approach to the tension of polarities in personality and ideas about God and the World. We also heard about Olly’s own experience of paradox, having been used to being the brightest in his class, he had to adjust to the paradox of being amongst the less bright when he moved schools at the age of 13.
We were left with the understanding that ultimately everything is relative, depending on the perspective of the observer, and Hegel offered us a useful way of thinking to help us avoid or shift from a place of fundamentalism.
Science and Spirituality
We started the year with a full house and a long waiting list for Rupert Sheldrake’s presentation. Rupert is a biologist, author of 10 books and more than 80 scientific papers, and long standing member, friend and contributor to the SMN.
Rupert took this evening’s talk as an opportunity to run his latest experiment with the present audience. You will find the result at the end of this report.
In this evening’s presentation, Science and Spirituality, Rupert offered a different angle of interpretation within a context of science and spirituality, to five different subjects, which I report here briefly. The first one was Near Death Experiences (NDEs), which are considered a right of passage by those who experience them. He reflected whether baptism, as conducted in the early days of Christianity, might have been a way of inducing an NDE-like experience, specifically as a right of passage. Could the immersion in the river Jordan have been just long enough to produce such an NDE in the person? The next subject was prayerand here he quoted experiments conducted on meditators and the benefits of mindfulness on people with depression. May prayer be an ancient, and natural way of managing depression? Then came the placebo effect, or the power of the mind, which conscious or unconsciously produces extraordinary physical effects. Again, this is an ‘inbuilt’ ancient process and we heard that whereas in the recent past the placebo effect tended to invalidate results of trials, now it is becoming a validated result in its own right. We then heard about pilgrimage, central to many people’s lives in the distant past, perhaps this impulse is hard wired in us. Are these impulses in different ways, present in other species? Rupert used the migration of birds and pointed out that they do something which seems totally miraculous, to find ‘home’ when starting from long distances away, in unknown territories. Even if magnetism is involved as some people suggest, how do they find ‘home’? It remains a mystery. The next topic wasrituals, also an ancient practice and we learned that performing the same rituals over generations creates communities. From a rational perspective rituals may seem a waste of time, but as seen from the perspective of morphic resonance, we are connecting with the past strengthening those ties that link us horizontally with peers and vertically with ancestors. The last topic was the connection between heaven and earth, which, going back millennia, has been the role of towers in sacred buildings. But is it just symbolic? Perhaps there is a practical reason, namely to attract lightning and so energise the building. Rupert suggested studies could be conducted to establish how often church spires and towers are struck by lightning, and what the effect on the building’s sacred space may be.
It was an inspiring evening, and it is encouraging to hear his suggestion that the paradigm seems to be shifting to a less materialistic approach in science.
With regards to the experiment, here is the report:
On the meeting of 12 January, Drs. Rupert Sheldrake and Guy Hayward carried out an experiment, trying to find out whether or not just by looking at two laptop screens – one streaming an ‘on-air’ programme, and another streaming a recorded ‘catch-up’ episode of the same programme – one can tell which is ‘on-air’. The idea here, is that the collective attention of potentially millions of individuals watching the ‘on-air’ programme at the same time can be somehow felt by the participant.
Two opportunities to cast their votes were given to the audience. In the first, done before Rupert’s talk, the show was Top Gear, and the results were pretty much a dead-heat, at chance level (15 correct, 16 incorrect), therefore showing no effect. However, in the second experiment, done after Rupert’s talk, the programme was a late-evening stand-up comedy ‘Backchat with Jack Whitehall and his Dad’, and it showed a relatively strong positive effect – 19 correct, 13 incorrect. Another interesting finding with the second experiment was that 12 men voted correctly, whereas only 1 man voted incorrectly; this large gender discrepancy was not observed in the women (7 and 11, respectively). We currently have no explanation for this, apart from the fact that the two episodes both featured males exclusively.
Overall, there were 34 correct and 29 incorrect votes, with a positive effect of 53.9%, which if repeated over hundreds of trials would show strong significance.
Implications of the Social Brain Hypothesis: Integrated Indigineous Wisdom and Neuroscience
In December we hosted Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, a GP, geriatrician, psychiatrist and neuropsychologist, currently the Executive Director of Coyote Institute in Maine, USA, an organisation whose purpose is to bring the wisdom of indigenous cultures into contemporary medical practice. Lewis is himself the son of a Lakota father and a Cherokee with Scottish blood, mother. The central message of the talk was the importance of the stories we live by, especially those which are shared with our communities. Living in community is the major way in which change occurs, and it is this cultural perspective that Lewis uses in healing his patients, especially those with mental problems. Lewis focused on the importance of narrative, and defined the necessary elements as: being coherent, succinct, logical, causal (because x then y) and having a distinct time line. We were given an exercise in which we were asked to describe a routine experience to a dyad partner in the room. We were then asked to embellish this experience by bringing in mythical and fantastical elements. The second version of the story was eminently more memorable than the first. Stories communicate important messages and important messages are better communicated by stories, especially in groups. Personal change Lewis said, happens within a social environment. People cannot change on their own, their change needs to happen within vessel, a community. We belong in communities. Ideas take on a bigger dimension within communities and the intersubjectivity in these circumstances, creates the social approach to consciousness. Communication in community happens not only with words, but with music, dance etc. Mirror neurones facilitate the congruence within a group which shares experiences, which explains why certain experiences such as prayer and meditation are stronger in groups. Western culture stresses the powerful hero whereas the American indigenous culture stresses the powerful community. Lewis works with healing circles and his experience shows the power of the intention of a circle. In those he sees miraculous healing, or as he put it – outcomes which surprise doctors!
The Porcupine is a Monkey, or, Things Are Not What They Seem
Our November speaker was Iain McGilchrist, well known to the SMN and beyond, for his major work The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale 2009). Iain has an academic background both in the humanities and in medicine and is retired Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director at the Bethlem Royal & Maudsley Hospital, London. He is currently a Fellow of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Stellenbosch in South Africa. He is also author of a number of books. The title of this evening’s talk is also the title of a book he is working on, in which he combines both the theories he developed in The Master and his Emissary and the current worrisome state of the world, a result of our ways of thinking. The Porcupine is a Monkey refers to a study undertaken by Anglo-American neuroscientist Marcel Kinsbourne who investigated how the two brain hemispheres interpret truth differently. The study involved the presentation of a syllogism to participants, in which the middle statement is false. The syllogism goes as follows:
All monkeys climb trees
The porcupine is a monkey
The porcupine climbs trees.
Participants were asked the question on three different occasions: once in a normal state, once with the right hemisphere temporarily inactivated and once with the left hemisphere temporarily inactivated. In the normal state and with the left hemisphere inactivated, the participants declared the conclusion as false. But when the right hemisphere was inactivated, the conclusion was declared as true. Even when participants in that state were asked whether porcupines are monkeys, they would confirm they knew they were not. The concluding statement was declared true because, as they said, it ‘was written on the card’.
This experiment supports the theory developed in Iain’s book that the left hemisphere is focused on the literal, the detail, the explicit, etc whilst the right hemisphere looks at the wider picture, the implicit, contextual etc. The study indicates that conclusions reached without the input of right hemisphere thinking lack common sense, a characteristic of right hemisphere thinking.
Iain pointed out that the current left hemispheric thinking pervasive in all levels of society is causing major problems at personal, societal and planetary levels. Some of the examples given as evidence include for instance the fact that we pursue happiness only to become less happy over time, that we allow machines to take the drudgery out of work, while work becomes ever less fulfilling and that for more than half a century we are pursuing measures designed to promote equality only to find progressively greater inequality. We go into Iraq and Afghanistan to achieve global security and stability, we develop tools to predict and monitor the stock market to avoid a crash, we make medical staff fill in forms so that ‘there will never be another disaster’ with the result that on all the examples above, the exact opposite occurred. Further example is the over-sanitisation, leading to greater vulnerability to infection and conspicuously, being so eager that all scientific research result in ‘positive findings’ that it has become progressively less adventurous and more predictable.
It was an insightful and sobering talk and we were left hoping that in some not distant future, right hemisphere thinking will emerge and the Master will hopefully take charge of his Emissary.
Scientific Heresies: Heralds of a Nondualistic Mythology
In October we had a lucky chance to host Charles Eisenstein, who was in the UK for only a few days! Charles is a writer and speaker focusing on themes of human culture and identity. He is the author of several books, The Ascent of Humanity, Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. Charles started by explaining that rather than material science, the problem of the contemporary paradigm is materialism, which is too narrow an understanding of what the material world actually is. In reality, all the qualities we see in the spiritual, things like sacredness, intelligence, consciousness etc, exist in matter as well. The exclusion of spirit from matter ins an intellectual effort and mirrors the removal of sacredness of the world around us. This separation makes possible the kind of economics and society we have, in which exploitation of the other, rather than compassion, is the rule. If we saw the other as connected, and respected this connection, we would not be able to use and exploit him/her the way we do. We would by default take into consideration people’s needs and wants and society would be very different. As Charles pointed out, the truth is that we are part of a bigger reality and in it a bigger order in the universe, beyond our human intelligence, exists. Our human purpose is not the only purpose. Indigenous people understand this and they experience the world as animated. What has happened to us that this knowledge has been crushed? In our world we have become used to scientists looking for and expecting certainty. This deeper knowledge however does not come with evidential certainty, and this makes it easy prey for the challenges of the current paradigm. Information and data emerging from this deeper knowledge is interpreted in a way to fit the myth of separation and so fit the expected model. Paranormal events, near death experiences, synchronicities, water memory etc, are looked at with hostility by mainstream science, yet they are an indication of an order in the universe beyond our intelligence.
But, says Charles, things are changing. Politicians don’t believe their stories any more. The ideological core is hollowing out. Personal and societal identity is breaking down. Practices being developed on the margins, such as consensual decision. constellation work, social technology, truth and reconciliation etc, suggest that we are in transition. The story is changing. We are weaving a new story as a receptacle for truth. The message is positive, we cannot escape what is happening!
Making Time for Matter and Mind
This month we had the good fortune to hear SMN Chairman, Bernard Carr. Bernard is Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary, University of London, and has a long-standing interest in the relationship between science and spirituality and also in psychical research. Bernard started by telling us that time is and always has been a great mystery, which has occupied the minds of great thinkers through the ages from Augustine to Einstein. Bernard’s own particular angle in relation to that mystery are the questions “What is Now?’ and ‘Why am I Me?’. Science, he says, cannot answer these questions because mind or consciousness is not factored in. Three new books have been recently published about the question of Time, and typically none of them included the issue of Consciousness. Bernard argued that if we are to understand the mystery of time, consciousness has got to be part of the explanation.
Bernard presented a brief historical overview of various philosophers who put forward their view on time and its flow, from the Greeks to Galileo. Newton’s theories, however, were more extensively explained and we heard that he introduced the ideas that time and space are fixed and the future can be predicted. More recently, a change of understanding occurred with the introduction of Einstein’s General Relativity theory space and time became the space/time continuum, and time became a 4th dimension. Then came Quantum Theory in which Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle means that we can know the position or the speed of a particle, but not both at the same time. The final theory, Bernard says, has got to marry both Relativity and Quantum and resolve the real question, is space fundamental (General Relativity) or is it time (Quantum)?
Bernard then addressed the three main areas of interest in his personal quest for understanding time:
- Flow of Time
- Specious present
To explain the flow of time which physics has been unable to do so far, Bernard quoted a theory by C. D. Broad, which invokes an additional fifth dimension ‘ mental time. The explanation is complex, and fascinating. Precognition, an area of special interest for Bernard, was demonstrated with a few examples of his personal experience. And we then heard about specious present, which is defined as the minimum time span needed for the awareness of our experience of time. Specious time is variable and we have personal experience of this variability in moments of fun when time goes fast or moments of anxiety when time seems never ending. Bernard proposed that specious time may be a property of consciousness possibly varying among the living beings on the planet, and potentially, one can imagine even for cosmic bodies, which may mean that the Universe itself may be conscious!
The ultimate explanation then has in his view, to include mind or consciousness as an additional dimension of Reality. The inclusion of this dimension will resolve a number of issues at present not understood by conventional physics. There followed an animated discussion, with very interesting questions and it felt hard to bring this session to a close at 10pm.
The New “Mental Illness” Epidemic – are psychiatric manuals to blame?
In August we explored the world of psychiatry and the root of the current situation in which a diagnostic label is found for more and more mental conditions, and more and more drugs are prescribed. The ‘bible’ used by psychiatrists in the US and the UK is the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), issued by the American Psychiatric Association which is now in its fifth version. The mental disorders listed there rose from 106 in 1952 to around 370 today. Has human nature changed so much in the last 60 years, or does the problem lie elsewhere?
Dr. James Davies is a senior lecturer in social anthropology and psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton and a practicing psychotherapist. He is also co-founder of the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry an organisation launched earlier this year dedicated to looking into the world of psychiatry and psychiatric drugs. Last year he published the bookCracked: why psychiatry is doing more harm than good in which he exposes what is going on in mental health in the UK, which sees ever more people being diagnosed with one or other mental condition for which a drug is prescribed. These drugs are often ineffective, and sometimes actually harmful. We heard about the regulations which approve these drugs to come to market, which are patently not fit for purpose, often based on research which is feeble and compromised by not being independent.
The main focus of this evening’s presentation was the DSM and the research James conducted with the authors in order to understand how this manual was put together, and how the disorders were identified. We heard details o interviews which revealed the unscientific nature of the process in which decisions were made by agreement or votes. In other words, opinions rather than evidenced and demonstrated facts! One of the members of the team acknowledged that ‘there was very little research, and much of the research that existed was really hodgepodge ‘ scattered, inconsistent, and ambiguous’. He went on to say that ‘the majority of us recognised that the amount of good, solid science upon which we were making our decisions were pretty modest’! And yet, it is based on this manual and others of the kind, that millions of people are medicated, sometimes out of their mind! It was a very interesting (albeit depressing) presentation and for those interested in the work of uncovering what is going on in the world of psychiatry, click on the website below.
Modern Pagan Witchcraft: from occult anomaly to Britain’s largest New Religious Movement in fifty years. Contemplating the past and anticipating the future of Wicca
Melissa Harrington, our July speaker, is a Wicca Pagan or a Witch and her PhD research focussed on esoteric religiosity, especially within Paganism. We heard about her own journey looking for a container for her own mystical experiences first within Catholicism and then successfully within Wicca. Melissa gave us an overview of Paganism, the religion Britain gave to the world. Although comparatively small in numbers, it is said to be currently the fastest growing religion in Britain. Paganism is an umbrella term for a variety of religions, and we were taken through the list which includes Druidsm, Shamanism, Wicca, Witchcraft etc.
Modern Paganism can be said to date from 1954 when Gerald Gardner published Witchcraft Today which described the beliefs of followers of a revived Pagan religion. Gardner founded a community and introduced a string of High Priestesses which included Doreen Valiente. During that time Wicca was seen as marginal and not as a serious religion. Academic interest started to grow with the work of Edward Teriyakian (1972) Wouter Hanegraaf (1996), Ronald Hutton (1999), and Christopher Partridge (2004). Paganism is now accepted as a manifestation of perennial esoteric religiosity. Paganism allows for the numinous re-sacralisation of the feminine. Pagans are tolerant, have positive moral code and humanistic ethics and say there are different paths up the mountain. It is a religion which has no Church, no authoritative texts or doctrines and the role of teachers is to impart their own knowledge of esoteric teachings. Currently even initiations are no longer practised. For this reason Melissa feels that the freedom that is core and a strong part of the attraction of the religion, is also potentially the cause of its future demise. The system is totally unregulated and the people involve in it do it for love rather than money. It is possible though that a more institutionalised form of Paganism may emerge, or the area may become even more diversified with more mystery schools and eclectic practices.
An Andean transcendental Anthropology in the Andean Cosmology
In June we welcomed Juan NuΓ±ez del Prado, a Peruvian anthropologist who came to London as part of his tour of Europe where he teaches the ancient spiritual wisdom of the Incas. Juan was a distinguished academic from 1974 to 1997, when he decided to change his life and focus exclusively on teaching what he learned from the spiritual masters he has been training with since 1979.
The Andean Indians conceive power through love, action and intellectual knowledge, or feeling, acting and thinking, which corresponds with what anthropologist Edward Burnett says defines the culture of a community. The principle at play in human psychological development he says, is the recapitulation of the process of cultural development, in the same way the ontogenetic recapitulates filo genesis in biological evolution.
The development of consciousness within The Andean tradition, is determined by the level attained by individuals according to the Path of Seven Steps. This classifies a person according to his/her charismatic ability to lead
1.a small community
2.a middle size group
4.humanity (eg, Dalai Lama, Ghandi, Mandela)
5.to be a perfect healer (capable of healing everything and everyone without exception)
6.Enlightened (glowing, as the Buddha glowed, as Christ and Mohammed did)
7.The equivalent of our Father, God (a human with divine capabilities such as Christ)
Juan drew correspondences of these seven levels with other spiritual systems which also incorporate seven levels of attainment such as the seven churches in the Apocalypse of St John in the Bible, the seven levels of Gurdjeff and those of Integral yoga, which leads him to conclude that the hierarchical development of consciousness is recognized in similar steps in various cultures around the globe. This, Juan says, points to the existence of a ‘natural law’.
The progression is however not linear but cyclical, and we were told that we are approaching the fourth level at the moment (according to Juan 8% of the world population has reached the 4th level), although humanity has been here before and regressed.
The Frankenstein’s Prophecies: Reflections on the Shadow Elements of Culture
Dr. Robert Romanyshyn is a Jungian psychotherapist, teacher and author of many chapters, articles and 6 books, living on the West Coast of the US. Robert started his talk by telling us of his trip to Antarctica in 2009, ‘the most uncluttered place in the world’, where he found an inspirational landscape of immense beauty. This left him with a deep awareness of the crisis that the planet is experiencing brought about by the development of technology. Robert sees Mary Shelley’s story Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus as a metaphor for what is happening currently at planet level. The novel, written in 1817, tells of an old ship captain, relating a story he heard from a man he saved from the waves, who was pursuing his creation, the Creature. The man was Victor Frankenstein, who was pursuing the Creature he had given life to, in order to kill him because the Monster was wreaking widespread havoc and destruction. The title of the book gave and indication as to the nature of Victor Frankenstein for by calling him The Modern Prometheus, Shelley was reminding readers that Prometheus was the Greek god who first created mankind and then gave it fire, for which he was punished by Zeus. Frankenstein, we were told, having reached the peak of scientific endeavour by creating a living being, was the modern Prometheus. However, he was horrified by his creation and the Creature, feeling rejected by everyone because of his revolting and frightening appearance, became a destructive force. Has man through his hubris and ambition used science to create a monster? Having killed Frankenstein on the ship, the Creature was last seen going towards the North Pole to immolate himself. Is that a prophecy in 1817 for the current melting of the polar caps? Robert started writing a book about this subject, but found that it will work better as a play, so his efforts now are towards adding playwriting to his accomplishments as writer and teacher.
Quakernomics: An Ethical Capitalism
This month we had Mike King who talked about his new book Quakernomics: An Ethical Capitalism. Mike is an independent and interdisciplinary scholar and writer and his bookSecularism – The Hidden Origins of Disbelief was joint winner of the SMN Book Prize in 2008. This evening Mike started by reminding us of the Danny Boyle show which opened the London Olympics in 2012, in which one of the most powerful scenes was the depiction of the Industrial Revolution which started in England and changed the world. This revolution Mike told us, was started in 1709 by Abraham Darby who discovered a way of smelting iron using coke. Wood, which was used before, became scarce so the use of coke as fuel and resource was a most important discovery. Abraham Darby was a Quaker. The Quakers were at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, many of the industries were owned by Quakers, for instance Cadbury and Fry in the confectionery sector and we heard of many others, including banks ‘ such as Lloyds and Barclays. The Quakers were not embarrassed about wealth, George Fox was himself very good with money, and because there was a lot of money in Quaker hands, they enjoyed favourable interest rates which was a major contributing factor for their success in practicing capitalism. Because of Quaker principles, their methods were highly ethical. Mike explained these ethics by pointing out the four aspects uppermost on Quaker agenda: above average wages, best efforts against unemployment, good working conditions, philanthropic local developments, philanthropic global causes, and they were also activists in various causes, such as anti slavery. Mike showed us photos of various buildings in London which years ago were Quaker owned concerns, places we all go by but don’t know their histories. In the second half of the talk Mike contrasted the Quaker ethics with the evils of industrial capitalism, which he identified as: subsistence wages, unemployment, hazardous working conditions and environmental degradation. We then heard about theories put forward by various economists over the last 200 years and to what degree they showed care for the four evils of capitalism. Top of the list for least caring comes Milton Friedman, whose theories of free market without regulation was promoted by Regan and Thatcher and still carries the day. Mike uses the term coined by Keynes ‘defunct economist’ to describe Friedman and define his legacy. The subject prompted a lively and interesting discussion in the group.
Wolfgang Pauli and the ring i
In March we welcomed Herbert van Erkelens who has an eclectic background. He studied physics, mathematics and astronomy, which included a PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Amsterdam. His main passion however was the Divine Feminine and he devoted his life to this principle. He was a student of Marie Louise von Franz and authored a number of books in the field of quantum physics, alchemy, number archetypes and crop circles. He also studied the dreams of Wolfgang Pauli.
We were told that Pauli had a strange effect on the world of laboratory research where his presence was enough to interfere with apparatus and cause explosions. For this reason he was finally barred from going into labs! He was a complex person, intellectually brilliant but emotionally unbalanced. He had very powerful dreams and underwent analytical therapy with Jung who analysed over 80 of his dreams. Pauli met Marie Louise von Franz, and fell in love with her. He was however not skilled in matters of love and Marie Louise is said to have commented that Pauli’s Eros manifested in dreams but not in real life. The interpretation of many of his dreams challenged his scientist persona. Emma Jung was at the time studying the Grail and in her work emphasized Merlin’s need for redemption. This resonated with Pauli whose dreams often pointed to his own need for redemption. He frequently encountered a figure he called the ‘Stranger’ which was understood as the Anti-Scientist. This stranger was in need of redemption. The ring i was a ring given by a Chinese lady in a session of active imagination entitled The Piano Lesson. In this interesting imagery, Pauli engages with the figures in his dreams and visions, articulating the need of reconciliation between his scientist self and other aspects of his personality, including his Anima. The Chinese lady, his Anima, offers him the ring as the bridge between psyche and physics. For physics the ring represented the atom, the indivisible, the unity of particle and wave and for the psyche the alchemical vessel of transformation.
What is Behind Restorative Justice
This meeting was to have been with Tim Newell, a Quaker, former prison governor and now working for restorative justice. But due to low registration it unfortunately did not take place.
Cults, Sects or New Religious Movements? An Exploration of Alternative Spiritualities
Our first meeting in 2014 heard a presentation by Eileen Barker, Prof Emeritus of Sociology with Special Reference to the Study of Religion at the London School of Economics. Eileen has spent the last 40 years in various parts of the world researching minority religions and the social reactions to which they give rise. She is an authority in the field and as well as having over 350 publications, she has founded the educational charity INFORM together with the British Home Office and mainstream Churches, to provide information about minority religions.
Eileen started by saying that there is nothing one can generalise about New Religions or Cults. They are all different and each movement has to be looked at within the context of what it does at a particular time and place. One needs also to look at the three elements of a movement: the movement itself (its message), the leaders and the membership. She then went on to display a very long list of movements, some which were familiar and some we never heard of. Every religion, she pointed out, has at one point been a New Religion, emerging out of some other religion. We can think of Christianity emerging out of Judaism, Buddhism out of Hinduism and so on. The first generation of a new religious movement has the fervour and aspiration which further generations may not have. They are the converts with the enthusiasm (and sometimes fanaticism) engendered by a charismatic leader. The hierarchy of new movements is mainly top down which is also the direction of communication. Regarding the message, the tendency of these movements is to have a dichotomous world view: good x evil, God x satanic, etc, the divisions are sharp. The membership tend to see themselves as having the truth and feel separated from the rest of the population which in their view live in ignorance. Such movements elicit an anti-cult movement which can also have the same characteristics in the opposite direction. In the world of cults however, there are some that do excellent work which however does not get publicised. We heard further about the process of change within these movements, cult wars, the issues which some of them deal with, how the internet has influenced their dissemination, and also things that lead to their demise. It was a fascinating start to the year not just by the presentation but also by the interesting discussion that followed.
For the INFORM website visit:
In December, we came together in a spirit of sharing, to celebrate mid-winter. Each person in the group shared something that was meaningful to them, some said poems, others talked about their experiences, and others about the meaning of this moment in the year. We listened, talked and were moved by each other! After this sharing we ate the seasonal food to which we had all contributed and had a lovely social time!
The Psychology and Physics of Consciousness
This month Chris Clarke, former professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and since 1999 free lance researcher and writer, came to talk about the subject matter of his new book <I<>Knowing, Being and Doing published by Imprint Academic in October 2013. Chris started his talk by explaining what he means by consciousness. He referred to Nagel who famously wrote about What it is like to be a Batreferring to consciousness as the qualitative aspect of me-ness, or what it is like to be me ‘ for an organism. It is an entirely subjective experience, no formula possible. He pointed to the work of Teasdale, Barnard and McGilchrist who amongst others identify a dichotomy of who we are. McGilchrist focuses on the workings of the right and left brain, Teasdale and Barnard expand on the implicational and propositional aspect of thought, Heidegger the Being and the Doing, Buber the I-though and I-it relation and so on. In quantum physics the dichotomy is the aspects of consciousness/observation, and field/state (characterised by logic). From those dichotomies, the focus is on the first mentioned in the above list, (in his presentation, the left column) which can be defined as the subjective, experiential aspect. He further called on philosopher Kant who famously said that we cannot know a thing itself, or das Ding and Sich, implying that all knowledge is a combination of self (and all the subjectivity this means) and what is offered by the universe. The upshot is that we can continuously enlarge our perception but this will always be anchored on who we are and what we (from where we are) observe. From the physics side Chris showed how the thinking on quantum theory evolved from early 20th C to the point in which scientists became aware that the observation itself has an effect on the observed. The element of observation is carried out by consciousness, which is where quantum and consciousness intersect. Although no theory of the interrelation is possible, no facts can be proposed but the connection can be evaluated by modelling, by describing how consciousness affects a quantum system. Chris takes a panpsychic view of the universe, by which everything it in has a degree of consciousness. We had a lively discussion after the presentation, with some interesting perspectives observed. His website is:
The Role of ‘Heroic’ Learning Communities in the Postmodern Era
October brought us Prof Richard Tarnas, professor of psychology and cultural history at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where he founded the graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness. Rick is also the author of Passionthe of the Western World and Cosmos and Psyche which in 2006 won the SMN Book Prize. Rick started by explaining what he means by ‘Heroic’ learning communities. The term was borrowed from Charles Taylor’s work Sources of the Self, in which he describes the make-up of the Hero and his journey. The Hero archetype breaks into new territory seeking the transcendent wisdom of a higher truth. This is the characteristic of all the great characters of the Axial Age, Buddha, Lao-Tsu, Jesus, Socrates etc. ‘Heroic’ communities are to society what the Hero is to the individual. Rick described the world in which we live in the West as one in which the post Enlightenment disenchantment of the world, led to an objectification of reality. The Cosmos no longer embodies the spiritual domain. Nothing is sacred any more. The utilitarian mindset empowers the centres of Power and Profit as twin drivers of society. Spiritual hunger however still exists and this is pacified by consumerism which as an end result, cannibalises the Planet because people cannot get enough of what they don’t really need. Heroic communities are those holding on to our ontology and epistemology as spiritual beings. They have a common language and are helping us to go through this deconstruction of our old identity, this dark night of the soul – and identify a source of meaning and purpose to carry us into a new reality. Amongst such ‘Heroic’ communities are organisations such as the SMN, IONS, the Anthroposophic Rudolph Steiner Institutes, the Wrekin Trust, Findhorn and so on.
Emergence, Top Down Causation and Reductionism
This month we were privileged to host a talk by Prof George Ellis, Professor Emeritus at the University of Cape Town. George specialises in general relativity theory and cosmology, he also works in complexity theory and the way the mind works. This evening’s talk was a subject at the heart of philosophy and of interest to anyone who wonders how the world works!
We are used to hearing about the bottom up process of causality, where lower levels are building blocks for higher level properties and processes. Not dismissing this reality, George made a powerful case for the consideration of the reverse process, by which lower levels are in fact determined by properties of higher hierarchical levels. These create possibilities by constraints. As an example, if gas is constrained by its environment, it will change its state to liquid. This outcome (which also results in increased order) has been effected not by a bottom up but by a top down process, the environment. George gave us a wealth of examples from physics, cosmology physiology as well as computers, society and others, showing outcomes causally determined in top-down hierarchical processes. Taking the example of computers he explained that there are over 10 hierarchical levels of programming all independent from each other. It is the highest level however, the software, that determines how the lower levels within the computer operate. Top down causation in some cases changes the nature of constituent parts. For instance cells in a foetus start off undifferentiated but will have their task allocated by the higher level ‘ the organism. Higher level causality is also shown when lower levels cannot exist without the higher level context as with cells which can only exist naturally inside the higher hierarchical level, the body.
Following the many examples in support of his theory, George tackled Crick’s statement in his Astonishing Hypothesis, that ‘a person’s mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them’. Too many influential higher level properties have been left out for this consideration to be true, but what I found particularly interesting was George’s critique of the random choice of bottom line as cells, atoms and ions. The truth is that we don’t know what the bottom line is. As the constant discovery of new particles and their behaviour shows, we may never know for sure what the bottom level is and the preferential but arbitrary choice of one does not make for good science. In the discussion that followed, many in the audience showed their interest or familiarity with the subject and we had stimulating comments and queries.
The Dimensions of Spirituality
In August we welcomed David Rousseau PhD who has a high profile presence in a number of academic institutions in the UK and comes from a background of Systems Engineering. For his PhD thesis he used his 20 years experience in high technology project management to analyse problems in philosophy of mind and the scientific study of spirituality through the lens of systems analysis. He is currently doing research into the ontological foundations of moral intuition. This evening he introduced his theory that spiritual intuitions are reactions to qualities we apprehend in nature and are therefore part of the natural order. Being spiritual is as natural as being physical. David’s argument was supported by a variety of scientific studies in different disciplines, which have increased dramatically over the last decade. He pointed to the sharp increase in interest in the field of spirituality as shown by the numbers of papers on the topic in academic databases which in the 70s were counted in their tens and have risen to thousands in the last decade. Most of the money spent on research is at present being channelled towards studies on objective spirituality aiming to demonstrate that spirituality can lead to better health and better lives, ultimately saving money to the tax payer. Going through different categories we learned that the area of ontological spirituality is the most fund-deprived. Here the idea would be to explore the objective existence of the transcendent and our personal relationship with it, potentially leading to objective perhaps even technological benefits derived from it. Ontological spirituality is predicated on intuitions of a moral kind which are inherent in the human as well as other species. Space does not allow me to expand on this but David pointed to studies showing that animals too have a moral framework. This leads to the question, where do these moral intuitions come from? If intuition is authentic then there must be something that grounds it. Spiritual experiences facilitate a direct contact with that ‘something’ and research into those have been taken much more seriously in the last few years as well. Between 1987 and 2000 the number of people who have reported having had spiritual experiences has increased dramatically which shows that people are more willing to disclose their experiences nowadays which must also mean that we as society are more willing to accept these experiences as real. It was a most fascinating and inspiring presentation, and David will absolutely have to come back to expand on this and on his other studies.
The Western Musical Tradition and the Enlightenment: an Experiment in Consciousness
July brought us Chris Todhunter, an architect by profession with interests in music and consciousness. Chris told us the current thinking about the origins of music and mentioned that 2000 year old Egyptian pictures exist depicting the lyre with 5 and 7 strings, which gives some indication of the type of music that might have been played then. Music was used for dancing and bonding as in circle dancing but also engage the emotions and determination in war efforts. Music became formalised with the development of notation by monks around the late 15th C and the structure of music was then able to evolve into melodies. By the time of Bach in the 17th century a revolution was taking place as the rules of harmony were being re-written. The introduction of rules meant that music could be written in a semi-mechanical way, side-lining the need for feelings or even devotion. The courts were demanding ever more music and these rules made it relatively easy for composers to deliver requirements. This is the start of objectification of music. This was however not a universal attitude, around the same time saw the birth of opera as an art form and Monteverdi developed music for the human voice engaging emotion to its fullest degree. We watched a Ted talk given by Michael Tilson Thomas the music director of the san Francisco Symphony, and artistic director of the New World Symphony Orchestra Music and Emotion through Time after which we considered the listening relationship we have ourselves with music. Good music, Chris argues, is the music which brings one to stillness which we experienced as we listened to Schubert’s Quintet in C, a most magnificent and moving piece!
To view the Ted talk shown click on
Questioning Einstein on Science and Religion
In June we hosted a meeting for Ravi Ravindra, honorary member of the SMN and Professor Emeritus of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia where he was for many years professor of Physics, Philosophy and Comparative Religion. Ravi was on his UK lecture tour and we were fortunate to have him during his stop in London. Ravi explored in particular Einstein’s statement that ‘Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind’ and examined how it stands up against the background of the wisdom traditions.
He started by explaining the perspectives of the scientific researcher and the spiritual searcher, who although in different ways have the same attitude towards their quest, understanding existence and reality. Both approach this quest from different perspectives but engage in similar states of mind and faith plays just important a role in the exploration both in science and spirituality. Spirituality explores the inner landscape, whereas science explores the external world. One uses experience, whereas for the other the tool is experiment. Both look for objective rather than subjective (personal) perception, but their vision is different: Max Plank for instance remarked that whatever cannot be measured cannot be real whereas Shankara (9th century CE) remarked that whatever can be measured cannot be real! Thus are the perspectives different! For the Western tradition Ravi quoted the words of St Paul who says that the eyes of the flesh see the things of the flesh and eyes of the Spirit see the things of the Spirit, Spirit here meaning something subtler (more intelligent, more conscious) than the Mind. Many of Einstein’s statements show that he had a profoundly spiritual view of the world and saw science as a spiritual path but by claiming that religion without science is lame, Einstein betrays a lack of understanding of the ‘eye’ of Spirit. Science involves activity whereas for the perception of Spirit, action is irrelevant. ‘Be attentive and do nothing’ ‘ said the Buddha.
The Gift of Alzheimer’s: Heart and Soul Journey
This month Maggie la Tourelle shared with us her experience of accompanying her mother’s Alzheimer’s journey, which she recorded in her book the title of which was the title of the presentation. The book is an in-depth study of her mother’s experience over the last 3.5 years of her life, during which time Maggie wrote a journal of her observations and conversations she had with her mother. Maggie has worked in the field of Holistic Healthcare for 30 years and she used her skills as psychotherapist to listen carefully to her mother and through a mutual opening of heart something special happened between them which allowed Maggie to participate in the process. She was specifically requested by her mother to write this book to ensure that the information, which she knew was important, was made available to others. What transpired in this journey is that although the brain deteriorates and the sufferer becomes less able to communicate, this does not mean that thinking ceases. On the contrary, thoughts seem to become clearer and perception more acute but as Maggie’s mother said ‘ ‘when I am confused, I can’t remember’! Maggie records what can only be described as a mystical process in which her mother experiences another world, which she sometimes can describe with great clarity. Metaphorical language is rich with meaning. The process over these last 3.5 years of her mother’s life included 7 stages during which the soul learned about and experienced other realities gradually disconnecting from the material body in preparation for the final disconnection. There was a gradual loss of ego and personality and eventually she was living completely in the now. There was full awareness of impending death, but no fear. What Maggie learned on this journey with her mother – which she documents in her book – are fascinating examples of transcendental states which parallel those of NDEs and OBEs. They point to a continuation of conscious awareness after death! The book (which can be bought on Amazon) contains many interesting facts, both scientific and general and is well worth reading for an insight into a disease which is so little understood.
Spiritual Experience Today
This month we welcomed Marianne Rankin who is former chair of the Alister Hardy Society (now renamed the AH Society for the Study of Spiritual Experience) and is also the author Introductionof to Religious and Spiritual Experience, a book in which she sets out the field of Religious/Spiritual experience from various perspectives. This evening she expanded on some of them starting with those of William James who in the Gifford lectures set out his own parameters for spiritual/religious experience. She then went on to talk about Alister Hardy, whose research centre – now based University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Lampeter ‘ is home to a repository of accounts of spiritual experiences from people from all over the world. Hardy was a man of science, he was a zoologist and oceanographer who had a deep interest in human nature and the nature of spiritual experience from early on. Having shown this interest at a time when such subjects were frowned upon, he was advised by his professor to build his reputation as a serious scientist first and to explore this field once his credibility as a scientist had been established. This Hardy did, and he became a well respected academic (one of his students was a Richard Dawkins!). The interest in spiritual experiences was probably sparked by some he may have had himself, but it was not until into his eighties that he wrote about them. Hardy’s definition of spiritual experience is ‘ ‘a deep awareness of a benevolent non-physical power which appears to be partly or wholly beyond, and far greater than, the individual self’. Marianne read a few examples of the range of different experiences held in the archive and told us about the ongoing research in various countries. She also spent some time talking about accounts of near-death experiences and mentioned that the archive holds the information from Elisabeth and Peter Fenwick (The SMN’s President)’s research.
Key Themes in Understanding Islam
In March we welcomed Dr. Chris Hewer who has a background in Christian theology and has since 1986 been working in the field of Christian-Muslim relationship. He now lectures on both Christianity and Islam. Following some basic pointers, we entered into a dialogue exploring topics of interest to the small group we had this evening. Chris started by saying that Islam, just as any other religion, cannot be understood in a merely intellectual way, and he wanted to take us on a journey of empathetic, intuitive understanding. He wanted us to feel into what it is like to live and experience life in a Muslim way of seeing things. This was an interesting and exciting new approach, I thought! So he started by explaining that Arabic is a language forged around letter roots, and words are made by adding vowels to these letters. For instance the root SLM conveys harmony and balance, right order, proportion, everything in its right place therefore a sense of safety and security, a sense of peace and justice which can only come about because it is according to a great design plan. So the words Islam, Muslim etc, words made up by this root communicate fundamentally the concepts mentioned above. Islam means everything working according to the great plan. Muslim is the personal archetypal form of the word, something in the state of Islam is Muslim. God creates a Creation in the state of Islam, God creates a Muslim creation. The word Muslim does not apply to humans only, but to the whole of Creation ‘ everything has its natural state. We learned that this understanding existed in the Arab world before the birth of Mohammed, and his mission was to return society, which had lost this vision, to those principles. The Koran is not a book of law but a book of ethical guidance. We heard how Mohammed validates the Koran and the Koran validates Mohammed. There were a number of questions asking for clarification on the concepts of Jihad, Infidels, Love etc within the tradition and were given very clear and helpful explanations. Two hours were not nearly enough to explore all the questions that came up, but they were enough to stimulate a fascinating discussion.
The Healing Voice and Healing the Family Ancestors
Jill Purce uses ancient vocal techniques, the power of group chant and the spiritual potential of the voice as a magical instrument for healing and meditation. She also works on healing and ancestors combining Family Constellations with chant and ceremony to bring healing to her clients.
This evening Jill told us about her earliest experience of the power of chanting when as a small child she was in a boat with her parents during a fierce storm. Three Irish women started to chant and what was intense fear of dying in the storm became transformed into bliss. She became aware of the transformative power of sound and has pursued work with this power in her professional career. Jill studied chanting with Tibetan Lamas and also worked with the German composer Stockhausen and her work has been informed by what she learned from both these sources. Having identified that the world is ‘disenchanted’ Jill developed a way of ‘en-chanting‘ it by developing a particular chant based on the technique of Mongolian overtone chanting, which involves one sole note which encapsulates overtones and which she demonstrated.
Chanting is an effective way of encouraging the mind to be present in meditation which is why chanting is often used as a means to quieten the mind. By getting the group to chant Jill demonstrated that as well as bringing the mind into the present, sound is the quickest way of dissolving separation between people and creating community.
Jill went on to tell us about her work with families and ancestors in which she explores ways in which the familial field has been breached by deaths, abandonment, and other traumas in the recent and distant past and how these affect current generations. She uses the principles of Family Constellation work, whereby acknowledging those events and incorporating them into the family narrative something is healed, almost magically.
Neoplatonism and the Dolphin Paradigm
January 2013 started with a presentation from Dr. Mike King, who following retirement from his academic career is now a free lance writer with many books to his name, most with distinct spiritual angle. Mike started by setting out the place of Neoplatonism in Western philosophy explaining that Neoplatonism is the ‘Via Positiva’ or life affirming branch of spiritual thought as opposed to the ‘Via Negativa’ which is based on asceticism and negation of concepts regarding the nature of the divine. To explain the fortunes of Neoplatonism, Mike chose the evolution of the dolphin from sea to land then to sea animal again as a metaphor to explain his view of how the principles of Neoplatonism flourished then went underground under the power of the Christian Church and resurfaced when that power waned. The dolphin we learned, evolved from a land animal, which itself evolved like the rest of creation, from a sea animal. This land animal returned to the sea taking with him evolutionary advantages such as a social structure and the sonar ability to detect sources of food. In parallel to this metaphor, Neoplatonic thinking went through a similar process by recapitulating the forms or concepts which informed Western thought in the distant past, now equipped with the developments achieved over the years, influencing Christianity as well as science. Recapitulation was a word he used a lot this evening referring to the capacity to enfold the rest of the universe.
Two basic concepts which defined the Renaissance in which Neoplatonism re-flourishes, were both first voiced by Pythagoras (570-495BC). One is the idea of Man being the microcosm of the macrocosm. This idea is reflected in ancient Hermetic knowledge, ‘so above, so below’ ‘ a concept which defines man as the peak of creation and understands the human being as recapitulating the cosmos, both physically, mentally and spiritually. The other idea is the concept of the monad, Leibniz’s legacy par excellence, which Koestler renamed holon and which went on to define Wilber’s thinking. Both those concepts are specifically Western and have influenced current spirituality especially the New Age movement.
Mike King’s website is
Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality
In November we heard Gary Lachman, who has spoken to the group before. Gary is a prolific author who writes on the meeting ground between consciousness, culture and the Western Esoteric traditions and this evening he spoke about his new book. Blavatski was born in the Ukraine in 1831 and was a powerful character. From early on she had psychic experiences which had a strong impact in the way she experienced the world. As an adult she travelled extensively going to places where men feared to go, in search of people who might teach her something about the big questions. She was a controversial figure, well but not accurately known. She is associated with alternatives to mainstream religions, was responsible for the spread of Mahayanna Buddhism in the West and is ultimately the figure behind the New Age movement. Her reputation was ambivalent in her days, but she nevertheless influenced many people through her writings amongst others T.S. Elliot, Kandinsky, Yates, Ghandi, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (who became a leading Theosophist) etc. Blavatsky travelled the world in search of an understanding of the spiritual teachings of the various traditions and found there was a need for a centralized place where all religions and spiritual teachings could come together. This motivated her to found the Theosophical Society in 1875 as a Centre for Universal Brotherhood where people would be seen as equal irrespective of gender, race or any other differentiating trait, and would study Spiritual Laws. She was a great synthesizer and aimed to develop an all encompassing worldview in an easily understandable way. Her interest and knowledge of the Occult was wide and deep and she incorporated those teaching in Theosophy. Helena Blavatsky never looked after her physical self though and she died early, aged 60 in 1891 in the UK. The presentation was an interesting insight into the life of this complex, influential and controversial figure. For further information on Gary’s writings go to his website,
The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry
Rupert Sheldrake was our October speaker and he talked about his latest book. Rupert is a biologist and a committed scientist who has developed innovative perspectives within the rigour of scientific enquiry. Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry, the qualifying statement of the title seeks to encourage a posture aligned to the true spirit of science i.e, openness to ideas and possibilities rather than unquestioned adherence to conventional belief. Science is powerful and impressive and technology is the evidence. The Science delusion is the belief that science already knows the answers to the big questions and is dedicated to filling in the details. This is a delusion under which many scientists work, that much of what scientists consider as true beyond question are actually assumptions. This mindset which pervades science has the effect of closing the door to exploration beyond mainstream thinking giving science the dogmatic tinge of preconceived ideas. Rupert listed the 10 assumptions in his book:
1. Nature is mechanical
2. Matter is unconscious
3. The laws of Nature are fixed
4. Total amount of matter and energy is always the same
5. Nature is purposeless
6. Inheritance is material
7. Memories are material (in the brain or nervous system)
8. Mind is inside the head
9. Psychical phenomena are illusory
10. Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.
These assumptions Rupert investigates as questions and concludes that they are in fact unquestioned habitual beliefs. Rupert led us through the history of ideas which led to the current state of play and mentioned those ideas and philosophers who held on to a different perspective such Leibniz, Spinoza and Whitehead etc. He then expanded on an interesting idea developed from Whitehead’s proposal that every system has a mental and a body pole – could big self organizing systems such as the Sun be conscious? Could the Sun be conscious in some way we don’t particularly understand? An assumption of course, but not less valid than the assumption that matter is unconscious!
His website is
Insights from the battle of archetypes in the Genesis creation stories
This month we hosted a talk by Dr. David Bell, Principal of Trinity Methodist Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand. David has written, preached and taught on the faith-science interface for many years. This evening we explored the two creation stories in Genesis, Gen 1 and Gen 2. In both versions we find the creation of Man, but they differ. Gen 1 describes the creation of the world in categories which include Man and Woman. Here they were created at the same time and were told they have ‘dominion’ over creation. Adam 1 therefore has the ability to name and to order. Dominion in this context is probably meant to denote stewardship rather than control. In Gen 2 we heard that Man was made alone and needs a companion. Eve was created as ‘helper’ to Adam. Exploring the archetypes of these stories, David suggests that Adam 1 is the archetype of the scientist, or humanity as understanding and exploring the environment for our benefit. Adam 2 is a different character. He knows he is alone and experiences the existential angst, familiar to everyone. These stories help us find meaning. These myths tell us that the ancient world looked for meaning as a means of finding a way to truth and in this context St Paul sees the risen Christ as Adam 3, the man who became divine. Jung endorsed this view in the idea that Christ is the archetype of the deepest expression of our psyche as it reaches towards an understanding of who we are. It is the ultimate search for meaning. We had a small group this evening, which allowed us to have an interesting discussion exploring these ideas.
Different Sights or Different Eyes: Perception in Physics and in Yoga
Our August meeting slipped quietly into the beginning of September as Ravi Ravindra kindly fitted us into his whistle stop tour of the UK. Ravi talked on a subject on which he is eminently qualified to talk having been for many years a professor in three Departments: Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Physics. Ravi is Professor Emeritus at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Ravi started by quoting Christ ‘ ‘you have eyes but you do not see, you have ears but you do not hear’ (Mark 8:18) a contention echoed by all spiritual traditions. The message is to assist those who undertake spiritual practice to change their perception. This is specifically the programme of yoga. To quieten the mind from a mind mill to a mill pond. When the mind is quiet the seer sees through the mind, not with the mind. The program of science on the other hand is different. All science, Ravi pointed out, can be said to want to imitate physics, which has at its fundamental aim to study matter (dead matter) in motion. Here, the mind is used as the instrument of knowledge, the mind is the knower. The aim is to establish theories and functionality.
So what Ravi is pointing out is the difference in the ‘eyes’ with which science and spirituality view the world which determines the person’s engagement with the world. Ravi covered only a few of the differences and he pointed also to some of the implications of this difference. He mentioned for instance that whereas the quality of consciousness of the person who seeks knowledge through science is not directly relevant to the task, it is fundamental in spiritual development. The Buddha, Christ and other enlightened beings are respected not only for their knowledge but also for their being. Science is a public enterprise, the spiritual path is a personal journey towards the mystery which can never be known, but which can be embodied. We know that our senses are not reliable, so science seeks to eliminate them and their influence, whereas spiritual development is an attempt to enhance them so they can become more reliable.
It was a most interesting evening, provocative at times followed by a lively and interesting discussion
Science’s First Mistake
In July we welcomed the authors of the book Science’s First Mistake: Delusions in Pursuit of Theory. Both authors are academics in the LSA, Prof Ian Angell is Emeritus Professor with a background in mathematics and Dr Dionysios Demetis has also been a staff member of the LSE with a background in physics. They both see themselves as ex’scientists, having had their scientific premise – that with science they could seek out Reality – challenged by looking at the world from a different perspective.
The basis of their argument is that science comes out of a self-referential system, it can only consider the observable (leaving out the unobservable which however may influence the observable) and abounds with paradoxes. In this book they set out to show ways in which the Emperor Science although useful, is naked.
This evening they made their point using mathematics and physics. They started by pointing out that mathematics, as observed by Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman, is not a natural science because the test of its validity is not experiment. This leads to the epistemological paradox of having hard sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology constructed upon non-science. Furthermore the field of maths is itself awash with paradoxes. From the concept of Zero (non existent for the ancient Greeks) which can be something that is not as well as nothing that is, to the unique number Two which in the abstract field of arithmetic is the paradoxical sum of two Ones ‘ when One in fact can be only One – to Infinity, a concept invented to deal with endless counting, yet it is a qualitative jump which logic cannot follow. The speakers pointed out that it is not surprising that many children cannot understand the logic of maths since it is often absurd!
In Physics we visited the puzzle of gravity, a classic example of a theory that has a utility but no real explanation. From Newton’s time when it was understood as a ‘force’ to Einstein’s explanation of gravity as a ‘field’, there is still no real understanding of this phenomenon. We also heard about dark matter and dark energy, elements about which we know nothing, but were invented in order to allow mathematical equations to make sense. Even financial markets have been using mathematic modelling although there is always some luminary to see through it, such as Prof Partnoy who said about these complex models ‘ ‘quite clearly they were wrong. You cannot model human behaviour with math’.
The upshot of their argument is that Reality is an emergent phenomenon ‘ an emergent system coming out of the interaction of an observer with his environment. We attempt to describe reality through mathematics, through physics, through everything else that we have at our disposal, but all these descriptions are ultimately artificial.
The paperback version of the book will be available in the Autumn and a free PDF file of the book can be had at the site
Enlightenment Ain’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be
In June we welcomed Dr. Robert Forman, author of 10 books on Consciousness and Mysticism, Professor of Comparative Religions at City University of New York, co-founder of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, founder and director of the Forge Institute for Spirituality and Social Change. Robert came to talk about his latest book, which carries the title of this evening’s presentation and is a candid account of his own journey as meditator of many years. He told us about the acute anxiety he suffered from as an adolescent and young adult, which took him to try all sorts of things, from psychotherapy to yoga. Nothing worked until he came across TM (Transcendental Meditation) at the age of 22. We learned that he started meditating and soon became hooked, going to retreat after retreat, finding meditation itself interesting and the idea of enlightenment an attraction. The description in the Upanishads, that Enlightenment enables the soul to become free from all suffering was appealing and he made this his aim.
At the age of 24 he experienced an intriguing shift in consciousness by which silence replaced some of the chatter of the monkey mind. This silence slowly spread until all of the monkey mind fell silent. First he did not know what to make of it but slowly he realised that something fundamental had changed. The frenetic business of life disappeared and was replaced by a sense of largesse, openness, pleasant vastness. Life continued as normal but now against the backdrop of that vastness. Everything felt interconnected. This new experience led him to study comparative religions and he realised the similarities between his own shift of consciousness with the descriptions of Enlightenment he read in texts of the various religions. The expectation however that Enlightenment would resolve his anxiety problems and the problems of life and living did not come to pass. His book describes how he dealt with it and this evening he gave us a brief insight into the frustration which finally led him to psychotherapy. This helped him uncover and work through some deep seated emotional trauma and he slowly found himself being able to manage his anxiety. Robert feels that this aspect, which is not often discussed within the spiritual and meditative traditions, needs to be addressed and understood to complete what can be a partial picture of what Enlightenment actually is and brings about.
Further information on the book and be found at the link below and members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members Area and clicking on the other link.
Hypnagogia and Related Processes
Our May speaker was Dr. Andreas Mavromatis who has a background in psychology and a wide interest in consciousness. Andreas entitled his talk Hypnagogia and Related Processes, the title of his book. His interest in consciousness processes go back many decades and he led meditation classes when popular interest in meditation was beginning to emerge a few decades ago. His book, first published in 1987 and re-published in 2010 was the first to analyse and pull the different strands of these types of altered states of consciousness together such as sleepdreams, meditation, psi, creativity, hallucinogenic drug-induced states etc. In his talk this evening he showed us pictures of representations of experiences various people, including artists, scientists and others have during hypnagogic moments. Andreas includes in the term hypnagogia both hypnagogic experiences, those we have when falling asleep, and hypnopompic experiences, those we have whilst wakening. Hypnagogia is a state between wakefulness and sleep. It is a creative state in which solutions to problems can emerge, a well known example is that of the Dutch chemist Kekule, who in this state had an image of a snake biting its tail, which led him to realise the composition of the molecule of benzene, which he was struggling with. These states of consciousness have been understood as special throughout the ages and Iamblicus in the first century CE expressed his belief that images and messages received in these states are divine. Ouspensky in the early 20th C made a study of it. Hypnagogic states are a universal experience and although much of it is meaningful, sometimes however such as in dreams, the content can be a recent event or something happening in objective reality, such as an unfamiliar sound, an organismic need or even something as mundane as entangled sheets. When they are meaningful however as with dreams, they can be very significant and we were told that the best way of interpreting them is from within a similar state of consciousness, rather than from the rational mind of an awaken state. There is however the possibility that this mental space is indeed another level of reality, which points to an intriguing angle which alas we did not explore this evening! In reply to a question of how to induce such a state, Andreas replied that relaxation is fundamental to allow the mind to drift and be taken by the images, remaining however sufficiently awake to follow the process.
Members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.
Ways in which we Create our own Reality
In April we welcomed Elizabeth West, who has wide experience of the spiritual life. For 35 years she has had a deep interest in the contemplative traditions of all the major faiths and has been personally involved with many of them. More recently she ran the Buddhist Christian Vedanta Network and is now running the Contemplative Consciousness Networkwhere she is promoting a dialogue between Buddhism and Science through the study of consciousness using Buddhist meditation practices.
She started by stating that she is neither a scholar nor a scientist, but a practitioner and would share with us some of the insights of her experience of Buddhist spiritual practice. The first insight addressed was the idea that the reality which we accept as true in our daily routine, is anything but. For instance, we experience the world as flat, yet we know the Earth is round. We experience the sun as rising and setting, yet we know the sun continues to shine in different parts of the globe as it becomes dark where we are. And so on. The reality which we perceive through our senses is deceptive, what the Buddhists mean when they say that the world in which we live is illusory. We sense ourselves as separate from the world, and that is also an illusion. We look for happiness ‘out there’ ‘ another illusion. These beliefs are the core of Ducca, which Elizabeth explained has been mistranslated as ‘suffering’ whereas it is more akin to discomfort, unsatisfactory or imperfect. Another fundamental teaching is about the nature of the self. The self that I think I am ‘ is not who I am. Buddhism points out the discontinuous nature of the self which when examined deeply and from within, takes us to the insight that what we are is presence, the screen against which the ‘film’ of our lives plays itself out. Thoughts are not the self either. Thoughts arise spontaneously and we are not responsible for them, our responsibility lies in engaging with them. We heard about other aspects of Buddhist approach, the importance of acceptance of what is, compassion as a source of health and happiness, the importance of training attention (in fact Mindfulness has become recognised as an important resource in Western medicine and other areas), and so on. According to these principles we do indeed create our own reality, and being conscious of that, will help us in the choice of reality we create for ourselves.
Members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.
The Self-Creating Universe: the Emergence of a New Worldview
For this presentation we welcomed Prof John Clarke, the previous Chair of the SMN and Professor Emeritus in the History of Ideas at Kingston University, London, where he taught before his recent retirement. John has a particular interest in the links between science, religion and the humanities, and in the development of a post-religious spirituality which is the context in which his ideas of about Emergentism originate. The title of the talk is the title of the book he is just completing.
This short summary will not do justice to the rich content of the presentation in which he developed his ideas about Emergentism, a term he does not like but which has to do since Creationism ‘ his preferred option has been hijacked and acquired a particular unfortunate meaning. Emergentism is the idea that the Universe is essentially creative and everything in it is governed by this principle. Throughout Nature including in human nature, we see creativity at work in constructive as well as destructive patterns. Creation and creativity as underlying principles emerge in everything we turn our attention to. These ideas reflect the current zeitgeist which indicates that its time has come. John tracked the development of this concept back to Plotinus on the one hand and Daoism on the other, although the more recent meaningful origins are to be found in Darwin. The term Emergentism was coined by a contemporary of Darwin, G.H Lewis whose views were aimed at including a spiritual perspective in the Theory of Evolution.
We heard about contributions from many thinkers including the German Romantics, Bergson, Carl Popper etc but the person who most influenced John was Stuart Kauffman and his two interesting books Being at Home in the Universe and Reinventing the Sacred. Kauffman proposes that ‘we live in an emergent universe of ceaseless creativity whose unfoldings we cannot prevision or predict ‘ they emerge’. This is not just true for the material universe but also of our own human condition. This new paradigm is emerging across the sciences and is comprehensive in its scope permeating physics, biology, psychology, cosmology, chemistry philosophy etc.
John works from a naturalistic presumption, which means an assumption relevant to the natural world, the world in which we live. There are other thinkers who have a supernaturalist presumption, but for John the conventional concept of God does not have to be part of Emergentism. He maintains that these ideas enable one to describe something which has a spiritual philosophy from a purely naturalistic perspective and it conforms with ideas which are becoming paradigmatic in science. It was a fascinating evening, the ideas were put forward with great clarity and we had a very stimulating discussion after. I am certainly looking forward to the publication of what will prove a most interesting book.
Members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.
The Protein Crunch ‘ Civilisation on the Brink
At this meeting David Lorimer talked about the book he co-wrote with Jason Drew. David is Programme Director of the SMN as well as author and editor of a number of books. This book is a result of his ongoing concern about the Earth and sustainability. He started the evening by telling us a joke first told by Gorbachev ‘ two planets met in space and one didn’t look so well. I have homo sapiens he said, and the other answered, I had that too but don’t worry, it goes away from its own accord! This set the scene!
This book was written with the general reader in mind, the person who has not read an environmental book, which can be very long and detailed. It is a book designed to raise awareness and is divided into 5 main sections: Water, Land, Seas, Population and Agri-Industry (meat production). Up to recently the thinking has been linear but because these factors are systemically related it is clear that the thinking must be systemic. As an example we heard that until 1980 Pollock was not fished very much and was the food of sea lions. Since we started to fish Pollock for human consumption the Sea Lion population has declined. On the other hand the Jelly Fish has increased dramatically in population in the northern hemisphere due to the increase in water temperature as well as the elimination of their predators. Many other examples of compartmentalised thinking exist. David examined the use of water and we were told that our water footprint should take into account not only the amount of water used in the household, but also the amount of water used in everything we use and consume. For instance 1000lts is used to grow 1kg of grain and 15-24kgs of grain is used to produce 1kg of meat. This is clearly unsustainable ever more so with the expansion of the middle classes in India and China who are demanding meat on the table. Fresh water is a limited commodity and it is distressing to know that we are depleting what is our capital ‘underground aquifers – to feed our needs. Underground water takes an inordinate number of years to be replaced yet it is being used as a renewable commodity to irrigate fields. This is a major problem in the US, India and the Middle East. A knock-on effect is that some of those states with depleted aquifers are buying land in other continents such as Africa to grow food to be imported back. Water is seriously expected to become a geo-political problem in the future. As a powerful reminder, David pointed out that the historian A. J. Toynbee examined the rise and decline of 18 major civilizations and identified factors of coherence and found that no society which overreached its natural resources has ever survived!
End of Life Experiences ‘ a Spiritual Perspective
We started the year on a high note with our first speaker, Emeritus Consultant Neuropsychiatrist Dr Peter Fenwick – who is also the President of the Scientific and Medical Network – and were treated to a host of stories which emerged from studies he and colleagues conducted in various countries. For ethical reasons, the research on the process of dying was conducted with a palliative team and carers of the dying rather than with the dying themselves. From the study it became clear that dying is not switching off, but is a process with a lot happening at that time.
The study asked questions about premonition, death bed visions, different reality, terminal lucidity and unexplained incidents in the physical world, such as clock stopping at the time of a death. We heard very interesting reports of these various phenomena. Premonition of death were common as were death bed visions. This relates to dead visitors who come and are seen by the dying and sometimes by others too. They seem to come to take the dying on a journey, and a narrative of journey starts to occur. The experience of a different reality, not unlike what happens in Near Death Experiences is also widely reported, indicating perhaps that the tunnel and light elements of an NDE may indeed be the first stage of the death process. We also heard about the interesting phenomena of terminal lucidity, about which there seems to be more written recently in the literature. This describes the lucidity some people experience just before dying, even when they have been in a coma, affected by Alzheimers or schizophrenia or any other condition which impairs the mind. And finally we heard about unexplained physical phenomena around the dying, such as clocks stopping, something being seen to leave the body etc, which seems to indicate the loosening of consciousness and the non locality of mind.
Peter ended by identifying what is needed for a peaceful death: proper care on a one to one basis, an understanding of the phenomena, trained midwives for dying. Ideally we should die where we want and as conscious as possible, with sedation kept to a minimum. We need to talk more about death not only of others, but also of our own, perhaps start learning about it in school. Life and death are not two different things! Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick wrote a book – Art of Dying – which addresses these issues.
Life Reflects Music: Music Echoes Life
The key signature of Edi’s talk was Beethoven’s famous affirmation ‘music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life’. In acting as mediator we were shown how the inexpressible content of music and of life reflect and echo each other: so to study music is to learn about life; and to look at life is learn about music. Edi provided a wealth of examples to illustrate this theme, such as the difference between power and strength, the presence of the past in the lineage of music, the distinction between head learning and heart wisdom, and a brief extract from Daniel Barenboim’s 2006 Reith Lectures providing a graphic demonstration of the relationship between content and time. En route, Edi played us an extract of Chopin’s music recorded on Chopin own (restored) Broadwood piano on which the great composer himself played to Queen Victoria at Stafford House
Edi then turned to show the indomitable courage and immense diligence of some great virtuosos who let no obstacle or inner suffering stand in the way of their life’s mission to serve humanity through their chosen art, such as the great Hungarian virtuoso György Cziffra who practised for 12 hours a day to recover his piano technique following hard labour and torture in a communist labour camp. The importance of humility allied to the urge to press ever onwards and upward was emphasized using the example of Franz Schubert who, after completing his greatest works and when only weeks from death, asked a Viennese pedagogue for music lessons in counterpoint. Finally we were left in no doubt about the power of sublime music to sooth the savage breast. The two cases in point were the Polish pianist Natalia Karp who had her life spared when she played Chopin’s last Nocturne in C sharp minor to the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp; and the great Russian pianist Maria Yudina whose recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major was found on Stalin’s gramophone player upon his death. We ended with a short extract form this very recording.
The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus
Gary Lachman, a prolific author who writes about the intersection between consciousness, culture, and the western esoteric tradition came to talk about his latest book The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus. The name Hermes Trismegistus was of course known to all of the people attending, but this evening Gary spoke about the character behind the name. He started by explaining that Hermes Trismegistus is a mythical figure, said to have lived before Plato and before the Floods. He is Trismegistus, or Thrice Great ‘ a magus, a philosopher and a sage. For 1000 years his name was lost until 1463 when Cosimo de Medici’s friend Leonardo de Pistoia came across the Corpus Hermeticum in Macedonia and brought it back to Florence. Aware of its importance, Pistoia convinced Marsilio Ficino to put aside his current work on the translations of Plato and attend to this with urgency. So important was the message uncovered in the Corpus Hermeticum that it became a driving force in the Renaissance, influencing the work of artists and scientists, including Botticelli, Newton, and Copernicus. The myth tells that Hermes Trismegistus, a contemporary of Moses received the original primal revelation from the Supra Consciousness Nous, who told him everything he wanted to know about Man and the Cosmos. This ‘prisca theologia’, or Perennial Philosophy, was then passed on to Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato etc. In the middle ages, when Man and the World were seen as sinful and corrupt, the rediscovery of the hermetic tradition helped reverse this notion by conferring on Man the status of co-creators with the divine.
In mid 17thC, Casaubon was asked to write a history of the Catholic Church and discovered that the Corpus Hermeticum texts were in fact written between 100 and 300 AD. Once this became known, Hermes Trismegistus became seen as a fraud as he could not have been a contemporary of Moses and the philosophy lost its status and went underground (as it had done several times earlier under the stress of fundamentalist religions).
It is believed that several authors living in Alexandria during a time of religious tolerance, when Greek and Egyptian knowledge was being combined, wrote under the name of Hermes Trismegistus. He might have been a blend of the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek god Hermes, or a union of the gods Horus and Apis. Even the Church Fathers knew about the texts and were influenced by them, but once Christianity was declared the Roman state religion, pagans were persecuted and had to flee Alexandria and they took the texts with them. These then appeared in Haran in Mesopotamia (which for a time became a hermetic city), then in Bagdad (influencing the Sufis) and then Macedonia where they were found by Pistoia.
This tradition has been surfacing and disappearing all through history, more recently its influence can be detected in the work of Gurdjieff, Ouspenski, Blavastki and others. We can further see the sensibilities of hermeticism bubbling up in the 60s and even now, 40 years later.
To learn more about Gary and his other books go to his website (link below) and members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the MP3 link below.
Women Awakened: Stories of Contemporary Spirituality in India
September brought Swati Chopra to London and she graciously agreed to speak to the London Group about her latest book, Women Awakened: Stories of Contemporary Spirituality in India. Swati is a New-Delhi based writer and spiritual seeker who wrote a travelogue of the spirit Dharamsala Diaries and a modern introduction to Buddism, Buddhism: On the Path to Nirvana.
For this latest book Swati set out to explore a historically less researched subject, women mystics, gurus and renunciates in a country in which traditionally men hold the authority and the power in spiritual circles. The book includes conversations with eight mystics and in her talk Swati introduced us to four. Amongst the reasons for exploring gender in the field of spirituality we learned that spirituality offers women a way of liberation from the constraints of male dominated society which women have sought throughout the world. There is however a glass ceiling in the hierarchy in the spiritual community beyond which women are not allowed to venture. This we found curious for it is understood that when enlightenment or non-dual realisation occurs in the life of a mystic, there is an insight that all is one, nevertheless we heard that women are still as much discriminated against in the ashrams of male mystics, as they are in the outer community! However, women mystics courageously respond by including this condition as part of their spiritual path, and use the opportunity to discipline their egos.
We heard stories about Sri Anandamayi Ma, The Mystic Mother who lived in early 20th C through the conversations Swati had with some of her followers and about possibly the only woman Rinpoche, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, for which Swati travelled to the foothills of the Himalayas. Two of the other mystics were actually Western women, one British (Nani Ma) and the other American (Sadhvi Bhagwati) who followed their call to live their spirituality and fulfil their path as mystics in India.
It was a most wonderful evening listening to those stories from wise and courageous women, and the book is an absolute treat to read for Swati’s writing style is engaging as well as insightful!
To find out more about Swati and her work use the link below and members can hear the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the MP3 link below.
Archetype, Psyche and the Mutative Self
Dr. Tim Read, a consultant psychiatrist, is interested in understanding the deeper layers of the psyche and understanding psycho spiritual growth. He suggests that non-ordinary states of consciousness (NOSC) offer a means of working at archetypal level and bringing about a closer relationship with the higher Self. From a young age he has been drawn to the ideas of Jung and also of Stanislav Grof who became famous for his research into NOSC with LSD. When this avenue was closed to him Groff developed holotropic breathwork, a technique understood to achieve the same aims. Tim has trained in this method and finds it particularly powerful for promoting psycho-spiritual growth. Techniques using breathwork or psychedelics or other psycho spiritual technologies allow people to experience archetypal energies relevant to them on a personal and transpersonal level offering insights and allowing an opening to the deeper layers of the psyche which can be of profound benefit, especially in people who have some spiritual practice. Tim spent some time explaining the meaning of archetypes according to Jung, but also how other great thinkers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Hillman etc understand the concept.
Tim suggests that archetypes derive from what Bohm called the Implicate Order, and emerge sometimes spontaneously and powerfully at important moments in our lives. From examples in his clinical work we learned that encounters with archetypes are a regular feature of non ordinary states of consciousness. Tim showed a moving clip of a woman suffering from ovarian cancer, who transitioned from a state of heightened anxiety to one of calm and tranquillity through her experience of archetypal images of peace facilitated by the ingestion of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. Archetypal encounters are always material for potential growth, even if they are negative and frightening, which they sometimes are. We were challenged to think about how to work with archetypal energies to facilitate psycho spiritual growth and what does this indicate about the relationship between ego and self, the personal and the transpersonal.
Members can listen to the recording (which regrettably is of less than excellent quality) by accessing this page via the Members Area and clicking on the link below.
Conversation with Ravi Ravindra about ‘Science as a Spiritual Path?’
Ravi Ravindra, an honorary member of the SMN, is Professor emeritus at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served for many years as professor in Comparative Religions, Philosophy and Physics. He is also the author of many books on these subjects. Ravi started by reflecting on what is consensually considered as science. He quoted Max Plank who said: ‘whatever cannot be measured cannot be real’ which he contrasted with Vivekananda who said: ‘whatever can be measured cannot possibly be real’! This set the scene for the discussion on what is science and he drew on physics, philosophy and spirituality to address the question of science as a spiritual path. He pointed out that this is not an outrageous propositions as it may seem to us in the West, as eminent scientists such as Einstein, Feynman, Schrodinger were profoundly aware that the fundamental basis of scientific endeavour is inspiration, a knowing from within. They also experienced profound awe in the face of the mystery of the universe.
We had a splendid and clear narrative of the meaning of living with awareness of our connection with the greater whole from the perspective of various spiritual traditions. Ravi drew our attention to the existence of different levels of internal and external realities, which can only be understood from within the same level. In other words, eyes of the flesh can only see things of the flesh, where as eyes of spirit can see things of spirit. Science at the level of spirit means participating in the endeavour with the whole being, body, mind and spirit. Whereas Einstein is reported to have said ‘science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind’, Ravi would amend this statement to say: ‘science without spiritual practice is blind and spiritual practice without science is lame’. By emphasising spiritual practice, Ravi is saying that to process scientific knowledge the experience and familiarity of spiritual reality is beneficial for a deeper interpretation of what is being observed. Conversely, spiritual practice without discrimination and rigour of science can fly off into magical thinking. It was a fascinating evening, which it always is whenever Ravi Ravindra is around!
To listen to the recording, members (accessing this page via the Members’ Area) can click on the link below.
The Turin Shroud: Scientific evidence for authenticity and the physics (and metaphysics) behind the image
This month we heard GP Dr. Andrew Silverman talk about his fascination with the Turin Shroud. He started by describing the Shroud which is now kept in Turin, but there is evidence that it has passed through hands in Jerusalem, France and Odessa. The clearly visible creases indicate that the shroud has been kept in a box and taken out from time to time. The blood has been confirmed as real by researchers and even a type has been tentatively indicated. The image seems to indicate that the shroud was used to wrap the body of a crucified man after his death. With the use of a photograph, Andrew pointed out the signs on the image taken to correspond to wounds inflicted on Christ by the Romans, as well as others identified as corresponding to the results of crucifixion. Evidence of it being genuine comes amongst others from the fact that the image is only on the surface fibres and no brush strokes can be identified, pointing to burning rather than painting. Curiously an image enhancer of the photographic negative (first taken at the end of the 19th C) will reveal the details of facial features in relief, providing a very clear image. The research in 1988 which declared the Shroud to be a medieval fake seems not to have followed proper protocols including the fact that only one sample was taken, and this from a corner which shows evidence of re-weaving, probably in medieval times. Andrew is convinced of its authenticity and his explanation for the image is that the wrapped body experienced an intense flash of radiant energy shortly after the man’s death, which Andrew relates to the de-materializing of the body. The man in question had therefore special characteristics leading to the conclusion that it was indeed Jesus. Going further, Andrew refers to Gospel quotations which indicate that Jesus repeatedly asserted that he is one of ‘us’, a man as well as divine, and his example can be followed by us all. Relating this to free will – everybody can lead the kind of life Jesus led – Andrew reaches the conclusion that the image is not a miracle, but the result of a transformation in consciousness that at least potentially, everyone can achieve.
For further information go to the website below, and members can listen to the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.
The New Philosophy of Universalism: The Infinite and the Law of Order.
Nicholas Hagger, a prolific author, spoke about his recently published new book The New Philosophy of Universalism: The Infinite and the Law of Order. The philosophy of universalism is about the structure of the universe and it seeks to incorporate the outlook of evolving fields, which he names as: world literature, world history, comparative religion, philosophy and philosophy of science and international political relations. It is the unity of human kind in different disciplines.
Universalism sees the universe as a whole and assimilates every experience and all possible concepts in it including the infinite. It incorporates the idea of universality, focuses on universal science, the idea of universal order, human kind, universal being, universal cosmic energies etc.
The 15 tenets of Universalism are:
1.focus on the universe rather than logic and language
2.focus on the universal order principle in the universe, a law which may act as a fifth force
3.the universe/Nature manifested from the infinite/timelessness
4.the universe/Nature and time began from a point and so everything is connected and one
5.the infinite/timelessness can be known through universal being below the rational, social ego
6.reunification of man and the universe/Nature and the infinite/timelessness
7.reunification of fragmented thought and disciplines
8.reunification of philosophy, science and religion
9.focus on the bio-friendly universe, not a multiverse
10.affirming order as being more influential than random accident
11.affirming the structure of the universe as unique, its cause being the universal order principle from the infinite/timelessness/Void/Being/’sea’ of energy
12.affirming the eventual reunification of humankind
13.affirming humankind as shaped by a self-organising principle so it is ordered and purposive
14.affirming all history and culture as being connected, and one-world government and religion
15.affirming that life has a meaning
More information can be had at the website below and members can hear the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.
Erwin Schrödinger and the Biological Basis of Consciousness
Dr. Peter Bowman, Science Coordinator for the University Preparatory Certificate at the Language Centre of UCL, and an enthusiastic student of Vedanta philosophy gave a very interesting talk on a side of Erwin Schrodinger (1887-1960) 1933 Nobel Prize winner in physic, little known to some of us. He started by pointing to a survey in 2005 commissioned by the journal Science, which tried to identify the top125 questions in science. Top of the poll was “what is the universe made of?” and second came ‘what is the biological basis of consciousness?’ Looking at this question through the lens of Schrodinger’s ideas was the essence of this talk. Peter started by telling us that Schrodinger, had a deep understanding that materialist explanation go only part of the way to explain Reality and he set himself the task of resurrecting metaphysics. He wanted to engage in philosophical wonder, the wonder and astonishment at the way things are ordinarily. As well as Kant and Schopenhauer, Schrodinger studied Vedanta and this philosophy became the lens through which he understood the world. He had a profound sense that our consciousness is the singular manifestation of the oneness of Mind, best understood in the idea that Atman is Brahman. Schrodinger, a brilliant scientist used physics and chemistry amongst others to study biology at a time in which genes were known biologically but scientists did not know how it works. He foresaw DNA and set the agenda for the understanding of genetics. But ultimately the question remained ‘ if everything can be explained through physics and chemistry, what does that make me? Something is being left out. I must be more than just physical elements and chemical reactions! Perhaps I am a unique collection of sensory experiences and memories, or the background or canvas on which they are collected. Are they personal or universal? He felt they must be universal, an idea which echoes the Christian belief ‘ I am one with God, or in Hinduism Aham Brahmasmi ‘ I am Brahman. But mainstream science is resistant to the top down approach to Consciousness, preferring the bottom up, which explains consciousness as an epi-phenomenon of brain. Why is that? Schrodinger sought the answer to this question in Greek thought which proposes that the world can indeed be understood (rather than it being a mystery) and that the world is outer and objective. The Greeks did not consider the inner world, they focused on the content of awareness rather than awareness itself which is where it differs from the Vedanta approach. Shankara the Hindu philosopher wrote a commentary on the Brahma Sutra, the culmination of Vedanta knowledge, and Schrodinger may have come across the recent translation by Max Muller. This text clarifies the difference between I and the not I, the cause of much confusion. The I, is the observer, awareness, the subject and the ‘not I’ – that which is being observed, the content of awareness, the object. The subject of science is the Witness, everything else is object. Consciousness is therefore the I, the subject, which cannot be the object of science. Science can therefore not examine consciousness because consciousness is the subject. The question therefore ‘ what is the biological basis for consciousness is clearly put on its head!
Members can listen to the talk by reaching this page via the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.
The Riddle of Time and New Dimensions of Reality
This month Prof Bernard Carr, Chair of the SMN, gave a presentation which attracted a record audience! Bernard is Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary, University of London and has a deep interest in consciousness. He brings together his professional and personal interests by aiming to extend physics to incorporate consciousness and associated mental, psychical and spiritual phenomena. Bernard started by stating that only recently has consciousness become respectable within physics yet a brief examination of quantum theory, the anthropic principle, paranormal phenomena or the flow of time shows that mind is not incidental, but fundamental to understanding the nature of the universe in which we live. To show the interconnection between mind and physical reality, he took us on an interesting tour around certain fundamental principles relating to space and to time. Starting with space, we heard the history behind the suggestions of additional dimensions to the three (length, width and height) we are familiar with, proposed by various philosophers and scientists over the years. First four (spacetime), then six (superstrings), finally the 11 dimensions of current M-theory and we can of course not rule out the addition of more in the future. Against the background of these dimensions, can psi phenomena be explained as an interplay between mind and other dimensions? If we assume these are non-physical spaces (as is the space in which we experience dreams, memory, or visualisation for instance) could a super-position of physical and non-physical spaces explain paranormal phenomena such as apparitions, ghosts, OBEs etc? To complete the picture Bernard addressed the riddle of time for which we need to know about specious time. This is the unit of time necessary for our consciousness to make sense of what we apprehend, in other words, the time duration necessary to apprehend the present moment. Specious time can vary in our own human experience, for instance in mystical experiences or in an accident, perception of time slows down sometimes almost to a standstill whereas when we have a fever or in an NDE life review it speeds up. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that specious time is different throughout the universe, where a whole hierarchy of consciousness may exist however human consciousness is limited to what we can perceive in our ‘ human ‘ specious time. The understanding of potential existence of other dimensions and specious time together with the limitations of our consciousness to apprehend both space and time opens up a whole range of possibilities to explain that for which we currently don’t have an explanation and therefore label ‘paranormal’.
Space does not allow for this report to reflect the richness of this presentation. Members can listen to it by accessing this page via the Members’Area and clicking on the link below.
The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science and Astrology
At the first meeting of 2011 Prof. Keiron Le Grice talked about his book The Archetypal Cosmos: Rediscovering the Gods in Myth, Science and Astrology. Keiron is adjunct Professor in the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness programme at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and is also the founding co-editor of Archai:: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology. The new discipline of Archetypal Cosmology uses the archetypal attributes of the 10 planets in astrology to create a framework by which to understand the events that shape us and the world around us, within the micro and the macro picture. His work is inspired by the writings of CG Jung, Groff, Hillman and Joseph Campbell on the one hand and from a scientific perspective by the work of Rupert Sheldrake, Fritjoff Capra, Teilhard de Chardin, Brian Swimme and David Bohm. The book came out of his own need to understand his worldview and his work resonates strongly with that of R. Tarnas who is a colleague at the Institute. In his book Keiron looks at the human need for meaning and the role of myths in this regard. He quotes Campbell who examined both oriental and occidental myths and describes how they gave rise to meaning in the various cultures. In the West when Nietzsche declared God was dead he was communicating his experience of the prevalent demise of meaning. Shortly after however Jung gave the world the gift of his insights, including that of archetypes and individuation helping us again to reconnect with meaning. Archetypes inform nature as well as psyche and if we consider that the Cosmos is the materiality of Psyche and Psyche the interiority of the Cosmos we see that inner and outer are subject to the influences of archetypes. And that is Keiron’s message. The ten planets are singular in their archetypal meaning and Keiron proposes that personal as well as world and even cosmic events are influenced by these archetypes and their astrological configurations. This perspective imputes meaning to the Cosmos. Using the same archetypal attributes used in personal astrology, Archetypal Cosmology is concerned with the Anima Mundi the interiority of the Universe.
Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.
Winter Solstice, a Dark Night of the Soul
On a cold and dark evening in December, by the fire Katriona Munthe invited us to reflect on the life of John of the Cross and his Dark Night of the Soul. We then celebrated the occasion with mulled wine and seasonal food.
Members can hear the reflection by accessing this page through the Members’ Area and clicking on the link below.
The Ghosts of Kusnacht: Jung and the Dead
Gary Lachman, is a prolific author who writes on the themes of consciousness, culture and western esoteric tradition. This evening he spoke about a particular aspect of his latest book Jung the Mystic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung’s Life and Teachings, Jung’s interest in death. It is well known that this interest ran in the family, his maternal grandfather Samuel Preiswerk, a preacher regularly communicated with his diseased first wife and even kept an empty chair for her at the dinner table, to the consternation of his second wife! Jung’s mother had mediumistic gifts so he grew up in an environment in which the dead were quite present. As a young boy he was fascinated with funerals and corpses and when his father was dying he was there observing life draining from the body. A couple of poltergeist experiences, the splitting of a table and that of a knife within a drawer in his house focused his interest even more in the paranormal and he engaged in spiritual sΓ©ances with his cousin Heli who had strong gifts in this direction. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on this experience, but his need to conform to science to maintain his credibility, led him to be less than genuine about his interest. In general this need to affirm his credibility, especially during the time he worked with Freud, prevented him to engage publicly in what privately fascinated him. After his break with Freud he experienced a psychotic breakdown during which he wrote (or channelled) the Twelve Sermons to the Dead. At this stage he was still not comfortable with the esoteric, and I was only following his near death experience when he suffered a heart attack after breaking his fibula in 1944 did he ‘came out of the closet’ and became open about this interest in the esoteric. In this experience he found himself floating above the planet watching a monolith which turned out to be a Hindu temple floating towards him. He knew that was the portal to the afterlife, but at the last minute he was told he had to return as his time had not yet come. Like other people who had the same experience, he felt annoyed as the pull towards the portal was too great. But as we know, he returned to live out his life and died on the numerologically interesting date of 6/6/61.
Energy-consciousness duality: Parapsychology as a scientific mystery tradition
Dr. David Luke is senior lecturer in psychology at Greenwhich University and has a long standing interest in parapsychology, ESP and altered states of consciousness. He set the context of his presentation by explaining that philosophically he is a dualist and considers mind and body as distinct but participating in a two way causal relationship pointing to unity. To demonstrate this widely held view he pointed to similarities within Eastern and Western traditions both of which consider the union of consciousness and matter. One of the most ubiquitous symbols of this union of opposites is the superimposition of inverted triangles, the upturned one symbolising consciousness and the downturned, matter or energy. In Hinduism this symbolises the union of Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (energy or matter) and in the West this symbol is used in a variety of traditions: in Judaism as the star of David, but also in Theosophy, Masonic and other esoteric traditions. This symbol appears also as Merkaba the union of the energetic principle and consciousness mentioned in Ezekiel to be found also in ancient Egypt where the union of Ka (life force) and Ba (consciousness) constituted the definition of life. In the West, the world of physics (matter) and the world of psychology (mind or consciousness) have no overlap and parapsychology is the attempt to address this lack. Parapsychology is the study of the direct interaction between mind and matter. It is defined as the scientific study of experiences which, if they are as they seem to be, are seen as being outside the realm of human capabilities as conceived by conventional scientists. This includes clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, mediumship etc. David explained some of the scientific studies in the area being conducted by himself and others, which he feels justifies parapsychology to be considered a mystical tradition with a scientific method.
Members can listen to this talk by accessing this page through the ‘Members’ Area’ portal and clicking on the link below.
MAGICAL MINDSCAPES: How landscape was invested with meaning in the Ancient World
Paul Devereux, author and researcher is also a founding editor of the academic publication, Time & Mind ‘ The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture (Berg) and a research affiliate with the Royal College of Art. This evening’s talk carried the same title as the latest of Paul’s 26 books and his illustrated presentation showed how ancient civilisations imbued the landscape in which they lived with meaning. We saw beautiful pictures of mountains which were considered sacred and so were other geological formations such as caves which could be said to be stone age cathedrals, the resonance and darkness no doubt creating the mysterious atmosphere which facilitated a numinous experience. Some waterways were also considered sacred, and we have a contemporary example, the River Ganges in India. Another way of imputing meaning to the landscape was the interpretation of simulacra, and example of which are the Paps of Anu, mountains which look like breasts in Ireland, or the Buffalo Rock in the US. Looking for parallels in the human body, there were cultures which sought to identify the navel of the Earth to declare it sacred, as is the Omphalos or ‘navel stone’ in Greece, or the Cosmic Axis, which is what Mount Kailash in Tibet represents. Many of these places were pilgrimage destinations and the pilgrimage itself was sacred as its slow pace allowed the pilgrim to see details and interact with the unseen in the landscape. Paul explained and described pilgrimages such as Mt Sinai, Santiago de Compostela, Native American pilgrimages to Bold Mountain etc. The straight lines we see in deserts Paul suggested, may well have been lines people walked. We were left with the sense that those people living in a landscape imbued with meaning were able to impute meaning to their own lives, something which many of us have lost in the very different world in which we now live.
Early October 2010
French Cathedrals trip
On the morning of Friday, 1st of October, a group of 13 of us set off in three cars direction France via the Eurotunnel. We were going to spend the next 5 days on a circuit around Paris, to visit a total of six cathedrals, one castle and a Champagne producer, with David Lorimer and Clive Hicks as guides. We learned that most of the great French cathedrals are dedicated to Mary, virgin mother of Jesus and each portrays a different angle of the story with their beautiful stone carvings, which one can spend hours, days, weeks studying. Our first stop was the cathedral of St Quentin, where we heard the first of Clive Hicks’ presentation in which he explained some basic facts regarding the architecture of medieval cathedrals. It was our first encounter on this trip with that majestic style and the awe inspiring atmosphere of this space filled me personally with a sense of reverence and delight to be there. From St Quentin we moved to Laon where we arrived towards dusk. The motorway runs straight into Laon, and from afar one can see the imposing cathedral perched high on the lonely hill. It is impressive! We went up to explore it but it was wet, cold and getting dark so we came back the following morning and found it enveloped in the mist of the low clouds which gave it an eerie atmosphere. Although the basic elements are similar, each cathedral has its own message and we spent time looking at the details of the front elevation, its figures and expressions. The interior was likewise remarkable, the features exquisite! From Laon we moved to Reims, perhaps the most perfect example of the impressive ‘High Gothic’ architecture. We were amused by the ‘smiling angel’ and other figures at the front, and spent some time looking for the ‘Green Man’ which is somewhere among the stone carvings inside. After lunch we drove through beautiful champagne vineyards, to Hautvillers Abbey where, in a small country church some of us heard beautiful music sung in rehearsal for some upcoming event. The others were stuck in traffic but caught up with us fairly quickly and we drove to a champagne tasting at Tarlant where David gave an interesting talk on the production of champagne. Tasting the champagne was very nice too and some more than others, left laden with bottles! Our stop the following day was a memorable visit to the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, where we heard the sad story of its creator, Louis Nicolas Fouquet. The castle is absolutely splendid with its magnificent gardens and carriage museum. The weather, which had not been very cooperative up to now, changed and we were able go back in time as we strolled in the sunshine through the breathtaking gardens created by Andre Le NΓ΄tre, the landscape gardener who also designed the park and gardens of Versailles and Chantilly. The following day found us in Chartres, which was the highlight of the trip. Chartres can be described, discussed and explained, but it really needs to be experienced! There is so much to say but not enough space, so I just say that it was awe-inspiring! From Chartres we moved to Beauvais where we arrived at lunchtime and found the cathedral closed! We had not accounted for the French cherished ‘dejeuner’, so we moved to Amiens, another spectacular cathedral with wonderful stories recounted through figures over the porticos. From there it was back to Calais, and home. It was a wonderful trip, in the company of wonderful people in which we learned much, saw beautiful things and had the opportunity to be in truly inspirational places. If you wish to see pictures, please email me and I will send you the links.
The Magical Play of the Creation According to Modern Physics
Dennis Blejer, MIT physicist and branch leader of the School of Practical Philosophy and Meditation in Boston took the audience, a group of non-physicist on an interesting tour of some of the most complexes ideas in physics making them accessible through very skilful explanations. Much within the physical reality in which we live is mysterious and physics seeks to understand these mysteries of the universe by discovering the laws that shape the world as we know it. Amongst others Dennis talked about the basic principles of Special and General Relativity theory, Black Holes and some of the theories of the Big Bang. To point out how mysterious are phenomena we take for granted he reminded us that although the effects of gravity are well known and studied by physics, its causes are an absolute mystery as are forces or energy fields – the constant interaction between the seen and the unseen in the physical world – which although studied and used by various technologies, are unknown as to their causes or origins. Water for instance, although we know its composition we again have no idea as to its origin.
He explained how mysterious are both light and time and managed to include Woody Allen’s unbeatable logic that ‘time is what God made so that everything wouldn’t happen at once’! As for Reality, he pointed out that ‘everything that can be observed, changes’ and as a student of Advaita Vedanta, a non-dual tradition, he stated that what changes cannot be real. We hope Dennis will come back to develop this latter perspective, which must count – from our human limited perspective – as the ultimate mystery.
Members can listen to the talk by accessing this page through the ‘Members’ Area’ portal and clicking on the link below.
Ancient Techniques for the Modern World: an Introduction to Shamanism
Zoe Bran is a writer and has been a university lecturer but she now focuses exclusively on her practice of shamanism. She is involved in the practicalities of healing, counselling, psycho-pomping (helping people in the process of dying) as well as teaching. Zoe started by explaining to us that shamanism is the oldest and most widespread spiritual tradition and can be found in ancient as well as present times. She made an interesting connection with the Old Testament pointing out stories which could be understood within the context of shamanism. She gave some examples, which included Jacob’s dream of a ladder which can be clearly be associated with a journey to what in shamanism is understood as the Upper World. Jesus himself would fit well in this tradition as a shaman, a healer connected with Spirit performing what is seen as miracles. The word shamanism comes from Siberian Tunga and means ‘the one who sees into the true nature of things, beyond surface reality’. Seeing beyond surface reality is the enlightened state in many other mystical traditions. The shaman is understood to be able to leave his body and travel upwards towards the sky as well as downwards inside the ground. He uses his imagination to accomplish his deeds in helping others on their path, be it physically, mentally or emotionally. Shamanism sees a person as spirit in a human body and interacting with other spirits is core to the tradition. What are Spirits? They are part of whatever the universe is made of and present themselves to us in specific forms to teach us something we need to know. Engaging with spirits is engaging with the divine for a particular purpose. A person in shamanism is understood to have two souls (soul is equal to spirit): the body soul and the free soul. It is with the free soul that the shaman journeys by means of his imagination and rather than words and understanding is achieved by means of experiences. The role of the shaman is to mediate between the seen and the unseen to restore balance and harmony. Interestingly, in this tradition there is no good or evil, only things that should not be there, and absence of what should be there.
Members can listen to this talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking the link below.
What is Truth?
In June, Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk, author of numerous books and Dharma teacher gave his talk the intriguing title ‘What is Truth?’. He started by asking the audience about their questions on the topic and proceeded to answer them by exploring the language we use figuring the word truth. With great clarity and focus, Christopher led us step by step to follow his thinking towards what turns out to be quite a simple insight. He started by pointing out the power of generalisations. Institutions, of which we are surrounded, have voices of authority which reflect and mirror their ethos. It is quite common that we attribute authority to these voices and accept what they say as truth. There is great danger in this! There is a difference between truth and a view and to avoid falling into an unquestioning conformist position we must remain vigilant about authority so we do not confuse view and truth. Christopher pointed out that even in the legal system, a view is frequently confused with truth. When looking closely we see that it is often about winning an argument, rather than teasing out the truth. In another area, that of conflict, the situation is even more entrenched: is it possible to free up the concept of truth from the language, motivation plus the need from both sides to win the argument? This led him to consider the problem of conflict which arises from the mindset that perceives differences as truth. Yet, there is no truth there ‘ only views. It is in the belief (or view) of a gap between us and them that the horror of violence can take place Christopher pointed out. He recalled the way his teacher in Thailand would start his talks, which went: dear brothers and sisters, in birth, ageing sickness and death! Birth, ageing, sickness and death, is that which we have in common! From a dharma perspective (teachings on the way things are) ‘ in the same way we change, views also undergo changes. A view at one point in time will undoubtedly change and this constant adaptation shows that what we take as truth at one point, will show up as not being so at a different stage. This goes for everything including science. So, authority must be questioned. Knowledge adapts and changes. So what of truth? How can we know truth from knowledge? Truth Christopher says, has a function. Truth is that which transforms. Truth moves and shows itself with some kind of break with the past. In this break, life opens up in some way. Truth is the transformative element in human existence. Different from knowledge and information, it is a shift and our own experience can confirm it. Sometimes it hits us from the outside ‘ perhaps something someone says ‘ other times it is an internal process. Art, music, theatre etc can wake us up ‘ transform us ‘ that is truth! The understanding is transforming ‘ not informing! That is the difference. When it transforms, it is truth, when it does not ‘ it is called a view! Truth when it transforms does not necessarily take us somewhere pleasant, sometimes the transformation is towards something painful! Nevertheless, every transformation brings with it a new beginning! The audience was deeply touched, and following a short dialogue the room fell silent!
Below is the link to Christopher Titmuss’ website and members can hear the talk by accessing this page via the Members’ Area and clicking the link below.
The Four Levels of Interpretation: from Science to Mysticism
Dr. Angela Voss started life as a classical musician and then moved to the academic world where she wrote her PhD on the music of Marsilio Ficino. For the last four years Angela has been the director of the MA program on Cosmology and Divination at the University of Kent. She has a long standing interest in the methods and interpretation of knowledge that arises through magic and divination practices. Her presentation this evening was about different ways of knowing and levels of interpretation. Whereas today the consensus is that empirical scientific method is the only arbiter of truth in all areas of life, Angela examined the multi-layered ways in which the world was interpreted in the past, and shown that although not universally considered, they are still as relevant today as they were then. The ancient Greeks and early Christian Church understood that particular perception is required and specific methods applied to different ways of knowing. A good example, are the four levels of interpretation proposed by Origen of Alexandria (c. 185’254) for the understanding of sacred texts: the first and most basic is the literal level which reports facts. The life of Christ in this mode is understood as purely historical. The next level is the allegorical, which introduces symbolic interpretation, teasing out meaning behind the narrative. In this mode Christ’s journey is understood for its deeper metaphorical significance. The third level, the tropological, combines this understanding with action resulting in changes in the way life is lived. Christ’s example and teachings become transformative as they are taken into one’s own life. The fourth level is the anagogic or mystical knowing and Christ becomes known internally as revelation, and the person acquires spiritual insight into the nature of Reality. The major bridge is crossed from the first level ‘ the literal, to the second in which one thing is seen for another by the interpretation of the symbolic. Symbol is important because it brings the divine level down to sense perception through the power of imagination. Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) offers a simplified version by conflating the last three steps. He points to two ways of seeing the world which he called the eye of reason and the eye of revelation. Both are important, the eye of reason will facilitate scientific understanding and progress and the eye of revelation keeps us connected with the symbolic and spiritual reality. Arabi warned of the dangers of seeing the world in an imbalanced way for the eye of reason divorced from the eye of revelation will lead to a materialistic reductionist and superficial understanding disconnected from meaning and the eye of revelation divorced from the eye of reason, will lead to transgressions in the realms of the irrational. His views are eminently current as we consider the imbalance caused by the emphasis placed on the eye of reason which affords exclusive credibility to scientific explanations in all areas of life. Angela, and the audience in general agreed, that to be true to our human nature, rather than adopting a single perspective, we need to be aware of the validity of these multiple ways of knowing.
The Call of the Cosmos and the Great Work of Alchemy
In April we welcomed an old friend of the SMN, retired Jungian analyst and author Anne Baring. In her illustrated and colourful presentation Anne tackled the Great Work of Alchemy and explained how this art, which goes back to pre Christian times, seeks to respond to the call of the Cosmos which we humans can feel from the depth of our being. Her own interest was started by a dream she had when she was young, in which a voice was crying out for help. Looking around she found the voice came from a stone! There and then she understood that this was spirit buried in matter and that she was being called to work on her own understanding of this phenomenon, then to teach and write. Alchemy is this process which seeks to reveal a hidden reality of the highest order and deals with fundamental questions such as who we are, what we are doing here and how to manifest the spirit of life. The Great Work of Alchemy aims to help us develop our own consciousness and to reconnect with the invisible soul of the Cosmos. It is a powerful process and during the psychotic breakdown in which he was flooded by unconscious material, Jung experienced it in full force and this enabled him to understand and then write about it. The reality described by Alchemy is very differently from the dead universe of modern scientific materialism. The Cosmos is seen as living, organic, a sacred whole. This perspective goes back to the civilizations of the Bronze Age when all life was spirit and man was a part of it. This was the early feminine, lunar era, the time of shamanic consciousness, in which man participated in the cosmos by living in a more instinctual way. This culture is symbolised by death and rebirth and its myths are connected with the life and death of the earth, the regeneration of the seasons. Although we have lost this lunar perspective in our rational mind, it still lives in our instinctual soul. The masculine, solar era starts around 2000 BC, with the beginning of writing. Then, a radical change of consciousness occurs, and the sun becomes the great symbolic image. This is a phase of separation of the ego, the conscious mind from nature. This created a split between the emergence of the conscious mind and the instincts. As a consequence, duality comes into being, and with it the split between good and evil. Lunar, the idea of oneness becomes lost and we start seeing God as external to ourselves. The key image becomes transcendence and the emphasis is on getting out of the world, out of the wheel of rebirth, and into the world to come. The body has to be controlled and subjugated. The work of alchemy is bringing luna (moon, the feminine) and sol (sun, masculine) back together towards a wholesome union. The vessel of the alchemist is his own psyche ‘ the prima materia – and our individual imagination is seen as the divine element, an implant of the Cosmic Imagination. This, the Anima Mundi is the root and matrix of our personal consciousness and the journey of the soul is to reconnect the conscious mind with instincts. The process from nigredo to rubedo is complete when the body of light after death is reunited with Unus Mundus.
C.G. Jung, Scientist , Mystic and Prophet
In this talk, Dr Roger Woolger, a Jungian analyst, life long student of world spiritual traditions and pioneer in Deep Memory Process (regression therapy) chose to explore the extraordinary inner experiences Jung had throughout his early life, which culminated in the inner turmoil which followed his break with Freud and psychoanalysis. This inner turmoil almost took him over the edge into madness, but Jung was able to keep one foot in sanity by drawing and writing about these experience in what later became the Red Book, which recently has been published and made available to the wider public. It was from this material that Roger drew for this evening’s presentation, in which we were shown a number of pictures, some of which were powerful representations of Jung’s journey into his own hell. The Red Book we were told, places psychology squarely within a spiritual framework although Jung himself would not use this word and called it transpersonal instead. All his mature psychology had its root in this period, the concept of archetypes, the insights into opposites, death/rebirth of hero, typology etc. Most important for him however was the realization that in his early psychoanalytical period he had betrayed his soul and that only by making this journey into the depth of own soul, could he redeemed it and rediscover his wholeness. Another interesting aspect which Roger highlighted was that as with his mother (who was a fully fledged medium), Jung identified two personalities in himself, one of which ‘ personality number two – had many of the characteristics of Goethe, who according to rumours, fathered an illegitimate son, CG Jung the elder, Jung’s grandfather. This possibility highlights parallels and correspondences between the two men, including the idea that Jung inherited Goethe’s unfinished involvement with the development of the German people with the tragic consequences in the 20th Century. A lot of Goethe’s relationship with the feminine can also be seen as being replayed in Jung’s life. Goethe’s work had without a question a deep influence on Jung, an example being Faust’s relationship with Mephisto which led Jung to understand that everybody has a relationship with the devil, which he came to call the ‘Shadow’ and which later became the seeds of modern psychology for him. There were many other interesting aspects of this presentation, and members can hear the talk by going through the Members’ Circle portal and clicking on the link below. Even though pictures are not available, the presentation is still worth listening to. The pictures are available at Roger Woolger’s website, which can be accessed by following the link below.
Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves
In February Dr. James Le Fanu, a family doctor, author and regular columnist for the Telegraph, discussed the message of his new book with the title of this meeting. In his book James challenges the belief that science has delivered the promised knowledge and understanding it claims to have and he focuses on genetics and neuroscience to support his argument. From Darwin we get the idea that we are the consequence of a gratuitous evolutionary process. But James is not convinced. How can such a simple idea explain so much? For him the presumption of knowledge conceals our profound ignorance of the most elementary aspects of life and mind. James does not dispute the facts of evolution, or natural selection but he argues that those conclusions fall short of explaining many aspects which are taken for granted. He reminded us of Carl Popper’s statement ‘ theories that explain everything, end up not explaining anything in particular. James brought into focus two recent developments, the Genome, decoded in 2001 and neuroscience which through the development of MRIs can now observe the brain from the inside, thinking, reflecting, doing, in action. We had high expectation from the decoding of the Genome but In spite of all we learned, much remains unexplained. The diversity of form across Nature is a mystery, not explained either by the quality of genes, essentially similar across the range, or by quantity as the mm long worm and man have both about 20,000 genes. In another example we heard that the regulatory gene which gives the fly its compound eye, accounts for our camera eye. Genes clearly operate within the context of the environment in which they belong, a gene of a fly eye if transposed to a mouse will behave not as a fly eye gene, but as a mouse eye gene. Neither do genes account for changes in evolution, for example the anatomical changes in posture from primates to homo sapiens. Looking a neuroscience, another set of unanswered questions arise, in spite of the recent developments. For instance, with the help of modern technology we can see that the brain works as an integral whole, with the same neuronal circuits performing many different activities, but where are the switches that control these activities? In another example the picture our eyes see is fragmented into 30 or 40 different maps and then reintegrated for our understanding ‘ how is this done? Where is memory stored? How does electrical activity translates into qualia? How has language emerged? The 5 mysteries of mind, subjective experience, free will, memory, sense of imagination and sense of self, are even more inscrutable to science, yet for us personally they are no mystery, on the contrary, they are part of our every day lived experience! James concluded his presentation with the observation that the unbelievably exhilarating findings of science have expanded our intellectual horizons – by demonstrating how little we know!
Members can listen to this presentation by accessing this page via the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.
The Case for a Cosmic Idealism: Seven Steps To Understanding The Universe as Mind and the Mind-Dependent Nature of Things
Our first talk in 2010 was given by Dr Oliver Robinson, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Greenwich, who was a director of the SMN and is now a consultant working for the us in various areas. This evening Olly put forward his argument for Cosmic Idealism, the view that Mind is universal and fundamental and that our minds are part of this Cosmic Mind or Consciousness. His talk was divided into two parts: first he gave us a historical overview of philosophies which place mind and idea as fundamental reality. Olly showed that the story of idealism (which should in fact be idea-ism), started thousands of years ago in India with the Vedas, and he went on to name various Western philosophers who throughout the ages developed models of understanding the world with mind as primary. In the present age this perspective becomes implicated also in physics. Against this background, Olly went on to propose his argument that the world is entirely dependent on mind. He defined mind as that which has the capacity to have ideas (concepts, categories, abstractions) and can perceive relationships between things. He presented his reasoning in a 7 step sequence in which he deconstructed both, the perception that objects exist on their own terms, independently of mind, and the distinction between subjective and objective. In the first three steps Olly showed that the meaning attributed to an object is dependent on mind, as is the perception of its physical qualities. The next two steps consider the abstract aspects of categories and concepts, change and motion of an object, all dependent on mind, with its abstracting ability for instance distinguishing past and future to understand change. Step 6 explains the use of mind to view an object as a result of the combination of its multiple parts into a singular whole. In his last step Olly concludes that based on the premises set out in his previous steps the following syllogism holds true: since objects and time exist stably and independently of human beings, and objects and all properties and motion of objects are dependent on mind, there follows that there must be some kind of mind beyond the human being in which objects and spacetime exist.
Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page via the Members’ Area Portal and clicking the link below.
November 2009 (2)
Blackfoot Worldview and its Quantum Implications
Prof Leroy Little Bear from the Blackfoot Confederacy was an invited speaker at our SMN conference on the Legacy of David Bohm. Leroy founded the Native American Studies Dept of the University of Lethbridge. He met David Bohm and had many conversations with him in which they explored the similarities of the Blackfoot worldview and Bohm’s theory of implicate and explicate order. The Blackfoot are a Native American Indian tribe with very different worldview from that of the colonizers who came from Europe. Although much of the Western values have had to be adopted by the culture, the Blackfoot maintain their relationship with the world according in their own ancient tradition, with their customs and ceremonies. The core of their worldview is that everything is in flux. Creation is in a state of flux, everything moves, changes, transforms ‘ a perspective familiar to quantum physicists. The process never stops. This flux consists of energy waves and in the particle/wave duality the Blackfoot are wave thinkers whereas western scientists are mostly particle thinkers. We as human beings, manifest a particular combination of waves in relationship with each other, which express our own individuality. These waves are Spirit and death is understood not as the disappearance of the waves, but the dissipation of that particular combination. The flux also relates to the notion of relationship in which everything and everyone is interconnected, man, animal, plant, rock, everything with their particular wave combination. Nothing is inanimate, everything is Spirit. Successful living is to surf the flux as it changes and transforms identifying regular patterns to use as reference, always knowing that things will change. Another important principle of the Blackfoot is renewal. Whereas we in the West are constantly looking to progress onto the next thing, to move on from where we are, the Blackfoot focus on the renewal of that pattern which has proved to be successful. Most of the ceremonies are renewal ceremonies in which they try to maintain those things that make for continuing existence. The ceremonies are therefore age old, and so are the songs they sing and stories they tell. The aim is for stability in change. Another difference is regarding time, and space. Whereas we in the West think in dichotomies, such as day/night, good/bad etc, for the Blackfoot such clear boundaries do not exists and everything is part of everything else or merges into everything else. Blackfoot language has no nouns, nothing that can be pinned down, everything is moving, transforming. Whereas time is major reference for us, for the Blackfoot the significance is in place and space. It was a wonderful insight into a culture with a worldview which resonated with many people in the room!
Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.
November 2009 (1)
The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World
Psychiatrist Dr. Iain McGilchrist’s fascinating new book identifies a most interesting phenomenon, how the different hemispheric skills influenced Western culture. In his talk, Iain started by describing the first half of the book in which he examines those different skills and how they influence our ways of being and behaving as individuals. Although the two hemispheres have specific skills in healthy people they work together in balance and make their own unique contribution to the individual’s world. To illustrate the differences, Iain explained that the right hemisphere apprehends the world whereas the left evaluates and plans sequences of actions. The right hemisphere is open, without preconceptions of what it is trying to do, and therefore is subject to a negative feedback loop, meaning that if something pushes it too far one way, it will compensate towards the other to try to correct that. The left hemisphere on the other hand is focusing on something which it has already prioritized, and as a result, the more one uses it, the more one narrows the focus resulting in a positive feedback loop, i.e, the more we do it, the more we have to do it, a loop from which it is hard to escape! Both hemispheres have their job to do, each deals with an aspect of the world we need. The right hemisphere is primary, the Master of the title, which is betrayed by the left, its emissary. ‘The Master needs to trust, to believe in his emissary, knowing all the while that that trust may be abused. The emissary knows, but knows wrongly that he is invulnerable. If the relationship holds, they are invincible; but if it is abused it is not just the Master that suffers, but both of them, since the emissary owes his existence to the Master’ (p428). This struggle of hemispheric tendencies is explored in the context of Western civilization where the balance has at times, not been kept in equilibrium. In the second half of the book Iain examines specific periods of Western civilization beginning with the ancient world of Athens and Rome, through to the present, showing how those hemispheric aptitudes determined the tendencies of the times. In the ancient world it can be said that the right and left hemisphere were working in balance. When we get to Socrates and Plato things start to go wrong with the more subtle, nuanced living sense of the world being replaced by a bureaucratic, militaristic, regimented attitude. Evidence of these swings can be seen in the arts and we were shown some striking examples. For example in contemporary paintings of the Renaissance we note right hemispheric tendencies whereas the Reformation is very clearly under left hemispheric control. The presentation sparked a very interesting discussion, with insightful questions and comments.
Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.
Science and Imagination
This month, Prof Marilyn Monk, UCL Emeritus Professor of Molecular embryology at the Institute of Child Health and a member of the Board of Directors of the SMN, discussed Science and Imagination. She told us that scientists stand shy of accepting an engagement with imagination because imagination can lead to belief! Imagination is the mental faculty of forming images of external objects not present to the senses and this can lead to belief – the acceptance of an imagined object as true – and for this reason the concept is drummed out of young scientists. But imagination is necessary to postulate a hypothesis and the one she presented is in two parts: that epigenetic programming determines life view, and that the reverse may be also true, that this programming can be reversed by changing life view. Epigenetic programming is the software of our genome, determining which genes are on and which are off. DNA can be modified in various ways and Marilyn’s scientific work has involved the modification of one of the components of DNA ‘ the methylation of the DNA base cytosine. Methylation has the effect of turning a gene off. Studies with animal models have shown that this process is reversible. Rat pups with bad mothers have methylated their glucocorticoid receptor gene in the hippocampus and are in a constant state of stress. When however these pups are moved to a good mum, this can be reversed. Similarly, recent studies on suicide victims have shown that methylation of the glucocoticoid receptor gene in the hippocampus was present in people who had a childhood of abuse. Imagination may be the key to reverse this process of programming by early experience of the environment to a lifetime of stress and compromised well being. Imagination triggers one’s neurology and physiology in the same way as the real experience. Evidence of its power exists for example in the success of sports psychology and psychoneuroimmunology, both based on the power of suggestion, sometimes erroneously dismissed as placebo effect. Brain imaging studies show that the same areas in the brain fire up whether the individual is having an experience in the external world or innerly, as a product of imagination. Mirror neurones seem to show that we can even experience the world by affinity, through the experience of others. In the past, people have debated the influences of Nature (genes we inherit) versus Nurture (conditioning by the environment). But these are not competing influences and it is more relevant to consider the constant interplay of our genes with the environment. This interface is the epigenome. The epigenome determines our lived experience. It is a continuous dynamic interplay and we have the power to change our environment as well as the way we experience our environment. Could our imagination may be trained to re- programme our genes? Research on this part of the hypothesis would need to be undertaken by professionals in the areas of molecular biology and cognitive neuroscientists.
Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below. Apologies for the quality of this recording!
The world is our Cloister: the modern religious life
Following a childhood of devotion, Jennifer Kavanagh abandoned her Anglican faith at the age of 18. She was a literary agent for many years until she started to feel disillusioned at the same time as she started to feel the need to re-engage with her spirituality. A life of faith she feels, in not a rational choice but an inner felt need. Realising that everyone may have different experiences and ways of expressing their faith, hers is in a connecting principle ‘ a life force ‘ something deep within every part of Creation and when she is aware and open she sometimes gets a glimpse of this connection ‘ which becomes a guiding force in her life. Jennifer is a Quaker and silence is the fundamental way for her to connect with this principle. By silence she means more than lack of spoken word, it is a stillness, a withdrawal from communication. Jennifer was baptised Anglican, born of a agnostic Russian Jewish mother and a Catholic convert father and is interested in commonality of faith, rather than religion. Wanting to know how other people experience their faith Jennifer wrote a book with the same title as the talk, for which she interviewed a number of people. Her view is that beliefs, practices and creeds divide us whereas the quest for the divine, the attempt to live a faith a spiritual life can be universal. Although spiritual direction is important she is interested in people without labels – people who pick and mix, which although can be quite superficial, she thinks can also be a deep search for authenticity. Praying is an important aspect in her spiritual life but in her prayers she does not ask for results as she does not know what the right outcome should be. She also realises that ‘Thy will be done’ ‘ the only thing that can be said ‘ will be done anyway, but she uses it as a way of aligning herself. Prayer for her is therefore about this intention and also about mindfulness, which she engages with as a way of life. She does not separate the sacred and the secular which paradoxically she says, is one of the hardest as well as the simplest thing to do. The moral aspect of faith, involves being true to one’s values and principles, which for her includes a withdrawal from news and media, an area she knows well having worked in the industry for many years. And then there is work. A spiritual life involves a life of service for others, and in her case the work is in the field of prison reform, conflict resolution and micro-credit in Africa. She is also working on her third book.
Members can listen to the presentation by accessing this page through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.
Medicine and Modernity: from Botticelli to Botulus.
In this talk, Dr. Athar Yawar, a member of the Board of the SMN, psychiatrist and former senior editor of The Lancet expanded on his view that although scientific and medical knowledge has advanced exponentially over last 200 yrs, so has dissatisfaction with medicine. Many rigorously validated treatments have been developed over the years but we are sicker than ever. We have worldwide more mental illnesses, infectious diseases, malnutrition, chronic and degenerative illnesses etc. Modernity sees science as the only credible source of knowledge. Just like modern science, in which we distance ourselves from the object studied, modern medicine has moved away from the humanity of the patient. Modernity has left us with a medicine without soul and without a choice, for it excludes competing worldviews, and yet, although a body of knowledge can be coherent and consistent within its own terms it can never be comprehensive for there are an infinite number of ways to look at something. Modern medicine is unambiguous in its view that people are matter and illness happens when the structure of matter breaks down. This is an epistemological belief held even in the absence of evidence for, as Athar pointed out, nobody has ever proven that the most common mental illnesses are caused by neurotransmitter imbalances. But we hold this belief as an article of faith. Athar on the other hand acknowledges that modern medicine has the ability to ease much suffering with things like anaesthesia, antibiotic, pain killers, etc yet, the further away we go from problems of ‘brute matter’, eg. a broken bone, the less effective we are in handling suffering. The broken heart for instance gets treated by anti depressants which cut us off from our own emotions. Even more deplorable is the fact that nowadays it is difficult to do good science in medicine without the backing of the state or of multinational corporations who have their own agendas. The result is that we are treated with toxins rather than tonics and the trials which validate those drugs are themselves often questionable. Members can listen to this talk by going through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.
Postsecularism: The Hidden Challenge to Extremism
Dr. Mike King is a Visiting Research Fellow at London Metropolitan University, former director of the SMN and also an author, whose previous book, Secularism: the Hidden Origins of Disbelief shared in the Network Book Prize 2008. This evening Mike talked about the second book of this project, Postsecularism: The Hidden Challenge to Extremism. In the first book Mike examines the emergence of secularism, with its dismissal of all things spiritual, and in this latest book he traces the path of what he calls postsecularism, a quiet voice running between the pre-secular and the secular, which amongst others, refutes extreme views. Mike defines the term as ‘a renewed opening to questions of the spirit retaining a secular tradition of critical thought’. It is a fourth way emerging from a combination of the best and most valuable aspects of old religion, secularism plus the New Age. From old religion comes spirituality, from secularism, critical thinking and the New Age contributes enthusiasm and inclusiveness. The book is composed of extensive conversations with representative thinkers of the three strands, conversations which Mike explored throughout his talk. We heard how the project, which was developed over a long period of time, had to be reconsidered with the event of 9/11. In the previous book Mike suggested that in the 20th century there was what he called, a mutual ignorance pact between the faith traditions and the secular world. With the atrocities of 9/11 this had to be abandoned and a new strengthened atheistic position with a strident voice emerged to participate in a new debate, retrenched into two distinct camps ‘ secular and pre-secular. Mike explores this debate in the first part of this book and notes the development of an openness towards questions of faith coupled with deep critical thinking. The second part of the book examines how postsecular thinking emerges within eight specific disciplines: physics, consciousness studies, transpersonal psychology, the new age, nature, arts, post modernism and feminism. Mike thinks that the book is dense and might be a useful source of reference, but having read the first one with great interest, I am looking forward to taking this one on my hols. Members can listen to this talk by going through the Members’ Area portal and clicking the link below.
The Spiritual Gift of Apollo
Dr. Chris Riley, is a science writer and documentary film maker, fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and has directed and produced over 50 films for the BBC’s technology program Tomorrows World. This presentation commemorated the 40th anniversary of mans first walk on the moon and Chris used clips from the film In the Shadow of the Moonreleased in 2007, which he produced and directed.
The Apollo mission was responsible for progress in technology in many industries, from fabric to communication and information, but there have been important spiritual gifts too. The impact of this amazing feat had a unifying effect which translated in the universal psyche as an achievement of mankind. For example, Michael Collins commander of Apollo 11 became aware of this as he spoke about the mission around the world. People everywhere were exhilarated as they identified themselves collectively with the achievement. The reaction of nations around the world to the predicament of Apollo 13 was another example; the craft suffered an accident on board which disabled some of their equipment and put in peril their return to Earth. Political enemies put aside their differences and offered whatever help they could and prayed for their safe return. On a personal level, several of the astronauts also had deep spiritual experiences; for instance Edgar Mitchell, the lunar module pilot of Apollo 14 had an epiphany on the way back to Earth and went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, as a centre for the exploration of consciousness. Rusty Schweickart was deeply moved by the realization that from space, there are no borders or boundaries to be seen on Earth yet people kill each other over imaginary boundaries that dont exist! The photographs showing the Earth as a blue jewel hanging in space, fragile and vulnerable also had a great impact on the way we see ourselves, and marked the beginning of ecological activism and organizations such as Friends of the Earth, Gaia, etc started to appear. Chris completed the presentation with the famous words of Archibald McLeich ‘to see the earth as it truly is, small blue beautiful in that eternal silence in which it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold, brothers who know they are truly brothers. Humanity is not the centre of the universe as we once thought, but part of a vast unknown universe – now even known to be a very small part with most of it being invisible dark matter and dark energy- but nevertheless a beautiful part, which like the frost on a winters day makes the whole universe more beautiful. Members can listen to this talk by going through the Members Circle portal and clicking the link below and articles by Chris on the Apollo mission can be found on
Scientific Revolution or Evolution? Conquest vs Consortium as the Future of Science
This month we welcomed Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris, an internationally known evolution biologist whose current interest is to identify the next paradigmatic step in science. Elisabet argues that the current supremacy of Western science has silenced and displaced valuable and important sciences from other cultures around the world. Paradigms are based on culturally informed assumptions and although the materialistic assumptions on which the Western scientific paradigm is based have led to the successful development of technology, these assumptions are not universally helpful. For example consciousness studies are much better served by the assumptions from the Vedic traditions, agriculture by those of the Incas and economics by Islamic cultures. Elisabet explained that her evolutionary biology is informed both by Darwin, who saw the competitive side of nature, as well as by Kropotkin who focused more on the cooperative side. This both/and approach forms the basis of her view that the current competitive superiority of Western science could evolve to a more cooperative one in which sciences from different cultures address the areas of their expertise for a more inclusive world. Consortium as opposed to conquest as the future of science. This was discussed at the first Evolution of Science Symposium in Hokkaido, Japan organised by Dr. Sahtouris which hopes to raise E75,000 to fund a study to examine the beliefs and assumptions underlying the science of 5,000 credential scientists around the world. It is well known that whereas only 50 years ago consciousness was considered an epi-phenomenon of matter, today primacy of consciousness is a belief widely held by many people, including mainstream scientists. This shift is a consequence of a generation of young people going to India, learning about yoga and meditation through first hand experience and bringing this knowledge back to the West. Science, as Elisabet pointed out, cannot establish truths; it can only establish working hypothesis and look for consistency in the result of research methods, and for patterns and regularities that can lead to reliable predictions in the world. Ancient Vedic and Chinese science, Persian and Egyptian sciences, Aztec and Inca sciences have all done this. No religion she noted, has succeeded in taking over the world as Western science has. We need the whole range of human intelligence in science as much as we need it in religion and cultural values. Members can listen to this talk by going through the Members Circle portal and clicking the link below. Elisabets website is
Beauty: a Master Key for Sustainable Relationships
In April we hosted a presentation by Shakti Maira, whose talk was entitled Beauty: a Master Key for Sustainable Relationships. Shakti is an Indian sculptor and painter, who started life as an economist and business manager working for multinational banks and international corporations. He has for many years written about art, aesthetics and education for magazines and newspapers, and has formulated the ‘Asian Vision of Arts in Education: Learning through the Arts’ for UNESCO. This evening we also had the pleasure of welcomingSatish Kumar, the editor of Resurgence, teacher, ecological and peace warrior who introduced the speaker. Shakti started his presentation by pointing out that the economic crisis we are enduring presently in the West is a symptom of the materialistic values we have become dominated by, which see the world as populated by things that are unrelated and disconnected from each other. In this world beauty has lost its meaning and what we see is skin-deep appearances. The Indian perspective of beauty is a dynamic process of interconnection, an experience which encompasses as a unit – the observer and the observed. He asked us to close our eyes and think of something we consider beautiful and through this made us aware of the experience we variously call pleasure, gladness, joy, timelessness etc. Beauty is the property of an object on the one hand, but it is also a personal, transient one on the other. The fact that it is subjective should not be an obstacle to universal understanding. It incorporates balance, harmony, truth, goodness etc, but its main attribute is its transformative potentiality. Beauty leads to bliss and transformation. It may be complex but is never complicated! It is active and animate, it connects us with others in delight. By demanding our attention, it activates our consciousness! If we were to embody this reality and become homo aestheticus instead of the current status of homo economicus, we would move towards a better world. Shakti and Satish had a dialogue about beauty and sustainability, in which the hope emerged, for a world in which BUD (Beautiful, Useful and Durable) becomes the order of the day. Shakti is author of Towards Ananda: Rethinking Indian Art and Aesthetics was published by Penguin/Viking in 2006. Members can listen to the presentation by reaching this page via the Members Circle portal and clicking the link below. Shakti Mairas website is
Reporting Climate Change: Reflections in the Ice
This month we welcomed my friend and colleague Martin Redfern, who is a senior producer in the BBC Science Unit and he showed us some wonderful pictures of ice and snowy landscapes, sea, blue skies and cuddly penguins – but the news are not great! Martin was selected as one of the very few journalists that the British Antarctic Survey takes South and he sailed from the Falklands aboard HMS Endurance spending five weeks travelling the full length of the Antarctic Peninsula. HMS Endurance has two Lynx helicopters, enabling scientists — and lucky journalists — to land in some inaccessible places, some of them where no human has ever been before.
The Antarctic Peninsula, with its towering mountains and glaciers, contains some of the most spectacular scenery in the continent. Martin compared it with someone flooding the Himalayas so that only the mountaintops and their glaciers remained. But the Peninsula, though as big as Britain, only contains 1% of the continents ice. Altogether, 90% of the worlds ice, 70% of its fresh water, is locked up in the great ice sheets of East and West Antarctica. The question everyone is asking is -is it going to stay there?
If the ice melting or breaking away as bergs around the edges is balanced by fresh snow falling in the interior, all is well. But some regions do not seem to be in balance. The biggest glacier of the continent, the Pine Island Glacier in the Western Antarctica, drains ice from an area the size of Texas. Explorers Martin met had been measuring the flow of the glacier and told him that it has accelerated by about 7% just this season. Were that to continue, this glacier alone could raise world sea level by a quarter of a metre. This summer scientists drilled an ice core to see if the changes observed are part of a natural cycle or something new. So far, the evidence suggests the latter. The Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by around 2.5 deg C. in the last 50 years — more than anywhere else on Earth. And the change shows no sign of slowing. Now, the Wilkins ice shelf on the other side of the Peninsula is poised to collapse. Antarctica is changing beyond recognition and the consequences may affect us all.
Weaving Middle East Peace
In February we heard William Morris the Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, an organization involved in peace processes around the world producing policy papers for submission to governments. Although organised many months back, this talk came right at the heel of the conflict in Gaza and William was able to give us a first hand report on the situation. The picture that emerges reveals hopelessness and helplessness. People, old and young are traumatised by the ferocity of the recent war. Israelis used phosphorus and also sonic bombs, which traumatise children, and destroyed a huge number of buildings, including residential. William says the ordinary Israelis have no idea of what the army has done in Gaza. On the other hand, Hamas did not come out of the conflict well. The casualties amongst fighters were low because they failed to fight, but high amongst Hamas members. The other reason for the low popularity is the ongoing violent conflict with Fatah, with its many shootings. On the West Bank however, its popularity increased. Fatah is a corrupt organisation and there is no credible government there. The party that has gained popularity as a result of the conflict is Islamic Jihad, who were themselves responsible for shooting rockets into Israel after the cease fire which ended in November. Although the finance comes from Iran and the United Arab Emirates, the weapons used come from China. They are smuggled through Khartoum in Sudan by Bedouins who take them across the desert into Egypt and then to the tunnels into Gaza. A long term solution will have to include a restructuring of Fatah, by which younger men are allowed into the political circles of the organisation to replace the corrupt old guard. It also has to include peace between Fatah and Hamas. A change of attitude towards Hamas must also occur as we are at the moment, trapping Hamas into their own rhetoric, telling them what they believe ‘ as for instance, the desire to throw the Jews into the sea. Inclusion rather than exclusion is required, and Israel needs to change its stance in different ways, including letting go of the need to show their power over Gaza by closing the crossings to prove its might. The talk was interesting and left us with a sense of sadness and me personally baffled that competent people on both sides are unable to find a better solution than wanting to beat each other to pulp. For further information on the work of the organisation, go to
Madness, Mystery and the Survival of God
Isabel Clarke is a consultant clinical psychologist with a particular interest in spirituality – which she sees as being at the heart of what it is to be a human being ‘ as well as in psychosis and the overlap between the two. This evening Isabel talked about her most recent book, Madness, Mystery and the Survival of God, in which she seeks to find a scientific explanation for mental experiences which are distressing and overwhelming and are often labeled psychotic. She explained how this interest came out of the experience of observing the breakdown of a good friend when she was young, which led her to take a degree in clinical psychology. Her ideas started to fall into place when she came across a theory rooted in experimental cognitive science, called Interactive, Cognitive Subsystems or ICS, developed by John Teasdale and Phillip Barnard in the early 90’s. This theory describes how the pathways in the brain connect, postulating that there are two main subsystems at the top of the hierarchy, the Propositional, which is verbal, logical and manages boundaries, and the Implicational, which is emotional. This one Isabel prefers to call ‘Relational’ because it organises relationships. These two subsystems are equally influential and when they are in sync, all works well. They do however at times become disconnected, such as in sleep or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In addition, at times of unusual stress or perhaps for some other specific reason, the relational subsystem can become uncoupled from the propositional, boundaries collapse and emotions become overwhelming. Depending on personal context this can lead to psychosis or else induce the sense of cosmic significance of mystical experience. Isabel explained the model and process which has become the framework of reference she uses in her successful work with psychotic inpatients at the psychiatric hospital Woodhaven. Her interest in the field has led her in the past to edit a book entitled, Psychosis and Spirituality; Exploring the New Frontier ( 2001), and she has also organised three conferences on Psychosis and Spirituality in 2000, 2001 and 2005. At present Isabel is actively developing important resources in the Spiritual Crisis Network (www.SpiritualCrisisNetwork.org.uk).
Members can listen to the presentation by reaching this page via the Members Circle portal and clicking on the link below. Isabel Clarke’s website is:
The Blissful Brain: Neuroscience and Proof of the Power of Meditation
Dr Shanida Nataraja has a PhD in Neurophysiology from University College London and in her talk, explained what goes on in the brain when we meditate as well as the physical, mental and psychological effects of meditation. Up until recently, meditation was associated mainly with spiritual traditions and Shanida showed through research evidence, that meditation is in fact a beneficial activity which has very practical implications for our health and well being, and contributes to our effectiveness in what for most of us is a stressful daily life. We saw slides from a study by Andrew Neuberg showing the physical effects of meditation on the brain, particularly changes in the frontal and the parietal lobes, associated with attention and orientation in space and time respectively. Shanida explained how what is felt during meditation manifests physically in the brain and gave us her view that being ‘hard wired’ for it, the brain acts as receiver for mystical experiences. She did not however go into the field of neuro-theology, which she felt was not part of her remit. Shifting the activity from left to right hand side, meditation gives access to modes of thinking and perceiving offered by this more creative side of the brain and allows us to use the full potential of both sides of the brain. We then heard about the physical changes in the body mediated by the parasympathetic system, and also about the electrical activity in the brain, with the 4 types of brain waves (delta, theta, alpha and beta) associated with different levels of consciousness. And finally about the health benefits. In the UK recently, NICE has approved the use of mindfulness based Cognitive Behavioural therapies for management of depression along the lines of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the US based on Buddhist mindfulness meditation. Research has shown this to be effective with cancer and other patients. We also heard that there are moves to introduce meditation in some progressive schools, which is wonderful news. Shanida succeeded in her efforts to show us the evidence and we were left with no doubts about the benefits of meditation in all areas of life.
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God, Science and the Koran
This month the speaker was Dr. Usama Hassan, who is Senior Lecturer in Computing Science at Middlesex University, Planetarium Lecturer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich and is a certified transmitter of the sacred texts of Islam, the Koran and Hadith. He is an imam at Tawhid Mosque in London. In his talk Usama gave us an overview of how the mystical perspective deals with some fundamental arguments which pervade the discourse in Islam. He acknowledged that his views may be perceived as heretical by some traditionalist Muslims, and also that there are many paradoxes which the rational mind finds difficult to accommodate. He started by looking at the question of who created the Creator, posed by many skeptics. This question arose in Christianity at the time of the Enlightenment but in Islam this is a non-question for God is a given and the point of departure for all understanding and exploration. God can be apprehended by his 99 names which are also his attributes and it could be said that people who believe in concepts like Justice, Beauty, Truth, etc, believe in God as these are some of his attributes. Everything in the natural world living and non-living are signs and point towards God, who is transcendent and also immanent. Usama also addressed controversial questions between traditional and mystical approaches. As a physicist with a mystical perspective Usama feels quite uncomfortable with some of the Islamic traditionalist views for instance on creationism or the denial of causality, which he sees specifically as responsible in the past for the downfall of Islam’s influence on scientific development, which for centuries it has led. On the question of consciousness, we heard that like in other mystical approaches the whole of the material world is seen as being conscious. The more complex the individual, the more complex its consciousness or cosmic spirit, but even the lowest in the complexity scale, a pebble or a plant has a degree of consciousness. There is a correspondence between the hierarchy in complexity and in will, i.e, even a pebble has a rudimentary degree of will. During question time we discussed revelation, free will versus determinism, the divine principles of anger and love, what might be not God etc.
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Humanity and Divinity in John’s Gospel: an exploration of Ways of Knowing, Being and Healing in the Logos Theology
September brought us Dr. David Bell, a long standing and committed SMN member, who is a minister and the Director of Ministry Development Programme for the Methodist Church of New Zealand. The talk was based on the thoughts of the French mystic Simone Weil who understood Christ to be the Mediator linking the Creator with Creation. David explored the hidden message of this particular gospel, where this perspective is to be found and which for this reason, stands apart from the other three (Mark, Luke and Mathew). On the humanity side of the equation we heard about the role of the people who figure in this gospel, the named and the unnamed ones and who often represent archetypes of humanity, understood as symbolic representations of human development towards divinity. David developed this idea with examples as in John 9 for instance, the man born blind to whom Jesus gives vision, representing our own inner spiritual vision emerging from our spiritual blindness. On the divinity aspect David drew on the introduction of the Gospel ‘ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Greek word Logos translated as Word, we were told, can equally be translated by the term mediator ‘the Mediator among us, made Flesh. David went on to point out some interesting literary structures used in the text which covertly parallel mathematical patterns which he explicated using algebra and geometric shapes, to support the theory of the author of this gospel showing Christ as mediator between the divine and the human. Humanity is constantly trying to locate Jesus as God and God is constantly trying to locate him as human. From this follows the ultimate message of the gospel of John, that like Jesus the potential to be mediator is in all of us!
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