Priorities

Our modern age is an age of science. Despite the nobility of science as an endeavor, to a degree that will only become clear later, this age of science has culminated in an era of spiritual violation. This is not the fault of the scientific process. Science is simply an application of respectful rational inquiry to convert magical thought into understanding. Our spiritual difficulties are a consequence of the order of priorities faced by our forebears.

To anyone who has faced the force of a natural disaster, it is obvious that life is a fragile gift. For various reasons, our urge to master the management of energy requires that we commit ourselves to the preservation of life. First, each person is a chance to achieve mastery. In some sense, they are an experiment. Unplanned interruptions of an experiment limit the understanding that can be gained from it. Secondly, we are Lamarckian creatures: we benefit to the degree that we share our journey. Disrupting that participation robs us of the chance to accomplish our goals.

Obviously, there is much to respect and admire in primitive cultures. In many cases, they manifest a lost balance with the earth that sustains us. But they were fragile, precisely because they could not reliably manage the natural tyrannies. The elements, disease, hunger, and predation were all terrifying and imminent realities that have faded dramatically in the consciousness of advanced cultures.

It is hard to argue that magical thinking did not play a significant part in how ancient peoples responded to the natural tyrannies. We know that sacrifices of wealth and life to propitiate the gods were a normal practice by ancient peoples. The diversity of the pantheons among ancient cultures would lead us to conclude that whatever basis those practices may have had in reality, the implementing mechanisms were not understood clearly by the practitioners. One significant problem, perhaps the overwhelming one, was the difficulty of training competent practitioners and channeling their intentions. Consequently, their activities produced unreliable results.

Science was the response to that difficulty.

The scale of the problems represented by the natural tyrannies has certain social implications. The complexity of reality meant that, even with the benefits of Lamarckian evolution, any individual investigator could achieve only an incremental increase in understanding over that of his instructors. Specialization was required simply to achieve mastery of what was already understood, much less to participate successfully in advancing knowledge. Finally, the effort involved in building systems for controlling the effects of natural tyranny requires the energy of many individuals. For all of these reasons, significant progress was predicated upon the development of institutions to organize, coordinate and sustain effort across cultures and generations.

By nature, successful coordination of these activities limited efforts to those aspects of reality that are almost universally apprehensible. (We commonly call this “objective” reality.) In fact, the necessary cultural focus was so narrow and intense that today we relegate to “mental health” providers all those that are unable to conform their perceptions.

Our current mental health “crisis” is one manifestation of the problem of optimization. The driving goal of science was to allow society to successfully evaluate and respond to the life experiences of its members. In part, the compact between members of society was that the experience of successful members would be transmitted to their fellows. But if society is so fragile and narrowly focused that experimentation must be controlled to avoid disruption, does the compact still survive?

On the other end of the scale, as institutions grow, the complexity of their internal working goes up as the square of the number of participants. Unfortunately, the number of managers only increases linearly. At some point, the skill of managers is overwhelmed, and organizations must be “restructured”.

In what follows, the reader will be introduced to techniques, until now largely misapprehended by science, for negotiating and optimizing the relationship between the individual and society.

On a Short Leash

Now, as I have put it before, the process of imagining seems fairly efficient. However, the efficiency presumes an unlikely mastery of abstraction. What does a dog know about “leash”? That flexible object with patterned blobs of (reflected) light that is necessary for leaving the boundaries of movement defined by the hard, cold, transparent force field (“fence”) , and connects another force field around Fido’s neck (“collar”) to master? And on and on.

Obviously, imagining is facilitated by understanding. The more powerful our abstractions, that more powerful and efficient are our imaginings.

Understanding can be of two types. It can be a categorization (“leash”), or a relationship (“necessary to leaving”). Relationships can be causal (establishing preconditions that determine an event), or probabilistic (defining the likelihood that an event will happen, when we cannot determine or control all conditions). The value of relationships is that they enable us to

  • predict the range of outcomes that can be expected to occur, and
  • focus our resources to control the risk of adverse outcomes.

Let’s again consider Fido’s leash as an example of the realization of a category. Whence arises this apprehension? This occurs in two kinds of realizations: “is-a” and “not is-a”. Fido interacts with master, and notices the magical restraint on his movement (“is-a”). He studies his environment. Many things in his environment, such as his dinner bowl, never seem to be associated with the magical restraint. These are to be disqualified (“not is-a”). Among those things that appear to be associated with the restraint, some are those that are always part of master (“not is-a”). On an important occasion, Fido breaks the magical restraint by lunging suddenly, and notices that something slaps his back and legs as he runs. He investigates, chewing, sniffing and scratching at the offending thing. Master arrives, and intervenes to end the investigations, taking the offending thing into his hand. And the magical restraint resumes (‘is “is-a”‘)!

Through experience and manipulation, Fido apprehends “leash”.

What is the apprehension of a “relationship”? The leash is related to Fido’s desire to explore territory. It is an enabling element.

Now, in a world in which Fido lives solely to go on walks, leash becomes the most important thing. If Fido can find it reliably on a certain table or inside a certain closet, he may ignore large portions of his domestic reality.

People in the thrall of romantic infatuation also experience this magical effect. No other prospective mate has meaning. The attentions of those candidates may be completely ignored. To those rejected suitors, it may seem as though they don’t exist at all to the subject of their intentions.

Where writ here in the small, so has been the course of human understanding. Primitive men lived in an extremely rich perceptual environment. In order to understand that environment, they had to narrow their perception of events. Objects successfully categorized became the focus of their perception, excluding the apprehension of phenomena that appeared less relevant to accomplishment of their goals.

In other words, living creatures, whether through Darwinian or Lamarckian processes, control their perceptions in order to improve their control of outcomes. With regards to human intellectual achievement, understanding has a cost in experience: our perceptions deepen, but narrow.

I have already observed that thought has allowed us to dramatically change the nature of the reality we inhabit. Possibilities and outcomes are far different now than they were when mankind first began the experiment of understanding. It may be impossible for us to apprehend exactly how different their perception of reality was from ours. I have found it instructive, however, to consider “Why?

First Causes

Thought is a talent that develops in us.

An infant, in this regard, may be likened to an animal. I say “likened” because there is an important spiritual difference between an infant and a mature animal. However, animals and infants manifest similar behavioral strategies, and so we can use the animal as an analogue for the development of thinking in an infant’s brain.

Early in life, the infant is considered to think magically. It constructs its behaviors as a series of stories. When in discomfort, it cries. When happy, it coos and waves its hands. These behaviors elicit responses from the Universe that satisfy its physical and social needs. It does not understand how the Universe succeeds in that regard. This is painfully obvious to any father that tries, over the course of half an hour or so, placating an irritable infant by changing the diaper, offering the bottle, and adding and removing clothing in various combinations, only to learn upon her return from the store that the infant wants to see its mother’s face.

In adult animals, we have enough control over the context of its life that we can see magical thinking unfolding as a story. We open the door and whistle, and the dog comes in for dinner. It does not understand the preconditions to its consumption of dinner. We worked to earn money, we bought dog food from the store, and we stored it in suitable conditions to ensure it remained free of contamination.

Let’s suppose that our car breaks down and we are unable to buy food for our pet. What kind of trauma awaits the animal when we call it in at night? The story fails. What is it to do next? Many animals suffer the symptoms of depression under such circumstances. It may take hours for them to recover their equilibrium and resume their routine, to the extent possible. Or its behavior may be irrevocably altered. Fido may stay outside hunting at night when it feels hunger, instead of coming in when we call.

Now, if the dog were human, what would we expect of it? If it were an infant, we would expect it to cry and rage until it evoked a solution from the Universe – pretty much like we would expect from a dog. But if it were an adult, we would expect it to ask why dinner wasn’t presented, and to fetch leash, coat, wallet and keys for the journey with master to the store.

This second response has two parts. First, the animal engages in a process of respectful rational inquiry. As described, it seeks to elicit knowledge of the cause of the difficulty, while preserving master’s emotional commitment to a solution. Once the difficulty is understood, the animal imagines a new story. The story, involving personal choice by master, is still magical. But if executed many times over the course of a week, the predictability of the story’s outcome makes it a rationally defensible proposition – as was Fido’s initial expectation that dinner would be waiting on the other side of the open door.

Paradigms

The evolutionary imperative that gave rise to homo sapiens has expressed itself most powerfully in our urge to understand and order reality. As we have come to dominate that reality, our grasp of the scope of our knowledge has become fragmented. In this section, we consider the underpinnings of knowledge, and develop a framework that will serve later to organize our use of the rigorous predictive capacity of science and the intuitions of spirituality.

Thought

Among the forms of life we perceive on this Earth, humanity is gifted with exceptional mental powers. Specifically, our power of thought – the ability to negotiate possible futures through the abstract vehicle of symbols (words, pictures, formulas, etc.) – has made us masters of this kingdom.

Why is thought important? Let’s consider evolutionary theory.

Darwin was not the only proponent of evolution. Lamarck also offered a theory that proposed competition as the driving force of species development. Darwin noticed, however, that in the animal kingdom at large, individual improvements were transmitted only through procreation. If an animal developed improvements during its life – for example, larger muscles due to exertion – these could not be transferred to its progeny.

Lamarck had the opposite philosophy. He held that an herbivore feasting on leaves, if forced to stretch its neck because overpopulation caused depletion of leaves on lower branches, would pass the predisposition for a longer neck on to its progeny. Lamarck preferred this hypothesis because it meant that species could evolve far more rapidly. Rather than only at the moment of conception, every moment of contact between an adult and a child was an opportunity to transmit the benefits of experience.

Darwin, of course, has been preferred. Lamarck was rejected because he appeared to subscribe to magical thinking: he could not specify a mechanism for transmittal of characteristics developed during life to an animal’s offspring. Darwin, on the other hand, had the work of Mendel with peas, which showed that plant characteristics where transmitted through seeds. Today, we know that the specific mechanism of transmittal is DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

Unfortunately, in one specific realm, Darwin’s ideas have been misapplied. Social competition is engaged almost entirely in the domain of thought. The capacities present in a baby when it leaves the womb are completely unsatisfactory for his survival in the world of adults. Obviously, improved motor skills and physical strength are critical to survival in an adult world, and the limits of those capacities are defined genetically. In the modern world, however, machinery reduces the significance of those differences. Far more important are the social and productive thought processes originating from his elders. To the degree that his teachers have improved the skills passed on to them from their predecessors, the child will also benefit.

Human beings, to a degree unique among living creatures, benefit from Lamarckian evolution. (Bacteria, which exchange DNA plasmids, may also be thought of as participants in Lamarckian evolution. However, this method is not significantly more efficient than normal genetics.) The manifestation of thought means that we adapt to our environment far faster than other species. Furthermore, we are capable, through thought, of conceiving of and constructing man-made environments, to the degree that we have succeeded in redefining the nature of existence in almost every corner of our world.

Dichotomy

Separation and joining are inherent to competitive societies. We must specialize (or differentiate) in order to deliver worth in the service of others, but must also unite to satisfy the physical and psychological needs that our investment in specialization makes inaccessible to us.

Separation and joining appear as a dichotomy in several spiritual traditions. Among these are the Chinese principles of Yin and Yang, and the masculine (aggressive individuality) and feminine (sociability)characterizations of personality. In this discussion, we adopt the dichotomy of power and love.

While the expression of our unique skills provides us power, without power we cannot execute our skills. Since our skills differentiate us from others, by implication we need power to separate ourselves from others. When individuals compose themselves as a society, their combined power enables expressions of choice that give rise to cultural resilience and advancement.

Love, at an emotional level, is the urge to join with others. Practically, its effect is to create power in our chosen associates. Identification of ourselves with others supports cultural cohesion and the raising of children.

Self-love, conversely, can give rise to a clarity of purpose and directness of vision that liberates substantial energy towards the accomplishment of our life goals.

There is a tension between power and love. Love requires sublimation of our individuality in the service of others. Power, in a social species such as homo sapiens, forces others to hew to our agenda, sacrificing their individuality and – if improperly managed – fostering resistance to the accomplishment of our goals.

I have come to apprehend that these dichotomies are woven into the fabric of reality. The physical principles governing the construction of reality may imply that the world we perceive exists for the purposes of fostering the development of beings that manifest an ideal balance of these principles: The universe seeks to create entities that are optimally configured for the management of energy. For people, that endpoint is a mature adulthood. Surprisingly, achieving that state may open the door for our conscious participation in the construction of reality in higher dimensions.

In short: the Universe doesn’t love us, but invests in our capacity to grow up. Ultimately, the Universe encourages those that accept the imperative to practice love, and rewards us for our success.

Opening Words

Love dissolves the barriers of time and space, allowing energy, wisdom, and understanding to flow between us, and embracing us with the courage, clarity and calm that overcomes obstacles and creates opportunities. When we open our hearts to one another, there is no truth that is not revealed. And – for those that truly love themselves – no impulse to harm that cannot be turned to the purposes of healing and creation.

This series (originally published at everdeepening.org in 2005) is dedicated to the incomprehensible power of love. It documents one man’s philosophical, scientific and spiritual journey towards a comprehension of the mechanisms through which we marshal will to accomplish our goals. The statement above is the simplest way of framing its mission: to bring people into full apprehension of the power of love.

While a personal journey, I attempt to relate my experience to the great paradigms of human intellectual advancement. I have found that, if the right threads are woven in the proper weave, a unity of vision arises that enables us to find a great wholeness in what has been revealed to us by philosophy, science and spirituality.

I know today that we all have enormous untapped potential, and that the great figures of history, both female and male, were gifted by those that trusted them with the power of their unconscious will. That trust reflected an apprehension of the progression of human culture, and that their investment would play an important part in bringing the human story to fruition. The members of those societies benefited by being guided to greater human capacity. Unfortunately, they rarely were capable of transmitting the benefits of their experience to later generations. Time and again, fear and hatred obscured our vision of the future that beckoned us.

The road laid out here is not an easy one. As I have, the successful student will ultimately accomplish a reconditioning of the personality, implying a fundamental shift in the way he or she relates to reality. Typically, men will become more open to the “we”, and women will find tools for defending the ego. Many of the principles provided in my discussion of the paradigms will not make sense until they are applied in resolving significant life challenges. The imaginings and my life history are provided to supply an orientation to the depth of the transformations of consciousness that may be achieved, and provide some comfort that love is a tool that can bring us through the most pressing difficulties.

So: Welcome to the journey.

And may the spirit of love be with you.