Chapter Six–A Concluding Postscript

When I was a boy, I loved to read science fiction. It was not so much the plot or the characters that interested me – indeed, I suspect that much of what I read in those days was rather deficient in both of those dimensions – it was rather the cosmology that caught and held my attention. I found great joy in entering into and exploring new imaginal universes, and I found in those universes a release from the flat, dry, and closed spaces of modernity.

When I was a young man, I stumbled across the works of the Theosophists and their Doctrine of the Subtle Worlds. Here were serious cosmological works that made this world seem as interesting, as deep, as dimensional and as open as the worlds of science fiction that I so appreciated. This Theosophical vision operated in me as a powerful lure for feeling. I wanted, indeed, I still want, to live in that Theosophical universe. On the other hand, I received a modern education. White-coated scientists were the priests of my first religion. The authority of those priests has only been increased by the technological marvels that they have unleashed during my lifetime, and my mystical and occult experiences have been fleeting and rare. Thus I could not allow myself to fully adopt the Doctrine of the Subtle Worlds without testing that doctrine against the findings of science.

For a long time I cherished the hope that it might be possible to identify the subtle worlds with some scientific reality. I hoped, along with generations of Theosophists, that the mode of “explanation from abstractions” to which we have so often referred in this essay might ultimately validate the Theosophical intuition. Figure Three schematically outlines that hope.

Figure 3: Accounting for the Subtle Worlds by “Explanation from Abstractions”

This explanation form abstractions begins by positing geometrical spacetime and material process as the ultimate metaphysical ground, and it proceeds to explain the facts of the physical world as an expression of the activities of that ground. I originally hoped that the ongoing advance of science, which has disclosed atoms, energetic fields, galaxies, black holes, and quantum events, would eventually disclose subtle worlds. I imagined that those subtle worlds might turn out to be something like self-organizing patterns of electromagnetic energy, configurations of probability waves, or energetic processes in higher spatial dimensions. It gradually became clear to me, however, that any phenomenon which could be explained by the hard sciences would, by definition, be part of the physical world, and that no strictly physical process could exhibit the freedom and the luminosity of the subtle worlds for which I was searching. I needed a new approach, a new starting point from which I could account both for the physical world disclosed by scientific investigation and for the subtle worlds which I was glimpsing.

This new mode of explanation, the one which underlies the work of this essay, is schematically outlined in Figure Four.

Rather than beginning by postulating the existence of geometrical spacetime and material process, it begins with an examination of Fact, the totality of what is experienced. By an analysis of Fact, it discloses events and objects. It envisions all possible worlds as configurations of events and objects, and it exhibits the physical world so dear to science as one, peculiarly limited, such configuration.

This new mode of explanation does full justice to modern science. Indeed, this mode of explanation was developed by Alfred North Whitehead as a way of demonstrating that science is, as it claims, empirically grounded. It has, as we have seen, several other advantages. First, since it never falls into the misplaced concreteness which posits spacetime and material process as existing outside of experience, it avoids the “hard problem” of accounting for the presence of consciousness in an otherwise inconscient reality. Second, it establishes a bridge linking the wisdom of the East with the knowledge of the West. Finally, it makes room for the Doctrine of the Subtle Worlds Thus, this mode of explanation allows me to pay my full respects to science while still allowing myself to inhabit the enchanted word in which the Doctrine of the Subtle Worlds is a true characterization of the real world of human experience.

Figure 4: Accounting for Subtle Worlds by Means of “Explanation from the Concrete”

This essay is by no means a full cosmology of the subtle worlds. At best it establishes the initial plausibility of the Doctrine of the Subtle Worlds, and sketches out some of its outlines. Even with this tentative beginning, however, we can see the magnificent evolutionary possibilities that unfold in a universe where the Doctrine of the Subtle Worlds is true.

In this universe:

Is this universe the one that we are actually inhabiting? If we lived in a universe where these things were possible, and if we examined that universe with the methods of the hard sciences, we would come up with a physics that is indistinguishable from modern physics. If we understood ourselves to be living in that universe, then many factors of experience for which the hard sciences cannot account would find an intelligible explanation. If we did, indeed, live in that universe, then we would be inspired to a whole new vision of our evolutionary vector – a vision in which the progressive elaboration of physical tools would be supplanted by a progressive cultivation of the sensory, affective, cognitive and volitional capabilities of our own human beings.

I now think that if we compare the Doctrine of the Subtle Worlds to any doctrine which suggests that the physical world is coextensive with the real world, it will show itself to be more coherent, more plausible, more useful, and much more interesting.

Here we are, at the dawn of the Twenty First Century, and I have awakened to find myself living in a science fiction novel. If this novel were to be written from the standpoint of the 23rd century, looking back to the beginning of the 21st, it might start something like this:

At that time, the certainties of science had faltered. The great charism of the men in white lab coats had faded. The bastions of materialism had crumbled from within, and the civilization that it had fostered was losing its way.

Meanwhile, three centuries of rapacious assault on the biosphere were, at last, showing decisive results. The globe was poisoned, people were sick, species were being slaughtered by the tens of thousands, global temperatures and global sea levels were both beginning to rise. A civilization was ending, and in its death throes, it was bringing to a close the Cenozoic Era. The Earth was preparing for a fresh creation.

Looking back, too, we can see that the promise of the new civilization had already begun to shine. The iron cage of the material world, in which the species had been trapped for centuries, was starting to dissolve. Here and there, the experiences of the subtle worlds were breaking through. A few intrepid explorers had seen the promise, and had just begun to glimpse the vast freedoms and the limitless horizons that we now enjoy, but the darkness was still thick and Kali was dancing wildly across the face of the globe. This is the story of those early pioneers…

© 2009 Eric Weiss. All rights reserved.