Reviewed by Chris Clarke
Readers of GreenSpirit will be profoundly aware of the ecological stress now facing our planet as a result of human action, and of the call which many of us feel, to respond by embracing the earth more closely, connecting with it more intimately, so that we can know in our bones what is happening and respond more with our whole being. Many of us also feel that the underlying cause of what is happening is the progressive loss of any meaningful worldview within our society. The only stories that can be clearly heard within Western society as a whole are stories of wealth and status, domination and control; or the materialistic story of classical science, of the universe as a machine. This outworn scientific story of a meaningless universe is the only story that reaches to every country of our globalised planet.
Since the 1980s the Creation Centred Spirituality movement has been telling a ‘New Universe Story’ (pioneered by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry) of a world filled with constant creativity; and in GreenSpirit (Spring 04) Isabel Clarke linked into this the ‘New Human Story’ which explained the place of our own species and the paradoxical nature of our relationship with the world. Both these new stories are rooted in science, and so we are starting to see how the universality of science might be combined with the meaningfulness of our physical, intimately felt relationships, to restore to humanity a meaningful story by which to live within Gaia. But something has been missing. Science and the humanities, while sustaining many mutual resonances, still seem different worlds. Creation Centred Spirituality is still largely ignored or viewed with suspicion by the major faith traditions, and is itself sometimes reluctant to engage with the faith traditions. We still lack a truly unified story that encompasses the social realities of science, arts/humanities and spirituality. It is this that Malcolm Hollick seeks to build.
Amongst an ever-increasing flood of books building bridges between science and spirituality, his book stands out through its fundamentally different approach.. Malcolm Hollick does not rest with science and spirituality as already given and fixed. Instead, he proceeds to construct a new worldview that is rooted in an inner conviction of the oneness of the world, working with both scientific and spiritual material but treating both in the spirit of science – of a quest for truth marked by openness and humility within a public dialogue. In this way he progressively extends the boundaries of understanding beyond science to achieve, in the words of his title, ‘a science of oneness’ rather than a conjunction of science and spirituality as they are now.
In common with Creation Centred Spirituality, he extends science by recognising that its current bounds are set by its use of one particular way of knowing – the rational and analytical – and that its extension requires a different, relational or intuitive way of knowing. He then leads the reader into those branches of science which take us closest to the boundary where we can see how an intuitive knowing can continue the story. This results in a survey of enormous scope. He sets out in considerable breadth successive sections on systems theory, relativity, quantum physics, cosmology, mind, life and consciousness studies. What emerges is a detailed account of a holarchical cosmos, based on Koestler’s concept of a holon as a system that is defined by its own internal integrity, by the larger holons of which it is a part, and by the subsidiary holons from which it is built. The dynamics of the evolution of increasingly complex holons echoes Thomas Berry’s dynamic of “individuation, subjectivity and communion”.
Most importantly, his method of constructing the book itself illustrates his philosophy of the use of different ways of knowing. He goes well beyond conventional intellectual exposition by including in each section inspirational readings and seeds for meditations that enable readers to develop their own intuitive understanding of our world. This, and the use of a consistently accessible non-technical of language, gives the book an impressive pedagogic strength.
The process of the extension of science and the development of readers’ own understanding culminates in the final section: an exposition of the spiritual territory that his method has reclaimed. Rational and intuitive knowing combine in affirming the diversity of a universe which (echoing Brian Swimme) is in constant and unpredictable evolution, “..a truly creative process, with no predetermined path or goal.” He argues for a view in which the variety of spiritual traditions are seen as mutually enriching “..participatory experiments in which humanity is exploring alternative approaches to our relationship with Spirit and material existence.” At the end he finds a vision of a cosmos that has at its heart “..the Mystery of Spirit, a creative potential that shattered the primal One, bringing matter and consciousness into being.” Moreover, he affirms that “Even as the unity shattered, its fragments were being reintegrated into a complex, connected whole that is infinitely richer and more beautiful than the Void from which it sprang.” Within this vision he concludes by inspiringly focuses on his readers’ understanding of their own place in the world. He supports the insight of many spiritual traditions that “..our real ‘self’ is not an isolated individual, but a person-within-society-and-environment.” This enables us to come to terms with the reality of death (an essential step in freeing society from many of its pathologies) and to find our own meaning in our self-giving to the whole in love.
Malcolm Hollick has a background of academic ecological work in Australia and practical ecology in the Findhorn Foundation, and so his exposition is well interlaced with an ecological sensibility; though because of the breadth of his canvas this is often more implicit than explicit. He writes at a non-specialised level to convey a feeling and a general understanding of a holistic worldview. Inevitably this leaves some sections presented rather impressionistically – for example, in his treatment of physics, psychology or consciousness studies. At these points I missed the detail which might have been given of the current status of work in these areas, which is already making exciting headway in underpinning the general approach.
This book is not a simple extension of existing schools of thought, but – in its methodology as much as in its detailed content – it is the beginning of something new to which, I think, GreenSpirit can comfortably relate. With its extension to the fundamental insights of spiritual traditions and its unity of approach, we are moving from Universe and Human stories to the start of a Cosmic story.