By Howard Jones
If we were asked, most of us would say that there are four dimensions that we are aware of in the world – three dimensions of space and one of time. Furthermore, science too describes four forces in the natural world – gravity, the electromagnetic (e.m.) or Coulombic force, and the strong and weak forces found within an atom.
Three of these are forces of attraction and only the e.m. force may operate through attraction or repulsion. Every force has a region of space in which it is active called its field: so we also have four types of field, one for each kind of force.
This is the world according to science as it was at the start of the twentieth century. It is also known as Newtonian-Cartesian science which, as yet, has hardly begun to explore the notions of spirituality, soul or parapsychology.
But since the early years of the twentieth century an increasing number of scientists – mostly physicists, a few biologists and physicians, and some psychologists – have been actively investigating the nature of psychic experiences.
In Britain, William Crookes is perhaps the most famous of these scientists. In America, psychologist William James is another. He found the abilities of an American psychic Leonora Piper were so remarkable and so ‘unscientific’ that he nicknamed her “White Crow”. As a scientist himself, James found it difficult to accept the evidence he gathered on Mrs Piper but, unlike many scientists today, he accepted its validity and did not try to dismiss the evidence as fraud.
The spiritual field which gives rise to psychic phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, pre- and post-cognition and mediumship generally has been described by futurist Ervin Laszlo as the fifth field of nature. Laszlo also calls this spiritual energy the akashic field, borrowing a Sanskrit term from the Ayurveda philosophy of India. Theologian John Hick described this psychic realm as the fifth dimension, the description I decided to go with here.
The information we have about the earliest pagan civilizations suggests that veneration of the natural world around them – trees, rocks, rivers, or other natural objects on Earth; or sun, moon, planets and stars – was of great significance in their lives. Father Thomas Berry and Professor Ursula Goodenough have written books about the spiritual significance of the natural world today and why we should treat it with greater respect.
Earthly objects were, in some sense, symbols of the greater spiritual force that controlled the seasons, night and day, the wind and the rain. As Karen Armstrong says in her book A Short History of Myth:
‘Trees, stones and heavenly bodies were never objects of worship in themselves but were revered because they were epiphanies of a hidden force that could be seen powerfully at work in all natural phenomena, giving people intimations of another, more potent reality’.
Myths, rituals and traditions from these early civilizations link each generation with its past history and with the ancestors whose practices and beliefs gave rise to the society of the present generation.
Myths put individuals and their society in the larger context of social evolution and give us a deeper insight into the meaning of life. The tales of scripture serve this purpose in religion, and stories such as those of C.S. Lewis and of J.R.R. Tolkien provide modern myths and fantasies for us today.
As suggested by Plato in his Theory of Forms, every natural object is the image of its heavenly counterpart. Trees, and even more so rocks, are venerated partly because they are so much more long-lived than humans and therefore are believed to hold a spiritual record of the past – the akashic field.
The rocks out of which pagan temples were constructed were formed in the earliest eras of Earth’s history as the molten Earth cooled several billion years ago; trees have been on Earth for ‘only’ 300 million years, but still long enough to encompass many human generations.
The old Scandinavian word ‘vid’ means wood or forest but it has given us a number of words associated with knowledge or wisdom: witan (Old English: to know), wissen (German: to know), ‘wits’, ‘wise’ and ‘wisdom’.
Long before the time of the Greek philosophers, like Euclid (fl. ca. 300 BCE) and Pythagoras (fl. ca. 500 BCE), ancient civilizations had extensive knowledge of geometry and astronomy and what we would now describe as civil engineering. Without this information they would never have been able to build their megalithic temples to honour their gods, for the manpower required to raise these monuments was enormous and such as to demand huge motivation and skill.
The construction of such structures is a clear indication that these peoples believed that there existed a numinous realm beyond the physical – a realm inhabited by the ancestors, whose lives they wished to honour: it was also the domain of the gods who they believed controlled their lives day-to-day. The psychologists tell us that most of humankind needs to believe in such a transcendent and holistic reality for both emotional and intellectual satisfaction, as well as providing a focus for our anger and frustration when things go wrong in our lives.
Many pagan nations lived with this kind of spiritual ethos before they were invaded and exploited by the expansion of western materialism and western religious beliefs. This world-view envisaged a deity without the formal religions we know today.
However, this kind of nature worship was totally unacceptable to early Christianity and the Church did all it could to eliminate such animism from people’s beliefs – though it took over many pagan rituals as its own and built its churches at pagan sacred places, just in case there was some effective spiritual energy concentrated there. The people were also used to attending ceremonies at these sites so the early Christians hoped that habit would bring worshippers back.
Modern determination to raise the living standards of such ‘primitive’ people has meant that we have influenced them politically, economically, theologically and ideologically, so that many ancient traditions have been lost in the process. Keith Critchlow, a professor of art and architecture whose studies also embrace anthropology and archaeology, believes that ‘the greatest threat our modern industrial culture poses for mankind is the denial of its spiritual heritage’.
The native culture of the inhabitants of the Australian outback that has been destroyed by the imposition of western values are recalled nostalgically by the elders amongst the aborigines as The Great Forgetting. The citizens of Ladakh in the Himalayas led a hard and primitive but peaceful life until the imposition of western ideas of ‘progress’; this has seen animosity, corruption and materialism arise in a society where formerly there was cooperation, fellowship and spirituality, as studied by Helena Norberg-Hodge.
Spirituality is the core of religion, although it tends to be acknowledged as such mainly by the more mystical sects in each faith. The feature that unites all interpretations of spirituality, and which characterizes deity in east and west, is the oneness of existence. We find this spirituality and unity emphasized more in eastern rather than western faiths, which focus more on scripture and dogma.
Although Hinduism is a monotheistic religion, with one Supreme Being, Brahman, as a deity who created the universe, it gave rise in the so-called Axial Age of the 1st millennium BCE to several other faiths that are either nominally atheistic (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism) or polytheistic (Shinto). Significantly, Brahman is often worshipped as light, one of the forms of energy, or as universal soul, Atman.
Where Christianity accepts only one incarnation of its God as Jesus, Hinduism has many forms or avatars of Brahman. It is something of a contradiction that it is the spirituality of these often atheistic eastern faiths that is closest to the notion of a cosmic spiritual energy that is emerging from contemporary science. This spiritual energy is indistinguishable from the energy of the akashic field. It is the (often unacknowledged) fundamental basis of all western religion – a deity as Holy Spirit – and of the eastern religious philosophies as formative Universal Mind.
It was the French Jesuit palaeontologist, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), who envisaged the evolution of the world as proceeding through four stages. In his book The Phenomenon of Man, he described this series of stages as a progression in the evolution of consciousness. First there was geogenesis, the creation of the land and the sea; then came biogenesis, the creation of life forms; this was followed by psychogenesis, the development of thinking beings.
Now we are in the stage of noogenesis, the evolution of mind into what may be identified as Universal Mind, Communal Soul or an all-pervading deity as Holy Spirit. This theistic interpretation is equally capable of a secular interpretation as the all-pervading interactive potential energy field associated with matter. The noosphere is made up of loving, living and discarnate souls in harmony with one another without the strife between nations or religions that we see presently on Earth – this stage of our evolution that Teilhard described as the Omega Point. The increasing acceptance of continuing discarnate existence is part of this spiritual transformation.
One of the great social changes that demonstrated the evolution of human consciousness began around the 12th century, flourishing from the 14th century onwards. A new cultural revolution in the arts began in Florence and spread to other Italian city states and thence to the rest of Europe over the next few centuries.
Since the 19th century this rebirth of learning has been known as the Renaissance. Because it placed human needs and interests at the centre of social activities it is also known as humanism – not quite the same thing but another philosophy that concentrated on human experience and human freedom of will rather than considering ourselves as puppets of deity. In the 18th century, realization of the primacy of human emotions in shaping our thoughts and deeds gave rise to Romanticism; then in the 19th century, a new variant of humanism appeared in existentialism.
Humanists and existentialists may be either religious or secular. One of the most significant of the atheistic existentialists was Edmund Husserl. He based his philosophy on first-person experience – the phenomena that were accessible to human consciousness. The foundation of an experience is its intentionality – it has to be directed at some thing or idea. Schopenhauer called this process Will and William James described it as Volition.
For an experience to become imprinted on memory, or even to be actively processed by the mind, intention must be accompanied by attention – directed concentration on the object of consciousness. Edmund Husserl regarded intentionality as ‘the fundamental property of consciousness’. Contemporary writers such as Wayne Dyer, Herbert Benson, Lynne McTaggart, Louise Hay and others describe it simply as ‘intention’.
It is this same attention or focused intention that produces the benefits of spiritual healing or prayer, directs our individual biochemistry towards health or sickness, and allows psychic communication through telepathy, clairvoyance and mediumship. One result of this focus on the primacy of human consciousness is that many have abandoned orthodox religion.
If we dispense with formal religion, does this give rise necessarily to an atheistic world-view? It depends on how we define God. The New Age world-view of deity does not portray the God of the Old Testament, who in the Pentateuch is portrayed as a vengeful and unforgiving God, inhuman enough to demand that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his devotion.
It does not represent the God of the New Testament who is uniquely incarnated in Jesus Christ, for this would exclude most of humankind, past and present, as believers. Nor is it the God of Islam described as Allah, who again is restrictively but uniquely defined by the qualities and practices elaborated in the Qur’an.
The mind and soul of all humankind can commune with this cosmic spirit through the phenomena we describe as psi or psychic events. For the religious adherent, it is the deity described by the process theology of A.N. Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. However, it can be thought of equally as the secular and impersonal quantum energy field or fifth dimension of the natural world.
The deity of New Age spirituality is conceived as a genderless but creative cosmic energy, infinite and eternal. It contributed to the evolution of the universe and continues to contribute to the evolution of human consciousness through prayer and meditation. It is close in spirit to the Tao of eastern philosophy:
The Tao is like a well: used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.
I do not know who gave it birth.
It is older than God.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, verse 4; trans. Stephen Mitchell
The Tao is the entelechy envisaged by Aristotle – the force that turns possibility or potential into actuality. These worlds of possibility give us the (virtual) many worlds of contemporary science.
As Teilhard predicted, the consciousness of humankind is slowly evolving towards a greater realization that this spirituality not only provides the reason for existence in our everyday lives on Earth but continues for us as individuals in the afterlife, where it and we can continue to evolve. There have been a number of recent books that have described the evidence for the existence of the afterlife from communications with mediums, such as those by Michael Tymn, Roy Stemman and Victor Zammit.
The pictures of the afterlife that mediums convey has much in common with the visions of people who experience near-death or out-of-body experiences, or the even more startling shared body experiences. Eminent scientists like Richard Dawkins, Michael Marsh or Rodney Cotterill who deny the existence of the spiritual realm for lack of ‘scientific proof’ are simply in denial. Quite apart from the huge mass of anecdotal evidence of our continued discarnate existence, there is as much sensory and rational evidence of the existence of the psychic realm as any scientist could reasonably expect for a phenomenon involving human subjects.
How many creative artists have claimed that their inspiration came from a source beyond themselves. Before we dismiss this as a romantic illusion, we do well to think about the phenomenon of spiritual healing or energy therapy. It has been known for many years in orthodox medicine that a patient’s attitude of mind or belief has a remarkable effect on their physical health, an effect that could be either positive or negative.
But healing effects can also be brought about by another person. Some sensitives seem to be able to channel what they describe as cosmic energy or chi (qi) through their minds or hands to produce distant or contact healing of patients. There are mediums without any medical knowledge, like George Chapman or Leah Doctors, who commune with discarnate medical practitioners to produce healing effects of physical conditions, such as blindness, or potentially terminal diseases like diabetes.
Cases such as these have been described in a couple of books by journalist J. Bernard Hutton. It is impossible for sceptics to dismiss healing of serious maladies such as these as ‘psychosomatic’ healings or ‘spontaneous remission’, and ‘misdiagnosis’ of such conditions is hardly feasible: nor does dismissal of any such cures as ‘placebo effects’ explain anything, though without question a positive state of mind will make a positive contribution to any healing.
This fifth field of cosmic spiritual energy is not the ‘God-of-the-gaps’ so derided by materialist scientists. An agency such as that elaborated here is as plausible an explanation of psychic phenomena as the quarks and strings invoked as explanations of quantum science.
We live in an essentially rational world; so to have an interpretation of numinous and psychic phenomena that is compatible with modern science should provide additional confidence to those who still find ideas of psi, soul and the afterlife quite astonishing. For those whose beliefs entail deity, there could be no more rational candidate than this creative and eternal Infinite Mind.
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth, Canongate Books, Edinburgh, 2005.
Herbert Benson, Timeless Healing: The power and biology of belief, Scribner, New York, 1997.
Thomas Berry, The Great Work, Bell Tower, New York, 1999.
Keith Critchlow, Time Stands Still: New light on megalithic science, Floris Books, Edinburgh, 2007.
Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intention, Hay House, Carlsbad, CA, 2004.
Ursula Goodenough, The Sacred Depths of Nature, Oxford University Press, 1998.
Louise Hay, The Power is Within You, Hay House, Carson, CA, 1991.
J. Bernard Hutton, Healing Hands, W.H. Allen, 1966; Virgin Publishing, 1995; The Healing Power, Leslie Frewin, London, 1975.
Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, Rider, 2000.
Roy Stemman, Spirit Communication: A comprehensive guide to the extraordinary world of mediums, psychics and the afterlife, Piatkus, London, 2005.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, Collins, 1959; (Engl. trans.by Bernard Wall of ‘Le Phenoméne Humain’, Editions de Seuil, 1955).
Michael Tymn, The Articulate Dead, Galde Press, Lakeville, Minnesota, 2008; The Afterlife Revealed,
White Crow Books, Guildford, UK, 2010; The Afterlife Explorers, Vol.1, White Crow Books, 2010.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, Macmillan, New York, 1929.
Victor Zammit, A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife, Ganmell, Sydney, 1996.