Intuition and the Creation of a Better World

The Person in the Universe

Charlotte Waterlow

For 28 years Charlotte Waterlow taught modern world history at the senior level in High Schools in UK and USA. During this time she wrote four widely used text books on the subject. The following article, reprinted with Charlotte's kind permission, is the final chapter, the Afterword, to her latest book The Hinge of History, London, One World Trust, 1995.

Charlotte Waterlow concludes her foreword to The Hinge of History with the following words:

[There are] certain central principles in the view of the universe [held by traditional civilisations - 3000 B.C. to 1800 A.D.]. First, matter is the embodiment of spirit. Second, matter is in some mode endowed with personality, through which spirit expresses itself. Third, the concept of level, gradation, degree is fundamental to the structure of the universe; as the soul unfolds its inherent powers, it ascends through "levels" which are both states of consciousness and locations of the stars. Finally, love enfolds and guides all things, and love is embodied in persons, celestial and mortal.

But - this coherent and sublime vision of the structure of the universe had one fatal flaw: it was not in accord with the facts of the objective physical phenomena!

What is modern man's picture of the universe at the [begining of the 21st] century? With the aid of telescopes, cameras, computers, satellites and other modern inventions, his vision can now penetrate to distances of a billion light years - one light year is 5.9 trillion miles, or 9.5 trillion kilometres·. Through this exploration, and using the crucial tool of mathematics, he has discovered the following situation.

The earth is one of nine planets which circle round our sun. Our sun is an insignificant star in the vast galaxy of the Milky Way, which contains an estimated 100 billion stars spread out over a distance of 100,000 light years. And there are billions of other galaxies, some containing over a trillion stars. Some objects at the far reaches of the universe, quasars, are as bright as a trillion suns. This unimaginably huge number of stars is stretched out over an unimaginably huge area. Distances of ten to twenty billion light years are characteristic of our universe. Nor are the stars "fixed", as the Ancients believed. The individual stars rotate on their axes; and the space containing the galaxies is expanding, so that they appear to be moving away from us at ever increasing speeds the further away they are. Yet nine-tenths or more of the material of the universe may be in a form invisible to us.

What happened to achieve this extraordinary transformation of the view of the universe from the unchanging faith of millennia to the ever-expanding factual knowledge of today? … The turning point came with the work of certain mathematicians and astronomers in 17th century Europe, aided by the invention of the telescope. Their calculations and observations provided empirical proof that the motions of the stars are determined by the laws of Nature. Gradually, and not without much huffing and puffing by Christian traditionalists, it was accepted that if the laws of Nature conflict with the edicts of religious revelation, it is the laws of Nature which are right. Not only the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther, but even John Wesley, in the 18th century, found it difficult to accept the rejection of Biblical authority involved in believing that the earth goes round the sun; while Darwin's theory of evolution, which shattered faith in the calculation from Genesis that the world was created by God in 4004 B.C., provoked a cry of rage which still reverberates today

The major casualty of the scientific revolution of the 17th century was God. At first He was simply withdrawn, as it were, from active service, becoming for Newton and other God-fearing scientists the Great Watchmaker who sets the machine of Nature into motion. It was then inevitable that He should fade out of the picture. And the withdrawal of God has meant, of course, the fading out of the traditional idea that the universe is peopled with gods and goddesses, angels and archangels, fairies, demons and devils, endowing material phenomena with moral and aesthetic qualities, embodied in spiritual energies flowing between personalities. Science has depersonalised the physical universe, and in so doing, deprived it of the force affirmed so powerfully by the ancient philosophers and poets, from Plato and Jesus Christ to Dante: love!

The withdrawal of God from the scene has been accompanied by the collapse of the concept of eternity. … The Ancients believed, not only that the spiritual universe is eternal, but that the spiritual attribute of eternity is manifested in the light and motion of the stars. Newton held that space and time are "absolutes", "without relation to anything external". This view has been shattered by the combined impact of the two great 20th century discoveries; that the whole universe is changing and evolving in time; and that all material phenomena are "relative" to each other, and to the conscious mind which is observing them, in a single space-time continuum. There appears to be only one unchanging factor in the physical universe: the speed of light - 186,000 miles a second.

The scientific method is based essentially on dissection and analysis, reducing matter to its component parts, and then putting them together in a mechanistic model in which the whole is simply the sum of the parts. So amazing have been the results of "reductionist" scientific thinking that it now profoundly conditions every aspect of modern society. One might say that the scientific way of looking at the universe has hypnotised the modern mind.

If the universe is "nothing but" physical matter, or energy - since matter is energy - what is its purpose, and what is the purpose of our human lives in it? Here are the reactions of two leading astronomers to the challenge presented by their own discoveries. Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer, writes: "It seems to me that religion is but a desperate attempt to find an escape from the truly dreadful situation in which we find ourselves. Here we are in this wholly fantastic Universe with scarcely a clue as to whether our existence has any real significance. No wonder that many people feel the need for some belief that gives them a sense of security, and no wonder that they become very angry with people like me who say that this security is illusory. But I do not like the situation any better than they do… Perhaps the most majestic feature of our whole existence is that while our intelligences are powerful enough to penetrate deeply into the evolution of this quite incredible universe, we still have not the smallest clue to our own fate" (1).

A British mathematician, Professor John Taylor, echoes Fred Hoyle: "The problem is that even if the universe is energy, why is it here at all? The only answer I can give is that there is no reason at all, no purpose, nothing. The universe just is, as energy". (2)

It can surely be by no chance that the historical emergence of the idea that the person should develop his creative potential has been accompanied by the incredible development of theoretical and applied science and by the discovery, in particular, of the scientific facts of biological and stellar evolution. Concepts of political, economic and social change, development, growth, evolution and dynamism are replacing fixed and immutable attitudes. The idea of creating a new man and of building a better world is fundamental to the modern age. And science has placed in this free person's hands the tools with which to transform or destroy the world. Modern man is called upon to steer the evolutionary process himself! What are his goals? What are the models which he envisions? There are no more important questions in the world today.

This brings us back to the question of what personhood is. Modern reductionist thought is tempted to explain a human as "nothing but" a "naked ape" or a superior rat. In this case all his spiritual aspirations and his ethical standards, including his capacity to love, are nothing but the reflexes of the chemicals in his glands. All values are relative, all ideals meaningless - as an important school of modern philosophy asserts. The alternative is to postulate that the core of the unique person is an immortal soul, created by God, and endowed in heaven with an inherent knowledge of "truth". "As above, so below", as the Ancients said. Experience indicates that a person has three major faculties, Mind, Heart and Will - the ability to think, feel and act. The fate of the world depends on balancing the development of the mind, so powerfully promoted by science, with the development of the heart - the capacity to experience the higher emotions, the capacity to love.

And this brings us to the question of mortality. All the traditional religions, with the qualified exception of Judaism and Theravada Buddhism, believe that the individual person survives death in some mode, and all mystical traditions affirm a gradual unfolding of the soul's potential, whether or not through reincarnation in a physical body. Modern society gives an entirely new significance to the evolution of personhood in earthly life, a significance undreamed of in traditional society, and then proceeds, in many cases, to deny the possibility of its further development after death! It is rather odd that just when the phenomenon of personhood is exploding on earth, persons should describe the enormous universe which they are discovering as nothing but a meaningless mass of energy!

The survival of the essential person after death could therefore be regarded as the corollary to the doctrine of Human Rights. In affirming this doctrine modern man is, unconsciously, affirming the immortality of the souls, incarnate and discarnate, in what Martin Luther King called "cosmic companionship". The more evolved, who dwell in "higher" states of being, bless and inspire those struggling "on earth" with whom their souls resonate. Spiritual empathy extends vertically into heaven as well as horizontally across the earth. The barriers of time are shattered.

Now let us look at the situation from the philosophical angle. "It is through our consciousness that we contemplate and comprehend the universe", writes the British astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell (3). The most important statement of Descartes, the 17th century philosopher who summed up the philosophic implications of the scientific revolution, was "cogito, ego sum" - "I think, therefore I am". This tremendous affirmation of the integrity of the human mind can be regarded as the corollary to the tremendous affirmation, made in the 20th century, of the integrity of the vast universe. Does the universe exist objectively apart from our own consciousness which is observing it? If we reject reductionism, which asserts that consciousness is an expression of matter, do we reach the opposite position, that matter is an expression of consciousness? This is the view asserted by Oriental religion throughout the centuries: consciousness is present in all phenomena at different levels and in different modes. The Sanskrit word maya applied to the material world does not mean "illusion", as is often asserted in the West, but rather "appearance". My chair appears to be made of hard wood; but on another level of perception it is made of protons, neutrons and electrons. The physical sun is an "appearance" for the spiritual Sun, declared the Pharaoh Akhenaten in 1379 B.C.. In the end, truth emerges from a union between subject and object, observer and observed, the human consciousness and the vast universe. The mystery of love - two are one and one is two - is the fundamental factor!

Twentieth century science has already made a departure from the mechanistic outlook introduced by Newtonian physics and embodied in the philosophy of Descartes. For in the macroworld of the galaxies and in the microworld of subatomic particles the Newtonian laws of nature do not apply. In the modern view of the cosmos, Newton's theory of gravitation has been incorporated into Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. On the smallest scale, the phenomena are governed by the quantum theory, in which Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is fundamental; it is impossible, for example, to know both the position and the velocity of a particle precisely at the same time. Yet it is already clear, on the one hand that the properties of the minutest building blocks of matter govern the behaviour of the universe at large, but on the other hand that these two basic theories of twentieth century physics are incompatible with one another. So scientists are now searching for a still more fundamental theory which would unify the two - truly a Theory of Everything.

But even in the everyday world between the atom and the cosmos there are limits to our knowledge. The advent of supercomputers has enabled other scientists to study immensely complex systems such as the weather, and it appears that these too are ultimately unpredictable - a butterfly flapping its wings in the rain forests of Brazil may affect the weather thousands of miles away in Europe. Similar phenomena of complexity and chaos may describe - but not prescribe - the behaviour of human societies, the global economy, and the most complex object we know of in the universe, our own brain. Particularly interesting effects occur on the edge between complex but organised systems and chaos, when a system reaches a critical degree of complexity - as, perhaps, in evolution when the brain first exceeded a certain number of nerve cells or interactions between them. It is not surprising that neither the individual human brain nor human societies are always rational. But scientists such as Nobel-Prize-winner Murray Gell-Mann believe that general laws relating to these phenomena may nevertheless be discovered in the next few years. (4)

Randomness and indeterminacy are, then, basic phenomena, and so also are interdependence order and harmony! Time and space form one continuum, as does the observer and the objects observed. Already in the 1930s the astronomer Sir James Jeans was moved to exclaim that the universe begins to look like a great Mind. Can there be a Mind without a Heart? And the Mind united to the Heart finds expression in Personhood. The dreadful nothingness described by the astronomers quoted above turns into joy and glory beyond measure!

In the doctrine that the universe is full of persons, united by love, therefore lies the solution to our central human problem: how to envision the goals for the evolution of our planet. These goals are the archetypes or models projected by celestial minds, revealed to us through the profound blending of souls through love. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." This remark by Jesus Christ may be regarded as the key to the future of the world.

1. Fred Hoyle, The Nature of the Universe (Oxford, Blackwell, 1950), pp. 115, 118

2. John Taylor, 'Matter Beyond the End of its Tether' in Laurie John (ed), Cosmology Now (London, BBC, 1973), p.166

3. Francis Graham-Smith & Bernard Lovell, Pathways to the Universe (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 225

4. Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar (London, Little, Brown, 1994).


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