Primal screen

Somewhere in the frontal cortex of our brains there’s a very special junction – a place where we learned to do something truly different with our minds… Let’s call it the Primal Screen…

Our spines can be considered the highway of our historical evolution: the inherited paths of form and energy that developed from single cells in oceans, through fish, lizards and apes. At the apex of this human ‘flower’ is the brain; in which the higher concepts, such as ‘self’ and moral values reside.

Those, like me, who felt uncomfortable with science’s cold and clinical view of life as a series of accidents aimed only at the mating chamber, can now take heart that the biological sciences, themselves, have, for the past twenty years, led the way in redefining the benign complexity of life and breaking us away from the genetic ‘evolution as everything’ model that dominated the life-sciences in the past.

The modern view of the human is a very complex thing, indeed – but wonderfully so. The innate complexity of sub-atomic matter is now matched with a new science – appropriately named ‘complexity theory’ – which studies and tries to understand how ‘dumb’ matter organises itself into increasingly complex forms, as though the whole of Life is experimenting with different ways to something mysterious.

Philosophers, long ago, named this ‘Teleological’; meaning it had a purpose. The modern picture is even more complex – or beautiful, depending on your perspective. Genes do work with survival and species as in the Darwinian model; but that’s not all they do. The new science of Epigenetics shows how genes also ‘express’ their complex proteins within a lifetime to alter the human: they are a living rather than a dead code…

The understand of consciousness has played a part in the cultures of our species for thousands of years, but the division of consciousness into reliable ‘organs’ is a success story of the last century, in the form of psychology.

We can argue that this ignores mystical philosophy, yoga, and Buddhism, each of which have been around for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years… But the successes of psychology are real and provide a common basis for us to discuss the concept of ‘self’.

The breaking open of the greater life-sciences has changed everything, and there will come a time when all these journeys of the ‘self’ will be united with an advanced form of today’s biology; but possibly under a new and common language.

So, to return to our opening statement. What was this juncture in our evolution of ‘self’? The philosopher Gurdjieff made it one of the central tenets of his successful system of self-work. He called it Identification. It was the stage in our group evolution when we looked ‘out’ from our presumed separate bubble of ‘me’ and saw high-intensity things that were so interesting we decided they should be an extension of our selves.

Children do do this automatically. Their imagination is so vivid that the pile of rocks on that hill becomes a castle – and can stay so for many years until the maturing adult looks back one day and smiles at how he and his companions brought it to life as Castle Hilltop…

Imagination is not the only component of this extension of self. Identification involves emotions, too. That castle belonged to the boys and girls of the Hilltop Gang – and they defended it, fiercely… It not only belonged to them, it was them.

As we grow into adulthood, the identifications become stronger. Our job – that important place in society, is considered vital. Alternatively, we may develop a skill or craft that becomes our defining set of actions – an artist who locks herself away for weeks while a fine work is created is a positive example. The career-minded politician whose only goal is power, regardless of the cost is a more negative one. That shiny BMW in the top salesman’s drive might be considered a good example of the power that this kind of defining attraction holds.

Identification can be more complex and subtle, too. We can become identified with negative things, like our illnesses or states of depression; allowing them to define who we are. I am not trivialising the difficulty of working with these conditions, just pointing to the mechanism which has such a ‘locking’ power.

The core of what Gurdjieff said – and a big part of the Silent Eye’s first year course work – is to stand back from these ‘suits of armour’ and realise that we are not them. The ‘younger self’ beneath the defences and attachments is where we really live, but it takes a brave soul to begin that journey. Having begun, it actually gets easier, not harder. Each identified state has locked up a lot of the creative energy of our lives. Seeing them for what they are, with exercises to soothe the way, releases that energy… and gives it back to us as a gentle, creative warmth, which pools with its kin to empower a change in the whole being – in a remarkably short time.

Society and civilisation has its Primal Screens, too. We are in a period of global history where these are now threatening our future. As an older society we may see in others’ flag-waving an immature identification–but not be so good at acknowledging our own.

Beneath all of this is our true Self – and that kind, warm and sharing place has never changed, just been papered over like the interior of an old house. All mankind shares this house, and only a recognition of what we share, rather than our projected view of what we don’t, will enable us to free the collective healing energies to work with this beautiful planet.

At that wonderful stage in our collective lives, we may discover far more about ourselves than we thought possible. We might even discover an entirely new concept of purpose…

© Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

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The creature on the beach beyond thought

It lay there, head in the sky, gazing at the radiance. Its tail was still in the ocean of thought, the gentle waves urging it back where it belonged…

The gaps in the waves had always been there; they were the rhythm of life. But it had never thought to use them as a way through.

To where?

To beauty, certainly. The sights and sounds and smells of newness were all around it, the warm sand beneath. But it was a different newness. It lay there, laughing at the thought that newness could be new. The sea began to analyse this, pulling it, gently, back into its waves, but it pushed out its hands and grasped the glittering sand, and breathed deep the air that could only be new… and knew it was home.

Why had it never seen that, before?

Perhaps you had to be steered; gently guided into the shallows so the edge of the glittering sand became apparent. Behind it, the ocean of thought began to clamour for its attention, perhaps desperately seeing the last chance to put it back into the sleep of thought’s conditioning.

Conditioning: it was a hard word, and yet described the whole ocean; even the parts where it had tried to reason the way out of it. Life had conditioned it to love, to fear, to survive; and yet the very spark of life had not come from that sea of thought and reaction. The sea was only the cradle for that which could not be conditioned – did not react, because the real nature had a sheer power to be with the truth of anything, just being there was its truth, and all else bowed before it…

All else was its child.

The waves called to it in a different voice, now. They sang of love; of a role performed, of the golden drops of sun-kissed water flowing from the rapidly-changing body and finding their way back into the sea, where they shone – briefly – differently.

Stronger, surer by the second, he raised eyes that were new… to the Sun.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Golden Eye of Fiveness (3)

Figure One – the pentagram, emerging at the end of our search for perfect ‘fiveness’.

“It is highly dishonourable for a Reasonable Soul to live in so Divinely built a Mansion as the Body she resides in, altogether unacquainted with the exquisite structure of it…”

Robert Boyle

In Part One, and Part Two we looked at a the emergence of a special number, Phi, that allowed the division of any ‘whole’ – like a figure in a painting or a building – into a series of proportions that divided it, but also retained its original relationship to the overall dimensions. the original ‘parent’. The number cannot be written, exactly, because it is ‘irrational’ – really an infinite relationship whose digits never recur. But the table below shows its emergence, to three decimal places, from the Fibonacci series. See Part One for the details.

Figure Two: the Emergence of the Phi “Golden Mean” from the Fibonacci series

This magical number, often called the Golden Mean or the Golden Section, was named Phi after the Greek artist and sculptor, Phidias, best known for his design of the statue of Athena within the Parthenon in Athens and the celebrated status of Zeus at Olympus. Both works were famous for their beauty… and also a sense of ‘specialness’. The reason for the latter is less well understood, yet central to our final consideration of this essence of ‘fiveness’.

Figure Three: Reproduction of the Olympian Zeus in the sculptured antique art of Quatremère de Quincy (1815) Source Wikipedia. Public Domain. The original statue was 43 feet tall.

Phidias, or the school he belonged to, had discovered that the human body followed ‘divine proportions’ – all based on the magical number of Phi – approximated as 1.618.

In the human form, the primary unit of this ‘divided divinity’ was the vertical distance between the brow of the face (the top of the eye, as in ‘eyebrow’) and the tip of the nose. Taking this as a base, the the vertical distance from the brow to the crown of the head is Phi times the base unit -the brow to tip of nose.

Moving the other way, the Phi ratio applies between the nose tip to the base of the neck. Travelling down the body, the same ratio applies – but with increasing lengths – from the neck to the armpit, then the navel, to the reach of the fingertips, and, finally from the fingertips to the soles of the feet. Using this analysis, there are seven harmonic sections to the human body.

Phidias used these proportions to create his breathtaking art. His approach was copied by many throughout history, including Leonardo Da Vinci, who had also inherited a love of another symbol that encapsulated the uniqueness of this magical proportion – the pentagram.

Figure Four: The pentagram, the embodiment of the perfection of Phi in its human form.

The origin of the pentagram is lost in ancient history, but was known as an astronomical symbol around 6,000 years BC in the land that became Sumer – possibly to represent the visible planets: Jupiter, Mercury, Marks, Saturn and Venus.

Its rise in Western history is due to the adoption by the School of Pythagoras (approx 500 BC), who shaped so much of our philosophical thought. The Pythagoreans knew the mathematical properties of the Golden Ratio and its relationship to the pentagram. Pythagoras was said to keep his own small pentagram with him at all times.

To conclude this series of three posts. Let’s examine the pentagram in the light of what we have learned about the Golden Section –

This five-sided ‘star’ can stand alone, or can sit within either a pentagon or a circle. The simple iPad geometry app I’ve used to create these diagrams (Geometry Pad) allowed only one measurement to be shown while the snapshots were being taken. We need to combine the measurements shown in Figure Four and Figure Five.

Figure Five: the Phi ratio runs through the entire geometry of the pentagram.

Look at the line running from G to I. It has three divisions caused by the intersections with the other vertices. From Figure Four we see that the distance from G to the first intersection is 5 units. Figure five shows us that the next section is of length 3.095 units. Allowing for the slight inaccuracy of the graphics we can divide the smaller by the larger and get 1.618, which is the value of Phi – the Golden Section.

This is only one instance. The pentagram is entirely constructed from Phi and Phi squared. As we have seen, it is truly the glyph of the human, and its Phi-based symmetry is too closely allied to our proportions to be considered an accidental result.

The Vesica Piscis – birthing place of all sacred geometry

It is beyond the scope of this post but the pentagram first emerges – graphically – from the interaction of two circles, as above. First comes the point, then the line, then the triangle, then the square – then the pentagram. It occupies a very special place in Creation…

I believe we will go on discovering further depths to the pentagram in the years to come.

Other posts in this series:

One Two This is Three

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Golden Eye of Fiveness (2)

Sunflower florets are arranged in a natural spiral having a Fibonacci sequence, with different values for clockwise and anticlockwise rotation. Image Wiki CC by SA 2.5 L. Shyamal – Own work.

In Part One, we looked at a very simple sequence of numbers that ‘orbited’ or homed-in on a certain value. Now we need to examine that value and look at the sheer magic of what it represents.

The ‘planet’ which has captured our spaceship emerges in the third line of black numbers from the Fibonacci sequence.

This new number was 1.618. It’s derivation is summarised in the diagram above, and described in the previous post. Simply: (red numbers) we add the two previous numbers to get the next. Next: (green numbers) we offset the first line of numbers one place to the right and, using a calculator to three decimal places, we treat the offset numbers of fractions, one number above the other. The third (black) line gives the calculator results, which stabilise at 1.618.

The ‘series’ that generates it – known as the Fibonacci series – came into existence at the time the world was abandoning the old and (by then) clumsy Roman notation (I, II, IV etc) and moving to the Arab-derived numerals that we use today.

The special number 1.618 is known by many names, such a the Golden Ratio and the Golden Mean. It is a number that shows us how we can divide something to protect its ‘wholeness’ in a harmonic way. By doing this, the divided figure will always exhibit pleasing proportions when placed next to (or within) the ‘parent’ figure. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci used it, extensively, in his most famous pictures.

But there are much deeper implications to this than something that looks or feels good, important though that is.

The materialist sees the world as having numbers by virtue of an ‘accident’ that they fit how we see and describe things. The mystic looks for the experience of ‘oneness’ with the processes that created the universe. You can’t find that experience unless you look for it. The universe owes us no debt of making it happen in our minds and hearts – the search must be ours… then the doors of perception will be opened.

Imagine that we have a strip of paper that we are going to divide by cutting with scissors. Let’s say the length of the initial strip is represented by the letter ‘A’. When we cut the strip we will have three values: the initial length (A); and the lengths of the two pieces we produce. We can name the two ‘child’ pieces (a) – the longest, and (b) – the shortest.

Under all circumstances, the original length (A) would be equal to the sum of the two children (a+b) . We can write this A=b+c, the most simple kind of ‘equation’ we could every want to see.

The miraculous Fibonacci number (given the name Phi in the 20th century) gives us the means to divide the original strip of paper such that the longer of the two child pieces bears the same relationship (ratio) to the original strip, as the larger child does to the smaller…

We can keep on doing this – cutting each successive larger portion – with smaller and smaller divisions of the original strip of paper. The whole ‘creation’ will be in harmonic proportions. This generation of smaller and smaller ‘harmonic’ children is called self-similarity.

Nature uses ‘Phi’ all the time. The recent science of Fractals shows how essential self-similar division is for nature to achieve its purposes. A tree is a fractal, for example, as are our lungs. Our blood vessels can carry oxygen to our cells because they follow fractal rules of becoming smaller and smaller within the finite space of our bodies. Only by using such structures can incredibly large processes fit into small spaces. The generation of Phi is not a fractal process, but it perfectly illustrates the marvel of the related fractal structures in nature.

Examples of this in nature include the petals of flowers, such as the sunflower, and the spirals of nautilus sea shells… But there are innumerable examples.

So, how would we actually work out the Phi-derived point of where to cut our twenty-unit strip of paper? We can arrange the self-similar formula so that we have a quadratic equation to solve, but where’s the fun in that!

Instead, we can look at the workings of the older graphical method carried out with the use of compass and straight edge. This brings home the inclusive and ‘connective’ nature of working by hand and is illustrated below:

The horizontal line A-B is the length of paper we wish to divide into the harmonic proportions given by the Fibonacci-derived Phi number 1.618. In this example, the length is 20 units.

To begin, we imagine we have turned the base line (A-B) into a square of four sides and select its right-hand vertical halfway point.

To shorten this, I have simply created point C at the correct half-value (10). The compass is placed on point C and set to the distance of C-B. We begin to draw an upward arc from B to the intersection with the hypotenuse A-C. We then set the compass to a base at the origin – A, and extend its pencil to the previous intersection with the hypotenuse. This time we draw downwards until the curve intersects with the original length A-B. The point of crossing is the length of the largest ‘child’ as above.

The length value, the golden ratio, gives us a new ‘longest child’ length of 12.36 units. We could cut at this point. The relationship of the larger child to the smaller is the same relationship as the original full length to the largest child.

This process could be repeated to infinity using the successive larger pieces. The entire family of larger pieces would inherit the divine proportions of the ‘mother’ length.

In the final post, next week, we will examine how the pentagram combines all the above properties into a single figure of dynamic value to mankind.

Other posts in this series:

One This is Two.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The Golden Eye of Fiveness (1)

In the dream the Hermit was speaking. “I am the eye of fiveness,” he said.

I listened… dreams are not always this lucid.

“In the beginning was the division, not the multiplication; and the division contained what divided it, but in another form…”

I was listening, intently. The figure of the Hermit promised great insight…

No-thing can be a principle. It does not have to be nothing…” He paused, smiling. “But it does have to be a ghost…”

I wondered if you could blink in a dream… apparently not. He placed a dot in the centre of the sky. Then extended his arms into the shape of a draughtsman’s compass and drew, black on azure, a circle.

I smiled, understanding something, at last. “Ah, yes,” I said. “The dot is no-thing, but has existence – if only as a position. The dot is zero.” I paused, aware that my thinking was waking me up… I had to get to a point of…. memory or I would lose it all…

“The circle is everything and everywhere,” I said. “The circle – One – is the arena of existence!”

The way the Hermit faded indicated he was pleased. And then, like the Cheshire cat that left only a smile, he was gone…

That dream was many years ago. I was studying the pentagram and the way it was used in a magical school of the soul. I knew that the geometry – and hence the numeric basis – was closely linked to the organic life we all share.

But I wanted something deeper… and had asked for it.

I consider that my attitudes are roughly half ‘science’ and half mystical. That way, I avoid the worst excesses of both, such as mysticism’s inclination to be fluffy, and to espouse the most complex ‘magical’ theories, even if they are twice as forced as the simplest scientific truths.

Equally, science’s dogmatic adoption of the ‘we are the only truth‘ attitude is to be avoided. Consciousness is not rooted in numbers, but the human mechanism – the body and how it works – is.

So, if you’d like to join in, let’s go in search of what’s at the heart of the pentagram: ‘fiveness’. Stand up and take yourself into a different mental and emotional ‘space’. Tell yourself that you’re not doing something trivial, but something that’s a living key to how you are, or were, before the layers of civilisation, work and family walled us all in numbness.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Source: Wikki, Public Domain

Stretch out your arms and legs so you look like Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous picture of the ‘Vitruvian Man’. Each hand’s five fingers and each foot’s five toes make up four of the five points of your human pentagram. Your head – the controller, communications receiver and maker of your organic ‘me’ – forms the other. We may reasonably ask what is the fiveness of the head? The question may already have triggered an answer in your mind….

If you’ve never encountered the Fibonacci series, stay with me and I’ll do my best to explain it – very simply. It’s worth the few minutes it will take to understand it.

Fibonacci: Begin on the (Red) First Row by simply adding the previous two numbers to get the next in the sequence.

We begin with zero, then one, because the whole of metaphysics is based on their relationship. Zero is the potential for all numbers to exist. One is symbolically the ‘monad’ – the complete everything from which we come and to which we will return; but One is also the first number, so is doubly useful in this example. We could say that, in Nature, everything is a fraction, yet Nature knows no fractions… Mankind sees only fractions, yet contains the seed of that which caused that division in the first place.

From zero and one, the next term in the series of Fibonacci numbers is generated by adding the two previous numbers. So, (from 0+1) we get another 1. At this point the series starts to take shape, growing quickly as each new number emerges from the sum of the previous two.

The row of green numbers is exactly the same line of numbers as the red ones above. But they have all been shifted one place to the right. What we’re going to do now is to create a fraction (don’t panic – I’ll do the calculations!) from each of the sets of two numbers; one above the other. So the first one would be 1/0 which is an invalid number, since we cannot divide by zero in ordinary mathematics. The next one is 1/1, which is just 1. The next one is 2/1, which is 2. We can see from this that we are swaying from one ‘extreme’ to the other; between the numbers 1 and 2.

Let’s continue to work these numbers to see what it is that we are swaying around… This is a bit like finding you’re a spaceship being pulled into the orbit of an unknown planet… but this planet holds one of the fundamental keys to the Universe…

The ‘planet’ which has captured our spaceship emerges in the third line of black numbers from the Fibonacci sequence.

It takes only ten ‘terms’ of the fractions from the Fibonacci series to produce the hidden planet to which our spaceship is being drawn. If you have a calculator you can check the fractions which lead to it; 5 divided by 3, 8 divided by 5, etc. Each of these divisions gets closer to a number that emerges in the greyed out boxes of term ten, above. From there onwards, the number 1.618 is present in all the results, which continue to ‘sway’ around finer and finer divisions of this mysterious destination.

In fact, we can never get at the final answer, since it is what maths calls an ‘irrational’ number – one that isn’t really a number at all, but is only defined by (in this case) an infinite (never-ending) convergence towards smaller and smaller units.

In practical terms this doesn’t matter. The three decimal places of 1.618 will do us fine. To go beyond this would involve us worrying about one ten-thousandth of a unit, which would be needed in only the most specialised engineering application, such as space travel!

But enough of the maths! We’ve landed on planet Phi… This mysterious number is so important that, like its cousin Pi, it has its own name. Phi is also known as the Golden Mean, the Golden Ratio… and a host of other historic names. It has been with us for a long time.. and very few people know its full significance.

In the next post we’ll examine what it Phi really means; and why it makes the Pentagram and Pentagon such important geometric figures in any world where harmony is important… which is just about everywhere. We’ll also consider why Phi is truly the ghost in the machine

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The What of Life (2)

Luca original for WPress blogAA Sm

 

I want to like you, she thought, loudly.

Please don’t spoil it by picking on science in a stupid, fluffy way… but don’t stop challenging, either… find the villains…

She listened, intently, as he talked about the need to ‘see’ it all differently – Life, biological life, not separated from spirituality, but part of a bigger whole that encompassed them both…

“There is something in the human soul that formed and forms an angry and energetic response to reductionism: that the answers are to be found in the dissected, colourless and cold parts…”

He was right… so right. And biology had become the hidden champion of that. Late to the party, having spent a century emulating a physics-derived worldview from which physics was already trying to escape…

The problem was something called emergence. The beautiful patterns of a snowflake, seen under a microscope, were an example of emergence, but there were thousands more. Biologists were used to something ‘higher’ than the dissected bit emerging in front of their gazes. To the classical physicist, this was anathema. Everything, they said, could be solved by the bits… But even physics was changing, as the power of emergent forms began to grow in evidence and presence; but sadly not in time to prevent the widespread adoption of the ‘reductionist mindset’ in education, science in general and in life.

Seized upon by materialists, they used it to savage any example of the ‘mystical’ that dared say it was of the truth… And it took a hundred years before the ‘reductionist fundamentalists’ came to see that their own disciplines were, in this respect, crumbling beneath them. When that day came, the world of biological ‘form’ – the shapes and organisation that life takes, were seen to be a paramount example of how the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts… and this gave a new dimension to what was driving life along its mysterious road.

“Science’s models of how evolution works are incomplete,” said the speaker. “Or rather, the reductionist view of it – not the nonsense of Creationism – though, at the human level, we can understand the need for a compassionate view of our place in the universe, and the person who gives that away is a fool, for we – the human mind – invented that quest for understanding…..”

Dead right, she thought. Okay, I like you… Now, go where I haven’t … don’t blow it….

The session broke for coffee. She sat there, deep in thought, unaware that she was alone, until the woman in the red hat came over and gently touched her shoulder.


Darwin’s theory of evolution was and is brilliant, but it is only half of a ‘ruling dynamic’ that plays the music against which our slow dance of evolution proceeds. The powerful idea of ‘natural selection’ destroyed much of religious thought – but not completely. Within us all, there is a burning need to reinforce our sense of belonging with the natural world – teacher and exterminator that it is.

With ‘reductionist’ thought, which seeks answers by breaking things into their smallest parts, we have trees – but no forests… The reductionists found they had no language to describe them, so, metaphorically, they cut them down…

The ecosystem of the forest is as much a guiding principle as the tree. The huge advances in microbiology have shown the brilliance and the limitation of the reductionist view. So it is with the ‘natural selection’ model of evolution, which threw away any idea of a determining principle beyond random mutation of genes, resulting in a new creature that beat its competitors to the bed-chamber. Nature became a thrower of dice…

But then there were the gaps in the fossils, in the timeline, where entire species came into existence ‘overnight’. Eventually, these became impossible to ignore and it became apparent that something was working alongside selection to change life.

But, before we look at that something, we need to admire what microbiology found in the small, the ‘atomic’, the reduced. What it discovered was the cell, the glorious ‘bubble’ of organic life in which the entire blueprint of the organism was written. This inner code was the gene: both ‘plan’ and ‘means of delivering the plan’ – gene and expression of gene.

Deep in those life-cradling ocean vents, where the gradient of heat to cold was so intense that something that became organic life had the energy to come into being, we find that the core principle behind what became life was ‘born. That ‘living’ principle was persistence.

Life does nothing if it cannot persist. ‘We’ persist – and yet we change, constantly. Something within us – related to and harvesting our experience of the world – stays ‘me’. This is true at the organic level and at the psychological level. Some ‘pattern’ that is me moves forward in time, with persistence. Imagine waking up each day and thinking we were a new-born.

We are vastly more complex than the first containers of life. We have memory and therefore identity. Yet the same principles are seen to apply. In the oceanic depths, there were no cells, only chemicals: atoms and atoms grouped into molecules. The forerunners of cellular life were chemical chains of proteins that could self-replicate. With self-replication, they could persist .

The fundamental principle of life had been established, but this was just the beginning. Our self-replicating molecules were still part of their environment. To become more ‘complex’ – more organised, they had to begin to separate themselves from the world around them – yet still feed from it… Next week we will look at the birth of a world within a world; as mysticism calls it, a ‘microcosm within the macrocosm’. In terms of organisation and complexity, two of the building blocks of the new picture of life were about to come into existence…

Other parts of this series:

Part One,

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The What of Life (1)

Luca original for WPress blogAA Sm

She was sitting in the front row – the car, for the first time in its life, had failed to start, and she set off late, as though projecting her future to this point – the front row of a group of about twenty people, a collective warmth -she had to admit – within which she was a complete stranger.

They had sounded interesting. Not presumptuous, not critical, just warm and intelligent.

The speaker was talking; a man with kind eyes, who had the relaxed manner of someone who’d one this many times. He looked at her, smiled and asked the question, “What is Life?”

It was the end of a miserable event curve that had begun with the car’s idiocy. Now, she felt nineteen pairs of eyes and ears upon her as she wished herself away. Instead, she breathed, wishing to rise to this double challenge of being unknown and facing an question to which there was no entire answer – itself an unknown…

But he was shifting his attention. “We all need to ask ourselves that, for it is the basis of any spiritual exploration…”

His head turned towards the back of the room, where she could feel someone straining to answer. There’s always a resident swot, she thought, recalling her school days…

“I would say that….” rose the voice from the back. Then it paused.

It was the gap that did it, she would later reflect. The pause that spoke to her and said You can respond to this. Damn it! She had studied biology in some depth; had created a synthesis in her own head, mixing it with her belief in universal kindness at apparent war with a cold universe…

“It’s a mysterious continuity,” she said, firmly – filling the gap.

She didn’t need to see to know that all eyes were upon her. His eyes dancing with mirth at her interruption, smiling gently at the depth of her answer.

“Yes?” He said, inviting…

She would apologise to the interrupted man at the back, later… For now, she had something to say.

———–

What is life? It’s an obvious question that has taken us thousands of years to approach. Even philosophers have argued over the question, unable to frame the properties of ‘living’.

As a child, and keen on cheap horror films, we would go out into garden with old, water-filled milk bottles and create coloured mixtures of soil, bits of plants and various other substances like the dust of old cement from the builder’s yard next door; that sort of thing. We would jam our hands over the neck and shake the contents for all we were worth, eventually, and exhausted in arm, watching the swirling mass of usually dark liquid spin like its own speeded-up universe.

Did it live?

Of course not. But the broken fractures in the middle of the deep sea oceans, with their bubbling, muddy vents, powered by the intense heat from a gap in the Earth’s crust did live – according to the most likely theories on the origin of life – our life.

What lived there that contrasted with our dead but sincere shaken milk bottle stew? What was it that came into existence and sustained itself, miles from the surface of the sea, coaxed into life by the energy of the volcanic deep-sea trench?

The answer is fascinating and multi-faceted. One very good answer is that we did. We came into existence in that deep ocean trench, a billion years ago. The chain of life that began then resulted in us – a being that can actually look back, with some authority, on the history of life on Earth. But it doesn’t just look back; it asks whether this was a unique, freak event, or whether the universe is teaming with life…

The growing mind that resulted from that self-sustaining life form can still only describe what life is, not why. The ‘what’ is wonderful and mysterious, but the why is either ignored with disdain or avoided. Science is not good at sharing the ‘truth’ with anything not based on its rigorous, but limiting principles. There are good reasons for this. The ages before the birth of rational thinking were marked by sheer fantasy and religious dogma as to what life was. The resulting materialistic swing of science was a natural reaction to this – and a good one. Perhaps now – as the questions of consciousness pile higher – there will be a loosening of what has become its own dogma, and a much deeper sharing of what it means to be human.

Over the next few Thursday posts, we will take a journey from those ocean vents where life began, making the leap from chemical to organic – and watching it change its relationship with ‘the world’ forever.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.