Sunday, May 9, 2010

The origin of life

I recently finished reading "Genesis."

Not that chapter in the Bible-- No, I mean the book on efforts to create life in the laboratory by Robert M. Hazen. The book is a rather good book, and I enjoyed the read, but I don't think scientists are going to create life in the laboratory. Every decade, there are claims that there is a breakthrough just around the corner, but life is immensely complex and scientists are still completely baffled as to how and why it arose, exists, and functions. Every single time we learn something new, it raises new questions. Their number expands exponentially, while what we actually know moves forward arithmetically.

The reason for this can be found in Gurdjieff's explanation of the nature of life on earth.

Persistent readers of this blog will know that I've mentioned before that organic life on earth does not even represent a "note" in what is called the octave of the solar system. Organic life is what is called a "shock," that is, it is a material force that applies a certain amount of necessary energy from outside the existing system in order to assist in its evolution. Admittedly, this idea has little to do with modern science, although romantic scientists (see "The Age of Wonder" by Richard Holmes) might have found it a bit more palatable and plausible. But it illuminates a specific quality of life that we don't discuss or consider very much in the context that Gurdjieff presents it in.

Any adequate study of the ennegram will make it quite clear to the inquirer that the energy for shocks in any given octave must come from a higher level. That is to say, the force, or energy, that makes it possible for energy in an octave to continue its evolution according to the lawful notes in the scale must always emanate from "Do," from the level above the one that the octave is on. This means that the octave itself must be open and receptive to the arrival of energy from a higher level. Another way of putting it, couched in the terminology of Christian symbolism, is that the holy Trinity must enter into every situation in order for anything to develop in a proper way. "God," in other words--the intervention of the divine, of a higher power--is the essential ingredient for every omelette.

Other religions understand this idea equally well--although perhaps not quite so specifically in relationship to the law of three--by saying that without the presence of God in a man's life, nothing is meaningful and nothing can happen.

We are told by Gurdjieff that organic life on earth represents a shock between "all planets" and the earth. (See pgs. 136-137 in "In Search Of The Miraculous," P.D. Ouspensky, Paul H. Crompton Ltd. 2004 edition.) As such, life itself is indeed a creation from a higher level, that is, in its very nature it is inherently divine. Now, this is exactly how the creation of life is presented in Genesis in the Bible -- it is the direct creation of the divine, a manifestation of God.

The difference between the point of view of contemporary creationists, who would have it that God "waved his hand" and "made it so" (premises which any right-thinking person will soundly reject,) and the Gurdjieffian point of view is that Gurdjieff--without making any specific calls about the mechanisms of natural selection and evolution-- maintained that life is imbued with a divine energy.

That is to say, what animates and makes things alive in organic life is a higher energy, an energy from another level.

Ergo, it's not going to get teased together in laboratory test tubes.

This goes some way to explaining why life aggressively and obviously contradicts the second law of thermodynamics. This nagging fact has been bothering scientists for generations, and those of limited imagination and intelligence have come up with any number of specious explanations for the problem, none of which really solve it at all. The reason that life contradicts this law is that it comes from a higher level. It has a different set of laws acting on it; or, we might say, it has less laws restraining its behavior than the laws of the level it manifests within, because it is not of this level. It is a shock appearing on this level from above to help development.

Of course, many readers may say, "Well, big deal. All he's saying is the same thing that the Bible says... God created life... blah, blah, blah."

But I think there is more to it than that.

First of all, this means that organic life on earth in general, and man in particular, have been sent here as a kind of help. That means that life was created with a responsibility conferred upon it by a higher power to assist in the creation and maintenance of the universe (a premise introduced by Ouspensky, and elaborated at great length in "Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson.") Life has a role to play -- it's not accidental in any sense of the word. The reason that things have proceeded on this planet the way they have for the past three or more billion years in terms of the evolution of life have proceeded in that way exactly because there is a reason for it.

Life, in other words, is performing a specific service that is not quite within our capacity to comprehend.

In the strictest context of evolutionary understanding, nothing exists unless there is a reason for it. This is going to sound a bit peculiar, but there is absolutely no reason for life to exist without a reason. If it were completely purposeless, it wouldn't have arisen in the first place.

We live, after all, in a universe governed not by accidents, but by laws. Nothing ever takes place by accident at all; everything must follow law. In the strictest sense, this is exactly the way that Gurdjieff presented his cosmology; it is also, in the strictest sense, exactly the standard that must be applied to the claim that life arose and evolved by accident.

One can't postulate a universe where everything happens according to law and is also a random accident. It just doesn't work that way. Even the things that appear to be random accidents strictly follow laws. We may not have discerned what all laws are --in fact, every scientist would definitely admit that if pressed -- but the laws are there. Ever apparently random action within the universe is, in its essence and at its heart, absolutely deterministic --another premise which Gurdjieff also intimated.

Secondly, it's fascinating to sense, to experience, to realize that the "sensation of divinity" which normal men (men whose sensitivity has not been progressively destroyed by the overbearing reasoning of intellectual partiality) have about the world is accurate.

Organic life on earth arises and manifests directly out of the bosom of divinity, creating a world that is miraculous, divine, magnificent, sublime--and impossible to explain with books, facts, and machines that tear it into little pieces for analysis. It isn't just a story invented by overly imaginative middle eastern cattle herders around campfires four or five thousand years ago; it isn't a fantasy engaged in by tree huggers and new agers. Organic life, and man, are active manifestations of divinity, both individually and in the collective.

If we truly understood this, if we could see it impartially, our respect for nature and our place in it would undergo drastic changes. Unfortunately, without the development of more sensitive faculties, this same idea -- no matter how magnificent it is -- remains largely theoretical.

It's up to us to develop our sense of the divine within the organic bodies we have been given. Since they are imbued with an energy that is quite literally divine in relationship to this level -- since the action of life and the action of living are active manifestations both of the divine and on behalf of the divine -- they have capacities we have not explored, sensitivities we do not understand.

I'll leave the readership with one last thought about this question.

Since organic life is a shock -- man is a shock. And a shock is not a thing, it is an action. So in mistaking ourselves for something that is static--for objects, material, or things--we mistake ourselves for notes, when what we are is a vibration, a energy, that moves through the system on this level, but emanates from and is connected to the divine.

This is an indicator that although the material manifestation of the human being, that is, the body, may belong to and be a property of nature, the nature of consciousness is that of an energy, a vibration, an action, a reconciling force.

May the living Light of Christ discover us.

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