Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Meetings With Remarkable Monsters

Vezelay, France

 This ancient saying, chosen by me for the beginning of the second series of my writings, is formulated thus: 

Only he will deserve the name of man and can count upon anything
prepared for him from Above, who has already acquired corresponding data for being able to preserve intact both the wolf and the sheep confided to his care.

 A 'psycho-associative philological analysis' of this saying of our ancestors which was made by certain learned men of our times—of course not from among those breeding on the continent of Europe—clearly showed that the word 'wolf' symbolizes the whole of the fundamental and reflex functioning of the human organism and the word 'sheep' the whole of the functioning of a man's feeling. As for the functioning of a man's thinking, this is represented in the saying by the man himself…

G. I Gurdjieff, Meetings With Remarkable Men, P. 5 (Introduction)

March 24. I’ll confess, it’s been some time since I read this book, although I have read it several times. Yet this particular passage was brought up at lunch this afternoon; and since there seemed to be some consternation about exactly what he meant when he said this, I thought the passage was worthy of closer examination.

A cursory glance at the subject yields the insight that Gurdjieff is, here, speaking of man’s three “centers,” or, the three different minds that rule his ordinary being — the body, the emotions, and the intellect. The wolf represents the body — which in its lower part represents the ravenous beast, but in its most developed state is represented by organic sensation. The sheep represents the emotions, which in their lower part are followers and imitators, timid and often useless. In their higher nature they express feeling, which is a sacred quality. And the third part, the intellect, represents itself in words, the silly thing.

The critical point in this passage, I think, is the word intact.

What does Gurdjieff mean when he says “being able to preserve intact?”

For this, we must turn once again, as I so often do, to the practice of etymology, or, word origins. Gurdjieff himself was quite interested in this subject and was very careful in his choice of words for translations from his Russian originals.

The word intact, which entered the language in ordinary use sometime before 1500, means unimpaired, whole, or, most importantly here — untouched. It was borrowed directly from Latin intāctus, meaning not touched.

In this way, Gurdjieff has already given us an indicator that a man needs to contain both his physical impressions and his emotional impressions in an objective sense, that is, “untouched.” This is in every sense identical to his instruction not to become “identified,” or subjectively involved with, the impressions of these minds.

It also means, on a second level, the capacity for allowing these minds to function as they were meant to, without interference.

This means the impressions from the two minds ought to be allowed to flow in objectively, without being manipulated by the repository of past association which so powerfully influences everything we experience, and most especially what we think. This finds echoes — and powerful ones — in Jeanne Salzmann’s continued exhortations to take in the world as it is, without applying forms. Instructions and insights to this effect are peppered throughout her notes as they appear in The Reality of Being.

Paramount in absorbing the complex lesson that this deceptively simple comment introduces is to understand that each of the animals is a very different thing. The wolf has one set of needs and perceptions that in no way, shape, or form corresponds to the needs and perceptions of the sheep; and both of them are animals, categorically incapable of intellectual thinking on the level that the man operates. Nonetheless, both of them are much cleverer than the man in their own way, on the terms in which they inhabit Being.

Extending the analogy a bit later in the passage by bringing up the cabbage — which rather transparently represents the mind, given its layers and its shape—we note here that the sheep (our emotions) are able, like an esoteric version of zombies, to “eat the brain.” We are indeed consumed by our emotions; and little more need be said about the danger of that.

The wolf, in its turn, can eat the sheep — that is to say, physical cravings of any kind can overcome emotions such as fear, prudence, and so on. The man turns into a wolf here… a werewolf. The wolf will do almost anything, for example, to get food and sex, even if the emotions are forced to suffer terribly in the process.

Either way, as long as the intellect is involved with either one of these creatures as an accomplice — or bludgeoned bystander — it is impossible for the intellect to play its theoretical role as the police man of the situation, who alone is capable of determining sound courses of action in which these other two parts don’t harm each other and their owner. The intellect, for its own part, is not just a cabbage but a Frankenstein creature, a patchwork of past associations each one of which used to be alive, but has now been reassembled in a walking, talking imitation of conscious humanity… not the real thing, but an incredible simulation.

Gurdjieff’s exhortation, then, is one extolling the virtues of mindfulness — conscious awareness. On one level, it implies responsibility and supervision (which is its apparent meaning, at first glance) and on the next level it represents self observation, noninterference, and an objective experience of sensation and feeling.

Much more can be said about that, but perhaps this sketch gives you some inkling of how carefully one needs to examine things Gurdjieff said. Even the simplest statements have multiple layers in them, much like the symbolism of capitals on columns in Gothic cathedrals. We take their first and literal meaning at face value at our own peril; because there is always much more going on here than meets the eye.

Notes from The Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism will resume on Nov. 3.

Happy Halloween!


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part XIII—The Three Fundamental Laws

The three fundamental laws are the laws derived from the Holy Trinity. According to these three laws, there  is not just one force that runs the universe — the physical force. Mechanistic rationalism presumes that only this force exists; and because it provides powerful interpretive mechanisms to assign meaning in the absence of intention or purpose, it has seized the imagination of modern persons to the exclusion of the other two laws. Yet the other two laws are vitally important; because  as we shall see, without them, it’s impossible to understand the full context of law in the universe.
 Because these two laws are based not on reductive physical properties, they can’t be analyzed using instruments, but they lie behind the two phenomenon least explained by the mere existence of the physical: intelligence and agency.
Briefly put, intelligence is discernment or understanding. Discernment and understanding can only exist in a relationship: without being to discern, the action isn’t possible. By itself, it implies awareness. And understanding has a similar property: it only arises in the context of relationship between what understands and what is understood. In both cases, there is a cause and effect that arises from agency: an agent that discerns, and that which is discerned. An agent which understands, and that which is understood.
Each of these properties clearly has something to do with Being, that is, a being that is more than just physical. Material things alone do not have the property of agency in this sense, because no awareness or discernment drives them. They are simply reactive. So here we see that in addition to the physical, which is simply reactive, once one adds intelligence, there is a perception that exists apart from what is a reactive and acts within contexts related to what it perceives.
In the examination of agency, a motive force arises. This is a wish, or an intention. The agent does not just perceive; it has a desire to act. This particular law, the law of desire or wish, is roughly equivalent to emotion. So we’ll examine three fundamental laws in the following order:

The law of Love (Emotion)
The law of Intellect (Mind)
The law of Matter (Physical Existence)



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part XII—The Redefinition of Law, continued

 So the activity of science itself begins with the human explaining the material; and it is functionally impossible for humans to remove themselves from that dilemma. Instead, then, of trying to use laws to explain humans, let us admit that we always use humans to explain the laws; and then, let us look at the laws from the point of view metaphysical humanism, that is, the understanding that to be human and to be alive does not end, either in individuals or in the aggregate, at the margins of individual bodies. To be human, as Swedenborg pointed out, raises much larger questions about the nature of the universe, because all of the meaning that is discovered in it – whether that meaning be negative or positive, whether it be derived from mechanistic rationalism or metaphysical humanism — is discovered by humans. We can imagine a universe in which there was something other than human that made such discoveries — but it is just making things up. We must be pragmatic and deal with what actually happens and where we are.

So humans explain the laws. And we need to explain them from the perspective, not of the mechanical interactions, but the fundamental properties of the universe (what the Sufi scientists would have called the names of God) which are reflected not just in the physical nature of things — which is one third of what all things consist of — but also in the intellectual and emotional nature of things. 

What we'll attempt to do here, then, is look at what universal law means from an intellectual and emotional point of view, rather than a physically operational point of view. Mechanistic rationalism, by itself, is not an invalid science — it is simply one third of a valid science, which must include the other two enterprises in order to reach any real understanding of the nature of things.

In redefining the laws, we will attempt to see a fragment of what Gurdjieff was explaining to Ouspensky when he originally explained the nature of universal law, citing, among other of the few laws he specifically named, the law of falling and of the law of accident. These, to be sure, refer in the first instance to mechanical law and perhaps even in the second (although that is not a given, since the law of accident is probably related to fate.) But we are going to be looking at laws derived from larger and more fundamental understandings first, beginning with what I call the first order of law, the three fundamental laws.

 As we engage in this redefinition of law according to metaphysical humanist principles, let us remember that law, in this context, does not just refer to laws that govern the physical manifestation of the universe. Law also applies to the metaphysical aspects of existence, that is, the aspects of existence that involve what Swedenborg would have called Divine Love and Wisdom. Readers of Ouspensky will remember Gurdjieff’s remark to him about the seminary student who said, “even God Himself cannot beat the ace of spades with a deuce.” God and His actions, in other words, are also subject to law; yet these laws exist solely because they are the laws of God’s own Being, and everything that follows from the existence of God manifests according to the nature of God’s Being. One might say, on this point, that law is not so much something that acts on God, so much as something that is God, because God’s Being both embodies law, emanates law, and inevitably exists within its own law.

 Law, in other words, applies to all aspects of Being, including the aspects that cannot be explained by the mere existence of the physical. Law itself has metaphysical properties; and only by recognizing this can we begin to understand law from an expansive enough point of view to perceive its actions and the reasons for them.



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part XI—The Redefinition of Law

Law and Universe: The Redefinition of Law

 Since modern science began to progressively destroy the mythological and religious understandings of the previous 10 millennia or more of human culture and civilization, we have understood physical law only from the perspective of mechanistic rationalism. This particular philosophical point of view (which is called “science,” but is in fact a religious dogma in its own right) insists that nothing can be “understood” except from a physical and materialistic point of view. Of course, the exact opposite is in fact true — it is impossible to understand anything strictly from a physical and materialistic point of view. Yet science has managed, through its manipulation of material technologies, to gain credibility as an ascendant force in every human society today, simply because it multiplies “wealth”, as narrowly defined in the sense of acquisition of materials. The fact that it has become intensely destructive and is in many ways degrading the real wealth of human societies, from their cultures, their religious understandings, and their arts all the way to the environment that they live in, which is perhaps the most dangerous and horrifying result of science — is ignored. Mechanistic rationalism has exerted a powerful hypnotic force on human beings, one that is difficult to resist. This is because it is tied, at its root, to the animalistic instinct for survival, which relies on the acquisition of material, especially food productive mates, in order to succeed.

Yet it is clear enough that human beings are unique and remarkable in regard to other animals; and despite the fact that we have discovered we have an incredible amount in common with other animals, including social cultures, tool use, similar empathies, and so on, animals definitely aren’t intelligent in the same way that humans are. So ascribing all of our aspirations to a set of mechanical reactions that center on survival alone is an incredibly limiting philosophy. It is not only narrow; it is false. It is false because it provides no interpretive mechanism through which we can understand what it truly means to be human. Studying every gear that a clock is made of will not tell you how they are assembled and why a clock tells time, or even what time is. You could know everything about the clock gears, right down to the molecular composition of the various alloys they are made of; yet this wouldn’t explain time or why anyone should be bothered with it in the first place. Science has never been able to bridge that gap, and it never will. It’s quite clear that a different group of meanings needs to be deployed at a higher level than that of mechanistic rationalism in order to understand even this one very straightforward and commonplace object and the phenomenon it connects to.

For this reason, law needs to be redefined not from the perspective of the mechanical operations that devolve upon matter as a result of physical interactions; we need to redefine law from the perspective of metaphysical humanism, that is, the way that things behave in the context of human understanding. 

 Remember this: mechanistic rationalism discounts the human, and begins with the material in order to explain the human. This is an upside down perspective; instead, it is necessary to begin with the human in order to explain the material. Everything about the material relates to what it means to be human first, and not the other way around. We can see this from a very simple and straightforward inversion of understanding about what it means to conduct the activities of science. Science — the investigation of meaning within physical and material world — cannot take place without humans to conduct it. If we remove humans from the universe, and everything else stays exactly the same, the activity human beings call “science”, along with all the meanings that it applies to things, from the physical laws on up through the quantum realm into the atomic and molecular realms, and then the rounds of life, becomes entirely meaningless. It doesn’t exist. The concepts of the various realms don’t exist. The words for them don’t exist. The relationships being investigated don’t exist. And so on. 



Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part X—Meaning and Law

Meaning and Law

 We find ourselves here at the juncture of an effort to understand what law is, and how meaning relates to it.

The word law derives from proto-Germanic roots, and it means that which is laid down or fixed. (Compare the German Gesetz, which is derived from the verb to sit.   It means, in other words, something that is as it is, has been settled, and cannot be a different way. Readers will immediately see the irony inherent in discussing why laws of the universe are the way they are, and whether there can be alternate universal laws.  Let us be entirely clear about this: there are no other laws. The laws are the way they are because they cannot be different. Interested readers can refer to my essays on the coincident multiverse, in which I explained that it is impossible to have alternate universes, because the laws apply across every universe in the multiverse. They are all the same. This is because all universes (and there are indeed an infinite number of them) are direct reflections of God’s nature, and God does not change his nature from universe to universe on some women. His nature is His nature. Just as organic chemistry would be identical in a galaxy other than our own, so universes are identical from one to the next. All the laws are, furthermore, also settled and fixed and identical.

For this reason we understand that meaning is consistent throughout not only this universe, but every universe, and all meaning ultimately aggregates towards the same set of results. Take note that when Gurdjieff wrote Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, this universality of nature and substance was an inherent part of his cosmology. Gurdjieff came to it from a sort of touchy-feely metaphysical and religious point of view, which was highly realized and entirely accurate — revelational, in fact, as it happens. Yet the functional philosophical underpinnings of this cosmology also remain intact from a scientific point of view, when considered from the perspective of metaphysical humanism.

Law gives birth to meaning. Each law, existing as it does, presents a postulate regarding the nature of meaning. In this next section, we will redefine the law from a metaphysical humanist point of view and understand what the implications of the laws are.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part IX: If Pigs Could Fly

Meanings are intentional (desirous)

 The third aspect of meaning to be explored here is that meaning — which is intention and purpose itself — has what we would call a wish. That is to say, meaning does not sit there like a rock and do nothing. Meanings of themselves have the desire, and impulse and an agency — to form an ever greater scope of relationship with other meanings, and to incorporate the results of that relationship within themselves. Meaning, put in other terms, cares about itself and what is happening to it. Once meaning exists, it is inquisitive, acquisitive, and relational. There is nothing passive about meaning; it exists outside of the entropic tendencies of the universe, because it is born of that same intelligence which gives us an emergent universe in the first place.

This desirous or intentional nature of meaning is perhaps the most obvious result of the aggregation of matter and its interaction; and our bafflement about why it exists at all lies at the root of all the questions human beings have about why the universe exists, what intelligence is, whether or not there is a God, and so on and so forth. Yet before we come to all of these questions, the desirous nature of meaning — its wish to propagate itself — needs to be dealt with, because there is an inherently alien nature here when one compares the mechanical interaction of matter to what meaning does, and how life aggregates as a series of agencies. I say alien, because it has an action that mechanistic rationalism is absolutely unable to explain. The idea that all of it is purely accidental represents an absurdity; law and meaning cannot exist by accident. The very nature of physical law is such that it cannot be altered; it represents something fundamental. As such, all the speculations that an endless series of physicists have gone through as to how “the universe could be different” in one way or another, are sophistry and idle speculation. 

The universe can’t be different; it isn’t different; and no amount of wiseacring will change that. The universe would be different, for example, if pigs could fly. 

Once we step outside attempts to understand the universe as it is, along with its inherent law, organic integration of intelligence and emergence, we are daydreaming. The evidence for intelligence and intention as fundamental properties of the universe is right in front of us, and we participate in it. We could not even have these discussions if those things did not exist, so trying to argue them away by invoking mechanistic rationalism and mindless accident is sheer foolishness. Metaphysical humanism, on the other hand, understands that the human nature is a direct reflection of something fundamental about the universe itself — otherwise, human beings, like everything else, would not exist. All of material reality participates in and is in relationship to this reflection of the fundamental nature of the universe.

 This, of course, bears a strong and intentional relationship to Swedenborg’s arguments about human beings and their nature – as well as their physical structure and everything else — being a direct reflection of God’s own being. His principal of reciprocity, whereby everything in the material universe is a reflection of one aspect or another of heaven and, ultimately, God, is strictly operational here, and it is worth bearing in mind as we go forward.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part VIII—The Emergence of Meaning, continued

Meanings are emergent (intelligent)

What this word indicates is that meanings — intentions and purposes — display ever more sophisticated ranges of interaction as they aggregate and multiply. At each level of aggregation, atomic, molecular, organic, planetary, and so on,  meanings progressively display properties that cannot possibly be predicted based on the behavior of constituent meanings on the level below them. These meanings are governed, on each level of manifestation, by their own set of laws, which govern deterministic results on that level.

The reason I stress that this takes place on each level of manifestation is that meaning is an aggregating entity. It is structured in the same way as mathematics: there is a postulate, from which other understandings are derived. Having three or four postulates gives birth to a wide range of subsequent understandings, and so on. It is an additive process. So the laws on the “lowest” level of manifestation – the quantum level — that is, the laws that govern meaning on that level, not physical interaction — provide basic premises. Further laws apply as scale magnifies. The magnification of scale in an emergent environment adds new laws; and the progressive interaction interaction of law constructs more and more complex meaning.

Readers will note that this complex hierarchy of meaning according to level is identical to the structure of universal law Gurdjieff presented to Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous.  What he did not explain, but what should be self-evident to anyone who thinks it over for a little while, is that the structure of law creates an emergent entity of understanding. Gurdjieff presented the “burden” of law as an obstacle: that is, the more laws a level was under, the more difficult it was to become “free” of the law. There are some paradoxes here that lie beyond the scope of this essay. And the subject is vast; because our universe, which is created from three very simple laws (the Holy Trinity) was created nonetheless to iterate every thought that exists or can possibly exist in God’s Being; so the intention behind the creation of the universe was to thrust meaning into an environment of infinite complexity (“hell”) as a formal trial, so that it could emerge from the other side re-aggregated and purified. This is all accomplished through the formation of relationships.

The emergent property of meaning indicates that it has an inherent, overarching character that is pre-existing. Every emergent property that we see in the universe, as it happens, represents the unveiling of an aspect of universal nature that remains hidden until enough meaning — responsibility, or, ability to respond – has been concentrated to produce an entity capable of acting within the laws that govern that level of interaction. 

These aspects of universal nature, however, are not random or accidental. Their existence is already predicated in what I call the DNA of the universe – that is to say, the quantum, atomic, and molecular templates governed by the laws which impart initial meaning. The quantum state in the universe, in its aggregate whole (all the existing energy of the universe) already contains all of the possibilities which we see expressed around us. Those possibilities are encoded in the nature of the laws, so they cannot not be expressed. This means that if we encounter consciousness, it is not because it arose as a random accident on earth alone, but that it arose simply because from the quantum state onwards, the existence of consciousness is not just a possibility or probability — it is a definite fact. Consciousness will always emerge from the aggregation of quanta in progressive levels. This isn’t an accident — it is in the inherent nature of the universe as it is.

The DNA molecule is a mirror of this process, and gives us a molecular template that reflects the principle within the context of biological life. Because biological life as we know it today is one of the meanings built-in to the fundamental nature of the universe, it is inherent. From the instant that the Big Bang took place, the consequence of biological life was as inevitable as the consequence of sons and planets, because there is a deterministic nature to law that makes it so. What we get is the way it is because we cannot get anything else; it must be this way, and there are no accidents involved.

The pre-existing state of meaning that is inherent in the quantum state (where mass and energy are actually superimposed prior to its collapse) is what gives birth to emergent meaning.

 When we consider the emergent property of meaning, and we understand that it is inherent to the structural law of the universe, we understand that intelligence itself is also inherence to structural law. The laws themselves are intelligent (they have meaning) and they give birth to an intelligence not only parallel to their own intelligence, but also having the potential to grow through the law of emergence.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part VII—The Emergence of Meaning

The Emergence of Meaning

 The word meaning indicates intention or purpose

Our wish to discover meaning is a natural impulse in all human beings; one might say that the entire endeavor of human consciousness, both as an individual for center collective one, is an effort to discover meanings. That is to say, the question of agency, of the ability to formulate a purpose and work to achieve it, is essential to the human enterprise.

From the perspective of mechanistic rationalism, all of this takes place strictly as a consequence of the material, and there is no actual reason for it. It just happens — all by accident. The fact that there appear to be meanings is a happy coincidence for us humans; but we’re delusional, because no such meanings actually exist.
This is an interesting line of argument, if only from a strictly technical point of view, but it belies every humanist piece of evidence on the table. The fact is that without the trajectory of meaning, there is no point to anything, no morality, no sense or aim. Metaphysical humanism begins instead with the premise that we are creatures of meaning itself; and that orders of meaning greater than we are exist both on the level above us and the level below us. When I say orders of meaning “greater than” us exist, what I mean is that they have implications that exceed our intellectual capacity. This is definitely true of operation on the cellular and molecular level; and the hypothesis is that the same remains true on the level of planets, solar systems, galaxies.

Meanings are crafty things. What I mean by this is that meanings are constructed, emergent, and intentional

Meanings are constructed (physical)

Mechanistic rationalism calls the fundamental meanings that govern the universe physical laws;  physical laws craft entities (identities) from the quantum soup the moment that it differentiates itself and aggregates into elemental atoms. These identities are further crafted by aggregates of the atoms that assume physical properties transcendent to the quantum state; and crafted further still by molecules. At each level of craftsmanship, purpose and intention are evident. Not so much so, perhaps, in the simple relationships of electromagnetic charges; but it becomes much more apparent on the molecular level, when we encounter molecules that have embody living actions.

The difference between metaphysical humanism and mechanistic rationalism is that mechanistic rationalism consists all meanings we perceive are, ultimately, accidental, and at their root random and arbitrary, even though they do not give random and arbitrary results. Metaphysical humanism maintains that meanings in the universe are not random, arbitrary, or accidental in any sense. In this  context I would say it most closely resembles Emmanuel Swedenborg’s universe, in which everything in the universe, including mankind, is an aspect of God’s manifestation — God being that supreme conscious force which gives birth to the universe we are in. This universe is constructed of meaning — intention and purpose are crafted from the very energies the universe is made of, and they arrive in existence with the characteristics of intention and purpose already active within them. That intention and purpose has been given the name of laws  by mechanistic rationalism; and I say this because law is, just like intention and purpose, deterministic. Laws create the foundation for relationships that impart meaning. Meaning is the deterministic (as opposed to probabilistic, at the quantum level) manifestation of law after law interacting with one another. So laws construct meaning.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part VI—Missing the Point, continued

 Technology has made us reliant on the world of the material — which we already know, at its root, has no ultimate substantial basis — at the expense of any real spiritual understanding. I think we could reasonably make the argument that the degradation of human morality, civil society, and ordinary human decency which we see taking place around us can be ascribed directly to our reliance on the material as a model for interpreting meaning. The material world by itself has no meaning: and indeed, secular humanists (scientists, atheists, and the like) present this argument as a concrete fact, and are happy with it. mechanistic rationalism has a peculiar preoccupation with the idea that everything is ultimately meaningless, accidental, and takes place without any conscious intention guiding it. 

 Working to refute such sophistry is a complete waste of time; instead, it is best ignored. We seek, instead, to build an understanding from the perspective of metaphysical humanism that derives its vision of the universe as a creation whose very nature is meaning itself. 

 From this point of view, the universe is a vehicle for identity; that identity is rooted in the very root of the word identity itself, which means sameness Another way of expressing it is to speak of  likenesses; and here we come to a peculiar quality of quanta, atoms, molecules, and matter.

 Quanta, as discrete packets of electromagnetic energy, have an inherent sameness in their undifferentiated state. Measured independently, each one is indistinguishable from the next.  But the instant they enter relationship — which is an inevitable consequence of existing — their sameness begins to collapse into distinguishing characteristics that sort them into subatomic particles such as quarks, leptons, muons, and so on, and they eventually assemble themselves into atoms and molecules. They pass, in other words, almost instantaneously from an undifferentiated state of sameness, into a differentiated state in which the initial singular identity (the quantum soup) collapses into individual unlike states, and immediately passes back into aggregations in the form of atoms that reform like states, but now with separated and different identities which we call elements – hydrogen, helium, and so on up the scale to the heaviest elements. Even here, an individual element’s atoms do not, each and every one of them, have an individual identity or sameness that can be measured from moment to moment (this was the point of Edward Schrödinger’s article in Scientific American.) Yet collectively, they reacquire that identity or sameness, so we have, for example, gold. And of course, on the molecular level, complex molecules such as DNA.

We see, in other words, a complex transition in which an initial singular identity (the universal quantum state) fragments into a staggering multiplicity of identities, which reform new relationships based on identity. 

These new relationships have the ability to respond to one another in many different ways — hence, the concentration of responsibility. Something very interesting takes place with regard to identity in this transition state from quanta to matter: energy, one might say, rethinks itself, using waveforms (vibrations) to create an entirely new and different set of possibilities that transcend the undifferentiated sameness (fundamental identity) that they arise from. These multiple identities display an incomprehensible number of emergent properties, including consciousness.

If we don’t understand the universe from the perspective of identity, we will miss the point of the universe, because identity in all its varieties, and the relationships that it can form once it manifests, are where meaning is born. It isn’t random, and it isn’t accidental. It has an intention behind it.

If all we see when we look at the world is dead matter that interacts, we do so in an effort to edit the absolute fact of our own conscious awareness out of it.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part V—Missing the Point

Missing the point

 I say that we’re missing the point simply because mankind’s study of the physical world around him has become the central and major focus of all of our sciences, to the detriment of a real understanding according to principles of metaphysical humanism. We have become accustomed to studying the trees, not the forest.
 I can’t think of any better recent illustration of this issue than a story of a biology professor at an important New York University who took a group of PhD candidates to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. My wife and I are members, and we’ve spent many a Saturday morning strolling through the various exotic plant environments in the Conservatory. 

In the Wall Street Journal article about this professor and her candidates, they came across an orchid that, as one student noted, had very peculiar leaves.  The professor agreed, and waited for someone else to make a comment. But none of the PhD candidates seemed to understand why the leaves were unusual. 
Finally, the professor explained that the reason the orchid was so difficult to identify was that there wasn’t just a single plant in the pot: it contained both a fern and an orchid.  
The take-away from this was that the PhD candidates, who were undeniably well-educated in the field of microbiology and the art of lab study of plant tissue, didn’t know the difference between a fern and an orchid if they looked at one — something I am certainly aware of, even though my degree is in art. The mistake is so basic that the idea anyone could make it is astonishing; yet our sciences focus so much on the material, and on top of that so much on the micro – material, that we are producing a generation of human beings unable to know the difference between an orchid and a fern.
 We’re missing the point.

The point, as it happens, was amply illustrated by Emmanuel Swedenborg, certainly one of the preeminent scientists of his own time — the age of Enlightenment — who clearly understood the difference between the physical and the spiritual world, that is, the difference between the material and the metaphysical. There is a world, he wrote, that transcends the physical world and lies, as we might say, “above” it. This world, which was understood to have metaphysical ( ideational or conceptual) characteristics beyond the obvious implication of the material, was well-known as long ago as during the classical Greek, and featured in Plato’s dialogues. It is, in summary, a world of meanings, not of physical things — and all understanding of physical things derives from it. One might argue, in fact, that the world of physical things as we know it is essentially dependent on it, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

 Let’s get back, for a minute, to our PhD candidates who know how to look at things through microscopes and interpret major from the perspective of cellular biology and in DNA, but don’t know how to use their own eyes and ordinary senses to take in the world around them and understand it. If it sounds familiar, in a general sense, that’s because most of the world has become accustomed to using technology as a means of understanding, instead of our own senses and our own minds. The technology appears to make us stronger, but it is in fact weakening us substantially relative to our understanding of life in its organic nature. I’m reminded of the story Jared Diamond tells in Guns Germs and Steel, when the tribesman he was with in the jungle in Papua New Guinea laughed at him because he was too ignorant to know which mushrooms in the forest were reliably edible.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Inherent Wave of Being—a Treatise on Metaphysical Humanism, part IV—What is Matter? continued

 I'm 63 years old today.

To continue on "What is Matter?"

Identity, in other words, is an emergent property of matter: it cannot be said to exist in any concrete way below the level of molecular structure, but it certainly begins to gain its Being as an understandable force at the level of the wave function that regulates the structure and interaction of atoms. So identity itself becomes a force, which emerges from the quantum state through wave interaction. That wave interaction is a property of vibration: and vibration is the transmission of different  energy states which have a natural tendency to adopt complementary patterns.

 From this, we see that there is a natural tendency, a lawful action, which regulates the emergence of identity from an otherwise undifferentiated quantum state. It begins to find its definition in the atom, but that identity does not truly mature until we reached the level of atoms in relationship. If there are enough atoms of any kind, they establish a collective identity which we call an element. And once you have elements, they are capable of forming even more (temporarily) stable identities we refer to as molecules.

 Readers familiar with my other work on the subject of Being will know that I frequently refer to the molecular sensation of Being. This is because our awareness is capable of sensing the vibration of identity down to the molecular level, presuming the correct arrangement of substances is deposited in the human nervous system. This ability to sense the vibration of identity is not easily earned, but it has a transformational effect on natural human consciousness, which ought to be expressed quite differently than it is today. The point here is that the biomolecular sensation of Being confers a different sensibility on the intellectual, emotional, and physical state of the receiver, that is, the macroscopic identity, or, “I”— what we refer to in general terms as the “self.”

 It isn’t really possible to understand the nature of metaphysical humanism and the fundamental nature of human psychology as it ought to be without acquiring this sense. All of the traditional religions and esoteric sciences of past societies have always been aimed, in one way or another, at acquiring this sense, but it is only at this point in time that we are able to define it correctly in terms of its place in both the natural and psychological sciences.

From the point of view of the perception of consciousness, we can’t say that identity truly begins to exist until we reach the elemental level of matter, at which point the gross collective expression of mutable identities aggregates enough to create identifiable and, for temporary purposes, “unchanging” characters. Each of these identities, which we call elements, plays a role in the construction of much more complex identities. Matter, as we understand it, first acquires the character of matter and the identity of the matter at the elemental level. 

While we are well able, using technology, to study the pre-emergent states of matter, and while they are certainly important and fascinating, they only become truly relevant to metaphysical humanism, the construction of spiritual identity, and the understanding of what we call the soul once they reach the elemental level. As such, the study of particle physics is certainly useful in terms of overall understanding, but aside from its conceptual insights — which reveal structural relationships and fundamental laws that ultimately affect and express themselves in the context of our own identity — it doesn’t really bear on the question.  This is because the important understandings to be gleaned from such studies don’t derive from their strictly material interactions, which are structural, lawful, and inescapable, but from the manner in which identity emerges from them. 

This means that without a study of identity, why it emerges, and what it means, we are missing the point.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.