A New Year, and Possibly a New World

01/04/2012 09:25 am ET | Updated Mar 05, 2012
  • Deepak Chopra CoAuthor, 'Super Genes​'; Founder, The Chopra Foundation

It's fascinating, as time turns another small corner, to think of how worlds shift and collide. There is no evidence that a person as brilliant as Shakespeare understood that Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo had already revolutionized the human mind. The same thing may be happening now, and many brilliant people seem unaware of how our present-day world -- meaning our conception of reality -- may undergo a seismic shift.

I'm not thinking of fossil fuels and Arab uprisings, not even of the 99 percent as against the 1 percent. Upheavals in the outer world are secondary, in the long sweep of history, to inner revolutions. We may be on the verge of such a one. What makes me think so is a trickle of medical articles, now greatly expanding, that are proving troublesome to mainstream medicine. These articles sometimes deal with cancer, sometimes with antidepressants, sometimes with the dashed hopes for gene therapies that seem constantly out of reach.

What these articles have in common is that treating the body like a machine isn't panning out. The next breakthrough in cancer or psychotherapy or genetically-related disorders may come from an entirely different angle than the workaday materialism that "of course" looks at our bodies as physical objects like any other. That "of course" is the mark of a settled worldview. God "of course" created the world in seven days and the soul "of course" was more important than the body, which was a temporary shell while the soul worked its way through this vale of tears.

When settled worldviews crumble, we have to reinvent the world. So far, there have been only three categories from which to construct reality from the ground up.

1. Dualism, which separates mind and body.

2. Non-dual materialism, which considers only physical things and excludes the spiritual, mystical and supernatural.

3. Non-dual consciousness, which traces reality back to mind and beyond mind to the very potential for mind.

Dualism no longer satisfies professional thinkers. Putting mind in one box and the body in another settles no questions about either. We are left with half a loaf, unable to say anything reliable about pure mind but also unable to connect the subtle way that the body responds to thoughts and feelings. Yet curiously, the average person is a flaming, if secret, dualist. We compartmentalize our lives in countless ways. God belongs on Sunday, the material world dominates the rest of the week. We treat our bodies sensibly, yet when a mortal illness threatens, it's time to pray. This kind of compartmentalism is understandable, but in the long run it's frustrating, as witness the countless people who feel anxious and empty in their search for higher meaning.

The same complaint could be aimed at non-dual materialism, but science, which is totally materialistic, has won a resounding victory on many fronts. Therefore, it's an easy slide into believing that the scientific worldview must be correct. Non-dual materialism leaves no room for anything that cannot be turned into data. So it is incompatible with God, spirit, the soul and even the mind. The average person has bought into the notion, publicized constantly by the media, that the mind is the brain. After all, we can now watch the brain in real time as a person experiences love, faith, compassion and all other "higher" experiences that once belonged to the mind and the soul. But watching the brain at work is like watching an old tube radio light up when Beethoven is played. It would be naive to say that the radio composed Beethoven's music. Yet just as naively non-dual materialists see no reason to look beyond the brain for an invisible thing labeled as mind.

This is the worldview that is crumbling while seeming to rise victoriously higher. Termites are silently chewing at the timbers. One notices this by being attuned to articles about the failures of the materialistic approach. Contrary to popular hopes, materialism cannot explain cancer or depression. It cannot tell you why talking to somebody can help your free-floating anxiety while tranquilizers may fail. Materialism sidesteps the mounting problem of side effects and the long-term damage to the brain from decades of taking psychotropic drugs. Materialism cannot explain what memory is, where it is stored on the cellular level, or why memories haunt us. There are many, many failures of this kind, and even in a field far removed from medicine like physics, peering into the void that gave rise to the physical universe has posed huge explanatory problems.

Which leaves the third worldview, non-dual consciousness, that is all but invisible on the scene. It has been invisible for a long time, certainly in the Judeo-Christian West, where only a handful of obscure names like Spinoza, Giordano Bruno, and Meister Eckhart flirted with the idea that all is one, and that "one" is consciousness. Today, some farseeing speculative thinkers in physics are coping with the possibility that we live in a conscious universe. A tiny handful of neuroscientists are grappling with the possibility that the mind controls the brain and not vice versa. It's exciting fun to be part of this splinter group, especially if you relish the scorn of experts who inform you that "of course" you are completely off your rocker, a charlatan or a crypto religionist.

What the scorn masks is that "of course" will be thrown out the window if a new worldview takes hold. That's what happened to the idea that "of course" God created the world according to Genesis. But the non-dual consciousness that was dominant 3,000 years ago in Vedic India cannot return as it once was formulated. The modern world isn't about to throw science out the window. Instead, science must expand, so that we look at cancer, depression or the Big Bang and say, "Now I see." (In particular, the mind-body connection with cancer needs exploring, as we will do in a later post.) A worldview succeeds when it explains more than the old one, when it opens people's eyes and when it achieves practical results. In the next post, we'll touch on how non-dual consciousness can do all those things.

To be continued

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