From Stephen Hawking’s Flexiverse to Synchronicity: Intimations of Our Transhuman Future
I believe it is possible that we may be at the same stage in discovering new laws of nature at the human level as the medievals were 600–700 years ago in their movement toward the discovery of the laws of nature at the simplest level, the laws of motion in mechanics. The early history of mechanics includes scholars such as Jean Buridan (1295–1358) who developed the impetus theory that eventually led to the concept of inertia, and advancements such as the 14th-century Mertonian rule (after Merton College, Oxford) for the distance traveled in uniformly accelerated motion which in the hands of Galileo 300 years later resulted in the development of the concept of acceleration. Interestingly, simple collision-free motion through space will be seen below as one of the components of invulnerability which can be regarded here as one of the defining characteristics of the transhuman state.
Transhumanism can be introduced by taking the evolutionary thrust of the history of life to its logical conclusion: As one ascends the levels of organizational complexity, from inanimate matter to multicellular organisms, one clear trend is the growing freedom from physical limitations (Jargodzki 2007, 7). Transhumanism is about extending this freedom from physical constraints even further so biology is no longer destiny. In dealing with the levels of organizational complexity we follow Whitehead’s approach as summarized by Wilber, “You must start at the top and use the highest occasions to illumine the lowest, not the other way around, which of course is the common reductionist reflex (…) you first look to the highest levels for the general principles of existence, and then by subtraction you see how far down the hierarchy they extend” (Wilber 1985, 262-3). In this sense one could say that, for instance, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle represents all that remains of God’s radical freedom on the physical plane.
We shall start with the lowest level of complexity, the level of physical systems, including the largest physical system, the Universe. What is striking about Hawking’s proposal, popularly known as Flexiverse, is that some of its features already foreshadow, albeit in a rather rudimentary form, what is expressed much more richly at the human level of complexity.
Hawking and Hertog’s recent paper “Populating the Landscape: A Top-Down Approach” (Hawking and Hertog, 2006) is an extension of the famous “no-boundary” proposal published by Hawking and James Hartle in 1983. Most models in cosmology are bottom-up, that is, one starts from the initial conditions of the Big Bang and works forward. However, Hawking and Hertog argue this method is flawed because we do not know the initial conditions present at the moment of the Big Bang. What we do know and have great accessibility to is the final state – the one we are in now. Hawking and Hertog’s top-down cosmology employs Feynman’s path integral (or sum-over-histories) technique in which one starts with what is observable today—the universe is nearly flat and expanding at an accelerating rate —and works backward to find what the initial set of possibilities might have been. In effect, the present ‘selects’ the past. A measurement made in the present decides what happened 13.7 billion years ago. The bio-friendly values of the fundamental constants in physics, as posited by the Anthropic Principle, appear to have been selected via retrocausality. Retrocausality will be regarded as one of the Whiteheadian remnants of a much richer set of possibilities that arise at the human level of complexity, particularly as one follows a path beyond the ego (Walsh and Vaughan 1993). This paper claims that it is the transegoic realm, with its deep synchronicity, that offers a more viable prospect of our transhuman future.
TRANSHUMANISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS
There is arguably no better guide to the treacherous currents of transhumanism than Joel Garreau’s Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies – and What It Means to Be Human (2005). “Transhumanists are keen on the enhancement of human intellectual, physical, and emotional capabilities, the elimination of disease and unnecessary suffering, and the dramatic extension of lifespan. What this network has in common is a belief in the engineered evolution of ‘posthumans,’ defined as beings ‘whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to no longer be unambiguously human by our current standards.’ “ (Garreau 2005, 231) Fueling these revolutionary changes are advances in the four interrelated “GRIN” technologies – genetics, robotics, information technology and nanotechnology. Garreau lays out three alternative scenarios for our species:
1. Heaven – the view championed by the distinguished inventor Ray Kurzweil: a future in which “almost unimaginably good things (…) including the conquering of disease and poverty, but also an increase in beauty, wisdom, love, truth and peace” (Garreau 2005, 130) are happening basically on their own accord, without deliberate steering.
2. Hell – the scenario associated with Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems: this view sees the GRIN technologies “getting into the hands of psychopaths, opening the door to evil” (p.73) as self-replicating, biological pathogens and nonbiological nanobots outcompete naturally evolved inhabitants of the biosphere.
3. Prevail –Transcend – the view represented by Jaron Lanier, best known for inventing the term “virtual reality,” and also favored by Garreau: here humanity mostly meets the challenges as they arise, partly by using technology to build tighter and tighter interpersonal relations.
The present author agrees with Curtis L. Thompson who protests that we need to explore “the power of creative transformation that becomes accessible in and through lives marked by spiritual ecstasy” (Thompson 2007). But before we get to an alternative transhumanist scenario based on the radical possibilities inherent in our spiritual makeup, let us cite several objections to the transhumanist scenario based on the GRIN technologies:
1. Employing Thomas Kuhn’s distinction between normal and extraordinary science, it appears that “With a few exceptions (…) Garreau’s sources do not include scientists working in the trenches of normal science (…) These are the persons with intimate knowledge about the expense, time, effort, careers, and collaborations it usually takes to obtain even modestly significant discoveries…” (Bradley 2007).
2. The transhumanist scenario is unapologetically secular. It has no room for the creator God of traditional theism. Human life is to be improved through science and technology rather than revelation and spiritual growth.
3. From the spiritual point of view, the most glaring deficiency of the transhumanist scenario is that its life-extension technologies would attempt to extend the lifespan of the false self or the ego with its attendant propensity for self-centered decision making.
PATHS BEYOND THE EGO
Perhaps the simplest way for anyone to experience what awaits us beyond the ego is to shift our focus from the incessant stream of compulsive thinking, much of it harsh and unforgiving, to the awareness in the background. For some it may happen “in such a subtle way they hardly notice it, or they just notice an influx of joy or inner peace.” (Tolle 2005, 30). For a mystic the universe floats in a sea of bliss. A more systematic procedure designed to lead us beyond the ego, understood here not in Freudian or Jungian terms but as defined in A Course in Miracles (1975), A Course of Love (2001), or the writings of Eckhart Tolle, contains four prescriptive statements: 1. Quiet the mind, i.e., quiet the voice of the ego which is characterized by fear, anxiety, blame-seeking (emphasized in Buddhism and Yoga); 2. Open the heart or change the heart by eliminating the bitterness blocking the expression of agape (emphasized in the Gospels as the metanoia and often mistranslated as repentance); 3. Unite the mind with the heart so all intrapsychic divisions are healed; 4. Transform your relationships, relationships understood here in the broadest sense of the word so one lives in harmony with the Universe. The degree to which one is in sync with the Universe can be measured by an intensified flow of synchronicity.
It is proposed here that the more one is in sync with the Universe, the more the flow of synchronicity in our daily lives becomes intensified. As we examine the concept of synchronicity and look at its spiritual aspects, it will become evident that synchronicity may provide a new foundation for ethics: instead of actions being classified as right or wrong, the new criterion will be the extent to which they are developmentally appropriate as measured by an increased or decreased flow of synchronicity. The distant vistas of spiritual life beckon to us with the promise of invulnerability and effortlessness. The Principle of Least Effort in modern physics could then be seen as as the Whiteheadian\ remnant of the ease, effortlessness and grace we expect when our lives are lived in perfect synchronicity (Jargodzki 2007).
In recent years there has been a torrent of serious books dealing with synchronicity, just to mention Combs and Holland (1990), Aziz (1990), Aziz (2007), Main (2007), and Perry (2009). This is at least partly due to the fact that we now live in an information-rich environment so more meaningful coincidences may be expected to happen. This paper suggests that synchronicity, understood here as an empirically based equivalent of divine providence, is the necessary but not sufficient, condition for humans to achieve what to this author is the essence of the shift to the transhumant state – invulnerability, that is freedom from accidents and sickness – owing to the providential care that synchronicity supplies.
According to Roderick Main (2007, p.14), “ a synchronistic experience (…) is one in which
- Two or more events parallel one another through having identical, similar or comparable content;
- There is no discernible or plausible way in which this paralleling could be the result of normal causes;
- The paralleling must be sufficiently unlikely and detailed as to be notable;
- The experience must be meaningful beyond being notable.”
Note that this differs from Carl Jung’s original definition: a meaningful coincidence between psychic and physical events. According to Jung’s definition, an answer to prayer or a precognitive dream would qualify as synchronistic events. It is useful to provide an example: “A professor of biology, Adolph Portmann, was delivering a lecture that he intended to conclude with a story about a praying mantis. Just as he was about to broach this subject, a praying mantis flew into the lecture hall through an open window, circled around Portmann’s head, and landed near the lectern lamp, to the effect that the insect’s wings cast on the white wall behind him a huge shadow in the form of the arms of a praying man.” (Main 2007, 1)
In Signs – A New Approach to Coincidence, Synchronicity, Guidance, Life Purpose, and God’s Plan (2009), Robert Perry, who is best known for his publications on a A Course in Miracles, attempts to put synchronicity on a firmer empirical footing by restricting it to the so-called CMPEs, i.e., Conjunctions of Meaningfully Parallel Events. According to Perry “A CMPE (or ‘sign”) consists of at least two events occurring within hours of each other that, seemingly by chance, are strikingly similar – they share an impressive list of parallels. Through the relationship between the two events, the CMPE highlights a situation in our lives and communicates a definite perspective on that situation.” (Perry 2009, 10). Perry provides many startling examples, including CMPEs that seem to predict the future.
Both Main and Perry see a providential aspect to synchronistic events. Perry writes that synchronicity appears to be “a phenomenon in which events converge in ways that are so incredibly improbable that chance seems out of the question. Rather it appears as if some unseen presence is mysteriously orchestrating events so as to shape them into a message for us. This presence seems responsive to our needs, since it speaks to situations in which we need counsel. By giving us this counsel, it displays the characteristics one would associate with a counselor, a guide, or a parent. It seems to have our welfare in mind, since it apparently tries to move us in the direction of achieving successful outcomes and realizing our highest potentials.” (Perry 2009, 179)
Returning to the transhumanist scenario, an optimist would envision levels of providential care that depend on the degree to which one follows inner and outer (synchronistic) guidance:
Level 1: Freedom from accidents
Level 2: Freedom from sickness
Level 3: Transformation of the physical body into the glorified body, i.e., a radiant body free from physical and biological constraints, thus assuring a spiritually based form of immortality.
These scenarios are described in A Course in Miracles (2007) and A Course of Love (2006), regarded by many as Christian spiritual masterpieces though they differ from traditional Christianity in substantial ways. It remains to be seen to what extent these radical scenarios will be realized but, of course, to a skeptic they will remain forever in the realm of wishful thinking. For this reason let us focus on the minimalist scenario, examining one aspect of invulnerability – a collision-free motion through space. Much suffering and death result from discontinuities in our passage through space: arrows, knives, and bullets ripping through flesh; automobile collisions; falling bodies colliding with the ground; buildings collapsing on top of occupants, etc. Much of what is understood as evil involves discontinuities in motion through space, and much suffering can be avoided if objects move smoothly around each other. At the very least this would involve a synchronization of motion. We have a wonderful example of that in superconducting materials where at low temperatures the trillions of electrons which constitute the current behave as one, moving in a highly correlated and organized pattern. The BCS theory proposed by Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer in 1957, envisions electrons joining in pairs due to the mediating action of the crystal lattice, rather unusual for two negatively charged particles, at which point they can move without resistance through the lattice (Jargodzki 2006). In this physical phenomenon the electrons travel uninhibited because of this uncharacteristic pairing. Moving back up the scale of organizational complexity to the human level one can postulate that synchronicity might produce the kind of behavior that one observes in a rudimentary form in a school of fish – synchronization on the macroscopic scale that ideally might result in a coordinated collision-free motion and thus a degree of invulnerability. It appears that a single ego-bound individual is incapable of achieving this sort of invulnerability for the simple reason that the ego-level mind is by definition unable to join with others on a deep level. To achieve a collision-reducing relationship one needs at least two individuals who are connected on a deep level as a result of lowering their ego defenses.
Let us now return to Hawking’s Flexiverse and the connection between synchronicity and retrocausality. According to Hawking and Hertog, the universe can be regarded as having had no single unique beginning. They suggest that countless alternative worlds existed at the time of the creation of the universe, hence the name Flexiverse, with the most probable pasts being determined right now. As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the present selects the past, i.e., retrocausality is built into the structure of the universe. This can be seen more clearly in John Cramer’s transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics. “When we see a parking space open up when we need one, (…) when someone calls who we haven’t heard from in years but were just thinking of, we have engaged a future end point in a way that has influenced the past. Our intentions act as targets for the future we wish to invoke.” (Larson 2006). Thus, according to some proposals in modern physics, it is at least plausible that synchronicity is not an anomaly but it engages the deeper laws of the universe that are still poorly understood.
The author wishes to acknowledge helpful conversations with Annie Lowe.
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