from Collective-Evolution Website
January 3, 2015
As a teenager, I first began engaging intellectually with the world with the philosophy sections of bookstores and libraries, avidly inspecting books for pearls of wisdom.
If a philosopher dared to mention
spirituality or God, I would consider the book misplaced and not
relevant to my philosophical questions. I was, for some time, an
avid atheist, embracing the modern scientific and philosophical
trend that has become quite pervasive.
There are many functions of philosophy, to be sure, but this is as good a definition of philosophy as I have found.
It seems that it must arise from simplicity.
At the very least this is the phenomenon we see all around us: simpler constituents generating more complex forms through combination, separation, and emergence.
In a word, no.
This inquiry was, and is, all about
discovering the rules that govern the world.
The broadest hypothesis of modern science and of the modern era more generally was that the world is regular and rational, i.e., it operates through discernible rules. This hypothesis has generally been borne out, as evidenced by the marvels of technology all around us.
By discovering the rules that govern the
world, many early philosophers and scientists supposed, we explain
the handiwork of God and perhaps even the mind of God.
Rather than viewing the universe as the handiwork of God, many came to view the universe as inherently without design and without a creator. We may never know what caused the universe to come to be, it was thought, but we certainly could explain everything worth explaining without invoking God.
Laplace, an early 19th Century French materialist scientist and philosopher stated, when asked by Napoleon what place God had in his system:
Nietzsche crowned this trend in the 19th Century with his pronouncement that "God is dead."
Even though large majorities of
Americans today proclaim belief in God in some manner, the general
view among the cultural elite of scientists and philosophers is that
God is indeed dead and that the universe can be explained entirely
through various permutations of mindless matter, which combine in
complex forms like humans to produce very complex minds.
I began reading in this area in my late
teens and have continued to this day, over twenty years now. When I
realized what I consider to be the fatal problems in the materialist
worldview with respect to explaining the nature of mind and matter,
I also realized that a far better explanation is found in the view
that all matter has some degree of mind attached.
This view is known as
panpsychism or panexperientialism
and it turned out that this philosophical position is also a
universal acid for resolving all manner of philosophical and
scientific problems, and spiritual problems.
It's a matter of scale, as Whitehead and Griffin themselves discuss.
This knowledge leads to some interesting possibilities when we consider spatial and temporal scales far beyond the human level.
This puts the cart before the horse if God is not simply to be accepted as complex from the outset and thus to be considered outside of any rational inquiry. There are many areas of human inquiry where rationality must at least in part bow to intuition and faith; spirituality is certainly one of those areas, but this is not an all or nothing kind of thing.
Rationality may certainly shed some
light on these issues even if intuition and faith also play a role.
Does God have to be conscious?
That is, there are two types of divinity:
Another apt metaphor, perhaps even more apt than the metaphysical ground is an "ocean of being."
In this ocean of being metaphor what each of us experiences as manifest reality, including ourselves and all other physical things, is represented by the waves on that infinitely deep ocean.
The deeper we go in that ocean the
closer we come to pure being, devoid of any distinctions at all.
The Source is the ground of being, the soil from which all things grow or the ocean from which all waves/particles manifest (pick your preferred metaphor). The Source is far simpler than notions of God as a complex being ("God as Summit" in the framework I'm sketching here).
There are many lines of reasoning that seem to require some kind of ground, a foundation for the universe.
Here are a few:
There are other lines of reasoning, but this should suffice for now. If we accept these lines of reasoning, we realize that the mainstream ontology that consists essentially of only matter, energy and space is insufficient.
We must add the ground to our list and it is in fact more fundamental than matter, energy and space because it is what produces matter, energy and space.
The ground must have some degree of complexity built in if it can produce all the marvels of our universe, what can be labeled in this case "primordial complexity."
Given this degree of complexity, is the Source, the ground of being, simply to be accepted with no further explanation? It seems that the answer is yes.
The ground of being is the ultimate "brute fact."
There is nothing below the ground of being. There is only an above.
The answer: because there is a ground of being.
This is the role that the ground plays
in my ontology. It is the level below which there is nothing
We don't, however, have to accept the kind of complexity evident in Western notions of God, but we must accept some type of complexity "built in" from the beginning if we accept the ground of being as a necessary part of our ontology.
We have a universe and some things in
that universe are simply brute facts that cannot be further
We may in fact gain new insights in
coming decades or centuries with respect to the origin of this realm
beneath our feet, but for now it seems fair to state that we must at
least accept the brute fact of its existence.
Whatever name we prefer they all refer to the same concept: the ground from which all else grows.
And this is as good a definition of God
What is the ultimate nature of reality?
And how does it interact with each of us?
This essay will explore the Summit in more detail and compare Source and Summit.
As with all of my essays, I appeal both to science and spirituality in my explanations. This is the case because I don't believe there is any fundamental distinction between science, philosophy and spirituality.
To be sure, there are differences in current practice and focus, but in terms of conceptual structures, if not all their methods, these endeavors should be essentially the same ("should" being the essential word here).
By this I mean that the "deep science"
(to use Ken Wilber's term) that meshes science, philosophy and
spirituality together relies on logic, intuition, faith and facts -
recognizing that all human endeavors are a mix of these tools.
Deep science recognizes that all our attempts at understanding should be empirically based as much as possible, but it also recognizes that some sources of knowledge lie beyond empiricism and even beyond logic.
Defining the contours of where facts and reason should give way to intuition and faith is an entirely personal matter. I tend to the intellectual and rational approach in my own explanations (particularly in these essays), while acknowledging that logic has limits; but I have no independent basis for preferring this prioritization.
It's entirely personal.
Though it is commonly known now that we are each comprised of massive numbers of molecules and atoms, and what we think of as solid molecules and atoms are in fact extremely sparsely populated regions of space, this truth has not reverberated as far as it should.
We are mostly empty space, and when I say mostly, I mean 99.999999% or more.
We, as human beings, are mostly vast voids of emptiness, with tiny isolated specks of matter dispersed at distant intervals. Moreover, we don't even know what matter "really is."
As I wrote in an earlier essay, the mind-body problem presupposes that we've solved the "body problem" (the nature of matter) - but we haven't.
This means that matter arises as quantum fluctuations from the ground of being and these quantum fluctuations constitute matter but also mind.
That is, each unit of nature has dual
aspects of both mind and matter. The process that produces each
quantum fluctuation leads, as the hierarchy of complexity is scaled,
to more complex structures like gnats, rats, bats, cats and
Tradition suggests that there is no mind present in such supra-human organizations; they consist of mindless matter, as do sub-human levels of complexity. But this is an unjustified prejudice that results from basic philosophical mistakes at the beginning of the modern era.
When we recognize that the better solution to the mind-body problem acknowledges that all matter has some type of mind attached, we recognize also that supra-human levels of organization may also have some type of mind attached.
I don't know, but I do know that the conceptual structure that best explains the human level of mind does not in any way preclude the possibility of a universal mind.
Let me explain in more detail.
At the human level, we call this causal
link perception and we can explain it in purely physical terms as
the transmission of information about the world around us through
our senses into our internal theater, which is transformed into a
picture of the world unique to each of us.
What we call perception can legitimately be applied to an electron. The electron perceives its environment insofar as it responds to physical forces, such as gravity and electromagnetism.
Why is this not normally called perception? Because "perception" implies the presence of a mind...
But in the panpsychist view of the universe there is no qualitative difference between an electron's reception of information from its environment and a human's perception of information from her environment because each has some type of mind.
The mind in both consists of the same process:
These processes are surely very
different in the degree of consciousness present with such
perception but the idea is that both share the same quality of a
subject (however simple) receiving/perceiving the world around it.
Dyson recognized also that the process that creates mind need not stop at the human level, stating in his 1979 book, Infinite in All Directions:
God is, then, what we call mind at the level far beyond the human level.
Universal mind surely deserves the name of God. This is the Summit in the system I am describing here. It is made conceptually possible due to the recognition that causality itself, which is the link between subject and object, has no limitation to the human level.
Does universal consciousness operate at
the same timeframe as humans? I don't know. Does it interact with us
in any significant way? I don't know.
Perhaps it's not even here yet and perhaps it's our role to bring the Summit into existence, a collective co-creation of God. I have no personal evidence of God as Summit so I remain agnostic about its existence.
My key point here is to show that there is nothing particularly irrational about the idea of conscious beings at levels far higher than the human level.
I think of the Source as pure potentiality.
It is only when matter/mind bubbles up into actuality from the depths of pure potentiality that consciousness arises. Reality consists, then, in a spectrum from pure potentiality to complete actuality.
This conceptual structure allows us to respect Occam's Razor - explanations should be as simple as possible - while also explaining how complexity and consciousness arise from simplicity and non-conscious processes.
The highest good it can achieve is a different type of knowledge than purely intellectual understanding, what can be described as gnosis.
I use this Greek term, typically associated with the Gnostic sects of early Christianity and pre-Christianity, because it best typifies what West and East share in terms of a deeply emotional and spiritual understanding of the nature of God.
Other terms for gnosis include,
Erwin Schrödinger, perhaps the
most spiritually attuned of the major 20th Century
physicists, is worth quoting at length on gnosis.
Is there a deeper transcendent reality than the normal world around us? If there is, can we know it in any meaningful way?
The first two parts of this series delved into the Source and Summit as the twin ultimates that enfold our world of normal experience between them. The Source, the ground of being, is the metaphysical soil from which all actuality grows.
The Summit is the more speculative type
of divinity, the ultimate mind of God. This third part in my series
on the Anatomy of God will delve further into the notion of God as
Source and examines how Eros, the creativity of the universe, meshes
with the Source.
Brian Greene's 2013 book, The
Hidden Reality, examines many
contemporary notions of the multiverse
and argues for a new and expanded notion of how science should be
conducted. The "multiverse" is a term that captures various notions
of reality that go beyond the traditional observable universe,
including additional universes existing in space beyond our ability
to observe them or in different dimensions beyond our own.
Greene argues that even if we cannot ever directly measure other universes, we may infer their reality from various lines of reasoning.
He argues, therefore, against a strict
observational and falsificationist notion of proper science, which
has held sway for many decades now, at least rhetorically if not
always in practice.
This isn't "just" a spiritual or
religious debate. It's also a straightforward philosophical and
scientific debate about the nature of reality.
This realm, which I've called in these essays the Source, Brahman, ether, etc., is the very ground of being, or ocean of being if we prefer a watery metaphor over an earthy one. Whereas the actual universe comprised of what we currently call matter and energy is directly detectable, the ground of being can't be directly detected in a traditional manner.
It can, however, be detected indirectly.
Plato described in his book, The Republic (which is an extended discussion about the nature of government, the state, and leadership), reflections about the nature of reality.
Plato asks us to imagine a person who is forced to live in a cave all of his life and is completely tied down, to the point where his eyes are forced to look ahead at all times. This unfortunate person must watch the back of the cave, on which shadows are produced from a fire's bright light behind the prisoner.
The captors perform their routine
activities behind the prisoner and their shadows are cast on the
wall. The prisoner, knowing no other reality, mistakes the shadows
for reality, not realizing they are shadows cast by the captors
As strange as it sounds to modern ears,
Plato believed that a table is only a table insofar as it
participates in, and is a shadow of, the archetypal Form of 'tableness,'
and so on for everything we witness around us, from trees, to
rivers, up to and including abstractions like truth, goodness, and
The highest Form was, for Plato, the
Good, and The Republic is an extended discussion of how individuals
and the state can work toward realizing the Good in our shadow realm
that we call everyday reality.
From our modern perspective, it seems that Plato went too far with his theory of Forms.
To imagine that there is literally an archetypal and eternal shuttle Form in a timeless realm sounds, frankly, a bit silly to our modern ears. The manifest task of science and philosophy is to explain how simplicity produces complexity. And to posit complex archetypes as eternally existing objects in a parallel realm fails in this task, for many reasons.
Nevertheless, there are some ways in
which Plato's ideas still have some relevance.
This process begins with the
subatomic particles that appear and disappear
in uncountable hordes in every part of space, according to modern
quantum theory. This process leads, through many levels of
complexification, up to the rarefied heights of stars and humans.
And it wouldn't happen without the ground to make it grow.
While Einstein did not begin this trend, he is well-known for dismissing the "ether" (which was thought to be the carrier of light waves, among other things) as "superfluous" in his 1905 paper on special relativity.
While Einstein himself quickly reversed course and embraced a "new ether" concept from 1916 onward, most physicists and philosophers relished the notion of being able to simplify our physical theories by denying the reality of the ether.
An "invisible substance," a "pervasive molasses," a field that permeates the "emptiest of empty space."
This sounds like an ether to me, but it doesn't really matter what we call this underlying reality.
I would modify Greene's description only to state that rather than the Higgs field permeating empty space, empty space is more accurately conceived as the manifestation of the Source, the ground of being, the ether. In both Greene's framing and my framing, there is not really any "empty space."
Rather, what we think of as empty isn't
empty at all when we consider the properties that we know space has,
such as the ability to produce virtual particles.
Frank Wilczek, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at MIT, writes in his 2008 book The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether and the Unification of Forces:
As the title of Wilczek's book suggests:
The recent work detecting the Higgs
field certainly supports Wilczek's ideas.
However, even if we are convinced that there is a hidden physical reality behind or below manifest reality, we should not rely on a facile argument that God as Source lies in these hidden fields.
Rather, we can and should rely on the realization that all of reality does, under the updated worldview of today's physics, indeed grow from these hidden fields and this is the same idea as,
...in various spiritual traditions.
The creative advance in each moment is
this Source expressing itself, a process that we can describe as the
Eros of the universe. We are all contributing our own vision to Eros
and our collective human efforts are an increasingly important part
of this unfolding creativity.
My feeling, however, is that modern physics is now at a point where it is catching on to the broader truths that logic and spiritual experience have revealed to philosophers and spiritual explorers over the millennia.
While we'll never have a perfect match
between science and spirituality, it is gratifying to see these
often conflicting domains coming closer together in terms of their
descriptions of deep reality.