re: What is "New Age"?

Mark Crosby (
Fri, 6 Jun 1997 11:02:02 -0700 (PDT)

Rick Knight wrote:
<It may yet be discovered that consciousness isn't just a wonderfully
evolved network of chemically activated neuron firings but a
self-contained spectrum of energy utilizing the biology of the brain.
An energy domain existing above/beyond the spectrum of light (a domain
on which we are no doubt still getting volumes of new information).>

Most of us harbor ‘hopes’ of dimensions ‘above and beyond’ the
physical world. For example, there is the computationalist vision of
the universe as a giant computer program, running on some higher (or
‘lower’ ?) dimensions’ ‘hardware’, that we can eventually decode and
treat as software such that we could ultimately gain access to the
privileged levels of the operating system, maintain our selves as
immortals at some virtual reality level, and pop in and out of
physical reality whenever and whereever we like. This is what we
sometimes call ‘transcension’.

Also, for those on Extropians not aware of it, a recent Transhumans’
thread ("What will you be doing in 3000?") has discussed the notion of
hyperspherical, nested universes; e.g., on Tue, 3 Jun 1997, Mathew
Korica wrote:
<..."jumping" to a higher or lower hypersphere (ie. energy level) (if
the nested universe theory is correct. In order to do this we may have
to compact ourselves into diffusable components.>
As Anders responded, Iain Banks’ latest novel, _Excession_, paints
some promising pictures of this.

A while back (5/16?), I responded to one of Rick Knight’s early posts,
disparaging Fred Alan Wolf’s book _The Spiritual Universe_, appearing
to be critical of _any_ such notions of the soul and spirit. Let me
try to clarify what I found most appalling in Wolf’s theory, as well
as in most "New Age" speculation:

First, most of these theories fail to distinguish between a
dis-incarnate mind that, supposedly, could exist without any physical
embodiment *at all* (the spiritualist position), and a distributed
mind that, somehow, exists at a level beyond normal constraints of
space-time (if above, ‘transcended’, if below, ‘sublimed’) and makes
use of selected physical substrates, that may be non-locally
connected, utilizing some sort of broad- (or narrow-) casting
technique, to maintain itself (the >computationalist position).

What I found most ‘appalling’ about Wolf’s notion of a ‘spiritual
universe’ was its entropian tendency to regress back to the void,
rather than onward into higher and higher levels of complexity. Part
of Wolf’s thesis states:
<... we will see the soul as a process involving consciousness of
knowledge. This process occurs in the vacuum of space in the presence
and absence of both matter and energy ... The major activity of the
soul is manifestation of matter and energy and the shaping of the
material world by knowledge.>

Frankly, this sounds like shoddy, wishful thinking to me: Knowledge is
the ability to rationally (and intuitively) store and manipulate
symbolic representations of reality. It can only grow or be
constructed through material interactions. At the level of vacuum,
unorganized matter and energy, there is yet no knowledge, only
fundamental ‘urges’ or forces.

Wolf concludes:
<I will show that all of these nearly countless separately conscious
souls are illusions, reflections of one soul with singular
consciousness lasting throughout the span of time our universe

Well, that may be true from a certain warped perspective, but it is
also an illusion, a worse one, because it leads only to a void of
"limitless potential" which would never be actualized but for the
individual material instantiations.

Wolf adds:
<Based on my research, the spirit appears to be virtual vibrations of
vacuum energy, the soul turns out to be reflections of those virtual
vibrations in time, and the self is an illusion arising from
reflections of the soul in matter.>

So, matter is an illusion, just because it is impermanent, and we are
to believe that potentials can exist independently of the population
of actuals from which they arise. It is this type of vacuous,
post-modernist thinking that I want to avoid when speculating about
possibilities for transcension (or sublimation).

Leaving Fred Wolf aside, F.David Peat's 1987 book _Synchronicity_
attempted to popularize physicist David Bohm's ideas about a
holographic mind and universe, emphasizing that Bohm's theory of the
implicate order is a causal interpretation of quantum mechanics
because it postulates a quantum potential connecting all things. Peat
proposed that awareness is a sort of "guide wave", encompassing the
whole distributed memory of the universe, while attention is the
localized retrieval mechanism. The guide wave works on the principle
that information encoded in a small amount of energy has the potential
to guide much more energetic objects, just like 'immaterial' radar
signals can guide a materially huge ship at sea.

Even if this is so (guide wave encompassing the whole distributed
memory of the universe), it is still a code that is just an unrealized
potential until it ‘finds’ materials and organisms through which it
can be executed.

In ch.7 of _Synchronicity_ Peat gets distracted by mystical notions
about "the implicit ground which is sustained by the eternal spring
which bubbles up from the unnamed source of creativity." (Arghh!) I
contend that, because this energy "pervades all of existence", any
attempt to focus on it is fairly meaningless. As Peat admits, "the
actual generative power ... lies behind the various manifestations of
the world." Thus, it is only by 'programming' within the bounds of
this universe that we have any hope of tapping into this evolving
energy base. Mystical experiences are a dime a dozen - they come and
go - and are just as ‘illusory’ as time-stamped rational judgments!
The zen master knows that the Unlimited Potential evaporates into a
fog when we try to focus on it. In other words, as a distinct concept
or captured state, it has no meaning! The 'Vacuum State' is just that
- it has meaning only when combined with the 'Plenum'. Peat's
neurosis, and that of other mystics, is to be always searching for
some 'underlying' Godhead when, as his own arguments show, such a
thing is meaningless but for its manifestations in the material
universe; or, as Peat admits, "the animating power of the world arises
within movement of dualities."

Also, in ch.4 of _Infinity and the Mind_ Rudy Rucker concluded that
consciousness was simply existence in an environment ("I am") and
that, therefore, everything is conscious. I don't think it's quite
that simple: Consciousness is the interplay between awareness, or
perception, attention and intention. Therefore, only complex
self-adaptive systems capable of creating semantic models and taking
action on them can exhibit consciousness. Mere stimulus and response,
just bobbing without judgment on the waves of some cosmic ocean of
being, is not consciousness as we know it.

I think neither matter nor mind is primary in nature; rather, each
serves as a context for the other's development.

Mark Crosby

P.S. Here’s a few appropriate snips from Iain Banks, _The Excession_ :)

[The drone is trying to escape the Excession’s clutches: ] "... a
skein wave passed around and through it; a sharp, purposeful ripple in
space-time ... But this wave was compressed, tightly folded; not the
massive, swell-long surge created when a star contracted into a black
hole ... It was a signal. Or, it was part of a sense." (~p90-100)

Eccentric /Shoot Them Later/ on tight beam, M32, to GSV /Anticipation
of a New Lover's Arrival, The/ [trying to coverup a suspected
conspiracy]: "my dear friend ... spend more time enjoying yourself ...
simulations, abstractions, projections; these are only themselves, not
the reality of what they claim to represent. Attend to the actuality
of events ... What is there to fear but the wild imaginings which may
well be the result of looking too far beyond the scale of relevance
.. I think it is this constant urge to inquire that causes you such
pain; when one is able to scrutinize a subject as closely as we are -
and to do so with the cross-referential capacity we possess, then the
closer one looks into anything the more coincidences one finds,
perfectly innocent though they may be." (~p100-150)
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