December 2013

* the angels love to sing to us

"Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult."

"The lunatic, the lover and the poet", all slightly mad yet all operating with a heightened perception that can be curiously infectious, enabling us to see the world, reality, in new ways. The painter Patrick Heron argues that the function of painting is to enable us to see the world and that someone like Cezanne allows us to see the world in a new way. "The actual 'objective' appearance of things is something that does not exist - or rather, it exists as data that is literally infinite in its complexity and subtlety, in the variety and multiplicity of its configurations". He goes on to say that the mind injects order into that amorphous cloud of visual stimuli and that the origin of this order lies in painting. I would go further all the arts - and this goes back to societies in which there was no distinction between religion and ritual and theatre, song, dance and decoration - all create the order in which we can live, the sense of meaning that we can all share. At times the artist must renew this order, at other times transform it. This order, I believe, fundamentally exists in a realm that transcends our distinctions between matter and mind, body and spirit.

And so I will allow painting, music and all such acts of creation and renewal to be overdetermined and containing within them a multiplicity of levels of meaning and being. Nature perceives itself, it comes to know the artist and the artist manifests this act of feeling though the transformation of matter. Creativity is the marriage of matter and spirit, a mutual inner transformation in which the individual, society, nature and matter at times become renewed and at times take on new meanings and structures.

I am sure that if a hard nosed physicist where listening he would reject what I am saying. But he would also be forced to acknowledge that the germs of such ideas are already in the air - an germs he would certainly think they are! The biologist Rupert Sheldrake has long been offending orthodoxy with his notion of morphogenetic fields that guide everything from the growth of crystals to the instincts of animals and the structure of human languages. Wile I may have some problems with the specifics of Sheldrake's proposal I do think that there is something very interesting in what he says - particularly in that these fields transcend the traditional divisions between what is considered to be matter and what is considered to be mind, memory and behaviour.

There was also the physicist David Bohm who proposed the notion of what he termed "Active Information". According to Bohm the electron, or any other elementary particle, is guided by a field of information. Guided in the sense that an ocean liner, powered by great engines, will change its direction under the influence of the tiny amount of energy inherent in a radar signal. For Bohm Information is not simply a passive record of facts but a physical activity within nature. It is a field of information about the structure and configuration of the universe. In turn the activity of this information gives form to - literally "in-forms: the processes and movements of matter. Bohm developed such ideas at the quantum level but believed that the concept extended to all levels. It is as if a new principle has been added to physics. Once there was matter and energy. Now there is matter, energy and information. There is a field of information, or meaning, the human body in health. There is even a field of information for human society.

Other researchers have proposed related ideas. As far as I am concerned as scientific notions they remain only half formed. A great deal more thought and investigation is needed before a really significant break though can be attempted. But I do believe that this cloud of ideas probably contains a significant insight. It suggests that science is about to enter a new region in which it must learn to face Pauli's "subjective side to matter."

At all events such ideas are in the air and, if the Native Americans, are to be believed then ideas are beings; being just waiting for someone to have make them incarnate. Or, as they said in the Middle Ages "the angels love to sing to us. We simply have to learn to be silent in order to hear their song." For me the angel's song can be found both within the world of spirit and deep within the inscape of the natural world.

(David Peat, Physicist and author of Apollo and Dionysus)


Oliver Sacks


"Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination."

"The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain...Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves."

"It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads."

"The miracle is that, in most cases, the powers of survival, of the will to survive, and to survive as a unique inalienable individual, are absolutely, the strongest in our being: stronger than any impulses, stronger than disease."

"Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation."

He wanted to do, to be, to feel- and could not; he wanted sense, he wanted purpose- in Freud's words, he wanted Work and Love.

"My religion is nature.
That's what arouses those
feelings of wonder and
mysticism and
gratitude in me."

VS Ramachandran

"How can a three-pound mass of jelly that you can hold in your palm imagine angels, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its own place in the cosmos? Especially awe inspiring is the fact that any single brain, including yours, is made up of atoms that were forged in the hearts of countless, far-flung stars billions of years ago. These particles drifted for eons and light-years until gravity and change brought them together here, now. These atoms now form a conglomerate-your brain-that can not only ponder the very stars that gave it birth but can also think about its own ability to think and wonder about its own ability to wonder. With the arrival of humans, it has been said, the universe has suddenly become conscious of itself. This, truly, it the greatest mystery of all."

"Indeed, the line between perceiving and hallucinating is not as crisp as we like to think. In a sense, when we look at the world, we are hallucinating all the time. One could almost regard perception as the act of choosing the one hallucination that best fits the incoming data."

"Even though its common knowledge these days, it never ceases to amaze me that all the richness of our mental life - all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions, our love life, our religious sentiments and even what each of us regards us his own intimate private self - is simply the activity of these little specks of jelly in your head, in your brain. There is nothing else."

"What do we mean by "knowledge" or "understanding"? And how do billions of neurons achieve them? These are complete mysteries. Admittedly, cognitive neuroscientists are still very vague about the exact meaning of words like "understand," "think," and indeed the word "meaning" itself."

Self-awareness is a trait that not only makes us human but also paradoxically makes us want to be more than merely human. As I said in my BBC Reith Lectures, "Science tells us we are merely beasts, but we don't feel like that. We feel like angels trapped inside the bodies of beasts, forever craving transcendence.