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Integral Wisdom, Creative Intelligence, Ecological Science and Systems Thinking

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We need to make a paradigm shift from a compartmentalized, fragmented, mechanistic and reductive view of nature and science to an integrative, holistic, relational, adaptive systems approach. Nature is our teacher. All is connected. The natural world reveals complex and coherent patterns, templates and processes that can be metaphorically and analogically applied to every vital sphere of human inquiry. We need a unified vision of life in all domains. This includes the ‘vertical’ domains of nature, humanity and spirit. It also includes the ‘horizontal’ domains of education and vocation, culture and society, historical past and emergent future. Such a unified vision will combine integral wisdom, creative intelligence, ecological science and systems thinking.

Liberal Arts, Critical Thinking, Cultural Literary & Civil Discourse in the Digital Age of Trollers & Demagogues

We live in the technological age of digital information and entertainment. We also live in an amused and distracted society of “bread and circuses,” of show business and media spectacle. These two statements are not unrelated to each other. The result of living in a show business and media spectacle society is the dumbing down and coarsening of personal reflection and social discourse. A society of thoughtfully reflective and liberally educated persons who value the serious life of the mind and the disciplined practice of civil discourse will produce a very different kind of society.

Perhaps nothing represents both the dumbing down of personal reflection and the coarsening of social discourse than the ravings of Donald Trump. He largely depends on creating endless controversy and feuds through Twitter and through calling in to the major media outlets to spread his ignorant, arrogant narcissistic and demagogic message of racism, resentment, fear and hate.

As the Huffington Post puts it, “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to pan all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

My point is not to adopt a luddite view or to demonize our digital revolution. I welcome it and put it to use in my own life all the time. Rather, it is to point out that for those who lack respect for humanistic values, liberal education, cultural pluralism, civil discourse and democratic institutions, the digital revolution has made it astonishingly easy for those with the most hateful, violent, cruel and crazy views to use the loud-speaker of twitter and fabricated pseudo news stories to “control the narrative” and drown out all other voices than their own.

We live in a society that increasingly lives in the “shallows” of radio, TV and internet noise, trivia, sensationalism and chatter. We are forgetting out to think slowly and deeply about the great issues of life, about what it means to be a whole human being, to build a civil and just society, and to foster a verdant and sustainable world. We need to recover our ability to sustain our powers of attention and concentration. Both the habit of serious book reading, including the literary classics, and the art of critically reflective constructive dialogue serve to reinforce the rigorous life of the mind and the generous empathy of the heart. Attention to great music and the fine arts also serve to cultivate the finer qualities of enrich our common humanity.

Living in an information and entertainment digital technology society it not enough to nurture the life of the mind, the care of the soul, the opening of the heart and the awakening of the spirit. We need to recover the neglected wisdom of past generations. We need to learn how to slow down, to listen deeply, to calm the chatter and to see beneath the surface of things. This can be achieved through the habits of solitary sauntering, quiet meditation, broad reading , journal-writing, and conversational circles, as well as through exploring the vital domains of general knowledge such as history, myth, philosophy, religion, language, literature, music, art, science, technology, sociology, psychology, economics, politics, health and education, energy and ecology. A “great people” who are committed to cultivating the well-rounded life of the body, soul, heart, mind and spirit, and to working together with others in an open democratic society that celebrates both unity and diversity will not be seduced when an ignorant, arrogant, hateful and xenophobic demagogue comes knocking at their door.



Asking the Oldest Philosophical Question: What Is the Nature of Fundamental Reality?

The first ancient Greece philosophers thought that Fundamental Reality is one of the basic physical elements, like air, fire, water and earth, or all of them together.

Their offspring, the atomists, thought it is “matter” or “atoms”

Others have thought that it’s “energy” or “forces.”

Or maybe its a combination of matter and energy working together. Maybe matter and energy are just two aspects of the same reality, so that we get the hyphenated word “matter-energy.” When we think of prime reality as particles we call it matter. When we think of prime reality as energy we call it waves. So maybe it’s both-and, not either-or.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the atomists are the idealists who think Fundamental Reality is, well, Thought, various called Idea, Form, Mind or Consciousness. Some have envisioned a single, universal transcendent Mind, whether personal (God) or impersonal (Godhead), or both. Others have envisioned many finite gods. Still others have imagined that there are many subsidiary and differentiated Minds or Monads, centers of sentience and/or conscience, even hundreds of billions of them throughout the galaxies, but that all of them are ultimate absorbed into the One Universal Mind.

Still others have thought that Matter and Mind are two different realities that have little or nothing to do with each other. Matter is the realm of immanent physical quantities. Mind is the realm of transcendent spiritual qualities. This view is known as metaphysical dualism. Descartes held this view..

And then there are those who think that Fundamental Reality is a synthesis of Matter and Mind, again two aspects of a single entity. So both sides are right, but there is one reality, not two. This view is called Neutral Monism.

Aristotle thought that Fundamental Reality is Being, and that Being is composed of Matter and Form, not either one separate from the other. This view is called hylomorphism.

In more recent times some have suggested that Fundamental Reality is Matter-Energy + Form-Process + Body-Mind + Identity-Relationships. Obviously this group is trying to have it all, to say “Yes, you’re all partly right” to many difference theories concerning the nature of Fundamental Reality. Both-And thinkers like it. Either-Or thinkers hate it. Both sides believe that reason and the evidence support their view and contradict the other.

It is not likely that this ancient and ageless philosophical question will go away any time soon. And it is equally unlikely that there will ever be anything like “universal consensus” when it comes to answering the question. It will remain a Mystery we continue to live with, even while there will be strong partisans who hold their views, some provisionally and others with evangelistic zeal. Materialists, Idealists, Dualists, Panpsychists and others will continue to probe the Mystery as if it were a philosophical or scientific problem that can be solved by our finite and conditioned but promethean and inquisitive human minds. Whether it can or will be “solved” remains an open question. I have my doubts.

Science Set Free from Reductive Materialism ? Rupert Sheldrake on Morphic Resonance Fields

In the “values clarification” tradition it is recommended that values (and beliefs) “be chosen freely, after thoughtful consideration, and among alternatives.” In that spirit I would like to offer an alternative worldview to scientific materialism and reductionism for your consideration.  Rupert Sheldrake articulates such an alternative view in such books as Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation, and Science Set Free . Here’s some biographical information followed by several reviews of “Science Set Free.” This book and the worldview it represents is at counterpoint to the two books referenced to Peter Watson in my previous blog. It’s important to offer “equal time” for different worldviews. This information is gathered from Amazon Books.

Rupert Sheldrake


Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of more than 80 scientific papers and ten books. He was among the top 100 Global Thought Leaders for 2013, as ranked by the Duttweiler Institute, Zurich, Switzerland’s leading think tank. He studied natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he was a Scholar of Clare College, took a double first class honours degree and was awarded the University Botany Prize (1963). He then studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University, where he was a Frank Knox Fellow (1963-64), before returning to Cambridge, where he took a Ph.D. in biochemistry (1967). He was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge (1967-73), where he was Director of Studies in biochemistry and cell biology. As the Rosenheim Research Fellow of the Royal Society (1970-73), he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University. While at Cambridge, together with Philip Rubery, he discovered the mechanism of polar auxin transport, the process by which the plant hormone auxin is carried from the shoots towards the roots.

From 1968 to 1969, as a Royal Society Leverhulme Scholar, based in the Botany Department of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, he studied rain forest plants. From 1974 to 1985 he was Principal Plant Physiologist and Consultant Physiologist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, where he helped develop new cropping systems now widely used by farmers. While in India, he also lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu, where he wrote his first book, A New Science of Life, published in 1981 (new edition 2009).

Since 1981, he has continued research on developmental and cell biology. He has also investigated unexplained aspects of animal behaviour, including how pigeons find their way home, the telepathic abilities of dogs, cats and other animals, and the apparent abilities of animals to anticipate earthquakes and tsunamis. He subsequently studied similar phenomena in people, including the sense of being stared at, telepathy between mothers and babies, telepathy in connection with telephone calls, and premonitions. Although some of these areas overlap the field of parapsychology, he approaches them as a biologist, and bases his research on natural history and experiments under natural conditions, as opposed to laboratory studies. His research on these subjects is summarized in his books Seven Experiments That Could Change the World (1994, second edition 2002), Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (1999, new edition 2011) and The Sense of Being Stared At (2003, new edition 2012).

In his most recent book (2012), called The Science Delusion in the UK and Science Set Free in the US, he examines the ten dogmas of modern science, and shows how they can be turned into questions that open up new vistas of scientific possibility. This book received the Book of the Year Award from the British Scientific and Medical Network.

In 2000, he was the Steinbach Scholar in Residence at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. From 2005-2010 he was the Director of the Perrott-Warrick Project, funded from Trinity College, Cambridge University. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut, and a Fellow of Schumacher College in Devon, England.

He lives in London with his wife Jill Purce. They have two sons, Merlin, a graduate student in Plant Sciences at Cambridge University and a research fellow at The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Cosmo, a musician.

Editorial Reviews: Science Set Free
By Peter White on September 4, 2012

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase

“We all have assumptions that frame how and what we know; without them we couldn’t think at all much less discover a cure for Alzheimer’s. But assumptions can take on a life of their own and choke off the pursuit of knowledge; especially vulnerable are those who sit atop powerful hierarchies for long periods of time. The medieval Church required astronomers to assume that the earth was at the center of the solar system. Science overthrew such groundless imperatives but today seems unable to disenthrall itself from its own long and tautly held assumptions. In “Science Set Free,” Rupert Sheldrake names ten of these assumptions and explains, without raising his voice, why science needs to have another look at each one.

“His arguments make sense to me. For example, the first assumption Sheldrake takes on is the hypothesis of materialism: the idea that only matter and energy exist and that the cosmos is a machine with no original purpose and a bleak entropic future. Under this assumption, held as an unassailable dogma by science, existence is purposeless, consciousness is an illusion, we have no free will, and God is out of the question. These are not small issues.”

Science Set Free takes us through the history of materialist theory, showing how it emerged in the Renaissance in a religious context, acquired self-confidence in the deism of the Enlightenment, and in the 19th and 20th centuries attained megalomania, leading to the notions of reality mentioned above. Sheldrake rejects materialism and depicts nature as an organic whole with boundless evolutionary potential. His arguments are based on the sound science in which he is grounded as a Cambridge and Harvard-trained biologist; but what I admire especially is that he is also a man of “scientia sacra,” which reveres the poetry and beauty of life and knows that there is more to knowledge than measurement.

By Pete Sargasso on October 3, 2012

“SCIENCE SET FREE is an excellent work, well worth the reading. Here are ten reasons why.
1. Good writing. The sine-qua-non of all good books… and the test is that once started it is hard to put down.

2. Personal. One can feel the engagement of the writer in the prose. He is there in light touches of humour: but more importantly, he is there in his conviction, in his willingness to share data and in his reporting of the way his work has been marginalized – not because it is wrong- but because it challenges some of the current assumptions of Science.

3. Coherent Structure. All the chapters follow the same pattern, and this gives the book a special kind of unity. Each chapter begins with a question followed by a historical analysis of how that question has been answered in different epochs, and leading to an up-to-date analysis of the available data.

4. Superb bibliography. Enough reading here for a lifetime.

5. Breaks new ground. No one can tell where research will lead, but an openness to fresh ideas is necessary for progress.

6. Educational. Whether one agrees with Sheldrake or not, SCIENCE SET FREE serves as an introduction to many areas of scientific research. Where the jargon of science is necessary to avoid confusion, he explains not only the meaning of a given term, but its etymology. That is a courtesy to the reader and greatly facilitates understanding.

7. Interdisciplinary. The text moves easily from scientific research to conclusions from ancient and modern philosophy. Also, it is not restricted to one science but ranges from physics to botany, to the experiences of shamans, to telepathy, and yes, to religion somewhat…. Hence we gain a comprehensive picture.

“His arguments make sense to me. For example, the first assumption Sheldrake takes on is the hypothesis of materialism: the idea that only matter and energy exist and that the cosmos is a machine with no original purpose and a bleak entropic future. Under this assumption, held as an unassailable dogma by science, existence is purposeless, consciousness is an illusion, we have no free will, and God is out of the question. These are not small issues.“Science Set Free” takes us through the history of materialist theory, showing how it emerged in the Renaissance in a religious context, acquired self-confidence in the deism of the Enlightenment, and in the 19th and 20th centuries attained megalomania, leading to the notions of reality mentioned above. Sheldrake rejects materialism and depicts nature as an organic whole with boundless evolutionary potential. His arguments are based on the sound science in which he is grounded as a Cambridge and Harvard-trained biologist; but what I admire especially is that he is also a man of “scientia sacra,” which reveres the poetry and beauty of life and knows that there is more to knowledge than measurement.

By Robert McLuhan on September 5, 2012

“For those of us who are suspicious of the claims of materialism it’s astonishing, and also heartening, to hear a scientist agree that it’s a hidebound ideology, dismiss the belief in determinism as a ‘delusion’ and call on the ‘high priests’ of science to abandon their ‘fantasy of omniscience’.

“This all sounds rather rhetorical, but this is as polemical as his language gets; the book certainly has little about religion. For the most part it’s a dispassionate expose of materialism’s failures, and a plea for scientists to open up to new thinking. Despite his reputation as a heretic, gained from his controversial theory of morphic resonance and his psychic research, Sheldrake has impeccable credentials as a biochemist – Cambridge, Harvard, ground-breaking research and a stint in India helping to develop high-yield crops – that demand respect.

“Sheldrake identifies ten core beliefs that scientists take for granted:

that people and animals are complex mechanisms rather than goal-driven organisms; that matter is unconscious and human consciousness an illusion;
that the laws of nature are fixed; that nature is purposeless;
that all biological inheritance is carried via material structures like genes, and so on.

“Each is the basis of a chapter, in which he draws attention to unresolved tensions, problems and dilemmas. Most scientists think these will eventually be ironed out. However Sheldrake argues they are symptoms of a deeper malaise, and that the failure of the materialist model to make good on its predictions will eventually lead to its demise.

A key idea for Sheldrake is the existence of information fields that act as a kind of universal memory.

Rich’s Comment: Sheldrake’s holistic theory of  morphic resonance fields and emergent systems has affinities with the worldview of “panpsychism” and Alfred North Whitehead’s “process panexperientialism.” Similar authors include Ervin Laszlo (Quantum Shift in the Global Brain), Christian de Quincey ( Radical Nature, Radical Knowing), David Ray Griffin (Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem}, and Fritjof Capra (The Hidden Connections, The Web of Life), among many others.

The Modern Mind & The Age of Atheists: Intellectual & Cultural History by Peter Watson

The Modern Mind, by Peter Watson (2000)

Editorial Review from Amazon:
“Just as the 20th century dawned with an unparalleled optimism regarding the moral, social and scientific progress of humanity, it ended with an unshakeable confidence in the promises of technology and the power of free-market economics to deliver a better life for all humankind. British journalist Watson’s (War on the Mind; The Caravaggio Conspiracy; etc.) panoramic survey traces various 20th-century ideas and their power to bend and shape society and individuals. At a frenetic pace, he gallops through the modern intellectual landscape, pausing long enough to graze the founts of philosophy (from Wittgenstein to Richard Rorty to Alasdair MacIntyre), literature (Kafka, Woolf, Mann, Rushdie), literary criticism (F.R. Leavis to Jacques Derrida), art (Picasso to Warhol), economics (Milton Friedman to John Kenneth Galbraith), science (Linus Pauling to E.O. Wilson) and film (D.W. Griffiths to Fran?ois Truffaut). He also briefly examines the significance of a wide range of political and cultural movements, such as socialism, communism, fascism, feminism and environmentalism. Watson’s rich narrative covers every corner of intellectual life in the 20th century, yet the style is so breezy and anecdotal that it lacks the deep learned elegance of a history of ideas by, for example, Isaiah Berlin or Jacques Barzun. Unfortunately, for all the book’s breadth, Watson’s workmanlike approach has the feel of a handful of school assignments cobbled together from encyclopedia articles rather than of work drawn from years of thoughtful reflection and an intimate acquaintance with, and love of, ideas.”
“In this long and astonishing narrative, British journalist Watson presents an unconventional history of the 20th century, which, he argues, “has been dominated by a coming to terms with science.” Although this massive volume is packed with a multitude of events, ideas, and influential people, Watson’s infectious writing carries the reader swiftly along. The mosaic he creates can best be illustrated by this typical sentence: “On 25 October 1900, only days after Max Planck sent his crucial equations on a postcard to Heinrich Rubens, Pablo Picasso stepped off the Barcelona train at the Gare d’Orsay in Paris.” In 42 chapters, Watson travels from Freud to the Internet, from pragmatism and relativity to Brave New World and Hiroshima, while considering the impact of the arts, existentialism, feminism, sexuality, genetics, medicine, the Great Society, race, AIDS, and more. Key people and ideas are highlighted. It is hard to spot any major omissions, though post-World War II music seems to get overlooked. While this work is reminiscent of Paul Johnson’s Modern Times (LJ 5/1/83), Watson’s scope goes far beyond politics and history.”
[Yes, Read Isaiah Berlin (The Roots of Romanticism) and Jacques Barzun (From Dawn to Decadence) to see how two of the greatest scholars of intellectual and cultural history have honed their craft. They are the gold standard!


The Age of Atheists, by Peter Watson (2015)

Editorial Reviews from Amazon:

“As humanity (limited here to Western humanity) was losing the sense of certainty that came with a belief in God, with Nietzsche famously pronouncing His death, what was to fill that spiritual void? This is the enormous question tackled by English intellectual historian Watson. How have thinkers, artists, and others in a secular age sought to anchor humanity in relation to the universe? Watson’s breathtakingly vast coverage ranges chronologically from the immediate post-Nietzschean generation to the present, and culturally across an immense canvas, an encyclopedic who’s who in twentieth-century arts and sciences (and more) somehow confronting a spiritual vacuum in a period marked by two world wars, the Holocaust, a multitude of other horrors, and the atomic age. American poet Wallace Stevens thought that “in an age when God is dead, the arts in general, and poetry in particular, must take over.” What was created were not only lasting works of art but also, in aggregate, an anti-theology theology. Watson’s theme seems to be that an astonishingly broad spectrum of manifestations of the human spirit, in a human community, ground us in a less-certain world. His style, like many of those he discusses, can be recondite, but Watson’s encompassing treatment of a difficult subject, in a world growing no less uncertain, is impressive and, ultimately, reassuring.”

“Peter Watson’s hindsight, foresight and insight into the role atheists play in creating our cultures makes The Age of Atheists a must read. Readers will gain a deeper appreciation of the rich world in which we live.” (Charles de Groot, co-chair of The de Groot Foundation)

“Peter Watson’s book has made the extraordinary leap of assessing each of the 20th century’s important secular philosophic traditions. Along the way, as an ultimate reference, he has also given us the intuitive methods and insights of that century’s leading poets, painters, musicians and choreographers. Perhaps no one else at this moment has the background for such an adventure. Whether as a guide to the last century’s thinkers or as a reference to the insights of its artists, The Age of Atheists is an indispensable map to locate our present.” (William Kistler, poet and essayist)

“Watson’s encompassing treatment of a difficult subject, in a world growing no less uncertain, is impressive and, ultimately, reassuring.” (Booklist (starred))

“The beauty of this book is Watson’s ability to impose order on a riot of ideas…even the casual reader will find much to delight and enlighten as Watson elegantly connects the dots from Nietzsche and William James to Bob Dylan and jazz.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Highly readable and immensely wide-ranging….Peter Watson has produced what is, in every way, a big book, one that bears reading thoughtfully, with a pencil in hand. For anybody who has wondered about the meaning of life, and that pretty much covers everyone past the age of 12, discovering “The Age of Atheists” will be an enthralling and mind­-expanding experience.” (Michael Dirda The Washington Post)

“A vividly engaging conspectus of the formative ideas of the past century, The Age of Atheists shows how Nietzsche’s diagnosis evoked responses in many areas of cultural life, including some surprising parts of the political spectrum.” (The New Statesman)

“An exhilarating ride through the cerebra of disparate men…who have tried to fashion a Godless yet nonetheless ordered and sustaining worldview. It is a topical book, to be sure, but also one that will stand the test of time as a masterful account of its subject.”

Rich’s comments:
One feature that struck me in reading these two books by Peter Watson was this: In the first book, The Modern Mind, published in 2000, Watson documents and celebrates the ascendency of scientific hegemony and especially Darwinian evolution trajectory of atheism. But in The Age of Atheists, published in 2014, he seems more interested to showcase how atheistic, agnostic and in particular non-theistic and anti-theistic worldviews have been expressed by thought leaders not only in science but in a wide variety of other fields, including philosophy, literature, art, painting, choreography and economics. Rather than subordinate all other fields of intellectual and cultural expression to science, as in scientism, Watson seems more willing to embrace the irreducible plurality of ways of looking at the world. He concludes with a quote by the neo-pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty: “Cultures with riches vocabularies are more fully human — farther removed from the beasts — than those with poorer ones.”
Watson has done an impressive job of surveying many of the modern secular philosophers, literati, artists and scientists who have adopted their various disciplines, worldviews and epistemologies as functional surrogates for religion. He freely admits that we live in a more anxious, uncertain and potentially nihilistic world with the cultural “death of god.”  Watson himself has clearly become impressed with the neglected philosophy of phenomenology (within the existential tradition) as a complement and corrective to scientific positivism, especially celebrating the voices of the artists and poets who are usually subordinated to those of philosophers and scientists.
I also recommend his book, “The German Genius.”