Monday, January 28, 2013

The Art of Memory

I am a big, big fan of  Jacob Brownowski and so I am going to share one of his lectures here.
It is a long but a fascinating read on how magic developed into science.


Black Magic and White Magic


by Jacob Bronowski The origins of science are intertwined with the pursuit of the occult subjects the contemplation of which would make many a modern scientist shudder with distaste.When John Maynard Keynes bought a trunk full of Isaac Newton's papers and inspected them,he was startled to find that Newton spent as much time studying alchemy and numerology as he did formulating the laws of motion.Newton,he declared,"was the last of the magicians." But not all magic is the same,as the scientist-philosopher Jacob Bronowski (1908 - 1974) explains.

....The form of magic that I shall discuss is the notion that there is a way of having a power over nature which simply depends on hitting the right key.If you say "open sesame" then nature will open for you;if you are an expert then nature will open for you;if you are a specialist of some kind or if you are remote,if you are esoteric,if you are an initiate there is some way of getting into nature which is not accessible to other people.

Now this was the dominant theme of all those centuries up to the fifteenth.And all primitive forms of magic - sympathetic magic,the kind of magic you read about in Lévi - Strauss for instance,magic that structuralists talk about - all come back to this notion: there is a way of having a power which is esoteric and does not depend on generally accessible knowledge. Now I think that is fundamentally false and I also think ,of course,that it is terribly dangerous, because it recurs in every generation. But let me say something about it in this highly specific context of magic up to the fifteenth century.

One of the things that must have struck you if you have read any book about magic is that there is a tendency for the rituals of magic to turn nature upside-down [Getting CAUSE and EFFECT the wrong way around-LB].For instance,if you have ever seen an illustration of a witch riding a broomstick,she does not ride the broomstick sitting forward,she rides the broomstick sitting backward.Now it may seem a childish thing for an eminent intellectual historian to be discussing which way witches sit on broomsticks.But the fact is that intellectual history is made up of exactly such points.Why did people think that satanic rituals had to be set backwards? Why did people celebrate the black mass by going through the mass in reverse? Because the concept of that conquest of nature was that whatever the laws of nature were,the magic consisted of turning them back.What Joshua said was,"Sun stand thou still";he didn't say anything about ellipses or inverse square laws.He said "let us stop the laws of nature and turn them back in their tracks." And really,one could say,if I may put this terribly crudely,that until the year 1500 any attempt to get power from nature had inherent in it the idea that you could only do this if you forced nature to provide it against her will. Nature had to be subjugated,and magic was a form of words,actions and pictures which forced nature to do something which she wouldn't of herself do.

Let me note here that science does exactly the opposite.But it is important to realize that the subjugation of nature is the theme of all magical practice.We must get her to do something for us which she wouldn't do for everybody else - which means we must make her disobey her own laws.Of course,people before 1500 didn't really have much of an idea of what a law of nature was.But insofar as they conceived of nature following a natural course, magic was something that reversed it.

What I am saying is in my view,although it is not the view of all those who have written about magic.Lynn Thorndike,for example,was an eminent writer on the subject.His eight-volume work on the subject is entitled The History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York:Columbia University Press,1923 - 58). It would be impertinent of me not to state that he thought differently.However,the very title The History of Magic and Experimental Science implies a view of science which is different from mine.What Lynn Thorndike said was that there are in magical and particularly alchemical practices many techniques which later formed an important part of technology and experimental science.Now that's undoubtedly true.But ,alas,in my view,this has nothing to do with the case.Of course there were people of all kinds practicing alchemy right up to the days of Newton,whose alchemical writings are so voluminous that they were never published.Nevertheless,my main interest is in their attitude toward how the world works and how you make it obey,and not at all in their discoveries of how you smelt this or how you make that process in metallurgy work.It was the view of Lynn Thorndike,and it has been the view of some other eminent historians of science,that there is a continuity running from even before the Middle Ages into modern science.This is what Pierre Duhem was anxious to show,and in a way this is what George Sarton said also.And of course, there is some truth in that.There is not the slightest doubt that any particular piece of science that you have today can be traced to some fantasy in the Middle Ages......

But it is my view that those continuities give a false perspective of the great threshold from which the burst of modern science comes.And I would put this quite simply: I don't know whether science was born before 1500 or not (though I don't believe it was) but I do know that,mysteriously,magic in fact died after 1500.

I ought also to pay a small obeisance to those historians who think that we ought not to look at the history of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance as if in some way it were a forerunner of today.I wrote a book of intellectual history and was amused to find that one of my kinder critics said that it was all very fine,but why did I think that the present age was any better than the fifteenth century? Well,I don't know whether it is better,but it seems to me terribly interesting that the fifteenth century has led to the present age and that the present age has not led to the fifteenth century.

My view of history is essentially an evolutionary one.I think it is right that we should look at history with hindsight,because I think,for two reasons,that the most important species-specific thing which man possesses and which started him off on his evolutionary career is exactly hindsight.If you make any plans,only hindsight will tell you whether they were any good.Secondly,we know from work on memory that it is only from hindsight,only from memory, that imagination and foresight develops.So I make no apologies for the fact that I shall discuss the history of the past as if the most exciting thing about it is that it has led us to the present......

A point which must be made very forcibly about science is that it took an irreversible step in the cultural evolution of man.I have noted that we did not lay enough stress on the fact not only that science has made our lives different but also that it was a threshold of this kind.Holding that view I am bound to say that the dates of the scientific revolution between 1500 and 1700 do represent a major threshold in the development of science.

Now that seems strange to people who have tried to trace the history of science back beyond that time,because they point out that,after all,there was a school of people - who read Aristotle,who were Averroists,who continued to talk about scientific truth and distinguish it from spiritual truth - in a number of universities,such as Paris and Padua, through the thirteenth,fourteenth,and fifteenth centuries.

The school that looks for a continuity in the development of science looks for it there.Now I think that view is mistaken because I think that in about 1500 something very remarkable happened in all intellectual history,of which science is a part and a crucial part.It's not terribly fashionable to talk about the Renaissance now,because everybody is very busy explaining how it all really started much earlier.And it's not very fashionable even to talk about humanism, because very eminent scholars,including Professor Kristeller of Columbia University,have pointed out that humanism was a special kind of academic syllabus that led to the elaboration of rhetoric and theories of language at the expense of theology and other practices.In itself,humanism did not make a new way of life,and of course it appears to have had no influence on science.All that seems to me to be quite right.And yet it is absolutely true that Florence in 1500 was a different city ( I cite Kristeller again) from Florence in 1400.Something had happened in Italy which made a great inroad in established,authoritarian,and traditional views of life.

When we come to revalue the Renaissance over the next twenty or thirty years of scholarship,the view that we are sure to come up with is that the most important thing was not that people in Florence started reading Plato instead of Aristotle,or that people from Padua argued about this or that,or that Ficino wrote this and Pomponazzi wrote that,but that in some way a dissolution of tradition took place and there developed an interest in new things in which the particular character of the new was not nearly so important as the shaking up of the old.And that characteristic was crucial to the development of science at that particular time.To my mind,the most extraordinary thing is that about 1500 the incursion
of neo-Platonic and mystical ideas gave that impulse to the human mind,made that intellectual revaluation from which science and the arts took off together.The view that I am putting forward is that this revolution worked as much in the sciences as in the arts and that it is impossible to understand the really radical change that the Renaissance made unless we see science not as an afterthought but as an integral part of that humanism - rhetoric and linguistics and all.

Now to some small,interesting,specific examples:Between 1450 and 1465 Cosimo de'Medici began to collect a library of Greek manuscripts.They were being brought to the West by scholars and he sent his own merchants out to buy them up .They brought back the Dialogues of
Plato,which had still not been translated from Greek,and they brought back also an incomplete manuscript of the Corpus Hermeticum [Ref: Davis & Hersh "The Mathematical Experience" {Underneath the Fig Leaf} p100 4.Hermetic Geometry;C.B.Boyer "A History of Mathematics" Ch14 p246 {Europe in the Middle Ages}],the fabulous book of magic of the Middle Ages of which, again,only a small part had been translated into Latin.His secretary was a man called Marsilio Ficino,and in 1463 he was translating the dialogues of Plato when Cosimo de'Medici told him to translate the Corpus Hermeticum
first. In fact,Cosimo died the next year and he obviously felt that this esoteric knowledge,this magic,he had to know.Now the Corpus Hermeticum is an extraordinary book which remains in our language simply because we still use the phrase "hermetically sealed" to mean sealed by secret alchemical formulae.

Although the book is called Corpus Hermeticum because it was supposed to be a book about Hermes Trismegistus (Hermes is the Three Times Great who was supposed to have been a mythological Greek - Hebrew character),Ficino thought he might have been Moses himself. I need not tell you that the books are fakes, but that was not discovered until 150 years later - and anyway,as I have already explained,fakery was no crime at that time.

Ficino was an extraordinary character because he came at a moment when the old black magic,the witches' Sabbath, and so on,was not done anymore.Ficino never got up and said "I won't go to a coven of witches." He was too polite, too much of a gentleman,to do all this romping about in the nude in damp fields with satanic imagery and goats,and he was from a new kind of upper class society that was taking an interest in magic. They were sophisticated [The word "sophisticated" comes from the Sophists who had a penchant for making a point so unintelligible with flowery language that one could not tell if one were being deceived or not -LB] and gentlemanly,and this was not the kind of black magic in which they could be interested .And yet,Ficino really did sing hymns;he really did believe that he was conjuring down the influences of the planets and that in some way the world was opening up ,that Orpheus and Pythagoras and all those planetary influences were one.

This is really the central point of neo-Platonism as Ficino introduced it.The world is a great harmony,and harmony is the crucial word.It literally meant both music and mathematics and incidentally also poetry.All these things were different aspects of the universal spirit,the anima mundi,the thing that Plato and Plotinus said was like a great organic creature of the world.Indeed Giorgio said that all this was simply a description,that the universe was the face of God and that all its aspects - music,poetry,and mathematics - were different expressions of the fact that it was a harmonious whole [Such is the Quantum Physical view Ref: Danah Zohar "The Quantum Self"-LB].Music and mathematics go together because Pythagoras and the Greeks ,three thousand years ago,had discovered that in order to make an octave you have to make a musical string twice as long and in order to make the other main notes you have to have whole - number separations.And this extraordinary notion that the length of the vibrating string also gives pleasure to the ear and fills your soul with harmony had come down from the Greeks.For instance,Pythagoras invented the
phrase "The music of the spheres." [Ref: C.B.Boyer "A History of Mathematics" p55 also { Pythagorean Pentagram}p49 and {Golden Section} p73;Blue File: pscript5.wri] Shortly after the time I am describing,Kepler tried to fit the five Platonic solids into the orbits of the solar system [Ref: C.B.Boyer "A History of Mathematics" p84 also {Elements-Earth ,Fire,Air Water};I.Stewart " The Problems of Mathematics" p195] because he naturally felt that all these things must go together - mathematics,music,harmony were one.Harmony is indeed the word to hold on to.

The exciting thing about these neo-Platonists is,first of all,that they made people interested in mathematics.It was from that moment onward that Greek mathematics was rediscovered,became exciting to people again;they started arguing about Playfair's axiom and all kinds of things that were unclear in Euclid.That led to natural knowledge though mathematics of which Newton really set the keystone.Secondly,people like Ficino had this marvellous sense that the world was at once both intelligible and beautiful.The phrase (which does not come from Ficino)about its being the face of God is the crux here.We have the sense that suddenly the Middle Ages were over.That rather heavy view of God sitting on the world with man quietly padding about making sure that he doesn't give offence had ended.There was suddenly a rainbow in the sky,the world was beautiful.We have the transcending sense of the beauty of nature,but above all the beauty of the creation.

We see this outlook in Copernicus when in the next century,in 1543,he published the book that he had been working on for nearly thirty years about the revolution of the planets.he talked about the sun,about how marvellous it is.Of course,the textbooks just tell us that in effect he said,"well it works simpler if we put the sun in the centre of the universe." But that's not what he said.He said the sun was fit to be at the centre of the universe.The sun was marvellous.And he took that straight out of Ficino,who in fact wrote a book called Of the Sun.It has only recently been discovered that
when Giordano Bruno came to Oxford in the next century and lectured about the Copernican system,the Oxford Dons treated him with grave suspicion,and particularly because they all spotted the quotations from Ficino that he thought they wouldn't know.

This sense that man and the universe are one,that the presence of God in the universe is a different kind of presence, is what makes the neo-Platonic revolution crucial in the science of the Renaissance.I have called it antiauthoritarian,but I ought really to have said anti-traditional.Now I do not mean by this that people would suddenly go around saying God is dead,which would have been inconceivable then.What was happening was something quite different:there had been a hierarchy of God,man,nature.And that in that hierarchy God and man had moved into one position.Man was still dominating nature,but there was no longer the sense that he was under any higher authority.Everything that God had expressed was expressed in man.

We see this best in a follower of Ficino
,Pico della Mirandola ,who in 1487 proposed to dispute a famous series of theses,which have since come down to us under the title Of the Dignity of Man.Now,the dispute really was to a considerable extent about the dignity of man,provided that you understood this equivalence of man and God.Pico della Mirandola was saying above all that man was a unique animal because he was the only animal that made himself,that had no species-specific properties.Well, that is something of an exaggeration,but you know it is not quite as bad animal behaviour as you would think,because it is certainly true that the most important part of the human equipment is its enormously greater flexibility and adaptability than any other animal.In biology we generally express this by saying that whereas every other animal fits into an evolutionary niche,man essentially is busy hewing his evolutionary niche out of nature for himself......

Pico della Mirandola was also very much against astrology.And he says so in the oration,which is full of all kinds of stuff out of
the Cabala - all kinds of things that nobody reads anymore except in corners.And yet,he says in 1487,astrology is all wrong. Why? - because it outrages the dignity of man that we should be subject to the influence of the planets out there travelling on their immutable,dreary,predestined courses [But that view of the planets is a Classical deterministic view,which is not relevant to modern mathematics whence the motions are subject to Chaos theory-LB].That cannot be consonant with the dignity of man.It is a gorgeous thought;naturally we would put it rather differently now.We would say that it's not consonant with the dignity of a planet.

Both Ficino and Pico as well as a number of other people about 1500 were practitioners of magic,and yet their magic had a quite different quality.They were no longer trying to force nature into a different mode.In some way they were trying to exploit a preordained harmony in nature.Ficino says this quite firmly: "When I sing a song to the sun it is not because I expect the sun to change its course but (because) I expect to put myself into a different cast of mind in relation to the sun." Now this is a very important concept that developed between 1500 and 1550 - the notion that,yes,there is a magic,but it is a natural magic,a white magic.No one knows quite how it works,but it attempts to extract out of the universe its own harmonies for our good.And here we are on the way to science as we understand it.If one had to put a date to this,one would say that roughly speaking between 1500 and the publication of Porta's book in 1558,which was called Natural Magic,the turning point took place.Of course,I am not trying to make the sort of point that on the 27th of February it all changed.History doesn't work like that.But what did happen was that highly intelligent people were bothered about demons and angels and all the oppositions in the old magic; they were convinced that the universe was harmonious,that man could be in contact with it,and they asked themselves how this could be done.There is a fascinating series of writings to be explored still between 1500 and 1550 (complicated of course by the occurrence of the new humanism) - those of people like Erasmus,Luther (Protestantism) which keeps on saying - "Well,how could magic work?"

Now we come to several very interesting trends of thought.There are some people who say,"well,you see it's all psychological" and you get this.They say,"The faithful or the superstitious are in a special frame of mind where they really see these apparitions and feel these influences." All right - now nobody is much bothered about this,because psychology was the one thing they really understood.And they understood about the art of memory and about human imagination and about the power of imagination,but by 1500 they were asking themselves a very crucial question - "Can this be transferred to the outside world? We are all convinced that a man can hold the audience spellbound,but will this spell work on the chairs? Will this spell work on dead nature?" And this question - "Is white magic transitive - can it be transferred to dead objects?" This is what was now engaging everybody's attention.There was wonderful excitement about how different people treat this,but they all came back to the same thing.Now they took different lines.

Some of them said,"Well,yes,but in very special circumstances"; or "Well,yes,but it isn't exactly that you can make nature obey your will,but if you choose to do it at a moment when nature is ready,then you can just slightly distort her," and so on.Some of them,of course,began to say about this time that it's just not true.There isn't any magic at all.For several hundred years everybody had been saying that it is well known that menstruating women must not look in mirrors because they tarnish the mirror.And then,around 1500,people said,"Have I been looking in mirrors recently? I haven't noticed any tarnishing." And of course,at that moment, all those delicious old wives' tales about the influence of man on the environment began to disappear.To summarize,I quote from Pomponazzi,who,in a book called Of Incantations,says quite firmly,

It is possible to justify any experience by natural causes and natural causes only.There is no reason that could ever compel us to make any perception depend on demonic powers.There is no point in introducing supernatural agents.It is ridiculous as well as frivolous to abandon the evidence of natural reason and to search for things that are neither probable nor rational.

Well,of course,that's a very wild choice by this time.And Pomponazzi was an Aristolian from Padua to whom these things came,as it were,from the outside;but he did mark a great turning point in this period,the time when black magic was at an end;everyone had gone through the white magic period.In black magic,the belief was that you would make nature run against her will.In white magic,you began to say ,"Well,you know,let's make sure nature works with us.There is harmony;we could exploit it." Finally came the concept of natural law itself.And that was represented,in a most spectacular way,for the first time in the writing of Francis Bacon between 1600 and 1620.It was Francis Bacon,whom I was quoting,who was the first person to say "knowledge is power." It was Francis Bacon who said in the Norvum Organum "we cannot command nature except by obeying her." At this point,the scientific revolution was really complete.This is an important issue because there has been a good deal of argument about who Francis Bacon was - whether he wrote Shakespeare,for example.It is particularly important to determine how he fits into all this.And it's really only since the publication of Paolo Rossi's book,Francis Bacon from Magic to Science (University of Chicago Press,1968),that it has really become clear to us that he went through all this;he understood all this Italian stuff.And then at the end,he came out with this simple notion;it wouldn't work.

That's a very English thing to do.One could have an entirely separate chapter on that Puritan frame of mind which made him say,"all this stuff about the face of God and the harmony of the spheres and the number,mythology,and the love of God - how does it really work?" At any rate,it's clear that he was outraged by many of the fancies of the sixteenth-century writers on memory and magic,and that he came to this crucial conclusion,"we cannot command nature except by obeying her." There are laws of nature,and what you really do is not turn them back but to exploit them.

If I might give you one spectacular example,who would have thought in 1569 - when they were already well on the way to this concept - that if you really wanted to make the biggest bang that you ever made on earth,you would not in any way call up the sun,call up the volcanoes,call up the mystic power;you would just take ordinary atoms of uranium and you would put the U
238 atoms in one box and the U235 in another box and that this simple rearrangement of nature by her own laws would blow up 120,000 people in Japan.

I've made a passing reference to a shift to England at this time and it would not be fair if I didn't draw your attention to the importance of Protestantism and Puritanism.There is a very curious history about magic I believe to be true.It has always been a puzzle why,certainly from 1640 and probably even before,the Protestant countries began to take the lead in science.Obviously the trial of Galileo in 1633 had tremendous influence,but there must be something in the background of the period 1500 - 1600 which began to to shift the centre of gravity.Now I believe that this has a great deal to do with magic,for a very curious reason.By 1600 it was open to anybody to say "you can't persuade people of one thing when another is true simply by using words." But unfortunately,Thomas Aquinas had committed himself to the statement that the words which are used in the elevation of the host have absolute power to change the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into the blood of Christ.And the statement that Thomas Aquinas made back in the 1250's was so absolute that it was really impossible to get around it. The words ,"this is my body," the words, "this is my blood," would, if uttered,make a difference even if they were made by a priest in bad faith,by a priest in unworthy circumstances,or by a priest who was not thinking about the subject.And if he did not utter those words,then no transubstantiation would take place.That was a very big issue throughout the sixteenth century because you could not get round authority of Aquinas on this,and yet here was something which in some way had to be explained away,and it was very adequately explained away.One could write about Duns Scotus's view,the Thomist view,how all this was dealt with in the sixteenth century.But the fact of the matter was that it created an attitude,in my view,about the nature of science and the existence of magical powers which was different in Roman Catholic countries and in the new Protestant countries.And we know this,because the Protestant writers were busy attacking what they called the superstition of the church.And of course,in Puritan England this was especially true.

I have made this long historical excursion because I wanted to demonstrate what I think Ficino did when he suddenly opened up the world and made the rainbow full of colour and said nature and man are in harmony. I said.... that I couldn't think of any way of being a human being other than by being an intellectual.To me,being an intellectual doesn't mean knowing about intellectual issues;it means taking pleasure in them.And to my mind is exactly what happened - exactly what transformed the attitude to science about the year 1500.the sudden sense of an opening universe - you get it in Copernicus,you get it in Galileo.If you read Galileo's Dialogues and all those corny jokes and all that leg pulling,here is a man who is in love with his subject and who is no longer practicing Faustian demonic magic and swearing to the devil.He is out in the open; he just think it's marvellous.I think ,of course,that science is wonderful in that way. And I end it with Francis Bacon for that very reason - that the Elizabethan Age,to us an age of literature,was exactly that age when all this science and literature together came to fruition in England.

I quoted the Novum Organum of 1620.It was as late as 1620 that "knowledge is power" was written for the first time.Twenty-five years later,on Christmas day in 1645,Isaac Newton was born;in another forty years,Isaac Newton published the Principia,and quite suddenly the world was transformed into something which is both rational and beautiful in just the way that the neo-Platonists believed with all their Averroist and
their Aristolian tradition....At one moment in history,science and the arts rose together, because of the simple sense of man's pleasure in his own gifts.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Views on Science and Philosophy

I haven't posted here for a while and as I promised there would be less political opinion and more musings on the world around and within.

I am sharing the transcript of a very interesting presentation on Consciousness.

Alchemical Transformation: Consciousness and Matter, Form and Information.
Talk given in Padova Oct 1995 to Club of Budapest

F. David Peat.

Introduction: Holding the Tensions

In this talk I want to maintain a creative tension between number of different ideas, not giving in too quickly to the natural impulse to discover new solutions and seek exhaustive definitions. Carl Jung gave the image of the alchemical vessel in which processes of sublimation and purification take place.
Psychotherapy provides this same kind of containment whereby tensions and paradoxes are charged with energy until they give way to active transformation. Even nuclear fusion requires the hot plasma to be contained long enough
for fusion reactions to take place.

The same is true of scientific and philosophical ideas. David Bohm regretted the speed with which Neils Bohr tried to resolve the tensions inherent in quantum theory. Within a year of Heisenberg's discovery of matrix mechanic Schrodinger
produced his wave equation and Bohr and others quickly demonstrated the mathematical equivalence of the two approaches. Yet both approaches do subtly different things -
Heisenberg's matrix mechanics, for example, makes no reference to an underlying or background space. If only the two approaches could have been held in tension, emphasizing both their similarities and differences, Bohm
argued, then it may have been possible to develop a much deeper theory, one that transcended conventional notions of  space-time and allowed for an intimate connection with relativity.

A similar tension exists today between scientific approaches
to "consciousness theory" (in which the origin of mind is
attributed to objective structures and processes within the
brain - albeit some of them being quite novel, such as
Penrose's notions of the gravitational collapse of the wave
function) and our subjective experiences of consciousness,
rare moments of transcendence and those inexplicable
occurrences in which the irrational breaks through in dreams,
synchronicities, etc. Then there are other phenomena which
seem to have a foot in both camps, these include Jung's
psychoid which is neither matter nor mind and both, the
aforementioned synchronicities and phenomena such as
projective identification.

Rather than seeking a quick resolution between the subjective
and objective I feel that it is valuable to hold on to the
differences and paradoxes and use them as pointers to
something deeper. As Wolfgang Pauli put it, now that
psychology has discovered the objective within
consciousness (Jung's collective unconscious) so too physics
must discover the subjective in matter. He also suggested that
physics must come to terms with "the irrational in matter".

The problems that face us have been around since the dawn
of philosophy but we happen to be in a particularly privileged
position today. Science is producing ever more delicate
information about processes within the brain. Openness to
Eastern meditative traditions brings with it alternative theories
of consciousness and subtle matter. Transpersonal
psychology addresses the idea of collective mind. Quantum
theory and chaos theory help to loosen the appeal of
traditional mechanistic theories and reductionistic approaches
and, in the process, providing us with new metaphors.

Nevertheless we are still victim to over two hundred years of
mechanistic thinking and we work within a language that
reflects and supports such a world view. As soon as we speak
about mind and consciousness we find ourselves talking
about objects, concepts, things, localization in space,
separation and movement in time. Yet both quantum theory
and Eastern psychology point to timelessness, active process
and the ultimate illusion of the personal observer. It is very
difficult for us, even now, to fully embrace the quantum
paradigm, even the mathematics of quantum theory is still
(paradoxically) expressed using space-time coordinates when
the same theory predicts the break down of space-time
structure. And time itself, as Prigogine points out, has never been
treated correctly in physics. Up to now it has been used more
as an ordering parameter 't', and conveys nothing of the
dynamics in which being gives way to becoming.

Locality and Beyond

The central question is: What is it that exists independent of
the physical brain? Yet as soon as we attempt to formulate this
questions we prejudice the answer through our linguistic
concepts of object, location in space and so on. Current
"consciousness studies" in the hard sciences assume that
mind, or consciousness, emerges out of the physical brain
and cannot therefore exist independent of it - although a
variety of physical signals can be sent between brains. Our
experience of consciousness awareness - scanning the
environment and having access to our memories - is certainly
conditioned by the state of the physical brain. But to suggest
that brain is the sole cause of mind does not logically follow.

Consciousness studies also argue in favour of some sort of
quantum mechanical origin for consciousness. I do not find the
argument particularly satisfying or logically compelling. In its
barest form it proposes that the sort of things done by
consciousness (Penrose picks out mathematics) cannot all be
reduced to algorithmic processes and therefore mind does
not have a mechanical basis. While parts of it may be hard
wired it does not totally operate like a computer. Quantum
theory, the argument goes, is the other thing that cannot be
reduced to algorithmic form. Ergo quantum theory must have
something to do with consciousness. From there researchers
rush on to theories of quantum tunneling, collapsing wave
functions, non-local connections and coherent quantum
But a variety of other explanations are possible: -

That mind was present in the universe ab inito. For example,
in the form of a proto mind associated with even the
elementary particles.

That mind is of a totally different order and makes its liaison
with matter via the medium of the brain (The dualism of
Popper and Eccles).

That both mind and matter (at the quantum level) arise out of
some deeper level.

Or, to follow Bohm, that mind and matter form an unanalyzable
whole which must be addressed through some totally different
order of explanation - the Implicate Order. In this case the
Cartesian cut is an illusion present only at the Explicate Order
of perception and explanation.


We are now well on the road to invoking theoretical
explanations and at this point it is important to go back to
experience and psychic phenomena.

Projective Identification.
Projective Identification offers a paradigm case of the tension
between physics and psychic experience. Projective
identification should be distinguished from Transference, in
which the patient "projects" fantasies (for example, involving
authority figures) onto the blank screen of the therapist. In
projective identification something more akin to a literal pro-
jection of psychic material takes place.
It may happen that, during a session, the therapist
experiences, without necessarily being aware that something
unusual is going on, memories, feelings attitudes,
associations that lie outside his or her experience. At the time,
however, these are indistinguishable from "true memories". It
is only later that the therapist realizes that the patient has
injected external psychic material into the therapist's mind.

It is very difficult to account for what happens. Clearly some
aspect of the patient's psyche - a set of associations or a
complex of memories and desires - has fragmented from the
self and been projected outwards into the mind of the
therapist. In its new location, and for a limited time, it
integrates with the therapist's consciousness to produce
awareness of new memories and associations. The patient is
now able to view what was previously the very painful contents
of personal consciousness in an objective way for now it
belongs to someone else. The final result, hopefully, is to
allow this material to be reabsorbed and reintegrated in a
more creative manner.

Projective identification appears to be a strategy used by the
mind to produce movement and transform. One thinks of
certain chemical reactions which, although energetically
advantageous, cannot take place because energy barriers
between molecules cannot be overcome. Although chemical
transformation is desired it is prevented by internal energy
barriers. Using a catalyst, however, molecules adsorb on its
surface and "borrow" energy needed to undergo the
necessary transformations whereby they can react together.
After reacting they are then free to leave the catalyst's surface.
In Projective Identification the mind of the therapist may play a
similar role, allowing certain complexes to be absorbed into a
new psychic location where they new become "free" and
undergo transformation. Presumably a healthy mind also
possesses a "psychic immune system" which is able to detect
such projected material and eventually reject it so that alien
memories do not possess the therapist for too long.

Projective Identification forces us in the position that
"something" is being projected across space, from one mind
to the other. This seems a more satisfying explanation than the
assumption that both minds have access to some common
pool of consciousness - for something seems to be shot, like
the darts of a Medicine Person, from one to another. Of course
this does not mean than "mind" as such is projected. It may
simply be some sort of encoded information about mental
processes, structure and content that projects from one brain
to another. Once in its new location this information activates
(like a virus) and makes use of mental energy to form a new
centre in consciousness.

I suggest that Projective Identification is more common than
we assume. It is, for example, the mechanism whereby art
(and music) operate in that aspects of the psyche are
projected outwards and encoded on the surface of a painting
as gestures, masses, shapes colours and everything else that
makes up a "visual code". The listener or viewer can also
"enter into" the work and gain access to this activity of
encoded information which then acts to induce
transformations of consciousness. This, I believe, is the
meaning of early cave art. It is involves a transformation of
consciousness and operates at the level of the psychoid.

Mystical States
In such states ego boundaries disappear as the mystic
partakes in a transcendental reality, or speaks of having
access to ancient knowledge, powerful symbols or alternative
realities. Psychiatry may try to explain this in terms of psychic
inflation, access to the archetypes or (following Groff) as an
inherited body-memory. Mystics suggest that consciousness
opens to the ground of all being. The Indian teacher, J
Krishnamurti, taught that when the brain dies to thought
something else operates that brings about a mutation of the
brain's structure and a permanent transformation of
consciousness. This suggests quite different mechanisms
than Projective Identification in which the mind becomes an
aspect of something much larger.

Group Mind.

The sharing of consciousness, even during dreams, is a well
established phenomenon amongst many Indigenous peoples.
David Bohm believed that something similar could be
achieved through his "dialogue process." Does this imply
communication between minds, or the ability of individual
minds to move into some deeper, collective domain?

Paranormal Phenomenon
There are a variety of anecdotal reports that individuals can
practice remote viewing, move objects or have access to
other minds. At the moment their scientific status is by no
means universally accepted.

During periods of extreme psychic stress experiences, replete
with meaning, occur that appear to transcend the boundaries
of matter and mind, space, time and causality. Like (d) above
they remain anecdotal but are, to my mind, difficult to dismiss.
They suggest that mind and matter may be aspects of some
underlying reality - Jung's psychoid, Bohm's Implicate order.

Non-local Mind
How are the various phenomena above to be explained?
There are two general lines of approach. One argues that
something is transmitted, transferred or projected between
two minds. The other is that minds are able to partake, dip
into, or unfold out of some common underlying ground, and
that they are not bound by the categories of space and time.

Theories of transmission assume that, in addition to speech,
pheromones, visual gestures, touch and possible
electromagnetic effects, there exist more subtle forms of

Yet as soon as one begins with the assumption of
interchanges between two spatially located minds then one is
firmly based within a mechanical order of space and time.
Transmission effects may indeed occur - a sixth sense
perhaps - but it is difficult to see how they can account for the
richness of the phenomena discussed above.


This is a popular explanation (Langs bi-polar fields) for
various non-local effects. But one must remember that a field
is in essence a notion from classical physics. A field carries
energy and is defined at each point in space. Hence one is
still using the language of objects and location. (Admittedly
there are also quantum fields but these are also defined at all
space-time points and can only be stop-gap notions on the
way to a deeper quantum theory)

One could argue that the concept of field can be retained even
when one drops the classical notions of space, time, energy
and so on. But in such a case one has really given birth to a
radically new concept in science, something which is not a
field at all.

I am very cautious about using that term "field". It is a short
hand way of speaking about what are very vague concepts. It
does not really help us understand things in any clearer way.
As pointed out above the concept of "field" carries with it too
much baggage from classical, mechanistic physics. What is
called for is a totally new concept. Maybe if we agree to forgot
that world "field" we will be forced to face phenomena
themselves and seek some more appropriate concept.

Non-local connections.

Quantum theory (Bell's Theorem) permits non-local
connections and at first sight this is often taken as the
mechanism for communication between minds. But these
quantum correlations CANNOT BE USED TO CARRY
SIGNALS OR INFORMATION. Neither can quantum
connections be invoked to explain paranormal phenomena.

This is not to deny that non-local connections may indeed
exist between brains. Or that mind transcends the distinctions
of space and time. But this cannot be justified by appealing to
Bell's Theorem. It may, however, be useful to propose that
Bell's non-local connections are themselves a special case of
something more general. Non-locality may, for example, be
the direct consequence of global forms, forms that are not
defined within space-time. In view of the importance of form in
biological systems, in the Jungian archetypes, and as the
"form of the wave function", the role of form in consciousness
may be a profitable route to explore.


Information is another idea attracting a great deal of attention
(Laszlo's Psi fields, Sheldrake's morphic fields). Historically
physics first dealt with matter, then energy. Maybe at the end
of the century we will be dealing with information. Information
appears to transcend the divide between subjective and
objective, matter and in mind.

The major difficulty with information lies in its ontology. What
exactly is the nature of its existence and in what form is it
present in mind and matter? If one talks of "fields of
information" then one is back again to the old Cartesian world
of objects in space and the need for a medium for the
transmission of signals. If information is to prove useful then it
has to have its own new level of description and its own mode
of existence. Clearly information demands mathematical forms
that lies beyond the concept of field. Maybe, for example,
information is born at the level of prespace.

Active Information and Prespace.

Bohm's Ontological Interpretation of quantum theory proposes
that, at one level, the electron is a particle guided by a
quantum potential. At a deeper level the electron is a
continuous process of collapse and expansion. At an even
deeper level these processes do not take place in space and
time but in pre-space represented by something akin to
Grassman and Clifford algebras. Grassman originally
developed his algebras ( in the 19th century) as a means of
describing the movement of thought. When one notes the
intimate connection between Grassman algebras, the notion
of prespace and information the combination of ideas
becomes striking. Pregeometries may turn out to be closely
connected to mind.

What Bohm was speaking about in this context was what he
called "active information". Bohm proposed that quantum
processes are guided by information - not passive information
in the form of encoded data but an actual activity of
information. Bohm's analogy is to the way subtle information in
a television signal impresses itself upon, and thus gives form
to, the crude energy entering the electrical plug. In this way a
subtle signal produces pictures and sounds. For Bohm,
information is an activity that acts on both matter and energy.
He also connected the idea of active information to the
operation of the immune system, which he saw as a form of
intelligence delocalized over the whole body. For Bohm a
change of meaning in the mind became a change of actual
being in the body.

Yet again the problem arises as to what exactly is the
ontological status of active information. How is it to be
described? Where does it exist? The whole topic is exciting
but requires much work. It is tied to other speculative ideas in
quantum theory about structures that exist prior to space and

(As to the encoding of information at the quantum level,
important clues may come from the reduced density matrix (a
2-particle form which contains information about the total N-
particle wave function). N-particle information is encoded, or
enfolded, within the reduced density matrix (as it is in the
Green's Function). The N-representability problem deals with
the question of how the antisymmetric form of the wave
function places restrictions on the form of the reduced density
matrix. It should be recalled that quantum non-locality exists
precisely because of the anti-symmetric form of the wave
function - an antisymmetric form cannot be factorized into
subcomponents. Hence there is a deep connection between
non-locality, information and the density matrix. A further
connection is that N-representability conditions are connected
to Grassman algebras (the algebras of exterior forms) and it is
precisely these same algebras that seem to hold the key to
pre space. Such a rich interconnection of ideas cannot be
mere coincidence.)

Prespace algebras, such as the Grassman algebra, begin with
a fundamental distinction being made in a featureless ground.
Thought is indivisible yet creative perception can distinguish
opposite poles in this thought. Once the first perception, or
distinction, has been established then the algebra begins to
generate itself and, in the process develop structures that may
be the precursor of space. In an analogous fashion a thought
in the mind is created out of an instant of perception. Once this
perception has taken place and the thought is born then it
begins to move by a dialectical process - in this way
psychological time is born. Both space and thought seem to
be born out of an analogous timeless, creative process.

Note: None of this discussion should be taken as suggesting
that "this is the way mind is". Rather it is a proposal that
languages and formalisms may now exist for discussing the
issue of collective mind, languages that are not tied to the
categories of space and time. It seems to me more important
to seek and refine languages, and mathematical structures in
which these issues can be discussed, rather than immediately
seeking explications for the physical basis of mind.

In summary, notions of interactions, transmission and fields
may go part of the way to answering our questions yet still
don't account for the full richness of "collective mind". They
remain tied to mechanistic and Cartesian ways of thinking. Of
more promise are versions of "information" or "active
information" that lie beyond notions of causality, space and
time. However, these ideas are very much in their infancy, they
are far from clear and require a great deal of sorting out.

Implicate Orders

Discussions of mind and matter always run up against
limitations of language and formalism. Much of out thinking
and language is based within a world of space, time and
causality. Bohm termed this the Explicate Order and proposed
that a radically different Implicate, or Enfolded, Order exists.
Within this order the duality of matter and mind obtain their
resolution. What appear as distinct objects, well separated in
space and time are, within the Implicate order, enfolded each
within the other. What at one level appears as object at
another becomes process.
While personal consciousness appears to be attached to an
individual brain and body, Carl Jung proposed the Collective
Unconscious which contains material shared by all people in
the form of powerful symbols and archetypical forms. Even
deeper that the collective lies the psychoid which partakes of
both matter and mind while remaining above their distinction.
It is at the level of the psychoid that synchronicities occur and
at the level of the collective that an archetype may become
activated across a whole society. (It is not at all clear if the
collective is responsible for the sort of group dreaming
experienced by Indigenous peoples - several other
explanations could be offered.)

Jung's ideas are seductive, yet again the nature and
ontological status of the collective is far from clear. Maybe this
is why the shift of gear offered by the Implicate Order is so
attractive. Ontology attempts to answer questions about an
object's status of existence. But it may not be useful, at this
junction, to keep enquiring about the nature of the existence of
mind, or information, or the psychoid. It is here that Bohm's
Implicate Order offers a new way of proceeding. It is a
description and a perception which escapes mechanistic
thinking. Questions of transmission, localization and
delocalization simply do not arise within the Implicate Order
for it lies beyond the categories of space and time. Instead of
talking about object we deal in process, we enquire as to how
a particular explicate (individual mind/body) unfolds out of the
Implicate. Minds become both truly collective and personal by
virtue of the continuous process of unfoldment and enfoldment
whereby they are united within the Implicate and individuated
within the Explicate. Mind and matter are connected because
of their essential identity within the Implicate Order.

This enquiry has been conducted on two fronts, discussions
with Basil Hiley and colleagues at the Physics Department,
Birkbeck College and with Christopher Hauke and other
members of the London group of Jungian therapists.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Pressure of Discovery

Each form of  life has its own beat.
Watching birds in flight I almost soar with them.
As my cat stretches it calms me.
 Through our yard, a mongoose scurries
 my eyes hurry
to follow him disappear

Under the pressure of discovery his beat must be quick
as the cat peers after him lazily
his  languid fur  ruffles in the breeze.

This escape into their rythms becomes the
very substance of living.

The peace of dawn, or a sunset three steps from the freeway.

A dove flaps up to nestle beneath the rattling traffic.

Suzanne Delaney

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Clear as Daylight and The Best of All Possible Worlds

Today to save on time because that is what governs our every waking moment,
I am linking you to my other blog, where I already posted these stories last month.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


These three words were in my thoughts as I awoke this morning.
There is nothing more to life than this.