Introduction

This paper exposes our knowledge of the world we are in as an anthropic realism (1), then shows the contradiction of contemporary Weltanschauung (2), details the enigma of “seeing the world” (3), shows how the so-called Enlightenment in fact is an obscurantism (4) and what are its consequential contradiction in quantum physics (5). Then, the “two worlds” (the physical and the corporeal one) lead to rather consider ontological domains within “our world” (6) and to understand such cosmologia perennis in the light of the Indian tribhuvana doctrine (7).

Anthropic Realism

We know the world we are in as something other than God while He knows all things “within Himself” and denies existence to “every other that is anything except Himself” (Meister Eckhart’s). This means that our world exists in relative sense: for us. Any cosmology that would absolutize the universe would thus violate this fundamental “principle of relativity”.

Philosophically, this principle formulates as “anthropic realism”, in phase with any sapiential tradition, and as the only realist position “in the face of gnosis”. It fundamentally differs from any kind of “academic” realism, beginning with the Cartesian variety, and conforms Husserl’s original intuition but of course not the stand alone development of phenomenology, which renounces metaphysics. He should have stayed “in the face of gnosis” and certainly realized it when he sadly confided to Edith Stein that he had “tried to find God without God!”

Anthropic realism squarely stands “upon the bedrock of unmediated apperception”: we know the world, even when conceived as something external; it exists (only) “for us” and, if we did not know it at all, it would ipso facto not be “our world”. Yet we don’t know it totally: “now we know in part”, St. Paul says. This is because the world too exists “in part”: a mix of Being and non-being, Light and darkness, Act and potency. Also, should we know it “in full” – as God Himself knows –, then it would instantly vanish, like a projected picture disappears in the fullness of light.

What vanishes then is not the partial light but rather the preceding darkness, meaning that what are negated in supreme knowledge are “negations” (Meister Eckhart’s). What disappears has not been destroyed because it never actually existed. This is why Christ declares: “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil”.

The Contemporary Weltanschauung’ Contradiction

Paradoxically, in our contemporary era of relativism, the universe has been absolutized in contradiction with the anthropic realism, plus whereas science speaks of hypothesis, or theories validated (so far) by some modus operandi, its affirmations are taken as absolute truth. These absolutes are yet not only false in light of gnosis but even from a simple philosophical point of view.

 Indeed, cosmologically reduced to a mere part of the universe, man – whether Darwinistically seen as a “molecular accident” or “intelligently designed” – is implicitly denied in its intellectual capacity. Now his intellect, which is the faculty by which he knows, by which the cosmos exists objectively, literally is “not of this world”1; and if this can be overshadowed, it cannot be denied.

If contemporary cosmology cannot account for the act of knowing, this is because knowing does not reduce to being: “knowing is ultimate” as Whitehead worded it2. This is why neuroscientists cannot, and never will, find the knower: he was excluded by the very premises of this Weltanschauung that absolutizes the universe. On the contrary, there is only a “relative” universe, complementary to man, who is a “full half” of that complementarity. For all that, they are not sharply separated but man and cosmos overlap, specifically by the body of man – his “outer shell” –, which precisely makes the presence of the world “for us”. This is not different to what any cosmologia perennis – whether in form or guise of folklore, mythology or esoteric  treatise – always teached.

The Enigma of “Seeing the World”

Among the senses by which we perceive, thus know, the world, the visual certainly is the paramount faculty, leading to speaking about “world-view”, rather than “world-hearing” or “world-touch”! This is because “knowing is ultimate” that this simple visual perception cannot be accounted by any cosmic process, whatever impressive strides cognitive neurophysiology has made, in particular into the physical process of primary visual system (from the retinal ganglion cells – one million in each eye – to the hippocampus) . “We can see how the brain takes the picture apart, but we do not yet see how it puts it together” confirms Sir Francis Crick3, because it is now demonstrated on the basis of empirical studies, that visual perception is not a matter of seeing a picture at all4.

We do not see “pictures” because what we see is the corporeal object itself: a mountain, a tree, or a framed picture in an art gallery! Like any act of knowing, perception is consummated in kind of an union between the subject and the object. “In a certain manner”, says Aristotle, the two become one. Though the act of human knowing involves the physical body – intersection between world and man, as mentioned –, it is perforce consummated in the Intellect, which is neither in space nor in time.

An Obscurantist Enlightenment

Even if cognitive science could demonstrate something in accordance to the perennial doctrine on Intellect, contemporary science altogether loathes considering that man is “not of this world”. To the contrary, the so-called Enlightenment has progressively completely obscured that doctrine: man now is part of the natural world. Moreover, while the “prior” world was full of qualities (colour, sounds, fragrances…), the Cartesian universe has been reduced to a mere res extensa (extended things), deprived from any quality, and, as such, a world that no human eye can ever see. While Descartes did not deny the transcendence of Intellect, his erroneous theory of perception isolated the world from the human observer. This is a first contradiction: a man part of the natural world but cut off it as res cognitans (thinking entity) versus res extensa.

Of course, this was to arise in an era of predilection for a mathematized universe, prepared by Galilo’s physics and paramounting with the monumental Newton’s discoveries. Yet, away from the anthropic realism, this proves to be erroneous and indeed contradictory. In this new epistemology, the perceptual act does not terminate in an exterior object but in a subjective representation, a phantasm to which are assigned all qualitative elements, so that the object remains that pure res extensa. Such a world is not “our” world any longer; moreover, such Cartesian world – still the one of modern science – cannot be known at all and, even, does not exist.

Consequential Contradiction in Quantum Physics

Even if the physicist thinks he knows a universe made of res extensa, he is per force mistaken in his philosophical belief. What then does he know? He deals with two kinds of intentional objects: mathematical structures as theoretician, corporeal entities (res extensa cannot be perceived) as experimentalist.

The Newtonian physicist was apparently convinced he was dealing with entities (whether solids, liquids, gases or even fields), despite the Cartesian universe, following a “mechanical” conception (in a rather crude sense) – up to the ill-fated ether theory of the latter half of the nineteenth century –, which will have lasted until the beginning of the twentieth century, under the consummate expression formulated by Albert Einstein5.

The downfall of mechanism came from quantum physics, because “beneath” the level it refers to, there is nil mechanism and, as such, this new physics can no longer be conceived in Cartesian terms. Prior to the advent of quanta, res extensa, although void of scientific content, could nonetheless serve as a kind of “ontological peg” to which measurable quantities could be formally attached. This is what quantum physics now forbids: mathematics no longer permits such identification. Physics itself finally proclaimed Cartesian ontology defunct!6

Nevertheless, quantum physicist staunchly upholds this expired epistemology (per which human perception terminates in a mental phantasm) and even denies any other one: “any doctrine which does not implicitly presuppose this point of view is assailed as unintelligible”7, said Whitehead, already in 1934.

Yet, what has been termed quantum paradox simply is the Nature’s way of repudiating a spurious philosophy. The long quest for “atoms” has not come to fruition with the terminal discovery of some indivisible res extensa, but with a so-called particle, which is not a particle at all but some kind of an existent entity that is neither “mere” mathematical structure nor corporeal object. It is “a strange kind of physical entity just in the middle between possibility and reality”, said Werner Heisenberg8.

Needless to say that these quantum particles from the physical universe cannot be perceived! Now, if the corporeal world exists “for us” by way of sense perception, they exist for us too, but indirectly by way of a complex modus operandi. When the imperceptible physical entity interacts with a corporeal instrument, only then is it detected, measured, and experienced with. Such interaction “bridges” the “two worlds” of modern physics.

The problem is that the physicist recognizes the physical world only and, misled by a spurious epistemology, he believes that green grass and red apple only exist as a phantasm in some res cogitans, whereas the “real world” only consists in particles and their aggregates. But quantum theory itself disavows that philosophy, and precisely because, at the time of interaction between the physical particle and the corporeal instrument, the phenomenon called “state vector collapse” occurs (i.e. the state vector exhibits an inexplicable discontinuity, or the so-called Schrödinger equation is re-initialized).

While the physicist, despite the corporeal instrument he uses, only sees physical objects, we rather see the quantum-mechanical implications of this corporeal instrument. This collapse means to us that Nature itself distinguishes between “the two worlds” and, instead of mystifying us like physicists since 1927, proves to be indicative of a “two worlds” ontology corresponding to a realist view of perception. Both physical and corporeal worlds coexist because, far from being absolute, they exist “for us” by virtue of a corresponding way of knowing. What we know depends upon how we know it; far from some contradictory “two worlds”, this is only another way to illustrate the anthropic realism.

From “Two Worlds” to Ontological Domains

Instead of loosely talk about “two world”, let us precise that a world is defined by a primary way of knowing (defining our common humanity and corresponding world), whereas some ontological domain (within this given world) may correspond to some secondary mode (based upon the primary). The primary mode of cognition starts from sense perception: “there is nothing in the intellect, which is not first in the senses”9, as clearly exemplified in the mental development of a child and evidenced by the fact we cannot think without the use of sensible images – what Scholastics calls phantasmata.

Thus, while the corporeal is “our world”, the physical can be no more than a particular domain within that world. Here comes the asymmetry that corporeal does not bear reference to the physical while the physical must bear reference to the corporeal. This goes up to the point where we can say that the physical stands to the corporeal as potency to act10. Physical entities are indeed potentiae, as Heisenberg himself recognized (“just in the middle between possibility and reality”). The physical order exists in relation to the corporeal world as numerous other domains yet exist but cannot be reduced to the corporeal world (the so-called “financial world”, as example). The corporeal order comprises manifold non-corporeal domains, none of which being reducible to another.

Cosmologia Perennis in the Light of Tribhuvana

If a primary way of knowing defines the world that exists “for us”, our present one constitutes a degree of aparavidya, a degree at the bottom of the scale, and corresponding to what Christianity terms the Fall. Yet this degree of knowing can be transcended, as teached by sacred traditions, spiritual practices, all forms of yoga. This is why the cosmologia perennis constitutes an anthropic realism in which the various cosmic levels correspond to specific degrees of knowing, such as cosmology links to an inseparable anthropology.

Principal degrees of knowing and corresponding levels of the integral cosmos summarize in a basic threefold division, as given in the Vedic doctrine11 of the tribhuvana or “triple world”12. These three worlds correspond, in ascending order, to:

  • the waking state (jagrat),
  • the dream state (svapna),
  • the state of dreamless sleep (sushupti).

Yet, surprisingly enough to contemporary reader, it is precisely in a state analogous to that of dreamless sleep that the spiritual world is to be known. So is it to be read in Bhagavad Gita II, 69: “In that which is night to all beings, the in-gathered man is awake; and where all beings are awake, there is night for the muni who sees”.

If, clearly, the modern West reduces its purview and resulting cosmology to the lowest division of the tribhuvana (which division still would by far exceed that purview), what Western theological schools seem to have neglected is the intermediary domain (the Vedic bhuvar) while, on the anthropological side, the traditional ternary corpus-anima-spiritus seems to have collapsed into the dichotomy corpus-anima. Dissymmetrically truncated, how could these partial cosmology and anthropology correspond any further?

It is to be noticed that this is when anthropology tends to reduce spiritus to anima that individuals start looking for the cosmological intermediary or “subtle” world, or, as occultists term it, the ‘astral” plane. There have been many psychics or so-called media who, in the nineteenth century, have entered into that forbidden realm and, in the twentieth, with the advent of hippiedom, and the New Age movement, young people did likewise with the aid of psychedelic drugs. However, even if we all have this latent faculty of knowing the subtle world, it should not be prematurely activated, nor without the protection of sacramental grace. This is why the Church always was reticent to refer to the subject at all, yet getting to a situation where many lack appropriate warning and counsel13.

In any case, the sharpest boundary is the one that separate the intermediary domain from the third one: sushupti or svar, spiritual life being out of reach by modern science, only able to cover some of both the corporeal and the psychic domains.

While the threefold division constitutes the basis of traditional cosmology, each domain admits further subdivisions: lokas or “worlds”. This is the Tantric tradition that teaches the correspondences between each loka and human “centres” called cakra or padma – normally dormant but which one can activate and gain access to the corresponding loka. Among the six primary cakras, the first four (in ascending order) relates to the bhurloka and the fifth (vishuddha) to bhuvar, like the four elements and the aether (akasha) or quinta essentia (in the Occidental tradition). The sixth one is ajna, corresponding to svar, celestial world and spiritual domain14. One won’t be surprised to know that the first four are located in the torso and the sixth in the head, while the fifth one is right in the neck, which clearly represents the link or isthmus between the celestial and the earthly realm15.

There is, according to the tantra vidya, an indefinite multiplicity of secondary cakras corresponding to ever finer subdivisions of the tribhuvana. However, this is not mere “speculation”, as it is associated with Kundalini Yoga techniques and has therefore an experimental basis, constituting indeed a science. That science yet surpasses modern ones: we discovered a “sub-corporeal” plane corresponding to no cakras and can only be known indirectly through mensuration, while Tantric masters have laid the foundation of an integral cosmology based upon superior mode of direct perception.

With all these “worlds within worlds”, if man is able to know the integral cosmos (again, yet not in full but “in part”), it is because each loka within the cosmic hierarchy contains pre-eminently all that is contained in the lower world and, above all, because these worlds answer to something that exists in us: The immensity of the cosmos is complemented by the immensity of the anthropos. Modern man has scarcely begun to know himself; and for that reason, has hardly begun to know the cosmos as well – even if, despite his ignorance, he shows off as being all-knowing16.

Cosmologia perennis, although given in countless formulations throughout the sacred literature of mankind, often looks like a jumble of “primitive” speculation, to be dismissed as nonsensical or, even worse, to be interpreted with contemporary notions. For those who had some living contact with the East or with the remaining Western sapiential tradition, this wisdom relates to neither philosophy nor religion as such but to scientia, this self-conquest or journeying “within” – science in a long-forgotten sense17.

We know the cosmos as we know ourselves, have we said, because the outer corresponds to the inner, because there is that isomorphism between microcosm and macrocosm. Both go together and thus indeed constitute like the two sides of a coin, the two aspect of a single Reality. That “single Reality” of course can only be framed by in terms of the paravidya, while aparavidya – the lower knowing – polarizes of split the Real into subject and object, inner and outer world. True gnosis or jnana is beyond such cleavage or such duality, beyond the world of maya (illusion of duality) and avidya (ignorance).

Before we get there, should grace make it happen, what is then the significance “for us” of the immensity of the integral cosmos with its multiple lokas? The cosmos, with its ascending tiers of ever more aetherial regions, constitutes the Mountain of God, objectifying the itinerarium in Deum we are called upon to accomplish.

As an example, the fifth cakra already is associated with cognitive powers we deem to be miraculous, transcending as it does the polarization of the bhurloka (corporeal domain) and the opposition of “past” and “future”, leading the adept to perceive the trikala (or “three times”), that is to say the simultaneity. Located in the neck, no surprise this cakra is called “the Gate of the Great Liberation”18, giving access to the highest loka: ajna cakra or the “third eye”19, single and transcending the polarization of the dvandvas (“pairs of opposites”).

Playing a crucial role in the spiritual ascent of man, cosmos is comparable to a ladder. Yet, existing “for us”, it is mediated by culture. When sacred tradition eclipses and cosmos shrinks into a self-subsistent single-tier universe, it is no longer a theophany and the ladder turns into a prison. No space left for spiritual ascent in a Newtonian or post-Newtonian universe! Any aspiration is repudiated into the limbo of subjectivity, and is shown illusory.

Mesmerized by the prevailing scientistic cosmology, modern religion seems to restrain to some simple human consolation: new cosmology objectifies the spiritual blindness of later phases of Kali Yuga.

Still the lowest cosmic tier we apprehend with our ordinary senses needs to be perceived aright: “unless a man’s concept of the physical universe accords with reality, his spiritual nature will be crippled at its roots” (Oscar Milosz).

Footnotes

  1. Aristotle says that “Intellect comes through the door” (or “from outside”); On the Generation of Animals, ii 3, 736a, 27b, 12; quoted by Jean Borella, Ésotérisme guénonien et mystère chrétien, L’Âge d’Homme, 1997, p.66; Anglo-American edition: Guénonian Esoterism And Christian Mystery translated by G. John Champoux, Sophia Perennis, 2004.[]
  2. The Concept of Nature, Cambridge University Press, 1964, p. 32. One could also affirm that knowing is premier, or sui generis.[]
  3. See Neurons and Mind, Sophia, vol. 10, n° 2, 2004. and The enigma of visual perception, Sophia, vol. 10, n° 1, 2004.[]
  4. This decisive recognition was achieved by James J. Gibson after decades of research. See The enigma of visual perception, Sophia, vol. 10, n° 1, 2004.[]
  5. While Einstein’s brilliant papers from 1905 and 1915 have shaken the foundation of preceding physics, he never opposed the idea of mechanism.[]
  6. See The Quantum Enigma, Sophia Perennis, Hillsdale, N.Y., 2005.[]
  7. Nature and life, Greenwood Press, New York, 1964, p. 6.[]
  8. Physics and Reality, Harper & Row, New York, 1958, p. 41.[]
  9. « Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu » to which one can add the Leibnizian correction: « nisi ipse intellectus » (except the intellect itself); cf. Nouveaux essais sur l’entendement humain, Livre II, chap. 1, § 2; quoted by Jean Borella, Le Mystère du signe, éditions Maisonneuve & Larose, Paris, 1989, ISBN 2-7068-0995-7 (re-edited in coll. Delphica, L’Âge d’Homme, Lausanne, 2004), 270 pages, p. 240.[]
  10. See The Quantum Enigma, op.cit., Chapter 3.[]
  11. cf. Mandukya Upanishad.[]
  12. bhur (Earth), bhuvar (“atmosphere”), svar (heaven).[]
  13. One could here distinguish between the Orthodox Church terming this astral plane the « aerial » world (being the « abode of demons »), which is apparently to be suffered in via, and the Catholic tradition terming it Purgatory, rather conceived as a post mortem state.[]
  14. Note the prefix “a” (long “a”), which does not negate but “amplifies”.[]
  15. Beyond these six primary cakras, there is the seventh sahasrara (or “Thousand-petalled lotus”) near the crown of the head. It corresponds to the paravidya – with of course no loka associated –, where the Yogi enters nirvikalpa Samadhi and, transcending the integral cosmos, attains to the Supreme Reality.[]
  16. Oscar Marcel Hinze has demonstrated the cakra anatomy.[]
  17. Goethe’s Farbenlehre (colour’s lesson) perhaps is one of the last recognizable instances of true scientia. If it met total incomprehension by his Newtonian peers, it has however generated considerable interest recently, even from physicists like Werner Heisenberg or Henri Bortoft (a student of Davod Bohm), who wrote about it a marvellous book: The Wholeness of Nature, Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, N.Y., 1996.[]
  18. Which could be the “narrow Gate” in Matthew 7.14.[]
  19. Which most certainly is the « single eye » of Matthew (6.22) as well.[]