September 29 A Last Look at Love, This Time at the Personal Level

This blog has addressed love as a phenomenon, something with a history which can be objectively addressed, empirically as opposed to intuitively. However, most of us live our lives on an intuitive, emotional level and experience this aspect of love more often than the other.  This, of course, is part of the magic, the exquisite pleasure of a deep relationship with another human being which significantly contributes to our satisfaction with life and the experience of richness which ensues.

Most of us who have been in significant relationships for any length of time, however, also become aware of the pain that can often accompany close personal relationships. In Teilhard’s terminology, the process of “excentration” and “centration” is not easily managed, considering the work that is necessary to set aside those aspects of ourselves which impede love (the excentration) in order to be able to open ourselves to the other and to the energies of love.  Armor has to be shed in order to receive love, but sometimes what is received instead is a new source of pain.

Freud sees this pain as a natural consequence of love in which the ego is diminished and must be avoided. Many others see pain as a barrier to be surmounted on the long, arduous road to fulfillment.  Khalil Gibran summarized this dynamic masterfully: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding”.   Teilhard sees this pain as a sign of “work in progress”.  Churchill advises, “When you are marching through Hell, keep marching”.  The only way through the forest of life is to decide to move forward, and it is this process of deciding that is ultimately more important to the enterprise of love than the experience of feeling.

Ask any couple who has been together for many years about “feeling in love”, experiencing the emotions of closeness and connectedness, and they will tell you that they don’t always feel in love.  There are times when feelings are more along the lines of disconnectedness, even alienation, anger and resentment.  What keeps these couples together is the decision to love even when the feeling isn’t present.

The key action in making such decisions is trust.  Trust in the other person is important, as is trust in one’s self.  More important yet, and an axiom of this blog, is the trust in the energy of love itself.

In the blog from February 19, (Love From the Perspective of Neurology), the necessity for the neo-cortex brain to step in to interrupt instinctual responses from the limbic brain was addressed and identified as the key to forming a rational response to threatening, alarming or anger-stimulating situations. When we are called on to decide to love, this action of the neo-cortex brain is exactly what is called for.  It can be very tempting to give in to the release of anger in such situations, even emotionally satisfying to experience the endorphins released by a good round of indignation or righteous anger, and very difficult to step back and assume some level of rationality or objectivity.

To trust in the energy of love as a creative force in our lives, to trust that the act of loving evolves us and moves us toward some level of completeness, is to leverage this trust in managing our relationships with others. It is nothing less than to cooperate with the power of the universe to make us whole.  Once we begin to understand that becoming open to the energies of love is a cornerstone to becoming more complete, more whole, we become more able to participate fully in the bounty of life.   The decision to love, even when the emotion of love seems beyond our reach, is therefore effectively a decision to grow.  It is a decision made at the most genuine level of personal existence.  It replaces the response to love as participating in a pleasant emotion with deciding to love as an act of personal growth: less growing because we are loved and more loving because of the desire to grow.

What a remarkable insight Teilhard had: to understand that we are entities pulled forward in growth and closer together by the force of love, enmeshed in the field which pulls us forward and upward as it pulls us closer, and to recognize that to love is to trust in the power of the universe to make us whole.

Loving is the critical action of life, even if there’s not another person on the other side.  Love itself is the key.  Love of life, love of nature, even love of the cosmic upwelling of energy, now understood as passing through ourselves, flooding the dark places where our fears reside, lighting our nights and warming our cold.  To love is to grow, and to grow is to trust the energies of love rooted in the infinitude of cosmic time.  The very act of personal growth, valued and addressed over the ages by our revered thinkers, is one and the same with the act of love.  And this act is nothing less than the latest manifestation of the welling up of the cosmic evolutionary forces of growth and union in a nurturing spiral in which we are made whole.

I’d like to close with a quote from Teilhard:

“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfil them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves. At what moment do lovers come into the most complete possession of themselves if not when they say they are lost in each other?”

And another:

“Fuller being in closer union, and closer union through fuller being”.

……

This post is the last in the series, “The Phenomenon of Love”. Several (ok, both of them) readers have commented on the fact that I have not addressed God per se in this blog.  I wanted to keep this blog on the level of “phenomenon”, which becomes difficult when theology comes into play.

In a few weeks, however, I plan to start a new blog, entitled, “The Secular Side of God”, in which I make the assumption that all reality is united: there’s not one reality for science and one for religion, and that what we know from the findings of science can be used to gain insights into the existence of God without too much compromise on either side. Please join me if for no other reason than to see how deep I can get mired in this tar-baby.

I’ll start these new posts by the end of October, and they will be posted on my new website, “Science, Religion and Reality” , located at http://www.lloydmattlandry.com/

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September 18 Forecast for the Future

Thanks to Tony Saladino, esteemed and erudite friend, out-of-the-box thinker and great renderer of art, for posing the question: “what does the future hold if love succeeds as the paramount human energy?”

Considering the risks I’ve previously outlined, the odds against the survival of humanity, much less against a positive outcome, might seem steep, but a few simple principles would seem to be warranted in making a forecast. Following these principles, we might be able to see further ahead into the future of mankind and sketch a forecast.

Three Assumptions for Future Human Evolution

The first principle or assumption: The process of evolution as traced over the fourteen-some billion years of the universe will continue for the foreseeable future.

Secondly: This continuation of evolution will continue along the same axis of increasing complexity and rising consciousness as envisioned by Teilhard.

Thirdly: Complexity and consciousness will continue to manifest themselves in new ways as new potentials for unity and connectedness emerge from each new rung of evolution, in the same way that nuclear forces and the structures which resulted at the subatomic level evolved into forces and entities at the atomic level, then at the molecular level, then at the cellular level and continuing on to the human level.

Expanding the Assumptions

First Assumption – It just keeps rolling

It seems logical to assume that after some fourteen billion years the universe will continue to evolve, and this continuation will continue through the human person. If anything seems obvious in our collective study of the history of the universe, it is that the universe is not static.  We can see evidence of this all around us, and in the details of our own lives.

Science overturned the conventional understanding of the universe as static and showed it not only to be dynamic, but evolving as well. Teilhard in turn identified a direction for this evolution, with his concept of the universe evolving along the axis of complexity and consciousness.

Teilhard also offered another perspective on the evolution of the universe. He saw the mechanism of evolution itself evolving, working differently to produce entities of greater complexity at each “rung” of evolution:

  • The unification of subatomic entities under the influence of microcosmic forces
  • The forging of atoms under the energy of gravity
  • The unification of complex atoms under the influence of chemical actions to form molecules
  • The unification of molecules under the influence of biological actions to form cells
  • The “complexification” of cells under the control of DNA molecules to form more complex forms of life

Each spiral of evolution not only invents new entities, but draws in new processes and energies to do so.

And this progression continues to the current “high tide” of evolution: the unification of humans under the influence of the energies of love.

In each step forward, entities of greater affinity for each other are unified via forces and influences which are different from those at lower levels of complexity. The forces of evolution themselves evolve as the entities produced become more complex, and hence more conscious.

The elemental driver of evolution in living things is, of course, the highly complex molecule, DNA. Changes in DNA over time result in changes to living entities.  While there is no reason to see such changes coming to a halt in the human entity, such changes will continue to take place.  However, the influences of small DNA changes over lengthy periods of time will be significantly outweighed by those of society and the new emerging modes of evolution as described below.

Second Assumption – It stays on course

A second mileu of evolution is much more important to humans: evolution through maturation of society.  As has been discussed in previous blogs, the development of society over generations of humans constitutes an evolution in itself.  Further, as discussed earlier, those societies that have approximately aligned themselves with the “axis of evolution” have been most successful.

Some examples of such continuing evolution in society can be seen today. At long last, and only in the last century, have attempts been made to manage human affairs at a global level through formation of the United Nations.  It is certainly obvious that these embryonic attempts have not brought global peace and prosperity, but considering the countless ages of human antipathy which preceded its formation, and the increasing tensions resulting from expanding populations, the very fact that it exists is a significant accomplishment.  Other examples can be seen in such areas as the increased cooperation between western and emerging nations on such things as dealing with sexual terrorism in warfare, as reported in the July 19, 2014 edition of the Economist; the abundance of human aid programs; and emphasis on diplomacy vs conflict to resolve problems.  All of these trends are well aligned with Teilhard’s axis of evolution, valuing increases in individual freedom over increasing restrictions imposed by the state.

Third Assumption – It renews itself

A third mechanism of evolution occurs at a more subtle level, between the macro level of society and the micro level of DNA. At this level, the mechanism of evolution itself seems to be changing. Another Economist article (August 2, 2014) cites a study of increases in the cognitive abilities of a large group of men and women conducted in Europe in 2006-2007 and reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  This study finds that “the cognitive performance of women – much more so than men- benefits from factors such as greater employment opportunities, increased economic prosperity and better health”.  The study concludes that living standards and access to education probably bear more responsibility for increased cognitive ability than genes or parental influence: society itself affects the way individuals understand and process their environment.  As the Economist summarizes, “To a degree hereto unacknowledged (cognitive abilities) are not solely inherited, they are learned from the roles that society expects them to perform, and that these abilities can change as society changes”.

At first glance this might not seem unexpected. After all, wouldn’t better education and economic prosperity, as found in Western society, foster increased maturity in the persons which make up the society, and wouldn’t this increased maturity in turn be expected to add to the maturity of the society?

The key to understanding the significance of this third mechanism lies in understanding of the human capacity for “cognition”. While personal maturity consists of much more than the three areas of cognitive performance which were tested, cognition is still critical to personal maturity since it underpins the person’s ability to understand his environment and base his reaction to it on reason and not emotion or instinct.  Cognition is not a facet of is what is being understood (such as the result of a learning process), but more representative of the act of understanding itself.

Furthermore, the three cognitive skills (episodic memory, category fluency and numeracy) are defined with sufficiently objective characteristics to permit them to be tested and studied objectively. This permitted the analysts at the Informational Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna to test the subjects (over thirty thousand), collect the data and perform the analysis.  While human maturity as such does not admit to a black and white definition, such personal skills as cognition certainly will, thus yielding a partial but essential picture.

As discussed above (February 19, Love From the Perspective of Neurology), a critical activity which enables love to flourish is the human person’s ability to over-ride instinctual impulses from the limbic brain with a reasoned response from the neo-cortex brain. As cognition is critical to reasoned response, it is also critical to cooperating with the energies of love.

In effect, the increase of cognitive skill that was uncovered by this study is evidence of the increased velocity of evolution in the human person. The very capacity of the person to understand is increasing faster than any biological function resulting from genetic evolution.  It is also a recursive activity: as the person becomes more adept at understanding and reasoning, his contribution to society is more efficacious, and society in turn improves as its human components mature.  It is also an example of the many ways in which evolution continues to proceed through the human and indicative of the potential for increased human potential.

Science and Religion

Another thing that can be logically expected is a decrease in the tension between science and religion. As I will pursue in my next blog, “The Secular Side of God”, it seems obvious that there is only one “reality”.  The universe is a single thing; huge and complex but unified via laws, components and energies.  Both science and religion deal with reality, therefore it should be possible to rethink the metaphors of religion on the one hand while respecting the need for meaning on the other.  Teilhard uses the metaphor of the sphere, in which the meridians approach each other as they draw closer to the poles.

The primacy of love as the necessary energy for unifying humankind can be thought of as simple primacy of the neo-cortex brain over the limbic brain, or in simpler terms, the primacy of love over hate, of reasoned reaction over the natural, instinctive, inherited and immature tendency for initial enmity. As human persons mature (see the example of increasing personal cognitive ability above as an example), their ability to understand and direct their energy towards positive relations will increase, and, as Teilhard put it:

“The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

In the next blog, I’d like to take one more look at this idea of love at the personal level. This will be the last posting in this series, after which I will go on to address the secular side of God.

 

July 10 Love and the Future of Mankind, Part 2

In the last blog, the subject of the potential of mankind to self-destruct rather than continue, by mastering the energies of love, to continue the long march of cosmic evolution toward some future state of maturity.  This blog addresses yet another threat.

The pain and suffering of those who fall into the state of depression is well known, documented and studied throughout history.  The causes of depression, even after decades of study, are still unknown to a large degree.  Is depression the result of a chemical balance which can be treated through medication, or is more a psychological illness, best treated by therapy?

In any case, depression can be accurately described as a “loss of personal energy”, which further involves a loss of personal faith.  Faith in this context is less an “adherence to dogma” (as the theologians would categorize it) than an inability to find one’s footing in the complex game of life; a feeling of inadequacy in the day to day struggle to exist.  Whether this inability is a cause or effect of the depression is still under contention, but for anyone who has ever been depressed, or cared for a depressed person, this loss of faith is painfully felt.  The future is a frightening and unsafe place, compared to the past.  The energy necessary for small things often limitless.

Depression is also often accompanied by anger; indeed it has often been described as “anger turned inward”.

Relationships fall into this category, resulting in feelings of isolation and the inability to bridge the chasms of disconnection with loved ones.  The energies of love, and of personal capacity, seem depleted.  The wonderful dynamic of love is stymied, leaving the depressed person feeling stagnant and trapped, cut off from the cycle of centration and ex-centration that powers human growth and relationships.

In the last blog, I discussed how the dynamic of personal love and maturation is echoed at the level of governments and societies.  Successful societies tap into the energies of love to become successful.  As they become more attune to the “axis of evolution”, they develop new paradigms for human growth and relationships as their understanding of the balance between “the one” and “the many” slowly matures.  The evolution of “the law” is an excellent example of this maturation.  As can be seen from even the most shallow read of history, early civilizations were marred by savagery and corruption, but at same time, saw an increase in the objectivity of the laws of successive civilizations.

The other side of this coin, however, is the “decline” in these same civilizations.  In these cases, the civilization becomes more focused inward, with a greater emphasis on supporting the structure of the civilization than growing outwardly.  The energies of early robust growth are replaced by attempts at maintenance, and the civilization begins to sag.  The glories of the safe past are touted, the possibilities of the future are treated as threats.  The tone of the society becomes “depressed”.

Fortunately, as we have seen, many societies are replaced by ones marked by youthful energy accompanied by superior powers of warfare.  These successive waves can be historically traced, especially in the West.  No matter what fate awaited the civilization, the next wave could be expected to approach a little closer to “the axis of evolution” in a continuing evolutive “spiral”.

In other parts of the world, however, such a rise is more difficult to trace as the “round and round” cycles of civilization are not accompanied by a rise in “psychic temperature”.  Today’s newspapers recount almost daily the warring factions in the Middle East which are possessed of prodigious amounts of energy, but the source of which is not love.  These factions seem motivated by ancient hatreds, and the desire to return to some ideal state of government in which the law is not based on the Western concept of the Golden Rule, but on religious interpretations of holy texts which are wholly antithetical to the “axis of evolution”.   The past is to be revered and the future fraught with danger which must be overcome through strict adherence to dogma.  The human person and his relationships are not “trustworthy”, but must be carefully (and often brutally) controlled.  (Echoes of some of these characteristics can be seen the thoughts of some extreme Western groups proposing looking to the past for solutions.)

Effectively, this constitutes a “loss of faith”, replacing openness to the future with fixation on the past; replacing the value of human freedom and independence with fear of not only “the other”, but of the natural human tendencies and capabilities of growth and maturity; replacing human equality by religiously predetermined roles and classes based on gender, race and birth.

In effect, the natural process of love (in which the neo-cortex brain moderates the antipathy stimulated by responses of the limbic brain) is stymied.  Injury must be revenged, and never forgiven even over hundreds of generations.  As the growth of the person is impeded, the society stagnates.  The energies of hatred, while very powerful, eventually deplete the process of growth, and bring human evolution to a halt.

From the last blog, Teilhard sees our traditional grasp of the phenomena of love as being rooted in the biological realm of procreation and in the empirical realm of religion.  He offers a new understanding of love as a basic, essential aspect of human evolution rising slowly in Western thought and legal systems, as the realization slowly emerges that the future of the human race is dependent upon the correct understanding of the structures of human relationship.  As man learns the true value of love as the energy of unity and the key to human evolution, the future of human potential will be more completely understood and the way forward made more clear.  As he puts it:

“The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

But just as man has the capacity for self-destruction, so can he lose faith in his own evolution.  He has the potential to die by the “fire” of self-destruction or the “ice” of loss of faith.  Either way, the choice remains “to love or perish”.

The next blog will offer a cursory forecast of “what if”.  What if humanity, increasingly raising its “psychic temperature”, actually begins to understand the cosmic power of love, and begins to consciously harness its prodigious energies?  What would humanity look like?

June 26 Love and the Future of Mankind

Teilhard offers a wonderfully positive picture of cosmic evolution as it emerges into the sphere of consciousness.  In his view, the Cosmos can now be seen as created to be an ideal environment for an ever-increasing complexity which emerges in the manifestation of increasingly conscious entities.  Love in his view is the essential characteristic of human relationships in which both the human person and those that are loved by him grow and mature through the energies of love, “united by what lies deepest in them”.

As this view is expanded to the whole of the human race, the human characteristic most vital to the success of human societies and governments can now be seen as that of love.  He sees the proof of this in a comparison between Western societies, in which the person and his relationships are valued and fostered by society norms and laws, and societies in which the human person is less valued in favor of increased societal rigidity.   He notes in support of this view:

“And the proof of this is that today, in order to remain human or to become more fully human, all the peoples from end to end of the earth are being inexorably led to formulate the world’s hopes and problems in the very terms devised by the West.”

All positive, all optimistic.  Yet, each of us can look into ourselves to attest to the initial reaction that is very common to our first contact with someone unknown to us.  It is not typical for human persons to instantly connect to a person the first time we meet them.  In fact, some skepticism, perhaps antipathy, might be the more common internal, emotional response.  Only after some time is spent in their company, will it be possible to consider increasing our openness, our readiness for relationship.  Consciously or unconsciously, some decision on our part to become open to the other is necessary before a relationship can begin to foster.  For this to happen, we must make the decision to overcome this initial, primal antipathy.

This basic, primal antipathy is one of the many observations made by Freud, and contributes strongly to his skepticism of human relationships.  As Singer relates:

“Freud assumes that man is not socially oriented by nature, and that his basic narcissism makes him distrustful, even hostile, towards others.”

The neurologists might explain the source of this initial repulsion as the emotions arising from the limbic brain, a reaction resulting from instincts honed in the pre-human animal world, such as fight or flight.  As discussed in earlier blogs, the ongoing struggle of humans in their relationships can be understood as the difficulty of using the neo-cortex brain to overcome initial emotional reactions rising from the limbic brain.  While the phenomenon of love may be rooted in the world of emotion, it is honed and matured by human decision.  Love is ultimately understood as “decision”.

Taken at the universal level, between countries, for example, this tendency of repulsion as a response to collision with “the other” can be even stronger.  Conflict between persons in any society is common; between countries even more so.  Between religions, almost certainly.

The fact that the earth is spherical makes the potential for conflict even stronger.  As societies increase in population, this increase will always result in an even stronger push against other societies.  Slowing the growth rate may delay the effect, but the underlying antipathies between societies will remain.

On the surface, this would seem to offer a point of view completely opposite to that of Teilhard.  Evolution may have got us here, but regardless of improvements in individual human maturity, we are still caught in the trap of ever-increasing conflicts between societies.  Humans may indeed continue their individual growth, but the human race, due to its basic antipathy and the spherical shape of the Earth, still holds the potential for self-destruction.  This potential can be readily seen in the most casual read of the daily international news.

So, what’s to be done?  Is the fourteen billion years of cosmic evolution destined to end with the implosion of the highest level of complexity and consciousness attained?  One does not have to look far in the annals of human publication to see that such a forecast is quite common; many people believe in the ultimate failure of the evolutionary process due to the phenomenon of human antipathy.

Teilhard does not make light of this danger, recognizing both the impulse and the capability of human self-destruction.  Counter to these two possibilities of human future, however, are his beliefs in the power of love.  He sees most Western civilizations as posited on the twin beliefs of human freedom and relationships, open to the future in accordance with the tenets of love and the person as outlined in this blog.  While it may require little effort to point out the many aspects of Western society which do not measure up to the full potential of love, he firmly believes in the capability of the human person to recognize and follow the “axis of evolution”.  Human persons and their societies are in a state of continual becoming, and as this process takes us forward and upward, our collective ability to understand the power (and necessity) of love will increase.

He future of the human race therefore ultimately boils down to the choice: love or perish.

Just as our intimate human relationships grow and mature, continually opening us to the future and to our true potential, so does Teilhard believe that it is possible for our societies to grow and mature.  He believes that we are on the threshold of this breakthrough in understanding, and sees a future for the human race in which this maturation will continue to unfold.

Teilhard sees our traditional grasp of the phenomena of love as being rooted in the biological realm of procreation and in the empirical realm of religion.  He sees the understanding of love as a basic, essential aspect of human evolution rising slowly in Western thought and legal systems, as the realization slowly emerges that the future of the human race is dependent upon the correct understanding of the structures of human relationship.  As man learns the true value of love as the energy of unity and the key to human evolution, the future of human potential will be more completely understood and the way forward more made clear.  As he puts it:

“The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

In the next blog, I will try to summarize the thoughts that I’ve put in the blogs in this series.  This next blog will be the last in this series, and will introduce a new blog to address the important part of the above quote which was omitted.  Stay tuned for more information.

June 12 The Axis of Cosmic Evolution and Civilization

This spiral of increasing complexity and consciousness that we’ve been talking about leads to increasing distinctness in the human person. This in turn is necessary for successful personal union, not only in the intimate personal relationships of couples and families, but in communal relationships, clans, nations and ultimately in the increasingly compressed world of the human race.

At every stage in the evolution of humanity we are presented with both the opportunity for and risks of union. How to negotiate the tortuous road of development of self with respect to the demands of the many? At the same time, how can the demands of the many accommodate the growth of the self? These questions constitute the bulk of philosophical and religious discourse from the very beginnings of human consciousness. The many (and often contradictory) answers to these question also constitute the history of societal forms, modes of civilizations and religious myths, beliefs and practices which underpin human history.

Teilhard believes that the confusing and often antithetical modes of societies and religions seen in history and at present in the world today can be understood more clearly by their degree of conformance (or opposition) to the cosmic law of complexity-consciousness. This law recognizes that there is an axis of evolution, a central path along which the cosmos, in keeping with its basic potential, grows and emerges along a path which ascends through the human in the form of person and love. It permits us to look at the various (and often antithetical) modes of civilization with some level of consistence and objectivity.
Seen from this viewpoint, it’s not a question of which society is right and which is wrong, rather an evaluation of which is more consistent with, which conforms more closely, to that axis. In societies marred by dictatorships, rigidity and extreme dogmatism, such as that of the Nazi state and the various forms of communist government which sprung up in the east, the value of the human person was held inferior to that of the state. The many forms of denial of basic human rights give strong evidence of the large departure from the “axis of evolution”.

In opposition to these branches of human evolution, many of the societies developing in the west have made human rights fundamental to their legal constitutions, resulting in governments which, while still imperfect, nonetheless foster human growth and healthy relationships. These can be seen to come much closer to the axis of evolution.
Our most intimate relationships are also subject to this law of complexity-consciousness, and must evolve along this axis of evolution to become deeper and more satisfying. The actions of excentration and centration must take place if we are to mature as persons, and in these actions our relationships are deepened and strengthened. We as entities of evolution must trust in the cosmic energy of love, and allow ourselves to be possessed by love so that we can be “united by that which is deepest in us”.
The entities of persons are united under the energies of love, consistent with the evolution of the cosmos from the very beginning.
In the same way, this activation of energy manifests itself at the level of human society. For human society, the human race, to succeed, it must evolve, and this evolution must follow this same axis.

It seems obvious that the common denominator among the more “successful” societies (those in which personal growth is mostly balanced by a society which values the person and supports relationships) can be found in the valuation of the person and a proper understanding of human relationships. The evolution of the cornerstone concept of “personal rights”, for example, is captured in the constitutions of many of the Western societies.
Those societies in which the value of the individual person is outweighed by the necessity to conform to the social norms, governmental rules or religious strictures restrict personal freedom. Such restrictions stifle personal growth, and in turn reduce initiative, creativity, resourcefulness and ultimately the general life blood of the society itself.
The key question is always how to foster the growth and health of the human person while establishing a framework of society and government (laws and norms) in which these persons can work together to form a stable environment.
Teilhard is much more straightforward on the evolution of civilization and the relative success of those societies better aligned with the “axis of evolution”:
“The fact is that during the last six thousand years, in the Mediterranean area, a neohumanity has been germinating and is nat this moment completing its absorption into itself of the remaining vestiges of the neolithic mosaic of ethnic groupings, so as to form a new layer, of greater density than all the others… And the proof of this is that today, in order to remain human or to become more fully human, all the peoples from end to end of the earth are being inexorably led to formulate the world’s hopes and problems in the very terms devised by the West.”

Teilhard invents a new term to identify the sphere of action of the human person. Just as science considers the many of the layers of the Earth as “spheres”, Teilhard identifies the latest sphere to emerge as the “sphere of thought”. Science recognizes the “igneosphere” as the fiery core, the “lithosphere” as the surrounding sphere of rock, the “hydrosphere” as the sphere of water and the “atmosphere” as that of the air. There is even a “magnetosphere”, which is the sphere of charged particles which surrounds the planet and protects the planet from cosmic radiation.

Teilhard labels the “sphere of thought” as the “noosphere”. Accordingly, just as science has discovered and continues development of understanding the many laws under which the conventional spheres of the Earth operate, Teilhard sees a set of laws which govern the continuing development of the human and his society, aligned along the “axis of evolution”.
In the earliest days of human development, humans have sought to understand the forces by which life proceeds. Many of the beliefs originating in religions have made their way into social norms, which in turn have become the basis for laws of the land. The earliest set of published laws, one of which is “The Code of Hammurabi” (1770 BC) was heavily influenced by the followers of Marduk, the patron god of Babylon.

Science has tried to emerge several times from the religiously-influenced societies of antiquity, such as the ancient Chinese and more recent Muslim societies. It wasn’t until the rise of the West that science began to manifest itself with success. Science emerged in the West as a new basis for understanding development of the human and his society. Not surprisingly, this resulted in many of the intuitive understandings of reality found in religion being questioned in the light of empirical data, resulting in the tension seen today between science and religion.

Regardless of the quantum of truth and falsity on both sides of the conflict there still exists only a single reality, a single universe, a single Earth and a single human species. In the light of the unity of all things, and the single “axis of evolution”, the conflict between science and religion can now be seen for what it is: the beginnings of a dialog which will eventually produce a truth faithful to both the intuitions of religion and the empirical discoveries of science. The fact that science as we know it today has emerged from Western society (which Teilhard sees as a result of valuing the person and properly understanding human relationships) is a strong indication of the potential for this dialog.
Teilhard, as usual, is concise on this point:

“And, conventional and impermanent as they may seem on the surface, what are the intricacies of our social forms, if not an effort to isolate little by little what are one day to become the structural laws of the noosphere.”

The next blog will continue to address understanding this idea of love as a “phenomenon” which fosters the continuing evolution of the human person in concert with that of society.

May 29 The Emerging Person

The Teilhard perspective on love and the person, as naturally emerging from cosmic evolution, puts the human person, human relationships, society and civilization in a clearer context.

As seen in the thinkers of the Axial Age, there is general agreement that authentic human relations observe the Golden Rule, and that a key aspect of the person necessary for relationship is the absence of ego. The word, “ego”, however, can have different meanings depending on which of the philosophical systems in which it is used.

As we have seen, Freud recognizes the essence of the person as the “ego”, and therefore understands personal growth as growth of the ego. In opposition to the Axial Age thinkers, however, he sees this growth not only independent of human relationship, but as something which must actually overcome it.
In terms of the Axial Age thinkers, “egoism” refers to that aspect of the human person which, being focused within, impedes relationship. These thinkers focus on the “essence” of the person, awakening to the vast reaches of selfhood that lay beneath the surface of their minds. In doing so, they were becoming fully “self-conscious”

In the Indian holy book, the Upanishads (700-600BC), Karen Armstrong sees the insight:
“There is an immortal spark (the “atman”) at the core of the human person, which participated in – was of the same nature as – the immortal brahman that sustained and gave life to the entire cosmos. This was a discovery of immense importance and it would become a central insight in every major religious tradition. The ultimate reality was an immanent presence in every single human being.”
The Upanishads is one of the earliest recorded instances of recognition that whatever is going on in the human person is in some way tied into the ultimate nature of the cosmos, a recognition that would be supported and expanded with extensive empirical discoveries thousands of years later. Teilhard, for example, as we have seen, finds the person and the energy of love as the latest manifestations of cosmic evolution consistent with the unfolding universe as understood in Standard Model of Physics which is based on the many discoveries of the cosmos in the past century.

In the Eastern perspective, however, the dynamics that take place in the process of suppression of ego and development of the person on the way to communication with the “immortal brahman” ultimately consists of the removal of the self and dissolution of the atman into the “cosmic all”. “Dying to self” is a concept taken literally; it’s not just the inauthentic self that is left behind, it’s the self itself.
Plato saw a different process, in which the natural end of the person’s essence is in merging with the loved one, and eventually unification with “the good”. The boundary between the two selves is gradually eroded, resulting in less distinction between them.

However, the western thinkers, particularly those in the Judeao-Christian tradition, saw the person as maturing through the process of love towards a union with God in which their essences survive.
Teilhard sees positing the essence of the person in egoism (as Freud would argue) as a lack of understanding of the person.

“Egoism, whether personal or racial, is quite rightly excited by the idea of the element ascending through faithfulness to life, to the extremes of the incommunicable and the exclusive that it holds within it. Its only mistake, but a fatal one, is to confuse individuality with personality.”
In all of these currents of thought, the denial of that part of the human essence which prevents deeper union is critical, but the understanding of the nature of that essence as it evolves varies significantly.
Teilhard clarifies this dichotomy with his observation that “True union differentiates”.

He notes that in the thread of cosmic evolution, the entities which emerge from the previous spiral of union under the influence of fields of energy become more capable of union under the next spiral. This increase in the potential for union (which he sees as the “axis of evolution”) comes about with increase in complexity, resulting in increasing “distinctness” of the evolved entity. The entity of the human person which evolves under the influence of the energy of love is therefore increasingly distinct from the entity with which he unites, “because only love takes possession of them and unites them by what lies deepest within them”. In effect, he is saying that our uniqueness (resulting from our growth) is exactly the aspect of ourselves that permits us to deeply connect. We are united in love by the essence of ourselves: as we give ourselves in love we grow as persons, and as we grow as persons, our capacity for love increases.
Love, therefore, does not entail a merging of persons; rather it consists of a unification of persons who increase their uniqueness in the act of union. The dynamic of ‘centration and excentration’ (as discussed in the last blog) does not result in persons who become more like each other, but distinct, unique individuals whose uniqueness, and the maturity which it reflects, constitute a richness which is shared to deepen and strengthen the union.

To Teilhard, this is the key to understand the human person and the energies of love which unites him with others. The very essence of cosmic evolution, as seen in the very earliest manifestations following the “big bang” (and articulated to great detail in the Standard Model of Physics) is that of entities being united by their potential (“what lies deepest in them”) under the influence of energy, manifested in ever more complex fields, (“which take possession of them and unites them”).

Quarks are united by subatomic forces to form atoms, which are united by atomic forces (weak and strong nuclear forces), which are united to form stars (gravity), which grow the simple atoms to heavier manifestations (eg from Hydrogen to Iron), which are ejected into space and under the forces of gravity form molecules, which evolve into cells, and so on to the appearance of the human. Each step consists of the ‘complexification’ of an entity resulting from the last step, the unification of the new entities with those of similar potential to become entities of higher complexity, more distinct and more capable of unification.

Hence, according to Teilhard, the process of cosmic evolution continues to manifest itself in the human person, with the spiral of complexity and consciousness now occurring in a single entity. In engaging in the dynamic of excentration and centration, we engage in the evolutive spiral of complexification, union and increase in complexity (hence capable of deeper union) in a single lifetime. In such a way does Teilhard map the continuation of cosmic evolution through each human life, in which “fuller being always results from closer union”.

Our most intimate relationships are subject to this law, and must evolve along this axis, to become deeper and more satisfying. The actions of excentration and centration must take place if we are to mature as persons, and in these actions, our relationships are deepened and strengthened. The entities of the person united under the energies of love are consistent with the evolution of the cosmos from the very beginning.
Unlike the union of entities at lower levels of complexity, union under the energies of love, which raises us to higher levels of completeness, requires our conscious cooperation. We as entities of evolution must allow the possession of love so that we can be united by that which deepest in us.
In Teilhard’s view, love is a force which bubbles up under the superficial manifestations of physical energy, and become clear only in the human person:

“In its most primitive forms, when life was scarcely individualized, love is hard to distinguish from molecular forces; one might think of it as a matter of chemisms or tactisms. Then, little by little it becomes distinct, though still confused for a very long time with the simple function of reproduction. No longer only a unique and periodic attraction for purposes of material fertility; but an unbounded and continuous possibility of contact between minds rather than bodies; the play of countless subtle antennae seeking one another in the light and darkness of the soul; the pull towards mutual sensibility and completion, in which preoccupation with preserving the species gradually dissolves in the greater intoxication of two people creating a world.”

In the next blog, we will continue to map this continuation of cosmic evolution into the human phenomena of societies and civilizations.

May 15- Recap

Allow me to recap Teilhard’s perspective on Cosmic Evolution, before addressing how a single human person can mature in the energy that we call love.

Conventional scientific thinking understands evolution as something that happens in living things, starting with the cell and more or less slowly proceeding in the human person through minute changes in our genes. Thinkers like Teilhard point out that this conventional point of view limits evolution to something that somehow pops up out of nowhere in the most recent three percent of the unfolding of the universe. What about the fourteen-some billion years prior to the appearance of the cell?

Looking at the cosmos in this way, Teilhard sees this long period prior to the cell, and the kicking off of the era of biology, as a staging period in which the infinitesimal entities addressed by physics (quarks, muons and other strange and otherwise invisible “entities”, called by Teilhard “the stuff of the universe”) merge and grow and “evolve” into ever more complex structures, like electrons, protons and neutrons, which in turn merge and grow and evolve into even more complex structures. The universe slowly becomes something more than the sum of its parts.

This understanding of the play of the stuff of the universe isn’t theology or philosophy, but the result of science theorizing, testing and analyzing; theories being put forward and tested for over one hundred years, and captured in the general Scientific understanding of the cosmos known as the “Standard Model.
What Teilhard brings to the table is three basic but important insights:
First, biologic evolution proceeds from the birth of living things using the materials perfected by, staged by cosmic evolution for billions of years. The complex atoms that make up our bodies came from the factories of stars long ago exploded, and grown and cultivated into the very complex molecules of amino acids, enzymes and proteins which continue the march to the cell through uniting into DNA strings. Evolution therefore begins at the big bang, and manifests itself into ever new and innovative forms as it continues its thread through living things.

There are points along this long journey where the birth of these new and innovative forms marks a step change in the process: radically new entities emerge with radically different capabilities and potentialities. The cell isn’t just a pile of molecules fused into something different, it’s an astoundingly new thing on the cosmic plate, just as were the atomic and molecular formations that preceded it, and the conscious beings that follow. At each new rung of complexity, the play of evolution develops new modes that could only be seen in the potential of those which precede it. Evolution expresses itself in newer and more complex forms in us, which will lead to new modes of being not available to the lower mammals, just as their capabilities could not be found in the reptiles which preceded them, and so on back to the most simple and ancient myriads of “the stuff of the universe.” And, of course, we are living out these new modes at the same time that we are becoming aware of them. One of the key aspects of human maturity consists in understanding ourselves, and our potential for fulfillment, at the same time that we are living out this process of understanding and fulfillment. We are building bridges to our future at the same time that we are standing on them. To stand back and objectively see the upwelling of the universe personalized within us is a very difficult task indeed!
Being of such vastly increased complexity over the pre-cellular molecules (themselves consisting of millions of atoms), cells represent an astounding capacity for unification, complexity and further evolution compared to the molecules. The rules and laws under which they make their way up the spiral of complexity, and the energies to which they are subject, are entirely new, but connected to the long upwelling of the cosmos through the underlying law of “complexity-consciousness”.

As Teilhard sees it, this gathering of complexity as the process of evolution rises through living things, always results in increased awareness, which bursts through simple sensing and response to environment (such as in bacteria and plants), into complex sensing and conscious reaction (as in animals) to the awareness of this consciousness (as in humans).
Not a single step, nor any resulting stage, of this long process from the very simple “stuff of the universe” to the human person is taken except in response to this law of complexity-consciousness. Complexity is hence the thread by which cosmic evolution can be traced from very simple things to conscious entities over long passage of time.

There are points along this long journey where the birth of these new and innovative forms marks a step change in the process: radically new entities emerge with radically different capabilities and potentialities. The cell isn’t just a pile of molecules fused into something different, it’s an astoundingly new thing on the cosmic plate, just as were the atomic and molecular formations that preceded it, and the conscious beings that follow. At each new rung of complexity, the play of evolution develops new modes that could only be seen in the potential of those which precede it. Evolution expresses itself in newer and more complex forms in us, which will lead to new modes of being not available to the lower mammals, just as their capabilities could not be found in the reptiles which preceded them, and so on back to the most simple and ancient myriads of “the stuff of the universe.” And, of course, we are living out these new modes at the same time that we are becoming aware of them. One of the key aspects of human maturity consists in understanding ourselves, and our potential for fulfillment, at the same time that we are living out this process of understanding and fulfillment. We are building bridges to our future at the same time that we are standing on them. To stand back and objectively see the upwelling of the universe personalized within us is a very difficult task indeed!
Secondly, in each step of this process, only two major aspects of the universe are active. At every step, the entity which climbs the latter of complexity (muons into electrons, electrons into atoms, atoms into molecules, molecules into cells, cells into the bewildering cloud of living things, one branch of which is the human person), does so under the influence of some sort of energy: a field which engages the new entity by its new potentials and powers the transition to the new form. The universe is bathed in these fields (Higgs field, Strong and Weak nuclear forces, the mighty forces of gravity, the laws of cellular activity) which fuel the unification of the “stuff of the universe” into ever more complex and ultimately animated forms. This astoundingly complex but universal phenomenon is underlaid by a single proposition, the law of complexity-consciousness- by which the universe grows the capacity for understanding itself.
Theilhard capture this law of complexity-consciousness as “Fuller being in closer union, and closer union through fuller being”.

Thirdly, and this is the central theme of this blog, the human person is the latest manifestation of this cosmic process. Not only are we “the stuff of the stars” (with the atoms in our body emanating from some nova billions of years ago), but also, and more importantly, we can now be seen as the logical outcome of the process of the evolution of the universe. The human person is the most recent (and more importantly the most complex, and hence most conscious) appearance of the stuff of the universe, and love is the most complex, and hence the most important influence, on our evolution.
This provides us with an understanding of love that goes much further than a basis of procreation, a strong emotion. When we engage in love, we are continuing the long process of complexity and consciousness in our personal growth through our unity with others. Seen in this light, love is trustworthy, it’s what got us here and what will carry us on.

High minded stuff, indeed. Looking at the world today, and with even a superficial knowledge of human history, a more realistic response to the muddle of human attempts at relationship might seem to be one of dismay, even disgust. I’ll address the larger context in a later blog, but today would like to stay closer to home.

Yes, the ideal of love at the level of two human persons is pretty universal. Poems, love songs, operas and culture all agree that two persons can, with some level of difficulty, overcome the many barriers to true union and “live happily ever after”. In the case of a single person, especially one who is alone with the scars of failed relationships, how can this beautiful vision of the person maturing through participation in cosmic energies be realized? Worse yet, what about those in relationships in which “the other” does not return our love? Given that each of us have different tolerance for affection, openness and trust, how the energy of love work its magic in us?

In the last blog, the creative dynamic of love found in the process of “centration and excentration”, the breathing out of love (as ego is overcome), and the strengthening of the person through the breathing in of love from “the other” as we become more open an accepting of love, was addressed. We put aside that part of ourselves, that inauthentic part of ourselves that armors us, protects us from disappointment, and impedes our ability to give and receive, in “excentration”. In this more open state, the returned love from the other can be more purely “inhaled”, which strengthens us and gives us the courage to become more open, more loving and more receptive.

The remarkable insight of Teilhard, understanding that we are entities pulled forward in growth and closer by the gravity of love, enmeshed in the field which pulls us forward and upward as it pulls us closer, also recognizes that to love is to trust in the power of the universe to make us whole. Loving is the critical action of life, even if there’s not another person on the other side. Love itself is the key. Love of life, love of nature, even love of the cosmic upwelling of energy, now understood as passing through ourselves, upwelling to flood the dark places where our fears reside, lighting our nights and warming our cold. To love is to grow, and to grow is to trust the energies of love rooted in the infinitude of cosmic time. The very act of personal growth, valued and addressed over the ages by our revered thinkers, is conocommitant with the act of love. And this act is nothing less than the latest manifestation of the welling up of the cosmic evolutionary forces of growth and union in a nurturing spiral in which we are made whole.
There’s no certainty that offered love will be accepted, nor that our love will overcome another’s fear and barriers. There is considerable certainty in the effect of love on ourselves. Love is never wasted; engaging in it is never in vain.

So yes: love, with its facets of trust, openness and growth, with its fruits of maturity as identified by thinkers such as Carl Rogers (see blog from May 1) can be employed by a single person as he or she begins to understand, as Teilhard puts it:

“I doubt that whether there is a more decisive moment for a thinking being than when the scales fall from his eyes and he discovers that he is not an isolated unit lost in the cosmic solitudes and realizes that a universal will to live converges and is made human in him.”

We are borne along, raised up, made more whole by the energies of life, which can now be seen more clearly as trustworthy:

“Those who set their sails to the winds of life will always find themselves borne on a current to the open sea.”

In the next blog, I’d like to return to addressing the human person as he participates in the energy of love.