Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Anthony Peake and Patrick Harpur

Into The MysticImage by digitalART2 via FlickrPosted in late Feb. by the Tao of Dog on Bohemian Babies blog:
Have you ever experienced that much discussed near-death phenomena of your entire life ‘flashing before your eye’s? Experienced Déjà vu and pre-cognitive dreams and visions? Maybe you’ve felt a sense of the uncanny by a ‘meaningful coincidence’ or synchronicity as Carl Jung called it? If you have an unhealthy interest in Quantum Mechanics too, you might enjoy Anthony Peake’s book ‘Is there life after death? The extraordinary science of what happens when we die’. 

According to Peake, at the penultimate moment of brain death our entire lives are resurrected and 'flash before us' - every sight, sound, taste, smell etc. Nothing is lost. But what appears to us on one level, as a rapid, kaleidoscopic flicker of images and sensations at death, is, on another level of our awareness, a ‘slowed down’ awareness, experienced in REAL TIME (It may be helpful here to remember the stories of Zeno's time paradoxes, for example, the arrow that takes forever to reach its target if its trajectory is plotted at each point).

Peake explains how this ‘slowing down’ mechanism may occur on a biological level by citing clinical and anecdotal evidence of temporal lobe seizure epileptics who often experience a violent flooding of the brain by certain neurotransmitters (including dopamine and glutamate) in the pre-seizure ‘aura’ state; imagine watching grains of sugar taking minutes to fall into a tea cup, while the people around you experience everything in real time.
The second, and most important example that Peake uses to bolster his argument, is the evidence gained from near-death experiences - again, both medical and anecdotal.

Research has shown that the same neurotransmitter flood occurs in the brains of those who believe or intuit that they are literally seconds away from death and so experience a ‘dropping out of time’ very similar to temporal lobe epileptics. The classic example that Peake uses is the car crash victim who watches, almost serenely, as the bonnet of their vehicle blisters and buckles in slow motion before the final impact.
To experience the past life recall in its entire, miniscule, real time detail (slowed down) indicates that our brains must record our complete lives like a DVD; and the research included in Peake’s book appears to show empirical evidence for this.
Studies done on stimulating certain memory area’s of the brain reveal how subjects will recall certain events from their lives, often mundane, in exquisite sensory detail – not like a dream, but identical to conscious lived reality.
When the artificial stimulation stops, the person is brought back to the present…when the stimulation is reapplied in precisely the same place, the previous memory will start off again from the exact point where it ceased before - like a You Tube clip restarted after a pause.

But, where does some modicum of free will enter this theory of consciousness? Wouldn’t we be condemned to a permanent ‘ground hog day’ forever if we could never change any details of the replay? Wouldn’t all the people around us be merely actors in our own unique, self-generated (or regenerated) world?
By expanding Hugh Everett’s Many worlds theory, David Bohm’s Holographic universe, and the ‘Participatory principle’ of John Wheeler; Peake illustrates how it might be possible for personal choice to intervene and change aspects of the replay through a process of ‘enfoldment’ and the splitting off of our narrative replays into parallel universes…I know, I know, it sounds like Sci-fi (which in a way, as a theory, it is) and is pretty complicated trying to hold all this stuff in your head!

The summation of all this theorizing is the postulation that we never in fact die, or reach death, but endlessly branch off or bifurcate into endless, eternal fractals of the original, primary blueprint of our lives. Like a fractal, we replicate into an identity that is self-similar but never identical.

Going back to the brain stimulation studies again, when the person who is being stimulated is supposedly reliving the past, they are in fact – according to Peake – actually there in that place now, living it in the present.

Peake explains this consciousness splitting with a discussion of Split-brain research, right/left hemisphere dominance and so on - we are never really a single unified being, but have two selves: the Eidolon, which is equivalent to the conscious ego, and a more hidden, instinctual aspect. Peake calls the latter the ‘Daemon’, after the creatures of Greek myth, similar to guardian angels, an aspect of self outside of the normal constraints of linear time and causality.

If you use the above as an overlay to an investigation of Déjà vu and/or precognition, it is possible to understand how we may experience an overlap of previously lived experience in our dreams and waking lives. This may explain those uncanny synchronicity’s that pop up in our lives now and again too.
Anthony Peake explains precognition by seeing it not as an indication of a future event, but as a 'memory' from a past life - as something that has already happened in the old consciousness and has sneaked into the newly replayed pre-death movie. We don't really see the future; we see the past.
According to him and philosophers like Nietzsche (who Peake discusses) our lives are cyclic and spin through many quantum/holographic ‘incarnations’ in what Nietzsche called 'The Eternal Return'.
But, as I explained earlier, Peake differs from Nietzsche in that he believes we still have something approaching ‘free will’: there is a continuity of self but it changes with each incarnation. Remember that this type of thinking drove Nietzsche insane eventually!

Something about Peake’s model of consciousness reminds me of something I read by Patrick Harpur in his book ‘The philosophers Secret fire: A History of the Imagination’. In the book Harpur talks about the importance of imagination and memory as the central creative motor between mind/ego and body/matter. Without memory we are nothing, just empty vessels, creatures of habit. By drawing on memory and imagination we commune with the soul of the world, the storehouse of the archetypes and mythical imagery from the present to antiquity (Harpur is a Jungian), we are possessed by the Daemons of yore to play out our unique life-paths in the here and now.

One thing from Harpur’s book that has really stuck in my mind in relation to Anthony Peake’s theory, is his retelling of the Greek myth pertaining to the River of forgetfulness.
Before birth, as the tale goes, we are made to drink from the waters of Lethe (the river of forgetfulness) and we spend the rest of our lives ‘re-collecting’ and relearning what we really already know.
Harpur’s ideas on the collective unconscious, the ‘Otherworld’, daemonic manifestations and the difference between literal reality and mythical reality may be developed even more by being filtered through Peake’s quantum prism.

I’d like to see Harpur and Peake collaborate on a book together - that would be really ‘hermetical’. Peake would broadly represent the healthy ‘Spirit’ (curious, open science, non judgmental empirical data – the horizontal axis), Harpur would represent ‘Soul’ (Depth, mythical verticality and the importance of imagination and memory in perception from an anthropological and poetic point of view).
Between the two, some kind of cultural Individuation may be achieved: the macrocosm meets the microcosm, ‘as above so below’.
Maybe Hermes could set up a meeting or a synchronicity?
I need my tea now, my brain hurts.

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