Sunday, June 19, 2016

Esalen SuperNature 2016

Bridge over Hot Springs Creek, Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA
For more than 50 years, Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA has been exploring the furtherest reaches of human nature inspired by its co-founder Michael Murphy's words: "We live only part of the life we are given."

Early this month (June 2016) I was invited by Michael Murphy and Jeffrey Kripal to participate in a conference on human superpowers which featured philosophers, historians, psychologists and physicists. Michael Murphy and former participants in earlier versions of this conference had produced a number of books on extraordinary human experiences in sports, in sex, in parapsychology labs, in religious ecstasy and in ordinary life.

Books by Jeffrey Kripal and Jenny Wade
Books by Ed Kelly and Michael Grosso
Books by Kelly et al and Michael Murphy
If this conference were a college class, these books would be part of the required reading. Each book (and several others) points in its own way beyond ordinary experience into the realm of powers and experiences utterly inexplicable by the currently fashionable materialist Weltanschauung (If you hang with philosophers, you've got to speak their language; with this group of specialists Nick felt almost entirely out of his depth.)
Esalen SuperNature 2016, opening circle
The conference was divided almost equally between theory and experience. The overarching tentative theoretical model for our explorations was a view of the universe in which an invisible Spirit immanent everywhere behind material form was progressively emerging in and through matter in increasingly sophisticated visible forms. This vision of a world spirit struggling to be born everywhere in Nature and particularly in human beings is a central theme in the philosophy of Shri Aurobindo, in Plotinus and the Neoplatonists and in Hegel's picture of an Absolute Zeitgeist emerging from infinite potential into finite actuality. Each of these three spirit-driven evolutionary philosophies had a representative at Esalen in the persons of Michael Murphy, Gary Shaw and Glenn Magee.

Coincidentally, when I arrived home, I discovered that Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, had recently written a novel God's Debris espousing this very same evolutionary philosophy.

From my point of view, the notion of our world being brought into being moment-by-moment by a hidden potentia changing mysteriously into visible actuality seems entirely consistent with quantum physics. Physics however omits the God bit and regards these world-producing potentia/actuality transitions as perfectly random.

This might be a good place to mention Erwin Schrödinger's Proof for the Existence of God -- which might also be called "Schrödinger's I-am-That".

Another theoretical perspective was offered by Adam Crabtree, a psychotherapist from Toronto, who has researched the history of Mesmerism and uses trance states in his practice. Adam presented the case that trance states (extreme focus, exclusion of irrelevant perceptions and the marshalling of subliminal resources) could be a royal road to the understanding both of ordinary life and its supernormal extensions.

Jenny Wade describing Berzerkergang
On the experimental side, psychologist Jenny Wade presented material from her book Transcendent Sex, where she describes a wide variety of supernormal states experienced by normal, undrugged people "just having sex". Jenny then transited abruptly from love to war to describe techniques used historically and by modern warriors to attain an altered mental and physical state optimally conducive to destroying the foe.

The central experimental focus of the Esalen conference was Michael Grosso's presentation of material from his recent book, The Man Who Could Fly, St Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation.

Joseph of Copertino (1603-1663) was an Italian monk who was unexceptional in every way except for the fact that he was continually transported into ecstatic religious states during which he would rise from the Earth and levitate, sometimes for several minutes. Joseph had been ordained a priest and his levitations would so frequently accompany the Consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, that his superiors eventually forbid him from saying Mass in public because his levitations inevitably distracted the faithful from their prayers. The Catholic Church did everything they could to keep Joseph out of the public eye and even subjected him to several Inquisitions to determine whether his powers (which they could not deny) were from God or from the devil.

The case of St Joseph of Copertino is one of the most thoroughly documented facts of human levitation during religious ecstasy. More than 150 people put forth written testimony under oath (which was a lot more serious in the the 17th Century when oath-breakers might fear punishment in Hell). Hundreds and no doubt thousands witnessed this monk's marvelous flights over an extended period of 35 years. Father Joseph's flights were no one-shot miracle but a highly replicable set of phenomena occurring throughout his lifetime until the moment of his death.

OK, scientific materialists, explain this!

Ummph, ahh, gee-whiz, mass hallucination?

It is a curious fact that St Joseph's miraculous ascensions took place in Italy precisely at the time when his countryman Galileo (1564-1642) was laying the foundations of the mechanical science that would today confidently prove that Joseph's feats are impossible. Another curious coincidence is that the city of Cupertino, CA, the headquarters of Apple Computer, happens to be named after the levitating saint.

Miraculous Medal
 Two physicists, besides myself were invited to deal with Michael Grosso's exposition. But Hal Puthoff and Henry Stapp had conflicting schedules, so I was left by myself, by default "the house physicist", to confront these persuasively presented miracles with the vast explanatory structures of quantum mechanics, modern cosmology and general relativity.

I was frankly baffled.

Instead of getting into physics, I slyly chose another path. In Ohio, I had been educated in both a Catholic grade school (St Augustine's) and a pre-seminary Catholic boy's school (St Charles Borromeo) so I volunteered to explain what it felt like to dwell in the Catholic Weltanschauung, some taste perhaps of how people might have experienced the world in the days of Father Giuseppe of Copertino.

In the first place Catholics are everywhere surrounded by MAGIC. There's the holy water in every church (and in little bottles at home), there's medals, scapulars and holy cards (baseball-card-like pictures of the saints) topped off with the most magical medal of them all, the holy Miraculous Medal which confers a cornucopia of blessings on its wearers. There's the Marian rosary and the colorful liturgical calendar which hangs in every home plus the Seven Sacraments -- seven "outward signs" which represent direct channels to the Grace of God.

And all that just for starts. The primary magic, which as a Catholic you could experience every day if you wanted to, is the Mass, which in my day was performed in an ancient language that nobody understood. (Nick was an altar boy and participated on stage in hundreds of these magical demonstrations.) 

The Holy Mass. Of all the Catholic practices, none was so magical as this. The central fact of every Mass is that the words of the priest would cause the very God that created our Universe to reside in some mysterious way in the substance of Bread and Wine. And that Catholics could partake of the very Substance of the Divine simply by swallowing a small white wafer.

Heap big juju.

And this holy Catholic miracle -- the Mass and Transubstantiation -- happened every day.

I also related to the philosophers and psychologists how I subsequently lost my Catholic faith and met an angel in Berkeley.

Now back in Boulder Creek, doing my homework (reading some of the books on the list), I was eating breakfast (which for a Ukrainian like Nick inevitably involves a quart of beer) and suddenly came up with a way to explain the levitation of St Joseph.

It is of course not an adequate explanation, but an indication of a possible path to an explanation, a path that involves neither quantum mechanics nor relativity but a far more fundamental result in physics called Noether's Theorem after German mathematician Emmy Noether (1882 - 1935) who first derived it. Here is what Matthew Francis writing in Symmetry Magazine has to say about Noether's Theorem:
We are able to understand the world because it is predictable. If we drop a rubber ball, it falls down rather than flying up. But more specifically: if we drop the same ball from the same height over and over again, we know it will hit the ground with the same speed every time (within vagaries of air currents). That repeatability is a huge part of what makes physics effective.
The repeatability of the ball experiment is an example of what physicists call “the law of conservation of energy.” An equivalent way to put it is to say the force of gravity doesn’t change in strength from moment to moment.
The connection between those ways of thinking is a simple example of a deep principle called Noether’s theorem: Wherever a symmetry of nature exists, there is a conservation law attached to it, and vice versa. The theorem is named for arguably the greatest 20th century mathematician: Emmy Noether.
The falling-body reliability that Galileo first measured and that modern science abundantly confirms is a consequence of the Conservation Laws of Energy and of Momentum.

But Noether's Theorem proves that these two conservation laws derive from two basic SYMMETRIES in Nature -- the symmetries of TIME and of PLACE.

Conservation of Energy derives from the symmetry that as far as physics is concerned, ALL MOMENTS OF TIME have the same nature -- in physics there are no magic moments.

Conservation of Momentum derives from the symmetry that as far as physics is concerned, ALL LOCATIONS IN SPACE have the same nature -- in physics there are no privileged places.

However, our conscious experience does assign a special time and a special place to the world. We experience the world in the HERE and NOW. Conscious experience seems to break the universal time/space symmetry of physics and hence (via Noether's Theorem) opens the way for Mind to violate the laws of conservation of Energy and Momentum.

But perhaps human minds in their normal state exercise only a insignificant influence on Nature's basic time/space symmetries but in Mesmeric trances, sexual transports or religious ecstasies, the powerfully experienced here/nowness of consciousness might induce extraordinary acts that violate the cherished laws of physics over and over and over again.

Thus Emmy Noether can explain St. Joseph of Cupertino.

The details are left to the student.

Esalen SuperNature 2016 participants (photo by Daniel Bianchetta)

Friday, June 10, 2016

32 Irish County Jig

Several months ago Blarney, the Irish band I'm pleased to be part of, played a concert at a theater in Santa Cruz. The concert was captured on video by Virtual World Studios run by Al and Sun Lundell, also known as Doctor and Mrs Future, whose Doctor Future Show emanates every Tuesday afternoon from our local radio station KSCO (1080 AM). This morning Mrs Future sent me a clip from that wonderful concert that be featurin' me self performin' me own composition.

32 Irish County Jig

There's Wicklow and Wexford, Westmeath and Kilkenny
Waterford, Sligo, Roscommon, Kildare
Meath, Down, Armagh and Derry
Donegal, Monaghan, Leitrim and Clare.

There's Carlow and Cavan, Cork, Tipperary
Fermanagh, Antrim, Longford and Tyrone
Laois, Louth, Galway and Kerry
Limerick, Offaly, Dublin, Mayo.

Matt Johnson, August O'Connor, Kim Fulton-Bennett, Nick Herbert