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Recommended reading

Wholeness and the Implicate Order
Wholeness and the Implicate Order

David Bohm's classic work.

The Holographic Universe
The Holographic Universe

Another classic, this time by Michael Talbot.

Blackfoot Physics
Blackfoot Physics

A journey into the Native American Worldview, by F. David Peat.

William James: Writings 1902-1910
William James: Writings 1902-1910

The most important works of this giant of philosophy collected in one volume.

The 'Unknown' Reality, Vol. I+II
The "Unknown" Reality

The "Unknown" Reality, Vol. II
There is more to reality than what we know. Read about it in this Seth Book by Jane Roberts.

Beyond the Whole

  • The ways of science
  • No one thinks like Plato
  • Beyond the whole
  • The Ways of Science

    Scientists have different opinions on what the purpose of science is. A category known as instrumentalists believe science is simply a useful tool to make predictions. No one can claim to truly understand the nature of anything. The best we can do is to build models and make predictions. If the predictions turn out right, they are happy.

    Most engineers use science in this practical way: they are satisfied if the bridge they have designed doesn't collapse. Most scientists want more: they want to understand the world.

    Reductionism is a way of understanding reality in terms of ever-smaller basic building blocks. An example of this method is the theory of the structure of molecules. The fact that a water molecule is made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms can be explained in terms of the properties of the 'orbits' of the electrons of the atoms.

    Holistic or 'systems' approaches look at how parts work together to form wholes and pay particular attention to the 'emergent' properties that only appear on the level of the whole. An example of an emergent property is the speed of a car. It doesn't make much sense to speak of the speed of the windscreen or the screws or the steering wheel. This property depends on the whole car.

    Unfortunately, most holistic approaches are little more than an acknowledgement of the fact that most wholes are more than the sum of their parts. They are little more than adornments of reductionism: you can still separate the whole nicely into its parts, even though you will lose some functionality when you do so. Few people have come close to taking into account the 'unbroken wholeness' that is suggested by both quantum physics and experiences of cosmic consciousness.

    More recently we have seen the arrival of a 'holographic' paradigm. Here, every part contains a holographic image of the whole with which it is inextricably linked. This is indeed a nice metaphor to illustrate the unbroken wholeness, but it is a long way from explaining how this would actually work. David Bohm probably made the best effort. He was a man far ahead of his time. His concepts of order have not been widely appreciated to their full depth. He could have achieved a lot more had he not become entangled in his own particular interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    Even in the most whole theories, however, we find a type of reductionism that is consistently overlooked and accepted without question.

    No one thinks like Plato

    Greek philosophy is widely regarded as the original basis from which much of today's science has evolved. One of the most influential concepts has been Plato's world of ideas or forms. Plato divided the Kosmos up into two worlds. One, the visible world, is the world of our experience, what we see and hear. It is a world of change and uncertainty. The other, the intelligible world, contains the eternal (ideal) 'forms' or 'ideas' of things.

    This world of ideas is the primary world. The products of our reasoning can be found in it. The visible world is merely the imperfect and ever-changing manifestation of the world of ideas.

    This relationship between the world of ideas and the world of experience has been the blueprint for the basic scientific method. Science builds models of reality in terms of objects from the world of ideas. These objects are idealizations of what we find in the world of experience.

    This also means that objects in the real world are reduced to relatively flat concepts in the theory. The role or function of an object in the theory is laid out in a very specific definition within the model, and subject only to the dynamics and interactions allowed by the model.

    Definitions are necessarily generalizations. They reduce any object to its 'essence.' Particles don't have identity in quantum physics. You can substitute one electron for another and nothing will change. The 'humans' used in models of disease don't have names. They don't have thoughts of feelings. They have only those properties which are needed to make the model work.

    In our normal, everyday lives, we don't think in terms of idealized forms. When I ask you to think about the concept of 'a horse,' most likely you will first have an image of some horse in your mind, or a sound, or some memory. You may see or think of some kind of dictionary definition ("a large solid-hoofed herbivorous mammal (Equus caballus, family Equidae, the horse family) domesticated since a prehistoric period and used as a beast of burden, a draft animal, or for riding" - from Merriam-Webster's Online) but it is very unlikely.

    Beyond the whole

    This in some ways unnatural way of thinking, usually called "rational thought" lies at the root of why science and spirituality appear to be two entirely different qualities of being. The idealizations used in science cut away all the specifics and the details of an object. But in doing so, they cut away what may be the real essence of any concept: the enormous, infinite variety and diversity of its expressions.

    The dominant paradigm in Western science has always been materialism - the notion that everything, including our thoughts and our consciousness, has its basis in the material world. Its counterpart idealism (or idea-ism), which states that everything, including the material world, has its basis in mental phenomena or consciousness, has had much less attention. At best, the mental was put on an equal footing with the material in some form of dualism.

    The main reason idealism has had such a hard time is that our idea of an idea has been very limited. Ideas are thought of as simple things: a book, a horse, a thought, a human being... In the rational mode of thinking, all these ideas are like the faded image of an old painting - the richness of its colors, its depth, its vitality have faded away long ago. Labels have taken the place of the original, and were then mistaken for the original.

    What I propose is a restoration of ideas and concepts in our thinking to their original richness. When you think of a horse, you think of all its possible variations. You may well see the image change continuously before your inner eyes, morphing from one form to another, from one color to another. You may see a horse running free in nature, resting in a stable, or jumping fences. You may see the rider wearing different outfits. You may see the horse in battle, or working the land. All these images are a part of your concept of a horse.

    I propose an end to the dualism between the world of eternal forms and the real world. The world of experience is not made up of imperfect manifestations of 'perfect' ideas. The ideas are all their manifestations, in all possible worlds, in all possible situations, in all possible relationships, in all possible variations.

    'Nailness' is as much about being "a slender usually pointed and headed fastener designed to be pounded in" as with being a nail in your coffin, or the feeling of being pounded by a hammer, the cursing of the carpenter hitting his finger instead of the nail, the bed it helps hold together on which two people make love, and even all those situations where someone said something so much to the point that "they hit the nail on the head."

    This expanded idea of an idea expresses the "unbroken wholeness" that the holographic metaphor tries to capture. You favorite cup is forever connected with the cup Socrates drank his poison from, or that cup you broke as a child which made your mother angry. It is for ever connected to someone in the wilderness 'cupping' their hands to drink water from the river - any time, anywhere. They are all directly connected as expressions of the 'idea' of a cup.

    They are all connected to... the Holy Grail!