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Science meets religion
If we were to ask someone the question: What unique feature
makes us distinctively human?, most people would answer that
it is our ability to reason and to express our thoughts through
language. Yet the world is torn apart today by those who act
only through emotion – a lust for power or belief in
a man-made social structure we call religion.
If we are to find harmony amongst humankind, the time has
come to put religion and the scripture on which it is based
on a rational footing, and to cultivate a sense of our global
connectedness spiritually as well as commercially. Some scripture
represents a body of myths, traditions and rituals handed
down through many generations. Other texts are the edited
versions of the inspired insights of one man as to how we
may best live a fulfilling life as individuals in social harmony.
All scripture was created for a particular group of people
at a particular time and place in social history.
What scripture does not represent is a unilateral and unequivocal
version of truth that must be accepted by all people worldwide
throughout all human history. What we regard as ‘faith’
is an emotional attachment to a particular set of principles.
We have no reason to reject anyone else’s chosen path
to fulfillment, unless it infringes on our freedom.
Humankind, since the dawn of our species as far as we are
aware, has had a vision of a spiritual realm beyond that accessible
to us through our five senses. They saw gods amongst the awesome
power of the elements of Nature. They built temples and huge
stone monuments like Stonehenge to these gods in the hope
that they may look upon them favourably and make their lives
less arduous. Sometimes the rocks and rivers themselves were
deemed to have a mystic power, like Ayers Rock in Western
Australia or the rock formations of Sedona in the American
state of Arizona.
Mountains reached up to these sky-gods, so there was physical
and spiritual closeness to deity to be found on the mountain
tops. Thus in western scripture we are told that God gave
the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai; Jesus went up
into Mt. Hermon for his transfiguration; and Muhammad went
up into the hills above Mecca to receive the words of Archangel
Gabriel that became the Koran. Such high ground is a symbol
of humankind’s belief that there is a ‘higher’
spiritual domain that exists above and beyond the earthly
material existence of which our five senses are aware.
The spiritual messengers were often described as angels though,
today, scientists and lay people alike tend to regard talk
of ‘angels’ with extreme scepticism and regard
such visions as fantastic nonsense.
Many of our religions of East and West, however, have a similar
spiritual imagery as the focus of their faith. We have the
Holy Spirit in Christianity, the Schechinah in the mystical
belief system of Judaism; and in the East, Atman is the Hindu
vision of the spiritual breath of Brahman, and the Universal
Mind carries over the karma of one incarnation to the next
for Buddhists. What is ‘soul’ but a tiny part
of this cosmic spirituality within each of us? We express
the feelings of our soul in religious devotion, in our altruistic
concern for the welfare of others, and in the aesthetic part
of our being through our enjoyment of music, literature or
the beauty of Nature.
Shunning any notion of divine revelation, the rationalist
philosophers through two millennia have envisaged this same
spiritual domain in their own contexts. Thus, Plato thought
that there were Ideas or Forms that provided the templates
from which we derived our earthly notions. The English philosopher
John Locke thought that there was a ‘real essence’
inaccessible to our senses that lay behind the ‘nominal
essence’ of objects. The nominal essence was the collection
of the properties we observed with our senses that allowed
us to give names to things.
This concept of spirituality is not restricted in application
just to individual people or things. German philosopher G.W.F.
Hegel thought that there was a spirituality characteristic
of every society that he called Geist. This caused people
to act in unison at certain times to a much greater extent
than would be expected from the statistically diverse range
of human opinions and feelings. We have seen this in Britain
in the huge political swings of the electorate in the 1979
and 1997 elections. We saw it in the outpouring of grief at
the tragic death of Princess Diana.
The twentieth century psychologist Carl Jung thought that
there was a ‘collective
unconscious’ that caused people to act in this way.
Jung described two or more events occurring at the same time
without causal connection (in the scientific sense) as synchronicity.
Thoughts and feelings were transmitted through this spiritual
domain from one individual to another. This communal empathy
was described by the spiritual writer Peter Russell as synergy,
and James Redfield, in his Celestine books, borrowed Jung’s
term synchronicity to describe it.
In the wake of the revolution in physics in the early part
of the twentieth century there is now even amongst a range
of scientists a gradual realization that the foundations for
a rational scientific explanation for psychic and spiritual
phenomena may now lie within our grasp.
For several decades past, Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake
has been investigating psychic phenomena and explaining some
of his experimental results in terms of what he calls ‘morphic
fields’ – essentially, a domain of spiritual energy
to which we all have access for telepathic or empathic communication.
This is the realm with which psychics and mystics commune.
It is the realm of individual souls of the living and the
earthly departed, and of the Communal Soul of the
collective unconscious. It is indistinguishable from the spiritual
domain of the philosophers, psychologists – and theologians!
Here surely is the basis for dialogue between warring ideologies.
Many have this vision of a universal spirituality. All we
need is the will to live in peace and not pursue the
belief that force of arms can change others with a different
world-view and compel them to submit. If we are to achieve
world peace, reason and dialogue must prevail!
Published in the Western Mail, Cardiff, Wales, UK, Wednesday
24th January 2007
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Healing spirit and the scientific paradigm
Developments in science over the last century have provided
us with the realistic possibility of explaining spiritual
and psychic phenomena in terms of rational science.Phenomena
like spiritual healing, telepathy, clairvoyance, mystical
communication with spirits in the afterlife, so long rejected
by most scientists, are becoming increasingly the focus of
If the still rather speculative ideas can be further substantiated,
this will give immense comfort to the bereaved and to those
nearing the end of earthly existence. It will also provide
authentication of many of the practices familiar to indigenous
peoples since the
evolution of our species, but which are still regarded with
suspicion, if not rejected outright, by Establishment science,
religion and medicine.
In living today we have become too attached to Establishment
systems, perhaps because in enriching our lives with diversity
they have also become more complicated. In many facets of
our lives it is expected that we will follow established procedures
– or perhaps, these simply represent the easiest, most
readily available solutions.
If we are ill, it is expected that we will go to an orthodox
medical practitioner to be
treated with government-approved synthetic drugs. If we have
beliefs it is assumed that we will ‘belong to’
a formal organised religion.
When we seek knowledge, we turn to the empirical discoveries
of science, because we have come to rely on the fact that
each new observation will be fitted into an established theoretical
framework. This way of looking at the world on the basis of
a set of accepted principles scientists call a paradigm.
From time to time over the past four centuries of scientific
exploration of the natural world, there has been a monumental
shift in the existing paradigm. The medieval belief of Earth
as the centre of the universe was replaced by the discoveries
of Copernicus that Earth was just one of a number of planets
revolving around a sun. We cannot conceive today what a huge
shift in world-view this must have been for the scholars of
the day, and it certainly met with great resistance from the
In the first decades of the twentieth century, there was
another monumental paradigm shift. The laws that governed
the behaviour of objects in the material world, which had
been established in the seventeenth century by Galileo and
Isaac Newton, were found not to apply to the constituent particles
of which those same material objects were
made up. These fundamental particles or atoms were not even
indivisible and indestructible as had been believed for over
two thousand years, and the strange behaviour of the constituents
of atoms created the new paradigm of quantum physics.
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At first, even the physicists themselves couldn’t believe
the findings of quantum physics because so often they seemed
to defy the laws of common sense – like particles appearing
successively in two different places without crossing the
space between, or particles that behaved as particles only
some of the time but then disappeared into waves of energy.
Gradually, this new world-view has provided explanations
for events, not only in physics but in chemistry, in biochemistry
and now even in realms previously consideredoutside the remit
of science – that of psychic and mystical experiences.
So the new paradigm itself appeared a century ago. What is
new now is an extension of its field of application that offers
the possibility of bringing together ideas from philosophy,
psychology, religion and science. We have heard much about
the conflict between the world-views of science (objective
rational empiricism) and religion (subjective divine revelation),
and we are all too aware of the turmoil that is created by
differences in outlook between different religions.
But we cannot thrive on conflict. We all live in the same
universe, and the many faiths and reason cannot exist in parallel
worlds, speaking different languages. The Earth is undergoing
a transformation as a result of Man’s activity, and
we must transformourselves with it. We need to heal the wounds
we have created in Earth and in humankind.
The healing we need applies to our secular lives as well
as to the religious, and on three fronts – individual,
social and environmental. Individually, more and more people
are falling victim to the addiction of alcohol or food. Obesity
is now rated as a national epidemic in Britain and America.
For several decades now, society has been indoctrinated by
the advertising industry to want more and more material goods.
The whole purpose of advertising is to create envy and discontent,
to make us feel inadequate or inferior if we do not have possessions
on a par with those of our neighbours or work colleagues.
We, and others, measure our success not by ourfulfilment at
service to other people but by the goods we possess.
The third area of healing needing our attention is the natural
environment. Our capitalist economic system is based on ‘growth’,
and that means encouraging us all to buy more and more each
year and to make equipment inoperable or obsolete as soon
as possible. But all these manufacturing processes require
energy and raw materials and, however ingenious we may be
in finding new processing techniques, Earth’s finite
limited resources are rapidly being used up.
The potentially unifying and healing aspect of the new scientific
paradigm that I want to focus on here is the notion of Spirit.
As I said above, the bits of atoms that behave like particles
some of the time can also melt away into a sea of energy:
and what is Spiritbut a field of cosmic energy?
Two thousand years ago the Greek philosopher Plato suggested
that all of our worldly concepts were a reflection of Ideas
or Forms that served as our templates and which existed in
a spiritual realm. The greatest of the Ideas was the Form
of the Good, which is a simplistic vision of the God of western
Another philosopher called Plotinus saw his deity as a spiritual
World Soul. All we can know of the world of matter, said Plotinus,
is what is in our mind: this is the only reality – which
sounds very like something out of the religious philosophies
of the East.
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of both East and West have a spiritual vision of deity.
In Christianity, it is called the Holy Spirit. The Kabbalah,
the mystical division of Judaism, describes the spiritual
emanation of deity as the Schechinah, and she is often
viewed as feminine. In Hinduism, Atman is regarded as
the breath of their deity Brahman, while in Buddhism
there is a Universal Mind to carry over the karma of
each incarnation to the next. What is it that Spiritualist
mediums commune with if not the spirits or souls of
those who have departed earthly life?
Other philosophers of the Enlightenment
had their own visions of this spiritual domain. John
Locke thought that behind the ‘nominal essence’
of each object – the collection of properties
that caused us to give the object its name – there
lay a ‘real essence’, forever unknown to
our five senses. German philosopher Immanuel Kant called
Locke’s real essence the noumenal dimension of
the world lying behind the phenomenal aspect accessible
to our five senses.
The psychologist Carl Jung, who was a firm believer in the
reality of the spiritual component of existence, proposed
that a ‘collective unconscious’ was part of the
mind or spirit of every individual. We transmitted ideas,
said Jung, through this spiritual dimension. The most persistent
ideas, of symbolic significance in human life and recurring
within many of the myths of religion, he called archetypes.
Philosophers, theologians, psychologists – all have
had a vision of this spiritual domain relevant to the subject
in which they were working. Now, quantum science has a concept
that could explain rationally the nature of this all-pervading
Every particle of every atom continually pops in and out
of material existence by
alternating the nature of its being with a packet of wave
energy, in accordance with Einstein’s famous E = mc2
mass–energy relation.. This energy is called the zero
point field, or z.p.f. for short. It fills in the spaces between
the bits of the atom.
Our body, and especially our brain and spinal cord, is a
mass of electric currents that travel not only along these
nerves but also along the proteins that make up our tissues
and the DNA that characterises our cells. Nobel Prizewinner
Albert Szent-Györgyi was the first to suggest this half
a century ago and now the mobility of these electric particles
(called electrons) has been established by scientists, together
with the activity of biophotons (light waves behaving as particles
in the body). Where we have moving electrons, we also have
a magnetic field.
We are a mass of such electromagnetic energy fields. We should
not be surprised therefore if we find that some people are
particularly susceptible to electronic equipment or overhead
power cables. The z.p.f. is not only within every material
atom of our bodies and of the air we breathe, of every plant
and animal, of every mountain and river, it is also out in
space, where it is more commonly referred to as the quantum
vacuum. The halo of the z.p.f. around our bodies comprises
the aura that can be detected by some sensitives.
||When a clairvoyant ‘predicts’
the future, they are tuning in to this quantum vacuum
that forms part of a continuum of space and time. Spiritual
healers channel the energy from this same cosmic energy
field into the chi of the patient through the chakras.
Empathic people communicate their thoughts by telepathy
through this spiritual energy field that Cambridge biologist
Rupert Sheldrake calls a morphic field. We have all gazed
in awe and wonder at the myriad stars in the night sky,
but cosmologists tell us that most of our universe is
unknown to us in our mortal lives for it is undetectable
by the appliances of science: they say it is made up of
‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’
engaging in their own cosmic dance.
It may be that this is the domain of those who have left
material earthly existence to transform into spiritual souls,
but capable of assuming material form, as testified to by
What this new scientific paradigm of quantum physics tells
us is that the zero point field
is everywhere, in everything, at all times, and it is indistinguishable
from Jung’s collective unconscious or the Holy Spirit
or Atman, or Communal Soul. It is the all-pervading motivating
Spirit of the universe. What a unifying healing vision this
would be if only we could all embrace it.
Published in Healing Today, the magazine of the National
Federation of Spiritual Healers, Issue 108, May-July 2007
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Is religion just superstition?
Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford has taken issue with religion
for some years now, the argument being that if we cannot subject
religious experiences to the rigour of scientific double-blind
tests, then it must be rejected as ‘superstitious nonsense’.
Dawkins maintains that religion is an enemy of reason and
the root of all evil as well.
Science has made the progress it has because similar experiments
on similar materials are supposed to give identical results
at different times and places. In practice however, there
are always ‘experimental errors’ and human errors
that have to be taken into account. Equipment doesn’t
always behave in exactly the same way. The physicist Wolfgang
Pauli was renowned for the disruptive effects he had on measuring
equipment in any laboratory he visited, and some measuring
apparatus can be sensitive to electromagnetic fields and humidity.
Furthermore, scientists of course are human and we are subject
to the same errors and emotions as everyone else. It’s
always satisfying when an experiment turns out exactly the
way we planned, so we are all looking for a particular outcome,
however objective and professional we try to be. The security
in science comes from the repeatability of an experiment by
Science has developed a technique for trying to eliminate
human bias in assessing results and that is through what we
call ‘the double blind test’. The double-blind
test has become the standard scientific method of testing
the validity of empirical evidence. The principle is that
a neutral observer assigns numbers to some test materials
or subjects and that neither the experimenters themselves
nor the assessors of the results, nor the subjects themselves
very often, know the identities of the subjects or the exact
nature of the test until all the results have been analysed.
Only then are the identities of the subjects disclosed, or
patients are told whether or not they have received a drug
or placebo, so that the success of the experiment can be evaluated
Religious experiences are most difficult to assess in this
way. The subject knows whether or not they have had such an
experience – there is no possibility of keeping them
in the dark as to the nature of the trial, and the assessment
of a mystical event has to be highly subjective, by its very
nature. The affirmation of mystical events comes mainly from
the fact that different people at different times and places
have similar experiences – as is the case in a more
restricted way with scientific experiments.
Also, just as herbal medicine has been established through
thousands of years of successful use (probably with many calamities
along the way in the early years!), so any claimed revelation
or mystical experience has to be judged by its coherence and
social value. Taking a completely pragmatic approach we have
to ask: are the claims reasonable and do they work in practice
for the enlightenment of the individual and cohesion of society?
In the pluralistic modern world, where we are all aware of
many more faiths than that with which we were brought up by
our parents, we are able to make choices – we can change
our religious adherence to another faith, or to hold fast
to a cosmic spirituality as our faith but to dispense with
the dogma of a formal religion. This is what many within Britain
are now doing. It provides a much more holistic world-view
than if we insist on the veracity of any one set of religious
principles. Inevitably, this implies that everyone else is
wrong in their beliefs. An ancient eastern philosopher recommends
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Find enlightenment through heeding many points of view
Find ignorance through heeding few
Wei Zheng, Tang Dynasty
Making choices as to which religion most closely accords
with our world-view and the life we wish to lead is using
reason in assessing the claims of revelation by the prophets
or seers. This is far removed from superstition, which is
defined as ‘irrational belief in supernatural agency
Furthermore, we are not so much believing in a supernatural
agency as believing that the words of one particular man contain
a wisdom that we would benefit from following, whether those
words represent divine revelation or not. And it is usually
men who have served as prophets of the major world religions
though, in the nineteenth century, Mary Baker Eddy claimed
inspiration from the New Testament to found the Christian
Science movement and Helena Blavatsky wrote her book The Secret
Doctrine, under the guidance of her spirit guides Morya and
Hoot Koomi, that provided the foundations of theosophy. In
the East, Siddhartha Gautama, Lao Tzu and Kung Fu Tzu never
claimed any kind of supernatural revelation for their wisdom.
There is ample evidence, some of it gathered under stringent
scientific criteria, of the occurrence of events that are
classed together as psychic events or psi. The most studied
are forms of telepathy and Guy Lyon Playfair has written authoritatively
on the subject in his book, Twin Telepathy. But there are
numerous anecdotal accounts of clairvoyance or of contact
with discarnate souls that have been verified as genuine by
We are dealing here with evidence of individual human experiences
and we cannot sensibly apply the same sort of criteria of
verification and repeatability that we would do in science
for experiments with test tubes or lumps of rock. Even when
we turn to experiments with animals or animal tissues, there
is much greater variability in results than when we examine
inert materials. How much greater then must we expect variability
to be when we deal with human subjects with their range of
daily emotional experiences.
The potential energy field that underlies all matter at the
quantum level has been suggested by several scientists as
the medium through which psychic and mystical communication
may occur. It is a concept that has been suggested in other
fields of human endeavour, such as psychology and philosophy.
Carl Jung believed that the recurrence of certain mythical
images he called archetypes, like an incarnate son of a sky
god who is resurrected after death, takes place because humans
possess a collective unconscious for the exchange of images
through space and time. Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake
called a similar spiritual domain the morphic field.
The idea goes back to the dawn of human articulation of such
ideas amongst the Greek philosophers. Plato believed that
human concepts had their origin in a domain of the gods he
called the Forms or Ideas. Our earthly concepts were a reflection
of those held in the realm of a universal spirit.
Thus many people use reason in arriving at their religious
beliefs. The spiritual dimension is an integral part of the
human psyche and an all-pervading spiritual field of energy
forms the ground of quantum physics. This is not superstition!
This essay was first published in the Tree of Life magazine
in autumn 2007 (www.treeoflifemagazine.com)
and a reworked version on the same theme was published in
De Numine, the magazine of the Alister Hardy Society No.44
in Spring 2008 (www.studyspiritualexperiences.org).
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In the Summer 2007 issue of the Action Against Allergy Newsletter,
a medical practitioner in Bournemouth UK, Dr John Millward,
made several valid points about the attitude of the medical
profession to disease and to nutrition. In May of 2006, a
group of physicians and scientists in Britain sent a letter
to the chief executives of health trusts urging them to reject
alternative medical treatments as ‘unproven or disproved’.
In addition to being circulated within the NHS, the letter
was also sent to Prince Charles, a known advocate of the use
of alternative therapies.
Regrettably, the Oxford zoologist Professor Richard Dawkins
has now extended his attack on religion to include alternative
therapies as equally vacuous. We certainly need to be protected
from bogus practitioners selling ‘snake oil’,
but genuine therapists have a very real part to play in therapy
of those who have some kind of biochemical or physiological
imbalance that makes them feel less than well.
In orthodox ‘scientific’ medical practice there
were 40,000 errors in drug administration in British hospitals
in 2005 alone (National Patient Agency, 10 August 2006).
In America, there are approximately 7,000 deaths each year
due to medication errors (www.amcp.org)
, and the FDA states that there is at least one death each
day and 1.3 million people injured each year due to medication
A professor of psychology at the University of California,
Theodore Roszak, believes that much of the physical and mental
illness prevalent in society today can be traced to a loss
of spiritual connection with our natural environment and stress
and pollution – particularly from alcohol and tobacco
smoke – undoubtedly make a significant contribution.
It is also assumed incorrectly that the whole population
has adequate nutrition. As Dr Millward said, it has been known
for more than a century that deficiencies in certain trace
elements or vitamins can produce debilitating disease.
One of those who first raised concerns about the quality
of our food was Weston A. Price (1870-1948), a dentist who
ran a practice in Cleveland, Ohio, in the early years of the
20th century. He gave this up in the early 1930s to travel
the world with his wife exploring the lifestyles of native
peoples who had not yet had their ecologically sound holistic
existence disrupted by the intrusion of western capitalism.
He collected food samples from native diets and analyzed
them in his laboratory. His findings, published in 1939, showed
levels of micronutrients four to ten times that of foodstuffs
in the American diet of the time.
Price’s work inspired the nutritionist Sally Fallon
to set up her own organization, the Weston A. Price Foundation
in Washington, D.C., and she has updated Price’s findings
in a book of her own (Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions,
New Trends Publishing, Winona Lake, Indiana, revised 2nd edn,
Graham Harvey pointed out in his book, We Want Real Food
(Constable, London, 2006), that the liberal use of agrochemicals
has impoverished the soil to such an extent that plants are
often unable to extract minerals from the soil, even if they
are there. We need some university medical team to launch
an epidemiological study of the levels of nutrients in the
population in various parts of the country.
Pharmaceutical drugs have saved countless lives and reduced
much suffering throughout the last century. But they should
be used sparingly and alternative naturopathic remedies sought
wherever possible, because the strain imposed on the immune
system by the toxicity of these drugs can make patients more
susceptible to adverse reactions to other xenobiotics (compounds
not part of the body’s natural biochemical system).
The overall load of these compounds can be more than the body
The apparent association of autism and Crohn’s disease
with MMR vaccination may well arise from such inability of
the body’s immune system to cope with raising antibodies
to three diseases at the same time. It would be surprising
if we did not find some children who did not react adversely.
Many older people find they cannot tolerate the annual ‘flu
vaccine for the same reason. Dr Millward’s suggestion
of a nutritional deficiency as a factor in autism should also
be taken seriously and investigated.
There are naturopathic alternatives available in health food
stores all over the country that may be effective in treating
some of the population’s common ailments.
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The family of drugs called
statins is very popular with doctors at present for
reducing cholesterol levels in the blood and, provided
the patient is able to metabolize them, they are quite
effective. Statins work by inhibiting the production
of cholesterol in the liver, most of all at night,
but they also inhibit one of the body’s key
metabolic agents, co-enzyme Q10.
Statins frequently produce insomnia, myalgia (muscle
pain in the legs or arms), and shortness of breath
as side effects and can even damage muscle tissue
(myopathy). When the patent was first granted for
the use of statins it was recommended that doctors
prescribe co-Q10 at the same time, to minimize their
adverse effects, but this seems to be done only rarely.
There is a gentle herbal alternative to statins available
and that is to use spreads, yoghurts or tablet supplements
containing plant sterols and stanols. Plant stanols are also
available in capsule form. In the human diet they appear to
lower the undesirable LDL cholesterol while leaving the desirable
HDL cholesterol unaffected.
Antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, the flavonoids and
xanthones also seem to have a beneficial effect in inhibiting
atherosclerotic plaque formation. Vitamin C is to be found
in all fresh fruit and vegetables. You can find flavonoids
in citrus fruit, vegetables (especially onions), legumes and
green tea, or again in capsule form if desired. Vitamin E
is obtained from wheat germ and sunflower seeds and mangosteen
is the best source of xanthones.
While cholesterol levels may well be an important factor
aggravating arteriosclerosis (blocked blood vessels), there
are other compounds, like homocysteine, the blood concentration
of which is believed to be even more important, but this is
never measured routinely.
High protein diets, especially those that include much red
meat, tend to produce elevated homocysteine levels, which
are known to be detrimental to health.
The usual treatment prescribed for osteoarthritis is to take
pain-killers, as Lynne McTaggart says in her book, What Doctors
Don’t Tell You: ‘Conventional medicine tends to
take the view that there is no known cause or cure for arthritis,
so all it can do with certainty is to alleviate your pain’
(McTaggart, What Doctors Don’t Tell You, Thorsons, London
and San Francisco, 1996). These drugs all have damaging effects.
Paracetamol can be taken in only limited quantities because
of its toxic effect on the liver. The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDs) all produce irritation of the gut. The American
FDA estimates that there may be up to a quarter of a million
cases of gastric bleeding from use of NSAIDs each year, while
in Britain about 4000 people die from taking NSAIDs each year.
Again, there is a naturopathic alternative. The natural compound
glucosamine, taken with fish oils containing omega-3 fatty
acids, may prove to be a safe and simple alternative in the
treatment of osteoarthritis.
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There are some powerful allopathic drugs (like finasteride)
available to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH –
an enlarged prostate gland leading to difficulty with urination)
that is common in men in later life, but all of them frequently
produce some rather nasty side-effects. The gentle natural
compound saw palmetto is just as effective with, generally,
only mild or no side-effects.
Readers should note however that orthodox medical opinion
is sharply divided on the treatment of BPH because such treatment
may mask prostatic cancer. However, there is no reliable method
of assessing prostate cancer, and the two basic treatments
– surgery or radiotherapy – frequently result
in impotence or incontinence or both, with no convincing evidence
that such radical measures prolong life.
There have been quite extensive clinical trials on humans
for the past decade or so on the use of extracts of Ginkgo
biloba for the treatment of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease
and poor circulation. With fewer clinical trials so far, the
xanthones from mangosteen have also proved to be effective.
The staff at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging
at Tufts University, Boston, MA, have conducted research into
mangosteen over the past decade. The results have been positive
and side effects are generally few – mild headaches
or gastrointestinal upsets. This is another example where
a gentle herbal remedy may obviate the need to use more toxic
synthetic pharmacological compounds.
There are undoubtedly health benefits from food sources rich
in anti-oxidants, though there are also some more wary researchers,
like Dr Ralph Moss who has published what he calls a friendly
skeptical look at mangosteen (http://chetday.com/mangosteen.htm).
The overall guiding principle is to eat healthily with as
much fibre, fruit and vegetables as your system can tolerate
and to avoid completely if possible tobacco products, alcohol
and any other synthetic ‘recreational’ drugs that
are, in fact, even more toxic than many of the pharmaceutical
The bottom line is: Enjoy your food and take naturopathic
medications to restore the balance if this has become disturbed!
Dr Jones is the author of The Tao of Holism, published by
O Books early in February 2008. A fuller discussion of the
above issues, with extensive references, may be found there.
A modified version of this article first appeared in the
Action Against Allergy Newsletter No.91 for Winter 2007 (www.actionagainstallergy.co.uk).
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Science and Religion: Is Dawkins Right?
Report of lecture given by Howard Jones
at University of Wales, Lampeter, published in De Numine,
the newsletter for the members of the Alister Hardy Society.
On 28 May 2008, Dr Howard Jones, author of The Thoughtful
Guide to God: Making Sense of the World's Biggest Idea and
The Tao of Holism, spoke to us on Science
and Religion: Is Dawkins Right?
An immediate impression Dr Jones gives as a speaker is of
quiet authority and broad grasp, and he soon proved himself
no narrow scientist. Surveying the history of scientific discovery
within a succinct exposition of its evolving cultural context,
he was even able to illustrate this breadth with an account
from his own life. Like Kekulé, Howard solved a long-standing
problem of biochemistry whilst in a meditative state, in this
instance whilst listening to Bruckner's eighth symphony. Einstein,
too, tells us that he conceived his theories by a picturing
imagination rather than by verbal analysis.
As Howard reminded us at the beginning of his talk, some
of our most significant scientific discoveries emerged out
of the same process of envisioning which is the wellspring
of dreams, meditation and creativity, from the deep recesses
beneath our full consciousness upon which consciouness rides.
This being so, Dawkins is out of step with his own community.
Chris Clarke, Rupert Sheldrake, Ervin Laszlo and others have
shown that quantum physics has altered our perception not
only of the universe 'out there' but also of our own consciousness,
and there are many ways of knowing that embrace both objective
and subjective, the scientific and the spiritual.
Dawkins' views on religion are well known to some of his
hearers but Howard had the task of speaking to an audience
largely unknown to him. However, he succeeded in showing not
only the irrationality of Dawkins' antagonism towards religion
and his lack of philosophical grounding but also that, whilst
Dawkins professes to be a 'card-carrying rationalist', in
reality he lives more by a kind of faith than by reason. Dawkins
ought to be well-equipped, and sufficiently informed, to understand
what he scorns, but seems instead to believe that complacent
ignorance and dogmatic assertion are sufficient to obliterate
'the world's biggest idea'.
The lecture showed a clarity of exposition, of delivery,
of form, which was a relief and a pleasure but, limited by
the clock, left us wishing to hear more on certain topics
within its broad perspective. Howard demonstrated the holism
he preaches, for the lecture was itself a whole, like a well-formed
At question time the comprehensiveness of Howard's grasp
of subject and his urbane manner were demonstrated again.
Unknown to many of us, one of his questioners had followed
him from venue to venue intending to undermine his views and
support those of Dawkins, an action which bespeaks the great
strength of the holistic interpretation of what it is to be
human which Howard was advocating. He handled the critic,
who thought his lecture important enough to follow him to
Lampeter, with humour and tact.
I'm pleased to report that we're to have the pleasure of
hearing Howard again at the next Residential Conference for
The Body MA at the University of Wales, Lampeter. His topic
will be Envisioning the Holistic Way, and he plans to speak
on how we arrived at our unholistic lifestyle following Newton,
Descartes and Laplace, and what we might do, both as individuals
and as a society, to get back on the holistic path. All will
Dr Maureen Lockhart, Lecturer and Tutor, The Body MA, University
of Wales, Lampeter. Website: www.studyspiritualexperiences.org.
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Jung and the collective unconscious
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychologist who
was brought up in a family background that included medical
men, preachers and mystics. Jung was born in the small village
of Kesswil, on the shores of Lake Constance in Switzerland,
but before Carl was four, the family moved to Basel where
Jung’s paternal grandfather, a respected physician,
became Rector of Basel University.
Jung’s father was a Protestant pastor. His maternal
grandfather was also a theologian but one who had a deep interest
in the occult. His cousin, Hélène Preiswerk,
was a medium and details of her seances were to form part
of Jung’s Doctoral thesis, On the Psychology and Pathology
of So-Called Occult Experiences. This family background of
spiritualism, theology and medicine was to shape Jung’s
future career path and his world view.
Because his mother was rather emotionally unstable, the family
home was far from providing him with a happy relaxed atmosphere.
This drove young Carl within himself, which was not necessarily
a bad thing for this introverted, introspective personality
served him well in adulthood in understanding the minds of
others as he had been driven to understand himself. He was
much more at home in the personal world of dreams, day-dreams
and mystical visions than in the external world of real people.
Jung’s first academic paper was presented to a student
debating society at Basel University. It was called ‘On
the Limits of the Exact Sciences’ and in this he criticized
orthodox science for its inflexible materialism and reductionist
At the start of his professional career Jung worked with
Freud for six years, but then differences emerged in their
approach to analysis which demanded that they go their separate
Jung did share the views of Freud and Adler about the importance
of the unconscious, but his views were rather different. Jung,
like Freud, accepted the importance of the unconscious mind
in shaping the development of the personality but, expanding
on the ideas of Freud, Jung suggested a four-fold division
of functions of the mind.
Jung defined the preconscious and conscious divisions of
the mind in much the same way as Freud, but considered that
the unconscious comprised two separate and distinct components.
He defined the personal unconscious, which includes repressed
wishes that are socially unacceptable and traumatic experiences,
corresponding to the ‘unconscious’ of Freud’s
first analysis of mind function. But then Jung postulated
another division of mind called the collective unconscious.
It was Jung’s belief that we all have a predisposition
to act in well defined ways under a particular set of circumstances.
The reason we do this, he maintained, is because certain intuitive
images are passed from each generation to the next, and even
from one culture to another. These patterns of action or primordial
images appeared in dreams or imaginings and found practical
expression with recurrent themes found in myths, legends and
rituals of many indigenous tribal groups whose spirituality
had not been corrupted by technological advances.
He called these patterns of behaviour archetypes, which he
defined as ‘a priori, inborn forms of ‘intuition’
. . . of perception and apprehension . . . Just as his instincts
compel man to a specifically human mode of existence, so the
archetypes force his ways of perception and apprehension into
specifically human patterns’.
The archetypes correspond to Plato’s Ideas or Forms
that provide us with the templates for our conceptual notions.
The realm in which the Ideas exist is effectively the same
as the collective unconscious or Hegel’s Geist or Sheldrake’s
morphic field, the spiritual medium through which the thoughts
of one individual are transmitted through space and time to
Jung considered that the human propensities for religion
and myth were universal expressions of these archetypes residing
in the collective unconscious. Certain religious icons, like
that of a divine redeemer son, may be found in Babylonian,
Egyptian and even in Hindu and Mayan mythology as well as
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We are clearly shaped by both nature and nurture. Our genes
may provide the predispositions to develop in a particular
way, but our home environment and other external factors that
we encounter on life’s journey will determine the path
our lives take. Modern biological research indicates that
these life events feed back information to the genetic material
in every cell of our bodies.
We cannot alter the structure of our DNA but we can it seems
modify the way it performs through changes in our RNA. It
is in our response to the environment that we exhibit our
ability to resonate with the domain of the collective unconscious.
Jung believed that as we grow older we develop a realization
of our full potential in the state that he called individuation,
achieving the whole spiritually content individual as part
of society and the natural environment. We have achieved our
material goals during the acquisitive phase and found contentment
and meaning in our lives in the inquisitive phase. As ecologist
Thomas Berry said: ‘Nothing is itself without everything
else’. Individuation was the goal of life which Jung
equated with wisdom.
Part of this process of individuation, said Jung, was admitting
to ourselves, if we were male, that we had a gentler, more
emotional, sensitive and compassionate side to our natures
– qualities that we generally associate with our ideal
feminine: Jung called this the anima. The corresponding quality
in women, when they needed to be more aggressive or logical
Jung called the animus – a reflection of how women thought
the ideal man would behave.
Women still occupy a subordinate role in many societies:
it is more difficult for them to be promoted, especially to
top jobs, and they are usually paid significantly less, even
for doing the same job, despite gestures by politicians at
establishing equality with men. We still have a long way to
go to enable women to play a fulfilling role in our society,
to their detriment and ours generally.
Jung’s introversion was probably one reason for the
personality clash that he had with his mentor, Sigmund Freud,
who was certainly more of an extrovert. Another would have
been that Freud, with his scientific training, was always
looking backwards in time in the sense that he always sought
causes and origins of things – a typical reductionist.
Jung, on the other hand, looked forwards in that he was a
dreamer who was more concerned with an individual’s
motives, goals and objectives (working towards individuation)
and he envisaged some ideal unifying spiritual realm amongst
humankind as a whole. The collective unconscious could be
thought of as fulfilling just such a role.
As a spiritually oriented introvert personality, Jung had
many psychic experiences himself and believed that many of
his ideas came from his spirit guide that he called Philemon,
an old man with a white beard and wings of a kingfisher –
the archetype of the wise old man. The winged image recalls
the Faravahar icon central to the Zoroastrian religion.
From these personal encounters, and the experiences described
to him by Hélène Preiswerk, Jung had no doubt
about the validity of psychic visions. When he was 68, Jung
suffered a pulmonary embolism which nearly killed him. It
was in this state that he had a near-death experience, with
the usual concomitants of seeing oneself from afar (or, in
Jung’s case, the whole planet Earth from out in space)
and a certain resentment at being brought back to real existence
again. Happily, he recovered and lived to within a month of
his 86th birthday.
This essay was first published in the Winter 2008 edition
of the Tree of Life magazine - www.treeoflifemagazine.com
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The God Confusion
God, Nature and Science
Over the last four centuries, the prevailing world-view amongst
ordinary people has progressively changed in accord with social
evolution. We can scarcely comprehend the culture shock of
Copernicus’ discovery in the sixteenth century that
Earth was one of a number of planets revolving around the
sun, rather than the centre of the universe. This had been
the Church’s view for well over a millennium and thence
the view of lay people, for the Church was regarded as the
authority on all matters, both spiritual and temporal. In
this sense, the world-view up to that time was a holistic
unity, as it has always been for indigenous peoples and adherents
of some of the eastern religious philosophies: for them, all
the material world is imbued with spirituality, so there are
no separate domains of matter and spirit. From the outset,
Western theology distanced itself from this pagan idea of
deity within the natural world and focused on a transcendent
and wholly inaccessible God.
After Copernicus (1473-1543), the idea of a world ordained
and maintained by God was eroded – first, by the astronomical
discoveries of Galileo and Newton in the seventeenth century,
then by the increasingly impressive man-made structures produced
by the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and finally,
by what seemed to many at the time as the coup de grâce,
the theories of Darwin and Wallace, Lyell and Hutton in biology
and geology in the nineteenth century. The theistic vision
of God immanent in the human world was replaced by the deist
God as Creator and Designer of a mechanical universe operating
to His laws – laws that increasingly were unfolding
to the investigations of scientists. We really did seem to
be uncovering the mind of God.
English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) exhorted scientists
to use the resources that Nature offered for the benefit of
humankind to subdue ‘Nature with all her children, to
bind her to your service and make her your slave [for] the
enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting
of all things possible’. Now, not only was God remote
from humankind but so too was the natural world. This was
where our exploitation of the environment as something other
than ourselves really began: we no longer regarded ourselves
as a part of Nature but rather apart from it. Up to that time,
we had always worked in harmony with the seasonal cycles of
Nature, knowing that by desecrating Nature we endangered ourselves.
Those societies that ignored this fact, like the Easter Islanders,
In its enthusiasm to destroy the pagan god within the natural
world all around us, western religion had to create prophets
who were either in intimate communion with or who were actually
incarnations of the deity, revealing His word to the world.
However, in the age of increasing rationalisation that marked
the Enlightenment, it was unsurprising that many rejected
these wholly subjective revelatory world-views. Some went
even further in their notion of deity maintaining that there
was no longer a role for God at all, as Alister McGrath pointed
out in his book The Twilight of Atheism [Doubleday, 2004].
Thus, in the West, there was now confusion as to which of
three world-views – theism, deism or atheism –
represented the actual state of affairs in the world, that
is, which of these represented reality or truth. And there
was still a fourth option: the nineteenth century biologist,
T.H. Huxley, described as agnostics those who maintained that
we have no way of deciding between these alternatives. As
deism acknowledges a more restricted role for deity than that
of theistic belief, the fundamental choice was really between
theism and atheism – the existence (and possible ongoing
participation) or non-existence of God, with agnosticism representing
the fall-back position if the evidence suggested that no choice
could be made.
From the seventeenth century on, in the material world it
was science that people now looked to as the authority on
truth. But while scientists have discovered a vast amount
of information regarding those patterns of behaviour of the
natural world that we describe as physical laws, we have uncovered
no information that could unequivocally be interpreted as
favouring one of our three theistic options. Though we can
work on hypothetical model systems, we cannot explore these
options rigorously by the methodology of science. We cannot
conduct experiments to re-enact the exact conditions of Creation,
and we cannot say what test would disprove the hypothesis
of God as Creator, Designer or immanent presence.
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The fact that something has not been observed or explained
does not disprove its existence. While we cannot establish
the existence of God with the empirical certainty that, as
scientists, we expect from our experiments, a lower degree
of certainty might still be achievable. In his book, The Coherence
of Theism [Oxford, 1977], the Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne
has used the inductive method of science to suggest that observation
of the natural world and logical reasoning do indeed imply
the existence of a deity. Using the standard theological first
cause, design and morality arguments, Swinburne suggests that
God is as plausible a hypothesis to explain the creation and
apparent design of the universe as the quarks and superstrings
that are used to explain the properties of matter.
Science has told us how many natural systems operate but
not why they should behave in this way: science suggests immediately
preceding physical causes but not philosophical reasons. The
evolutionary theory of Darwin and Wallace provides a convincing
explanation of the mechanism of species development but, despite
its title, Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) says nothing
about the origins of life. The long-standing philosophical
question of ‘why there is something rather than nothing’
which, despite its antiquity, has still been debated in recent
months in the pages of the Catholic magazine The Tablet, is
vacuous. From a secular viewpoint, even if science could tell
us the ‘how’ of creation, it is beyond its remit
to tell us the ‘why’. For the theist, to know
the ‘why’ of Creation would mean getting inside
the mind of God.
There is another issue. We can say nothing with any certainty
about how physical systems originated nearly fourteen billion
years ago from our vantage point within the system –
and that for only a few million years. We can speculate about
how it all began, as Stephen Weinberg did in his book, The
First Three Minutes [Andre Deutch, 1977], but we can know
nothing. Furthermore, as Kurt Gödel said of mathematics
in his Incompleteness Theorem, we cannot define the bounds
or limits of a system unless we can observe it from outside,
which obviously we can never do in the case of the universe.
Although the Big Bang theory of an instant of creation for
the universe some 14 billion years ago is the favoured theory,
it is by no means settled whether this was simply the creation
of our present universe from nothing (and therefore the beginning
of space and time), or whether the event occurred from some
pre-existing eternal and infinite state of being such that
there is an oscillation between creation and annihilation
of the universe, or whether ours is one of many universes,
or even whether the steady-state theory of continuous creation
is at all applicable. The acceleration of the expanding universe
has not been explained, and Fritz Zwicky’s dark matter
and dark energy ideas still have to be fitted into the picture.
There is a confusing array of scientific possibilities, all
of which have implications for various religious systems and,
most especially, for a role for divine participation.
Medieval theologians spent much time and energy trying to
reconcile the world-view presented in their respective scriptures
by revelation with the rationalism of the philosophers of
ancient Greece and Rome. From the time of the Enlightenment,
scripture had to be reconciled too with the empiricism of
science. Since the Enlightenment the world-view represented
by a literal reading of scripture, and especially the Bible,
the core text of western religion, has been generally acknowledged
as incompatible with either rationalism or empiricism. It
is accepted by most theologians that scripture is essentially
either myth and fable conveying age-old traditions of a particular
social group or the moral message of a prophet at a particular
time in human history as to how we should best live our lives
as individuals and as a society. It follows that religions,
like scripture, are man-made social institutions: religion
is the externalised communal expression of emotionally held
beliefs that represent the internalised faith of each adherent.
The very nature of deity is such that its form, too, must
be created out of the human imagination though its existence
can be inferred using the accepted arguments of natural theology,
applying reason to evidence gathered from the five senses,
as suggested by Swinburne.
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The reason versus revelation controversy
The controversy of a role for God and the validity and worth
of scriptural revelation continues to this day. Whatever the
truth of scripture, and however God is conceived, the subject
of the Divine is an emotive topic of relevance to a huge proportion
of the population of the world, particularly in the West.
In recent years, two Oxford academics have come to represent
the opposing views of atheism and theism, respectively, Richard
Dawkins and Alister McGrath, so I shall concentrate on their
writings. Dawkins (b.1941) is a zoologist who, for the past
decade, has held the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding
of Science at Oxford University. McGrath (b.1953) is now Professor
of Historical Theology at Oxford but he trained originally
in chemistry and biophysics. There are others who have added
their voices to the controversy: Peter Atkins, a chemist at
Oxford, supports the Dawkins view; Keith Ward, an Oxford evangelical
Christian, supports McGrath. John Polkinghorne is another
physicist turned Christian evangelist. As a generalisation,
it is the biologists who most ardently believe that Darwinian
theory can explain the emergence of life, the most complex
of natural systems, and that God is therefore unnecessary,
while the physicists, like Fritjof Capra [The Tao of Physics,
Wildwood House, 1975], see connections between the world-view
of quantum physics and the mystical viewpoint of eastern religious
The fact that several of the protagonists lined up against
Dawkins are evangelical Christians does, however, raise another
confusion. McGrath has recently published a three-volume treatise
called A Scientific Theology (T & T Clark, 2001-3) and
a distilled version called The Science of God (T & T Clark,
2004). In the latter (p.25) McGrath claims that ‘A scientific
theology is based on traditional Christian orthodoxy’,
and immediately the theological argument is both limited and
undermined by being linked to Christianity. Those who reject
Christianity are likely to reject the whole theology.
Any realistic theology must embrace at least Judaism and
Islam and, with little extension of the concept of the Divine,
Hinduism as well. One reason why Enlightenment scientists
like Isaac Newton and philosophers like John Locke and J.S.
Mill were anti-Trinitarians was that Christianity was considered
to be the least rationally coherent of any of the major religions.
Religion in general told people what to believe instead of
allowing them to think for themselves. A belief in God therefore
cannot logically be restricted to the Christian viewpoint.
Locke and Newton were deists but in his book The Twilight
of Atheism McGrath implies that they, together with Thomas
Paine and the founding fathers of America were atheists. There
has long been a view in mainstream Christianity that a belief
in God necessarily demands belief in the divinity of Jesus.
The atheistic viewpoint has been presented by Richard Dawkins
in many books over the past two decades, but most comprehensively
in The God Delusion (Bantam/Transworld 2006). In this, and
in two pairs of television programmes – ‘The Root
of All Evil’ and ‘The Enemies of Reason’
– Dawkins presents not only the case against God and
religion but a refutation of all mystical and psychic experiences
on the grounds that they are individual and subjective and
cannot be confirmed by others. Dawkins maintains that all
such experiences are meaningful only to the subject and are
totally meaningless to everyone else. Like the Enlightenment
thinkers above, he supports the idea that people should be
allowed to frame ideas for themselves through reason and not
be given a set of rules and beliefs by an authoritarian religious
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The idea of communal sharing of an individual’s subjective
experience through claimed revelation as a basis for a system
of morality is regarded by Dawkins as nonsensical at best
and, at worst, as in the religious indoctrination of children,
as actually evil. Many atrocities have indeed been committed
in the name of religion, but many other acts of genocide have
been racist obsessions, as with Hitler, or committed overtly
for the acquisition of power by atheists, like Stalin, Mao
or Pol Pot. Evil is not the preserve of religious fanatics
though they may be its most prominent contemporary exemplars.
Dawkins ignores the benefits derived from religion –
a guide to morality for individuals, a cohesive ethical structure
for many societies and a reaching out to the ineffable that
has created so many inspirational works of art. Religion has
provoked great evil, but it has also provided a spiritual
basis for faith for many more millions of ordinary people
and for artisans, and it has continued to exist despite the
passionate predictions of its demise by atheists or rationalists.
Empirical observations by the five senses made coherent by
rational thought that comprises the technique of science have
given us a vast amount of detail about how the world works.
But this is not the only route to knowledge. All knowledge
gained in other ways cannot be dismissed either as worthless
superstition or delusion. We all have, to varying extents,
three routes to knowledge of the world – empiricism,
rationalism and intuition. These can function for each of
us as individuals or we can accept the respected authority
of others. One of the definitions of ‘faith’ is
‘belief in the testimony of another’. This is
how most of us regard the facts of science or the theorems
of mathematics. Even scientists and mathematicians must themselves
have faith in the abilities of their fellow professionals
in other specialist fields.
The essence of the science and religion controversy hinges
on the fact that all statements in mathematics and science
are amenable in principle to verification (or falsification)
by others with sufficient expertise. The difficulty in assessing
the truth of mystical and psychic experiences is that they
are intrinsically subjective and rarely verifiable by others.
There is, however, an increasing body of evidence, some of
it gathered by the standard ‘double-blind’ technique
of science, of the validity of the effectiveness of prayer,
the existence of telepathy and clairvoyance, and even communication
with the disincarnate. There is also a wealth of anecdotal
evidence gathered over many centuries from around the world.
The psychic ability of shamans, prophets and seers has been
a fundamental component of human social evolution in both
secular and religious matters.
Until the rise of the pharmaceutical industry in the twentieth
century, what is now described as alternative or complementary
medicine was the only available method of treatment of illness,
except for dramatic intervention by surgery in extreme cases.
In its earliest days herbal medicine must have developed to
a large extent through ‘trial-and-error’ using
the intuitive knowledge of tribal ‘medicine men’;
such techniques have established many effective treatments
without the use of ‘the scientific method’.
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Pharmaceutical preparations have saved countless lives and
reduced much suffering over the last century – but they
also have their drawbacks; alternative therapies, in the right
hands, are certainly not the ineffectual nonsense that Dawkins
would have us believe. Using the orthodox ‘scientific’
medical practice that Dawkins champions, there were 40,000
errors in drug administration in British hospitals in 2005
alone [National Patient Agency, 10 August 2006]. In America,
one report says that there are approximately 7,000 deaths
each year due to medication errors [www.amcp.org],
while the FDA states that there is at least one death each
day and 1.3 million people injured each year due to medication
errors [www.fda.org]. Adverse drug reactions remain at least
the third or fourth biggest killer in the western world, and
more recent studies suggest they may be the biggest killer
[G. Null et al. Death by Medicine, Nutrition Institute of
America, New York, 2003]. Millions of people in the West turn
to alternative therapies as a last resort and secure successful
treatment when orthodox drug regimens are ineffective or side
effects of allopathic drugs are intolerable.
Complementary medical techniques have a long history of successful
use. Eastern medical practitioners have for many generations
used meridians of the energy they describe as chi to induce
anaesthesia by acupuncture. Dowsers and shamans tune in to
comparable energy fields or ley lines in the Earth in their
practices. All attempts to describe these energy fields in
terms of the four fields of energy described by western science
have so far failed. This does not mean either that fields
of chi do not exist or that a fifth field of nature will not
one day become amenable to our methods of scientific study.
For the present, what can be said with certainty is that this
field is real inasmuch as it has practical applications in
our everyday lives. The conclusion that we should draw from
these results is that much alternative medicine that was initially
based largely on intuition has been shown by traditional practice
to be effective and should not be dismissed simply because
it has often not been verified by scientific methodology.
Alternative or complementary medicine that Dawkins decries
as ‘meaningless superstition’ can in some cases
be a great deal safer and more effective than synthetic drugs,
provided of course it is used by qualified practitioners.
There is also reputable evidence for the validity of clairvoyance
and mediumship going back to the works in the early twentieth
century of Oliver Lodge (1851-1940), Professor of Physics
and Mathematics at Liverpool University, and William Crookes,
F.R.S. (1832-1919), who made pioneering discoveries in both
physics and chemistry. These were not gullible men and they
would certainly have been conscious of the effect that involvement
with psychic phenomena would have on their professional reputations.
There have been numerous books about the afterlife in recent
decades but some of the more recent and academically robust
include those by psychologist Gary Schwartz [The Afterlife
Experiments, Atria, 2002], and by Victor Zammit, formerly
a lawyer with the Supreme Court of New South Wales and High
Court of Australia [A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife,
Ganmell Pty, 1996] – again, a man whose profession demanded
conclusions based on evidence. Psychology professor David
Fontana has also presented an account of the evidence for
continued disincarnate existence in Is There An Afterlife?
[O Books, 2005].
These books relate accounts of information provided by mediums
or clairvoyants that is claimed to come from the world of
the disincarnate. Logically, such claims are in no way different
from those of sages and prophets whose insights have given
us the Neviim of the Judaic Tenakh, the Islamic Qur’an,
the Pali Canon of The Buddha, or The Secret Doctrine of Helena
Blavatsky on which theosophy is founded. All such scripture
is an account of subjective but intuitive experience to which
we subscribe through emotionally held beliefs.
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In The Dawkins Delusion [SPCK, 2007], McGrath criticises Dawkins’
book for its hyperbole and emotional charge. Yet, even when
professional theologians like McGrath write about their subject,
they find it difficult to be objective because their emotionally
held beliefs get in the way of their rational ideas. Dawkins
is criticised for not defining what he means by ‘delusion’.
Now ‘delusion’ is a common enough word in the
English language, but Dawkins gives not one but two definitions
on p.5 of his book. Dawkins is further taken to task for calling
Thomas Aquinas’s ‘Five Ways’ ‘proofs’
of the existence of God. Says McGrath: ‘At no point
does Aquinas speak of these as being ‘proofs’
for God’s existence’. That is simply incorrect.
In Chapter 1 of the concise version of Summa Theologiae edited
by Timothy McDermott [Methuen, 1991] we read the section heading:
‘That there is a God needs proof’ and, in the
text, that ‘There are five ways of proving there is
a God’. McGrath continues: ‘... rather they [the
‘proofs’] are to be seen as a demonstration of
the inner coherence of belief in God’ – just as
Swinburne demonstrated using the inductive methods of science.
To describe such beliefs in mystical or psychic events as
‘delusion’ implies that they are ill-founded which,
as I have explained above, is not necessarily the case. I
have emphasised these points to illustrate my contention that
evangelical Christians can be as biased or prejudiced in their
assessments as fundamentalist atheists.
Although criticised by McGrath, Dawkins’ definition
of faith as ‘blind trust, in the absence of evidence,
even in the teeth of evidence’ is in fact precisely
how many people do accept religious scripture, with the latter
part of the definition applying more perhaps to fundamentalist
religion. In a talk given in Swansea last October, taking
issue with Dawkins, Dr Rowan Williams said that belief in
God was ‘a matter of faith and unconditional’,
and that ‘religion cannot be approached scientifically’.
But this makes religious faith no different from fantasy or
imagination – it is just an emotional feeling. Even
secular faith in our doctors or politicians is at least grounded
in reason. The one feature that gives validity to any belief
is reason. Beliefs that are wholly subjective and without
either rational or empirical support to which others can assent
are indistinguishable from imagination, fantasy or even self-delusion:
intuitive insights can be validated only by practical reason.
The basic argument against fundamentalist religious belief
is precisely that it shows blind trust in certain ideas as
truth even in the face of rational or empirical evidence to
the contrary, just as Dawkins claims.
The healing spirit
Scripture is seen by many, depending on their religious viewpoint,
as the word of God. However, no scripture can logically represent
an unequivocal, unilateral world-view because we are all aware
now of a multitude of different religions in the world, many
of which claim their own unique but mutually incompatible
versions of divine wisdom. Which religion we grow up with
and accept as ‘truth’ is a matter at first of
the geography of our birth, the beliefs of our parents and
the society in which they live. In the global context, we
must accept rationally that no one religion is any truer than
another: they are simply alternative paths to enlightenment
that we choose emotionally to follow.
Surely the divisions that produce such hatred between different
religions will never be healed, nor the seeming irreconcilability
of science and religion, of reason and revelation, be resolved
until reason is accepted as an integral component of faith.
Scientists and theologians alike regard humankind as the highest
pinnacle of the evolutionary process, and the defining characteristic
of humanity is our quality of mind. A rational world-view
indicates that scriptures and the religions based on them
are man-made, however inspired their source. There is ample
anecdotal and scientifically based evidence to indicate the
existence of a universal spiritual domain. To embrace this
cosmic spiritual energy would bring us all once more within
the realm of the natural environment that gave us birth and
of which we have always remained a part, irrespective of our
Science can neither disprove nor prove, in the logical mathematical
sense, the existence of God, but the grandeur of the universe
that inspires the awe and wonder of humankind implies the
existence of an overarching guiding force. Such beliefs suggest
a way through the confusion of religions and are much more
than imagination or fantasy, and certainly not delusions.
This article appeared in The Scientific and Medical Network
Review, No. 96, Spring 2008 and in The Journal of Spirituality
and Paranormal Studies, January 2009 (published in Bloomfield
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The wisdom of the trees
The Wisdom of the Trees
have been on Earth for more than 300 million years.
Throughout human civilization they have been associated
with magic and ritual because it was believed that they
were imbued with spirituality, and spirituality has
always been associated with wisdom. Because trees were
usually much longer-living than humans it was believed
that they retained knowledge from one generation to
the next and, as a result, that they were home to the
spirits of past generations with the wisdom they possessed.
As Karen Armstrong says: ‘Trees, stones and heavenly
bodies were never objects of worship in themselves but
were revered because they were epiphanies of a hidden
force that could be seen powerfully at work in all natural
phenomena, giving people intimations of another, more
potent reality’. Even in our highly rational day-to-day
existence, most of us feel a sense of enhanced spirituality
when walking through woodland.
Trees, shrubs and plants of all kinds have always been admired
as a source of spiritual uplift. The Egyptian pharaohs all
had extensive gardens attached to their palaces and the wealthiest
in Egyptian society had pleasure gardens on a smaller scale.
There were few inhabitants in Roman society who did not have
a garden attached to their home, both for the growing of herbs
and for aesthetic pleasure.
The ancient Greeks had their green spaces too, but mostly
outside of the metropolis because running water was not generally
available to Greek urban areas until after the Roman conquest.
Beautiful gardens and courtyards embellished with fountains
and running water were a feature of the homes of the caliphs
and even public areas in Cordoba and Toledo at their zenith
during the Moorish reign in Al-Andalus.
In the 21st century, gardening remains one of the most popular
of hobbies and city dwellers often prize their window-boxes.
The setting up of National Parks and Country Parks is a symbol
of our increasing awareness of our need for green spaces that
preserve our natural landscape, and psychologists believe
that many of the behavioural problems of children today would
decrease if they spent more time playing in green spaces.
Myth and Wisdom
Trees and shrubs and grasses have thus played a vital role
in the social lives of all early cultures as they do for people
today. The Celts are just one group who venerated trees as
repositories of knowledge and memory and the domicile of spirits.
Only their spiritual leaders, the Druids, were allowed to
harvest the mistletoe that grew symbiotically on the oak,
willow, rowan, maple or hazel; the mistletoe and the oak itself
had special spiritual significance. Mistletoe must have seemed
a particularly magical plant to early pagans as it grew high
up on a tree but had no roots in earth. To kiss a maiden wearing
a crown of mistletoe in her hair would bring good fortune,
and for a couple to kiss under a bunch of mistletoe would
bless their union – a custom we reserve now for Christmas.
old Scandinavian word ‘vid’ means wood or
forest but it has given us a number of words associated
with knowledge or wisdom: witan (Old English: to know),
wissen (German: to know), ‘wits’, ‘wise’
and ‘wisdom’, and there are other examples
of the association of trees and knowledge. The beech
tree has a special claim to be associated with knowledge
and wisdom. The beech together with the yew were the
woods favoured for the creation of ogham sticks and
runes, though the latter more commonly found are made
of more durable metal or stone. The ancient ogham and
runic alphabets were line symbols carved on wood or
stone that were used by the bards for passing secret
messages to one another. They were also used for divination
by Celts, and by Germanic tribes in central Europe and
Scandinavia from at least 1200 BCE. In divination, the
Druids would gather together a selection of ogham sticks
in their hands, ask a question of the spirits, then
cast the sticks or runes on the ground. The Druid would
then make a prognostication depending on what combination
of symbols were uppermost. The ogham sticks and runes
are the European counterpart of the book of I Ching
(‘The Changes’) used from earliest times
in the East and still in use today in China and Japan.
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In Scandinavia and Germany, the different runes, of which
up to three were selected in each throw, were associated with
one of 24 Norse deities. Again, each rune combination or raedan
(which gives us our English words ‘reading’ and
‘riddle’) had to be interpreted by the tribal
seer. The etymology of trees, wood, knowledge and wisdom is
frequently linked from our pagan heritage. In German, the
beech tree is die Buche and the word for book, of the same
origin, is der Buch, while a letter of the alphabet is der
Buchstabe, literally ‘beech sticks’, indicating
their ogham background. In modern Swedish the word bok can
mean either beech tree or book.
Specific trees that are native to certain geographical areas
often become associated with local myth, folklore and spirituality.
The baobab tree is venerated in Africa as the Tree of Life
because its massive trunk can hold many litres of water –
enough to sustain a small village for some days – so
providing a very practical spiritual image.
North American Indians refer to trees as ‘our standing
brothers and sisters’. The monkey-puzzle tree, Araucaria,
is so venerated by a native tribe in Chile that they take
their name, Pehuenche, from the tree (pehuen – monkey-puzzle;
che – people). The tree is used as a food source for
the tribe with bread made from ground seeds, while the resin
is used medicinally – another Tree of Life!
Other trees have significance in other contemporary religions.
The banyan tree, one of the Ficus (fig) genera, is linked
with Brahma, creator of the universe in the sacred Hindu scriptures,
the Vedas and Upanishads. The banyan is therefore the Tree
of Knowledge. Before effigies of the Buddha started to appear
in the 2nd century CE, the Buddha was represented by a wheel
(indicating the unity of all that is) or a pipal tree. The
pipal and banyan are revered throughout Asia, as is the ginkgo
After the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, every
living thing within several miles of the epicentre was destroyed
– except for four ginkgo trees, the closest less than
a mile away from the epicentre, that survived and began to
blossom again in the following spring. All four trees still
flourish today and, not surprisingly, the ginkgo is therefore
regarded by the Japanese people as a symbol of hope.
Since the time of the ancient Greeks at least the longevity,
the girth and dark density of the yew has been associated
with death and transfiguration into immortal soul. The yew
tree, Taxus, was associated with the pagan season of Samhain,
when the gates between the worlds of the living and the dead
were open. This is why so many graveyards to the present day
have yew trees growing within them. It also probably has something
to do with the fact that most parts of the tree are very poisonous.
Because of their longevity through successive human generations,
yew trees are also associated with the continuity of the life
process. Samhain occurs at the end of October and beginning
of November, to mark the beginning of winter: it therefore
includes Halloween which we still celebrate with ghostly images.
The juniper tree was regarded by Germanic pagan tribes as
a watchful sentinel, no doubt because of its erect habit.
It was an intermediary between the mortal and spirit world.
The modern German word for a juniper, der Wacholder, reflects
this (German: wachen – to be awake, alert).
The tree may be viewed as an allegory of the human individual
– the trunk represents the individuated self, the roots
are the ancestors and their traditions from which the self
develops, the branches are the connections we make with the
physical and spiritual world, and the leaves that are shed
each autumn to nourish the ground beneath are the thoughts
and ideas that we disperse to nourish humankind as a whole.
All trees are truly Trees of Life and purveyors of wisdom.
This article was published in The Tree of Life Magazine in
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A World Without Music
A World without Music
Imagine a world without music or poetry or fiction of any
kind. This sounds like some kind of Orwellian nightmare, but
such a world was partially created in Afghanistan under the
Taliban as this extremist Islamic group forbade the playing
of music of any kind. There are many scientists today who
regard science or even their own specialty
subject as omnicompetent and able to provide all meaningful
paths to knowledge, so that activities like poetry are quite
useless. Poetry books may just as well be burned along with
books on religion as such texts only provide ‘entertaining
self-deception’. We are told that while ‘poetry
titillates and theology obfuscates, science liberates’.
Some scientists seem to counter their insecurity by portraying
their subject as unintelligible to anybody other than specialists
in the same field: this is especially true of physics which
now involves much high-powered mathematics.
The publicity surrounding the four television programmes
by Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins has highlighted what the
English physicist and novelist C.P. Snow called The Two Cultures.
In two pairs of programmes Dawkins has taken issue first with
then with alternative or complementary medicine as being vacuous.
He sees anything outside of scientific rationalism as fantasy
or nonsensical superstition. Because of his eloquence and
easy style of presentation, Dawkins has become something of
a figurehead for this philosophical movement, but he is by
no means its only representative or even the most extreme.
A fellow Oxford don, chemistry professor Peter Atkins, who
is quoted above, takes an even more aggressive stance towards
frivolous activities like poetry.
But science is not omnipotent: it does not provide the only
route to meaningful knowledge. There is a deeper wisdom that
touches the spirit and this can only be provided by mystical
experience and an awareness of the aesthetic dimension of
human existence. Our ability to reason is far above that of
other animals, largely because of our sophisticated language
skills, but it is the humanities that comprise the defining
characteristic of being human.
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Deryck Cooke in his book The Language of Music described
music as ‘the most articulate language of the unconscious
. . . the expression of man’s deepest self’. Cooke
believed that music reflected qualities of other arts –
of architecture in its formal pseudo-mathematical structure,
of literature in its expression of emotion, and of painting
in the representation of physical objects. These qualities
are reflected in music as it evolved from the medieval period
to the present-day.
The music of the medieval, baroque and classical periods
prized formal structure: sonata form, the string quartet and
the symphony all developed during the 18th century classical
period with composers such as Joseph Haydn and W.A. Mozart.
The Romantic period in music, as in literature, focused on
the expression of emotion. The use of minor keys became a
feature of music intended to convey sadness or nostalgia.
The Impressionists in music, like Claude Debussy and Maurice
Ravel, were so-called because their output generated the same
kind of aesthetic atmosphere as their artistic counterparts,
Claude Monet and his contemporaries – a nebulous mysticism.
Debussy and Ravel are to music what Monet and Sisley were
to painting. In the 20th century,
with the arrival of serialism, structure or form again became
dominant, but the emotionalism expressed in the previous century
in music refused to die out and tonal romantic compositions
are still among the most popular today.
Music, like poetry, reflects the ambience of the society
in which it is created. The Romantic poets expressed their
unease at what they saw as the cold precision of Enlightenment
rationality and of the graft and grime of the Industrial Revolution.
European music of the 19th century is full of the warmth of
emotional feeling of the Romantic movement. Much English music
of the 20th century is redolent of the soft and verdant countryside
that inspired its composition, often expressed through lush
strings and gentle woodwind. Russian music of the same period
however is characteristically
harsh, often dissonant, and full of percussion and blaring
brass, reflecting the ethos of the cold and brutal Communist
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The Emotional Element
Music is surely the most expressive of the creative arts
in conveying human emotion. Appreciation of painting is instantaneous,
though that is not to say that other layers of meaning do
not emerge with subsequent study. The enjoyment of poetry
is an extended experience but is essentially solitary. Music
provides extended aesthetic pleasure that can be shared socially
with others and to a greater extent than poetry or
The realm of music provides perhaps the most intense and
universal source of spiritual joy, and recent research suggests
that it may well improve cognitive skill too. For both the
composition and the appreciation of music involve the emotions
and the intellect of composer and listener. Music represents
soul-to-soul communion between composer and listener. As conductor
and pianist Daniel Barenboim commented in his first Reith
Lecture: ‘Music can and should become something that
is used not only to escape from the world but rather to understand
Moved by the Spirit
Many creative artists, composers and writers believe that
the creative process, though expressed by the individual,
has its source in the spiritual domain. Austrian composer
Gustav Mahler was one who saw the process of composition as
part of this mystical interaction. When speaking of his Second
Symphony, popularly known as The Resurrection, he said: ‘Creative
activity and the genesis of a work are mystical from start
to finish, since one acts unconsciously, as if prompted from
outside, and then one can hardly conceive how the result has
come into being’ and ‘For me, the conception of
the work never involved the laying down of a process, but
at the most of a feeling ...The parallelism between life and
music may be deeper and wider than we are yet in a position
In an interview on U.S. TV, the Russian born composer Igor
Stravinsky said of his composition of The Rite of Spring:
‘I heard, and I wrote what I heard. I was a vessel through
which Le Sacre [de Printemps] passed’. These composers
believe that such creative inspiration derives from an external
spiritual source and that they tap into that spiritual domain
in their compositions. Cellist Steven Isserlis similarly sees
a divine origin for inspired composition. In an interview
with Oliver Condy for the BBC’s Music Magazine, Isserlis
was asked about his preparation for performance as to whether
or not he listened to other recorded performances. Indicating
his preference to go back to the manuscripts themselves Isserlis
commented: ‘Why get your instruction from a vicar when
you have a chance to talk to God?’Many writers feel
this same sense of inspiration derived from the spiritual
realm. Looking over what has been written, we may not be able
to trace a logical path: the ideas have simply materialized
from air, as it were, channelled through mind and body, just
as Mahler expressed above. Music has been used since earliest
times as an integral part of many tribal and folk traditions,
such as religious ceremonies and gatherings for rites of passage.
Such ceremonies frequently involve dance as well, as another
expression of spiritual communion.
In other spheres, we can touch the soul of the universe through
our sense of awe and wonder at the beauty and grandeur of
Nature, and through the fulfilment of human loving. It is
not necessary to have visions of the divine in order to become
aware of aconnection with our spirituality. It is not the
dogma and ritual of organized religion that provide the spiritual
dimension of holistic living but this experience and expression
of innate spirituality for which music provides the most universal
Many healers use music as an accompaniment to their healing;
dentists use it to soothe their patients, and there are surgeons
who claim that it is beneficial to the smooth running of operations
in theatre; it is especially good for patients if surgery
is to be performed under local anaesthetic or acupuncture.
For the rest of us, once the ear is
attuned to music, it can be the most powerful agent for reducing
stress and producing relaxation and joy.
Immersion in the aesthetic world of music, poetry, painting,
or natural beauty allowsus, for a while, to become independent
of the physical world that rules our everyday lives to seek
and hopefully find joy in a personal psychic dimension of
our own. We can do as the mystics of Eastern religious philosophy
encourage us to do and lose ourselves in
our own meditative paradise within the material world –
to enter our own mystical castle as St Teresa and contemporary
mystic Carolyn Myss would say.
Science has come to present a view that only matter is real;
the numinous is subjective and meaningless to others. But
the mystical is as much uniquely characteristic of what it
is to be human as the rationality of philosophy and science.
There is no material stuff called culture or pleasure or joy,
but our life would be unfulfilled without them. Though other
animals can indicate clearly whether they are contented or
stressed, aesthetic experiences are uniquely human aspects
of a holistic life. Religious ideologies can be divisive,
but music speaks to all nations and creeds in an international
language. A world without music and the humanities is cold
and arid, whatever knowledge rationality gives us and whatever
material benefits our scientific and technical skills may
provide for us.
Published in Kindred Spirit magazine, May/June 2008 and Tree
of Life magazine, Summer 2008
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Envisioning the Holistic: (Lampeter Oct 08)
In the West, holism is a new philosophy, a new way of thinking.
Elsewhere, it is very old – it is the philosophy of
indigenous ‘primitive’ societies and of societies
in the East.
It has been the practice of these cultures to live in harmony
with one another and with their environment, as far as possible.
In the West (and particularly in Christianity, which has
been our predominant religion in the last several centuries)
we have focused on individualism (salvation through Jesus),
and the acquisition of knowledge (through science) and material
goods (Industrial Revolution).
The whole western philosophy is individualistic, materialistic
We judge a person’s success by their material possessions
– what Erich Fromm described as the having mode rather
than being [Fromm].
In the East, traditionally, it is societal cohesion and cooperation
that are paramount. There is much greater respect for family
responsibilities and for the wisdom of the elderly.
The transformation of Ladakh corrupted by western capitalism
as described by Helena Norberg-Hodge is a prime example of
this different philosophy of life [Norberg-Hodge]
Holism implies relationships. Modern technology is encouraging
people to have virtual electronic relationships rather than
Western religion is dominated by scriptures that tell people
what to think and how to behave.
In the West, the deity is outside the natural world, outside
humankind, and can only be accessed through the good offices
of priests and rabbis and imams.
In eastern and indigenous religions, people are encouraged
to find their own way spiritually, guided by the words of
their shamans and sages like The Buddha, Lao-Tzu and Confucius
or tribal elders.
Irrespective of whether or not the religion embraces a view
of deity, there is respect for the natural world (ahimsa)
of which humankind is a part.
In the West, Man and God and Nature are separate;
with indigenous peoples they are one.
It is this holistic vision we need to recapture – less
religion and more spirituality: religion is divisive; spirituality
is potentially unifying.
Medieval theologians tried to reconcile the rational knowledge
of Greek philosophers, often inspired by Eastern wisdom, with
the knowledge claimed by the respective prophets through revelation,
each presenting different versions of ‘truth’.
Religion had to defend the revelatory claims of scripture
Then in the Renaissance and still to the present day, religion
has encountered a new threat from the rise of a new form of
rationalism in science.
It is not only religion that has taken us away from holism.
The philosophers of the Enlightenment and the rise of science
also took us down this path away from holism.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) in The Advancement of Learning
(1605) and Novum Organum (1620) suggested studying complex
objects in Nature one part at a time with the tacit assumption
that they would perform in the same way in the complete object
The idea of mutual interaction of components was not considered.
The purpose was to “subdue Nature with all her children,
to bind her to your service and make her your slave [for]
the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting
of all things possible” [Quinton, Vickers].
This reductionist approach may apply to William Paley’s
pocket-watch on the heath, and to many other inanimate objects,
but it most certainly does not apply to living organisms,
and least so to humans.
The human body is not just a machine.
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Human creativity in music and literature, social interaction,
law-making, and the economic structure of nations, to quote
just a few examples, cannot be reduced to particle physics.
We can distinguish between those aspects of brain function
that can in some sense be evaluated quantitatively –
by IQ tests for example – and which we describe as functions
of mind. This is the physical mind, located in the brain during
Then there are those brain functions that deal with ethics
and morality, imagination, intuition, insight, aesthetic appreciation,
and such, that many describe as soul: this is the spiritual
The emotional aspect of individual behaviour can perhaps
be regarded as the intermediary between the rational mind
and the spiritual soul:
Physical self (body) – rational self (mind) –
emotional self – spiritual self (soul)
It is not just an assembly of individual cells that composes
a symphony or falls in love; it is a human being, an organism
possessed of continual creativity.
Living cells continuously interact and thereby create complexity
and give rise to the emergence of new properties [Capra].
We are creatures composed of and immersed in a sea of cosmic
spiritual, e.m. and quantum energy and our cells are therefore
continuously interacting with this energy.
We should not be surprised if some people fall ill from the
influence of man-made e.m. fields.
The structure of our DNA is determined through conception,
but its function is continually influenced throughout our
lives through the operation of RNA [Lipton].
Darwinian evolution provides the ‘nature’ influence
on our personality while the Lamarckian mechanism of inheritance
of acquired characteristics contributes to the ‘nurture’
component that shapes our personality through the nature of
our environment and that of our parents.
Instead of arguing about the religious validity of our evolutionary
origins of where we came from we need to look forward and
envision what we can be in a new cooperative, spiritual, holistic
world view developing fully the enormous resource we have
of human potential.
Reductionism takes no account of human being and becoming.
Galileo (1564-1642) and Newton (1642-1727) and Laplace (1749-1827)
described the natural world in terms of rules or immutable
laws that all objects followed – determinism. [Gillispie;
There are certainly regularities or laws of Nature; but much
that happens is intrinsically unpredictable.
The world is not entirely deterministic, for if it were there
would be no human creativity or free will.
This creativity means that we have a responsibility in shaping
our own lives and those of others.
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The universe is organised chaos – it contains both order
But events in the universe are not totally random (as many
life scientists believe), for this would demand that they
were totally independent (while the world is increasingly
and that the conditions under which they occur should never
change (whereas evolution is all about change and we are surrounded
by change in every aspect of our lives).
There are laws or regularities behind many seemingly random
natural numbers or events, like pi (p = 3.14159), or phi (F
= 1.618 033 = ½(1+v5)), or in the law of radioactive
decay. These correspond to Plato’s world of Forms. Where
there is pattern, we have a relationship [Davies, Thirring].
So, in the universe, we have order and chaos blended together.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650): Discourse on the Method of the
Sciences (1637); Meditations (1641). By suggesting that the
human body is essentially a material object (res extensa)
with a controlling mind or soul (res cogitans) he created
the philosophies of materialism and dualism which have influenced
science to the present day [Descartes].
The interaction between mind and body was not understood
and therefore ignored – ‘science’ and medicine
dealt only with the material body; the spiritual mind was
the province of religion.
These philosophies - revelation, individualism, reductionism,
determinism, materialism, dualism - have dominated religion
and science, medicine and education for the intervening centuries
since they were proposed and have turned the West away from
The result is the emergence over these last four centuries
of two world views: Religion and Science, each contributing
to the current non-holistic world-view.
But there is only one God, one humanity, one truth.
Religion deals with different aspects of human life than
science, but it cannot conflict with it.
Religion and science must find compatible world views.
Religion must take account of science, but equally science
must have regard for the spiritual dimension of humanity and
not dismiss it as nonsensical superstition.
Scientism is unacceptable – the view that the only truth
is scientific truth.
We must envision a new holistic world-view that provides a
spiritual basis for our existence that currently is provided
by religion. This is the challenge we must overcome to envision
a new holistic world view. As the 20th century German theologian
Dorothee Sölle [1929-2003] said: “Religion in the
third millennium will either be mystical or dead.”
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The Holistic Way forward
This unifying spiritual base already exists. In science it
is called the quantum field or zero point field. We also have
gravitational fields and e.m. fields, all representing ‘action
at a distance’.
Religions too have their spiritual view of the divine: The
Holy Ghost, Ruach, Dhat, Atman, Universal Mind, the Nature
spirits of paganism or Shinto .
Establishment science has not accepted the existence of spiritual
or psychic phenomena described as psi, describing them as
‘paranormal’ or ‘supernatural’ where
in fact they are both normal and natural.
Science and medicine like religion must have faith in things
unseen, as researchers in quantum physics do already.
Solid material objects are really full of space – not
empty space but space filled with fields of energy. All of
matter interacts by ‘action at a distance’, that
is, things that don’t come into contact interact with
one another. This makes the idea that each of us interacts
with everyone else on the planet through universal love, conveyed
on a cosmic energy field, easier to comprehend.
Establishment or allopathic medicine treats the body by reductionist
principles, one organ or system at a time, where complementary
medicine deals holistically with the whole individual.
Training in medicine needs to be reformed to take account
of the new holistic paradigm in science and what we now know
about the interaction of mind and body.
Having a positive vision of one’s body and health promotes
healing [Benson, Dossey, Dyer, Hamilton, Hay].
Those at the top of the hierarchies in science and medicine
are too comfortable to change unless the public at large demand
such a change.
There are successful holistic healing techniques that science,
in the existing paradigm, is not equipped to handle.
The meridians or nadis that acupuncturists have worked with
successfully for thousands of years have no counterpart in
The same is true of the chakras and koshas that are at the
core of spiritual healing.
The nadis of the body have their counterpart in the ley lines
of the Earth that dowsers can detect.
Formal acceptance of holistic concepts by science and medicine
should only enhance their status, certainly not erode them.
At present, the ‘health service’ is actually a
sickness service, almost entirely devoted to treatment of
illness rather than its prevention.
People turn to complementary therapies despite the costs involved
because of the failings of orthodox medicine to prove effective
treatment for their ailments and the unpleasant and sometimes
fatal side-effects of medication.
As the costs of naturopathic medicines are usually considerably
less than that of pharmaceuticals, and certainly less costly
and less traumatic than surgery, both state and patients would
Patients are much more involved in their treatment in complementary
therapy than in allopathic medicine. Complementary medicine
works best when it is accompanied by self-belief.
The more books and other promotional material there are on
the dangers of abusing the body with drugs like tobacco and
alcohol, and pharmaceutical drugs, the more likely we are
to inform and persuade people of the dangers and to get those
in positions of authority to envision a new holistic paradigm.
We have to encourage scientists and medical authorities to
be more open minded and accept that we must embrace a holistic
world-view that gets away from the reductionism, determinism,
materialism, dualism and the past four centuries.
Our health system is now a commercial enterprise, the success
of which is judged by quantity rather than quality.
Our educational system in schools is based on cramming in
facts rather than teaching values, to secure top places in
competitive ‘league tables’.
Our economic system is based on material growth and the welfare
of those in the system or served by the system is of secondary
importance. Profit should be incidental; it is the wellbeing
of the employees, customers and clients that should be paramount.
Happiness, the goal of human existence, consists of the pursuit
of pleasure and health, the avoidance of pain and sickness,
and the achievement of fulfilment of our goals in life, to
be at ease with our place in the world and the meaning of
our existence – which involves the mental and spiritual
as much as the physical.
To improve our wellbeing as individuals and achieve a holistic
vision of ourselves in the world - what Jung called individuation
and what G.W.F. Hegel called Selbstgewusstsein - will require
metanoia, self-transformation, to be what we truly are and
to fulfil our potential [Fordham, Tacey, Stevens].
We need to encourage a sense of oneness with divinity and
with all of creation, a belief in what Whitehead and Hartshorne
called Process Theology, that we are a part of the cosmic
creative energy, that there is a fragment of divinity within
all of us as soul, and that our every thought and action contributes
to this cosmic energy [Freeman, Whitehead].
We have just begun to embark upon the stage of evolution
that Teilhard de Chardin called noogenesis, where we each
embrace a universal consciousness [Chardin].
Until we can envision this of ourselves as individuals, and
encourage others to do the same, we will not be able to change
the bureaucratic systems that rule our society.
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Jeff Astley, David Brown and Ann Loades (eds), Problems in
Theology 4: Science
and Religion – A selection of key readings, T &
T Clark, 2004.
Peter Barrett, Science and Theology since Copernicus, T &
T Clark, 2004.
Mario Beauregard & Denyse O’Leary, The Spiritual
Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the
existence of the soul, HarperCollins, New York, 2007.
Herbert Benson, Timeless Healing, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, Wildwood House, London,
1975; The Web of Life,
Anchor-Doubleday, New York, 1996; The Hidden Connections,
Pierre Teihard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, Collins,
Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma, Penguin, London, 2006.
Rene Descartes, Meditations & Discourse on the Method,
Larry Dossey, Healing Words: The power of prayer and the practice
of medicine, Harper-
Collins, 1994; Healing Beyond the Body, Shambala Publications,
Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intention, Hay House, 2005.
David Fontana, Is There An Afterlife? A comprehensive overview
of the evidence,
O Books, Winchester, 2005.
Frieda Fordham, An Introduction to Jung’s Philosophy,
Penguin, 3rd edn 1966.
Anthony Freeman, God in Us, SCM Press, 1993.
Erich Fromm, To Have or To Be? Jonathan Cape, London, 1978.
Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace, 1749-1827:
A life in exact science,
Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1997.
James Gleik, Isaac Newton, HarperCollins, London, 2004.
Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe: How consciousness creates
the material world,
David Hamilton, It’s the Thought That Counts, Hay House,
Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life, Hay House, 1984; The Power
Is Within You,
Hay House, 1991.
Esther and Jerry Hicks, The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent,
Hay House, 2006.
Howard Jones, The Thoughtful Guide to God, O Books, Winchester,
The Tao of Holism, O Books, Winchester, 2008.
Stuart A. Kauffman, Reinventing the Sacred: A new view of
science, reason and religion,
Basic Books, 2008.
Ervin Laszlo, The Creative Cosmos: A unified view of matter,
life and mind, Floris Books,
Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief, Cygnus Books, 2005.
Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures, Century, London, 1991.
A.R. Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science, Oxford,
John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation, SPCK, London, 1988;
Reason and Reality,
SPCK, London, 1991.
Anthony Quinton, Francis Bacon, Oxford, 1980.
Rupert Sheldrake, A New Science of Life, Blond and Briggs,
The Presence of the Past, William Collins, London, 1988.
Anthony Stevens, Jung, Oxford, 1994.
David Tacey, How To Read Jung, Granta, London, 2006.
Walter Thirring, Cosmic Impressions: Traces of God in the
laws of nature, Molden Verlag,
2004 (in German); English edn. Templeton Foundation Press,
Brian Vickers (ed.), Francis Bacon: The major works, Oxford,
A.N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, Macmillan, New York,
This was presented as a lecture as part of the Body MA Course
at University of Wales Trinity-St David's, Lampeter.
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Our roots as individuals are grounded in our family history.
As a social group, we look to the myths and traditions of
the tribe, the stories of long-departed ancestors told around
the camp fire of an evening, or family anecdotes shared in
an intimate home setting. The scriptures of East and West
are often tales that were transmitted orally by the elders
of the tribe, the sages and shamans, through many generations
before they were written down for posterity to form a record
of traditions that were thought worth preserving.
The handing down of tribal traditions from one generation
to the next plays a part in shaping the current society as
it is, and this sense of continuity with the past is an essential
component of a stable society. It also establishes a bond
between the material world of the present and the spiritual
world of the past and it is as important today as it ever
has been that we should be aware of our history – it
is part of the wholeness of our lives.
The word ‘myth’ comes from the Greek word mythos
meaning, as it does in English, an ancient imaginary story
with symbolic meaning for a group of people. It is closely
related to the terms ‘mystery’ (Greek: mysterion)
and ‘mystical’, from the Greek mystikos, an initiate.
The myths and traditions are what bind a social group, whether
it is a band of religious adherents or a national or tribal
Tradition is important whether it is viewed religiously or
secularly. There are many who believe that one key issue underlying
many of the problems in society today is that we have rejected
the myths of scripture as untenable or irrelevant without
having defined and absorbed a new world-view, a ‘new
story’, of universal spirituality and wholeness to take
There are some myths that are universal, like the tales of
Cinderella, the downtrodden and exploited servant, or Faust,
an appropriate symbol of our times as a man who seeks power
or pleasure at the expense of his soul. There are other tales
that are strongly representative of a national culture, like
the Mabinogion of Wales and the Kalevala of Finland. The word
‘mabinogion’ is derived from the Welsh word mab,
meaning son, and it is translated as ‘tales of a boy
hero’ or simply ‘the bard’s tales’.
The Mabinogion is a collection of eleven tales that were transmitted
orally through the ages until they were preserved in written
form in medieval times and in the native tongue as the White
Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and the Red Book of Hergest
(1375-1425). They remained little known, even in Wales, until
they were translated into English in the mid-19th century
by Lady Charlotte Guest. Like many myths, they are allegorical
tales of good and evil, of love, loyalty, trust, betrayal,
The Kalevala were compiled in the 19th century by Elias Lönnrot
(1804-1884), who was a district health officer in the eastern
region of Finland. They were a great source of inspiration
to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and several of his tone
poems have tales from the Kalevala as their theme. The set
of thirty-two poems were published in their first edition
in 1835 from poems spoken or sung to Lönnrot or one of
his contemporaries during the field trips they made to rural
areas over the course of fifteen years. A second edition of
the Kalevala was published in 1849 containing fifty poems.
The rhythm or metre of the poems is trochaic, as in Longfellow’s
poem Hiawatha, which is also a tale of a native people. There
is much internal rhyme and alliteration in the poetry, similar
to that found in Welsh poetry where it is called cynghanedd.
The word ‘Kalevala’ means ‘land of Kaleva’
or ‘land of heroes’. The suffix ‘-la’
indicates place in Finnish. In Welsh, place is indicated by
the suffix ‘-fa’: for example, a doctor is meddyg
and their surgery is meddygfa. There are similar linguistic
developments in different cultures that are not directly related
to one another suggesting some deeper underlying spiritual
connection – what psychologist Carl Jung called archetypes
transmitted via the collective unconscious.
Other secular myths with strong national connections are the
tales of the journeying of Odysseus after the fall of Troy,
presented by Homer in the Greek epic poem, the Odyssey, while
the Norse and Germanic people have their Niebelungenlied that
inspired the creation of The Ring tetralogy from Richard Wagner.
Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams, to mention but two,
collected traditional folk songs from different parts of England
and created much inspiring music from them. The 19th century
was a time of nationalistic pride during which other European
composers – Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok, for example
– were also inspired to preserve traditional melodies
of the homeland before they were extinguished by our increasingly
materialistic society. The chanting of psalms and singing
of hymns have a similar function in the Jewish or Christian
religions – a bonding within the group as well as reinforcing
a link with the past. One wonders how much of the search for
hedonistic pleasures we see so often in our young people derives
from the sense of rootlessness generated by dysfunctional
or broken families.
Myth, scripture and religion may be human in origin but they
constitute an essential and ongoing part of the cultural development
of humankind and cohesion of tribes and nations. Those who
decry religion as ‘worthless superstition’ ignore
this essential cohesive element. Myth has its source in humankind’s
creative imagination inspired by spiritual insight and intuition.
It presents moral tales and encourages a world view beyond
that of sensory experience: this is one of the distinguishing
features of humankind. Myths and folk tales are not created
to provide us just with an escape from reality; they represent
humankind’s attempt to live our lives more fully and
give us new insights into the meaning of our earthly existence.
In our materialistic existence we have lost sight of this
spiritual dimension of holistic living: the material and the
spiritual should be one, as it is still for native peoples.
We cannot live fulfilling lives only on the material plane
and myths transport us to other times and places, often to
confront creatures that represent ideas of beauty, fear, evil,
loyalty, betrayal or other expressions of human emotions.
Fairy tales and nursery rhymes are traditional myths that
we tell to children to fire their imaginations and often to
teach a moral message. The recent popularity of such fantasy
tales as The Lord of the Rings, the Tales of Narnia and Harry
Potter testify to the excitement children feel for such stories.
As Sue Palmer points out in her book Toxic Childhood, ‘they’re
ideal for introducing children to the rhythms of language
and tuning their ears to language sounds’. As nursery
rhymes are usually sung, she stresses the ‘huge importance
of music and song in developing children’s social and
communication skills’. The reciting or singing of myths
to children by parents or the elders of a tribe perpetuates
their traditions and brings children into the social context
of the whole community, and it is this sense of community,
of belonging – the holistic ethos – that is so
lacking in society today.
First published in Carmarthen U3A Musings 2
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The material brain, the human soul and the
Today we can describe the human body at several different
levels of detail. We can talk of the whole person –
body, mind and spirit – and their relationship with
other human beings on the planet. We can describe the individual
in terms of the functioning or dysfunction of the organs of
their bodies. We can go into still further detail of the biochemistry
of the molecules that comprise these organs. Then, at the
most fundamental level of description we have at present,
we can talk about the constituents of those molecules, their
energies and interactions.
Science has made the progress that it has by applying this
principle of reductionism – looking at parts of the
world in ever greater detail. As a result, science and its
application in technology have given us the quality of life
that most of us in the West are able to enjoy today. We have
come to rely on science as the bedrock of our rational understanding
of the way the world works. But, reductionism has its limitations,
and rarely more so than with regard to the human body. At
a social and economic level, humankind is increasingly inter-related
and in those spheres of activity the complementary holistic
approach is essential. The holistic approach is equally important
when we consider medical problems of the individual.
Body, mind and spirit are not three separately functioning
parts of a human being. Physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists
such as Larry Dossey, Jeffrey Schwartz and Herbert Benson
have shown how profoundly interactive are the material brain
and the non-material mind. Not only does mind to some extent
emerge from brain function, but mind can also have a physiological
effect on the structure of the brain. Neurophysiologists Mario
Beauregard and Andrew Newberg have shown that spiritual experiences
produce measurable physiological effects and structural changes
in the brain. Dossey has also shown how prayer and envisaging
well-being towards other individuals can have beneficial effects
on the health of both the sender and receiver. Conversely,
living with an attitude of malevolence or anger does harm
to the health of that individual and certainly no benefit
Psychologist Charles Tart, biologist Rupert Sheldrake, and
several others have shown how thoughts and images can be received
by some individuals having been transmitted from elsewhere
through time and space. This is a fine example of the archetypes
or universal images envisaged by psychologist C.J. Jung as
capable of being transmitted through the spiritual domain
of the collective unconscious. Jung was focussing primarily
on the religious symbols that recur in different civilizations
at various times in human development, even though these social
groups had no direct contact with each other. Sheldrake envisaged
what he described as a morphic field as the medium for this
non-material communication between individuals, that could
even involve animals under some conditions. But the concept
of ideas being imposed on some kind of time-independent universal
consciousness is identical in these two approaches.
Science and its application in medicine have made huge strides
in understanding the functioning of the human body at a materialist
level. But materialism too must be tempered with idealism
? the recognition that we are not automatons or even, ultimately,
machines. The aesthetic or spiritual dimension is an integral
part of the functioning of most individuals, be it as religious
observance or appreciation of music and poetry or of the natural
world, or experience of one of the kinds of psychic communication.
Until relatively recently, the mind and consciousness have
been almost excluded from scientific study because they were
considered outside the remit of the subject – they were
non-material and subjective entities and therefore unlikely
to meet the requirements of universal repeated testing and
observation, or even quantitative measurement.
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To a great extent, it is the findings of those scientists
I mentioned above that have started to change attitudes within
mainstream science. Neuroplasticity of brain structure and
function has been experimentally demonstrated by several neurophysiologists.
Now, brain function can conveniently be described as being
broadly of two kinds. There is the material and mortal function,
described by mind, which records and interprets the input
of the five senses. This function can be measured and, to
some extent, can be quantified by IQ tests, speed in performing
calculations, faculty for learning languages or playing a
musical instrument, and so forth. But there is also another
aspect of brain function that is spiritual, and which empirical
evidence suggests is immortal. These different functions of
mind have been described by the American psychologist Howard
Gardner as different kinds of intelligence. This capacity
for aesthetic appreciation is the human quality that many
would describe as soul. As yet, no way has been found to quantify
this faculty so it remains a qualitative function of the brain
in the living human that persists in the discarnate individual.
Although MRI scans can tell us which part of the brain is
responding to, say, a symphony by Mozart or Mahler, we have
no way of telling why any particular individual should get
more pleasure from one or the other. A holistic description
of human beings, individually or collectively, must therefore
embrace body, mind and spirit.
One of the challenges of the last few decades has been to
give an account of the concepts of consciousness and soul
that would stand up to scientific scrutiny. Spiritual experience
is only one of a number of events described as psychic phenomena
that have come to be studied in a science of their own, parapsychology.
Sir Alister Hardy, a biologist who set up a research unit
at the University of Oxford to collect data on spiritual experiences,
set out a classification of such experiences in his book,
The Spiritual Nature of Man. The most scientifically tested
of these are telepathy, clairvoyance, pre- and post-cognition,
psychokinesis and spiritual or psychic healing. The last of
these has been extensively explored in the clinical setting
by Larry Dossey. In general though, the biologists have been
very reluctant to recognize these human abilities: rather,
biologists were content to dismiss them as imaginary or fraudulent
or untestable, even though the empirical observations have
often been reported by people of undisputed scientific eminence
for over a century.
It is to the physicists that we must turn to find scientific
support for the notion of soul or spirit. According to American
physicist Henry Stapp, the same theoretical concepts can be
applied to interpret the activity of mind. Quantum physics
is a century old now and it is in this specialism that the
theoretical basis for the notions of an individual and collective
spiritual energy can be found.
From the early 19th century on, we thought we had found the
ultimate constituents of matter in the atoms described by
John Dalton. A century later, we found that atoms could be
broken up into still smaller components – the proton,
electron and neutron that together make up the basic structure
of an atom. For a time, these were thought to be the ultimate
particles of matter: but now we know about quarks that make
up the proton and neutron. It was also found that we needed
some kind of energetic glue to hold all these subatomic particles
together, in addition to the so-called strong force that held
protons and neutrons together in the core or nucleus of an
atom. This ‘glue’ is called the zero point energy
field. It takes its name from the fact that it is the only
energy left in an atom at the zero point of temperature (zero
Kelvin or –273°C).
The zero point field (zpf) penetrates every atom of matter
in the universe – solid, liquid or gas. It is in our
bodies and in the air we breathe. It is the fundamental wave
energy component of de Broglie’s wave–particle
duality and of Einstein’s mass–energy relationship.
At root, the objects of the whole material world are simply
our images of the coherence of packets of the zpf. It is the
world the eastern mystics describe as maya. A famous Irish
philosopher of the Enlightenment, Bishop George Berkeley,
went so far as to say that the only knowledge we had of the
existence of the material world was though our perception
of it. These ideas were presented to the human mind by what
Berkeley called God but which our 21st century scientist might
describe as the universal spiritual energy field.
Shortly before Berkeley wrote his seminal thesis, the English
Enlightenment philosopher John Locke described our sensory
interpretation of the world as comprising a ‘nominal
essence’ of every object (those qualities we observe
to give objects their names), but behind which there was a
‘real essence’ that gave rise to those qualities
but which was forever inaccessible to the rational mind. The
German philosopher Immanuel Kant called these same qualities,
respectively, the ‘phenomenal’ and ‘noumenal’
aspects of our material world.
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Most significantly, the zpf is the medium through which the
neurons of the central nervous system can function. The nerve
cells of the brain and spinal cord send their messages mostly
by electrons travelling along the length of a nerve cell,
jumping over the gap (synapse) at the end (sometimes accompanied
by the release of chemicals) and on to the next neuron. Everywhere
that we have moving electrons (actually, they never stand
still!), we have the zpf. Our brains are full of the stuff.
This is accompanied by another energy field created by the
streams of electrons called the electromagnetic energy field.
Now, philosophers have debated and agonised for four centuries
over how the lump of cells representing the matter of the
brain could generate the non-material entity we call mind
or thought or consciousness. Modern neurophysiology has it
that it is the passage of the electrons through a neuron,
or more likely a whole network of neurons, that produces an
idea. It is somewhat comparable to the parenchymal cells of
the gut joining forces to produce what we describe as digestion.
Give them a morsel of food and they will get to work on it.
The only ‘outside’ influence is that from time
to time some chemical messengers called hormones will direct
operations. It is the individual chemical reactions comprising
metabolism that we collectively describe as ‘digestion’.
It is the name we give to the function of an organ (or collection
of organs, since liver, kidneys, etc. are all involved). Similarly,
‘mind’ is the name we give to the function of
the brain at a material level.
‘Thinking’ then, generating ideas, is just what
neural cells do when electrons pass through them. ‘Consciousness’
is our awareness of these ideas in the brain both during internal
processes and in interpreting the input from the five senses.
The brain function we describe as the physical (but non-material)
mind is the result of the passage of streams of electrons
through a collection of neurons. These ideas or mental images
can be triggered by sensory input, or they can be triggered
by other neural pathways (association of ideas), or they can
simply appear spontaneously – what we mean when we say
‘it just popped into my mind’. ‘Memory’
refers to the collection of neural pathways already established
and available for recall from the unconscious database.
These neural processes can be observed by others through
the technique of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Measurement
of brain wave activity using EEGs indicates that spiritual
people, shamans, mystics, mediums and others who are able
to generate deep meditative states for themselves display
significantly more theta wave activity in the 4-7 Hz range
than those of us who spend most of our time in the active
beta wave state at 12-30 Hz. So much for the physical mind
that essentially dies with the mortal death of the body.
We can understand what triggers ideas when we have sensory
input. These impressions give us our mental representations
of the physical world. If an idea arises spontaneously, we
have no need to account for a ‘cause’. Electrons
are coursing through the neurons of the central nervous system
continuously while we are alive, so it would not be surprising
if one piece of circuitry here and there represented an idea.
If some networks are already in contact with one another,
we can see where one idea might lead to another.
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What we must consider is that particularly important instance
of neural function when we create an original thought or decide
to search for one of these neural pathways buried in the memory
of the unconscious mind or, indeed, make any decision. If
we are to avoid ‘infinite regress’, we must account
for the original thought in a succession of neural processes
and our mental recognition and interpretation of it. The triggering
of that original idea, even if recalled from memory, must
itself also come from a neural process, and this is the process
we call Will. The American philosopher-psychologist William
James described it as an ‘act of volition’. Living
some fifty years before James, the German philosopher Arthur
Schopenhauer called this mental driving force der Wille,
The zpf that is associated with the human body is inextinguishable:
it is infinite and eternal. This is the component of mind
that we describe as the immortal soul. It accompanies us in
every moment of our life on Earth and continues on in the
discarnate spirit after what we regard materially as death.
It is the collective unconscious described by Jung as source
of the archetypes, and there are many other comparable descriptions.
Rupert Sheldrake calls it the morphic field; for Ervin Laszlo
it is the akashic field of eastern mysticism. It is the spiritual
God of western religion and the Brahman or the Infinite Mind
of the East. It is the World Soul or Communal Soul to which
we turn for guidance and inspiration. It is that spiritual
Source with which we commune in prayer and of which our individual
souls are parts. It is the representation of that cosmic energy
that spiritual healers draw on to treat their patients, and
through which other psychic events are transmitted. It is
the spiritual realm with which mediums commune and which holds
the spiritual images of the discarnate. To live in harmony
with this cosmic spirit, with constant awareness of its presence,
is a more holistic attitude than many on the planet display
at present. It is also an attitude we surely must cultivate
if we are to save planet Earth from annihilation.
As early as 400 years BCE, the Greek philosopher Plato suggested
in his Theory of Forms or Ideas that all our learning comes
to us from a previous incarnation. There are spiritual templates
for the ideas that we call upon in mortal life. Now we know
that we have to learn to walk and talk, to learn the information
that we need to pass examinations, and so on, in each lifetime.
But Plato was thinking beyond this. It is our spiritual learning
that progresses with each incarnation, learning that we take
from the spiritual to the mortal plane. This is what the eastern
mystics call karma – the actions of each soul that must
be learned through life, or lives, on Earth, to be refined
in the afterlife.
When we create original ideas, especially if these are particularly
constructive and creative, our zpf communes with the cosmic
zpf – tunes into it, if you will. The greater the harmony
or resonance between our individual zpf (as soul) and the
cosmic soul, the more inspired and creative the thought is
likely to be. All original works of art, poetry, literature
or music come into being in this way. Of course, the material
brain still has to learn the practical techniques of creating
works of art, or of writing music, or lines of poetry. That
same mystical insight has created works of scripture and great
mathematical and scientific theories. Scientists and mathematicians
still have to learn the fundamentals of their subject through
the material brain, but it is the creative leaps that come
in moments of cosmic inspiration. In the field of parapsychology,
the psychic or medium captures the images of another person
or place by tuning in to this cosmic spiritual zpf energy.
As energy has no directionality of time associated with it,
the medium is capable of tuning in to events of past, present
We can all tune into this cosmic spirit at any time under
the direction of Will but mediums and those who can enter
deep meditative states can reach into higher levels of spiritual
Will or Volition involves focusing our own neurons and their
associated soul so that they resonate with cosmic soul. An
act of Will is a conscious gathering together of neural pathways
that are there already, and bringing these unconscious pathways
into the conscious mind. Not every trivial decision in our
lives necessitates our tuning into cosmic soul. Many habitual
actions, like driving or knitting or walking, have become
so ingrained in our mental processes that only the appropriate
mental stimulus is needed to provoke the relevant pathways
of the physical brain into action. Here, the material functions
of mind can operate quite successfully without the input of
cosmic energy. But communication with the cosmic spirit is
an essential mechanism of psychic, spiritual, numinous or
mystical experience or inspired creativity for that aspect
of human activity we describe as soul. It gives us our holistic
spiritual inter-connectedness with every other human soul
on the planet, with Earth itself, and with those who have
moved on to the higher spiritual planes of the discarnate.
Published in the Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies,
Connecticut, USA, July 2011
Revised text: De Numine, magazine of the Alister Hardy Society,
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Living in a Spiritual World
The name of Roger Sperry will probably not be as familiar
to readers as that of, say, Isaac Newton or even Richard Dawkins.
But, in the 1960s, Sperry pioneered a quiet revolution in
the science of the mind, a revolution that has created ripples
in philosophy, psychology and parapsychology.
Sperry’s idea was simple – that consciousness,
or conscious awareness, was simply an innate property of the
brain, more specifically, of the neurons or nerve cells that
make up the tissue of the brain. Science has thrived for four
centuries working on a principle of materialism, that is,
that interactions between the solid objects of the world are
the only things scientists can study, and the results of those
studies depend on how objects interact with the five senses.
Now, for the first time, Sperry suggested that mind or consciousness
could also produce physical effects – on the brain itself
and on the rest of the human body. Other psychologists have
since extended Sperry’s studies to show that the mind
can also affect other human minds (through telepathy and other
psychic phenomena), and even have effects on animals, on plants
and, under certain circumstances, on inanimate objects. This
idea of an all-pervading spiritual energy is described philosophically
as idealism. It corresponds to the eastern mystical vision
of the world as maya.
If this sounds nonsensical, let me say that science has discovered
the existence of a new kind of energy field through which
these kinds of interactions probably occur. This was unknown
in the 19th century and its existence has only emerged since
the development of 20th century quantum physics. Psychologists,
and even more especially philosophers, have agonised for centuries
over how a non-material entity could possibly interact with
a physical or material one, in particular, how could mind
emerge from or interact with the brain? But Newton and Michael
Faraday showed centuries ago that invisible gravitational
and electromagnetic ‘fields’ could interact with
matter, like planets and magnets. So the idea that this new
field, called the quantum field or zero point field, could
interact with human brains as minds was not really that bizarre.
Mind functions by the passage of tiny bits of atoms called
electrons running along the neurons and jumping over the gaps
(synapses) between them. This happens continuously in a live
human body. These neural pathways we call thoughts or ideas.
When we learn something, a new neural pathway gets established.
This stays dormant in the (unconscious) mind as memory until
we want to recall it. The act of recall is brought about by
acts of volition or (free) will. Will can be triggered by
some other neural pathway (association of ideas), or by some
sensory input (something we see or hear), or can arise by
chance (it just ‘pops into our minds’ as we say).
When mind interacts with the external quantum field, especially
in creation of works of art, literature or music, we often
call this ‘inspiration’. If it warns us of forthcoming
(sometimes dangerous) events we call it ‘intuition’.
If we experience a feeling of transcending our everyday world,
perhaps in meditative states and perhaps accompanied by some
religious vision, we call it ‘mystical insight’.
This function of ‘mind’ many people describe as
Newton and scientists up to the 20th century thought that
the workings of the natural world could all eventually be
expressed neatly by mathematical equations. Scientists describe
this world-view as determinism. But the fundamental bits of
atoms have very different properties to those of the Newtonian
world. They operate a policy of indeterminism – it is
a world of statistical probabilities rather than mathematical
certainties. This indeterminism is an intrinsic property of
the electrons whizzing every moment through the neurons in
Science has made such good progress by selecting bits of
the natural world to study one at a time – a philosophy
of reductionism. Now science is moving more into a policy
of seeing how all the bits interact and work together –
holism. So mind and matter are not separate entities but are
interconnected parts of this wonderful world we live in. Let
us hope that Sperry is enjoying the advances his spiritual
vision has created.
Published in Labyrinth magazine, June/July 2011
Back to the top
NDEs, OBEs and the Divine Spirit: A critique
of the views of Professor Michael Marsh
Michael Marsh, now a professor of theology at Oxford University
but formerly an academic medical researcher, has written a
book on these psychic experiences that essentially interprets
them in a materialistic way as ‘brain-state phenomena’
rather than as ‘glimpses of immortality’. Indeed,
his interpretation of the data that Sir Alister Hardy used
as the basis of his book The Spiritual Nature of Man (1979)
leads Marsh to the conclusion (De Numine No. 50, Spring 2011)
that they ‘represent anomalous phenomenology engineered
as subjects’ brains recover from immediately preceding
insults . . . merely offering this-worldly bizarreness and
banality’. From this it is obvious that Professor Marsh
does not believe NDEs or OBEs give us any information whatever
about the afterlife or divine spirit, however envisaged.
Dr Penny Sartori has already given us a highly critical but
insightful review (De Numine No.51, Autumn 2011) of Professor
Marsh’s book1. Unlike Dr Sartori or Professor Marsh
I have only a limited background in medicine so my comments
are derived from my experience in physical sciences and philosophy;
but I think there are still other points that can be made
critical of Marsh’s dismissal of NDEs and OBEs as any
kind of spiritual experience. Furthermore, my comments relate
only to Marsh’s AHS Open Day Address given in November
2010 and précised in the De Numine article, though
this summarises the conclusions reached in the book.
First, even though he worked from accounts of NDEs rather
than interviews with patients who have experienced them, Marsh
is quite incorrect in stating that NDEs ‘are due to
mental activity taking place as brains rapidly recover during
the waking process’ after traumatic experiences. Many
books on these experiences relate events and detailed conversations
that occur throughout, say, serious operations where the patient
is in a totally unconscious state as assessed by medical criteria
for several hours. They certainly do not relate only to ‘minutes
or seconds . . . only when subjects are awakening’ from
unconsciousness: ‘memories are not made when subjects
are ‘unconscious’’ says Marsh – this
is patently incorrect. Prospective hospital research by Prof
Bruce Greyson, Pim Van Lommel, Schwaninger et al, Sam Parnia
and Penny Sartori – although in its infancy - is highlighting
that NDEs and OBEs can no longer be dismissed. The Sartori
book The Near-Death Experiences of Hospitalized Intensive
Care Patients: A Five Year Clinical Study published by Edwin
Mellen Press 2008, showed that some patients were clearly
accessing information and reporting things that were occurring
during a time when they were deeply unconscious.
Cardiologist Pim van Lommel2 cites examples of patients pronounced
clinically dead, some for five minutes or more before being
resuscitated. They are often able to give detailed accounts
of the measures taken during that time to revive them. Cardiologist
Michael Sabom has described similar experiences3. As this
is the key point in Marsh’s arguments and the premise
is fundamentally flawed, the whole thesis constructed on this
basis is without foundation. In recent years, Michael Tymn4
and Lisa Williams5 have given us mediumistic accounts of an
afterlife whose characteristics correspond closely to those
described by NDE subjects in this book.
Marsh claims: ‘critical review of NDE language reveals
its bizarreness and banality’. In fact, the language
used in describing NDE states after a medical trauma is usually
a layperson’s account of medical procedures and equipment.
Furthermore, many NDEs and OBEs reveal details of a spiritual
state that often embraces visions of God or avatars or, in
secular matters, precognition or clairvoyance of often traumatic
events presently occurring, or even in the future, to close
relatives. Marsh says they are ‘mere trivialities, worldly
memories – from Hollywood or Sunday school.’ As
children as young as four or five can experience NDEs with
some of the characteristics of adult experiences6,7, this
spiritual devaluation of the experience is also quite unfounded.
Most persons are spiritually uplifted by an NDE and live the
rest of their lives in a more holistic way, so the experience
is far from trivial.
There are documented cases from reliable subjects, often
verified by other onlookers of integrity which provide further
evidence that the events related are often of great significance.
Swedenborg’s clairvoyance of a fire in Stockholm when
he was giving a dinner party many miles away was confirmed
by the other party guests and is a well-known example. There
are documented records of people who were intending to travel
on the Titanic’s fateful voyage who made written accounts
in diaries of premonitions of impending disaster.
Marsh compares the brain state during these experiences as
being like the ‘double-aspect consciousness common to
lucid dreaming and epilepsy’. My son suffered from epilepsy
for several years and I have for many years been subject to
lucid dreaming. The experiences that I and my son have had
were nothing like those reported by NDE or OBE subjects. This
is confirmed by van Lommel’s study. There is no ‘double-aspect
consciousness’ in NDEs: in anaesthesia or death, the
conscious mind is stilled; only the unconscious soul is active.
Furthermore, in OBEs or shared NDEs, subjects are usually
fully conscious but may still experience some of these phenomena.
Professor Marsh refers to Dr. Raymond Moody’s classic
book Life After Life (1975) but not to Glimpses of Eternity8
that describes shared death experiences. Here, groups of people
who are physically close, and usually but not always emotionally
close, to a dying individual, but who are all in a fully wide-awake
state, individually report some of the phenomena described
by NDE or OBE subjects.
Back to the top
‘NDE phenomenology is culturally-determined, historically
and geographically’ says Marsh: why should this count
against their validity as spiritual experiences? Would we
not expect souls in the spiritual domain, especially if only
temporarily, to relate to Jesus or Mary or Muhammad or even
to pagan gods and goddesses as they did in earthly life?
Marsh’s desire to replace what he calls ‘Hardy’s
panentheism’ interpretation of these phenomena by ‘a
more robust footing in the ‘Otherness’ of God,
envisioned as triune hypostatic inter-relationships of Father,
Son and Spirit’ does nothing to support his case.
As indicated by several authors of books on the subject, while
there are certainly culturally-influenced aspects of NDEs,
there are certain features that are remarkably uniform between
adherents of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths in the
west and the mystical religious philosophies of the east.
‘The relationality of the Godhead to creation is exhibited
through the dual nature of Jesus who is at once intrinsic
to the Triune Godhead, but also incarnate Man, thereby bridging
humanity and creation to the divine’, says Marsh. Surely
any role for Jesus in interpretation of these phenomena is
an irrelevance to Jews, Islamists, Hindus and atheists who
all report having similar NDEs. There is nothing whatever
specifically Christian about NDEs or OBEs. The argument is
confounded rather than illuminated by any interpretation in
terms of a uniquely Christian viewpoint.
Humanity and the divine are bridged far more closely by the
concept of a panentheistic divine cosmic spirit in which,
as souls, we all participate than by invoking Jesus as intermediary.
Hardy’s process theology, in which human souls are regarded
as part of the divine cosmic spirit – a concept so disparaged
by Marsh – represents a far more coherent interpretation
of these and other psychic events. Furthermore, it is one
that is more compatible with modern theoretical science than
with a biblical viewpoint which even many theologians now
accept is largely allegorical man-made myth.
Professor Marsh has concentrated exclusively on NDEs and
OBEs in his thesis. However, these are only one or two aspects
of psychic phenomena. Certainly, because subjects claim to
see ‘Jesus in white robes’ or ‘the face
of God’ during the events, this cannot by itself be
regarded as a ‘glimpse of immortality.’ What they
do indicate clearly is that it is possible for people to undergo
mental experiences that are inexplicable on the materialist
world view of pre-20th century science.
To get a more balanced view of the phenomena we must surely
take into account other psychic events in fully alert subjects,
particularly those who claim to have some form of spiritual
psychic vision. The consistency between the reports of an
afterlife provided by mediums4,5 and that of NDEs and OBEs
is surely significant – it may not constitute proof,
but it is certainly very persuasive evidence, for those who
are open-minded and not ingrained materialists, of an eternal
spiritual domain to which we are all apprenticed in mortal
Both Sabom and van Lommel, as well as Mark Fox9, and Peter
and Elizabeth Fenwick10 interpret NDEs and OBEs as having
far more spiritual significance than Marsh attributes to them.
The state of being during NDEs and OBEs cannot be satisfactorily
explained in materialist physiological terms: it is certainly
not confined to a few moments before full consciousness and
its effects on the subjects are anything but bizarre and banal.
The outstanding success of some spiritual healers, especially
those who have no medical training themselves but claim to
have medically qualified spirit guides11, is surely further
evidence of a continuing existence of human souls in the afterlife,
functioning as spiritual guides.
1 Michael N. Marsh, Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences,
Oxford University Press, 2010.
2 Pim van Lommel, Consciousness Beyond Life, HarperCollins,
3 Michael B. Sabom, Recollections of Death, Corgi, 1982.
4 Michael Tymn, The Articulate Dead: They brought the spirit
world alive, Galde Press, Lakeville, Minnesota, 2008.
5 Lisa Williams, The Survival of the Soul, Hay House, 2011.
6 M. Morse and P. Perry, Closer to the Light, Villard Books,
New York, 1990.
7 P.M.H. Atwater, The New Children and Near-Death Experiences,
Bear and Co., Rochester, VT, 2003.
8 Raymond Moody, Glimpses of Eternity: An investigation into
shared death experiences, Rider, 2010.
9 Mark Fox, Religion, Spirituality and the Near-Death Experience,
10 Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick, The Truth in the Light: Investigation
of over 300 near-death experiences, Berkley Books, New York,
11 See the books by J. Bernard Hutton on the work of medium
George Chapman working through ophthalmic surgeon Mr Wiliam
Lang (Healing Hands, Virgin, 1995) and medium Mrs Leah Doctors
working through a 15th century Chinese surgeon called Dr.
Fu Lin Chang (The Healing Power, Leslie Frewin, 1975).
Published in De Numine, magazine of the Alister Hardy Society,
No. 52, Spring 2012
Back to the top
A New Look at the Philosophy of Education
On education by examination
Something seems to have gone awry with the education system
in Britain. Once, our schools were the envy of the world:
now, we have industrial employers bemoaning the fact that
too many applicants lack fundamental skills in numeracy, literacy
and communication. Certainly, grammatical and punctuation
errors abound on radio and television. Those in universities
responsible for selecting entrants to degree courses say they
have difficulty in assessing the quality of applicants for
places because even the top grades at A-level are not an adequate
criterion for differentiation of students. So keen are universities
to accept overseas students that undergraduates are entering
on courses without even a basic knowledge of English. The
Royal Society of Chemistry has even gone so far as to suggest
that Examination Boards be fined heavily if they make their
examination papers in chemistry too easy in order to secure
higher grades for their Board, particularly by minimizing
the amount of mathematics required. It is generally agreed
by teachers and psychologists in the developed world that
the education of children is failing badly. Journalist Nicholas
Pyke reports that ‘targets set in 1997 have never yet
been hit’ for some Key Stages.
Yet we have had successive governments in Britain telling
us that GCSE and A-level pass rates and grades have improved
by some two to three percent each year for the past two decades.
Over the same period, Examination Boards have insisted that
standards of test papers have not fallen. If there have indeed
been improvements of 2–3% in the skills of candidates
from state schools for more than twenty years — giving
an increase in skill of well over 50% overall – this
does not reflect well on the standards attained by those of
us who qualified half a century ago.
One factor that undoubtedly contributes to ‘better’
results is that pupils are now drilled for quite specific
examination questions where previously they were taught many
different topics within a subject, from which examination
questions would be extracted. Today, examination questions
are often very similar, year after year, so that rote learning
of certain topics has a much greater chance of producing correct
answers, though not necessarily contributing to a better understanding
of, or enthusiasm for, the subject as a whole. The policy
at present is not so much the education of the child by stimulating
the excitement of learning but rather the attainment of examination
results that will push the school up the league tables. As
a result, many children are just simply bored with the tedium
of school learning, especially since lessons only rarely come
close to the excitement of DVDs and computer graphics in their
Furthermore, fifty years go pupils sat a maximum of 8 ‘O’-levels.
Now, sitting 13 GCSEs is not uncommon for the best students.
With a school day that is no longer, how can subject material
increase by more than 50% without a decrease in detailed knowledge
in each subject. Yet standards haven’t fallen, the government
says: that is not what teachers and employers say! Even the
BBC, once regarded as a paragon of model English, daily displays
slovenly use of our language.
There is now also an educational philosophy that no pupil
should ‘fail’ — hence we have results that
indicate that almost everyone passes everything. But children
do need to be given a fair assessment of their abilities so
that they can come to terms with their shortcomings in some
areas and try to address them. There will be some subjects
in which they are strong and others in which they are weak.
To heap praise continually on children even when they are
academically weak does them no service at all and simply leads
to confusion. If they know that they are not making the required
effort, but still ‘passing’ examinations, there
is little incentive to make greater effort. If they are making
their best efforts but understanding still eludes them, then
the teacher has to adopt a new approach or the pupil’s
efforts must be directed elsewhere — to regard such
pupils as successful undermines the whole purpose of the examinations.
The philosophy that no child must ever fail is misguided.
We all ‘fail’ at times in life, but we learn from
failure as much as we do from success, if not more since it
can send us in a more rewarding direction. One could adopt
a viewpoint that says that there really is no such thing as
failure — only different degrees of success. But is
this attitude really helpful to students getting grades F
and U in GCSE subjects, even if few do?
The ultimate purpose of schooling is to prepare children for
life, to gain satisfaction and happiness for themselves and
those with whom they interact. Knowing there are fields in
which they are unlikely to succeed provides an opportunity
for them to redirect their efforts as early as possible into
areas where they will be rewarded with success and fulfilment.
Achieving happiness and fulfilment is surely the ultimate
goal. Psychologists tell us that happiness stems from achieving
pleasure, avoiding pain and, most of all, from securing fulfilment.
Back to the top
Putting subjects in perspective
It is important that all students should have some understanding
of science, and Foundation Level examinations in mathematics
and science have been introduced for this purpose. However,
these syllabuses really are very fundamental (!) and much
of the material formerly comprising the Intermediate Level
syllabus has now been omitted. In particular, many of the
topics involving serious mathematical calculations have now
disappeared from the sciences. Even more basic material –
like simultaneous and quadratic equations in algebra, compound
interest calculations in arithmetic, all trigonometry and
circle geometry – have now been discarded from Foundation
mathematics. Nevertheless, students can still attain the lowest
of the top three grades that are regarded as indicating a
satisfactory level of basic competence in the subjects. Having
taught these subjects for the past forty years, I would disagree.
I do not think that such Foundation Level passes indicate
any meaningful grasp whatsoever of the relevant subjects and
it is confusing, both for students and prospective employers,
to suggest that candidates have a basic grasp of the subjects
concerned, either in mathematics or science.
In mathematics and, more particularly, in science, with which
I am most familiar, there has also been increasing emphasis
on making the subjects more ‘relevant’ to applications
in industry. Of course, we must train up-coming students in
the skills they need to take their place in industry, or to
teach the next generation. However, one consequence of this
has been that the history of the subjects has almost completely
disappeared from the syllabus. The history of science is a
fundamental part of the development of the subject. Science
seems no longer to be taught as the evolution of constantly
changing ideas about how the world works but as a body of
incontrovertible facts that must be learnt (rather than necessarily
understood) in order to pass examinations. In the extreme
attitude of scientism, science is regarded as the only means
we have of discovering facts about the natural world. One
result of this is that lay people are confused when different
scientific ‘experts’ give conflicting advice;
this has led to a diminishing of respect for science and those
who practice it — arising from a lack of understanding
of the true nature of the subject. There is no time to dwell
on the philosophy of science in the race to cram in the requisite
body of facts so that examination results can be seen to be
making continual progress. Indeed, a case could be made for
adding philosophy as a subject in itself, were there not an
already overcrowded school curriculum.
If time were spent on teaching something of the history and
philosophy of science, this would give students a feeling
for how important the sciences have been, and still are, in
the development of western society and why they were studying
the subject, quite apart from gaining qualifications. The
time taken away from cramming facts would be amply repaid
in having happier and better motivated pupils. It is so much
easier to learn facts if there are pegs on which to hang the
information: learning facts in isolation is very difficult.
This would also provide an opportunity to put into perspective
the current media clamour about how technology has ruined
the planet. It would make students aware that science and
technology have huge sociological, economic and environmental
impacts that cannot always be foreseen at the inception or
implementation of a new idea or discovery. These have to be
taken into consideration subsequently as far as possible in
exploring the industrial development of any scientific idea.
It should also give students a greater sense of excitement
about science and the contribution they could make to human
social history, an excitement they could hardly get from mere
assimilation of ‘useful’ facts.
Back to the top
The beginnings of enlightenment
But all of this is at secondary and tertiary level education.
Let us start at the beginning. The place to begin inculcating
the fundamental principles of an ecologically sustainable
holistic world-view embracing science, the humanities and
spirituality is within primary education. The Italian educationalist,
Maria Montessori (1870-1952), had the foresight to realize
that the process of shaping young minds to be happy and successful
contributors to society should begin in primary school: ‘We
shall walk together on this path of life. For all things are
part of the universe, and are connected with each other to
form one whole unity’. What a wonderful message to convey
to little five or six year olds as they begin their exploration
of the wonders of the world!
Children must learn even at primary level that learning requires
effort, that not all rewards are immediate, that resources
must be shared, and that the needs of others must not be ignored.
The idea of instant gratification has now become such a common
attitude within society, for both children and adults, that
everyone expects their wishes will be immediately granted.
This is one of the reasons for the ever increasing amount
of personal debt in the population – they have been
taught at school, and thence as adults, to expect that they
will get whatever they want with the minimum of effort, and
that education itself is a business for which they will have
to pay dearly if they go on to tertiary education. It is now
accepted that graduates will start their working lives with
several tens of thousands of pounds or dollars of debt that
will have to be paid off, if they can find a job: and having
a degree is no guarantee of employment.
There is also an increasing tendency for denial of responsibility.
Why should parents bother about the nurture of their children?
— many feel that that is the school’s and the
state’s job. Why bother about dieting? — any illness
will be sorted out by modern medicine. Deferred or delayed
gratification and acceptance of social responsibility are
such important principles to inculcate into children from
the very earliest age if we want them to become responsible
members of adult society. These are the kinds of principles
prevalent in Montessori and other private schools, but only
in the best of state-run schools.
Montessori schools, and schools at secondary level run along
lines originally set out by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), both
stress the spiritual aspect of life and the societal role
of the children as adults. These principles are allowed to
operate alongside the practical and rational learning, but
always there is encouragement for children to be enthusiastic
about the material they are learning. Contented children have
insatiable curiosity and a thirst for knowledge, so they need
only to be guided along the right channels to learn in a safe
and peaceful environment.
Reading is a skill that is finding increasing emphasis in
schools once again, and it is long overdue. Reading stimulates
the imagination by the creation of mental pictures from words
in black and white on a page and as such it helps develop
those all important neural networks in the brain. However,
reading has become too passive and too slow a pastime for
many children today, indoctrinated by television and videos
with their constantly changing images. Children who read fluently
typically show better performance in all of their subjects.
Fortunately, after a few decades when it was abandoned at
the behest of educational theorists, the phonics system of
reading is now back in primary schools (where children learn
to read by learning the sound of individual letters). Learning
to read and speak a second language at primary level would
broaden this skill even further.
||While learning to walk and
talk comes naturally, learning to read and write are applied
skills that require focused attention. The effort required
by the child is itself an emotionally rewarding process
and teaches them that prolonged effort may be needed to
fulfil some of life’s achievements — deferred
gratification again. The debate as to whether language
is a product of nature or nurture continues, but recent
research suggests that the basic ability for language
is genetically programmed. Nevertheless, the onus is on
parents, teachers and the students themselves to make
the most of any ability that they have through inheritance:
nature lays the foundations; nurture builds up the fabric
Back to the top
Setting the right examples
Alongside instruction in school, children need right examples
to follow from parents at home. Children will take little
notice of admonishments not to take drugs unless the home
environment supports this, with parents setting the example.
An increasingly overweight adult population with higher levels
of diabetes is hardly the kind of role model we want our children
to follow. There is too much overindulgence and irresponsibility
amongst adults in living hedonistically; we cannot then expect
overstretched medical resources to sort out the problems that
will undoubtedly occur. This is not the philosophy of life
to teach to our children.
Prerequisites for learning are a healthy diet that avoids
junk food and drugs, adequate exercise and sleep, judicious
use of television and computers for entertainment and learning,
time spent with parents and other family adults in reading
and talking, and adopting a relaxed lifestyle and a holistic
moral outlook that avoids any specific religious indoctrination.
Many children are being encouraged to live the kind of frantic
lifestyle of their parents. Lots of activity to use up that
bountiful energy in childhood, and the opening up of as many
experiences as possible are great, as long as there are times
too for quiet reading, talking and reflection.
Television ‘soaps’ present a highly damaging example
of human behaviour. A large proportion of the exchanges in
these episodes are aggressive with the combatants continually
shouting and swearing at one another. We could be spending
our time in much more constructive and meaningful activities
that would contribute to our happiness and well-being. As
Sue Palmer says in her book Toxic Childhood: ‘It would
help a lot if television — the window through which
we now all see the world — could reflect the advantages
of healthy social interaction, rather than concentrating so
much attention on dysfunctional relationships and social breakdown.’
As she says, family breakdown has now become so commonplace
that it has become a form of entertainment. If children are
led to believe that this is the way differences of opinion
are resolved in the adult world, we cannot be surprised if
they are aggressive to teachers and fellow pupils.
However much the liberals may scream ‘censorship’,
it is difficult to see who else but the government has the
power and the duty to influence this if we do not want to
encourage a nation of illiterate delinquent adolescents. The
majority of pupils just want to get on with their learning
in peace, but those few who are led astray by these poor role
models can disrupt a class or even a whole school. Discipline
in schools has long since deteriorated to the point where
some pupils now feel they need to carry weapons for their
own protection. From being one of the most satisfying of careers,
teaching has now become one of the most stressful.
With no form of sanctions available to discipline children,
and faced for political reasons with mixed-ability classes,
teachers have to spend a disproportionate amount of time with
recalcitrant pupils at the expense of teaching the orderly
majority. Everybody suffers; so we cannot be surprised if
educational standards in state schools decline, whatever the
examination results indicate. Treating people differently
because they are different is not elitism. It is equality
of opportunity that is required, not necessarily equality
The issue of school discipline is but one of the social problems
that governments in Britain and America have scarcely begun
to address. With adults too often having to work away from
home for long periods, or commute great distances, there is
insufficient time or energy left for parents to spend with
children. It is up to employers to see that their staff live,
say, within 15 miles of the workplace so that the employees
are in a better mental state to do their work and can have
more time and energy for family and recreation. In rural areas
of course, this might not be possible. With increased marital
breakup there are often fewer older family members able to
baby-sit or tell stories, both fictional and factual from
their earlier life, to the children. Story-telling, family
or ancestral tales, and tribal myths are such an important
part of making a growing child feel part of the society in
which they live. They accustom a child to the vocabulary and
grammar of the language as well as immersing them in the practices
of their own or other families or social groups. Including
classes on relationships would be a valuable part of every
secondary school curriculum.
Back to the top
Small is more effective
Many smaller village primary schools in Britain have been
closed and moderately sized secondary schools amalgamated.
The theory has been that bigger schools allow more opportunities
for a diversity of subjects for the pupils. But all pupils
do not need all of these facilities at this age and there
are huge drawbacks. Where once, teachers knew their pupils
well enough to know their strengths and weaknesses, there
are now so many students in a school that any kind of individual
rapport is very difficult. The result is that the pupil feels
isolated, alienated and less valued, especially if coming
from a single-parent home or one where both parents work,
where contact time with adults is likely to be more limited.
The most important single quality of life that we must provide
for our children is that of security — at home and in
school. This is far more important than providing availability
of a wide range of specialist subjects at secondary level
in huge schools. There is time enough for that in college
education at tertiary level.
Because of the relative inaccessibility of such large schools,
instead of being able to walk or cycle to school, children
now must be bussed in or brought in cars by parents because
the distances they have to travel to these centralized schools
are so much greater, which means less exercise for pupils
and more traffic congestion and pollution.
In the older educational system, boys and girls were usually
educated separately. It is probably preferable socially to
have boys and girls educated together because psychologists
now accept that there are certain traits that, in general,
are to be found more often in boys or girls, respectively.
Each gender then learns about social interaction with the
other in co-educational schools. From an academic viewpoint,
however, boys and girls probably benefit from single-sex education
so that, at least in school hours, the influence of adolescent
hormones in attracting a mate is not paramount. The best of
both approaches could be achieved if instruction in lessons
were to be given to boys and girls separately in adjacently
located schools, and then seeing that there were adequate
social opportunities for the two sexes to mix socially, say
at lunch breaks or in after-school activities.
Comprehensive schools were created in Britain to eliminate
the supposedly divisive structure of grammar schools and so-called
‘secondary-modern’ schools. The principle was
that all children should be treated equally. But this was
muddle-headed thinking by politicians and their educational
advisors. Children should not be treated equally but given
equal opportunities and treated, each according to his or
her own needs, as in the Montessori and Steiner schools. Some
children are largely self-motivated while others need coercion
to study, especially during adolescence. Some thrive on challenging
academic study while others have more aptitude for practical
pursuits. This may seem obvious; but the two-tier system of
grammar and secondary-modern schools catered for this difference
in approach very well while many comprehensive schools do
not have staff or time in the curriculum to cater for such
differences in outlook.
Another great disaster of comprehensive education has been
mixed-ability teaching. In classes of over 30 pupils, which
are the norm, it is quite impossible for a teacher to provide
enough stimulation to the brightest pupils while, at the same
time, giving enough attention to the less able, so that they
too can keep up with the flow of a lesson. If the less able
include physically impaired children, the situation is exacerbated.
Such children are supposed to have a ‘helper’
sitting beside them to help them along, but cuts in funding
have meant that such a helper is often not present. The result
is that disabled children are bored and frustrated and, more
often than not, become disruptive as they seek the attention
they so desperately want and need. They are also frequently
made the target of derision by able-bodied students, thus
further diminishing their self-esteem.
The idea of putting disabled students with able-bodied pupils,
because this is how they will have to live in society, is
ill-conceived. Although introduced ostensibly for the benefit
of the students there is little doubt that it was really implemented
as a cost-saving measure so that special schools could be
dispensed with. Again, the opportunity for disabled children
to live amongst those who are able-bodied can be left to the
time when pupils leave school having had a sound and secure
secondary schooling. It is within the power of government
to correct some of these anomalies if only they would put
the welfare of the people they govern before the quest for
political power, in-between elections.
Government policy in
both health and education has been towards centralisation:
concentration of resources suggests greater value
out of the education budget, and this is the overriding
goal. But children are not impersonal units and neither
is education a business; and the first step in improving
standards in education must surely be to return as
far as possible to pupil-friendly smaller schools
where pupils and teachers have time to establish some
rapport Then pupils can once again feel secure in
the knowledge that they are an integral part of the
school as an institution, and take a pride in their
contribution to its wellbeing. Hopefully, this might
also reduce the incidence of bullying, victimization
and other violent behaviour. What we need is a much
more holistic approach to education to consider other
aspects of a child’s development besides academic
performance, and government must surely take the lead
in this. We have had many changes in syllabus and
structure of examinations over the past twenty years
in Britain. The election of a new government provides
an ideal opportunity to change the philosophy of primary
and secondary education.
Bailey, Richard (2009), The Philosophy of Education: An introduction,
Martin, Paul (2006), Making Happy People, HarperCollins, London.
Palmer, Sue (2006), Toxic Childhood, Orion, London.
Woods, Ronald and Barrow, Robin (2006), An Introduction to
Philosophy of Education
(4th edn), Routledge, London.
(a survey of primary
(on secondary education policy)
(information on secondary schools from heads of schools and
Published on the Scientific & Medical Network website
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Medicine and Healthcare
By Howard Jones with Jennifer Jones
There is no doubt that our healthcare system is in crisis
regardless of the sterling work of those working within it.
It is trying to cope with too many people calling on its services,
the numerous medical advances in pharmaceutical preparations,
and complex and expensive equipment and treatment regimes
developed over the last twenty to thirty years. With the limitations
of the funding available, even a bottomless pit of money would
still not bring it to a state of balance.
Our original view of the health service has not changed fundamentally
since its inception – that it would always provide healthcare
free at the point of delivery for anyone who needed it. If
we wish to bring our healthcare system out of crisis, we have
to introduce a period of radical re-education of each individual,
both within and outside of the health service, to reduce the
demands made upon it. The words ‘each individual’
are used advisedly because this is not one of the ubiquitous
and never-ending target-based government solutions to the
healthcare crisis, but one that is more personal to each and
every one of us.
The twentieth century philosophy
The development of the pharmaceutical industry, leading to
its disproportionately large influence today, has moved medicine
inexorably away from its naturopathic roots. This was all
we had (besides surgery) until the twentieth century, but
now the opposite extreme of allopathic medicine has become
the first-line treatment in both Britain and America. We now
rely almost totally on drugs for the resolution of the symptoms
of ill health. The vast majority of drugs do not cure us of
anything; they only mask the symptoms so that we may carry
on with our lives with as little inconvenience as possible.
This is not to say that we should not use drugs, but a balance
of treatments, with far more emphasis on naturopathic medicine,
addressing causes rather than treatments, would be far less
radical, less expensive and often just as effective, with
fewer of the toxic side effects, now so common that they have
given rise to the whole sub-discipline of iatrogenic medicine.
However, this also requires a new attitude to health amongst
the general population.
When we visit the doctor’s surgery, we expect to leave
with a prescription. If we experience side effects from a
drug for a particular condition, doctors often have available
another drug to counteract these ill-effects. Doctors need
to be more aware of the different reactions to drugs by different
people, accept patients as individuals, be prepared to listen
to the patient and adjust their prescription regimes accordingly,
and not be led unthinkingly by promotion literature from drug
companies. Taking prescribed medicine puts the responsibility
for our health onto the doctor: we need individuals to take
responsibility themselves for their wellbeing.
If it is a choice between adjusting our diet and lifestyle
to resolve an imbalance in the body or taking a pill, the
pill will win out at present for too many people. In a series
on British television in 2008, aimed at undermining naturopathic
remedies as valueless in most cases, an eminent professor
(of obstetrics and gynaecology!) said she would take a pill
to lower her cholesterol rather than bother about adjusting
her diet. This attitude, expressed by a prominent academic,
encourages people to take the easy option, without regard
for the deleterious side-effects — it is a demand for
instant gratification, much like that in so many other aspects
of our lives today, and avoidance of individual responsibility.
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A new cultural ethos
We have lost sight of the fact that each of us has a body
that is the most incredible creation: if we allow it to, it
will function in harmony with the rest of nature for over
seven decades. The body works quite efficiently even when
there is an imbalance, and there are numerous examples of
those with serious or debilitating medical conditions who
achieve enormous satisfaction and success in their lives.
Our bodies co-operate with us to live successfully through
what can only be described as our abuse of them — but
we have come to accept this miracle as a normal state of affairs.
We take our bodies for granted.
If we wish to spend less time resolving the health issues
we have created in our bodies, we have to stop abusing them
and start respecting them as vital organisms for a successful,
creative and enjoyable life: in other words, we have to take
responsibility and exercise a degree of self-control.
As individuals, we need to understand that, if we do not want
to spend a large proportion of our later life in pain and
discomfort, attending hospital appointments and staying in
hospital for treatment, we have to change our view of our
bodies and how we treat them. The simple fact is that a lack
of respect and love for our bodies causes us ill health: we
no longer live in harmony with nature. It is a principle of
holistic ayurvedic medicine to regard our bodies as a sacred
part of the natural world, and a large component of ayurveda
Equally, we need to have respect for our loved ones who have
to live with us while we go through our health crises —
giving us the love we need on an emotional level and the practical
help with our everyday lives. Allowing ourselves to become
ill through undisciplined behaviour places a huge stress on
all of those around us, and includes the financial issue of
perhaps not being able to earn our living and support others.
Many people assume that, after they have poisoned their bodies
with alcohol, tobacco, and other ‘recreational’
drugs, everyone will rally round and support them. By eating
convenience ‘fast’ food, our bodies may well not
be in a sufficiently robust state to deal with these assaults.
Another sociological aspect of ill health is the drain on
the resources of the wider community. Ill health costs money
that is found from the taxes we all pay into the public purse.
Some of those whose illnesses are genetic or develop in early
life are experiencing a lack of funding for their treatment
because it is being spent on those whose illnesses develop
as a result of their irresponsible and hedonistic lifestyle.
Whilst this shortage of funds is not evident in all areas,
as the population rises, resources will have to be spread
even more thinly and this situation is likely to occur more
frequently. There is already a triage system for surgical
treatment, and this will have to become more ruthless unless
people take more care of themselves.
In defence of the average person, it is not altogether surprising
that people have over-indulged in substances like alcohol
and tobacco when successive governments have given advertisers
of these products free-rein because of the vast quantities
of tax these addictions brought into their coffers. Unfortunately,
politicians were not astute enough to realize that the health
issues created by this over-indulgence have cost the country
more than the taxes collected. We have known of the dangers
of smoking for half a century, and of passive smoking for
at least two decades, but what a battle it has been to get
smoking banned in public places! Alcohol abuse has been linked
to cancers of the oesophagus and gut, but the response of
the government in Britain was to de-restrict alcohol sales,
with the unsurprising result of an increase in alcohol-related
crime and drunkenness.
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Many people are considered to be stoic in their acceptance
of the chronic ill health they have created but if, as a society,
we began to view their conditions as the result of their irresponsible
and hedonistic behaviour, this would perhaps bring a more
balanced approach to healthcare and would bring social pressure
to bear on those who abuse their bodies with drugs. At present,
such people are described as ‘victims’ –
as if their condition was forced on them by others.
This is not to say that we should be unsympathetic but rather
that we should encourage each individual to take responsibility
for their own body and their health. The health service and
the media have achieved a certain amount of success by providing
information on maintaining health, despite pitifully small
amounts of funding for health promotion, but no real emphasis
has ever been placed on this aspect of individual responsibility.
Establishing promotional systems for guidance on preventative
medicine, diet and lifestyle should be a high priority for
any future government, and such advice should begin in schools.
Private medical insurances cover only a limited range of illnesses,
outside of which the insured person has to provide the financial
resources for treatment or use social healthcare systems.
If we set up life insurance and we then take our own life,
our loved ones do not benefit financially: we accept these
rules as reasonable. Yet, effectively, we expect others to
compensate us for reducing the quality and longevity of our
lives by our own deleterious lifestyle choices. We have, in
effect, shirked our personal responsibility to maintain a
healthy body: yet we perceive it as our right that someone
else will find the financial resources to keep us alive with
a reasonable quality of life, or compensate our loved ones
if we die.
The new organizational ethos
The strongest and most effective part of the healthcare system
is in acute care – emergency services. This is where
the British National Health Service excels. But it is chronic
care that costs the most money and this is where healthcare
systems are not as effective. The huge demand for chronic
care is largely due to the results of the abuse of our bodies,
and treatment is less effective because these illnesses can
rarely be cured; the symptoms can only be reduced or alleviated.
The pharmaceutical industry’s very lucrative interventions
in chronic illness can keep patients functioning in moderate
health for many years, during which time the pharmaceutical
bill may well rise to a much higher level than the patients’
contributions made in taxes during their working lives.
Another view of the health service is that it is there to
extend our lives for as long as possible. A large proportion
of the population is fearful of ill health, and indeed their
own mortality, and yet an individual’s quest for survival
tends not to include changes in behaviour until they are confronted
with the realities of ill-health, and perhaps not even then
for some. Traditionally, medicine has, quite rightly, been
practised to save lives but the emphasis now is on prolonging
life at any cost, whatever that may be. Most would agree that
it is the quality of life that is paramount rather than our
longevity. Death of the body is a natural part of life that
we can never avoid but we are presented with many opportunities
to avoid much ill health.
Although the use of the name, National Health Service, would
indicate an organization that maintains good health, it has
never been viewed in this way. In everyone’s mind it
is a ‘national sickness service’. The medical
profession has virtually no interaction at all with healthy
people: doctors and surgeons intervene only when people are
ill! Even many of those who work in the healthcare system
offer poor role models for patients, a significant number
of them being smokers or overweight, if not obese. The beginning
of the opportunity to bring the health service back into balance,
out of its current crisis, is to change our perception to
one of a service offered by exemplary role models in preventative
medicine to maintain good health, with the continued availability
of excellent emergency treatment facilities.
The change in our thinking suggested above may seem harsh,
but we have to face the realities at some point. Already,
sick people are prioritized for treatment because of a lack
of funds. Up to now, we have been in denial about the ability
of our healthcare system to cope with the rising population,
and particularly the increase in life expectancy, and the
emerging and expensive treatments that every patient would
wish to have available to them when they need them. Prevarication
over any issue puts us in the position of having to apply
crisis management to the situation and this is always radical
and painful – our healthcare system is no exception.
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A different approach
There is another aspect of re-education that could help to
ameliorate some of the pain of the changes that will inevitably
have to take place if we are to maintain a system of healthcare.
It is obvious that we are all here on this planet living together
and that we do not live in isolation. Whatever we do impacts
on other people, mentally and physically.
Many people have the view that what they do with their lives,
and their bodies, is entirely their own affair. If they choose
to abuse their bodies, it is nobody’s business but their
own. But, in a very real sense, their actions have a massive
impact on the rest of the population: emotionally for family,
friends and co-workers; economically, both at a personal and
public level; psychologically in terms of their own and others’
mindset as a result of their perception of the illness and
Part of our re-education is about remembering that we are
all here together on this planet for our own individual lifetimes,
regardless of how long or short, painful or happy they may
be. Taking responsibility for our own good health is essential
for our development and evolution, personally and on a global
level. Whether we like it or not, we are inextricably linked
to one another. We have come to stress too much our rights
as individuals with too little regard for our duties and responsibilities
as a society.
Taking this a step further, re-educating individuals needs
to include a sense of our not being alone, because we are
all part of the interactive natural environment, however you
view it depending on your scientific, religious or spiritual
beliefs. We are, in effect and in reality, all one. Our societies
are based on fear — of ill health, our mortality, terrorism,
strangers and many other perceptions. Denial of the effects
of alcohol abuse, of smoking or other drug taking is an expression
of fear of facing the inevitable consequences and a refusal
to exert self-control. When we take responsibility for our
bodies, we take action — and action is the fastest way
of evaporating fear. When we take responsibility for any one
thing in our lives, it makes it easier to do the same for
other areas. When we reduce or lose our fear, when we face
the consequences of our denial, we can start accepting and
loving the bodies we are in.
Whatever we care about, we take care of: those who love their
cars and houses spend many hours cleaning and looking after
them; those who love their gardens spend time tending them;
those who enjoy other hobbies make the time to pursue them.
It is simple — these people have a passion for something.
Sometimes their passion for something outside of themselves
far outweighs their passion for their own well-being. We must
be encouraged to have a passion for being healthy for as large
a part of our lives as we can, for without health we are unable
to pursue our other activities.
This can be facilitated by our healthcare system in providing
different types of treatments that have a preventative effect;
this would include both orthodox and complementary therapies.
Weekly massages, reflexology treatments, acupuncture, healing
and many other complementary therapies give us the opportunity
to show our bodies gratitude for the efficient job they do
in keeping us functional and pain-free. When ill health arises,
which it can in even the healthiest person, the health service
would then have the financial resources to offer orthodox
and complementary treatments to explore the root cause of
the imbalance and resolve it, if possible.
We would also have financial and other resources available
to help all of those with terminal illness, offering palliative
care for as long as it is needed in an environment that is
compassionate, calm and loving. The passing from this life
does not need to be frightening or even uncomfortable if the
appropriate care and counselling are given.
The resulting redeployment of financial resources would reduce
inequalities in the level of care provided throughout the
country so that everyone would have the security of knowing
that their taxes were being well spent to provide them with
whatever care they need when they needed it. This philosophy
encourages people to look after their bodies and at a lower
cost to the health service because complementary treatments
are often significantly cheaper than allopathic drugs or treatments,
often just as effective and without the unpleasant side-effects
that so often accompany allopathic medication.
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Many people offer the argument that complementary therapies
take longer to have effect — and this is true, because
they are gentler. However, if we are already encouraging people
to look after their bodies, there is a greater likelihood
that imbalances will be identified earlier because of patients’
greater awareness, allowing complementary treatments to be
offered as an initial response. Currently, many people pursue
complementary therapies only after they have exhausted everything
the orthodox medical profession has to offer, having experienced
little or no success in resolving their health issues. Frequently
they are at a point in their illness where nothing more can
be done other than to make them comfortable enough to be able
to live with their condition for as long as they can —
and this may be the case for many years. Complementary treatments
can be very effective in this scenario. However, using complementary
therapies when more aggressive orthodox treatment has failed
is asking for a higher level of success than can reasonably
be expected. To denigrate complementary therapies on the basis
of this type of experience is irrational. A new philosophy
of maintaining health rather than only treating diseases that
develop as a result of neglect or abuse of the body would
incorporate the idea that a gentler but deeper treatment requires
more time to have effect and this could become acceptable
as a regime for improvement. The success of complementary
therapies needs to be statistically assessed, without preconceived
notions that they are without scientific basis.
The medical profession and complementary therapists are aware
that their respective treatments are not panaceas. Many of
both types of treatments have not been tested sufficiently
extensively in every case to say whether or not they are effective
or appropriate: for example, in the investigation of the synergistic
action of two or more drugs, or in using standard scientific
investigative methods to allow meaningful assessment of therapies
whose mode of action is not yet fully understood. However,
the most important criterion in assessing a treatment must
be whether patients find it helpful.
We are not astute or aware enough yet as a species to know
everything about the human body and how it works, or how we
can resolve or treat every single condition. We have to have
the humility and integrity to admit this so that we can take
some issues on trust. For example, acupuncture is not understood
by many in the orthodox medical profession but it is becoming
acceptable as a valid treatment in some medical facilities.
The suggestion that teaching patients how to relax when they
were suffering from stress-related emotional illnesses was
viewed with scepticism some years ago, but now it is being
offered in many areas of the healthcare system. If we see
that a particular treatment is helpful to patients and can
resolve or relieve their health imbalances, this is truly
evidence-based medicine. Subjecting it to analysis and ‘scientific’
testing will not make it any more or less valid as a treatment.
We have to use our intelligence and the traditional skill
that the training for doctors prizes most highly — that
of observation — whether the treatment is complementary
Doctors and complementary therapists have a common goal in
trying to help patients as best they can to either resolve
their health challenges or, if this is not possible, to help
them to experience as good a quality of life as they can.
The two groups of practitioners are close in many ways —
and yet there is a massive divide that is based largely on
perceptions and egos. We need to become aware of and emphasize
the similarities rather than fight about the differences if
we truly have the health of the population at the heart of
We need to educate each individual in our society, starting
in primary schools, to take responsibility for their bodies
— and to enjoy that responsibility. This philosophy
is likely to have an effect in every aspect of our lives as
we grow and develop. Once the majority of people understand
and relish the opportunity to take responsibility generally,
the demands on all our public services would be reduced dramatically.
Many common diseases such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, heart
disease, stroke and cancer have strong environmental and life-style
elements of causation. Research has shown that, with will,
we can use mind to guide our bodies to health.
There are so many areas where individuals are clearly not
taking responsibility for their behaviour and the way they
choose to live. Many complain about a ‘nanny state’,
where the government has too much control over our individual
lives; but that is how it has to be if we are not prepared
to look after ourselves as individuals so that we place burdens
on others. Those giving dietary advice have even been described
as ‘food Nazis’. Freedom lies in becoming as self-sufficient
and supportive of our fellow travellers in this life as possible
so that we accept and practise what is the reality ? that
we are all linked and we are all one, spiritually and practically.
We have tried the ‘business’ approach to resolving
the issues within the healthcare system and this has been
only partially successful. We now need to draw on a spiritual
dimension to work alongside the business model in a compassionate
and balanced approach to healthcare if the health service
is to survive into the end of the 21st century.
Benson, Herbert (1997), Timeless Healing: The power and biology
of belief, Simon
& Schuster, New York.
DiStefano, Vincent (2006) Holism and Complementary Medicine,
Allen and Unwin
Ernst, E., Pittler, M.H., Wider, B. and Boddy, K. (2008) Handbook
Medicine, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Hackshaw, A.K. (1998) Lung cancer and passive smoking, Stat.
Methods Med. Res.
Janson, C. (2004) The effect of passive smoking on respiratory
health in children and adults,
Int. J. Tuberculosis Lung Dis. 8(5), 510-516.
McTaggart, Lynne (1996; 2nd edn. 2005) What Doctors Don’t
Tell You, Thorsons
Matthews, Sian, Brasnett, Laura, and Smith, Jonathan (2006)
Underage drinking, Home
Office Findings 277
Morrison, Judith H. (2001) The Book of Ayurveda, Gaia Books
Prousky, Jonathan (2008), Principles and Practices of Naturopathic
Clinical Nutrition, CCNM Press, Toronto, Canada.
Smith, M.J. and Logan, A.C. (2002) Naturopathy, Med. Clin.
North Amer. 86(1), 173-184.
Vork, K.L., Broadwin, R.C. and Blaisdell, R.T. (2007) Developing
asthma in childhood fromexposure to second-hand tobacco smoke,
Envir. Health Perspect. 115(10), 1394-1400.
Published on the Scientific & Medical Network website
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Spirituality and Religion
The twilight of religion
||Church attendance in Britain
and North America is steadily in decline – relevant
data are easily accessible on the Internet. The number
of those who regularly attended church in the USA in 1968
stood at 1.6 million but by 2006 this figure had fallen
to less than 900,000. In Britain, the situation is even
more marked where between 1980 and 2009, church attendance
has fallen from 12% to 6% of the population. There are
several factors that might have contributed to this.
Over the past quarter century or so, many more activities
have become available on Sundays, the traditional day
for church attendance in a predominantly Christian society.
In Britain, shops and public houses are open and there
are a variety of sporting events that people can attend
or participate in. With continually increasing commercial
pressure for greater productivity and profitability, if
people are not actually working on Sunday, it gives them
a day to catch up on chores that they have had little
time or energy to do during the week.
In the West, people have traditionally looked to their God
as a protector or, to put it in Freudian terms, a father figure.
However, the protector image has worn a little thin for many
people as the world has developed overwhelming problems, like
family breakdown and social unrest resulting from a decline
in moral values, global warming and other pending environmental
catastrophes and, most recently, the collapse in the economic
framework of western capitalism. Many people can see that
these challenges are of our own making – exacerbated
by weak and ineffectual government, perhaps – and realize
that they cannot turn to some mythical sky-god to solve these
But I suspect that the main reason for lower church attendance
has more to do with emotional disenchantment with organized
dogmatic religion. We live in a rational technological age
and, ever since the scientific discoveries of the 17th to
19th centuries, our world-view has been shaped by these discoveries.
Science has come to be regarded as the source of truth about
the natural world; and moral values are not stressed either
in the home or in school as they were a century ago. There
is a certain cynicism about the moral impact that religion
could possibly have in a society so committed to materialist
values. Too many religions and churches are more concerned
with ritual and dogma than the spirituality that was claimed
as the basis for the faiths.
Perhaps religion only has a future if those at the head of
the faiths show integrity and honesty in their leadership
by acknowledging that all religion and scripture is man-made!
The scriptures may well have an extra-corporeal source of
inspiration, like all creative art, but the words on the page
were all written down, transmitted and translated by human
hands. Religions are bureaucratic power structures that were
set up for propaganda to give a base for the indoctrination
of the people. Many people have lost respect for religion
because it is no longer regarded as representing truth but
simply one particular point of view as to how we should lead
our lives, and it is irrelevant in resolving the major world
Our mistrust of politicians is partly because of their extensive
use of ‘spin’, a euphemism for lies, deceit and
distorted truth. The distrust of dogmatic religion is another
expression of the same psychological condition. As with Humpty
Dumpty in his confrontation with Alice, there are many for
whom the word ‘truth’ means whatever they want
it to mean. Thus, religious fundamentalists believe in the
truth of their scriptures and the words of their respective
prophets; but adherents of other religions will almost inevitably
disagree. This does not imply however that there are no fundamental
truths underlying the mythical fabric of scripture. While
the symbolism and formulations of mathematics, like the theorems
of Euclid, Pythagoras or Fermat, are man-made, the relationships
themselves are eternal truths. There may well be similar eternal
moral truths (like some of the Ten Commandments) behind the
myths woven around the stories of scripture, which certainly
contain many historical truths. The incompatibilities between
the scriptures of the various religions of the world make
adherence to any one of them as ‘Truth’ logically
Psychologists define denial as ‘a primitive form of
repression in which anxiety-filled external events are barred
from awareness.’ Sigmund Freud recognised that an attitude
of denial in his patients was one of their psychological defence
mechanisms when ideas or sense impressions conflicted disturbingly
with the established psyche. Denial is an expression of fear
to face reality, and fear is an undesirable psychological
trait. The refusal to accept the true nature of scripture
and religion is such an attitude, like those who deny being
alcoholics, or warnings of the dangers of smoking, or the
threat of global warming. Many people effect their denial
through compartmentalization. They use their telephones and
computers, undergo surgery, fly off to their exotic holidays
quite happy to trust the validity of science, medicine and
technology. But in their religious beliefs, they reject science
and rationalism and choose instead to believe in scriptural
myths as truth. In a scientific age, denial of the realities
of science and belief in scripture as truth become more difficult.
But a life lived in denial is a twilight world, for sooner
or later for the wellbeing of the individual and others, those
in denial must face the truth of the situation. The alcoholic
must confront his or her demons if they are not to die prematurely
having lived a less than fulfilling life. Those who participate
in activities heedless of global warming will contribute to
eventual disaster for us all. Similarly, those who believe
that their scripture represents irrefutable divine truth close
their minds to the common ideals they share with adherents
of other faiths and rob the world of the potential to resolve
some of the conflicts that continually plague our planet.
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Religion and faith
Disenchantment with the role of religion does not mean that
there has to be a decline in spiritual faith. Although many
equate faith and religion, there is a clear distinction. While
religion is an external, man-made expression of beliefs that
are shared socially through ritual and prayer, faith is an
internalized belief system that governs our attitude to the
world and increasingly finds no need to have expression through
authoritarian orthodox religious systems. Dogmatic religion
is intrinsically divisive for it is based on the scriptures
that prescribe how humankind should live; but these ideals
were allegedly revealed to various prophets for a particular
people at a specific time and place in human history. There
is no reason why such proscriptions should be relevant to
people world-wide two millennia and more later.
The essential difference between religion as we know it in
the West and the spirituality associated with eastern belief
systems is that western religion is authoritarian: instructions
for behaviour are passed down from a supposed God, to a number
of prophets in the Bible or the Koran and thence to the people
through clerics, rabbis, priests and imams. In the East, the
words of the prophet are to be taken only as a guide. How
they are interpreted and enacted is up to each individual,
though guidance is available if required from the sages of
each faith. In the West, our morality is determined for us
by the external authority of the Church or Mosque, by the
Bible or Koran. In the East, works like the Pali Canon of
Buddhism and the Tao Te Ching of Taoism are texts to be read
and meditated on, but not to be regarded as any kind of instruction
The inspiration behind the life-styles recommended in the
East is a universal and all-embracing spirituality not an
anthropomorphic father figure or his supposed incarnation
on Earth. The earthly incarnation of a sky-god that believers
often regard as uniquely Christian was in fact a common belief
in Hinduism and in ancient Egypt, long before the lifetime
of Jesus. The ‘chi-rho’ symbol Christians have
taken as their own is found on the tombs of Mesopotamia. The
view of Jesus as divine was set up by the Church Fathers at
the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE and is peculiar to Christians.
The fact that this interpretation is unacceptable to Jews
and Muslims immediately sets up a barrier to meaningful cohesion
between the different western religions. Jesus was in fact
simply a healer, prophet, shaman and sage like many others.
In those cultures that westerners often regard as pagan, simply
because they reject this anthropomorphic sky-god and the divine
incarnation, there is a great sense of cohesion within the
cultural group and a close affinity with and respect for the
natural world, ahimsa. In the West, following the recommendations
of Francis Bacon to exploit nature for the betterment of humankind,
the natural world is viewed primarily as a purely material
entity, and this attitude has produced the profligacy we have
seen in the West since the Industrial Revolution. In Cartesian
dualism, which underpins science, there is mind or soul, and
there is the material world of the body. In eastern monism,
all is one. This is a crucial difference between the world-views
of East and West, between spiritual faith in the unity of
the world and dogmatic religion with its divisions between
God and Man and Nature.
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The idea of a cosmic spirituality
Spirituality is a concept that should find resonances with
people of any religion, or even atheists and humanists. In
Christianity, we have the idea of God interacting with humankind
through the Holy Spirit. In Islam, particularly Sufism, there
is Dhat, the spiritual essence of the world from which all
has sprung and into which all will eventually merge. In Judaism
we find the spirit of God described in Exodus as ruach elohim,
the cloud of the Lord that filled the tabernacle. The western
God, although described with anthropomorphic qualities, is
conceived as pure spirit in all three major religions.
In Spiritualism, adherents seek guidance from their cosmic
spirit through communication with discarnate souls. Pagans
and adherents of Shinto have numerous male or female gods
whose spirits are distributed throughout the natural world.
In Hinduism we find Atman, the breath or spirit of Brahman,
which is the ultimate spiritual reality from which the created
universe has emerged. In some other eastern religions, where
there is no God as understood in the West, Buddhists and Taoists
acknowledge a Universal Mind that holds a record of the karma
of each individual from one incarnation to the next until
nirvana is achieved through samsara or cycle of successive
reincarnations. Here, consciousness is all: the material world
is only maya, often translated as ‘illusion’ though
it really means that the only reality is human consciousness
— all we can say of the world is what we perceive. Although
he was a bishop of the Christian Church, philosopher George
Berkeley (1685-1753) was so close to eastern mystical philosophy
when he contended that ‘esse ist percipi’ —
to exist is to be perceived. Some contemporary physicists
regard this consciousness as primary to material creation.
In the secular domain, some other philosophers have suggested
a very similar concept: an unknowable spiritual base to the
material world. John Locke called it the real essence of the
world that gave rise to the nominal essence – the material
properties that we are aware of with our senses which we use
to give objects their names. Immanuel Kant had a similar idea
calling these two realms the noumenal and the phenomenal,
respectively. Arthur Schopenhauer, very much influenced by
eastern religion, described the world as will and idea or
representation: there is our will or self (mind, consciousness),
the subject of experience, and that which is perceived —
the ideas or representations of the material world.
Carl Gustav Jung, one of the most influential of psychologists
of the twentieth century postulated the existence of a ‘collective
unconscious’, a pooling of human unconscious minds through
space and time. It is through our access to this spiritual
domain that certain important icons and metaphors recur in
unconnected social groups. These ubiquitous symbols Jung called
‘archetypes’. The archetypes are the realities
that the human mind creates out of this universal spiritual
field, described by contemporary Cambridge biologist, Rupert
Sheldrake, as the morphic field.
Scientists are divided about the whole concept of spirituality.
Some, especially the life scientists like Jacques Monod and
Richard Dawkins, are thoroughgoing materialists. They believe
that any suggestion of a spiritual agency acting to affect
in any way the creation, design or operation of the universe
represents a return to the concept of animism. This idea was
quite popular with some thinkers like biologist Hans Driesch
and philosopher Henri Bergson in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The idea of animism or hylozoism was that there is an indefinable
spiritual essence within all living things that cannot be
expressed using just materialistic terminology and concepts.
Human creativity in music, art and literature; morality and
ethics in social interaction; law-making; and the economic
interaction of nations, to quote just a few examples, are
holistic and certainly cannot be reduced to explanations in
classical physics in any meaningful way. Quantum theory has
shown us that the world is not entirely deterministic, for
if it were there would be no human creativity or free will.
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Today, life scientists talk in terms of the emergence of complexity
in higher organisms arising spontaneously through purely physical
forces of interaction between molecules — the natural
propensity of the fundamental particles and energies comprising
matter to turn chaos into order, components of the primordial
soup into polymers of proteins, carbohydrates and nucleic
acids. There are systems even in the world of inorganic chemistry,
which the Belgian physical chemist Ilya Prigogine described
as dissipative systems, that are capable of some degree of
self-organization. We are faced with the unacceptable premise
(to materialist scientists) that there is indeed an external
agency capable of providing the necessary energy in closed
systems (those without external energy input) to seemingly
defy the laws of entropy. This propensity for spontaneous
self-organization is one of the functions envisaged by some
scientists for the wholly inter-penetrating cosmic spiritual
energy known as the quantum field energy.
Since the development of quantum mechanics in the first decades
of the twentieth century, many physicists have become more
amenable to the idea of an essentially spiritual universe.
In his Gifford Lectures of 1927, physicist Arthur Eddington
saw human consciousness, as expressed by mind, as the intermediate
between the unknowable world of quantum interactions and the
material world of the senses: ‘The stuff of the world
is mind stuff’. Thus, mind, consciousness and spirit
become the fount of material creation: Creation stories are
the bedrock of religion, and spirituality is the epitome of
In The Tao of Physics, physicist Fritjof Capra drew parallels
between the quantum world-view of the cosmic dance of fundamental
particles and energy described in the West and the religious
philosophy of the East with its view of human existence as
one of universal interaction between the individuals of humankind
and the natural world that surrounds us. The 14th Dalai Lama
has endorsed this relation between Buddhism and modern physics
in that both stress the interconnectedness of all that is.
Every event in the universe on the micro and thence the macro
scale is an example of the cosmic spiritual interaction. For
religious adherents, this would be like saying that God is
always and everywhere immanent in the world.
In 1980, in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, American-born
quantum physicist David Bohm elaborated on the holographic
metaphor of the human mind that had been created by Karl Pribram.
In Pribram’s model, each unit of the brain (that Wilder
Penfield had called an engram) encodes within it the information
contained in the whole organ, rather like a hologram. Bohm
extended this idea to suggest that the whole universe ‘is
not to be understood solely in terms of a regular arrangement
of objects (e.g. in rows) or as a regular arrangement of events
(e.g in a series). Rather, a total order is contained in some
implicit sense, in each region of space and time . . . the
classical idea of the separability of the world into distinct
but interacting parts is no longer valid or relevant.’
This is an even more fundamental concept of a holistic world
interacting at the subatomic level. Cosmic spirit represents
the implicate order; the material world is the explicate.
What more graphic portrayal of spiritual deity could there
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Cosmic spirituality and human interaction
Over the past quarter-century, psychologist Charles T. Tart
has shown how the phenomena described as psi, such as telepathy
and spiritual healing, have given us clear experimental evidence
of the existence of a means of human communication that cannot
be scientifically explained by materialist Newtonian and Cartesian
models. Once again we are introduced to the concept of cosmic
spirituality. This is a hypothetical concept as valid as any
other scientific notion proposed to explain experimental observations
— like quarks and superstrings, which have never been
observed. It is important that this should not be regarded
as the ‘God of the Gaps’ — an idea, regarded
with such disdain by many materialist scientists, that ‘God’
is dragged in as explanation when all rational argument has
failed to provide an explanation. The concept of a universal
spiritual energy is in fact entirely compatible with twentieth-century
quantum physics. It is the potential energy of the universe
with which all matter continually interacts at the sub-atomic
level in every moment of its existence — the quantum
field energy or zero point field. It is the energy of consciousness.
Physicist Amit Goswami, the psychologists Trish Pfeiffer and
John Mack, and many mystics like Swami Abhayananda see the
material world as having developed from a primordial cosmic
consciousness. Goswami also sees the development of cosmic
consciousness as part of the process of evolution. This is
an extension of the ideas expressed by Pierre Teilhard de
Chardin that evolution has progressed through the stages of
geogenesis (creation of the material of the universe), biogenesis
(of life), psychogenesis (of mind and consciousness), and
now noogenesis (of osmic soul) in which there is a global
empathy between all peoples of the planet, cf. Jung’s
The polymath Dean Radin has argued that there is ample evidence
for ‘interaction at a distance’ between human
minds to explain psychic interaction. This is comparable to
gravitational and e.m. fields on the macro scale and, on the
micro scale, to the inter-particle action at a distance proposed
by Einstein and his colleagues in the EPR experiment. In 1872,
the English polymath Francis Galton (1822-1911) was one of
the first to investigate the power of prayer. Over the past
couple of decades, American physician Larry Dossey has investigated
this subject extensively from a clinical viewpoint and again
the evidence is persuasive of the existence of human interaction
that is not confined to our usual concepts of space and time.
There are also clear indications that prayer and psi effects
like telepathy do not always work, but instead of dismissing
their existence completely it would be a worthwhile enterprise
for scientists to investigate the necessary conditions for
success. Rupert Sheldrake has done precisely that, as elaborated
in some of his books. The idea of an eternal and infinite
consciousness also suggests a possible resolution to the problem
of what could exist before the Big Bang, and what our expanding
universe expands into if all of space is here.
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Many have expressed the view that if we dispense with religion
or God, the world will be left without a basis for morality.
But the morality of human interactions depends on what is
within our hearts, or within our souls if that is a concept
to which people can relate. The cosmic spirit at the human
level may be regarded as a Communal Soul, a community of the
souls, the spiritual essences, of the living and discarnate.
There is no need to dispense with scripture or religion, as
long as scripture is seen for what it is – the inspired
sayings of one or more men (or occasionally, a woman) interwoven
with traditional rituals and, in the Bible, historical events.
A ‘religion’ based on spirituality does not then
need a hierarchy of officials to enforce these subjective
views of the prophets as if they necessarily represented some
kind of eternal and divine truth. I hesitate to use the word
‘religion’ in this context because that is inevitably
associated with scripture and dogma. Spirituality is a religion
only insofar as it is shared communally. The concept of cosmic
spirit, as described by philosophers, psychologists and scientists,
is a far more rational basis for belief and religion than
the subjective views expressed by the myths and fables of
In process theology, A.N. Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne
saw a divinity not forever unchanging and remote from humankind,
as envisaged in most western religions, but one that evolved
by interaction with and within humanity. Biologists wedded
to materialism say that our lifelong behaviour is determined
at conception by the structure of our DNA. But recent research
by Bruce Lipton and others involved in epigenetics research
have shown that while the structure of DNA does not usually
change, its biochemical action is constantly affected by our
environment through interaction with RNA, and this, it is
suggested, is where cosmic consciousness comes in. Mind or
individual consciousness, a component of the collective unconscious,
and thus also a part of cosmic spirituality, influences the
RNA in the body and thereby is capable of producing physical
changes — through meditation, prayer and spiritual healing,
for example, and also by attitudes of love for our fellow
Man. This may well be how interaction between people separated
in space or time occurs through the morphic field described
by Sheldrake, and how prayer becomes effective. More immediately,
it is thought to be the way that spiritual healing is effective,
and how spontaneous remission of potentially lethal diseases
is achieved through meditation and positive thought. Thus,
nurture as well as nature both play a part in shaping our
behaviour and world-view. In this way, cosmic spirit, regarded
as divine by theists, evolves with human spiritual evolution,
as suggested by Teilhard de Chardin and in process theology.
We have seen how the idea of some form of all-embracing cosmic
spirit is consistent with the views of scientists, philosophers
and psychologists and is, at root, a concept fundamental to
a number of theistic and atheistic beliefs. It is found in
the belief systems of indigenous peoples and in the sophisticated
paradigms of contemporary physics. There is surely no more
cohesive concept than this to serve as a basis for inter-faith
discussions. This is a fundamental idea which has the potential
also to forge a link between science and religion, so often
held to be incompatible as bases of world-views. The evidence
for the existence of an effective and interactive spirituality
or cosmic energy is overwhelming. While the cosmic spirit
concept may not be compatible with orthodox dogmatic religion,
nor with Newtonian science, it is time for acceptance and
promotion of spirituality rather than scriptural religion
to provide some unity to our increasingly fragmented and socially
Abhayananda, Swami (2007) Mysticism and Science, O Books,
Winchester, UK. (2008) The Divine Universe, iUniverse, Bloomington,
Capra, Fritjof (1975). The Tao of Physics, Wildwood House,
Dossey, Larry (1993). Healing Words, HarperCollins, San Francisco.
(2009). Healing Beyond the Body, Piatkus, London.
Goswami, Amit (1993). The Self-aware Universe: How consciousness
creates the material
world, Putnam, New York. (2008). Creative Evolution, Quest,
Hartshorne. Charles (1948). The Divine Relativity: A social
concept of God, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
Lipton, Bruce (2005). The Biology of Belief, Elite Books,
Santa Rosa, California;
Cygnus Books, Llandeilo, Wales, UK.
Pfeiffer, Trish and Mack, John (2007) Mind Before Matter:
Visions of a new science of consciousness, O Books, Winchester,
Radin, Dean (1997). The Conscious Universe, HarperCollins,
New York. (2006). Entangled Minds, Simon and Schuster, New
Rossi, Ernest (2002). The Psychobiology of Gene Expression,
W.W. Norton, New York.
Tart, Charles T. (1997). Body, Mind, Spirit, Hampton Roads,
Charlottesville, Virginia. (2009). The End of Materialism,
New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, California.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1955). Le Phenoméne Humain,
Editions du Seuil, Paris; Engl. transl. (1959). The Phenomenon
of Man, William Collins, London.
Whitehead, A.N. (1929). Process and Reality, Macmillan, London.
Published on the Scientific & Medical Network website
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The Fifth Dimension or God Without Religion
The science of today recognises four dimensions accessible
to human consciousness – three dimensions of space and
one of time. Science also describes four forces in the natural
world – gravity, the electromagnetic (e.m.) or Coulombic
force, and the strong and weak forces found within an atom.
Three of these are forces of attraction and only the e.m.
force may create attraction or repulsion. Every force has
its region of space in which it is active called its field:
so we also have four types of field. This is the world according
to conventional science – also known as Newtonian-Cartesian
science – which, as yet, has hardly begun to embrace
the notions of spirituality, soul or parapsychology.
But many scientists – mostly physicists, a few biologists
and physicians, and some psychologists – have been actively
investigating the nature of psychic experiences using, where
possible, the methodology of science. The spiritual field
which gives rise to phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance,
pre-and post-cognition and mediumship generally has been described
by futurist Ervin Laszlo as the fifth field of nature. Laszlo
also calls this spiritual energy the akashic field, borrowing
a Sanskrit term from the Ayurveda philosophy of India. The
theologian John Hick has described the psychic realm as the
The information we have about the earliest pagan civilizations
suggests that veneration of natural objects – trees,
rocks, rivers, or other locations on Earth, or sun and moon
– was of great significance in their lives. Earthly
objects were, in some sense, symbols of the greater spiritual
force that controlled the seasons, night and day, the wind
and the rain. But as Karen Armstrong says in her book A Short
History of Myth: ‘Trees, stones and heavenly bodies
were never objects of worship in themselves but were revered
because they were epiphanies of a hidden force that could
be seen powerfully at work in all natural phenomena, giving
people intimations of another, more potent reality’.
Myths, rituals and traditions from these early civilizations
link each generation with its past history and with the ancestors
whose practices and beliefs gave rise to the society of the
present generation. Myths put individuals and their society
in the larger context of social evolution and give us a deeper
insight into the meaning of life. The tales of scripture serve
this purpose in religion, and stories such as those of C.S.
Lewis and of J.R.R. Tolkien provide modern myths and fantasies
for us today.
As suggested by Plato in his Theory of Forms, every natural
object is the image of its heavenly counterpart. Trees, and
even more so rocks, are venerated partly because they are
so much more long-lived than humans and therefore are believed
to hold a spiritual record of the past – the akashic
field. The rocks out of which pagan temples were constructed
were formed in the earliest eras of Earth’s history
and even trees have been on Earth for more than 300 million
years. The old Scandinavian word ‘vid’ means wood
or forest but it has given us a number of words associated
with knowledge or wisdom: witan (Old English: to know), wissen
(German: to know), ‘wits’, ‘wise’
and ‘wisdom’, and there are other examples of
the association of trees and knowledge.
Long before the lives of Euclid (fl. ca. 300 BCE) or Pythagoras
(fl. ca. 500 BCE), ancient civilizations had extensive knowledge
of geometry and astronomy and what we would now describe as
civil engineering. Without this information they would never
have been able, nor had the incentive, to build their megalithic
temples to honour their gods, for the manpower required to
raise these monuments was enormous and such as to demand huge
motivation and skill. The construction of such structures
is a clear indication that these peoples believed that there
existed a numinous realm beyond the physical – a realm
inhabited by the ancestors, whose lives they wished to honour:
it was also the domain of the gods. The psychologists tell
us that most of humankind needs to believe in such a transcendent
and holistic reality for both emotional and intellectual satisfaction.
Many pagan nations lived with this kind of spiritual ethos
before they were invaded and exploited by the expansion of
western materialism and western religious beliefs. This world-view
represented a deity without religion as we know it today.
However, this kind of nature worship was totally unacceptable
to early Christianity and the Church did all it could to eliminate
animism from people’s beliefs – though it took
over many pagan rituals as its own and built its churches
at pagan sacred places, just in case there was some effective
spiritual energy concentrated there.
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Modern determination to raise the living standards of such
‘primitive’ people has meant that we have influenced
them politically, economically, theologically and ideologically,
so that many ancient traditions have been lost in the process.
Keith Critchlow, a professor of art and architecture whose
studies equally embrace anthropology and archaeology, believes
that ‘the greatest threat our modern industrial culture
poses for mankind is the denial of its spiritual heritage’.
The native culture of the inhabitants of the Australian outback
that has been destroyed by the imposition of western values
are recalled nostalgically by the elders amongst the aborigines
as The Great Forgetting. The citizens of Ladakh in the Himalayas
led a hard and primitive but peaceful life until the imposition
of western ideas of ‘progress’; this has seen
animosity, corruption and materialism arise in a society where
formerly there was cooperation, fellowship and spirituality.
Spirituality is the core of religion, although it tends to
be acknowledged as such mainly by the more mystical sects
in each faith. The feature that unites all interpretations
of spirituality, and which characterizes deity in east and
west, is the oneness of existence. We find this spirituality
and unity emphasized more in eastern rather than western faiths,
which focus more on scripture and dogma.
Although Hinduism is a monotheistic religion, with one Supreme
Being, Brahman, as a deity who created the universe, it gave
rise in the so-called Axial Age of the 1st millennium BCE
to several other faiths that are either nominally atheistic
(Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism) or polytheistic
(Shinto). Significantly, Brahman is often worshipped as light,
one of the forms of energy, or as universal soul, Atman. Where
Christianity accepts only one incarnation of its God as Jesus,
Hinduism has many forms or avatars of Brahman. It is something
of a contradiction that it is the spirituality of these often
atheistic eastern faiths that is closest to the notion of
a cosmic spiritual energy that is emerging from contemporary
science. It is the (often unacknowledged) fundamental basis
of all western religion – a deity as Holy Spirit –
and of the eastern religious philosophies as formative Universal
It was the French Jesuit palaeontologist, Father Pierre Teilhard
de Chardin (1881-1955), who envisaged the evolution of the
world as proceeding through four stages. In his book The Phenomenon
of Man, he described this series of stages as a progression
in the evolution of consciousness. First there was geogenesis,
the creation of the land and the sea; then came biogenesis,
the creation of life forms; this was followed by psychogenesis,
the development of thinking beings. Now we are in the stage
of noogenesis, the evolution of mind into what may be identified
as Universal Mind, Communal Soul or an all-pervading deity
as Holy Spirit. This theistic interpretation is equally capable
of a secular interpretation as the all-pervading interactive
potential energy field associated with matter. The noosphere
is made up of loving souls in harmony with one another without
the strife between nations or religions that we see presently
on Earth – a point in evolution that Teilhard described
as the Omega Point. The increasing acceptance of continuing
discarnate existence is part of this spiritual transformation.
One of the great social changes that demonstrated the evolution
of human consciousness began around the 12th century, flourishing
from the 14th century onwards. A new cultural revolution in
the arts began in Florence and spread to other Italian city
states and thence to the rest of Europe over the next few
centuries. Since the 19th century this rebirth of learning
has been known as the Renaissance. Because it placed human
needs and interests at the centre of social activities it
is also known as humanism – not quite the same thing
but another philosophy that concentrated on human experience
and human freedom of will rather than considering ourselves
as puppets of deity. In the 18th century, realization of the
primacy of human emotions in shaping our thoughts and deeds
gave rise to Romanticism; then in the 19th century, a new
variant of humanism appeared in existentialism.
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Humanists and existentialists may be either religious or
secular. One of the most significant of the atheistic existentialists
was Edmund Husserl. Husserl based his philosophy on first-person
experience – the phenomena that were accessible to human
consciousness. The foundation of an experience is its intentionality
– it has to be directed at some thing or idea. Schopenhauer
called this process Will and William James described it as
Volition. For an experience to become imprinted on memory,
or even to be actively processed by the mind, intention must
be accompanied by attention – directed concentration
on the object of consciousness. Edmund Husserl regarded intentionality
as ‘the fundamental property of consciousness’.
Contemporary writers such as Wayne Dyer, Herbert Benson, Lynne
McTaggart, Louise Hay and others describe it simply as ‘intention’.
It is this same attention or focussed intention that produces
the benefits of spiritual healing or prayer, directs our individual
biochemistry towards health or sickness, and allows psychic
communication through telepathy, clairvoyance and mediumship.
One result of this focus on the primacy of human consciousness
is that many have abandoned orthodox religion.
If we dispense with formal religion, does this give rise
necessarily to an atheistic world-view? It depends on how
we define God. The New Age world-view of deity does not portray
the God of the Old Testament, who in the Pentateuch is portrayed
as a vengeful and unforgiving God, inhuman enough to demand
that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his devotion.
It does not represent the God of the New Testament who is
uniquely incarnated in Jesus Christ, for this would exclude
most of humankind, past and present, as believers. Nor is
it the God of Islam described as Allah, who again is restrictively
but uniquely defined by the qualities and practices elaborated
in the Qur’an.
The mind and soul of all humankind can commune with this
cosmic spirit through the phenomena we describe as psi or
psychic events. For the religious adherent, it is the deity
described by the process theology of A.N. Whitehead and Charles
Hartshorne. However, it can be thought of equally as the secular
and impersonal quantum energy field or fifth dimension of
the natural world.
The deity of New Age spirituality is conceived as a genderless
but creative cosmic energy, infinite and eternal. It contributed
to the evolution of the universe and continues to contribute
to the evolution of human consciousness through prayer and
meditation. It is close in spirit to the Tao of eastern philosophy:
The Tao is like a well: used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.
I do not know who gave it birth.
It is older than God.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, verse 4; trans. Stephen Mitchell
The Tao is the entelechy envisaged by Aristotle – the
force that turns possibility or potential into actuality.
These worlds of possibility give us the (virtual) many worlds
of contemporary science.
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As Teilhard predicted, the consciousness of humankind is
slowly evolving towards a greater realization that this spirituality
not only provides the reason for existence in our everyday
lives on Earth but continues for us as individuals in the
afterlife, where it and we can continue to evolve. There have
been a number of recent books that have described the evidence
for the existence of the afterlife from communications with
mediums, such as those by Michael Tymn, Roy Stemman and Victor
Zammit. The pictures of the afterlife that mediums convey
has much in common with the visions of people who experience
near-death or out-of-body experiences, or the even more startling
shared body experiences. Eminent scientists like Richard Dawkins,
Michael Marsh or Rodney Cotterill who deny the existence of
the spiritual realm for lack of ‘scientific proof’
are simply in denial. Quite apart from the huge mass of anecdotal
evidence of our continued discarnate existence, there is as
much sensory and rational evidence of the existence of the
psychic realm as any scientist could reasonably expect for
a phenomenon involving human subjects.
How many creative artists have claimed that their inspiration
came from a source beyond themselves. Before we dismiss this
as a romantic illusion, we do well to think about the phenomenon
of spiritual healing or energy therapy. It has been known
for many years in orthodox medicine that a patient’s
attitude of mind or belief has a remarkable effect on their
physical health, an effect that could be either positive or
But healing effects can also be brought about by another
person. Some sensitives seem to be able to channel what they
describe as cosmic energy or chi (qi) through their minds
or hands to produce distant or contact healing of patients.
There are mediums without any medical knowledge, like George
Chapman or Leah Doctors, who commune with discarnate medical
practitioners to produce healing effects of physical conditions,
such as blindness, or potentially terminal diseases like diabetes.
Cases such as these have been described in a couple of books
by journalist J. Bernard Hutton. It is impossible for sceptics
to dismiss healing of serious maladies such as these as ‘psychosomatic’
healings or ‘spontaneous remission’, and ‘misdiagnosis’
of such conditions is hardly feasible: nor does dismissal
of any such cures as ‘placebo effects’ explain
This fifth field of cosmic spiritual energy is not the ‘God-of-the-gaps’
so derided by materialist scientists. An agency such as that
elaborated here is as plausible an explanation of psychic
phenomena as the quarks and strings invoked as explanations
of quantum science. We live in an essentially rational world;
so to have an interpretation of numinous and psychic phenomena
that is compatible with modern science should provide additional
confidence to those who still find ideas of psi, soul and
the afterlife quite astonishing. For those whose beliefs entail
deity, there could be no more rational candidate than this
creative and eternal Infinite Mind.
Armstrong, Karen, A Short History of Myth, Canongate Books,
Critchlow, Keith, Time Stands Still: New light on megalithic
science, Floris Books, Edinburgh, 2007.
Hutton, J. Bernard, Healing Hands, W.H. Allen, 1966; Virgin
Publishing, 1995; The Healing Power, Leslie Frewin, London,
Stemman, Roy, Spirit Communication: A comprehensive guide
to the extraordinary world of mediums, psychics and the afterlife,
Piatkus, London, 2005.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Phenomenon of Man, Collins,
1959; (Engl. trans.by Bernard Wall of ‘Le Phenoméne
Humain’, Editions de Seuil, 1955).
Tymn, Michael, The Articulate Dead, Galde Press, Lakeville,
Minnesota, 2008; The Afterlife
Revealed, White Crow Books, Guildford, UK, 2010; The Afterlife
Explorers, Vol.1, White Crow Books, 2010.
Whitehead, Alfred North, Process and Reality, Macmillan, New
Zammit, Victor, A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife,
Ganmell, Sydney, 1996.
Published in The Journal of Spirituality and Consciousness
Studies, Connecticut, USA, January 2013
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