INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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Psychic Phenomena, Evolution,
and Universal Meaning

Elliot Benjamin

This kind of “feel good” evolution is completely antithetical to our mainstream science Big History explanation of the formation and development of the universe.

I appreciated Steve Taylor's recent Integral World article Keeping the Account Open: Seven Reasons Why I accept the Existence of (Some) Psychic Phenomena [1] in which he strongly conveyed his openness to believing in some particular kinds of ostensible psychic phenomena. These kinds of articles supporting a belief in ostensible psychic phenomena are not very common on the Integral World website, though from time to time an Integral World article of this kind does appear. However, what I find to be a more impactful and far-reaching question pertains to whether there is any universal meaning to the universe, in regard to our current scientific explanation of evolution in a Big History context, as described in Frank Visser's current Integral World essay Eloquent Emptiness: The Philosophy of WOW! And The End of Science [2].

When I was a child, I believed in the Jewish God of the bible, and consequently the formation of the universe was filled with meaning for me—for it was made by God and we were “spiritual” beings—whatever that meant. Then I went to college, learned about anthropology and evolution, became steeped in existentialism, and became an atheist. Then a few years later I had a mystical experience through falling in love, and I “felt” like there was some kind of universal meaning in my mystical love experience, and I became an agnostic. I read and assimilated virtually all the novels of Hermann Hesse, my favorite being Demian [3], and I was comfortable considering myself to be a “spiritual agnostic”—whatever that meant.

Now I fully understand David Lane's perspective that he conveys in his many Integral World skeptic articles, in which he talks about the biochemical and neurological basis for mystical experience [4]. Lane's perspective makes perfect sense to my analytical mind, and is very consistent with my own recent writings based upon my experiences at a Mediumship Mastery workshop [5]. I have also felt quite the impact from having recently read Carl Sagan's stimulating and provocative book The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark [6], and I am currently continuing my self-imposed skeptic stimulation through reading Michael Shermer's book Why People Believe Weird Things [7]. And this was preceded by my immersion in a number of books by arch-atheist Richard Dawkins; the Dawkins book that I liked the most was The God Delusion [8]. Yes Lane's perspective makes much sense to my analytical mind.

But what about the parts of me that are not served by my analytical mind, that I wrote about a few months ago in my Integral World essay Life, Death, Meaning, and Purpose [9]? I see psychic phenomena (I'll leave out “ostensible” but I am always assuming this when I use the term “psychic phenomena”) as quite possibly consistent with a “physical” interpretation of phenomena, in regard to some kind of energy that we don't yet understand, or perhaps psychic phenomena is related to quantum physics instantaneous information transfer of subatomic particles, involving microtubules [10]. There are people who have even written about their belief in a bona fide phenomenon of life after death completely from a scientific/physics perspective [11]. This does seem quite far-fetched to me, but there is certainly a great deal we do not yet understand in the current development of science. Who is to say what further developments in science may or may not uncover about the nature of the universe and of ourselves?

However, if it turns out that psychic phenomena does have a physical explanation in some kind of developed science context, then for me psychic phenomena does not add any significant universal meaning to the universe. I see it like further properties of the universe that have been discovered—to take its place alongside gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. But the Big History explanation for the formation of the universe, with ourselves being “star stuff” from billions of years ago, would not have to change. Psychic phenomena could be properties of the universe that have always been there, but require highly enough developed life organisms to become aware of the phenomena. Thus it seems feasible to me that we could have a meaningless universe with psychic phenomena, all explained by evolution in a Big History context.

And once again this leaves me feeling rather sad. I won't go into again my wondering if I lack a “gene” that consequently makes me dwell upon this universal meaning question, as I have already expressed myself in this way in my previously mentioned Integral World essay (cf. [9]). But I will say that for this reason, I find the question of universal meaning, which is the crux of the Intelligent Design/Meaningless Universe debate, to be a much more impactful debate to me than the psychic phenomena debate. And what do I think about this Intelligent Design/Meaningless Universe debate?

Well we have the “conscious/meaningful/eros evolution” network of people like Barbara Marx Hubbard, Steve McIntosh, Carter Phipps, Andrew Cohen, and Ken Wilber [12]. I find their essentially Intelligent Design perspectives to be “feel good” theories that enable one to recover at least some kind of universal meaning to the universe, although certainly quite nebulous and far removed from the kind of personalized God one could “talk” with from the bible. But this kind of “feel good” evolution is completely antithetical to our mainstream science Big History explanation of the formation and development of the universe (cf. [2]).

And it therefore starts to feel to me like this “feel good” evolution is just our modern form of a biblical explanation, to impart at least some kind of universal meaning to the universe. However, then I put on my thinking cap and start to wonder again about what was gong on “before” the Big Bang? I understand that scientists tell us it makes no sense to talk about time “before” the Big Bang, as time and space go together and everything began with the Big Bang [13]. But I can't help it—I guess this is just one of my limitations that I am not able to “not” think about “before” the Big Bang. For it seems to me that there must have been some kind of “energy” (for lack of a better word) that “caused” the Big Bang. And from the kind of responses I get from modern spiritually- minded people when I ask them how non-material souls can go along with evolution, they agree with me that non-material souls must have “always” been there, “before” the Big Bang. Well perhaps they agree with me just to get me to stop asking them this question.

At any rate, it does seem to me that we have a valid question here to consider. And Frank Visser acknowledges in his aforementioned essay that “We might not yet know why and how the Big Bang happened” (cf. [2]). So my question is: what was going on “before” the Big Bang, with the understanding that I may be asking a question that has no meaning. But if time was somehow “created” at the same “time” as the Big Bang, then I can't help wondering “how” it was created.

But then I start to wonder again: what happened “before” the Big Bang?

So am I arguing for universal meaning to the universe based upon the “energy” that formulated into the Big Bang? Modern spiritually-minded people would likely say that it is exactly this “energy” that has “always” been there and is what comprises our non-material souls and survives our bodily deaths. Now this sounds quite far-fetched to me, but I must also say that the entire formation of the universe without any meaning or purpose whatsoever, with the Big Bang happening from what now sounds at least as far-fetched to me. I understand the essence of the theory—exploding stars to subatomic particles to hydrogen to helium to life forms to more complex life forms to humans—all by a combination of Big History explanations inclusive of mutation, natural selection, chance, and innate self-organizing biochemical processes. And consequently I am nothing more than a bunch of more or less intelligent chemicals—and so are you. Religious people do not like this explanation, and I must confess that I do not like it either—even though I am not “religious.” But if it is the true explanation, then I must accept it. But then I start to wonder again: what happened “before” the Big Bang?

Notes/References

1) See Steve Tayor (2014). Keeping the Account Open: Seven Reasons Why I Accept the Existence of (Some) Psychic Phenomena. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net For more information about peer-reviewed articles on psychic phenomena, see http://deanradin.com/evidence/evidence.htm

2) See Frank Visser (2014). Eloquent Emptiness: The Philosophy of WOW! and The End of Science. Retrieved from www. Integralworld.net

3) See Hermann Hesse (1965). Demian. New York: Bantam Books. (original work published 1925). For information about Hermann Hesse see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Hesse

4) See for example David Lane (2014). The Rise of the Mysterians: Reverse Engineering the Brain and the Prakiti of Consciousness. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net

5) See Elliot Benjamin (2014). Agnosticism and Fundamentalist Mediumship; and An Agnostic Skeptic with Mediumistic Abilities: My Reflections at a Mediumship Mastery Workshop. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net

6) See Carl Sagan (1996). The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine Books.

7) See Michael Shermer (2002). Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of our Time. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.

8) See Richard Dawkins (2006. The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin

9) See Elliot Benjamin (2014). Life, Death, Meaning, and Purpose. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net

10) For information about microtubules see http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/penrose-hameroff/quantumcomputation.html

11) See for example James Beichler (2008). To Die For: The Physical Reality of Conscious Survival. London: Trafford; and Ron Pearson (2010). Physics Proves God: The Weapon Forged to Destroy Atheism! Defusing the Conflict with Science. www.Lulu.com

12) I won't give specific references for these authors, as they are commonly referred to in Integral World essays, but see Frank Visser's current essay listed in [2] for a critical analysis of Wilber's “eros” evolution perspective.

13) See for example Victor Stenger (1988). Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe. New York: Prometheus Books.




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