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Introduction: Science, Self-Knowledge and Spirituality

This is the introduction to Science, Self-Knowledge and Spirituality,a manuscript written by Patrick Crean, a retired oceanographer living in western Canada.

The Preface is also available on-line at the LWS.

To obtain a copy of the entire manuscript, please e-mail Regent College Bookstore, Vancouver, Canada

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I. Introduction

"By a model ... is meant simply an intelligible, interlocking set of terms and relations that it may be well to have about when it comes to describing reality ... something worth keeping in mind when one confronts a situation or tackles a job." (M, xii)

Despite the myriad distractions offered by the contemporary world, there come moments when the ultimate questions arise unbidden. Does my life and my inevitable death have any meaning? No matter how remote that latter eventuality may seem to be when riding some crest of life's waves, it would seem there must come that conscious moment when there is nothing to look forward to except the last of them – or can we even be sure of that? There is no lack of people, movements, organizations that will promise you a ticket to paradise, one way or another, secure in the knowledge that by the time you can verify their claims you are unlikely to be in a position to do much about them! Can one ever know, really know, what it is all about? My answer would be that, though you can't have all the answers to all the questions, you can certainly get enough answers to leave the mind utterly entranced by the magnificence of that to which one has access through the gift of consciousness.

Perhaps my first conscious realization of the problem occurred as a rather small schoolboy on a suburban railway platform in pre-war London, watching the crowd bound for the city, young and old, newspapers, brief cases, umbrellas – thus the pacing of a life, perhaps the 8:15 up to town in the morning, the 5:31 back in the evening until age, infirmity and death intervened. It was a thought that recurred in dark moments, none more so than in the summer of 1958, the terrible sense of entrapment in circumstances from which there seemed no escape, something untouched by conventional religious observances, by homilies that seemed to have less and less to do with the real world in which one had to live, to survive, to find some sense of meaning.

One evening, having nothing better to do, I sat in on a question and answer session, at St. Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, associated with a series of introductory lectures by B.J.F. Lonergan in connection with his book, "Insight: A Study of Human Understanding," published in 1957. If the content of the exchanges that evening passed far above my head, there remained an indelible impression made by the principal speaker. If only one could glimpse something of the nature of the universe as he could see it! Acquiring a copy of "Insight" I started on an enterprise that has proved as fascinating, rewarding and enduring as the promise of that single encounter. "Insight" is an invitation to an experimental project, to the rational possession of one's own rational self-consciousness, how it works, can fail to work, its role in the universe and ultimate destiny. If the academic task requires a level of scholarship usually involving several years of full-time university studies, the practical task was to produce a "working model" of human consciousness that could be tested and verified in the context of one's day to day living.

An extended article in Time Magazine in 1965, referred to "Insight" as an "authentically towering masterpiece," and to "Lonergan's dense elliptical prose studded with references to Thomas Aquinas and modern physics...Using a vocabulary uniquely his own, he has written a general field theory of the mind–the origin and nature of human insight, how it relates to the various forms of expression, whether in the formulas of the physicist, the word pictures of the poet, the concepts of the philosopher." For myself, however, it was sufficient to extract enough for a "working model" and test it. If the results far exceeded any possible earlier expectation, it would take almost two decades, partly due to the fact that it was only in a subsequent book, "Method in Theology" published in 1972, that I found the further "parts" needed to complete the "feedback loop."

It is in fact a skeleton working outline of Lonergan's synthesis, a synthesis that includes elements drawn from the greatest giants of human thought over millennia – Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, Newman, Heisenberg, Einstein, Godel, Freud, Jung, to name but a few, a world view both rationally coherent and compelling. There is a deep set conviction stemming from one's earliest infantile encounters with some sort of "outside world," that reality is limited only to that which can be verified by our external senses. However inescapably "real" the impressions made upon our senses by the material world, when scrutinized in detail this familiar concrete matter of daily experience, including ourselves, dissolves in a swarm of fleeting ghostly images. Even the purest vacuum is a ferment of quantum activity. Each microscopic entity behaves sometimes like a tiny particle, sometimes like a wave, depending on what sort of measurement is attempted. Not only that, but the wave is completely unlike that occurring in any ordinary physical sense but is of the nature of knowledge or information. It is a wave that tells the observer what can be known about the entity in question and that such knowledge is strictly limited.

It would appear that the universe came into existence abruptly in a gigantic explosion, a titanic release of what would appear to be its fundamental "raw material," energy. Over aeons this energy has been informed and actuated to yield more and more complex structures, higher and higher levels of system, schemes of recurrence. Earlier schemes of functioning can be retained to provide the grounds for successfully functioning higher schemes. The highest known level of complexity is that associated with human consciousness. Thus, it would appear, according to Teilhard de Chardin's law of complexity-consciousness, that when some threshold of neural complexity is crossed, there comes into being a level of conscious functioning that has the capacity to reflect upon itself. This ability of the intellect can impose order, law, correlation on the underlying flow of psychic contents, and that in turn, upon the patterns and processes of the neural substrate, which then acts upon the biological organism, its physical and chemical processes. In fact a theory under much debate in scientific circles, the anthropic principle in its weak and strong forms, holds that the fundamental processes of the universe must be such that it gives rise to human consciousness, that which can observe it, reflect upon it.

In considering the fundamental nature of human consciousness, one is seeking to explain that in which explanation occurs, to explain that, which, merely as part of its output gives rise, for example, to the most highly esoteric speculations of theoretical physics. If this latter involves formidable levels of abstraction and many years of preparatory training, one might well be aghast at the prospect of even attempting to assimilate the nature of that which does it! Words are apt to signify so vast a range of possible meanings as to become virtually meaningless.

However, the great problem is that to grasp the nature of the various "parts" that enter into human knowing, and what empowers it, one must have some sort of overall grasp of how they come together to form a whole, some sort of complete functioning unit. How in fact can one grasp the nature of that which can potentially "know and become everything"? The topic is introduced through a metaphor for human consciousness and what goes on in it, through the preliminary notion of a "human space craft." To operate such a "vehicle" successfully on its "journey" through life, one must have a practical grasp of how to make it function properly.

An initial cursory reflection on one's own conscious activity reveals three basic notions. Firstly, there are certain fundamental operations that one performs upon the imagery provided by the incoming data of our external senses (what is given through acts of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching). These operations, which may, or may not be performed, involve an initial level of attending, higher levels of questioning (yielding possible answers, insights, explanations), of judging (whether these answers are true or false) and deciding (selecting a possible course of action). Secondly, there is some content to each operation (e.g. one can't see without seeing some content). Thirdly, there is some entity, an operator that decides whether an operation shall be carried out or not. This all seems perfectly straightforward. In fact if you accuse someone of being inattentive, unintelligent, lacking in judgment, indecisive, you are likely to evoke a lively response!

Thus, to a first approximation one might envisage the operator in the craft, before the instrument panel, confronting the vast and complex flow of incoming feeling-evocative sensory data on the display, directing this or that "event sequence" into the operational computer, scanning the output, applying verification procedures, evaluating and storing the data and results in the vast memory banks of the brain. The more diligent the operator is in applying the operations, the greater will be the level of knowledge attained, the more efficiently can the operator deal with the exigencies, the problems, the needs of day to day living, act responsibly.

If this description of the manner in which the "operator" of every "human consciousness" relates to the incoming data of sense, is both plausible and graphic, by the same token it involves an enormous over-simplification. In fact, the "operator" has been applying both to the "space craft" and "operator" what it has been doing to the incoming data of sense! It has been thinking about, and knowing, its own thinking and knowing!

The next step in "upgrading the metaphor" requires careful attention to that aspect of human consciousness that renders it unique, the most significant evolutionary development in the known universe. That is its capacity to reflect upon itself, to turn back on itself, to possess itself, to determine itself, a self that remains one and the same from its inception, but changes qualitatively.

A graphic illustration of this capacity is afforded by some results obtained by a neurosurgeon, the late Wilder Penfield (1975). In a search for sites giving rise to epileptic seizures, the exposed brain tissue of the patient, under local anesthetic, was locally stimulated by the application of a small electrode. In a number of cases it was found possible to produce total recall of events attended to in an earlier stage of the patient's life, recognized as his or her own. There occurred a sort of "dual consciousness" in which the patient could respond to questions from the surgeon while being "present" at some earlier circumstance in life. The electrode could bring about recall, could produce bodily movements, but could not bring about the fundamental operations of the mind, of directing attention, questioning, judging, deciding. That could only be done by the patient (the operator) in response to a request from the surgeon with respect to the electrically induced reappearance of the past record. It would thus appear that, as the operator can experience, understand, judge, decide, the resulting contents become a fixed temporal disposition,a stance of the same, but qualitatively changing, operator in the present. That which has happened cannot "un-happen," is now part of the self-assembling operator, now an ineradicable element in the working out of the universe, with all its evolutionary history, future possibilities, that cannot un-be, un-happen, that is somehow all interconnected, all interrelated (Davies, 1988).

There is some entity that is uniquely me or uniquely you, that comes into being, develops, self-assembles. That same "me" that was there before entering into a deep sleep is still there when one awakens. Even more remarkable and numerous are reported instances of "clinical death." In fact a recently reported case on a popular television series notes the chilling and removal of the blood from a patient suffering from a brain aneurysm, resulting in all the symptoms of clinical death, flat traces on the EEG and ECG monitors etc. The deflated brain aneurysm was removed and the patient resumed a normal healthy life. During the "clinical death" the patient reported further experiences similar to those commonly recounted elsewhere, tunnel experience, sense of peace etc. Though not conclusive in terms of total independence of mind of its physical substrate and associated quantum activity, it is supportive of the basic thesis that what comes into being when a certain level of neural complexity is reached, can exist independently of that substrate, the physical elements of which are in any event, persistently being replaced. One carbon atom will do as well as any other.

Other interesting results concerning the extraordinary nature of mind-body relationship have been reported in connection with studies on phantom pain and the strong sense of the real presence of a limb that had been amputated, or even missing at birth (Melzac 1992), also with respect to phantom seeing and hearing; "The brain does more than detect and analyze inputs; it generates perceptual experience even when no inputs occur. We do not need a body to feel a body."

At the heart of the evolutionary process in the universe appears to be the multi-faceted, omnipresent, empowering notion of energy driving systems that use up energy, dissipative systems, which can attain higher levels of complexity, organization, schemes of recurrence, thereby opening up whole new realms of unpredictable possibility. How does the notion of energy relate to the "human space craft?"

At the biological levels of vital process the system is sustained by conventional energy sources, ultimately deriving in large part from the thermonuclear reactions in the nearest star. However, when dealing with objects present in consciousness at the higher operational levels, the fundamental empowerment is associated with the empirically determinable feeling responses, in particular with respect to objects being attended to in consciousness. Deep within us all, emergent when the noise of other appetites, tendencies, desires, is stilled, there is a drive to know, to understand, to see why, discover the reason, find the cause, to explain, to become. Too often such a drive is vitiated by elementary or primitive feelings in personal matters.

In general, two main classes of such "empowering" feelings, that constitute responses to objects, may be distinguished. The first is concerned with bringing about the agreeable, the pleasurable, the satisfying while excluding their alternatives. When exclusively emphasized, there is a drive to have, own, possess, control, or at least render recurrent objects that can bring about such agreeable feeling responses, while avoiding, eliminating as far as possible, anything that would make demands, involve striving, making an effort, involve one in the disagreeable. There results a tendency towards self-centredness, self-confinement, boredom, emptiness, the tension of unused capacities. There is a persisting demand for some succession of objects, apt to become increasingly inappropriate and unrealistic, that will provide amusement, diversion, distraction.

There are, however, other objects that give rise to a very different class of feeling responses to objects present in consciousness, which involve awareness of something truly good in itself, something truly worthwhile, that warrants our making every effort to bring it about, abandoning short term satisfactions for something of much greater significance. In short, there are objects which are intrinsically good in themselves, that evoke within us value responses. There is a movement towards transcending, of moving beyond the boundaries of self; a sense of being released from tension of unrealized potential, a movement towards a deep set "joy at being in the presence of." There is a disposal towards commitment. Thus the human subject realizes itself as the intelligible unity in the multi-dimensional manifold of the conscious events of a lifetime.

If the whole universe seems to be oriented towards some overall purpose, goal, end, there arises the question as to what is being accomplished, individually over a particular lifetime, collectively over many lifetimes that have been, that are, that will be. Thus we are confronted by the role of consciousness in the universe, the nature of the space appropriate to our "human space craft." The nature of that space may be inferred from the unrestricted intention of the "on-board" operations. Thus, the operator, while remaining one and the same, is qualitatively changed by the contents of the operations, which are accumulative and progressive. All we know is somehow with us; it is present and operative within our knowing. (INS, 278) There is an aggregation, a coalescence, a growing unity "glued together by insights," a lived meaning, attained up to this particular moment. Much of that meaning is "detachable," can be passed on to other "craft," disseminated, stored for future reference. Thus, there is a publicly attested-to, self-correcting, rapidly expanding, world of meaning. (For example, every satisfactory use of a city street map verifies its authenticity.) This world of meaning can enormously enhance the "operational range" of the individual "craft." The operations are not limited merely to the immediate, incoming data of sense, nor just introspectively with regard to associated operations, contents and feeling responses. The operations can be applied mediately through access to the incredibly varied contents of this much vaster world of collective meaning, with respect to what is absent, or in the past, or in the future, to what is merely possible or ideal.

It would thus appear that as the titanic energy reserves of the universe dissipate, as the entropy of the system rises, its disequilibrated thermodynamic systems can simultaneously generate higher and higher levels of complexity, schemes of recurrence, the total information content of the universe which includes not merely that which is capable of being understood but also new realms of emergent possibility, is also rapidly expanding. At the highest known level of complexity is the human operator, which can understand, attain insight into not only its surroundings but also itself, which can self-assemble, influence future development by attaining higher and higher levels of meaning. Where such meaning is derived through full employment of the operations, there is progress, on the other hand, where there is failure to employ the operations, recourse only to short term self-defeating activities, there is decline.

The categories of feeling response, the merely subjective search for pleasure and avoidance of pain, in contrast to the much deeper imperatives of feelings that constitute responses to value or the truly good in itself, appear to involve a built-in tendency to self-correction. On the one hand, failure to implement the operations, on some time scale, generates negative feedback, the suffering, pain, the troubled conscience, which eventually urges some refutation or revision of unsatisfactory performance. Genuine striving for the truly good, on the other hand, sooner or later generates positive feedback, the rewards of true progress and development, the ease of good conscience.

It would appear that the fundamental orientation of the human operator is towards knowing and becoming everything. Such an outcome would consist in everything that can be known, all that is known together with all that remains to be known, everything that is, whether it is in the past, is in the present, is in the future. It is the "space" appropriate to the "human space craft" or the human operator.

What limit can be set to the process? Presumably if the human operator participates, as it were, through the operations in this space, in being, in assembling bits of true understanding, in communally solving the puzzle of the universe, the limit will involve the totality of correct answers to all coherent questions including the question, "Who am I?". Some entity that understands itself must constitute the originating ground and end towards which all existents are attracted. Perhaps the biblical answer to the question is as far as we are going to get, at least at this stage of development, "I am who am." Insofar as one grasps the norms of one's own mental procedures there arises a question as to the possibility of interacting with this mysterious entity that seems to be at the bottom of it all; the mind becomes religious. Authentic religious experience spontaneously manifests itself in changed attitudes, love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, self-control.

This would seem to be an aspect of the world's major religions in their positive moments. "Eastern religion stressed religious experience, Semitic religions stressed prophetic monotheism, Western religion cultivated the realm of transcendence through its churches and liturgies" (M 114). "The wars of religion provided the evidence that man has to live not by revelation but by reason" (INS 23l). The role of self-realization is emphasized by William Johnson in "The Mirror Mind' as furthering mutual comprehension in interreligious dialogue. He further emphasizes Lonergan's analysis in the context of distinguishing the authentic from the unauthentic in mystical experience. Genuine religion has to be discovered and realized by redemption from the many traps of religious aberration. In Lonergan's words, "human development is not just in skills and virtues but in holiness. The power of God's love brings forth new energy and efficacy in all goodness and the limit of human expectation ceases to be the grave" (M 116).

Reference was made above to Lonergan's development of a unique vocabulary. The great problem with using words to describe that which gives rise to words is that conventional dictionary definitions tend to involve recurrence of a few terms without any clear delineation of the relations between them (e.g. mind is the seat of thought; thinking is an exercise of the mind!). In the ensuing development, though the words have meanings which are for the most part familiar, it is crucial to clarify the distinctions and relations using one's own experience. A particularly useful exercise is to generate stories which illustrate distinctions in meaning, whether in the context of "knowing" or in the context of "knowing and feeling." In the following development, the notion of the "self-assembling human space craft", or "pneumochip", includes as a single unity, operator, operations, contents, both in the aspect of their coming about and being retained.

Thus, Chapter II identifies the fundamental notions of operator, operations and contents from the first moment of consciousness, the subject/object, me/not me division. Chapter III on intentionality analysis initially emphasizes cognitive process, how we come to know. The operations are identified in terms of the fundamental tension between subject and object. Though words are being used to denote basic concepts, emphasis is first placed on what occurs in the mind prior to it's expression in words, and then on its expression. Attention is then directed to the role of feelings, in particular to the distinction between mere likes/dislikes and value responses, both individually and in relation to others.

In Chapter IV the developments that result from applying the basic principles of authentic operation are presented.Thus cognitive and affective elements in the conscious stream coalesce to yield grounds for authentic decision. Chapter V addresses the topic of what is being accumulated "on board" in terms of meaning and of the changes in overall feeling states, the conversions that result from authentic operation. Chapter VI extends these considerations briefly into the context of the individual and community. In Chapter VII human consciousness is located in the overall context of world process. (This chapter is not essential to grasping the significance of the transcendental precepts in a practical context and may be omitted if desired.) Chapter VIII is concerned with breakdown, the failure to operate authentically. Chapter IX outlines the nature of recovery, of healing and redemptive process. In Chapter X, there is developed an ethics, a science of what ought to be and of what ought not to be that arises from these considerations, also the role of prayer in winning a freedom that is effective in bringing about authentic development. Chapter XI presents the relevance of these ideas to the problems of our times.

Lonergan insists that the analysis of one's "mental apparatus" must be verified in the context of one's own experience, for example, the symbols that are important, the use of thought experiments to clarify distinctions, metaphors to narrow the gap between words and the immensities that are signified. I have included elements from my own personal journey as illustrative of the sort of thing others might look out for in the context of their own experience. Throughout the text, frequent references are made to Lonergan's original writings. These are introduced in two different contexts.

A first context employs direct quotations and are thus denoted by quotation marks. A second context, though often employing Lonergan's own words, involves juxtapositions or arrangements of ideas that I found particularly helpful in assembling my own "working model." The primary intention here is to indicate where these ideas are located in original texts. The bibliography includes, not only material referred to in the text, but also reading which I found of assistance in developing Lonergan's analysis into a world of view appropriate to our time.

In the glossary of terms, with occasional self evident exceptions, quotation marks are not included since the material is taken directly from the sources quoted. Again, selections are based on what I found helpful in establishing for myself a coherent "model." Self-appropriation involves acquiring what is proper to oneself. This includes a coherent vocabulary expressing, not only what is happening in our evolving universe, but also, both individually and collectively, the origins of the evolving and affectively-laden meaning within ourselves.


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