Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Evolution of minerals, and the dark energy of the brain

Pictured here: a spodumene (kunzite) crystal from my personal collection, on matrix in an unusual association with amethyst. The specimen is from China. (Here's another picture)

Technically speaking, we are all composed of minerals-- all organic life, in fact, relies for its existence on the complex crystalline structure of DNA.

An article (highly recommended reading) in the March issue of Scientific American by Robert M. Hazen entitled "Evolution of Minerals" explains how the majority of minerals present on earth were created by life processes.

His wrap-up paragraph mentions that we live in a cosmos with a consistent tendency to develop increasing levels of complexity, and, moreover, one that is in the process of learning to know itself.

As Stuart Kaufmann so eloquently points out in Reinventing the Sacred, we can interpret that statement in many different ways, so that both the religious and scientifically minded are satisfied both with its openness, and accuracy.

A second article in this issue of Sci-Am-- also well worth reading -- is "The Brain's Dark Energy" by Marcus E. Raichle. Simply put, the author explains that about 80% of all brain activity is what we call "background" activity, that is, the brain is constantly doing things that don't necessarily relate to any specific external event, and that is what most of its activities consist of. What we have here is, propositionally, "mindful mindlessness," a concept which ought to please not only the Buddhists, but also those type "A" personalities who feel guilty when sitting around doing nothing.

And everyone else in between.

Both of these articles might appear, on the surface, to be unrelated, but they are not. They both ask questions about what we are, where we come from, and how we perceive the universe around us. The tool that does the perceiving -- the brain -- is in essence a very complex organic crystalline matrix. It arises directly from the evolution of complexity in the minerals described in the first article.

All of this might seem rather boring to those of us who are devoted more to inner work than questions of science, but, as Gurdjieff pointed out, the subjects are not separated. Religion and science both seek self-knowledge. The universe has, inexplicably and mysteriously, produced organisms capable of perception, that act to increase the level of complexity in the universe--a tendency that contradicts seemingly known laws of entropy.

Why?

In answer to the "big" (for me) question raised by the first article -- can minerals "know" themselves? -- an apparent absurdity, the answer is, definitively, yes. The subject -- that is, the complex crystalline nature of molecular biology, based on minerals -- can see itself through self-created tools of perception. It seems to be a reflexive act undertaken by unintelligent elements, but as we have discussed many times before in this space, the universal property of emergence -- which is essential to any understanding of evolution, consciousness, and intelligence -- dictates that unintelligent elements will consistently assemble themselves into units that display greater degrees of intelligence.

( I am intentionally ignoring here the specious arguments advanced by some reductionist theorists of consciousness who argue that consciousness itself is illusory and doesn't actually exist. Lest readers somehow mistake these stupid contentions as some modern, albeit perverted, scientific version of Zen Buddhism, allow me to remind us that Dogen, the preeminent Buddhist theorist of the last 2000 years, would have firmly contradicted any such contention as non-Buddhist thinking.)

In answer to the second "big" (for me) question, raised by the second article, that is, what is the nature of consciousness -- well, here we see that the majority of consciousness is supported and created by what one would call "unconscious" constituent elements -- which bears a striking, if arguably superficial, relationship to the arguments Gurdjieff raised in " Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson" in which he explained that most of the conscious elements in man that still had any intact functioning had submerged into the unconscious -- painted in his sweeping allegory of the submergence of the continent of Atlantis.

The article on dark energy of the brain makes it clear that the majority of who we are, what we are, and what our potentials are, is indeed submerged beneath the surface of our awareness. Here we have one more piece of scientific verification on this question--lest there were any doubt at all left, and despite Freud's original sexual mangling of the question.

I am sure readers with less strongly developed intellectual interests (and there is nothing, indeed, wrong with that!) will be relieved to hear that this brings us to the point of our actual work.

Anyone who persists for decades in the inner effort proposed by the Gurdjieff Work will eventually discover properties of consciousness that are no less magical or extraordinary than the most outrageous ideas presented by popular culture.

They may not be as spectacular -- we are, after all, a species addicted to the impulse of showing off -- but they are much more profound, in that they are not produced by our fantasies. They are real.

And it is this emergence of something that is actually real and completely extraordinary, completely different than anything one was led to expect out of life or experience, that we work for.

One of the significant properties of the Gurdjieff work is that most of its technique -- as well as its activity -- is aimed at stimulating these areas of "dark energy," these mysterious underlying patterns of neurological activity whose exact functioning and purpose is just now being noticed, and remains utterly obscure to modern science.

We do not try to work in a literal manner-- which was perhaps one of the signature mistakes that Ouspensky ultimately made, one which he popularized and promulgated in his famous "In Search of the Miraculous -- Fragments of an Unknown Teaching." To this day, countless adherents of the teaching ascribe almost equal weight to this book and original works by Gurdjieff himself, when nothing could be further from the truth. This is because of our attraction to the superficial -- an attraction which serves us very well indeed, until we believe too much in it.

Based on my own experience, it is safe to say that no superficial interpretation or understanding -- no attempts at literalism -- can lead to the kind of inner opening which we seek. Gurdjieff understood this quite well, and left us with unique texts, unique music, and unique movements, all of which act over the course of many years on the unconscious parts of man. Like Jesus Christ's parables, they are meant to act on the parts of minds that lie outside the literal, superficial, or obvious parts -- exactly those parts, in other words, that fall in the range of the "dark energy" described in the Scientific American article.

There are those who will say that to compare Gurdjieff to Christ is a heresy. Gurdjieff himself would have agreed. But in comparing this specific area of teaching, the methodology is clearly quite similar, underlining once again the strong connection between the Gurdjieff practice and Christianity. One cannot separate Gurdjieff and his teaching from the teachings of Christ, because his work is so clearly and so firmly in the Christian tradition, despite what detractors may say.

So here, once again, we encounter that peculiar blend of Christianity, Eastern esotericism, and modern science, all coalescing together in a nexus of understanding that leads us towards the mysteries of what we are.

It reaffirms once again Gurdjieff's unique and extraordinary syncretism, express the best in his aphorism, "Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West -- and then seek." (Views From The Real World, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1973, p 282.)

May the living light of Christ discover us.




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