By Alexander Laszlo with Christopher Laszlo (from original material by Ervin Laszlo*)
The Formative Years
He could have been born a philosopher or a scientist or a humanist or a futurist. In fact, he could have been most anything, such is his gift of generalized genius. However, from his early years to the time in his late twenties when he found his own voice and the means by which to speak his passionate intelligence in more personally profound ways, he was a concert pianist.
Ervin was born into a comfortable middle class family in Hungary in 1932. His father was a lawyer in Budapest who became a shoe manufacturer upon entering his father-in-law’s business. His mother was a piano teacher. As an only child, he was the focus of attention of both his parents, and his mother made of him her dream incarnate. She channeled his talents into music and gave him the education and upbringing of a world-class concert pianist. And he lived into her aspirations. By the age of 9 he had performed with the Budapest Symphony; by 15 he had been awarded the highest degree granted by the Hungarian National Academy of Music, together with their prestigious Franz Liszt Award (having been the youngest pianist ever to have received either this distinction or the award); by 16 he had given a solo performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall; and by the time he moved beyond the concert piano he had released 7 LP phonograph albums on international labels.
Such was his life in his formative years. He was spared the curse of formal education and granted the indulgent intensity of artistic genius, schooled in music as a solo artist. His mother was his teacher, his coach, and eventually, his manager. She lived for him, and to no small degree, he returned the dedication to both his parents, becoming the breadwinner and providing the means by which to escape the terrors of the 1944 Nazi occupation of Hungary. In 1947, he succeeded in crossing the iron curtain with his mother as one of a team of artists sent to participate in the International Music Competition in Geneva. Having won the Second Grand Prix, he and his mother followed concert invitations to Paris and eventually New York. His father was detained and put in a forced labor camp on the Russian front where he lost his right foot upon stepping on a land mine. Nevertheless, he finally escaped with his life – one of only four or five men from his entire regiment to do so – eventually finding his way to Cuba and, later, to the United States to be reunited with his wife and son after many years.
The fact that things turned out as well as they did for the entire family was due in no small measure to both the financial and the political safe havens provided by Ervin. He received American citizenship on his 21st birthday by a special act of Congress. As an already accomplished concert pianist and former international refugee, he was nominated by ANTA (the American National Theater and Academy) on behalf of the Department of State as Goodwill Envoy of the United States. Through the granting of this diplomatic honor he represented the interests of the US to promote peace and culture through the youthful energy of his virtuoso concert performances, traveling to Iceland, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, giving recitals and recording albums. These years were formative, indeed, for they exposed him to the pattern language of music – as well as to that of struggle and strife on the world stage.
On one of his concert tours he found himself in Finland. As it turned out, the impresario coordinating his performance in the nation’s capital had a daughter studying linguistics in London. He knew that the next stop in Ervin’s tour was precisely there, so he took it upon himself to ask Ervin if he wouldn’t mind very much doing him the tremendous good favor of bringing a small package to his daughter. Ervin agreed, and met the young lady in question at a little café to present her with the package, which, as it turned out, contained her favorite chocolates (which she promptly forgot at the café). They didn’t see each other again for over a year but during that time they interacted with each other through an engaging correspondence. Engaging it certainly must have been, since the next time they saw each other was in Paris in November of 1957, and within a matter of days, they were married. (All the contributing authors of this chapter firmly agree that this was a very good thing.) Barbro Carita Marjorie Jägerhorn, known familiarly as Carita, joined Ervin on his exciting explorations of the world. At the time, she was utterly convinced that these were in the realm of music and was sure she had married a concert artist. Her partnership proved far more than lovely company for Ervin and they became true partners in life. She has supported his every move with unwavering dedication, so much so that it is quite fair to say that his work since then has been made possible by her ministrations. Indeed, any systems perspective of Ervin would recognize his interdependent self-development with Carita ever since they were married. Such is not always the case among married couples, but without a doubt, Carita has brought heart to Ervin’s path and furnished it with care, consideration, and a commitment to him and the vision of evolution with distinction that informs it. As daughter of a noble lineage of Swedish-Finns, she was able to bring much from the outset of their journey through life in a war torn world and beyond.
Early Explorations in Pragmatic Philosophy
For an intense and inquisitive young man, this exposure to music, realpolitik, and love gave birth to questions of a more existential nature regarding “what I wanted to know: what the nature of the world is into which I was born, and what am I, if more than an ephemeral burst of unexplored consciousness. That life is a “tale told by an idiot” I could not accept, nor did it seem reasonable to me that I can find out about life and the world by introspecting on my own experience.” [SP] And so it was that he turned to science and philosophy to find answers. At first, he did so as no more than a hobby – reading and writing down his reflections for no one other than himself. This quest, as he calls it, began in earnest in Germany in the spring of 1959, shortly after the birth of his first son, Christopher.
“I started with the foundations of science in classical Greek thought, and moved to the founders of modern science before turning to contemporary science. I was not interested in the technical details that take up the lion’s share of the training of science professionals – techniques of research, observation and experimentation – nor in controversies about methodological or historical fine-points. I wanted to get straight to the heart of the matter: to find out what a given science can tell me about the segment of nature it investigates. This required a good deal of spade work. The findings were unexpectedly sparse, consisting of a few concepts and statements, usually at the end of extensive mathematical and methodological treatises. They were, however, extremely valuable, much like the nuggets of gold that come to hand after sifting through streams of water and mountains of ore.” [GS]
“Eventually I came across Whitehead. In his “philosophy of organism” I believed I had found an answer meriting sustained consideration. Here was a wealth of data from the sciences used as a foundation for a many-sided philosophical synthesis. … Somewhat foolhardily (I doubt if I would start such an undertaking again if I could relive those days), I set about putting together notes for my own philosophical synthesis of contemporary scientific theories. First called “A Theory of Organic Relations,” my notes eventually took on the character of a Whiteheadian process philosophy, centered on man and society, but founded on the natural scientific world picture.” [SP]
“After a successful concert in The Hague, I found myself sitting at late supper next to a Dutchman who brought up some of the very questions that fascinated me. I got into conversation with him, and ended by going up to my hotel room to show him the notes I always had with me. He retired into a corner and began reading. Shortly after that he disappeared. I was concerned, since I had no copy. However, the next morning my new-found friend reappeared with my notes under his arm. He announced that he wanted to publish them. This was a surprise, for I knew neither that he was a publisher (he turned out to be the philosophy editor at the renowned Dutch publishing house Martinus Nijhoff), nor that my notes would merit publication. Of course, they required a good deal of completing and organizing before they could be published in book form. But published they were, a year and a half later. (Essential Society; an Ontological Reconstruction, 1963).” [GS] This book, as he describes it in its preface, is “a venture at the interpretation of man – of his individual being as of his social existence – in the framework of the cosmic reality which is the foundation of his life” (p. vi).
The Consolidation of the Quest
This marked a second turning point in Ervin’s shifting career – an inflection of the first which took place nearly five years before. And just as the first was punctuated with the birth of a son, so was the second. At this time he moved to Switzerland and joined the Institute of East European Studies at the University of Fribourg, plunging whole-heartedly into his quest to understand “how the things that are, have become what they are.” [CC] While working there, “I came out with another, less theoretical book shortly after the first (Individualism, Collectivism, and Political Power, 1963) and a few years later published another philosophical treatise (Beyond Scepticism and Realism, 1966).” [GS]
“After working for some years in Switzerland, relatively isolated from thinkers with similar goals, I discovered, to my delight and amazement, that in America my modest efforts were paralleled by several eminent investigators in the still nebulous integrative and interdisciplinary areas. During the year of my fellowship at Yale  I had the good fortune to meet and collaborate with F. S. C. Northrop and Henry Margenau, through whom I came to the Foundation (now Center) for Integrative Education and its pioneering journal, Main Currents in Modern Thought. It was on the pages of a back issue of that journal that I rediscovered Ludwig von Bertalanffy – known to me as a biologist – as an integrative philosopher. I found, to my further delight and amazement, that the organic synthesis of Whitehead can be updated by the synthesis of a general systems theory, replacing the notion of “organism” and its Platonic correlates with the concept of a dynamic, self-sustaining “system” discriminated against the background of a changing natural environment.” [SP]
“The decision to go to Yale – which led to teaching appointments at various US universities and, in 1969, to a Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris – gave me the opportunity to pursue my quest full-time. Although in any established university there is considerable pressure to keep to the rather narrowly defined territory of one’s own field, I never wavered from the conviction that there is meaning to be discovered in the world at large, and that the best way of discovering it is to query the theories put forward by leading scientists in all the relevant fields, and not just those that belong to one’s area of specialization. I was fortunate in finding colleagues – first at Yale, and then at the State University of New York – who understood this conviction and helped me scale the academic hurdles that would have stood in the way.” [GS]
A Choice of Approaches
“The search for meaning through science called for considerable time and energy. I soon realized that, like Archimedes, I needed firm ground from which to start. I found two basic alternatives. One was to start with the stream of one’s own conscious experience, and see what kind of world one could logically derive from that experience. The other was to gather all the information one can about the world at large, and then see if one can account for one’s own experience as the experience of that world. The former has been the method of the empirical schools of Anglo-Saxon philosophy and of that branch of continental philosophy that took its cue from Descartes, and the latter the method of naturalistic metaphysics and science-based philosophy. I read up on these schools, paying special attention to Bertrand Russell and Alfred Ayer among the British philosophers, Edmund Husserl and the phenomenologists of the continental schools, and Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead among the naturalistic process philosophers. I concluded that neither the formal analysis of experience nor the introspective method of the phenomenologists leads to a meaningful concept of the real world. These schools get ultimately bogged down in what philosophers call the “ego-centric predicament.” It appears that the more systematically one investigates one’s immediate experience, the less easy it is to get beyond it, to the world to which that experience presumably refers. We are logically obliged to take the initial leap of assuming the objective existence of the external world, and then creating the scheme in light of which our experience makes sense as the human experience of that world.
“In Beyond Scepticism and Realism I contrasted the “inferential” approach which starts from one’s own experience with the alternative “hypothetico-deductive” method that envisages the nature of the world and explores how our observations accord with it. I concluded that, ideally, the overlap between these distinct and sometimes seemingly contradictory approaches is what gives the most reliable information about the real nature of the world. I identified some areas of overlap, but did not stop there: I wanted to get on with my quest and began to explore the bold hypothetico-deductive approach. To my considerable relief I found that many great philosophers and practically all theoretical scientists adopted this approach from Newton and Leibniz to Einstein and Eddington.
“Einstein stated the principal premise of the naturalistic approach. “We are seeking,” he said, “for the simplest possible scheme of thought that will bind together the observed facts.” The simplest possible scheme, I realized, cannot be inferred from observations: as Einstein said, it needs to be imaginatively envisaged. One must search for and codify the relevant observations, but one cannot stop there. While empirical research is necessary, the creative task of putting together the resulting data in ways that they make sense as meaningful elements of a coherent system cannot be neglected: it is the principal challenge facing the inquiring mind. The attempt to “create the simplest possible scheme of thought that will bind together the observed facts” (and by “observed facts” I meant all the facts needed to make sense of the world) defined my intellectual agenda for the next thirty years.” [GS]
“The scheme I first envisaged rested on the organic metaphysics of Whitehead. In this conception, dating from the 1920s, the world and all things in it are integrated and interacting “actual entities” and “societies of actual entities.” Reality is fundamentally organic, so that living organisms are but one variety of the organic unity that emerges in the domains of nature. My subsequent readings in cosmology and biology confirmed the soundness of this assumption. Life, and the cosmos as a whole, evolve as integrated entities within a network of constant formative interaction. Each thing not only “is,” it also “becomes.” Reality, to cite Whitehead, is process, and an integrative evolutionary process at that.
“The question I asked was how I can identify the evolving entities of the world in a way that they make sense as elements in an organically integral universe. Colleagues at Yale called my attention to the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy in the field of “general system theory.” Bertalanffy was attempting to integrate the field of biology in an overall scheme that would lend itself to further integration with other domains of natural science, and even with the human and social sciences. His key concept was “system,” conceived as a basic entity in the world. Systems, he argued, appear in similar (“isomorphic”) ways in physical nature, living nature, as well as the human world. This was most helpful: it supplied the conceptual tool I was looking for. I read von Bertalanffy, then met with him and developed the concept of what we jointly decided to call “systems philosophy.”
“Introduction to Systems Philosophy (1972) was a painstakingly researched book – it took five years to write – and when it was published I was tempted to rest for a while on my laurels. But I was not satisfied. I needed to find an answer in leading-edge science not only to how systems are constituted and how they relate to each other, but also to how they change and evolve. Whitehead’s metaphysics gave me the general principles, and Bertalanffy’s general system theory clarified the relations between systems and environments. What I still needed was the key to understanding how these relations can lead to integrative and on the whole irreversible evolution in the biosphere, and in the universe as a whole.
“To my surprise the key was furnished by a discipline about which I knew little at the time: nonequilibrium thermodynamics. I reached this conclusion on the basis of my short but intense friendship with Erich Jantsch, who died unexpectedly a few years later. He directed my attention to the work, and subsequently to the person, of Russian-born Nobel-laureate thermodynamicist Ilya Prigogine. The latter’s concept of “dissipative structures” that are subject to periodic “bifurcations” furnished the evolutionary dynamic I needed. After discussing this concept with Prigogine, my work focused on what I called “general evolution theory.” The basic kind of entity that populates the world transformed in my thinking from Whitehead’s “organism” and Bertalanffy’s “general system” to Prigogine’s nonlinearly bifurcating “dissipative structure”—an evolving thermodynamically open system. The world began to make more and more sense.” [GS]
Real World Applications of the Systems Approach
“Apparently, the sense I made of the world also intrigued scholars in fields other than systems theory and philosophy. While teaching and researching at the State University of New York at Geneseo, to my surprise I received a phone call from Richard Falk, of Princeton University’s Center of International Studies. Falk, one of the foremost “world system” theorists of the time, asked me to come to Princeton to hold a series of seminars on the application of my systems theory to the study of the international system. I assured him that I knew next to nothing about the international system and had only vague notions of how my theory would apply to it. But Falk was not to be deterred. He and his colleagues, he said, would see to the application of my theory, if I would come and discuss that theory with them. This I agreed to do.
“The experience of my Princeton seminars was intellectually rewarding as well as exciting: it opened new vistas. I found a new and intensely practical application for general system theory, systems philosophy, and general evolution theory: human society and civilization. Society and civilization, I realized in the mid-70s, are undergoing a process of irreversible transformation. The human world is growing beyond the bounds of the nation-state system to the limits of the globe and the biosphere. This called for re-thinking some of our most cherished notions about how societies are structured, how they operate, and how they develop. With valuable input by Richard Falk and other Princeton colleagues, I spelled out my evolutionary conception of the world system in A Strategy for the Future: The Systems Approach to World Order (1974).
“Strategy elicited attention beyond academia. Another call followed, this time from Aurelio Peccei, the visionary Italian industrialist who founded the world-renowned think-tank known as the Club of Rome. He suggested that I apply the systems approach to the “limits to growth” problem, focusing not on the limits themselves (as Jay Forrester, and Dennis and Donella Meadows did in the first report to the Club, The Limits to Growth), but on the ambitions and motivations that drive people and societies to encounter the limits. This invitation was an intellectual challenge with major practical relevance—it could not be refused. I took a leave of absence from my university and moved to UN headquarters in New York. Davidson Nicol, executive director of the UN’s Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR) invited me to join his Institute in order to create the international team that was to work on this project. Within a year, some one-hundred-and-thirty investigators on six continents were enlisted in creating the third Club of Rome report focusing on humankind’s “inner” rather than “outer” limits. (Goals for Mankind: The New Horizons of Global Community, 1977.)
“Having finished the report, I repaired to my university to resume researching, writing, and teaching. This, however, was not to be. A further call from Nicol asked me to represent UNITAR at the founding of the United Nations University in Tokyo, and when I filed my report Nicol asked me to stay on at the Institute to head research on the hottest subject of day, the “new international economic order.” This was another challenge that could not be ignored. After three years of intense work, fifteen volumes written with collaborators from ninety research institutes in every part of the world were published in a series created for this purpose by Pergamon Press of Oxford: the New International Economic Order Library. The NIEO Library was to produce background documentation for the General Assembly’s landmark General Session of 1980, that was to launch the “global dialogue” between the developing South and the industrialized North. But the big powers of the North refused to enter the dialogue and the UN system dropped the entire project of the new international economic order.
“When I was about to return to my university to pursue at last my principal quest, UN Secretary-General Waldheim asked me to suggest other ways in which North-South cooperation could be pursued. The proposal I made to him and to UNITAR was based on systems theory: it was to insert another “systems level” between the level of individual states and the level of the United Nations. This was the level of regional social and economic groupings. The project, called “Regional and Interregional Cooperation,” was adopted by UNITAR and took four years of intense work to carry out. In 1984 I reported the results in four bulky volumes that accompanied a Declaration of a specially convened “panel of eminent persons.” Due to internal politics, the Declaration was not handed to the Secretary-General and thus could not be made into an official document, but its text was circulated to all member-state delegations. Disappointed with this outcome but hopeful that sooner or later the proposals contained in the Declaration will bear fruit, I decided that I had merited a sabbatical year. I moved with my family to our converted farmhouse in Tuscany. That sabbatical year, begun in 1982, has not come to an end yet.” [GS]
On Conscious Evolution and the Evolution of Consciousness
“In the 1980s I was involved in discussions at the Club of Rome, then took a major part in the United Nations University’s “European Perspectives” project. Subsequently I served as science advisor to Federico Mayor, the two-term Director-General of UNESCO. But since 1993 the brunt of my attention was focused on the Club of Budapest, the international think-tank I founded that year to do what I had hoped the Club of Rome would do: center attention on the evolution of human values and consciousness as the crucial factors in changing course – from a race toward degradation, polarization and disaster, to a rethinking of values and priorities so as to navigate today’s transformation in the direction of humanism, ethics, and global sustainability. As reports to the Club of Budapest I wrote and published Third Millennium: The Challenge and the Vision (1997) and most recently You Can Change the World: The Global Citizen’s Handbook for Living on Planet Earth (2003).
“Notwithstanding these commitments, I remained faithful to my basic quest. In the calm of the Tuscan hills I took stock of how far I got. I found that I needed to go further.” [GS] “For my part, I have looked for evidence of a fundamental dynamics in the principal branches of the natural sciences, and sought the organizing insights first in Whitehead’s process metaphysics, in Wiener’s cybernetics and von Bertalanffy’s general system theory, and then in Prigogine’s dissipative systems theory and Bohm’s theory of the implicate order. I was not satisfied, however: while each theory contributed something fundamental that was missing in its predecessors, none has revealed the basic concept upon which a unified process dynamics could be reliably constructed. Then, however, my search took an unexpected turn. [CC]
Seeing the Connections of a Creative Cosmos – an Anecdote of Personal Insight
“As it happened, the insight on which [The Creative Cosmos] is based came to me one quiet evening in the summer of 1986 as I was sitting in the company of a few close friends and colleagues under a sky of infinite depth and clarity on the shores of the Mediterranean. We were in a reflective mood, just recovering from the shock of the news of the passing away of a mutual friend whom we had all admired for his insight and creativity as well as for his deep humanism. As each of us recounted episodes from his rich and adventurous life, someone remarked how tragic it was that all his accumulated experience and wisdom should now have vanished without a trace. I replied, with a conviction that surprised me as much as the others, that the experience and wisdom of our friend had not vanished from this world: its trace still existed the same as the trace of all things that ever took place in the universe.
“We fell silent. The truth of this assertion, bold as it was, had hit us all. After a few moments, someone asked me how I could be so certain. I responded by drawing on a store of ideas and concepts that I had not known I possessed. I spoke of the parsimony of nature, of the rise and fall of all that has ever come to be in the universe and here on Earth. I said that human life, the most remarkable adventure of matter in the universe, is not and could not be an exception to the law of preservation of all things and events in the cosmos. The wealth of impressions and insights of a person’s life do not disappear without a trace but remain embedded and registered in the heart of reality. It was like the ray of light that came to our eyes from one of the myriad stars in the domed sky far about the quiet beach. At that very moment light from all parts of the universe was entering our eyes, bringing to us signals that stretched out across the whole history of the cosmos. Nothing in this world has been lost without a trace, neither a single photon from a star in gamma Centauri nor a cell in the network of neurons in the brain of our departed friend.
“After a while we said good night and agreed to meet for a swim next morning. On the following day, as we dried ourselves in the bright morning sun, my friends asked if I was still convinced of last night’s concept of a self-preserving cosmos. My first impulse was to dismiss the entire thought as the fruit of a poetical interlude without further significance. But I could not. The idea held me in its thrall; it felt intuitively right. This was not, I realized, something I just happened to think of the night before but something I had always known. I resolved to return to the concept and explore it at leisure.
“It was months later, when I had completed my book on the general laws of evolution, that I realized that the insight of that summer evening furnished a possible avenue for comprehending the puzzle of the evolving order in the universe. To understand how that insight – one that has been present in human consciousness for thousands of years – could furnish a meaningful solution to the greatest puzzle one could reasonably conceive, I should say something more about the nature of that puzzle.
“If the world around us is what it is, and if it was not created ready-made but evolved in the course of time, then something more than mere chance must have governed its development. A random process could not have produced the kind of order that we meet with in our experience; it could not even have produced the kind of chaos that surrounds us at times…
“If indeed all that occurs in the material universe remains in some way encoded in the womb of space-time, nature may obtain that minute bias that would make randomly diverging developmental pathways into significantly converging ones. Because when a process acquires some element of self-referentiality, it is no longer entirely random: it is biased towards internal consistency. If the self-referentiality is not deterministic and monolithic, it will not lead to the mere repetition of already achieved orders; rather, it will create possibilities for attaining genuine novelty within the range of internal consistency. If the universe preserved and fed back the traces of its own evolution, ‘in-forming’ its parts consistently with the whole and the whole consistently with the parts, it could evolve towards order creatively and self-consistently, without either the mechanistic constraint of self-repetition, or the chaotic anarchy of unfettered randomness.” [CC]
The Current State of the Quest
“Although a mystical experience does not provide proof of internal relations between one’s mind and the mind of others, it does provide an incentive to study the possibility that such relations exist. This consideration became part of my explorations in the years that followed.
“The books I produced in this “Tuscan period” include The Creative Cosmos (1993), The Interconnected Universe (1995), The Whispering Pond (1997-98), and The Connectivity Hypothesis (2003). In these books I marshal evidence that systems in the world are intrinsically interconnected, and suggest the reason for it. The field theory I develop supplies that reason: it argues that the connections and correlations that come to light in the physical and the life sciences, the same as the transpersonal ties that emerge in experimental parapsychology and consciousness research, have one and the same root: the subtle but entirely fundamental information field associated with the quantum vacuum, the deepest and most fundamental level of physical reality in the universe.” [GS]
What follows is a brief essay by Christopher that serves to illustrate Ervin’s notion of a field that binds. As a case example of the type of thinking fostered by an understanding of the information field associated with the quantum vacuum, it demonstrates both the conceptual power of such a field based perspective as well as its more recent expression in Ervin’s work.
THE UNIVERSE ACCORDING TO ERVIN LASZLO
Imagine you are standing in front of a huge, panoramic-view aquarium. Angelfish and dwarf cichlids hover delicately while giant gouramis and red-striped tiger barbs chase a few lazy scavenger fish on the pebbled floor. Silver neons flash among the African water ferns and amazon sword plants. Small bubbles of air rise to the drone of an electric filter.
Suddenly, two motorized toy submarines are introduced from the water’s surface and sink half way down. The fish streak around the aquarium walls a few times and then settle down as the apparent danger vanishes.
Now look closely at the motion of the submarines. They weave and bob with the movement of the fish, even with the rising bubbles of air. A sudden chase of the gouramis leads one of the submarines to tip sideways and bang on the glass wall. When the submarines are switched on, they glide through the water, creating little underwater wakes that draw the fish in and cause the plants to sway. At times, a submarine pulls a fish into its wake, and the fish, in reacting to this movement, struggles to get away and creates turbulence that causes the submarine to veer precipitously on its side.
Every motion has an impact on every thing else in the tank. Every fish, plant, submarine, pebble, bubble, is connected by motion through the water in the form of waves. Although you cannot see it, the intersecting waves carry information about the things that created them. The wake of the submarine propeller codes a different set of data than the ripples of a dorsal fin. As the two waves collide, the submarine and the fish mutually inform each other about who and what they are—their location, speed, and size.
You are looking at a simple model of the universe as described in Ervin Laszlo’s theory of the psi-field. In this theory, he shows us that our underlying physical reality is something called a holographic field in which every thing, be it a particle, an atom, a molecule, an amoeba, a mouse or a human being, is connected with every other thing. And every thing in-forms every other thing – through wave pressures that literally shape the things around them.
There are a few important differences between the fish tank model and the “informed universe.” In the fish tank, the waves contain information as well as a physical force—you can feel the impact of a wave under water. In the psi-field, the waves carry information without carrying force, meaning that you can’t feel them. In the fish tank, the waves eventually slow down and disappear. In the psi-field, the waves never attenuate because what they are moving through is a frictionless medium, with nothing to slow the waves’ progress. These first two differences between the fish tank and the universe arise because the psi-field is a medium that, like supercooled helium used in superconductivity experiments, cannot be registered by conventional means. You can’t see or feel waves in the psi-field. Energy moves through superconductive material without ever slowing down or diminishing; unlike electric impulses moving through copper which is why phone lines need repeaters to carry signals over long distances. In the medium of the psi-field, things move effortlessly without encountering any observable resistance, leading scientists in the past to conclude that space is simply a void. Isaac Newton himself believed that the vacuum of space is a passive receptacle through which physical objects move according to defined laws of motion.
But wait—the psi-field becomes ever more strange. In the fish tank, waves travel at relatively earth-bound speeds of up to a few hundred miles an hour over micro distances. In the psi-field waves can travel faster than the speed of light—over 186,000 miles per second! This very high speed of information transmission accounts for events that appear to be synchronized over great distances – a kind of instant correlation, known as non-locality, that scientists are discovering is true in a range of disciplines. Think how instantly every molecule in your body adjusts to the thousands of biochemical reactions produced every second, or how a thought that once suddenly entered your mind also entered your loved one’s mind at precisely the same moment even though he or she was hundreds of miles away at that time.
In the fish tank “what you see is what you get:” a tiger barb is the same color and shape every time you look at it. In the psi-field, the tiniest building blocks of physical reality (known by strange names such as quarks, gluons or bosons) exist as a potential of many different states. Their potentiality is said to collapse into an actual state when observed or otherwise interacted with. It’s as if a tiger barb fish “potential” existed which, when observed, became one of several possible actual tiger barbs—sometimes silver and thin, sometimes striped and fat, other times transparent.
The psi-field ties all physical systems together in a highly coherent whole; the roll of the dice plays no central role in evolution, unlike Darwin’s theory of chance mutations that lead to the survival of the fittest. The psi-field continually interacts with matter at every level from sub-atomic to cosmic to influence the way every living thing grows, adapts and evolves. As chaos theorist mathematician Ralph Abraham says, “A chief characteristic feature of his [Laszlo’s] psi-field theory is its bipolar aspect: the manifest domain of matter and a virtual domain of infinite energy are in an endless loop of coevolution.” It leads to a highly coherent world in which things at one level (such as atoms) are influenced by things at another level (such as human beings) which in turn are influenced by still other levels all the way up to the universe itself—and even prior universes, helping to account for the finely tuned coherence of the Big Bang as we know it.
In Ervin Laszlo’s view the cosmos is intrinsically creative, preserving and renewing the imprint of all that exists, like a kind of active memory field encompassing space (it is everywhere) and time (it endures). To return to our fish tank, it is as if all the fish and plants were physical manifestations of the water, interconnected by the water in such a way that whatever happened to one thing influences what happens to all the others in a mutually dependent system, evolving together in a delicate dance of life.
Implications for how we view ourselves and the world around us
The existence of the psi-field helps to explain the extraordinary coherence of our world – the limited types of mutations that occur in biological evolution; the density of stars and their balanced expansion rate; the rise of ancient civilizations with similar ideas and artifacts during periods when communication was limited or absent; the sudden awareness of the thoughts and feelings of a loved one hundreds of miles away. These and other previously unexplained phenomenon hint at the interrelatedness of everything.
By demolishing the view that we are isolated individuals composed of distinct atoms separated by empty space and living in a cold and impersonal universe, the psi-field presents a hope for humanity’s future. When you start seeing yourself as connected to everyone else and everything else by an energy field, your mindset begins to change. “Each for himself” becomes less compelling; “nature is our playground to exploit and manipulate for our enjoyment” comes with attendant risks to ourselves. If “we” as human beings and “it” as nature are part of a single coherent mutually dependent system, then systematically destroying nature starts to look like shooting ourselves in the foot.
Also gone is another sacred cow: the separation of mind and body. In the psi-field, both consciousness and matter are manifestations of the underlying energy field. Instead of siding with those who believe that our consciousness is primary (and the rest of the world is a construction of the mind) or siding with those who argue that matter is primary, the psi-field accounts for the existence of both mind and body in a unified manner. As Laszlo says, mind and matter “are complementary aspects of the same evolving reality. These aspects are universal: in the interactively evolving universe matter is not limited to particles, and consciousness is not limited to organisms. Physical reality evolves into all of reality, and consciousness is an element throughout evolving reality.”
In the history of human beings, there have been perennial intuitions of an Akasha Field at the heart of the universe. 8,000 years ago, a person reflecting on the nature of things would have experienced a mystical, ritualistic, collective, organic whole in which he or she identified not as a “separate individual” but as an integrated part of everything. The re-discovery of such a world is now taking place, with some key differences. The driver now is scientific inquiry, not mysticism. The earth-bound whole that is presently relevant to our survival is the planet, not our particular tribe.
There are spiritual implications of the new worldview. The psi-field both informs everything in the universe and receives information from them. It is a two-way flow. For human beings, this means that in addition to being subtly influenced by the energy field we are also encoding our lives into that field. The information that we read into the psi-field continues to exist after we die. As Laszlo says, “our body degenerates, but its hologram lives on… all that anyone experiences enters a vast stream where it is integrated with the experience of others, and is conserved as part of the collective memory of the species.” This hint at a kind of immortality was expressed in very similar terms by a range of great thinkers from Plato onwards though without the benefit of current scientific knowledge.
The psi-field theory is built on the work of many intellectual giants: James Clerk Maxwell, Nicolas Tesla, Paul Dirac, Andrei Sakharov, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Alfred North Whitehead, Carl Jung, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Stanislav Grof, David Bohm, John Wheeler among many others. Based on insights of all the major scientific disciplines, Laszlo has succeeded in a grand synthesis—tying all the pieces together into an elegant and coherent whole.
Christopher Laszlo, February 2002
Without a doubt, it is fair to say that Ervin Laszlo is leading an extra-ordinary life. It has been said that humans are pattern recognition beings. If that is so, then Ervin is an exemplary case. From his childhood and early adult experience with music in a world rife with power dynamics, this gift of his was fed with the richest of fare. As an artist, he has a sense-ability to listen for, and play with, the dynamic rhythms of life as it changes around and through him. As a philosopher, he knows the paths of reasoned questioning and ethical valuation. As a scientist, he will not accept a “likely story” on face value but insists on finding evidence – preferably of the sort that provides the simplest cogent explanation – for what purports to be reality. As a humanist, his compassion for what Andre Malraux (and Blaise Pascal, before him) wrote of as la condition humaine and his undaunting belief in the capacity of humankind to transcend itself through understanding and insight bring light and life to issues of human dignity entitlement. As a futurist, his vision of what it will take to create a life-affirming and sustainable global civilization is informed by his appreciation of pattern in the macro-historical trends of economics, politics, ecology, and culture. And as an evolutionary systems thinker, he understands the big picture and is able to paint it with words on the largest conceptual canvas for each of us to locate ourselves upon, and in so doing, to see how this grand story of which we are a part relates to us – and more importantly, how we can learn best to relate to it.
Ervin’s most recent incursion on his quest of seeking to elucidate an integral theory of everything places his field theory in an old context. In fact, it places it in a perennial context – that of the Akashic field. It no longer is just “his” field theory – it now is understood to have been around for all the ages of sages. But in uplifting the A-field, as he calls it, and relating it to the subquantum domain of the zero-point energy field, he effectively reincarnates his previous conception of ‘the psi-field’ in an ancient story for the 21st century by giving it the wings of science. But this is no flight of fancy, for the deep archetypal truths that sages and mystics have vested in the Akashic Record from time immemorial aren’t Ervin’s invention. Yet their power has been relegated to that of paranormal science, and access to them has been reserved for the likes of clairvoyants – until now. By demystifying the foundation of this memory field and providing a cutting edge scientific explanation for it – drawing heavily on chaos theory, the sciences of complexity, and non-local systems theory – Ervin provides a means for all of us to tap into this pervading field of consciousness. Of course, what he provides is no sleight of hand or simplistic formula; it is more a matter of learning to appreciate the fact that we – individually, collectively, and just as all other things that are or have ever been – are deeply entangled with each other and richly embedded in ever widening webs of relationships. Appreciation of this situation, and how it binds us to the consequences of our actions – and even to the implications of our thoughts – across both space and time, has profound implications for in-formed behavior.
“I now believe that further clarifying and codifying the nature and effects of this field is of the utmost importance for science as well as for society. It would bring science significantly closer to Einstein’s (and to my) ultimate goal of finding the “simplest possible scheme that can bind together the observed facts,” and it would imbue human consciousness with a credible intuition of the subtle ties that bind human individuals to each other and to nature. This is the task and the challenge I face as I continue on the present and perhaps deepest phase of my quest for meaning through science.” [GS]
The next generation of Laszlos is already at the helm. Standing alongside Ervin, we look ahead and search for ways to inform day-to-day practice with the depth and breadth of the frameworks he has developed. Our quest is more that of creating a praxis for evolutionary development. Key to being able to embody and enact an appreciation for life in an intelligent universe, as portrayed by Ervin, is the capacity to develop evolutionary competence. This concept refers to the state of self-actualization (of individuals and groups) that is marked by the mastery of the knowledge, the abilities, the attitudes, and the values required for co-evolutionary actions, and therefore, for the pursuit of sustainable modes of being. Learning how to create sustainable value in the framework of a partnership society, and designing new ways of living, working, and learning that embody social and environmental integrity – these are the challenges the next generation is taking on. Nevertheless, the platform on which they stand, and indeed, with which they are imbued, is all Ervin’s.
About the Author
Alexander Laszlo, Ph.D., is the 57th President and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS), Director of the Doctoral Program in Leadership and Systemic Innovation at ITBA, Argentina, and former Director of the Doctoral Program in Management at the Graduate School of Business Administration & Leadership (EGADE-ITESM), Mexico. As Professor of Systems Science and Evolutionary Development, he currently teaches on evolutionary leadership, collaboration, and systems thinking at a variety of MBA and Doctoral programs internationally, and serves as President of the Honorary Board of Advisors of the World Complexity Science Academy (WCSA). He has worked for UNESCO, the Italian Electric Power Agency, and the U.S. Department of Education, has held visiting appointments with the London School of Economics and the European University Institute, and has been named a Level I Member of the National Research Academy of Mexico (SNI). He is on the Editorial Boards of six internationally arbitered research journals, recipient of the Gertrude Albert Heller Award, the Sir Geoffrey Vickers Memorial Award, and the Förderpreis Akademischer Klub award, author of over seventy-five journal, book, and encyclopedia publications, and a 5th Degree Black Belt of traditional Korean Karate.