I and this mystery; here we stand.
you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human
beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of
growing:the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to
ourselves. You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it
becoming. Life,for eternal us,is now;and now is much too busy being a
little more than everything to seem anything,catastrophic included.
Miracles are to come. With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are by
somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn,a human
being;somebody who said to those near him,when his fingers would not hold a
brush 'tie it into my hand'-nothing proving or sick or partial. Nothing false,nothing difficult or easy or small
or colossal. Nothing ordinary or extraordinary,nothing emptied or filled,real or
unreal;nothing feeble and known or clumsy and guessed. Everywhere tints
childrening, innocent spontaneous,true. Nowhere possibly what flesh and
impossibly such a garden,but actually flowers which breasts are among the very
mouths of light. Nothing believed or doubted; brain over heart, surface:nowhere
hating or to fear;shadow, mind without soul. Only how measureless cool flames
of making;only each other building always distinct selves of mutual entirely
opening;only alive. Never the murdered finalities of wherewhen and
yesno,impotent nongames of wrongright and rightwrong;never to gain or
pause,never the soft adventure of undoom,greedy anguishes and cringing
ecstasies of inexistence; never to rest and never to have:only to grow.Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.
–E. E. Cummings
introduction from Collected Poems, excerpt
Ours is a planet sown in beings. Our generations overlap like shingles. We don't fall in rows like hay, but we fall. Once we get here, we spend forever on the globe, most of it tucked under. While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat's stem slits the crest of the present.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.
—T. S. Eliot
There's a tree walking around in the rain,
it rushes past us in the pouring grey.
It has an errand. It gathers life
out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard.
When the rain stops so does the tree.
There it is, quiet on clear nights
waiting as we do for the moment
when the snowflakes blossom in space.
the tree and the sky
'The President. The 3200 year old tree so massive that it had never been captured in a single image until recently.
This giant sequoia stands 247 feet tall and measures 45,000 cubic feet in volume. The trunk alone measures 27 feet and the branches hold 2 billion needles (more than any tree on the planet).
This picture took a team of photographers from Nat Geographic 32 days of stitching together 126 different photos to make.
"i love redwoods because they are at the very limit of what the dynamics of capillary action allows to exist."'
to call woodthrush or apple.
A hummingbird, fewer.
A wristwatch: 1024.
An alphabet's molecules,
tasting of honey, iron and salt,
cannot be counted–
as some strings, untouched,
sound when a near one is speaking.
As it was when love slipped inside us.
It looked out to face in every direction.
Then it was inside the tree, the rock, the cloud.
Within this treeanother treeinhabits the same body;within this stoneanother stone rests,its many shades of greythe same,its identicalsurface and weight.And within my body,another body,whose history, waiting,sings: there is no other body,it sings,there is no other world.
The mountains, I become part of it…
The herbs, the fir tree, I become part of it.
The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters,
I become part of it.
The wilderness the dew drops , the pollen…
I become part of it.
Cleve Backster could name the moment the focus of his life changed forever, from lie detection to plant intelligence: early in the morning on February 2, 1966, at 13 minutes, 55 seconds of chart time for a polygraph he was administering. He had threatened the subject’s well-being in hopes of triggering a response. The subject had responded electrochemically to this threat. The subject was a plant.
Almost 20 years ago I interviewed Cleve Backster about plant intelligence. No, he wasn’t a botanist. He was one of the world’s experts on the use of polygraphs, or lie detectors. I know that sounds like an odd connection, but listen to his story, and the connection will become clear. Just after World War II he was a CIA interrogation specialist, and founded The Agency’s polygraph school. In 1960 he left the CIA and formed the Backster School of Lie Detection, to instruct police officers. This school is the longest running polygraph school in existence.
Backster could name the moment the focus of his life changed forever, from lie detection to plant intelligence: early in the morning on February 2, 1966, at 13 minutes, 55 seconds of chart time for a polygraph he was administering. He had threatened the subject’s well-being in hopes of triggering a response. The subject had responded electrochemically to this threat. The subject was a plant.
Here’s his story: “I wasn’t particularly into plants, but there was a going-out-of-business sale at a florist on the ground floor of the building, and the secretary bought a couple of plants for the office: a rubber plant, and this dracaena cane. I had done a saturation watering — putting them under the faucet until water ran out the bottom of the pots — and was curious to see how long it would take the moisture to get to the top. I was especially interested in the dracaena, because the water had to climb a long trunk, and then to the end of long leaves. I thought if I put the galvanic-skin-response detector of the polygraph at the end of a leaf, a drop in resistance would be recorded on the paper as the moisture arrived between the electrodes. … I noticed something on the chart resembling a human response on a polygraph: not at all what I would have expected from water entering a leaf. Lie detectors work on the principle that when people perceive a threat to their well-being, they physiologically respond in predictable ways. If you were conducting a polygraph as part of a murder investigation, you might ask a suspect, ‘Was it you who fired the shot fatal to so and so? If the true answer were yes, the suspect will fear getting caught lying, and electrodes on his or her skin will pick up the physiological response to that fear. So I began to think of ways to threaten the well-being of the plant. First I tried dipping a neighboring leaf in a cup of warm coffee. The plant, if anything, showed what I now recognize as boredom — the line on the chart just kept trending downward.
“Then at 13 minutes, 55 seconds chart time, the imagery entered my mind of burning the leaf. I didn’t verbalize; I didn’t touch the plant; I didn’t touch the equipment. Yet the plant went wild. The pen jumped right off the top of the chart. The only new thing the plant could have reacted to was the mental image.
“I went into the next office to get matches from my secretary’s desk, and lighting one, made a few feeble passes at a neighboring leaf. I realized, though, that I was already seeing such an extreme reaction that any increase wouldn’t be noticeable. So I tried a different approach: I removed the threat by returning the matches to the secretary’s desk. The plant calmed right back down.
“Immediately I understood something important was going on. I could think of no conventional scientific explanation. There was no one else in the lab suite, and I wasn’t doing anything that might have provided a mechanistic trigger. From that split second my consciousness hasn’t been the same. My whole life has been devoted to looking into this.”
He called what the plant was doing “primary perception.” He found that not only plants were capable of this: “I’ve been amazed at the perception capability right down to the bacterial level. One sample of yogurt, for example, will pick up when another is being fed. Sort of like, ‘That one’s getting food. Where’s mine?’ That happens with a fair degree of repeatability. Or if you take two samples of yogurt, hook one up to electrodes, and drop antibiotics in the other, the electroded yogurt shows a huge response at the other’s death. And they needn’t even be the same kind of bacteria. The first Siamese cat I ever had would only eat chicken. I’d keep a cooked bird in the lab refrigerator and pull off a piece each day to feed the cat. By the time I’d get to the end, the carcass would be pretty old, and bacteria would have started to grow. One day I had some yogurt hooked up, and as I got the chicken out of the refrigerator to begin pulling off strips of meat, the yogurt responded. Next, I put the chicken under a heat lamp to bring it to room temperature, and heat hitting the bacteria created more huge reactions in the yogurt.”
I asked how he knew he wasn’t influencing it.
“I was unaware of the reaction at the time. I had pip switches all over the lab, and whenever I performed an action, I hit a switch, which placed a mark on a remote chart. Only later did I compare the reaction of the yogurt to what had been happening in the lab.”
“Did the yogurt respond again when the cat started to eat?”
“Interestingly enough, bacteria appear to have a defense mechanism such that extreme danger causes them to go into a state similar to shock. In effect, they pass out. Many plants do this as well. If you hassle them enough they flatline. The bacteria apparently did this, because as soon as they hit the cat’s digestive system, the signal went out. There was a flatline from then on.”
Cleve continued, “I was on an airplane once, and had with me a little battery-powered galvanic response meter. Just as the attendants started serving lunch, I pulled out the meter and said to the guy next to me, ‘You want to see something interesting?’ I put a piece of lettuce between the electrodes, and when people started to eat their salads we got some reactivity, which stopped as the leaves went into shock. ‘Wait until they pick up the trays,’ I said, ‘and see what happens.’ When attendants removed our meals, the lettuce got back its reactivity. I had the aisle seat, and I can still remember him strapped in next to the window, no way to escape this mad scientist attaching an electronic gadget to lettuce leaves.
“The point is that the lettuce was going into a protective state so it wouldn’t suffer. When the danger left, the reactivity came back. This ceasing of electrical energy at the cellular level ties in, I believe, to the state of shock that people, too, enter in extreme trauma.”
“Plants, bacteria, lettuce leaves …”
“Eggs. I had a Doberman Pinscher back in New York whom I used to feed an egg a day. One day I had a plant hooked up to a large galvanic response meter, and as I cracked the egg, the meter went crazy. That started hundreds of hours of monitoring eggs. Fertilized or unfertilized, it doesn’t matter; it’s still a living cell, and plants perceive when that continuity is broken. Eggs, too, have the same defense mechanism. If you threaten them, their tracing goes flat. If you wait about twenty minutes, they come back.
“After working with plants, bacteria, and eggs, I started to wonder how animals would react. But I couldn’t get a cat or dog to sit still long enough to do meaningful monitoring. So I thought I’d try human sperm cells, which are capable of staying alive outside the body for long periods of time, and are certainly easy enough to obtain. I got a sample from a donor, and put it in a test tube with electrodes, then separated the donor from the sperm by several rooms. The donor inhaled amyl nitrate, which dilates blood vessels and is conventionally used to stop a stroke. Just crushing the amyl nitrate caused a big reaction in the sperm, and when the donor inhaled, the sperm went wild.
“So here I am, seeing single-cell organisms on a human level —sperm — that are responding to the donor’s sensations, even when they are no longer in the same room as the donor. There was no way, though, that I could continue that research. It would have been scientifically proper, but politically stupid. The dedicated skeptics would undoubtedly have ridiculed me, asking where my masturbatorium was, and so on.
“Then I met a dental researcher who had perfected a method of gathering white cells from the mouth. This was politically feasible, easy to do, and required no medical supervision. I started doing split-screen videotaping of experiments, with the chart readout superimposed at the bottom of the screen showing the donors activities. We took the white cell samples, then sent the people home to watch a preselected television program likely to elicit an emotional response — for example, showing a veteran of Pearl Harbor a documentary on Japanese air attacks. We found that cells outside the body still react to the emotions you feel, even though you may be miles away.
“The greatest distance we’ve tested has been about three hundred miles. Astronaut Brian O’Leary, who wrote Exploring Inner and Outer Space, left his white cells here in San Diego, then flew home to Phoenix. On the way, he kept track of events that aggravated him, carefully logging the time of each. The correlation remained, even over that distance.”
“The implications of all this …”
He interrupted, laughing. He said, “Yes, are staggering. I have file drawers full of high quality anecdotal data showing time and again how bacteria, plants, and so on are all fantastically in tune with each other. And human cells, too, have this primary perception capability, but somehow its gotten lost at the conscious level.”
“How has the scientific community received your work?”
“With the exception of scientists at the margins, like Rupert Sheldrake, it was met first with derision, then hostility, and mostly now with silence. At first they called primary perception ‘the Backster Effect,’ perhaps hoping they could trivialize the observations by naming them after this wild man who claimed to see things missed by mainstream science. The name stuck, but because primary perception can’t be readily dismissed, it is no longer a term of contempt."
“What’s the primary criticism by mainstream scientists?”
“The big problem — and this is a problem as far as consciousness research in general is concerned — is repeatability. The events I’ve observed have all been spontaneous. They have to be. If you plan them out in advance, you’ve already changed them. It all boils down to this: repeatability and spontaneity do not go together, and as long as members of the scientific community overemphasize repeatability in scientific methodology, they’re not going to get very far in consciousness research.
“Not only is spontaneity important, but so is intent. You can’t pretend. If you say you are going to burn a plant, but don’t mean it, nothing will happen. I hear constantly from people in different parts of the country, wanting to know how to cause plant reactions. I tell them, ‘Don’t do anything special. Go about your work; keep notes so later you can tell what you were doing at specific times, and then compare them to your chart recording. But don’t plan anything, or the experiment won’t work.’ People who do this often get equivalent responses to mine, and often win first prize in science fairs. But when they get to Biology 101, they’re told that what they have experienced is not important.
“There have been a few attempts by scientists to replicate my experiments … but these have all been methodologically inadequate. … It is so very easy to fail. … And let’s be honest: some of the scientists were relieved when they failed, because success would have gone against the body of scientific knowledge.”
I said, “For scientists to give up predictability means they have to give up control, which means they have to give up Western culture, which means it’s not going to happen until civilization collapses under the weight of its own ecological excesses.”
He nodded, then said, “I have given up trying to fight other scientists on this, because I know that even if the experiment fails they still see things that change their consciousness. People who would not have said anything 20 years ago often say to me, ‘I think I can safely tell you now how you really changed my life with what you were doing back in the early 70s.’ These scientists didn’t feel they had the luxury back then to rock the boat; their credibility, and thus their grant requests, would have been affected.”
I asked if there were alternative explanations for the polygraph readings. I’d read that one person suggested his machine must have had a loose wire.
He responded, “In 31 years of research I’ve found all my loose wires. No, I can’t see any mechanistic solution. Some parapsychologists believe I’ve mastered the art of psychokinesis — that I move the pen with my mind — which would be a pretty good trick itself. But they overlook the fact that I’ve automated and randomized many of the experiments to where I’m not even aware of what’s going on until later, when I study the resulting charts and videotapes. The conventional explanations have worn pretty thin. One such explanation, proposed in Harper’s, was static electricity: if you scuffle across the room and touch the plant, you get a response. But of course I seldom touch the plant during periods of observation, and in any case the response would be totally different.”
“So, what is the signal picked up by the plant?
“I don’t know. I don’t believe the signal, whatever it is, dissipates over distance, which is what we’d get if we were dealing with electromagnetic phenomenon. I used to hook up a plant, then take a walk with a randomized timer in my pocket. When the timer went off, I’d return home. The plant always responded the moment I turned around, no matter the distance. And the signal from Phoenix was just as strong as if Brian O’Leary were in the next room. Also, we’ve attempted to screen the signal using lead-lined containers, and other materials, but we can’t screen it out. This makes me think the signal doesn’t actually go from here to there, but instead manifests itself in different places. All this, of course, lands us firmly in the territory of the metaphysical, the spiritual.”
I said, “Primary perception suggests a radical redefinition of consciousness.”
“You mean it would do away with the notion of consciousness as something on which humans have a monopoly?” He hesitated a moment, then continued, “Western science exaggerates the role of the brain in consciousness. Whole books have been written on the consciousness of the atom. Consciousness might exist on an entirely different level.”
I asked whether he had worked with materials that would normally be considered inanimate.
“I’ve shredded some things and suspended them in agar. I get electric signals, but not necessarily relating to anything going on in the environment. It’s too crude an electroding pattern for me to decipher. But I do suspect that consciousness goes much, much further. In 1987 I participated in a University of Missouri program that included a talk by Dr. Sidney Fox, then connected with the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Evolution at the University of Miami. Fox had recorded electric signals from protein-like material that showed properties strikingly similar to those of living cells. The simplicity of the material he used and the self organizing capability it displayed suggest to me that bio-communication was present at the earliest states in the evolution of life on this planet. Of course the Gaia hypothesis — the idea that the earth is a great big working organism, with a lot of corrections built in — fits in nicely with this. I don’t think it would be a stretch to take the hypothesis further and presume that the planet itself is intelligent.”
I asked how his work has been received in other parts of the world.
“The Russians and other eastern Europeans have always been very interested. And whenever I encounter Indian scientists — Buddhist or Hindu — and we talk about what I do, instead of giving me a bunch of grief they say, ‘What took you so long?’ My work dovetails very well with many of the concepts embraced by Hinduism and Buddhism.”
“What is taking us so long?”
“The fear is that, if what I am observing is accurate, many of the theories on which we’ve built our lives need complete reworking. I’ve known biologists to say, ‘If Backster is right, we’re in trouble.’ It takes a certain kind of character and personality to even attempt such a questioning of fundamental assumptions. The Western scientific community, and actually all of us, are in a difficult spot, because in order to maintain our current mode of being, we must ignore a tremendous amount of information. And more information is being gathered all the time. For instance, have you heard of Rupert Sheldrake’s work with dogs? He puts a time-recording camera on both the dog at home and the human companion at work. He has discovered that even if people come home from work at a different time each day, at the moment the person leaves work, the dog at home heads for the door.
“Even mainstream scientists are stumbling all over this bio-communication phenomenon. It seems impossible, given the sophistication of modern instrumentation, for us to keep missing this fundamental attunement of living things. Only for so long are we going to be able to pretend it’s the result of ‘loose wires.’ We cannot forever deny that which is so clearly there.”
An activist, philosopher, farmer, teacher, and leading voice of uncompromising dissent, Derrick Jensen is the author or co-author of many books including A Language Older Than Words, What We Leave Behind, and Deep Green Resistance. Reprinted from his latest book, The Myth of Human Supremacy (Seven Stories, 2016).
There are materials that are out in the open and there are the things that are hidden. The real world has more to do with what is hidden.
To see materials as static is an illusion. If the human life span were a day, flowers might seem as enduring as rocks, if we lived a thousand years, rock might seem mobile.
–Anne Whiston Spirn
The Language of Landscape
What metaphysics do these trees have?
That of being green and having crowns and branches
And that of giving fruit at their hours,
– which is not what makes us think – us,
who don't know to be aware of them.
But what better metaphysics than theirs,
Which is not knowing why they live
And not knowing they don't know?
To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same;
Every spear of grass - the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women,
and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.
Without imagination there is no world. Your conviction that you are conscious of a world is the world. The world you perceive is made of consciousness; what you call matter is consciousness itself.
You are the space in which it moves, the time in which it lasts, the love that gives it life. Cut off imagination and attachment and what remains?
–Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends upon what we look for. What we look for depends upon what we think. What we think depends upon what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.
Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself.
Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies.
We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.
You see various scenes passing on a cinema screen: fire seems to burn buildings to ashes; water seems to wreck ships; but the screen on which the pictures are projected remains unburnt and dry. Why? Because the pictures are unreal and the screen real.
Similarly, reflections pass through a mirror but it is not affected at all by their number or quality.
In the same way, the world is a phenomenon upon the substratum of the single Reality which is not affected by it in any way.
Reality is only One.
Talk of illusion is due only to the point of view. Change your viewpoint to that of Knowledge and you will perceive the Universe to be only Brahman. Being now immersed in the world, you see it as a real world; get beyond it and it will disappear and Reality alone will remain.
–Sri Ramana Maharshi
In the end, we self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages are little miracles of self-reference. We believe in marbles that disintegrate when we search for them but that are as real as any genuine marble when we’re not looking for them. Our very nature is such as to prevent us from fully understanding its very nature.
Poised midway between the unvisualizable cosmic vastness of curved spacetime and the dubious, shadowy flickerings of charged quanta, we human beings, more like rainbows and mirages than like raindrops or boulders, are unpredictable self-writing poems – vague, metaphorical, ambiguous, and sometimes exceedingly beautiful.
I Am a Strange Loop
That which is above is like that which is below
and that which is below is like that which is above,
to achieve the wonders of the one thing.
I used to sit in the cafe of existentialism,
lost in a blue cloud of cigarette smoke,
contemplating the suicide a tiny Frenchman
might commit by leaping from the rim of my brandy glass.
I used to hunger to be engaged
as I walked the long shaded boulevards,
eyeing women of all nationalities,
a difficult paperback riding in my raincoat pocket.
But these days I like my ontology in an armchair,
a rope hammock, or better still, a warm bath
in a cork-lined room--disengaged, soaking
in the calm, restful waters of speculation.
Afternoons, when I leave the house
for the woods, I think of Aquinas at his desk,
fingers interlocked upon his stomach,
as he deduces another proof for God's existence,
intricate as the branches of these bare November trees.
And as I kick through the leaves and snap
the windfallen twigs, I consider Leibniz on his couch
reaching the astonishing conclusion that monads,
those windowless units of matter, must have souls.
But when I finally reach the top of the hill
and sit down on the flat tonnage of this boulder,
I think of Spinoza, most rarefied of them all.
I look beyond the treetops and the distant ridges
and see him sitting in a beam of Dutch sunlight
slowly stirring his milky tea with a spoon.
Since dawn he has been at his bench grinding lenses,
but now he is leaving behind the saucer and table,
the smokey chimneys and tile roofs of Amsterdam,
even the earth itself, pale blue, aqueous,
cloud-enshrined, titled back on the stick of its axis.
He is rising into that high dome of thought
where loose pages of Shelley float on the air,
where all the formulas of calculus unravel,
tumbling in the radiance of a round Platonic sun--
that zone just below the one where angels accelerate
and the ampitheatrical rose of Dante unfolds.
And now I stand up on the ledge to salute you, Spinoza,
and when I whistle to the dog and start down the hill,
I can feel the thick glass of your eyes upon me
as I step from the rock to glacial rock, and on her
as she sniffs her way through the leaves,
her tail straight back, her body low to the ground.
The Art of Drowning
Within heaven and earth, inside all the cosmos, there is contained a singular treasure concealed in the form-mountain—the numinous radiance of sentient things. Utterly empty, still, and difficult to perceive within or without, it is styled the “mystery of mysteries.” Its skill reaches out beyond the [celestial palace] of Purple Subtlety, and its function resides in the very midst of empty non-being. Unmoving among manifold transformations, it is solitary and nondual. Its voice brings forth wondrous reverberations; its form spews forth iridescent displays. But look as you will, it has no locus; it is known to us as the emptiness of emptiness.
僧肇 –Sengzhao, Pao-tsang lun
(Treasure Store Treatise)
I, like other searchers, attempt formulation after formulation of the central issues and here present a wider overview, taking for working hypothesis the most effective one that has survived this winnowing: It from Bit. Otherwise put, every it — every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself — derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely — even if in some contexts indirectly — from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes or no questions, binary choices, bits.
It from Bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.
–John Archibald Wheeler
You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless.
(4th Century B.C.)
Safe in their alabaster chambers,
Untouched by morning and untouched by noon,
Sleep the meek members of the resurrection,
Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.
Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine;
Babbles the bee in a stolid ear;
Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadences, —
Ah, what sagacity perished here!
Grand go the years in the crescent above them;
Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row,
Diadems drop and Doges surrender,
Soundless as dots on a disk of snow.
Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there.
The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.
Only descriptions of the world can be true or false.
The world on its own—unaided by the describing activities of humans—
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity