Part 3: The Tropism of Meaning

“Being completes knowledge; completed knowledge is understanding.  It is as if another dimension has been added to knowledge: when it becomes understanding, it has become holographic”

Gurdjieff: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas by John Shirley

Epistemology is the study of the limits of knowledge; it is therefore concerned with what can be known and what cannot be known.  Logical Positivism is similarly a branch of epistemology, for it too posed that that which can be truly ‘known’ can only be reached by means of logic – that is, not by intuition or metaphysical speculation i.e. religious beliefs, faith, or any other forms of ‘gnosis’ (esoteric or mystical) other than rational, discursive logic and scientific verification.  Indeed Colin Wilson felt that logical positivism was a “kind of deliberate murder of everything important in philosophy” (p. 1; On Philosophers).  For in a sense, the question of human values becomes a merely subjective question, plagued by logically insolvable paradoxes and relativisms.  The philosopher, from then on, may very well concern himself with values and meanings, and so on, but in the spirit of logical positivism, and particularly the domain of science, these are seen as unverifiable principles, which – at best – have their roots in biological survival mechanisms and ‘selfish genes’.  So the philosopher, in this instance, is basically considered as wasting his time (this is effectively why the respectable position of the philosopher has diminished in recent years).

In a strange way this sort of logic has excluded human experience from the domain of science, so where they can ‘prove’ something using scientific instruments, they nevertheless have ejected the immensely complex nature of human consciousness, and even to a degree history itself (for one cannot step back in time and ‘prove’ something; it is, in the end, the history of subjectivities – therefore the humanities tend to suffer from this reductive logical fallacy).  Wilson would have said that they had thrown the baby out with the bath water!

The questions of symbols and signifiers speaking across the “”gap” between the conscious, socialized ego and the unconscious or superconscious field” regarding the UFO and other paranormal phenomena, to a Logical Positivist, or a scientific materialist, would appear as utterly meaningless jargon, for one cannot even begin to really test this hypothesis.  Again, like the UFO phenomenon itself, it tends to fall into the unpopular domain of ‘unfalsifiable hypothesis’ – a domain in which God now resides for most atheists[1].  Ironically, the UFO phenomena seems to arrive as an ‘unfalsifiable hypothesis’, being fundamentally unrepeatable and apparently random in its appearances.  It seems, with its tendency to inconsistency and prankster-like qualities to deliberately uproot, turn inside out, our usually accepted paradigms of reality.  It has a tendency to communicate and exist within that ‘gap’ that Jeffrey Kripal talks about; both a conscious and unconscious ‘event’, it is often discussed with a recourse to metaphysics, and at the same time, there is much speculation on the type of machinery it would take to travel across space or inter-dimensionally.  There is a definite psychic quality to the phenomenon which runs alongside more materialistic speculations and manifestations, such as crop-circles, alien implants, radiation readings in and around UFO landing sites, and even gruesome cattle mutilation.  The latter, of course, are material-aspects of the phenomenon, which have been reported to occur.  And yet, one cannot easily verify these events, for they too appear to abide by a strange inner-logic, with what appears to be deliberate ambiguity and even symbolic intent.

Abraham Maslow recognised the limits of the scientific worldview, in a psychological sense, for its tendency to become a sort of “safety philosophy, a security system, a complicated way of avoiding anxiety and upsetting problems.  In the extreme instance it can be a way of avoiding life, a kind of self-cloistering”.  The philosopher E.F. Schumacher, to my mind, presents a highly consistent and satisfying view of the affair by dividing knowledge into two essential categories: Convergent and Divergent:

Convergent Knowledge can be summarised briefly by presenting a solvable problem, such as a design of a bike, which will require two wheels,  and to be man-powered and an effective mode of transportation.  Eventually, through trial and experiment, the bike emerges – that is, the solutions converge, until the answer is effectively reached: the bike itself.  The bike is stable in time because it obeys the laws of the Universe and particularly that of inanimate physical matter.

Divergent Forms of Knowledge is altogether different, for logic of the either/or or yes/no variety breaks down into difficult formulations which have a more ambiguous, and less straight-forward answer, and are moreover much more relative.  There is an element of discontinuity in divergent knowledge. Schumacher uses the examples of such questions as: “What is the best method of education?”; “Freedom versus Equality”; “How do you make people become better?”.  In short, subjects like philosophy and politics are ‘divergent’ subjects, for they are dealing with consciousness and not inanimate matter.

He summarises the two essential differences between the two approaches thus:

“Convergent problems relate to the dead aspect of the Universe, where manipulation can proceed without let or hindrance and where man can make himself ‘master and possessor’, because the subtle, higher forces, which we have labelled life, consciousness and self-awareness, are not there to complicate matters” (p. 144).  And with Divergent problems, there is a tendency towards further complexity, where we must “expect divergence, for there enters, to however a modest degree, the element of freedom and inner experience”. In other words, consciousness enters this domain of ‘knowledge’ – a consciousness, moreover, that is side-lined in most scientific disciplines, or otherwise reduced or left out of the equation.  He concludes, placing man firmly back into the problem of new existentialism, and therefore of philosophy, by saying that man’s “life can thus be seen and understood as a succession of divergent problems which are inevitably encountered and have to be coped with in some way.  They are refractory to mere logic and discursive reason and constitute, as it were, a strain-and-stretch apparatus to develop the Whole Man, and that means to develop man’s supra-logical faculties” (p. 147-148).  Furthermore, in a telling last line, he notes that all traditional cultures have treated “life as a school and have recognised, in one way or another, the essentiality of this teaching force” (p. 148).


I hope the above digression – or slight divergence! – has placed us in a better position to consider the UFO phenomenon, and particularly mankind’s psychological relationship to phenomenon in general.  That is, even though they are difficult to prove scientifically, they nevertheless have an existence within the cultural psyche, and can be treated as a divergent problem, so to speak.  Carl Jung recognised this when he said that precisely because “the conscious mind does not know about them and is therefore confronted with a situation from which there seems no way out, these strange contents cannot be integrated directly but seek to express themselves indirectly” (p. 7), that is, divergently, philosophically and unscientifically.  Even so, he notes that the scientist’s “interest is too easily restricted to the common, the probable, the average, for that is after all the basis of every empirical science” (p. 69) – again, to what can converge, arrive at some definite synthesis which can be repeated in a laboratory (this may be the root of the obsession in UFO literature with the possible retrieval of crashed extraterrestrial craft – it offers a satisfying material answer to a problem so wrought with intangibles as to be exhausting[2]).

If it is so, that is, the  UFO phenomenon being a higher-dimensional event impinging upon our human world, it would therefore require a higher degree of logic to understand it.  Logic, that is, which goes beyond the usual causalities of ordinary space and time as we know it.  As Schumacher pointed out, it would require ‘supra-logical faculties’ in order to make sense of a ‘supra-logical event’, whereby the unification of opposites emerges through an experience of a higher-order experience.  This is commonly referred to in mystical experiences and alchemy as coincidentia oppositorum (coincidence of opposites).  John Shirley, in the quote at the beginning of this essay, notes that when an extra-dimension of being (an evolution of conscious awareness) is added to knowledge, it becomes “holographic” understanding.  It seems to have an infinitely recursive quality, whereby understanding seems to grow upwards like a spiral, increasing what Wilson called ‘relationality’.

The UFO, it could be argued, has this ‘teasing’ quality, encouraging a tropism (from the Greek work for “a turning”) in man towards more meaning (rather like a plant is phototropic; it grows towards light).  In Ian Watson’s Miracle Visitors (1978), which has been a big influence on these essays, he points out that life itself is pulled towards higher complexity (in this instance, he uses ‘inaccessibilities’ (a divergent problem) in referring to the difficult mystery of the UFO phenomenon):

“For all these inaccessibilities caused a fierce suction towards ever higher patterns of organization, towards higher comprehension. So molecules become long-chain molecules, and these became replicating cells that transmitted information . . . till mind evolved, and higher mind. The universe, he realized, was an immense simulation: of itself, by itself. It was a registering of itself, a progressive observation of itself from ever higher points of view. Each higher order was inaccessible to a lower order, yet each lower order was drawn towards the higher – teased by the suction of the higher” (p. 187).

In another section of the book he expresses the limits of logic, and again suggests an evolutionary quality behind the UFO phenomenon:

“Lower-order systems cannot fully grasp the Whole of which they are the parts.  Logic forbids.  It is the natural principle.  Which is why, when the processes of the Whole do show themselves, it is as unidentified phenomena – as intrusions into your own knowledge that can be witnessed and experienced but not rationally known: neither analysed, nor identified.  Such intrusions are inestimably important.  They are the goad towards higher organization.  They are what urges the amoeba to evolve towards a higher life form.  They are what spurs mind to evolve from natural awareness, and higher consciousness from simple mind.  They are the very dynamic of the universe” (p. 102).

This is perhaps the “gap” Jeffrey Kripal refers to as being “between the conscious, socialized ego and the unconscious or superconscious field”.  The UFO phenomena could be, in a sense, the declension of ‘higher logic’ into what Watson refers to as ‘lower-order systems’ – that is, in some way, the UFO is an entry of super consciousness into ordinary consciousness. I have always been struck by the similarities between Ian Watson’s vision of the ‘UFO Consciousness’ and P.D. Ouspensky’s description of the superman. They are worth quoting at length simply for their impressive correspondences:

“An ordinary man cannot see a superman or know of his existence, just as a caterpillar cannot know of the existence of a butterfly.  This is a fact which we find extremely difficult to admit, but it is natural and psychologically inevitable.  The higher type cannot in any sense be controlled by the lower type or be the subject of observation by the lower type; but the lower type may be controlled by the higher and may be under the observation of the higher.  And from this point of view the whole of life and the whole of history can have a meaning and a purpose which we cannot comprehend”.

Ouspensky continues:

“This meaning, this purpose, is superman.  All the rest exists for the sole purpose that out of the masses of humanity crawling on the earth superman should from time to time emerge and rise, and by this very fact go away from the masses and become inaccessible and invisible to them” (1984: p.121)

Here both writers seem to be pointing towards the same thing: the emergence of a superman through the transit of mystery itself.  Mystery, of course, is simply a divergent problem, a problem that cannot be easily solved through normal logic, or a limited ‘human’ perspective, but moreover requires a developed faculty of higher perception, or a heightened sensibility which brings into effect the union of opposites.  In that state, meaning would appear both in the “whole of history”, and more importantly in terms of the new existentialism, the individual.

In existential psychological terms, complexity too has a powerful quality, for, as Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi comments in his classic book, Flow (1992), complexity “is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration”, which sounds very much like Colin Wilson’s outsider (see The Outsider (1956)).  This development of the ‘outsider’ begins with differentiation i.e. that he feels differentiated by his overwhelming need for meaning which, it seems, is always impossibly distant, ungraspable and results in a difficult, nauseas world lacking in any real values.  This is what Wilson meant when he said “The Outsider is a man who has awakened to chaos. He may have no reason to believe that chaos is positive, the germ of life (in the Kabbala, chaos – tohu bohu – is simply a state in which order is latent; the egg is the ‘chaos’ of the bird); in spite of this, truth must be told, chaos must be faced” (p. 25; The Outsider).  Facing this chaos, this disequilibrium on its own terms, is what Csikzentmihalyi calls integration.  “Integration refers to its opposite: a union with other people, with ideas, and entities beyond the self.  A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies” (p. 41).

In this sense, integration is going beyond the self, the closed-system of solipsistic values that many Outsiders suffer from, and a move towards more transcendental values – values that come from outside as well as inside, whereby the “gap” is bridged.  Now, this might be what the UFO is for, for it too is an ‘intrusion’ from outside which may trigger an integration of the closed-system of mankind’s values, especially the suffocating and meaningless values presaged by science and its obsession with convergent problems.  Whitley Strieber, whose extraordinary book dealing with his own direct experiences with the beings seemingly involved in these phenomena, states that (again, taking care with the word ‘real’):

“If this is ‘real’ then it is very important as a testament to this kind of contact.  If it is a ‘mind thing’, then the book serves notice that something extraordinary is happening to our minds. . . It has enormously expanded my consciousness.  I have gone from a level of about 10 to a level of about 6,000.  I have been opened to so many provocative possibilities.  I have discovered that this is an extraordinary, quasi-physical reality that somehow emerges out of us.  Therefore, the human mind is a bigger, more incredibly, and wonderful thing that we can have ever dreamed”.

The phenomena, whether ‘real’ in the usual sense, or as a strange sort of psychological compensatory mechanism, dreamt up by the collective unconscious to ‘haunt’ us out of our narrow view of ourselves, it nevertheless represents a symbolic leap or process.  If, that is, the evolution of human consciousness takes up the guise of an external phenomena, like Strieber suggests, then it may be some higher aspect of ourselves urging us, through a symbolic-form, to reconsider our place in the cosmos, and particularly, our own latent powers (by the phenomena exhibiting these strange powers themselves).

As the UFO emerges into our reality, a mysterious silver disc-shaped object, or a self-transforming ball of indistinguishable, and bizarrely geometric illuminated plasma, we are left, inevitably, questioning its origin.  And its origin, if John Keel is right (see Part 2), seems to be from another dimension entirely.  If it is a declension into our realm, in whatever form it might appear, could it be that its own realm is one and the same with our collective unconscious?  That is, if we are indeed ‘haunting’ ourselves, it takes up the guise of whatever is palatable to the perceiver, by being simply incomprehensible, and by injecting more mystery into our lives by ‘teasing’ us out of our ordinary rote of experience.

It may be, like John Shirley suggests, adding new dimensions to our being, and therefore evolving our understanding of ourselves – by ourselves – and thus making our understanding “holographic”.  And it is interesting to note, in closing, that the hologram itself is an enfolding of an external reference point, so in a sense, if the UFO is a phenomena of our own minds, it is an aspect of ourselves as much as we are an aspect of it.  In some sense, it might be completing the cycle of our evolution outside of time itself – winding us up the spiral of complexity, towards a holographic understanding of our multidimensional being in the universe.

All by a process of divergence and convergence, differentiation and integration . . .


This will be continued in Part 4 . . .

[1] Scientific materialists or atheists cannot necessarily ‘disprove’ God, because there is nowhere to begin, so therefore he remains either ‘highly unlikely’ or an unnecessary hypothesis.  However they can say that nature appears mechanical, and does not require a programmer of sorts, but even then, this too only reduces God’s position, and does not conclusively disprove his existence.

[2] That is not to discredit the notion of possible crashed UFOs, or retrieved material from these craft.  However, the phenomena does seem to be both physical and psychical – and therefore could present material ‘proofs’, like the scarab beetle in Jung’s patient’s dream emerging in tandem with the dream symbol – and thus calls into question of such origins of the physical evidence!


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