On Bumble Bees and Brahmins
Posted by jembendell on August 30, 2007
You may have heard that the bumble bee is in trouble. That the buzz from these servants of life is growing quieter in many parts of Europe and the US. I read that the populations are collapsing. In November last year, the New York Times helped bring attention to what researchers are calling “colony collapse disorder,” in which honeybees are disappearing, flying off in search of pollen and nectar and not returning to their colonies. Populations have been reported as declining across Europe. (1)
As they buzz from flower to flower, bees are intimately involved in plant reproduction, and thus in all fruits and the broader food chain. “As bees pollinate 90 crops worldwide, the threat to food supplies is grave.”(1). Less bees, less food, less us. This reminds us of our dependence on the rest of life.
The demise of the bumble bee is a reminder of a reality we often forget. We too easily assume we are separate from and better than the rest of life. Yet if we combine findings from different natural sciences we have glimpse of a different view, one that suggests the humble bumble might be closer to spirit than our most esteemed human beings.
The dance of the honeybee is one of the most intricate communications in nature, telling other bees of the location and supply of pollen. But how can a tiny insect with only a few million neurons possess all the information needed to carry it out? Mathematician Barbara Shipman has found that the dance can be predicted by a mathematical object called a flag manifold. One day, while Shipman was projecting the 6 dimensions of a flag manifold onto a two dimensional piece of paper, she was amazed to see that the form she was creating is the same as the bees’ dance. She had found a mathematical structure that contains all the different forms of the dance. Shipman speculates that since the flag manifold expresses movement in extremely tiny particles known as quarks, that the bees themselves may be quark-sensitive, and connected to the quantum level of matter and energy.(2) If so, then their mind may be far more capable than we realise (continued below…)
What does being conscious of the quantum level of reality imply? There is a lot of debate, but a one idea this gives me is that at the quantum level space and time do not operate in the way we normally understand and experience them. They might not even exist at all. Two experiments could indicate this. First, if you fire a photon of light through one of two slits one at a time, with even a long period of time between each, in the end you create an interference pattern on a photographic plate on the other side as if a whole beam had been fired at the same time at both slits.
Some, such as famed physicist Bohm, consider this means there is a wave form that accompanies the photon, and so it interferes with itself. Perhaps another view could be that the individual photons interfered with photons from the future or past. That would seem as plausible as the idea of a parallel universe of photons, or that the photons pass through different slits at the same time, or exist in all possible positions until detected – which are some other theories advanced. I would conclude that at the quantum level either time or space is not what we assume it to be, or something that transcends time and space interacts with those photons (3). Second, at the quantum level particles are spinning. If you separate a particular into two, and then move them far apart, if you change the spin of one piece, the spin of the other piece will also change. This ‘causal non-locality’ suggests that at the quantum level particles and energy are connected by a universal space-transcending field, or that space doesn’t exist in the way we understand and experience it. The idea that a photon might leave a trace in this field which then interferes with other photons is another way of explaining the previous conundrum. Ervin Lazlo offers a name to this underlying unifying field that transcends space and time – the Akashic Field (4). The use of a term with a history in eastern spiritual philosophy is deliberate, as a unifying dimension that transcends space and time is expressed in all the great spiritual traditions, with Abrahamic religions like Christianity calling it the Holy Spirit.
If bees are quantum dancers, are they more conscious of this Akashic field than us? Or, in western traditional terms, are they more conscious of the Holy Spirit? That sounds strange, doesn’t it? It’s heretical not only in religious terms but also in the secular view of humans being the best. It challenges the assumptions of Abrahamic religions head on, as they view humans and the spiritual realm as separate from and better than ‘nature’. Even in Eastern spiritual traditions that don’t maintain such a distinction between the spiritual and the natural world, there is a very clear hierarchy, with humans at the top of the spiritual tree, and with those humans less connected to the Earth being more on top than others. The Hindu assertion that one group of people are one step away from nirvana by virtue of their genes always seemed a bit self-serving, especially when I met young Indians getting pissed at a party, showing off their latest mobile phones, and saying they’ve got nothing to worry about on the spiritual front because they’re Brahmin. By tradition, Brahmins are meant to do more intellectual pursuits than lower castes. But why is conceptual thought more ‘spiritual’ than the mental experiences during farming for your food? A lot of conceptual thought can be malign.
I find the assertion that people with disabilities are somehow dealing with a karmic debt, and probably have further to go in the cycles of reincarnation, a malign interpretation of eastern spiritual philosophies. The strength and beauty of our bodies or minds is more of a barrier to spiritual awakening than it is a tool. Our spiritual selves are not our bodies or minds. People dealing with more challenges to their bodies and minds are more likely to understand their essential nature as not solely bodily or mental. They are more likely to have a chance of being one step away from nirvana. Stephen Fry once said he wouldn’t swap his bipolarity for the world. I also recognize how my eczema through childhood has made me who I am today. I don’t want more suffering, but when it happens I accept its power to throw light on my assumptions that I am my body and mind. The implication is we should listen and learn from those who live with affliction, and listen to the aspects of ourselves, the moments of ourselves when we are physically afflicted. It doesn’t mean seeking suffering, as that’s an egoistic response to knowledge of the challenge to transcend body and mind, but just recognize it has some value when it occurs, as it inevitably will throughout and at the end of life.
If transcending separative consciousness is key to awakening to our spiritual selves, to that part of ourselves that is part of the akashic field or holy spirit, then we need to transcend those two things which create our experience of separation: body and mind. More complex thought is as much a barrier as a pathway to that awakening. With this in mind, and evidence of the possible closeness of bees to the quantum realm, what does this suggest about our assumptions that people are the top of the spiritual tree, either through reincarnation or a belief that human’s are made in God’s image? Might bees, and other life forms that act in a collective, and serve wider life, have a consciousness that transcends separation? Could bees be more spiritual than us? Sounds weird. But do the maths. If all souls have to move to nirvana how can we have trillions of ants and bees and far less humans? For humans to exist millions more insects must exist. The mathematics of assuming the gateway to heaven or nirvana through reincarnation goes through humans, and then higher status humans like Brahmins, just doesn’t add up.
In light of this, some questions bother me a bit. Are humans of higher worth than the rest of life? If so why? What is our role in relation to the rest of life? The old answers from East and West don’t really work. I think humans are a bit ‘special’. We are the latest, highest, expression of life’s potential for complex thought, that we know of, on this planet. Life always had the potential for us to think as we do and there seems to be a purpose within that. I will develop this in another blog posting (www.jembendell.com). For now, I should point out it means that, on the downside, humans have a unique capacity amongst life forms for suffering. We can suffer on a level of thought that other animals can’t. This needs to be reduced. On the upside, we have a unique capacity to inquire into and know Life itself. To bring together the separate with the universal.
But the plight of the humble bumble throws these questions of the importance of humans into relief… because it reminds us we are one ecosystem, and how questions about rank and hierarchy are preoccupations of the human mind that should not distract us from essential oneness. Their crucial role in serving Life’s creative process makes bees more important than us in respect of ecosystem maintenance. How can we return the favour? Scientists aren’t sure what’s responsible for the crash in bee population. Some are suggesting it is a virus, a parasite, or a fungus, while others are pointing to problems arising from genetically modified plants, agricultural chemicals or climate changes that could be weakening bees immune systems and making them more susceptible to diseases and disturbances. (1, 5)
One possible disturbance is wireless internet networks and mobile phone signals, which some are suggesting interfere with the way bees communicate. Anecdotal evidence where people with bee infestation in their lofts have found them all gone after installing wireless mean we quickly need to see some more geographical studies of wireless networks, phone masts, and bee populations past and present.(2) And as major commercial interests are at stake we need that research to be funded independently of companies and governments with vested interests. Given the risks, we should be open to the possibility of a variety of potential causes, and take precautions. When the data’s in it might turn out that we have to reduce some forms of electromagnetic pollution. It would be time for all of us, Brahmins included, to put down our mobiles and quiet our chattering minds, for the sake of all Life, including our own.
For those of you inspired to start some beekeeping, this e-book is a good start. Or you could go the whole hog and live the good life… “Self Sufficient Life” tells us all about “Keeping And Raising Chickens And Poultry. Build A Chicken Coop. Growing Your Own Fruit And Vegetables. Beekeeping. Herbal Remedies, Hydroponic Gardening, and Your Own Greenhouse.” What am I doing with my office life. 😦
(4) Science and the Akashic Field, Ervin Lazlo, http://www.amazon.com/Science-Akashic-Field-Integral-Everything/dp/customer-reviews/1594770425
Ps: Comedian and social commentator Bill Mather did a story on this, available at the following link. But he mentioned a quote from Einstein that seems to be “urban myth” as no one on the web quoting it, that I found, has got an original source. Still, he delivers the message: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KGIKBVd8no