Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sense and Sensibility

One of Gurdjieff's five "Obligolnian strivings" (as found in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson) is the need to work to understand the laws of world creation and world maintenance.

Let's ponder together for a moment in that spirit.

When we consider the alchemical idea "as above, so below," in conjunction with the judaeochristian idea that God created man "in his own image," we are presented with a question about the nature of perception and perceiving.

From the time the universe was created up to the present day, the majority of perception- in the raw form of what we would call "information exchange"- has taken place in the context of simple elctromagnetic exchange. I say "simple" because, reduced to a reflexive and mechanistic (reductionsts would say random and accidental) set of causes and effects, there is no "
meaning"- no sensitivty, no appreciation- contained within the form. It's only with the advent of agency (see Stuart Kauffman's "Reinventing The Sacred"), that is, consciousness, that the possibility of meaning arises.

When the universe first came into existence, it lacked context. Simple electromagnetic exchange was the only form of perception.

Why wasn't this adequate? Why, in other words, was there any "need" whatsoever for agency, for the advent of consciousness as we experience it?

Some scientists have pointed out (see John Barrow's "The Constants Of Nature" and Paul Davies' "Cosmic Jackpot") that the laws of nature-that is, physics- appear to have been
tweaked, in a manner that just about inspires outright incredulity, to allow for the exact conditions that make it possible for life to exist.

So it appears to some of us (those who don't believe accident alone is a sufficient explanation for the existence of reality) as though the Universe- God- had a specific "wish" for consciousness to evolve, that there was a need for this kind of perception to arise. In other words, the universe has an inherent
desire to perceive itself in more that just the simple way that electromagnetism, in the absence of agency, makes possible.

This possibility raises questions about the idea of the extinction of desire espoused in some esoteric practices, but we will not digress on that right now.

When I hear the sound of running water in the stream outside my friend's house this morning, it occurs to me that it took the planet, and the universe, literally billions of years and untold amounts of effort and suffering (in the form of life and death) to make this simple action of perception through agency possible.

From a coldly "scientific" perspective, there was no "need" for this. Only when we consider the idea of a creative force with a hunger for knowing the nature of its own creation can we begin to approach a
whole contextual meaning. That is, a meaning that contains not just physics and analysis, but that essential third force, an emotional element.

In the brush strokes of the picture where man is created in God's image, an image of
sleep and awakening emerges. God, like man, in the guise of the universe, started out asleep- within a creation that lacked the sensitive means of perception, the organic poetry, the art which agency can bring. Only after a great struggle to awaken, to develop new and much finer organs of perception- we call that struggle "biological evolution"- did an awakening become possible in which creation was perceived in a new way.

So man's struggle to awaken can be understood both as a microcosmic recapitulation of the struggle of the universe to sense itself, and as the
current, ongoing effort of the universe to sense itself.

Put in the simplest terms, life exists because God wants to hear the sound of running water, and the call of the blackbird on a summer morning.

We are here, as agents, to fulfill that responsibility.

May our hearts be open and our prayers be heard.


  1. In a recent post, you linked to Martha Heyneman's The Breathing Cathedral, which I bought and read. Seldom has a book moved me as did that one! And even better, all her cross-references pointed me towards several other books of interest. So thank you very much for the reference, and of course, "thanks" to her.

    As is the case with each of your posts, it's refreshing to read material that affirms my own thinking, on the one hand, and opens up new lines of inquiry on the other.

  2. thanks, walt. martha is a good friend of mine. I have passed your comment on to her.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.