Ode To A Paradigm Shift (2011)

in science •  last month

“The Prologue and The Promise” by Robert McCall.

Hello, reader! Consider these collected notes from seven years ago the prequel to the book that I’ve been writing, How To Live in the Future (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6). They are my first attempts to really trace the transformation that was looming in the distance in 2011 and is now our all-encompassing and planet-wide reality.
Just like an early demo tape, it’s rough and raw, without much finish or cohesion. To me it now all reads as youthfully naïve, and some of it is just plain wrong.
But it’s a record of the moment that this all began to come into focus for me – and it was a moment of intense personal transformation, notes I took while preparing for, and then recovering between (and from), my first, initiatic ayahuasca ceremonies in Peru. The day we got out of the jungle, the first news I saw on television was about the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown. It is safe to say that in light of that worldwide catastrophe, this “ode” is actually a storm crow, crowing.
I hope it will inspire you, and help you think more lucidly, and help you find your way amidst the turbulence.

ONE: Bracing For Impact.

“By 2010, I think the human race will be ungovernable. And at the point where government breaks down, the only alternative to chaos is intelligent negotiation.”
- Robert Anton Wilson

What I am about to tell you, I wonder if I should even write. It’ll only be a few years before it’s all common knowledge anyway, the background normal, the water in which we’re swimming.

First Haiti, then Egypt, then Wisconsin — the communication-empowered crowds proved they could and would outmaneuver NGOs, then the government itself.

Lightspeed sharing, the exponential expansion of individual knowledge driven by compulsive and innate human chatter (“crowd-accelerated innovation”), will make all of what I am about to say stupidly apparent. In the last few years that I’ve been studying it, all of its moving parts, this vast idea spinning in the sky of my pre-augmented meme space like that mysterious red tetrahedron that appeared over the Kremlin back in 2009, a constant superimposition over all of the other metaphors I use to swath my naked awareness…in those last few years, what I thought was a private stirring slowly unveiled itself like a surfacing archipelago, and papers from all over the world appeared to enrich and confirm that early nagging, sneaking suspicion, that slowly filling room of a new life-enveloping truth right before I admit the old world won’t be able to breathe anymore.

Suddenly the hidden extent of my island reality came up crashing over the waters and showed itself as, actually, a continent, a common idea. The edge of that human superorganism swung like dawn from orbit into view and everywhere I looked people were having the same ideas. I could almost feel — I started to imagine as if — a thin web of us, like a slime mold connected by the sweet ectoplasm of wireless transfers, a glistening light lichen with all of us cozied up to these simple silicon things like we’re fungi and algae.

I saw myself looking from orbit — not from “my own” eyes, but through a gauzy layer of satellite sensors I operate embodiedly — and flipping through the views of every mind possessed of a certain idea: here first is the map of people who are currently thinking about sex/about money/about postmodernism, and here are the people who are having a hunch about something (you can see it in the glow of their threshold-passing enteric nervous activity, revealing some areas of the planet make people more sensitive in different nervous regions)…to view the body of a notion resonating through the Earth body into each of us, to varying degrees…to finally capture gods on camera.

On this new continent, intellectual property is a joke. In this new land, the past and future telescope visibly in either direction and shake their hands here with us, as us. And so nobody is “first,” exactly. We honor everybody’s part in this beast, this bigger thing. We aren’t fighting; we are in our intense distinctions breathing in our recognition of a common cause, not just the human project but the project of being.

And, seeing this future, I’m not so desperate as I once was to put the pieces together in time. I’m having trouble writing this book because by the time it’s published, some part of me believes you’ll already know. I’m just confirming for you that somebody had this figured out last year. Wow, what a sophisticated savage, still languishing in his selfhood! He so closely predicted this world. But of course, that’s not unusual…time going in all ways like it does, you know.

- Boulder, Colorado, 11 February 2011

So after strained consideration, I’m NOT going to write this as a book. Not instantaneous enough. Oh sure, I hope it’ll all be published together some day, in a pretty bound volume. But it’s more crucial that these impressions be stamped on the zeitgeist while the wax is still warm, while the revelations still ring with the right time of things.

Books are so last year. Let’s wade through this together in real-time, live from the front lines, where you and I can do the re-knitting work of critique and commentary as each strand in this weave appears. Rather than wait for you to scrawl in paper margins and scan the pages, rather than suffer the belabored editorial back-and-forth, I’ll give up on indices and dust jackets and throw myself heartedly into the vital current of this world-spanning photon web where the book can live as an example of its own ideas.

I’ll use links instead of endnotes. I’ll register it under a Creative Commons license instead of a Copyright. I’ll post it all as it steams birth-wet, and edit everything after publication, and I’ll STILL lag behind, because the future I want to tell you about is so fast it’s the past. While we’ve been playing “Time The Arrow,” a million generations are living us as prior incarnations.

There’s no way to catch up, so read past the type and FEEL an age when duration is no distance, when distance is no obstacle, and everything instantaneous in love is thrumming NOW, NOW, NOW. I’ll spend a few chapters reeling on science, art, and spirituality…and hopefully, poetically, pull you in with me to the singularity where each of these is a strategy to express the same great mystery — where every sense derives from sensing, every thought’s a branch on thinking, and all these things are followed home, and you and I, as well. Speaking serially about a mind that speaks in holograms, stringing pearls to describe a necklace, let’s begin to trace a maze of roots, not knowing yet as lucidly as we might soon: it doesn’t start or end.

And when I’m finished writing…who will we be by then?

- Boulder, Colorado, 24 March 2011

TWO: A New “Science.”

“The greater one’s science, the deeper the sense of mystery.”
- Vladimir Nabokov
“The job of an artist is always to deepen the mystery.”
- Francis Bacon

We are at the end of one science and the beginning of a new science — one that dismisses the ancient but futile quest for total knowledge (and, not so implicitly, total control) and the narrow-minded insistence on the linear progression of cause and effect, for a celebration of the newer and more confounding questions introduced by each answer, for a playful exploration of co-causation’s latticework, which unifies all perspectives in a mutual creation and returns us each to center even as the dream of measuring our world’s boundaries recedes into nonsense.

And it is in nonsense that we rediscover ourselves — in the ceaseless irruption of the incompletely understood into our tidy matrices, a reminder (a co-conspiratorial one, if we are lucky) that the universe is bigger than our laws (even if we call them “universal”) and as its fruit, our lives are themselves a thin tiling of the familiar like verdigris/filigree/gold leaf over the faceless mind of tireless, revelatory, orgasmic creation.

- MSY to ATL, 07 January 2011

It’s easy, obvious, intuitive, this “linear time.” An arrow flying from God’s hand to the apocalyptic bull’s eye…or from the equally inexplicable (and evidence-contrary) Big Bang to some evaporated darkness beyond the time of life and mind. But I want to separate what so many of my peers and colleagues/companions consider “Science” — the monolithic institution with its willful ignorances and high priests — from the fertile, variegated, dynamic ecology of ideas and interactions that actually constitutes the living body of our kind’s (I loathe to say “our species’,” for reasons I will soon elaborate) dance with the known and unknown.

To make the most elementary distinction, “Science” the noun — taken to mean the global nation of rigorous collaborative truth-seekers — consists of AT LEAST two parts: the convention-focused core and the anomaly-focused fringe. Join me in my biologist’s metaphorical framing for a moment, here, and look at this abstract cultural space laid out in three dimensions, like a living cell: at its center, the genetic libraries of all inherited knowledge and the nucleic wardens of this trove (scientists double-checking new data against established knowledge perform the same function as RNAi molecules attacking the foreign genetic information and gene products that make it through the cell’s first defenses); at its boundary, the equally-vigilant gatekeepers of the cell’s permeable membrane, selectively admitting nutritive particles and safely consistent genetic instructions — the REAL brain of the cell, which defines it in contrast to the alien world beyond and mediates the two worlds (including the transduction of messages to and from other cells, or in this macro case, other methods of knowledge creation — either human or nonhuman).

The ongoing debate between two sides who paint one another as zealous, blinded, “truth-desperate” knowledge clergy on one hand and footloose, undereducated, wishful-thinking lunatic hucksters on the other is as ridiculous and self-defeating as a conflict between the nucleus and cell membrane over whose task is the one true indispensable function of a cell.

The same can be said of religions: to stroke sweepingly with terms like “Christian,” “Buddhist,” or “Pagan” does as little or less to characterize the immense, harmonic diversity that allows any living organization to persist with both structural stability and creative freshness. I love categories as much as anyone, but the consistent patterning of these various human social automata reveals more in common between them — and more diversity within them — than any concrete-minded label-lover would care to admit.

And as the story goes, there are two types of people in the world: those who divide everything into two categories…

- ATL to DEN, 17 January 2011

Much of what we call science these days is actually engineering. We must remember that Science is foremost (or, at least on its forefront) a study of the miraculous. When we first encounter a phenomenon, there on the periphery, we shouldn’t expect to understand it; if we DO, we’re probably wrong. (Of course, Science is also neither about being RIGHT.) And denying the existence of something just because we don’t have a mechanism is a breach in the integrity of the scientific enterprise. A truly hungry mind isn’t satisfied by paving over deep questions with easy answers.

- Boulder, 27 January 2011

THREE: The Psychological Shadow.

“We are not true to ourselves when we let the world crowd in upon us and weigh us down with its contrary appearances.”
- Frank Richelieu

The shadow is our body’s natural response to cognitive dissonance — seemingly incompatible and thus competing interpretations of our experience. Sometimes cognitive dissonance results from one truth and one lie, sometimes from two truths that don’t seem to fit.

I define rationality in the sciences or in journalism, and spiritual maturity in general, as the capacity to allow this dissonance, to tolerate it and accept it as the natural consequence of us humans not being capable of understanding absolutely everything — to hold the question open, as it were, and entertain the possibility that at least in some cases the answer is “both” instead of one or the other. Psychological growth, real transformation, happens when a person is able to hold in one frame of understanding what were previously two incommensurable realities.

Again, making the shadow is a natural and indeed necessary survival response — I can’t make it in a complex and frequently hostile environment if I don’t know what is me and what is not. But that story, we’re coming to learn from cognitive science, is constantly improvised from the exploration of where we do and do not have causative influence — the body is always adjusting its map in order to include the hammer you just picked up, or to disclude your sleeping leg…

FOUR: The Copernican Principle.

I’d like to suggest, for sanity’s sake, that we all adopt the Copernican Principle: whenever we think we’re the most of anything, we’re wrong. Consider it a Law of the Universe.

Once upon a time, hopelessly deluded humans believed that our planet was the center of the swirling cosmos, the axis around which the entire universe spins. Then we had a closer (or farther) look and spent a few hundred years grappling with the whiplash of that particular humiliation. Nowadays, we’d like to think we’re vastly more sophisticated than those pre-enlightenment geocentric fools, but in many ways we are still ridden with unexamined inflations:

– Humankind is qualitatively different from any other animal.
– We are the most cognitively sophisticated creature on this planet.
– We are the only animals that enjoy sex.

Some of these are just naïve folk assertions that are easily disproven by taking a closer look at the available evidence (there is plenty of science to deflate nonsense about the lack of sexual pleasure in other species). Others require more argument (qualitative differences are in the domain of the observer and thus it is as easily argued that each species is precious and unique as it is that humans have some special essence; if the complexity of language is, as many linguists believe, a reliable measure of social intelligence, then dolphins may actually have us beat, seeing as their calls seem to exhibit a syntax beyond our capacity to fully decode).

Some of these assumptions run so deep that most of us are not even aware of them:

– Our universe is the real universe, not a simulation.
– The visible (so far) biosphere is the extent of the Earth’s living ecology.
– Our civilization is the first global technological society, human or otherwise.

These and many other claims belie a pernicious and persistent need for us to believe that we are set apart, graced in some way that the rest of the world is not. It goes back a long way: what we now understand as the names of tribes (Navajo, Inuit, Iroquois) typically meant “people,” not a specific kind of person. Our correct intuition that we are blessed and divine extends only so far as our egoic affiliations –firstborns routinely get their bubbles popped when some other imposter appears on the scene to siphon the parental love that rightly belongs to them…and then they find out their parents had another child before them and put it up for adoption.

If we are to be at all scientific about this, we might as well take it as a working hypothesis (I only say “law,” because what else is a law but a trend we’ve yet to see broken) that whenever we are first, someone else came before (and perhaps there was never a “first”); whenever we’re in the middle, we’re on the fringe (and perhaps there is only fringe); whenever we’re the smartest, we’re just too dumb to recognize a greater intelligence (and perhaps there is no greatest intelligence, but each successive mind is enfolded as a participant in another still greater mind).

The history of science seems to uphold this. Every acre on the dwindling island of human uniqueness has been systematically swallowed by the mounting evidence that animals use tools, use language, have feelings for one another, play games, hand down cultural knowledge, yearn to express themselves creatively…if in any respect we can claim to be special, it’s a matter of degree (or of unique combinations of traits), not kind.

And this is equally true in the landscape of space and time. We lost geocentrism to heliocentrism. Then we discovered galaxies and even our great Sun was rendered subservient to greater forces. For a while, we still had ourselves on the pedestal of time, but eventually we had no choice but to accept that the Big Bang was one bubble in an infinite boil of quantum possibility in which our supposedly universal laws are mere contingencies, and we might as well accept that everything we consider impossible happens somewhere…whatever “somewhere” means, anymore.

(This is without even getting into the whole issue of those inexplicable megaliths, placed so carefully worldwide with a precision beyond our best modern efforts…of wheel-less African tribes that knew the exact orbital periods of star systems invisible to the eye…of ancient maps, predating the Western discovery of longitude, that nonetheless display sub-glacial Antarctic contours our own enlightened society couldn’t measure without infrared satellite photography…)

Insofar as science is the process of expanding the boundaries of our ignorance, it is a sacred mission of continual decentralization, marginalization, and humbling. But the other side to this is that we never get to mope it all the way to the bottom; we never get to claim some prized status as the lowliest or least important, and when all is said and done we are in some sense exactly where we started, because we are in the dead (nay, living) center of the human experience, just as we always were. As our technologies allow us to perceive ever-greater celestial objects, they allow us to peer deeper and deeper into the realms of the inconceivably small…but we always seem to remain poised perfectly between these two extremes, precisely in the middle of the human cosmic measure.

Just as we have the Hubble Bubble — that sphere of visible light beyond which our telescopes cannot reach — we have a sphere of size, equidistant in every direction, which grows with every passing historical epoch but remains without floor or ceiling. We have no choice but to accept a compromised identity: infinitely large and infinitely small, infinitely significant and infinitely insignificant. This perceptual sphere, we might as well recognize as a characteristic of the human body. Everybody has one. Everyone’s grows, given time and interaction.

Any ultimate border we draw on this, we would do well to recognize as a statement of defeat in the face of a mystery too exhausting to leave wide open. Institutionalized religion is the basalt that cools around the volcanic flow of revelatory experience. Theory is where inquiry throws up its hands. The stories we tell ourselves are a shell of crystallized experience, since we in our finitude have to draw the line somewhere. We all have to blink eventually.

But we don’t have to keep our eyes closed, after.

- Anaconda Lodge, Puerto Maldonado, Peru, 13 March 2011

FIVE: Resonance & Reincarnation.

In the full light of our embodied minds, we know that human thought is pure poetry. We accept that we live in metaphors that grow from our legacy as creatures on this planet. Our principle mode of understanding is associative, because that is how our nerves grow together, how our bodies become antennae for the paths we find through noise. Minds grow up no other way. Causation is a secondary inference; first, we find things together.

And so our most basic distinctions can be plotted along gradients of resonance, axes of affiliation. The only reason I recognize my memories as my own is because this body and this mind are similar enough in constitution that they ring together with that other moment, and the farther back I go, or forward, the more dissimilar, and the less myself. With all moments shining simultaneously in the ever-presence of All-Time, all places co-extant in the Infinite Expanse, we weave a sense of hereness and nowness, selfhood and otherhood from these harmonic near-identities.

Lovers test better in clinical studies on psychic phenomena. So do identical twins, parents and children, or even — to a slighter degree — people who have just met one another. There is an important sense in which this success in trials of shared mind is a measure of common identity, common form in body and mind. I recognize “you” as almost me, and “it” as further down that gradient of common patterning. Beyond that lies the unfathomably other, the truly other, that which is so different as to be unperceived by a system that evolved to only notice the pertinent.

In this way, we can talk of memory as a form of telepathy, or telepathy as a form of memory…or more precisely, both modes of perception as instances of a third category for which we haven’t yet found the words — a category that also includes spatial perception (“I” am over “here,” supposedly).

In mysticism, there are two schools of thought addressing the same great truth: to the Hindus, there is only Absolute Self; to the Buddhists, there is only No-Self. On the one hand, ultimate continuity; on the other hand, only frames, slides, a film reel we stitch together subliminally. Either way you prefer to couch it in ultimate terms is equally true (for being an apt description) and untrue (for being words, not experience).

It’s a pretty convenient way to resolve the question of whether reincarnation is truly the continuity of the self or just impressions drifting through the vastness of time. My bodymind is an antenna for the memory stored in Earth’s magnetosphere, as well as the ionic filaments threading galaxies together so much like neurons in the heart. The me of this moment is nearly identical to the me of the last moment, somewhat similar to the you of this moment, and brushes up against the him of four hundred years ago in Scotland — all of which I experience as self, although when I dream of other places and times I have no point of reference and it’s easier to dismiss these experiences.

These nodes of resonance seem connected to place. A few years ago I was washing my face in the bathroom sink and suddenly I was my lover, washing my face in the same sink at some other time, thoughts of Michael casually in the back of my mind, my slender body utterly matter of fact. Nothing unusual — no “Oh wow, I’m my girlfriend!” — those thoughts only came after, in a moment of reflection. I simply dipped into someone else’s experience for a few seconds. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I know many people for whom the memory of future events are occurring more and more frequently in dreams. These experiences of foreign places, people, and events are initially ignored; unfamiliar, we have no reason to remember them until a year or two later, when we’re sitting there and suddenly the pieces fit, and we’re hanging out with people we didn’t know a year ago, in a place we hadn’t visited a year ago, and of course we had no reason to recognize this as the memory of something that had yet to occur — but there it is nonetheless.

So does the soul transmigrate between lives? I have a hard time accepting that the soul, transcendent to any specific sensory matrix, would experience time in that crude linear fashion. Or that it would limit itself to a single narrative, a single trajectory. More easy to digest is the idea of a permeable association of experiences knitting together people, places, and times — a constellation of selfhood that stretches like a Julia set discontinuously through history, across continents and planets, an angel built of here-now-me in a breathing web of light and experience. A body beyond our Earthbound construction of beginnings and ends. One pearl in a circle of fifths, of complementary colors, a chord sharing notes with other chords, lives and lessons intermingling without survival-induced personality boundaries, seraphim with six wings and a thousand eyes, for which figure and ground wash into one another, tides of time and memory shining from a source that knows no distinctions.

- Anaconda Lodge, Puerto Maldonado, Peru, 13 March 2011

Poet-philosopher and “Paleontologist-Futurist” Michael Garfield’s work helps “Rewild the Singularity” — restoring soul to futurism, and midwifing new myths that can cultivate the curiosity and play we’ll need to thrive in our accelerating age. Host of Future Fossils Podcast, prolific acoustic-electronic guitarist, and scientific illustrator turned live painter, his work in any medium reveals the underlying unity of science, art, and spiritual practice.

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