global change, human being, the big questions, Uncategorized

A New Story – Part One

The story I am about to tell you is not all that new. It has been emerging for quite a long time, probably since the 1920s, when quantum physics arrived on the scene. Although some parts of the story are already established, it has still not entered the consciousness of the general public, and it is actively rejected by academia and mainstream media. It is rejected because it contradicts the “science story” – the account given by science of the nature and history of the universe and the human being. Although you may have never heard the science story in its entirety, some of it will be familiar to you. If we want to know what the new story is, there is probably no better place to start than the science story. What follows does not claim to be comprehensive, but I believe that I have captured the essentials. I should add that, although this is this is still the prevailing view in science, an increasing number of individual scientists are warming to the new story. The science story is as follows…

The universe began from nothing. To be fair, science tells us that it was not exactly nothing. It was a “singularity”, which existed before space time. In other words, it had no dimensions. Difficult to imagine? Yes. And difficult believe that the vast universe, including this planet with its myriad forms of life, came effectively from nothing? Sure. But let’s get on with the story.

The “laws of nature”, such as the laws of physics and chemistry, all came into existence in the first few nanoseconds of the life of the universe. This is what scientists seem to agree on. Clearly, it begs some big questions. For example, how do they know this? And how did it happen? How is it possible for a large set of complex principles, which did not exist a nanosecond earlier, suddenly to come into being? Although I can just about stretch my mind to imagine a singularity, I have to say that this part of the science story takes us into the realms of fantasy. This is by no means to suggest that I know how or when the laws of nature came into being, but I am reasonably sure that it did not happen this way. I will say more about this when we come to the new story.

The universe has no intrinsic meaning. It began for no apparent reason. If this is true, then we have to wonder why it bothered coming into being in the first place. In any event, presumably this absence of meaning applies to us too, because we are surely products of the universe. It is little comfort to tell ourselves that if everything is basically meaningless, then this statement must be meaningless too! In any event, is meaning a purely human construct? If so, are we sole exceptions in the universe? Highly unlikely, I would have thought.

Everything is physical.  Although scientists do not define the word “physical”, we know what it means. According to science, the whole universe is physical, and everything in it, including us. We are nothing more than our bodies. This implies that we do not exist before conception or after the death of our bodies. It also means that anything that, at first, appears not to be physical – such as consciousness – will eventually be shown to be physical in nature. It should be self-evident, but perhaps it needs to be stated that scientists believe everything is physical because they use only the physical mode of perception to explore the world and the human being. In other words, they rely only on their five physical senses, and on extensions to these senses, such as telescopes and microscopes. When we think about it, we realise that all scientific instruments are, ultimately, extensions to one or more of our five senses. If scientists used other, “non-physical” modes of perception to explore the world, the world would respond accordingly, by appearing to non-physical. This is a central feature of the new story. Meanwhile, the next part of the story follows naturally from this part.

Matter is primary, and consciousness is secondary. In other words, consciousness is believed a product of matter. This is why scientists say that consciousness is an “epiphenomenon of the brain”. This, too, has some far-reaching implications, such as the belief that consciousness can exist only within the brain. As we shall see, when we look at the new story, there is a lot of compelling evidence that consciousness can exist well beyond the brain.

Science’s emphasis of the physical and the material leads it to believe that the world and the human being can best be understood as “mechanisms”. This suggests that, if you really want to understand something, you take it apart, and see how its parts fit together and interact with each other – just like a machine. This “mechanistic worldview” is very evident in medicine and in pharmacology.

Science also wants us to believe that the universe contains disorder, chance and randomness. They tell us that some things happen by chance – such as life on this planet – and that some things lack order. The important point of this part of the science story is the claim that disorder and chance are inherent characteristics of the universe. This means that some things can never be explained. They just happen!

Science’s focus on mechanisms and parts takes us to the next part of its story – that the primary reality is to be found at the level of the very small – at the level of particles, waves and quanta. From this, it is a short step to the belief that causality is upwards. In other words, “prime causes” take place at the sub-atomic level. Everything else is secondary, a consequence of primary causes.

We are almost there! Although this may be obvious by now, it is worth stating explicitly that science believes that things are basically separate from each other, and connected only by physical forces, such as gravity and electromagnetism. This belief persists, despite long-standing evidence of “quantum entanglement”, which strongly suggests that things are anything but separate. This belief is separateness runs deep in our lives. It may, for example, be at the root of the loneliness and isolation many of us feel from time to time.

Human evolution happened more or less as Darwin described it. I might agree with this, if we were talking only about the evolution of our physical body. For scientists, this is all we are, our physical body. For me, and for the new story, we are much more than that. T If we are much more than that, this puts the whole of evolutionary biology into question.

Finally, and although this is not a formal part of the science story, it is implied that, while some religious and spiritual traditions can offer useful moral guidance, they cannot give us facts. Only science can give us facts! Yet, when we stop to think about it, we realise that most of the facts of our own lives come not from science. They come from our personal experience. The new story differs from the science story in many respects. Most importantly, it places us – human beings – right at the centre of the story.

Many scientists – indeed many people in general – think that the science story is a set of facts. As such, they are beyond argument. This is very evident when you hear Richard Dawkins speaking! The reality is that the science story is merely a set of beliefs. While it is true that some of these are based on careful observations and complex calculations, they are still beliefs. This is because science is always provisional. Its “facts” are not set in stone. They are not eternal truths. All of them are subject to change. Thus, the science story is believed to be true. This is significant, because it means that, as a set of beliefs, the science story is a worldview – a worldview that profoundly influences all aspects of our lives.

It influences our lives more than you might imagine. Most obviously, it is the basis of our knowledge. This, in turn, makes it the basis for our education. This is because a worldview tells us what is true and what is possible. The untrue and the impossible is very unlikely to be taught in our schools and our universities. Bu it goes much deeper than this. The science story is at the root of our values – what we believe to be important – and our behaviour. It follows that if we change our worldview, our core beliefs, then everything else changes. This is why the new story so important. It is because it will change our core beliefs, our values and our behaviour. Few will deny that the planet is crying out for us to change.

christhomson1000@gmail.com

 

 

 

global change, human being, Intelligence, Uncategorized

The Shortest Era

You will know that the history of our home planet is divided into “eras”, such as the Precambrian and the Palaeozoic. They are very long – millions of years. As it happens, the mainstream media (e.g. the Guardian two days ago) has just woken up to the fact that some people have been talking about the most recent era for many years. It is called the Anthropocene Era, reflecting the fact that the human species now seems to be dominant on this planet. Although there is no general agreement about its commencement – some date it from the beginning of agriculture 15,000 years ago, while others like to believe it started with the first test of an atomic bomb in 1945 – one thing does seem clear, this era is unlikely to last long. I say this simply because we do not deserve to dominate. Our domination will soon be revealed for what it is – false, and therefore transitory.

Having laid my cards on the table, one could easily imagine a species that did deserve to be dominant. Above all, that species would be intelligent, in the sense that it would behave wisely and well. For instance, it would not overpopulate. It would not degrade the natural environment (all this planet’s life-support systems are in serious decline). It would not preside over an unprecedented extinction of species. It would not destroy its own members on an industrial scale (just think 20th Century!). And it would ensure that none of its members had too little because a few had far too much. I hardly need add that none of the above can be said about our own human species.

Of course, it need not be this way. As a species, we clearly have the potential to behave wisely and well. The very obvious problem is that there is an immense gap between our potential and our actual behaviour, and this gap is not closing quickly enough (if it is closing at all) to avert dangerous climate change, serious damage to our life-support systems, nor the terminal social breakdown that will inevitably follow huge inequalities.

Until quite recently I believed that we would become a truly intelligent species, and avert catastrophe. I now believe that any change for the better will be too little and too late. End of Anthropocene!

being natural, global change, human being, Intelligence, natural, simplicity, Taoist, Uncategorized

Being a Taoist Today

Taoism began about 2500 years ago, with a short book, the Tao Te Ching, written by an unknown author (in Chinese Lao Tze just means “the old guy”). That was a very different world. Today we have unprecedented problems. The list is alarmingly long: climate change; serious decline of all natural life-support systems: rapid species extinction: the threat of nuclear war; gross inequalities; and overpopulation.

We therefore need unprecedented solutions. This means several things: taking our problems much more seriously; acting with urgency; addressing the deeper underlying malaise of materialism; and approach our problems at all levels.

If we were all 21st Century Taoists, we would not have any of these problems. Why? Because we would be fully human, fully who we are capable of being. And we would act naturally, in accordance the the timeless principles of Nature. Unlike a Taoist 25 centuries ago, we would also be planetary, because we would be conscious of the planet as a whole, and of the global interconnectedness of everyone and everything.

I have today decided to write a book about this, about what it means to be a 21st Century Taoist

 

 

global change, the big questions, Uncategorized

The Big Questions

If you Google “the big questions”, you will be referred to a UK TV programme of that name. Although it poses some important questions, it rarely asks the truly big questions. We sometimes use the phrase and we know more or less what we mean by it. Today I would like to examine the topic more closely, and for a particular reason.

My friend Frank asked me to write a booklet on what needs to happen in the world today. My very short response is “fundamental change”. But, of course, I need to explain what I mean by this and how people might be induced to change fundamentally. The most powerful change I can think of is a change in our core beliefs. Change these, and everything else changes, including our values, our goals, and our lifestyles and behaviour. Much depends on how we answer the “big questions”. This is a centrally important issue. In this short paper I will simply outline the main parameters of the discussion. In the booklet I will lay out all the arguments.

Here is my own personal list of the “big questions”, in no particular order…

Is the universe wholly physical and material, or is it non-physical and spiritual too?

Is the universe without intrinsic meaning and purpose, or is it wholly meaningful and purposeful?

Did the universe, and life, happen by chance, or are they the deliberate product of some immense intelligence and part of some great purpose?

Is there no “God”, or could “God” be one and the same as the intelligent, purposeful universe?

Is consciousness simply a product of matter (i.e. the brain), or is matter the product of some greater consciousness?

Is our home planet just a large physical ball, or is it a “being”, in the sense of being alive, intelligent and consciousness?

The same question for stars and other parts of the universe

Do we exist only after conception and until the death of our body, or do we exist before conception and after the death of our body?

Are paranormal experiences, such as telepathy, precognition and NDEs, impossible (as claimed by science), or are they not only possible but perfectly natural?

This does not claim to be a full list of the big questions, but I think it is a useful sample for this discussion. It will no doubt be obvious that if you answer in the affirmative to all or most of the first parts of the questions, then these will be your core beliefs, and you will subscribe to the materialist worldview, which is the worldview of science. I hope that it is also obvious that if you do happen to subscribe to that worldview, this will strongly influence all aspects of your life, such as your values (what you believe to important), your goals (your central purpose), and your lifestyle and behaviour. If a majority of people in society have these materialist core beliefs, then society as a whole will reflect this. It will be very materialistic, with a tendency towards atheism, and with a strong belief in the “truths” of science. I hardly need add that this is the situation in many countries today, and the consequences are clear to anyone who has been paying attention. We have created unprecedented problems. This requires unprecedented solutions.

So, yes, humanity does need to change fundamentally. For this to happen, change has to occur at the deepest level, at the level of our core beliefs. How we approach and respond to the big questions is at the heart of this change.

 

christhomson1000@gmail.com

global change, Intelligence, Uncategorized

The Devil’s Delusion

This is the title of a book by David Berlinski. As the title may suggest, it is a refutation of the arguments set out in Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”. I have read quite a few good refutations of Dawkins, but none as good as this one. It is short, always to the point, and well argued and written. I highly recommend it.

If you know Dawkins’ work, you will know he is a militant atheist. He is at pains to show that God does not, and cannot, exist. I do not think it an oversimplification to say that his argument is as follows:

There is no scientific evidence for the existence of God.

In any event, there is no need for God, because science has shown how the universe began, how life got stated, and how we human beings have evolved to what we are today.

Science may not have all the answers, but it will eventually. (I believe that the inference is that science’s “truths” are the best truths)

Berlinski refutes all of this, with very compelling arguments. I am much more convinced by Berlinski than by Dawkins. But this raises an interesting question: why are Dawkins’ book and arguments so well known and so widely accepted, and why are Berlinski’s book and arguments so little known? Is it because of the zeitgeist? Is it because we are living through very materialistic times, this reflected in the current predominance of the beliefs and worldview of science? There is no doubt that this is part of the reason. However, I think it is also because we non-materialists tend to be quiet. We tend to keep our beliefs to ourselves, rather than trumpeting them loudly in books, conferences and on YouTube.

All this puts me in mind of the “intellectual dark web”. If you have not come across this, you could do no better than explore the videos put on YouTube by Rebel Wisdom. While some of the content and some of the personalities (notably Jordan Peterson) make compelling viewing, one is left with the impression that much of it is just scientific materialism dressed up in new clothes. For example, much time is devoted to evolutionary biology, of which Dawkins is a big part. To be fair, Jordan Peterson is clearly a fan of Carl Jung and his archetypes, and he appreciates the significance of deep myth, including some of the stories in the Bible. And I am heartened to see that Rupert Sheldrake is getting the airing that his ideas have long deserved. Overall, however, there is little that is new. Yes, it is true that Ken Wilber has made some recent appearances on the IDW, but Ken and his ideas have been around since 1973, the year of his first book “A Spectrum of Consciousness”.

My thoughts about all this are still not fully formed, but I will end this with just one thought. I do believe that there is a need for some new thinking about the big, important things. But I also believe that this needs to go well beyond what Rebel Wisdom seem to be trying to achieve. It needs to include intelligent, open exploration of those topics and questions that are largely ignored by science. The list is alarming long, and it includes unusual forms of consciousness (not induced by drugs), as well as the whole range of so-called paranormal experiences and phenomena. Now, that would be an intellectual web that I would be proud to be part of!

 

Chris Thomson

 

christhomson1000@gmail.com

 

global change, Intelligence, natural, Uncategorized

Order out of Chaos?

This is the title (without the question mark) of Ilya Prigogine’s 1984 book. He made the radical suggestion that order always emerges from chaos, and he noted that it is impossible to predict exactly what kind of order will emerge from chaos. Specifically, he suggested that this happened when systems were in a “far from equilibrium” state. Although he was writing about chemical and physical reactions, I believe that his findings are equally valid for social and political systems.

 

There can be little doubt that we are living in “far from equilibrium” times. On good days, it feels confusing and dispiriting. On bad days, of which there are many, it feels dangerous. If you doubt this, you have not been paying attention. I will just mention a few items from a very long list. A lying narcissist has direct access to the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal. An extreme right-winger who wants to commercially exploit the Amazon rainforest (“the lungs of the planet”) has just been elected President of Brazil. The UK is committing an act of massive self-harm by exiting the European Union. Economic and social inequalities are now greater than they were in Victorian times. Human behaviour is changing the climate dangerously. As if all this were not enough, all this planet’s life-support systems – yes, all of them – are in serious decline. i.e. clean air, clean water, forests, topsoil, aquifers, fisheries, wetlands, and biodiversity. This is because we human beings (and only we human beings) overuse and abuse them.

 

In these circumstances, it is a matter of astonishment that we continue to believe that we are the most intelligent species on this planet! Yet I believe that Prigogine’s findings give us cause for hope. There is clearly a strong sense of collapse and chaos. Things are very evidently far from equilibrium.  In the domains of chemical and physical reactions, this situation leads to great change – change that cannot be predicted. I suspect that this is exactly what we are going through now, on a human scale. I believe that we are right on the cusp of global changes that we can barely imagine. Yes, it looks dark outside now. But a new dawn is just about to break. Are we ready for it? It means that we have to be prepared for anything, including things we can barely imagine.

 

christhomson1000@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

consciousness, global change, Intelligence, natural, Uncategorized

CONSCIOUSNESS, CHARACTER, AND CAPACITY

Although our behaviour often suggests otherwise, human evolution has not stopped. And although many of us are fat and unhealthy, we are almost certainly still evolving physically. What we will look like, and sound like, in 1,000 years is anyone’s guess. However, my main interest is in the other ways in which we seem to be evolving. In my opinion, we are still evolving in consciousness, in character, and in capacity, and all the evidence suggests that we still have a very long way to go. I will say a few words about each of these.

Consciousness is just another word for experience. We are conscious, for example, that it is getting warmer, and we are conscious that we feel good, or bad. We are evolving in consciousness when we notice more – in quantity and in quality. You notice more about yourself, about other people, and about the world. This is the quantity of your consciousness. But you also notice more about the same things – such as shades of feeling, nuances of meaning, and so on. This is the quality of your consciousness. Ideally, as you become more conscious, you also become wiser. This takes us to the evolution of your character.

You are evolving in character when you behave better, more wisely, more ethically. More often than before, you do the right things, in the right ways, at the right times. It is significant, I think, that the evolution of consciousness and character go hand in hand with the evolution of capacity. They are all closely interrelated. They need each other!

You are evolving in capacity when you can do more things, and you can do them better. For example, you learn to speak Catalan and, eventually, you are able to speak it well. Or you begin to learn to ski and, over time, you become a competent skier. It could be any activity or any ability. The point is that your capacity to do things evolves.

Ideally, as you evolve in these three respects, you will one day become a highly conscious individual, of impeccable character, with the capacity to help make the world a better place. And ideally (yes, I know that this is the third time I have said this!), the whole human race will one day be highly conscious, of excellent character, with wonderful abilities. That day will come, of this I am sure, but not for a while! I do believe that this is the general direction we are taking. Of course, there is evidence to the contrary and, of course, we will stumble and fall many times on the way. But with a good deal of faith and application, it is ever onwards and upwards!