I remember as a child watching an animation on TV. It began with a boy sitting peacefully in a rowing boat fishing. The view zoomed out as if the camera were rising high up in the air, all the time keeping the boy in centre view. As the perspective expanded it took in clouds, the atmosphere, then the Earth, moon and solar system, then up, up and out into the Milky Way and the cosmos beyond, before it momentarily stopped like a yoyo at the extent of its travel. From there it zoomed back in to the boy before focusing on a mosquito biting his arm. We saw the tiny lance piercing his skin, sucking up blood and with ever greater magnification the corpuscles, haemoglobin molecules, atoms, and electrons, before the view once again stopped and zoomed back out to him sitting in his boat, unaware of anything other than the fishing float on the water’s surface.
Later in school I was fascinated to learn how little of the electromagnetic spectrum we perceive: the narrow range our eyes see, plus that bit on one end we feel as heat. We’re surely unaware of most of what’s out there, yet it’s easy to assume that what we sense is all there is.
Does the moon also fall? was a question posed by Newton, who defined the laws of motion and first used calculus to predict the paths of planets and comets. Not only did he precipitate a seismic shift in human understanding, his mathematics helped to cast God as the creator of some great celestial mechanism, however…
Einstein’s theory of General Relativity was the next sea change. It proposed Gravity as a distortion in spacetime rather than a force. Now more than 100 years old, its concepts and predictions are still consistently accurate, counterintuitive and widely unknown.
How then can we comprehend the next paradigm shift, or our rapidly evolving human/digital/cyborg condition?
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universeCarl Sagan
Ideas of spirits and souls, heavens, hells and deities have been around for a long time. Shamanism, the oldest spiritual practice, dates back ten, seventeen, twenty five thousand years, it’s hard to say, but since appearing in Siberia it’s spread with us around the globe. Essentially it recognises other dimensions or realities beyond our everyday perception, ethereal realms accessible to those who can, with trance and psychedelics, alter their consciousness to commune with spirits.
Outside of mysticism there’s a growing realisation, e.g. Gaia hypothesis, that we’re not disconnected from nature as we once thought, that science and Abrahamic religions led us into a false, meta position of dominion over creation, and sentience as our sole preserve.
As Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, Dirac, Lovelock… showed, new discoveries are inevitable, but whether they apply to the supernatural and spiritual remains to be seen, whether or not our eyes are rightly closed to ancient belief systems.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to accept that tens of thousands of years of human, spiritual practise amounts to bunkum. Isn’t it possible our cognition/will/experience has a tangible effect upon reality. It might sound like magic, but it’s obviously true that we can think our bodies into states of anxiety or relaxation, resolve ourselves to accomplish amazing feats, and then there’s the conundrum of Schrodinger’s paradoxical cat. Isn’t the question more interestingly about the extent of that influence? Whether we can cast spells, will things into being, perceive beyond our senses or transcend our bodies?
Another thought; if observation or consciousness can influence reality, is there a correlation between the quality or quantity of observation and the effect? i.e. If enough people see or believe something might it become true? Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the Emperor’s New Clothes suggests otherwise, and it seems preposterous that a kilogram weight would weigh anything other though a crowd might wish it otherwise. Yet, at a fundamental level of reality science shows observation is a determining factor for matter. Might an omnipresent, transpersonal consciousness exercise a more profound effect upon reality? and if so, does it imply something like God.
Criticism of religiosity is often facile and unimaginative and imperialist arrogance plays a role in our view of tribespeople who hold supernatural beliefs, but is faithless scientific rationalism superior? Whilst it gives it also it takes away: healthcare, luxury, technology, versus preventable diseases, mental ill-health, crushing poverty, pollution and climate damage.
“The idea of an objective real world whose smallest parts exist objectively in the same sense as stones or trees exist, independently of whether or not we observe them… is impossible,”Werner Heisenberg
Closer to home and more pragmatically I hope the future holds more than anxiolytic prescriptions, consumerism, inflation, self driving cars and “doom scrolling” (flicking through depressing news on your device). A little magic along with curiosity, imagination and looking beyond the obvious doesn’t seem a bad thing.