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The writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe published ‘’Eureka” in 1848. It was a 150-page prose poem and frankly it was a flop. The theme of the work was the nature and origin of the universe but despite the poor reviews, he never doubted that his ideas would eventually be heard and understood. ‘’What I have propounded will revolutionise the world of Physical & Metaphysical Science,’’ he wrote to a friend in 1848. ‘’I say this calmly to you, but I say it.’’

Well, it took nearly a hundred years before it resurfaced and again it was badly received. This time in a review of Poe’s work by T. S. Eliot who said ‘’Eureka makes no deep impression”, citing Poe’s lack of qualification in philosophy, theology or natural science as the reason why the work had no merit.

In one way Eliot had a point, Poe was no physicist, but ‘’Eureka’’ was the work of an amateur stargazer but his work was locking on to something quite profound. Fast forward another eighty years and Poe, it turns out, had created a rudimentary version of contemporary science’s best guess for explaining how the universe began. Poe had written a crude description of the Big Bang.

Poe had broken from conventional wisdom and stepped into the world of quantum physics. In his time, Poe’s world was dominated by the theological world view of the Big Picture as a static and eternal universe, and certainly not the evolutionary universe he proposed. Poe provocatively argued that the universe had begun from a single ‘’primordial particle’’ and exploded into being through ‘’one instantaneous flash.’’

‘’From the one particle, as a centre let us suppose to be irradiated spherically — in all directions — to immeasurable but still to definite distances in the previously vacant space — a certain inexpressibly great yet limited number of unimaginably yet not infinitely minute atoms.’’

Bringing the quantum and cosmological understanding which Poe imagined into the 21st century remains a distant prospect for most of us as we grapple with daily life. Even at the most basic level, when asking 'What is life?' we find ourselves at the edge of science. While our scientific understanding of the wider cosmos continues to emerge, exactly how life began remains somewhat mysterious.

We might for example, take a pile of minerals, water, protein and atoms and whizz them in a blender but we would still not create life. If that is not hard enough, let us take one step further and consider the enigma of consciousness. Even when we have grown a life, what makes that living thing perceive? And lets add to this thought some further possibilities. Are we to assume that we alone are capable of such perception? It seems wildly reckless to assert that we are the sole beings on our own planet (let's not go further at this point) who have the capacity to wonder, to feel joy, to be sad, to be conscious within the universe which is itself conscious, how do we begin to make sense of that?

It may be that it is in our framing of reality that we become victims of poor perception. Just as Poe reframed and broke with contemporary wisdom, perhaps we too have to begin to conceptualise our relationship within nature in a different way.

This begins I think with a redefinition of self and situation. We have grown up to objectify reality as something we observe and relate to as a fixed phenomena functioning apart from our various observations of it. What if reality were nothing more than a kaleidoscope of infinite possibilities?

Our participation in that reality is then perhaps imagined as part of a consciousness of universal proportions, we are all perceiving and contributing to that combined perception. When I say 'we', I mean everything: the people, the animals, the trees, plants and rocks, all adding to the sum of the parts which in turn are the consciousness we are all within, a universal presence of mind. I think to make sense of consciousness we have to take a huge leap out of the current way we understand reality and consider the possibility of an existence of existences, a meta-consciousness of realities connecting in multiple ways and through as yet unimagined ways and that is as much a combined resonance as it is a construct of minds. We are tuned for this relationship, all our senses are geared towards the ability to attend to otherness, other than ourselves.

Our negotiation with this otherness has been taking place throughout time, yet today our preoccupation with self has led to an inward-focussing sensibility. Our selves are defined by far more, the consort with nature is our definition, as we become human through our beyond-human connection. Through this we become ourselves but it is not a logic we perceive easily.

It is nature's logic, quantum.

This apparent weirdness might just be a reflection of our imperfect knowledge of nature. Attempting to explore our collective consciousness in this way is the basis of our thirty year examination of the forest in Millemont, France in A Dance in Time. We begin with what we individually feel, see and share. This is then explored further through conversation and revision.

If we regard the paradoxes of quantum physics as a reminder and metaphor for the unknown infinite possibilities of our own existence we begin to get the point. It is a point so poignantly expressed in the Vedas: “As is the atom, so is the universe; as is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm; as is the human body, so is the cosmic body; as is the human mind, so is the cosmic mind.” [ITL]

Professor Paul Clarke is an Independent Thinking Associate. His Naturally Smart project has recently been nominated in the Sustainability category of the Reimagine Education Awards 2017. 

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