If Francis Bacon were alive today,
Incarnate as an astrophysicist,
Would he be prone to worship and to pray?
To find the God that Albert Einstein missed?
The God who never plays a game of chance
Who never lets the universe run down,
Who hides his hands behind the cosmic dance,
And masquerades as sub-atomic clown?
What are the proper questions then to pose?
Do we create our own reality?
Or does the seed contain the unseen rose
That overturns the law of gravity?
If Bohr and Einstein could agree on this:
The world bestows the ignorance of bliss. 1
Definition of Terms:
- a scientific theory, religious belief or mythological story about the origin or genesis of the universe
- the scientific, religious or philosophical study of the organization, structure and laws of the universe
- Anthropic Principle:
- a statement of cosmogony in modern astrophysics in two forms: “weak” and “strong.” The “weak” version claims that the universe we observe came into existence with initial conditions that would eventually engender us humans as the observers of that universe. In its “strong” form, the principle states that the sum of cumulative acts of observations made by all human beings is the actual mechanism by which the universe was created. The term was coined by Robert Dicke, an astrophysicist at Princeton University in 1961. Its “strong” form was championed by John A. Wheeler, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Princeton and the University of Texas at Austin.
I recall an autographed picture of Rudolf Steiner, proudly shown to me in 1980 by Hans Fried, then the “gatekeeper” of the Threefold Auditorium in Spring Valley, New York. It was a head shot of Steiner sporting that dour black Russian astrakhan and on the back was an inscription he had specifically written in 1922 for the founding of Threefold Farm, the first anthroposophical community in America. I took the inscription as a specific meditation for those of us anthroposophists incarnated in the United States and always referred back to it whenever contemplating the spiritual destiny of America. In rough translation and faded memory, the inscription reads:
Look into the outside world, and find yourself;
look into the depths within yourself, and find the outside world.
If you mark the pendulum swing between yourself and the universe,
then you will discover:
the human being as the universe;
the universe as the human being.
In the first lecture of the cycle Macrocosm and Microcosm (GA 119) given March 21, 1910 in Vienna, Steiner describes the outer-directed path of ecstasy versus the inner-directed path of mysticism taken by certain spiritual seekers of the past. The path of ecstasy involves the human ego expanding beyond the limits of ordinary external sense perception to pour itself out into the wide universe, or macrocosm. On the other side, the path of the mystic is to densify the ego so it can sink below the surface of the inner ocean of feeling, to the depths of the soul, or the microcosm. Steiner also indicates that either path alone is not suitable for us to follow at our present level of spiritual development. Instead, as the inscription indicates, we are to “mark the pendulum swing” between these two paths so that we may experience the human being as belonging to the entire universe, not just the physical body and planet earth; and to realize that within the depths of our individual soul life resides the entire universe compressed and concentrated as the essence of our inner selves. One question raised in this article is to what extent can the oscillation between ecstasy and mysticism explain the so-called “paradigm shift” in modem science as the rigid certainty of the Copernican-Newtonian cosmogony has been literally annihilated by the macrocosmic revolution in astrophysics created by Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and the microcosmic uncertainty in the realm of nuclear particle physics.
In his lecture of October 10, 1918, “Cosmogony, Freedom and Altruism,” Rudolf Steiner points out the Anglo-American striving to see the human race as “citizens of the cosmos,” not merely citizens of planet earth. Whereas the Oriental expresses innate altruism and the Middle European an understanding of inner freedom, it falls upon the English-speaking folks of the Western hemisphere to reach out beyond the confines of planet earth to realize a truly universal perspective on our own origins and that of the universe itself. There is no doubt that, since the end of World War II, the United States has taken the lead in exploring the universe beyond the earth - what with manned moon missions and space shuttles, Pioneer probes of the solar system and the orbiting Hubble telescope, but the actual understanding of that universe, especially as it includes understanding the essence of the human beings who inhabit that universe, is woefully lacking. As Steiner says in this lecture:
“Anyone acquainted with the spiritual life of the Anglo-American world knows that although Anglo-American spiritual life is formalistic and materialistic and seeks what is spiritual in an erroneous and materialistic fashion, it nonetheless has within itself the makings of a cosmogony .... [But] the possibility of bringing this cosmogony into connection with free, altruistic humanity does not exist. There is [a] talent for treating this cosmogony as an ornamental appendage, for working it out and giving it shape; but no talent for incorporating the human being into this cosmogony as a member of it.” 2
Many questions are raised by this passage. Some of them include: Why does the Anglo-American seek the spiritual along materialistic lines and what are the roots of this materialism? Will the Anglo-American ever develop the talent to incorporate the human being into a true cosmogony? And why this focus on the English-speaking people of the Western hemisphere? To answer them, we must first look into the occult scientific background of our own age and pinpoint the historical epochs when these impulses begin and end.
First, why the English-speaking people of the West? Steiner calls English the language of the Consciousness Soul Age which began in 1413 AD In fact, he names this specific epoch the “Anglo-Germanic.” It is the 5th epoch to follow ancient Atlantis and the following chart gives a kind of map of this spiritual and historical evolution.
The Seven Post-Atlantean epochs
1. Indian/Hindu (7227-5067 BC) ------------------------------------------------- 7. American
2. Persian (5067-2907 BC) -------------------------------- 6. Russian/Slavonic
3. Egyptian (2907-747 BC) ----------- 5. Anglo-Germanic (1413-3573 AD)
4. Graeco-Roman (747 B.C.-1413 AD)
Each of these epochs could be called a Platonic “month,” insofar as the Platonic “year” expresses the length of time that the earth's orbit precesses around the 12 constellations of the zodiac and is computed at 25,920 years. Dividing this number by 12 gives 2,160 years, which is the duration these epochs - at least from our present experience and reckoning of time. (Whether this number is exactly applicable to the far past or far future is too moot for this article; however, the duration of 2,160 years is a good yardstick).
If we further subdivide this Platonic “month” by 4, then we arrive at a figure of 540 years, or a Platonic “week.” Adding that 540 years to 1413 as the beginning of our epoch yields 1953 as the end of the first quarter of the Consciousness Soul Age, or the completion of one Platonic “week.”
As Joan Schleicher from the Institute for the Study of Consciousness in Berkeley, California has pointed out, the span of 540 years is a cycle corresponding to the recurring conjunctions of the planets Saturn and Uranus every 45 years through all 12 signs and is called a “Phoenix Cycle,” because the span of time represents the consuming of an old world view or social structure and the rebirth of a new one from the ashes of the old. 3 For example, in ancient China, the Phoenix cycle corresponded closely with the alternation of the capital between the provinces in the North and South. Although the United States has been in existence for less than even half a Phoenix cycle, its roots lie deep within the European discovery and exploration of the New World starting with Columbus in 1492. What is now derisively termed European imperialism and colonialism was actually an expression of the European striving for freedom that set the social-political stage for the birth of American cosmogony. Yet the real roots of that cosmogony must be traced back to the pioneering astrophysicist of the age: Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), who was a young student of mathematics and astronomy in Poland when Columbus first arrived in the New World.
When physics is taught today, Copernicus is held up as a heroic figure who rescued medieval humanity from the childish notion of the Ptolemaic earth-centered cosmogony. Yet the sun-centered Copernican system was and still is in direct contradiction to our normal everyday human experience of earth and sky! When I look up to the heavens, I experience a sun, moon and stars that move around me on a ground that is not moving at all. Why should a mental representation now claim more reality than my direct physical experience? Over the next three centuries, this mentally constructed universe would become objectified by Galileo (1564-1642), canonized by Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and immortalized by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who claimed that the only universe we could possibly know was that created by our mental representations! So, the Copernican cosmogony, which at first did away with the “privileged” position of the earth as center of the universe in the 16th century, returns that center in the 19th century to the human mind, a situation far more privileged, arrogant and anthropocentric than the old Ptolemaic system ever was! But it would take another century and a half from the time of Kant to the time of the Anthropic Principle before science would be ready to grapple with the question begged by all these cosmogonies: just who is the being that created these cosmogonies?
There is a progression at work here, a series of three definite stages of human consciousness: (1) The pre-Copernican view that lives in the immediate sensations of the earth-centered universe; (2) the Copernican view that lives in the inward mental abstraction of a physical sun-centered universe; (3) the “strong” view of the Anthropic Principle that posits the observer as the being who has created the whole human-centered universe.
Anthroposophists recognize this three-step progression as the sequence of the three-part human soul: (1) Sentient or Sensation Soul (Empfindungsseele); (2) Intellectual or Mind Soul (Verstandseele); (3) Consciousness or Spiritual Soul (Bewusstseinseele). For example, if I go outside and look up at the moon and stars, I am conscious in my sense impressions as they occur. That faculty is the sentient aspect of my soul. If I retire to my room and work over the many sense impressions I have experienced and perhaps calculate the orbit of the moon, then I am exercising the intellectual faculty of the soul. Finally, if I become conscious of myself as the being who senses and calculates, then I am using the faculty called the Consciousness Soul.
This progression also occurs in the history of humanity as well as in the individual. According to the historical epoch chart above, we have been living in the Consciousness Soul Age since 1413 AD The Graeco-Roman Age before that was the Age of the Intellectual Soul and the Egypto-Chaldean age or third epoch expressed the Sentient Soul.
We can see the geocentric Ptolemaic system as one which was valid for a consciousness living in the Sentient Soul as in the cultures of Egypt, Chaldea, Assyria, Babylonia and Israel of the 3rd Millennium BC The “I am” consciousness encompassed the entire external and internal world of sensation; it was not yet imprisoned in the narrow “coffin” of the physical body. But in ancient Greece and Rome as well as up through the Middle Ages, the Age of the intellectual Soul developed. Here the “I am” consciousness begins to move inward to live in the mind and starts to push the sense impressions outside. Humans can now freely make images of God and Nature in the mind. The word “conscience” appears in a play by Euripedes, the Roman concept of the “citizen” is born. Christ speaks seven “I am” parables in the John Gospel. However, the mind is not yet localized to the individual brain, but experienced as a gift of the divine powers. Intelligence is something universal which streams into the mind like a force of Nature. Thinking is still not felt as something produced by the individual; rather it comes as a kind of revelation from God.
Finally, the Consciousness Soul Age arrives, but not before first recapitulating the ancient Egyptian Age (2907-747 BC) in the pre-Copernican cosmogony, and then recapitulating the Graeco-Roman Intellectual Soul Age (747 BC-1413 AD) in the mentally constructed universe of the Copernican cosmogony. It will take a full Phoenix cycle before the riddle of self-reference and observer-created reality is posed to modern science by the “Sphinx” of the age in the form of the “strong” version of the Anthropic Principle as enunciated by John Archibald Wheeler. For it is not until each and every modem scientist solves this riddle that he or she can break the enchantment of the old Kantian Intellectual Soul Age spell and cross into the new frontier of the Consciousness Soul Age.
I was first introduced to the Anthropic Principle in 1976 by Professor Wheeler at the University of Texas at Austin when he asked me about certain 19th century German idealist philosophers such as Hegel, Fichte and Schelling. He was especially interested in Schelling's dictum, quoted by Rudolf Steiner in The Philosophy of Freedom: “die Natur zu wissen heisst die Natur zu schaffen.” (“To know Nature is to create Nature.”) Professor Wheeler then gave me a draft copy of his new paper called “Genesis through Observership,” 4 which articulated the “strong” version of the Anthropic Principle, concluding that our collective observations of the universe had created said universe in the first place.
This cosmogony begins with the moment of Big Bang some ten billion years past when an infinitely dense mass of primordial hydrogen exploded in a vast expansion that is still going on today. By measuring the speeds at which galaxies are still receding from each other, astrophysicists can estimate the time of origin of this explosion. From then to now, the universe has expanded to its present spatial dimensions. But the question is: how did we humans who become these observers of the Big Bang get here? Wheeler starts an impressive chain of logic. He states that life, however we imagine it, requires heavy elements for its physical structure. But heavy elements demand a long time of thermonuclear fusion or “cooking” inside stars to build up heavier elements from the primordial hydrogen. But in order to have stars as “ovens,” there had to be a clumping together of the exploding “chunks” of matter to make galaxies. But for this matter to clump together, the rate of expansion or recessional velocity of the original cosmic fireball had to be just right: a little too fast and matter would have sped away too quickly and galaxies would never have formed, and consequently, we human beings would not have come into existence at all; a little too slow, galaxies would have formed all right, but then the universe would have collapsed back on itself before it had enough “cooking” time to build us observers into existence. The window of opportunity is so small that Wheeler makes the radical statement that there had to be a “guarantee in advance before Big Bang that we observers would come into existence; otherwise Big Bang would never have happened!”
As to the question of who made this guarantee, he does not say. Is it a God? A committee of gods? The collective wish of all human beings to exist in this universe? Or is there some hidden assumption in this whole chain of logic that would cause it to break? For months after reading Wheeler's paper, I could not accept the idea that our acts of observations could have created the universe. However, one morning in 1977, 1 woke up with the realization that although our collective acts of observation could not have created the universe we exist in, those same acts of observation certainly have created the symbolic, mental representation of that universe, which we observers in turn agree upon and call objective.
Wheeler was actually like Narcissus --- taking an image of reality for the whole reality. But in his own way, he was trying to settle the great Niels Bohr-Albert Einstein debate over the nature of reality - whether our observation creates this reality at the microcosmic quantum level as Bohr claimed, or whether there was a reality beyond observation as Einstein claimed. Wheeler in essence declared Bohr to be the winner. The symbolic universe observed by Niels Bohr won out over the real universe intuited by Albert Einstein. But this symbolic universe was created entirely out of the “substance” of the Intellectual Soul - that “substance” being the human ability to abstract from sense perceptions and instrumental observations and inwardly organize their inter-relationships by means of the intellectual faculty of the soul.
The map of the territory is not the territory, but the two were confused and then fused. Copernicus placed a mental representation of the sun at the center of the universe, not the real sun itself. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the “strong” Anthropic Principle concludes that we observers created this universe. How could it conclude otherwise? Of course we created this mental universe! But why did it take a full Phoenix cycle for us to realize it?
A clue is to be found in Steiner's Theory of Knowledge at the end of the chapter, “Inorganic Nature”
By placing the human mind at the center of the universe, Copernicus ushered in the age of inorganic science. The entire history of science for the past five centuries, from Copernicus to Wheeler, is a celebration of this monumental human mission of building up a system that would reach out and finally encompass the entire macrocosm. It is a 540 year juggernaut of ecstasy, an expansion of the microcosmic human individuality out to the ends of the earth, the ends of the solar system, the ends of the galaxy, the ends of the known universe as achieved in 20th astrophysics. Finally, at this macrocosmic limit of the universe, when the whole universe is finally pictured in the mind as a totality complete in itself, are we able to rediscover the self, the human individuality at that point of maximum macrocosmic expansion, and fulfill the mission of inorganic science. As Rudolf Steiner exhorted: “Look into the outside world, and find yourself.”
“Scientific satisfaction will come to us from a point of view only when it leads us into a totality complete in itself. But the sense world as inorganic does not appear at any point as brought to a conclusion; nowhere does an individual whole appear .... The sense world as inorganic does not arrive at individuality. Only in its totality is it complete in itself. We must strive, therefore, if we would have a whole, to conceive the assemblage of the inorganic as a system. Such a system is the cosmos. A thorough understanding of the cosmos is the goal and ideal of inorganic natural science.” 5
What is next? As the exhale of ecstasy is completed, so begins the inhale of mysticism. But even more, once the mission of inorganic science is fulfilled, then this ending is also the beginning of a true organic science since the discovery of the human individuality or human archetype at the macrocosmic periphery of the universe is simultaneously the perceiving of the entire universe itself as a living organism! This holistic perception is the mountainous culmination of 540 years of human intellect reflecting upon the myriad pieces of inorganic phenomena in order to fit them into a system of grand unification. Thus, this intellectual thinking, trained by inorganic science, can now become a higher faculty of perceiving the living human archetype and begin the return pendulum swing of mystically thinking and perceiving this archetypal human self in the microcosm of each human individuality. As Rudolf Steiner says at the end of the chapter on Organic Science:
“... the mind must work with far greater intensity in apprehending the [organic] type than in grasping [inorganic] natural law.... it must take upon itself an activity which is the function of the senses in inorganic sciences and which we call perception (Anschauung). The mind itself, therefore, must be perceptive on this higher plane. Our power of judgment must perceive in thinking and think in perceiving. Here we have to do with a “perceptive power of thought” [anschauende Urteilskraft] as was first explained by Goethe. ” 6
Here now is the true entrance into the Consciousness Soul Age, for the consciousness soul faculty is that of the ego experiencing itself in the physical or “death” body. And Rudolf Steiner's exercise for beginning to understand the etheric or life-body is to contemplate the polarity of life and death. The 540 year Phoenix cycle of inorganic science had to murder the goddess Natura and perform an autopsy on her body, which is the entire physical universe. Only when this autopsy was completed, let us say, in 1953, could we begin to understand the life body, or the etheric body of the whole living cosmos. If we, in America especially, truly raise our thinking to apprehend this organic essence of the universe, then we can begin to emancipate ourselves from intellectual slavery to a materialistic cosmogony, experience the true nature of inner freedom, and thus be able to develop a genuine altruism for the rest of the human race. Failing that realization, we remain stupefied, as Narcissus at the edge of his pond, fixated upon his own reflection, never heeding the calls of Echo, the wood-nymph who loves him and who would call him into the realm of the Consciousness Soul Age.
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1 Tom Mellett, "Post-Existential Sonnets," self-published, Austin, Texas, 1987, p. 5.
2 Rudolf Steiner, Cosmogony, Freedom and Altruism, reprint, Mercury Press, New York, 1980, p. 308.
3 Joan Schleicher, “Institute Notes 1983,” Institute for the Study of Consciousness, Berkeley, California, 1983
4 John A. Wheeler, Genesis through Observership, preprint, Center for Theoretical Physics, University of Texas at Austin, 1976.
5 Rudolf Steiner, A Theory of Knowledge implicit in Goethe's World Conception, Anthroposophic Press, 1968, p. 81
6 Ibid., page 95.