Pinchbeck and Dharmanidhi: Bridging the Divide
Last week, I attended the Psychedelics and Spirituality debate-that-was-more-of-a-discussion-on-consciousness-and-evolution between Daniel Pinchbeck and Dharmanidhi. It was a joy. I received it as nourishment of a particular kind for my soul, that which comes through what I believe to be the spiritual dimension of cognition and conceptualization. The two men were more on the same page than not. And importantly, both, it is fair to say, believe in doing good and acting with wisdom for the benefit of the most people possible. However, putting aside the issue of psychedelics, their uses, and their differences on this topic, what was more intriguing to me was that there seemed a persistent gap in their conceptions of evolution and change.
Pinchbeck, on the one hand, ascribes to the phenomenon of evolution towards more complexity and greater human consciousness, especially as it pertains to a non-dual experience of consciousness. He sees the speeding up of universal and local phenomena as evidence of a paradigm shift and an indication that current ways of being are outdated and necessarily in the process of transformation.
Dharmanidhi, on the other hand, finds evolution as it's currently conceived to be a rather masculine and dualist idea, since, he says, it implies somewhere to get and for the most part somewhere better. He, with a Hindu-based, Kashmiri Shaivism perspective, espouses eternal cycles (or perhaps spirals); that regardless of what changes on the surface plane of reality, nothing in essence is different; that any supposedly better or changed moment in the future is the same, in essence, as this and every moment; because everything, surface and otherwise, is a manifestation of the eternal and unchangeable divine.
Given their shared emphasis on doing good and maximum benefit, how then do we reconcile the divergence? Pinchbeck subscribes to qualitative evolutionary change, while proclaiming non-dualism; Dharmanidi subscribes firmly to non-dualism and eternal cycles, while speaking of doing good to positively impact humans and the earth, suggesting qualitative change despite his focus on the present moment. I believe there are two rather new models of the universe that provide useful frames for a bridge between the two perspectives. One is known as The Big Bounce. The other is Nassim Haramein's vortex-based Scalar Unification Model.
The Big Bounce (TBB) has recently emerged as an alternative to and an improvement upon The Big Bang, in that the Bounce purports to make significant strides towards resolving the problem of quantum gravity leftover from Einstein's insights. For fuller theoretical (and what I found to be quite complicated) underpinnings, see the October 2008 issue of Scientific American. But for our purposes here, what TBB entails is that rather than the infinite dense point that preceded a big bang being the beginning of the universe, it was actually both an end and a beginning; an end to a vast, eons-long contraction and a beginning of a vast eons-long expansion, in which we are currently ensconced. Eventually, this expansion will end and another contraction will begin, etc. etc., bounce, bounce.
Within this historical, future and perhaps eternal lens of the universe, the perspectives of both men fit nicely. In fact, we might say that one is nested inside the other. There is the overarching pattern of bounce (Dharmanidhi), and currently, we are in a grand expansion, wherein there does indeed seem to be a procession towards a more expansive and dimensional consciousness (Pinchbeck). Further, let's take recapitulation and fractals to be true, i.e., that the patterns within are the same as that of which they are part...or infinity in a grain of sand, if you like. Here, this implies that each speck, moment, and concentration thereof, within either contraction or expansion, has in itself a Big Bounce (a very little one rather). Perhaps this is why the tiny "strings" purported in some circles to underlie all are said to have a pulsating appearance. So the eternal cycle or bounce is the grand structure and manifests everywhere within, even while our current gross experience is expansive. Pinchbeck focuses on capturing this current phase, while Dharmanidhi is more concerned with an overarching or essential view. An evolutionary bounce bridges the conceptual gap.
The other salient point with TBB is that when it was first derived, the developers thought that the previous, contracting manifestation was a mirror image of what is now expanding; however, it turns out mathematically that this is not the case. We might take this to imply that change is to be expected, and though change might be just a reconstitution of a finite amount of matter/consciousness, it does allow for more complex or concentrated reorganizations within (nodes maybe).
To restate: though matter/consciousness as a whole is always the same quantitatively, it is possible that new, more intense concentrations of it allow for reflective, self-replicating, and even increasingly conscious experiences within. I think of the emergence on earth of crystals, their ability to self-replicate and thus their potential as the foundation of organic earthly life. Whether the overarching form of the universe -- sum of the parts -- does change qualitatively, as the parts and nodes of matter/consciousness themselves change is addressed below. But first, the second of the two models.
Haramein's Scalar Vortical Model starts from what he considers (quite logically in my opinion) to be a glaring hole in The Big Bang: the apparent disregard for the absence of a simultaneous equal and opposite reaction to the grand expansion, one of the most basic and generally held principles of physical reality. This is another in a long line of examples where science merely sweeps under the rug or ignores what is considered to be fundamental 99.9% of the time. One would think that fundamentals would not be disregarded when considering the overarching structure/phenomenon of the universe. A similar argument could be made pertaining to the Bounce and is made pertaining to claims of so called universal theories that include 85% as yet unidentified "dark" matter.
Haramein in his Scale Model asserts that he has found a basic structure/form that works from the smallest of phenomena, such as fundamental particles, to the largest, i.e., the universe itself. Essentially this form is a vortex with spiral and recirculating emanations in every direction. (See the top of this page link for more info and a graphic depiction of this form.) The imagined point of super-density that is expanded from (and contracted to in The Bounce) is actually an eternal center of a vortex. Every manifestation within the universe is a fractal of this form.
Considering our galaxy, for instance, its spiral shape has long been observed; however, up until now, its center has been thought to be a black hole. Instead, Haramein asserts that this and in fact all black holes are actually vortices. All creatures, likewise, have vortices at their centers; for humans, we might dare call it the soul. And then, on the atomic level, we would look deep into nuclei. For all of the above, the vortex might rightly be called the fertile, unnamable ground from which inspiration, creativity, and divine manifestation emerge.
Haramein's form ties neatly to the 2012 astronomical phenomenon and that which is represented by the once-every-26,000-years concentration of energy (regardless of what might happen as a result). However, I don't want to drift in that direction, so let's keep the focus on the vortex, its spiral emanations and how this model bridges Pinchbeck and Dharmanidhi.
Ostensibly, the spirals go out in every direction and recirculate back into the void; however, this may be easier to conceptualize if we first just imagine spirals emanating outward only, in two opposite directions. The spirals overall do increase as they move outward, towards Pinchbeck's growing complexity of matter/consciousness, but along the way the spirals always have the back-circling movement inherent to their form, sort of like two steps forward, one step back. Then, when we move to consider emanations in every direction and recirculation back into the vortex (again, see the picture at the link above), we can see how the overall structure entails both gradually increasing and decreasing portions, gibing with Dharmanidhi's eternal cycles. So here, instead of a sequential bouncing pattern, we have one giant repeating recirculation.
As a bit of an aside, we could almost say that The Big Bang, The Big Bounce, and the Scalar Vortex Model correspond, respectively, to one, two, and three dimensional perspectives. However, what is salient here is that whether we take either of the latter two models, we can see how Pinchbeck and Dharmanidhi's perspectives fit together. Neither man is right or wrong, per se; rather, it just seems that the former is considering the deep implications of a portion of what the latter considers.
While I've reached the key goals of what I want to say, there are a couple of further considerations I'd like to introduce which, while at first I thought were separate, now seem to inform one another. First, I posed the question above: does quantitative conservation of the totality when matter/consciousness reorganizes imply qualitative conservation as well, or is it possible that the sum of the parts alters qualitatively when matter/consciousness reformulates and reflective consciousness and energy concentrations increase (during either bounce or spiral recirculation)? Ok, hold that for a second.
Now focusing on Dharmanidhi (though I'm sure Daniel would have something interesting to say in the regard), if there are eternal cycles, or Big Bounces or recirculating vortical structures, what is the use of doing good or doing anything for that matter? We're on an existential level at this point, verging on a query of the "meaning of life."
Well, perhaps what Dharmanidhi and all others who emphasize non-dualism and doing good are unknowingly implying is that the whole (the sum of the parts) does actually qualitatively change, and possibly towards something that at some level is experienced as better. Perhaps towards the heart connectedness that Dharmanidhi said he experienced the first time he communed with his teacher. For the moment, I'm just putting this out there. My conclusion will not support this.
I ran into Daniel at CIIS a few days after the talk, and I brought up some of the ideas above and he was intrigued and suggested I write them up. He expressed how much he enjoyed the talk with Dharmanidhi. And he also mentioned that in his point of view, Dharmanidhi seems beholden to older ideas/philosophy and not necessarily willing to make room for the new. (This was not said in a combative, dismissive or condescending manner.) I'm not going to argue for or against this. However, it did remind me of something that I think is crucial when considering pretty much anything.
It is virtually impossible to consider phenomena outside of the context from which they spring. For example, consideration of Jackson Pollack's work and/or Free Jazz is enhanced and clarified by the concurrent scientific quest for the foundational particle. Similarly, the history of western psychology is peppered with theories and ideas that resonate with reality but just as much reflect the lives and times of the people who developed them. Consider, for example, Freud's unaversalizing of hysterical symptoms from the repressive context of the Viennese middle-class society of his day, or how the pharmaceutical industry depends heavily on a commodity-crazed culture.
With this in mind, I note that Dharmanidhi was taught by Tibetan Kashmiri Shaivism practitioners and dharma keepers about a philosophy with roots back to 3,000 B.C. At that time, I venture to say that things likely did not appear to be moving quite as fast or convergently as they do now. Maybe from a relative perspective they did, but I tend to doubt it. Daniel is working very much in consideration of current phenomena, wherein it is hard not to see some general speeding up of things. From one perspective this all might suggest that Daniel is not seeing the forest for the trees. From another, it might suggest that the ancient philosophy, while larger in the scope of what it addresses, may be slow to incorporate potential challenges to it. Frankly, right now I'm not arguing either way, I just want to emphasize the primacy of context.
Everyone is and has always been operating within their particular context. Even when communing with the divine in some way or another, whether through psychedelics or otherwise, this experience is informed by the life you've lived and the world you've lived in. Yet it does seem that some kind of furthering integration goes on and that there is some eternal backdrop. With this in mind, I posit the following: the whole does stay both quantitatively and qualitatively the same; however, as we integrate more and more in one fashion or another, and do good, the subtle shifts we each experience as moving closer to the divine give us the impression of overall qualitative shift. Something real is happening in each of us, perhaps in more and more of us, in humanity at large, and this may very likely have significant ramifications for the ongoing context in which we experience existence, but any implied overarching qualitative shift or even any glimpse of oneness is likely a projection of what's inside us onto the universe.
And with this conclusion, I'm chuckling to myself. I'm chuckling because I'm an MFT student and trainee, so it only stands to reason that for me a lot comes down to projection.
Integrate on, my friends!
Perhaps projective identification recapitulates the spiral recirculation model. Let's say we each have a vortex and our spirals emanate outward, meet other, and return. We might liken this to projective identification. This is most clear with infants when permeability is greatest, since there is no distinction between self and other and no further developmental functioning as yet (i.e., distinct limbic or any symbolic functioning). Even the physical boundaries are softer if you consider the softness of the baby's skin, head, and skeleton. So with our smallest manifestation as born humans, it's like we can almost see the circulation taking place, just as when we consider the quantum level, where matter is contained in exceedingly less complex form, we can more clearly grasp this pattern, i.e., pulsating strings.
Framing 2012 within the above, maybe the speeding up does in fact relate to an astronomical phenomenon of 2012. However, in the bigger scheme, Dharmanidhi is saying that the ramifications for us will be as a nuance. So it could be a big shift astronomically, but its impact on our gross level of apprehension will not be tangibly apparent. On the other hand, along the evolutionary trail, there do seem to be paradigm shifts, or punctuated equilibriums, to use Stephen J. Gould's term (preceded and concurrent with lots of dead ends). And it is possible that whatever occurs could impact us on a grosser level, we'd hope with a generally positive valence vs., say, an apocalyptic one. However, whichever way it plays out, regardless of how grossly we do or do not experience it, there both is salient change occurring and it is tiny within the framework of the universe.
Don't mistake the human conception for the thing itself, but whether we do or not, "doing good" adds up. Above, I mentioned that Pinchbeck suggested that Dharmanidhi's dharma may have a certain rigidity to it. And that while I don't know whether this is true or not, I do believe in the primacy of context. This being so, I think we always have to be careful not to mistake a human conception, philosophy or manifestation of some thing for the thing itself. Our sensory experiences and their conceptual offshoots are approximations of whatever is real.
As a starter, consider the fact that the name of a feeling is not the feeling itself. It's like a Lacanian signifier, a quite good one often, for a vast complex of physiological processes and associations. But does it accurately capture all the varied nuances of how those processes manifest each time? I think no. Now when we consider human conceptions of what is, there are certainly some that resonate more deeply and/or are more integral in scope -- better approximations, if you will -- just as a similar but subtly different word may better capture a feeling state. And I would certainly consider Dharmanidhi's integral conception of reality as a damn good approximation, with great use of the third eye. Yet even here, as everywhere, we need to allow for refinement.
The same could be said for The Perennial Philosophy. While it beautifully integrates many different branches, which are each advanced approximations of reality but not reality itself, and it has an incredibly deep, integral resonance, it yet remains an approximation, albeit a more encapsulating one. Without going into too much detail here, I might reference Capra's Tao of Physics uniting eastern mysticism and western science, Sri Auribindo's unification of the yogic philosophies as representing different sides of the same coin, and Witten's mathematical unification of the previous five competing string theories.
Let's consider Newtonian physics for a more material example. The laws work seamlessly within the limited parameters of our physical context, yet they remain just very, very good approximations of physical reality. Because outside of our immediate purview they are beholden both to the quantum level, where our observed boundaries break down, and to the giant level, where gravitational attractions are vastly complex and things increase toward the speed of light. Thus, Newtonian calculations aren't exact, it's just that the error due to quantum and giant effects is so incredibly minute from our limited perspective (an extremely long string of decimal places starting off with many many zeros), such that the calculations look like an exact representation of reality.
Back to conceptual constructs. Again, no matter how good they are, even when seemingly validated by experiential practice, they are approximate and contextually based. Or put another way, gross manifestations of the divine. This perspective allows us to always keep open to new information as it emerges, as Pinchbeck emphasized, and to remember that all for us is process. Further, you could say, this provides some of that elusive meaning to life, i.e., movement towards greater and greater integration, to come closer and closer to divine presence.
Let's rephrase this as the quest for enlightenment for a moment, and as Dharmanidhi said and I agree with, it's not somewhere we get, it's ongoing process. Taking this and given how much the open, loving heart space is associated with divine presence, it is no wonder that doing good is stressed, since doing such certainly seems to cultivate the heart connection. Luckily for us, whether we mistake a conception for a thing itself or not, the doing good, heart space, divine connection remains so. However, in my estimation, we are best served by not making this mistake, because in not doing so, it seems we are walking the philosophical walk of staying in process and allowing a flow of experience. Such a flow (vs. clung-to experiences or ideas) allows maximum opportunity to be in open loving divine heart.
Is there in fact no objective reality to approximate, as implied by Einstein's Relativity and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle? The former says that each observer has a different experience of an event, with differences being greater as relative speed of observers increases; the latter says there actually is no event apart from an observer and the observing impacts the event. This all suggests -- and I am aware this is not at all a new idea -- that we create our experience as we go. So if you and I are looking at a tree, we have similar yet unique experiences of it. Sight is particularly illustrative here because images first come to us upside down and then our brain flips it...thus, what is truly real? As pointed at above, we mistake the optical image for the tree itself. Do we, then, create everything, including the universe? And does the universe, whatever it is, presuppose us and not stand alone? Or, does what we perceive at any moment provide a fleeting glimpse of the one and only objective reality, the universe in its entirety, a flicker of unattainable enlightenment that keeps us in process towards the full void?
Accounting for the shadow while doing good: We encourage striving for communion with the divine, and that doing good helps us do so. To best do good, we need to deal with our shadow selves, our dark and aggressive impulses, such that we can maximize the loving heart space. This is the bounty of western psychology, integrating or loving the split-off, relatively unpleasant parts of ourselves, one especially available as we move away from a pathologizing model. Regarding de-pathologizing, multicultural focus offers quite a bit, as when we see how relative everything is, how important context is in assessing normalcy and sickness, the tendency to pathologize decreases. So we have: dealing with shadow, having more access to loving heart space, both for ourselves and with others, and using eastern techniques to foster communion.
The move toward greater integration tying to evolution: Evolution as it's currently conceived, as far as I can tell, occurs when there is integration of previous stuff. For example, advanced cortical function emerged after somatic and limbic brain functioning were well integrated. The evolution of ideas is no different; thus, integral philosophies. Even so-called original ideas generally have their foundations in earlier ones; they are new, integral manifestations, if you will. (Reminds me of the idea in the arts that there is not really such thing as non-derivative artwork...and thus what does copyright really represent, etc. etc. See Jonathan Lethem's article in the February 2007 issue of Harper's for a brilliant elucidation of this.)
So the universe includes or allows (or maybe implies) this type of movement, integral movement, which as I've stated above implies movement toward the divine. And thus we're back to: is evolution cyclical or is it actually proceeding toward the divine? Maybe the experience of proceeding and integrating toward the divine is a harbinger of our cyclical return to the vortex, the original fertile void, where for an instant we will be one with the divine and we will only be able to experience existence non-dually vs. striving for it. And just as fast, we'll be shot out again for another whirlwind experience of universe. If this is the case, it would seem that our sense of separation from it, currently, is real. Or are we always actually there? Or are we both there and not there? Which hearkens me to the particle and wave tension of Heisenberg and his kin, a nice segue.
Essential Core Vs. Ever-Change; Kashmiri Shaivism vs. Buddhism: During the talk last week, if my memory serves me, Pinchbeck said something to the extent of, "the only certainty is change" or spoke to the constancy of change. Dharmanidhi quickly responded that that is the core of Buddhism and he doesn't "buy it." Rather, he talks of an eternal essence, an eternal core, unnamable, unchangeable. At the same time, he also affirmed that enlightenment isn't a destination, it's an ongoing process. Maybe this all reflects some of my earlier hypotheses that there is a universal vortical Core and we're always in process towards fuller conceptual and experiential approximation of it. Further, we (and everything) each have a vortex as well, but it is not as fundamentally essential as the grand vortex of the universe, thus the ongoing process for us. Dharminidhi's two viewpoints reflect this tension.
I wonder about the discomfort with the fundamental nature, essence or core unit being change itself. I mean, perhaps the grand universal core is subject to change as well, but our minds cannot help but seek something solid, something comforting on some level, even if it's not what necessarily is. This tension reminds me very much of the particle vs. wave dichotomy, or smallest particle vs. pulsating energy packet. The positing of an eternal Core tends towards particle and recalls Einstein's complaint about quantum physics: "God doesn't play dice with the universe." However, even Einstein indicated the wave perspective, in my opinion, when he said "Dostoevsky teaches me more than any physicist does." It seems he himself didn't realize the tension with the first statement suggested by the latter. On a gross level, we could look at writing, the arts, philosophy, etc. as wave, and mathematics and science as particle. Or Eastern approaches as wave and Western as particle (recall The Tao of Physics again).
When we arrive at furthering integrated ideas, whether Kashmiri Shaivism, The Perennial Philosophy, or Witten's String Theory, perhaps we get fuller resolutions of the fundamental particle vs. wave tension; however, in a cruel twist, even these inevitably tend towards particle by virtue of naming where the arrive.
Structure vs. Aliveness in all its many manifestations: Another way we can look at the tension between essential core vs. change and particle vs. wave is considering structure vs. aliveness/spontaneity. So for instance, we need a contained, bounded vessel to move through the world, yet it is permeable to, interactive with, and quite dependent upon what is outside the bounds (e.g., oxygen, food, early caregivers). This is what Capra in another great book, The Web of Life, called an autopoietic system. Each of our cells functions this way as well. And indeed, we can see how this manifests beyond physical structures in behavioral and cultural phenomenon as well. A child is best taught boundaries and encouraged towards free play; marriages and families need a mix of structure and spontaneity/permeability; economic models speak of regulation vs. free market. If we again take fractals and recapitulation to be true, it would follow that every speck and moment of the universe manifests this as well, as does the overall universe itself. And thus we are back to the question: is the fundamental or overall essentialness more like core/particle or is it change/wave? Well, maybe there is the third option, that the basic-ness of the universe is in fact the tension between the two. It is both particle and wave and they presuppose each other.
Implications of Witten's Unification of String Theory: Now there is another consideration brought about by Witten's work, a very important one to my mind. His unification of the five competing String Theories necessitates six or seven additional dimensions above and beyond the four that are readily apparent to us. And it has been posited in various ways that it is in these very hard to conceptualize and even harder to see dimensions that the tensions of our gross experience of reality are seamlessly resolved.
For example, David Bohm (whose work on the "Implicate" and "Explicate" universes is quite fascinating all on its own) posits that the reason mind and body can seem so separate to us is that some of their key connection occurs in these outré domains. Also, it has been theorized that this explains why gravity manifests to us as the weakest of the four fundamental forces, because most of it is operating in an enfolded dimension beyond our immediate scope. Further, this helps us to grasp both how particles billions of miles apart are instantaneously and simultaneously impacted and how mirror neurons in our brains and their correlates in our immune system concurrently and seemingly unexplicably fire. We're just not seeing the connections with our faculties as they primarily function at this point. And perhaps, once these extra dimensions are accounted for, the apparent tension between particle and wave disappears and we're left with neither and both, with a whole richly greater than the sum of its parts, and with sensations integrated and experienced primarily through the third eye.
It's also worth referencing Haramein's model again here, with the image of the scalar recirculating vortex. And imagine that the grand universal vortex entails infinite mirroring between all of an infinite number of sides. As yet, our vision is mostly limited to the manifold emanations of our universe and largely ignorant of the vortex itself. However, if we take the biggest picture, we can see the mirroring and understand the connectivity through that vortex itself, and as with the extra dimensions of unified String Theory, this resolves the various tensions and mysteries I mentioned above.
It is possible that the mystical experiencing of these ideas is akin to what Dharminidhi described when first sharing the heart connection with his teacher. Maybe what he has experienced and continues to experience is the pinnacle, the highest level of Robert Anton Wilson's Timothy Leary-based evolutionary model laid out in Prometheus Rising, harmonizing with Bohm's Implicate and Explicate, enmeshing meditation and math, etc. etc. I do believe that people such as Dharminidhi have come to an experience of life/consciousness/ existence/universe that is relatively more in tune with the larger framework and relatively more replete with genuine open loving kindness. However, perhaps it still remains limited by virtue of coming within the confines of a human manifestation. But even if so, if it remains an approximation, it is a glorious and amazing one and it is surely worthy of our most esteemed and diligent emulation.
Image by quinet, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet