The Syntropy Revolution
by Guy Dauncey
The Atlantic Review, October 2006
In the year since Iqbal Kharoun and Elizabeth Mitchell published their paper in Nature and were featured on the cover of TIME Magazine, the cultural and intellectual world has been in a tumult of creative upheaval. You would have thought that they were proposing the abandonment of all civilization, instead of a simple adjustment to the way we perceive matter and consciousness.
Most of us don't spend much time asking 'Where do we come from ?' or 'What is Life ?'. We are content to let the scientists and philosophers ask these questions for us. On the other hand, we want the answers. You've only got to gaze up at the stars to realize how little we know. For those who lived in medieval Europe, the Catholic church explained everything by saying that God was in his heaven, the Earth was at the centre of an unchanging universe, and if you wanted to know any more you should ask a priest, since it was all in the Bible (which was written in Latin and only they could read). That was their story, and they went to great lengths to enforce it.
To understand the significance of what Kharoun and Mitchell are saying, you have to understand the origins of the story they displaced. In 16th century Europe, the Catholic church used to torture and burn people who disagreed with them. This wasn't a simple disagreement over supper : that was being imprisoned, tortured, dragged to the market square, tied to a stake and burnt alive, flesh by screaming flesh. This was a problem for people who questioned what the church said, or who, like Galileo and the early scientists, liked to look at the universe through a telescope to see what was actually there.
In response to this difficulty, the French philosopher René Descartes proposed a new method. He declared that the world consisted of two separate but linked realities, res mens (things of the mind) and res extensa (things extended in space). The church could say what it wanted about res mens, but the scientists would focus their energies solely on res extensa, where the truth could be determined by careful observation and measurement, not by the dogmas of paranoid priests.
The implications of the new method were very profound. Slowly at first, and then with increasing speed, it liberated people from the morass of fears and superstitions which had kept them in darkness and made them hang onto ancient beliefs. It opened the dusty trapdoors of the mind and invited them to explore the incredible universe that surrounded them. The light of reason poured in, displacing the gloomy recesses of the medieval age. It led to discoveries and inventions that we take for granted : gravity, computers, space stations.
Descartes' new method did not deny the place of God, or spirit. In his mind, the two realms existed side-by-side, like a married couple who have stopped speaking to each other, but still live together in the same house. As the years went by, however, the husband (representing the material realm) gradually exiled his wife to the basement, and covered the trap-door with a mat. He began to deny the existence of the spiritual world, and the silence people pray to. The new story which the scientists were developing gave little credence to the world of spirit; the universe was a place of energy and matter, out of which life had sprung by the mysterious chemistry of chance.
The new story has been very powerful, helping scientists to unravel the secrets of the universe, from gravity to quasars. Today, we can sit by the ocean at night watching the stars, then open a laptop, click on the Hubble Space Telescope (http://oposite.stsci.edu/) and watch a galaxy being born.
There have always been scientists who believed in God. By the 20th century, however, they had learnt to keep their beliefs to themselves. The new story said that we were material beings, in a material world. Even the mind, with all its dreams and journeyings, was a material process which would be fully understood just as soon as the complex biochemistry of the brain had been deciphered.
In the eyes of the new story, a forest ceased to be a place of wonder, filled with sacred groves : it became instead a stockpile of timber, waiting to be turned into lumber. Church membership declined, and western culture began to build its purpose around material progress. Nature became something to be exploited, not revered. For those who suffered illnesses, there were drugs and medicines, but for those who were dying, there was nothing. Black holes and supernovae, but no soul. As long as the story held excitement, however, it held people's imagination. New homes, new cars, new highways - these were the promises of the 1950s, with the horrors of war behind us.
By the 1990s, however, after the knife-edge fear of nuclear destruction, the near extinction of the whales and the assault on the rainforests, the dream was fading. The story was still alive, but without joy.
The first rumblings of change began in 1962, with Rachel Carson's eerie vision of a world bereft of songbirds in her book Silent Spring. As the 20th century ended, increasing numbers of people were seeking the forbidden basement, including some scientists, who made serious explorations into the world of consciousness. By the late 20th century, physicists such as David Bohm were reaching towards a greater picture, describing reality as a pattern of implicate orders in which the whole was more than its parts. As the century ended, these scientists came closer and closer to opening the trap-door, re-uniting matter with its long-silenced soul-mate, spirit. They described mind as a process of self-organization that was present in all living matter, and came close to saying that consciousness was an inherent part of living matter - but they defined consciousness as self-awareness, requiring abstract thought and language, not something that could shared be by everything. They had broken Descartes' spell, but they were like Copernicus, who understood that the Sun was the centre of the solar system, but who thought that the planets travelled around the Sun in a circle. They were still awaiting their Kepler, who would complete the final picture.
The theory of evolution was a relative newcomer to the modern story. Even the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton, living in the 1600s, assumed that the world was created in 4,600 B.C., as the Bible described. It was only in the 1800s that people began to realize that the world was not four thousand, but four thousand million years old. Darwin's discovery that all life was connected through evolution shocked the Victorians like a thunderbolt, placing us as direct descendants of the apes, and cousins to every living being.
Writing in the 19th century, it was only natural that Darwin should set The Origin of the Species in the context of the modern story, in which spirit was locked away. His was a material story, which described the evolution of physical form from fish to humans; it did not say anything about consciousness.
It did not seem to trouble the evolutionary scientists that the human brain had stopped evolving a hundred thousand years ago, at a level of complexity which enables it to survive to pass on its genes successfully. Civilization, progress - these were just ephemera, which had nothing to do with evolution. Common sense said that this was absurd, but science ignored it.
There was another problem with evolutionary theory, too. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that entropy is the measure of the disorder of a system, and that the total entropy of a closed system will always increase. It can never grow more orderly - only more disorderly, like a house that has been abandoned and left to fall down. According to the Second Law, the entropy of a closed system will always increase with time.
Ever since the appearance of life, however, two thousand million years ago, nature has been growing steadily more complex and ordered. Evolution as Darwin describes it is anti-entropic : it breaks the Second Law. When pushed to explain this small anomaly, the scientists would say "Oh, it's just a temporary reversion of the law. Wait until the sun blows up," meaning that one day, all life will collapse because the sun will go supernova, and entropy will re-assert itself.
The fact remained that evolution as explained by Darwin was in breach of a fundamental law of the universe. That should have been a problem - but since the problem seemed insoluble, most scientists preferred to ignore it.
Iqbal Kharoun was one of the exceptions. Born of a Pakistani diplomat father and a French biologist mother and raised in a village on the plains of the Punjab, he grew up among his parents' cosmopolitan friends, travelling with his father to the troubled northern states, and with his mother to the rivers and fields of the delta, where he marveled at the richness and diversity of nature. He took his biology degree at Hyderabad and went on to complete a Ph.D. in consciousness studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he came across the work of the French physicist Jean Charon, and his study of consciousness within the atom.
It was while Kharoun was studying in Paris that Fritjof Capra was doing his seminal work on systems theory in California. From Capra, Iqbal learnt that mind was an organizing force which directed and coordinated complex biological wholes, which was present in all living forms, right down to the cellular level. From the British biologist Sir Rupert Sheldrake, he pondered the possibility that mind might express itself across time and space through 'morphogenetic fields', anywhere in the universe. From the American medical scientist Larry Dossey, he learnt that healing energy can be projected by consciousness from one life form to another.
What was happening ? If consciousness was present in all matter, and could project energy from one organism to another, it must play a role in evolution. But what ? What was consciousness ? What was healing energy ? These were the problems Iqbal wrestled with as he alternated between teaching at the Sorbonne and spending time meditating in the Himalayas, deep in thought. He observed the growing ecological crisis as the forest cover was stripped from the Himalayan foothills, and saw the farmers struggling with the increasing severity of the annual floods. He watched the forces of Islamic fundamentalism attempt to crush the modern story, with its materialism and moral pollution. And he pondered massive, far-reaching forces.
It was in France that he did his most seminal work. It was there that he came across the work of a mysterious woman known simply as 'The Mother'. She was a Parisian, born in the early 1900s and raised in an intensely spiritual atmosphere. After travelling the world, she settled in India, in the French colony of Pondicherry, where she spent her life working alongside a yogi, philosopher and sage called Sri Aurobindo. Aurobindo, like Jean-Marc, had grown up in two cultures. After a childhood in India, he went to England, studying Goethe and Darwin at Cambridge, returning to India to become involved in the struggle for independence, then retreating to Pondicherry to begin his life's work. It was from this transcultural fusion that Aurobindo developed his understanding of evolution.
For Aurobindo, dualism is only a problem when seen through western eyes. In eastern eyes, all life is imbued with spirit, an understanding which Kharoun absorbed with his mother's milk. God is everywhere, in every flea, in every mountain. Go to the ends of the Universe, and God will be there. Go to the most microscopic level of your bodily cells, and God will be there. To Kharoun, this was as natural as listening to the flute before dawn. Spirit was everywhere, the Vedas said. But what was spirit, in scientific terms ? And how did it work in evolution ? These were the questions which Kharoun sought to understand, as he read Aurobindo's voluminous works late into the night.
Evolution is yoga, Aurobindo said, the longing of the parts to unite with the whole. Yoga means union, from the Sanskrit word yuga, a yoke. Generation after generation of Indians, unaware of geological age, saw the world as a wheel of suffering which could only be escaped by enlightenment, the conscious realization of the divine. Like the Christians in medieval Europe, they saw life as full of suffering, and plotted their spiritual escape from the endless wheel of reincarnation. When Aurobindo re-translated the ancient Indian texts with modern eyes, however, he saw a different story. He saw that the whole of evolution was a form of yoga. The entire universe was seeking union with the divine, discovering ever greater unity.
To Kharoun, 'spirit' is a universal field of consciousness that penetrates everything. It exists within us, but we usually experience only its trapped individual form, as if a tiny dewdrop of universal spirit has been collected and dropped into each human form, without our being aware that it is there. The universal longing for God expresses the instinctual wish to reconnect with the whole, for the dewdrop to merge with the ocean.
Kharoun also credits the influence of the French priest and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit paleontologist who spent much of his life in China excavating the fossil remains of early humans, while working to integrate his own spiritual and scientific understanding of the world. Like Aurobindo, Teilhard was driven to unravel the mysteries of evolution, and like Aurobindo, he came to the conclusion that matter and consciousness had evolved together. He believed that evolution would continue until it reached total wholeness, when everything would merge with the divine.
The seeds had been lain. From 2001 to 2004, while others struggled with food shortages, unemployment and climate confusion, Kharoun was immersing himself in study, supported over the Internet by like-minded thinkers. The concept that bound it all together, and which rocketed Kharoun and his colleague Elizabeth Mitchell onto the front page of TIME Magazine in December 2005, was syntropy. In Kharoun's words,
'Syntropy is an omnipresent evolutionary tendency which propels all mind, consciousness and matter towards organization, wholeness and unity.'
With these nineteen words, Kharoun rewrote the modern story. To Kharoun, spirit and syntropy are intimately bound together. When the individual expression of the universal syntropic field is weak, entropy will prevail. Where spirit is strong, syntropy will lead it to seek greater organization and wholeness. It is syntropy which has propelled evolution towards ever more complex and conscious expressions over millions of years. Entropy occurs when syntropy fails, when the spirit in matter weakens and starts to die.
With the arrival of syntropy, evolution's entropy problem disappeared. Entropy does not exist at all, Kharoun declares - it is simply the absence of syntropy. Syntropy explains evolution's progress towards ever more complex and psychically rich expressions of life.
To the mainstream scientists, this smells suspiciously like vitalism, a long rejected 19th century theory that proposed a vital spark within matter, giving it life. The idea that evolution could continue on the non-physical level was impossible to swallow if you had grown up in the scientific establishment, and your instinct for the spiritual had been suppressed.
In the year since their paper was published, Kharoun, Mitchell and their fellow scientists have been working night and day to integrate syntropy theory into physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, psychology, medicine, consciousness studies. Through syntropy, these disciplines can all be united. Einstein would have loved it - it is paradigm-change time, when the story of the world is turned upside-down. Psychotherapists, futurists and theologists are all exploring the implications of syntropy for their professions. Spirit and matter are being re-united, after their long divorce. Evolution is being reconfigured as a journey towards ultimate wholeness, for humans, for nature, and for all that exists, both here and throughout the universe.
When TIME Magazine featured Kharoun and Mitchell's work, its editors wrote :
'The implications of this discovery for science, and the cosmological foundation on which science has been based since the 17th century, are nothing short of stupendous. We have entered a new era of human knowledge and discovery.'
Not every review was so favorable. Christianity Today had its own brand of judgement :
'This [syntropy] demonstrates the danger of meddling in the works of God. The leaders of the scientific community must take care not to endorse every piece of crackpot new age nonsense. The time has come for responsible Christians to stand up and say 'Enough !' We should render unto God that which is God's, and unto science that which is science's. Science has no business meddling in the affairs of God.'
The Journal of Biological Sciences was equally harsh :
'This mixing of religious foofaroo with the rigor of science has produced a bastard, a mish mash of new age beliefs masquerading as science. Scientifically speaking, Kharoun's work is as good a candidate for burning as any we have seen.'
Kharoun's work is only half of the breakthrough, however. The other half belongs to Elizabeth Mitchell, who featured alongside Kharoun on the cover of TIME Magazine.
Elizabeth is a Greek American, raised in New York, whose parents met in Athens while her father was hitchhiking around Europe in the 1960s. As a couple, they were both excited by the new thinking that was going on at the time, and Elizabeth recalls joining her parents' weekly discussion nights, and reading Marilyn Ferguson's The Aquarian Conspiracy when she was 12. Her father is a biotechnology ethics attorney, her mother a widely regarded poet who likes to take off for frequent sojourns in the mid-west, seeking the place, as she puts it, where heaven and earth collide.
Elizabeth grew up in a free thinking household where the family often shared month-long hikes into the wilderness. She was the only kid at high school who had never seen an episode of The Simpsons. At college, she became absorbed in the environmental movement, majoring in geography and climatology, and then spent three years travelling in the developing world, producing radio documentaries for the BBC World Service. In Nepal, she witnessed the devastating power of the mudslides caused by deforestation and intense rainfall. In Thailand, she lived through a typhoon when half of the village she was staying in was swept away.
The longest and most formative period of her travels was the year she spent in the Kalahari desert, with a group of nomadic Bushmen. Elizabeth has a personal magic, which gets her accepted in the strangest of situations. She even had a Bushman husband, which amused the tribe enormously, since she was a foot taller than he was. It was while living with the Bushmen that she began her seminal work on ethnoclimatology - the study of the influence of native cultural beliefs and practices on the climate. The bushmen had an ability to commune not only with nature, but also with the wind and rain.
Elizabeth has always been fairly psychic; she says she inherits it from her mother. In her biography, she describes how while she was living in the Namib desert, she dreamt one night that she was walking on a mountain top with her sister, Anna. They lit a fire, and then Anna said "Farewell", and hugged her. She saw Anna's soul fly up into the clouds, and knew that she was gone. The next day, she left for the seven-day walk to National Park office, where she learnt that her sister had died of a sudden chest infection on the night of her dream.
When she returned from her travels, Elizabeth worked with Greenpeace on their climate change campaign. She was restless to pursue her own studies, however, and won a fellowship to the New York Institute for Consciousness Studies, where she wrote her pioneering study on ethno-climatology, which was published in 2003. In many parts of the world, she demonstrated that indigenous people had traditions and skills which they used to influence the weather. By burning their drums and sacred objects and banning their rituals and dances, the Christian missionaries all but destroyed a source of knowledge that was tens of thousands of years old, which might yet be able to save us from the worst effects of climate change.
Her book was a best-seller, but her colleagues in the climatological sciences were embarrassed by it. Undaunted, Elizabeth has pressed on, exploring the 'how' of psycho-climatic interaction, delving into the realms of parapsychology and the new physics, taking seriously such questions as 'How can some animals sense an earthquake before it happens ?' and 'How does a dog know that its owner is coming home before there is any physical evidence of her arrival ?' Like Kharoun, she was familiar with the work of Rupert Sheldrake, who asked the same questions in an attempt to provoke the scientific community to address these ordinary anomalies in the modern story. The facts are irrefutable : study after study shows that dogs do know of their owners' imminent return - but since there has been no theory which could give the data logical coherence, the data has been ignored.
Elizabeth had no difficulty in accepting the evidence. She knew it to be so from her own experience. From her observations of wild animals in the Kalahari, from the way the bushmen related with the natural world, and by observing her own German shepherd, Kasha, it became clear to her that animals participated in a shared telesensory field. Humans did so too, she observed, but when we developed language as a more effective means of communication, our telesensory awareness was pushed into the unconscious, in the back part of the brain, where it remains to this today, operating only as intuition, and as an emergency signal in times of crisis.
There is a field of consciousness, Elizabeth says, from which we are shielded by our advanced mental processes, which provides a telesensory connection between all forms of consciousness, including natural elements such as rocks, water and the weather. Consciousness does not only happen within the mind. It is a field that exists throughout the universe. As humans, we are only aware of a small part of it. By overcoming the limits of our perception, we can access the larger field, hear the messages that are to be heard, and send the messages we need to send.
Another of Elizabeth's contributions has been to relate her findings to the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle argues that the mathematics of chance and probability make it totally impossible for humans to have evolved in the available time, and that there must therefore be a 'directedness' in the universe that is intent on producing mind, or conscious thought. Elizabeth's genius has been to show how the universal field of consciousness can be used to communicate and acquire new evolutionary and behavioural traits, speeding up the whole process of evolution. At the atomic and molecular levels, she reasons, the telesensory sharing of perceptions is almost total. An atom does not have consciousness, as the French physicist Jean Charon believed : consciousness has it.
In humans, Elizabeth observes, the field of consciousness operates at the bodily level through the presence of 'chi', or 'prana', the energy that is used by acupuncturists and healers. On the cellular and the systems level, we participate in this field. We are one with the cosmos, and it can never be otherwise.
Elizabeth's contribution has been to take the anthropic principle, and extend it to include the universal field of consciousness, which she terms the 'chi-anthropic field'. She has shown us how syntropy uses the telesensory potential of the chi-anthropic field to achieve its evolutionary results. It was the close parallel between her work and that of Kharoun that propelled her work into the mainstream of scientific discussion, transforming our understanding of evolution and creating a whole new story for our time.
The full implications of the breakthrough will take a while to sink in. On the surface of things, the world is carrying on as normal. The popular magazines have just started to pick up the new ideas, however, and there was a week in May when no fewer than six magazines ran cover stories on syntropy. Throughout the world, a ripple of excitement is running through people's mental and spiritual arteries.
The implications for science are almost too much to conceive. Until now, the understanding that there might be a field of consciousness wider than the limited experience of personal consciousness has been limited to mystics, poets, healers and those who have explored the world through LSD. For serious scientists to be saying that consciousness is all-pervasive is incredible. The Buddhists say that the self is like a drop of water in the ocean. If we let go of the boundaries of the self, we will experience the whole ocean. Now science is saying the same thing - that consciousness is a field, an ocean.
This idea is quite radical enough, with its thousand implications. But to absorb the second idea that this field of consciousness has an internal syntropic pull which draws all consciousness and all creation towards wholeness, and that it has been doing so throughout evolution, is amazing.
If you're prepared to ride with it, it's a thrill a minute. The field of consciousness is two-way. It influences us, and we can influence it. Thoughts count : they go out like waves into the field, shaping the landscape before we arrive. Feelings and intentions colour the field around us. A dying mother sends a message to her daughter across the world; her daughter receives it. An architect designs a building without care; its occupants feel it. A suffering teenager sends out a prayer for help, and the wholeness responds, placing fortunate coincidences in his path.
Some progressive universities have been rushing to set up departments of consciousness studies. In Boston, a medical research team has announced a program to try to capture chi energy on biosilicate, for implantation into cancerous tissues. Studies have already shown that patients who receive prayers recover faster than those who don't; now there is evidence that doctors and nurses who bring a sense of love to their work achieve better results. They enrich the field of consciousness which surrounds their patients, who absorb the energy into the cells of their bodies.
Of course, there has been the inevitable backlash. Some conservative colleges have declared themselves syntropy-free zones, and one Dean of Physics went so far as to declare the whole subject 'mind-buggery'. It is fascinating to see watch the scientific old-guard join forces with the religious right to oppose the new thinking. After all, the world was a much simpler place when science and religion were on opposite sides. Now they have to go right back to the argument they had in the 16th century, and start all over again.
Written by Guy Dauncey, 1995 - 1996
For a condensed version, see Earthfuture : Stories from a Sustainable World