For years those of us involved in shamanism and other forms of mystical living have been encouraged by discoveries in the so-called “new physics” which, since it began somewhere in the early 20th century, isn’t really all that new. There have been more recent discoveries since then based on the earliest findings so maybe we should say the new physics is only the relatively new physics. Ironically and satisfyingly, relativity is at the basis of much that is new in the scientific fields. However we want to categorize these new studies, learning how the universe works on the subatomic level has echoed what mystical traditions have been saying for centuries. And in an age when so many religious faiths and spiritual beliefs are challenged, or even proven inadequate for the modern world, it’s always reassuring to find that one’s understanding of the universe (even just partly) is shared by others, especially others who view the world from radically different perspectives, such as biology and physics.
I can’t remember which early 20th century physicist it was (Heisenberg maybe? I somewhat remember that more than one may have expressed this sentiment) but he realized that our current language was going to be ineffectual in describing the subatomic world and what goes on there. He said we would need a new language. I believe another physicist suggested they might have to speak in poetry. All of this is encouraging. It means that the basic structure of the physical world eludes the specificity that language gives. We need words that have open-ended meanings perhaps, words that haven’t even been defined yet; we need poetic symbols or metaphors that are open to various interpretations. It means that the imagination is going to have to play a greater part in understanding the world than it has in the past.
For example, an old worn-out analogy of the Newtonian world is that everything is sort of like a pool table where a cue hits one ball which in turn hits others that move around the table and bank off the sides and may or may not hit even more balls. My imagination doesn’t have to work very hard to grasp this. On the other hand, an electron can get into some kind of echoing warp with another electron and no matter how far apart they travel, they continue to mirror each other’s movements and conditions. . . well, trying to imagine this makes the inside of my eyes itch. But I’m curiously happier thinking about those mirroring electrons than the dreary clicking of billiard balls. I enjoy playing pool, though, even though I’m not all that good at it. If you play with someone who is also not very good at it, you can have a good time. I’m not sure it’s possible to have a good time with those clone-ish electrons. What can we do that is like them? The imagination quivers.
When our beliefs are grounded in what we might call primordial spirituality, we relish these things that are mysterious and unexplainable. Primordial means the first or earliest or primeval. And the earliest spiritual beliefs that human beings had, as far as we know, were beliefs about the Powers of nature. I’m capitalizing Powers so that it’s clear these Powers were seen as divine or sacred, that they had some kind of consciousness about them. They were also mysterious because no one in those primeval centuries had scientific explanations for what was going on with them. I think even today with the knowledge we do have, storms, lightning, electricity, fire, and other phenomena retain some element of mystery even if we know the physics behind them. They contain some unpredictable, uncontrollable “mind of their own.” This helps keep them in the realm of mystery and the need for imagination to understand them.
Imagination is key here. Image is the language of the soul, according to Aristotle, and I have always felt this idea explains spirituality and our need for spirituality. Imagination can be seen as the realm of the soul. So needing a new language, or poetry, or what we might call “imaginative flights of wondering” to understand our world keeps us attuned to the greater universe or Otherworld that we live in. The greater universe (seen only in microscopes and other sleek technological devises for probing way down inside) and the Otherworld of myth and dream may even be the same, or mirrors of each other, like those twin electrons. It’s possible that those electrons are actually behaving just like faeries do, or that the devas in the garden are dancing in the very same physical juices or life force that course through the stems of plants. Maybe this is why primordial spirituality has made a resurgence in our lifetimes. As scientists describe an even more marvelous, mysterious, complex, and intelligent universe than we had previously suspected, it quite naturally allows us to revert to those spiritual yearnings of our most primal ancestors who, with far less scientific understanding, stood in awe of the beauty, power, and terror of the Powers.