The primacy of connectivity.  (Printed in Network, Issue 76, Aug 2001) revised

Chris Clarke, Isabel Clarke

We warmly applaud the appearance of the Manifesto, (Network., No 75, p 2) with (among many other good points) its positive affirmation of the essence of the scientific method, its trenchant critique of much of current science and its postulate that the universe is participatory. We are writing here to suggest that yet more can be said, deriving from what the authors refer to positively as "the avant-garde of science" in particular from contemporary psychology and physics.

One aspect of the contemporary scientific perspective is that it opens the way for transcending the dualism between matter and mind which, as the manifesto explains, was embedded in our scientific thinking by Descartes. On this dualism, it will be recalled, matter was res extensa, a stuff that filled up (absolute, three-dimensional) space and acted, and was acted upon, by local mechanical contact. With the universe identified with absolute space, and this space entirely filled with mechanical matter, there was neither physical nor conceptual room for anything else except in a quite separate realm, and in this way matter and mind/soul were completely separated by Descartes. The authors of the manifesto frequently use the words "matter" and "material" with what seems to be this Cartesian implication, and quite rightly critique this concept of matter as being of very limited validity.

Within current fundamental physics, however, this old idea of matter is dead, apart from some linguistic echoes of the terminology. Space is not an absolute entity to be filled with anything, but is derived from something more fundamental that may have nothing space-like about it (as in the knot-theory approaches of Rovelli, or the matrix versions of M-theory). The quantum state is reflected (technically: represented) in space-time, but in itself is quite independent of space-time. The process of manifestation as described by quantum theory is governed not by mechanics but by the interplay of logic and probability theory.

While these examples show contemporary physics moving away from the traditional dualisms into relatively uncharted realms, they do not represent a recognition of anything that might be called spirit - this is beyond the current range of conventional physics and psychology. In a world-view, however, where there is nothing that can recognisably be called "matter" in the traditional sense, the old dualisms must crumble. Moreover, once the two-world view of Descartes breaks up, the term "Consciousness" also seems to become just as ambiguous as "matter" (in any case it is clearly used in many different senses by different authors) and therefore in this paper we will replace the word by other terms depending on the precise meaning required by the context.

The demise of the old dualisms is vitally important, for it affects our understanding of what it is to be human. If body and mind/soul are separate, then we are forced to choose between them for the essence of humanity, and are likely to choose soul and regard the body as an appendage. But if our physical conceptions tell us that the body is a reflection of non-spatial structures whose processes are more like thoughts than steam engines, whose potentialities are unlimited by spatial confines, then we can accept the body as an integral aspect of our humanity — an aspect which, as we shall argue shortly, connects us intimately with the entire cosmos.

What then is the picture of the person as provided by modern science? Recent research into memory and cognition takes us to a perspective where the person starts to look more like a process than something given, in which the individual cannot be taken for granted as a unitary entity. Our experiences of selfhood and thought appear seamless in a way analogous to the way that the characters in a cartoon film appear to move smoothly. The speed of the operation, when functioning properly, masks the complex underlying reality. According to this perspective, our very sense of self is the product of an inner relationship between different internal processes which can be more or less harmonious. It then takes its meaning from the wider web of outer relationships within which we operate. Within this wider web significant figures like parents, partners, children etc. are obviously crucial in defining who we are. We suggest that this web reaches outwards in time and space, and beyond time and space to the ultimate relationship - but more of this later.

In order to clarify this vision of the person as a shifting relationship, defined within a web of shifting relationships, we need to introduce the theory that the mind is composed of a number of interacting subsystems. This theory, and the research on which it is based is expounded fully in Teasdale and Barnard (1993), and we do not intend to enter into the complexities of it here. Significantly, this research has found that it is not one, but two subsystems that represent the experience of the self, of agency, thought etc. for the individual. Both are concerned with meaning making, but in different ways. One, the propositional subsystem, deals with fine discrimination and codes its information verbally. Only the other, the implicational, connects directly to the senses, and the body�s arousal system. Alert for information on threat or value of the self, it is responsible for emotional response. As they work in harmony, they integrate the information from the senses with the logic of the human brain. However, the communication between the two is not always so smooth, leading to the host of internal dissonances experienced by human beings as emotional problems, etc. See Clarke, I (1999) for a fuller exposition of these ideas.

The role of important relationships in creating a sense of self in this shifting picture has already been introduced. It is the implicational subsystem, with its role in integrating senses and bodily arousal into emotion, that connects at the most immediate level with other beings and all parts of creation (and uncreation). The thinking, logical, part holds the sense of separateness, and possibly an illusion of self sufficiency. This is just an illusion, as it cannot function without the constant exchange with the implicational subsystem and its capacity for connection.

This "connection", so vital for being human, used to be thought of materially, in terms of the physical exchange of information. Now the full implications of modern physics open up a deeper connectedness which constitutes a much richer web of relationships: Quantum theory opens the possibility of exploring the mysterious nature of this web, which is physical yet not material. The clearest way to describe this is in terms of the way in which the large-scale physical context determines, at each moment, the sort of thing (though not its precise form) that might happen next in the constantly indeterminate evolution of our universe. The context determines, for example, whether an electron might manifest itself as a wave or as a particle, though it does not determine the exact position of either. It must be stressed that, as recent work (surveyed in Clarke, C, 2001) has shown, this constant influence of the large-scale on the smaller scale is non-causal: it is not just a matter of a physical (Newtonian) interaction between the observer and the observed, for example. A physical interaction would use energy and there is no energy transfer involved here. We are talking about something fundamentally different, for which we have at present no complete theory: the influence of an entire context on what it contains, which establishes a connection from the large to the small that is quite different from the causal, energy-mediated connections recognised by classical physics.

It is worth adding that there is another, but related source of non-causal connectivity arising from the universal phenomenon of "quantum entanglement". This happens when two particles which at one time were closely coupled have moved apart, but without interacting with their environment sufficiently to "forget" their original condition. In that case the indeterministic happenings that they produce at widely separated places are correlated. Crucially, it can be shown that no causal influences flowing from their common past can have produced this correlation.

In both these cases, the explanation for the connectivity comes through the idea of the quantum state of the particles (often held to be directly implicated in our sense of awareness) which is a structure beyond time and space (though represented in it) that underlies the particular happenings within time and space. Thus the same aspects of physics that overcome the dualism that we mentioned above are also responsible for the spiritually important fact of our connection in relationships with the rest of the world. These forms of connectedness make our "selves" literally part of a web that extends far beyond the local, physical aspects of our bodies.

If we combine the deconstructed model of the person, outlined above, with this web of connectivity reaching beyond time and space, this has practical and personal consequences for the way in which we open ourselves to the world; in other words for making sense of the experience we call spirituality. Spiritual experience often presents an apparent dualism between matter and spirit: this can now be viewed instead as a duality in the human capacity for experiencing, In other words, we can experience the same inner and outer reality, but in two different ways; the everyday/scientific, and the spiritual/ artistic. As the very best of our experiencing is but partial because of the inherent limitations of the instrument (us), it can sometimes appear as if we are in touch with something totally different.

We will explain this using the Interacting Cognitive Subsystem model, introduced above. When the propositional and implicational subsystems are working smoothly together, our perceptions and anticipations are shaped by our propositional memory (each subsystem incorporates its own memory). This makes for an efficient, focused take on the world, but not for flights of fantasy. Where these two central subsystems are less tightly synchronised, the implicational subsystem becomes more dominant. Experience becomes more vivid; the mind becomes less focused. As the two drift further apart (as in deep meditation, or mystical experience), the sense of boundaries and discriminations - the province of the propositional subsystem - recede; a sense of connectedness and oneness is often apparent. Such a state tends to be accompanied by a sense of great meaningfulness. This sense is common to both spiritual and psychotic experience and is helpfully characterised by Peter Chadwick (1997 ) as "the meaning feeling". This, however, is an area of experience characterised by paradox, so that simultaneously, the individual might feel lost and cut off. Indeed, staying around too long in such a boundaryless state is usually experienced as disorientating and scary. This theory is developed fully in Clarke, I (2001).

There are further interesting implications to this sense of meaningfulness, or significance. It is connected with the implicational subsystem, and with the status of the self, according to whether we are being threatened or affirmed. But in normal, implicational/propositional knowing, it is moderated by rational considerations of whether there is some obvious cause of the feeling of significance. Where the implicational subsystem is less tempered by propositional knowing, then the sense of meaningfulness can derive not from rational thinking but from the direct connection that we then have with the wider universe. It can lead to a sense of awe and wonder, and sometimes to terror and persecution. Perhaps awe and ecstasy are the natural response to the experience of being alive and the wonder of the universe, and with the development of our verbal filtering faculty, this primal reality is dimmed for us.

The warning for investigators in this area is as follows; whereas in propositional-bound processing our sense of significance gives us straightforward information about significance for our selves, in implicationally dominated states their content cannot be relied upon. In psychosis, the "meaning feeling" can imbue things like car numbers with great personal significance. None of us is immune from this type of thinking. Indeed, we suggest that we are all endowed with a great longing for connectedness with the whole, beyond our widest imaginings, a longing which can easily become "unanchored". Our religious institutions have lost their hold, and have let us down in enabling us to find our way in such encounters. Our society seeks this vital area of being through drugs, and through seeking after "strange gods"; perhaps alien invaders, number prophecies and crop circles? We desperately need this connectedness, and are drawn to anything mysterious that appears to offer it. We would argue that this longing reminds us that love and connectedness are our natural relationship with our own kind, the other beings that inhabit our planet. Love brings with it empathy, and therefore a sense of responsibility. In this way, a connected perspective is a justice perspective.

Our aim here has been to indicate a critique of over-simplistic accounts of the human person, whether based on a dualistic conception of the soul or on an outdated reductionistic conception of matter. We see the person as a process deriving its reality and meaning both from structures that are wider than space, time and the individual - structures to which we have access through spiritual practice and mystical experience - and also from our space-time physiological manifestation, which gives us our place as part of the great continuing sweep of cosmic and biological evolution, and as part of the community of Gaia in this century. What many spiritual writers through the ages have hailed as the glory of humanity derives from the integration of these poles of our being. We neglect either pole at our peril.



Chadwick PK (1997) Schizophrenia: the positive perspective � in search of dignity for schizophrenic people. London: Routledge.

Clarke, C (2001) "The histories interpretation of quantum theory and the problem of human/divine action" to appear in Quantum Theory and Quantum Field Theory, edited by R Russell, published by CTNS and the Vatican Observatory.

Clarke, I. (2001). Psychosis and Spirituality; the discontinuity model. In Clarke, I (Ed.) (2001) Psychosis and Spirituality: exploring the new frontier. London: Whurr Publishers Ltd.

Clarke, I, (1999) "Cognitive Therapy and Serious Mental Illness. An interacting Cognitive Subsystems Approach." Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 6, 375 - 383.

Teasdale JD, Barnard PJ (1993) Affect, Cognition and Change: remodelling depressive thought. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.