Questions of Consciousness

By Amy Edelstein

I vividly remember the first question I really grappled with--that I had to stretch my brain so much it made me seasick. It was a star studded August night. The Long Island air was fragrant with pine sap and that special Brookhaven bouquet of huckleberries, scrub, and a hint of sea salt. I was walking with my father, an experimental particle physicist, who was intent on teaching me something about the laws of the universe. We stopped in the middle of the road, my four-year-old bare feet happy against the sticky tarmac. He pointed up to sky and said, “Did you know the stars go on forever? They have no end, they are infinite.” The warmth beneath my feet vanished. My little stomach tightened, “How’s that possible?” I looked up at the cosmos and squinted, “They have to stop somewhere.” “But if they end,” he patiently elaborated, adding a grip vise to my already taxed brain, “what comes next?” I was sure I was going to explode contemplating infinity at age four.

That event kick-started a lifetime grappling with questions about what makes the universe and our own consciousness tick. Questions that seem just beyond our mental grasp. Questions that sometimes lead to those unexpected revelations that swallow the ground up from beneath your feet—that, as fantastical as they may appear to be to the rational mind, seem to in fact make sense of the world around and within. So, when my colleagues suggested I attend the
International Conference on Science and Consciousness this year in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and bring back the scoop on the latest theories that are meant to explain everything. I figured I had at least a fair shot to pick up the skinny on a few key questions that are as old as Aristotle. Can science verify the existence of God? Does the experience of God consciousness validate science? And what do new ideas about the nature of matter, energy, and consciousness tell us about who we are, what we’re made of, and what’s in store for us in the future?
The conference was set in the Albuquerque Hilton, a hotel refuge nestled next to freeways that connect this western metropolitan area to Roswell, Sante Fe, and Sedona, all hotbeds of claims to consciousness studies. That same week the convention complex hosted Elders from a Native American gathering, an Angel Healing Consortium, and a Gun and Knife Show, a microcosm of the hodgepodge state our culture is in. Five days of meetings for over 500 participants offered alternative Theories of Everything from ancient Indian Samkhya philosophy that traces the journey of higher consciousness down into matter, to the contemporary Mill Valley, Californian “Undulating Motherwave System,” presented by an undulating Katie Darling with strawberry blond curls, who blends “chaos theory, the direct embodied experience of ‘all systems flow,’ and radical optimism” into a single all-encompassing philosophy that melds science and consciousness into a “seamless and compassionate” whole. There were analysis of altered states of consciousness, higher states of consciousness, and ego confrontation for the evolution of consciousness using methods that included scientifically monitored dream research, double-blind remote viewing, and of course nudges to the other side of perception from mind-altering drugs like ayahuasca and the frog-secreted sapo from the jungles of the Amazon.

Bill Tiller, Fellow to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and Professor Emeritus of Sanford University’s Department of Materials Science passionately advocated that we tap into the power of psychic phenomenon through charted, graphed, and controlled experiments to hasten radical human transformation. His numerous live experiments have shown that directed human intention can measurably influence physical material, locally and remotely—even changing the pH balance in purified water through thought alone—challenging what we normally believe are set laws governing matter and mind. Physicist Amit Goswami made a case for a full paradigm shift from a material-based world view to a consciousness-based world view, validating his theories with insights from the pioneer in consciousness evolution Sri Aurobindo and data from quantum mechanics. Some presenters used consciousness to prove science, some used science to prove consciousness. Others like, What Is Enlightenment? friend John Petersen didn’t mind whether we proved God, Consciousness, or Science, but he so passionately and creatively wants everyone to evolve to a higher tier that he spent the better part of one evening grilling The Global Brain’s Peter Russell, myself, and his deep thinking assistant on how we might be able to facilitate a mass evolutionary leap of consciousness using the best of internet and holographic technology.

All week, everyone was asking questions big as the cosmos or small as a pi-meson to formulate the theory that encompasses and surpasses all others, or at least that makes a further link between matter and spirit. Two presenters in particular stretched beyond the boundaries of the accepted in their determination to codify a law of all things, a law that resolves contradictions between Newtonian gravity, Farraday’s electo-magnetic forces, Einstein’s nuclear and relativity theories, the DNA model of life and evolution, and the quantum understanding of the atomic and molecular world. Physicists Michio Kaku and John Hagelin both base their views on what’s commonly called the Unified Field Theory, a theory currently hot in debate among the best and the brightest scientists, and one that is meant to account for all movement and properties of matter, energy, space, time, and perhaps even consciousness. As full of conviction as they were, both slipped in a few professional disclaimers, noting that we’re not quite there yet and in matters of physics and consciousness, close could be universes away.
Kaku, a theoretical high-energy particle physicist at CUNY, and a colorful presenter on the Science-meets-Culture lecture circuit, painted grand Japanese brush strokes of his work on a single equation of perhaps no more than one inch long, which will make sense of all laws of physics and finally fulfill Einstein’s dream of “reading the mind of God.” Kaku, named by New York Magazine as one of the 100 Smartest People (an honor he was quick to add that he shares with the pop artist Madonna) began exploring questions about the ultimate nature of matter and knowing when he was a kid. While other boys were experimenting with bottle rockets and basketballs, Michio came home one Northern Californian day and asked, “Mom, can I build an atom smasher in the garage?” As most mothers would, she said, “Fine dear, but don’t forget to take out the garbage.” As he grew a little older and began entering, and winning, national science competitions, he recruited his parents help to construct a huge magnet for his budding physics experiments. After wrapping yard after yard of copper wiring about the two end posts of a football field, his mother nagged, “Michio, this physics stuff is all fine, but when are you going to find a nice Japanese girl?” Kaku fortunately continued the physics stuff, winning awards and accolades, graduating summa cum laude from Harvard, writing nine books including two international bestsellers Hyperspace and Visions, filling posts at Princeton and Berkeley, and becoming one of the formulators of Super String Theory, the successor to quantum mechanics.

“Matter, consciousness, time, and space don’t really function the way we’ve been led to believe,” this consultant to the Star Trek TV series explained. “Time travel, back to the past and forward to the future may be a reality. You see, space and time are curved planes. If a teacher ever asks you what’s the shortest distance between two points, show them this.” He marked two points on a piece of paper and folded it together so the ink globes touched. “The shortest distance between two points,” he paused and looked impishly at the audience, “is a wormhole.”

Super String Theory, the great Master of All Theories, Kaku went on, can be understood simply. Take a violin string, if you pinch it at different points, it vibrates with a different tone. What String Theory says is that everything is this same one string, vibrating differently in ten dimensions. The universe and all it contains is a cosmic symphony, produced by one string that is resonating with the mind of God. “String Theory, if we succeed in mapping it,” Kaku announced, “calls into question the future of religion.”
Kaku’s mirror counter part, John Hagelin, Natural Law Party Presidential Candidate in 2000, Senior TM Meditator, Instructor at Maharishi University in Iowa, and quantum physicist also invoked the Unified Field Theory but in a rousing push not to map God but to inspire God seekers. Flashing power point slides of quantum equations many lines long, Hagelin laughed and said, “Now we don’t have time to go through the physics of it, but all this comes down to the neural physiology of enlightenment. You see, according to the laws of physics, we are hardwired to have transcendent experience.” Promoting a new Maharishi University in India, which Hagelin claims is using concerted meditation techniques to bring about world peace, he thumped on the lectern, “If consciousness is a field, we can create a ripple in the field and that ripple will spread. A small number of people meditating and accessing higher states of consciousness can affect the whole world!” Citing twenty-three published scientific studies on the positive impact meditators have had on world situations (including bringing peace to specific areas of the Middle East (sic) ), Hagelin threw his arms wide in an all-encompassing embrace of the Unified Field Theory, quantum mechanics, morphogenetic principles, meditation, higher consciousness, and global well-being.

While Kaku used science to understand (and surpass?) God, and Hagelin used science to entice people to seek God, there was a another presenter who, when it came to forays into the intersection of Science and Consciousness, took it all one step, actually 380 miles further. 380 miles, that is, into space.

Story Musgrave, NASA astronaut, literary critic, biophysicist, horse trainer, and intrepid explorer of consciousness was perhaps the entertainment highlight of the week. At sixty-eight, he’s clocked up more time in space than almost any other astronaut to date, flights which have included costly, dangerous, and critical missions like the repair of the 1.5 billion dollar Hubble telescope. Known for his antics, and his smarts, Musgrave approaches life on earth, and in space, with the inquisitiveness of a child, the mischievousness of a merry prankster, and the precision of an empirical scientist. This rare combination turns every activity into an adventure, and every reminiscence into a lesson on scientific investigation of the fundamental questions of God and consciousness. One day over lunch, as he described his escapades in space experimenting with learned and innate knowing in zero gravity, and exploring the implications of velocity and directionality vectors on human identity, Musgrave, in his inimitable way shot off like a rocket and showed where a scientist’s questioning into the nature of consciousness might lead. In the end, whether the International Conference on Science and Consciousness offered significant breakthroughs on what makes matter, sentient beings, and maybe even God tick remains to be charted, graphed, experimented with, and meditated on, the following dialogue with Story Musgrave, NASA astronaut and intrepid explorer of inner and outer space will no doubt open up some of the great questions, and challenge our minds’ grasp of what cosmic consciousness and our role creating the future might be.

I Am a Cosmic Creature
An interview with Story Musgrave by Amy Edelstein

Q: Some of the great philosophical and spiritual traditions speak about a cosmic or God consciousness, a knowing prior to and different from one’s own personal history. Did you have a sense of that when you were in space?

SM: Oh, yes. I always have a sense of that. That’s me. That’s the way I try to understand things because I know I came from there and I am that. I am the cosmos. I tell people that we are gravitational creatures, and what I really mean by that is we are earth creatures. We are of the earth and the earth formed us and our chemicals are the earth. I am an earth creature. Now this of course comes from Thomas Berry, who put it incredibly well. But I’m not only an earth creature. I am a cosmic creature. It is the unfolding of the cosmos that made me, and it’s also an archetype that’s in me. It’s a Jungian archetype. It’s unfortunate that Jung didn’t couch his collective unconscious in terms of evolution and genetics, which in fact is what he was talking about but he didn’t put it in those words. But I have a sense of this all the time. That the whole darn thing is me. And I try to have this talk through me.

Q: Do you feel that consciousness itself evolves?

SM: Why sure.

Q: Can you say more about it?

SM: It’s so self-evident to me, I don’t even know what to say. I don’t hardly know how to put it. There are people who take consciousness out of the natural world. They speak about it as if it’s a paradigm, off by itself--as if it’s beyond our bodily, earthly self. I don’t do that. I look upon consciousness as a natural phenomenon, not supernatural and not “out there.” It’s here. That does not mean it can’t have extraordinary, unbelievable powers. But for me consciousness is not supernatural. For me religions are not supernatural. For me the whole darn thing is natural. That’s the answer! Consciousness is natural. It’s the naturalness that makes science and spirit, cosmology, theology, astronomy, the whole thing. For me in cosmic evolution it is the cosmos that evolution produced. Not only the physical world, it produced the spiritual world and the conscious world. We have these huge arguments about science and spirit, people try to put the two together. What do you mean get together? The same cosmos formed them both and they exist in the same cosmos.

Q: When we speak about an evolving consciousness, there’s a sense--Teilhard de Chardin spoke about it, and Sri Aurobindo and Andrew Cohen in their teachings on an evolutionary spirituality refer to it--that there is both consciousness perfectly formed now and an always evolving future. They each suggest that we as conscious human beings can contribute to that evolution even as we are being pulled by it, towards the future. What’s your view of this? If as you agreed, consciousness itself does evolve, what’s our contribution to that and what’s our responsibility for it?

SM: Do you remember, I was talking Teilhard to Ted Koppel on Nightline from space, in 1993. In fact, he has never forgotten that one! I read Teilhard de Chardin endlessly. He is one of my gospels, the top one or two or three or four. And of course Peter Russell, who’s here, he wrote The Global Brain, and probably took a lot from Teilhard. As he pointed out there, we may be a cell in a brain that has ten billion cells. So we may be contributing to the whole thing but we have no way of seeing it or knowing it. A single brain cell doesn’t know what the brain is doing, and of course we really don’t know where the seat of consciousness is, anyway.

Q: So, as you said, we may be single cells in this cosmic brain. We may not ever be able to get the big picture of where the evolution of consciousness is going. And yet, even as an individual cell, wouldn’t you say that each human being has a responsibility to contribute the utmost they can to that evolutionary process?

SM: Now you just expressed an ethic. You just expressed what our species trajectory should be. But I’m struggling with it.

Q: Why?

SM: Humans are no different than any other creature. There are no better and no worse. They are not above and they are not below. They’re no different than that tree. They are not superior to that tree. They have evolved a forebrain. They have evolved a cortex. That does not make them superior to any other living creature! And if you think they’re superior, God damn it, look at their behavior! They have not earned the title superior to other creatures. If you look at the behavior of human beings towards each other, toward other creatures, toward the earth if you look at what humans have done over the human history, I do not put them one step above any other living creature. Do they have a responsibility to perpetuate and to grow consciousness? No more so than the squirrels, or the trees, or the flowers. But it raises another question: Is intelligence a good survival factor?
Now that was a pretty hard statement but look at the behavior. I mean when you look at the Voyager picture taken of earth from six million miles, it’s no more than a bright star up there. It’s a little life boat. Now when you see that little birth star out there from millions of miles, and you know there are forty thousand nuclear weapons on that little life boat out there…. That’s humanity. That’s what intelligence does for you. The animals didn’t do that. The supreme intelligent beings of earth did that. Only intelligence would do that. So you see, I’m raising an important question on species trajectory.
What does intelligence, and or maybe a “superior” consciousness mean?
Now, I’m going to give you something I don’t believe: I don’t think we have a responsibility to increase consciousness. I don’t see that. You’re getting into a cosmic ethic and you’re saying the cosmos is better if it has more consciousness and it is linked tighter in terms of information and networking, which consciousness does. But I don’t know if that is a desired goal. But since the cosmos is doing it, then fine. But I don’t know if we have a responsibility to do that. We are the mechanism by which the cosmos does it. Teilhard de Chardin doesn’t say we should be doing that. He’s says it happens.

Q: I think he also encourages our own participation in the process.

SM: Yes, in fact, he does. He does. He likes the Omega point, so if we can push it toward the Omega point…

Q: Exactly!

SM: He wants to arrive.

Q: So what do you think will help us move closer to Omega, or make us become more receptive to that calling of the future? What’s going to raise us up to the next evolutionary level? If you look at the different biological organisms, they evolve from single cell individuals to form more complex organisms that work cooperatively….

SM: I know. How do we do that?

Q: Yes, in a significant way that’s actually an evolutionary step?

SM: We look at ourselves as cosmic creatures. We live on a higher plane. We look at ourselves as creatures of the country, creatures of the continent, creatures of the world, the global creatures. I’m saying we ought to make the leap to being cosmic creatures. We ought to embrace cosmic evolution and we ought to say we are fellow travelers. Become a cosmic creature. First of all, it has to happen by seeing that: I don’t just live in New Mexico, I’m in North America and now continent and now global, but now solar system and then galactic and then cosmos. You become a cosmic creature. You live on a cosmic level. You don’t fight over your belief systems, your belief system becomes cosmic. Now if you live on a cosmic level and you say I’m a cosmic creature, then you think upon that level and you think about cosmic consciousness. It will come in small steps. But that is the answer. And that is also the ethic, how you should live. That’s the ethic and that’s it in terms of consciousness. Cosmic creature. And that’s what I am. That’s how I try to live. I’m a cosmic creature.

Q: How do you inspire people to take that step?

SM: That’s what I try to do all the time. For example, I run a theatre program that leaves people at a transformative level. The message is become a cosmic creature, even though I never use the words. But that’s what it’s saying. It is beyond motivation. It’s beyond inspiration. It is transformative.

Q: Do you use specific techniques?

SM: I get people to have the experience of cosmic consciousness, to capture it introspectively, and to learn how to express it. I do it in the talks I give, like I did here, by using visuals of the Aurora Borealis taken from space, and telling stories about living in no gravity to show the difference between earth consciousness and being in space, I do it through my website, my poetry, and I’m also trying to write but I travel too much right now. The main thing I’m trying to do is to uplift people. To lift people to a planetary level and a cosmic level and live at that level. Because at that level you’re not fighting over belief systems and trivialities. You’re not fighting over territory. You’re not after the buck. You’re living on a different level. It’s a whole new value system. In the ideal world, the people who would be valued most in the culture would be the people who came closest to embodying being a cosmic creature. They would be the prophets and they would be the leaders. They would be the people riding in front of the airplane, except they would refuse it. They would ride in the back, where I do. (Laughs) In the ideal world those people would be held the highest. See, if you were a cosmic creature there would be no human problems, there would be no human strife, you’d be at peace with the plants, you’d be at peace with earth and you would see yourself traveling on earth through space, you would take care of earth. You would live within your means. You would take only what you had to have to survive comfortably, not even comfortably--you would enjoy hunger. Then you know you’re alive! So it’s kind of a utopian model. And we’re going the wrong way, of course. We’re going backwards at the moment. The human condition is getting worse and worse. Yes we have money and we have a roof. We have food and we have advanced medical care compared to what we had, but the human condition is getting worse by the year or the month. So making this [shift] happen is an extraordinary challenge.


This article is made available, courtesy of: What Is Enlightenment? Magazine