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Editor, John Evans

Midweek Mysticism: The miraculous extension of consciousness

Quantum Physics The previous column in this series: Midweek Mysticism: Neuroscience confronts reality of the spiritual, attracted so much feedback, especially for the definitions of consciousness, spirit and mind, that it would be a good idea to address some of the comments. To start, here are those definitions again:

Spirit is the ancient word for consciousness and thus equivalent to it. I often use “Spirit/Consciousness” to convey that this is not what science calls consciousness — many neuroscientists believe (and it is a belief) that there is no “consciousness” outside the brain. I hope the current batch of new developments will nail this frankly illiterate notion once and for all.

Consciousness is both personal and impersonal. The latter is what we call God, the personal is “soul”. Consciousness (with upper-case “c”) is soaked into the Universe and, indeed, is indistinguishable from it, seen spiritually. Some Zen masters make this distinction as Big Mind/Little Mind, although I prefer to use “mind” — originally “heart” in old texts — for something else.

Mind is the contents of consciousness — our everyday thoughts and impressions. It’s what dies with our body, leaving consciousness (soul) to carry on to the next stage.

1. On the point that neuroscientists don’t believe that consciousness exists outside the brain, I suspect they are confusing thoughts, memories and emotions, ie the contents of consciousness, with consciousness itself. It’s no wonder many of them don’t believe in God.

It’s easily done in the rush of a hectic life, and indeed it’s the normal state of mind of most people, but it’s devastatingly destructive as a major plank of a scientific discipline.*

Indeed, it makes a mockery of the whole business. Being able to split off thoughts from consciousness by stopping them, partially or completely, is the essence of all spiritual practices, such as prayer, meditation, and contemplation — in its technical sense.

2. Some questioned the notion that “Consciousness (with upper-case ‘C’) is soaked into the Universe and, indeed, is indistinguishable from it.” Try this link to another piece on Cosmic Consciousness.

3. Others wondered why “soul” and “God” should both be designated as consciousness — “consciousness” and “Consciousness”. I admit my intent was not fully explained. It was meant to show the hierarchy of consciousness, and how the personal soul has full access to mystical experience, ie, the mind (for want of a better word) of God.

It also illustrates how, during advanced spiritual experiences, the mind is left behind — you can sometimes hear it chattering away — and you completely inhabit your own soul, which is intimately joined to God. See The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, where the “darkness” is not eerie, just the absence of mind.

4. I hope you can see how fraught these explanations, and especially the words used, can be. They must be written from direct experience. There is no other way. All else is a kind of fraud.

5. And that’s my main point. Neuroscience works from observation, as does most physical science. The aim is total objectivity, ie, separation from that which is observed. Subjective evidence is not “science” to the purist.

However, as all mystics know, this field of knowledge/experience is only opened up to those who become infused with the subject. The antithesis of science?

Actually, no; and here is where the Quantum crowd come in. Early Quantum physicists discovered that, in the micro world they were trying to observe it was impossible to separate observer from observed, that all things are connected. Indra’s Net illustrated the same thing way back in antiquity.

A mystic would say that there’s no separation between the soul and the essence of God.

I hope that answers the queries, at least in part. I will be writing a lot more in this area in future. It really is the crux of the matter. When you boil it down to its bones, as I’m trying to do, the whole field becomes as obvious as a plain view of a landscape.

* See Neuroscience: Under Attack by Alissa Quart, New York Times.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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DIARY: The letter E, Jubilee or Apocalypse, Neuroscience finds a star, Poppycock Watch, Profundity of the Week

Euro

Here’s a suggestion: never consider joining any scheme that begins with the letter E.

Imagine how liberating it would be if the European Union, Eurozone and euro currency didn’t exist — or were just monster ideas in the minds of political ghouls and authors of disaster movies.

I once jokingly wrote here that if a jihadist group managed to blow up Brussels, the world would be a better place. How poignant that seems now.

Actually, I’m totally against gratuitous violence. Besides, the Belgian capital is doing a pretty good job of self-destruction all by itself.

* * * * *

The Diamond Jubilee Pageant of Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-year reign takes place this weekend all over the country. Union Jacks and bunting will bedeck even the most humble of abodes as the British indulge their taste for royal feasting and nostalgia.

But could a dark cloud more potent than a weather event distract the world’s attention on Saturday morning and fill the celebrations with foreboding?

The chatter from across the English Channel is all about “disintegration”. From the chief of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, to Economics Commissioner Ollie Rehn, the explicit talking point is the demise of the euro currency. Even Italy’s technocrat Prime Minister, Mario Monti warned of the “huge possibilities of contagion”.

The wizards at GCHQ and MI6 will not have failed to grasp that such information is not put about as mere speculation. Careless talk costs currencies. We are being softened up.

Saturday, when the banks are closed, is the day of choice to announce big monetary changes.

The Queen may have competition for media space this weekend.

* * * * *

I’ve often complained about the ignorance of the current plague of neuroscientists and their implacable belief that there is no consciousness outside the brain.

To counter such sophistry, I’ve put up many pieces on this site which flatly contradict the prevailing notion, including my own experiences. See “Recent articles” link at the foot of this column.

However, riding to the rescue of the neuro crowd’s honour comes one of their own. American neuroscientist David Eagleman suggests that, as we understand very little about how the brain works, science should be open to the view of “consciousness continuing after death”. Note his form of words — spot on.

In his book Sum, which I hope to review here soon, Eagleman explains that because we don’t know for certain how our consciousness is formed, we can’t be sure it’s a property of the human brain rather than a “property of the universe”.

It’s a good start. On the ubiquitous Today programme he said that science had not yet “developed the tools” — and I paraphrase: to go beyond the physical cut-off point which reveals the “within” of the universe, the preserve of serious mystics down the ages.

On that basis, neuroscience is around 3000 years behind the great spiritual masters.

The book has even been turned into a play at the Royal Opera House. Its director, Wayne McGregor, said that he found the work “haunting” and explained that it made him think differently about the very meaning of consciousness.

As the naturalist Peter Scott wrote in his autobiography The Eye of the Wind, (1961), cutting open a dead bird tells you nothing about its sense of being, or what it is in its essence.

In other words, butchery provides food for the belly not the mind. The story of science in a nutshell.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
“Greece is broke and close to being broken. It is a country where children are fainting in school because they are hungry, where 20,000 Athenians are scavenging through waste tips for food, and where the lifeblood of a modern economy – credit – is fast drying up.”
Larry Elliot in the Guardian (H/T Ben Brogan’s newsletter)

Could the Grauniad be reconsidering its slavishly pro-EU policy stance?

* * * * *

Profundity of the Week
“The wind of grace is always blowing. We must align our sail with it.” Kabir

John Evans

who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.

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DIARY: Too many words, Poppycock Watch: neuroscience, Official sector is coming to get you, Ebdonomics

Words

Walter Scott was a favourite author in my early teens. I savoured the complexity of his writing and wordy longeurs. Ivanhoe was sheer bliss, as were the whole of the Waverley novels.

Don’t take my word for it, Ho Chi Minh, friend of Jane Fonda, and former leader of North Vietnam during its successful war against the Americans in the 1960s, praised the book for “its gallantry”.

And well he might, no writer did gallantry like good old Sir Walter, who took up novel writing to pay off his debts when his finances collapsed through bad investments. So well did he do that he was able to purchase the heroic Lowland estate of Abbotsford and live like a gent for rest of his days.

Now Professor David Purdie, President of the Sir Walter Scott Club, is reducing Ivanhoe by 100,000 words to a meagre 80,000. Modern folk just can’t handle all that detail, says Purdie. Perhaps Tony Blair — a reputed fan — has suggested a minimalist New Labour approach.

I’m not immune to this argument though. After two years lapping up Scott’s style, I began writing like him in long, discursive letters to friends that were rarely answered. When my economics tutor, eyeing the latest essay on Keynesianism or Adam Smith, said, “Where did you learn to write like this? It’s all Martian to me,” I finally realised that there was hardly anyone still alive who could appreciate the old boy’s prose style.

Thus at the age of consent, I narrowly avoided turning into Jacob Rees Mogg.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
On Saturday’s Today programme, a neuroscientist said that there was no consciousness outside the brain — a statement of such outlandish arrogance that I was left open mouthed with astonishment.

Surely a scientist is supposed to be open-minded, taking a view perhaps, but not dismissing the experiences of many millions across human history.

I was glad to see Richard Dawkins last week admitting that he doesn’t really know if God exists or not. Leaving aside how you define “God”, it means that the waspish professor can no longer claim to be an atheist. It’s the agnostic life for him now. Enjoy!

I was also left a tad wide-eyed by the view of presenter Evan Davis, who gets dafter by the day. “We must do more neuroscience on the programme,” he announced gravely, obviously siding with the loopy boffin.

Are they all nutters at the BBC?

* * * * *

Have you noticed that the public sector is rapidly shape-shifting into the “official sector”?

This is a European notion that we are absorbing step by step. Like all EU imports it is a blatant brainwashing device. “Public sector” conveys the democratic view that we all own it. The public realm is where we live, breathe and have our being.

By contrast, “official sector” is something beyond us, patrolled by a hard-faced clique of “Officials” who will not be denied — technocrats appointed by commissars who cannot be sacked by anyone except their superiors.

Truly is totalitarianism drifting in on the winds from Europe.

* * * * *

Les Ebdon is the new “tsar” for university entry, driven in by Vince Cable and the cloth-eared Liberal Democrats. The Conservative universities minister, David Willetts, agreed, effectively killing off his career prospects.

Ebdonomics decrees that educationally-deprived youngsters should get places at Oxbridge just to rub high achievers’ noses in it.

Last week I saw a local ad for a course in Nail Manicure Management. It didn’t say whether it was for an Honours Degree or a Doctorate, but it wouldn’t surprise me either way.

John Evans

who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.


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Saturday Ramble: The magic of mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms Andrew Sullivan has an interesting column in the Sunday Times: You won’t believe where I saw God (£).

He writes about the latest “revelations” from the cutting-edge fraternity of neuroscience, which claims they can induce “mystical experience” by stimulating a part of the right lobe of the brain with electrical impulses. He then relates how he did the same by ingesting so-called magic mushrooms in Holland:

The mushrooms were disgusting. Then I plonked myself on a bench next to a canal and waited. And all I could think of was God. A sense of unity with an overwhelming force of immense love and kindness suffused me. Fears disappeared; calm and perspective flooded me like a slowly rising tide. The earth itself did not change shape, but it was as if a veil had been lifted from it, the veil of constant doing, fretting, planning. Colours, details, the ripples in the water, the differing shades of light: it was as if I was reminded that this world itself is a miracle we take for granted. […] The question this believer had was: is the chemistry creating the Godhead or is the Godhead expressing its being through a chemical? These are unanswerable questions.

You can of course get similar experiences on a good day from drinking a bottle of wine (an old Greek tradition), or by swallowing the party drug ecstacy, I’m told.

What happens here is that a part of the brain which isolates our core experience to prevent it being swamped by too much external stimulus, for which we are unprepared in this life, is temporarily bypassed, revealing a background state not available to front-of-house consciousness under normal circumstances.

The Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus wrote that we are “swimming in eternity” at all times. Thus, if we turn off a part of the brain’s blocking mechanism we might indeed catch a glimpse of eternity which can only normally be accomplished by leaving the brain altogether in out-of-body states, or by death — the ultimate out-of-body experience.

For the mystic, this state is given not grabbed, so appears as a divine gift from above, or more accurately, all around. The described state is not totally spiritual because it involves bodily awareness and is bodycentric.

However, the experience has strong similarities with the first stage of spiritual enlightenment: an infusion of Divine Light, the Christian Prayer of Quiet, the Hindu/Buddhist “harbinger of enlightenment”.

This is a preparatory stage before the “showing of the nature of reality”. Andrew Sullivan’s experience is part spiritual and partly of the body, hence the sensual nature of it.

This state is widely interpreted as a dropping down of the Spirit into the human, and is linked with the Christian Holy Ghost — see the passage about the “Comforter” in John’s Gospel. It is the point traditionally when the Spirit works on the person to prepare them for full enlightenment. In the Hindu version, it plants a blue seed which eventually blossoms into cosmic enlightenment.

Now, whether the drug would impede that development, or not, I have no idea. The problem with taking a drug to induce the Divine Light — which surrounds us at all times, but is invisible to the majority of people — is that the subject retains a connection between drug and experience and begins to believe that the drug itself is “God”.

Two other things occur to me here. Hallucinatory drugs can harm the brain and damage important parts of life functioning. They can also lead to a mindset that only through drugs can these experiences be obtained. That is not so.

It’s much safer to do it by the non-drug route because then you can be sure the experience is part of your post-life preparation and training for higher states of being, not just a cheat’s way to heaven.

The reductionism of the neuroscientists’ brain-centred viewpoint implies that when the brain shuts down at death, all this extra-curricular activity disappears with it. Evidence from out-of-brain states prove it does not.

We mustn’t be deflected by the simplistic logic of the scientific method. It is truly out of its depth in this place.

John Evans

John Evans is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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DIARY: Grown up religion, Lethargy, Trees and more of them, Poppycock Watch: Brainboxes, Aphorism of the Week

Ladder of Understanding Have you ever wondered why most religions are little more than childish storytelling? Virgin births, “immaculate” mothers and deathless demises. In ancient Egypt, for example, the godman had to be reassembled from bits by his consort, Isis. An early version of Lego, perhaps.

A great deal of this comes from the choice of texts to represent the religion. Some are written in impenetrable code to prevent the authorities knowing what’s going on. Thereafter the document will be explained literally, causing a lot of puzzled head scratching among future congregations.

The Christian New Testament ends with surely one of the silliest books ever written: Revelation, progenitor of countless prophesies of the end of the world. There was one only last week, you may remember. It didn’t happen — it never does — so the prophet has moved the date to October.

In his eyes, a select few, including him, will rise to heaven in a Rapture, while the rest of us get crumpled in worldwide earthquakes. Nice. The pastor in question is 89, so clearly wants to take all of us with him when he goes. It makes you proud to be a Christian.

There is a strong case then for retiring the infantile aspects of our major religions and seeking out more reasonable texts to replace them. In particular, the whole of the New Testament should be recreated from scratch.

First off, out with Revelation and in with the very grown-up Gospel of Thomas. Here’s why:

His disciples said to him, “When will the rising of the dead take place, and when will the new world come?”

He [Jesus] said to them, “What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognise it.”

Apocalypse? What apocalypse? What a breath of fresh air!

* * * * *

Over the last Bank Holiday (I don’t remember which one, there are so many these days) my cable television service disappeared. Pop, and it was gone.

Virgin Media confirmed that a major fault had occurred in the Westcountry and their wizard engineers were on the case. The service was down for three days. So much for the wonders of the latest fibre-optic technology.

During that period I explored the TV possibilities on the computer, discovering that one can watch all the channels online, including such obscure outfits as ITV3 and Watch. And, there’s often a choice between live broadcasts and catch-up TV.

Now, Virgin regularly pesters me with juicy offers to combine the television experience with broadband — everything down one superfast fibre-optic pipe. I confess, I have been tempted. But for some reason I stuck with BT’s ancient copper-wire landline with broadband zooming in at 4Mb per second. Virgin offers 10, 20 or even 50.

The reason I stuck with the wire for phone and online was pure lethargy. I couldn’t face another telecoms upheaval in the house: number changes, new business cards and letterheads, engineers crawling all over the place and BT’s endless refrain: Come back to us!

Had I succumbed to Virgin’s siren song, not only would the TV have gone south, but the broadband and main phone as well.

Lethargy, apathy, inertia, laziness can be positive forces too, I realised.

I’m thinking of writing a book: In Praise of Lethargy.

But I just can’t be bothered.

* * * * *

Three cheers for the Bateman report on Welsh land usage, with national implications.

Professor Ian Bateman suggests that Welsh farmers should give up on unprofitable sheep and turn their fields into woodland for recreational use. It will be part of the National Ecosystem Assessment to be published by the Environment Department on Thursday.

We need more trees and plenty of them. They provide habitat, recreation for weary city types and, yes, they have impressive carbon storage abilities. All shall be saved.

It’s a desolate fact that most children now live far from accessible woodland, and grow up thinking that the world equates to ugly buildings, roads and varieties of mental illness.

As a boy, yours truly lived close to open country amid spectacular woods and streams with real fish swimming in them. Paradise is an inadequate word to describe these God-given play areas for boys.

My small tribe of friends named most of the trees in the spacious clearing we made our own. There was the Robin Hood tree, the Peter Pan tree, the Faraway tree and the Tree of Doom, because so many boys fell out of it.

We made our own vehicles from two pairs of pram wheels with a plank mounted between. The front pair was held by a single bolt so that they could be steered with a length of string. Formula One it was not. Much more fun.

One day I decided I would tackle an impossibly steep hill, never before attempted. The descent began well, cruising at a steady 80mph, when one of the wheels struck a submerged rock sending the jalopy careering straight into a dense thicket of brambles. I was cut to pieces.

The tribe laid me out on the plank as with a corpse and solemnly bore me homeward like a funeral cortege. Shocked adults stared at my unrecognisable body in disbelief. Quite what my horrified mother made of it is not recorded in the annals.

It was said that one mischievous boy announced: “We brought back as much of him as we could find.”

As the Romans used to say, a man must die once before he can live.

And none of those delights would have been available without the trees. There’s a hospital there now, and acres of car parking where our woods once were.

Three cheers for trees. Long live Professor Bateman.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
Where have all the neurologists come from? They are all over us like a swarm of bees. They pop up in colour supplements and newspapers smirkingly telling us how we work, rest and play, nothing is beyond their explanation.

The latest nonsense is that they will soon be able to see sentences forming in our brains by linking a type of signal to a particular word. Then, they claim, they will be able “to read our minds.”

During my close encounters with the TV’s digital box (see above) I realised that the mistake of neurology — in a wider philosophic sense, not of specific brain surgery — is that it confuses the signal processing mechanism with the source.

A digital box picks up countless invisible signals from the space around it using a type of aerial. You wouldn’t know they were there unless you were told. The box then manipulates the signals and streams them into the TV where they are converted into moving and talking pictures in a recognisable sequence and format.

But the signals originate elsewhere. The box is not a closed system. It just seems to be.

A primitive scientist unaware of how a digital box works might be forgiven for monitoring the signals within the box electronically and concluding that the box itself is the source of the television programmes.

That, I believe, is what is happening now with brain research. The brain is a kind of interface into the body, which is not a self-sufficient organism. The body is not a closed system.

This is one of the greatest misconceptions of our age.

* * * * *

Aphorism of the Week
If, when you open your eyes in the morning, the world does not look newly-minted, the problem is you, not the world.

John Evans

Who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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