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Book Reviews




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.

Society Versus Sanity

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.

Beyond the Triune Brain

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 brain. 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 and emerging, modifies the other to some extent." (p. 29) The cumulative result of this trifold dynamic is transcendence, defined strictly in terms of the brain 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 for transcendence 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. 37-8) Pearces 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 how humanity can fulfill its true potential.

The Heart-Brain Connection

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. Acculturation 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 endowment.

The second impediment comes from within, rather than from without. It is due to the self-referencing tendencies of the left brain, whose independence from 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 inherited evolved to correct shortcomings in or problems brought about by natures former achievements. (p. 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. In short, 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 of Transcendence.

We can save ourselves from terminal deviation, Pearce argues, because biology provides us with the capacity for a radical course correction. (This assertion reflects the little-known 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. To incorporate it and act on it could change the course of human development in the near and far future.

Gaia-Sophia Navigator

The Great Accusation

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. He 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 functions inherent 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-see, monkey-do compulsions actually arise from our oldest reptilian brain system linked 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. 123)

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 traditions that claim to promote it.

Belief in the Service of Life

    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 dynamic. In 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 of experience, 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 or a 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.

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 when 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 that his work presents the most consistent and potent argument for social and personal self-correction of any modern thinker. The call to challenge and change what we believe about humanity has rarely been more urgently and eloquently stated.

Jll: March 2004


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2018 by John L. Lash.