Hacking Consciousness: The Stanford University Video Series
Reviewed By: William T. Hathaway
This new Stanford video series investigates consciousness as the source of not only the human mind but also of all energy and matter. Consciousness is seen as the essence of the universe, a unified field which gives rise to and pervades all manifest phenomena. Five scientists from different disciplines describe how we can contact this field and use it to improve our lives. The series, designed by Michael Heinrich, is now available free on YouTube.
The intellectual background of the series is a fascinating conflict affecting all of us that is now going on in science and philosophy, centering on the question, What is the basis of the universe? In the 19th century advances in physics, chemistry, and biology led to an empiricist understanding of nature, and Enlightenment philosophy replaced superstition and myth. Leading thinkers in all these disciplines agreed that the universe is just matter in motion governed by natural laws which are open to human understanding. Reality is fundamentally material. Humans and other animals interact with an objective, external world through sensory input mediated by our consciousness, which is a neuro-chemical phenomenon of our brain cells. Thoughts are just reflections of the material world in the brain.
Early in the 20th century, though, experiments by physicists shattered this view of the world. Their studies of subatomic particles revealed facts incompatible with the classical materialist paradigm. Matter, supposedly the basis of the universe, proved to be insubstantial at the quantum scale, disappearing into wave functions that have only potential existence. Also at this scale the position and speed of an elementary particle are interrelated in such a way that it is impossible to know both of them. The more exactly one is determined, the more uncertain the other becomes, so motion can’t be predicted.
More amazing yet, an objective world independent of the observer doesn’t exist. The particles and the observer are linked at the quantum scale; the very act of observation affects the matter being observed. The realm of discrete objects is transcended and everything becomes united in an indivisible whole that is inherently subjective, since nothing else exists but that. Matter is continually emerging from and dissolving back into an abstract, nonmaterial unified field. The unified field is the ultimate reality, the source of the manifest universe. The frontier of science now lies in discovering more about this transcendental field.
This research sent shock waves not just through science but through the whole culture. Idealist philosophers, who maintain that the universe is fundamentally just thoughts and who had been pushed out to the fringes of philosophy by 19th-century empiricism, now seized upon these facts as proof that matter doesn’t exist. Even some distinguished physicists such as Niels Bohr and James Jeans went to the extreme of trying to replace physical reality with human consciousness. The new knowledge also inspired postmodern philosophy, which declares reality to be a totally subjective collection of individual narratives without any overarching coherence.
The materialists, including many conventional physicists, fought back, deriding these theories as solipsistic nonsense based on unwarranted conclusions drawn from scanty evidence. They were confident that research in the future would confirm their view. But none has appeared, and the two sides have been at loggerheads for decades now. In true dialectical fashion a materialist thesis has been challenged by an idealist antithesis, and the two sides are locked in conflict. According to dialectics, this clash of mutually exclusive opposites will lead to a new synthesis that incorporates elements of both but at a higher level of knowledge. This is how science progresses, how our understanding of the world increases.
In the first session of Hacking Consciousness, John Hagelin, who has a PhD from Harvard in quantum physics, discusses how that synthesis is emerging now and from a surprising angle. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had a master’s degree in physics and then studied metaphysics with one of the great swamis of India, was able to fuse these two contradictory positions into a new wholeness. His knowledge of both sides of the dichotomy enabled him to develop a new paradigm that overcomes the binary opposition and gives us a deeper understanding of matter.
His starting point was the fact that both the universe and our minds have a similar, parallel structure. Both are composed of layers progressing from gross to subtle, from manifest to potential, each state very different from the previous. The gross, macroscopic level of the universe is the reality we perceive with our senses. The laws of classical mechanics accurately describe its activities.
Beneath it lie molecular, atomic, and subatomic levels whose activities can’t be accurately described by classical mechanics. The new science of quantum mechanics was developed to explain these levels of reality. Then physicists discovered that quanta — the tiniest physical unit — manifest out of quantum fields which in turn have their source in a unified field of unmanifest potentiality. The laws of nature differ enough at these levels so that each needs to be dealt with on its own terms. We can’t necessarily apply the laws of one level to another; they are related but still quite different realities. For example, dynamism is far greater at the finer levels than at the surface: nuclear power is millions of times stronger than chemical power.
The mind has a similar progression. The surface level is our ordinary thinking awareness which mediates our sense impressions of the macroscopic level of the universe. Beneath that surface lie subtler, subconscious levels of mental activity that science is beginning to explore. Underlying it all is a transcendental field out of which thoughts arise and which mystics, artists, and philosophers of all cultures have contacted and described as a reservoir of creativity and dynamism.
Maharishi revived the ancient Vedic technique of Transcendental Meditation, which allows the mind to effortlessly move from the surface down through the subconscious until it reaches this source of thought, an abstract, unbounded field where all thoughts fall away and the mind is left alert but nonactive, aware of its own nature, of its oneness with the universe. Here in the silent, thought-free state of transcendental consciousness the split between subject and object, observer and observed, is overcome, and the ultimate reality of unity is experienced. This is the state of samadhi, in which the mind absorbs some of the concentrated energy of that unified field and emerges ready for more fulfilling activity.
Maharishi realized that thoughts are the mental equivalent of quanta and that the unified field we experience in samadhi is the same as the unified field underlying the universe. This discovery affects all of our lives because it shows that each of us contains the essence of the universe; in fact in the state of samadhi, where our individual boundaries fade and we merge with wholeness, each of us is the universe. But when we come out, we’re back in the boundaries of surface reality, and there to say that we are the universe is mere solipsism. Each reality needs to be respected on its own terms.
Other teachers from the Orient have taken the idealist position and stated that the manifest universe is just maya, an illusion. But Maharishi integrated the materialist and idealist positions and showed that both are true at their own level. These levels are different realities with their own laws of nature that are valid there. Our surface world really is composed of matter in motion, and that matter and its motions can be reliably measured. The fact that it manifests out of a nonmaterial unified field doesn’t make it an illusion. Manifestations are real at their level.
Hagelin presents theoretical and experimental evidence that the unified field of physics and the unified field of consciousness are identical — i.e., that during the meditative state, human awareness directly experiences the unified field at the foundation of the universe.
The other speakers in the series discuss the implications of this new knowledge for their disciplines. They include Tony Nader, an MD with a PhD in physiology from MIT; Jon Lipman, an architect and vastu expert; Pamela Peeke, an MD and nutritionist; and Fred Travis, a brain-wave expert with a PhD in neuroscience.
Like most cutting edge research, their findings are controversial. After watching the videos you should decide for yourself how they fit with your ideas. One of the good features of YouTube is that you can share your opinions there with others.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ4Uv-5_3VM&list=PLP-XVUpWZ-wWtKmq7F3Ff0aHY1NdvXSuj&index=1. (If the images flicker, try them on full-screen mode.)
William T. Hathaway’s new book, Lila, the Revolutionary, is a fable for adults about an eight-year-old Indian girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice. Chapters are posted at www.amazon.com/dp/1897455844. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.