Connected in the Deep founder Mikki Morrissette has been privileged to have had several opportunities this year to speak about what she is learning about the science of consciousness and sustainable community.
She will provide links of her recent Lake Harriet Spiritual Community talks, as well as an upcoming local cable conversation.
Following is an excerpt of a talk she delivered at First Unitarian Society on August 23, 2015.
READING: Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics
In the universe now there was no longer a container and a thing contained, but only a general thickness of signs, superimposed and coagulated, occupying the whole volume of space; it was constantly being dotted, minutely, a network of lines and scratches and reliefs and engravings; the universe was scrawled over on all sides, along all its dimensions. There was no longer any way to establish a point of reference; the Galaxy went on turning but I could no longer count the revolutions, any point could be the point of departure, any sign heaped up with the others could be mine, but discovering it would have served no purpose, because it was clear that, independent of signs, space didn’t exist and perhaps had never existed.
Evolving Into Non-Truth
A few years ago that reading would have made little sense to me. But now…. It means a lot.
I have been very lucky… in my career. As a lifelong writer and journalist, I’ve been able to interview so many fascinating minds. There are exciting ideas about how we all fit together. I’ve been privileged to talk to unique thinkers, who believe in Eastern philosophy as well as Western science. People like:
- Rudolph Tanzi, one of the world’s foremost Alzheimer researchers, who found a key breakthrough by lucid dreaming.
- The founder of 3-D computer graphics, Loren Carpenter, whose moment of intuitive inspiration led to Pixar and “Toy Story,” who is now trying to map consciousness.
- A molecular biologist who is studying at the cellular level to try to understand why so many PTSD veterans are successfully treated using horse therapy.
- A cancer pathologist, and Zen practitioner, who said that we tend to think of ourselves as separate individuals… yet… as anyone who studies at the cellular level recognizes, there is perhaps no such thing as separateness. Our cells and viruses and molecules are exchanged all the time.
Isaac Asimov: “It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”
The Three P’s
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Perception and Point of View and Perspective lately. How it is more natural to think of ourselves as individual entities, not a constantly moving collection of cells. Until Pixar came along, animation was flat, 2-D… now it seems archaic to our kids not to expect more lifelike 3-D action in their movies. Tanzi is a brilliant scientist … who also believes in lucid dreaming as a technique for finding solutions. How many of us might someday think that way?
Were you part of that trending moment a few months ago, when people were so confused to discover that a gold dress online for some completely looked like a blue dress for others?
We don’t see as universally as we think we do.
David Suzuki: There are some things in the world we can’t change – gravity, entropy, the speed of light, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and well being. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere.
I included the quote in today’s program from Carl Jung. “Man strives toward reason only so that he can make rules for himself. Life itself has no rules.”
It’s a reminder, I think, that there is far less structure in the world than we tend to think there is. Structure makes us feel more comfortable… so we design it… based on the parameters that make us feel safer.
But, what if the structure of our lives is much less defined than that? What happens if the universe has no point of reference, and is only a galaxy, continuously turning, occupying the whole volume of space?
When I was a journalism student at New York University in the 1980s, required reading was The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas S. Kuhn.
I was annoyed that this was required reading. It had nothing to do with my life as a journalist. Science was of no interest to me. I had set my goals… my targets… and everything else was superfluous.
Jump ahead a few decades. Now, the people I am talking to for my Connected in the Deep website are quantum physicists and evolutionary biologists and anesthesiologists and brain scientists. And… of course… time having ticked along for me… I now find these subjects fascinating.
And… many of these people are talking about… The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. Because many of these people believe that we are approaching another paradigm shift in science… like we did after Einstein came along to turn upside down the Newtonian materialistic model… one in which consciousness will be understood as a fundamental aspect of an energy field, perhaps, that extends beyond the five senses we’re accustomed to operating with.
So… I re-read Kuhn. One of the scientific revolutions Kuhn wrote about, of course, was prompted by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
At the time, the resistance to Darwin’s theory wasn’t so much about the theory of natural selection. Even in Darwin’s time, other than those wedded to certain religious beliefs of course, his colleagues knew that evidence for the changing of species over time had been accumulating.
It was not the idea that man descends from apes that bothered people. The issue, Kuhn said, was that Darwin was asking people to accept that … evolution was not a goal-directed process.
If God, or whatever Nudge that guided the creation of life, did not have an actual PLAN – then… what? If our evolution was a series of random mutations… a series of lines and engravings continuously turning… then where was our guiding force? And, again, where were we being guided? We needed to feel like we were aiming somewhere. Right?
It was – and is — discomforting to think we are simply adrift in the universe. Creating our own evolution in some entangled… mess. As Kuhn wrote: “What could ‘evolution,’ ‘development,’ and ‘progress’ mean in the absence of a specified goal?”
The Evolution of Cells and Genes
I also read this year The Biology of Belief, by Bruce Lipton, a former tenured faculty member of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine.
Did you know that the brain of a cell is not its nucleus? It is the membrane.
In fact, a cell can exist long after the nucleus is removed. The nucleus enables reproduction of cells – but not the other important aspects that sustain life, such as communication with other cells.
Do you remember when the Human Genome Project was getting headlines? … isolating the genes that determine our lives – our health? At the same time, scientists in the lesser known field of Epigenetics were learning that nutrition, stress and emotions can modify those genes.
A cell has a kind of molecular antenna that reads vibrational energy fields, like a tuning fork.
The molecular biologist I met recently at a conference in Chicago recommended I read a book called The Genie in Your Genes. I have only recently started it. But this quote jumped out at me. “What you are thinking, feeling, and believing is changing the genetic expression and chemical composition of your body on a moment by moment basis.”
My particular reading list this year seems to have been inspired by three simple sentences that I heard many months ago, in our Sanctuary upstairs, by our own Rev. David Breedon. He said this phrase in a talk and it struck me, in that moment, as an essential nugget. I’ve largely been thinking and exploring and writing about it ever since….
He said: Truth is our attempt to find something that never changes. And that does not exist. EVERYTHING changes.
How many times does that happen in our life… in our day. We think we have the TRUTH of something…. We’ve found a perfect job… a perfect partner… a perfect answer… a perfect space… written the perfect sentence. And… it changes.
Something momentous yesterday is no longer momentous today. Something tragic today is no longer tragic tomorrow.
I believe what all the pieces seem to be telling us…. the cells, and the DNA, and the truth …. shifting and shaping and morphing, moment by moment, encounter by encounter, message by message…. How COULD we remain the same, from day to day? Our cells don’t. Our genes change. Our truth changes. Our society… evolves. Just…. not in the linear way we might feel comfortable with. We’re too busy bouncing off each other to go in a straight line.
What I’m exploring… what I’m suggesting… is that maybe there is no starting point…. no ending point. I like to think I’m a storyteller from birth, but, maybe ours is not a narrative arc with a beginning, middle and end…. Even though it seems like that, chronologically, from birth to middle age to death…. Our individual lives are simply too entangled with everyone else’s individual lives for us to be individually evolving.
Our feelings, our beliefs, our thoughts… have an impact, not only on the loved one next to you… but the stranger you encounter on the street.
Spider Web of Community
When we think about our environment… about sustainability…. There is a science there that we’re finally beginning to understand – thanks to people like Rachel Carson. We’re now beginning to understand the ecosystem…. as a network intertwined…. Interacting, changing, every day, together… like some sort of spider web…. we breathe together… feed together… sustain together. I wrote recently on MPLSGreen.com about a contentious meeting between members of the Park Board, and residents of Loring Park, over the use of pesticides to kill cattails in the lake… even though we’re also as a city trying to feed pollinators, and protect our waters, which are clearly affected by pesticides. Residents were understanding the links, and protesting. And I understand, since that meeting, more steps are being taken to curb pesticide use by the Park Board. We are more mindful… bit by bit… of our impact as humans, and making adjustments.
That 7th UU principle… Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence
Time Is Not Fixed in Place
I have to bring in one more element. What about time?
I think of a line from Parker Palmer, who said: “The past isn’t fixed and frozen in place. Instead, its meaning changes as life unfolds.”
Long ago, I was impacted profoundly by a traumatic event. When it happened, I was 19… and I tried to pretend it was not a big deal. So… a few years passed… and all that denial had a HUGE impact on me. Its meaning had morphed into something else. Many more years passed before I finally began talking about it. And then…. decades later…. I realized I had finally put the anger about it behind me. And… now… I have forgiven all of it. Which feels… wonderful.
So, Parker Palmer’s words mean a lot to me there.
The meaning of a moment changes as life unfolds. There is not an inherent truth in a story that is fixed in place.
We realize that what happens today, and tomorrow, and yesterday, is only just a moment in time… and it shifts.
We are all Pivot Points, intersecting with each other, making new meaning from past moments. That woman impacted by a stranger’s comment at a light in NYC [related to a Rachel Noami Remen anecdote shared earlier in talk], it changed the course of her life when she saw her past in a new way.
Our sustainability is not simply in what we individually breathe in and out — but, I believe, is in the energy all around us. I believe our evolution is – outward – not simply inward — to our connections. I believe in the work of Rupert Sheldrake, a biologist in the U.K., who has long studied how animals communicate, in their migratory and highly sensory ways. Are there universal senses that we’re not seeing with our own two eyes?
We Are The Story of the Universe
We impact each other… every day… in big ways and small. And every day is different. Even the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, about others, changes. Every day.
I am starting to write about it this way: WE are the ongoing story of the universe.
I’m creating a new website, called Connected Chronicles, that tells this story in a multidimensional way. My favorite quote there is from Thomas Nagel: “Each of our lives is a part of the lengthy process of the universe gradually waking up and becoming aware of itself.”
I believe, even as a storyteller, in a less linear – more circular – pattern to our lives. Not toward a specific end – a goal – a last breath – but… a continuous evolution… together.
As Calvino said: In the universe now there was no longer a container and a thing contained, but only a general thickness of signs, occupying the whole volume of space; it was constantly being dotted, minutely, a network of lines and scratches and reliefs and engravings; the universe was scrawled over on all sides, along all its dimensions. There was no longer any way to establish a point of reference; the Galaxy went on turning.
— Mikki Morrissette, August 2015