The Transcendence of Consciousness

by Guy Murchie

For all that is being written today about spirituality and the “new biology,” bestselling science popularizer Guy Murchie’s classic work, “The Seven Mysteries of Life”, published in 1978, may come closest to touching divinity.

To think of worlds beyond this world and muse upon the idea of one’s consciousness being absorbed into other consciousnesses (presumably greater ones than one’s own) in its inexorable transcendence toward a universal mind — that, it seems, is a disturbing thought to many people. They imagine consciousness absorption as a total loss of self, a blacking out of all consciousness as if death must be the final end of everything. It is naturally a drastic and distressing thought.

Yet it needn’t be. For why cannot the absorption of one’s consciousness be a kind of widening of perspective that is actually a natural, perhaps inevitable, accompaniment of experience? Isn’t this really happening to all of us all through our lives anyway, little though we notice it? A newborn baby’s consciousness is very limited at first. He feels the air and its coolness and the reassuring grasp of big hands picking him up. He gasps. He breathes. He hears new sounds. His consciousness expands as his senses quicken and he is absorbed into awareness of his mother, of the soft warmth of her bosom and the strange but wonderful taste of milk.

As the days go by, his consciousness of his cradle and Mother is absorbed again into the consciousness that he also has a father and perhaps other members of the family – that beyond his bed is a room. Then, as the hours grow into days, his little domain is absorbed and reabsorbed to include a door, a window, another window, a table and more space - in time a whole house, a neighborhood, a village, a country, a continent, a world - each sphere larger and containing more people, more things, brighter ideas and great complexities. Yet, as we saw with space and time, you don’t lose the inch when you gain the mile, nor the minute when you discover the hour. And so with your individual self. Since you retain your self and your personality when you marry a spouse, give birth to a baby, go to school, join an army, or participate in public life, so can you retain your personal consciousness when you merge your thoughts into a universal mind. Why not? This is one of the more reasonable hypotheses of the dying process that we will be looking into next chapter. And it plausibly hints that the finite adventures of your growing self in this world dimensioned with space and time have been just what you needed to develop and transcend. Indeed how better could you have learned about the world than by playing around with these simple, finite tools?

Of course there surely must be much more to life than just space, time and self — even in this finite phase — and some of it is, to say the least, mysterious. Take creativity: where does it come from? The handiest example before us right now is this book, whose source is largely a mystery. If I write this page today it comes out as you read it. But if I had written it yesterday, it would certainly be different. Or at another time or place or mood still different again — maybe better, maybe worse — with neither an end to the possibilities, no any reliable way of predicting them. I don’t know why.

A lot of one’s ideas originate in other minds. That is part of interhuman transcendence, for it is inevitable that even the most creative among us learns from others, consciously or unconsciously, not excepting our most original creations. Just so did Shakespeare study the play books. Just so is Mozart said to have adapted the opening theme of his Overture to The Magic Flute from a Clementi sonata. Newton perforce accepted a lot from Kepler and Galileo, as did Einstein from Faraday and Maxwell. These greatest of creators have not pretended anything else. Indeed all innovation stems more or less from all before it and, if good enough, will transcend its source and become permanently absorbed into the ever-growing universal reservoir that is the preserve of immortality. In fact, what better immortality could any artist or inventor have than to dip into the world’s sources and mold them anew, then discover he has actually added something that has changed them forever?

Sometimes such a creative genius sees in one flash a whole system of relationships never before suspected in the world, a sudden vision of harmonic beauty that lifts him up in a surge of esthetic delight. But even then most of his vision’s elements are already known separately to others, perhaps to many people who haven’t so much as heard of each other — for, as Alfred North Whitehead once put it, “everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it.” Again, many a great discovery at the time it is discovered has no known value, not even in the inventor’s dreams. And it is only long afterward that its true worth is revealed, like the famous case of Bernhard Riemann and his new geometry of curvature in a continuum of an indefinite number of dimensions which, after resting dormant for half century, bequeathed to Einstein exactly the tool he needed for General Relativity.

Einstein, I’m told, needed all sorts of stimuli that perhaps no one, including himself, consciously realized were available or functioning. For one thing, he needed an audience. And found it in his understand¬ing friend, Michelangelo Besso, the engineer, who alone was patient enough to attend long hours while the obscure genius explained, half to himself, what he thought wrong with current physical theory. As Einstein’s future son-in-law, Dimitri Marianoff, later articulated it:: “Albert has to have an ear. He is not concerned whether it listens or not — it is enough if he sees an ear. Besso was always Albert’s ear. It was during these interminable discussions [about 1902-03] that he would find nourishment for his ideas ...”

The intermingling of minds within the human species has been compared to a vast plain containing millions of wells that appear on the surface to be independent sources of water but deep underground actually interconnect and combine into tributaries that ultimately become a single mighty river. The rough physical analogy is full of truth if you can visualize all the barriers that block the transcendent flow from well to well, the rocks, frustrations, pettiness and misunderstand¬ings that retard unity upon the planet. For, as Thomas Browne wrote in the seventeenth century, “We are more than our present selves.”

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