The Dark Universe, The Dark Goddess, & the Ancient-Future Cosmology:

Synchronicity Between The Tower of Song & The 7th Avenue Project

April 18, 2011

 

 

Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.

--Sir James Jeans, The Mysterious Universe, 1930

 

1.    The Mystic Night of Poet-Lovers: Its Theology & Cosmology

 

A leitmotif that runs through the Gypsy Scholar’s Troubadour and the Beloved musical essays, which make the case—both in Argument & Song—for the troubadours (Andalusian and Provencal) bridging the divide between sacred (heavenly/agapic) love and profane (earthly/erotic) love, is the “mystic night.” Thus this special “night” not only can be for the spiritual seeker but also for the passionate lover, as the GS demonstrated with the prime example of the twelfth-century Andalusian Sufi poet-lover Ibn Arabi and his “night of power,” which ostensibly had to do with ritual circumambulations around the Ka’aba in Mecca yet became the mystical geography for the meeting and union with the Beloved in the form of a young, beautiful woman. Out of this experience of union with the Beloved, Arabi wrote a book of love poems, for which the Muslim authorities acceded him for writing courtly love poetry. Arabi goes on to explain in the prologue, the “Interpreter of Ardent Desires,” that his eventual union with the Beloved (“the Soul’s union with the Beloved, a communion with Absolute Being) all started “One Night.” Arabi had taken a mystical trope from the Koran and translated it into an eroto-mystical night. Significantly, for Arabi, a verse in the Koran states that in this Night of Power “the angels and the spirit descend in it.” This “blessed night” was, according to the Koran, when the revelation of the wisdom of the Koran was begun: “We sent it down on a blessed night, for we were sure to warn; / Every matter of wisdom is made distinct in it . . . .” Thus, for the Sufi’s like Arabi the “night” itself came to symbolize the geography of mystic vision,” when the sun that hides the celestial luminaries above gives way and they are revealed. This is why the “night” in Sufi poetry tends to be the scene for the meeting and union with the Beloved. But another aspect of this mystic trope of the “night” needs be mentioned, because it has to do with not only with poetic symbolism but also of a different kind of cosmology, one based, like Sufi doctrine itself, on Neo-Platonic thought. (Therefore, the GS attempted to elaborate on the cosmological background of the trope of the “mystic night” in medieval literature, both sacred and secular.)

But another aspect of this mystic trope of the “night” needs be mentioned, because it has to do with not only with poetic symbolism but also of a different kind of cosmology, one based, like Sufi doctrine itself, on Neoplatonic thought. For this we turn to C. S. Lewis, who not only wrote one of the classic books on the Troubadours (The Allegory of Love), but on medieval literature itself. Lewis is at pains to demonstrate how different from our eyes is the “night” sky is to medieval eyes. He frames this example with the concept of the Primum Mobile, in the sense of looking out vs. looking in. (The “Prime Mover” or the tenth and outermost empty sphere in the Ptolemaic system of the universe thought to revolve around the earth from east to west in 24 hours and believed to cause the other nine spheres to revolve with it.):

 

Outside the wall—that is the point. Go back for a moment to the experience I mentioned at the beginning; that of looking up at the stars . . . The full contrast between the medieval experience and ours is only now apparent. For whatever else we feel, we certainly feel that we are looking out; out of somewhere warm and lighted into dark, cold, indifferent desolation, out of a house on to the dark waste of the sea. But the medieval man felt he was looking in. The Moon’s orbit is the city wall. Night opens the gates for a moment and we catch a glimpse of the high pomps which are going on inside; staring as animals stare at the fires of the encampment they cannot enter, as rustics stare at the city, as suburbia stares at Mayfair. . . . I am thinking in particular of one picture which represents the Intelligence of the Primum Mobile itself. It is a picture of a girl dancing and playing a tambourine; a picture of gaiety, almost of frolic. And why not? These spheres are moved by love, by intellectual desire, never sated because they can never completely assimilate themselves to their object, and never frustrated because they continually do so to the fullest extent which their nature admits or requires. Their existence is thus one of delight. The motions of the universe are to be conceived not as those of a machine or even an army, but rather as a dance, a festival, a symphony, a ritual, a carnival, or all these in one. They are the unimpeded movement of the most perfect impulse towards the most perfect Object.

 

 

So back to the GS’s musical essay on the twelfth-century Neoplatonic/Gnostic Sufism of Ibn Arabi. In the “Interpreter of Ardent Desires,” Arabi elaborates on his book of poetry to the Beloved, who turns out to reveal herself to be none other than the “Sophia Aeterna,” or mystic Sophia, an angelic figure of divine wisdom: “In the verses I have composed for the present book, I never cease to allude to the divine inspirations, the spiritual visitations, the correspondences (of our world) with the world of the angelic Intelligences; in this I conformed to my usual manner of thinking in symbols . . . .” The GS cited a modern commentator on Arabi’s “theophanic vision,” who explained that the figure of the young woman was “apprehended by the Active Imagination on a visionary plane, in which it was manifested as an ‘apparitional Figure’ of Sophia aeterna.” The GS went on to point out that Arabi himself identified this young woman seen an a plane of theophanic vision as the primordial Sophia, Divine Wisdom, whom he then associated with the tradition of “sophianic gnosis.” She is an Initiatrix in an angelic form, who instructs her poet-lover into the secrets of the “Religion of Love.” Therefore, it seems that we can understand Arabi’s “night of power,” when he meets his angelic Sophia, as belonging to the animistic cosmology that served as a background for his “mystic night.” And an integral part of this animistic cosmology was the hierarchy of angels. Arabi’s frequent mention of the “angelic Intelligences” of the universe suggests that he was thoroughly familiar with the Christian and Islamic tradition of angelology. [1]

 

 

2.    Old Angelology and the New Cosmology: Nested Hierarchies of Creative Organization and Angelic Photons

 

“What,” it will be Question’d, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, “Holy Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would question a Window concerning a Sight. I look throe’ it & not with it. –William Blake

 

It should be remembered I have previously mentioned (1) that, according to the Koran, it is in “the Night of Power” when “the angels and the spirit descend in it,” and (2) Arabi elaborates that his Beloved turns out to reveal herself to be none other than the “Sophia Aeterna,” or “mystic Sophia,” an angelic figure of divine wisdom: “In the verses I have composed for the present book, I never cease to allude to the divine inspirations, the spiritual visitations, the correspondences (of our world) with the world of the angelic Intelligences . . . .” Surprisingly enough, his is where the GS finds the continuous thread of synchronicity with the concept of the “New Cosmology.” [2]

For this the GS turns to theologian Matthew Fox and biologist Rupert Sheldrake, who suggest that the angels (and Arabi’s “angelic intelligences”) have retuned in our world. However, they have not come back to the precincts of established churches, temples or mosques, nor in the sanctuaries of New Age religions, but in the last place any self-respecting person of faith would think of looking. According to Fox and Sheldrake, the angels are making a comeback in the startling revelations of the New Physics. Thus, in the Introduction to their book (The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet, 1996), “The Return of the Angels and the New Cosmology,” they have this to convey:

 

In the machine cosmology of the last few centuries, there was no room for angels. There was no room for mystics. (There wasn’t even room for souls in a machine.) As we move beyond this machine cosmology, no doubt the mystics are going to come back; and the angels are returning because a living cosmology is returning. St Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century theologian, said, “The universe would not be complete without angels. . . . The entire corporeal world is governed by God through angels.” The ancient, traditional teaching is that when you live in the universe, and not just in a man-made machine, there is room for angels. . . .

In the Middle Ages, as in all previous ages, it was generally believed that the heavens were alive, the whole cosmos was alive. The heavens were populated with innumerable conscious beings associated with the stars, the planets, and maybe the spaces in between. . . .

Through the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the universe was mechanized, and at the same time the heavens were secularized. They were made up of ordinary matter gliding around in perfect accordance with Newtonian laws. There was no room in them for angelic intelligences. Angels have no place in a mechanistic world, except perhaps as psychological phenomena, existing only within our imaginations.

But this mechanistic worldview is now being superseded by science itself. Recent scientific insights are leading toward a new vision of a living world. . . .

The old mechanical universe was a vast machine gradually running out of steam as it headed toward thermodynamic heat death. But since the 1960s it has been replaced by an evolutionary cosmos. . . . This growing, evolving universe is nothing like a machine. It is more like a developing organism.

Instead of nature being made up of inert atoms, just inert bits of stuff enduring forever, we now have the idea that atoms are complex structures of activity. Matter is now more like a process than a thing. As the philosopher of science, Sir Karl Popper has put it, “Through modern physics materialism has transcended itself.” Matter is no longer the fundamental explanatory principle but is itself explained in terms of more fundamental principles, namely fields of energy.

Instead of living on an inanimate planet, a misty ball of rock hurtling around the sun in accordance with Newton’s laws of notion, we can now think of ourselves as living in Mother Earth. The Gaia hypothesis puts into contemporary scientific form the ancient intuition that we live in a living world.

Instead of the universe being rigidly determined, with everything proceeding inexorably in accordance with mechanical causality, we have a world to which freedom, openness, and spontaneity have returned. . . . Science has been liberated from the idea that we live in a totally predictable and rigidly determined universe.

Instead of nature being uncreative, we now see it as creative. . . the evolutionary development of the entire cosmos is a vast creative process.

Instead of the idea that the whole of nature would soon be fully understood in terms of mathematical physics, it turns out that 90 to 99 percent of the matter in the cosmos is “dark matter,” utterly unknown to us. It is as if physics has discovered the cosmic unconscious. We don’t know what this dark matter is, or what it does, or how it influences the way things happen. . . .

Finally, instead of everything being explained in terms of smaller bits and ultimate particles, we can now think of the universe holistically, organized in a series of levels of organization in a nested hierarchy or holarchy. At each level, things are both wholes and parts. Atoms are wholes consisting of subatomic parts, themselves wholes at a lower level. Molecules are wholes made up of atomic parts; crystals are wholes made up of molecular parts. Likewise cells within tissues, tissues within organs, organs within organisms, organisms within societies, societies within ecosystems, ecosystems within Gaia, Gaia within the Solar System. The Solar System within the Galaxy. And so on—everywhere levels within levels of organization, each system at the same time both a whole made up of parts and a part within a larger whole.

At each level, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. . . .

Consider levels of organization such as Gaia, or the Solar System, or the Galaxy. If the fields that organize them are associated with spirit, intelligence, or a consciousness, then we are talking about superhuman consciousness. If a galaxy has consciousness, spirit, or mind, that mind is going to be inconceivably larger in scope than that of any professor at Harvard or intellectual in Paris. . . .

We now have a vastly expanded view of the heavens, with countless galaxies, quasars, pulsars, black holes, and 15 billion years of cosmic history. I think one of the things we need to do is recover a sense of the life of the heavens, so that when we actually look at the stars, when we actually look at the sky, we become aware of this divine presence in the sky and of the intelligences and the life within it. 

 

 

Granted, given today’s lingering commitment to the defunct materialist paradigm, this kind of alternate view of the universe—a universe where consciousness is inherent—is too much for many thinking people today to consider. (Can you imagine a guest physicist talking this way on the 7th Avenue Project—he would be laughed off the air!) But, be that as it may, let’s stop to seriously con-sider (i.e., to think with the stars) what Fox and Sheldrake are proposing. (Consider: Middle English, from Anglo-French considerer, from Latin considerare to observe, think about, from com- + sider-, sidus heavenly body.)

They are proposing a “resacralization of time as well as space.” They remind us that “the planets still bear the names of gods and goddesses, like Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter, who in the Christian world were regarded as angels. These planetary gods, spirits, or angels, with their different dispositions and relationships affected life on earth.” They point to the “hierarchies of organizing intelligences” of stars, solar systems, and galaxies, which at each level is a wholeness included in an even higher level of wholeness. Because we have many levels of organization, they argue that each can be though of as associated with “some kind of intelligence or mind.” And it is here they see a way for the traditional understanding and experience of cosmic intelligences to come back, especially the systems of angelology of those like Dionysius of Areopagite and Thomas Aquinas.

Sheldrake, countering the scientific materialism that sees the sun as merely a nuclear fusion fireball of plasma (cf. the Newtonian view of the fireball guinea sun that Blake denied), points out that the sun is a “theater of extremely complex, rhythmic patterns of electromagnetic activity,” which is much more complex that the electromagnetic patterns in our brains. He argues:

 

If people are prepared to admit that our consciousness is associated with these electromagnetic patterns, then why shouldn’t the sun have consciousness? . . . If there’s a connection between our consciousness and complex, dynamic electromagnetic patterns in our brains, there’s no reason that I can see for denying the possibility of this connection in other cases and especially on the sun.

 

 

From here he makes the case for the reality of angelic intelligences in a new cosmology:

 

If the sun is conscious, why not the other stars too? All the stars may have mental activity, life, and intelligence associated with them. And this is, of course, precisely what was believed in the past—that the stars are the seat of intelligences, and these intelligences are angels.

 

 

At this point, Fox offers the idea that angels, as light-bearers, could be photons. Sheldrake picks up on this and offers Aquinas’ thoughts on angels—how they move from place to place—and notes the extraordinary parallels between his reasoning and quantum and relativity theories:

 

Angels are quantized . . . they move as units of action. . . . And although when they act in one place and then in another, from our point of view time elapses while they are moving, from the point of view of the angel this movement is instantaneous; no time elapses. This is just like Einstein’s description of the movement of a photon of light.

 

Therefore, Sheldrake concludes that there are remarkable parallels between the traditional doctrines about angels and the theories of quantum physics. Comparing medieval cosmology with today’s science of physics, he opines that our evolutionary cosmology “does not have less room for angels, but vastly more.” Fox agrees, and hopes that angels will invoke more imagination—the kind of “imagination” Blake used to see the sun and its angelic host:

 

Yes. I feel strongly that as a living cosmology comes back, the angels are returning, because they are part of any sound cosmology. Maybe the angels themselves will bring into our culture some of the imagination that we’re calling for.

 

 

 

3.    Dark Matter & Energy; The New Cosmology Meets The Old Cosmology: The Animistic Universe Not Totally Insane

 

 

How needful is it for me to enter into the darkness, and to admit the coincidence of opposites, beyond all the grasp of reason, and there to seek the truth where impossibility meeteth me.

 –Nicholas de Cusa. [3]

If the universe is dead, it tells no stories. And all our vast cosmologies are little more than fantasies, superlative myths we tell ourselves to make some sense that we are here at all. But what if the universe is not dead? What if the universe is itself a story? What could it mean, and how could we fit it into our science and philosophy?

There is eventually only one story, the story of the universe. Every form of being is integral with this comprehensive story. Nothing is itself without everything else.

–Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry, The Universe Story

 

It was at this point that the musical essay on the Troubadours dovetailed with the subject of the 7th Avenue Project’s topic, “The New Cosmology” (2/28/11). The theme that has been running through many of the GS’s musical essays—the re-visioning and reclaiming the value of the darkness and the night, symbolized by the Dark Goddess—has now been focused through this current synchronicity with the 7th Ave. Project’s program, “The Dark Universe” (4/18/11). But the roots of the synchronicity go back to the GS’s previous week’s program,  “Troubadours & The Beloved #4,” wherein was discussed both the limitations of “single meaning” in troubadour love poetry/songs (is it only sacred love, or is it only profane love?) and C. S. Lewis’s depiction of medieval cosmology.

This might seem odd to assert, since Lewis is talking about an old cosmology. However, I think what C. S. Lewis is doing here (Medieval & Renaissance Literature, 1966), in presenting the medieval (Aristotelian/Ptolemaic) view of the universe, is suggesting that the universe of scientism—the mechanical model of the universe or the “machine” universe—is inadequate. While it is true that the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic model, with its geocentric orientation, concentric crystalline spheres, and outermost sphere of the Prime Mover is itself an inadequate model, it at least (in its more Neoplatonic/Hermetic elaborations) was a living entity; i.e., an animistic universe of the “Anima Mundi.” (The anima mundi or world soul permeates the cosmos and animates all matter, just as the soul animates the human body.) The idea originated with Plato and was an important component of most Neoplatonic systems: “Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence ... a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.” The Stoics also believed it to be the only vital force in the universe. In the Timaeus, Plato perceived the whole world with life and likened it to a great animal. Its soul was female and permeated the corporeal body of the universe, enveloping it and “turning herself within herself.” The earth was “our nurse” and was placed at the immovable center of the universe. This feminine world soul (anima mundi) was the source of motion in the universe, the bridge between the unchanging eternal forms and the changing, sensible, temporal lower world of nature. The Neoplatonism of the third century philosopher-mystic Plotinus divided the feminine soul into two components; a higher portion which fashioned souls from divine ideas and a lower portion, natura, generated the phenomenal world. The twelfth-century Christian Cathedral School of Chartres, which was heavily influenced by the Timaeus and Neoplatonism, personified Natura as a goddess. Nature was thus compared to a midwife who translated Ideas into material things. In Platonic and Neoplatonic symbolism, both nature and matter were feminine, while Ideas were masculine. Nutura, as God’s agent, was in her role as creator and producer of the material world superior to human artists both in creativity and production, but still subordinate to God. Therefore, the “old cosmology” of the ancients is based upon a model of the universe that is essentially organic; i.e., a living being: The universe, as a living organism, meant that not only were the stars and planets alive, but that the earth too was pervaded by a force giving life and motion to the living beings on it.

This is the Animistic universe of the old cosmology. It is the Hermetic universe of Giordano Bruno, the magical universe of the Hermetic-Alchemists like Paracelsus and Neoplatonic alchemists like Robert Fludd, the universe of the Tantric yogis, the universe of the Taoist alchemists or the Qigong masters, the universe of the 17th century Cambridge Platonists, the neo-animistic/vitalistic universe of the 19th and 20th century English Romantic poets, and the universe of German Romantic Naturphilosophie. This animistic universe is also the dancing universe of C. S. Lewis the GS featured in his musical essay. Thus the new model of the universe of quantum physics—where modern physics meets ancient (Eastern) mysticism—is the universe of the “Dancing Wu Li Masters.” [4]

Considering that the GS launched into the medieval cosmology of the night sky through his discussion of Ibn Arabi and the troubadours, it is interesting that this image of the universe as a dance is also, significantly enough, part of the very tradition of which the Sufi poet Ibn Arabi belonged. The fact is that in same century that Arabi lived, the 12th century, Sufi fraternities (tariqah) were first organized. A member of such a fraternity is referred to as a Persian darkish, or the Turkish dervish. The Mevleviyah order, founded by MevlČna JalČluddĒn Rumi, practiced the dhikr or zikr (“invocation”) by performing a whirling meditation. It is a customary dance performed within the Sema, or worship ceremony, through which dervishes aim to reach the source of all perfection, or kemal. This is sought through abandoning one’s nafs, egos or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one's body in repetitive circles, which has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun. (Concerning the Animistic model of the universe again, there are other traditions that can be added to the above list. The Tantric/Kundalini yogis believe that the main dynamic energy of the universe is not male—Shiva—but female—Shakti—, the creative and more invisible energy. As they say: “Shiva is a corpse without Shakti.” Besides the Neoplatonic and Stoic worldviews already listed, the Anima Mundi also features in systems of Eastern philosophy: the Brahman-Atman of Hinduism, the School of Yin-Yang, Taoism, and Neo-Confucianism as qi. Similar concepts were held by Hermetic philosophers like Paracelsus and by Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and later by the Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling. It has been elaborated since the 1960s by Gaia theorists, such as James Lovelock.)

However, besides Neoplatonism, there is one more major tradition of thought in the West that contributed to the animistic universe of the old cosmology. The heretical Gnostic tradition of the first thee centuries of Christianity synthesized Christian teachings with the spiritual teachings of Babylon and Persia to the east and Greece and Rome to the west. Gnosticism maintained an original unity of male-female opposites in a transcendent Godhead. By emanation God produced a female generative principle, which created angels and then the visible world. This was the divine mother whose name was Wisdom, or Sophia (a Greek translation of the Hebrew hokhmah). Sophia was the creative power, “self-generating, self-discovering its own mother, its own father, its own sister, its own son: father, mother, unity, root of all things.” Her wisdom was bestowed upon women and men. This Gnostic worldview was bequeathed to Hermeticism and alchemy, and thus greatly influenced Paracelsus and the esoteric cosmologies that he in turn inspired. And let’s not forget that Sophia’s wisdom was particularly bestowed upon one man in the twelfth century—Ibn Arabi.

The point here is, of course, not that we should abandon the structure of the heliocentric universe and cosmology since Copernicus and go back to the Ptolemaic anachronism. The Gypsy Scholar believes that this conception of the living universe as dance--the animistic or vitalistic universe--is coming back transformed at a higher level. Robert Pollie’s most recent guest on the 7th Avenue Project (4/17/11) was the science writer Richard Panek on his new book, The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality. Panek asserts that the prevailing view of the cosmos is incredibly wrong; that it is only 4 percent of the entire universe, the rest being made up of “dark matter” and “dark energy.” Thus, according to Panek, astronomers believe that 96 percent of the universe is missing, and this realization has engendered an “ultimate Copernican revolution.” Panek concludes: “Not only are we not at the center of the universe, we’re not even made of the same stuff as the vast majority of the universe.” Because the model of the universe, as astronomers and astrophysicists have known it, is breaking down, Panek thus sees a paradigm-breaking revolution in process.

The quantum physicists are now demanding what the poets, artists, philosophers, mystics have always demanded—to imagine and think in new categories about the universe. If you listen to the physicists, cosmologists, and science writers who Robert Pollie has interviewed just in the past couple of years, it becomes more and more apparent that their investigations into time, space, causality, and energy can never be limited to the so-called physical world alone. Indeed, such categories apply to the whole of “reality” (as Panek’s book title suggests) and thus involve the observer (the human being) in all aspects of his or her being. Therefore, to the Gypsy Scholar, Panek’s thesis only affirms a major transformation in the 19th-century model of the materialist-mechanistic universe that new theories have engendered (e.g., string theory, parallel universes, the multiverse, the holographic universe, chaos theory, symmetry, The Grid, the Implicit Order, Anthropic Principle, the Gaia Hypothesis.)

In any case, if we are to reject anachronistic models, then let’s not give a pass to the 19th-century model of the materialist-mechanistic universe, with its theory of randomness. One observes more and more that quantum physicists, with allegiances to materialism, have a harder time either explaining the new findings of the nature of the universe in terms of the materialist paradigm or squaring the materialist model with the new findings and theories. However, the GS doesn’t think this means that one simply abandons the strained materialist (Positivistic Mechanistic Materialism) model and reverts back to the competing 19th-century model based on Idealist philosophy (the philosophy of mind). It’s more complex than this, because there seems to be a Hegelian paradox of spirit vs. matter being played out in quantum physics. Thus, it’s not that materialism has been simply trumped by spiritualism in the world of quantum physics (since the philosophy of Transcendent Idealism has had virtually no play in 20th-century physics—all the recent challenges advocating the “spiritual” or “conscious universe” have pretty much come from outside the mainstream scientific community.) It’s rather that, beginning with the materialist paradigm, quantum physics, pushing it to the limit, has unexpectedly ended up with having to discard it. In other words, the materialist physicists have been pushed (by the implications of their own new discoveries), kicking and screaming, into the animistic universe! This is definitely an ironic development. As the greatest philosopher of science, Karl Popper, once put it, in the new quantum universe, “Through modern physics materialism (matter) has transcended itself.” In other words, matter is no longer the fundamental explanatory principle but is itself explained in terms of more fundamental principles, namely, energy and fields. What this means is that not only, as physics since Einstein has recognized, that there is no absolute dichotomy between matter and energy, but so too the absolute opposition between spirit and matter—the universe can no longer be divided up that way. 

In the new cosmology, it will be impossible to say that “spirit” is other than “matter,” which will mean that the basic dichotomy on which centuries of both religious belief of Christianity and the scientific theory of classical materialism have relied to make their claims will be overcome. In this ancient/future model of the universe we will again spiral to a higher level of the pre-scientific understanding of nature as feminine, as a “mother.” However, this doesn’t mean that we will in some way also smuggle in a “religious” cosmology of a pre-scientific era, which will again give us a provincial and dogmatic sense of meaning and purpose (or even a “religious” teleology).  In the same way that the early physicists and astronomers jettisoned the mechanics of the Ptolemaic system, so too can their counterparts today jettison outmoded “religious” concepts and still have a organic model of the universe, because of its highly adaptable nature. (Although, it should be said that there are prominent physicists today, such a Paul Davies, who are not willing to let go of the “God” concept and, in anticipation of the new discoveries of quantum physics, are hopeful that the new physics will be “a surer path to God than religion.” On the other hand, it should be pointed out that the old model of the universe, as recognized by the ancients, was more forward-looking than we have been lead to believe. For instance, in the era covered in my musical essays on the troubadours, the Middle Ages, many theories that would later be again taken up in our new cosmology were advanced in medieval cosmology: theories of infinity, time, place, void, and the plurality of worlds. This last was as old as Pythagoreans, which was taken up and rejected by Aristotle and his Peripatetic physics. I should also add here, since my musical essay series on the troubadours have taken up the advanced contributions of Arabic culture not only to music or poetry—as with Ibn Arabi—but to philosophy and science, that these many of these advanced theories were Arabic, from Avicenna to Averroes. See, Pierre Duhem, Medieval Cosmology, 1985.)

The historian of science, Carolyn Merchant (The Death of Nature, 1980), discusses the significance of the organic model of the universe and of its demise with the establishment of the mechanistic paradigm. She puts the opposition in terms of “nurturing” and “domination” metaphors respectively:  

 

The idea of nature as a living organism had philosophical antecedents in ancient systems of thought, variations of which formed the prevailing ideological framework of the sixteenth century. The organismic metaphor, however, was immensely flexible and adaptable to varying contexts, depending on which of its presuppositions was emphasized. A spectrum of philosophical and political possibilities existed, all of which could be subsumed under the general rubric of organic. . . .

But, as the economy became modernized and the Scientific Revolution proceeded, the domination metaphor spread beyond the religious sphere and assumed ascendancy in the social and political spheres as well. These two competing images and their normative associations can be found in sixteenth-century literature, art, philosophy, and science.

The image of the earth as a living organism and nurturing mother had served as a cultural constraint restricting the actions of human beings. One does not readily slay a mother, dig into her entrails for gold or mutilate her body, although commercial mining would soon require that. As long as he earth was considered to be alive and sensitive, it could be considered a breach of human ethical behavior to carry out destructive acts against it. [5]

 

 

This is the downside of the materialistic-mechanistic cosmology that replaced the old cosmology, and, unfortunately, it has yet to be grasped by the majority of physical scientists. Yet in the last quarter of the twentieth century, there began a serious challenge to this reigning paradigm. But the non-materialist challenge to the reigning materialist-mechanistic model is not a new one. The 1925 discovery of quantum mechanics inspired a number of more open-mined physicists to re-think the nature of the universe. On such was the British physicist, astronomer, and mathematician Sir James Jeans, who came to believe that the universe was mental: “The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter... we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.” (The Mysterious Universe, 1930. [6] ) Whatever one chooses to call the new paradigm of the model of the universe that is taking shape in quantum physics or astrophysics (e.g., some are calling it “conscious universe,” “the spiritual universe,” or the “holographic universe”), it is basically the product of a non-materialist or, better, a “post-physical” physics in which matter has been dematerialized to the point of taking on certain attributes of mind and consciousness; such as to accumulate experience and remember. Listening to what some leading quantum physicists are postulating about the unimaginable universe, whether it’s on a “holographic” model or non-local “grid” model, one begins to hear that the quest for the ultimate elemental particle has discovered that it is something like an idea. (Cf. Jean’s universe as a “great thought.”)  

Therefore, the GS expects to see the third alternative of models of the universe return in a renewed form—the animistic model that was left out of the alternatives of religion on the one side and the scientific revolution on the other.  Once more, this animistic new model of the universe has the advantage of being able to incorporate the best theories of quantum physics and fill the vacuum of meaning and purpose in scientism without the anarchistic baggage of an anthropocentric biblical “God” or even top-down deist “Architect of the Universe.” (And, unfortunately, even with Jams Jeans and some of today’s quantum physicists, such as Paul Davies, “God” must be preserved. Thus the “God” concept serves in these scientific theories as a deus ex machina that is dragged in to resolve problems at the limits of human knowledge. However, the GS thinks that one can have a living universe that gives meaning and purpose without the necessity for a anthropocentric transcendental being, who, by the way, this traditionally conceived of in the monotheistic religions as the Ruler of the Universe dispensing its Laws. Thus, here is the inherent contradiction in trying to square the “King of Kings” with a scientific model of the universe: in the religious cosmology, the universe is run from the outside as a top-down cosmic monarchy. The new animistic model of the universe, on the other hand, will be seen as a democratic “self-organizing” system operating from the bottom up.)

Therefore, when the new model of the universe takes us back to the old, animistic model at a higher level we will again see the universe not a s a machine, but as a living entity. The return of “Mother Nature” via James Lovelock’s “Gaia hypothesis” and the “upsurgence” of neopaganist eco-feminism are contemporary signs that the idea of a living earth and an earth-humanity continuum of more than a material sort are shaping a new cosmology that will transform not only science but also religion as we know it. 

I began this section with a quote from The Universe Story from cosmologist Brian Swimme and cultural historian and ecologist Thomas Berry, who assert that

 

With all out learning and with all our scientific insight, we have not yet attained a meaningful approach to the universe, and thus we have at the present time a distorted mode of human presence on the Earth. We are somehow failing in the fundamental role that we should be fulfilling—the role of enabling the Earth and the universe entire to reflect on and to celebrate themselves, and the deep mysteries they bear within them, in a special mode of conscious self-awareness.

A new type of history is needed, as well as a new type of science . . . . The period is gone when we could deal with the human story apart from the life story, or the Earth story, or the universe story.

Just as surely, we are beyond the time when the scientific story of the universe could so identify the world of reality with the material and mechanistic aspects of the universe as to eliminate our capacities for that intimate communion with the natural world that has inspired the human venture over the centuries, an intimate communion that has evoked from our poets and musicians and artists and spiritual personalities all those magnificent works of celebration that we associate with the deepest modes of fulfillment of the human personality.

This new situation seems to call for a new type of narrative–one that has only recently begun to find expression. . . .

We are now experiencing that exciting moment when our new meaning, our new story is taking shape. This story is the only way of providing, in our times, what mythic stories of the universe provided for tribal peoples and for earlier classical civilizations in their times. The final benefit of this story might be to enable the human community to become present to the larger Earth community in a mutually enhancing manner. We can hope that it will soon be finding expression not simply in a narrative such as this but in poetry, music, and ritual throughout the entire range of modern culture, on a universal scale. . . .

 

 

 

As one who is deeply involved through his radio program in story and poetic myth-making and music (as in “The Troubadours & The Beloved”), the GS is extremely partial to this approach to cosmology. Swimme and Berry suggest to the GS (whose musical essays discuss the troubadours and the romance tradition of the quest) that the narrative of the new physics should be that of Physics as Quest-Romance:

 

The narrative of the universe, told in the sequence of its transformations and in the depth of its meaning, will undoubtedly constitute the comprehensive context of the future. . . . “The Universe Story” refers of course to the book we have written, but only in a secondary way. The primary referent of out title is the great story taking place throughout the universe. This creative adventure is too subtle, too overwhelming, and too mysterious ever to be captured definitively. . . . Out aim is to awaken those sensitivities to the great story that enable rich participation in the ongoing adventure.

 

 

And it is at this point that the Tower of Song program reaches the end of its capacity to find synchronicity with the 7th Avenue Project’s programs on physics, which for the most part concentrate on the hard science of the universe and its method of highly technical explanation. The GS’s program harmonizes more with the mytho-poetic approach of Swimme and Berry. They recognize that the old biblical story of our cosmos and our world has broken down and been replaced with the story of scientific materialism, which itself has proved too limiting to serve the need for meaning and purpose. Swimme and Berry fuse the newest discoveries of new science—cosmology, geology, biology, ecology, and sociology—with the human search for meaning. They remind us of the importance of story in human history: “story is the only way of providing, in our times, what the mythic stories of the universe provided for tribal peoples and for the earlier classical civilizations in their times.”  They provide the beginning of a third option of story or narrative of the Universe Story, recounting the unfolding of the universe—from the “primordial flaring forth” and the formation of galaxies and supernovas to the “human emergence” and its civilizations to the imminent Ecozoic era. It is a story that “celebrates the total community of existence as it unties science and the humanities through a profound and poetic modern myth.” Again, Swimme and Berry touch a chord in the GS’s Tower of Song when they speak of honoring

 

the special capacity of the human to enable the universe and the planet Earth to reflect on and celebrate . . . in our music and our art, our dance and our poetry, and in our religious rituals. . . .  Earth seems to be a reality that is developing with the simple aim of celebrating the joy of existence. 

 

The Gypsy Scholar thinks he hears a song coming on ….

 



[1] In the Christian tradition of angelology, I’m referring to the sixth-century theologian and philosopher Dionysius the Areopagite (Celestial Hierarchies), who was deeply influenced by the Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus (411-485 CE). In the Islamic tradition, I’m referring to the eleventh-century Neoplatonic angelology of Avicenna (philosopher, mystic, theologian, physicist, astronomer, cosmologist, chemist, geologist, psychologist, poet, logician, paleontologist, and mathematician)

 

[2] Cosmologically speaking, there is an interesting parallel between what can be seen by the mystic and the scientist at night. Sufi poet-mystic, Arabi, goes out “one night” and, through the medium of “theophanic vision” of the Active Imagination, perceives the heavenly body of the Sophia aeternus, who initiates him into the secrets of “sophianic gnosis” and the “Religion of Love.” The Italian astronomer Galileo goes out into the night and, with his advanced telescope, perceives the heavenly bodies for the first time and initiates the Scientific Revolution.

 

[3] The theologian Nicholas de Cusa needs to be numbered among the precursors of Copernicus, not because of his doctrine on the movement of the earth, but because of his reflections on the plurality of worlds: “The regions of the other stars are similar to this, for we believe that none of them is deprived of inhabitants.” This was the first time in the history of Western Christianity that one heard someone speak about the plurality of worlds.

 

[4] This is the title of the 1979 book by Gary Zukav, which was one of the first expositions of the “new physics” (quantum theory, particle physics, and relativity) and the mysteries uncovered by high-energy physicists in terms of Eastern mysticism. As Zukav explains the concept, it has to do with the imagination and the idea of dance: “The Wu Li Master always begins at the center, the heart of the matter.... This book deals not with knowledge, which is always past tense anyway, but with imagination, which is physics come alive, which is Wu Li.... Most people believe that physicists are explaining the world. Some physicists even believe that, but the Wu Li Masters know that they are only dancing with it.” This fits in nicely with my quote from C. S. Lewis on the motions of the universe as dance.

 

[5] Merchant’s thesis is decidedly feminist:

 

Feminist theory in the broadest sense requires that we look at history with egalitarian eyes, seeing it anew from the viewpoint not only of women but also of social and racial groups and the natural environment, previously ignored as the underlying resources on which Western culture and its progress have been built. To write history from a feminist perspective is to turn it upside down—to see social structure from the bottom up and flip-flop mainstream values. . . .

The ancient identity of nature as a nurturing mother links women’s history with the history of the environment and ecological change. The female earth was central to the organic cosmology that was undermined by the Scientific Revolution and the rise of market-oriented culture in early modern Europe. The ecology movement has reawakened interest in the values and concepts associated historically with the premodern organic world. The ecological model and its associated ethics make possible a fresh and critical interpretation of the rise of modern science in the crucial period when our cosmos ceased to be viewed as an organism and became instead a machine. . . .

Between 1500 and 1700, the Western world began to take on features that, in the dominant opinion today, would make it modern and progressive. Now, ecology and the women’s movement have begun to challenge the values on which that opinion is based. By critically reexamining history from these perspectives, we may begin to discover values associated with the premodern world that may be worthy of transformation and reintegration into today’s and tomorrow’s society.

 

     I cite this because I detected a feminist issue concerning the discovery (as related by Richard Panek) of dark matter. A woman physicist, Vera, discovers “dark matter.” She could detect “dark matter” even though the male physicists could not. She had been marginalized and her work suppressed, and so was left to follow her own interests and her own intuition. She is the woman outsider in a man’s profession. It seems to me symbolically significant that it took a woman to discover “dark matter.” (Cf. those revelations in the mystic night. Idealistic dreamers of song.) Thus this woman physicist seems part of a larger meta-narrative of what is going on at many different levels of significance today—what’s going on the Collective Unconscious or psycho-mythic level. As Matthew Fox put it about the discovery of “dark matter”: “It is as if physics has discovered the cosmic unconscious.” Significantly enough, this is theme in many of the GS’s essays (e.g. Troubadours & The Beloved #5)—the return of the exiled dark “feminine other” in Western patriarchal civilization, or the songs of the women slaves taken from Andalusia to the south of France—“the exiled female voice.” Thus, the physicist’s facts become the GS’s metaphors—dark matter (Indo-European: mater = origin, mother, measurement) = dark mother. From the physical level to the meta-physical level; the dark chthonic goddess repressed with the establishment of the patriarchal order is revealed, is returning. This means that the 7th Avenue Project’s “the new revelation of the universe brought about by the discovery of dark matter” is metaphorical.

 

[6] There’s a good reason for the GS citing Sir James Jeans on the universe as great thought. Despite his work in astrophysics and cosmography, mathematics, James Jeans also nourished a lifelong passion for music. He began playing the organ when only twelve, and when he built his home he incorporated a pipe organ, which he often played for three or four hours a day. His first wife died in 1934 and the next year, Jeans married concert organist Suzanne Hock, with whom he had three children. He redesigned the acoustics of the house and had a second pipe organ installed so they both could play their instruments without disturbing each other. In his Science & Music, he explained in simple terms the known mathematical and physical foundations of music. His decision to put aside the strenuous work of a researcher may have been influenced by his poor health. As early as 1917, he showed signs of heart problems. He recovered from a heart attack in January 1945, but his second heart attack in September 1946 proved fatal. Reportedly Jeans spent part of his last day on earth listening to music. The GS would thus suggest that perhaps what was truly mysterious about the universe is not just that it is more like a “great thought,” but more like a great song.