When I was in college many years ago my best friend and I were watching some educational programming to enhance our collegiate experience. Okay- it was Sesame Street- and in this particular vignette, Jack Be Nimble was about to execute a perilous jump over a flaming object. With much fanfare, just before he took off, a square jawed reporter asked Jack if he had any last words. He cried out enthusiastically, “Everything is everything!”
Mitch and I looked at each other with the deep realization that we had just been gifted the secret to the Universe.
Maybe we had.
Philosophies of interconnectedness are a fundamental precept of ancient wisdom societies around the globe and across time. Just about every indigenous culture on earth subscribes to what John Muir put so eloquently when he said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
Well, we used to be hitched to everything. Until sometime shortly after the Industrial Revolution, that is. We’ve been coming slowly unglued ever since.
As I described in my last missive, the stories we tell help to form our perception of the world. For millennia our models of reality included an unknowable force, a kind of inscrutable presence or intelligence that colored causality and contributed to our particular logic about how the world worked. Carl Jung wrote that the archaic man did not see himself as separate from Nature, but inexorably intertwined with it. In Greek times the philosopher Old Democritus used the term “spiritus insertus atomis,” which means the spirit inserted in atoms. As if matter itself might just contain consciousness.
As progress churned inexorably onward and we got more deft at turning a handful of dirt into complex objects, our models for the universe shifted. With Newton’s theories about the primacy of force (wherein consciousness or intention was irrelevant) along with Des Cartes and his heartless insistence on the world as machine, the die was cast. When tinkerers began to construct intricate contraptions that could capture time and multiply human effort, we developed philosophies that became more mechanistic to reflect our evolving understanding of Nature, but more and more as a thing we were above and separate from: the Cosmos as a great clockwork. The Deus had left the Machina.
Man had become unhitched from the Everything. We had separated consciousness from science and forgotten utterly that it takes consciousness to do the math.
With each successive advancement in technology we refined our mechanistic explanation of how the universe works. With the advent of the steam engine we evolved our description from clockwork to motor. As engines became more sophisticated we modified our models. Forever adding layers of complexity upon our mechanical metaphor of how things work.
When the computer came along we quickly adopted the new model. A thinking machine! It must be like a brain! This new metaphor of computer-as-brain has become so ingrained in our culture that we have practically mistaken the metaphor for the real thing. The thinking goes that a computer is such a perfect metaphor for our brain that the greatest minds among us believe that when we can make a computer equal to a brain, we will bear witness to the next great evolution of sentience on earth. Something, the theory pre-supposes, will finally be smarter than man. Ahoy the Singularity! That moment when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence as the highest intelligence on earth.
I’m no Luddite, but maybe I do long for those distant days of wine and roses, that time of spiritus insertus atomis when spirit and matter were wed and we were part of Nature. Our brains now rule the roost. So much so that a few years ago Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist, believed he had proven the non-existence of god by dissecting a giraffe and showing how it’s vagus nerve traveled from it’s brain all the way down it’s long neck, looped around it’s heart and back up to end at it’s vocal chords. Dawkins argument was that no intelligent designer in his right mind would make such a grievous mistake. That if there were a god, he never would have gone to all that trouble to run a line so far out of the way only to come back up to the vocal chords of an animal that doesn’t even speak. This very nerve in a fish makes so much more sense, he concluded, as it is a direct line to a useful end. Not a meandering wander to parts unknown. So this strange nerve just uselessly kept getting left in successive evolutions like some sort of forgotten code from fish to amphibian to mammal until it became a total absurdity in the long neck of the giraffe.
Oh the humanity.
I mean really. What a hubristic and anthropocentric view. First to assume that evolution is incompatible with an intelligent influence of anatomy (which is a topic for another day) and secondly to think he has a total grasp of what intelligent design is. No human does. I mean, sheesh, intelligent designers left the pockets off women’s skinny jeans. Men’s skinny jeans have pockets. Why not women’s? Unexplainable design is everywhere. It doesn’t mean the universe is soulless.
I told the story of Richard Dawkin’s giraffe dissection to a bunch of birds and they just shook their little heads. I mean, it really ruffled their feathers. But that’s because they speak bird language. You did, too, once upon a time. Archaic man and indigenous peoples use it to this day to find prey and not get eaten by lions. Learning bird language is making a well deserved comeback in Nature Connection Schools and communities where indigenous wisdom is respected. The alchemists call it “la langue des oiseaux.” It is the ability to be connected to the greater field of information around you, to be able to read the wind and listen as if you were a part of it. As if you were a part of Nature.
When did you start believing you weren’t?
Nobody is just a head.
In 1996, Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia University founded a new field of medicine called neurogastroenterology. It’s the study of the neuronal connections in what is now called the enteric brain. Turns out there’s a significant and complicated set of nerve cells operating around your stomach. It is integrally linked to your brain and all other bodily systems in a billion different ways. When you get a gut feeling about something, this is where it comes from. How is enteric thought coded? Is it a language of feelings? How does this fit into the model of the computer? What’s the stomach of a computer? The model of the brain as computer is good, it’s just not complete.
And what about the heart? Research in the new science of neurocardiology shows clear indications that the heart itself has what science would call a brain. Couple that along with the fact that it’s electromagnetic pulses are 500 times greater than the pulses coming from the cerebellum and we have an information system carried on waves of electromagnetism that we have not even begun to understand. Does the heart have it’s own intelligence? Can we include these intelligences into our model of reality?
The metaphor is not the thing itself. Have we become so focused on replicating the model that we can’t see when new information emerges? Maybe this is why love and consciousness have been left out of all our calculations. Do I need to remind you that we are mind, body and spirit? As I write this, I am aware of my thoughts being transcribed by these symbols I learned as I scratch them with my pen on paper. That awareness must count for something. I feel like I am more than a clock. I admit that I am matter. But more than that, I also matter. Clearly, I am more than the sum of my parts.
How much more?
Am I the Deus in the Machina?
Technology is a spectacular multiplier and we have used it to great effect to multiply our strength and our intellect. Can you see why? Because multiplying these attributes conforms to the story we have told about how reality is constructed. First gears, then circuitry. “Artificial Intelligence” (as if anything from earth can really be artificial. I believe it’s more appropriate to call it Machine Intelligence) now dominates in games of chess and Go and recently beat our top gun pilot in a series of dogfights. A computer beat the best human contestants in Jeopardy! (Btw, the exclamation point is part of the game show’s name, not an indication of my enthusiasm for that achievement.)
These are excellent milestones in the advancement of technology. Still, they are mostly games of war.
I wonder if it’s possible to reframe our modeling. If man is the measure of all things it is also true that there’s more to heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophies (Horatio). Could our models bring the heart into play? Could we use technology to multiply compassion? Even empathy?
Wouldn’t that be a neat trick?
What is it going to take to reconnect us to Nature? Our disconnection, a function of our story of reality, has led to a serious and perhaps terminal spiral of environmental, societal and personal degradation. This brain only model has us sleepwalking toward a great fall. It’s time to reconnect to Nature and wake up to a new model with a more inclusive story. I am not asking you to believe in god. I’m asking you to remember that you are part of Nature.
Technology conforms to one rule: Progress. But progress has an insatiable appetite. We are burning the world down due to our appetite for progress. We are ignorant that appetite is tempered by an awareness of our condition. Around the time Newton was espousing his Laws of Nature a mathematician by the name of Leibnitz was concocting another theory that included the attributes of condition and appetite as inherent in matter. The smallest particle was called a monad and its fundamental programming was to oscillate between those two properties. Condition and appetite.
The accumulation of monads aggregates the impulse to balance the condition and appetite and as complexities ensue, the need to become more and more aware of condition and appetite increase. This may require the form of matter to look for other cooperative forms thus creating ever more complex nested systems. The more complex systems require more complex solutions to solve for either condition or appetite. Along the way the aggregations of monads would lead to something akin to consciousness or sentience or some form of self-awareness. In other words, enough monads and the thing wakes up. This is called an emergent property. An emergent property is something that is greater that the sum of it’s parts or an unpredictable result of a combination of seemingly unrelated elements. For example, an emergent property happens when two hydrogen atoms combine with an oxygen atom. Looking at these elements separately, no one could have predicted wetness. Is it possible for a new model of reality to imagine that matter itself contains the seed of consciousness like in Leibnitz’ monad?
This would make it possible for multiple kinds of complex awarenesses to emerge and propagate. Nested systems combining would ongoingly form emergent properties from the microcosm to the macrocosm. Intelligence would not necessarily mean you got a big brain.
And if a particular consciousness does not conform to the standard model we currently use to tell the story of reality, well maybe we need to tell a new story. The earth doesn’t appear to have a nervous system. No ganglia are visible that are obvious lines of communication around the earth. Perhaps mycelia, but the verdict is still out on those as the world’s neural network (again, an anthropomorphized expectation of conforming to a model of reality that may not be accurate). Does the lack of an apparent system that mimics our assumed model mean it’s not an intelligence? The earth responds in extremely complex ways to unimaginable problems. Like for example, the sun’s temperature has increased about 40% in the last 3 billion or so years. And yet the earth has not burned to a crisp. In fact, its temperature over that time is remarkably stable. The earth’s atmosphere is filled with volatile chemistry. Gases like oxygen and methane bond easily with other elements and need to be constantly replenished. Too much oxygen in the atmosphere and fires will burn everything to ash, too little and no mammals would survive. Who exactly is working that equation out constantly, everyday for a few billion years?
Maybe not god, but it’s certainly some kind of intelligence greater than yours or mine.
To conclude, we need a new story of how reality is constructed and it needs to include you. All of you. Not just your brain or your muscles. It needs to include your heart, your gut, your consciousness, your spirit and everything else that makes you, you. You are more than the sum of your parts and the nested systems that make up you need to connect to the nested systems that make up me and begin our kindred quest toward a renewed connection to Nature. Let us acknowledge the spiritus insertus atomis until we become an emergent property. Let us cultivate a new understanding of both our condition and our appetite along with a hearty commitment to find technologies that multiply what has so far been underserved by a brain based model: compassion.
The time is now to take that perilous leap. To go out yonder and breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air. To let yourself be re-inhabited by the wild you once had in you. Go and dance with your own divinity to the music of the dawn chorus. Listen to the language of the birds. They will remind you of what you already know:
Everything is everything.
Dave Zaboski is a professional artist, storyteller and consultant, training creators and companies from all disciplines to more perfectly turn their thoughts into things. Contact him at dave@theAlchemyofCreativity.com or book him for speaking engagements at 818-445-8500. www.theAlchemyofCreativity.com
(All images Copyright Dave Zaboski 2016)