New World Library, 2004
Reviewed by June Raymond
(This review pertains to the 2001 edition with the subtitle The Mystery of Consciousness and the Meaning of Light)
Many people are familiar with Peter Russell’s earlier book The Global Brain. I read this together with Fritjof Capra’s The Turning Point in the eighties when I first came across Green and ‘New Age’ ideas. They both made a profound impression on me and so it was a wonderful surprise to discover Peter Russell’s most recent book about his theory of consciousness. I found it unputdownable and read it in a single sitting.
I am not a scientist and perhaps my response would be very different if I were. But I loved the fact that Russell explains everything with immense clarity and uses no equations, no algebra, no impossible mathematics! As for his theory, well you can take it or leave it, but I for one was convinced.
The book is written as a journey of discovery and Russell writes in the context of his own search to find a theory of consciousness. Apparently this is one of the major unsolved conundrums of psychology and even of quantum physics. It is possible to explain most human activities in terms of conventional science but how and why we should be conscious has still no satisfactory explanation.
Here Russell explores the subject of paradigm shifts and explains how as science develops in every age, there will emerge facts that simply don’t fit in with the current theories. At first they are dismissed as anomalies that will be accommodated as measurement and knowledge become more exact. However as knowledge increases their occurrence becomes more frequent and more difficult to explain rather than less. Then along come men of vision or genius, Copernicus, Galileo, and change the whole context of scientific research. The world is not the centre of the universe but itself goes round the sun, they declare, and in so doing change what Russell calls a metaparadigm. This, it goes without saying, is extremely unpopular and Galileo barely escaped with his life. So reluctant is the world to accept a shift in the paradigm of current scientific research that it may be centuries before it becomes general currency.
What Russell proposes is nothing less than a new metaparadigm shift to explain the problem of consciousness. He says consciousness is not an effect of wonderful and complicated nervous systems but actually the context within which they and all existence occur. He sees this as one with the phenomenon of light, which cannot be seen except by its effects. In a vacuum there would apparently be no light but when there is an object in the way light enables us to see. Light has another curious quality. No matter how fast you travel the speed of light is constant. Everything else is relative. So time and space are all relative and light, meaning the whole spectrum of light not just the tiny range of electro-magnetic vibrations that make up the visible colour spectrum, is the constant, outside time and space. This timeless dimension, Russell maintains, is consciousness itself.
The fact that we as human beings are uniquely aware of being conscious is because our neurological system is so evolved. But of itself our mind is only the mediator of our eternal, timeless, conscious intelligence. In short, the impression that your consciousness exists at a particular place in the world is an illusion. Everything we experience is a construct within consciousness. Our sense of being a unique self is merely another construct of the mind. Quite naturally we place our self-image at the centre of our picture of the world giving us the sense of being in the world. The truth is just the opposite. It is all within us. You have no location in space. Space is in you. So our consciousness is one with timeless consciousness behind and within all creation. It is itself uncreated and not subject to the separation and constant change within the time-space dimension of human existence.