Tuesday, May 29, 2007

#7. Brief Autobiography

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This is a brief autobiography. It seems to be called for, to help make some sense of where I'm coming from in wanting to share with others what I see as interesting lines of thought about the contemporary convergence of science and religion, specifically those which flow from the inter-disciplinary (anthropology and neurology) field called Biogenetic Structuralism.

My first blog posting was on 28 December 2006. I've posted a few related items, but this entry is the real start of the project. I hope to provide some background ideas and an overview of Biogenetic Structuralism and to follow-up those postings with some specific science-religion ideas that I've found especially interesting.

I'm aware that it's a bit odd to be excited about a line of scientific research which began more than 30 years ago. But I'm just catching on to it, and offering some bits of my own story may help make sense of why it seems so important for our contemporary situation.


For a start, I have a neat birthday. I was born an hour after midnight on All Saints Day, 1937. (That's the "All Hallows" day of which Halloween is the eve.) My grandmother was happy that I wasn't born on Halloween; but on the old Celtic calendars, the entire night between October 31 and November 1 is considered the "crack in time" which marks the beginning of the agricultural new year. Some people still call it the year's "thin time." I've always liked the idea that I was born when the "divide" between everyday reality and the deeper meaning of things was at its "thinnest."

I had a pious Polish Catholic mother and a non-religious outdoors-type father, so I was open, from an early age, both to nature, in the form of science, and to religion, in terms of inner experience. I eventually obtained masters degrees in both areas, and taught both, in one form or another, in high school and college, for forty years. My wife Anne and I retired together in June, 2000.

We have two adult, married children and two charming grandsons (who, to our delight, live across the street). Just before our retirement, our daughter Rosemary was awarded two free tickets "to anywhere" by British Airways; she was pregnant and so gave the tickets to Anne and me for a retirement trip. We went as far as we could go, to New Zealand with a stop-over in Australia, and planned the trip to begin on the opening day of the new school year. Free at last!


Special interests: I have participated in research in Native American Paleolithic rock art in Wyoming, contributed to rain forest studies in the Amazon Basin (Ecuador) and Brunei (Borneo), and was part of a month-long seminar sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities on the Victorian science-religion milieu of Darwin’s Origin of Species.

I was invited in 1978 to be part of the inaugural class of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance by its founding director, John Yungblut, after having been attracted to his work at Pendle Hill, the Philadelphia-area Quaker center where he was in residence, working at integrating the insights of Jung, Merton and Teilhard.

I had been familiar with Teilhard and Jung since my college days (in the late 1950s) and with Merton even earlier. John was the first person I knew who was attempting to bring those perspectives together and I greatly appreciated his pioneering efforts.

In 1980 I was part of a small group who received masters degrees from New York Theological Seminary in conjunction with work done with the Guild. The Guild was then at Wainwright House in Rye, New York, and although it has since moved to Ossining, New York, is still going strong more than 25 years later.

My previous educational background included undergraduate and graduate degrees in science, and I’d been a high school science teacher for 18 years. Throughout my life, my two main loves have been science and religion. With its focus on Teilhardian and Jungian perspectives within the Christian tradition, the Guild for Spiritual Guidance allowed me to put those two parts of my life together. The degree from New York Theological Seminary opened many doors for me.

Among other things, I became founding editor of a newsletter (and later national magazine) devoted to family ritual. I also worked in several local churches dealing with liturgy and spirituality, gave talks and workshops throughout the country, and taught courses in religious experience at the Jesuit college in Philadelphia. During that time I met a lot of good people and made what I felt was both a personal and unique contribution to the world. Eventually I went back to science teaching, to get my kids through college and to prepare for retirement.


Up until that time, my life-interests had crystallized into three big areas: evolutionary science, religious ritual and sacred manhood:

1) I was creating Teilhardian-oriented evolution courses for high school students as far back as the 1960s. As Teilhard himself says, today everything needs to be understood within an evolutionary perspective.

2) Early on, I found myself with a certain knack for helping evoke quality ritual, and I’ve done some creative ritual work both in church liturgy and in family life. I remain interested especially in the forms religious ritual takes in native and pre-industrial cultures. I find our contemporary culture’s lack of any sense of theory, praxis or purpose to ritual a major burden.

3) By “sacred manhood” I mean a grounded masculinity which is an alternative both to the oppressive patriarchal manifestations of maleness and also to its subordinate role in the goddess traditions. Briefly, I see its expression not in the image of the hero but in that of the shamanic trickster. Here's a "Jungian profile" of post-patriarchal men, compiled from Beyond the Hero, Classic Stories of Men in Search of Soul, by Allan B. Chinen, MD:

Such men are generative, relate as brothers, wander as pioneers, healers, and explorers; they are links, communicators, story-tellers, messengers, negotiators; they use jokes, teasing and tall tales, and unite opposites; they are tough, confident, flexible, creative, intelligent and psychologically healthy; they accept woundedness as an opportunity for transformation and insight, and they use their powers for the good of the whole community.

Over the years I’ve made several wilderness vision quests, high points in my life. I had been a heavy smoker for many years and, as a result of my second Vision Quest (in the mid-1980s), I found myself called to give up "recreational" smoking and become a carrier of the Native American sacred pipe. I could not have been more surprised had I been elected pope or president of the United States. The vision directed me to "Stop smoking. Smoke the sacred pipe" and to do so each day "on behalf of all the world." It is a sacred duty difficult to talk about, so I usually don't.

Since retirement I've done two especially significant things: I've begun practicing Tai Chi and I've had time-- finally!-- to develop my interests in the convergence of science and religion. I'm especially interested in the New Cosmology and its integration with the newer, earth-friendly and people-friendly religious traditions that have been emerging from the work of the Sophiologist Sergius Bulgakov and other contemporary visionaries such as Teilhard de Chardin, Bede Griffiths, Raymond Panikkar, Thomas Berry and Bruno Barnhart.


Back in the autumn of 2005 I had a strong sense that I was about to begin a new phase of my life, and six months later I was able to say to a friend: "I have finally-- in my 69th year-- found my calling from the universe: I am an evolutionary structuralist." (I got the name slightly wrong, but it was close enough.)

Since the earliest media reports (around 1990) of studies being done at the University of Pennsylvania on brain scans of meditating Buddhist monks, I felt that the work of neurologist Andrew Newberg, MD, was something I needed to pay attention to. But I knew nothing about neurology and of course didn't have time, then, to learn anything about it.

So for many years I was able to do nothing more than be aware that Newberg was doing some important work. When I finally got to hear him speak (April, 2006) and to read his books, I was surprised to learn that he is a second generation researcher, and that it was the work of his first generation predecessors, the earliest biogenetic structuralists, that had been calling to me all those years.

That first generation work began around 1970 as an intersection of cultural anthropology with studies of the brain and nervous system. It called itself biogenetic structuralism to distinguish it from an earlier form of structuralism, resulting from the work of anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. It doesn't negate that earlier work but adds to it both neurological and evolutionary perspectives.

It's not an exaggeration to say that those scientists seem to be dealing with the same things I've considered important all my life. The best way I can describe it is that their way of thinking seems to be my way of thinking. I feel like I am in some sense a "born" biogenetic structuralist. It has provided me with the spark that probably will keep me going for the rest of my life.

As I've said, I'm aware that it's a bit odd to be excited about a book which appeared 30 years ago, but it feels good to know that my life-long religious interests, especially in liturgy and ritual, and my long-time scientific interests, especially in biological and cosmic evolution, not only fit together but are also an integral part of our (contemporary humanity's) on-going scientific efforts to understand ourselves.

As I see it, science and religion converge in the scientific study of human consciousness in the broadest possible evolutionary context. It's thoughts along those lines that I hope to share with interested readers.


1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.