Not everything is terrible. Spring flowers and shoots may not be completely cruel, a stranger is sometimes kind, and waves break on countless shores. Ah yes, the waves. Why is it that angry vicious heads cannot hear the teaching of the waves? I wonder if the regular pulse in the sea, the heartbeat of breakers, reminds some people uncomfortably of the amniotic space.
The patterns of the surf have similarity but each meeting is unique. Perhaps the only other place in the entirety of the solar system to have wind-driven waves is Titan, a moon of Saturn. There, under a dense smog of organic nitrogen, waves of liquid methane break unseen on a sooty sand of ammonium sulphate and water ice.
This is the first message: everything has a pulse, not just the hearts of animals. Plants not only have a circadian cycle, but also a ‘pulse’ that links phloem to transpiration, something like the way a sponge is soaked then squeezed dry. Then there are unique and curious waves: some bees use a resonant vibration of their wing muscles to dislodge the pollen of particular plants.
Waves happen in light and there are waves in gravity. Everything in the universe oscillates. It is only inside a black hole that matter and time are supposed to break down, though even this point of ‘singularity’ is in doubt. Theories of quantum gravity suggest that black holes are portals to other universes and that a signal entering a black hole would leak into another part of the universe, or another universe altogether1.
The waves mirror our own rhythms, just as they mirror those of anything else in the universe. To stand and watch the billows – or to be in them, caught surprised and rendered breathless by the hard force of a big wave, or lulled by a gentle rise and fall – is to become close to an embodied understanding of the power of the universe, the Tao, a power probably more irreducibly complex and astounding than we will ever comprehend. Perhaps this is the reason for the seemingly unstoppable horror of human existence – small minds recoil from the immensity, the 96% of the universe that consists of dark matter and energy, the greater than human power – and seek constantly to diminish, to reduce to a level lower than human, to dominate and control the incomprehensible. Death, to these unfortunates, brings even greater terror.
Faces in things
It is possible that Carl Jung’s theory of Synchronicity, examples of which have long been criticised as confirmation bias and pattern detection, is related to quantum entanglement. The visual form of ‘pattern detection’ is called pareidolia – it includes the seeing of faces in things. Here’s a pair of old jeans hanging over a chair in which I saw a face:
Google developed the neural network DeepDream to find and enhance patterns in images via algorithmic pareidolia. Here’s an image of Chichester Harbour and the same image processed through DeepDream. I did this myself, selecting a few settings at random. Even though the neural network has been programmed to find animals over a number of iterations, the appearance of the ‘dream’ bird and the other creatures is extraordinary. They suggest hallucinatory ghost presences on the flat tidal landscape, reminding us that there was a time, not long ago, when these tidal flats would have been alive with many more creatures than at present.
The images produced by DeepDream have been compared to acid trips or hallucinations rather than dreams. The late neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote of the secret shame of hallucination:
In other cultures, hallucinations have been regarded as gifts from the gods or the Muses, but in modern times they seem to carry an ominous significance in the public (and also the medical) mind, as portents of severe mental or neurological disorders. Having hallucinations is a fearful secret for many people — millions of people — never to be mentioned, hardly to be acknowledged to oneself, and yet far from uncommon.’
Sacks, Oliver. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/opinion/sunday/seeing-things-hearing-things-many-of-us-do.html New York Times, 2012
Who among us has not experienced the hypnagogic (the state immediately before falling asleep) or hypnopompic (the state just before waking) hallucinations that Sacks describes? I know I have, and frequently. Perhaps those who do not hallucinate, or who deny it, refuse to accept that there are other mysteries. In pattern seeking, I wonder if we are looking for the consistencies that bond us to the universe? By locating a figure in a rocky outcrop, or a face in a pair of jeans flung across the back of a chair, perhaps we are seeing something that logic currently dismisses.
Quantum of solace
Quantum entanglement holds that an electron exists in an oscillating wave form. Strangely, measurement collapses the wave-function and creates a fixed state. According to Francois Martin, (Laboratory of Theoretical Physics at the University of Paris) and Federico Carminati (a physicist at CERN), it is possible that consciousness collapses the wave function of the unconscious mind. According to a piece in Epoch Times, rather than our conventional understanding of a binary system of bits, which can take only two values: 0 or 1, a quantum bit (or qubit) can take the values 0 and 1 at the same time. This is reflective of both ancient thinking and the modern practice of depth psychology, which seeks to alter perception from the oppositional binary (good or bad) into the simultaneous (good and bad).
To truly embody non-binary thinking would be revolutionary, but for the revolution to be significant it needs to extend from the individual to the cultural. If the unconscious is collapsed by consciousness (think of how difficult it is to remember dreams, and the importance of dreaming in psychoanalysis) then this explains the fundamental importance of connecting to the unconscious. That connection comes about in many ways: through dreaming, creativity, meditation, nature, the erotic, and a strong sense of otherness. It is unsurprising that dictators are quick to attack the paths into the unconscious.
A wave crashes – it can be measured, its forces understood. But this literalises the extraordinary, robs us of the contemplative and the imaginative, and changes the wave to something quotidian and predictable.
Martin and Carminati also write:
As an end let us mention a quantum effect that can have important consequences in mental phenomena, for example for awareness (for the emergence of consciousness). It is the Bose-Einstein condensation, in which each particle loses its individuality in favor of a collective, global behavior.”
Here is a visualisation of the Bose-Einstein condensate. I find it strangely moving – it says something to me of what needs to happen now in human development, the slowing down that precipitates a new way of being. I do not see this as some amorphous bonding that reduces all individual thought to the hive mind, but the progression of ego to the Jungian Self, the ‘individuated’ unification of conscious and unconscious. Yet individuation is a holistic fantasy that makes such a permanent unification highly suspect, and the wrong type of unification leads to disaster – the chilling effects of fascism and racism. The visualisation appears to show the apparently random motion of individuals suddenly becoming community.
Pareidolia? Perhaps. But quantum superposition, such as the double-slit experiment (in which photons behave both as particles and waves, but cannot be observed as both at the same time) and the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat (whereby a cat in a box may be both dead and alive simultaneously) are suggestive of another truth, that the world of Aristotelian, Cartesian and Newtonian logic is itself pareidolic.
At the weekend I stood on a beach and watched the waves break on shingle. The surf made pools of white lace that hissed as the spume was sucked through wet stones. Those grey waves, cresting and falling, roaring, were hypnotic. Push forward, break, retreat with a sigh, push forward shouting, break catastrophically… and gulls flew as though torn from the racing sky.
As I stood at the edge of the combers, playing with the prospect of soaked shoes and socks, I played too with the idea of walking into the sea, a fantasy that had no struggling flailing terror, no aching chest and bursting heart, but instead a quiet watery oblivion, a passing into the depths.
Water is the special element of reverie, the element of reflective images and their ceaseless, ungraspable flow. Moistening in dreams refers to the soul’s delight in death, its delight in sinking away from literalized concerns.”
Hillman, James. The Dream and the Underworld. HarperPerennial, 1979
The waves crush. The waves tickle the toes. In Chichester they hardly exist – the sea creeps in like a dark colloid and slinks away. Elsewhere, the waves makes themselves known with terrible force2. So with our dreams and what we describe as our madness.
The second message is that the waves belong to dreams and death, the waves of the unconscious. Waves (in the form of vibrations and electromagnetic fields) fuel speculations that are generally dismissed as quackery, but it seems likely that at least some of this pseudoscience will be validated by quantum physics, just as some psychological theories have been validated by neuroscience.
Carl Jung developed his ideas of the Archetypes almost a hundred years ago, writing that they “constitute a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us”. The neuroanthropologist Charles Laughlin attempts to integrate Jung’s framework (criticised as unscientific, mystical and reductionist) with modern ‘neuropsychological-quantum coupling’. He writes:
What makes the activity of the archetypes distinctive in human affairs is the sense of profundity and numinosity that commonly accompanies their emergence into consciousness. Their numinosity is derived from the fact that they store up and are conduits for affective and libidinous energies from lower levels of the psyche. So numinous and transpersonal are the symbolic eruptions of archetypal processes that the experience of them may lead to fascination and faith, and even to states of possession and over-identification with the imagery.”
Laughlin, Charles. https://www.scientificexploration.org/docs/10/jse_10_3_laughlin.pdf. Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
Laughlin’s paper suggests a number of possible neural structures that might enable mediation between the quantum universe that holds these energies and individual consciousness. He carefully avoids the traps of technological metaphor (brain as computer, brain as spiritual radio receiver) in his exploration. It is fascinating to see how even materialist views of consciousness open paths to theories of ‘subtle planes’ that interpenetrate the physical plane. And subtle planes, a transcendent form of consciousness, are a concept of esoteric cosmology.
Developments in quantum physics suggest that the shaman and the scientist are not nearly as separate as we might have assumed. Indeed, it is the problems caused by duality, fixed ideological thinking and artificial borders that create the problems with which we are beset. It is fear itself that holds us back. The idea of the Gods returning as diseases suddenly becomes vivid:
Soul enters only via symptoms, via outcast phenomena like the imagination of artists or alchemy or “primitives,” or of course, disguised as psychopathology. That’s what Jung meant when he said the Gods have become diseases: the only way back for them in a Christian world is via the outcast.”
Hillman, James. Inter Views. Spring Publications, 19913
The wave rises, loses support and dies. Another wave follows it. In the discontinuity of the crash is the knowledge of continuity. The controversial French literary figure Georges Bataille wrote of violent sacrifice:
A violent death disrupts the creature’s discontinuity; what remains, what the tense onlookers experience in the succeeding silence, is the continuity of all existence with which the victim is now one. ”
Bataille, Georges. Erotism: Death and Sensuality. (trans. Mary Dalwood) City Lights Books; New Ed edition (Nov. 1986)
He also connected death with the erotic:
Erotic activity, by dissolving the separate beings that participate in it, reveals their fundamental continuity, like the waves of a stormy sea.”
Bataille, Georges. Erotism: Death and Sensuality. (trans. Mary Dalwood) City Lights Books; New Ed edition (Nov. 1986)
The Elizabethan use of the word ‘dying’ as a euphemism for sexual climax makes even more sense in connection to the roaring wave that collapses into milky froth with a sigh. I once watched several ragworms ejaculating in a rock pool. As they swam, each worm ejected great clouds of semen. Once this violent act was complete the limp ragworms died, as did the female after her eggs were fertilised.
Our disconnection with the land has reduced our vocabulary along with our sensual apperception. The ancient Greeks had over 30 deities of the sea – gods and goddesses, monsters, sea spirits and nymphs. The Vikings had fewer, but the sea-god Aegir had nine daughters. It was painful to change that from ‘has nine daughters’:
- Himinglæva – That through which one can see the heavens (a reference to the transparency of water).
- Dúfa – The Pitching One.
- Blóðughadda – Bloody-Hair (a reference to red sea foam).
- Hefring (or Hevring) – Riser.
- Uðr (or Unn) – Frothing Wave.
- Hrönn – Welling Wave.
- Bylgja – Billow.
- Dröfn – Foam-Fleck (or “Comber” according to Faulkes).
- Kólga – Cool Wave.
To know something by many names is a sensual delight, it brings poetry to our lives. To see Dröfn and Bylgja brings an erotic quality to life that the science of the Enlightenment has almost destroyed. Here is the poet Hesiod describing the birth of Aphrodite, goddess of love and pleasure:
Ouranos (the Sky) came, bringing on night and longing for love, and he lay about Gaia (the Earth) spreading himself full upon her. Then the son [Kronos] from his ambush stretched forth his left hand and in his right took the great long sickle with jagged teeth, and swiftly lopped off his own father’s members and cast them away to fall behind him . . . and so soon as he had cut off the members with flint and cast them from the land into the surging sea, they were swept away over the main a long time: and a white foam spread around them from the immortal flesh, and in it there grew a maiden.
First she drew near holy Kythera, and from there, afterwards, she came to sea-girt Kypros, and came forth an awful and lovely goddess, and grass grew up about her beneath her shapely feet. Her gods and men call Aphrodite, and Aphrogeneia (the foam-born) because she grew amid the foam, and well-crowned (eustephanos) Kythereia because she reached Kythera, and Kyprogenes because she was born in billowy Kypros, and Philommedes (Genital-Loving) because sprang from the members.
And with her went Eros (Love), and comely Himeros (Desire) followed her at her birth at the first and as she went into the assembly of the gods. This honour she has from the beginning, and this is the portion allotted to her amongst men and undying gods, the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight and love and graciousness.”
Hesiod. Theogony 176 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) c. 700 BC
Aphrodite was born of the waves, and is often shown emerging from a clam shell. This link will take you to a interesting paper entitled ‘Genitalia of the Sea’ by Carl A. Shaw, professor of Greek Language and Literature at the New College of Florida. Professor Shaw offers a lexicon of the numerous imaginative and humorous ways that “Greek comic poets correlate a range of sea creatures with sex and sexuality.” They clearly had great fun, not just with clams, but with sea-urchins (“devouring, splitting, licking clean my sea-urchin down below” writes Aristophanes) and many more. Here is a table of 30 species mentioned in the article (and there are others without a translation).
|Scallop||Scorpion fish||Sea Urchin||Sea-squirt||Shrimp||Smelt|
Greek comic poets were almost certainly all men. It is unlikely that women would have been allowed into the audience, with the possible exception of notable courtesans and hetaerae, and it is clear that most of the species above were associated with female sexual organs. So these plays were largely for the enjoyment of aristocratic men, who one might imagine haw-hawing at the seafood jokes. Notwithstanding the considerable difficulty this presents, the language itself is a further demonstration of how our language has become impoverished. Over-fishing and pollution have made sure that the species with which we have any familiarity are hugely reduced, so that only a few of the above have any lingering erotic correlation. Not so with the ancient Greeks.
Psychology has seized on the connection between water and sexuality. Here, in an extract from one of his dream seminars, Carl Jung explores the nature of a dream – or rather he elucidates his own position and pulls the attendees of the seminar into it like Scylla!
Thoughtlessly, we frolic in the surf or bake our skins nearby. Undressing we become more attuned to the senses, making the wearing of wet suits seem particularly perverse. Our western culture has made it hard for us to reflect on death, and because of this it has become difficult to reflect on continuity. All our distortions fall away if we really focus on the waves. The next time you are lifted bodily by a wave, punched in the chest by one, or even just given soaking socks by a rising tide, perhaps you think of these three messages:
- Everything has a wave form, though sometimes you can’t see it
- Waves have a special relationship with dreams and death
- Waves have a special relationship with the erotic.
There are other messages, but these are peculiarly vital. They are reminders that we live in a natural universe, not one of thought and deed, and that there are connections to it right in front of us, physical yet numinous, temporary yet eternal, present yet absent. Appreciating this non-duality makes it easier to see that there is no Life, no Death, but everywhere the continuity of the Tao.4
1. The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen argument, still apparently exercising strong views in the scientific community, suggests that once two parts of a quantum system are separated, they continue to act as a correlated unity no matter how far they travel from each other. This argument confounds causation, as there is no apparent mechanism to cause the continued interaction.
2. A GIF is available of this 100 ft wave here.
3. I think I have quoted James Hillman in most of the pieces on this site, so it’s clear that I’m a bit of a Hillmaniac. I will continue to do so. Thomas Moore says this of Hillman:
You see, I believe that he is the greatest thinker who ever lived: more important than Aristotle, Plato, Heidegger, and Blake. No one pushed the imagination into the world and actual life to the extent that Jim did and with such immediate relevance.”
Thomas Moore, quoted in http://www.cgjungny.org/q/s12.full.content/henderson.pdf
I’m not sure that I can sign up for such hagiography. I have never liked Hillman’s view that the things that happen to us in childhood are of no importance, and his popular work failed to excite me. But no writer of non-fiction has moved me, transformed me, educated me and amused me as much as James Hillman. His Wikipedia entry is so slim it is clear that he is being written out of the history of psychology.
It is claimed that he offers nothing to the clinician – quite so. Hillman’s clinician was – finally – the community. His work was mercurial, contradictory, challenging. He is probably laughing, great waves of laughter, at his post mortem assassination. As one of his principal detractors writes: “By throwing out the heroic pattern of consciousness, and the idea of individuation, Hillman no longer appealed to most psychologists or therapists. By transgressing professional ethics, he no longer appealed to training institutes.”
Good for him – psychology is invested and entrenched, not just in modality, but ethical hypocrisy and defensiveness. The real tragedy is that even with all his fiery compassionate intellectual stature, Hillman was unable to influence the mainstream. But waves will come from elsewhere, and I have little doubt that his work will be remembered – at least for as long as we are able to save ourselves from the peculiar monomania that he sought to address.
4. Laozi in the Tao Te Ching explains that the Tao is not a ‘name’ for a ‘thing’ but the underlying natural order of the Universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe due to it being non conceptual yet evident in one’s being of aliveness. Source: wikipedia.