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.