2010 #2 - The Quest for Synthesis
In this issue, humanity’s quest for synthesis is approached from a number of angles. In the past, we have seen the tendency of religions to claim that they are the One True Faith, or have access to the One True God. And in the present, it seems that science has taken over this attempt at presenting a comprehensive description of reality, with the quest for the Theory of Everything. But perhaps the picture is both simpler, and more complex, than either approach is willing to admit. Might it not be the case that the many faiths exist to provide for the spiritual needs of many different types of people, offering multiple paths towards the Divine? And might it not also be the case that each of the myriad theories, both scientific and philosophical, that seeks to describe the Real, is incomplete without all of the others? The attempt to identify the One True Theory is surely an intuitive response to the underlying synthesis that lies behind all forms. This synthesis is rooted in the abstract realm of Spirit, which explains why it can never be reduced to one single form; rather, every form of thought, every theory or ideology, is a fresh attempt to capture some aspect of the Real.
Humanity’s difficulty has been, and continues to be, the tendency to identify with one form of thought, to the exclusion of all others. One of the most pernicious of these forms is the idea that the satisfaction of material needs is the be-all and end-all of existence. The ideal of a Common Good is then sacrificed on the altar of the selfish greed of individuals, as every man struggles to grab his share of the limited physical resources of the planet. This is the blind alley of materialism, which has led humanity into the serious economic and ecological crises of the present time. Humanity will find the ideal of a Common Good, a true Commonwealth, elusive, until there is a genuine willingness, not just to recognise our radical interconnectedness, but to put in place social and economic arrangements that respect that interconnectedness.
Another area where the quest for synthesis has gone somewhat astray is in the legal world, where the growing attempt to encompass all possible situations by the law, through the extension of rules and regulations, is another example of endlessly multiplying forms without capturing their essence or spirit. There is also a related tendency, which is facilitated by the easy availability of information and entertainment through the Internet and other electronic media, to allow the mind to be scattered in a multitude of directions, rather than dwelling upon the key principles that could form the basis for a just society. Again, it is the form, rather than the spirit, which becomes central. The key to releasing the human mind from the shackles of form lies in the heart – for it is only compassion for our fellow creatures that can provide the strong incentive needed to turn the energies of the mind towards service of the whole. Only then can the veil of forms be pierced, to reveal the uniting essence that is the true goal of the quest for synthesis.
In the past five hundred years there has been a sharp rise in human self-assertiveness, selfishness and competition, leading to increased conflict and warfare worldwide. Adding to the problem is a human desire for a consumer-driven life style which has created a high demand for the common resources of the planet.
The pace of life is accelerating. Indeed, there seems to be an insatiable desire to continually speed up the rate of change. Pop singers and other celebrities are famous for a year or two and then vanish into oblivion, as the public’s appetite for novelty for its own sake grows. As soon as a gadget appears it is ‘old news’, and speculation begins on the next version. This hunger for the new has a slight air of desperation about it – perhaps it is an attempt to compensate for the ongoing destruction of economic, religious and political certainties. Whatever its source, this hunger contributes to the scattering of attention; another source is the proliferation of channels of communication – email, instant messaging, SMS etc. etc. – with the consequent opportunity to chat endlessly about all the new things under the sun. This scattering of attention may seem relatively harmless, but it conceals a subtle danger: it can undermine humanity’s capacity to focus, and to make wise decision, on the many difficulties that face us as we move into a new age.
Weighing in at over 38,000 tonnes and with a circumference of 27 kilometres, the Large Hadron Collider is the world’s biggest and highest-energy particle accelerator. That something as large and complex as the Hadron Collider has been constructed to investigate something as small and simple as a fundamental particle provides an interesting symbol of humanity’s intellectual development and the colossus that the intellect can become prior to its illumination by the simplifying light of the intuition.
We live in a world teeming with rules and regulations while at the same time the human spirit is yearning for greater freedom of expression. How we reconcile these two opposing factors remains one of the big questions of our times. To quote the Roman historian, Tacitus: “The more corrupt the state, the more laws” – an interesting thought to ponder upon in relation to the complexity of burgeoning legal systems of modern societies.