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CHILDREN OF A LIVING UNIVERSE
Discovering Our Legacy Will Change Our Future
By Paul Von Ward
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2014 Paul Von Ward
All rights reserved.
A Self-Conscious Universe
Physicists and astronomers have used mathematical formulae to infer the material history of today's universe. From its birth billions of years ago through periods that can only be imagined, these professionals have created a marvelous portrayal of phenomenal forces, of bits of matter swirling through space that slowly settle into stars and planets, eventually producing human beings.
However, this unidimensional story has significant weaknesses. First, it assumes that a unique consciousness arose only recently on Earth as an epiphenomenon (the accidental result of material developments). Second, it assumes a straight, relatively uniform line of development. Third, it deals with only one dimension: the electromagnetic spectrum of energy waves and particles subject to testing with our five physical senses. These assumptions neither hold up under rigorous scrutiny by frontier scientists nor offer plausible explanations for much of the experience humans have living in the universe.
Thus, the modern scientific model leaves us with many questions. Where did the original design come from? How did principles that govern such complexity find their expression in inert matter? When and how did consciousness enter the picture? Does human self-awareness suggest a self-conscious universe? While conventional science doesn't have verifiable answers to these questions, an ancient system of thought summarized as the Hermetic Principles might offer new leads for research.
A Living System
This chapter presents the unquestioningly appealing picture of our universe's birth and development as painted by brilliant materialists. It also identifies the blanks or gaps in their representation of known reality, and it offers suggestions for filling them in.
The myths of supernatural religions, assuming divine beings independent of nature, offer parallel explanations of the origin and development of the universe. However, many features of these myths have been shown to be inconsistent with the verifiable data identified by science. Therefore, in order to account for both the scientifically derived data and the less tangible aspects of human experience, we need a more comprehensive and more nuanced conceptual framework. I believe the metascientific approach presented in this book, combining all ways of knowing, successfully incorporates both the observed reality of the material realm and the experienced reality of the internal realm. It rationally accounts for the fact that humans generally sense the entire universe as a living organism.
Modern humans now find themselves somewhere between the natural, seamless view of early humans and the wholistic understanding achieved by more advanced beings. Twentieth-century society, with its focus on physical science and technology, almost totally ignored the inner and more subtle aspects of human experience. Humanity's next level of development requires recognition of insights from both traditional and modern perspectives and their incorporation into a new synthesis.
Perhaps recalling the personal memories of childhood and accessing thinking of traditional peoples can aid in overcoming the limitations of modern science. Taking advantage of systems of thought apparently given to humans by ABs in prehistory can also help us expand current science's conceptual boundaries. This chapter suggests ways in which those paths to insights into nature can enhance our metascientific quest.
The next few pages remind us of the value of traditional wholistic thinking, and highlight how science has limited that vision. They illustrate how the Hermetic perspective, drawn from an allegedly advanced civilization, may offer a more satisfactory set of explanatory principles for the actions of matter, energy, and life than do the mechanistic laws of modern science.
Let's first sample some prescientific perceptions of reality, from the experience of childhood and contemporary traditional cultures, to grasp the challenge before us. If the reasoning in this book succeeds, in the last chapter each of us should be able to reclaim our childhood sense of being connected to the whole, without giving up our hard-won scientific gains in knowledge. That is why I start now and end the book with some personal reflections.
The sky darkened as clouds moved across plowed fields. I saw lightning and heard thunder just before rain began to pelt the tin roof. I felt spirits lurking around us and souls of ancestors lounging higher up. As a small country boy, I experienced this seamless reality in which animals, sky, Earth, Heaven and Hell, family, and ancestors were all integral to the universe created by God for His purposes.
We knew when neighbors were coming to visit long before the sound of their wagon or truck. The fact that we communicated nonverbally with our pets and livestock was understood. We knew that the farmers and gardeners who talked with their plants had a better harvest. With no money for doctors and medicine, we experienced the power of prayer circles. Dreams were not just imagination; they included information that we could use in steering our daily lives.
Growing up in the 1940s in a primitive section of northwest Florida, I felt the cycles of my life as parts of a larger whole, sensed myself inextricably linked to the daily rising and setting of the Sun. It lit the morning sky even before the blazing ball itself appeared on the horizon, marking the hour to feed the animals. Its warmth thawed the ground in preparation for planting as its movement north made the days grow longer. The waxing and waning Moon determined planting schedules; its magnetism affected the response of seeds to the Earth just as it affected the fertility of the women and the female animals.
Sitting on the porch after supper, we would start our night watch with Venus in the evening sky, anticipating the calls of the whippoorwill and the hoot owl as we talked of all the beings touched by the same God. We could sense their presence, just as we felt the breezes evaporating the sweat remaining on us from last-minute chores. As the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt became discernible in the darkening sky, we were confident of our understanding of it all.
Except for the Christian God, my childhood worldview had many similarities with that of shepherds on pre-Christian Middle Eastern slopes, or Australian Aboriginals on a walkabout following their "dreaming tracks" in the outback, or Native Americans planting and harvesting with seasonal rites keyed to the movement of the constellations. For all prescientific peoples, including my family, the living Earth was subject to the living sky. We knew we were children of a living universe. Nothing was dead, nothing was separate. Our lives, except for a limited ability to maneuver among daily events, were shaped by forces beyond our control.
This basically naive but comprehensive view of the interactive nature of the cosmos has for millennia dominated the perceptions of traditional peoples in the world. Incidentally, throughout the book the terms "cosmos" or "cosmic" imply something larger or beyond the material universe as we know it with our five senses. However, since the time of Aristotle (On the Heavens written in 340 B.C.)—the Greek philosopher from whom we have many modern intellectual concepts—a more restricted view has become dominant among so-called developed peoples. A rational, materialistic perspective, spreading from ancient Greece westward to Rome and up through Europe and over to the Americas, has shed light on many parts of reality, but has reduced our understanding of the whole. Propagated by the Anglo-Saxon and Latin-centered worlds of thought and technology, Western civilization's mechanistic view of the universe has been a two-edged sword: As scientists dissected the universe, they excised sectors of human experience from their scrutiny.
Aristotle's theory of solid spheres containing various heavenly bodies rotating in fixed circles around a stationary Earth was followed by the discoveries of Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Galileo. Galileo's observations in 1609, made with the help of his newly developed telescope, proved that not all heavenly bodies were orbiting the Earth or the Sun. People began to perceive that moons orbited planets that in turn orbited the Sun, and that suns and stars had their own tracks within galaxies. Isaac Newton's theory of gravity, published three-quarters of a century after Galileo's observations, provided an explanation for the spinning, elliptical movements of heavenly bodies. (Johannes Kepler realized the orbits were elliptical, not perfect circles, in the early seventeenth century.)
As telescopes became more powerful, people saw more stars. But they continued to assume they were looking at a largely static universe, set in place by a supernatural being with the human observer at its focal point. No one knew how the world and universe got started. (Aristotle had earlier postulated the theory of an undefined "Prime Mover.") The supernatural religions of the West—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—believed the universe started with a creative act of their personal god.
From the seventeenth to the twentieth century, many philosophical arguments surfaced about the nature of creation, the limits of the universe, and the issue of time. Yet the basic perception of the macrocosm remained essentially the same, whether people believed that it had evolved from a natural event or that it had been divinely and fully created at the beginning of historical time. Both groups considered the universe something whose laws could be discovered and whose elements could be manipulated by humans. Whether the laws were mechanical or divine, they were all seen as focused on humans—the homocentric view of reality.
The perception of a static universe with fixed boundaries was shattered in 1929 when Edwin Hubble (after whom the orbiting Hubble space telescope is named) saw that other parts of the universe were moving rapidly away from us. (Five years earlier he had discovered galaxies beyond ours.) Hubble interpreted such movement to mean the universe was expanding; and if it was expanding, it had to have a history of accumulating events. These events could result from either a single creative event such as the Big Bang or a continuing process of external influence. Since the latter opens difficult questions about the nature of unknown forces outside our universe, most scientists have settled on the simplistic Big Bang theory. As a result, modern humans are still locked into very limited assumptions about themselves and the inner nature of cosmic reality.
Science mostly follows its fragmented search for knowledge, separating it into isolated disciplines. That makes it easier to categorize some human experiences as natural and normal and dismiss others as anomalous, accidents, or artifacts of overactive imaginations. For example, most aspects of the ancient discipline of astrology are ignored by official institutions, although the experiences of untold millions indicate strong correlations between actions of celestial bodies and human behavior. Likewise, the link between thought and the microcosmic activity of cells is still largely ignored by mainstream science, as is the whole area of extrasensory communications. Science's focus on four forces of physics, assuming we have discovered all of them, precludes the study of other likely forces, ones that could explain the many so-called anomalous phenomena.
Despite institutional fragmentation, a renewed sense of wholeness is now emerging. Forward-thinking professionals in physical science, archaeology, anthropology, psychology, and consciousness research now take a systems approach, treating humans as parts of a larger organism. (Ken Wilber's use of the concept of "holons," parts within parts of a larger whole.) The new scientists are joined across institutional barriers by nonsectarian mystics to expand the time frame of assumptions about human history and definitions of matter and consciousness. Each intuitively is rediscovering the singular, living universe of traditional peoples, the same seamless reality I experienced in childhood.
I hold that science's understanding of the living universe can be enhanced by gleaning insights from our legacy of knowledge from earlier civilizations. A reassessment of some traditional beliefs may reveal they have much to contribute to a new metascience model. For example, the ancients appear to have known that matter arises from different vibrational patterns in a field of invisible energy, an insight rediscovered by quantum mechanics in the twentieth century. Remember Fritjof Capra's 1970s book The Tao of Physics.
The Judeo-Christian tradition proclaims, "In the beginning was the Word." The Australian Aboriginals believe the ancients sang the world into being. "Word" and "song" imply that the use of sound or vibrations lead to the formation of the material universe. They also imply that the energetic vibrations that shape energy quanta into particles are not just random patterns. They have inherent meaning, not unlike Plato's view that ultimate reality was form or idea. This suggests that consciousness must preexist matter to conceive of the ideas or forms of different vibrations that underlie various configurations of matter.
Most mythic traditions—whether from Central America, North America, India, China, Egypt, Greece, or the Middle East—include allusions to a conscious being or force that formed something out of nothing. The fact is that neither the traditionalist nor the scientist knows how it all started. Later in this chapter I have chosen to use British physicist David Darling's poetic story of the beginning of material time to illustrate conventional science's current assumptions about how our present universe came to be. To fill some of the gaps in this conventional view, I introduce in this chapter what I believe to be some useful advanced scientific principles from antiquity.
Several esoteric traditions developed their own explanatory (scientific) principles for the workings of the universe. One such system, the Hermetic, which has come down to us from prehistory, I find comprehensive enough to have used its framework for many analyses in this book. I believe its relevance will become self-evident in this and following chapters.
The Hermetic Principles, named after a legendary personality known to ancient Greeks as Hermes Trismegistus (meaning "thrice great"), have been known and articulated by intellectual elites for more than 5,000 years. Recorded history identifies a being who transferred several fields of advanced knowledge to humans differently in different cultures. Thoth, or Seth, was his Egyptian name; in India he was Manu; and in the Judeo-Christian tradition he has been called Lucifer or the Serpent.
Despite the lack of clear information about its origins, Roman-influenced scholars knew the collection of knowledge by its Latin name Corpus Hermeticus. Many consider it to be the source of basic natural teachings that infused all the intellectual, scientific traditions of Egypt, Greece, the Near East, and Europe for several millennia. A few learned initiates guarded the insights and passed them on discerningly over the centuries to those deemed ready for the teachings. During the Inquisition and other periods of religious persecution by Christians and Muslims alike, it has been dangerous for independent scholars to reveal their belief in a natural reality that does not assume divine intervention. Consequently, most of the Hermetic insights were lost to the masses, as well as to most scholars and students, before the advent of the modern era.
The term "hermeticism" has been primarily associated by many with alchemy, or the alleged transmutation of metals into gold. However, it involves a broad and integrated approach to the understanding of matter, energy, and more subtle forces. It provided the intellectual precursors to Western mystery traditions that seeded the European Renaissance. The term "hermetic" has come to mean secret or sealed for that reason.
From information that fills volumes, I have taken a classic distillation known as the Hermetic Principles. The seven are Mentalism, Polarity, Correspondence, Vibration, Rhythm, Gender, and Cause and Effect. (See table 1 below.) Although they can appear to be so simple and mundane that the casual reader is wont to lightly skim them, they may actually be more far-reaching than the basic assumptions of Newtonian mechanics or quantum physics. The current work of a number of researchers included in this book tends to confirm the validity of these concepts. Readers can judge for themselves whether they add to one's understanding of each of the following chapters and make it possible to relate seemingly different phenomena to a unifying set of principles.
Excerpted from CHILDREN OF A LIVING UNIVERSE by Paul Von Ward. Copyright © 2014 Paul Von Ward. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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