Friday, March 21, 2008

Experience is material

How do we reconcile the exploration of intimate inner practices with what appear to be purely theoretical explorations?

One cannot, in the end, realistically divorce practice from cosmology. In Dogen's Zen, for example, they are intimately linked, and Gurdjieff was no different.

One of the stated aims of Gurdjieff’s teaching was to connect the profound and ancient heritage of eastern teachings about man’s inner state with the understandings of modern western science. This remains, in today's Work, an ongoing effort. Science, like religion, begins with the presumption that we lack understanding. Both disciplines represent an effort to acquire it.

On this note, I just completed Paul Davies’ book, “Cosmic Jackpot”—highly recommended. It covers, among other fascinating subjects, the nature of physical law, and whether or not it is unique. (That is not, by any means, a given.)

His explanations of the current state of physics, along with the interpretive suggestions he makes about consciousness and cosmology towards the end of the book, display an uncanny consonance with many of the things Gurdjieff said about creation and the nature of the universe.

When we study the nature of our own experience through self observation, we are participating in an essential act linked, at its very root, to the reason for creation itself. As Davies explains towards the end of his book, it certainly appears as though we exist specifically in order to experience the nature of reality: we are sensory tools that arise as a direct consequence of the act of creation. As such, he argues, intelligence and consciousness are fundamental to the properties of matter.

Indeed, let’s consider this: if there is no consciousness to experience the existence of the universe then, for all intents and purposes, no universe exists. Existence cannot arise in the absence of consciousness, because in order for it to arise, a comprehension must take place. As I have said before, there cannot be nothing. Nothing named is already something.

As regards intelligence being a fundamental property of the universe, I agree with Davies; you can find similar ideas in my essay “Light and the Resolution of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle,” which predates his publication by several years. He and I might argue about the nature of the fundamentals, but the premise remains.

In yesterday’s post I examined the understanding that higher emotional experience is a material quality of the universe. That particular observation is a subset of a broader point:

all experience is matter.

Experience arises from matter and cannot exist without it. Matter, we might say, originally arose in order to create a physical vehicle for experience.

Matter exists through relationship, and the content of experience is formed only through perception of relationship. Relationship arises on every level of the universe, beginning with the family of subatomic particles and extending upwards into ever more complex structures that consistently display emergent properties. Physical reality is actually an emergent property of quantum behavior.

At a certain point in the development of the latent emergent properties within ordinary matter, consciousness arises. We classify the range of entities modern science recognizes as aware under the term “biological life.” Man’s exploration of the computer world has, however, made it clear that awareness may not be the property of biological life alone (Davies certainly discusses and explains this in his book) ; and indeed Gurdjieff assigns living property—hence awareness—to all materiality.

His thinking is thus consistent with Davies' premise that the qualities of life and awareness are pervasive, rather than limited to biological organisms alone. Hence he, too, argues for consciousness as an inherent property of matter and the universe, not an acquired one. This puts his understanding many decades ahead of his scientific contemporaries.

Gurdjieff referred to man’s principal responsibility as “taking on a share of the burden of the sorrow of His Endlessness.” In other words, Gurdjieff described a universe with an inherent emotional property which all organisms ought to participate in. These emotive properties of the universe arise within the context of the finest energies, or highest rates of vibration, within matter. The universe is, as I explained in the essay on the enneagram, constructed from love—the very highest emotional property.

This idea shouldn’t be foreign to us. After all, just about every religion puts God’s love at the heart of the universe. What is perhaps not well understood is that the material nature of the universe is constructed of God’s love.

Love is a physical substance.

Every physical manifestation of reality is a direct and immediate expression of the divine, and constitutes a sacred arising which carries a price. The material relationships that give rise to the reality we experience are constructed of these very fine vibrations.

I bring all of this up to underscore the questions raised in yesterday’s post. We need to understand the theoretical underpinnings behind our practice in order to see why it isn’t random, or based on faith alone.

Four weeks ago, I had a conversation with my seventeen year-old son—who professes agnosticism—about the nature of God. The explanations I gave him—which are much along the lines of Davies’ examinations of the question—helped him to see that the questions of God and the universe are far more complex than the image, as Gurdjieff put it, of a “venerable old Jew with a long flowing beard.”

In the evolution of their relationship, Gurdjieff eventually told Ouspensky that faith becomes necessary. Ouspensky wasn’t happy with that: it appears he never understood the question in a right way. In fact, he cites Gurdjieff’s religious leanings as a primary reason for his split with him.


Gurdjieff had it right; but he never advocated a blind faith. He advocated a faith through seeing. And in this case, the ability to marry the depths of our inner experience with a more tangible scientific understanding of what it consists of, and why it takes place, helps to support our faith.

This work of thinking can never be a substitute for sensing, but it can certainly function as an admirable assistant.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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