1. In Platonic philosophy: a supposedly eternally existing pattern or archetype of any class of things, of which the individual things in that class are imperfect copies, and from which they derive their existence.
2. The conception of anything in its highest perfection of supreme development; a standard of perfection; an idea.
The word is originally derived from the Greek word ideîn, to see.
To have an idea is to have an insight, an inward vision.
We can see from the root of the word that it has an important relationship to the concept of understanding; because it relates to seeing, that most important action that brings consciousness into contact with finer and much higher substances, that is, closer to God.
We often consider this word as having something to do with conceptualization rather than observation; and that is indeed an important meaning. But to observe and to conceive actually have common roots, because the original root of the word conceive is from the Latin concipere, which means to take in or perceive.
Nowadays to conceive means, among other things, to become pregnant, that is, to allow the natural fecundity of the world to realize itself, to allow reproduction to take place. Yet we see that this relationship to fecundity has something to do with seeing; in other words, seeing gives birth.
There is rich territory to explore here. But this morning what I want to talk about is the relationship between ideas and the molecular nature of physical reality.
Each idea is something that gives birth to a whole realm of understanding in the spiritual world. The Platonic concept of an idea — an eternally existing pattern or archetype — locates that archetype or pattern in the spiritual realm, that is, a transcendental realm. The word "chair," for example, represents a class of objects that’s so vast it covers almost anything one might sit on. It even covers chairs that do not exist in the physical world, such as the heavenly thrones of angels and archangels. The point is that an idea exists in the spiritual realm, or (if you will) the left side of the enneagram, whereas DNA exists in the material realm—the right side. They have a roughly reciprocal relationship.
The way that both of these entities function is similar. A single idea — for example, the word obedience, which I’ve recently taken under consideration and examined as a necessary and essential practice — contains a vast amount of information packed into it. The word obedience covers so many different understandings, practices, attitudes, and aspects of awareness and understanding that it staggers the imagination. Yet all of it is contained within this single word, "obedience." It’s as though all of the information in this one word, this one idea, were carefully folded up — a long string of information (let's say, for the sake of argument, a string as long as the distance between our own sun and another sun.) Yet all of that is folded into a tiny point which contains everything.
In the action of folding, many of the subsidiary meanings and understandings connected to the idea of obedience are brought into contact with one another in exact ways, and it’s the interaction between them that produces the fecundity that the word obedience is able to express. That fecundity gives birth to the many smaller ideas surrounding obedience which enrich it and carry it forward through life in many different areas of understanding.
I think you get the idea. The point that I want to make here is that this spiritual or metaphysical expansion of an idea from the single original point of its metaphysical existence (which lies outside space and time, or, is imperceptible) into the nearly infinite points of its expression when it unfolds into space and time (becomes perceivable) is identical, in terms of correspondence, to the way that the DNA molecule functions. It, too, contains a vast amount of information that allows for reproduction; and it is also folded up into a complex shape which, if it were fully expanded, would extend for about 3 meters.
Keep in mind here that we are talking about a molecule which when it is folded, is only about 6 µm (micrometers) across. Yet inside this incredibly compacted and objectively tiny physical space is contained a vast amount of interactive information which is capable of reproducing to form the bodies we inhabit; and, by the way, producing the thoughts that we have, as well as the selfsame thoughts about ideas that we are examining right now.
So an idea, a seeing of something, acts quite like this DNA molecule. It’s a creature of the spiritual world, an entity of insight, that is apparently confined to a single point of existence and yet contains a vast understanding within it. That understanding is all quite improbably compressed into this single point, for example, once again, obedience.
If you are thinking that this sounds something like the universe before the Big Bang, you're correct, of course, because the universe was also folded into a point exactly like this before it expanded, and the analogy extends from the DNA molecule to the world of an idea, all the way to the world of the universe as we know it.
This ability of understanding to exist compressed into a single point which can be expanded from that point into everything that exists is an essential description of the character of God; and ideas and DNA, as well as the universe, all function this way because they are all a part of God and cannot express themselves in any way that departs from the Being of God Himself.
The derivation of the words idea and conceive indicates that this action of seeing is intimately connected to the act of creation, or birth.
This means that I cannot remain indifferent to it. The act of creation is an unpacking of higher, more sophisticated principles the reside within this single point and their expansion into lower realms. So when an idea comes into my mind, it enters from a higher or spiritual realm, but unpacks itself and expands into this realm, where it can undergo reproduction.
Thus a single word such as obedience is not just a word or a concept (which is, of course, derived from the same Latin root as the word conceive.) It is a fecund reproductive entity which wishes to give birth to its progeny in the realm that it contacts. That progeny is what carries it forward and continues its existence. So when we see, we are engaging in this fecund activity which is actually not just an action of observation but also a process of birth.
Something new can be born in us when we see. The act of observation facilitates the expansion of idea into reality, that is, it helps the higher principles of the spiritual realm unpack themselves, extend into every direction, and manifest in the physical realm.
In the DNA molecule, the idea of life and everything it can do is encoded in the four bases; and see how miraculous it is when the molecule unfolds itself and creates copies, which then give rise to variations and engage in new relationships. We have what we call life.
It's easy to understand this, from a conceptual point of view. From the physical standpoint; the molecular standpoint. Yet perhaps we don't understand that ideas also represent molecules and function in quite the same way.
I often speak about developing a molecular sense of Being. Perhaps, reading this, you may at least conceptually (through seeing with the mind) understand why I speak about this; although, of course, when I speak about the molecular sense of Being, I am not speaking conceptually, but rather quite literally, because our ability to see must become molecular in nature — it must go down to that level of detail and it must perceive within the context of the forces that create life in that realm. We’re capable of sensing that with our bodies if we develop enough of a connection to them. This is at its root a scientific, not metaphysical, question; yet science and metaphysics aren't actually different disciplines.
This subject will be of interest to those interested in studies of the enneagram and the question of why Gurdjieff said man has six—and not five—senses.
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Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.