I just started to read Daniel Pinchbeck’s “2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl.” I’m looking forward to the book…I’ve always enjoyed the writings of Robert Anton Wilson and Terrence McKenna—authors who challenge our conceptions of what we really know, what reality “really” “is,” etc. So I thought I’d use the excuse to bring up a few of my favorite mysteries—things that science, so far, is utterly unable to explain, and things that, when understood, may truly advance our gnosis beyond today’s empirical paradigm. These are, I think, the two fundamental mysteries--and it is significant that they are best termed "mysteries" rather than "problems" or "challenges":
Consciousness (a case study in Emergence): Consciousness is a problematic field in general, but I’d like to discuss the most unknown (and, as we will see, perhaps scientifically “unknowable”) topic within consciousness: emergence. Science tells us that we have billions of neurons, that they pass and store chemical-electric charges of varying intensity, that they build and constantly refigure massively lateral networks of connections. But science does not provide ANY insight of how consciousness emerges from this set of interactions. “Neural nets” and other attempts to model brain functioning increasingly tell us how it is that learning, memory, muscular control, etc. arise from this biology, but not the genesis of consciousness itself. We can observe the phenomenon of “emergence,” the unexplained coordination of non-hierarchal elements, at many points in our world—one of them being the emergence of consciousness from (presumably) the brain—but we cannot explain its function. This is critical because it not only illustrates our inability to demonstrate any understanding of the very core of our humanity, but it also demonstrates our inability to understand one of the fundamental forces acting in our world—and one that, if harnessed, could be a true solution to the problems of hierarchy. I’ve dealt with this topic a great deal in the past, and I won’t discuss the problems of hierarchy in more depth here, but suffice it to say that a true understanding of emergence would reach in impact far beyond a grant of insight into ourselves.
Developmental Micro-Biology (a case study in Field Teleology, for lack of a better term): The other fundamental mystery (in my opinion), is the unexplained teleological phenomena at work in our world—that is, the unexplained progress towards an apparent “purpose.” The case study here is human developmental microbiology: when a fertilized egg begins to divide, first into thousands, then millions and billions of cells, some of these cells become one kind, and other become other kinds—facilitating the creation of complex organisms like humans, where the liver is different from the brain from the bones. Where is the master blueprint stored to tell some cells to become a liver (and how to structure something as incredibly complex as a liver) and to tell other cells to become a heart (and how exactly to do that)? Science does not know—they have absolutely no clue. Some suggest that the answer is in our DNA, but the DNA is identical for all the cells, so how do they self-organize into such discrete and complex functions? We don’t know. Some (decidedly “non-scientific” perspectives) suggest that DNA (among other functions) is a “tuner” of sorts to receive instruction from a “galactic field” or some similar concept. Sounds ridiculous—especially to a more scientifically “attuned” mind—but it does no worse than science at explaining the mystery of developmental microbiology. On a grander scale, the mystery of teleological phenomena such as this are all-present. If some force outside the egg/zygote/fetus is responsible for directing development—as many argue and a logical analysis suggests—then what else in our world is similarly influenced? What is the interplay between emergence and teleological phenomana? These are all questions that, for now at least, “science” seems to have no answer for. This shouldn’t be looked on as a failure of science, but rather as a reminder that “science” as a concept is a tool, but not the end-all-be-all of gnosis. There are some things that, by its very method, science cannot explain—and these are increasingly more than just abstract philosophical or theological matters. Increasingly they are critical to advancing our society into new organizational forms, to advancing our consciousness beyond the market-state mentality, to preventing the destruction of our ecosystem, and the other critical tasks of our time.
It’s best that we round off discussing these two mysteries with the discussion of a Map—no, not a map that will help us understand these mysteries, but rather a discussion of why our necessary use of a map in the process of trying to do so prevents our success (in a “scientific” manner). Here I’ll resurrect on of Robert Anton Wilson’s most important notions, that the map is not the territory. Necessarily, a map cannot communicate or contain all information about the territory that it portrays—to do so would require it to be just as large, just as detailed as the territory itself, and in doing so it would no longer provide the heuristic advantage of its ‘map-ness,’ that is, that it condenses knowledge about its subject territory. Because, as humans, what our consciousness perceives is that which is inside our head (the map), not the actual territory (concrete “reality,” assuming such a thing actually exists, which we have no way of confirming). Our reliance on a “map” prevents us from empirical knowledge of consciousness, just as it prevents us from holistic knowledge of the entirety of the “field,” and as such we are mistaken to expect a “scientific” resolution to the mysteries above. We have ways of resolving these mysteries—as explored by Pinchbeck in his book—but because they are necessarily “non-scientific,” they are also ridiculed as charlatanism or hokey-pokey. So be it—they are critical to human functioning, and to our future, and we must find some way forward, some new heuristic fusion of empiricism and mysticism. I think that Pinchbeck’s attempt at exactly this—however much it may be ridiculed from all sides—should be carefully considered.