7 February 2014


Gary Lachman, Caretakers of the Cosmos: Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World. Floris Books, 2013.

This is a cracking book on a cracking subject by a cracking author. Sadly it has a terrible subtitle – ‘Living Responsibly in an Unfinished World’ – which, in its implicit, almost finger-wagging, worthiness might well put you off so much as opening it. Don’t let it do that. Buy or borrow it. And, most importantly, read it.
Read it especially if infected with the fashionable nihilism of the purposeless universe concept so beloved of 21st-century materialist-reductionists. We’re just random bits of meat motivated solely by firing neurons in a random universe of non-conscious rock, chemical cloud and fire.

Worse, humanity, in our blind rape of the Earth, is a scourge with few if any redeeming features. We deserve everything the random universe might randomly throw at us, even if it means complete extinction. And, of course, our individual deaths – after ultimately meaningless lives – spell complete extinction anyway.

Not so, says Lachman. Really, really not so. In fact, not only is there meaning in our individual lives, but it unites all intelligent things both known and unknown throughout the universe – and including the universe itself.

Actually, what is so exciting and ultimately rewarding about his book is that he is by no means alone in challenging the 21st-century modish bleakness and aridity of spirit. Its pages are full of the detailed reasoning and beliefs of those thinkers who have gone before to whom the universe was not only alive but also purposeful, and within which humanity has a crucial role.

Before proceeding, perhaps it is time for a warning: if inclined to espouse vague New Age twaddle, do not read on. Although Lachman’s book does indeed deal with the Universe as a conscious entity, there is no room for ‘The Secret’-style pandering to the idea that if approached in the right way, ‘the universe’ will give you everything you want, from the so-far oblivious life partner to a Ferrari in your drive.

What we are dealing with here is a modern analysis of the ancient Hermetic concepts of the real, physical universe but which nevertheless only works through a sort of symbiosis with the consciousness of intelligent life. Indeed, the purpose of the universe is to create and then itself benefit from the evolution of consciousness.

This is not just philosophy, though philosophers – ancient and modern – abound in these pages. We are treated to the insights of a whole array of top-flight scientists, such as the 20th-century ground-breaking physicist John Archibald Wheeler, who claimed that by observing the universe we are also actively creating it. He called this ‘the participatory universe’. And although he himself did not dwell on the concept of ‘God’, the ancient Hermeticists believed that we participate in the creation and, if you like, the maintenance of the Creator. God needs us more than we need him/her/it. 

Lachman, like the many great thinkers he discusses, believes that reality is being created by our consciousness – but only the deep, intentional consciousness that does not come naturally, especially in our world of addicted mobile phone chattering and ‘celeb’ gossip. (But if tempted to imagine Gary Lachman himself as a morose philosophical type who only utters profound thoughts, he isn’t. After all, he was an original member of Blondie. Though it must be said his conversation does tend towards the thought-provoking.)

The modern, western culture causes him pain. ‘We no longer have to be good,’ he sighs, ‘just good enough’. As a culture we are constantly removing ourselves from having to deal with the world as it really is, in a sort of Matrix-like blindness, whereas we should realise: ‘We do not reflect a reality that is already there. We provide that reality.’ Again and again he repeats that seeing properly, with both physical and inner eyes, is true creativity. (Though one would also add that surely we tend to see according to the consensus reality built up by our species over time.) And true creativity creates reality…

Man, he says, is essentially a ‘creature of the mind’. We inhabit a whole new dimension compared to the animals, because of our evolved consciousness of self.

It is not science that is the problem – far from it, for true science harnesses the healthy scepticism of the experimenter, which leads to real understanding and a further openness to the truth. True science is progress of both mind and consciousness. No, it is scientism, the modern curse of dogmatic materialism that masquerades as science which reduces the potential of humanity and blinds us to real reality.

He takes on scientism, attacking the ‘near absolute obeisance in physics departments’ to the ‘dogma’ of string theory, which seeks to explain away the specialness of Earth and humanity. And despite what its many devotees would claim, Lachman is by no means alone in this. Many top-rank physicists themselves join in the clamour. Sometimes the titles of their books almost say it all. For example, Peter Woit’s 2007 Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law, which shows that it doesn’t even meet the accepted criteria to qualify as a scientific theory. Also from 2007 comes Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Both books, Lachman points out, ‘argue that string theory makes no predictions and cannot be tested, begging the question whether it is a theory at all, and not a form of scientific theology.’

In pandering to scientism we are severely limiting our relationship with the world Lachman believes we are meant to nurture, to become caretakers of, and help to complete.

Among the myriad scientists, philosophers, poets and mystics whose views he discusses, he quotes Rudolf Steiner, who believed we have a ‘responsibility’ to the Earth, but on both outer and inner levels. Lachman explains: ‘This is because, if before we participated with the world unconsciously, now, having separated from it in order to develop our independent consciousness, we are entrusted with the task of learning how to participate with it consciously…’

Now there’s a thought-and-a-half.

The author also treats us to the famous – and sometimes less so – musings of what no doubt cynics would call the usual suspects: Blake and Goethe, for example. But in a book that isn’t ashamed of mystical awareness, their place should surely be assured. After all, these were guys, along with others such as Swedenborg, who knew how to join up the dots of human consciousness – mostly in poetical terms, true, but in doing so they often predate the great given of modern quantum physics, that of ‘entanglement’. The intimate relationship of everything to everything else, throughout the universe, particle to particle. When Blake saw the world in a grain of sand it wasn’t just a nice turn of phrase but a shattering revelation.

This is a book not short of accessibility, guts and wry, dry humour. When discussing John Searle’s 1990 The Mystery of Consciousness, Lachman notes Searle reduces consciousness to an ‘ordinary biological phenomenon comparable to growth, digestion or the secretion of bile.’ A little later on, Lachman writes: ‘Years ago Upton Sinclair wrote a book about telepathy called Mental Radio (1930). One wonders if Searle is working on Mental Bile.’

Unlike his biographical books – he has written about Aleister Crowley and Madame Blavatsky among others – this is by its very nature more diffuse. But its message is still strong and clear, though not for those who are determined to cling to outdated Newtonian reductionism or, at the other end of the spectrum, to those who prefer their mysticism ‘lite’.

Caretakers of the Cosmos is about our relationship to each other, the planet and the Universe – which superficially might sound rather New Age. But as I hope you might realise by now, this book could hardly be further from such glib platitudes. It’s about consciousness, quantum physics, intention and engagement. In other words about the acceptance of a distinct role and a conscious commitment to it. If it all sounds like hard work, this might be the moment to remember that this relationship is about joy.

But most - and to some of us, best - of all, is this book’s insistence on the ‘fallacy of [human] insignificance’. And indeed this is a far from insignificant book.

Humanity is here to realise its potential, which is, by bringing its own evolving consciousness to bear on a relationship with matter, to complete the universe. And we can do it, though no one says it will be easy. As Colin Wilson once said, man isn't insignificant, ‘he’s just bloody lazy.’ -- Lynn Picknett

1 comment:

William J. Grabowski said...

I've been a daily reader of this site for a long time, and have never commented--but this is too valuable to ignore. GREAT, intelligent review. I'll scoop up this book ASAP. I was thinking of Colin Wilson even before you mentioned him... What a loss. I interviewed CW in 1986 for THE GATE. Hats off to you, Lynn, and to Lachman.