The Secret History of the World
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We have almost no evidence to go on when we decide what we believe happened at the beginning of time, but the choice we make has massive implications for our understanding of the way the world works. If you believe that matter came before mind, you have to explain how a chance coming together of chemicals creates consciousness, which is difficult. If, on the other hand, you believe that matter is precipitated by a cosmic mind, you have the equally difficult problem of explaining how, of providing a working model.
Pure mind to begin with, these thought-emanations later become a sort of proto-matter, energy that becomes increasingly dense then becomes matter so ethereal that it is finer than gas, without particles of any kind. Eventually the emanations became gas, then liquid and finally solids.
Working in friendly rivalry with his contemporaries at MIT in the United States, he has made robots able to interact with their environment, learn and adjust their behaviour accordingly. These robots exhibit a level of intelligence that matches that of the lower animals such as bees. Within five years, he says, robots will have achieved the level of intelligence of cats and in ten years they will be at least as intelligent as humans.
He is also in the process of engineering a new generation of robotic computers he expects to be able to design and manufacture other computers, each level generating the lesser level beneath it. An alchemical engraving from the Mutus Liber, published anonymously in In alchemy the precipitation of the morning dew is a symbol of the emanation of the Cosmic Mind into the realm of matter. As the Cabala puts it, the Ancient of Days shakes his shaggy head and a dew of divine white light falls. More particularly dew is a symbol of the spiritual forces that work on the conscience during the night.
This is why a bad conscience may give us a sleepless night.
The Secret History of the World
Here initiates are seen collecting and working on the dew - in other words reaping the benefits upon waking of the spiritual exercises they performed when they went to bed. According to the cosmologists of the ancient world and the secret societies, emanations from the cosmic mind should be understood in the same way, as working downwards in a hierarchy from the higher and more powerful and pervasive principles to the narrower and more particular, each level creating and directing the one below it.
These emanations have also always been thought of as in some sense personified, as being in some sense also intelligent. When I saw Kevin Warwick present his findings to his peers at the Royal Institute in , he was criticized by some for suggesting that his robots were intelligent and so by implication conscious. They form something very like personalities, interreact with other robots and make choices beyond anything that has been programmed into them.
Kevin argued that while his robots might not have consciousness with all the characteristics of human consciousness, neither do dogs. Dogs are conscious in a doggy way and his robots, he said, are conscious in a robotic way. Of course, in some ways - such as the ability to make massive mathematical calculations instantly - robots display a consciousness that is superior to our own consciousness. We might think of the consciousness of the emanations from the cosmic mind in similar terms. We might also be reminded of the Tibetan spiritual masters who are said to be able to form a type of thoughts called tulpas by intense concentration and visualization.
At the lowest level of the hierarchy, according to the ancient and secret doctrine in all cultures, these emanations, these Thought-Beings from the cosmic mind, interweave so tighdy that they create the appearance of solid matter. Today if you wanted to find language to describe this strange phenomenon, you might choose to look to quantum mechanics, but in the secret societies the interweaving of invisible forces to create the appearance of the material world has always been conceived of as a net of light and colour or - to use an alchemical term - the Matrix.
This raises the philosophical question: could we ourselves be in such a simulation and could what we think is the universe be some sort of vault of heaven rather than the real thing. In a sense we could ourselves be the creations within that simulation. And this is making them question what is really real. Philip K. Dick, who was perhaps the first writer to seed these ideas in pop culture, was steeped in initiatic wisdom regarding altered states and parallel dimensions.
But the biggest has been The Matrix. In The Matrix menacing, shade-wearing villains police the virtual world we call reality in order to control us for their own nefarious purposes. In part, at least, this is an accurate reflection of the teachings of the Mystery schools and secret societies.
Although all the beings that live behind the veil of illusion are part of the hierarchies of emanations from the mind of God, some display a disturbing moral ambivalence. These are the same beings that the peoples of the ancient world experienced as their gods, spirits and demons. Although modern sensibility has little patience with metaphysics, with what might look like high-minded, recherche abstractions piled up on each other, the cosmology of the ancient world was, as any fair historian of ideas will allow, a magnificent philosophical machine.
In its account of interlocking, evolving dimensions, the clashing, morphing and intermingling of great systems, in its scale, complexity and awesome explanatory power it rivals that of modern science. We cannot simply say that physics has replaced metaphysics and made it redundant. There is a key difference between these systems which is that they are explaining different things.
Modern science explains how the universe comes to be as it is. Ancient philosophy of the kind we will be exploring in this book explains how our experience of the universe comes to be as it is. For science the great miracle to be explained is the physical universe. For esoteric philosophy the great miracle is human consciousness. Scientists are fascinated by the extraordinary series of balances between various sets of factors that has been necessary in order to make life on earth possible.
They talk in terms of balances between heat and cold, wetness and dryness, the earth being so far from the sun and no further , the sun being at a particular stage of evolution neither hotter nor cooler. At a more fundamental level, in order for matter to cohere, the forces of gravity and electromagnetism must each be of a particular degree neither stronger nor weaker. And so on.
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Looked at from the point of view of esoteric philosophy we can begin to see that an equally extraordinary series of balances has been necessary to make our subjective consciousness what it is, in other words to give our experience the structure it has. What, for example, is needed to make possible the internal narrative, the collection of stories we string together to form our basic sense of self?
The answer is, of course, memory.
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It is only by remembering what I did yesterday that I can identify myself as the person who did these things. The key point is that it is a particular degree of memory that is needed, neither stronger nor weaker. We have to be able to perceive the outside world through the senses, but it is equally important for us not to be overwhelmed by sensations which could otherwise occupy all our mental space. Then we could neither reflect nor imagine.
That this balance holds is as extraordinary in its way as - for example - the fact that our planet is neither too far from, nor too close to, the sun. We also have the ability to move our point of consciousness around our interior life - like a cursor on a computer screen. As a result of this, we have the freedom to choose what to think about.
If we did not have the right balance of attachment and detachment from our interior impulses as well as from our perceptions of the outside world, then at this very moment you would have no freedom to choose to take your attention away from the page you are looking at now and no freedom to think about anything else. And so, crucially, if the most fundamental conditions of human consciousness were not characterized by this set of exceptionally fine balances, it would not be possible for us to exercise free thought or free will.
For example, we may be required to make decisions at the great turning points of our lives. Again, it is the common, if not universal human experience, that if we try to work out what is the right thing to do with our lives using all our intelligence, if we work at it with a good and whole heart, if we exercise patience and humility, we can - just - discern the right thing to do. And once we have made the right decision, the chosen course of action will probably require all the willpower we are capable of, perhaps for just as long as we are able to bear it, if we are to complete it successfully.
This is right at the core of what it means to experience life as a human being. There is no inevitability about our consciousness having the structure that makes possible these freedoms, these opportunities to choose to do the right thing, to grow and develop into good, perhaps even heroic people - unless you believe in Providence, that is to say unless you believe that it was meant to be.
Human consciousness is therefore a sort of miracle. If today we tend to overlook this, the ancients were stirred by the wonder of it.
As we are about to see, their intellectual leaders tracked subde changes in human consciousness with as much diligence as modern scientists track changes in the physical environment. Their account of history - with its mythical and supernatural happenings - was an account of how human consciousness evolved. Modern science tries to enforce a narrow, reductive view of our consciousness. It tries to convince us of the unreality of elements, even quite persistent elements in experience, that it cannot explain. These include the shadowy power of prayer, premonitions, the feeling of being stared at, the evidence for mind-reading, out-of-body-experiences, meaningful coincidences and other things swept under the carpet by modern science.
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And much, much more importandy, science in this reductive mood denies the universal human experience that life has a meaning. Some scientists even deny that the question of whether or not life has meaning is worth asking. We will see in the course of this history that many of the most intelligent people who have ever lived have become devotees of esoteric philosophy. I believe it may even be the case that every intelligent person has tried to find out about it at some time. It is a natural human impulse to wonder if life has a meaning, and esoteric philosophy represents the richest, deepest, most concentrated body of thought on this subject.
Before we embark on our narrative, therefore, it is vital that we apply one more sharp philosophical distinction to the softer edge of modern scientific thought.
But then at other times our lives do seem to have meaning. For example, life sometimes seems to have taken a wrong turn - we fail an exam, lose a job or a love affair ends - but then we find our true metier or true love as a result of this seeming wrong turn. Or it happens that someone decides against boarding a plane, which then crashes. We may have a heightened sense of the precariousness of life, how easily things could have turned out differendy had it not been for an almost imperceptible, perhaps otherworldy nudge. Similarly with the down-to-earth, science-oriented part of ourselves we may see a coincidence as a chance coming together of related events, but sometimes deep down we suspect that a coincidence is not a matter of chance at all.