On a recent Wednesday night, 15 of us gathered together at Lake Harriet Spiritual Center in conversation about dark matter and dark energy, led by a political science graduate. For 45 minutes the assortment of us – none of whom to my knowledge had any particular scientific career – learned in layman’s terms what we could about the mysterious force and energy that makes up 95 percent of the universe.
And then we sought to apply the comprehension of that to our lives.
There can be a “hippy-dippyness” to any discussion that has the word “consciousness” in it, when it’s not simply referring to neurons doing its dance inside our brain matter. For many of us, consciousness is a practical matter: coming out of dreamland or anesthesia, helping us remember childhood stories, giving us a particular angle on the upcoming election, storing away details like which streets to take without relying on Siri’s voice to guide us.
But consciousness, to those of us who have been meeting for a few years as part of an Institute of Noetic Sciences chapter group in Linden Hills, is more than what our brains help us think and perceive. It is also what we don’t perceive, due to the limitations of our brain, but might subtly be aware of.
An Invisible Essential Element
Edgar Mitchell was the sixth man to walk on the moon. On his way home, he felt an ecstatic moment of transcendence – he experienced the universe, in a matter of moments, as having an intelligence and purposefulness. It transformed his decades-long career as a hardcore scientist and led to his founding of IONS more than 40 years ago to explore what we don’t know about consciousness.
I had the pleasure of hearing from Edgar Mitchell, before his death earlier this year, about a website I was developing called ConnectedintheDeep.com – a sandbox for conversations I was having with brilliant scientists and philosophers about consciousness from a quantum to cosmic level. He was impressed with the website and wrote, “It seems you are seeing, reading about and working with all the important ideas that have emerged and are still emerging to help science and scientists understand that ‘awareness’ (the ground state for consciousness) is the third attribute in all of nature, along with matter and energy.”
Awareness. We can’t measure it, or see it in a magnification lens. It might be more of a cloud of invisible atoms that makes up 4% of the universe rather than a wave of energy or a particle of matter. But as we learned from avid learner Patrick King at the September IONS MN discussion circle in Linden Hills, there is an entire universe made up primarily of things we don’t understand.
Seeing Into the Dark
Dark energy – which scientists have determined is roughly 70% of the universe – seems to be responsible for blowing up the space of space like a balloon. Dark matter – just as finite as visible matter is, but much more numerous – makes up 25% of the universe.
That means that 5% of the universe is made up of things we roughly know about: 4% are invisible atoms (think of it as the empty space in a window screen that keeps your hand from going through but lets air in), half of a percent is the helium and hydrogen that makes up our stars (yes, all of them combined are such a tiny fraction of the universe), and even smaller yet — .01% — is the rest of the visible matter that makes us and the paper or computer you are reading this on.
That makes us feel insignificant as a species, yes. In awe when we take the time to look into the sky. But that also means, individually and collectively, that we’re made out of the rarest materials in the universe.
And that’s why, for one night per month, our IONS merge together – outside the realm of kid activities and work responsibilities and retirement explorations – and we wonder what we might be capable of attaining from the perspective of the universe’s eye.
We humans are .01% of what our universe actually is. More of us are trying to look beyond what gets our attention in the light, to what might be hiding underneath.
The Nancy Abrams and Joel Primack book,”The View From the Center of the Universe,” was a foundation for Patrick’s exploration.
The next discussion in Linden Hills was October 26, 2016, when we explored the insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest who was ahead of his time in pondering the confluence of matter and spirit. Visit IONSMN.com for a synopsis, and future topics.