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Posts Tagged ‘Jenny Wade’

Given the current sequence on Greyson’s book, it seemed a good time to republish this sequence of four posts over the next three weeks.

Having sought to establish, in his book Close Connections, that there is a spiritual dimension to reality, and that much that materialists see as explained away completely by the brain in fact has its roots in this other dimension, Hatcher shifts his focus onto a closer examination of some of the detailed implications of this.

WadeJ

Jenny Wade

For me,  perhaps the most fascinating one of all concerns the issue of memory. I’ve blogged about it a number of times. It is by no means settled yet what memory is and where it resides. Hatcher deals with this at some length. He explains his model in terms of spirit (page 251):

. . . . according to [the] Bahá’í perspective, the memory of self – even the recollection of specific events – will be retained by the soul and regained once the constraints of the associative relationship with the body are severed and the soul is released from its . . . . indirect connection with reality.‘

It may seem improbable that there could be any empirical basis for this. However, I have reviewed on this blog Jenny Wade’s book – Changes of Mind – and she is unequivocal that for her the evidence in favour of memory being held outside the brain is compelling. She reviews a mass of data based on careful investigations of the experiences of children, either from interviews with children or work with adults about prior experiences. What they described was carefully checked against the reports of independent witnesses (page 44):

Regression subjects … have accurately reported incidents long before any significant brain growthis possible, in some cases before the embryonic body was even formed.

william_wordsworth-1364n29

William Wordsworth

Her model states that at conception the soul is independent of the body and its memories can be accessed by the child until about the age of four, after which the body becomes a barrier denying access. This is uncannily reminiscent of Wordsworth’s lines in the Ode on Immortality. I need to quote the whole stanza (lines 59-77):

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

What other evidence have we for supposing something rather more special than a mechanical process is going on here?

For me the growing literature on near death experiences (NDEs), which I have reviewed elsewhere, settles the question that consciousness is not produced by the brain and resides somewhere else. The brain simply decodes it for our body to use. It’s a no-brainer then that memory is no different. The brain can access it but does not contain it. Hatcher discusses other lines of thought that tend in the same direction.

Computer models do not provide an adequate account of how new learning is recorded and memories laid down. On page 252 Hatcher quotes from an article by Joannie Schrof ‘What is a Memory Made of?’

Where a computer encodes data in strings of 0’s and 1’s, the brain forms ephemeral patterns of chemical and electrical impulses. Where computers record information in serial order like an index-card file, the human brain creates sprawling interconnections; more than a hundred billion nerves cells each connected to hundreds of thousands of others to form a billion connections.

In addition, he points towards Robert Rosen‘s book Life Itself (pages 253-54) who writes:

. . . no new information . . . can be processed by a computer if the computer has not already been programmed to consider this information. The brain, however, can effectively create new sequences and new pathways.

Others that I have referred to elsewhere have also raised radical doubts about the computer model. Take Pim van Lommel again, in his book Consciousness beyond LifeHe quotes the conclusions of a computer expert and a neurobiologist (page 193):

Simon Berkovich, a computer expert, has calculated that despite the brain’s huge numbers of synapses, its capacity for storing a lifetime’s memories, along with associated thoughts and emotions, is completely insufficient. . . . . . Neurobiologist Herms Romijn, formerly of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, also demonstrated that the storage of all memories in the brain is anatomically and functionally impossible.

Credibility is lent to the implications of this argument by exceptional but genuine cases of brain damage, take for example (page 194):

John Lorber’s description of a healthy young man with a university degree in mathematics and an IQ of 126. A brain scan revealed a severe case of hydrocephalus: 95 percent of his skull was filled with cerebrospinal fluid, and his cerebral cortex measured only about 2 millimeters thick, leaving barely any brain tissue. The weight of his remaining brain was estimated at 100 grams (compared to a normal weight of 1,500 grams), and yet his brain function was unimpaired.

Pribram

Karl Pribram (for the YouTube interview this comes from see link)

Though some critics feel that Lorber has overstated his case, the general point that severely compromised brains can function improbably well is not in question.

Where Hatcher goes next surprised me. He draws on the work of Pribram. I had read, as an undergraduate, his early work on plans and the structure of behaviour but perhaps I qualified too soon to benefit from the direction of his later work, that Hatcher refers to now. He describes (page 255) Pribram’s 1985  ‘holographic theory.’

As a concept of how the brain processes ideas or memory, the holographic theory implies that each portion of the brain contributing to the recollected idea would contain the complete thought, not a piece of it.

This took Pribram somewhere even more radically different from what I was taught in the 70s and early 80s (page 257-259):

Pribram has stated that the more he studies the brain and its functions, the more he feels that there may well be something outside the brain that accounts for its activity and capacity! . . . . .  the source from which the brain receives its “program” needs to be greater than the brain itself – the cause has to be greater than the effect it produces.’

And we find ourselves back with a familiar metaphor (page 257):

. . . Pribram has observed that when he studies the brain, he feels that in truth he is examining an elaborate transceiver rather than the ultimate repository of memory, the ultimate origin of self-consciousness, the primal engine of creativity, the seminal source of will, or the instigator of action.

Hatcher pushes this further and confronts the basic question which he feels is unanswerable in material terms (page 258): ‘. . . how can the brain be in charge of making itself function as a brain?’

This for him constitutes irrefutable grounds for believing in a transcendent reality imbued with a higher consciousness (page 258):

The most elaborate and powerful computer we have created or will ever create cannot program itself unless it is programmed to program itself. In short, there must exist for any given machine – or machine model of the brain – some willful input from an outside source for it to have any sense of goals or values, or for it to be capable of evaluating progress towards those goals.

And this brings him to a powerful and important point. We have a delicate and complex instrument entrusted to us for purposes that we are hardly even beginning to understand and we have to treat it with the utmost care and respect (page 259):

. . . the brain, as a counterpart of the soul and its faculties, . . . .  must be capable of mimicking in physical . . . terms everything the soul feels, conceives, decides, or wills. This fact explains why a human soul cannot associate with (operate through) anything less complex or less ingeniously devised than the human brain. . . . . Any practice or substance that distorts the associative relationship between soul and body or that tampers with the brain endangers our ability to function as complete human beings and, thereby, to fulfill our earthly purpose of attaining the knowledge of abstract reality . . .

For me this book pulled together thinking from many disciplines into a coherent and compelling case for the soul. The work he adduces usefully complements my own reading and suggests many directions I could now take it. For that I am most grateful. The least I could do, I felt, was bring this thoughtful book to  the attention of others.

CC books

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At the end of the previous post I suggested that, while Koestenbaum’s pointer that the ‘extreme inward region of consciousness’ to which reflection enables us to get closer is what we in the West call God was extremely valuable, it was not enough in itself. It was not until I found the Bahá’í Faith that I realised just how important two other factors in our behaviour were to this process of self-enhancement: consultation and service.

I have explored these elsewhere at some length so I will deal with them briefly here.

Consultation, Action and Reflection

While independent investigation of the truth is valued in the Faith, it is supremely important to compare notes with others to enhance our simulation of reality and enable ourselves to decide upon the best course of action. Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá return to this point many times. Bahá’u’lláh, for example, says ‘Take ye counsel together in all matters, inasmuch as consultation is the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way, and is the bestower of understanding.’[1]

Consultation is strongly linked with action. As Ring and Valarino stressed in their book, Lessons from the Light, without taking action on the insights gained from an NDE there will be only be shallow changes in our ways of being. The Bahá’í Faith emphasises exactly the same point in the value it attaches to being of service to others: actions outweigh words. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh: ‘Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.’[2]

Without the uplifting power of action and consultation, reflection will have little traction.

There are of course other elements to this process for Bahá’ís, including prayer, immersing ourselves in sacred verses and obeying the Laws of the Faith. However, I have chosen not to focus on them here, but rather to concentrate on the elements that relate most closely to those early influences on my spiritual progress that I am trying here to integrate into one coherent formulation in this sequence of posts.

Action as well as understanding is also critical when we are seeking to give expression to and consolidate our sense of connection with the earth. There is a sense of symmetry in the two ends of this diagram in certain respects at least. The same is true for our understanding of the myriad ways we are connected to our fellow human beings and other life forms on planet earth.

Action and understanding interact to enhance our connectedness.

Interconnectedness

At every level of that diagram – body, thought and spirit – interconnectedness is a critical consideration. Tom Oliver’s book, The Self Delusion, unpacks this powerfully at the material and social levels. The diagram takes it further.

I cannot resist repeating here the insight a dream once gave me: heart and earth in English are anagrams and this expresses the inextricable threads that bind the two together. Take that along with the insight the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh kept forcing on my consciousness after I started to tread the Bahá’í path that it is only by developing an ‘understanding heart’ that we will ever be able to decode the true meaning of reality at the highest levels and of the Bahá’í Writings, and you have all levels of the diagram blended into one phrase.

For the more sceptical reader it might help, before I end this sequence, if I refer once more to Iain McGilchrist and his ideas on lateralisation to bring the idea of an understanding heart down to a more material level for a moment, preparatory to launching off into transcendent realms again before the end.

Towards Acquiring an Understanding Heart

In The Master and His Emissary McGilchrist defines what would be a huge step forward in enhancing our level of consciousness:[3]

[T]he rational workings of the left hemisphere . . . should be subject to the intuitive wisdom of the right hemisphere.

For Jenny Wade, in her excellent book Changes of Mind, balancing these two aspects moves the person to the level of what she calls Authentic consciousness:[4]

Authentic consciousness requires access to the non-dominant hemisphere, but not exchanging one hemisphere’s orientation for the other’s. It is “whole brain” thinking, in which both hemispheres organise consciousness, suggesting some entrainment of EEG patterns across the neocortex.

The next stage after this is Transcendent consciousness, the last one before Unity consciousness – yes, she really does think Unity consciousness is the highest level. At this stage the synchrony of the two halves of the brain goes beyond intermittent entrainment:[5]

During meditation, EEG measurements show that both hemispheres slow from beta level activity to alpha and theta waves. Theta is the characteristic brain wave pattern of long-term meditators. Not only does synchronisation of brain waves occur between hemispheres in advanced states, but this entrainment forms harmonic patterns called hypersynchrony.

That last word has distracting implications given its involvement in the causes of an epileptic fit. I think Evan Thompson’s description of brain activity in the context of Tibetan Buddhist meditation is more helpful:[6]

The synchrony of the oscillations – the way that the EEG waves are in sync with one another across distant areas of the scalp – reflects the large-scale coordination of the neuronal populations into a large but temporary functional network . . . More simply put, during the meditation practice, numerous ‘neural assemblies’ – populations of neurones that fire together –rapidly establish communication and thereby formed a massive interconnected network.

Whether there is a further enhancement of the relationship between the hemispheres at the Unity level is not clear:[7]

It is not know whether people with Unity consciousness have significantly different brainwave patterns than those at the high end of Transcendent consciousness, especially concerning hemispheric influence…

Even so, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that, at the material level at least, attainment of a level of consciousness deserving to be labelled an ‘understanding heart’ will entail a greater degree of balance between the two hemispheres of the brain than most of us normally achieve at least in Western cultures. This level of consciousness plausibly can be claimed to give us access to transcendent levels of experience normally beyond the spectrum of awareness available to us.

Final Thoughts

I only wish that I could now prove having been blessed by richly detailed mystical experiences. Sadly that is not the case. Some fleeting glimpses perhaps but no more than that, falling far short of a high level of access to the spiritual realms.

What I do benefit from regularly are flashes of insight that help me rise to a higher level of understanding of complex situations and stressful challenges, which then enables me to respond more creatively and positively to them. I also am able to remain far calmer and clearer in mind under stress. I am more grounded in two senses of that word. I more strongly feel my connection with nature and humanity as a whole, and I am more firmly in touch with the core of my being – my ‘understanding heart’ at its currently still relatively immature level of development.

I am very aware that this whole account is less clear and compelling than I would ideally have liked it to be. My excuse is that many aspects of what I am seeking to describe here are hard to capture in prose. I have interpolated a poem or two of mine to try and penetrate somewhat deeper.

Maybe the main value of this whole exercise has been to help me, at least, understand what I am talking about. Whether that justifies my taking up blog space with it remains to be seen.

References:

[1]. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh – Lawh-i-Maqsúd.
[2]. Persian Hidden Words Number 5.
[3]. The Master & his Emissary – page 203.
[4]. Changes of Mind – page 157.
[5]. Op. cit.: page 198.
[6]. Waking, Dreaming, Being – Page 73.
[7]. Changes of Mind – page 260.

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At the end of the previous post I indicated that I would be exploring Assagioli’s perspective in more detail, as well as looking at the three levels of body, mind and spirit along with some of Jenny Wade’s levels of consciousness, all in the context of interconnectedness.

Not too much ground to cover, then, but it’ll take one more post after this to traverse it all.

At every level, it is important to emphasise, there are degrees of connectedness with aspects of reality outside ourselves. Our failure to realise those connections has seriously damaging consequences not just for us but for our relationship with all these aspects of our environment.

Ring and Valarino in their book Lessons from the Light, as I was already hinting at in the previous post, are clear that an NDE generally leads to a compelling realisation of our connectedness with all life. It is not only Mellon-Benedict’s experience, quoted in the diagram, but many others as well, and not just from their own studies. They quote Moody, one of whose respondents wrote:[1]

One big thing I learned when I died was that we are all part of one big, living universe. If we think we can hurt another person or another living thing without hurting ourselves we are sadly mistaken. I look at a forest or a flower or a bird and say, ’That is me, part of me.’ We are connected with all things and if we send love along these connections, then we are happy.

That is all very well, and Ring and Valarino are convinced that immersing ourselves in such descriptions of NDEs will help us move towards a similar level of consciousness, albeit somewhat diluted. However, even for those who find this works, and there are many who will not, this will probably fall short of creating deep and enduring changes in their perspective and ways of operating.

What else can we do to create and strengthen such a sense of connectedness?

Assagioli[2] sees the conscious self as ‘submerged in the ceaseless flow of psychological contents.’ The Higher Self, on the other hand,[3] is ‘above, and unaffected by, the flow of the mind-stream or by bodily conditions.’

The term he chooses to use to refer to the ‘psychic environment’ is Jung’s phrase ‘’collective unconscious,’ though he admits that Jung has not clearly defined the term. Different phrases have been used in different traditions in attempts to name some form of collective but subliminal consciousness which is hypothesised to exist. Yeats refers to it as the Anima Mundi. The Bahá’í Writings refer to the ‘universal mind’ as when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá responds to a woman’s letter advising her: ‘to forget this world of possession, become wholly heavenly, become embodied spirit and attain to universal mind. This arena is vast and unlimited . . . .’

For Assagioli the conscious self is simply[4] ‘a projection of its luminous source.’ Again there are parallels with the Bahá’í perspective. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains (Some Answered Questions), ‘the mind is the power of the human spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the mind is the fruit.’

We are not completely oblivious of all aspects of the spiritual dimension. Assagioli refers to a kind of ‘psychological osmosis’[5] that permits a degree of interpenetration. The barriers between us and a transcendent dimension are to some degree permeable.

Emily Kelly in Irreducible Mind quotes Myers in terms of his sense of the divide between spirit and matter:[6]

“The line between the ‘material’ and the ‘immaterial,’ as these words are commonly used, means little more than the line between the phenomena which our senses or instruments can detect or register and the phenomena which they can not.”

There are such models though:[7]

A few individuals have suggested that the brain may not produce consciousness, as the vast majority of 19th and 20th century scientists assumed; the brain may instead filter, or shape, consciousness.

This takes us very easily to the experience of reflection. Emily Kelly quotes Myers this time quoting Thomas Reid, an 18th century philosopher:[8]

The conviction which every man has of his identity . . . needs no aid of philosophy to strengthen it; and no philosophy can weaken it.… I am not thought, I am not action, I am not feeling; I am something that thinks, and acts, and suffers. My thoughts and actions and feelings change every moment…; But that Self or I, to which they belong, is permanent…

Myers felt that we needed to find some way of reliably tapping into these levels of consciousness:[9]

The primary methodological challenge to psychology, therefore, lies in developing methods, or ‘artifices,’ for extending observations of the contents or capacities of mind beyond the visible portion of the psychological spectrum, just as the physical sciences have developed artificial means of extending sensory perception beyond ordinary limits.

What kind of methods might be applied to this task?

Perhaps it should not have been as surprising as it was to read just four pages on from my last quote for Lessons from the Light:[10]

Imagine a therapeutic technique that was itself based on an attempt to induce a life review type of experience. Indeed, we do not have simply to imagine such possibilities–they already exist in such approaches as psychosynthesis and holotropic breathwork…

My previous sequence of two posts about my breathwork and my references on this blog to Psychosynthesis and my application of the practice of disidentification indicate how closely my life experiences have been connected with these two threads.

As my earlier exploration of breathwork suggests, I am inclined to believe that this approach, connecting us as it does with our bodies, also helps us connect with nature and the earth.

This is not my current focus, valuable though that is. I am therefore now going to consider briefly Assagioli’s model as encapsulated in Psychosynthesis.

Assagioli goes into considerable detail concerning the methods we can use to mobilise ourselves to attain higher levels of consciousness, by organising our efforts around an ideal destination, by creatively following our intuitions, or best of all by blending the two approaches. I have definitely used both approaches at different times and under different circumstances.

However, as readers of this blog will be well aware, the most powerful tool I have ever found in his approach is disidentification, which maps to closely onto the practice of reflection, which I discovered first in Koestenbaum and later more profoundly explored in the Bahá’í Writings.

This exercise was an important step forward for me in the process of getting closer to the core of my being. The concept of reflection that Koestenbaum conveys moved me even further forward.

What did I take away from his definition that was so important?

Once I attempted to give advice to someone in a difficult situation. What I wrote was probably one of my best attempts to convey to someone else unfamiliar with the concept why reflection in Koestenbaum’s sense is so important.

This is the gist of it.

Reflection is not just thinking. We all think all the time. The trouble is we are stuck so close to the content of our thoughts that most of the time we never think about them. Stepping back from what we think, and thinking about it, is only the first step though.

We also stick too close to our beliefs, feelings and action patterns to see them for what they really are. We experience them as the world rather than as our simulation of the world. We just act them out a lot of the time as though that was the most natural and right thing in the world to do. Much of the time it may well be OK when these thoughts, beliefs, feelings and action patterns are benign, reasonably accurate or at least harmless. It’s not at all a good thing when they distort reality in ways that wreak havoc.

Koestenbaum contends that all reflection is painful. It requires stepping back from our most cherished assumptions and the wrench as we tear ourselves away can hurt like hell. Unless we sincerely strive to do that we will have no compassion for the other person who feels significantly differently, and we will have no ability to understand their point of view or modify our own.

The deepest trap in the failure to reflect is that we can mistake who we really are for something else. Ultimately reflection must involve stepping back even from our idea of ourselves if it is deeply mistaken.

This obviously enhances our capacity to connect with other people as well as with the earth we tread upon and the other forms of life that share the planet with us.

But there is more. This is where Koestenbaum and Assagioli overlap in what they are saying about how high we must take this skill.

While Koestenbaum’s pointer that the ‘extreme inward region of consciousness’ to which reflection enables us to get closer is what we in the West call God was extremely valuable, it was not until I found the Bahá’í Faith that I realised just how important two other factors in our behaviour were to this process of self-enhancement: consultation and service.

More of this next time along with an explanation of Tom Oliver’s quotes in the diagram.

References:

[1]. Lessons from the Light – page 177.
[2]. Psychosynthesis – page 18.
[3]. Op. cit.: page 19.
[4]. Op. cit.: page 20.
[5]. Op. cit.: page 19.
[6]. Irreducible Mind  – page 70.
[7]. Op. cit.: page 73.
[8]. Op. cit.: page 74.
[9]. Op. cit.: page 91.
[10]. Lessons from the Light – page 181.

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If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá from The Promulgation of Universal Peace – page 181)

I have been triggered to revisit books I have hoarded which deal with levels of consciousness. This all started with another rapidly abandoned look at Ken Wilber’s model. With moderate enthusiasm I had picked off my shelves Wilber’s Up from Eden, which had lurked up there unread since 1996. I felt that Fontana’s references to his work in Psychology, Religion and Spirituality warranted another look to help me overcome the reservations triggered in my mind by John Fitzgerald Medina’s Faith, Physics & Psychology, where he takes issue with what he feels is Wilber’s arrogant implication that it is impossible for someone in a lower level society to leap to a higher level of consciousness (page 136):

. . . integral theorists actually support the idea that, out of the entire human population in the world, only an elite cadre of Westerners presently has the capacity to achieve the highest levels of human development.

I was not sure this criticism was entirely warranted but it did create reservations in my mind about some aspects of Wilber’s approach.

This was not what put me off this time.

I got as far as page 73 before the feeling that this was not the approach I wanted to immerse myself in right now grew so strong I couldn’t turn another page. His approach in this book was too mythological for my taste. I’ve so far been completely incapable of finishing any of Joseph Campbell’s work for this same reason. My distaste may be irrational but it remains insuperable.

As I sat and stared at my shelves aching for inspiration I remembered how much I had resonated to a book that explored in illuminating ways the split-brain culture we inhabit. No, not Iain McGilchrist’s The Master & his Emissary this time, much as I value that book and always will. There’s a clue in a comment I left on my blog more than a month ago, about a text that I have now re-read for the third time, but have not yet blogged about. I’ve probably never really attempted to integrate this account into my other explorations of levels of consciousness because the model presented does not easily map onto numerically coded versions such as those of Jenny Wade, Piaget, Wilber, Dabrowski  and Koestenbaum.

It is Margaret Donaldson’s Human Minds: an exploration. On page 135 she writes of what she calls ‘the value-sensing transcendent mode,’ something which our materialistic culture does not cultivate. She describes experiences in this mode as surging up ‘still in spite of the power of other modes which have threatened to exclude them.’ These experiences ‘come occasionally, unexpectedly, like marvellous accidents.’ Her book is partly about our need as a society to learn how to encourage us to access them more consistently. My own such encounters have been extremely rare indeed. Her insightful book also considers, though in less detail, the role of the novel and poetry in enhancing consciousness.

It also focuses on both the need to balance head and heart, science and religion, and on the ways we might get closer to achieving that.

I will deal fairly quickly with her discussion of her more basic modes of experiencing the world, then I will move on to the next highest levels in a bit more detail, before dwelling at greater length on her in depth exploration of the transcendent modes, both intellectual and value-sensing. In all probability this fairly rapid flight over the complex terrain of her richly informative model will fail to do it justice, but, if it at least brings her important work to your attention, that might just be enough.

Basic Modes

Margaret Donaldson deals first of all with the basic modes, the first of which concerns itself purely with the present moment, and begins in our infancy. She calls it point mode.[1] She goes on to add, ‘Later other loci become possible. For example, the second mode, which is called the line mode, has a locus of concern that includes the personal past and the personal future.’ More specific detail on the line mode next time.

Then our capacity expands to ‘the impersonal’ enabling us to think beyond our ‘personal goals.’[2] When this relates to thinking, that fits with our preconceptions about what it should be like. ‘But,’ she asks, ‘what about emotion? Can we take steps towards impersonality in respect of our emotions also?’

This is an issue we will come back to in more detail. For now I’ll just mention that she adds that ‘The process of “opening out” in those two directions is the one that I have previously called disembedding, in an earlier book, Children’s Minds.[3] This relates to some degree to concepts such as reflection and disidentification, dealt with at length elsewhere on this blog.

She emphasises that we modify our perceptions of the world ‘to suit our purposes.’[4] She was particularly taken with some of Freud’s descriptions of how we do that and expresses them in an effective metaphor:[5]

In talking of the defences Freud uses one image which I find illuminating. He likened the activities of a mind shaping its own consciousness to those of an editor revising a text, working towards an acceptable final draft.  The various mechanisms that have different editorial counterparts. For example, amnesic repression is equivalent to complete removal of parts of the text… likewise denial is equivalent to the insertion of ‘not:’… Projection is equivalent to changing the subject of a sentence: ‘He is I am evil, lazy, useless.’ Displacement amounts to changing the sentence object: ‘ I hate my father enemy.’ . . . In this way, we write for ourselves an authorised version of our lives.

In short, ‘. . . our experience of the world is experience of an interpretation.’[6] This maps closely onto my own sense of my perception of the world as a simulation. However, Donaldson explains, this tendency is balanced ‘by another more austere aim: the aim of understanding, of getting at the truth.’ The Bahá’í approach to this stresses the importance of an ‘independent investigation of the truth.’

For Donne’s poem see link lines 76-82

There is another factor she mentions that again resonates with the Bahá’í Faith: ‘The second corrective is to consider shared experience.’ This sounds closely linked to the value attached to consultation, which is central to many processes of interaction encouraged in the Bahá’í community. Obviously these resonances partly explain my attraction to Donaldson’s model of consciousness, but it is not the only reason.

She argues that the foundations for our modes of consciousness are laid down very early.[7]  ‘At what point in life’ she asks, ‘does a child have a mind capable of concerning itself with things in some sort of controlled and organised way?’ and her answer is, ‘We can at least now confidently reply: “Very early, certainly by the end of the first two or three months, possibly sooner. (Stern terms it an emergent self.)’

She amplifies her comment by saying:[8]

There follows, from two to around eight months, the development of the ‘core self’ – a sense of self that is coherent, firmly distinguished from what is other, but not yet informed by an awareness of other minds.

. . . the point mode begins as the core self is established.

In the next post I will be exploring what follows on from that. It’s probably worth pointing out straightaway that, even later in life, as we shall see, point mode is not pointless.

References:

[1]. Human Minds: an exploration – page 11.
[2]. Human Minds: an exploration – page  16.
[3]. Human Minds: an exploration – pages 16-17.
[4]. Human Minds: an exploration – page 24.
[5]. Human Minds: an exploration – page 25.
[6]. Human Minds: an exploration – page 27.
[7]. Human Minds: an exploration – page 46.
[8]. Human Minds: an exploration – pages 46-47.

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History has thus far recorded principally the experience of tribes, cultures, classes, and nations. With the physical unification of the planet in this century and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all who live on it, the history of humanity as one people is now beginning. The long, slow civilizing of human character has been a sporadic development, uneven and admittedly inequitable in the material advantages it has conferred. Nevertheless, endowed with the wealth of all the genetic and cultural diversity that has evolved through past ages, the earth’s inhabitants are now challenged to draw on their collective inheritance to take up, consciously and systematically, the responsibility for the design of their future.

(From The Prosperity of Humankind, a statement issued by the Bahá’í International Community March 1995)

Throughout This Changes Everything, Klein describes the climate crisis as a confrontation between capitalism and the planet. It would be more accurate to describe the crisis as a clash between the expanding demands of humankind and a finite world, but however the conflict is framed there can be no doubt who the winner will be. The Earth is vastly older and stronger than the human animal. . . . . . The change that is under way is no more than the Earth returning to equilibrium – a process that will go on for centuries or millennia whatever anyone does. Rather than denying this irreversible shift, we’d be better off trying to find ways of living with it.

(From John Gray’s review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate)

Emp Civil

Given my recent sequence of posts on global warming it seemed timely to republish this sequence.

After something like four years I finally overcame the reservations and irritations recorded in a republished post and finished reading The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin. Such a time span is not unusual for me as I read books on rather the same principle as they make Russian dolls. Each book I start triggers me to start reading another until I have several books in progress nested one within the other. Often the one I started last is finished first before I trace my steps back to its predecessor (or not, as the case may be).

I very much want to record my response to this massive survey of the current state of our civilisation and its origins. However, it runs to more than 600 pages and tackles a number of major themes in the process. In the end, I have come to feel that my approach needs to be divided into at least four parts, some of them split into two, and even then I will be doing aspects of his thesis scant justice.

I need to start with an overview, otherwise my approach will be too confusing to be useful.

Then it seems best to tackle his ideas about how the widening circle of our empathy is expanding the reach of our civilisation and at the same time creating a potentially world-destroying level of entropy. This may not become completely clear until the second post.

It’s only then that it will make sense for me to explore his ideas about levels of civilisation. We’ve been here before with Ken Wilber and Jenny Wade. While his approach has echoes of theirs, it is very different. My caveats about his perspective on religion, through relevant at this point, will probably be dealt with in more detail at the very end of the whole sequence of posts.

After the levels, though perhaps most importantly, I plan to look at his ideas on child rearing and education before attempting to express my own take on the issue, which is, of course, deeply influenced by the Bahá’í perspective.

The Overview

Perhaps perversely, my introduction will start with the last paragraph of his book. Don’t worry: I won’t be working backwards from there. He writes (page 616):

The Empathic Civilisation is emerging. We are fast extending our empathic embrace to the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the planet. But our rush to universal empathic connectivity is running up against a rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?

One of the most succinct though not necessarily the clearest passages in the book to unpack some of the implications of this comes on page 254. What follows is the main gist without clearly unpacking his six interconnected points.

He starts from what has come to seem an old chestnut: the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. He sees it as an example of a recurring pattern throughout history ‘where the synergies created by a new energy and communications regime facilitate more complex social arrangements, which, in turn, provide the context for a qualitative change in human consciousness.’ Decoded more simply, this means that cooperative connections multiply in an organic fashion over fairly long periods of time and result in our seeing the world and other human beings differently. As he goes on to explain this is very much a double-edged sword (page 254-55):

The change in human consciousness is played out in a dialectic between a rising empathic surge and a growing entropy deficit. . . . . When [entropy] eventually exceed[s] the value of the energy flowing through the society’s infrastructure, the civilisation withers and even occasionally dies. . . . While the unfolding interplay between an empathic surge and an entropic deficit often – but not always – leads to collapse, what remains is a residue of the new consciousness that carries forward, if however tenuously, and becomes a memory lifeline to draw upon when new energy/communications regimes emerge.

What point does he feel we have now reached? First of all, there is the question of sheer size (page 424)

The world has shrunk and the human race finds itself nearly face-to-face in the world of cyberspace. Distances are becoming less relevant in the era of globalisation.

Secondly there is the complexity this brings in its wake (page 425):

A vast array of economic, social, and political institutions oversee the most complex civilisation ever conceived by human beings. The entire system is managed and maintained by billions of people, differentiated into thousands of professional talents and vocational skills, all working in specialised tasks in an interdependent global labyrinth.

© Bahá’í World Centre

© Bahá’í World Centre

Empathy has inevitably extended, in spite of the friction entailed (ibid.):

Brought together in an ever closer embrace, we are increasingly exposed to each other in ways that are without precedent. While the backlash of globalisation – xenophobia, political populism, and terrorist activity – is widely reported, far less attention has been paid to the growing empathic extension, as hundreds of millions of people come in contact with diverse others.

Now to one of his key points. This empathic growth comes at a price (page 452):

… the leap in empathic consciousness is made possible by the expropriation of vast amounts of the planet’s energy and other resources to attain the level of economic security necessary to allow people to shift from survival values to materialist values and finally to quality-of-life values. . . . Unfortunately, the leap in empathic consciousness rides atop the growing entropic stream that’s turning much of the planet into a wasteland and further impoverishing a large proportion of the human race. . . .

The question, then, is whether the minority of the human race that is undergoing an empathic surge, but at the expense of impoverishing the planet and a large portion of the human race, can translate their post-materialist values into a workable cultural, economic, and political game plan that can steer themselves and their communities to a more sustainable and equitable future in time to avoid the abyss.

This paves the way for his explanation of a critical set of challenges (page 510):

Half of the human race is using up more of the Earth’s fossil-fuel energy and natural resources than is necessary for a comfortable life and is becoming increasingly unhappy with each increment of additional wealth. The other half of the human race is digging its way out of poverty and becoming happier as it approaches the minimum level of comfort. But there isn’t enough oil and other fossil fuels – or uranium for nuclear power – to keep the wealthy in a luxurious lifestyle or elevate three billion poor people to a comfortable lifestyle.

He recognises that affluence tends to increase our attachment to acquiring additional material wealth and decrease our sensitivity to the plight of others – so empathy tends to go by the board. Our greatest challenge is (pages 510-11):

How, then, do we reorganise our relationships with each other and the Earth so the “haves” can tread more lightly and the “have-nots” establish a more firm footing with the environment, allowing each other to come together at the threshold of human comfort? It’s at the threshold that we optimise empathetic consciousness and create the conditions for a sustainable global society.

If we fail the price could be our survival (page 612):

We now have colonised virtually every square inch of the planet and established the scaffolding for a truly global civilisation that is connecting the human race in a single embrace, but at the expense of an entropic bill that is threatening our extinction.

His analysis of the problem is powerful and compelling.

As I have indicated at the start, the next post will dig more deeply into his exploration of the relationship between empathy and entropy. After that we will move on to considering that old chestnut – Levels of Consciousness – but in his rather different terms. At some point we will need to consider his concept of the biosphere as a motivator for collective action and a sense of transcendence, but first we need to examine his model of child rearing.

A thread that I will not be able to resist weaving into this scheme, probably in the final section, is his rationale for excluding religion from his model. We need to consider whether that makes or breaks his plan for a possible way forward.

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It seems a good idea to republish this sequence from almost six years ago to complement the current sequence on transcending the crocodile within and providing more detailed background to its thinking. This is the first of six.

Some Background Thinking

I thought it was about time I tried to do a post on the work I did for most of my professional life. It could be tricky and might not work out at all.

I have been struggling for ages — at least ten years —  to capture in words the work I used to do. Words like therapist and therapy make me uncomfortable. Even the word counseling implies unequal distributions of wisdom. She who gives counsel is somehow superior to him who receives!

I have come to believe that what I did is best called mind-work. It includes mood-work, belief work and will-work: it should have included ‘soul-care’ but that would have been a step too far for a clinical psychologist’s job description even though ‘psyche’ means ‘soul’ to the Greeks.

Everyone does mind-work up to a point. It’s a bit like cooking though. Almost everyone prepares food at some point in his life but not everyone’s a chef. As a professional mind-worker I was a bit like the chef. I was an expert at the work at the same time as the people who worked with me as clients were experts about their own minds.

Because, to do mind-work, I drew on lots of other disciplines and traditions, including philosophy, psychology, biology, religion (especially Buddhism and the Bahá’í Faith) and the arts, I could sometimes feel like giving myself a fancy title such as psy-culturalist. This captures the richness of the traditions I could draw on and also captures the essential purpose of mind-work which is growth. It also meant I didn’t have to label myself a psychologist with its one-sided implication that I study the mind but don’t work with it, nor did I have to call myself a Clinical Psychologist with its implications of illness and therapy, which are insulting to the client.

Psy-culturalist, as a term, has a similar problem to Clinical Psychology. If we think about gardening, it’s a one-way street. Plants, as a general rule, don’t grow people. Mind-work, though, is both reciprocal and reflexive. I grow you and you grow me and we grow ourselves as well!

In the end then mind-work is a perfectly good description.

Mind-work for the most part involves forming a relationship (much more on that later) that allows words to be used in a process of collaborative conversation (the title of a book chapter I contributed to This Is Madness) to enhance meanings in a way that enables all participants to grow. As I see it every human interaction is an opportunity for mind-work and as many interactions as possible should be used as such. Even the groups of people who traditionally have been seen as experiencing meaningless lives, such as those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or dementia, are not to be excluded from this meaning-making growth process. My work has mostly been with the former group and what follows discusses some implications of that. For me though, everybody means something and to deny that is to dehumanize us.

Perhaps it is important to clarify something. I use the word mind to cover a wide variety of possibilities. Consciousness is only one of them. Many important processes take place outside the circle of light shed by conscious attention. Mind is also where the body is experienced and shares a two-way relationship with the brain, so the realms of the physical are not excluded. The mind is a node in a sociocultural network and is affected by many wider systems which it maps and responds to in a variety of ways. No mind is an island! There is also strong evidence that the mind can operate independently of the body/brain (See Jenny Wade’s Changes of Mind, Ken Ring’s Lessons from the Light and David Fontana’s Is There an Afterlife? as well as posts on this site about the afterlife hypothesis for more detail about that.)

There are differences that should not be obscured. A psychologist is paid for her mind-work: her client is not. That is one difference which can create an undesirable power-differential if great care is not taken to counteract that tendency. Another difference lies in the fact that the client is the expert, as I have said, in his own mind: the psychologist is the expert when it comes to the nature of the work in some of its aspects. That is the only other difference. Both can grow as a result of the mind-work they do together.

That should be enough to set the scene for the exploration of my way of working that follows.

The Client’s Perspective

In 1996 I interviewed someone who had gone through a series of conversations with me about his voices. He was a former miner and an ex-army man from the Welsh valleys. He was articulate but down-to-earth. What he told me enriched my way of doing things considerably and shed a great deal of light into previously dark places. We made a video together, from which the photo  below is extracted but without showing his face, and he was very keen that it be used to help others understand this kind of problem better. At the time of the videoed interview we had been working together for about six months. There was still a long way to go but much of interest had happened. I will call him Ian to protect his identity.

Perhaps most importantly, he emphasised the role of trust.

P.: And it was in November that we first met, wasn’t it?

I.: Yeh. Jenny [his residential social worker not the author of the book recommended above!] had started talking about you, you know? And it was coming up to the meeting with you. And I can remember going to the meeting with you that first time. And I can remember thinking who’s this bloke asking me all these questions, you know? And I didn’t trust you. But Jen was persistent that I could trust you, so I decided to trust Jenny and to talk to you.

P.: And you actually asked if Jenny could come to sessions, didn’t you?BM & PH

I.: Yeh, I asked if Jenny could come, yeh.

P.: Right. And I think she came about the second or third time you came.

I.: Yeh.

P.: And did you feel more comfortable with her there?

I.: I did, yeh.

P.: And did that make you feel more able to begin to trust me at least personally if not what I was doing?

I.: It took about a month to start to trust you. And that was with Jenny backing you up.

This cannot be stressed too much. Trust takes a long time to build and is easily lost. In Ian’s case Jenny who had worked with him for years and vouched for me assisted the development of trust. In a “delusion” exercise I use in workshops we can see how a period of unsympathetic and confrontational treatment at the hands of other people makes it harder for someone to believe we are not going to be the same. We need to prove our trustworthiness over a period of time. We need to be prepared for hostility at worst and the cold shoulder or evasion at best in the early stages of our relationship. We would be wise not to assume that such behaviour is the result of “paranoia.” It is at least as likely, if not more so, to be a natural reaction to months if not years of other people’s outspoken incredulity.

What also was important to the success of my work with Ian was all the effort Jenny put in in-between times.

I.: It took about a month to start to trust you. And that was with Jenny backing you up.

P.: And that was by being there in the sessions and by talking to you between whiles wasn’t it? You used to have meetings and discussions with her between times.

I.: Inbetweentimes, yeh. And we’d talk about what we’d talked about, you know? And she supported you in what she said.

She helped him remember what I had said or correct his distortions of it. She encouraged him to make use of the suggestions we had come up with. She helped him make sense of what was happening to him in the terms I had described it. Isolated mind-work sessions will achieve little if they are not reinforced and supported by a lot of work in-between.

We will hear much more from Ian in the next post.

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