A Quest for Holistic Consciousness
I want to begin this essay by recapping some of the points made in the previous essay. Our examination of the Soul tells us that there are several things going on in the individual mind and spirit, and while we can only speak with certainty about the human species, we can see compelling hints that the parts and their functions exist in non-humans as well. Thinking exists at a rudimentary level even in lower invertebrates like fish and reptiles (not to mention certain invertebrates like the octopus), and as we move towards great apes and cetaceans, that Thinking has progressed to become self-aware.
Consciousness is more difficult to pin down, in part because it seems to pervade almost every living thing, at least to a limited extent. It also seems to be a much more flexible and dynamic, capable of even bridging gaps between individuals (whether those individuals be worker ants in a colony or marching students in a protest mob) and transforming into a higher category of consciousness. The interesting thing about mobs is how they really do assume a “mind of their own.” When masses of sports fans pour out onto the streets in a mob following some stirring accomplishment from “their team”, or when angry neighbors surge into a rioting mob in the wake of some senseless shooting, you find that the individual components of the mob have very little Thinking awareness of what is going on. Most are not entirely sure why they are there. They may have “followed a sound” or been sucked in as a group of other mob-components-to-be streamed past. Although political mobs sometimes do start out with plans and organization, your average post-World-Cup-type mob forms randomly, and nobody can tell you its objectives.
And yet, as a group organism they surge forward with remarkable coordination and purpose. The individuals seem to “forget themselves” and act with a boldness and power dictated by the size of the group – climbing telephone poles, overturning cars of other large objects, pulling down goalposts and the like, and daring any other force to stop them.
It should be noted that this tendency for consciousness to operate on a group level seems built into all sorts of species, from the Dictostelium discoideum amoebae discussed in the previous essay to the group accomplishments of ant and termite colonies, flocks of birds or fish changing direction in unison, or humans banding together at a sporting event. Not only is Consciousness very open to this sort of growth, but there is something in the nature of the individual – particularly the human individual – that seems to positively delight in the activity. The predilection to “join” varies from individual to individual, but all humans seem to derive some degree of satisfaction and delight from the occasional dive into a mosh-pit of group Consciousness.
If you look very closely at human history, it becomes clear that some form of group Consciousness has played a critical role in many of the advances our species has made over the centuries. Though perhaps not as easy to identify them as “mobs”, groups of like-minded individuals taking part in this sort of group Consciousness have been at the heart of many big social changes over the centuries, from suffrage and civil rights to momentous wars and crusades. Sometimes the “leaders” of such a group even seem to be intellectually aware that they are operating on a higher level of Consciousness, and actively seek to leverage this group-based dynamic. You can see this spelled out in so many words, by the early fathers of the Christian church.
"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the many members of that body are one: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free. All have been all made to drink into one Spirit...
. . . Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple for the Lord, builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit."
If we are going to discuss this issue further – whether it be as a purely philosophical exercise such as contemplating the full implications of the Lovelock Hypothesis, or a practical matter such as building links to like-minded individuals on the other side of the world and trying to engineer greener solutions, we need to have a word to describe this multi-individual form of Consciousness. When I first started to think about the idea of global feedback loops and minds interconnected by the Internet, I started casting about for alternative terms that one might use to describe this development.
A variety of words and phrases suggested themselves, but most have been used before in one context or another, often in ways that essentially disqualify them from use as a neutral, easily graspable concept used in our discussions. For example, "Hyperconsciousness" suggested itself as a possible option, but it turns out to be a very "popular" term, particularly in a science-fiction concept. A quick Google search turned up so many references, with so many meanings, in so many different contexts, that it seems pointless to muddy the water any further.
Just to give you a sampling of some of the ways the word has been applied, “hyperconsciousness” is used by gamers on the virtual reality game EVE Online to describe the planting of one ego in another body, like the characters in the movie "Avatar" did to interact with Na’avis. Hyperconsciousness also is the name of a book by Kenneth Palin, in which the author talks about his “ability to see time three-dimensionally". Perhaps the author has some logical support for that claim, but the phrase alone was enough to scare me off. There is also a term used in computer network design called "Machine hyperconsciousness", which sounds interesting. There is even an online scientific paper that discusses the concept. But it deals with something very different from what I have outlined above, and thus would invite confusion.
"Metaconsciousness" is a term that has been around in New Age/Spiritualist circles for a long time. I am not 100% certain about the original derivation (if anyone can claim historical precedence) but Theosophists like Madame Blavatsky and Sri Aurobindo were using it as early as the late-1800s. This term is used to describe a state of awareness that lies slightly above "normal waking consciousness" but is still characterised by the sense of individuality and dualism. Other spiritual disciplines describe it as "clarified awareness" (TM), "just sitting" (zen) or "seeing" (Castaneda). In any event, it isnt the sort of thing I am talking about, though it may have overtones and implications that we want to consider in the future.
"Global consciousness" is a term that carries many of the implications I was thinking about. It implies a form of consciousness that is larger (spatially) that individual consciousness, is capable of operating on a worldwide basis, and is open-ended in terms of what elements and functions it could eventually comprise. Unfortunately there is already a group that has appropriated the term. They call themselves the Global Consciousness Project. I spend quite a bit of time looking at their website, methodology and results - it is rather intriguing in a way.
Basically, the project has linked together thousands of random number generators all over the world, and tracks the patterns of statistical deviation in their generation of random numbers. It then compares the statistical deviations with real-world events. The stated purpose is to identify "signs that human consciousness is affecting random number patterns.”
Before anyone out there shouts "pseudoscience!!!", let me insert a few disclaimers. First of all, the experiment itself is based on a chicken-and-egg assumption. We are asked to assume that human consciousness can affect random number generators. That alone isn’t a big leap. There are hundreds of scientific experiments that show such an influence to be possible, But the Global Consciousness Project then compares statistical anomalies in the random number generators with real-world events, based on the idea that statistical anomolies might coincide with rare events which are traumatic or otherwise "significant" to the human consciousness.
If the two do coincide, it proves that consciousness is affecting the random number generators. Where is the proof of a correlation between consciousness and events? It is in the random numbers! Where is the proof of a correlation between random numbers and consciousness? It is in the events. Where is the proof of a correlation between events and random numbers? Why it is right there for your consciousness to interpret.
Let me rephrase that:
A has a correlation with B. And B has a correlation with C. And guess what . . . you arent going to believe this . . . . A also has a correlation with C. Isnt that amazing?
I dont want to put down the project TOO much, because if you look at some of their data, it is quite compelling. You do get the sense that "something is going on". But my reaction to these experiments is pretty much the same as to the famous J.B.Rhine parapsychology trials, with their guesses about what geometric shape I am looking at on a playing card. Even if the data IS compelling, so what? It isnt often, in my daily life, that I have to guess which geometric shape somebody is looking at. What use is this information to me? If there was some reason for living organisms to develop a precognitive or telepathic ability, dont you think they would use it for something more useful than guessing the shapes on playing cards?
The truth is that you can achieve far better results from random-number generators if you design experiments that actually matter to a living creature’s survival. For example, it has been shown that if a heat lamp is connected to a random number generator, and depending upon the number generated the lamp either turns on for 60 seconds (0) or turns off for 60 seconds (1), you can produce huge statistical discrepancies by putting an animal in a cage next to the heat lamp and lowering the temperature in the room to around freezing. Results can diverge from random distribution by ridiculously high [im]probabilities. Cats and crows seem to do the best, but dogs and rats and even geckoes seem to be able to trigger far more zeroes than ones, whereas a heat lamp, a random number generator and an empty cage produce roughly 50:50 ratios of ones and zeroes.
Im not saying that the Global Consciousness Project is necessarily "poppycock", or "hogwash", or even "bunkum, blather and balderdash" - just that it seems to be a lot of effort to prove something that doesnt need proving.
Scientific conclusion: "Human consciousness, (and correspondingly “Global Consciousness”, if it exists), was greatly affected by events such as the Indonesian earthquake/tsunami, the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, the invasion of Iraq, or the collapse of the Soviet Union."
You dont say!
Ver-r-r-r-r-y interesting . . . .
. . . . .
Anyway, the next option on my list of potential terms was "holistic consciousness" As with the term "global consciousness", I like the implicit nuances, particularly those associated with the word "holistic". It suggests a form of consciousness that not only incorporates other consciousnesses or conscious entities, but it also hints at a balanced, holistic approach. Well, it turned out that somebody has already written a book entitled "Holistic Consciousness", so when I did my initial Google search I was a bit discouraged. This one also seems to be taken. But then I clicked on the link to see what the book was about.
By Phiroz Mehta
Suddenly a cacophony of bells and whistles went off, as if I was sitting in front of the one-armed bandits in a Las Vegas hotel and three apples clicked into place. Phiroz Mehta? Could that by any chance be "P.D. Mehta"?
Yes, that is exactly who the author was. . . . not a guy whose writing I was particularly familiar with, though I had a vague recollection that he was something of a meditation teacher/guru in the 60s or 70s. But P.D. Mehta also was listed as a contributing author to a book that enthralled me during my teenage years, entitled "the Tao of Physics” by Frijtov Capra . Capra was a theoretical physicist, but also a student who had studied meditation and Indian mysticism with Mehta, as well as other Eastern philosophies. In the mid-70s, when theoretical physics was just starting to move into the direction of things like string theory, synchronistic particles, expanding hyperverses and "God particles", Capra began to note the extensive similarities between non-Western philosophical structures and the insights that he was gleaning from his research into quantum physics.
Given that the book is 40 years old, and theoretical physics has progressed at faster-than-lightspeed for most of that period, it is not the blockbuster and thought-provoker that it was in the late 70s, when I first read it. But nevertheless it contains ideas and concepts that can provoke hours or even days of contemplation and reflection. In any event, it is hard to ignore the serendipitous synchronicity of this book, the contributing author, the title of his own book, and my search for a term to use in future essays.
For that reason, in all future articles I will be using the term "Holistic Consciousness" when referring to the driving force behind mobs, protest movements or religions, as well as when describing the growing perceptual interconnectedness of our world, the way that the Internet has begun to serve as a complex feedback system influencing all those who use it, and the urgent need to develop concepts, approaches, technologies and ways of thinking that are better suited to the demands of our modern era.
Now that we have suitable terminology and definitions, shall we take a closer look at this thing called Holistic Consciousness? We should probably begin by noting that this term covers a lot of bases. Like Consciousness itself, it is hard to pin down precisely but, when you see it, you recognize it. Naturally it covers cases such as the group organism-type situations we have already discussed. But in addition to beehives, anthills, flocks of fish and birds, herds of animals and crowds/mobs of humans, it also includes more “individualistic” cases where the Ego-self . . . the thinking part of the mind . . . moves aside and allows one to glimpse the broad fabric of consciousness of which their individual Psyche is a part. When one controls the busy and self-absorbed antics of the thinking mind (ego), and turns one’s pure awareness to the vast sea of Consciousness in which we swim . . . . that too is Holistic Consciousness. In other words, spiritual exercises – so called “religious experiences” -- occur when the individual Soul silences its internal dialogue long enough to experience the awesome magnitude of Holistic Consciousness.
Up to now, I have spoken a great deal about states of Consciousness that can be placed into this category of “religious experience”, but I have avoided using the term “religious”. The decision to steer clear of that word was deliberate, and now that we have breached the topic, it is essential to explain why. In our modern era, the word “religion” has come to signify something that differs dramatically from the Holistic Consciousness that our distant ancestors were referencing when they talked about “religious experience.” Perhaps one of the reasons why so many modern, “rational-minded” people try to convince themselves that they are “atheists” is that the word “religion” has come to connotate something organizational, or some collection of rituals and written works. When people say that they “do not believe in religion”, they are clearly talking about a belief system or a philosophical concept . . . . NOT a condition in which the Self experiences their connection to a greater form of Consciousness.
I cannot recall who made the observation that: “Organized religion is to the Soul as pornography is to Love.”. . . but whoever it was, they nailed the Truth through both wrists and both ankles. Nowadays when we speak of “Religion”, we almost always are alluding to a specific doctrine, a specific organization/sect, or the general category containing all written doctrines and all religious sects. This is akin to someone pointing at the Capitol Building in Washington DC and declaring: “that is Democracy”.
In actual fact, organized religion almost invariably traces its origin to SOMEONE’s (or some Group’s) experience with holistic consciousness. However, though our modern religions continuously pass through cycles of decay and periodic revitalization, there are relatively few churches, temples, sects or synagogues today that actively teach and nurture the sort of “religious experience” that caused them to be founded in the first place. In our modern world, the word “religion” has come to describe a sort of slavish mental assent to codes of behavior and social-norm conformity espoused by some self-referential Group that no longer even seems to be aware of why it exists.
Of course, this is nothing new. While every religion invariably traces its roots back to some person or persons’ genuine, directly perceived experiences with spiritual Truth, it seems to be a cyclical near-certainty that the social structures which grow up around the spiritually inspired will eventually lose sight of the truly essential elements of their faith. As the years pass and the members derive incrementally less inspiration and spiritual solace from their religion, the thirst for genuine Spiritual refreshment pushes some new messiah, prophet or guru to emerge . . . trace the path back to its original source in the realms of Holistic Consciousness . . . and lead others off into a new sect, denomination or religious tradition.
Thus when Judaism and Greco-Roman Pantheism strayed too far from the Source of Truth, stagnating in a mire of rote repetition and legalistic subservience, they spawned Christianity and Islam (as well as now-vanished sects like Manichaeism and Essenism). When the early-Hindu spiritual streams flowing from the Vedas dried up, they were either refreshed with new a outpouring from the waters of Holistic Consciousness (Upanishads, Puranas and devotional poetry), or replaced by offshoots such as Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, etc.). When temporal and materialistic forces took full control of the Catholic Church in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, stripping it of its ability to offer spiritual nourishment, a multitude of reformers traced the fading footprints of the apostles back to the Source, and founded new denominations. Even in more recent history we have seen the thirst for genuine spiritual solace bring new vitality and reforms to “Religion”, as seen in the Transcendentalism of the 1800s and the New Age sects and cults of the 1960s.
The point is that we need to adopt terminology and definitions which can prevent confusion. We need to clearly distinguish between the thing that average English speakers are talking about when they use the word “Religion” (ie. Some social group or organization that perpetuates a set of creeds, dogmas and doctrines, but not necessarily the Spiritual vitality, of a religion) and the introspective, soul-searching spiritual pilgrimage that gave birth to those religions in the distant past.
The conventional way to make this distinction is by discussing “Spirituality” as if it is something separate from “Religion”. This may be sufficient to distinguish between the temporal (secular?) social structure that operates churches, mosques, temples and shrines and the metaphysical Grail-quest that leads one to spiritual solace. However, the use of these terms (Religion vs Spirituality) can be misleading for several reasons. First, it tends to suggest – incorrectly – that religion was ALWAYS about mythology, mores and morality-lessons, rather than a genuine search for Truth. Second and perhaps more importantly, it encourages the notion that Spirituality is an individual, personal and internal matter that cannot be shared, disseminated or passed between friends. While everyone must first witness the Truth in their own Soul, before they can share the experience of Holistic Consciousness with others, it should be abundantly apparent that all truly major religions owe their growth and vitality to the power of SHARED spirituality – the thing we have defined as “Holistic Consciousness.”
Since the Religion/Spirituality dichotomy is sufficiently mainstream and adequately understood, I will continue to use it on occasion in subsequent essays. But if the human species hopes to negotiate a path through the chaos of climate change, population collapse, political fragmentation and social turmoil, it will clearly need to draw upon the universal form of Spirituality in which all individuals recognize their Oneness with every living creature on the planet. The group fellowship and social structure of “Religion” and the internal, individual solace of “Spirituality” will both be needed, if we hope to find safe passage through these difficult decades, but these alone will not be sufficient. Only by developing and promoting Holistic Consciousness can humans hope to preserve and perpetuate our symbiotic partnership with this amazing blue entity whose body we inhabit.
If you saw it from a satellite
With its green and its blue and white
The beauty of the curve of the earth
And its oceans below
You might think it was paradise
If you didn't know . . .
You might think that it’s turning
But it’s turning too slow
How long can you hear someone crying
How long can you hear someone dying
Before you ask yourself why?
And how long will it be ‘til we’ve turned
To the tasks and the skills
That we’ll have to have learned
If were going to find our place in the future
And have something to offer
Where this planet's concerned