Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cosmos ex Natura 6: The Perennial Tao

Mandala of Evolution - Dion Wright

1 The Continuity and Diversity of Life

This section, is an outline of how, in the light of the scientific description of the universe, and what we know from our own subjective experience of reality, we can approach the 'spiritual' significance of our conscious incarnation, in terms of one central purpose, which is safeguarding and enriching the future diversity of life, on Earth, and in the universe at large, while embracing the freedom of the individual to experience the conscious condition creatively and autonomously, to the fullest degree possible.

The principle of the safeguarding and enriching the diversity of life is central, in keeping the relationship between the 'sap and dew' of the physical paramount for the passage of the generations and the diversity of ongoing life, while liberating conscious experience.

2 Complementarity and Symmetry-breaking

This is consistent with the complementary relationship between the yin and yang receptive and creative aspects, of nature and consciousness, in the indescribable Tao, or way, of existence:

The way that can be told is not the eternal way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
(Tao te Ching - Lao Tsu).

In all of its critical manifestations, the chaos-cosmos is expressed in terms of complements, rather than absolutes. In the existential condition we have the complementarity between subjective consciousness and our physical embodiment. In the physics of the universe between wave and particle aspects of the quantum. In the biological realm between the female and male sexes. In the realm of dynamics, between chaos and order, and in the Prisoners' Dilemma, between cooperation and defection. These complementarities are the key to the ability of the cosmic condition to become manifest.

Associated with complementarity is the idea of symmetry-breaking of the complementarity into polarized aspects each of which is incomplete without the presence of the other. Thus, while mental phenomena are indivisible and subjective, physical phenomena are both objective and decomposable into the myriad manifestations of the physical world. Again while the wave aspect of reality is continuous and indivisible, the particle aspect is discrete and multiple. And in biology, while the ovum and its excitable membrane are continuous, the many sperm which try to fertilize it are discrete competing motile packets of DNA. This is where the differences between the sexes become most profound.

In addition, the phenomenon of cosmic symmetry-breaking gives a complex polarization to the forces of nature, in which a single super-force becomes the four polarized forces we experience today, gravity, electromagnetism and the weak and strong (colour) forces; and in this polarization, the large scale structure of the expanding universe comes about, and the complexity of matter, from fundamental particles, through nucleons, to atomic nuclei, atoms, molecules and tissues, and hence the flowering of life, becomes possible.

Furthermore, symmetry-breaking between the biological sexes in animals, which in mammals gives rise to pregnancy, lactation and the birth and rearing of live young, leads to a central polarity. In human society, with its massive pregnancy and long term parenting is at an extreme of mammalian polarization. The strategic investments of the female and male sex, even though they are very different, the one based on long-term investment, and the other venture-risk competition, and each may challenge, or even contradict, that of the other. Nevertheless they are complementary, and human survival depends on the combined effect of both. In their perilous and unstable equilibrium, arises the catalytic stimulus for the emergence of human culture, and the explosion of runaway intelligence.

Human spiritual and religious traditions thus need to be founded on respect for the mutual interdependence of the sexes and the integrity of each, without resorting to attitudes of dominance - of mind over body, male over female, or God over Nature.

3 Sexuality, Mortality, Diversity and Love

Intrinsic to the complementarity of the Tao of yin and yang is the fact that all life is sexual, and by being sexual, and possessing the endless variety which sexuality enables, sexual life becomes mortal, forsaking the absolute genetic selfishness of parthenogenesis. Fusion sex transmits only half the genes in each parent, rather than the whole genome. This altruism results in the endless variety of sexual beings, each with their own identity and genetic makeup, thus giving each a unique ability to resist epidemic disease, profoundly aiding the survival of the species. Sexuality and sexual transgression is thus not the cause of death, and our downfall from the grace of God, but the very principle which makes life's diversity possible.

All life is sexual and sexuality needs to be respected as the interactive foundation of the diversity of life. Bacteria have a form of pan-sexuality using viral and transposable elements, which transfer bacterial genes, and enable conjugation, even between differing species. Fungi have differing forms of conjugation and fusion sexuality which permit up to twenty different sexual mating types, and plants and animals are universally sexual through dyadic fusion sex. Although many plants and a few animal species are capable of vegetative, or parthenogenetic, reproduction, they depend on the generation of sexual variety whenever environmental stresses occur, occasionally even mating with related species.

The mammalian sexual condition is highly polarized as a result of pregnancy, live-birth and lactation, giving the female a principal reproductive investment in parenting and humans with massive pregnancy and long-term parental care are at an extreme of this polarization. The female reproductive investment strategy of long-term out-front sustainability must not be subjugated to the venture-risk exponentiating reproductive strategy of human males and its association with male attempts to control culture and assert dominance through patriarchal religion.

Rather it is female reproductive choice of overt resource-bearing and/or covert genetic male sexual partners, and corresponding male genius in attracting female partners, which is the principal mediator of runaway human intelligence, despite a degree mutual mate choice also occurring in immediate relationship formation and falling-in-love. However, along with this manifest symmetry-breaking also comes a tacit need for acceptance of human polygyny, which, although it is often associated with patriarchal cultures, and male prerogatives, is fundamental to sexual symmetry-breaking. Polygyny is as much a product of female reproductive choice and selection of male suitors as it is an expression of the male strategy of sewing wild oats. Differences in the diversity of the X chromosome and autosomes across cultures, confirm the continuing prevalence of polygyny throughout human evolution, despite the religious ideal of monogamy being asserted in the Christian world on the basis of the Edenic myth of Adam and Eve - a mistaken conclusion, given the earlier mythological relationship of Adam with an all-too sexually liberated Lilith.

Sexuality is also the foundation of love, and love of the other, in partnership, parenting, kinship and comradeship. The ability to love is an emergent expression of the fulfillment of the spiritual quest grounded biologically in the altruism implicit in the sexual interconnectedness of all life. The capacity for love is an evolutionary endowment of the emotional repertoire of the mammalian brain, among other emotions, from fear and anger, through hate, to the chaotic unpredictability of humour, which enable us to relate to one another beyond the confines of genetic determinism.

The essential truth here is that, just as mind and body, or conscious spirit and physical form are complementary and symmetry-broken, so nature needs to be sacralized and respected as holy (whole) in completing the conscious, spiritual and religious quest for an unveiling, with the sexual foundation of the Tree of Life's perennial immortality across the generations. Only when nature and sex is respected as sacred in this way can a paradigm of sustainable life culture ensue for humanity, rather than the damnation and misadventure of hell fire and destruction.

4 Consciousness and the Transcendental

From birth to death, the only actual reality we experience is the subjective reality of conscious sentient existence. All our experience of the external world and one another comes about through regularities in our subjective conscious experience of reality. By contrast our experience of all aspects of the physical universe, and our relationships with other sentient beings, thus come about indirectly as a secondary effect of conscious experience.

Nevertheless we acknowledge that if we cut ourselves we bleed, and if we fall asleep, or are concussed, we may go into an unconscious state. Although we are subjective beings experiencing a subjective reality, we know that our continued survival depends on acceptance of the existence of the physical universe. In this way, subjective consciousness and the objective physical nature of our bodies and the universe around us, (as well as those we love and relate to), are fundamental complementary aspects of the totality of existence.

Despite the belief of many religious people in the existence of God, or gods and goddesses, or the afterlife, the only aspects of the universe we know to possess subjective consciousness of any kind are the biota. It is thus not God, but we ourselves that are uniquely at the sentient crest of the cosmic emergence, perhaps the critical and only way the universe is able experience itself in the conscious condition, giving additional impetus to the importance of the implicitly cosmic nature of sentient consciousness.

By contrast with the undeniability of our own consciousness, religions try to assert the necessity for belief in the godhead - because there is no verifiable evidence for it as such, so an affirmative act of belief, in the absence of real evidence, is necessary. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit this fails the critical test of integrity in trust, in the same way pyramid schemes, confidence tricks, and other forms of fraud, fail the same test.

Nevertheless, since we do know we are subjectively conscious and that we are mortal beings in the sexual paradigm, we must needs take personal responsibility for this undeniable fact of reality, to leave the world a better place, because any other choice of action, from personal indulgence to psychopathic exploitation, is doomed to meaningless oblivion, in the inevitable event of our demise. This act of taking personal responsibility is the same act that all heroes and heroines, bodhisattvas, messiahs, shamans and sages of the spiritual traditions must take, and it is also the critical step to give our lives real meaning.

The ego is not the enemy of realization, nor is it intrinsically a selfish, grasping, delusory influence, but is an integral part of our mammalian emotional endowment, the dynamic manifestation of the life force, seeking the survival of the organism in the vagaries of a precarious environment. The suffering of the ego, which Buddhism draws attention to, without posing a creator God, is healed, not by renunciation of the world, but by acceptance of the ultimate altruism of sexual mortality, and understanding the fact that the only truly meaningful act we can perform, while alive in this world, is to work to improve the condition of sentient life, and the passage of the future generations of the diversity of life. This compassionate act of redemption is as real in the biological world as it can ever be, seen through a glass darkly, in the world of religious imperative and messianic salvation.

Our biological incarnation gives us the unique opportunity to witness and experience the awesome totality of conscious existence while we are alive in the incarnate condition. This free lunch gains its true meaning, and we gain our true peace, in giving back in turn to existence, and those that will follow us when we are gone, a world which is made better and more wholesome through the insights and good works we have performed in this life, to make the world a more bearable, habitable and sustainable sanctuary, for the generations to follow.

There may also be forms of compassionate dis-incarnate consciousness, with which our individual consciousness may co-integrate on the boundary of life and death, but there is no more evidence for reincarnation than there is for a creator God. Moreover, reincarnation of sentient beings, or even the desires and attachments they possess, violates fundamental principles of evolutionary biology, effectively subjugating the diversity of life to a narrow morality of reincarnating sentient beings, in which the evolutionary adaption of 'lesser' species are falsely imagined to carry a purely human social burden, and in which the diversity of living organisms is subjugated to the potentially endless recycling of a few morally corrupt sentient beings.

Nevertheless in eternal space-time, we are all part of the collective conscious process and the lives we lead and have led, when we come to pass away, continue to be an integral part of the ongoing manifestation of consciousness discovering itself in the universe, from alpha to omega, so the fear of death, and hunger for the afterlife, arise from a misplaced desire for the transient temporal, when the sentient universe is eternal in space-time.

This ties back to the cosmological evolution of the universe and the way sentient life becomes possible on the 'cosmic equator' mid-life in the universe's manifestation, where there are mature planets and galaxies, and the complexity of molecular life becomes possible over long evolutionary epochs. Even if biological life cannot survive the extreme conditions of the big-bang, or the heat death, or big crunch, these very extremes are necessary to make possible the kind of cosmic evolution that leads to the complexity of life on the cosmic equator. From the eternal space-time perspective the equator and poles are necessary features of a single, eternal, integrated manifestation, in which life, and sentient life, is as integral and fundamental a manifestation, and in no way futile.

5 The Prisoners' Dilemma and the Red Queen

Intrinsic to the complementary description of reality is the unstable cusp of the strategic prisoners' dilemma game between cooperation and defection, in which there is continual temptation to defect for higher payoffs, despite the relatively secure win-win of mutual cooperation, leading to double jeopardy in mutual defection. This is where all manner of strategies of altruistic punishment, such as 'an eye for an eye', or 'tit-for-tat' as it is called in game theory, come into play.

The strategic interaction between parties is caught on the unstable cusp between these two, so that neither cooperation, nor defection can never entirely eliminated and the rule of order can never be complete. Neither the faithful wife, nor the scarlet whore can be eliminated no matter what dire penalties, such as stoning for adultery, men invent in the name of religion, or God, to assert control over women's sexual choices, because the rarity of either commands a kings bounty. Likewise neither the faithful husband, the philanderer, nor the potentate, can be eliminated from the game entirely.

Moreover, the ecological relationships, both between species and individuals, including those of predator and prey, and parasite and host, are driven by a prisoners' dilemma Red Queen evolutionary race, running while standing still, in which all species need to be sexual to avoid the extinction of an entire parthenogenetic clone line of individuals. Hence sexuality can compensate, in a single generation, for the altruism of contributing only a half of one's genes, by providing the individual variation that limits epidemic catastrophes which would completely wipe out a monoclonal species.

Although predators and parasites exploit their prey and hosts, each are also dependent on the other, to varying degrees, to avoid population boom and bust, and the likely extinctions that result from population explosions to the point of starvation, in the absence of predators and parasites. Parasites also depend on their hosts for their own survival. It is therefore difficult or impossible to define universal moral laws about killing, theft, coveting, adultery, or other forms of violent or non-violent exploitation of one individual, or species, by another, except in terms of its likely effect on the survival, in diversity, of the ecosystem as a whole.

Although the female human makes the principal reproductive investment in parenting, the emergence of human culture, and the flowering of intelligence, is catalyzed by a prisoners' dilemma Red-Queen race between the sexes, in which each has had to run, while standing still, to secure the reproductive favour of the other. Thus any spiritual or religious paths that advocate domination, sequestering or control by one sex over the other, even in the name of their best interests, is in root violation of nature as a cosmic principle.

6 Religion and Oppression

Despite the higher values of compassion, and spiritual virtue, which devout followers place in their beliefs, established religions are social systems designed to shape the lives of their followers by manifest systems of control. Religion, by its very nature, (re-ligio - to bind together, islam - submission) binds the conscious mind from its autonomous freedom, while alive, to explore the depths of the cosmic abyss, which becomes manifest when we enter a state of repose, dream, or psychedelic, natural or mystical communion. Only in such states can we experience the disembodied cosmic 'self', many people witness in near-death and other white-light experiences.

Those who wish to discover the underlying nature of the cosmic subjective need to free themselves from all religious and scriptural imperatives, all doctrine and dogma, all fear of divine or social retribution, and all compulsions to believe, or obey God's will, and discover for themselves, with as few assumptions as possible, the nature of the abyss within.

Religions attempt to assert themselves, as imperatives, through several totalitarian manoeuvres. Firstly they expect one to believe under pain of taking God or al-Llah in vain if we don't believe. Secondly they assert that it is God's command that we obey him, depriving us of any choice in the matter. Thirdly religions try to convert through evangelical enticements, or coercive practices, like Islam's conversion by the sword. Fourthly religions try to invoke harsh, or even lethal penalties for apostasy, or recanting the faith, making it difficult or impossible to retreat. Fifthly, religions set out moral imperatives that must be followed, which confine the individual into a state of guilt and fear of transgression, and promote societies which punish and expose transgressors. Sixthly religions teach that the priests, mullahs, preachers and gurus know what is best for us all and deny our innate capacity to experience reality for ourselves. In virtually every religion the mystics who would experience spiritual unity in the first person, are repressed, punished or murdered. Seventhly religions of patriarchy set up dire punishments to control female sexual, legal and educative choices, to maintain control over female reproductive choice, and to ensure the expansion of the population of the believers, as part of a utopian aim of planetary control under the rule of God.

Religiosity is also found to have a significant genetic component, which although it may on some occasions trigger mystical experience, favours an individual's psychological need to believe in a higher power ordering their lives, and societies which become dominant over neighbouring cultures by imposing conservative morality, and punishment of defectors. Like the influence of patriarchy, the dominant controlling position of religions over the last four millennia, is liable to result in self-fulfilling genetic selection, undermining the capacity of both individuals and societies to pursue the unfolding of the conscious realm, free from coercive religious imperatives, and utopian designs.

For these reasons religions are the enemy of spiritual illumination, and stringent measures, equally effective to their own contrivances, are needed to keep religion from assuming diabolical control over our lives, and those of future generations.

7 Morality, Criminality and the Social Quality of Life

Morality is an emergent product of societies, in which individuals forsake personal advantage over others for the collective benefit of the group. Alexander's theory of the biology of morality asserts that morality arises as a way of reducing intra-social strife to gain greater capacity for inter-social competition and dominance. That is, moral societies can better survive onslaughts from their neighbours, because there is less internal strife caused by personal expedience, exploitation and corruption. The rise of kin altruism, mutualism, and reciprocal altruism in biological societies has a similar basis, which functions also in terms of individual genetic fitness.

There are thus no absolute standards of morality that we must abide by, and no absolute rights and wrongs. We are better served by learning from example from living ecosystems, which are sustainable over evolutionary time scales, even though they contain predators and prey, than allowing ourselves to be forced to commit to cultural moral imperatives which may be unsustainable long-term because they assert values which undermine natural viability. Control of female reproductive choice by violent punishment is an obvious example.

By the same token, attempts to crush criminality by dire, or deterrent, punishment, under the rule of law, is doomed to failure in the prisoners' dilemma game. Criminality is an integral part of the defection, which the cusp of the game is centered upon, and is legitimate, for example as protest movements, parliamentary opposition, and whistle blowing, if society is to remain free. Criminal defection can be minimized only through investing in a just society, with a high degree of familial and social connectedness, so that violent anti-social behavior has a high cost, in loss of social respect and support, in the local networks of society.

Dire penalties, even public executions, in an unjust, coercive society, simply lead to an arms race of criminal turf wars, and ever more cut throat professional criminal military organizations, which then pose a threat to society, itself as great as the coercive forces of 'order', or utopian religion, attempting to dominate it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cosmos ex Natura 5: Holy War against Science

Left: WMAP image of the cosmic background radiation, gives the echo of the cosmic fireball at the point light separated from matter when the plasma of charged particles first coalesced into atoms. It provides evidence that our universe had an explosive beginning, but it doesn't suggest the God created it, nor that this is evidence for 'let there be light'. Right: The biota occupy the cosmic equator through a major central epoch of the universe's evolution and thus form a cosmological manifestation of the interactive culmination of the four forces of nature.

Our idea of the universe and our own relationship with it as biological organisms has been profoundly transformed by the scientific revolution. We now know that the universe has an explosive beginning some 12 billion years ago in which the cosmological processes of the universe at large are complemented by differentiation of the four fundamental wave-particle forces of nature. At the same time we know, despite its relatively fragile nature on the cosmic scale that life is the supreme manifestation of interactive complexity of the four forces of nature on a cosmic footing. Life thus has a unique status in cosmic terms and occurs over an epoch of 3.5 billion years, spanning nearly a third of cosmic history.

The investigative process of science has its basis in the skeptical principle: in which a theory becomes accepted only if it withstands disproof through validation in every natural situation which might refute it, rather than the untested assumptions of spiritual faith, which asserts that belief in God is essential, and lack of faith is betrayal. Affirmative belief has meant that the cherished and often simplified assumptions of religious cosmologies have gone unquestioned for fear of retaliation if not for the simple lack of critical scrutiny.

Sabbatical creation defies the natural order. Although light is created before the stars, consistent with the cosmic background, the plants are impossibly created before the Sun, moon and stars. The firmament of the heavens is "raqiya" a beaten hemispherical bowl, dividing waters above and below, in which the stars are fixed. Earth is a flat domain created by bunching the waters under heaven to one place. Night and day happen before the sun is placed in the heavens. The fishes and whales and the birds are created a day before the land animals and long after the plants.

Ideas that the earth is flat, overlaid by heavens in which the astronomical bodies are set, as if on some gigantic hemispherical ceiling by God have proved to be simply folk myths, fantastic tales having no credibility in the harsh light of careful experiment. Vested religious interests have tried to silence this discovery process, for example endeavoring to excommunicate Galileo for correctly discovering that the Earth orbits around the Sun, rather than being fixed in the centre of the universe, around which all other objects revolve. However these efforts have over time eventually proved in vain because the natural evidence is there for all to see, once we discover how to ask the right question.

Despite the overwhelming detail and consistency of the scientific revolution, which has by the turn of the third millennium unveiled the dynamics of the universe at large, reached the doors of the theory of everything unifying the cosmological forces of nature, unleashed nuclear holocaust, and not only laid bare the genetic code, but decoded the human genome as well, the fact that religion is based on affirmative belief rather than skeptical inquiry has led to a situation of stand-off, where key aspects of the scientific description, such as the genetic evolution of life, continue to be rejected by religious believers, who frequently interpose over the scientific description the same simplistic scriptural accounts.

An attempt to overlay the Sabbatical creation on the inflationary cosmology, based on the WMAP observations being 'let there be light" followed by a dark era before the galaxies formed ignores the manifest inconsistencies and uses the scientific discoveries to retro-fit the six-day creation to observed events - faith interposed over fact. The idea that the sabbatical account is an inspired reflection of a divine intervention seen through a glass darkly millennia before these discoveries raises more questions than it solves.

A key area still to be finally resolved in the lab is the exact path by which life began on Earth. However, far from indicating God made RNA and then DNA to support his life plan, the accumulating evidence indicates that planets are commonplace features of stellar systems and that those in the 'goldilocks zone' where liquid water exists are by no means uncommon. Rather than being an impossible contrivance of vanishing probabilities requiring God to intervene, the molecular precursors of life and of nucleic acids themselves may have an origin in the first gas clouds forming solar systems, and have showered on the early Earth in abundant proportions.

Right: HCN and HCHO form major constituents of gas clouds in star-forming regions of the Orion nebula. Left: HCN is capable of polymerizing in association with other molecules to form both the pyrimidine (U, C) and purine (A, G) bases of nucleic acids. HCHO is likewise capable of generating a variety of sugars including ribose. Above: ATP the monomeric ribonucleotide unit, which forms the archetype of both energy source and structural unit of RNA, along with the other bases G,C and U enabling complementary replication, is a co-pentamer of HCN and HCHO. Both purines and pyrimidines have also been discovered in the Murchison meteorite.

Central to the debate between religion and science is the issue of evolution and whether life is too complex and wonderful to have been crafted by the blind groping of evolution rather than divine creation, or its new guise, 'intelligent design'. Because evolution is a process which happens over relatively long time-scales, Christian fundamentalists have attempted to portray it as merely a conjecture, despite the fact that some evolutionary process are very rapid and genetic sequencing having laid bare the historical record of untold evolutionary transformations, which provide evidence so detailed, that the denial of it forms the dark side of affirmative belief - a holy war against the manifest truth.

By claiming that evolution is simply a theory which has arguments for it and arguments against it creationists falsely imply there is no real experimental confirmation of any of the evolutionary links between species which make the diversity of life a sensible and meaningful system. If the biota were designed by God why are there parasites and diseases, some of which have altogether diabolical manifestations? It is these diseases, from influenza, through HIV to tuberculosis which show the most obvious signs of rapid evolutionary adaption. Why are there carnivorous predators if killing is deemed a sin?

Two arguments typical of the intelligent design advocates are irreducible complexity and specified complexity, both of which manifestly fail the scientific test of skeptical inquiry. Irreducible complexity claims that complex biological systems possess irreducible complexity and could not have evolved because removing any one component makes the whole system fail. This is a fallacy because it is only intelligently designed systems which suffer from this flaw. A living system can arrive at a situation of irreducible complexity by evolution from systems which are not irreducible, either because they have redundancies which are later pruned out by natural selection, or through natural stability structures evolving to become genetically coded irreducible systems. For example key metabolic pathways such as the citric acid cycle are likely to have evolved from natural polycarboxylic acid pools by genetic takeover, resulting in an efficient cycle which later looks irreducible. Other systems touted as evidence for irreducible intelligent design such as the camera eye are clearly not irreducible at all and have obvious evolutionary intermediates.

Left: Naturally occurring eyes show all forms of
intermediate in the formation of the camera eye.

Right: A compound eye on an insect leg elicited
by a mouse gene involved in vertebrate eye development.

The camera eye has often been cited as something that could not have evolved by stages, because its functionality only exists in its completeness of design. However there are diverse examples of pinhole camera pit eyes forming all the intermediate stages of formation of a camera eye. Moreover eyes diverse as the insect compound eye and the vertebrate camera eye use homologous genes to trigger their development, showing that eyes which appear to be founded on radically different principles have a common genetic origin.

Other examples, such as the rotary bacterial flagellum, which might seem to have to be designed in one step entirety can also be easily explained through transfer of functionality from genes which first evolved to fill other roles, as genes making up the rotary assembly have been shown to have sequence homology with related genes having other functions. Thus one of the creative aspects of evolution is its capacity to bring together adventitious combinations of existing or modified genes or gene modules in new integrated functionalities.

Specified complexity is another scientifically false notion that complex structures which are not simply random have to be instructed by a design specification to exist. This is manifestly false and fails to understand critical properties of dynamical chaos and the fractal complexity of structures which emerge from edge of chaos dynamics. Molecular matter is complex largely because of the unique complexity of the way the four forces of nature broke symmetry in the big bang at the origin of the universe. As a result of this symmetry-breaking quarks bind together in threes to form neutrons and protons which in turn bind tightly together to form atomic nuclei with neutral and positive charges, resulting in a complex semi-periodic series of some 100 electrically polarized atoms with orbital electrons capable of forming molecular orbitals and hence chemical bonds.

The capacity for chemical bonding does not stop with the ionic and covalent bonds of ball and stick mechanical molecules, but continues unresolved in a string of weaker cooperative H-bonds, hydrophobic, polar and van der Waal interactions resulting in the complex folding and global cooperativity of large protein and RNA molecules. This process is a quantum fractal and continues in upward scales from molecular complexes, through organelles to cells and finally tissues, organs such as the brain and whole organisms. If the complexity comes from design, it is the design of the forces of nature we need to look at, to understand why tissues are capable of becoming complex when encoded by the genetic information in living evolving organisms.

Living organisms exist as complex structures only because the universe is based on non-linear interaction of the forces of nature. Tissues are fractal molecular structures in a manner similar to the way the non linear dynamics makes the Mandelbrot set arguably the most complex known object in mathematics.

It also needs to be understood that intelligence itself - something possessed by whole brains of intact organisms to aid their survival is not necessarily the best or most fertile basis to generate new viable forms. The entire landscape of life, both in terms of genetic sequences and the folded domains of proteins, consists of modular structures. Higher organism genes are divided into functional subunit exons separated by non-coding introns. This provides not just for random mutations of the code but for functional shuffling of active subdomains to form new combinations. The introns likewise allow for complex RNA-based dynamic modular regulation of whole batteries of genes in ways which can result in new phenotypic and regulatory pathways. Furthermore our genomes are littered with the remains of transposable elements and viruses which in addition to causing deleterious events can facilitate new forms of regulation and horizontally transfer whole genes between species in a way which enables useful genes to find themselves in completely new places where their effects can combine in new ways. Indeed the evidence is now becoming clearer that the tree of life of higher organism evolution emerged from a tangled web in which genes are freely passed between species enabling life to exist in almost any extreme environment. There is also manifest evidence that the genomes of higher organisms have arisen from multiple symbiotic events bringing together diverse metabolic systems.

What is almost entirely misunderstood by the intelligent design movement is that far from being random mutation, evolution, is the most rapid generator of complex form in the universe because it is a massively parallel quantum molecular computer based on parallel nucleic acid replication. It can't be reasonably compared to any naive probability process based on random processes, because the extreme degree of parallel exploration of the space of possibilities makes genetic algorithms the most efficient computational process in the universe. For all its elegant structure, and even consciousness, even super-intelligent design is cumbersome, clunky and completely unsuited to generate new life forms.

Supporters of intelligent design suffer from a delusion that emergence and evolution of life are somehow beyond the scope of natural explanation, but they fail to properly apply their theories to rigorous test. The central arena for the viability of such a hypothesis is development of the organism, not evolution, or the origin of life, for it is in development that we can see biological design in action and arriving at a precise result over time scales we can readily observe, both in the lab, and out in the millpond.

The evolution of intelligent design illustrated in the Buick emblem: The intelligent designer creates each individual de-novo, having only the same general concept. Because there is an external designer following his own predilection, there is no absolute requirement for a new design to depend in any significant way on the form of the predecessor. Both development and evolution are fundamentally a product of the designer only and not the design itself. In successive generations, one Buick shield can become three and then an Eagle. By contrast natural evolutionary change leaves the fingerprint of its variation in the genomes of the ancestors and their descendants. Corporations, operating systems, and technological innovation all follow the 'evolutionary' protocols of intelligent design.

The central model for intelligent design is the watchmaker - that is human craftsmanship of an elegant precision applied on small scales to produce a complex yet stable mechanism. By extrapolation, we are then expected to believe that God, given his much more awesome mysterious powers, could by the same process of design, external to the blind groping of nature, produce something so elegant and complex as a living organism.

The trouble with this idea is that external design works from the top down and the only really complex machines humanity has been able to construct are digital computers, which, while they are capable of delivering a lot of challenge and entertainment, are founded on one very basic notion, that of a Von Neumann architectured Turing machine. There is no mystery of life or consciousness here. All the responses available are fully described by the simple instruction set.

Robotic car assembly illustrates development by intelligent design. The parts above have no capacity for interactive self-assembly, because the process has to be entirely guided by the external intelligent design process. The process of development is instead driven externally on a global basis by robotic machines executing the intelligent design algorithm, or by God as the case may be!

By contrast, development, from the ovum to the organism, is based on mutual interaction resulting in sequential differentiation and depends on quantum processes such as protein folding which are intractable as classical computational processes. Embryonic development, while ultimately determined at the molecular level by the DNA code, is an emergent interactive process, both resulting in changes at the intracellular level, as cell types specialize, and inter-cellular transformation, in the sequence of interactions between individual cells, and cell layers.

Moreover, development reflects the underlying evolutionary process which made it possible, as shown below. Furthermore evolutionary changes are sequentially dependent in the information possessed by the organism, rather than an external intelligent designer. They are clearly dependent on small transformations of an existing genomic instruction set, so the genetic information of the organism is the key instructor of the process under small discrete changes caused by mutation and rearrangement. By contrast intelligent design is liable to abrupt change, as illustrated in the Buick example, and even when there is a degree of homology, is is merely a conceptual reworking rather than a topological bifurcation.

Left-center: Formation of the neural tube, after gastrulation has already invaginated ectoderm and endoderm, is a self-interactive topological bifurcation. Right: Development of the eye recapitulates the essential bifurcations of the evolutionary process which generated it.

There is absolutely nothing about this process which suggests an external intelligent designer, but rather an internal self-interactive process. This goes all the way to the central nervous system, where there are massive migrations of cells on pre-developed scaffolds in response to growth factor signals expressed by other specific target cell types, as well as massive cell and synapse death to prune the connections to those which are required for effective sentient function.

We thus see that even in the developmental context, where we clearly have an encoded biological design and a process which is elegantly targeted to a specific outcome, there is no hint of a designer except the interaction between the DNA sequence and maternal cytoplasmic inheritance. To suggest that the DNA sequence is God given, rather than a result of mutability of the process due to the occasional errors of replication resulting from the impossibility of absolute perfection, the interaction of transposable genetic elements and the modular nature of genes and their intervening non-coding sequences now known to have a major role in gene regulation is frankly pissing in the wind.

Relationships between evolution and development: Early embryonic forms of vertebrates all have the long tails and many segments of fishes because they have a deep underlying evolutionary relationship, in which fishes became land animals. The program of development is encoded in our DNA and the evolutionary process reflects the long-term transformations of his program's form and function. Neither development, nor evolution show any of the traits of intelligent design. Both do show the traits of autonomous variation.

The final knell for the intelligent design hypothesis is the human genome project and with it the genome projects of related and other species, which lay bare the encoding of the evolutionary process and bring it right up to date in real time during the cultural divergence of human groups in the cultural epoch.

Above: Genetic tree of evolutionary divergence between chimps neanderthals and humans confirms each evolved from a common ancestor - the bane of creationists and 'intelligent designers'. Below: Evolutionary tree of Human ethnic groups using a variety of different analyses of genetic sequences gives a consistent overall evolutionary tree for human societies with minor variations due to the differing effects of sexual recombination and other process on the types of DNA change analysed. The inevitable conclusion is that humanity is evolving in real time as we speak.

The critical gap still existing in the scientific description of reality is the central question of how the brain evokes subjective consciousness. Since religious descriptions, in dealing with a God outside and/or above the mortal coil of the physical universe and involve themselves in questions of the afterlife beyond physical death, religions are predominantly descriptions from a conscious sentient perspective, in which the biological and physical aspects of reality are frequently shunned, as part of an inferior, bestial, or degraded condition.

Science thus badly needs to make some progress into the depths of how the brain generates subjective consciousness to avoid being accused of being a purely materialistic description of no real weight in deciding the lofty questions of the fate of sentient existence.

Deborah Kelemen has found that the tendency to favour explanations invoking purpose-seeking yet false explanations of natural phenomena - promiscuous teleology - is shared by both religious and non-religious adults, suggesting that humans are neurobiologically predisposed to be susceptible to 'intelligent design' and creationist explanations (Cognition (DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.01.001, Callaway, Ewen "Humans may be primed to believe in creation" New Scientist 2 Mar 2009).

Intelligent design closes in on the designer:
Four views of artificial intelligence (internet)

Coming from the diametrically opposite pole to affirmative belief, there is a purely materialistic claim of intelligent design, applied, not by the religious, but by those who follow a purely mechanistic, cyborg line, in which the human brain is pictured as just another form of computer. In an act of reverse faith, this belief is that artificial intelligence will provide the complete solution to how the brain makes sense of the world. In this description, the notion of subjective consciousness is discarded as a superfluous, non-objective, non-scientific idea, having no replicable correlates on which we can base real experimental evidence, because subjective experience is not an objective verifiable phenomenon at all. The artificial intelligence approach presents another form of intelligent design, for it claims that the only defining characteristics of the brain are its computational structure and function and that, once this is elucidated, there is nothing more to discover.

However, artificial intelligence has proved incapable of making the huge strides it promised. An interesting example is optical character recognition, one which computers should really be able to handle, where scanned snippets of old texts called Captchas (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) are used to make sure real humans log onto web sites, eliminating phishing and spamming computers, which are still unable to perform unambiguous character recognition, despite decades of AI research into such areas.

The brain is in no way like a digital computer and uses completely different principles, involving waves of excitation, chaotic dynamics, continuous, rather than entirely discrete digital communication, and probably, into the bargain, exotic quantum phenomena. Despite having 10^11 neurons and 10^15 synapses, the brain is an extraordinarily bad numerical calculator, having a digit span of only about 7. Cultures exist with no linguistic terms for number and there is debate whether there are any hard-wired skills for numeracy in the human brain. Moreover the sorts of problems the conscious brain is best able to solve - anticipating immediate and serious threats to survival in the open environment - are notoriously intractable computational problems which would leave a digital computer being eaten by its tyrannosaurus equivalent because it became catatonic at the crossroads and took too long to compute whether to jump out of the way of the predator.

Top row: Localization of pitch, melody and rhythm perception in music.
Left: Different aspects of language function result in activity in varying regions of the cerebral cortex. Center: Visual processing for color and motion is done separately in parallel. Right: Ocular dominance of one or other eye is distributed dynamically across the visual cortex and varies as a result of cortical plasticity. In blind people these regions may be used for spatial representation using auditory sensation rather than vision. Lower left: Processing in the olfactory cortex distinguishes two odors through global 'holographic' differences in the wave form of the excitation. Lower right: Brain excitations are broad frequency chaotic excitations. Rather than discrete processing, the brain appears to use phase coherence as in a hologram to distinguish the relevant stimuli from the random groundswell of noise.

Neuroscience is beginning to uncover intriguing relationships between how different areas of the cerebral cortex handle sensory and cognitive processes and the subjective consciousness with which they are associated. For example different regions process colour and motion, resulting in pathologies, in which people who have had injuries in particular regions, cannot experience either colour or motion, instead witnessing a grey landscape or a confusing sequence of frozen stills when the coffee is poured. Likewise rhythm, melody and pitch in music, and semantic meaning and articulate expression in language, are processed in distinct regions. Moreover, the allocation of such functionality is capable of plasticity, so that in blind people, visual regions may be involved in auditory spatial processing.

Furthermore, the brain does not depend on digital processing. Although long axons are pulse-coded, sending a spike train at a rate corresponding to the intensity of the stimulus, other neurons have continuous potential changes. Neuron-neuron connections are not entirely electrical, with many different types of chemical neurotransmitters involved, some of which can have profound effects on consciousness. Memory likewise has a major biochemical component involved in delayed recall. The neuron as a cell is far from a trivial discrete component like a transistor or a simple additive unit, with large pyramidal cells having many different types of excitatory and inhibitory synapses and up to 10,000 synaptic connections, many of which are capable of non-linear interactions, resulting in complex dynamics between neurons.

The global nature of brain waves is broad-spectrum, rather than simple resonances, allowing for transitions in and out of chaos, and using holographic type principles of wave phase correlation, to distinguish the critical information being paid attention to from the groundswell of noise. Some researchers also suggest that quantum phenomena may play a role in brain function and that there may be a relationship between quantum uncertainty and quantum entanglement, and the capacity of the conscious brain to anticipate circumstances and possess the attribute of free-will.

Conscious states of the brain do not appear to be associated with any specific brain centre, but rather a function of the higher levels processes distributed over the entire cerebral cortex. Although the conscious brain remains the abyss in the scientific description, brain science is bringing us ever-closer to an understanding and challenging our assumptions, both religious and mechanistic.

In the next section we will explore how the scientific description for morality, might alter our view of morality and spirituality and how it might help us come to terms with a more sustainable paradigm of human participation in safeguarding the future of life on Earth.

Cosmos ex Natura 4: Mayan and Christian Redeemer's Blood

Maya mural depicting scenes of the creation story and,
at the center, the maize god, who crowns himself king.

To broaden the horizon we will examine one other creation story from the Maya to see how this parallels essential features of the creations processes and heroic sacrifices of other religions, particularly Christianity.

When Cortez arrived in Tenochtitlan the Aztecs marveled at the Christian religion, because its rituals of blood sacrifice in drinking Christ's blood and eating his flesh and his gruesome crucifixion as a sacrifice, by Abba the Father God so closely paralleled their own abundant blood-letting sacrifices to appease the Gods and keep the sun in orbit. Far from appreciating these similarities, the Conquistadores reacted with violence to this alien religion, in dismemberment of not only the priests but also the musicians who played at traditional rites, in a frenzied denial of their own religion's foundation in the endlessly flowing blood of the redeemer.

Early in the conquest the notorious dismemberment and slaughter
of Aztec musicians because they were celebrating a heathen festival.

Like the monotheistic world view in the older Mayan creation, there is a heaven above and an underworld below, in this case a succession like the seven layered heavens and hells of Sumeria and Babylonia:

The Mayas' religion taught that there were 13 layers of heavens above the earth. They also believed nine underworlds were below. They thought that they lived in the fifth creation of the world. The previous four worlds had been destroyed by a great flood. At the beginning of the fifth world, the gods created humans from corn.

Again we have an intelligent design scenario very much like the Elohim making the world in a number of days:

In the first stage of creation, before anything else, the world was nothing but sea and sky. Then the Maker stretched a cord across the sea and sky to create the four corners of the earth.

In the second creation, the Modeler made mountains, lakes, forests, animals, birds, and insects. Although the Maker was happy with the creations, these organisms couldn't speak, pray, keep track of time, or most importantly, show their love and appreciation by returning nourishment to the gods. Dissatisfied, the Creator Couple commanded a flood that eliminated all life on the earth so they could start over.

We now enter an era where we find messianic heros who break the umbilical cord between life and death in a severely sacrificial round very similar to Christ's crucifixion, the celebration of the Eucharist of soma and sangre and the return of the Lord in glory. This third stage is the legend of the hero twins:

The father and Uncle of the Hero twins were great ball players. Unfortunately, the court where they played caused great noise, disturbing the Lords of Death in the Underworld of Xibalba (Place of Fright). After trials set forth by the Lords, the Father and Uncle were put to death and buried under the ball court. The father's head was severed and placed in a tree as a warning to others.

As in Eden, we have the woman sent into exile over the forbidden fruit, under pain of childbirth, but unlike Eden it is a woman tricked by the father into becoming the mother of the heroes:

One day the Father called a girl over to the tree. She complied when she was asked to hold out her hand. The Father spit in her hand, impregnating her. When this girl's father found out, she was banished to the middle world of humans.
She had twins who she named Hunahpu and Xbalanque, the Hero twins.

The twin heroes again challenge the Gods of darkness just as did their father and uncle:

One day they were playing ball like their father and uncle before them. Their gleeful shouts were heard down below in Xibalba. The Lords of Death were affronted. These twins were no more humble than the others. And so messengers were dispatched, summoning them to a ballgame in Xibalba.

The twins now become messianic heros in the same vein as Jesus. Like Jesus they must be sacrificed and die so that they may be resurrected from the dead to return in power. Like Jesus they must endure trials and torment to become the heroes they are destined to be:

The Twins were challenged to a series of ordeals, each in a special "house". In the Dark House they were given a torch and two burning cigars. They were supposed to return these in the morning just as they had received them. Their father and uncle had let the torch burn out, and they had smoked the cigars. But the Hero Twins knew better. They swapped a macaw's scarlet tail feathers for the torch's flame. And they stuck fireflies on the ends of their cigars. When they were sent to the Razor House, sharp blades were supposed to cut them to pieces. But they convinced the blades that their job was to cut up animals, not hero twins. And when they were sent to the Jaguar House, they distracted the tigers by feeding them bones. The Cold House they survived by locking out the cold. The Fire House didn't burn them to ashes, but only toasted them golden brown.

It was when they were sentenced to the Bat House, they made their first mistake, in accordance with their destiny. Hunahpu decided to peek outside the blowgun and see if it was morning yet. When he did so, a bat sliced off his head and it went rolling out onto the ball court of Xibalba. His brother called all the animals together, asking each to bring its favorite food. The coati brought a squash, and with the help of the gods this became a new head for Hunahpu. Meanwhile the Twins told a rabbit to hide outside the ballcourt. When the Lords of Death started the game, they used Hunahpu's head for the ball. As far as they were concerned, this made them victors automatically. But when they kicked the ball, Xbalanque deflected Hunahpu's head flying toward the rabbit's hiding place. The rabbit hopped off, and the Lords of Death thought it was the bouncing ball and raced off in pursuit. The boys got Hunahpu's head back and put the squash in its place. When the game began again and Xbalanque gave the ball a particularly energetic boot, it split open and all its seeds came spilling out. The Hero Twins had defeated the Lords of Xibalba. So the Lords of Death, with all their tricks and all their tests couldn't kill the Hero Twins.

Now the hero twins have to go to the underworld and harrow hell as Jesus did, in this case being so completely obliterated that they are ground to dust and scattered in the water, thus enabling them to reintegrate by becoming the food of the fishes:

But still the boys knew that they would have to die for their quest to be complete. They even knew how the Lords of Death would kill them. So when they were called before the Lords of Xibalba and challenged to a new and different game, they knew it was a trick. "See this oven?" said the Lords of Death. "Bet you can't jump over it four times." "We're not falling for that one," said the boys, and without any further ado they jumped right into the flames. At this point the Lords of Death made a big mistake. Instead of throwing Xbalanque and Hunahpu over a cliff or hanging their bodies in a tree, they ground their bones on a grinding stone and sprinkled them in the river.

The twins now come back to life, performing miraculous resurrections, just like Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead:

This was the only way that the Twins could come back to life. And come back they did, first as catfish and then as their normal selves, healing others and even being able to cut out their hearts in a sacrifice and restoring them in a resurrection from the dead. The Lords of Death asked that a dog be sacrificed and then brought back to life. And when this was done, they asked that it be repeated with a human. And when this too was accomplished, they asked the Twins to sacrifice each other. So Xbalanque dismembered his twin and cut out his heart. Then he started dancing and commanded Hunahpu to get up and join him. And when Hunahpu got up as good as new, the Lords of Death were caught up in a frenzy of delight.

Left: The Dream of Mary (Christoforo Simone dei Crocefissi) Sacrificial blood strems from her Tree of Calvary (the place of the skull). Right: Tree of the Middle Place Blood mother of the corn from the place of the skulls. At the crown of each is a bird - a Christian pelican picking its flesh for blood and a quetzal (Campbell) .

Now in a twist of turning the tables, the twins cuts the hearts out of the Gods of the underworld, overthrowing them as Jesus aspired to do, in the final conquest of Satan, who like the Gods of the underworld, led Jesus to his death, having already taunted him to cast himself from the pinnacle of the Temple, so that he might show he can save himself as the Son of God:

"Now do us!" they cried. And so the Twins sacrificed the two foremost of the Lords of Death. Only they didn't bring them back to life. And the other Lords knew that they had been defeated, and from that day forth Xibalba had lost its glory. The Twins took the head of First Father from the tree in which it hung, and they put him back together and restored him to life. They left him there in a place of honor beside the ballcourt in Xibalba.

Finally, like Jesus, the twins ascend to the heavens:

And then the Hero Twins, Xbalanque and Hunahpu, their heroic quest complete, ascended into the sky and became the sun and the moon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cosmos ex Natura 3: Vedantic and Buddhist Cosmologies

Images from Indus valley, including Shiva in lotus posture as
Pashupatinath - Lord of the Animals (centre)
and sacrificial images suggestive of Kali (right).

The religion coming out of the Indian subcontinent is rich and diverse, overflowing with both male and female deities and deeply absorbed in a contemplative tradition that runs back, long before the Vedas, into the Indus valley planter cultures of Harappa and Mojendaro.

It is here that one can find images of a Shivaic godhead complete with trident, sitting meditative in lotus pose, as Pashupatinath or Lord of the Animals, the shepherd king consort to the dark Dravidian planter goddess Kali-Ma, the creatrix and destructress of all beings, gorging bodies in her mouth, whose name is time, who also beckons far back into ancient roots in the fertile crescent, in chthonic deities, like Ereshkigal and whose bloodied sacrificial offerings continue to remind us of the ancient power of the Goddess, whose resurgence, spells out a newly wholesome message of female emancipation.

From these very early roots, long before the Aryans brought the Rig Veda and their own brand of worship of the warrior god Indra down from the steppes, has sprung the tradition of transcendental contemplation that has left its mark echoing through the Upanishads and lays the sacred ground for both Jainism and Buddhism as contemplative religious paths.

Shiva and Shakti, another manifestation of Kali as youthful sexual goddess, in consonance with Inana and Dumuzi of Sumeria, come to spell out one of the most sumptuous, fertile and perplexing religious cosmologies spawned by human culture.

Tantric Genesis in the deep coitus of Shakti and Shiva

In the Tantric origin, like the Eden story, everything comes down to sex, but this time sexual union is the creative source of the entire universe, for the very beginning is reality in a state of complete sexual fusion – a contemplative fusion between mind and body, in which everything is a state of holy and complete bliss.

As the partners retreat from coital union, Shakti, as the physical aspect begins to dance the dance of Maya or illusion, in which the conscious mind of Shiva now perceives all the diverse interacting material forms of reality and all individual sentient beings become fully absorbed in the separate phenomena of the complex interacting reality we perceive around us. Tragically the subjective mind thus loses sight of the cosmic unity and becomes distracted by material phenomena, ultimately becoming a plethora of conscious beings lost in egotistical engagement with the physical world.

Three fundamental attributes differentiate the Tantric cosmology from the monotheistic one:

Firstly the universe is founded on complementarity, and one in which both the sexes, both as woman and man and as Goddess and God, are integral, co-eval and interdependent, rather than a universe formed by an absolute hierarchical creator God.

Secondly the cosmology articulates clearly the root of the existential dilemma and mystery in the complementary relationship between conscious experience and physical nature, which are barely differentiated in the monotheistic description, founded on a covenantal dialogue with God and the historical trials and tribulations of human frailty in the face of God’s designs.

Thirdly, because Shiva and Shakti represent cosmological principles present in all of us, rather than separate deities aloof from fallible humanity, the contemplative quest provides us with a path back to the condition of cosmic integration, because the process can be reversed, in the first person, by the individual following the path back to the primordial condition.

The cosmos as a dream in the mind of God: Vishnu, the sustainer,
dreaming reality in the form of Brahma
appearing as a lotus emanating from his navel
overlooked by Lakshmi the faithful devoted wife.

However, this is only one of many cosmological dialogues in the Indian tradition, some of which veer as dangerously into hierarchical male dominance as monotheism itself. Alongside the Tantric origin we have the image of the entire history of the universe being a dream Vishnu is dreaming as he lies on a boat in a lake with his consort, with the phenomena of reality emerging from Brahma – a lotus blossom emerging from his navel. Vishnu also forms a trinity, called the trimurti in which Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are creator, sustainer and destroyer.

Elephanta: The trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva reflect a similar trinity of An, Enki and Enlil of Sumeria. While Enki masturbates to fertilize the primal waters, Krishna likewise fertilizes the womb of the universe.

From an even more fundamentally patriarchal perspective we have Krishna, the ultimate male cosmokrator, cum gigolo, planting his transcendental seed into the primal chaos to give rise to the universe, in a manner reminiscent of Enki of Sumeria, who masturbated to fertilize the waters and give forth the fertility of Sumer from a purely male procreative urge.

This patriarchal fertility take-over extends to the cosmological dominance of conscious spirit over material nature. In the Geeta 14:3 Krishna (an incarnation, of Vishnu the sustainer, who forms a trimurti with Brahma the creator and Shiva the destroyer), declares to Arjuna the wisdom beyond knowledge, that the sages neither die nor are reborn when the universe is recreated, for it it is He who fertilizes the womb of the cosmos:

The eternal cosmos is My womb, in which I plant the seed,
from which all beings are born
O Prince! O illustrious son of Kunti!
Through whatever wombs men are born,
it is the Spirit itself that conceives, am I am their Father.

Moreover he declares that the law(s) of nature are fundamentally flawed:

Purity, Passion and Ignorance are the Qualities
which the law of nature bringeth forth.
They fetter the free spirit in all beings.

The Bhagavad Gita portrays the existential condition as a necessary state of holy war, even against one’s own kin and teachers, because in the midst of the battlefield, Krishna teaches Arjuna that in one’s pure unswerving devotion to himself as godhead, and renunciation from the egotistical pulls of gluttony and desire, no act in the physical world, however destructive, is sinful. In an allegorical sense of course this is a call to do battle with reality in the name of devotion to the ultimate Godhead, couched in the manner of a teaching in meditation and yoga of action.

Krishna as cosmokrator incites Arjuna to holy war against
kith and kin in the name of the indestructibility
of the sages who come to realize his true God nature.

But this is the same type of unswerving devotion that led early Christians to offer themselves to the lions rather than recant their faith and leads young Muslim men and women too today to commit violent atrocities in suicide bombings of the innocent, including women and children in the unswerving belief that this struggle, or jihad, is ordained by al-Llah and that they will immediately come to see his face in heaven, and if they are male, have the pick of fragrant virgins in paradise.

The Gita is a call to holy war even more uncompromising than those of Jihad and Crusade, because it is couched in a battle without pity or reason against one's own kin and teachers alike. It is clothed in the deception that the battle is justified, because it is couched as the jihad, or struggle, of the soul to reach the dispassionate independence of the eternal sages. This is both dangerous and a fundamental genocidal deceit, because it is the very claim Krishna is making as cosmokrator, beyond even the transient womb of the universe, that is used to justify actions which, from any natural, social, or ethical perspective, are wholly destructive to survival, to kinship, and to the passage of the generations (2:19):

He who thinks the spirit kills, and he who thinks of It as killed are both ignorant. The Spirit kills not, nor is It killed. It was not born; It will never die: nor once having been, can it ever cease to be: Unborn, Eternal, Ever-enduring, yet Most Ancient, the spirit dies no when the body is dead.

Really it is Indra the Aryan war god speaking in the guise of transcendental Krishna, so as to finesse the patriarchal mutual defection of warfare on claims of being the absolute godhead. This is clear in the running conversation (2:2):

Why yield, just on the eve of battle,
which does no credit to those who call themselves Aryans,
and only brings them infamy and bars against them the gates of heaven?

Despite Radha and Krishna being worshipped as a dyadic duo and the belief the God's power in the world comes through his consort, the dyadic complements arise only as a secondary result of the impregnation of the universe as womb vessel by the sacred seed of Krishna as Godhead, thus perpetuating the myth of male as creative essence and woman as mere earthen vessel.

Despite the followers of Krishna sometimes also perceiving him, along with other male deities, in the dyadic form of Radha-Krishna, in a pseudo-Tantric pairing that some Vishnavites believe is essential to his power, this pairing of opposites is only generated once Krishna's primal procreative force has entered the transient womb of the universe. The natural complementarity of the sexes is thus kept secondary to ultimate male power.

Little wonder then that we find followers of such movements have subservient female supplicant wives and why India is plagued by the caste system, bride-burnings, killing of the girl child and consignment of the widow to the funeral pyre, or a life of penury begging outside a charnel house on the Ganges.

At its cultural zenith, the Vedantic tradition produced the Upanishads (to sit down near), which free the Soul or atman from its bondage, in becoming one with the eternal cosmic Self or Brahman, which can be realized through the Yogic paths of devotion and meditation, forming one of the most penetrating cosmological insights about the nature of conscious experience, to which all traditions since owe a debt of gratitude.

The Upanishads free the Self from the confines of the creator deity, in a dialogue, as much with Death, as with God:

Death said: The word the Vedas extol, austerities proclaim, sanctities approach - that word is Om. ... The Self knows all, is not born, does not die, is not the effect of any cause, is eternal, self-existent, imperishable, ancient. ... The Self is lesser than the least, greater than the greatest. He lives in all hearts. When senses are at rest, free from desire, man finds Him and mounts beyond sorrow. Though sitting, he travels, though sleeping is everywhere. Who but I Death can understand the God is beyond joy and sorrow. (Katha-Upanishad 2)

Although the self is still couched in the patriarchal, we are now in a spiritual territory of sitting near the guru attaining realization, rather than violently at war with one's cousins, as Arjuna was in the Gita.

Into this rich and fertile tradition came a new innovator, who unlike many religious founders, from Jesus to Muhammad, set up a middle path, founded on peaceful coexistence and extreme non-violence, although many of his followers have also tarnished the path with intrigue bloodshed.

Buddha, having followed a path of extreme asceticism, declared a more moderate position of renunciation of worldly desire as traps of the ego, setting out a notion of mortal sentient beings escaping the shackles of a life of suffering caused by attachment to desire for worldly pleasures, possibly spanning many cycles of birth and death in an ongoing round of reincarnation, driven and affected by karma, both in this life, and across many lives.

This cycle of suffering is avoided by becoming one with Buddha nature in nirvana, which, cutting through the spiritual materialism of the objective notion of Self, is neither Self (atman - an essence of things that does not depend on others), nor non-Self (anatta - the absence of limiting self-identity in people and things), but rather the still centre of the cyclone of the turning world, in a cosmology of redemption through meditation in the abyss of conscious existence, without need for any God.

However, in addition to remaining silent on whether the world is eternal or non-eternal, finite or infinite, on unity or separation of the body and the self, complete inexistence of a person after nirvana and then death etc., Buddha also denied that the self existed or was reincarnated. Rather there is only an agglomeration of constantly changing physical and mental constituents or skandhas (form/matter, sensation, perception/cognition, volition, and consciousness, as cognizance or ground experience). Thus the concept of karmic reincarnation remains both controversial and ambiguous, being merely a self-perpetuating dynamic of transient features.

Moreover the central thrust of Buddhism, like all patriarchal religious paths, remains centered on the supremacy of the conscious condition over the transient material phenomena of samsara, or illusion, inherent in the natural world, and the source of suffering in the first place. Thus the Buddhist dharma, or path, consists centrally of renunciation of sensual and physical desires, and with them, the biological foundation of genealogy, survival, and the diversity of life.

The mortal condition is tragic and a true cause for suffering and compassion. But the viability and fertility of life and of sexual life is central to the sanctity, vitality and creative meaning of the entire process, not a condition of mere imperfection and suffering. Thus renunciation is only a remedy for the maladies of ego not a royal route to enlightenment.

Because all sentient beings are entwined in this existential condition the connectedness between us is as pivotal as our equanimity in the face of our mortality. Renunciation is merely a symptom of a need to escape obsessions, rather than an elixir of enlightenment in itself. Social interconnectedness, love and sexual engagement are just as essential as renunciation, to provide a life of ecstasy and fully-embodied meaning, health and wholeness and for the passage of life to flower anew on the planet.

Some Buddhists realize the importance of the Tantric truth of interconnectedness in the sexual rite of Yab-Yum or Father-Mother and in the Bodhisattva ideal of bringing enlightenment to all sentient beings., although the ideal of personal renunciation and the emphasis on conscious redemption over the physical wellbeing of the planet still dominates.

Buddhist sexual yoga of Yab-Yum or Father-Mother

Despite the central void of the Buddha non-self, Buddhist's do describe the cosmos just like the many layered heavens and hells common to monotheism and fertility and astronomical religions. There is a highest perfect heaven, then a lower imperfect paradise, next the human condition - a central arena for realization, then the animal realm driven by base instincts, next the hungry ghosts on the borders of hell, and finally a hell of torment. Only in the human realm can one become enlightened and escape the unholy life cycle of samsara, so the other realms become shadow lands.

There are major issues here. The universe is distorted into an enlightenment machine for humans and humans only, with the other life forms simply becoming degraded repositories of an essentially human consciousness. Sexual life and the life cycle has again become degraded to an distracting obstacle to enlightenment, manifesting the gross aspects of samsara, in a manner similar to the downfall of natural paradise and woman in the Fall from Eden, to become the bestial nature from which the base instincts of sex betray us in the eyes of God.

Renunciation impedes our relationship with nature as much as our interconnectedness. Although Buddhists are taught not to take the life of any sentient being, Buddhism tends to see all biological organisms merely from the subjective perspective, as sentient beings caught in the wheel of karma. Buddhist thinking thus tends to judge biological values of life, death and the ecology purely in terms of its effect on the karma of sentient beings in the cycle of reincarnation, not their biological importance for our survival, their beauty, rarity, or the genetic vulnerability of the organism, or its species.

Although some writers portray Buddhism as intrinsically green in its principles, and some branches of Buddhism embrace nature and its mysteries for their capacity for enlightenment, this confusion between sentinet beings and biological reality can lead to an incapacity to deal with ecocrosis, to protect rare species from highly invasive ones and to value nature as highly as consciousness. Bringing the life force back into the realm enlightenment would thus be a win-win situation.

Following chapters turn the tables on this situation, showing that we need to consider how the biological parameters defining the fertility, sanctity and diversity of life shape the nature of conscious experience and the underlying natural principles necessary and conducive to the ongoing fertility of life, before trying to formulate any religious or moral imperatives.

By better understanding the dynamics and complexity of the natural cosmological process we can realize ourselves more completely what the outlines of the existential condition must correspond to in the physical world and thus realize a truer and more meaningful understanding of the complete, whole psycho-biological existential condition encompassing both consciousness and the natural world.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Cosmos ex Natura 2: God acting in History

Memling: The Judgment

The Judeo-Christian cosmology, and with it the Muslim view, is an account of a God acting in history. One of the strongest acclamations of the monotheistic deity is that it is abstract and transcendental, neither represented by icon, nor idol, and that, rather than following the seasonal cycles of agriculture, or the indulgences of civic pride, represents a living covenental relationship with a true God of reality, who lies beyond mere images of stone.

The monotheistic cosmological narrative is strongly influenced by Genesis, which begins with two conflicting accounts, an Elhoistic sabbatical creation and the Yahwistic allegory of Eden and the Fall.

The sabbatical creation is both charming and contradictory to the natural order. The plural Elohim create heaven and earth, but the earth is primal chaos without form or void - tohu vohu. Their spirit then moves on the waters and there is light and they divide the light and darkness into day and night. Next day they devise a firmament, dividing the waters, and call it heaven. The third day they divide the waters under heaven into land and sea and install the plants. The fourth day the Elohim make the sun, moon and stars, somewhat innocently after the plants, although they did have light coming from somewhere. The fifth day they bring forth fishes and whales and on the sixth day the land animals, and woman and man 'in their likeness' – i.e. the likeness of the plural Elohim - and give them dominion over nature. So on the seventh day the Elohim took Shabbat and rested.

The Eden account is wildly contradictory to the sabbatical creation and sets up a very different sturm and drang. Yahweh having created the earth and heavens and the garden ostensibly in 'the' (one) day, is alone and lonely and generates first Adam from dust breathing life into him and later Eve out of Adam’s rib, telling them all the trees in the garden are for their use, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The serpent then persuades Eve that the forbidden fruit is to make one wise and she persuades Adam and they eat, only to find they have become accursed by Yahweh and driven from paradise by a flaming sword to sweat by their brow under pain of childbirth. God sets man to rule over woman and curses the ground, turning it to thorns and thistles which man must conquer to survive. From this falling out, all the Pandora’s box of disease and misfortune and alienation between God and humanity ensue. The Shekhinah, or feminine face of divinity, retreats until returning as fractured shards, in the end of days.

These complementary Elhoistic and Yahwistic accounts are also faithfully copied into the Quran, despite Muhammad's claim that they were narrated directly by the angel Gabriel, and moreover recited in the Elhoistic plural:

"O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female" (49:13)

"And We said: O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden and eat from it a plenteous (food) wherever you wish and do not approach this tree, for then you will be of the unjust.
" (2.35)

The Fall (Brothers Limbourg)

As we move through the Pentateuch, and pass from the mythical age, of Sarah, Hagar and Abraham and the founding of the tribes under the older fertility deity El, to the trials of the outsider hapiru - Miriam, Aaron, and Moses and their followers, the personality of Jehovah Adonai, or the Lord God, becomes increasingly that of a jealous patron guardian of the Hebrew faith, acting in history alongside the history of the Hebrew Israelites, locked in a dysfunctional marriage with the bride Israel, punctuated by cursing her enemies, and in turn, the bride herself, for her infidelity, in hankering towards the 'false' deities of the nations. Nevertheless Jeremiah acknowledges the people of Jerusalem said they had peace and prosperity only when they baked cakes for the Queen of Heaven, and the Asherah remained in the temple until the time of Josiah shortly before the Exile into Babylon.

The first mention of hell comes in the Christian version of Deuteronomy. Moved to jealousy, God declares "For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell". However in the Jewish Masoretic text "lowest hell" simply reads as "nethermost parts of the earth" following the older idea of sheol - the underworld to which all living beings return. The differences are likely to be a reflection of the translation of Hebrew 'sheol' to Greek 'hades', which was a gloomy twilight afterlife, rather than the Zoroastrian fires of purification.

Later the Zoroastrian idea of the cosmic renovation of Ahura Mazda - the divinity of placing one's mind - i.e. wisdom - over Angra Mainyu, or 'destructive mentality', and with it its torments of purification of those who had succumbed to the ignorance of the 'lie', became the seed of the apocalyptic movements of the time of Jesus. The God acting in history now no longer simply hearkens from the creation to the ongoing life of the bride Israel, but this destiny now converges on the Day of Judgment, or Requital, in which there is an ultimate division between heaven and hell as the two afterlives of paradisiacal atonement with the divine, and eternal torment and damnation in the fires.

By the time of Jesus, apocalyptic thinking had entered into the end of days scenario, well-described in Revelation, marked by tumult and triage, in which heaven and hell as well as God and Satan are diametrically, and diabolically, opposed, also exemplified by passages from Daniel, Zechariah, Enoch, and Essene documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

While God is then described afresh by Jesus and some apocalyptic contemporaries, as a loving and forgiving Father - Abba, his one act of redemption is to sacrifice his only begotten 'son' to achieve this forgiveness, in the crucifixion, as a Paschal lamb exploded to apocalyptic proportions, giving rise to an ongoing blood rite of soma and sangre, which endlessly repeats this bloody murder throughout history, in a manner not unreminiscent of the Aztecs.

Yeshua's entire mission is cast in the shadow of Satan and his overwhelming in the confrontation that eventually became his violent death. In John the battle between light and darkness is the central theme being unraveled. In Luke and Matthew, Jesus is said to be tempted by Satan to cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple to show that the son of God will be saved. The whole idea of Christ and the Second Coming pivotal to the ongoing credibility of Christianity is founded on the idea of the cosmic hero returning on the right hand of Power, in an unveiling, in which a third of all living things will perish and the Lord will return to judge the quick and the dead. The New Testament is thus littered with unfulfilled expectations that Christ would return in the same generation, and increasingly born-again Hellenistic ideas of a rapture in the Day of Judgment when the faithful will levitate into heaven, leaving the natural realm of the 'late planet Earth' behind.

Signorelli Resurrection

The stark eternal division of heaven and hell is blurred by several notions. Jewish thinking refers to gehenna, or hell, as a place of purification, lasting from a year to eternity in a worst case scenario. Catholic thinking interposes purgatory as a place for the souls in grace to be prepared for heaven. Greek Orthodox thinking also opens up the possibility of apocatastasis - restoration to the primordial condition, in which good and evil are reintegrated into paradise. Muslim ideas are derived from the Jewish folklore and scripture of Muhammad's time and so the Quranic word for hell is jahannam i.e. gei hinnom or gehenna.

The Quran, as an offshoot of Jewish cosmology and eschatology, likewise traverses a scheme of God acting in history from Eden through the Fall into an apocalyptic historical unveiling in a day of judgment, accompanied by astronomical eclipses. Muhammad likewise is cast as the final of a succession of prophets from Moses through Jesus.

However the Christian and Muslim ideas of heaven are very different. The Christian heaven is apparently populated only by sexless angels, not having the need for biological reproduction in eternity, after Jesus' somewhat casual rejoinder on divorce, that those in the resurrection would neither marry, nor be given in marriage. By contrast, the Muslim paradise - jannah or garden - is bursting with seductive black-eyed houris, females whose virginity is renewed every day for the endless sexual pleasures of mankind, if their many wives were not already more than enough, although once again the need for procreative sex beyond the mortal coil, seems to have been relegated to mere social gratification.

On what happens after death and before the Last Judgment, there is little agreement among Christian traditions. Catholics and Orthodox differ in that the former believe God judges each person to heaven, hell or purgatory while in the latter they are just assigned these places until the last judgment.

Following the dogma of physical resurrection of Jesus, all souls are to be reunited with their physical bodies in the day of judgment and will then experience physical pain and pleasure, perfecting the nature of heaven and hell alike. How this can make any sense in biological terms escapes the imagination. There is also unresolved debate about whether Christ will have a thousand year millennium rule on Earth.

According to Islamic eschatology, after death, one will reside in the grave until the appointed resurrection. The sequence of events according to Muslim belief are the annihilation of all creatures (effectively a cosmic-genocide), resurrection of bodies, and the judgment of all creatures, including the jinn. Sunnis and Shia also debate the role of Jesus in the judgment, some Shia saying he will stand behind the Mahdi, the Islamic version of the apocalyptic messiah, and worship al-Llah in Mecca, while some Sunni say there is no mahdi except Isa (Jesus).

The monotheistic eschatology of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic paths is a linear causality leading from Genesis to Apocalypse in which there is little any of us can do about anything, because although we must have free-will to be able to sin, the only purpose for life and existence is to be caught in an ultimate division between slavish obedience to God's commands, along with the additional moral caveats from murder to greed and envy, resulting in eternal life in which all our desires are fulfilled, or exerting our will to rebel against this divine order, only to find ourselves in eternal torment.

The stumbling block for cosmology and our place in the universe is that, once this whole contrivance is taken on board, its entire ultimate meaning and purpose is frozen. What is the meaning or purpose of eternal damnation, or eternal heaven? What useful role could we possibly have to play in these imaginary and highly transfixed fantasies? Can any decision we might make in heaven have any effect on the cosmic order? Was the rebellion of the fallen angels and Satan and their casting out into Satan's own noir polar domain of Hell an indication that God himself is a flawed being - a dictator who stands in the way of the ultimate reality, as a legislative demiurge, Yaltabaoth, Samael (blind) or Saklas (fool), which the Gnostics accused him of being? In closer scrutiny, the whole monotheistic edifice, along with the pagan notions of the Trinity, virgin birth and physical resurrection in Christianity, is as flawed as the iconic deities that 'pagan' polytheists are accused of worshiping, as false Gods.

Even more unclear is why a God who ostensibly can create all the magical complexity of paradise, not to mention the vast and complex universe we know exists today, would use it for the menial purpose of judging sin and then condemning the good, bad and ugly alike to seemingly meaningless lives trapped in positive and negative utopias splitting the natural reality asunder into a dualistic schism that renders heaven as incomplete as hell is.

Now that we do understand the huge number of galaxies, each with billions of stars and planetary systems potentially capable of supporting life, why God would focus exclusively on the third rock from the Sun, and within it, the small company of the Hebrew tribes as his elect, lacks both credibility and cosmological sense. To focus his apparently all-too human personality traits of jealousy over whether he was followed as Yahweh, let alone as Ahura Mazda, or equally dominant and cosmic Krishna, or even as dark Shiva in Tantric consort with Shakti, as Yahweh was originally paired with Asherah, runs counter to his being a cosmological deity worshiped by all people in all cultures as an intrinsic revealed truth.

Why the entire evolution of the universe and potentially countless other living systems should be reduced to this one parochial theme of jealousy between God and a few human tribes a couple of millennia before we came to the planetary tipping-point, of scientific discovery, technological explosion, nuclear mutually assured destruction, mass extinction of biodiversity, climatic bifurcation and ecocrisis remains unresolved.

The worst feature of this cosmology is that, rather than presenting a deeper solution to the existential dilemma, it merely reproduces the all-too linear causality we associate with the physical world, with domination and submission, and the enforcement of moral codes, thus not solving the existential dilemma at all. At the same time the concept of dominion over nature leads directly to rape of the planet and its natural resources, just the sort of crisis of triage Revelation anticipates, as a form of misguided human impact.

Heaven and Hell are really a projection of the prisoners' dilemma game and its polarization between cooperative paradise and the temptation to defect and its consequences in mutual betrayal, exploded from a real and tangible social context on to the entire cosmos at large in a way which violates, insults and exploits the very natural realm God is believed to have conceived, at the same time dooming us to a meaningless role as mere pawns in a game of "do what I say, or burn forever".

Although accepting that the primal order was the God-given natural paradise of the Garden of Eden surrounding the Tree of Life, all monotheistic accounts then proceed to exert conflict and violence against the natural order in the name of dominion over nature, partly as a punishment for Adam and Eve's transgression to live by the sweat of their brow conquering the weeds and thorns of the wilderness wracked by the pains of childbirth.

Moreover, all monotheistic paths, from Eden's Fall, on to Deuteronomic Law and Muslim Sharia, set men over women, just as God is set above men. Women are thus accused of original sin as the betrayers, seducers and enticers, to be seen and not heard, to be sequestered in burqas for fear their sexuality will drive faithful men mad, or mix up the patriarchal basis of tribal inheritance, doomed to be of only half the value of a man and subject to dire penalties, such as stoning, for sexual transgression.

From this end, both sexuality, and nature, become cursed as the slime of bestial physicality, which all men need to abhor, to seek the true God in the heavens, beyond the fallacy and fallibility of the mortal coil. But this is a root violation of 'mother nature', upon whom we depend for our very survival, unlike the indulgence of belief in an invisible paternal deity, and it is a violation of the ultimate altruistic covenant of sexual procreation between woman and man as interdependent beings, each contributing a commensurate share of their genetic endowment to the passage of the generations, in which the female makes the principal investment in parenting.

Again implicit in this story of betrayal is a profound weakening of the spirit, because we all inherit the mantle of fallibility, being sinners who can only redeem ourselves, not by our own innate wisdom, nor by deep transcendental meditation, but merely by becoming effective slaves of al-Llah, or worshiping Christ as Lord of the cosmos, despite the hints from the oldest gnostic texts that Jesus himself sought to give us the keys to assuming Christ nature, and the records of early Muslim historians that Muhammad changed his mind, resulting in the satanic verses cursing the Goddess.

Monotheism, rather than offering a cosmological solution, is actually a social and cultural mechanism by which moral forces and submission to an higher power are combined, to evoke phalanx societies, which have a high degree of internal cooperation, which enables these societies to survive in crude Darwinian terms, by being more able to compete with and conquer other societies. Despite their pretenses to being under the banner of God, the merciful and compassionate, the realities are enforcement of moral codes through splitting the souls of believers between glowing accounts of heaven and dire penalties, both in this life and the imagined after-life, for any transgressor.

Richard the Lionheart beheading 2700 Muslim men,
women and children at Acre during the Crusades (Hallam).

The clash of the cultures between the Muslim and the tacitly Judeo-Christian Western world, although also accused of being rampantly materialist, exemplifies this incapacity to heal monotheism into one autonomous faith, except by conquest and submission, because of the intrinsic violence of domination and utopian supremacy implicit in all monotheistic faiths.

The history of military violence spanning the Jewish zealots from Jesus' time through to the Prince of Curls who burned hundreds of Christians at Naryan, half way from Mecca to Saba in S. Arabia shortly before Muhammad, through Christian obsessive suicidal martyrdom, bestial Crusade and diabolical Inquisition attests to this. The equally violent genocide of 700 Jewish men at Medina ordered by Muhammad for fear they might betray the Muslims, and repressive Muslim division of the world between the Domains of Islam or submission to al-Llah and Dar al Harb - the 'Domain of War', abetted by conversion by the sword, in the perceived ultimate utopian victory of Islam, as a monolith of scripture, law and state, tells the same unholy story. Endless wars and genocides perpetrated in the name of these three religions make this association clear.

We therefore need to turn to other paths, including those of the East and of diverse cultures, to see if any of these show a deeper reflection of the cosmological and existential condition, or merely represent extremes of cultural diversity in the human imagination.