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Posts Tagged ‘science’

materialism is baloney

Bernardo Kastrup’s cheeky title here belies a serious book. It looks at the prevailing world view of materialist philosophy and uses materialism’s own logic to argue that it is self-contradictory, and leads to absurd conclusions. What this means is the view most of us have of the world, a place of “common sense” material stuff, is wrong. It also means none of the problems facing science and society today can be resolved from a materialist perspective. Why? Because the world is not what it seems, and neither are we.

Materialism is a mindset that looks at the mysteries of the universe and assumes everything is ultimately knowable through scientific reasoning. More, it tells us everything can be explained in material terms, even apparently immaterial things like consciousness. But the problems of materialism begin with quantum mechanics. This is the study of the nature of the foundations of what we think of as material stuff, or “matter”. But quantum mechanics also tells us matter cannot be said to exist until it is observed. This is awkward to say the least, and we get around the problem in daily life by politely ignoring it. Clearly though, there’s a gap in our thinking, and it will have to be reckoned with sooner or later.

The alternative view, one that might reconcile these paradoxes and explain the nature of consciousness, is philosophical idealism. Here Kastrup builds on the works of Emanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer, and brings them forward into the twenty-first century. I’m not qualified to say whether he’s right or not, only that his views support the direction of my own thinking. His robust reasoning also provides a reassuringly intellectual rigour to what might otherwise, admittedly, seem a very strange way of looking at things.

Although a serious book, I found it engaging and accessible, but you’ll still need your wits about you, because the concepts here are so startling. Through the use of metaphor Kastrup introduces us to the idea of the universe as an infinite “thought”, that the material world is a phenomenon dreamed up by the consciousness of the universe itself. This is not to say the universe is “intelligent” or capable of self reflection, more that it is somehow blindly instinctive in bringing to fruition what we perceive of as life.

Philosophers call such a thing “Transcendental Idealism”, and one cannot delve into that subject without also touching on spiritual matters. So, as well as covering the nature of the universe, the book also looks at the purpose of life. From the more familiar Materialist perspective, life is meaningless but Idealism begs to differ. Indeed, it grants humankind a primary role. It tells us we are the eyes and the ears of a universe waking up and exploring its own nature the only way it can – by enfolding parts of its self into discrete pockets of self-reflective awareness. That’s us. Otherwise, the universe would be like an eye trying to see itself.

When we dream we accept the dream entirely as our reality, and it’s only when we wake we gain sufficient perspective to see the dream for what it was. In the same way, in the dream of the universe, we have no choice but to accept the dream of it as real. Indeed, it is real. It’s just that the nature of that reality is not what we think it is. It also means that ultimately we are the same as whatever we are looking at, because whatever is dreaming “it” into being, is dreaming us too. And equally startling, it means the sense of “I”, looking out through your eyes right now, is the same sense of “I” looking out though mine. The only difference between us, is our life story.

This book will appeal to anyone who finds the high-priests of materialism, and their more fundamentalist dogmas, a little too shrill. It will appeal also to anyone seeking to restore meaning to their lives but who are similarly repelled by religion, as well as finding the otherwise seductive language of the New Age at times somewhat anaemic. I think the world according Bernardo Kastrup is a very interesting one, and well worth exploring. It is both plausible and profoundly positive, building on a rich heritage of idealism, and putting us back at the very centre of a universe driven towards the creation of life.

Although essentially blind and instinctive, its evolutionary drift seems to be towards an awareness of itself, through us. So, while things may not be the way we think they are, what each of us sees and thinks and does, and feels in life,… about life,…

Really matters.

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trees on fire

It was George Orwell who made the observation that nations do not go to war unless the rich believe they can profit by it. In a similar vein, had he been writing today, he might have said the same thing about saving the planet, that unless the rich can be convinced there’s more profit in green technologies than in coal and oil and gas, the earth is bound for a final act of devastating climate change and mass extinction of species, including us. To whit we have recently had the bizarre spectacle of one of the most powerful nations on earth, with a straight face, presenting arguments for the increased use of coal – this at a summit on climate change, and how to avoid it.

There is something deeply disturbing about an otherwise intelligent species that would saw off the final branch of the tree, the branch it’s actually sitting on, in order to continue profiting at the expense of the tree, and even the certainty of it’s own demise. But then profiteering never did pay much heed of future consequences.

The latest reliable figures now give us twelve years to make a difference. This means stopping any further release of carbon and methane into the atmosphere as a result of human activity – carbon from fossil fuel burning, and methane from factory style meat-production – and that means right now.

What is most clear in all of this is that the danger is real, and the effects are already being felt, though mainly by the world’s poor, and that until it is the rich who suffer grievously, nothing will change – but by that time it will be too late. What I’m not so clear about is what happens after that, whether the earth will restore its own equilibrium once it’s rid of the parasitic scourge we have become, or if the changes will be so dramatic we’ll have pushed the planet into a runaway reaction, the end result of which is the global sterility of another Mars. I’m sure the rich think they can ride out any storm, build underground bunkers in New Zealand and survive by eating Soylent Green, that only the ninety nine percent of us will starve. But I remind them that’s not much of an existence when we once had a whole planet to explore and cherish, and then who will be left to tie your shoe-laces?

When we consider the vastness of the universe and the sheer number of planetary systems we now know exist around other stars, it’s logical to assume other forms of intelligent life have arisen. The Drake equation predicts the universe should be positively teeming with life, yet when we listen to the sounds of outer space we detect no sign. Our apparent loneliness is eerie. One of the theories explaining this isolation is that when civilisations have reached a point of technical sophistication whereby their radio signals are so strong they begin leaking into outer space, they’re only a short way from also developing the technologies they’ll eventually destroy themselves with – as in the case of nuclear weapons, or that they’ll find themselves incapable of organising globally to control the effects of over-consumption and over-reliance on sources of energy that are ultimately deadly to the planet.

I know we like to think we’re different, that we’re a plucky species, that we’ll eventually overcome our differences, rise above them and somehow squeak through into that Utopian future. But the signs aren’t promising. Hollywood doesn’t help. It likes its disaster movies, but the good guys always survive in the end, and usually by means of a judiciously timed nuclear explosion. If these movies ended with the earth as a charred cinder and your leading man and lady as no more than bleached bones it might focus minds a bit more.

Nuclear weapons and climate change are the most critical threats facing humanity today, yet to read the news one learns only of the latest twist of BREXIT, and the latest ill judged tweet from the leader of the free world, who anyway assures us climate change IS A HOAX. The last four years have been the warmest recorded. The World Metrological Organisation tells us: sea-level rise, sea ice and glacier melt, and ocean heat and acidification were continuing. Extreme weather had “left a trail of devastation on all continents.”

Of course it’s hard to see what one can do as an individual, apart from spreading the word in the hope someone with more power and influence will see the profit in wind-turbines and photovoltaics and a zero carbon economy, that what does it profit us anyway to go on burning coal if it’s to ultimately cost the earth?

It seems futile merely swapping out all the lightbulbs in my house for LEDs when toffs are still cruising about in Range Rovers, doing 12 miles per gallon. But I did get rid of my last incandescent light bulb recently, and it’s a start, not that it’ll change my energy bill much, but that’s another story. Small things, small steps are the way, I suppose, but twelve years isn’t such a long time for so pressing an emergency, so next time you get the chance to vote, scrutinise your candidate’s stance on climate change and go with whoever promises to wake up and save the planet.

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fortune telling“Why prove to a man he is wrong? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win, you lose it. You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgement, and his self-respect.” *

So Deepak Chopra reminds us in his introduction to Dean Radin’s latest book: “Supernormal”, in which Radin turns the spotlight of scientific rigour onto the so called siddhis – the paranormal side effects reported by experienced meditators – things like Psychokinesis, Presentiment, and Telekinesis.

You don’t believe in this sort of thing? Perhaps those words even embarrass you? Well, just hold on,… belief isn’t a word I like to use. I need to have a reason for my thoughts, and that comes down to a mixture of knowledge, experience and – yes – intuition as well, but I think there’s a body of evidence now we can no longer ignore. But I’m not going to argue about it, and neither is Dean Radin. Radin seeks instead to build a body of evidence so large it cannot help but change formerly skeptical minds, like mine. Supernormal Perception? Materialism is wrong? How do you get that message across in the face of overwhelming prejudice to the contrary? Well, you don’t. You simply present the facts, and hopefully at some point the other guy, like me, will think it was his idea all along.

For now however, Materialism remains the prevailing scientific paradigm. It tells us we are the sum of our material parts, that even our thoughts are due entirely to mechanisms going on in the goo of our brains. According to this materialistic doctrine, our consciousness, our sense of self, is an illusion. In short we do not exist. But how can that be right? Of course we want there to be something more to the world than its materials, we want there to be something more to ourselves other than the goo in our brains. We want the ghost in our heads – the thing that keeps telling us we’re real – to be telling the truth: that we do indeed exist!

Materialism has been a successful way of looking at the world. It’s taken us from horses and carts to automobiles and aeroplanes, and from printing presses to the internet, but its core assumption that “material” is all there is renders it blind to evidence to the contrary, renders it dismissive of anomalous experience, renders it unable to grasp the idea that consciousness might actually be real, that it might be independent of any currently understood material paradigm. Thus materialism crosses the line from reason into more of a belief system. Then, like all belief systems, it runs out of steam, stranding us at a point in our evolution where it feels safe, but is unable to move on, unable to address anything other than what it already knows.

But there’s a growing body of evidence now that suggests materialism is an incomplete model of the way things really are. Materialists still pour scorn upon it because that is their nature, but the emerging picture is this: that the mind can indeed sometimes see around corners, that we do indeed have premonitions of future events, and we can indeed alter outcomes in the here and now simply by the power of the mind. The evidence resides, not in one or two flamboyant individuals with mesmeric stares and peculiar tastes in clothing, but in the population at large. It is a small effect, but reliably demonstrable in all of us. And Dean Radin, among others, has been demonstrating it for decades.

It’s nothing new. The evidence has been around since the 1930’s, and merely grows ever more persuasive with each fresh pass. Nor is this evidence anecdotal – it’s based upon thousands upon thousands of published trials, subject to scientific rigour and statistical analysis. But such is the power of the status quo, this is a body of work largely unknown, even today.

Why is any of this this important? So we can read minds at parties and amaze our friends? So what? But, if we can show that the mind is not confined to the brain – and I think we can – if we can show that its reach extends beyond the body and that it can extract information from the environment at a remove in both space and time – and I think we can – it has profound implications for our view of what the mind is, and how the universe works. It also changes our ideas of what we are, and how we might be capable of evolving.

The end-game of Materialism is intrinsically pessimistic: there can be no happy endings; the disintegration of organised matter is fact; we are all going to die and that is that, and the vast majority of us will live and die, our lives unnoticed. But to have confidence that one can explore the world, psychically, to intuit it, even to shape it, to be an integral part of it by virtue of the mind alone, places each of us back at the centre of our lives, and at the outset of a great adventure into the new and the mysterious. It also grants us the power of a self determination, and a psychical integrity that Materialism has long denied us.

It’s a dangerous idea.

We should be careful who we tell.

*Dale Carnegie – 1888-1955. Writer, motivational speaker, lecturer, author of “how to win friends and influence people”.

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moonThere’s a wealth of lore regarding the moon. It features in our ritual and our calendars, and there’s always been a belief in its ability to affect our mood. Until recently however respectable scientists have poured scorn on the idea, pointing out there is no known mechanism by which the moon can affect the mind. The only known force the moon exerts upon the earth, they say, is gravity, but while the moon’s gravity can indeed raise ocean tides, a scientist will assure you the gravitational effect it has on my brain is no more than the gravitational pull exerted by the computer I’m typing this into. It’s true – gravity is not the answer, but then respectable mystics no longer maintain that it is.

Personally, I’ve always held that the moon does have an effect on the psyche – perhaps not everyone’s, but certain sensitive individuals – and that it’s quite common, and natural, and I don’t mind that we don’t yet know, conclusively, what the mechanism is. My evidence is subjective and entirely experiential. I’ve simply noticed that the time coming up to full moon is when I’m at my most creatively and emotionally outgoing. It’s when things get done, and the energy needed for them just flows. Conversely, following the full moon I become gradually more contemplative, more inward looking, and less creatively active, with a definite hiatus around the time of the new moon when my brain floats aimlessly about like a boat that’s lost its anchor. Of course I still have to do what needs to be done, but it can be a real struggle to get my brain in gear and, regarding, the energy, it feels like I’m running on empty.

It’s interesting that my personal diary backs this up. Searches for things like: “disconnection”, “airiness” and “spaced out” all closely correlate with the period around new moons. This is a time for leasure-reading, for meditating, for dreaming, and for inviting syncronicities – not for actively seeking to influence outcomes in the real world.

Of course, it could be that I’m simply looking at the moon, seeing what phase it is, and adjusting my mood to suit, rather than actually responding to subtle earth-energies, and all that other new-age guff. That’s fair enough, in which case you might say I  I simply favour maintaining an awareness of the moon, and other aspects of the natural world, and aligning myself to its rhythms, like my ancestors once did. I am, in short, not looking to prove anything, either to myself or to others. It is what it is, and it seems to work for me.

But if it’s true, my suspicion has always been that the mechanism is tied up with the earth’s magnetic field and its perturbations resulting from the constant buffeting it gets from the solar wind. And, since the moon moves around inside this system of magnetic flux, it’s feasible it has a regulating effect, and that a lunar signature should be detectable in the geomagnetic data.

If you study the figures for daily geomagnetic flux levels, as published by NOAA*, put it all in a giant spreadsheet and apply some filtering, you can indeed pick out an effect, a rising and falling in intensity of the geomagnetic index with a period that correlates with the lunar phase. Other’s have looked at this too, including NASA analysts in the past (Stolov et al 1965), and come up with the same thing. There may be other space weather experts who can elaborate on it now, but, while fascinating, my understanding is this research has always been considered inconclusive, controversial, and somehow not a respectable field for any career conscious scientist to be associated with at all – dare I say because it sounds like lunacy?

But non-scientists, like me, have no difficulty with it, nor in suggesting we might be picking up on the earth’s lunar modulated geomagnetic “vibrations” through the pineal gland, a  pine-cone shaped organ located deep in the brain. It’s sensitive to magnetic fields, and regulates the body’s circadian rhythms – things like sleep patterns – through the secretion of melatonin. Again, scientists have long blown raspberries at this idea, but a recently published study has indeed shown changes in blood chemistry and sleep patterns correlated with the phases of the moon. It’s summarised as a news item on the BBC here. This is the first time I’ve ever read of any respectable research in this area that was not wholly sceptical. So maybe science is beginning to catch up with myth, with sober research data now pointing in the direction mystics have been indicating all along; that it really does make a difference what moon it is.

*NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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tree of life and yin yangI’ve been reading a paper by Roger Jahnke, a much respected author of many works on energy  medicine, and Qigong –  a rare sane voice in a field otherwise beset by fools and charlatans. The paper is quite technical and discusses research into how the body functions at the cellular level, how it sometimes fails, and how it repairs itself. It basically says Qigong is good for you, and then presents the evidence.

There was a lot of hype a while back about Genetics and the mapping of the Human Genome. We were told you could read the profile of a person’s DNA then tell them what illnesses they were going to get, even when they were going to die. It was a scary idea and only the life insurance companies really took to it with enthusiasm. For the rest of us, it was a depressing concept; here’s the roadmap of your life, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But now we know better. Your DNA can present you with statistical data on those ailments you’re most susceptible to, but whether you fall foul of them depends mainly on environmental factors. In fact we have about the same number of genes as a rodent, but there’s clearly a great deal of difference between a person and a rodent, a lot more going on in the maintenance of our well-being than the bare facts suggested by a DNA profile.

What do we mean by environmental factors? Basically stress.

When early man roamed the wilderness with his bow and arrow, his stresses were obvious – an angry bear, a hungry lion, the threat of being killed by another man. Faced with an immediate and obvious danger of death, the body responds by pumping you up, it sets the heart racing and readies you either to fight for your life, or to run like the wind.

We still have this “fight or flight” response, but in modern living the things that scare us are less obvious. A powerpoint presentation in front of the top brass? The ever spiralling cost of utility bills? Rumours of redundancy at work? A two hour commute in heavy traffic? An endless list. But how do you fight or run from such things? You can’t. Modern man is presented with a new kind of predator, one against which the old responses are useless – indeed worse than useless, because if you don’t physically fight or run, your body’s response becomes toxic and makes you ill.

The fight or flight mechanism is Yang. It’s active, dynamic, hot, and potentially dangerous. It can burn you out. It pumps you up and it says: “Do something!”. But without balance, Yang is indiscriminate and self destructive. Fight or flight is important, but should be used wisely, and for that we need the Yin side of our nature. Yin equates to the body’s “relaxation response” – the mirror image of “fight or flight”, like the nestled tadpoles in the yin-yang symbol. It’s natural and we all possess it, but modern living  causes us to neglect it, to belittle it,… even to laugh at it.

Techniques like meditation, yoga and Qigong work by awakening the relaxation response – defusing and dissolving toxins, encouraging repair rather than corroding us with the bitter acid of a million nagging worries. The methods are quite easy to learn and they allow the mind to enter the whole body, to sense it, to enjoy its vibrant aliveness, and to soothe the parts that are tense and troubled. Over time, the stillness these methods induce becomes a part of who you are and you no longer see the old stressors in quite the same way. You react to them with more discernment. Instead of terrifying, your old enemies begin to look jaded and foolish.

Internal methods like Qigong are taken to their extreme in martial arts. When skilled opponents face one another, they do so, not in a state of tension, pumped up with the fight or flight chemicals, but in stillness. When action comes, it’s swift and purposeful, rising forcefully out of stillness. And that’s the healthy way to live: acting when required but out of a more general stillness, rather than being forced to run like the rodents those early geneticists tried to tell us we were, forever moving, jumping at shadows, for ever reacting to life’s imaginary enemies.

So stop. Think. Breathe.

Relax.

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