Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum Is the universe a "living system"? Reply To: Is the universe a "living system"?

Davidson Loehr



I think we may be near clarification. Math is a good example because it’s purely conceptual and mental, not empirical — no claim to experiencing anything like Cosmic Numbers. I’m talking about mental states, imagination, things which, like math, have nothing empirical involved, nothing out in the world. And the fact that lots of people report “experiencing” things doesn’t mean there’s anything actually going on outside their minds: millions of children report bogeymen, monsters under their beds and so on, but I don’t know anyone who wants to suggest that, therefore, there ARE monsters under the bed. And that young woman reported “experiencing” giving birth to ten hybrid alien babies while in “dream time,” but again, no real, physical babies outside of her mind — and the assumptions of people who think that way. That’s the category of feelings of being connected to the universe (what on earth could that mean? How would anyone know what it felt like, or what there was to connect to?) or being part of a cosmic mind, etc. I’m saying these are like the monsters under the bed. In different cultures, these would be called different things. But in every case, they’re internal mental states. Psychology or neurosciences might have the best chance of explaining what’s going on when people feel certain something’s “going on”. LSD and other drugs have triggered similar reactions, with very powerful and persuasive feelings, but again, we’re seduced from inside, not outside.  Same with the “nonlocal quantum information.” If something like this exists at a subatomic level, there’s no reason to think it exists at the much larger level of our nervous system, and if it did, it should be detectable by neuroscientific technologies. This desire that our inner thoughts, feelings and certainties have some empirical, outside, even “cosmic” grounding is no more solid than supposing that the monsters under the bed must really exist, maybe in some nonlocal quantum way. We have vivid, often weird, imaginations that can be set off in many ways — LSD as still one of the most widely experienced.


I’m reminded of a story William James told, I think in his Varieties of Religious Experience, which you may be familiar with. He had an absolutely vivid dream one night, in which the meaning of life, the universe and everything was suddenly revealed to him in a crystal clear way. Luckily, he kept a pad and paper by his bed, and in his half-sleep reached over and wrote it down, then returned to sleep. In the morning he grabbed the pad, and sure enough: he had written the message down. The message: “Grass is green.” I can imagine someone spinning this into something very Buddhist: Grass is green, it is what it is, everything is straightforward, don’t complexify things, and so on. But that’s no great revelation from a cosmic consciousness or monster under the bed.


It seems much more helpful to recognize that these sometimes profound and persuasive certainties are, like the monsters, entirely cooked up inside our heads. Same with witches, demons, angels, and all the other such colorful products of our imaginations and cultural imaginations. And I think it’s worth insisting that if people actually think they have access to such cosmic truths, they should be urged to sign up for controlled experiments that might see what’s going on. I remember reading about feelings of Oneness With All, and some neurological experiments showing what and where in the brain the short-circuits occur that we interpret this way. Again, everything’s going on inside, not outside. Schizophrenia’s “voices” are here too — I don’t know that anyone is really wanting to argue that these “voices” are connected with individuals — or nonlocal quantum beings — located outside the heads of those with schizophrenia. John Nash’s story fits here in an interesting way. Eventually, he was able to neutralize the voices in his head by engaging them logically, arguing that what they were saying made no sense, then dismissing them. Prior to that, the voices seemed to have their own crazy logic. But he learned to reclaim them as his thoughts, answerable to his logic. And this “cured” him, by restoring his mental integrity. That seems a more important goal than trying to hold out for an independent existence for our inner voices or imaginations. As people in politics, ideology, advertising, fiction etc. know, we are very easily misled by those who can play upon our needs, hopes, wishes, imaginations or pathologies. Nor is this reducing life to something “less” — it’s helping to make it more whole, more integrated, as I see it.