Peter Russell joins us at SAND (Science and Non Duality) 2017 for a fascinating discussion on consciousness, the nature of reality, ego, mystical experience and shifting global consciousness.
His website can be reached here:-
Joshua Bloom: So we’re here at SAND, Science and Non Duality conference in Italy, and I’m here with Peter Russell. So we’re gonna jump straight into the questions. What key events put you on the path for the quest for truth?
Peter Russell: Ahh.. You know for me there wasn’t a key event.. I think it was always there and it gradually morphed. It was always a quest of truth, in fact when I was a teenager at school I was always exploring philosophical questions, the mind-body problem, why is there consciousness and I think it just gradually evolved, and to begin with was, you know, my quest into science and physics, thinking that was going to answer all the questions and then I realised.. no, no, that physics didn’t tell me anything about consciousness, and so I moved into other areas and I started meditating, went out to India, started meditation in India and it’s like all along, this opening was.. you know.. the realisations, the insights. So for me it’s been a gradual unfolding of many little events, that just.. and continue being little things.. ‘ah’, you have some insight, or something happens or somebody says something.. so it’s been like that for me
JB: And what have been the most inspiring things in the development of your own current paradigm or reality tunnel?
JB: Perhaps some key figures from..
PR: Yep. Well I.. when I started meditating with a Maharishi, Maharishi Mahesh in India (1:37) and his, his teachings remain with me so..
JB: Is that a Maharaj?
PR: No, the Maharishi – he was the one who brought TM to the West. The Beatles, The Beatles..
JB: In Rishikesh
PR: Yeah, in Rishikesh. That’s basically.. he was teaching Advaita Vedanta from the Shan.. (1.53) tradition and I think that deeper understanding still inspires me today a lot. I’ve also drawn a lot from Buddhist teachings. So Buddha, although he’s not living, I think has been a major inspiration in my work.. but also, I remember reading Walter Stace on mysticism.. reading the book in the early Sixties on mysticism and that was.. that was fascinating because what I had begun to see then was a common element of all the world’s spiritual traditions. I was brought up Church of England and went through the process of confirmation when I was thirteen and that basically de-confirmed me, I just thought ‘this is a load of bullshit’, and I started rejecting religion completely and yet, through that whole exploration of, really, Indian philosophy, I began to see the subtle idea behind all the great traditions. What is that.. what is that curtain of truth? So that’s been a motivation for a lot really, to try to distill out that code (2.58) and get it in it’s simplest form and share it in the simplest form as possible without any of the mumbo jumbo that’s accumulated over the centuries just in contemporary language
JB: Yeah. I spoke with Tim Freke the philosopher a couple of days ago and we touched on the ego and he said that the ego is a ‘constant spiritual companion that we shouldn’t try to get rid of, whereas a week ago I interviewed Dr. Naram, who’s probably the most famous Ayurvedic doctor, who treats the Dalai Lama and treated Nelson Mandela, and he said he has trouble still with his ego and the ego should be considered an enemy. What are your thoughts on this?
PR: I am much more of the Tim. But you see, we use the ego in many different ways, thats part of it. So when one person says, you know, his ego’s getting in his way, that may be true for how he’s using the word ego. The way I use the word ego.. I don’t even like the word *** (4.00) as it implies there’s something in me that’s actually.. well I have another sort of myself that’s operating.. but I look inside me, I just find me.. it’s just that sense of me, that sense of being, that sense of I, and a lot of the time that gets caught up in ego-centric thinking, so I see it as an ego moment of thinking not a thing called the ego but as ego-centric thinking
JB: They call it the default mode network in neuroscience
PR: Yeah.. and that’s there to help us. That way of thinking is basically the ego mode – it’s about being in control of the world, making sure everything is okay, and as a sense of self spaced upon the body, it’s about keeping the body, the organic system, going.. keeping it alive, keeping it safe, and so it’s a way of thinking that, underneath, that’s its goal: to keep things safe and that’s absolutely necessary in life, so it’s a very useful thing. But what happens is most of us end up in that mode of functioning 24 hours a day, when we only need it two or three hours a day and so we get lost in that ego mode of thinking. So it’s, it’s basically an ally that’s got out of control and so I th.. when you see it that way it’s not a question of getting rid of the ego, you don’t want to get rid of it, but we want to be able to recognise when it’s operating inappropriately and then step out of it.. and stepping out of it really is to say not follow that way of thinking: I don’t need that way of thinking, let me step out, pause and just come back to my essential being
JB: It seems to me like a lot of mental disorders come about from too strong an association with the ego.. and Eastern philosophies, they often state that we’re not our ego, and the ego is just another being within us
PR: Yeah, that would be a slightly different sense of ego that would be your sense of a separate sense of self, which I see, is it comes along with that way of thinking as a sense of a separate sense of self and yeah.. and that can be.. that can be dominating and lead to a lot of problems, yeah
JB: Now I want to touch on Western medicine. It seems like a lot of medicines that are used to treat mental disorders are only marginally more effective than the placebo effect, whereas shamanism and holistic approaches seem to be far more effective
PR: Yeah, I think that’s true. Yes and also sadly in Western medicine.. is about.. something like 30% of all medical cases in America, I know it’s probably similar in Europe, come from previous medical treatments. So it’s not only that they’re not so effective, they actually often create they’re own problems. But then again, the same could be said of some shamanic practices. Some people, you know have negative reactions, if you like, and there are contraindications about.. you know.. certain sorts of people may not be suitable for certain shamanic practices. But yeah, the placebo effect is absolutely fascinating, absolutely fascinating. That our belief in something can create in certain circumstances such profound shifts in the mind, body, in neurology, physiology, yeah
JB: Going back to your studies at Cambridge, now, you did mathematics and physics
PR: Yeah, I started off doing mathematics and then moved more into theoretical physics, and it’s only a difference in name actually.. and in Cambridge, the syllabus for applied maths is the same syllabus for theoretical physics – they are the same thing.. and I made that shift because the pure maths was just getting too abstract for me, which is the *** (8.03) Theory and all that stuff which was just.. I couldn’t really relate to it, whereas the applied maths was things like relativity, Quantum Theories, like how maths applies to the actual Universe as we know it, and my fascination really was with Relativity Theory
JB: What, in your opinion, are the most promising theories in physics? Especially in establishing a new shift in global consciousness that we so desperately need
PR: What I’m actually fascinated by – I turned the question around a bit – is that there are no real *** (8.44) theories. At the moment, they’re bringing everything together. We’re at a state in physics where we have many, many unknowns, more unknowns than ever, and many possible theories, you know: dark matter, dark energy – they’re hypotheses. We don’t, you know.. we’ve maybe got it wrong, maybe they don’t exist and there’s different theories as to what they are, or you know, coming down to quantum level is many different models of what’s going on there, and we’ve never been in that situation before.. we had some anomaly like, you know, the radiation problem from the sun, and Max Planck came along with his solution – we had quantum physics. We had the problem with the speed of light and Einstein came along with Special Relativity.. there are no major revolutions happening. There’s lots of different theories and none of them apply universally – theres nothing that stands out it’s like ‘this is the right model and you’re all partly right and partly wrong’
JB: ..and I had Jude Currivan talking yesterday about Holographic Universe Theory, and that seems to me to be quite a promising theory to amalgamate everything, especially String Theory, but once again, there’s no evidence for any of it
PR: Right, well, the mathematics works and yet intuitively is it true? It’s the same with, you know, Multiverse Theories: the mathematics works and seems to indicate it and yet intuitively there’s something wrong with it, and I think the reason we’re not getting anywhere is because we’re not including consciousness in physics, and consciousness is.. by which I mean just the fact that you and I are experiencing. It’s the one thing that we cannot deny. We may question quantum physics, we may question the reality of this room, we could all be sitting in a virtual reality set right now, even if we were.. the fact that we are experiencing is undeniable. Now, physics, science generally, prides itself of its predictability. Any scientific theory that is valid, you test it by seeing ‘does it predict the world correctly’. We have a whole world view, a whole paradigm in science, which does not predict awareness. Nothing in modern physics predicts that you and I should actually be having an experience right now. So the current paradigm fails abysmally.. abysmally in the act of prediction. It doesn’t predict the one thing we’re looking to achieve and so that says to me we’re not really going anywhere until we have a new paradigm that actually includes awareness in some way or another, and you can see hints that needs to be the case in quantum physics, in the fact that somehow the act of observation or measurement, somehow affects reality or changes it. I think we don’t really know what’s going on but that says to me.. that points to the fact we’ve got to include somehow the fact that observation, experience, has to be part of a model, and a fundamental point of it is like, it’s.. we need a paradigm *** (11.54), like space-time, matter, energy.. mind. They all have to come together in a modern model – that, I think, is going to be the way forward and that, in terms of, you know, the global.. how this affects our global consciousness.. that’s what’s needed – is some way of both recognising the value of consciousness and how we can work with it in the world
JB: Do you think it could be, in a way, that consciousness could be a stand alone, like an extra fundamental force or it’s literally the bedrock of all that exists?
PR: I think it’s the latter. If it’s not a fundamental force, it’s something that could be known or experienced. When I’m talking about consciousness, I mean the ‘know-er’, the fact that we, you and I, are aware and we’re aware of this room, and we’re aware of physics and the equations, and the concept of space and time. So if it was another fundamental force, it might be consciousness as I’m thinking of it, which is the very fact that I am ‘experiencing’ and so it’s ‘experiencing’ that needs to be improved, and I think the model has to say that that is the bedrock, or a bedrock of the Universe, because it’s not only just that you and I are experiencing, you know, the dog or cat we assume is experiencing, that’s why we give a dog an anesthetic when we operate – we want to make it unconscious so we assume it’s conscious.. and then comes the hard problem with, if you believe that consciousness somehow comes out of matter, you’ve got to explain what it is around a certain configuration of matter that gives rise to this totally different thing which is ‘experience’, and that’s the whole problem. If you say it’s to do with the nervous system and you say well okay, fish have got nervous systems so they’re conscious but, you know, does a worm have a nervous system? Where do you draw the line? And I think ultimately you cannot draw the line anywhere, so as soon as you draw a line, you come up against the hard problem: below the mind is just physical matter, above the line, magic happens, and there’s interior experience and that’s.. all you’re doing is pushing the whole problem down so the way the whole problem dissolves is by pushing the line all the way back to nothing and to say the potential for experience is in everything – well even that is incorrect. The potential for experience IS everything, and as it’s more complex and we perceive it, that we perceive that field or knowing as matter. So ultimately space, matter, time, energy, you know, our perception of this field which.. who knows what it is, but it must be.. it must have potential for awareness. So in that sense, it’s close to saying it’s the bedrock
JB: Going back to shamanism, there’s many people that feel that ayahuasca can literally turn the planet around almost overnight in a very positive manner. Also, the spirits or entities that are encountered, some truly really believe they’re cosmic entities or botanical spirits or just deeper hidden aspects of our own psyche
PR: I was.. I lived through the Sixties and was part of that belief that putting Acid in the water supply would turn the world around, but you know, it’s another turn of that whole revolution. Yes it’s.. these openings are very powerful and they’re too rich for some people. For some people they’re too disturbing and their psychology cannot handle it. I think they’re valuable, really as internal healing. How much credence we give to what we actually experience is.. I always question it. What could have the experience of being in contact with some entity which is connected with some plant or spirit or something.. I don’t want to take that too.. so that is an experience, the experience is very very real.. but then when we turn that into ontology.. is this actually real out there.. I think we should be cautious of doing that. It’s more: how is this experience opening me up, how is it healing me. The ultimate mystical experience is really one of dropping out of all experience, of dropping out of the ego mind we were talking about, the thinking mind, and even dropping out of the perception we have of wonderful perceptions with these sorts of things.. but ultimately it’s about coming back to our own deep sense of being.. that’s what I’m interested in seeing – it’s what’s in it that takes us back to opening up to who we really are – beyond all forms of perception. And so sometimes it can be a distraction that take us into these other incredibly magnificent complex worlds and yet, are they just another distraction, another subtle form of spiritual materialism taking us away from our true essence? So it’s not.. as I say.. I think it’s incredibly valuable, but just to be cautious about how to interpret them and just.. for me to see the real value is that deep spiritual mystical value, the recognition of one’s own true identity in the essence of the cosmos
JB: Do you think we, as a species, need to let go of materialism? Both scientific materialism and capitalist materialism..
PR: Yeah, well they’re two very different things but yes to both. Scientific materialism, as I was saying, does not include consciousness, so yeah it has to be expanded and remodeled so in that sense we have to let go of that very limited view of the Universe. And obviously materialism in the capitalistic sense – it’s not just in capitalism it’s there in many societies, the old communist systems were very materialistic, it’s just a different way of distributing the material or getting wealth or whatever – but I think it’s.. we have to look at something deeper.. it’s what is behind materialism – and what is behind materialism is a belief system, this ego system we were talking about before. It’s a belief system that says ‘if I want to be happy, I need the world to be a certain way, I need to be in control of the world, have people believe a certain way, have certain things, certain opportunities, certain experiences, and that way of thinking is a materialist way of thinking which is continually reinforced by almost every aspect of our society, and where any advert is saying ‘you can’t be happy as you are, you’re missing something, get this, buy this, do this and you’ll feel better’. What we’re recognising here is, ultimately, what we’re looking for is to feel better and this is what every spiritual teacher has said – ultimately we’re looking for happiness, piece of mind, all of what you want, and what they’ve also pointed out is it’s the seeking out there for it that actually covers up our natural peace of mind. I think the mind in its natural, unperturbed, *** (20:02) state is almost my definition, is at peace and we’ve disturbed that natural sense of peace through wanting this, thinking we lack this, whatever it is, or get excited over having something. We’re continually veiling that natural sense of peace and so the way to to get out of materialism is not so much to try and change the thinking of society, which is almost impossible to do, it’s got its own momentum, but to change ourselves from the inside so we could recognise that, I actually don’t need these things. It’s not a question of pertaining materialism, it’s a question of opening self, to realise I can actually feel that deep sense of peace, quietness, joy.. the things I’m looking for from the material things, I can actually feel inside, takes away the motor of materialism, so you in a way have the fulfillment of your desires, without actually having different *** (21:30) desires, which doesn’t mean to say, you know, we don’t feed ourselves.. hopefully we don’t, you know, live in accommodations that are unhealthy and unsafe, etc. We certainly need to take care of ourselves and we need to take care of other people, make sure they’re living as good a quality of life as possible, but then realising, once we have the basics, to let go of that idea that having even more will make us happy – it clearly doesn’t work – many, many studies have shown this. I think once you’ve got the basics covered, having any more doesn’t make you any happier. The wanting more actually makes us more unhappy and so it’s that.. it comes from that natural recognition that deep inside, I am ok and I don’t need these kinds of things and that’s how we take the.. like I say, we take the motor out of materialism
JB: I’m currently collaborating with seven projects that are literally in the business of trying to save the planet. Now, in my opinion I feel we need to save people from their own minds, and saving the planet will be a side effect of that. What message could you give to people to help them escape the ‘tyranny’ of the egoic mind
PR: I think that it’s actually.. very simple. And that is.. just to pause your thinking, whenever you realise you got caught up in it, as we do, hundreds of times a day, to catch it and not to beat yourself up ‘oh my god there I go my stupid ego, whatever it is’. Is to pause, and in that moment of pausing, we just get a taste of that ‘ohh’.. as a sense of relief.. as a sense of greater sense, of quietness, of stillness.. and the more we do that, the more we taste how it is. Just for a second or two. Our thinking’s gonna come rushing back, but to just pause and pause and pause, and gradually get more familiar with that inner sense of being quiet and the peace that’s there.. and actually that builds up and that becomes more attractive for ourselves and so again, its not a.. in a sense a ‘tyranny’ of the ego minded – it makes it look somehow like the enemy – that’s when it’s there but it’s being activated too often. Just go back and just pause a second ‘ahh.. yep, here I am, yep.. now let me savor this.. enjoy this..’ and then you’re off again and coming back and going and coming back
JB: Okay, thank you very much
PR: Thank you
JB: I appreciate your knowledge