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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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Saturday Ramble: Rutherford, Quantum physics and Buddhist emptiness

Mystic

It is the centenary of Ernest Rutherford’s development of the “planetary” model of the atom in an experiment with gold foil, now known as the Rutherford scattering. Six years later he was involved in splitting the atom, bequeathing to us all the vagaries of Quantum physics.

Since those distant days, similar experiments have continued using bigger and better equipment. The latest is CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which propels “particles” around a 17-mile tube in opposite directions until they crash and destroy each other. The explosive trace on a graph is said to reveal newer, unknown particles which advance our knowledge of the universe.

Demonstration: put a bottle on a wall and shoot it with a gun. The bottle shatters producing a cloud of shards. Examine the shards. They are all bits of glass with randomly differing shapes.

Question: would you assign each shard an exclusive name, claiming to have discovered a “new” building block of the universe? Your answer will reveal a lot about you, and your place on the spectrum of Asperger’s Syndrome.

However, one interesting aspect of Quantum physics is its discovery of the “emptiness” at the heart of matter. A solid-looking wall is nothing but empty space held together by a string of energies.

What, then, is to stop us walking through the wall as ghosts are said to do? The answer is probably quite simple: we are not meant to.

Who or what decides this? Ah, thereby hangs a tale.

Around 2500 years ago, a wandering mendicant, known to history as Gotama (or Gautama) Buddha, sitting under a tree, underwent an “enlightenment” experience in which the world dissolved into gossamer insubstantiality revealing everything to be of one substance. That substance was much closer to mind than to matter, for crucially it exhibited intelligence. It is sometimes known as spirit or, in modern times, consciousness.

I’ve spent much of my life documenting hundreds of cases of this particular experience, so much so that I was permitted to taste its fruits personally, if that’s the right word, (see HERE and HERE).

Now, what is the difference between the Buddha’s famous “emptiness” and the “empty space” of Quantum physics? I humbly suggest there is none. Both the mystic and the boffin are looking at the same phenomenon but from different baselines and with divergent interpretations.

While the scientist uses a vast panoply of expensive equipment, the mystic relies only on the mind. More pertinently, science has yet to discover the “intelligence” in the void. Its instruments are not sensitive enough to pick up the living nature of apparent nothingness. Only the human soul can detect it. Modern humanity’s “nausea” and despair at mortality arises from the very real nihilism of science.

Various authorities, including early Christians, also shied away from Buddhist emptiness as if it were a plague. They proclaimed it nihilistic, the rejection of life, a world-hating reductionism. They thought that Gotama had flinched from a whole-hearted acceptance of his existence and the beautiful Earth he was born into.

None of that is true. The Buddha, or “awakened one,” was simply expressing what he had experienced during his enlightenment. It was no different from the fruits of Christian mysticism as described by Dionysus the Areopagite, John of the Cross, and the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas: “See what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.” Plato’s famous story of prisoners shackled in a cave facing a wall, is of similar genre.

When scientists “split” matter and claim to have found new particles, they begin with a mathematical model of what they are looking for. At the LHC it’s Higgs boson — the “God Particle” — which “gives mass to matter”. Doesn’t it strike you as peculiar that after a century of work, they still don’t know what gives mass to matter and have to invent a blob to explain it?

I suspect the Buddha would say: matter is an illusion of the egoic mind. All matter is spirit, or, if you’d prefer, consciousness.

After the £10 billion plus spent on the LHC, it really is time for scientists to pay attention to the insights of mystics. Some do, of course, but they tend to be drowned out in the stampede for ever larger grants from governments and corporations to fund extravagant fantasies and support very adequate lifestyles.

The difference between genuine mysticism and its physical equivalent: science, can be measured by the wall of money that separates them. But walls are just empty space.

See that, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.

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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Saturday Ramble: Peak experience is losing your mind

Kevin Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen winning the Ashes for England

Syntagma is getting so much feedback on our recent set of articles on science and mysticism that I’m compelled to continue with the series. Apologies to readers who are not tuned in. Links can be found in the footer to this piece.

On Radio 4′s Start the Week this morning, neurologist David Eagleman described how our “conscious mind” knows nothing of what is happening in the “brain” where our lives are plotted out in detail well in advance of our knowing about it and acting on it. We are nothing but puppets on a string.

That basic template might be true as far as it goes, see here: Do we have freewill and where is it?, except that the process takes place outside the physical brain, which may be just a translation device, an interface, into the body. Scientists should not take everything at face value, something quantum mechanics should have taught them by now.

In my forthcoming book, Muscular Mysticism, the theme is developed beyond the stage of “seeing into the nature of reality”, the centrepiece of the first volume*. It covers the ground of the genuine mystic as a scientist of immateriality, by which I mean the materially unknowable: the cloud of unknowing.

“Muscular” because it centres on a relentless pursuit of firsthand knowledge, a single-minded drive for the perfection of experiential knowing that can’t be mistaken for the truth because it is the truth.

A motor racing driver is a good analogy. He risks life and bones to arrive at a state where every bodily response to unpredictable circumstances is controlled by apparently automatic impulses. Indeed, to “think” about anything at all would spell disaster. Daydreaming or calculation would mean death at this level of performance. It could almost be described as a form of meditation.

The reward is a sustained sense of elation, as consciousness seems to split from normal mind patterns and the inhibitions of daily existence. Total immersion in this state releases an experience close to spiritual exaltation, as slow, clunky thought processes give way before the unity of body and soul.

Many of us have experienced moments of peak experience when playing sports. Suddenly everything seems to go right: balls hit the right side of the line in tennis time and again, or the back of the net in football; there’s a surge of ecstatic energy in running or rugby; we’re suddenly stroking the ball to the boundary in cricket. For a while we can do nothing wrong. Our opponents watch in dismay. It doesn’t last, but we sure as hell remember it.

A mystic would observe that the “normal” mind is nowhere to be found during peak periods. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow has written extensively on these experiences; for a broad coverage of the field, see Colin Wilson’s New Pathways in Psychology.

These are just the foothills of dedicated mystical experience, but it illustrates the splitting off, and falling away, of normality required for full-blown experience of the ineffable. Paradoxically, this turns out to be more real than life itself.

Muscular mysticism explores the fundamental workings of what lies beneath the material world through experience, not an electron microscope.

Physics always struggles to separate the scientist from the object under observation, straining for objectivity. Contrarily, the mystic plunges into the object area, observing it from within. Both quantum mechanics and mysticism demonstrate that objectivity is a deception by the egoic mind.

You won’t learn how to swim without jumping into water. Textbooks and all the mathematical demonstrations in the world won’t crack it. Experience of the actuality is essential.

Mysticism is not incompatible with science, as Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and, in recent times, others such as Fritjof Capra have shown. It represents the essence of who we are, from which we arise, and whence we return.

We need both to give us anything like a complete picture of the world, as all the spiritual texts ever written firmly attest.

Muscular Mysticism is coming soon.

* 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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Saturday Ramble: Oh dear! Physics trashed by physicist

Money I’ve become a bit concerned lately that this column has gained something of a reputation for trashing fundamental science, especially physics.

I’m not the only one. Many people are waking up to the scandals — financial or otherwise — surrounding so-called man-made catastrophic climate change, cosmology and the God/atheism “debate”.

The following letter of resignation by Harold Lewis says it all. I republish it without comment. First the author’s credentials:

Harold Lewis is Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, former Chairman; Former member Defense Science Board, chmn of Technology panel; Chairman DSB study on Nuclear Winter; Former member Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards; Former member, President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee; Chairman APS study on Nuclear Reactor Safety.

Chairman Risk Assessment Review Group; Co-founder and former Chairman of JASON; Former member USAF Scientific Advisory Board; Served in US Navy in WW II; Published books: Technological Risk (about, surprise, technological risk) and Why Flip a Coin (about decision making).

Dear Curt:

When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago). Indeed, the choice of physics as a profession was then a guarantor of a life of poverty and abstinence—it was World War II that changed all that [...]

How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’être of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs. For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.

It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

So what has the APS, as an organization, done in the face of this challenge? It has accepted the corruption as the norm, and gone along with it. For example:

1. About a year ago a few of us sent an e-mail on the subject to a fraction of the membership. APS ignored the issues, but the then President immediately launched a hostile investigation of where we got the e-mail addresses. In its better days, APS used to encourage discussion of important issues, and indeed the Constitution cites that as its principal purpose. No more. Everything that has been done in the last year has been designed to silence debate.

3. In the interim the ClimateGate scandal broke into the news, and the machinations of the principal alarmists were revealed to the world. It was a fraud on a scale I have never seen, and I lack the words to describe its enormity. Effect on the APS position: none. None at all. This is not science; other forces are at work.

4. So a few of us tried to bring science into the act (that is, after all, the alleged and historic purpose of APS), and collected the necessary 200+ signatures to bring to the Council a proposal for a Topical Group on Climate Science, thinking that open discussion of the scientific issues, in the best tradition of physics, would be beneficial to all, and also a contribution to the nation. I might note that it was not easy to collect the signatures, since you denied us the use of the APS membership list. We conformed in every way with the requirements of the APS Constitution, and described in great detail what we had in mind—simply to bring the subject into the open.

5. To our amazement, Constitution be damned, you declined to accept our petition, but instead used your own control of the mailing list to run a poll on the members’ interest in a TG on Climate and the Environment. You did ask the members if they would sign a petition to form a TG on your yet-to-be-defined subject, but provided no petition, and got lots of affirmative responses. (If you had asked about sex you would have gotten more expressions of interest.) There was of course no such petition or proposal, and you have now dropped the Environment part, so the whole matter is moot. (Any lawyer will tell you that you cannot collect signatures on a vague petition, and then fill in whatever you like.) The entire purpose of this exercise was to avoid your constitutional responsibility to take our petition to the Council.

6. As of now you have formed still another secret and stacked committee to organize your own TG, simply ignoring our lawful petition.

APS management has gamed the problem from the beginning, to suppress serious conversation about the merits of the climate change claims. Do you wonder that I have lost confidence in the organization?

I do feel the need to add one note, and this is conjecture, since it is always risky to discuss other people’s motives. This scheming at APS HQ is so bizarre that there cannot be a simple explanation for it. Some have held that the physicists of today are not as smart as they used to be, but I don’t think that is an issue. I think it is the money, exactly what Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago. There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club. Your own Physics Department (of which you are chairman) would lose millions a year if the global warming bubble burst. When Penn State absolved Mike Mann of wrongdoing, and the University of East Anglia did the same for Phil Jones, they cannot have been unaware of the financial penalty for doing otherwise. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Since I am no philosopher, I’m not going to explore at just which point enlightened self-interest crosses the line into corruption, but a careful reading of the ClimateGate releases makes it clear that this is not an academic question.

I want no part of it, so please accept my resignation. APS no longer represents me, but I hope we are still friends.

Hal

Via James Delingpole

John Evans

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Saturday Ramble: Does science beget totalitarianism?

DNA We are being told — not least by the naggers on the Today programme, and the wider BBC — that genetic screening is good for us and will shape the future for the better. We will live longer and healthier lives.

Such is the pressure behind this movement that the NHS and its political masters are discovering ways of reducing costs (read, “increasing costs”) by these methods. DNA tests are now routinely carried out by hospitals and the police, whether people want them or not.

There was a brief moment of clarity on Today last week when a doctor made the obvious point that the clearest genetic test for susceptibility to diseases is to examine the health of relatives, cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents, for what they caught, and what they died of.

Our genomes are right there before our eyes. No need to get an “expert” to do it for us. Actually, we are all naturally expert at reading genetics. We instinctively spot blood links in people’s faces, skin, bodies and other more subtle signals.

On a trip to northern Belgium more than 20 years ago, I was struck by how the faces on the streets resembled those in Cardiff, South Wales. The Belgae, a Celtic tribe, at one time settled in Wales before the Romans came. The genes are still visible. Or were until the mass migrations of the Labour years.

In Cork in Ireland, and all along the West coast, to this day you can see black-eyed Spanish people, descendants of the Armada wrecked on Irish beaches in Good Queen Bess’s time. And there are more than a few Vikings hanging out in Dublin.

We don’t need blood tests and a genome to work it out. Our genetic inheritance is fully visible and available to us without an array of medical interventions to tell us about ourselves, or others.

In some older American films, when two people decide to get married they go for blood tests to discover if they are compatible to have children. This was a legal requirement in many states, no doubt a hangover from the eugenics movement that swept the West before the Second World War, and was a factor in bringing Hitler to power. It had its origin in Darwinian determinism. Science does have a history of begetting totalitarianism.

Scientists often scorn astrology for its mechanical determinism, but much of science is built around similar assumptions. The new “science” of genometrics, as with cosmology and climate theory, are means of predicting the future by examining small slices of nature and converting the results into mathematical formulae. Even Nostrodamus might laugh.

What’s the difference after all between that and telling fortunes from the entrails of chickens, as the Greeks and Romans did?

Science is given respectability by the enormous amounts of public money spent on it. The Large Hadron Collider must be good because of its size and complexity, not to mention the £6 billion, and rising, it cost to build.

As the good doctor implied last week, the world is arrayed before us in all its glory, openly and honestly. But we choose to outsource our personal phenomenology to a bunch of hucksters and quacks, allied to credulous politicians, who spend our money like ocean swells trying to discover what we know — or should know — already.

We yearn for reassurance, even if it is arrogant nonsense.

Eugenics is making a comeback through genometrics. Who knows what horrors will return in its wake.

John Evans

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