One crowd…Many individuals (Photo by Jethro Watson)
In the song Pneuma by Tool, Keenan’s lyrics talk about becoming Pneuma. Becoming breath, but breath is the same to all of us. We are essentially made up of the same thing, born of one breath, one spark as Keenan so eloquently puts it. What does this have to do with anything? Well strap in it’s a wild ride.
I’d like to take you on a Sci-Fi journey through a strange thought experiment. I invite you to imagine that you are not in fact Human but Taelon. Whats a Taelon? Back in the late 90’s Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek) penned the ideas for a TV series called Earth: the final conflict. In this universe, the Taelons had come to earth looking for a cure to their mortality. Whilst the plot and intricacies of the series arent relevant here, the Taelons were quite an interesting race. They had evolved into beings of energy and were connected by what they called the Commonality. This was a kind of macro neural network which allowed them to share a collective identity. Whilst still retaining and individual personality and free will they were simultaneously an individual and communal consciousness. You might think it would be impossible to fully imagine yourself as such a being, but lets take a gander anyways.
Lets start with connectivity, the ability to be connected and communicate with others almost instantly. Well we can now do that between individuals, there’s a multitude of platforms out there to connect people. Perhaps that doesn’t seems so alien after all. But what would we be connecting to in this case, an individual or a collective? Whilst communication would certainly be possible between individuals in the Commonality, it strikes me as far more useful to connect to the aggregated knowledge and experience of the collective consciousness. This collective ‘being’ is built up of the minds of not only those Taelons currently living but also those deceased. The insights provided by this collective would be invaluable indeed and would no doubt heavily influence the behavior and thoughts of individual Taelons. However, such information would be on a scale impossible to comprehend through the mind of an individual. How exactly the Taelons were aware of this communal consciousness is unclear in the story, but I’d wager that it wasn’t as cut and dry as we would like it. Perhaps the individual Taelon was not capable of understanding the communal consciousness per say and was influenced by it through a more dream like or unseen process. A process not dissimilar to our unconscious. Mysterious perhaps, but when we watch its action over time and across many individuals we see that there are unmistakable patterns to this unconscious. Perhaps that’s not too alien either. The Taelons created this Commonality to restrict their more animalistic tendencies to rage, violence and darkness, again this is very much how the idea of Archetypes functions in our subconscious. This thought experiment is starting to seem uncannily close to reality. So let us further imagine a full lifespan as an individual Taelon. They are born and assimilate into this communal consciousness and when they die, their experiences remain known to this ‘one consciousness’, the ripples of their lives mixed in with those of countless others, subtly influencing the collective and allowing it, through the aggregate of all its individuals, to experience everything. Allowing it to know what its like to be everything and everyone, ever. Now that’s fascinating, what an alien idea. But its not, let me call this idea by another name we Humans use to describe this kind of all encompassing structure: God. So we have one last stop on this make believe journey, life itself. Never in this story did Roddenberry explain or attempt to explain where life came from. Each individual Taelon was born (through a process of energy) and came into the world, much like we do, suddenly awake in this world of chaos with no idea where they came from. Yes they were given tools and structure by the Commonality, again much like us, but they weren’t given a manual for life and told ‘This is the point to all this and this is how you go about it’. They were still exposed to the same existential problems we face, they too were trying, without reference, to make sense of this crazy universe we live in. They were born randomly into the energy bodies they inhabit and in a time not of their choosing and confronted with the chaos and suffering of facing extinction. They were doing their level best to make sense of that and trying to out run the inevitable entropy buildup in the system which they were inexplicably conscious of. Just like us.
So why am I asking you to imagine yourself as a Taelon? Well partly because its amusing for me to think of people out there going ‘ Im a Taelon, I’m a Tealon’ so just humor me on that front. But mainly because I couldn’t think of any other way to approach this concept without people rolling their eyes, calling me a hippie and running back to their ever entrenched individuality. Its a complex concept which when stated simply tends to get distorted into the ideological. So lets then give this concept a name to define it and then I’ll go through some of the examples which I’ve come across in our Human world: We are one!
By outlining the examples below I’m not trying to convince you that any of them are true in a reductionist sense. I’m pointing your attention at the idea from different viewpoints in an attempt to create a deeper and more nuanced understanding of it.
Ok so throw out the Taelons and lets start with Jung again, this guy is truly fascinating, the more I learn of him the more incredible I find his thoughts. I found this video on YouTube whilst researching for this post. Ill list the four points here so as to continue with the conversation, but its worth a watch.
- The experience of the world is just as much psychological as it is physical
- The psychic world corresponds in structure to the physical world
- Extroversion places deciding weight on the objective factor and introversion places deciding weight on the subjective factor
- Just as the physical (objective) world is already there for extroversion to draw from so too is the psychic (subjective) world already there for introversion to draw from
Bear in mind that introversion and extroversion occur to some degree in one individual, otherwise we’ll leave it out for now. Essentially there are two worlds that we experience and both precede us in origin. Its easy to believe that the physical world precedes us, I don’t think that many of us ever really question that. It is however, a bit more challenging to conceptualize a psychic world which exists before and independently of us and yet is simultaneously only perceivable from the inside of one’s self. Jung believed (in as much as I can understand what he believed) that the psychic world was in large part made up of what he called the Collective Unconscious. This ‘a priori’ type structure was common within all of us and jung called its constituent elements ‘Archetypes’. Essentially they are powerful personalities independently at work within us, directing our thoughts and actions on a moment by moment basis depending on the need. Some aspect of this can, in my view, be seen in the actions of ourselves and of those around us, we sometimes act as if we are the same beings. And to the extent to which that is true, can be said to be the extent to which we are the same. Not merely similar as in displaying the similar characteristics, but actually being, in part, the same thing. Its interesting to note that Jung thought that the worlds were of the same value in terms of experience (kinda like saying the same size) and that the collective unconscious makes up almost all of that subjective world. That’s a lot of you that’s actually something else. Or if you turn it around, that’s a lot of something else that’s you. Only that something else is tied into a much bigger structure. For me it’s easy to see how that bigger structure was conceptualised as being a level up in a way. A deity or a kind of meta-consciousness thats built up of our individual contribution to it.
Through the ramblings of Dr Jordan Peterson I learnt of may examples of myth and story which embody the idea of this kind of oneness that we share. Stories like those contained in religious texts, which are in part at least a written record of some of the stories we as humans have been telling each other for thousands of years. Stories like those contained in cultural storytelling like Dostoyevsky, Tolkien or Rowling (which are very similar to the religious stories anyways). Essentially the ‘a priori’ structure is in part, in Petersons view, transmitted to us through culture and its stories and customs. He makes connections between stories in the Bible to this idea of oneness or meta-consciousness. Ideas like man being made in God’s image; that Christ was associated with the logos (the ‘individual’ force as opposed to the all encompassing structure); and that every person could truthfully repent and be forgiven. I think the idea of unilateral forgiveness gives us a good clue here.
Let us look briefly at what we are. You were born into this life fully aware (or moment because you can’t actually remember being born), but you have no idea where you came from or how you got here. These are essentially physical questions, not why, but by which mechanism did you arrive? You truly have no idea, you can believe in some story but in the absence of that, you just don’t have the capability to know where you came from or how. So in that sense we are all the same, we arrive here with no clue and suddenly we are faced with, you guessed it, suffering. Its a raw deal to be honest, even if you’re born rich and powerful you’re still going to hit that suffering at some point. We learn from what is given to us genetically and what is transmitted to us culturally and we become an Ego. We modify the pre-existing physical and psychic worlds slightly, enough to have our own individual or subjective experience of it. An experience that we can, almost simultaneously, recall, influence and plan to modify. Our best bet is to modify those worlds so that we can reduce the suffering inherent in them, or if not reduce it then at least forge a reason for its existence. We are all part of this potential to forge reason from suffering. Each one of us is essentially potential personified. Which isn’t too far from the concept of a Commonality (potential) intertwined with the existence of an individual (action).
So the idea of unilateral forgiveness says that if we truly became aware of our shortcomings or even our own grievous malevolence, genuinely denounced that as wrong and sought to ‘repent’ by seriously turning our thoughts and actions around so as to achieve good or less suffering, then we should be given the opportunity to do so. Why? Well because we all in some way represent the potential to act and change existence. Perhaps we go on to become one of the heroes of the world or even the cosmos, who knows. Its an interesting concept that might be hard to apply in the real world as a human and we might be justifiably weary of believing it blindly. But if we dont believe that each and every one of us shares this potential, we tend fall back into that Egotistical state of contempt, distrust and warring tribes, because of course we possess this potential but its quite clear from the evidence that you do not! And there is quite a lot of evidence out there. Its no wonder that we sometimes come to think that we are so separate to ‘the other’ and special in comparison. So perhaps thinking that we are all equal on some level, the level of potential say, isn’t such a bad idea after all.
We can debate the necessity to tie that belief to some deity, but the idea that we are somehow connected and equal on some level remains. A more way out look at this concept was outlined by Deloris Cannon who, through a process she called Quantum Hypnosis Healing Technique, told of how many subjects recalled the same experience of a higher plane of consciousness and how above that there was another level still. Continued until we reach the source, the One Consciousness which has fractured itself into various sizes and shapes to try to experience all that can be experienced (all of reality) to understand what it is, where it came from and how it got there. I haven’t followed this path of research very far so I may have it a bit wrong. But whilst it sounds whack, an element of it is familiar. Another interesting look at this idea comes from the book The Law of One which was apparently scribed by a team of three people channeling the entity called Ra. Ill include a link to a video describing the seven layers of consciousness and how we all eventually tie back into the one source. An interesting perspective but I wont dwell on it here. The point I’m trying to make here is that although this idea that we are one sounds esoteric, we humans have been thinking about it for quite some time and in many different ways. It seems as if there is a large part of who we are which is effectively someone or something else. It may or may not be conscious itself but to conceptualise that as a Commonality, a ‘one consciousness’ which we are part of but that is not our individual experience, may be useful to use.
I think that to conceptualise this Commonality as being the same entity (The One Consciousness) is phenomenologically true, we can certainly experience it that way with careful reflection either theistically as a god or atheistically as an archetype. But how do we make this leap from similar to the same thing? Thats where this concept of belief comes into play again. We choose to believe it, because that necessitates that we behave in a certain way, the conviction becomes so strong that to act against it feels like committing a sin. That’s the general idea anyways. Many people do actually believe this in some form or another , we have already explored the religious and the esoteric perspective, let’s look at a more social perspective.
We can see this idea manifested in the legal code which governs the ‘western’ world, although it can be poorly implemented at times. This code says that you are innocent before proven guilty and even then are permitted to lay forth any mitigating factors which you think may show your dedication to lessening the suffering after the fact. An astounding concept given that we are so quick to generate contempt through our Egos. We have moved from “He’s on the other side, kill him” to “Ok so he might have done wrong, but let him speak, perhaps he’s the same as us and can help in some small way to ease the way through this journey of suffering”. Even when someone is convicted it seems we are loath the condemn them to death lest they still have some value. Although we do use capital punishment, I’ll wager there are more people in prison currently than ever executed by the modern civilised world. Why bother, if we have decided they are criminals and can no longer help us to create a better world, why not just get rid of them? Well that’s what the Socialists thought in Russia, the Fascists thought in Germany and the Communists thought in China: We are not one and you are beneath us! That didn’t seem to work out well for us as a species.
Another manifestation of this idea is Human Rights. As a collective we have decided that there are certain inalienable rights transferred to each and every human by virtue of them being born. Whilst this idea has not been adopted by the entire of humanity, we in the ‘civilised western’ world certainly do believe this. Institutions like the United Nations and The Peace Palace in The Hague are built in part to protect and ‘enforce’ human rights globally. It is clearly offensive to people if you so much as glance at their sheet of rights, but we struggle to conceptualise the structure of belief needed to bring such a bill of rights into existence.
The way I see it if we are part of one consciousness then there is a cause for hope, hope that the future can be better than the present. Hope that the aggregation of experience over many individual lives will help guide us to a place of greater complexity. If we believe that all people are valuable and that they help to build this complexity then we can begin to see differently, we can see past the Ego and its workings and connect on a much more meaningful level. Even if we cannot identify with an experience, at least we can understand that that experience is necessary for the Commonality. That every experience (which is an act of doing in some way) is a’test’ answer to the existential questions of life and that that experience could just as well have been manifested by our own individual form as by another’s. A failed test, a test of suffering or perhaps successful test somehow but necessary nonetheless.
So lets try another though experiment, this time closer to home. Pretend that you are you, ever so briefly. Imagine that you’ve arrived here in this world and you have no idea what you really are, where you come from and what happens when you die. Thank god this is only a thought experiment right, thats a lot of existential angst to deal with. Now imagine that everyone is like this, with no concrete knowledge regarding the meta-questions of life. In this experiment, I’d like you (remember that you have no idea whats really going on here) to judge and condemn another individual next to you for their thoughts and actions, understand too that they will judge and condemn you for yours (and they also have no idea whats really going on). How did that feel? Hollow in some way, ‘you’re wrong go to hell, but wait so am I in that case and where is this Hell anyways?’. Where would we get the knowledge and experience to judge? Not from our individual selves, we don’t possess the ability to accumulate an understanding of the necessary structure (in one lifetime) to make such judgements. We need some kind of ‘a priori’ structure to guide us. Some kind of accumulated knowledge from many many individuals, perhaps all the individuals, that creates a structure or guide for us to ‘fit’ into. If we, as a collective species or individuals, posit that a core part of this structure is that we are in some ironically intangible way all part of the same thing, we seem to fare better. But we needed all that experience to get to that understanding, all the evil and all the good.
Now I would like to invite you to conduct a real experiment, try to believe this axiom in the next few dealings with other people. Try to believe that the person you are engaging with also has no idea what is going on, on an existential level. That they, like you, were suddenly awakened in this reality and they too are striving to make sense of it all. The probability of them or you being born who you are is so close to zero that it eliminates any specialness that you might possess as you, outside of your own subjective experience. Their experiences are accumulated through a random but mostly deterministic process which has shaped them into who they are. In this way they are you, or at least try to believe that and see how that changes the way you act. When I do that, I become acutely aware that my own limitations as an individual are also the limitations of others. That my problems are also the problems of others and theirs, mine. That on some level we are all connected, we are all God, we are all Complex. On some level, we are all one and its worth respecting that. It certainly seems that when we don’t, all Hell breaks loose.
How often do I actually get that right? Well, I’ll leave that answer up to those who know me. Its not easy to think of that person who has in my mind been incarnated as the epitome of malevolence as being the same being as myself, suffering from the same burden of existence. But if we can manage that or at least move towards that understanding, then perhaps we can tolerate each other long enough to get things done, to live here in the same place and not create Hell on earth, just for a few hours at least.
I think that this principle is one of the foundational reasons for the support I’ve received after the accident. This idea has helped me connect with a wide range of people, people whose ideas are far different to my own but no less valuable. It is this diversity which has ultimately allowed me to find the ideas which prepared me for the accident and support me through its aftermath. Contrast this with my previous conviction to disconnected individual nihilism and its easy to imagine that without this idea, I would never have had the courage, the ability nor the support needed to survive this ordeal.