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.