A new picture of the world
I have found that if I look at a cat, a favorite cat, and imagine that this cat is part of the very same I that I am made of, then the cat seems entirely different, and my relationship to it, even its relationship to me, seems entirely different. If I consciously regard the cat and think that it is part of the essence of my own being, then the cat, my understanding of it, my perception of it, switches suddenly. I perceive the cat, suddenly, as part of myself; the sense of wonder I feel in the cat’s presence, is enormously multiplied, and I begin to see the cat, its beauty, its familiarity, and its strangeness, almost as not cat at all, but rather as something wondrous to which I have the cherished relationship that endears me to it, and makes it part of me. One can do the same with any beloved creature, dog, horse, wild animal, even with a spider in the bathroom. One can do it, of course, with another person (oddly, this is harder). And one can do it with a plant or a flower. It is most poignant with an animal. Each time, when I dwell on it, and gaze on it, with the thought that it is another part of the same I that I am made of, my relationship to it changes, and becomes more precious.
I shall try to complete my sketch of this difference by writing down some new cosmological assumptions, somewhat analogous to the ten “bad” and tacit assumptions described in chapter 1, but consistent now with the view of matter I have put forward. It presents, if you like, a picture of a universe in which life and wholeness appear as the central features.
1 Matter-space is an unbroken continuum which includes everything, both matter and the so-called space around it, all at the same time.
For physicists there is nothing new in this assumption. It is new only insofar as it differs from the layman’s conviction that space and objects are distinct.
2 In varying degrees, any given portion of space may be more whole or less whole, more alive or less alive, more healed or less healed, connected or broken, separated or not-separate.
This assumption implies that the relative degrees of life of different buildings, neighborhoods, paintings, ornaments — even a windowsill — as well as different woodlands, parts of the ocean’s edge, mountains, fields, gardens, streets, chairs, and spoons — is largely fact.
3 Whenever we undertake an act of construction we have the ability to make the world more alive or less alive, more harmonious or less harmonious.
This follows from the first two assumptions. No action, and no act of building, no matter how small, is exempt from this fundamental aspect of our existence. It is there when we paint the front door. It is there when we lay out the plates for breakfast. It is there when choose a location for a new freeway, and it is there when we decide to pick a single flower.
4 Everything matters.
Stated baldly, this perhaps seems commonplace. Yet in our present cosmology, at least as far as the cosmology itself is concerned, nothing matters. Our present cosmology has built into it a definite refusal to define any value, a refusal to define any human reality. It is value-free.
The picture of the world created when we accept the self-like, living character of space and matter has a different character. Because, in this picture, portions of the world can be less alive or more alive, and because the life of a given center has a transcendent quality in which the I of the universe becomes manifested, the degree to which living self occurs in our actions then becomes a matter of immense importance.
In this world everything matters.
5 Value is a definite and fundamental part of the universe, and of the scheme of things.
Value appears in actions, because of the structure-preserving nature of certain transformations. Each action is valuable, or not, according to the extent that it preserves, and extends, and enhances the wholeness which exists, or does not do so.
In this view the different values which exist in different human cultures are all manifestations of this one value. They appear different, because each one tries to create wholeness in the context of different conditions (including those created by culture, people and society), and therefore takes a different outward form. At root, though, what is valuable is always the same thing: it is that thing which does most to enhance the structure of what is.
I feel a need to revisit, once more, the issue of cultural relativism. For example, building an apartment house which has life in Tokyo is an objectively different problem from building an apartment house which has life in San Francisco. In the two cases, huge numbers of conditions around the building, and in the people who use the building, are objectively different. Making something which preserves and enhances structure in the one case, and in the other case, lead to two different things. Many aspects of the structure, many details of the centers, which have to be created in the two cases, are different. Thus, the one criterion of making things alive will lead us to make things which are Japanese in Japan, and will lead us to make things which are Californian in San Francisco.
6 Ornament and function are indistinguishable.
Once we understand that wholeness is the most essential structural feature of the world, there is no room for a narrow distinction between legitimate and non-legitimate forms of wholeness, and there is no moral or practical distinction between the ornamental and the functional. Both ornament and function are equally important — and indistinguishable — aspects of the field of centers which arise as matter-self reveals itself.
7 Matter itself is not a mechanism: It is a potentially soul-like materiality which is essentially what we call self.
This is the assumption which most explicitly concerns the linkage of the matter-space continuum with an endless and eternal I.
Although this may seem to be the most fantastic of these new cosmological assumptions, it is this assumption which, in the long run, has the greatest capacity to stimulate experiment. The idea that matter-space and self are two sides of one thing, if true, is not something inconsequential which could be true in all possible universes. The world is emphatically different if it is true, and if it is not true. Thus the truth or falsity of this assumption will have practical consequences. Experiments can — and I think will — be devised to test the truth or falsity of this assumption. In the long run we shall know, experimentally, whether this is true or not.
If this is true, and useful, there will be some detectable interaction between matter and the ground, which must, at some future time, be detected empirically. I-like phenomena must be detectable by experiment or observation. If there is no interaction, the discussion does not mean much. Ultimately, therefore, experiments which detect some interaction must be found. However, even before such interaction is detected, our interpretation of what is going on in the world is made entirely different.
One would expect, for instance, that mental phenomena could be shown to interact with results of quantum phenomena (there is some very slight evidence, already, that such interactions might exist). The hypothesis is that there is, in the universe, an actual domain of I, that this is physically real, in some form, and attaches somehow to the “back” or “inside” of matter. What kinds of experiment might lead towards determination of the truth or falsity of this hypothesis?
8 If self or I is woken up whenever living structure appears in matter, what we think of as value may then be described as the protection, preservation, nourishment, of the precious self of the universe.
This paves the way to an ultimately personal view of the world. Matter is personal. We then treat all creation — of buildings, gardens, roads — as the protection of the personal which resides in matter, and which, through our actions, may see the light of day.
9 The nature of space-matter, being soul-like, is such that the more whole it becomes, the more transparent, the more it seems to melt, the more it realizes itself, releases its own inner reality, the more transparent it becomes, the more transcendent.
If it is true that the ground of the universe reveals itself whenever order is produced, even as we make a garden, or make a chair, paint the front door, or build an office building… then this melting, this revealing of the inner stuff of things when order is produced is the single most important thing that is at stake, whenever anything is being made.
10 Thus art is not merely pleasant or interesting. It has an importance that goes to the very core of the cosmology.
That is because in such a universe, the task of building things and shaping things is fundamental to the spiritual condition of the world, and to our won spiritual development. It is our closest approach, almost God-like, to creating life, and to seeing and reaching the essential core of things.
11 The unfolding of the field of centers, and the unfolding of the self, is the most fundamental awakening of matter.
I believe it may turn out that the considerations which are recorded here will ultimately seem more important than any other facts about the nature of things.