So, What (on Earth) Can You Do?Stephen Farah
Can you personally make a difference?
Can you, as a single human being, in a world population of six billion (and counting), actually make a difference, have an impact? I know that the not so new age would have you believe you can, like the positive thinkers before them they are into the warm fuzzy feel good stuff. You can’t blame them really its sells and let’s face it like any religion the not so new age is a business.
But forget positive thinking for just a moment and really think about it. You are one person in vast sea of humanity; you have but three score and ten years against 6 000 years of recorded history. Your life is less than a pinprick of light in the ocean of the cosmos, 13.75 billion years old and possibly infinitely large (also may be one amongst multiple- NASA).
Still you might think that people have made a difference, individuals I mean. Some for good and some less so. Witness the theory of great men:
They come to the world as if it belonged to them and see themselves as the incarnation of the purpose for which an infinite number of deeds have prepared the way. They know they are the meaning and the end towards which the labour of many centuries has been directed. They are their own idea, untrammelled and absolute among the minds of their age. They have not evolved from any historical foundation, but know in their inmost natures that they are free from all contingency.
(C. G. Jung, (1899), Lecture V, The Zofingia Lectures, abbreviated.)
However before you take too much comfort in that possibility, consider a few relevant facts:
The law of mathematical probability states that given a sufficiently large number of opportunities (average people) the improbable (the great man) becomes probable. This has a counter intuitive lesson. Simply that: possibly, much as we intuitively understand that the person, who buys the one in a hundred million winning lotto ticket, wasn’t exceptional, he just showed up, it might be much the same with the great man, he just happened to be born at the right time and the right place, the sea of mathematical probability did the rest.
Not a very appealing concept I know, however it is one which one of Russia’s brightest lights, Leo Tolstoy, argues very convincingly, over the course of a thousand odd pages that are War and Peace.
Still maybe that’s bullshit and you know better, that the great man is great because he is great; his greatness is not contingent as Jung puts it.
Consider then are you him or her? Do you number yourself amongst the 100 odd people who have truly altered world history?
If you can answer in the affirmative must say I’m very flattered to have you as a readerJ. If not then I ask again, what difference can you make?
A Little Bird
Even allowing for the possible impotence of individual action there is still a meaningful approach. This was expressed quite well by one of my colleagues in the following story:
The Amazon Rain forest is on fire and everything, as far as the eye can see, is burning. All the animals are fleeing the fire as fast as their legs will carry them. But, on their way away from the fire, they see a single Macaw flying back towards the fire with a drop of water in its beak.
What are you doing the animals ask, don’t go there, you will surely be killed. And besides what can one drop do against this raging fire? I know says the Macaw, but I’m doing what I can.
This revolt in the face of absurdity (of certainty of defeat) is also expressed in Camus interpretation of the Myth of Sisyphus:
Sisyphus is condemned by the gods for some sin (I forget exactly what). Anyway he is condemned to roll a boulder up a hill only to see it roll back down every time it reaches the summit. And this is his fate for eternity.
Camus tells us we must not imagine Sisyphus (analogous to our own fate in Camus eyes) as unhappy. Rather we must imagine him revolting against his absurd fate and inwardly finding meaning in this act of revolt, of refusing to have his spirit crushed.
Now whilst I am sympathetic to the sentiments expressed in these two stories and in particular to Camus interpretation. I have come to believe that this sort of fatalism is in fact an anathema and not one we should embrace.
We need to believe in the possibility of redemption. It is better to have our hopes crushed by defeat than not to have hoped at all. But even better perhaps is to have our highest hopes, our most sublime desires, our private dreams which we are afraid even to speak, realised.
This I think is what we, human beings, do, we hope, we believe in the future, even when circumstances are less than ideal.
So in that spirit I would like to share my thoughts regarding an alternative view of reality one where individual action is meaningful.
A reality, wherein, you and I can make a difference.
David Bohm and the Holographic Model
In the hologram, the whole is contained in each part. Dividing it into two produces not two halves of the whole but two wholes. (The Hologram as a model for Analytical Psychology, ed. Zinkin)
David Bohm, the quantum physicist, proposed an alternate view of reality, one based on the hologram, to explain many of the bizarre phenomenon observable in quantum physics.
Whilst I am not sufficiently well versed in quantum theory to make a genuinely informed judgement on Bohm’s work, it is worth noting that: Bohm is ranked as one of the greatest physicist’s of the 20th century and his theory proposed in the book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order is possibly amongst the most internally coherent theories to emerge, in the attempt to understand the profound implications for a revised view of the real proposed by quantum theory.
Furthermore Bohm’s theory is both highly regarded and his hypothesis has yet to be disproved.
In the Implicate Order, like the hologram, the universe is an unbroken entity. The whole does not simply consist of the parts in interaction, but the whole organises the parts and is enfolded into the parts. Meaning simply, all the information, all the organisational complexity, of the whole, is enfolded into each part. (Ibid)
The human brain, as a part of the whole, similarly may function as a hologram. And this idea was first proposed by Karl Pribram. Pribram who started off as a materialist came to acknowledge the primacy of mental life. (ibid)
This idea whilst, no doubt, in its mathematical formulation one of extreme complexity, is conceptually quite simple and observable in the behaviour of holograms. The amplification from the hologram to the cosmic is one of scale but not a huge conceptual leap. In this model the standard model of Newtonian causality is replaced, or augmented; one wherein just as the whole contains the part, the part also contains the whole.
In this model the organisational intelligence of the whole is communicated to each part in a manner not following the laws of classical Newtonian physics; rather following something closer to the laws governing quantum entanglement.
More than that I cannot say, for those interested I would refer you to Bohm’s work.
The intuitive leap I would like to propose, in case you haven’t already guessed, is as follows. Can we not imagine then the converse, that each part of the whole has the capacity to change the whole? Not through Newtonian causality but through being, at a certain level of reality, indistinguishable from the whole. (This thought may or may not already be explicit in Bohm’s theory; I am not sufficiently well versed in it to know.)
Jung, Steiner and Nisargadatta
This idea is not new in the realm of the metaphysicians, Jung included. The idea that a change in you must not only equate to a change in the world, but to a change of which significance you would unlikely guess.
Edinger makes this point about Jung’s thinking in Archetype of the Apocalypse. Specifically that Jung believed if only a handful of individuals were to individuate, the apocalypse may be prevented, the apocalypse in its traumatic aspect anyway. It is important to make this distinction, because the apocalypse is of course Revelation.
So the idea here is not hard follow. A few individuals need to become conscious of the Revelation, and following Jung’s logic, this would be sufficient to prevent mass trauma with the intention of making us (humanity in toto) conscious.
In Jung’s view the unconscious seeks consciousness and its route to conscious is through our conscious existence.
This idea of the raising of personal consciousness has been around for centuries, possibly millennium, amongst mystics East and West.
Another example in Western Mysticism is Rudolf Steiner who is claimed to have said if only one person could grasp Anthroposophy much of the trauma of the 20th century could have been averted.
I must say this is a question for me in Jung’s idea, of there needing to be a handful of people who individuate i.e. why not just one? Thinking about it though this may be related though to the constellation of the self archetype, which for Jung constellates in a group rather than in a single individual.
Then not to completely neglect the Eastern Mystics Iet me say something from the yogi Nisargadatta. And this comes from the recorded conversations he had with various student gathered at his Ashram, as noted in the book I Am That.
When one of those gathered would ask Nisargadatta, whose focus was always on individual awakening, what about the world? That is to say what about saving the world? Nisargadatta’s stock response was, which world? Meaning simply that the world the questioner inhabited was not the same as the master.
Finally let me conclude with a story which my long time teacher and mentor Chatillon Coque was fond of sharing. It is reputed to have originated from the anthropologist Richard Wilhelm. Wilhelm conducted an extensive study of Chinese culture in the early 20th century.
The story goes as follows:
In a rural Chinese village a great drought held the population to ransom for the best part of what was meant to be the rainy season. The villagers and the various religious representatives tried everything to bring about rain.
The Christians prayed, the Buddhists performed their rituals and burned their incense, but all to no avail.
At last desperate for a solution the decision was taken to call in a rainmaker from a distant province.
When the esteemed rainmaker arrived he asked to be sequestered in a small house on the periphery of the village. He was not to be disturbed and food left at the door at mealtimes, which he would collect only once the person delivering had left.
After three days and the heavens opened a huge quantity of rain fell.
When Richard Wilhelm asked the rainmaker how he had accomplished this, he got a surprising response.
I did nothing, said the rainmaker.
How then did it happen that it rained, asked Wilhelm?
Well when I got here I immediately felt out of sorts, something was out of sync, as was I, said the Rainmaker. I merely retired to put myself in order and naturally once I am in order so to is the world. And then of course the rain fell, as it should.
Until next time,
Love and blessings,