Agencies, by Anthony Blake

Heracles freeing Prometheus from his torment by the eagle (Attic black-figure cup, c. 500 BC)

Heracles freeing Prometheus from his torment by the eagle (Attic black-figure cup, c. 500 BC)

I must, before I die, find some way to say the essential thing that is in me, that I have never said yet – a thing that is not love or hate or pity or scorn, but the very breath of life, fierce and coming from very far away. Bringing into human life the vastness and the fearful passionless force of non-human things . . .  Bertrand Russell, letter to Constance Malleson, 1918

The idea of a “fall of man” is not confined to Christendom.  Krishnamurti in his famous dialogues with physicist David Bohm on “The Ending of Time” asked the question: What went wrong in human life? The twentieth century came with the thought that not only God was in hiding but that He was dead. G.I. Gurdjieff proposed that in early history man was physically altered to prevent him seeing reality, an action that although reversed carries on by momentum.  Certain cultures speak of a “dreamtime” when there was another order of reality in which man was not divided from the divine. Whatever the terminology or explanation, we find ourselves in separation and seek the way home; yet we know of the separation only because it has been revealed to us. We seek only because something is trying to find us. As Simone Weil pointed out, the New Testament says much about God seeking man and nothing about man seeking God.

An image comes to mind of humans as creatures gathered around their camp fires, fearful and ignorant of what lies around them; the picture of camp fires suggesting such things as the collective dreams we call cultures or, perhaps, our much vaunted consciousness, a word that is constructed out of the meaning “to know together.” Another image is that of being in a bubble, a Liebnizian monad, taking itself as complete and therefore incapable of reaching beyond itself.   Human life is a kind of sleep or dream and cannot awake without help.

We invoke a sense of symmetry: the relationship whereby we make contact with the physical world and the past should have a complement in a relationship whereby higher intelligence makes contact with us and the future.

If any characteristic is nearly everywhere taken as axiomatic of our existence, it is that of our self-determination, even when evidence testifies against it in many cases. I am this moment more than any part of my past or future. The verb “to be” that crops up in any discussion of what is real is deceptive and, as we shall see, leads us astray in considering consciousness to be all that important. Instead we might think of using the phrase “I can make this moment.” That moments as such are real at all is currently disputed in physical science; in relativity, for example, all space-time is laid out and nothing really happens.

We should also consider that what most tend to refer to as consciousness is retrospective narrative that generates an illusion of agency. When this is shared we have a culture. We can become aware of or suspect such narrative, which then lands us in the question of who or what is in control. When something comes into our minds it is already formed and directed–as we can see in our writing and speaking where words appear of themselves and all we can do in our awareness is pause and hold at bay what appears. Consciousness is hesitation. The uncertainty here is even more acute when it comes to the ethical and religious.

A traditional thought is that as we are, we are not able to know truly or choose wisely. This underlies religion. In religion, knowledge and choice are put under some external authority, or set of rules such as the Sharia. Many people hope to opt out of religion with its dogmas, constraints, and authorities and turn to “spirituality,” supposedly based on experience, but this has the drawback of begging the question of the sources of our acts of cognition and decision, and their reliability. Philosopher, mystic, and scientist John Bennett adopted the Greek word hyparxis, usually translated as “essential nature,”  in a Neoplatonic sense of “ableness to be.” The Neoplatonist view was that we had a certain strength of reality of our own but needed to participate in a bigger strength for understanding greater or higher things. This is just the idea that underpins the practice of adherence to a guru. Originally it was the idea from the Greeks of participating in operations of the gods.  As we shall see later, this idea revolves around the archetypal figure of the demiurge. The idea of increasing one’s own personal ableness is rife in Hindu scriptural writings wherein, for example, a yogi develops such power that he becomes a threat to the gods. The idea of participation where, alternatively, equality is supreme is apparent in the Buddhist sangha and the early Christian Church.

It is possible to speak of a spiritual ecology as well as a biological one. It would be based more on information than matter and energy; hence, inherently symbolic. We must point out that, in general, people oppose symbols to “reality” in the sense of “what really exists,” a view which extends to the rigid disjunction of software and hardware in computer science. The physicist David Bohm advocated a concept of “active information” that corresponds with the Scholastic/Aristotelian idea of Form as well as with the “third world” of such thinkers as Karl Popper. Active information as we shall discuss later is a useful concept with which to approach the question of the bodies of angels. For the moment we want to suggest an ecology that embraces such elements as we might call “intent” and “form.” Such an ecology would be woven out of communication. And this communication would be the equivalent of interspecies exchange.

There are many reasons for invoking the idea of ecology but one in particular is foremost: just as in the evolutionary biology that is concomitant with ecology, there are questions of whether competition or co-operation predominate.  It is not for nothing that people have spoken of a “war in heaven” as portrayed in Milton’s Paradise Lost. We can go much further back to the Enuma Elish of the Sumerians, where the gods seek to destroy their progenitors. The contrast of good angels and evil demons, for example, reflects our own uncertainty about right action, an uncertainty that makes us human.

In a sense this uncertainty precedes any angelic or spiritual order, but it is more than us seeking for answers to calm our minds. Uncertainty is akin to what is vaguely called the “unconscious”: on the one hand it is a testament to our ignorance while on the other it opens us to a source of meaning.  The absence of certainty or knowledge is itself a power. This thought is embedded in many ancient schemes of creation, which often begin with the making of a “yawning gap” before anything can be brought into being.

Co-operation (and also its cousin synergy) comes after creation. Again, without going into any details, this is inherent in the view of the Holy Ghost in Christendom “proceeding from the Father and the Son together,” as it is said in the Creed. It is a radical issue in contemporary physics. We are becoming familiar with the idea of “quantum entanglement” and how much Einstein hated the thought of it. He was fixated on the view that nothing happened except by one thing acting on another proximate to it. In other words, everything happens locally. Quantum entanglement means that two or more things can form a whole that acts globally.  The argument presented here is necessarily sketchy but we hope that the similarities of thought in the different realms of theology, biology, theology, and so on can be felt. For example, we might suggest that the Trinity in its Western form offers an early example of entanglement (of the Father and Son); whereas the Eastern form at the time of the schism of the Church in the fourth century remained archaic in presenting the Holy Ghost as also stemming only from the Father.

The term “communication” we used earlier has the unfortunate connotation of some exchange back and forth which is of course the appearance it has in time. Another word, “communion,” suggests a shared identity that precedes any interaction. Yet another—“co-creation”–specifies the making of something new. If there is a spiritual ecology it would serve to enable such co-creations or synergies.

It is important to know that ecological science was badly compromised by scientists adhering to some concept of a “natural balance” of things, leading them to pursue equations of equilibrium and even falsifying data.  Organic life on earth is specifically and necessarily not in equilibrium. Similarly, we may have the orientation that “God’s in His Heaven and all’s right with the world” out of faith in equilibrium and stasis. It is all too true that many spiritually minded people long for some guaranteed order in the scheme of things and often then blame mankind or the modern world for disrupting this order. But the radical teacher Gurdjieff avowed that real (spiritual) work was “against Nature and against God.”

Gurdjieff spoke of “laws of world creation and world maintenance” but implied there were laws of “world realization,” that there was something to accomplish in which all conscious beings such as humans could participate in with God. In Christian theology as in Scotus Erigena’s writings, the Three Persons of the Trinity are responsible for Creating (the Father), Redeeming (the Son), and Perfecting (the Holy Ghost). It must be added that in many systems there is ambiguity about whether we are concerned with “putting things right” or “progressing in meaning” (the latter of course being the least familiar).  The Fall of Man is sometimes seen as a blessing because it necessitated the Incarnation. The Apocalypse does not mean disaster but a new revelation.

Restricting ourselves for the moment to the monotheistic religions of the Middle East, scriptures elaborate a history of our engagement with the spiritual ecology (this is to leave aside the issue of the major tenet of monotheism for the moment). Significantly this is expressed in terms of God dictating words to man. The role of literacy in forming religion is a major one. In a way, the religions are their writings as comes to a climax in the Islamic reverence for the Quran as being the very presence of God. However, writing entails narrative and hence religions must evolve. We say this in spite of the fact that Islam claims Muhammad brought the final revelation. It is sad thing that religions often try to stop history by claiming a final authority.

The narratives of religion draw upon thousands of years of narrative in mythology and ritual. A still largely unexplored question is how many distinct ideas there are and when and where they arose. We barely know how to form the question in a productive way. But it is something that affects us personally because in all probability we have almost no idea where our own thoughts come from. Of course it is obvious that the bulk if not all of our thought is simply replication of what we picked up from our environment, schooling, the media, and culture. But where did those come from?

John Bennett believed that the main inputs were generated in four ritual centers around 10,000-12,000 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age. This is to ignore the remarkable achievements being made 10,000 and 20,000 years before that in the Palaeolithic.  Bennett’s claim largely rests, though, on the evolution of language and he suggests with some evidence that four major language groups diverged at that time. He paid little attention to the development of mathematical language, perhaps taking it for granted. Verbal and mathematical languages are the major components of active intelligence. As was realized with creation of alphabets and Indo-Arabic numbering, having efficient means of rendering thoughts was even more potent than any number of particular ones.

The arising of numbers and letters was ascribed to the gods, as in the well-known lament of Prometheus the Titan, chained to the rock with an eagle gnawing at his liver as punishment for revealing them to mankind:

Prometheus: Yes, and numbers too, chiefest of the sciences I invented for them and the combining of letters, creative mother of the Muses’ arts with which to hold all things in memory

–Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

We can in passing only allude to the various ideas that postulate a world of archetypal forms from which our possibilities of understanding derive. In the seminal work on ancient astronomy, Hamlets’ Mill by George de Santillana and Edith von Dechend, the authors speak of a “time” when there were “thought forms thinking themselves,” only later to be brought into the media of narrative in mythologies. Jung’s archetypes are said to spring from the “collective unconscious,” perhaps a rudimentary entanglement of all members of the human species but a concept that may have had its origins in Gustav Fechner’s ideas of the “mind” of the planet. These examples are sufficient to suggest an aspect of the spiritual ecology that is abstract and symbolic, having no relation to any being or class of non-human agencies.  Mind itself, we might say, when it is capable of reflecting on its own operations, must inevitably generate active forms of transformation of information. These do not have to have “come from” anywhere.

Higher mind might be seen in two senses, one as seeing into what is universal and everywhere in an impersonal way and the other as grasping the roots of action in oneself or the particular and ethical, where choice matters. In Gurdjieff’s canon these are known as the higher intellectual center and the higher emotional center, respectively. Also, he divided his cosmological explanations according to two agencies, one of cosmic laws and the other of sacred individuals. The common view that there are beings such as people who do things is hard to question but should be questioned. Bennett often spoke the aphorism he created: There are not beings that do things but doings that be things. This slogan exhibits a radical turning around in understanding, a veritable metanoia. God, for example, does not exist because He is the primary act of will and not anything at all. Whenever we ourselves act we partake of the primary will so that all is from God without anything “being” God.

For thousands of years people have wondered about creative power. All this world around us was believed to have been made and did not just happen. Yet humans themselves make things. Are we then creators within a meta-Creation or mere “apes of god”? A primary realm of experience in which these and far more profound questions played out was in the making of words, or poetry. The authenticity of our poetry had to be granted us. This was the origin of the idea of the muse. The word itself has origins associated with mind, deriving from the proto-Indo-European root men “to think.” Mousika, from which we get our word “music,” was performed metrical speech. The speaking of verse was once the recognized form of intelligence and Plato had to argue it should be superseded by philosophical discourse (prose one might say) to open up to sceptical enquiry. This had vast implications since the very meters of verse were considered gods. (The secularization of language was completed only about five hundred years ago with the emergence of the form we call “sentence.”) Practically, for example in Norse poetry, there were different meters for different purposes, such as Fornyrðislag or “meter of ancient words” and Malahattr or “meter of speeches”.  By following and excelling in the forms, the bards were in tune, we could say, with the gods. The idea of intelligence and even “sacredness” residing in language itself rather than in people (capable only of temporary ableness) came down through the ages to Giambattista Vico and James Joyce and continues in modern commentators such as R. Calasso and George Steiner.

The making of verse and other manifestations of the Muses were expressions of making as such, including the making of the world and even evolution (in its various senses over the ages) once identified by the idea of the demiurge as in the writings of Plato and Aristotle. The demiurge became the arch-villain in Gnostic writings because he was seen as tied to the material world and creating a “prison-reality” such as depicted in the film The Matrix.

In many cultures the role of the demiurge was symbolized by the potter. Pottery and its art were deeply revered and appear to go back at least to Palaeolithic times. The abstract idea of it is that the demiurge has to use already existing material to fashion a world in contrast to the higher creation of ex nihilo, “out of nothing.”

On a personal level, the early Greeks had the idea of the daimon. It is mentioned in the Symposium that Socrates had problems with his daimon because it would indicate dangers but never tell him what to do–which is rather as we picture the unconscious these days.

R.B. Onians, who comments extensively on the terminology of early Greek thought, avers that the daimon had a personal physical location in the head and was associated with sex. It was only later, around the time of Plato, that the idea of thought originating in the brain was entertained. It is possible then to see the daimon in the head as a placement of creativity beyond the conscious mind. Onians traces the image into later times and links it with the appearance of energy around the head that became the “halo” of sacred individuals. The daimon as sexual and creative was also considered “irrational” and then became the “evil” demon. There are a myriad of evolutes of the idea including its translation in Roman times into the term “genius.” This very multiplicity of meaning is essential to its meaning. Just consider that special people (such as Lamia the queen of Libya) could become a daimon. Philip Pullman turned daimons into animals in his novels.

The people we imagined around their camp fire look to their artificial blaze and cannot see the deeper light in the “black” that surrounds them. Creativity has to be beyond consciousness. Yet, only in the world of consciousness can we seem to have choice and will. In the practical world–such as in industry or in psychotherapy–we strive to find ways of co-operation between the conscious and trans-conscious realms.  Nobody knows what happens at the critical moment which makes a process creative; consciousness is always somewhat downstream from reality. When Christ said while on the Cross, “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” it was the declaration of the central human predicament.

Commonly, people have located higher intelligences in the atmosphere or inside the sun. A more interesting “location” is the future, or at least in some order of greater time than our own moment. Until quite recently these intelligences were located in the “far-past” as in the days of creation. Bennett places them in a special time he called the hyparchic future, a phrase which means what is ahead of us capable of altering present time. Such a quasi-scientific view carries a sense of dealing with the higher intelligence and ourselves as a system.

There is an aspect of all this that is mathematical and technical with no particular stake in spirituality. This is to look into process or action when they are self-reflective. An action that feeds into itself is infinite and requires no entity to “do” it but will exhibit what are called eigenvalues that appear as entities (that can be named). Speculatively, then, higher order operations or actions will incur higher beings. One of the most intriguing speculations in modern physics is that the very existence of the universe requires a multitude of what are called “Boltzmann observers.” And, as far as the reality of “I” is concerned there is a parallel in the singularity at the heart of a black hole in that it remains uncertain whether it can ever be observed.♦

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
J. G. Bennett: The Dramatic Universe (4 volumes)
A. G. E. Blake: A Gymnasium of Beliefs in Higher intelligence
R. Calasso: Literature of the Gods
J. D. Krishnamurti & David Bohm: The Ending of Time
R. B. Onians: The Origins of European Thought: About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate
P. D. Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous
G. Steiner: Real Presences