The Biology Of Transcendence
Editor’s Note: It was Joseph Chilton Pearce’s seminal work that helped lay the foundation of the Conscious Parenting Movement in the United States and around the world, beginning with The Magical Child. Pearce pointed to the Bio-Cultural Conflict the human family found itself facing, especially those attempting to nurture the bodies, hearts and brains of the next generation in a culture that did not support nurturing of life, much less human life. Enjoy the introduction to his book, The Biology of Transcendence, here and marvel, as we do, that we still have the guidance of Pearce’s compassion and wisdom for humanity to guide us.
See Kindred’s New Story Glossary of Terms for more insights into Biological Imperatives, Cultural Imperatives, and the Bio-Cultural Conflict. Kindred’s contributors’ insights, and our mission as a nonprofit since 1996, has been to redress this conflict and move us beyond “self-limiting beliefs” toward the sustainable wisdom, innate intelligence, and as Pearce called our biological potential, our “astonishing capacities.” We’re honored to share his work with you here.
This introduction is being shared in preparation for the forthcoming anthology of Joseph Chilton Pearce’s work. It is copyrighted material, so please only share this page.
The Introduction to the Book by Joseph Chilton Pearce
“The ability to rise and go beyond” is the definition of transcendence and the subject explored in the following pages. While this force constitutes our nature and fires our spirit, an honest exploration of it must contend with this counter question: Why, with a history so rich in noble ideals and lofty philosophies that reach for the transcendent, do we exhibit such abominable behaviors? Our violence toward ourselves and the planet is an issue that overshadows and makes a mockery of all our high aspirations.
Sat Prem, a French writer transplanted to India following World War II, recently asked this question: “Why, after thousands of years and meditation, has human nature not changed one iota?” In the same vein, this book asks why, after two thousand years of Bible quoting, proselytizing, praying, hymn singing, cathedral building, witch burning, and missionizing has civilization grown more violent and efficient in mass murder? In exploring the issue of transcendence, we explore by default the issue of our violence. The two are intertwined.
Neither our violence nor our transcendence is a moral or ethical matter of religion, but rather an issue of biology. We actually contain a built-in ability to rise above restriction, incapacity, or limitation and, as a result of this ability, possess a vital adaptive spirit that we have not yet fully accessed. While this ability can lead us to transcendence, paradoxically it can lead also to violence; our longing for transcendence arises from our intuitive sensing of this adaptive potential and our violence arises from our failure to develop it.
Perennially our pleas to cloud nine go unheeded, our struggles against principalities and powers are in vain, and we wander in a self-made hall of mirrors, overwhelmed by inaccessible reflections of our own mind. Handed down through millennia, our mythical and religious projections take on a life of their own as cultural counterfeits of transcendence.
“We actually contain a built-in ability to rise above restriction, incapacity, or limitation and, as a result of this ability, possess a vital adaptive spirit that we have not yet fully accessed. While this ability can lead us to transcendence, paradoxically it can lead also to violence; our longing for transcendence arises from our intuitive sensing of this adaptive potential and our violence arises from our failure to develop it.”
— The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit, 2004
Culture has been defined by anthropologists as a collection of learned survival strategies passed on to our young through teaching and modeling. The following chapters will explore how culture as a body of learned survival strategies shapes our biology and how biology in turn shapes culture. Religious institutions, cloaked as survival strategies for our minds or soul, are the pseudo-sacred handmaidens of culture brought about through our projections of the transcendent aspects of our nature. Thus this trinity of myth, religion, and culture is both the cause and source of our projections. Each element of the trinity brings the other into being and all three inter-locking phenomena—myth, religion, and culture—are sustained by the violence they generate within us.
That we are shaped by the culture we create makes it difficult to see that our culture is what must be transcended, which means we must rise above our notions and techniques of survival itself, if we are to survive. Thus the paradox that only as we lose our life do we find it.
A new breed of biologists and neuroscientists have revealed why we behave in so paradoxical a manner that we continually say one thing, feel something else, and act from an impulse different from either of these.
A major clue to our conflict is the discovery by these new scientists that we have five different neural structures, or brains, within us. These five systems, four of them housed in our head, represent the whole evolution of life preceding us: reptilian, old mammalian, and human.
“That we are shaped by the culture we create makes it difficult to see that our culture is what must be transcended, which means we must rise above our notions and techniques of survival itself, if we are to survive. Thus the paradox that only as we lose our life do we find it.”
– Joseph Chilton Pearce, The Biology of Transcendence, 2014.
As long intuited by poet and saint, the fifth brain in our system lies not in our head, but in our heart, a hard biological fact (to give the devil of science his due) that was unavailable to the pre-scientific world. Neurocardiology, a new field of medical research, has discovered in our heart a major brain center that functions in dynamic with the fourfold brain in our head. Outside our conscious awareness, this heart-head dynamic reflects, determines and affects the very nature of our resulting awareness even as it is, in turn, profoundly affected.
From this background I make two proposals here that are necessarily hypothetical: First, the crux of our ever-present crisis hinges on failure to develop and employ both the fourth and newest brain in our head (one added quite recently in evolutionary history) and its dynamic interactions with our heart brain. Second, the great saints and spiritual giants of history (even though overlaid with myth and fantasy by cultural counterfeits) point toward, represent, or manifest for us our next evolutionary step, a transcendent event that nature has been trying to unfold for millennia.
From the beginning of our life, the characteristics of each new possibility must be demonstrated for us by someone, some thing, or an event in our immediate environment—but the same chicken-egg paradox will always emerge if we try to determine or bring closure to the riddle of an origin.
This need for a model is acutely the case with a new and unknown form of intelligence such as that offered by our fourth brain and heart brain. The striking contrast between our ordinary human behavior and the actions of the great beings of our history (Jesus, Krishna, Lao-tzu, Buddha, Eckhart, George Fox, Peace Pilgrim, and a long line of like geniuses) is what makes these figures stand out in time even as shifting or warping history itself.
In every case, however, rather than developing the capacities these great models of history have demonstrated, humankind has projected both the capacities and the image of the models demonstrating them. That is, we invariably build religions around our spiritual giants or use them to support a religion in order to avoid the radical shift of mind and disruption of culture these rare people bring about, shifts we interpret, ironically, as threats to our survival and thus instinctively reject. Bio-culture effects, once initiated, tend to self-generate. Projected by us, we perceive the behaviors demonstrated by our great models as powers out there to which we are subject, rather than as potentials within ourselves to be lived.
As model of a new evolutionary intelligence, Jesus met and continually meets a grim fate at the hands of this cultural effect. But the cross, the instrument of his execution, symbolizes both death and transcendence for us—our death to culture and our transcendence beyond it. If we lift the symbol of the cross from its mythical shroud of state-religion and biblical fairy tale—which is to say, if we can rescue Jesus from the Christians—then the cross proves to be the ‘crack” in our cultural cosmic egg.
It is toward this crack that this book points, as did my first book half a century ago. May this new one throw more light and help us to open ourselves to nature’s new mind, wherein lies our true survival.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Copyrighted material.
About the Book
The Biology of Transcendence uses new research about the brain to explore how we can transcend our current physical and cultural limitations
• Reveals that transcendence of current modes of existence requires the dynamic interaction of our fourth and fifth brains (intellect and intelligence)
• Explores the idea that Jesus, Lao-tzu, and other great beings in history are models of nature’s possibility and our ability to achieve transcendence
• 17,000 sold in hardcover since April 2002
Why do we seem stuck in a culture of violence and injustice? How is it that we can recognize the transcendent ideal represented by figures such as Jesus, Lao-tzu, and many others who have walked among us and yet not seem to reach the same state?
In The Biology of Transcendence Joseph Chilton Pearce examines the current biological understanding of our neural organization to address how we can go beyond the limitations and constraints of our current capacities of body and mind–how we can transcend. Recent research in the neurosciences and neurocardiology identifies the four neural centers of our brain and indicates that a fifth such center is located in the heart. This research reveals that the evolutionary structure of our brain and its dynamic interactions with our heart are designed by nature to reach beyond our current evolutionary capacities. We are quite literally, made to transcend.
Pearce explores how this “biological imperative” drives our life into ever-greater realms of being–even as the “cultural imperative” of social conformity and behavior counters this genetic heritage, blocks our transcendent capacities, and breeds violence in all its forms. The conflict between religion and spirit is an important part of this struggle. But each of us may overthrow these cultural imperatives to reach “unconflicted behavior,” wherein heart and mind-brain resonate in synchronicity, opening us to levels of possibility beyond the ordinary.
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