Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Human Race


from The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge

A brochure entitled "We Are in a Race With Ourselves" in the 1970s laid out some of the problems and issues facing the world today. Are the solutions to these problem issues within our grasp, or are we still in a race with ourselves?

Human beings are unique animals: all other animals live inside their original habitat, and they are adapted "by design" to it. We have created an unprecedented world for ourselves: the space age, computers and rockets, yet we remain biologically the same as we were in the stone age.

Solutions to modern crises are proposed constantly; they are political, social, administrative. They are each useful, but only to a point. There can be no complete solution or anything close to it, until enough people understand that most of the diverse problems facing us are of our own making and are so because of a lack of understanding of who we are, how we react, and what we might be able to accomplish, and to become. Therefore, an important part of the uniqueness of being human is that we must continually adapt to our own creations.

The most important thing we inherit is the ability to go beyond our inheritance.

The past few decades have witnessed on the one hand, a population explosion, but on the other, an explosion of new information about human nature: where we came from and why, how we develop, what we might become. There has been such a ferment in this area that this new and extraordinary "Human Knowledge" is still scattered: in different departments of different academic disciplines all over the world, in biological studies of molecular evolution, in neuroscience and cognitive science, in the writings of novelists and works of artists, in the experiences of journalists, filmmakers, and politicians. What is urgently needed, and now, is to assemble these pieces of the puzzle into a comprehensive picture of human nature and to apply this conception to current life.

For this we need a multi-university, multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural approach. This is what The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge does--it works with educators, brain scientists, biologists, ecologists, physicians, sociologists, novelists and others to communicate and coordinate new insights, faster than would otherwise be possible. It tries to broaden the base of information available to our society: to our decision-makers, to our our students.

Solutions to the significant problems facing modern society demand a widespread, qualitative improvement in thinking and understanding. We are slowly and painfully becoming aware that contemporary challenges such as the use of energy, the unchecked increases in population, problems of environment, employment, the health and psychological well-being of individuals and the meaningful education of our youth are not being met by the mere accumulation of more data or the expenditure of more time, energy, or money. In view of the increasing pressures imposed on our society by these problems, many responsible thinkers have realized that we cannot sit back and hope for some technological invention to cure our social ills. We need a breakthrough in the quality of thinking employed by both decision-makers at all levels of society and by each of us in our daily affairs.

The purpose of The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge is to engage in research, public education, and the collection and dissemination of information related to:

- the nature, function and evolution of the human mind, consciousness, and learning capacity

- functional specialization of the human brain

- integrative approaches to medicine and

- human ecology


There is a re-awakening of a concern with the mind within psychology: how it develops in the infant; how it can be educated; its capabilities in adulthood.

This concern has revolutionized psychology: cognition and consciousness are part of the course of study of many students. The Institute has encouraged this trend and may be in part responsible for it: its publications and symposia on consciousness, mind and brain, have stimulated researchers and teachers in this new field.

Now, there is a new recognition: many of the boldest insights of modern psychology--the stages of mental development, the errors we are prone to make--have been described in writings published about 1,000 years ago! The Institute is mounting a new program to discover and publish such anticipations of modern thought, because new insights on human development and capabilities may be available.


Our education, science, and medicine do not deal with the whole mind and person--the full range of our capacities.

Observations such as this have often been made in the past, yet we are rarely informed: which of our capacities lie undeveloped? Are they useless or meaningful? What might be the methods for educating the whole mind? What might such increased mental ability mean, for individuals, for our society, and even for the future of civilization? Some of this information is available in contemporary research, some in the past, but it needs to be brought together.

When we attempt to educate our students, we are limited by the "lowest common denominator" concept of our mind and our capacities--"Reading, Writing and Arithmetic." The varieties of human intelligence are scarcely to be recognized in the standard range of "intelligence" tests. What has been considered "basic" in our schooling is but a small segment of our capacity.

We, our student, patients, and colleagues are not being prepared to understand the complex nature of the world we live in. Thus, the "environmental" problems, those of overpopulation, are related to the lack of an education of our ability to perceive things whole, to develop a comprehensive intelligence.

We are "designed" to analyze things only as they relate to ourselves. This analytic, sequential capacity is only one aspect of the mind. We also have the ability to consider whole systems simultaneously and perceive each element as it affects the others. This ability to "see things whole," to comprehend relationships between parts, to understand personally such concepts as "the welfare of all" can itself be trained as part of a more comprehensive education.


There is a saying in Greek philosophy, "You cannot step into the same river twice." We would propose a change to, "You cannot step into the same river once," for entering alters the flow, level, and perhaps temperature immediately. We must be able to perceive the effects of our actions in the world, immediately, perhaps "intuitively," for both our ability to intervene and our numbers exist on a scale unprecedented in human history. There are billions of people now in a world that, not too long ago, held a few millions. It is this rise in our numbers, coupled with the increased ability to manipulate the environment, that makes our situation so dangerous. The hand that was designed to hold a few spears now controls thousands of nuclear weapons.

So, what many people often consider purely "environmental" problems--the smog over many of the world's cities, the chemical pollution of the waters of industrial nations, the over-crowding and increasing growth of population--are problems of human choices and understanding. Since we are training to focus on splintered pieces of a whole situation, we have often take quite inappropriate actions: the increased safety and security of reproduction in the most recent 100 years has suddenly made large families unnecessary, yet we have been too slow to perceive this, and the explosive exponential growth of human population has been the result. Our increasingly brilliant analyses of the relation of mass to energy has brought with it the possibility of nuclear holocaust. On these important matters, human understanding and judgment has not developed to balance and evaluate the technical progress.

We are in a race with ourselves.


There is a new understanding the Health Sciences that the brain is a healthcare "system" in each person. The brain regulates every movement, every heartbeat, every gland's secretion and millions more microevents. All of them are to the purpose of keeping the organism healthy, some of which have only recently been discovered, such as the endorphin system.

Many of the mysteries of how social and emotional events influence health are found in the complex brain mechanisms which interpret the outside world, and direct the body to take appropriate action. Grief can affect he immune system; increased social support can influence health (friends can be good medicine); mental attitudes strongly affect health: those who think they are healthier live longer than the "objective record" would have it. This new understanding will, in the next decade, radically influence our idea of health and healing. It is founded on recent developments in brain sciences and increased cooperation between brain scientists, physicians, psychologists and sociologists.

The Institute invited you to help in developing this new and comprehensive understanding about being human: where we come from, what we might, in our own lives, become. The Institute supports the publication of books, public lectures and public information which will contribute to a permanent improvement in human abilities and comprehension. Your help is needed for its programs of research and communication in medicine, education, psychology and human ecology. In the end, we have to rely on our own resources as human beings. For the first time we may be able to know what they are.

Evolution of Consciousness & the Human Givens 1

Evolution of Consciousness & the Human Givens 2

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why Do We Exist?

from Godhead: The brain's big bang by Joe Griffin & Ivan Tyrrell

A DEFINING moment came in the prehistory of our humanity when we ceased to be purely animal. Often called the ‘brain’s big bang’, it occurred in the Stone Age about 40,000 years ago. This powerful psychic explosion enabled our ancestors to experience and exploit a newfound questing spirit to understand and manipulate the world: complex languages developed and refined tools appeared, as did exquisite drawings, carvings, paintings, decoration and musical instruments. From that moment on, all these accomplishments were apparent in Europe – and more besides.

We had changed, become quickened by an original evolutionary advance: self-reflective consciousness. Suddenly our forebears found that they could see the world in an entirely new way and respond creatively to it. They could daydream, imagine the future, consciously review memories, deliberately think about the world as it appeared to them and more effectively manipulate what they saw for their own advantage. ‘Intellect’ and ‘soul’ became apparent for the first time: they became aware of being aware. A few of them, perhaps the first shamans, discovered that it was possible to directly experience a
profound feeling of connection to everything else and they set about uncovering ever deeper and more subtle connections to reality. This adaptation, however, came at a high price – a much-increased vulnerability to a range of mental illnesses. How and why this happened, and what it means for us today, is partly what this book is about.

Undoubtedly the brain’s big bang was a spectacular natural event. We are still riding the crest of the creative wave it unleashed – not unlike the way innumerable billions of galaxies still appear to resound from the celestial Big Bang which, 13.7 billion years ago, set in motion, as most scientists believe, the expansion of the Universe. The surviving art and artefacts of prehistoric humans are the well-known indications of this dramatic mental transformation. They place it in time, but they don’t give us direct evidence of the precise nature of the psychological changes that occurred – and those who might have told us are, of course, long since dead.

So big questions remain: what was it like to wake up to a new way of seeing? What survival value did it have? Did it carry new burdens with it, ones that animals and their predecessors did not carry? What exactly happened in their brains in order to make them so creative? How must their thinking and behaviour have changed as a result? And, perhaps above all, do implications arising from this event have relevance today?

Just as physicists examine the properties of physical matter, and from that vantage point peer back through time to unravel the processes involved in the development of the Universe, it is also possible, by using recent discoveries and insights about the evolution of life and the brain in particular, for psychologists to unravel some of these mysteries using the very same mental tools – reason and imagination – that first made their appearance in the Upper Palaeolithic period. In Godhead: The brain’s big bang we look back through historical and prehistorical time to unpick the origins of creativity, mysticism and mental illness, and connect what we find with an analysis of the current state of mind of modern humans to see what it reveals.

In writing it we found ourselves making interesting new inferences about current human behaviour. During its gestation, for instance, a new way of looking at mental illness arose which may carry radical implications for diagnosis and treatment – namely, a previously unrecognised link between mood disorders, psychosis and autism.

A fresh approach to mental health is certainly needed. Many psychiatrists have admitted to us over the years that psychiatry has lost its way. By allying itself too closely to the medical model that focuses on the physical and biological aspects of mental distress and favours chemical treatment over psychotherapy (despite a lack of evidence for biological drivers of the common mental illnesses), it is failing dismally to reduce the sum of human misery. The World Health Organization shows that depression, for instance, is currently among the top four contributors to the global disease burden.1 Psychiatry has always suffered in comparison with other areas of medicine because mental states are, on the whole, less well understood than bodily ones.

A debate over psychiatry has simmered, largely under the public radar, for some 200 years.2 It concerns whether the medical profession should have any special role in managing people who were considered to be ‘mad’. As one participant, University College London consultant psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff, recently put it, “Psychiatric problems are not fundamentally medical problems and I think that a lot of the difficulties and contradictions that psychiatry throws up are to do with its claim that they are.”3 Conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, Asperger’s syndrome and personality disorders have proven difficult to diagnose with precision. In a 2009 New Scientist article, science writer Peter Aldhous notes: “Doctors can only question people about their state of mind, observe their behaviour and then classify their distress according to the most obvious symptoms.”4

The title of that article, ‘Psychiatry’s civil war’, is one way of summing up this situation.5 The current battleground is the psychiatrist’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM for short, and the influence of drug companies on research and diagnosis. The DSM is what psychiatrists turn to when diagnosing distressed people. It is currently in the midst of a major rewrite, a process that has highlighted just how vulnerable psychiatry is to exploitation by vested interests. Aldhous reports one eminent psychiatrist as going so far as to warn that the rewrite “will extend definitions of mental illnesses so broadly that tens of millions of people will be given unnecessary and risky drugs”.6 A particular concern is that the next DSM will include new categories to capture milder forms of illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and dementia. The result of this, according to the same psychiatrist, “would be a wholesale ... medicalisation of normality that will lead to a deluge of unneeded medication”.7 Not just ‘a pill for every ill’, but a pill for every one of life’s ups and downs.

Psychotherapy generally is in no less a confused state, as Moncrieff also points out:

"In some respects, I think, psychotherapy has filled the same role as drug treatment in being regarded and presented as a panacea for all sorts of problems. Even though psychotherapy obviously involves trying to identify the root of the problem, it is problematic because it focuses on the individual rather than the society. Having said that, psychotherapy at least looks at a person as an individual and seeks to understand their life story, rather than putting them in a box, under a diagnosis, and giving them a treatment according to which box they are placed in. I think, to that extent, it takes the right approach to trying to understand suffering and the problems that are experienced by people who become psychiatric patients."8

In attempting to improve psychological interventions ourselves, we sought to widen the vision of psychotherapists and teachers to include the idea that what causes mental distress is always whatever is stopping someone from getting their innate emotional needs met. We called these innate needs ‘human givens’, and created the human givens approach to psychotherapy to incorporate techniques and skills from the various models that have proved helpful and set them within a larger overarching set of ideas about human functioning.9 By doing this we hoped to address the type of problem raised by Moncrieff with regard to what the psychotherapy available to the public usually offers: a focus on the individual.

The new direction does not offer that focus through analysing past relationships and attempting to dig up forgotten traumas (psychoanalysis), or trying to change the way an individual thinks and behaves (cognitive behavioural therapy). Neither is the human givens approach solely ‘person centred’, in the sense of ignoring the wider context of an individual’s life. Rather, it looks to see what factors are preventing someone from getting their innate needs met and then actively showing them how to use their reasoning power and imagination to get their life working in balance again.

Evidence for the effectiveness of the human givens approach to therapy was recently published in a leading peer-reviewed journal. The results of a 12-month study of 120 patients treated by human givens therapists in a GP’s surgery in Luton in the UK were reported. The results showed that more than three out of four patients were either symptom-free or reliably changed as a result of the therapy. This was accomplished in an average of only 3.6 sessions.10 The data were shown to be significantly better than the recovery rate published for the UK government’s flagship IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) programme. Not only that, unlike the IAPT programme (which uses therapists trained in cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT), the same consistent results have been obtained from outcome measures from multiple sites across the UK for more than 3,000 patients. This later data is being prepared for publication by leading independent researchers.

After observing for many years that our approach was highly effective we were able to delineate the three main reasons that prevent children and adults from getting their innate emotional needs met. Any one of these is sufficient to generate unhealthy levels of stress in an individual, which, if maintained, poses the very real danger that anxiety or anger disorders will develop, depression set in, psychotic symptoms appear or addictive behaviours take hold.11

The three factors are:

One: The environment the person lives or works in is ‘sick’ and prevents them from getting one or more of their emotional needs met (as in having to endure an abusive and dysfunctional family, living in a threatening neighbourhood, not having meaningful work to do, working for a bully or having autonomy restricted).

Two: The person doesn’t know how to operate their internal guidance system to get their needs met (as in learned helplessness when a person is conditioned to have low expectations of themselves, or when they don’t know how to challenge unrealistic expectations with universal reasoning, or when they are misusing their imagination by worrying – which precipitates depression – instead of using it to solve problems).

Three: The person’s innate guidance system is damaged in some way, perhaps through faulty transmission of genetic knowledge (as in caetextia, the inability to read context that’s seen throughout the autistic spectrum), poor diet (not getting proper nutriment to the brain), poisoning (drugs, alcohol, etc), physical accidents to the brain, or psychological trauma (including post-traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD) which is usually easy to treat quickly using psychological methods.

These perceptions, and practice based on them that uses innate human resources, such as imagination, well, are influencing psychiatric practice. As the UK-based consultant psychiatrist Dr Farouk Okhai wrote recently, “Having worked with the human givens approach for several years, I have found it far more useful when face to face with a patient, to set aside any possible diagnosis, ignore categories and clusters and subtypes and appendices, and ask, instead, ‘What does this person need to live a full life?”12

Our effort to improve psychotherapy practice also gave us glimpses of what Nature could require of our species if there is to be any further evolutionary development for it – an understanding of which we suspect is of increasing urgency in this age of tumultuous change. As Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, said, “Things which have to be tackled have to be done at the right time. That time is generally soon.”

It is now widely accepted that we are confronting global problems of such a magnitude that civilised life could soon become untenable.13 Almost all writers and pundits agree that without significant changes in the values that we hold and the way that we organise our societies, disaster will loom. Selfishness, lack of empathy for strangers, consumerism and the piling up of massive financial debts in exchange for shortterm advantages are the powerful forces fuelling the various crises we face. They have become the leitmotif running through almost all modern commentaries analysing the situation.

Without doubt, a more powerful and inspiring motivation than greed has to take hold for the human species to find the will it needs to make the effort to save itself. In this book we hope to offer an approach that could hearten and enthuse enough people to develop a greater capacity for cooperation and service at a level beyond the one that political and religious ideologies have achieved to date.

We strongly believe that for the human race to cooperate more intelligently, a shared vision is needed between individuals, families and organisations – one that draws out of the collective psyche a greater capacity for caring about what reality requires. In the first instance this means a ‘waking-up’ process has to happen so that more people come to think that this might at least be possible. (The tough social, financial and environmental times ahead may well prove to be part of that process.) Certainly, given the bleak alternative, no one has anything to lose by at least considering that this might be so. But where is such a vision to come from?

In looking for inspiration, most people’s instinct is, naturally enough, to turn to one of the three great traditions: religion, spirituality or science. But for this to be a meaningful exercise, we ought to ask ourselves what worthwhile vision emanates from each of these
positions today.

Religions undeniably bring comfort and solace to millions, but we nevertheless see arising from them a growth, on the one hand, of ever more strident fundamentalism, in some instances so extreme as to promote intolerant behaviour and violence, including torture and killings; and on the other, a growing outpouring from some religious intellectuals of arguments attempting to maintain religion’s hold in the world by justifying it in the face of those scientists who argue there is no need for a belief in the supernatural at all.

The preaching and writing of religionists often has a pleading quality to it – “science hasn’t totally eliminated God because there are still mysteries in our world that science hasn’t explained”. This position is known as the ‘God of the Gaps’: whatever we currently cannot explain, the hand of God explains it. The risk proponents of this view take is that as soon as a rational explanation develops for what hitherto had seemed mysterious, their God is again in retreat. It is a less than convincing argument, and far from inspiring.

Then we have those who regard themselves as not being religious per se, but as being ‘spiritual’. This means, one supposes, a lack of commitment to any specific ideology, an open-mindedness to the transcendent dimension of life, and a faith more personalised, less structured, more receptive to new ideas and myriad influences, and more pluralistic than the doctrinal faiths of religions.

But when one looks at what’s been written in the last few decades to rationally justify why the natural basis of spirituality is important, what we almost always find is a strong tendency to limit the effort to reconciling physics with consciousness. Spirituality is concerned with the universal but invisible interconnectedness of everything, but books on the topic invariably cover experiments in extrasensory perception and precognition, and enquiries into various other paranormal areas, which are, for the most part, highly contentious because the effects they cite are so small, or are often not experimentally repeatable. So the study of the topic gets sidelined. Even more soul-destroying is that, because this approach mainly focuses on expanding conscious awareness and exploring the extent that consciousness might survive after death, it doesn’t address what is most significant to us when we are alive: our own individual consciousness, our living relationship with people, ideas, art, our work and the beautiful objects and places we treasure, and our experience of love.

The metaphor that people writing about spirituality come up with again and again is that, when we die, our individual consciousness is lost, like a single grain of salt dissolving in the ocean. In other words, our personal sense of self is reabsorbed … gone forever. There is something hugely unsatisfactory about this position too because the net result is that, in the endlessly convoluted analysis of how physics and consciousness are somehow intertwined, all reference to the real nature of emotions and relationships is ignored. Our humanity disappears. Everything personal, warm-blooded and loving about human relationships is missing. This suggests to us that this approach to spiritual matters is the product of the left-brained type of temperament, those systems thinkers who have difficulty appreciating the deep context of the interrelatedness of personal relationships. It is, in its own way, as unsatisfactory as the God of the Gaps argument.

A further approach to spirituality appears in those of a very ‘right-brained’ temperament. This largely consists of making endless associations between random events and attaching personal ‘spiritual’ significance to them.

What’s left is the third, and youngest, of the major traditions: science, and particularly reductionist science. Many scientists and science advocates hold strong beliefs about the superiority of the approach, as exemplified by British philosopher Bertrand Russell’s famous statement: “Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.”14 His imperious and limited view of what is possible discounted all that humankind had discovered by other means over the tens of thousands of years before the scientific method was adopted. When science encompasses a set of rigid practices – hypothesis, experiment, data, evidence, modified hypothesis, theory, prediction, explanation and so on, and excludes other methods of knowing – it can have the tang of fundamentalism about it, leading some to claim that it is itself a religion of sorts, with adherents tending to believe that the Universe is impersonal and has no deep significance, and that, ultimately, all living things are just a chance production of inanimate matter born out of chaos.15

This worldview has left many, such as the American ‘longshoreman philosopher’ and author of The True Believer, Eric Hoffer, aghast. They observe that many intellectuals throughout the 20th century had done all in their power to denude the human entity of its uniqueness.

Reductionists, because of how and where they focus their attention, easily get seduced into the simplistic belief that complex systems can be completely understood in terms of their components; so they try to break everything down into its smallest parts to understand how things work. They are behaving like the little boy who wanted to understand how a fly could fly. He ripped off its six legs, its wings and antennae one by one, then separated the thorax from the abdomen. But he remained puzzled: where had the fly gone? He had yet to learn that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Not all scientists are reductionists: the great scientific minds nearly always aren’t. But the methodological reductionist approach to scientific investigation is not just borderline pedestrian; it can be dangerous. The American-born David Bohm, considered one of the best quantum physicists of all time, recognised this. He said:

"The notion that all these fragments [are] separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion. Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today. Thus, as is now well known, this way of life has brought about pollution, destruction of the balance of Nature, over-population, world-wide economic and political disorder and the creation of an overall environment that is neither physically nor mentally healthy for most of the people who live in it. Individually there has developed a widespread feeling of helplessness and despair, in the face of what seems to be an overwhelming mass of disparate social forces, going beyond the control and even the comprehension of the human beings who are caught up in it."16

Bohm is spot on. Yet hard-nosed secular scientists still noisily claim that there is nothing exceptional about human life. In his Astonishing Hypothesis, Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA’s molecular structure, put it like this: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.’”17 In other words, our sense of self is just an epiphenomenon of a cold, mindless Universe.

The trickle-down effect of this miserable worldview is seen all around us, from the largely uninspiring university education young people receive, to tedious science articles spewing out more and more statistics of less and less consequence, to TV’s dumbed-down ‘science as entertainment’ programmes. Self-styled progressive thinkers who cling to the position that humanity is unexceptional as an unquestioned truth contemptuously dismiss those who suggest they might be wrong.

With the ability to reason thus debilitated, they become intellectually impotent, as the journalist Bryan Appleyard described in his book, Understanding the Present: “Unable to create a solidity for himself, liberal man lapses into a form of spiritual fatigue, a state of apathy in which he decides such wider, grander questions are hardly worth addressing. The symptoms of this lethargy are all about us. The pessimism, anguish, skepticism and despair of so much of twentieth-century art and literature are expressions of the fact that there is nothing ‘big’ worth talking about anymore, there is no meaning to be elucidated.”18

Scientism has admittedly generated many significant material benefits, in medicine, engineering and technology. And it has found new ways to entertain us and deluge us with avalanches of fact and opinion – infinitely more so than in any previous age, thanks to the Internet. But the more information we amass, the less relevant it all seems to our lives as we live them.

It is because it attaches no significance to our lives that scientism cannot lift the spirit: it fails completely to address human yearnings for answers to questions about meaning and destiny, and is incapable of leading us to a deeper relationship with reality.

As a result, it doesn’t provide us with worthwhile reasons to ask more of ourselves. This is not, after all, just an issue about meaning. Our physical survival as a species is at stake. It seems clear to us that the three means of enquiring into how humanity fits in to the universal scheme have failed to bring about the appropriate changes in human behaviour that will be necessary for preserving life on this planet. This is one reason why we have attempted to provide a more fulfilling vision, one that acknowledges and recognises the warmth of human affections and the driving need for relationships, and that satisfies the feeling we share with many others that human life is somehow significant.

Such a vision must also offer answers to the fundamental questions that arose in humanity after the brain’s big bang, once enough human beings had sufficiently evolved to access a level of reason and insight to ponder them. The need for answers to the big questions is not delusional, yet any that are offered must be compatible with our best scientific findings and somehow extend them. If human consciousness is significant, it must fit in with how the entire cosmos has evolved, because everything is connected.

Reductionists, by definition, do not attempt the big questions. To them it is pointless asking how consciousness and spirit, the fundamental animating properties of human life, are directly connected to the rest of the Universe because they view humanity as insignificant products of indifferent material processes. And, on the face of it, human life, in comparison with the almost unimaginable vastness of the cosmos, does appear insignificant, which in many people inevitably fosters a sense of unimportance. That thought, however, should be counterbalanced by an awareness that, whatever we have learnt about the immensity of the Universe and its laws, all the discoveries made about its nature, all the knowledge of its vastness and complexity, are contained and occur within the field of human consciousness. As this book unfolds, we hope to show that consciousness has a vital role to play in the existence of everything and that the quality of our relationship with it lies at the heart of physics.

Throughout much of recorded history, it was clearly often risky to investigate such questions openly, especially if the answers gained were deemed heretical by the prevailing religious and scientific orthodoxies. Not surprisingly, such endeavours and the discoveries they produced were communicated with great secrecy so that their brave proponents could avoid what were often painful, or lethal, consequences imposed by the establishment. This inevitably gave rise to the formation of secret societies which carefully transmitted their dangerous ‘occult’ knowledge to a select few who were deemed worthy and reliable.

There are now many excellent books that show the not inconsiderable influence of such clandestine groups throughout the pages of our cultural history right up to modern times.19,20 The Royal Society, for example, which today plays an important role as scientific advisor to the British government and acts as the UK’s science academy, began life as an extension of one such ‘hidden college’, through secret gatherings where the occult sciences were discussed by the intellectual and scientific luminaries of the age. (The word occult itself comes from the Latin word occultus, referring to ‘knowledge of the hidden’.)

“Mysticism,” wrote Evelyn Underhill in Practical Mysticism, “is the art of union with Reality. The mystic is a person who has attained that union in greater or less degree; or who aims at and believes in such attainment.”21 Historical study shows us that the nature of our relationship with the Universe and its importance was always understood by an enlightened few, those men and women who managed to tune themselves to it. Some of them, overtly or in secret, looked for other sincere seekers and taught them how to connect up to the greater reality. Genuine mystical groups were not concerned with indoctrinating people or encouraging cult behaviour but in education. There is a golden thread of information about this precious hidden activity that is traceable among historical records and the literature of all cultures as far back as we can go. This esoteric, or ‘inner’, teaching has had many names: Tao, the Way, the Path, ancient wisdom, the Secret Doctrine, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, alchemy, the Hidden Tradition, Sufism.

Whatever it was called, it was the inner inspiration that formed the foundation of all major religions, though this was often unsuspected by the exoteric (‘outer’) functionaries who followed in their wake.

The ancient commonality of this perennial wisdom has been pointed out by many writers, including Max Gorman in his recent book, Jesus Was a Sufi: The lost dimension of Christianity, in which he quotes from one of St Augustine’s letters: “That which is called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist from the beginnings of the human race.” In parallel with this, Gorman also quotes the modern Sufi authority, Idries Shah, as saying that “Sufism has been known under many names, to all peoples, from the beginnings of human times.”22

The beginning of truly human times we take to be when the brain’s big bang occurred and our minds could escape the confines of space and time making direct perception of a massively larger context possible.

Esoteric knowledge, under whatever name, is never an ideology designed to make people believe or act in a certain way, but instead is “an art or science that can exert a beneficial influence on individuals and societies, in accordance with the needs of those individuals and societies”.23 As we shall see, there is reason to believe that when new knowledge is needed, individuals with the ability to access it become available and, sometimes with the help of others, use it to stabilise, benefit and maintain the wider human community. To students of history, the writer Robert Richardson notes, “a pattern of individual names and esoteric movements appears on the canvas of time like a sudden flash of light, then just as quickly vanishes. A group of disparate people – sometimes famous, sometimes obscure, sometimes solitary, sometimes united, but always engaged in some amorphous activity – spontaneously surfaces. Just as suddenly their traces evaporate, their true purpose and the scope of their actions never comprehended. Understanding their reality seems to be beyond our grasp. Further study may grudgingly yield information – but it is inconclusive, incomplete, perplexing.”24

Nevertheless, the result of this often-mysterious activity bears fruit over succeeding generations, as witnessed by the growth of civilisations, religions, social movements or cultural and scientific advances.

The almost mythic founders of the world’s early civilisations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China are one indication that this has always happened, but it is easier to see it in the appearance of Taoism, Buddhism, the Hindu Vedas, Greek philosophy, the Torah, Gnosticism, Christianity, Islam, Catharism, Sikhism, the Baha’i Faith and so on because we have more written information about the actual individuals involved. Those religions for which we have knowledge of their beginnings arose because a person received inspiration – guidance exerted directly on their mind and soul – and went on to project it to others in ways that added deeper knowledge to the collective consciousness.

All the great innovators achieved what they did by reaching for the truth beyond material form. They stretched themselves to produce the great ideas, art, poetry and technological advances, often at the cost of great personal suffering. In medieval Europe, the romances and music of the troubadours, chivalry, courtly love, the Grail legend, the Pagan symbolism coded into the decoration of great Gothic cathedrals, and the work of craft guilds and so on, performed an evolutionary role, influenced by esoteric knowledge from as far away as India, Egypt and North Africa. It was a mingling of cultures that exposed Europe more explicitly to new ideas, art forms and technologies from further afield and, perhaps not surprisingly, to the teachings of the great mystics of non-Christian religions, predominantly Islam.

Ideas always travel well with goods and chattels, and Italy, surrounded by the Islamic lands of Anatolia (present-day Turkey), Palestine, North Africa and Moorish Spain, was at the hub of lively sea traffic in the late Middle Ages. And it was in Italy where a fresh cultural upsurge began: the opportunity was there. With the publication of his Divine Comedy, the poet Dante Alighieri broke the Roman Church’s imposition of Latin as the main means of learning.25 He wrote in the vernacular (the Florentine dialect, which is the origin of modern Italian) and thus started the process of bringing literature and learning to the general public in a way that had not been possible when it was kept within the confines of the Church.

The House of Medici, along with other great families, such as the Visconti and Sforza of Milan, the Este of Ferrara, and the Gonzaga of Mantua, all grew rich through commerce, and from the early 14th century became major patrons of the arts and sciences.26 By supporting the most creative people that appealed to them, they made possible the Italian Renaissance, which reawakened Europe to the profound Greek and Roman Pagan ideas that had their origin in ancient Egypt, and the richness of Moslem poetry, music, crafts, technology, science and philosophy. The great men of the Renaissance, including Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, the philosopher Pico della Mirandola, and the architect Filippo Brunelleschi – all drew upon the achievements, mythology and Hermetic symbolism prevalent in the dynamic periods of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Islamic culture.

The Golden Age of medieval Islam from the mid-8th century to the mid-13th century spanned a geographical area that stretched from Spain, across North Africa and Southwest Asia and into Central Asia. Its hallmark of a profound love of learning and investigation of the natural world produced not only artists, scholars, poets and philosophers, but also geographers, navigators and traders. Agriculture, architecture, law, science, engineering and all manner of crafts flourished at that time providing a secure ground for those connected to the esoteric stream to serve and teach humanity. But in the 1400s when this period of Islamic cultural greatness began to wane, the esoteric teachings of Islamic mysticism, Sufism, had spread further afield, east to the Far East where it revitalised Buddhism, and west throughout Christian Europe. That the Italian Renaissance flourished, for example, was due in considerable part to the impact of Islamic learning and culture. Science and art were very much intermingled, exemplified by the work of polymaths such as da Vinci. Strange sages like the physician and botanist Paracelsus wandered from one European capital to another spreading new ideas and questioning established beliefs. And inspirational literature woke people up.

In England, Geoffrey Chaucer’s writings, borrowing as they do stories from Rumi, Fariduddin Attar – the Persian poet whose masterwork was the allegorical Conference of the Birds – and others, were a channel for esoteric ideas. Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, a compilation of chivalric tales about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, also contributed to the civilising process. As of course did the work of Shakespeare, whose plays are rich in Sufi tales and aphorisms indicating that he, or whoever wrote his plays, was also connected to a source of knowledge beyond the reach of institutionalised Christian teaching. And John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, incorporated Pagan and classical Greek references within its Christian mythology.

The dynamic impulse that vitalised Europe also stimulated the great minds that founded our scientific outlook: along with Galileo, a group that included Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, William Gilbert, Leibniz and the physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist and theologian Isaac Newton. All these scientific luminaries contemplated Hermetic and Sufi concepts, as did the German poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely considered as one of the most important thinkers in Western culture. Goethe was closely associated with the Enlightenment, a movement that encouraged critical questioning of traditional institutions, customs and morals, and a strong belief in the power of rationality and science. His work spanned the fields of poetry, drama, literature, theology, philosophy, and science. He was also a freemason.

Freemasonry, whose mysterious origins are still hotly debated, was a secret brotherhood bound together by ideals of fraternity, equality, tolerance and reason. It undoubtedly played an important role in liberalising thinking in Europe and America. It was a group of freemasons, members of a hidden college, who founded the Royal Society, for example, and many famous leaders of the Enlightenment in Europe and the fledgling United States were also members, including Montesquieu, Voltaire, Pope, Horace Walpole, Christopher Wren, John Locke, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Robert Walpole, Mozart, Frederick the Great, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.27 Throughout these centuries all these creative, productive and influential people strove to connect to a greater reality and did so by drawing inspiration from the largely hidden river of wisdom that has nourished humanity for thousands of years.

This of course leaves open a question: where did this knowledge come from in the first place? This is essentially the same question as that which is now seen as the major stumbling block that is holding up progress in physics and biology: how did the information for matter to form and life to arise come about? As we shall see, many scientists now realise that it has to be solved before they can make major theoretical advances in their various disciplines.

As this book unfolds, our attempt to solve this issue in a scientifically acceptable way will become apparent.

It is currently unfashionable in the secular political, scientific and educational communities to consider that esoteric wisdom traditions might have something to contribute to human understanding. The remarkable artistic, philosophical, social and technological achievements that stemmed from them, and their ability to raise human aspirations and give meaning to people’s lives, tend to be glossed over or ignored. Nevertheless, like Theseus following the thread out of the dark labyrinth, this book’s journey will hold on to this wisdom theme, for we believe it could help free humanity from the limitations of conditioned thinking – something that is needed now more than ever. Our journey will also allow key human givens organising ideas to unfold in greater depth so that they might shine a revealing new light on the great questions of human and universal existence in a way that is acceptable to scientists as well as the spiritually inclined.

Whatever inspires the next stage of human evolution cannot be impersonal. It must not only make human beings feel truly at home in the physical Universe but also show how our lives are significant in relationship to the whole. For science to have a meaningful place in our lives it should hold out a role for what is most valuable and significant to us all: relationships, serving others and love. If these aspects of life don’t fit into the overall pattern, then science is not properly pursuing the questions it needs to answer.

Among all the sciences, we must give most credit to physicists, who have recognised that to make further progress they have to reconcile human consciousness with the laws of physics. Indeed, some even suspect that the presence of human beings in the Universe may be essential. For instance, Martin Rees, the cosmologist and president of the Royal Society, expressing this view, said: “In the beginning there were only probabilities. The Universe could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years later. The Universe exists because we are aware of it.”28 If Rees is right, something odd is certainly going on. Freeman Dyson, another physicist, wrote that, “As we look out into the Universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together for our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known we were coming.” 29

The world population today has nearly reached 7 billion and continues to rise. That’s about 3,000 times more people than were on Earth just 2,000 years ago. More than half of us live in urban areas: vast cities, many containing tens of millions.30 The undoubted benefits of city life – such as economies of scale, political freedom, and social and technological innovation – come with a heavy toll because supplying these huge conglomerations of people means our beautiful planet is being seriously overgrazed and polluted. The essence of our ecological crisis is that we are rapidly using up Earth’s finite resources.

Whatever form scientific progress takes, and whoever the creative minds are that will inspire it, Nature requires this problem to be addressed. This is a matter of good housekeeping – and we must assume the house is not beyond repair.

The questions arising over our continuing survival are forcing us to resolve the ecological and psychological crisis we have created over the last 8,000 years or so. The pressure will increase until a new evolutionary development occurs that stabilises our species’ consciousness. The pioneering American psychologist Robert Ornstein put this very well: “Our biological evolution is, for all practical purposes, at its end. There will be no further biological evolution without human ‘conscious evolution’. And this may not happen without first we have an understanding of what our consciousness is, what it was originally designed to do, and where the points of possible change may be.”31

In Godhead: The brain’s big bang we cover many topics, but ultimately they boil down to investigating one question: why do we exist? In this curtain-raiser to our exploration of the evolution of creativity, mental illness and our connection to reality, it seems apposite to quote from the end of Stephen Hawking’s bestseller, A Brief History of Time:32 “If we do discover a complete theory it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists, then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we in the Universe exist. If we find the answer to that it will be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.”*

*In his latest book, The Grand Design, Hawking embraces string theory and says that he no longer sees the need for a ‘God hypothesis’ to account for the Universe. We feel, however, that he has taken a retrograde step and the above quotation was prescient and is apposite for our theme. We can all take part in a meaningful discussion on the question of why it is that we exist without needing to tie ourselves up in knots with ‘string’.

REFERENCES in this article are included in the book.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The New Threshold

excerpt from THE NEW THRESHOLD

by The Executive Committee of The Club of Rome, 1973

The Predicament of Mankind

The initial impulse of the Club was a common concern regarding the deep crisis faced by humanity
- a crisis which we feel is different in kind from those of the past and which the societies of today are ill-equipped to face with their present attitudes, values, policies and institutions. Men everywhere are perplexed by a range of elusive problems - deterioration of the environment, the crisis of institutions, bureaucratisation, uncontrolled urban spread, insecurity of employment and loss of satisfaction in work, the alienation of youth, questioning of the values of society, violence and disregard of law and order, educational irrelevance, inflation and monetary disruption in the face of material prosperity, the unabridged gap between rich and poor within and between nations - to mention only a few.

These difficulties appear to be world-wide symptoms of a general but as yet little understood 
malaise. It is this cluster of intertwined problems which we term the Problematique. Their interactions have become so basic and are so critical that it is ever more difficult to isolate from the tangle of the problematique single major issues and to deal with them separately. To attempt to do so only seems to increase the difficulties in other and often unsuspected parts of the mass. For the same reason no nation, not even the biggest, can hope to solve all its own problems since these involve other nations and interact with the global system as a whole.

Interdependence is not, however, restricted to the political context; it also regards to energy 
resources, food and industrial raw materials, markets for products, transfer of new technology, even the explosion of violence. Beyond these material concerns, the problematique is all-pervasive, because human aspirations can no longer be bounded by a particular environment of culture. What we term the Predicament of Mankind is our own limited perception of many individual symptoms of a profound illness of society for which we are unable to prescribe an effective remedy in the absence of a reliable diagnosis.


Many of the manifestations of the problematique are already causing people, and especially the 
young, to question the validity of our present socio-economic philosophy. Others, such as Dennis Gabor, remark that our present civilisation is based materially on the solid foundation of scientific technology and 'spiritually on practically nothing'. Over centuries, our society has ostensibly operated, albeit somewhat hypocritically, on the Christian ethic of ‘love thy neighbour’ and the hope of future salvation. This has been tempered, it is true, especially in the Protestant countries, by acceptance of the virtues of hard work and the respectability of success. Nevertheless, it constituted a raison d’ĂȘtre for the individual and society. More recently, socialism raised the standard for the creation of heaven on earth, of equity and human betterment - at times with the fervour of a true religion.

However, as affluence increased and the rationalism of science prevailed, faith in the traditional 
religions faded and social reform as a result of its own successes has less allure and indeed its cultural and institutional manifestations seem strangely dim. So we are left with our material successes gone sour on us and with little motivation or collective emotional drive towards worthwhile goals for our race. Our rational-material, neo-christian system of values including those of individual freedom and human dignity are questioned, with little in the way of an evolving replacement. Many of those who question our present values most bitterly are merely destructive in their approach.

The Tolstoy reaction of ‘back to nature' becomes ever more unrealistic as population increases and 
technology dominates. For reasons already explained, the study on limits to growth was unable to include the values problem. However, the debate on the problematique may well generate a new search which the social scientists, including the behaviourists, have hardly dared to tackle. In the meantime, as the crisis mounts, we may have to adopt a supreme ethic of survival for the human race and in our decisions measure the possible effects of alternative actions in the light of their possible positive or negative influences of the probability of survival, and at the same time consider the extent to which the quest for quality of life can pave the way towards a new system of values.

Man and His Destiny

These comments on the need for a new value system lead to questioning of whether we are not 
indeed facing a deep and basically biological crisis of the human species. Until recently, the average man, fully occupied with his struggle upwards from subsistence, had little time to think.
He was tranquilised by the conventional religions, kept docile by ‘bread and circuses’ and, despite many not able exceptions, left the basic problems to priests and philosophers. Towards the end of the last century, with the rise of the physical sciences, a wave of materialism and rationalismintervened and began to question the traditional tenets.

Freud, Marx and a host of others deepened the questioning, but recognition of the Darwinist 
principle of natural selection seemed to provide some keys. Survival for the fittest, leading to the evolution or annihilation of species, gave a tangible, if vague, hope for the future. The secularisation of society and of its purpose has now spread, with education and affluences, until in the rich industrialised countries it is now generalised and has become one of the causes of the contemporary questioning of our values.

It is also a cause of present-day violence and crime, of the alienation of individuals from their 
society and of general aimlessness. On the other hand, it leads the young to seek new forms of religious satisfaction, to experiment with mysticism, to seek new and heightened perception through drug-taking on the part of those who feel alienated and distrust rational scientific approaches.

Organic evolution in fact holds little promise for the further evolution of man; its processes are too slow in the face of man’s potential for self-destruction. His societies will either disrupt or he will design his own betterment long before nature can evolve a higher form for him. In the last 2000 years, man has developed his physical power and increased his information base to an incredible extent, but there is little sign that he has increased his wisdom or spiritual capacity during that period.

He is presumably the only planetary species aware of his own predicament and with the potentiality 
of self-development, yet the very forces in his nature which have raised him above the animals weigh against deliberate self-evolution. The struggle to survive has cultivated aggressive characteristics, vanity, greed, desire for power, etc., which are not the elements on which to build the wisdom he now requires.

On the other hand, men have learnt to co-operate with one another and live in societies, however 
fragile, accepting collective values and objectives. Our destiny is in our own hands: how can we learn to achieve it?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Process of Our Evolution

Folktales and Science of  Our Evolution

by Walter Lang, 1972.

Eight years ago, when a book called The Sufis appeared in Britain and America, a considerable flutter arose in academic dovecotes. 

Briefly, the book implied that evolution doesn't just 'happen'  but depends on help from 'outside'; and further, that exact knowledge of this process exists but is unsuspected in modern times. This help-- so the idea runs-- comes from a higher level of consciousness, but it operates through people in everyday life. One of the vehicles employed is religion, but it is not the only one. Art and science may also carry the 'injection', as well as some instruments never suspected-- like codes of chivalry, craft guilds, even some kinds of commerce.


The idea is not new, but usually takes a deteriorated form, like the 'hidden masters' of Theosophy, and is dismissed in ordinary thinking as pure fantasy. Where Idries Shah, who wrote The Sufis seems to have scored was in pointing to historical evidence that something of this kind actually happens. He also indicated a curious range of literature which he showed held a concealing meaning. Decoded, this turns out to be both a commentary on the process, and a blueprint of how people who 'rumble' it can co-operate. 

Some scholars who had spent a lifetime passing learned judgement on this very literature without ever suspecting that it was in code where caught with their academic pants down. 


Now, eight years later, the whole subject seems to be turning into a respectable academic subject. Two psychiatric institutes now use Sufi psychological material; John J. Kermisch, who recruits high IQ individuals, introduced it to the famous Rand 'think tank'; London University has shown a Sufi film at a meeting of scientists, and Sufi stories have been used to illustrate abstruse energy concepts at a physics conference. 

In the meantime, Idries Shah has written a dozen more books-- about a million words-- aimed at the general reader. These consist of seemingly simple moral and folk tales with an Arabian Nights flavor. But it is an open secret that they too are in the 'double meaning' category. That they do have subconscious effect is perhaps suggested by their sales-- now topping half a million-- and by their translation into five European and four Eastern languages. 


The latest is The Magic Monastery, which mixes classical teaching stories with some in modern dress. These strange little cameos can have an eerie effect, probing gently into deeper levels of the mind and echoing with what might be Conscience. Desmond Morris in a recent broadcast said that they have the astonishing effect of enabling him to make use of his own stored experience.

If there is anything in the idea that cultures in distress are sometimes given a reviving injection, these books would seem to have a message between the lines. They are intended to strike a chord in people through whom the injection could be administered.

Fantasy? Perhaps. But if there is anything in it, one thing is certain-- we could do with some help right now. 

from The Evening News, London,  Wednesday April 5, 1972.  p. 9

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Changing Human Nature

Who Can Change Human Nature? 

by Walter Lang, 1971.

"You can't change human nature" is a folk saying heatedly rejected by socialists and  humanists and by a good many psychologists. Human nature, they say, is essentially good. Give it a chance, and it will prove so. Their recipe is simple: remove anxiety, abandon discipline, take the guilt out of sex, guarantee social security. If possible, sing the Red Flag. Then sit back and wait for Utopia. 


This experiment has now been going full-blast for half a century, and the results are pretty obvious. Instead of greed dissolving before affluence, it expands to meet its opportunities. Crime-rates soar to match living standards. Instead of serenity, insecurity; instead of tolerance, jealousy; instead of a noble freemasonry of science, Doomwatch; instead of health, a planet sick from pollution.

Given security and affluence, human nature, it seems, is highly unconcerned about changing itself at all, and the suspicion grows that, left to itself, it will always "regress to the mean". In the West, the mean seems to lie somewhere between Bingo and Buchenwald.

Are we then fated to inevitable decline, chaos and extinction? Is it just not possible to change human nature?

The Afghan writer Idries Shah would disagree. He would probably say that human nature can certainly be changed, but that the process is a little more subtle than we suspect.


In some fourteen books during the last ten years,  he has presented (though never quite explicitly) many facets of the same extraordinary idea: that at various points in history, specially prepared people appear on the scene and act as an oxidizing agent for the human mass. Though they transmit an evolutionary impulse, this role is unsuspected, and to all appearances they are engaged in some quite mundane activity. What they are really engaged in is human engineering: changing human nature in respect of their own time and locality and in terms of a purpose in the distant future. From the nucleus which forms around these people, a new cultural epoch may arise. 

This idea, ludicrous as it might seem in a Cola and Cadillac age, is probably an implied basic in many world religions. Only the West, self-oriented, finds it implausible. 

Shah's fifteenth title, Thinkers of the East, is an anthology of material by or about some of these Secret People. It records the actions they took, the teachings they gave and the stories that are told about them. Even at cursory reading, a deep and subtle psychology is apparent. Such men, it would seem, affect their immediate environment by "rub-off", and their own immediate circle, by what might be called "subjective drama".

The latter, if it admits of analysis at all, seems to involve submitting selected people to carefully contrived life situations while they are in an exactly calculated mental and emotional state. Under these precise conditions it seems that experience does teach. There is an ethical and perhaps also an intuitional gain which, if implications are to be believed, becomes permanent.

The process seems unknown in the West and there is no word for it in English, but "action teaching" and "experientalism" are terms coming into vogue.

John Fowles, the novelist, probably without inside information, but with some insight, based his bestselling novel The Magus on a similar if somewhat romanticised idea. He called it "The God Game".


Could such an activity really have gone on all through history? Implausible as the idea seems, it is currently attracting a great deal of attention in academic as well as popular circles. Idries Shah's writings are now being paperbacked in America and all his books are being reprinted in Britian this year. His One Pair of Eyes program on TV produced a flood of letters and his material is currently in use in five universities. The Book of the Book, which some English reviewers last year regarded as a heavy joke, is now studied in Stanford University's psychology department. A British publisher has just commissioned a series of essays by specialists in a number of sciences to analyze the value of these ideas in their own disciplines. 

The present book, Thinkers of the East, is at surface level,  pleasant  bedside book entertainment, with a gentle, fey, moral content. Read receptively-- and in conjunction with the psychological processes listed at the beginning-- the simple stories may yield insights of great strength and power. The readers emotion, strangely enough, may not be surprise, but nostalgia. 

from The Evening News, London, Wednesday,  March 3rd 1971, no. 27, 715.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Transpersonal Psychology (I)

(Selections from "The Arica Training", by John Lilly and Joseph Hart, found in Transpersonal Psychologies, 1975, Charles Tart ed.)

John Lilly: Graduate of the California Institute of Technology, and received his Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942. as well as having been trained as a psychoanalyst. He has done extensive research in various fields of science, including biophysics, neuro-physiology, electronics, and neuro-anatomy. Dr. Lilly has done many years of study and research on sensory isolation and confinement. He spent twelve years working on research on dolphin-human relationships including communications and then spent two years at Esalen institute, Big Sur, California, as a group leader, resident and associate in residence. He spent a total of eight months in Chile studying the Arica system with Oscar Ichazo, and now directs Human Software, Inc, a center to investigate consciousness in Malibu, California. Dr. Lilly’s books include … and he has written numerous scientific articles.

Joseph E. Hart, A.B., M.A., Ph.L., Stl. Was formerly director of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences of Parks College of St. Louis University. He was one of the 54 Americans who trained with Oscar Ichazo in Arica, Chile and then he served as a teacher and one of the directors of the Arica school in New York City until July of 1972. He is now associated with John and Antoinette Lilly at Human Software, Inc, Malibu California.

History and Development

On July 1st 1970, fifty-four North Americans, most of them from Esalen and Big Sur, met in a lecture room of the city hospital of Arica, Chile, to start ten months of intensive training under a Bolivian by the name of Oscar Ichazo. Little was known about Ichazo’s background then; not much more is known now. But Claudio Naranjo, John Lilly and Kathy Bliebtreu and John Lilly had made trips to Chile earlier in the year to meet Oscar and had brought favorable reports back to the West Coast. [for those who haven't heard it, Naranjo's 'favorable report' can be heard here: ]

The little that Oscar has stated about his life can be put very briefly. He was born in 1931 and raised in Bolivia and Peru. His father was prominent in Bolivian politics. When Ichazo was six and a half, he began to suffer very violent attacks during which he had great pain, fear of death then the experience of leaving his body. As the result of these early experiences, he determined to gain control of his own consciousness and overcome these attacks, so he studied Samurai techniques and Zen meditation , was introduced to psychadelic drugs and Shamanism, studied Yoga, read in philosophy.

When he was 19, he was accepted for training by a group in Buenos Aires who were studying consciousness-raising techniques, Zen, Sufism and the Kabbalah. After being with this small group for about 2 years, he began to search for further training in the East, Hong Kong, India and Tibet, where he studied Yoga, Buddhism , Confucianism , the I Ching and Martial Arts.

There is some indication that [Ichazo] became a member of a Sufi school in Afghanistan but left to return to La Paz, Bolivia. Certainly he either came under the influence of the school that taught Gurdjieff, or at least, studied under students of Gurdjieff. For both Oscar and Gurdjieff groups use the teaching device of the 9-sided figure, the Enneagram, though Oscar claims to have worked out the ancient meanings and uses of the Enneagram himself.

His first group of students were Chileans from Santiago where he was lecturing at the Institute for Applied Psychology. When he moved to Arica, some of these students moved there with him and became his assistants in teaching the North American group.

332: After 6 months of introductory exercises a new phase of more intensive training began for the North American group. At that time, 5 of the original group, including Claudio Naranjo, were separated from further training; John Lilly also left, to return to the U.S. All training in Chile ended in 1971 and the group returned to the U.S.

Those who wished to open a school in New York for giving the “Arica Training” and continue working with Ichazo, were to meet in September in NY with 44 of the original members and Ichazo. The Arica Institute in America was incorporated and began giving the first 3 month training to 76 students at Marriott’s Essex House Central Park South on October 1st 1971. A second and third 3-month program followed, and in January 1972 a center was opened in San Francisco. In June, 1972, special training, “The Temple”, was offered to all those who had finished the three month course. Then followed the “Open Path” training to prepare teachers, who now number about 250, with centers in New York, San Francisco, Santa Monica and training programs in a number of other cities.

When a child is born he is pure essence, a natural being in an ordered cosmos, one with all men and with God, instinctive, loving. This is the perfect state of innocence, but the child must grow. Under the influence of his surroundings, parents, society, he begins to develop a personality for survival, the Ego, between 4-6 years of age. The awareness of the joy and harmony of his essence dims until he is conscious only of his ego, which is fighting for survival in a threatening world. This lack of awareness of the essence leads to the unhappiness which many feel as part of man’s condition in this world. But if the ego with its constant fear can be eliminated, man can return to his original state of being in essence with the addition of all the knowledge his life experience has given him.

This knowledge and experience can now enrich the essence which can function more fully in harmony with the cosmos and is now that of an enlightened man.

The ego affects the whole of man, his thinking, his emotions, his bodily movement and energy, which are represented by three centers: the Path, the intellectual center in the head; the Oth, the emotional center in the heart region; and the Kath, the movement/energy/instinct center about 4 finger widths below the navel.

One of the first steps towards enlightenment is to break the hold of the ego on the thinking center—the Path—since man in ego sees himself, others and the world only in terms of his ego structure

333: the Ego functioning in the Path wants the mind to control the emotional center and the movement-instinct center, the Kath. So it is necessary to learn to think with the whole body by the use of the mentations....

To break the hold on the intellect, one must understand his personal ego structure. Each person in ego has a definite pattern of thinking—a fixation. There are 9 basic fixations, usually shown in the form of an Enneagram: the Enneagram is a teaching device used by the Sufi school and developed by Ichazo. Far from being an arbitrary symbol, it has very carefully worked-out interior and exterior dynamic relationships between each point and the whole. It is the subject of constant meditation and study. The relationships are so complex and rich that it would be impossible to explain them in a limited article. To overcome the feeing of unhappiness and emptiness, the individual in Ego searches for something to fill the void according to his fixation

*9- Indolence: this person seeks love outside himself and makes no effort to find his essence and peace.

*1- Resentment: always angry with himself and others for not being perfect.

*2- Flattery: needs an approving audience. Many entertainers belong to this group.

*3- Vanity: strives for degrees, positions of importance, power over others

*4- Melancholy: never happy with the present, always looking toward a happy future


*5- Stinginess: desires anonymity and to view life from the sidelines.

*6- Cowardice: needs a strong leader to follow, one who can be protective

*7- Planning: always planning what to do and what must happen, always disappointed at the outcome

*8- Vengeance: destructive of self and others out of a sense of injustice.

The ego leads each person into his own fixation Trap, or false substitute for his experience of his own essence. Each fixation has a “trap”, a habitual way of acting that stems from the ego. A person who falls into the trap associated with his fixation will remain in that recurring action loop until such time as he realizes that it is getting him nowhere. At that point he is ready for the “Idea” that will put him through the door of the trap and into his Essence.


*9- Seeker: he is always seeking outside himself for the solution of his problems, running from guru to guru

*1- Perfection: while demanding perfection of himself, he also expects perfection in others. Of course, he always hates himself for not being perfect and is always disappointed in others.

*2 – Freedom: although dependent on others for constant approval of himself and his actions, he is fighting that dependency in order to be free from social disapproval and approval.

*3- Efficiency: he has little patience with inefficiency in others, is looking for more effective and quicker methods of achieving his goals. Thus he may be rather inefficient himself.

*4 – Authenticity: for this person, the really real mate will always be just around the corner of the next hour or day or year. With such a mate, this person will then be fulfilled and so, authentic.

*5- Observer: for him, life is fascinating to watch from a safe, hidden place but is much to terrifying to take part in.

*6- Security: since such a person lives in fear—life is always threatening—he always seeks something or someone as protector against impending disaster. He will seek to build up a solid fortune, or will become the devoted follower of a strong leader.

*7- Idealism: he is concerned with manipulating the present so that the future will be perfect and the fulfillment of his ideals. When the future becomes the present he is disappointed and must begin working again towards his ideal.

*8- Being aware of living in a very unjust world, he is very sensitive to any unfair actions or thoughts directed at him. His immediate thought is that of revenge.

When the “traps” are recognized as being a source of unhappiness leading nowhere, the person is ready for and eager to accept the proper “idea” for him These “ideas” are but particular facets of the eternal essence which can bring man to an experiential knowledge of his essential self, and so to internal peace and happiness. Experiencing these ideas is dependent upon baraka, divine energy, which must permeate the person. Drawing on baraka is accomplished through meditation, breathing, chanting and other exercises:

*9. Holy love: the Seeker is seeking for someone to truly love him so that he can feel loveable. The experience of Holy Love reveals that his essence is pure Love. Then he is both loving and loveable.


*1. Holy Perfection: the seeker for Perfection from the outside, experiences that his essence is perfect. He can relax.

*2. Holy Freedom. The experience of the essence forces man from a dependence upon the approval of others and introduces him to the freedom of living the cosmic laws

*3. Holy Hope: the seeker for efficiency, resting in his essence, finds that all things are functioning and will continue to function most efficiently according to the cosmic laws. The continual functioning of the cosmos doesn’t depend solely upon his efforts; there is hope for the future whatever he does or doesn’t do

*4. Holy Originality: Once he realizes that his essence originates from perfect being, then he knows that he is really real now, and not sometime in the future.

*5. Holy Omniscience: The observer , storing up knowledge of life by viewing it from the sidelines, steps into life when he experiences his essence. Then and only then can he truly have full knowledge of life.

*6. Holy Faith. For one seeking security, his essence will give him the assurance that nothing from outside him can hurt his essence, not even physical death, and he is truly his essence.

*7. Holy Work. For the idealistic planner of the future, the touch of the essence will bring him to live and work in the moment, fully and happily.

*8. Holy Truth. Once the seeker for justice realizes, that his essence follows truly the cosmic laws, which are immanently true and just, he will be satisfied and at peace.