Peter Westbrook Interviews Dr. John Hagelin

Dr. John Hagelin

As a world-renowned quantum physicist, John Hagelin is responsible for the development of a highly successful grand unified field theory and winner of the prestigious Kilby Award. More recently, as presidential candidate for the Natural Law Party, he has turned his attention to education and public policy. His book, Manual for a Perfect Government, proposes "educational programs that develop human consciousness, and policies and programs that effectively harness the laws of nature. . . solve acute social problems and enhance governmental effectiveness."

Dr. Hagelin spoke with Peter Westbrook in his office at Maharishi University of Management.

Peter Westbrook: As you know, this project was stimulated by a remark made to me by Buckminster Fuller "To be negative about the future you don't need to know anything. To be positive you have to know a great deal." In thinking about future trends you have two distinct perspectives. You have had a distinguished career as a physicist and you have also been candidate for president with a concern about both scientific and social issues.

John Hagelin: There is even a third crucial element and that is the emerging science of the development of full human potential. And that is indispensable to any optimistic perspective of our future. Certainly we are seeing an acceleration in the development of certain foundational technologies such as nuclear and genetic technologies. These technologies have increasingly powerful implications for our health and for our future. At the same time, it is clear that we have as a species barely been able to cope with prior levels of technology. Nuclear technology, biological technology, chemical technology, currently threaten human kind and much of our environment with extinction. So as we continue to develop increasingly powerful technologies and consider the potential impact on our future, it's increasingly obvious that our ability to handle these technologies and apply them positively demands more and more application of the innate potential of the human mind. So among my areas of focus and specialization are the development of human consciousness.

As you know, the Institute of Science Technology and Public Policy here at Maharishi University of Management has within it a brain research institute and we are currently involved with cutting edge brain research into technologies such as SPECT and PET which allow graphic diagnosis and depiction of what is going on in the physiology of the human brain. And what we and other researchers have found within the last few years in our examination of brain development among today's students is an epidemic of severe neuro-pathology. We've known for 20 years or so that we often see electro-physiological imbalance and lack of EEG coherence. We've seen for the past 20 or 30 years growing levels of the biochemistry of stress and violence with suppressed serotonin and elevated cortisol. But these more modern brain diagnostic technologies which allow a real snapshot of the metabolism of the human brain have revealed a severe type of widespread neuro-pathology and cortical fragmentation. Cortical fragmentation is caused by blockages within the brain which restrict its functioning. This causes human comprehension in many subjects to be extremely narrow. Particularly, we and other researchers have found golf-ball sized holes in the brain which are not dead matter but parts of the brain [that] are just not firing. The clustering of these so-called functional lesions or fissures in the brain, in the crucial pre-frontal cortex, which is supposed to provide us our rational filter against impulsive, primitive, aggressive behaviors, is a physiological explanation for the upsurge of youth violence and discontentment, of ADD, of violent children, and of course, these same symptoms have been seen less broadly, but nevertheless in a concentrated population in the prisons, among maximum security inmates.

PW: Does this point to a cause of violence in the broader sense, of warfare and other kinds of conflict?

JH: Yes it does. There are many implications from this research. One is in the exploration of the question of why. Why this epidemic of neuro-pathology? Why this under utilization of the brain, particularly now as we move into the new millennium where human intelligence, human creativity, are replacing brute force as the engines of personal progress and social transformation? Why now when we need it most is human potential least available to our students and future leaders? We don't know. There could be contributions from environmental toxins, or poor dietary behavior, but a lot of it has to do, I believe, with the nature of education, being highly fragmented in its presentation.

PW: Are you suggesting that this is a recent phenomenon, rather than something that has been with humanity over the centuries?

JH: Yes. It is more recent. There is an exacerbation of this cortical fragmentation in this cramping, this narrowness of human comprehension, of human vision, I would say within recent decades.

PW: Richard Tarnas, the historian, speaks of there being two arrows of time, one progress the other a loss of integration ............

JH: Yes. Definitely. As we better harness the innate creativity and intelligence of the human mind, creativity will be unfrozen and potential will be able to grow beyond current levels of adolescent behavior and we will be able to develop new technologies more rapidly but we will be able to use them in a more global and comprehensive way.

PW: You speak of adolescent behavior. Are you aware of Carl Sagan's concept that our planet is passing through a stage of technological adolescence?

JH: Yes, absolutely. We are at that stage of global technological adolescence. But what our research shows is that there is a gross under-utilization of people's potential, that it has to do to some extent with the way education presents knowledge in such a fragmented way but it also has to do with historically high stress levels particularly among youth and especially among inner-city and other financially disadvantaged youth who are living in environments that are filled with guns, drugs, broken homes and so forth.

PW: These stress levels have been linked with the materialist world view and led to a call for change on a very fundamental level. But that change would require that we use more of our potential.

JH: Absolutely, yes.

PW:  But it is interesting to me that both the materialist view and its opposite are supported by leading physicists though you would think, as physicists, their knowledge and experience would be very similar. And certainly they should be using a good portion of their mental potential?

JH: There are two categories of physicists, as I see it. First are the people who in junior high school and high school express, or display, technical competence, and through their technical competence they are encouraged to pursue a career in the sciences and their scientific contributions have been guided by their technical or mathematical competence which allows them to compute better, allows them to see further. There are other scientists, and I am more in this latter category, who are inspired to pursue the highest knowledge based on a vision, or at least a sense, that there must be something deeper.

PW: The demographics of college enrollment doesn't seem to reflect that. When I was an undergraduate courses on philosophy and psychology, "what is life all about" type of courses were very popular. Today, undergraduate's seem much more concerned with "making a living" kind of courses, business, computer science, etc. Futurists call it the Titanic Syndrome - people fighting for the best seats on a sinking ship.

JH: Well I think it is a natural backlash, at least this is my own experience, against courses in philosophy, anthropology, comparative religion, psychology that taught us nothing. I quickly saw as a freshman at Dartmouth College that there was absolutely no agreement, among even the two professors who were teaching the same course on comparative religion. And I bailed, for physics, recognizing physics as a less ambitious science but at least a reliable one. Less ambitious than psychology, than comparative religion, which at that time was wrestling with the grandest truths. When I entered physics, as a discipline, low temperature physics was the hottest thing on the horizon. We weren't yet talking, at least with any seriousness, about a completely unified field theory of all of nature's laws. So I went into physics because it was a reliable path of gaining knowledge, a systematic path of knowledge. But during my graduate years at Harvard I began to explore, with many of my colleagues and collaborators, what are really nature's deepest truths, of the quantum mechanical and pre- quantum mechanical levels of quantum field theory and unified quantum field theory where you are wrestling with nature's grandest truths to do with the dynamics of the birth of the universe and the laws that maintain it. And that's when the possible convergence of the most up-to-date scientific understanding and the most ancient science of consciousness and the philosophical understanding of the universe became possible.

PW: So you came upon ideas about consciousness from the standpoint of physics?

JH: That's correct. I did. Because there was a natural springboard. It was fairly clear, when you look at the basic qualities, of the unified field or superstring field, as described by modern physics, that it is a concentrated field of intelligence, in that it is the source of all of nature's laws and all of nature's orderliness, that it is a very dynamic field of intelligence, it is a self-aware, self-interacting field of intelligence, that through its own dynamical self interactions sequentially brings forth the diversified structure of the universe. We are really talking about a field of dynamic self-aware intelligence, and that's consciousness. And that description of the foundation of the universe as a self-interactive field of consciousness certainly gelled with my own experience through meditation for the previous decade and also with the greatest writings of really most of the major religious and philosophical traditions of the [world? Earth?] And that's when I thought that physics had become mature enough that it at least provided an objective springboard from which issues of consciousness and consciousness development could be discussed.

PW: But we are still at a very early stage in understanding consciousness and while there is a growing interest in this field it is still trying to get at an understanding through studies of the brain on the material level. Is this possible?

JH: No, no, no, we have to transcend the materialist paradigm. Certainly, materialism has been dethroned in science anyway. Quantum mechanics basically destroys the myth of materialism. Quantum mechanics is really the physics of the molecular and the atomic realms and there are more expansive theories called relativistic quantum field theory and unified quantum field theory that go beyond quantum mechanics. But even in early quantum mechanics which gained supremacy as a scientific framework toward the beginning of the [last] century, the idea that we live in a material universe was disproved, and experimentally, experiment after experiment confirmed the quantum mechanical view, that the basic substance of this universe is non-material an non-local and un-objective. Of course, the human brain has its roots deep in the quantum mechanical level, in the DNA and in the neural synapse, so the human brain is not a material machine. It is more a quantum mechanical than a material entity. And it's not surprising that the phenomena of life and of experience are enigmatic within a purely material paradigm. So for the last 50 to 70 years we've known that to understand the brain, to understand consciousness, you've got to transcend classical physics and at least come to terms with quantum mechanics. And I think what we're beginning to realize now is that to really understand consciousness you've got to go to the very foundations of the universe and that is quantum field theory and particularly, unified quantum field theory.

PW: There is a criticism of our current world-view, advanced by such people as Huston Smith and Ken Wilber, that it has lost the view of multiple ontological levels. Wilber calls it Flatland. And it is suggested that we have to recapture the lost components of the earlier view in order for us to move forward in our understanding of ourselves and of the world.

JH: Yes! Absolutely.

PW: It is suggested that the pathogenic aspects of our current ways of thought spring from this limited view and that it must expand if we are to survive.

JH: Very important.

PW: So, in your view, what is the combination of thought or knowledge that we have to muster in order to accomplish this?

JH: I don't think we can arrive at any understanding of these deeper, and more comprehensive ontologies as long as the brain with which we are thinking is so extremely limited by cortical fragmentation and physiological mal-development. And severe neuro-pathology. In order to even entertain ideas that are bigger than the ones we are typically confined to the actual comprehension of the human brain must be expanded. And that's why I have been working hard to introduce into education simple techniques based on meditation, to systematically expand human comprehension. Right now the whole educational approach focuses entirely, and rewards student for, the focusing of attention, and paying attention is certainly a critical component of learning. But, in fact, we take that direction too exclusively and too far in education, such that by the time we achieve the masters level of education, we are beginning to learn more and more about less and less. By the time we receive our doctoral degree we are the world's greatest experts in essentially nothing. Specialization, the ability to manipulate our environment is an important skill that we learn from the first months of childhood. But it is also important that we don't loose something that we typically do over the course of our development, childhood development, and that is the ability to defocus the attention and recover the natural and primordial state of human consciousness. When consciousness is maximally expanded in this way, areas of the mind and personality become reintegrated as examined, or expressed, for example, by the electro-physiology of the brain and what's called global EEG coherence. Without the systematic expansion of comprehension we become cerebrally myopic, in a sense, over time. In the same way as the eye loses its naturally flexibility to see both far and close, the brain gets trained to function within increasingly narrow boundaries at the expense of its natural ability to comprehend profound, more expansive, and more global truths. As a result, as individuals become very compartmentalized we loose the ability to think broadly and to act globally. And this is revealed in this epidemic of neuro-pathology today in which that extreme narrowness of vision prevents many of our graduating students from empathizing with others and as a result of that they can begin to behave towards others in ways that one would not have them behave toward ourselves - the golden rule.

PW: It has been suggested, particularly by a historian of science, Hugh Kierney, that Western civilization inherited three strains of thought from the Greeks, what he calls the magical, organic, and materialist traditions, from Plato, Aristotle and Archimedes. The Platonic view, which takes mind, or consciousness, as the primary reality predominated during the Renaissance but has disappeared in the modern, scientific, world view. These deeper truths would require a balance between these three views.

JH: I would think so. It is certainly fair to say that mind or consciousness has been given short shrift in the last few hundred years as the scientific method has encouraged a focus on what is the most concrete and the most objectively describable. But now we are at a crossroads as we move forward into an information economy, again where intelligence and creativity have replaced brute force as the engine of personal progress. Then it has become increasingly clear that we must rectify this imbalance, in the under-development and under-utilization of mind and consciousness if we are going to move ahead. Even if we are to survive, [such powerful] technologies are coming to the fore now. For example, genetic technologies, where we suddenly have the ability to rewrite, within three years, the genetic library of the Earth. But at present we don't have the breadth of comprehension, nor the calculational technologies, to examine what the environmental implications would be of even one such human made organism.

PW: How can science ever say that all the implications have been considered? Are you completely opposed to even one such manipulation or do you see ways in which all the possible unforeseen consequences can be eliminated? By definition, this seems to be impossible. It seems so unimaginably complex.

JH: Not in the short term. First of all, the science is in its infancy. Secondly, it is a technology that is motivated by short-term profit. There are start-up companies with three to five years of seed capital, during which time they have to become profitable, which means they need to begin to sell new organisms. And we have a government that is asleep and has failed in its responsibility to protect the quality and safety of our food as well as the quality and safety of our environment. Definitely we need to see, in this area of technology, a complete rethinking before such organisms are released into our environment. That's why I have called for a moratorium until this is proven safe. And at the moment we don't really have this. There may be special cases where genetically modified organisms are minor modifications of an existing organism and could be released with predictable consequences. But, for the most part, this is not the priority today and so this has to be carefully thought through. As a nuclear physicist I am not technology shy, but, whereas worst case, the results of a nuclear disaster may last from ten to a hundred thousand years, the results of gene pollution, especially severe gene pollution, last for ever. They are irreversible. And already we are beginning to work in the laboratory, in some cases with federal money, to introduce genes from viruses and other organisms into the human genome, attempting to weed out from the human genome certain genetic predispositions to diseases. A noble cause, but current genetic technologies do not allow this to proceed in any safe fashion, for several reasons. One, the exact placement of these genes into the human genome is essentially random, and placement, as a restauranteur would agree, is everything. There are any number of secondary and tertiary effects of a gene and these are placement sensitive. If you just throw a gene into the human genome you have, essentially, no control over these secondary and tertiary side-effects. The way these genes are delivered are through viral carriers and it is impossible to avoid at least viral infection of the human gene along with whatever other genes you are trying to bring in. They could be of insects, or pigs, or fish or whatever.

PW: There are a number of people that I have interviewed, such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr, for example, and others, who would agree with much of what you have said but would go further. They are not comfortable with scientific thinking at all. They feel we have to go beyond scientific thinking altogether.

JH: Well, that's why I left my ivory tower, although I continue to publish occasionally in physics. I left in 1992 to forge a new political foundation for the governance of this country and for the governance of nations based upon governing in harmony with natural law. That means our technologies and policies and programs should be forward looking, prevention oriented and in harmony with natural law which genetic engineering, of course, is not. The whole purpose of genetic engineering is to break down the natural barriers against gene pollution put in place by nature which ensure that members of different species cannot reproduce and produce fertile offspring. Genetic engineering breaks down these natural barriers against gene pollution and is intrinsically contrary to natural law. So, in 1992, we felt we were ahead of our time and our ideas took root in the relatively few fertile fields of intellectual thought that we were aligned with at that time. But beginning in 1996 and certainly now with this millennial campaign we are finding that we are just one small stride ahead of the general awakening of the public, and its rising collective consciousness, which means we are well placed to ride this wave to some very victorious outcome. A surfer will testify that if you are too far ahead of the wave you can't surf it but you certainly can't surf it if you are just behind it either. You have to be somewhat ahead of the curve.

PW: Buckminster Fuller makes the analogy of the trim tab effect. It is hard to turn the rudder of an airplane because of the slipstream, but if you put a smaller rudder, called a trim tab into the larger one, that will turn. And that diverts some of the slipstream and allows the main rudder to turn. Fuller applies this to the area of social change where a small group of people start to change the direction of the culture.

JH: That's right. That's a very good point. We are not just riding a wave of collective consciousness, we're actually triggering and nurturing that wave. Nudging it in a certain direction. You need to have a super-saturated solution in order to precipitate the formation of some crystal and in a sense, we have a super-saturated situation of a national consciousness that is ripe for change, looking for a new direction. All we are doing is articulating that direction and we are finding that there is a natural following for this; there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Governance in harmony with natural law plus the full utilization of our innate potential, our most tragically under-utilized national resource. Here is an idea whose time has come.

PW: So a small group of people can change the direction of a whole society by changing their own direction. Through leadership essentially.

JH: That's exactly right. There are many examples of this going on right now-organic farmers who are farming in a sustainable way in harmony with natural law without poisoning the soil and the water supply. In every area of energy, foreign policy, education, healthcare--focusing on the prevention of disease, and the promotion of health, there are individuals who have stepped forward and expressed leadership by their own innovations and successful solutions. The Natural Law Party would like to pull all these solutions together under one roof and provide an umbrella that is sufficiently broad that the majority of thinking Americans would support it. At the same time we would like to continue to generate progress in the evolution of the collective consciousness of this society so that these ideas become increasingly self-evident to more people.That's exactly right. There are many examples of this going on right now-organic farmers who are farming in a sustainable way in harmony with natural law without poisoning the soil and the water supply. In every area of energy, foreign policy, education, healthcare--focusing on the prevention of disease, and the promotion of health, there are individuals who have stepped forward and expressed leadership by their own innovations and successful solutions. The Natural Law Party would like to pull all these solutions together under one roof and provide an umbrella that is sufficiently broad that the majority of thinking Americans would support it. At the same time we would like to continue to generate progress in the evolution of the collective consciousness of this society so that these ideas become increasingly self-evident to more people.

PW: So, as you see it, the government's job is to promulgate these ideas; to pull them all together, publish them . . .

JH: I think that the government of the most creative country in the world should take upon its own responsibility the utilization of the most effective and the most up-to-date and the most forward-looking and the most prevention-oriented solutions in harmony with natural law. Our government has failed to do that in every area. And the only reason such a government has been able to remain in power is that the American people themselves are not fully awakened to the potential we hold as a nation. So if we awaken successfully the American people in a rich appreciation of their own future potential they will demand a government that is able to deliver programs that help them achieve that.

PW: Dr. Hagelin, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

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