Saturday, October 15, 2011

As Above, So Below; The Quantum Origins of Life


This picture has been doing the rounds on Facebook. It’s a great example of the idea of ‘As Above, So Below’, which is a symbolic truth rather than a literal truth. If you were to push the comparison between brain cells and galaxies, it would probably break down fairly quickly. All the same, the pictures are similar and the comparison has deep appeal.

Why? Speaking for myself, it makes me feel connected. It is a Neptunian experience. Why do our brains work like this? It is worth remembering that outer reality is a construct of our brains – space, time, left, right etc – and that includes the brain itself.

We forget this. We have created a dream, and the dream has become real. It is humanity’s enduring amnesia. Anything that reminds us of what we have forgotten resonates, it reminds us of home, of where we came from. And the universe, so impossibly large and far away, is at a deep level a construct of our minds. This picture reminds us of that, it reminds us that we are not just the brain cell, we are also the galaxy.

This is also why astrology works. The universe out there is just our minds writ large. If you can read it, it not only gives you self-knowledge, it gives you that sense of connection and homecoming. As with the brain/universe metaphor, astrology works on poetic/symbolic truth, so pushing the metaphors in the wrong sort of way, particularly with the literalising methods of science, will cause them to break down.

Strangely, literal truth and symbolic truth connect through astrology and other divination systems. Astrological truth can also be literal truth, such as ‘Given your work situation and the strength of the astrological factors affecting it, you will almost certainly have a new job in 6 months.’ But it doesn’t work the other way around: literal, observable truth doesn’t easily lead to psychological and metaphysical truths, not unless you’re sensitive with it, which is not part of the remit of the scientific method.

I bought an edition of the New Scientist recently, because it promised an article on the quantum origins of life. As usual, they were spinning an article out of a few maybes, and even then it was about biochemical processes using quantum effects, rather than on the origin of life. But the title was thought-provoking.

I view quantum theory as the point at which the scientific method starts to break down. Science is a model, and like a metaphor, it breaks down when pushed too far – like to the nano level and beyond. Or to the galactic level and beyond: look at the ‘dark energy’ fiasco. Quantum theory has required considerable ingenuity to make it work and even then, after 100 years, a coherent and proven model of that world has yet to fully emerge. The tinier the world that science explores, the more it explodes into multidimensionality and irrationality and indeterminacy.

So when I read about life having quantum origins, I thought that was about right. The ‘rules’ of consciousness are more similar to the rules of the quantum world than they are to the rules of everyday science. Perhaps you could also talk about the galactic origins of life, in that the ‘rules’ of the galaxy require it to consist of 96% unknowable, unobservable ‘dark’ energy, which is again rather like consciousness in the sense of its predominant ‘Unconscious’.
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Incidentally, I think ideas about humanity having been seeded by aliens is part of the same poetry as the brain cell/universe picture. We live in a literalising age, and people easily make fools of themselves when they insist this poetic truth is a literal truth. But that doesn’t make it mere fancy. Poetic truth, mythological truth needs to be experienced as real, as more real than literal truth. Get your head round that one!

So the more science pushes to the extremely large and extremely small, the more it is pushing at boundaries, boundaries between consciousness and matter. The scientific method is based on a hard distinction between inner and outer, on there being a solid, real world ‘out there’ that can be measured. An elementary training in philosophical thinking would make it clear that this outlook is a case of ‘let’s suppose for a moment’. But the undeveloped, the uncivilised human mind wants simplicity and certainty, and mainstream science seems only too happy to provide this.

Particularly with the nano world, it has been clear for a century that we are no longer dealing with a solid, separate, ‘out there’ world. Not just because of its indeterminacy, but because it is known that at this level you can’t separate the observer from the observed. This insight has not been carried through to mainstream science, perhaps because the effect of the observer is not so obvious on an everyday level, and because of its subtlety.


But on the nano level, we are dealing with a place where the connection between matter and consciousness is clear, and where the rigid boundary between ‘subject’ and ‘object’ starts to break down. Quantum Reality has huge philosophical implications that have been explored by some authors, but even after a century have not reached the mainstream in a rigorous way.

They probably never will, if you look at the history of religion. Religions tend to have a mainstream that is sustained by simple, collectively-held certainties, and a mystical heretical fringe composed of individuals who have their own unique relationship with the truth. Science is no different. It has many of the characteristics of religion. One of this year’s Nobel Prize winners discovered a new form of crystal, and had to endure years of ridicule before his ideas were taken seriously. That’s religion for you.


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3 comments:

Sara said...

So, we're just neural ganglia in Buddha's brain? I always felt that the map of the known universe looked awfully organic in nature. Maybe dark energy and dark matter are souls and dreams, and that's why they exist mathematically but so far have not been seen or measured, just detected by "default" -- the space they don't occupy, that is.
But why are you posting a picture of the Calabi-Yau space?

Dharmaruci said...

Calabi-Yau manifold: it's held to be a representation of the 6 extra dimensions of superstring theory.

Anonymous said...

I love it when you do this - when you take me past my own last thought. The other night in the same dream was a cave with treasure and relatives who travel in deep space - the dream offered a menu of metaphors. I like best dreams that step outside them altogether and sometimes that seems to happen.