Category Archives: OUR TIME – My Great Universities

The Real Price of a Yale Education

THE BULLDOG TYRANNY
The Real Price of a Yale Education

    Handsome Dan is adorable.  Cherished and privileged, he struts around the football field, his torso, bull-like, his snout smashed up against his face, cutely pugnacious. When he is displayed at a game, our stomping and applause expose our identification with him. Ugly though he may be, we glory in him. Lurking beneath this engaging identification, however, is a shadow, a dire, pugilistic will to win at whatever cost.  No one gets in Dan’s way.  Just look at that face! For mean manliness, it’s as ugly as it gets.
    Here’s how this sort of thing translates.  On July 4, 2001, a liberal minded woman found herself in a receiving line at Independence Park in Philadelphia preparing to meet our dubiously elected George W.  When it came her time, she greeted him saying, “Mr. President, I hope you only serve four years. I’m very disappointed in your work so far.”  The President, photo-op perfect, kept smiling and shaking her hand, but answered in a flash, “Who cares what you think?”
    Bulldog Bulldog Bow-wow wow.    

    This bulldog quality is Yale testosterone.  It makes Yalies winners.  However, when this quality becomes a shadow mode of living, it becomes a kind of tyranny.  It dominates over psychological wholeness, over relationships, and over the conduct of the affairs of the world.  This takes a very great toll on well being.  However shocking present tuition costs may be, this is the real price of a Yale Education.
     Here is how I came to this assessment.

     Every shadow is cast by an ideal.  To really see the tyranny of the bulldog, you have to look at the Ideal Yale Man, most easily identified before the changes brought on by the shift in cultural values in the late Sixties.
    A few years ago there appeared in the Yale Magazine a brilliantly construed history of the College, which traced the complex history of the Yale Man through His 300 year “disputation with Providence”, the benevolent guidance of God.  In this, the ideal Yale Man has evolved continually.  The gritty spirit of Dan has always been there, but in more superficial, but nonetheless articulated ways, the ideal changes every year.  When I was a freshman in the final year of the 50’s, one had to be ”shoe”, referring to the scuffed (not NEW!) white bucks that were de rigeur for a Yale Man.  “Shoe” was on the way out, and we only really heard about it early in freshman year, as we groped callowly for the correct sartorial image.  (I believe tan bucks were just coming in) But in the four years I learned more enduring rules of understatement.  One could be somewhat non-conformist or belligerent, but he should always be hidden under a herringbone jacket and chinos, or better, a three-piece suit.  You could wear white bucks, but it was no longer shoe if you did.  You’d better not wear any of those shiny kinds of socks.  They should have a woolly texture, and NOT expose the leg.  And for Godsake don’t wear rings, particularly a Yale Ring.  Equally important, don’t be studied about any of the above.  Some of these sartorial laws still rule me: you’ll never find anything in my sock drawer that isn’t woolly.
    In these external ways the Ideal Yale Man is constantly, subtly evolving, but there are some things that have probably remained pretty much the same.  There is an ironclad subtext.  It goes something like this: as Yale is the center of the universe, one who is privileged enough to go there is entitled and superior.  He must prove himself to be a leader–successful, preferably outstanding in his community–and make at least ONE original contribution to the world.  This is probably understated.  In the deep imagination of every Yalie, the Yale Man looms larger and even more imposing.  Shadow subtext: you better measure up.  Deeper still, the primal imaginal subtext of that pugnacious little bully, Handsome Dan.
    I quickly mastered the sartorial requisites during freshman year, but I could not quite find my place in the curriculum.  I knew I was fascinated by the basic circumstance of being human, so I majored in Human Culture and Behavior.  But I found the subject tediously restrained by the scientific method, the slightest intuition having to be validated by the extreme rationality of statistics and controlled observation.  I had an itch these disciplines could not scratch. Way up in the stacks, restless, I discovered Jung, and then Joseph Campbell. The latter’s landmark book, Hero with 1000 Faces, (published only 3 years before) was a dusty tome. Yet with this book, I caught fire.  It set forth the hypothesis that mythology, indeed all story, contains within it a hidden universal language, one that is a secret key to the universal nature of human development and evolution.  It set me on a path, which I have been on ever since; to discover the real meaning of this language.  Nothing to do with The Yale Man, since these thinkers and their subject were not at ALL shoe.  No one on the faculty seemed to know anything about them. Cast aside (however tolerated), I was on my own.  I burned the midnight oil like some mediaeval alchemist studying the mysteries of human process, change, transformation, and evolution as expressed in the archetypal structures of all myths.  This diversion was the beginning of the strange perspective I now have on Dan.
      Our class of ’63 was special.  Unbeknownst to us we were right in the transition from a Yale where the right to attend was largely hereditary towards a real meritocracy.  We were also one of the last classes without women.  In fact however, our real distinction was the way we were placed with regard to the groundswell of change in the national psyche that started in the mid-Sixties. We were right on the cusp, all turning 30, when Abbie Hoffman proclaimed, “Don’t trust anyone over 30!”  I figure about three quarters of our class, imbued with the Ideal, kept rushing on, lemming like, down the road of the great white male race as we were programmed to do; one quarter dropped out and looked to alternatives.
       After I graduated I went on to Harvard Divinity school where I did further research on the notion of psychological wholeness as it has been expressed in the great religious traditions of the world.  Then I left th
e country for seven years in England and India.  I thought that my reasons for leaving America had to do with a restlessness with the boring old fifties ways of doing things.  I thought I was alone.  But the baby boomers left behind obviously had the same sense, as they proceeded to generate the Counter Culture. The class of ’67, baby boomer freshmen when we were seniors, were to create revolutions in the University, toppling the Yale Man Image, like so many communist statues in the parks of Moscow in ‘89.

     From Harvard I went to King’s College, Cambridge. These glorious institutions of learning, each the center of the Universe itself, provided me with plenty of glamorous ideals to identity with.  Being a Harvard Man for a while and many years a Kingsman gave me cause to forget completely about the Yale Man or any aspirations I might have had, but they compounded imagistic tyrannies of their own, which have hounded me subtly ever since. 
     I went on to enjoy becoming a global person, achieving greater academic heights in India and thence to study Jungian Analysis in Zurich, finally ending up like many rolling stones of the Western world, in California, where we all continue to roll in place.  My existential and mystical studies made me ripe for the Human Potential Movement, its cradle Esalen Institute, advanced mysteries from the East, commuting between California and Asia, becoming imbued with an entirely different notion of the nature of the human and our relation to the divine source of all things.
    Over these years the ideal fell before the image of the whole: inclusiveness and equality became the new value.  Yale, left way behind long ago, seemed the bastion of mid-Atlantic provincialism.  The further I got from it, the more provincial it seemed.

    The ideas of the human potential have been growing for almost a century and have sparked a revolution in psychology and philosophy of mind.  These ideas have their own ideal, but it is inclusive.  We are not just minds, but body-mind-emotional spirits.  The integral whole has to be cultivated, not just the mind.  Likewise, the reality of the world cannot be comprehended without a balanced consideration of all these dimensions.  “Inclusive” means incorporating all that is negative, ideals as well as shadows, for it becomes clear that what lurks in those shadows are negating forces in each and every circumstance ready to sabotage the matter of our lives. Accepting and incorporating these forces opens the door to more feminine capacities within each man and masculine capacities within each woman.                                                                                    Incorporating these opposing forces and strengths, a horrendously arduous process mandated by the life force itself, creates the possibility of living the whole rather than striving for an ideal and suffering the sabotage of its shadows.  This wholeness creates a global human being.  My work with this was no longer theoretical, as I was able to develop these principles into hands-on forms that have over the years proved effective in reducing suffering and enhancing the fulfillment of many.  The great majority of these individuals have been women, as their situation over the last 30 years has made them avid proponents of wholeness and hungry for the kind of empowerment proffered through this work.
     For 25 years I gave Yale nary a thought.  When I was persuaded to attend the 25th Reunion. The forgotten truth was that I had made many hearty connections at Yale, a pleasure which alone justified participating in the reunion.  From a more secure position within myself, however, I felt everywhere present the ghost of the Ideal Yale Man, its hidden tyranny present either in the nuanced display of success in the world or in the air of disappointment and subtle shame before other classmates.  I sensed everyone was secretly calculating how he measured up.  Practically everyone there was a lawyer, doctor, financier, or politico.  Probably half the class didn’t come at all.  Those I figured were either the few who so measure up to the ideal that they have no time for reunions or the many more who in their own estimation did not measure up to the Ideal and weren’t about to face off with it at any reunion.
    For myself I went away with mixed feelings. I realized that almost everyone had in some way or another been the victim of the Ideal Yale Man, either flying into a possible embodiment of this paragon or oppressed by the failure to be so.  At my most alienated, I was quite convinced I should have gone to Harvard as an undergraduate too.
    Two subsequent reunions have seen a further development.  By the thirty-fifth reunion, there seemed to be very little peacock strutting, but the matter of the heart was intact. Entering the room and discovering the youth inside of the classmates I had known was immensely touching.  These are men known in the delirious time of youth, when, focused on our future bravado, we knew nothing of our true beauty or our innocence.  But from this perspective, almost 40 years later, a bunch of older men had experienced enough of life’s tempering disappointments so that another sense arose, one of mutual compassion.  We were somewhat less like an army of conquerors and rather more like a gaggle of pilgrims.
    A recent (38th) mini-reunion in San Francisco evoked the affection that softened all the ways that men become suspicious of each other as they grow older. There was lots of alcohol, loud voices of forced joviality, a mood of old man camaraderie, and pin-drop silence in the discussion groups when one of the clan, displaying real courage, would share about the true vicissitudes of life. The class dinner had been scheduled at the prestigious Yacht club, but we were ensconced in a closed room with nary a view of the Bay.
    As an adjunct to this West Coast Reunion, a small number of intrepid classmates ventured off with me after the reunion to Esalen Institute, cradle of the Human Potential Movement, perched on the ravishing cliffs of Big Sur with the waves of the Pacific pounding on the rocks below.  This proximity to nature at the edge of our world, with its atmosphere of existential experimentation facing towards Asia, is as far from Yale and New Haven as it is possible to get and remain in this country.
     For five days we worked together intensively using methods and measures of human wholeness and techni
ques that brought into sharp focus what I came to see as a distinct Yale ’63 syndrome.  It was at once alarming in its coherence and touching in the brotherhood with which we discovered it together.

    A book could be written on this subject, but here, a brief composite description of this syndrome will have to do: a basic neurosis in which psychological receptivity, the feminine, is suppressed under the macho arrogance of the rational male with bulldog toughness underneath.  I call it a neurosis, because it had clearly done damage in the lives of each participant and constituted a hidden form of self-sabotage.
    The Image of the Yale Man casts a bulldog shadow.  This Shadow may take the form of arrogance, which compensates and hides inferiority with a tyrannous overlay of pedantry.  It may manifest as false virtue; false in the sense that everything should be virtuous and virtue is selfless, therefore everything is tainted, creating a sense of shame, which accumulates over time.
    This is all related to the repression of what is usually designated as “the feminine aspects” of the Self, by which I mean the focus on life (as opposed to world), the well-being of other human beings, feeling, intuition, and sensitivity.  One hasn’t the right to be overtly creative or manifest intuitive perception.  Only informed rationality in the real world has any validity.  In one case this manifested in what is labeled “prefrontal escape”: the true sensitive, so suppressed under the jock identity, that affect seeps out at inopportune moments.  Every time he touches on a circumstance that has any feeling content, he unavoidably tears up.
     In many cases, the bulldog identifies with all the male characteristics and the rest is left to the wife.  The Yale wife is the repository of these feminine aspects, a projection which enforces marital bondage, but creates expectation and a kind of imprisonment, which many women feel to be oppressive, undoubtedly contributing to the failure of many marriages.  One wife was present in the group.  She always had the insights to unlock the mysteries of the process.  When I would make an intuitive observation, (chary of my own conditioning in this syndrome), I would ask her if that was what she saw as well.  She usually had a definite instinctive grasp of the whole matter.
      In describing these revelations, I do not want to perpetuate the fashionable feminist delusion that men should just quit it and be like women. Within the splendid ideal Yale Man and Handsome Dan is true manly power, the capacity for clarity and decisive action, even in the face of overwhelming odds.  American history has been carried forward time and again by Yale men acting decisively upon Light and Truth.  We for instance were able to enjoy our undergraduate excesses because of the prior generation of Yale men who came before us.  The outcome of W.W.II was very much in doubt in all three theaters of the war, when, in the Pacific a handful of Navy pilots — all running out of sufficient fuel to return to their ships — turned the tide of war by sinking four Japanese carriers at Midway.  The world we were born into was not a particularly nice one. The nuclear threat hung over our heads.  People died, antibiotics were just being discovered – nature was a formidable foe.  It was thought that people needed macho skills to survive.
      However, both Truth and Light, which illuminate the way, are functions of receptivity.  They are never produced by conquest or gentlemanly pedantry, nor are they fostered by the attitude of  “who cares what you think”: they exist only as a function of a deeply feminine openness to innate awareness and essential life.  To be in Truth and Light is to be able to be feminine in receptivity to the essential and powerfully masculine in acting it out.  It is not a question of achieving perfection, but of becoming whole. 
      This is what we discovered very concretely about our lives at Esalen.  Sharing this amazing experience was a dramatic adventure for me in my own self-understanding.  As the realities of our lives emerged, the ideal fell definitively.  What was left was the great preponderance of care for one another, our commonality and the whole of our struggle.  In a word, compassion, the passion of being together in unity.

      The implications of what we discovered among ourselves in Big Sur are legion, some of it reflected in the Yale dominated bulldog tyranny in our national and corporate policies. Much of it is currently under severe criticism by the feminist discourse and the growing critique from the far left of “Stupid White Men”.
       And what about the cultural changes brought about in the Sixties?  I do not believe the Bulldog Tyranny has been overcome by admitting women into Yale. Though I do not have the hands-on empirical evidence that I gained at Esalen, my intuitive sense is that the presence of women probably changes this syndrome, but creates another version of it.  In extensive work with women in European and American culture, I find that in placing great store upon entering competition with men, most of “the woman of the Nineties” inevitably suffer greatly as they tend to lose their own sense of the deep feminine. Has Yale merely turned women into bulldogs that can compete with any man?  As indicated by its labor problems, it does not seem that Yale itself has become more compassionate, listening to the needs of others, nourishing the species and the planet – these are the role of the feminine spirit.  Dan still tyrannizes in his bulldog hold on the rule of the privileged.
        Yale has set itself the task of becoming more global; an aspiration embodied in the new Center for the Study of Globalization and the ever-growing commitment to need blind admissions for international students from more diverse backgrounds.  This development is timely and laudable, but completely external.  The internal question remains: will Yale find a way to overcome the bulldog tyranny and bring its hidden ideal around to the deeper issue of fostering the global human being, indeed the planet itself?
        Perhaps, in this planetary context, we are facing a new version of Providence: a universal responsibility to become rightly global, based on the fundamental ethical principle of doing no harm or contributing to the unhappiness of any being and the spiritual truth that we are all fundamentally one.

POSTSCRIPT
       At the last reunion, I would sit each evening at dinner under the tent in the neo-gothic glory of Branford College courtyard.  About midway through the second course, I would observe how the alcoholic din would begin to make it impossible to hear anything.  Towards the end of desert i
t would rise to the point where conversation was hardly possible.  Being not of the alcoholic persuasion, I soon left, wondering what is so repressed that it has to be pickled with spirits and released with such flushed fervor.

        A further clue was there in the class discussion of the US in the 21st Century, led by present class-members of the policy-making elite.  Of the 100 classmates who were there, about half were in favor of the present policy and half were not in favor.  The discussion of the war and the projected role fell down to brilliant assessments around realpolitik — facts, figures, and strategy—that sort of thing.  Never once were the spiritual or moral aspects of current unilateral policy approached.
        Bulldog Bulldog, Bow-wow wow
        The phallic command of facts and reasoned brilliance, without the tempering of true moral and spiritual empathy with the world environment is misguided. On the part of individuals, this makes for a contentious disposition of force towards the world. (If you don’t believe me, ask your wives)  Acting this out on a global scale in the spirit of Handsome Dan, as our Yale educated leaders are now doing, could prove disastrous.
        And there it is in our own sweet song: ”We are poor little lambs who have lost our way.”







Foundational Dissent and British Nihilism – Addendum 2008

BRITISH NIHILISM AND CAMBRIDGE
Addendum 2008:  But what about Humanities at Cambridge?

Those at Cambridge who are familiar with my dissent disagree with me.  As if in response, in April of 2008, Cambridge in America produced a complementary event in San Francisco, which focused on the humanities.  (The budget is now two billion dollars.) As opposed to the glittering all day event devoted to science, it was just a morning and luncheon.  One felt it was something of an afterthought for the benefit of those of us who are not dedicated to the scientific view.  The real Cambridge was acknowledged to be the personal domain of ones life and experience there, something most of us hold very dear to our hearts. In the course of this charming and excellent event, what was demonstrated is that human nature and values can also be treated as an object (the proper study of man) and that no one does it better than Cambridge. 

But the humanities do not reach to the level indicated by the foundational dissent I have expressed. Cambridge is one of the capitols of the faith in an objective world that can be mastered by human knowledge and exploited through technology. Philosophers like Plato, novelists like Hesse; psychologists like Jung, and the entire hermetic and occult tradition of the West have been saying the exact opposite. In a very real sense, we are microcosms, containing an entire world within our psyches, a world in many ways much richer than the “real world” by which we are taught to measure ourselves. For the scientific view of the mind, dreams, visions, hypnagogic experiences, and the like are so much mental rubbish, relegated to the psychic dustbin, though I am sure there are psychologists at Cambridge who now study these phenomena so long as they do so objectively.

The truly foundational dissent is not addressed by the humanities or by psychology, but by the existence of a real recognition of and appropriate approach to the transcendental and experiencable as the basis of any enquiry.  The six great ancient Buddhist universities of India, such as Nalanda, with their manifold disciplines, were as much established on a transcendental ground as Cambridge is established on an empirical base.

One source of transcendental studies is the Sufi tradition.  Peter Avery, fellow of Kings, is much celebrated for his elegant translations of Sufi texts, but this is regarded as beautiful literature having historical significance and valued sentimentally as exquisitely exotic.  There is no one at Cambridge mining this literature for a genuine methodology for empirically discovering the nature of the universe and refining a practice for realizing this nature.  But this is what the great Sufis were doing.  The sublime and sometimes giddy bliss of the poetry is a celebration of the results of this methodology.

But make no mistake. In other quarters of the world frontiers are opening up on the strength of the ancient understanding that final and effective truth can only be achieved once consciousness, our true home, is comprehended.  In his book The Universe is in an Atom, the Dalai Lama, a passionate devotee of Western science, is generously critical of sacred Buddhist texts which that science has contradicted.  However he has made a very astute and foundational critique of the Western scientific perspective.  Basically Western science is fixated on the it, the object, believing the object to be the only legitimate subject of study, and by implication the only legitimate existent. This he claims is the great weakness in the scientific project.  In contrast, the Buddhist tradition, starting with its founder, has excelled in the rigorous and disciplined study of the I, the subject, and more basically, the transcendental presence which holds subject and object in unity and which has throughout the contemplative tradition been subjected to detached observation of a very disciplined and rigorous kind.  It is in fact a radical form of empiricism.  The fruit of this discipline is nirvana, the cessation of subjective suffering.  This is a contentment, peace and existential rectitude that empirical science will never achieve.  That dream of scientism is over.

Foundational Dissent and British Nihilism

BRITISH NIHILISM AT CAMBRIDGE

FOUNDATIONAL DISSENT
The Iconography of Stephen Hawking


Stephen Hawking and his Lovely wife

Stephen Hawking, the world famous Cambridge cosmologist, is almost completely incapacitated by severe motor neurone disease.  He is at once the most courageous, the most vulnerable, and the most brilliant person I have ever encountered.  An icon of human aspiration, he and his disability compare to a normally functioning human being as the intellect compares to the actual challenge of comprehending the Universe. In this way he is a mythic icon of Cambridge itself.  To me however, he and his condition symbolize the scientific project to penetrate into the mystery of Being, a crumpled and attenuated attempt to understand our universe when we have overlooked the robust nature of our true home.

Questions:
Does an ant live in the same universe as humans do?  If not, how is it different?
Does the universe contain consciousness or does consciousness contain the universe?

In November of 2005 Cambridge served up an intellectual feast in San Francisco for its West Coast graduates.  The “Cambridge Day” was a splendid opportunity to relate to an expert team of governors and professors from Cambridge.  As the University was setting about to raise 1.75 Billion Dollars, it was quite lavish.  The star speaker at the climax of a day of lectures was Stephen Hawking, the world famous cosmologist, who is almost completely incapacitated by severe motor neurone disease.  His subject: the Origins of the Universe.


View of King’s College from the Cambridge River

Some of the happiest days of my life were spent at Cambridge.  For an American, the experience could be described as “mythic”. Culturally I felt more stimulated there than anyplace I have ever lived.  Intellectually however, I was not so much a foreigner, as an alien.  This position arose not from being a Yank, but from my dedication to the study of Martin Heidegger, which earlier at the Harvard Divinity School had inspired me to set off on life as a pilgrim on the way of philosophical gnosis.  According to this great 20th Century thinker – distinctly unfashionable at Cambridge — the prevailing scientific mentality has us so enamored of the “ontic world” of external facts and objects, that we have forgotten the “Ground of Being”.  Translated into more operational terms, this means that our collective gaze is fixated so firmly on the world that we have forgotten that everything we can experience or calculate is grounded in our consciousness.  Heidegger’s perspective is well on the way to the extreme Buddhist view that there is nothing other than “consciousness only”.  But this is no intellectual proposition.  To treat it as such is to reduce it to an absurdity.  It is a fundamental insight arrived at only through contemplation, a first person objectivity which over millennia has been developed as rigorously as the methods of advanced science.  It is experiential, radically empirical, and a perspective fundamentally absent at Cambridge. 

There is, however, elsewhere in the world, an upsurge of brilliant investigation into consciousness informed in part by ancient contemplative traditions.  Having studied the history of ideas, it is my guess that over time, as this fundamental ground comes to be attended and understood anew, the evaluation of the nature of this world and the universe will be radically modified.  And, one day, today’s most advanced scientific propositions will be seen as dated and quaint, rather the way we now view mythological cosmologies that once served as the informed explications of the world.

                *                     *                      *

This is an old story.  Throughout the history of the world there has been a timeless dialogue between what we could loosely call “Platonists” and “Aristotelians”.  Platonists tend to focus on the experience of consciousness as the ground of all being, and Aristotelians focus on the “outer” world in which consciousness comes to be designated as merely one thing among others.  Aristotelians are disposed to look for an ontic God out there, an intelligent designer. (Fn 1, see bottom of text)  Once they become materialists they drop this quest.  The basis of true religion and mystical experience is Platonic.  Psychologically speaking, Platonists are gnostics.  They are not theistically inclined; their doubt is focused on the world itself, and they come to understand the intelligent design of all experience as the one God. This dialogue of perspectives is at the heart of the question of the foundation of Being and is never really resolved.  There are always two camps that are unable to settle the issues that arise around this ontological difference.

This is no mere academic controversy: it is deep in the heart of our time. These two views as to “what we are in”, are the core issue in today’s crises over the question of faith, the existence of God, and the meaning of existence itself.  Aristotelians, now largely atheistic materialists, live in an ontic world of things and scientific facts, all of which add up to the absurdity of there being any intelligent agency such as God.  (Fn 2)  In the late Nineteenth Century Nietzsche proclaimed this absurdity to be “the death of God”, bringing into view nihilism as the present reality in the West: a “flat world” having no intrinsic value, with all its consequent materialistic depravity and spiritual anarchy. To redress this profound imbalance, the frustrated “faithful” would force their belief (which they confuse with fact) upon the world in ways that grow daily more violent: everything from warrior fundame
ntalists to the “faithful” a
mong the Aristotelians trying to impose “Intelligent Design” to sneak God back into the ontic world by the respectable, scientific door.  They are desperate.  Nihilism, compounded by increasingly rapid change, creates fundamental existential suffering. In contrast, Platonists, and the traditions of Asia, contemplate what we are in as consciousness.  All is consciousness.  They have no problem with the existence of God, because they know that anyone who has “known God” has in fact realized their own consciousness as the basis of existence.  The Aristotelian view leads to an atheistic metaphysics and the crises of nihilism: the Platonic leads ultimately to a monistic consciousness-based reality.


                *        *        *

Cambridge is one of the distinguished world capitols of the prevailing materialism and scientism of the modern world, a paragon of the Aristotelian camp.  Over six years of residence and many visits to Cambridge, I have loved it and rejoiced in the enchantment of life there, but I always felt something of an outsider, because although I appreciate the Aristotelian enormously, my inner knowing is Platonist.  We inhabit consciousness and our universe inhabits consciousness as well.  In some fundamental way, the endeavor to understand the universe is fundamentally futile if we have not comprehended its container.  It is woefully insufficient to say that this container is just one item among others, which we will get around to one day when we come to final knowledge of the facts of the universe.  Furthermore, so long as we do not comprehend the ground, our true home, we will never achieve real well-being.  If I have any conviction, it is this.

   
Two weeks prior to this wonderful Cambridge event, participants received an e-mail invitation to send in a question for Steven Hawking.  During his lecture on the origins of the universe, he would pick four of these questions to answer. I thought it was just the time to put out this foundational question: how can we account for the universe when we have not considered the ground of being and merely assume that the real world (or universe) exists outside of our consciousness?
 
When I received this e-mail, I was visiting my friend Stephan Schwartz.  He is in my view one of the pre-eminent figures trying to restore consciousness to the center of scientific endeavor.  He suggested that I put forth the question in this way: “How does consciousness interface with quantum mechanics?”  I sent this in as I felt that it formulated the entire question in a very scientific way.

Early in the Cambridge Day, Gerry Gilmore, Professor of the Philosophy of Experimentation, lectured on the origin and future of the universe.  At the end of his lecture I asked the question I had asked in my e-mail, adding:  How does consciousness relate to this universe?  He answered that it was a very interesting question.  After the lecture I asked him if there is anything that can be said or thought or posited to exist that is outside of consciousness.  Together, we quickly came to the striking formulation that the entire inquiry into the experimental method of science (his real field of study) comes to this: the history of humankind’s attempt to get outside of consciousness and ascertain what is “really there.”  When pressed, he admitted that he was not at all sure that we have been able to do it.  Then he added, “I am not even certain that it can be done.” In the end, this was the most satisfying answer to my questions.  It confirmed my own life inquiry, inspired and ultimately defined by Heidegger: how can we come to the truth of beings until we come to the truth of Being.
   
In the course of this academic feast set before us by Cambridge we had the opportunity to delight in the excellence of every kind of ontic endeavor.  At the end was the climactic moment when Stephen Hawking appeared.  To much applause, a student rolled him out in his little wheel chair cum computer.  It was a fathomlessly touching sight, his attenuated paralyzed body crumpled piteously in this conveyance, which is his mechanical body.  His wife/nurse, strikingly red- headed and vital, stood nearby. As he was rolled up to the speaker’s platform, we were all fixated in silent awe.  It was explained to us that Stephen can operate a computer mounted on his conveyance through a sensor that picks up signals generated by fluctuations in one cheek muscle, the only part of his body that he can still control.  The digital formulations it produces on the screen mounted before him are then spoken out of a box in a kind of robotic squawk. One could barely comprehend the vast contradiction between his physical capacity and the gigantic robustness of his intellect. The overall effect was stupendous: one was in the presence of a high-tech Oracle.

Hawking spoke for about 45 minutes, tracing the answers in history to the question; ” What is the Universe?”  It was such an awesome experience to watch him perform, that only when the lecture was over did I realize that he had not chosen to answer my question.
 
Shortly afterwards there was a cocktail reception where the academic luminaries were available for schmoozing and socializing.  It was an intoxicating climax to a deliriously heady experience.

At one point I suddenly found myself in front of Hawking and his attractive entourage.  No one was speaking.  Carpe Diem!  I asked him if he remembered my question, and the speaker box answered, “Yes”.  I then repeated it:  “What is the relationship of consciousness to the quantum universe?”  Subsequently, his wife told me that it took 140 hours for him to prepare his lecture.  This is why the questions had to be pre-sorted.  If you ask him a question it takes about five minutes for him to formulate an answer.  To call this an awkward silence is an understatement; it was an oracular silence.

For five discomfited minutes of much clicking I could observe the miniscule fluctuations of his cheek by which he was finding words for his answer on the screen before him.  It was uncomfortable to say the very least, with all of his entourage around him and others waiting for the answer.  The atmosphere was close.  Even stifling.  I asked my friend, who was standing behind him, to write down the answer that came on the screen, as I was sure I would not r

emember it rightly once it emerged out of the voice box.  After an interminable wait, an answer came: “Conshusness is very hard to define from the outside.  Can we tell if a computer has it?”  It was stunningly accurate; this dismissal of consciousness because it is not a quantifiable object is where the monumental error begins. 

No doubt emboldened by two glasses of champagne, I heard a torrent of words coming out of my own voice box.  “The computer extends our consciousness, which itself can only be described from inside because it is our essential container.  Have you ever had one thought, one perception, one formulation that was not first contained within consciousness?  How can we get out of this container without first understanding how we are absolutely grounded in it?”  As I wanted him to hear me, I was very close to him. 

Then came an abysmal moment when I realized this dialogue was all too fundamental, too complex for this appalling and awkward hi-tech situation.  Empathetically I saw in his eyes at once his goodness and a look of fright that, even if he could answer, the formulation and process of getting it out was simply overwhelming, especially in this cocktail party situation.  In this moment of fathoming his vulnerability, I also saw my own aggressiveness and deep frustration that the basic questions in my heart were never addressed by his science or by Cambridge. At the same time his charming helper said to me tactfully, that it is much better if I can formulate my question for a yes or no answer.  I drew back my force and crouched closer to him, and, with as much care as I could muster, apologized for being overbearing and said that this is a wonderful debate, but far too basic and complex to deal with in this circumstance. As the whole entourage proceeded on into another room, I am sure he felt relieved.

As I recovered from this encounter, I was flooded with many realizations.  First of all, his answer was sufficient.  His endeavor and that of the scientific method can deal only with what can be quantified and objectified.  Insofar as scientists like my friend Stephan Schwartz can succeed in objectifying and quantifying aspects of consciousness, we can be grateful to them as they proceed on their noble course, but the way I have taken, informed by many years in India and California, is finally the ancient path of contemplation, learning how to stand motionless within consciousness and observe objectively the pre-ontic primordial ground we are all in and how it gives birth to the world and universe we think we are in.  (Fn 3)  Bypassing Cambridge, whose ignorance of this is resolutely provincial, I have gone to the ages and to other continents, where there have been many masters and traditions of contemplation.  Formal contemplation is not aggressive and does not yield technology or its boons, but it is truer, and it generates true civilization.  This is what I have come to in my passionate seeking.  It is inveterately Platonic in an Aristotelian world, a difference as old as contemplation itself.  There are other chronic Platonists out there, and we are all working to come to terms in new ways with what we and this universe are.  If there is a future for human culture, it will ultimately depend upon this and not some ultimate mastery of facts.


As for lovely Hawking, shortly after this encounter he had a crisis, was rushed to the hospital in San Francisco, and actually stopped breathing.  Through emergency procedures doctors were able to revive him, and he continued on his tour!  He is at once the most courageous, the most vulnerable, and the most brilliant person I have ever encountered.  He is an icon of human aspiration.  He and his disability compare to a normally functioning human being as the intellect compares to the actual challenge of comprehending the Universe.  As we all basically intuit this in his presence, he and the bravery with which he faces every moment is a symbol of our ambition and inspiration in the face of our appalling vulnerability and ultimate ignorance.  In this way he is a mythic icon of Cambridge itself.  To me however he and his condition symbolize the scientific project to penetrate into the mystery of Being, a crumpled and attenuated attempt to understand our universe when we have overlooked the robust nature of our true home.  

Addendum 2008 – Humanities at Cambridge

Footnote 1:  Aristotle himself was philosophically devoted to a God who was however “out there” and “remote”, either as a first cause (way back there at the beginning) or as a telos, ultimate purpose of all things (way out there at the end).  This became the basis for the philosophical justification of Christian theism in the Middle Ages, the position which the progress of science has gradually rendered invalid.

Footnote 2:  This is not to say that scientists cannot be religious, as so many of the really great ones have been: Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Schweitzer and Gregor Mendel come to mind.  But for the most part, they partition off their religion from their scientific understanding of data.  Mystical insight grows in them with their awe at the universe and their maturity as human beings.  They see religion as another “dimension”, an intuitive one, to be pursued on its own as a matter of faith: they do not dedicate themselves to understanding how the objects they are studying are rooted in a Divine Ground of consciousness that is prior to data or phenomena.  Scientists that dedicate themselves to subversive theistic trends such as “intelligent design” are hugely frowned upon.  I doubt they would be tolerated at Cambridge.

Footnote 3: The Dalai Lama, who has for decades dedicated himself to the study of Western science, has recently begun a campaign to inspire scientists to validate the extreme rigor of 25 centuries of Buddhist contemplation and to give the kind of credence to disciplined first person observation that it gives traditionally to objective empirical observation.  Such a radical shift in scientific perspective would drastically alter the entire situation. It would entitle science to view the reality of “I” with the same rigor as it presently fixes on the reality of “it”.  The phenomenologists following upon Edmund Husserl and culminating in Heidegger carried out this project, but it remained a philosophical discipline, not a scientific one.