Is Noetic Evolution a Secular Substitute for God?
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
Noetics has long been a cutting edge of New Age philosophy. Noetics, from the Greek word nous, which means mind, intelligence, and understanding, has come to mean a holistic combination of the perceptions of the physical senses, the rational intellect’s ability to reason, and the intuitive, spiritual, or inner ways of knowing. It has also acquired the additional meaning of man as an information processor with the power to evolve together with the entire universe.
Is noetic evolution a substitute for God? Most of its proponents do not ask this question, nor probably have they ever even thought about it as a question. An affirmative answer, however, follows logically from the article by Dr. Laurie Nadel, “The New Science of Consciousness,” published in November, 2007, in http://www.bleepingherald.com .
Noetics as developed today is not a new idea. Tailhard de Chardin, who emerged from the collectivist movement of the mid-20th century, wrote many books as a philosophical paleontologist proposing that the universe is evolving and that human evolution is a collectivist process of ascent culminating in Oneness with God. In the past couple of decades, this has been combined by Gaia theorists into worship of nature, including the entire physical universe, as the ultimate Being with its own inherent and independent consciousness. This by definition rejects a still higher level of conscious transcendence, from which the universe is at best merely an emanation. This ultimate level of consciousness is what Christian mystics have called “Beyond Being” and Muslims refer to simply as Allah.
This issue puzzles those who cannot conceive that reality can be split into the Creator and the Created. This is the question of wahdat al wujud, “the Oneness of Being”, which makes sense epistemologically or cognatively, but ontologically or objectively is really wahdat al shuhud or merely our subjective perception. For most people, perhaps rightly, this issue is merely a distraction from our love of God.
The new science of consciousness popularized by Dr. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the first polio vaccine, in his book, Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason, and then by the astronaut Edgar Mitchell in his Institute for Noetic Sciences in Sausalito, California, quite rightly emphasizes that the human being is a metasystem and even is part of a larger ecological metasystem. Like almost all the Nobel prize winners, as explored in the book of a decade ago entitled “The New Science of Discovery,” all paradigmatically revolutionary theorists develop new insights without the use of the rational mind by perceiving simple beauty and only then exploring quantitatively through mathematics and physically in the laboratory the nature of what they have already discovered.
Dr. Salk designed all his lab experiments merely to test his intuitive perceptions, those that were never a conscious projection of his consciousness. He writes, “I feel as if this is all occurring at a level of my mind that I sense to be beneath consciousness and that seems to want to merge with my conscious mind. At the moment when the two converge, when they commune, I feel a rush of ecstasy, a sense of release, of satisfaction, of fulfillment.” His conclusion was that, “The phenomenon of consciousness and self-consciousness, as well as of intuition and reason, manifests the same pattern of a functional binary relationship which characterizes all matter, and all natural phenomena, from the simplest to the most complex.”
This is the most elemental finding of what some call metapsychology but Islamic psychologists for more than a thousand years have called tafakkur. In contrast to some “new age” renditions of Eastern religions, where meditation sacrifices conscious thought in order to obtain altered states of consciousness, tafakkur as an Islamic form of worship is a cognitive spiritual activity in which the rational mind, emotion, and spirit must be combined. These may equate with: 1) the body’s brain (jizm); 2) the heart (qalb, sometimes referred to as the action mode of the “mind”), which functions both within the three-dimensional and supra-dimensional orders of reality; 3) the soul (nafs), which is independent of the body but can direct it; and 4) the spirit (ruh), which is always in the presence of Allah and has been since before the creation of the physical universe. The spirit or ruh is entirely beyond space and time but can direct the nafs if the nafs chooses to respond to its higher calling.
This holistic conception of the human being contrasts with the four dominant schools of secular psychology, namely, behaviorism, Freudian psychoanalysis, Gestalt psychology, and neuropsychiatry, which by their own bankruptcy in explaining human behavior have given rise to the revolution in cognitive psychology described in the book, Contemplation: An Islamic Psychospiritual Study, by Malik Badri, republished this year by the International Institute of Islamic Thought as part of its cutting-edge Islamization of Islamic Thought involved in reviving the universal purposes and essential principles of justice. These are known as the maqasid al shari’ah (also as the kulliyat or universals and as the dururiyat or essentials), without which the ahkam or regulatory rules often cause injustice by incoherent understanding and application.
The most serious fallacy of the so-called noetics revolution, in my opinion as a nearly life-long student of artificial intelligence (AI), is the reduction of the human being to an information processor, albeit with access to the connective link between mind and matter, evidenced in intuition, psychokinesis, and healing, all of which were normal for humans millennia ago. While Edgar Mitchell’s noetic movement, headquartered in Sausalito, exposes the reductionist mainstream science of physical cause and effect as incomplete, it makes the error of reducing the human being to an information processor that functions as an ultimate cause or ecologically as part of an ultimate cause of both immanent and transcendent evolution.
Astronaut Mitchell writes, “What is the most elemental thing about our nonphysical essence?” His answer is simply “information,” the ability and intent to distinguish between two simultansous states. Like a north pole and a south pole, energy becomes the basis of physical reality and information the basis of consciousness.
The noetic sciences claim to have the most comprehensive solution, “a unified field theory,” for understanding reality by opposing the answers both of physics, which posits matter/energy as the creator of all, and of religion, which says that the creator is the mind of God. Noetics rejects both such “micro-determinism” and “macro-determinism” by regarding the human mind as the source of knowledge and as the ultimate source of cause and effect. The corollary is that human self-consciousness will determine the future by determining its own evolution and through this power the evolution of the entire universe.
This reduction of the theomorphic person by a new anthropomorphic determinism may be regarded as perhaps the most sophisticated polytheism yet invented to restore meaning to what increasingly is being regarded as a meaningless accident, especially the existence of oneself and of humankind. In response to the “death of God” in modern Western civilization and increasingly in global culture, the polytheistic response of the New Agers has always been to create a new god in the form of one’s own ego sublimated to a transcendent level through the delusion that it holds the key to all power.
The function of Sufis in Islam and of their equivalent in other religionss is to revive the traditional teachings of all the world religions in order to expose the illusions of the present and thereby create a better future. They do this in reliance on the direct power of God, who in the Islamic “trinity” is the “most powerful, most compassionate, and all-knowing” and thereby is the source of compassionate justice, which summarizes the entire message of Islam for the modern world