Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Three Celestial Ones

There is a Taoist myth of the Three Celestial Ones, the Celestial Worthy of Primordial Being, the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure and the Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power, three male deities who are said to live beyond the Big Dipper. They descend to earth during periods of cultural transition and appear as passerbys, accompanying a human who will have a spiritual task to perform here in the world. They accompany action, transition, movement of the masculine principle (yang). Archetypally, these would be the Three Visitors who appeared to Abraham, the Three Magi, Yeats’ three gnarly Irish with the unicorn in his volume The Gift of the Magi, young Baggins and his three Hobbit travel companions in the Old Forest, the Three Spirits who visit Scrooge in Dickens’ great story of Awakening (the second of whom is certainly the Green Man), the Buddha and the Three Messengers, Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three and on the pop-culture scale, the three Men in Black of sci-fi folk lore of the 1950s, now a pop movie hit, and the three Lone Gunmen, who advise agent Fox Mulder of The X Files in his quest for the Truth. The Chosen One frequently returns as one of the Three Celestial Ones: Jesus appears with two almost identical white-robed male figures on identical thrones as the Trinity in a 15th-century French Book of Hours, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob become the Three Jolly Fishermen. Three Men in a Boat (like the shrewd advisors who fly across the stage in The Magic Flute) shows the Three Celestial Ones in one of their favorite containers. A boat is a gynecological shape, a gateway to the sea, the psychic or feminine field, as the Three Celestial Ones rise out of the unconscious. (Boats - Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria - are invariably named after women.)

Artists, and not only great but also good and competent artists, know instinctively about archetypes and psychic manifestations. A friend of mine, Joe King, who painted portraits of the wealthy and influencial in North Carolina, once did a portrait of a well-known philanthropist from a tobacco family, and in the background he painted a sail boat alone in the distance out at sea with a dark sky, as the gentleman in the portrait enjoyed sailing. The day he finished the painting he discovered, as he prepared to ship it, that the man had just died. A ship or a boat at sea is a folkoric symbol of death as well as birth. It was the only painting King ever did with a boat sailing alone in the distance like that. This is a relationship between parallel events that C.G. Jung called synchronicity, and artists are most conductive to this native intuition.

The Three Celestial Ones precede Lao Tsu and recede into Chinese Taoism up to 5,000 years. Lore has it that like their sisters, the Three Women, each has an second face; a dark nature, which contains the unexpressed characteristics of their life force. And so there are really six. Twelve, counting the Three Celestial Ones and the Three Women together with their Dark Sides, composing the dozen signs of the zodiac, six yin and six yang. The double is usually hard to find and it sometimes takes a Wizard. But in the last five hundred years with the rise of the West, the three agents of the ascending masculine principle (yang - what Vermonter Scott Nearing called the Power Principle), Newton, Darwin and Freud, have been prominent and their doubles are easy to spot.

The West began its outward extension with Columbus and it continues like a reflex today. By 1492, the ideal of the inner life brought by Jesus to Constantine’s church and brought to high pitch at the Hagia Sophia and in the West perhaps, in the mandala paintings and music of Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, was entirely abandoned. Columbus's outward journey represented the new world and the new religion of action. Action followed as the anthem guiding the orthodox religious direction of subsequent champions from John Calvin to John Wesley: You are what you make, and you will be measured in the hereafter by what you build in the outside world including who you bring into your fold and how many.

The period of the exclusive reign of the Power Principal is entrance and resolve of the High Renaissance, the period described by Jacques Barzun in his book From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. Three pivotal figures accompany this rise and the ascent of power. They are Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Charles Darwin (1809-1892) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).

In the Star Wars series, director George Lucas uses the two faces as a theme throughout. Jedi Master Mace Windu ruminated, after the sith had been dispatched in The Phantom Empire, that they always come in twos. (As does the Princess.) The question was, which was the good guy and which the bad guy? (Likewise, many cartoons since, like Pokemon and Shaman King, and many computer games are influenced by the East and have incorporated Zen themes and psychological patterns. Currently, in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, for example, the Warrior has dual nature, light and dark, as everyone has dual nature.)

So it is with Newton, Darwin and Freud. Each had a double who had a similar philosophy who plagued the life of the other and was rejected by the other. Newton’s double was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who developed a theory of calculus independent of, but simultaneously with Newton, Darwin’s was Alfred Russel Wallace, who developed a theory of natural selection independent of but simultaneously with Darwin, and Freud’s was C.J. Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who, after working with Freud, broke with him to found his own school of depth psychology, analytic psychology.

The views of Newton, Darwin and Freud reigned unfettered in the West, then by the 1960s, serious challenges were brought favoring the opposite champions. One book in particular lucidly runs parrallel to the traditional view of the Renaissance, like Jacque Barzun's. Carolyn Merchant's 1980 book, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution.

Merchant writes that the world we lost in the rise of the Power Principle was the organic world. From the obscure origins of our species, she said, human beings have lived in daily, immediate, organic relation with the natural order for their sustenance. In 1500, the daily interaction with nature was still structured for most Europeans, as it was for other peoples, by close-knit, cooperative, organic communities. Nature is female, writes Merchant, and as Western culture became increasingly mechanized in the 1600s, the female earth and virgin earth spirit were subdued by the machine.

“The female earth was central to the organic cosmology that was undermined by the Scientific Revolution and the rise of a market-oriented culture in early modern Europe. The ecology movement has reawakened interest in the values and concepts associated historically with the premodern organic world. The ecology model and its associated ethics make possible a fresh and critical interpretation of the rise of modern science in the crucial period when our cosmos ceased to be viewed as an organism and became instead a machine,” she writes.

The critical turning point, she argues, came with Newton and Leibniz, who “. . . saw their mechanics, their philosophies, and their own beliefs about God and nature as deeply divergent from each other.”

Newton could not entertain the pantheistic assumption that God was immanent in matter, she writes, together with its associated radical intellectual and social implications. He argued against this position in Opticks (1706): “And yet we are not to consider the world as the body of God, or the several parts thereof, as the parts of God.” “God was neither a living animal-writ-large,” she writes, “nor the soul of the world.” Additionally, she argues, the laws of Newton’s mechanical “system of the world” predicting the ordered motions of both terrestrial and celestial bodies served as a cosmological exemplar for political and economic order in English society.

This contrasted with Leibniz’s view, which saw the world of substance as organic. Every being in the universe, from living animals down to the simple monad, was alive or composed of living parts.

Leibniz’s dynamic vitalism was in direct opposition to that of Newton and the mechanists and the “death of nature,” says Merchant.

“Leibniz stressed the idea of a life and perception permeating all things,” she writes. “The main distinction between his philosophy and that of the mechanists lay in the idea that substance was life, not dead matter. He criticized the ‘advocates of the new philosophy’ for ‘maintain[ing] the inertness and deadness of things.’ As he had once written to Jansenist theologian Antoine Arnauld (1612-1694): ‘All matter must be full of animated, or at least living, substances.’”

Newton himself had reservations about the mechanistic theory and in unpublished manuscripts wrote about the “vegetable spirit” and the earth resembling a “. . . great animal or rather inanimate vegetable.” However, she writes, a study of culture extending from the seventeenth century to the present day shows mechanical models of the self, society, and the cosmos. Thus the human body and the human psyche are treated as reactive, conditionable entities, and the human brain as a computer.

“During the three centuries in which the mechanical world view became the philosophical ideology of Western culture, industrialization coupled with the exploitation of natural resources began to fundamentally alter the character and quality of human life. Through popular scientific education, through commonsense empirical philosophy and natural religion, and through the spread of scientific, rationalizing tendencies to manufacturing, government bureaucracies, and medical and legal systems, the mechanical science, method, and philosophy created in the seventeenth century have gradually become institutionalized as a form of life in the Western world,” she states.

It is interesting and maybe useful to note that the European left his rich inner life, a life, writes Merchant in which, “The earth was alive and considered to be a beneficent, receptive, nurturing female,” with Columbus for the acquisition of the culture of an outer life: goods, action, worlds to conquer and convert, and that Columbus began this adventure on a journey to the East, to the Spice Islands in particular. But this world, recently described by anthropologists and filmmakers Lawrence and Lorne Blair as among the richest places on earth; is not so rich in material goods as it is in spiritual goods.

The Blair brothers describe the Spice Islands and surrounding Indonesia as a wonder world of magicians, shamans and dream interpreters, one that still exists but is quickly losing ground to globalism.

Like Newton’s twin, Darwin’s is nearly forgotten, but any half-learned individual at the turn of the century knew of Alfred Russel Wallace*, and many credited him with the discoveries that made Darwin famous. He has been retrieved recently in a PBS television series and accompanying book called the Ring of Fire: Exploring the Last Remote Places of the World, in which the Blair brothers follow the path of Wallace on his wandering travels throughout Indonesia and into the Spice Islands, following the path he took to his original theory of evolutionary theory.

Like the relationships between Newton and Leibnitz and between Freud and Jung, that between Wallace and Darwin was fraught with hostility, although, “… it is now quite certain that Darwin,” writes Lawrence Blair, “would have been quite unable to write it (the evolutionary theory) without his essential contribution.” The results of this contention, he says, “ … has profoundly affected the subsequent tenor of both science and the humanities.”

It was Wallace’s paper that came first, says Blair, which forced publication of Darwin’s theory, although Wallace’s contribution was considerably more enlightened.

“’Survival of the strongest,’ for instance, and its tooth-and-claw ethic which became associated with Social Darwinism, is not at all what Wallace had meant by ‘survival of the fittest,’ where fitness was defined by him as a far subtler and more complex weave of forces than mere pugnacious self-interest. A further major difference was in the two men’s attitudes towards tribal peoples – whom Wallace recognized as fascinating equals, rather than as ‘a lower order of the human race’, which was Darwin’s perhaps unwitting contribution to 20th century racism,” writes Blair.

Wallace believed that natural selection’s checks and balances were not the only forces in evolutionary play but also saw spirit or mind playing through matter. As with Newton, however, it was not so much the scientific community but the general cultural understanding or misunderstanding at large which chose Darwin and exiled Wallace.

Recently, a new translation of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of oracle, was translated by Kerson Huang, a distinguished theoretical physicist at MIT, and his wife Rosemary. It contains an essay in which Huangs point out that Leibnitz did not consider his discovery of calculus to be a new idea, because he had received a copy of the I Ching from a Jesuit friend in China just as he was making his historic discovery, and he wrote about it in the introduction to his work. Calculus, Leibnitz wrote, was basically the same as the I Ching. In his first full discourse on binary integers, published in 1703, write the Huangs, Leibniz acknowledged their origin in “the ancient Chinese diagrams of Fohy (Fuxi).” It was Leibniz’s belief that God revealed the truth to Fuxi three thousand years before his time.

But the world has moved away from the rigidly mechanistic world view of the 19th century, they write, and physics is no longer able to get away with drastic idealizations because it deals with simple measuring instruments, such as scales that read between 1 and 10.

“Everything not in the domain clearly marked out by physics is beyond its grasp, and this is the domain in which the I Ching and other nonscientific endeavors operate. The domain is vast, including such diverse phenomena as the stock market, classical music, and love,” they write. “In fact, it covers all situations and phenomena in which the ‘measuring device’ is a person.”

Not only in calculus and physics have these comparisons been made. In 1974, molecular biologist Harvey Baily observed that the mathematical structure of the DNA molecule is strictly analogous to the structure of the In ching. See John F. Yan's DNA and the I Ching: The Tao of Life.

In each of these three thinkers, Newton, Darwin and Freud, left behind was the temptation of the East. Leibnitz drew his comparison directly to the Oriental occult and the I Ching. Jung rejected Freud’s sexual theory and drew much of his inspiration from the mandala philosophy of wholeness that pervades Eastern thinking and is pronounced in Tibetan Buddhism. And Wallace's picture of natural evolution, which was imbued by mind and spirit, resembles the Hindu story of evolution.

At the end of his life Newton is said to have been preoccupied by numerical sequences in the Bible, perhaps defensively. But by our own century, the determinism of Newton would yield to quantum mechanics, which resembles the philosophies of the East. Physicist Neils Bohr would enter a classroom and illustrate the principle of quantum physics by drawing the yin/yang symbol on the board, expressing the balanced universe of masculine and feminine. While Einstein, in his last years refused to accept it, insisting on the single force theory. But if Bohr’s theory recalled the Eastern view, Einstein’s single-force view recalled Yahweh, the one true god of the Old Testament and the Prince of Egypt.

The point has been made by many that the public misunderstanding of scientific principles, particularly those of Newton and the mechanists, was unfortunate, and Newton’s official journal has actually apologized for mischief done. But from the archetypal view, that is the point. In terms of which direction the culture will take it makes no difference what the scientist understands; presumably he understands his work. What is important is how the principles are misunderstood by the public, for that will determine how they will be applied in the future. The public misunderstanding is guided from the Collective Unconscious. Thus it is on the Power Principle that we have sallied forth these five hundred years.

But that began to change radically in the academic world in 1962 with the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. Kuhn shifted the culture at its base. And largely by a popular misunderstanding or no understanding at all of his book. Kuhn gave the academic and professional management world common usage of the word paradigm, and the world was ready for this word and its application – as in, change the paradigm or subvert the dominant paradigm – by the late 1980s and the early 1990s.

In fact, Kuhn changed the dominant paradigm within academic and management culture, but probably more by accident than intention. And if the world was ready for change in the 17th century if not before, it is ready for change again. And, again, it isn’t really important how the scientist or the science historian understands Kuhn’s work. What is important is how the general public misunderstands his work.

And the conventional understanding of Kuhn’s book to those in the professional and academic arenas can fit on a 3 x 5 card: it is that scientific revolutions come and go like religious revivals, build to an arc, then disappear, gone with the wind, like the Anasazi or Tree Druids.

This brought an Awakening, especially to the post-war generation; a feeling that the world was not fixed in one place and could move on now to other things. Prior to that we seemed impermeable to change. The “ . . . single vision of Newton’s sleep,” may have been dark, flat and static, but it had to be accepted because it was the truth. Science was, as the Cigarette-Smoking Man said, the people’s religion.

Now the paradigm h
ad shifted.

No comments: