Science & Spiritual Path – Part 3 – Thoughts on Co-Creation

I hadn’t intended to write a post about Co-Creation as part of this series. However, when I chanced across an article about Australia National University researchers furthering research into the Observer effect, it occurred to me that this was the perfect place for such a post.

This post builds on the arguments for the ‘non-existence of time apart from motion’ as laid out in Everything is Now and the argument for Free Will laid out in The Double Agent of Change. Certainly they are not a pre-requisite for understanding the ideas in this post, but if you read those afterwards they might help the overall argument make more sense.

Before we get too deep, let me define Co-Creation as I understand and experience it. Co-Creation is the process of influencing energy at a base level to bring about particular outcomes in reality in ‘the future.’ When we live in flow and are connected this happens so naturally that we don’t always stop to think about how amazing it is.

Our ability to influence reality always depends on the momentum and trajectory of energy. One person, or even dozens of people, can’t stop a speeding train. This is why our ability to influence reality one or two steps ahead of us is tremendously limited (see the post The Art of Finding for options in dealing with immediate situations).

However, because the only moment that exists is the now, what we think of as the further future – months or years out – doesn’t exist yet and can therefore be an ‘open space’ for creative influence.

What does this look like in practical application? At the risk of putting myself in the crazy category I’m going to share some very real examples from my own life…

  • In the year 2000 when I graduated from college, I wanted more than anything (do not ask me why!) to work for Leo Burnett in downtown Chicago. That summer, while I was walking around downtown submitting applications, I put my hand on the Leo Burnett building and said “I wish to work here.” Shortly after,[1] I got a call from one of the personnel agencies I submitted a resume to. They were filling openings for a large ad agency downtown – guess where? Needless to say, I got the job. – Every job I’ve gotten since college has a story like this one.

 

  • In the year 2002 when we were visiting San Antonio and walking the Riverwalk I made a wish that someone influential in Chicago’s city planning would see the Riverwalk and do something like it in Chicago. When I visited home just a few years later I stumbled into a building that showed plans for a redesigned walk along the Chicago River.

 

  • In the year 2009 when my husband and I visited Montreal we found an extensive bike infrastructure – including very protected bike lanes and even traffic lights with little bicycles on them. I remember thinking – if Montreal, a place that’s colder that Chicago, can do this, why can’t we? I made a wish that we would put in such a bicycle infrastructure in Chicago and I’ve watched over the last few years as that has started to grow and develop (Chicago was pretty late to this party, admittedly J).

These are three examples out of dozens and dozens from my own experience and I’m quite sure that hundreds of thousands of people across the globe have experienced the “magic” of co-creation for themselves.

Did “I” influence reality to bring about these outcomes? Without ever talking to anyone, writing a letter to the city, or being an activist for a cause? It sounds crazy right? If asked point blank, depending on my mood, I would respond somewhere in the range between of course not! To probably not or unlikely and sometimes simply I don’t know. But, here is where the Trickster lesson of the ‘bait thief’ comes in handy.

To believe that all these events happened only because I wished them to be so is to swallow the bait and the hook – to be delusional. To deny it outright and say it’s impossible that I had any influence at all is to leave the bait and the hook (ie – I don’t become delusional, but I don’t get to eat / transform my life either). I need to take the bait without swallowing the hook – I need to be able to simultaneously accept that these events came into being (partly) because I wished them so and that they could just as easily have had nothing to do with me at all.

There is tension between these two realities, if I can allow that tension to fluctuate in my mind-space, I can let data points accumulate and accumulate and accumulate… I can say, I don’t know for certain whether things are truly happening because of me, but whatever it is I’m doing seems to be working out as I hoped – so I’m going to keep doing it. 🙂 [2] See the post Trickster Makes this Road for more about the Trickster and the Spiritual Path.

Seeing is Believing

So far I’ve explained what I understand Co-Creation to be, and at the risk of sounding quite crazy, I didn’t want to soft-pedal or be evasive about it because it’s huge, amazing, and fascinating – but now we need to talk about how it works from a more scientific perspective since that’s what this post is about.

Let’s start with the Observer effect and the experiments into it thus far. From Wikipedia the Observer Effect “refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed.” The long-standing experiment into this involves light acting as either particle or waves and a new experiment by Australian National University has essentially reproduced this experiment with atoms.

What is important about both these experiments has nothing to do with “who” is doing the observing (whether a person or mechanical apparatus), but rather has to do with the very simple conclusion that even something as slight as observation – by anything at all – influences reality. Or, to state it another way; at the smallest, most particulate level – all energy is influenced by interaction, we cannot even watch energy without influencing it.

If merely watching reality can influence reality – imagine how much more actually trying to influence reality can influence reality.

The other piece that’s important, that triggered the writing of this post, is what this latest experiment demonstrates about what I think of as the ‘nebulous reality’ of the unknown.

When I was in grade school I was a bit obsessed by a silly thing that I called “the collision of worlds” which was the idea that when we meet people (not people we know and co-exist with on a regular basis, but random people – like the grocery store cashier in a different city) that it was like a collision of their whole world and my whole world that existed together for just the time of that interaction and then drifted away to a completely separate existence again.

Since then I have been somewhat interested in the idea, even though it seems impossible, that everything outside one’s own sphere of awareness (and even some things within our sphere of awareness) might be a bit nebulous; unset, unformed. I guess how I would explain it is this – where knowledge is connected, reality is ‘set’, but where it isn’t, it isn’t.

This is already a really long post and it would take several hundred more words to explain the experiment. You can read about it here, but the conclusion the scientists drew is this,

“If one chooses to believe that the atom really did take a particular path or paths then one has to accept that a future measurement is affecting the atoms past, said Truscott. // The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of their journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence.”

I believe this is a ‘double-sided’ problem to which we’re seeing one side here. Our measurement brings that atom into ‘known’ existence for us – and it’s past becomes set. But at the same time our existence also became known for the atom. Or, to use the earlier concept, our two worlds collided in that moment of existence, so to speak. Even though our existence seems continuous to us, it may in fact be nebulous to the atom (who knows how an atom even perceives us?) until the moment of measurement in the ‘now.’

As argued in Everything is Now, the only moment that exists is ‘now’ which occurs at the cross-roads between the past and future. The ‘now’ has energy leading into it and energy leading out of it, but since it is the only moment of actual existence, it also presents the only opportunity to change the direction and flow of energy.

If thoughts are energy (and the Universe is made up of energy) then thought – or intention, or whatever you want to call it – can influence reality just as physical action can. This may seem ridiculous or unrealistic when we think about trying to “move” a physical object with our minds – but if thoughts are energy and what we’re trying to move is energy (the unformed, nebulous energy of the future) then it becomes a bit easier to fathom.

What we are doing when we co-create is use our energy to move energy in the future. Instead of trying to push the train in a particular direction, we are ‘re-arranging the railroad tracks’. We influence the future trajectory of the energy, not the actual physical matter itself. When we influence the trajectory, things in the present start to line up according to our intention and vision.

How Do We Do It?

There tend to be a few sticking points around this for people that I’d like to address here;

Thoughts are not energy.

If everything in the Universe is made up of some kind of energy, then thoughts must be energy also. If thoughts are not energy, what are they?

Thoughts are stuck inside our head and therefore cannot influence the outside world.

Most people have had at least one occurrence in their lives where there’s a song running in their head and someone else start’s humming it, or they are thinking about someone and suddenly that person calls / contacts them, or someone is searching for a word and we think it only to have them nearly simultaneously come up with the same word we just thought of. Our thoughts are not stuck inside our head – in fact, sometimes I wonder if they’re in our head at all. At the very least, many of our thoughts are in our energy field which not only surrounds us, but through which we are connected to other people and also the Universe.

“My” thoughts and wishes don’t seem to come true.

For many of us most of our thoughts are pretty weak – meaning that we are not truly convicted about them. Weak thoughts don’t influence much of anything.

This gets very tricky, actually, and is one of the reasons walking the spiritual path is so key because sometimes, consciously, we can think we’re very convicted or motivated to go in a particular direction, but subconsciously we have fears that hold us back or sabotage our progress. One of my biggest clues that I’m not as aligned as I think I am is when I can’t get traction on a particular wish or intention.

When we have a subject where there are already lots of conflicting thoughts, influence is much harder (probably impossible for an individual). Take a concept like gun control or abortion or the environment – there are already tons and tons of conflicting ideas around these concepts keeping them in something of an energy quagmire. In order for these topics to ever move anywhere, an idea is going to have ‘come from the side’ so to speak or do something to disrupt the existing tangled energy.

In summary, thoughts have the most opportunity to influence reality when the below three conditions are met;

a.) There is ‘open space’ for the energy to move (for example, new or different ideas) OR thoughts / intentions align with where the energy is already going; situations where there is not already a lot of conflicted energy keeping things stuck.

b.) Our ‘minds’ and hearts (or conscious and subconscious) are aligned, our whole being sends a clear signal – so to speak – versus a mixed signal

c.) We have a strong connection to the Universe (or God or whatever you want to call it) through which we communicate our wish or intention.

A person who has put energy behind a thought or intention where a, b, and c are all true is going to have a very good chance of influencing reality in that direction. More importantly, though, a person who regularly connects to the Universe through meditation or prayer and is more aligned overall is going to experience Co-creation more often – even on small things – because b & c are going to be true ‘by default’ so anytime a is also true, anytime there’s space for the energy to move, BINGO, the Co-Creation process will start.

 

[1] (not the next day, but like maybe a week later – I mean, this was 16 years ago… my memory is not that exact! J)

[2] On the flipside, you might suggest that I’m really just ‘psychic’ and I didn’t “wish” these things into being, I just “knew” that they would come to be. I would counter, though, that I do have a fair bit of experience with psychic knowing[2] and it’s a completely different feeling. To “know” something psychically, at least for me, is to have a sense for how energy is moving and where it’s going. For me, that knowing is like a physical sensation.

In contrast, for cases of co-creation the energy is either nebulous and unformed or it’s going in a different direction and I can feel that resistance when I put out my request. If I have a feeling around these events at the time I make my request it’s uncertainty. Or rather it’s a certainty that any number of future outcomes are possible.

Science – Part 2 – Thoughts on Evolution

Like so many debates, the one around how we came to exist is a victim of the ‘false dichotomy’ problem between “Intelligent Design” – another way of saying “God did it” or a godless, random process where it’s total chance that we ever ended up existing at all. Even the “Giant Spaghetti Monster” hypothesis is really just another version of Intelligent Design.

We are not limited to these two choices in understanding how life in general and humanity in specific came to exist on Earth.

In college, I used to get in fierce debates with my science-major friends about the non-randomness of evolution; arguing that I strongly believed in evolution, I just didn’t think it was random. This was something they seemed unable to understand. For them, if I didn’t believe in Random Genetic Mutation (RGM) coupled with Sexual Selection, I was a Creationist.

For my part, I thought this was a vast underestimation of the data that gets exchanged at a biochemical and energetic level among organisms in the world we live in. Everything we take into our body – whether breathing, eating, or absorbing through our skin – has an impact on us.

Consider the pheromones given off by many creatures (including humans!) when they seek to mate. Pheromones are a chemical substance that communicates more powerfully then any pick-up line could.

I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to believe that our bodies could take in environmental information at a cellular (or atomic / energetic) level and use it. Granted, maybe not in the current generation, but perhaps in future generations. For me, this meant that it wasn’t a random genetic mutation driving evolution, but a very targeted one.

It seems like the very core of evolution to argue that a species genetic code can be modified based on the data that came in from the environment.

Reflecting back, I can understand a little bit what the resistance of my friends might have been. Targeted genetic modification sounds a lot like ‘someone’ is making a ‘decision,’ and that sounds an awful lot like “Intelligent design.”

However, I associated this behavior on a cellular level as a more fundamental example of what we readily observe on an organism level. For example, when a plant grows in the direction of sunlight – is that a decision? When a tree (or plant) gets too much sunlight and flips it’s leaves over so that the more reflective backside of the leaves slows the absorption of sunlight – is that a decision?

No.

It’s a stimulus and a response.

Missing Pieces

Interestingly enough, it was a college Ecology class that really galvanized my belief that evolution is not random. (And before you ask, I went to college at a large public university). We were discussing the evolution of evolutionary theory; gradualism, random genetic mutation, sexual selection, etc. One thing the professor said really sparked my interest. She said,

“The one big mystery of evolution from a random genetic mutation perspective is that you would think – if it’s random – the fossil record would be littered with bad mutations – ones that didn’t work out, but that’s simply not the case. We don’t have a record of all these failed random mutations.”

We have records of organisms both large and small that have gone extinct, even organisms as old as stromatolites. But we don’t have examples of animals that have mutated in unsuccessful ways. Isn’t that interesting?

Now, one could argue that all those fossils have disappeared into the Earth – or that the fossils we do have aren’t really a representative example of all the iterations of creatures that have existed. Or it could be argued that the fossils we do have may have had failed mutations that aren’t visible in their remains.

The lack of fossil evidence of random genetic mutation is not a smoking gun by any means, but it is a data point that’s worth paying attention to.

A few years later I stumbled on Olivia Judson’s book Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, a pop-culture evolutionary biology book that bolstered my developing belief that evolution is something less than random. Here is one interesting quote (of which there are quite a few) to illustrate what I mean;

“an experiment with yellow dung flies…has shown that testes size can evolve in response to sperm competition in as few as ten generations.” (pg 23)

So first of all – I hope you weren’t eating. If you were, I apologize 🙂  Secondly, though, ten generations?  That’s not millions of years, that’s evolution happening in weeks and months. Also, worth noting, if we were talking about random mutation in response to an environmental stimulus (here: sperm competition), one expect flies to turn pink maybe or grow extra legs or maybe their wings change size, but that’s not what happened here.

Maybe it’s easy to miss, but here we see (and I did do a quick skim through the source studies for this one) that evolution is happening in a very targeted way for the animal– one that corresponds to the area where adjustment is needed.  That makes perfect logical sense, but it’s definitely not random.

This is not to say that there are no random mutations. That surely happens. My argument is merely that random mutations (even ‘coupled’ with sexual selection) are not the primary driver of evolution.

Of course this may all seem like ‘old news’ now as I know there is a “new-ish” field called Epigenetics that studies modifications to the genetic code based on environmental conditions.  Still – it’s worth considering that evolution may be a bit “smarter” than we thought without needing to imagine a single, high god tinkering with every plant and creature.

Off the Deep End

I’m now going to take a leap in a completely different direction – I think it’s only fair to warn you.

Above we’ve discussed evolution of organisms from the perspective of ‘matter’ – that is, bodily, but we haven’t really touched on the idea of consciousness. Consciousness in general is possessed by most subjects in the Animal Kingdom. We can all tell that there is a difference between the consciousness of a plant and that of a puppy.

But, as an observable phenomenon, there seems to be a categorical difference between the operation of human consciousness and any other known life on this planet. We may talk about dolphins and whales as intelligent animals, but we do not mean by this that dolphins can work with complex mathematical algorithms, nor do we evaluate the complex narrative structure of a whale’s song compared to a work like War and Peace.

The human ability to create and self-reflect, to understand diverse perspectives and craft narratives based on complex emotions and motivations; all of these are representative of the uniqueness of the human condition. Also notable, is the human ability to build on what came before – not just over tens of thousands of years, but year over year. We don’t really see that with any other known species.

Now, some may argue that we simply don’t know enough about the inner life of a whale or dolphin (or ant for that matter) to judge. This is true. We should allow that that’s possible and avoid dismissing the argument outright. However, on the other hand, we should not let that argument stop us from thinking about the difference between human consciousness and that of all other life on Earth as we presently understand it.

It is partly this difference, of course, that sparks our speculation on the human soul. In the face of the human experience from the perspective of this difference, it is perfectly logical and rational to wonder why it is so. Why can fruit flies evolve sexual adaptations in ten generations, but in the 60,000 years of human existence hasn’t another species evolved a consciousness like ours?

Based on the current evolutionary debate it seems like we are at an impasse here – that we must choose between believing in a human soul and believing in evolution. Fortunately, that is actually not true, we are not required to believe that our bodies and our human ‘sense of self’ came about in the same way. People have certainly been wondering over the mind-body connection since Descartes and probably a long time before.

As a person who believes in both evolution and reincarnation, I feel compelled to be open-minded about how these two parts of our existence (both as spirit and as body) might have come into being and changed over time to result in our current experience.

In closing I want to note that I am clearly not a geneticist or an evolutionary biologist. It is not my goal with this post to try to convince you that the ideas in this post are right. What’s most important to me is that you take away this; we don’t have to ‘choose sides’ between a ‘godless’ evolution and a creationist myth that clearly ignores the evidence we do have on record – the more possibilities and options we consider, the better our chances of making a real breakthrough in this area.

Science and The Spiritual Path – Part 1

“Science is not a perfect instrument, but it is a superb and invaluable tool that works harm only when it is taken as an end in itself.  Science must serve; it errs when it usurps the throne… Science is the tool of the Western mind, and with it one can open more doors than with bare hands.  It is part and parcel of our understanding, and it obscures our insight only when it claims that the understanding it conveys is the only kind there is”

— Carl Jung, from Psychology and Alchemy / Collected Works

Some topics in American discourse are what’s known as ‘sacred cows.’ Defined by Google as, “an idea, custom, or institution held, especially unreasonably, to be above criticism,” sacred cows can be so controversial that even wanting to have a conversation about one is viewed as suspect.

Vaccines, for example, are a sacred cow in this country. Very few people I’ve encountered want to have a discussion about vaccines. People tend to fall into one of two camps – either they tell you you’re crazy if you don’t get your child vaccinated or they tell you you’re crazy if you do. The very fact that I’m writing this paragraph lands me squarely in the ‘crazy’ category for some simply because I’m not decrying the ‘anti-vaxxers.’

This post-series isn’t about vaccines though, it’s about science. Not only is the concept of “science” itself a sacred cow, but there are dozens of ideas associated with science that are also sacred cows. In this series we’ll touch on how science is funded in America and why. We’ll take on one of the most inflammatory scientific sacred cows, evolution. (I can already feel your hairs standing on end 🙂 ).

We’ll talk a little bit of how the cutting edge research in physics may be providing the foundation to explain how co-creation works. And if that isn’t enough, we’ll cover how computer science driven research into neural networks may have unlocked part of the answer to how existence transitions (or persists) from one moment to the next.   We’ll wrap up the series with a brief discussion of where science fits in walking the spiritual path.

Before we get there, though, this first post in the series takes a step back to discuss the term “science,” itself, and it’s use in common discourse.

The Search for Meaning

A quick google search defines science as, “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” (This is identical with the Oxford English Dictionary definition and a near match of the Cambridge Dictionary)

Merriam-Webster says science is, “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.”

A little bit of an infinite loop occurs when I look up the word ‘experiment’ as it is often defined as ‘a scientific procedure’ – So here we have science defined by conducting experiments and experiments defined by being scientific.

This recursion is not all that surprising, though, as in common discourse the term “science” is used to mean something apart from ‘following the scientific method’ to test a hypothesis. In my experience, the term is typically used to shut down a conversation that is venturing into strange and unknown territory.

What do I mean by that? Let me try to answer by way of analogy. Right now I’m reading an excellent book by Jeff Patton called User Story Mapping (it’s an old one). At one point in the book Jeff talks about the word “Requirements” in Software Development. (Requirements are a documented description of desired application functionality.)

Jeff’s style is to initiate more of a conversation about what the client / customer needs rather than rely too heavily on copious documentation written by someone who doesn’t actually use the software or have the need.

In relation to this, Jeff mentions an encounter that brought him to a fundamental realization about the way people thought about requirements;

“As the company grew, we added more traditional software people. At one point the head of a different team came to me and said, ‘Jeff I need you to make these changes to the product you’re working on.’

I said, ‘Great, no problem. Tell me who they’re for and what problems this solves for them.

Her response? ‘They’re the requirements.’

I replied, ‘I get it. Just tell me a bit about who they’re for and how they’re going to use this, and where it fits into the way they work.’

She looked at me like I was stupid and said to me with an air of finality, ‘They’re requirements.’

“It was at that moment that I learned that the word requirements actually means shut up.”[1]

This matches my experience in how people use the term ‘science’ in discourse today. When someone trots out a scientific study (or the lack of one) it means ‘shut up.’ Here’s a recent example from my own life that mirrors the Jeff Patton example.

Recently, I was reading some excellent posts listing scientific studies on the benefits of meditation.[2] In the comments section on one of them (I can’t remember which right now) one commenter brought up our ability to influence reality via thought / intention / meditation and I added a few corroborating notes of my personal experience with this.

Another commenter’s reply? “That’s very nice for you, but I prefer to live my life on a more scientific basis.”

Such use of the term “science” or “scientific” is very common and seems to be stuck in a level of confidence and understanding that comes about only after experiments have been conducted. Yet, ironically, it’s often used to reject topics where little to no comprehensive experiments have even been conducted so the field of possibility should be wide open not shut down.

For a more real-world example, see Kiera Butler’s Mother Jones article “Enough Already with the Bone Broth Hype.” This article (which reads more like an editorial) frames itself as a point-by-point refutation of health claims about bone broth. Each claim is paired with a negative ‘answer.’

For example, in the article we find, “Claim #4: Drinking bone broth will make you look younger. False” yet nothing in the paragraph below the ‘false’ statement actually proves this claim false. Butler, herself, admits that “the only actual study on bone broth is form 1934.” Which – again – should suggest that the field of possibility is wide open.

I can understand wanting to protect people from a ‘snake oil’ phenomenon, but if that were the main goal – a much more helpful way to frame the article would have been something like this;

We hear a lot of claims about the healing properties of bone brother, such as: <insert claims>. Here’s the scientific studies we do have on bone broth. The only other evidence we have are anecdotes from proponents such as <insert some anecdotes>. As there are no lab studies that corroborate these claims, readers will have to determine themselves how seriously to take them.

The way the original article reads it seems like personal anecdotes are unreliable as a source of information. However, when we don’t have scientific studies to corroborate a claim (which is quite common), the only thing we do have are anecdotes. Anecdotes are not inherently false or untrue – in fact, witnesses to the scene of a crime share their anecdotes of what happened in court and this is considered evaluated by the judge / jury in relation to the case (although some people think it shouldn’t be). There are things that can discredit a witness, but merely being a witness or providing an anecdote of your experience is not automatically ‘incredible.’

What’s most unhelpful about this use of ‘science’ is that it cuts off discussion instead of allowing more ideas to percolate around in our brains and spark new ways of thinking. ‘Open’ thought is the creative climate that allows the generation of hypotheses for the scientific method to test – if we don’t allow ourselves that, it’s a wonder we ever discover anything new.

Presidential Science

Additionally, before we get too ‘high-minded’ about the objectivity of scientific research and experimentation we should consider that a significant percentage of scientific research in this country is undertaken with the ultimate goal of creating a profitable product. Is the intention to make people’s lives better? Yes, at a price.

An East Bay Express article reprinted on alternet.org noted an increase in corporate funded research at UC Berkeley and at many Universities across the nation. The article comments, “For decades, much of the research on campus was federally funded and driven primarily by scientific curiosity. The results of this basic research allowed the public to better understand such concepts as genetics, the origins of humanity, and the laws of physics. It also won UC Berkely numerous Nobel prizes”

The article goes on to assert that, “The rise of corporate funding… has spawned a dramatic increase in the amount of applied research on campus. It’s typically funded by industry and aims to develop products that can be quickly brought to market – and create corporate profits”

These days, unless there’s a demonstrable commercial application for research, it’s unlikely to get funding. And yet, on the flipside, it is the people who have bucked tradition and –in some cases – scrounged together studies, data, and experiments in the face of skepticism and discouragement who have made some fantastic breakthroughs.

A great example is the discovery that ulcers and gastritis were, in some cases, caused by the microbe Heliobacter Pylori. As Discover magazine put it in a April 2010 article, “The medical elite thought they knew what caused ulcers and stomach cancer. But they were wrong – and did not want to hear the answer that was right.”[3]

The article further goes on to describe that physician Barry Marshall strongly suspected that ulcers were caused by the bacteria, but “unable to make his case in studies with lab mice (because H. pylori affects only primates) and prohibited from experimenting on people, Marshall grew desperate. Finally he ran an experiment on the only human patient he could ethically recruit: himself. He took some H. pylori from the gut of an ailing patient, stirred it into a broth, and drank it.”

And before we think that we’d be ‘in the dark ages’ without our rigorous scientific experiments under lab conditions, let’s not forget the number of important discoveries that were made by accident. No less than plastic, the microwave, x-rays, matches, gunpowder, nuclear fission and, of course, penicillin. The stories behind this list and seventeen more discoveries like it can be found at Mental Floss

Those discoveries did not come from “science” as the ironclad authority by which all ‘crazy’ ideas are judged and found wanting – they represent the Hermaion – the ‘accidental find’ brought to us by the powerful influence of the Trickster. (To read more about the Trickster see the post Trickster Makes this Road)

How, then, should we think about ‘Science’?

I vote that we take a new look at an old way of thinking about science – which is merely to treat it as a process by which knowledge is gathered and ideas are tested. This does not mean we should ignore scientific studies on a particular subject; by all means we should examine them rigorously with the goal of enhancing our own understanding.

If we internalize the wisdom of the Jung quote that started this post we can see science as a useful and important tool for understanding our world, but not the only one.

There are probably hundreds of aspects of our daily lives that haven’t been ‘scientifically proven’ under lab conditions and yet we feel no need to decry them as false and unsubstantiated because they are present to our regular experience.

In my high school anthropology class I learned that Eskimos have more than a dozen words to describe snow and ice. At the time that sounded incredible – as far as I was concerned the only word for snow was “snow”! Over time and observation, however, I learned that it’s possible to differentiate between varying types of snow – even here in Chicago.

Have all the various types of snow been scientifically studied and classified under lab conditions? Probably not. The difference is subtle, if we’re not paying attention, we’ll miss it – but that there are different types of precipitation that could be categorized as ‘snow’ is an observable phenomenon. I would argue the same way for “Energy” (as previously discussed on the blog in this series) – it’s subtle, and takes a little effort to experience, so our tendency is to say ‘it doesn’t exist.’ However, it can be as present and observable in our regular experience as snow.

If you only feel on safe territory discussing and absorbing ideas where copious amounts of study and research have already definitively weighed in, challenge yourself by considering why that might be? Why put such a barrier between yourself and the unknown? Are you afraid of being wrong? Looking like a fool? That others will make fun of you?

In quoting ‘science,’ how scientifically rigorous are you? For example, when you read an article quoting scientific studies, do you dig through the studies themselves to determine whether the conclusions drawn in the article are, in fact, supported by the study? Or do you, also, take some things on ‘faith’?

Is the mystic’s report really any less credible than the journalist’s? Both are people reporting their present experience.

When the reports of many show such similarities (as is the case with the mystic experience), we may not have scientific studies that provide documented and detailed understanding, but we run the risk of missing out on something important if we simply ignore.

In dealing with the vast unknown, it is natural and understandable to want the safety and security of repeated results obtained under lab conditions. However, I have found that the most transformative instances of discovery and growth in my own life have come from walking in the direction of uncertainty and discomfort.

Check back in next week – the next post in this series will tackle one of the most controversial topics – evolution.

 

[1] User Story Mapping, Jeff Patton kindle loc 466, O’Reilly

[2] 76 Scientific Benefits of Meditation by Live & Dare and Neuroscience of Mindfulness on MindfulnessMD

[3] Discover Magazine Article, “The Dr. Who Drank Infectious Broth, Gave Himself an Ulcer, and Solved a Medical Mystery.” By Weintraub, Pamela, published Thursday April 8th 2010.

Full Frontal Alchemy

Is Alchemy a Spiritual Path tradition in disguise?

For most of my life my exposure to alchemy has been limited to a sparse number of sentences in Chemistry textbooks and the animated series Full Metal Alchemist.  Actually, that’s not entirely true – Alchemy did come up in my college class on Daoism, but that focused largely on the practice of imbibing mercury in the quest for immortality.  This seemed so remote from my vague understanding of Western Alchemy  (not to mention laughable from a health perspective) that I promptly dismissed this as not ‘real’ alchemy.  Imagine my surprise, then, as I’m reading the autobiography of Carl Jung to stumble upon a chapter where he talks about being closeted with Alchemical texts for “more than a decade”[1] until “the alchemical mode of expression gradually yielded up its meaning”[2]  Professor Jung went on;

“I had very soon seen that analytical psychology coincided in a most curious way with alchemy.  The experiences of  the alchemists were, in a sense, my experiences, and their world was my world.  This was, of course, a momentous discovery; I had stumbled upon the historical counterpart of my psychology of the unconscious.”[3]

For me, there have been many parallels between Jung’s psychology of the unconscious and my experience of the “Spiritual Path.”  How intriguing to think there may be some further connections to be found in alchemy also.  I found myself mulling over the old disconnect between Alchemy in the West – which seemed to be a search for the recipe to create Gold from…well…non-Gold – and Alchemy in the East which seemed to be a quest for immortality.  Were these two seemingly opposing goals just different perspectives on the same end result?  Could the study of Alchemy be a type of Spiritual Path?  To the Library!

The nature of gold

I checked out the three volumes of Jung’s I could find on Alchemy and promptly started devouring them.  Drawn to Jung’s commentary on an Eastern Alchemical text, the “Secret of the Golden Flower,”  I was hoping, based on the title, it would corroborate my own musings about the connection between Eastern and Western alchemy.  If you’ve had any exposure to the type of energy that some people call the “Human energy field” (For some reason, I really despise this name for it, I don’t know why – so I simply refer to it as ‘energy’) or with chakra work you may be familiar with the idea that there are different “colors” to energy.  I have only actually seen energy twice and both times it was quite a strange experience so I can’t validate the ‘color’ aspect of it with first hand experience.  However, “Gold” colored energy is sometimes considered indicative of a “connection to God” (think of the color of halos) or as healing energy from the Universe.  When we take the very worldly concepts of immortality (on a physical plane) and Gold (as a physical metal) and abstract a level to the layer of energy and spirit, we can see the beginnings of a bridge between what Eastern and Western Alchemy were aiming at.

So what is Alchemy really, then?  A spiritual path with an esoteric goal or a hands-on practice bound to test tubes and bunsen burners?  It is obvious, and Jung himself admits, that the heart of Alchemy is executed in the laboratory.  I think what made this tradition so compelling for many was that – for the pure hearted / minded practitioner (and by this I mean someone who studied the practice for itself and not for the sole aim of manufacturing gold or becoming immortal) it merged the inner and outer aspects beautifully.

I only really saw this connection when I consulted a more modern perspective, Robert Allen Bartlett’s Real Alchemy (if you are interested in reading this book I recommended breezing past the part about humans receiving knowledge of alchemy from aliens or the gods – the book does get better after that).  Bartlett himself says that Alchemy is, “..a spiritual path leading one to enlightenment”[4] although he seems to attribute the transformation mostly to the action of various alchemical products (such as tinctures or magisteries) on the body / spirit / mind.  I certainly cannot in any way vouch for that aspect as my skill in laboratory work is accurately reflected in my “D” in high school Chemistry.  However, after reading these diverse sources of information on Alchemy (in addition to those already mentioned I also picked up the Corpus Hermetica and gave it a whirl), I could see how – regardless of the effects of the chemicals – a dedicated Alchemical study could prompt spiritual metamorphosis.

Alchemy’s connection to the Spiritual Path

It is clear from considering the practical aspects of this obscure tradition that the practice is rooted in developing a fundamental understanding of the interactions among the elements that make up our world.  “Man is a microcosm inseparable from his macrocosmic environment”[5] This manifests in the alchemical interest in the ‘influence’ of the planets (as one example) on various alchemical procedures.  According to Alchemical theory, performing certain procedures under specific, relevant, planetary or astrological influences promotes maximum efficacy (think of the Old Farmer’s Almanac and Planting season for a more removed example of this).  This is Science by Rite; the laboratory equipment we associate with the realm of science becomes almost ceremonial.   it is easy to see how an intimate understanding of these various influences would not only bring about knowledge of the interconnectedness of all things, but also through hands on experimentation a deep understanding and internalizing of this concept.

Also, like Spiritual development – Alchemical procedures take time.  Our modern experience has been one where we don’t understand or have patience for lengthy drawn-out processes, but walking the Spiritual Path is not a ‘quick trip.’  Even the most basic, beginning, Alchemical practices can take months of involved work to complete.  These days people barely have the patience to wait a few hours for bread to rise.  With spiritual development it can also take months and sometimes years to overcome a particular challenge or test.  That’s not to say there aren’t sudden breakthroughs; flashes of inspiration or incredible moments where things come together – but I’ve found the spiritual path to be a series of cycles with bright flashes of connection followed by long sloughs of grueling testing.   This mirrors the practice of Alchemy; one successful Alchemical experiment / procedure only leads the practioner to try something more challenging next.

One last note, Unlike planting / growing where the plants do most of the transformative work on their own, the practice of Alchemy requires the practitioner to be a very active participant in the process.  To put this another way, the end result of an Alchemical process could not be achieved without the active machinations of the Alchemist.  Man in concert with nature produces results nature could never have achieved alone.  An alchemical procedure is far from ‘set it and forget it.’  Careful attention must be paid during each stage of the process in order to produce the best result.  With this active participation must come investment of the self.  The recipes require evaporating, boiling, distilling, exposing to flame and any number of other processes – in multiple iterations to get a single end product.    Successes and Failures must be felt intimately, tying one ever closer to the work.  Through Alchemy, man experiences himself as ‘creator’ (or woman / herself, if you prefer) and I imagine this, also, leads to greater understanding of the nature of our existence on this planet and in this universe.

Conclusion

So where does this leave us with Alchemy?  Well, I think we find a pattern here that is not totally unfamiliar to us from something as mainstream as religion.  At the core of the practice you find some staunch believers who understand the concepts and execute the procedures with faith and understanding.  On the outskirts of this core, the knowledge and understanding starts to diffuse so that at the very outer levels you find people who are just looking for the end goal and not really interested in the diligence and study required to get there.  The core Alchemists probably did experience Alchemy as a path of spiritual development.  I don’t have the time or inclination to pursue it, but I believe the resources are out there that anyone genuinely interested in this aspect of Alchemy could experience the same.  You’re not going to create gold or become immortal (at least not in the physical plane), but I’m sure the study, execution, investment of self, and waiting associated with pursuing this practice results in a transformative spiritual experience worthy of any other tradition.  I still advise against drinking liquid Mercury, though.

Booklist

(the following books inspired the above post and would be good resources for anyone seeking to explore this topic further)

  • Psychology & Alchemy by C.J. Jung
  • Alchemical Studies by C.J. Jung
  • Real Alchemy by Robert Allen Bartlett
  • The Secret of the Golden Flower by Wang Chongyang and translated by Richard Wilhelm
  • Corpus Hermeticum attributed to Hermes (sorry, that’s what it says <shrug>) translated by G. Mead

[1] Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung, Kindle edition, loc 3622
[2] Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung, Kindle edition, loc 3622
[3] Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung, Kindle Edition, loc 3630
[4] Bartlett, Robert Allen, Real Alchemy, A Primer of Practical Alchemy Kindle edition loc 611
[5] Barlett, Robert Allen. Real Alchemy, A Primer of Practical Alchemy Kindle edition loc 440