Discerning the Divine Plan

In the land lit by that neighbouring star, whose blaze is the broad daylight, there are many and very various things, motionless and moving. There moves among them a race that is in its relation to others a race of gods. The fact is not lessened but emphasised because it can behave like a race of demons. Its distinction is not an individual illusion, like one bird pluming itself on its own plumes; it is a solid and a many-sided thing. It is demonstrated in the very speculations that have led to its being denied. That men, the gods of this lower world, are linked with it in various ways is true; but it is another aspect of the same truth. That they grow as the grass grows and walk as the beasts walk is a secondary necessity that sharpens the primary distinction. It is like saying that a magician must after all have the appearance of a man; or that even the fairies could not dance without feet. It has lately been the fashion to focus the mind entirely on these mild and subordinate resemblances and to forget the main fact altogether. It is customary to insist that man resembles the other creatures. Yes; and that very resemblance he alone can see. The fish does not trace the fishbone pattern in the fowls of the air, or the elephant and the emu compare skeletons. Even in the sense in which man is at one with the universe it is an utterly lonely universality. The very sense that he is united with all things is enough to sunder him from all.

Looking around him by this unique light, as lonely as the literal flame that he alone has kindled, this demigod or demon of the visible world makes that world visible. He sees around him a world of a certain style or type. It seems to proceed by certain rules or at least repetitions. He sees a green architecture that builds itself without visible hands; but which builds itself into a very exact plan or pattern, like a design already drawn in the air by an invisible finger. It is not, as is now vaguely suggested, a vague thing. It is not a growth or a groping of blind life. Each seeks an end; a glorious and radiant end, even for every daisy or dandelion we see in looking across the level of a common field. In the very shape of things there is more than green growth; there is the finality of the flower. It is a world of crowns. This impression, whether or no it be an illusion, has so profoundly influenced this race of thinkers and masters of the material world, that the vast majority have been moved to take a certain view of that world. They have concluded, rightly or wrongly, that the world had a plan as the tree seemed to have a plan; and an end and crown like the flower. But so long as the race of thinkers was able to think, it was obvious that the admission of this idea of a plan brought with it another thought more thrilling and even terrible. There was someone else, some strange and unseen being, who had designed these things, if indeed they were designed. There was a stranger who was also a friend; a mysterious benefactor who had been before them and built up the woods and hills for their coming, and had kindled the sunrise against their rising, as a servant kindles a fire. Now this idea of a mind that gives a meaning to the universe has received more and more confirmation within the minds of men, by meditations and experiences much more subtle and searching than any such argument about the external plan of the world. But I am concerned here with keeping the story in its most simple and even concrete terms; and it is enough to say here that most men, including the wisest men, have come to the conclusion that the world has such a final purpose and therefore such a first cause. But most men in some sense separated themselves from the wisest men, when it came to the treatment of that idea. There came into existence two ways of treating that idea; which between them make up most of the religious history of the world.

The majority, like the minority, had this strong sense of a second meaning in things; of a strange master who knew the secret of the world. But the majority, the mob or mass of men, naturally tended to treat it rather in the spirit of gossip. The gossip, like all gossip, contained a great deal of truth and falsehood. The world began to tell itself tales about the unknown being or his sons or servants or messengers. Some of the tales may truly be called old wives' tales; as professing only to be very remote memories of the morning of the world; myths about the baby moon or the half-baked mountains. Some of them might more truly be called travellers' tales; as being curious but contemporary, tales brought from certain borderlands of experience; such as miraculous cures or those that bring whispers of what has happened to the dead. Many of them are probably true tales; enough of them are probably true to keep a person of real common sense more or less conscious that there really is something rather marvellous behind the cosmic curtain. But in a sense it is only going by appearances; even if the appearances are called apparitions. It is a matter of appearances-and disappearances. At the most these gods are ghosts; that is, they are glimpses. For most of us they are rather gossip about glimpses. And for the rest, the whole world is full of rumors most of which are almost avowedly romances. The great majority of the tales about gods and ghosts and the invisible king are told, if not for the sake of the tale, at least for the sake of the topic. They are evidence of the eternal interest of the theme; they are not evidence of anything else, and they are not meant to be. They are mythology or the poetry that is not bound in books-or bound in any other way.

Meanwhile the minority, the sages or thinkers, had withdrawn apart and had taken up an equally congenial trade. They were drawing up plans of the world; of the world which all believed to have a plan. They were trying to set forth the plan seriously and to scale. They were setting their minds directly to the mind that had made the mysterious world; considering what sort of a mind it might be and what its ultimate purpose might be. Some of them made that mind much more impersonal than mankind has generally made it; some simplified it almost to a blank; a few, a very few, doubted it altogether. One or two of the more morbid fancied that it might be evil and an enemy; just one or two of the more de-graded in the other class worshipped demons instead of gods. But most of these theorists were theists: and they not only saw a moral plan in nature, but they generally laid down a moral plan for humanity. Most of them were good men who did good work: and they were remembered and reverenced in various ways. They were scribes; and their scriptures became more or less holy scriptures. They were law-givers; and their tradition became not only legal but ceremonial. We may say that they received divine honours, in the sense in which kings and great captains in certain countries often received divine honours. In a word, wherever the other popular spirit, the spirit of legend and gossip, could come into play, it surrounded them with the more mystical atmosphere of the myths. Popular poetry turned the sages into saints. But that was all it did. They remained themselves; men never really forgot that they were men, only made into gods in the sense that they were made into heroes. Divine Plato, like Divus Caesar, was a title and not a dogma. In Asia, where the atmosphere was more mythological, the man was made to look more like a myth, but he remained a man. He remained a man of a certain special class or school of men, receiving and deserving great honor from mankind. It is the order or school of the philosophers; the men who have set themselves seriously to trace the order across any apparent chaos in the vision of life. Instead of living on imaginative rumours and remote traditions and the tail-end of exceptional experiences about the mind and meaning behind the world, they have tried in a sense to project the primary purpose of that mind a priori. They have tried to put on paper a possible plan of the world; almost as if the world were not yet made.

The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton, Conclusion


Geological Changes and Biological Evolution From the Triassic Period on

This was a time [250 Million Years Ago] when an abundance of varied animal phyla first developed in conditions varying from sea to land, the latter including freshwater lakes and lagoons. From Triassic reptiles evolved a great range of dinosaur families, some up to one hundred feet in length and others small and more delicate. They included creatures still walking on their hind legs, four-legged types, the flying Pterodactyl, and certain fishlike forms. Some were carnivores, others—often heavily armoured—fed on estuarine plants. Small primitive mammals are found locally in the Jurassic [which succeeded the Triassic 199 MYA], as well as a true fossil bird. Among marine fauna, large flat echinoids, lamellibranchs, and oysters are plentiful in fossil remains, while the presence of coral colonies suggests warm-water conditions. Great coiled ammonites, which had almost died out, suddenly flourish again in great variety— in evolution a rare phenomenon!

In the succeeding Cretaceous period, beginning perhaps 135 million years ago, much of today's Europe was at first covered by a complex pattern of uplands, drained by rivers and interspersed with shallow-water and true marine areas.

Later the seas encroached over much of the region, including the former USSR, in part from the southern Tethys ocean, leaving islands composed of much earlier, more resistant rock formations, such as the ancient Scandinavian 'shield' of Precambrian age.

This was a period of abundant life. Dinosaurs reached their peak in North America and elsewhere. Mammals, though still small, had by now developed into both pouched and placental types. Among plants, modern, flowering dicotyledons appeared. Away from the land and its swamps, the seas were mostly clear and of moderate depth, recalling conditions not unlike those in today's North Atlantic, with its sediments of radiolarian ooze. Large coiled and uncoiled ammonites are frequent in the chalk, as well as fossil shark's teeth and, in the upper chalk, the well-known heart-shaped and domed echinoids, or sea urchins. Clear-cut seams of hard black flints often contain remains of sponges and microscopic life.

With the end of this great Cretaceous marine formation of clear sediments, we reach too the end of that era of "middle life"—the Mesozoic—and enter, biologically, a different world—that of the Tertiary or Cenozoic era, opening around 70 million years ago.

When the Tertiary era opens—with the Eocene period, the "dawn of the recent"—we have already traversed, geologically, a great blank interval—a question mark in earth history. In Europe, Eocene deposits rest on the uplifted chalk in a great unconformity, marking a major time-lapse. But, more important, many animal forms, including all the dinosaur types and in fact most reptiles except crocodiles, turtles, lizards, and snakes, have been wiped out. Various explanations, including, perhaps, the possible effects of a large meteorite, have so far failed to clear up this mystery.

The 45 million years of the Palaeogene—better known geologically as the Eocene and Oligocene periods—enjoyed in what is now northwest Europe a tropical or subtropical climate, which during the main Tertiary era gradually became cooler. Sands, limestones, and clays such as the famous "London Clay" denote marine and shallow-water conditions, often containing an abundance of shells, as well as shark's teeth and giant foraminifera (nummulites). But on the northeastern Atlantic coasts—and associated with long-term continental drift— there was widespread eruption of volcanic rocks, producing some of today's well-known beauty spots on Britain's western coasts.

An appearance of grasses and fruit-bearing trees allowed small mammals to evolve in land areas and proliferate widely—into herbivorous types, carnivores, marine, and flying species—just as the reptiles had dominated the world in Mesozoic times. In this period, the present-day horse began its evolution, as did the smaller mammals that, much later, were to lead on to humankind itself.

We come next to the Miocene and Pliocene periods—often grouped nowadays as the Neogene. Just as the earth's slow cooling, continental drifting, volcanic, geosynclinal, and thrusting movements had produced two great periods of mountain-building in Palaeozoic times, so the early Tertiary or Palaeogene saw the beginning of a third major period of mountain-building which, in its later stages, produced the Alps and the Pyrenees. Slow uplift of southern parts of the British Isles then caused the forming of a great Wealden anticline or dome, comprising chalk and earlier strata—reduced now by long erosion to the North and South Downs and a central high sandy ridge. It also produced the geological synclinc or depression known as the London Basin, with chalk reappearing from under north London as the Chiltern Hills. Enormous pressures from Africa were producing great overfolds of strata seen now as the Alps and neighbouring ranges, as well as today's Jura ridge running through Switzerland and France. Further north, surface formations were pushed forward against ancient shieldlike resistant masses in Britanny, central France, southern Germany, and Bohemia. As a result, marine or freshwater sediments formed in Europe during the Miocene and Pliocene periods became localized in basin areas, with eroded platforms of dry land remaining elsewhere. Oils formed under pressure from organic remains deposited at this time have produced some of today's important non-Palaeozoic sources of petroleum.

Certain main lines of evolution, too, were producing not just the slow extinction of many life-forms, but a great flowering of mammalian species. Thus the first antlered deer and horned rhinoceros, an early elephant, and the first apes all emerged in Miocene times, some 20 million years ago.

From Cold War to Chaos? James Dilloway, Chapter 4


History and the Perennial Philosophy

Nothing can stay long removed from God, nor long divorced from that Ground of Being outside of which nothing exists, and history—not as a chronicle of individual or national feats, but as a movement of human consciousness—is the story of men and women's love affair with the Divine. On again, off again; loving and loathing; moving toward and recoiling from—history as the sport and play of Brahman.

Traditionally, the great problem with viewing history in theological terms has been not a confusion as to what history is, but a confusion as to what God might be. If we assume that history has some sort of meaning, then we must also assume that it points to something other than itself, which is to say, it points to something other than individual men and women. This great Other, in its grandest sense, has often been assumed to be God, or Spirit, or the Ultimate. Since God is assumed to be other than, apart from, and altogether beyond human beings, history has thus been viewed as a playing out of a pact, a covenant, or a pledge between God and his peoples.

We cannot forget that, in the West, God and history are profoundly inseparable. Jesus is absolutely significant to the Christian not just because he is the Son of God, but because he was a historical event, a token of God's intervention in the historical process, a pact between man and God. Moses brought not merely ethical commandments, but a covenant between God and his peoples, a covenant to be played out in the course of history. For the Judaeo-Christian world—i.e., the Western mind—history is the unfolding of a pact between God and man, a movement ultimately to bring man and God together.

No matter how amusing this view of history strikes the sober, scientific, and empirical mind, it is a view that weighs heavily in the background of our Western psyche—none of us, I believe, escapes its influence. At one time we saw history as a movement from paganism to Christ Jesus, culminating in the Day of Judgment, that one, far-off, divine event toward which all creation moves. Today, we see history as a process of scientific evolution, moving from the amoeba to the reptile to the ape to man. These two views are not all that different: both see a movement from lower to higher, from worse to better: both are believed in religiously; both promise a tomorrow that is better (or more "evolved") than today; both see a hierarchical movement from sin (less evolved) to salvation (more evolved). While the content is certainly quite different, the form is basically identical. And the form is historical. "Biology," says Carl Sagan, "is more like history than it is like physics." More to the point, a point scientists seem rarely to grasp, is Whitehead's demonstration that scientific laws are "an unconscious derivative from medieval theology." In essence, both see history not merely as a going, but a going somewhere.

But the scientific view—history as mere evolution—suffers one great defect, or rather, limitation: it cannot explain or even suggest the meaning of this going somewhere. Why evolution? For what purpose history? What is the meaning of this going somewhere? There is no scientific meaning of the word "meaning"; there is no empirical test for value. Thus, the positivists, who are scientists disguised as philosophers, would not even allow us to ask these questions—since they cannot be answered scientifically, they should not be asked to begin with. The answer to "What is the meaning of history?" is "Don't ask." And while there are some immensely good things to be said for logical positivism, that type of mere linguistic analysis is not strong enough to cure the soul of wonder.

Science cannot pronounce on the meaning or purpose of any phenomenon it encounters. That is not its job, that is not what it is engineered to do, and we certainly should not hold that against science, as many romantics do. The tragedy is that science moves into scientism by saying, "Therefore meaning does not exist, since science can't measure it." There is, however, no scientific proof that scientific proof alone is real. Thus, we needn't prematurely cut ourselves off from such important concerns as '"meaning" simply because a microscope does not detect them. A physician can describe the intricate biochemical processes that constitute your living being; he can to some extent repair them, cure them of disease, and operate to remove malfunctions. But he cannot then tell you the meaning of that life whose every working mechanism he understands. I doubt, however, that he would then conclude, "Your life therefore is meaningless." It's just that, as scientist, he cannot pronounce on life's meaning, cultural meaning, history's meaning.

If, then, we are to ask the question "What is the meaning of history?" we are brought back to the only major answer yet offered: the theological—history is the unfolding of a pact between humanity and God. Even if one disagrees with the view itself, it is generally agreed that it can explain the why, the whence, and the meaning of that going-somewhere which we call history: its movement is divine and its meaning transcendent.

Theology can effectively work with the meaning of history because it is willing to postulate (or, as theologians would prefer, know by revelation) a sublime Other. Since God is other than men, women, and history, God can confer meaning upon history—something that history could never do for itself. To give a simple analogy: When someone says, "What is the meaning of the word 'tree'?" the easiest way to answer is simply to point to a real tree. The tree itself has no meaning, but the word "tree" does, simply because it points to something other than itself. If there were no real tree, the word "tree" would have no meaning, because it could point to nothing other than itself. Just so, history without Other is history without meaning.

Unfortunately, the orthodox Western conception of God is not simply as a psychological Other (separated from us by unconsciousness) or a temporal Other (separated from us by time), or an epistemological Other (separated from us by ignorance). Rather, Jehovah—God of Abraham and Father of Jesus—is an ontological Other, separated from us by nature, forever. In this view, there is not just a temporary line between man and God, but an unmovable boundary and barrier. God and man are forever divorced—they are not, as in Hinduism and Buddhism, ultimately one and identical. Thus, the only contact between God and man is by airmail: by covenant, by pact, by promise. God promises to watch out for his chosen people, and they in turn promise to worship no other gods but him. God promises his only begotten Son to his peoples, and they promise to embrace his Word. God's contact is by contract. Across this gaping abyss God and man touch by rumor, not by absolute union (samadhi), and thus history was viewed as the unfolding of this contract, this covenant, through time.

But there is a much more sophisticated view of the relation of humanity and Divinity, a view held by the great majority of the truly gifted theologians, philosophers, sages, and even scientists of various times. Known in general as the "perennial philosophy" (a name coined by Leibniz), it forms the esoteric core of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism. Sufism, and Christian mysticism, as well as being embraced, in whole or part, by individual intellects ranging from Spinoza to Albert Einstein, Schopenhauer to Jung, William James to Plato. Further, in its purest form it is not at all anti-science but, in a special sense, trans-science or even ante-science, so that it can happily coexist with, and certainly complement, the hard data of the pure sciences. This is why, I believe, that so many of the truly brilliant scientists have always flirted with, or totally embraced, the perennial philosophy, as witness Einstein, Schrodinger, Eddington, David Bohm, Sir James Jeans, even Isaac Newton. Albert Einstein put it thus:
The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the sower of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger... is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center to true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only I belong to the ranks of devoutly religious men.

Or the world's first great microbiologist: "Happy is he who bears a god within, and who obeys it. The ideals of art, of science, are lighted by reflection from the infinite." That was Louis Pasteur.

The essence of the perennial philosophy can be put simply: it is true that there is some sort of Infinite, some type of Absolute Godhead, but it cannot properly be conceived as a colossal Being, a great Daddy, or a big Creator set apart from its creations, from things and events and human beings themselves. Rather, it is best conceived (metaphorically) as the ground or suchness or condition of all things and events. It is not a Big Thing set apart from finite things, but rather the reality or suchness or ground of all things.

A scientist who guffaws at the existence of any sort of "Infinite" but unashamedly marvels aloud at the "laws of Nature (with a capital N) is unwittingly expressing religious or numinous sentiments. According to the perennial philosophy, it would be acceptable to speak symbolically of the absolute as the Nature of all natures, the Condition of all conditions (did not St. Thomas say that God is natura naturans?). But notice, in this regard, that Nature is not Other than all life forms: Nature is not something set apart from mountains, eagles, rivers, and people, but something that, as it were, runs through the fibers of each and all. In the same way, the Absolute—as the Nature of all natures—is not something set apart from all things and events. The Absolute is not Other, but, so to speak, is sewn through the fabric of all that is.

In that sense, the perennial philosophy declares that the absolute is One, Whole, and Undivided—very like what Whitehead called "the seamless coat of the universe." But note that "seamless" does not mean "featureless." That is, to say that 'Reality is One' is not to say that separate things and events don't exist. When a scientist says, "All things obey the laws of Nature," he doesn't mean, "Therefore, no things exist." He means that all things subsist in a type of balanced Wholeness, a wholeness he calls Nature and whose laws he attempts to describe. As a first approximation, the perennial philosophy describes the Ultimate as a seamless whole, an integral Oneness, that underlies but includes all multiplicity. The Ultimate is prior to this world, but not other to this world, as the ocean is prior to its waves but not set apart from them.

This concept is not, as the logical positivist would have it, a meaningless or nonsensical concept—or rather, it is no more meaningless than the scientific reference to Nature, to the Cosmos, to Energy, or to Matter. Just because the ultimate, the integral Wholeness, does not exist as a separate and perceptible entity, does not mean it doesn't exist. Nobody has ever seen Nature—we see trees and birds and clouds and grass, but not some specific thing we can isolate and call "Nature."

Likewise, no scientist has ever seen Matter—he sees what he calls "forms of matter"; but nobody, no scientist, layman, or mathematician, has ever seen a pure bit of just matter. We see wood, or aluminum, or zinc, or plastic, but never matter. Yet I doubt any scientist would say, "Therefore, matter doesn't exist." All sorts of intuitive and nonscientific certainties lead the scientist to state that matter is real—and, in fact, for the great majority of scientists, matter is the only real, even though they have never seen it, touched it, or tasted it.

The same thing, of course, holds for Energy, since mass and energy are interconvertible. No scientist has ever seen energy, even though he talks of "forms of energy," such as thermodynamic energy, nuclear binding energy, and so on. Although he has never seen just pure and plain energy, he certainly doesn't say, "Thus energy isn't real." But long ago, the geologist and philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy saw precisely the crux of this "scientific assumption": "This is the predicament of the positivist or 'nothing-morist', that in acknowledging the reality only of that which can be grasped, he is attributing 'reality' to things that cannot be grasped because they never stop to be, and is driven, in spite of himself, to postulate the reality of some such abstract entity as 'Energy'—a word that is nothing but one of the names of God."

Keeping in mind that the perennial philosophy defines God not as a Big Person but as the Nature of all that is, then Coomaraswamy is obviously quite right, and it matters not one whit whether we say all things are forms of Nature, forms of Energy, or forms of God. I am not, of course, trying to prove the existence of the Absolute—I am simply suggesting it is no more improbable than the existence of matter, energy, nature, or cosmos.

Now, when a person believes that the ultimate is some sort of Big Parent who watches after all his offspring as a shepherd over sheep, then that person's notion of religion is petitionary. That is, the aim of his religion is simply to receive protection and benediction from that god, and in turn to worship and give thanks. He lives in accord with what he believes to be that god's laws, and generally hopes, as a reward, to be able to live forever in some sort of heaven. The aim of this type of religion, quite simply, is to be saved. Saved from pain, saved from suffering, saved from evil, saved ultimately from death.

I have no quarrel with all that—it simply forms no part of the perennial philosophy whatsoever, and thus is not a view I am here advancing. For the "religion" of the perennial philosophy is quite different from salvation. Since the Ultimate is here pictured as an integral Wholeness, the aim of this type of religion is not to be saved but to discover that wholeness. And thus, to find oneself whole as well. Albert Einstein called it the removal of the optical delusion that we are separate individuals set off from the Whole:

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe"; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must he to free ourselves from this prison.

According to the perennial philosophy, this "discovery of Wholeness," the removal of the optical delusion of separateness, is not merely a belief—it is not a dogma one accepts on mere faith. For if the Ultimate is indeed a real integral Wholeness, if it is equally part and parcel of all that is, then it is also completely present in men and women. And, unlike rocks, plants, or animals, human beings because they are conscious—can potentially discover this Wholeness. They can, as it were, awaken to the Ultimate. Not believe in it, but discover it. It would be as if a wave became conscious of itself and thus discovered that it is one with the entire ocean—and thus one with all waves as well, since all are made of water. This is the phenomenon of transcendence—or enlightenment, or liberation, or moksha, or wu, or satori. This is what Plato meant by stepping out of the cave of shadows and finding the Light of Being; or Einstein's "escaping the delusion of separateness." This is the aim of Buddhist meditation, of Hindu yoga, and of Christian mystical contemplation. That is very straightforward; there is nothing spooky, occult, or strange in any of this—and this is the perennial philosophy.

But we now return to the concept of history, and we can approach the meaning of history from our new perennial perspective on "religion." If only the notion of God can explain history, and if God is not a Big Person, but the Suchness and Wholeness of all that is, then history is not the story of the unfolding of a pact between man and God. but the story of the unfolding of the relationship between man and the ultimate Whole. Since this Wholeness is contiguous with consciousness itself, we can also say that history is the unfolding of human consciousness.

This view has no more "hidden metaphysics"—no more "unprovable assumptions"—than has the standard scientific theory of evolution, since both rest, as we have seen, on the same type of "unseeable" postulates. But we can with this view purchase much, much more meaning, coherence, and balance. We can set history in a context that is at once scientific and spiritual, immanent and transcendent, empirical and meaningful. For this view tells us that history is indeed going somewhere—it is going, not toward a final judgment, but toward that ultimate Wholeness. And further, this Wholeness is not only the Nature of all natures, but also the consummate and ultimate potential of human consciousness itself. History, in this sense, is a slow and tortuous path to transcendence.

Up from Eden, By Ken Wilber

The Big Machine

In a scene which sticks in the mind, Winston and Julia in George Orwell's 1984 escape from the numbing uniformity of dormitory life in Big Brother's world and find a few hours of stolen happiness in a shabby little room above a tea-shop. In their private haven, Julia puts on rouge and powder and looks prettier and more feminine. " 'And do you know what I am going to do next?" she says, 'I'm going to get hold of a real woman's frock from somewhere and wear it instead of these bloody trousers. I'll wear silk stockings and high-heeled shoes! In this room I'm going to be a woman, not a Party comrade.' Stripping off the regulation Party overalls was, like their love affair itself, a gesture of rebellion. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act."'

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakdown of socialist economies, liberals all over the world are breathing easier. The Orwellian nightmare, they think, has passed. They delude themselves. Big Brother has gone but the Big Machine has come. The overalls have been discarded but soon cargo pants will be the only wear. Encroachment into the mind, the ironing out of individuality and the extirpation of creativity are all round the corner. What is in store will make 1984 look like a Hans Andersen fairy tale.

Long John Silver needed a wooden leg and Captain Hook needed a substitute for a lost hand. Most of us use less obvious kinds of prosthesis. With arthritis, failing vision, deafness and failing memories come walking sticks, false teeth, spectacles, hearing aids, and jotting pads. However, in the modern world we resort to prostheses even where they are not needed. When we use an elevator in preference to a small flight of stairs, when we use a calculator instead of doing a simple mental calculation, we are not making up for any deficiency in our mental or physical make-up. We are yielding to the human predilection for the soft option. Or in Willem van Loon's words, we are showing instances of "the effort of man to let someone else or something else do his work for him while he enjoyed his leisure sitting in the sun or painting pictures on rocks."

A watch enhances your ability because it helps you to tell the time accurately. But when the watch you are wearing needs to remind you about your mother's birthday, you are entrusting to the device functions that you should he performing as a simple, autonomous human being. You are attaching yourself to something you do not need. This is what Socrates had in mind when looking at a display of things offered for sale, he said to himself, "How many things I have no need of!".

The wheels of commerce, however, do not operate on the Socratic principle of minimum wants. Vance Packard and before him Thorstein Veblen showed us that modem commerce is geared not only to satisfy our most hidden desires but that hidden persuaders are constantly at work to create new wants. This syndrome finds free play in the electronic and digital world, with its cell phones, its palmtops, its Walkmans and its hand-held TVs, enough gadgets to till the multi-pockets of a cargo pant. Currently, the most powerful "hidden persuaders" are those at work in the computer markets of the world. No house feels complete without a desktop. No lap feels comfortable without a laptop. The little black book is giving place to the digital diary. The spread of the new technology is propelled by the giant forces of the global market for digital goods and services.

Whether these technological changes are disruptive is only of passing concern to the global computer salesman. In developing societies, the changes result in absurdly misplaced priorities. Take India, where computerization is the current buzz word. Vast state-of-the-art digital estates are being constructed in areas surrounded not by global villages but by real villages where drinking water is a problem, where goods are taken to the market in bullock carts, and where society is feudal. Computers are bought for schools and offices even in those places which do not have reliable sources of electric power. Schools have been supplied with computers in many places where the need is really for more teachers and for properly trained teachers. In a country where there is a serious limitation of funds for education, high-pressure salesmanship has led to the supply of thousands of computers which have not been put to use.

Against such adventurism, the safety of Asia in the past lay. paradoxically, in its weakness, its conservatism and its slowness to assimilate change. Global commerce is now busy breaching this psychological bastion. The merchants on the digital superhighway are busy teaching the Asians that to be cautious is to be unwise. They are being told that "willingness of the people to embrace any and all technological innovation" is a virtue. It is now being touted that this will be Asia's hidden asset 'in its emergence as a global technological center, rivaling the silicon valleys... of the west'. All this talk is often, uncomfortably reminiscent of the vision of a perfect society with which Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti tried to fool his people.

The computer technology which Asian countries will assimilate in the initial stages will be of a prosthetic nature. The state-of-the-art computer technology which the West is assimilating is much more of the nature of surrogates. These surrogates have reached a stage when machines are programming machines. The Van Loon syndrome is at work. We are letting machines think for us while we draw pictures and laze around in the sun. Herein lies a clear danger to humanity as a whole. For, in the process the West lies vulnerable to attack on the sources of human creativity which have produced not only its technological advance but its contribution to civilization itself.

In 1958 in the early days of artificial intelligence, Newell and Simon aimed at inventing machines "that think, that learn, and that create," and to develop them till they could ultimately handle a range of problems "which would be co-extensive with the range to which the human mind has been applied." The aim appeared to be naively ambitious at that time to even perceptive commentators like Dreyfus who felt that even simple applications like chess at the championship level or workmanlike translations from one language to another would be beyond the scope of artificial intelligence. However, by the turn of the century, machines which think. learn and create are commonplace. As Kurzweil, so convincingly argues, we are on the threshold of the Age of Spiritual Machines. The surrogate mind is a reality.

Apprehensions that advances in technology have dimmed or diminished some human faculty are not new. They are as old as Socrates' complaint about writing being bad for memory. The inevitable offshoot of the invention of machines is the retreat of some human faculty. The wheel, the lever, the telescope, the microscope and the internal combustion engine are, each in its own field, superior to the human faculties in that they have come to the aid of. In the course of their use there has been some loss of human skill, some loss of human physical competence. But in none of these inventions has there been an abdication of the human mind. The mind which directed the activity was always human. The position is different with computers. With the levels of machine intelligence which computers have already reached it is difficult to say any longer with confidence that it is the human mind which is in control. And what lends urgency to this view is that it is not merely the view of the philosophers like Jacques Ellul. It is also the view of computer scientists like Weizenbaum.

In the world of 1984, the members of the Party were forced to wear regulation overalls on their bodies but there were some like Winston who rebelled against wearing them in their heads. We face the same insidious hazard today. The drive of digital technology is forcing us to wear cargo pants in our brains.

Last Frontier of the Mind - Challenges of the Digital Age, Mohandas Moses