Finally, The Head-Heart Connection
The Biology of Transcendence by Joseph Chilton Pearce, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, 2002.
If Metahistory had its patron saints, Joseph Chilton Pearce would be at the top of the list. Since the 1970s, when he published The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Pearce has been leading the quest for viable knowledge to support social and personal transformation. His work challenges the present conceptions of what it means to be human and to live in human-made culture. Pearce addresses what is perhaps the most difficult task facing humanity today: to surpass the traumatic conditioning of history and enter a path of learning and healing appropriate to the true capacities of our species. The book here reviewed presents the summation of his lifelong exploration of human potential.
It has been said that in an insane world, a sane person would be viewed as abnormal. Here is a sobering lesson of metahistory: insanity can operate in millions of people and pass for normality. What would be regarded as insane behavior in one person can be the norm for entire societies whose members never question the beliefs they embrace and enact. In The Crack in the Cosmic Egg Pearce introduced the term consensus reality for experience conditioned by beliefs uncritically shared by many people. For instance, the belief that material possessions bring happiness is a dominant of cultural conditioning in the present global consumer society. Those who embrace this belief participate in a consensus, not merely by endorsing the truth of the belief, but also by enacting it.
Consensus reality is a behavioral control system that blinds its members to any evidence that might cause them to question or alter their behavior. The system relies on the illusion of the Emperors New Clothes: if no one dares to say the Emperor is naked, then he is not naked. In the consensus of consumerism, those who acquire more than they need may ostensibly be miserable people, hostages to what they own, yet they can maintain the pretence of happiness by sharing the consensus belief that acquiring brings contentment (not to mention security, status, and more). The happiness to be gained from consuming may be a pitiful illusion, yet the collective mindset determines how reality is to be perceived, even if experience, or ones innermost emotions, signal the contrary. Consensus reality is a state of behavioral conformity that controls the minds and hearts of those immersed in it. Its power is totalitarian, its influence terrifically difficult to refute. Is there any way to overcome it?
Joseph Chilton Pearce, for one, thinks there is. His trenchant expose of the
dangers of consensus reality has not changed in over 30 years. He has relentlessly
argued that we, individuals in the emergent global society, must break
though the consensual spell and claim the genuine reality of human potential.
As long as societies run on blind consensus, we will find ourselves living in
cultures that reinforce their own prerogatives without regard for the sanity
of their members.
In The Biology of Transcendence, Pearce uses the term acculturation for
the process of conditioning by which we are recruited into the consensus reality
characteristic of the culture to which we belong. Acculturation is an awkward
term, difficult to pass off in social discourse (Ive often tried, only to get
the furrowed brow response), yet unless we see what acculturation is there is
no way to correct it, let alone surpass it. Pearce is crystal clear on the way
acculturation blinds us to the controls it imposes: That we are shaped by the
culture we create makes it difficult to see that our culture is what must be
transcended, which means that we rise above our notions and techniques of survival
itself, if we are to survive. (p. 3)
Among current visionary thinkers, Pearce is outstanding for his critique of culture, but nowhere in his writings so far has he been so direct and ruthless. In this book he proposes that the opposition of culture to survival is absolute: Our culture is what is to be transcended. Pearce shows that in nature versus nurture our biological potential has lost out to a culture that not only does not nurture us, it actually threatens to destroy us as a species. The conflict we now face is our culture against our biology.
This argument is a close, if not exact parallel to the one developed in Sharing
the Gaia Mythos: The problem unique to humanity is to have produced a global
society that works against the best interests of our own species, not to mention
the myriad of other species in the planetary habitat. The result is a conflict
between nature, which produces us, and culture, which we produce. In the terminal
phase of the conflict we find ourselves supporting a culture that is inimical
to the survival of species, including our own! By revising the nature versus
nurture formula as biology versus culture, Pearce underscores the survival
crisis facing humanity and at the same time points to the way ahead, the option
for a new approach to survival.
Among avant-garde thinkers who critique the blind controls of societal and
cultural belief, Pearce is distinguished by his titanic efforts to find solutions
rather than merely probe the problem. To this end he scouts along the edges
of many paradigms and displays a rare talent for discovering the very latest,
state-of-the-art knowledge in fields such as biology, pedagogy, developmental
psychology, parapsychology and quantum physics. Like a far-ranging herald,
he reports on events taking shape on the far horizons of the human mind. But
he does not merely report. He also translates the new findings into practical
insights. He shapes tools out of theories.
In this book Pearce introduces the emergent science of neurocardiology, the new medical field exploring the brain in the heart. He cites specialists in this field who have determined that half or more of the cells of the heart are neural cells like those making up our brain. Some reports claim that 60 to 65 percent of heart cells are neurons, all of which cluster in ganglia, small neural groupings connected through the same type of axon-dendrites forming the neural fields of our brain. (p. 64) For those among us who have been struggling for years with ye olde head-heart polarity, this
is welcome news, indeed. And there is more, much more.
Part One of this book is devoted to presenting the latest findings
on the connection between cerebral and cardiac dynamics. Pearce rapidly
covers the well-known model of the threefold brain proposed by neurological
researcher Paul MacLean. It consists of the reptilian component, or R-system,
the old mammalian or limbic brain, and the neo-cortex or new mammalian
With amazing brevity, Pearce explains how these different aspects of
human cerebral activity interact, building systems of consciousness by
a process of trading
and reinforcement. All systems are dynamics that move in two directions between
the old and new so
that some of the essence of the higher is absorbed by the lower even
as the lower itself is incorporated into the higher. Each brain, preceding
modifies the other to some extent." (p. 29) The cumulative result
of this trifold dynamic is transcendence, defined strictly in terms of
independent of the heart.
All this comes as a wonderful picture, lucidly described. Yet the transcendence
inherent to the triune brain is only the prelude to the full scope of
biological transcendence that Pearce is now announcing.
Wonderful as it is, the modular interactivity of the triune brain has
an inherent flaw that causes the system to stall; hence our full potential
remains checked, unfulfilled. Here Pearce carefully steers around much-cited
but misleading assumptions about right- and left-brain conflict, intuition
versus rationality, etc. He indicates that the evolutionary hitch we face
is due to the fact that the right hemisphere is adept at handling novel
material while the left seems to be the repository of all fully developed
structures of knowledge, handling all learning that is stabilized and firm. (p.
37) The conflict lies, then, not in the different brain functions but in
the nature of the knowledge they mediate. If I have, say, a neat conceptual
model of weather patterns stored in the left brain, it will affect my ability
to allow my right brain to absorb new impressions, new material about the
weather. What I know about the weather (hopefully, in a high ratio of genuine
knowledge against flawed knowledge, or plain error) can impede knowing
more, and more clearly. Left-brain conceptuality can overwrite our right-brain
capacity to embrace new impressions. As Einstein said in a famous exchange
with Werner Heisenberg, Its
the theory that determines what we can observe, (cited
in Timothy Ferris, The Red Limit, p. 22).
Hence an abstract model or mental paradigm, no matter how much it may seem to
present new ways of seeing the world, can actually preclude new experience. The
right hemisphere, with its rich connections to the two lower brains, is
involved in learning. (p. 37), a process that requires constant openness
to new material. By contrast, the left hemispheres
predilection for novelty and intellectual adventure without regard to well-being
or balance is a key feature of the ego-intellect in its interpreter
mode. (Pearce, ibid.) The left-brain can lead to brilliant creative
thinking, yet can be devoid of intelligence, intelligence being a generalized
move for well-being that is generated by the heart and limbic systems and
their connections with the right hemisphere and prefrontal lobes. (p.
careful delineation of intelligence in this context aligns closely with
the Gaia-Sophia Principle which
states that we, the human species, evolve our ethical and survival capacities
from the same supernatural endowment, nous, divine knowing. Citing
the work Rudolf Steiner, Marie Montessori, and Jean Piaget on developmental
stages in children, Pearce declares that it is now certain that nature
provides for the progressive unfoldment of this endowment. He presents
a solid case for faith in the human species to fulfill what he calls the
creator-created dynamic (p.
39). In this respect, Joseph Chilton Pearce is an inspired metahistorian,
for metahistory is centrally concerned with
can fulfill its true potential.
There are, however, two potential impediments to this wonderfully designed
evolutionary trajectory. One is the blocking of learning in young people
by input from culture that alienates them from their own innate potential.
often works against the endowment, producing conflicted behavior that spills
over in violence. In his Introduction, Pearce states his unequivocal view
that our violence arises from our failure to transcend. (p.
3) The corollary would be, as we become more violent, we fall more and more
away from the transcendence that is, according to Pearce, our divinely creative
The second impediment comes from within, rather than from without. It is
due to the self-referencing tendencies of the left brain, whose independence
the ensemble of cerebral functions allows it to play intellectual games
without reference to any previous developed evolutionary systems. (p. 38)
Needless to say, humanity at the start of the 21st century has become massively
involved in playing such games, more and more with the facilitation of technological
tools and toys, artificial intelligence devices, cybernetic systems, and
computer-run applications that promise to do for us, better and faster,
what we already do based on seven or eight million years of experiential
learning. The left-brain is crucial to our inborn cybernetic system because
it concentrates the activity of the prefrontal lobes in mapping and model-making,
planning and projection, overview and abstraction.
But due to the leftbrains
ability to overwrite the other brain systems and even continually override
its own modeling procedures,
we risk becoming more interested in the maps we devise than in the territory
we're exploring. At the extreme this cerebral tendency can turn us away
from direct experience and strand us in the virtual reality of computer-supported
games and models. Cyberspace is the cultural sandbox where these games
are played and these models are displayed in the analogic splendor of digital
streaming. The ultimate trend of left-brain cybernetics is deviation
from our own experience,
leading to disincarnation, outright abandonment of the body and senses
designed for us by nature.
Pearce re-focuses the problem of left-brain deviation and takes the argument
in a new direction. He boldly departs even from previous his own earlier
writings. Unlike some evolutionary writers who might be compared to him,
he does not
claim that the cybernetic modeling of the left brain can overcome its own
inherent deviance and provide us with models by which we can transcend
our blind immersion
in modeling! He clearly states that each new neural structure we have
to correct shortcomings in or problems brought about by natures former
3, italics added) However, he shows that we must not expect this correction
to come from the known cybernetic function of the triune brain, namely
left-brain abstraction, but from the newly discovered brain-heart circuit.
the correction that turns us back to the true trajectory of transcendence
is a full-body knowledge centered in the neural functions of the heart.
This is the fantastic but wholly feasible prospect set out in The Biology
We can save ourselves from terminal deviation, Pearce argues, because biology
provides us with the capacity for a radical course correction. (This assertion
principle of self-correction,
discussed throughout this site in connection with the Gnostic view of the
human mind.) In effect, our biological endowment carries the resources
required to overcome the culture we have created, a culture that now threatens
us at the level of biological survival. To do so, however, we need a model
of the correction process that will not merely loop back into left-brain
self-reference. Pearce is well aware of this problem, so he insists that intelligence,
no matter how innate or genetically encoded, can unfold within us only
when an actual model for that intelligence is given to us. (p.
5) So far we have not had a model for the heart-brain circuit. If Pearce
is right, the new discoveries in neurocardiology provide such a model.
it and act on it could change the course of human development in the near
and far future.
Pearce is of course acutely aware of the formidable factors at work against
such a dramatic course correction for the human species. He devotes Part
Two of his book, The Anatomy of Evil, to explaining why natures plan
breaks down (title of Chapter Five). This part of the book carries a frontal
attack on acculturation, with a plea to defend children against the bad
evolutionary habits by which parents and society suppress and undermine
their innate need to play, discover and learn.
In Chapter Six, Bioculture
and the Model Imperative, Pearce tackles the twisty issue of how biology
and culture influence each other, usually to the detriment of the former.
warns that culture absorbs and transforms any content into its own formative
structure. (p. 119) In short, it co-opts everything to its own self-serving,
preprogrammed ends: Culture is based on fear and loves its own. (p.
160) Also, culture protects and preserves itself against the transcendent
to our biology by its reliance on the older and earlier systems of cerebral
adaptation that we have outgrown:
Enculturation is not instinctual but
instead the result of conditioning, our enforced learning and adoption
of ideas about survival, including techniques believed necessary in
our particular cultural environment in order to survive. Our imitative
monkey-do compulsions actually arise from our oldest reptilian brain
to survival and fight-or-flight injunctions to the old mammalian brain.
Ironically, this combination provides the principle tools employed
in enculturating our children. (p.
At one point Pearce discusses counterfeits of transcendence, a fascinating
idea that he does not, unfortunately, elucidate as fully as he does
the detrimental effects of cultural conditioning. In general his writing
is so brilliant and distilled that it can hardly be paraphrased. Many
ironically phrased insights could be cited, such as this: All of us
know intuitively that we are not by nature savage beasts. Fewer, however,
are aware that we are driven to some fairly beastly behaviors by enculturation,
despite the fact that the process itself is supposed to prevent this. (p.
134) There in just 40 words is a two-month course in metahistory. The
metacritique developed in this site shows that beliefs held sacred
in the mainstream religions can drive the believers to some fairly
beastly behaviors, or
to be passively complicit in such behaviors, even though they genuinely
believe that their religion teaches them how to act in good and decent
ways. The schizophrenic
split thus incurred enforces the fatal effect of acculturation.
In a long section on Christianity, Pearce argues that the Christian accusation of sin, Western cultures great belief that without enculturation humankind would be beastly, primitive and dangerous is just a lie and, in his view, a terrible distortion of what Jesus taught. To expose the lie is a major heresy in our or any age. (p. 172) Here as elsewhere in the book Pearces
tone is defiant with a Gnostic ring, and his expression is deeply engrained
with irony. He cites the great accusation of Christianity, that we
are sinners in need of being saved by a transcendent power, only to
weigh it against his
own accusation that the religious message of transcendence is corrupt.
Nowhere is the failure to transcend more evident than in the religious
claim to promote it.
If our belief is passionate enough, the river comes to us and in whatever form the passionate belief makes possible. Belief is causative and passion is formative. Passionate belief is the chaotic attractor that lifts chaos into its particular order. (p. 194)
Never one to close on a negative note, Pearce in Part Three of his book, Beyond
Enculturation, relates some uplifting personal experiences of transcendence,
including moments of cellular knowing and mystical encounters with Jesus,
admittedly his hero and model (p. 179) Once again he distinguishes himself
from other writers who tackle the same issues by his extraordinary
willingness to be vulnerable and risk ridicule. Pearce extends his
initial intent to describe the heart-brain circuit, here in terms of a field
short, the biological activation of higher correction through heart-knowing
must occur in an ambient field of reception and practice. Transcendence
is a shared dynamic that requires a safe and receptive setting. No one transcends
alone purely by willing it in isolation. To transcend is to build resonance
with others who transcend.
Although consistently metahistorical in his premises as well as in his manner of handling issues, Pearce departs from a strict metacritical view when stating his unqualified conviction in the power of belief (cited above). In the rigorous view of metahistory, belief is not regarded as causative. Belief does not create anything, but it determines how we perceive all
that heart and mind can conceive and create. Is belief merely a filter
on experience, as metahistorical analysis indicates, or is it a generator
a strange attractor, as
Pearce attests? The answer may reside in the desire of the believer,
rather than in the passion that conjoins with belief, as Pearce suggests.
What you desire from your belief will tell you whether it acts as a filter
generator, but belief in itself can appear to be either. Through a long
life of searching and experimenting, Pearces beliefs have produced results
that correspond to what he desires. Thus he sees belief as a generator.
Jll: March 2004
The Biology of Transcendence concludes with plea for the resurrection
of Eve, by which Pearce means honoring the right of women over their own
reproductive processes, and allowing them to reclaim their birth rights.
Now and again in the closing pages he strikes a Gnostic note, although
in a rather inverted manner, as when he cites William Blake: Error is
createdIt is Burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it. In their teaching
on self-correction, Gnostics taught that error will dissolve when we detect
and correct it, not merely
we cease to perceive it (which could be mere denial). Curiously, Pearces
entire thesis seems to align with the Gnostic imperative that we must detect
and correct error, rather than with the quasi-magical view expressed by
Blake, yet he cites the latter. Whatever he meant by doing so, it is clear
his work presents the most consistent and potent argument for social and
self-correction of any modern thinker. The call to challenge and change
what we believe about humanity has rarely been more urgently and eloquently