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Commentary on Music – Conclusions (For Now…) June 1, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in classical music, harmony, mathematics and music, modes, music, music commentary, nature of music, religion and music, scales, spirituality and music, tonality.
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(This is the final post—for now—of a series of commentaries about a series of books about the nature of music. The other commentaries of this series are listed below. This series has been triggered as a result of my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II and a discussion of Dr. Eben Alexander’s recent book, Proof of Heaven).


So here I am, at the end of a longer journey than I expected, a journey of exploring music at its most basic level. With this post, I will draw together the comments I have made in posts spanning just over a year about this topic and offer some conclusions—some of these will be personal, as they will be oriented toward what this means for me as I approach my own music. But I also believe there is value in the general conclusions I will draw, conclusions I hope will enrich the music-listening of visitors to these pages.


Well, let’s take a deep breath, because I will start out with the metaphysics/physics/music portion of my conclusions. On the frontiers of physics, we are learning that all matter consists of elementary particles and these particles are points of energy that radiate fields. So, existence is a heavily populated cauldron of overlapping, interacting energy fields. We humans have evolved to sense those energy fields within our finite portions of what we perceive as a three/four dimensional space/time continuum. We ourselves are a complex set of interconnected energy fields interacting with many other complex energy fields, guided through this reality by our senses. Energy—that is existence; that is life.

Music is the only art that involves a direct transmission of energy from one intelligence to another. Painting/visual art is created as imagery and experienced by looking at and absorbing the photons from those images, but not through direct energy. The images undergo a great deal of editing and processing before human beings absorb their content. Story-telling involves transmitting words or actions, again to be witnessed visually, or heard and then translated into ideas in the recipient’s mind. Sculpture/dance/books/poetry are also indirect arts. Music is direct energy. It is a series of vibrations through a medium, but the music is not the medium itself; it is the energy that courses through the medium. The music is not the molecules of the medium that are vibrating, it is the flow of energy generating those vibrations. It can be measured by an oscilloscope as energy waves. Linked with words as song, it can be extraordinarily powerful and affecting. Visual arts (like movies) use music to inject emotion—using the direct energy of music heightens the experience of other arts.

Music takes energy and puts order to it. This musical energy supplies an organized tension and release at a visceral level, a level without words or explanations needed. In a sense, it resembles at a manageable level the occurrence of pain, of pleasure, of longing and longing fulfilled. Music can be said to duplicate the experience of a want or need—fulfilled through tension and release, through a dissonance resolving to a consonance.

So music is energy, sound communication flowing directly into the brain, to be processed by the mind. What is the nature of this energy we call music? What can we say about music—what common denominators can we find for humans, or any other sentient creature? Do all sentient beings experience music the same way? Would Bach make sense to intelligent extraterrestrial creatures? There really isn’t enough information available to us now to answer this question because we have no other intelligent creatures to compare ourselves with. Some thinking is still possible despite this knowledge gap. Again let’s reduce this to the basics. Existence is a set of interacting, overlapping energy fields. Our senses filter the information coming from those fields to allow us, as conscious entities, to function. Our senses evolved for the purposes of survival. The ability to sense sound is one of those senses. The question then becomes whether the phenomenon of sound, energy vibrating through a medium (usually air), would evolve for other conscious intelligent beings, and if so, would it evolve the same way? In looking around at Earth’s life forms, we know other creatures see and hear differently than we do. They might hear a different part of the frequency spectrum. Some senses are more acute for other creatures, and not every creature has every sense. So we can probably conclude that intelligent creatures will vary in the way they experience sound, and Bach will sound different to different intelligences.

However, there is an argument against that idea. Sound appears to have some universal characteristics, characteristics experienced by intelligent creatures in the same or similar ways. Here, at this part of the discussion, we will look at the basics of music, and how those vibrations, that sound energy, appears to humans (and may appear to other sentient creatures).


Music is sound organized by pitch, or rhythm—usually by both. (If just one is present, the experience may seem musical, but incomplete). Rhythms are built into the human body and into the fabric of existence. In music, rhythm involves patterns of sound focused around a pulse. Rhythm involves the passage of time, the meticulous control of time. Rhythm resonates with humans, and potentially with other conscious creatures, because rhythm is so inherent in life—in the heartbeat, in breathing, in sexual activity, in simple movements of walking or running, in countless other aspects of the universe. Pitch involves sound at a clear frequency. Both rhythm and pitch are discernible enough to be duplicated, making music possible.

There are three inherent characteristics of pitch that give music a universal commonality across human cultures. These are 1) the overtone series, 2) the ratios of vibrating strings and frequencies, and, 3) partials for wind instruments.

All pitches generate an overtone series. That series of overtone pitches is the same for any clear-pitched musical note—first an octave higher; second, a perfect fifth; third, a second octave higher; fourth, a major third (two octaves and a major third higher than the original pitch); fifth, another perfect fifth (two octaves and a perfect fifth higher than the original pitch); sixth, a strange note between a sixth and a flat seventh—like a “blue note” (two octaves from the original pitch plus that strange interval); seventh, three octaves higher than the original pitch. The overtone series gives us a basis for the universally perceived consonant harmonic intervals—the octave and the perfect fifth. It also gives us a basis for the widely accepted as consonant intervals—the third (minor and major), the sixth (minor and major), and the perfect fourth (the distance between the perfect fifth and the original pitch fifth raised an octave). The fundamental notes of the overtone series are more likely to be perceived by a particular musical culture as consonant intervals. The nearly universal pentatonic scale also can be explained as consisting of the pitches from the overtone series. Even the “blue” note, found in some cultures, has some basis for explanation from the overtone series (the note in the overtone series that occurs in between the sixth and the flat seventh of the conventional twelve note scale). So though we aren’t sure if Bach would be comprehensible to all sentient beings, we can see how humans recognize music cross-culturally, and within cultural familiarity, can appreciate music generated cross-culturally. This cross-cultural music appreciation is much easier translated among human beings than different languages.

Another universal aspect to pitch is the characteristics of vibrating strings. The pitch of a vibrating string goes up an octave when the portion of the string vibrating is halved. Intervals can be derived by simple mathematical ratios and the simplest ratios generate the fundamental intervals of the overtone series. (Here are some ratios/these can vary the farther we get from the fundamental intervals of the overtone series—2:1-octave, 3:2-perfect fifth, 4:3-perfect fourth, 5:4-major third, 6:5-minor third, 5:3-major sixth, 8:5-minor sixth, 9:8-major second, 9:5-minor seventh, 15:8-major seventh, 16:15-minor second, 10:7-tritone.) These ratios seem to confer a mathematical rationale for consonant and dissonant intervals. Mathematics is well-established as the vocabulary of physics, of existence. Mathematics would be the best option for communications between us and intelligences from other worlds. Music is wrapped up intimately with mathematics. This is another indication of music intertwined with reality at a very basic level.

Pitch can also be measured with numbers, with the frequencies of a given sound. The number pertains to measurement of the wave of the vibrations. Double a frequency and the pitch moves up an octave. This is equivalent to the vibrating string phenomenon. The ratios between the frequencies operate the same way as the ratios of the vibrating strings. The simplest ratios yield the most consonant intervals.

Earlier I described music as a mini-drama, of controlled longing transitioning to longing fulfilled represented by the resolution of dissonance to consonance. Here, we have evidence of a physics basis for a universal nature of dissonance and consonance, meaning that within cultural variations, there is a universal basis for a given piece of music resulting in a similar music experience for humans and maybe even for other sentient beings.

A third aspect to music that also overlaps with the overtone series and the ratios of frequencies and vibrating strings is the intervals of open notes for wind instruments. Most conventional wind instruments use valves or holes or keys to change the length of the vibrating air column to change the pitch. But wind instruments have natural intervals that occur from bottom to top. A bugle, with no valves, delivers those natural intervals. (Other wind instruments without keys or valves have the same characteristics.) And the intervals are the same as the overtone series! This is clearly not an accident. There is undoubtedly a physics reason for this convergence that I have not come across during my study of these issues. (I invite any reader to offer a comment on this issue if you can bring more insight to it.) For now, I’ll just call this more corroboration of the inherent universal nature of pitched sound, and its mathematical character.

As we continue our look for universal characteristics of music, we come to a characteristic of most music—scales. Scales are a series of pitches, rising (or falling) between octaves that create a “mode” or “key.” They can be found in music all over the world, in locations where they have separate evolution and development. I have mentioned pentatonic scales, the most common scale among the musics of humans. The five tones of a pentatonic scale would likely be considered the minimum number to constitute a scale. What is the maximum number? A diatonic scale has seven tones (not including the repeat of the octave at the end of the scale). A chromatic scale has twelve tones. Western music (and so the music that is my cultural comfort zone) revolves around a twelve-tone chromatic scale. Western composers and musicians have played with quarter tones, but it really hasn’t caught on to Western ears. Other cultures have microtones built into their musics, tones that seem to exist out of the twelve-tone chromatic scale. But in my (admittedly limited) listenings to that music, the microtones seem like either embellishments of one of the twelve chromatic tones, or tones existing out of the equal temperament scale, but still with a twelve-tone feel.

Is this twelve-tone chromatic scale a universal characteristic of music, or are my Western ears accustomed to my own culture’s music? Is there a mathematical explanation/rationale? I believe twelve tones constitute the upper limit on discernible scale pitches, with microtones serving as ornaments to the twelve tones. And there is a mathematical explanation for this upper limit. The first non-octave note of the overtone series, and the simplest non-octave ratio interval of the vibrating strings, is the perfect fifth. The perfect fifth gives us the dominant-tonic move in Western music. The dominant-tonic move, V to I, can be found in almost any music that uses scales. The explanation is easy—we can just look at the overtone series to see how prominent the perfect fifth is, built in to any pitched sound. The V to I move can also be a I to IV move—the I in the first scale becomes V in the next scale, with the IV of the first scale becoming the I in the second scale. This gives us the so-called circle of fifths, or circle of fourths. And if we pursue either one, we derive twelve tones—no more, no less. Taking both from C—Circle of fifths: C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#/Ab-Eb-Bb-F-back to C. Circle of fourths: C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db/C#-F#-B-E-A-D-G-back to C. Admittedly, this relies on an equal temperament tuning. Pure cycling through those intervals would lead to some frequency numbers that do not add up. Equal temperament tuning, slight adjustments in the frequencies of the twelve tones, allows the circle of fifths/circle of fourths to work. Equal temperament tuning is technically an innovation recently in Western music. But it is an approach to tuning, to scales, to keys, to harmonies, that I think resonates with nearly every musical culture, and this is because of the universal nature of the twelve-tone scale derived from the circle of fourths/circle of fifths. The microtonal variations found among musical cultures can be explained by the slight adjustments to create the equal temperament scale, and the fact that not all musical cultures make those adjustments.


Different cultures use the twelve tones of the chromatic scale differently (and approach tuning of their scales differently). Here, we start to drift from a universal music. So the universal aspects of music, to review, appear to be rhythm and pitch, with octaves and perfect fifths as consonant intervals, with scales using some combination of notes from a twelve-note chromatic scale. From here, deviations and varieties occur. Aspects are shared among the musics of the world, but not shared by all. While the use of scales seems universal, scales of five to seven primary tones (from a twelve-tone chromatic scale), the notes in those scales vary extensively. The so-called major scale, a fundamental element of Western music for the last five or so centuries, is not at all universal among human musics. Exotic scales (to my Western ears) with augmented seconds occur cross-culturally. For me personally, the variety of scales and modes is one of the true joys of music, one of the variations among musics that keeps music fresh and exciting. In my own music, I like to look for fresh ways to approach scales, and harmonies deriving from those scales.

Not every musical culture has harmonies, and by harmonies, I mean a deliberate scheme of chords, of sounding different notes simultaneously to create compelling combinations of sounds. We can certainly argue that scales imply harmony, and they do. It is a slight step from scales to harmony. Harmonies are built on scale steps, usually in stacked triads. Contrapuntal schemes, also not found in all musics, but found in many, look at harmonies, how the lines of the counterpoint land at any single point to create chords.

When we speak of harmony, we now come to the concepts of consonance and dissonance. These concepts vary from culture to culture, and vary widely. For Western music, consonance and dissonance have changed within the culture over time. What was considered dissonant last century and the century before has now morphed into acceptable consonance. Octaves and perfect fifths are consonant. Half steps and microtones in clusters are usually considered dissonant. Schemes to design fixed rules for dissonance and consonance have been attempted, using the overtone series or other aspects inherent in music. They generally fail because cultural familiarity and even musical indoctrination contribute significantly to the way we humans evaluate consonance and dissonance. And, music without dissonance would fail miserably. Music plays like a controlled drama (as I mentioned earlier). Dissonance begs for a resolution to consonance. Even a V to I move sets up a feeling of anticipation, of tension as V wants to move to I. This, it can be argued, is dissonance to consonance even though it involves fundamental intervals. So a huge number of choices are available for the sonic dramas that are music. This is another reason that music creators will never “run out of material.” Cultural norms are constantly evolving so new combinations of consonance and dissonance, and of rhythm, are constantly available.

“Tonality” also appears to be universal, despite the efforts of some Twentieth Century Western music composers’ and music theorists’ efforts to render it obsolete. “Tonality” is the idea that music is experienced as revolving around a given pitch. That pitch center can shift. I heard some form of tonality in all the musical examples from around the world in my study as detailed in previous posts. It is true that celebrated Western composers of the Twentieth Century invented schemes that attempted to obliterate any trace of music revolving around a pitch, or key, or tonal center. But when actually listening to the music, the ear gravitates toward a tonal center; the ear searches for a central pitch to orient the musical experience. One of the most successful of the “twelve tone,” “serial” composers, Alban Berg, designed his twelve note “tone rows” around triads and other musical devices of tonality. This gives his “atonal” “serial” music a tonal feel. The “twelve tone” or “serial” composers expanded music, giving music creators another tool in the music-generating toolbox. But they did not, in my opinion, succeed in eliminating tonality because humans naturally look for tonality when they experience music. I suspect this would be part of the musical experience for any sentient creature as well, or the sonic experience would be something other than music.

Another more controversial consideration, controversial in our day and age, is the relationship of music to the religious/the spiritual, to metaphysics. In my opinion, music factors heavily into the human attempts to interact with the Divine, with what humans call God. Music brings order to the world. Religion/spirituality/metaphysics brings an explanation to existence. So music parallels that metaphysical search for spiritual answers. For me, the search for a universal music parallels my search for a universal spirituality, for a convergence of physics and metaphysics.

It is possible that music acts as a conduit to the Divine. Right now, it is difficult to be certain in drawing conclusions on this issue. But I believe as we become more attuned to a convergence of science and the spiritual, we will see more connections between music and the Divine, and perhaps even seek music as a way of communing with the Divine. After all, music is energy, and existence is energy. So it is not a huge jump to relate music to the Divine and consider that it could offer a channel, a route to the Divine.

In reading scientific discussions about music, I was struck by how thinkers seemed to want to avoid the possible metaphysical/spiritual aspect of music. We live in an age when science is supposed to bring us more knowledge of the world, when science is supposed to render faith in God, or consideration of spirituality, as something for less sophisticated thinkers. But when fair-minded music historians and ethnomusicologists discuss the issue, they admit that music was used by early man as a way of interacting with the Divine. Developments in human abilities are often explained by pointing out the evolutionary advantages those developments bring. I think we should consider that there could be an evolutionary advantage for intelligent beings who can access the Divine (though when religious fanaticism becomes destructive we are left to wonder if this evolutionary advantage can have a downside). If we are going to be fair, if we are really going to be scientific, then we shouldn’t be excluding any line of inquiry including the possibility that music, with its affinity for the universal language of mathematics, with its existence as energy and vibrations as a part of our universe of interacting energy fields—that music could be a gift from the God force, whatever it is, a gift aiding human communion with the Divine. So my searches in both of these areas overlap. As I create music, and find myself in a zone where something outside of me seems to take over, I’ll be looking for that spiritual connection to music—that is part of what my music is about.

On the more technical side, this study brings me to some approaches to music that will influence what I will do in this arena with whatever time I have left:

1) I am looking to create accessible music that has a universal feel. It will be unapologetically tonal, though I occasionally will flirt with atonal techniques like tone rows and clusters. (Technology allows me to control the music—time and pitch—in very precise ways. I’d be crazy not to see what can be done with it.)

2) I will look for exotic scales from different cultures and attempt to create exotic harmonies from those scales. This will include combining those with pop and jazz mediums popular today, as well as drawing from the rich heritage of Western “classical” music.

3) I’ll be looking for sounds from different cultures to juxtapose in unique ways. This includes electronically generated sounds that may not sound like any naturally occurring sound.

4) I’ll continue combining different styles—no combination will be out of bounds—multi-cultural sounds and approaches with popular music/rock-pop as well as jazz and even concert music as time and opportunity allow.

I’ve already started this. “Issa Music,” my CD released in late 2011, certainly does all of us. My upcoming CD “The Richard Warren Field Songbook” at this writing consists of thirteen songs with the basic tracks recorded. This CD includes a cover of “Hotel California” with log drum sounds and a flute duet in the instrumental section. The CD also includes a cover of Miles Davis’s “All Blues” with sitar and African flute sounds, as well as a big Fender Rhodes solo. The basic tracks for my original songs on the CD include everything from big strident guitar synthesizer sounds to gentle choral clusters. But this CD barely scratches the surface of the possibilities. Stay tuned at this blog for more on this topic and for details on my upcoming music.


Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part IX
Part X

The Unanswered Question by Leonard Bernstein

Book Commentary on COLLIDER by Chris Hejmanowski March 1, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in afterlife, book review, books, Chris Hejmanowski, Collider, consciousness, metaphysics, novel, novel review, spirituality.
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Collider, written by Chris Hejmanowski, is a novel that makes an ambitious attempt to blend physics and metaphysics (an idea I have been playing with since I predicted a completed union of the two by the year 3000 in my essay published in on-line journal “New Works Review” – “Predictions for the Next Millennium”). From my perspective, for my priorities, Collider spends more time on the imagery of heaven and hell in the afterlife, and on the demons in hell, than on the science. But the attempt to link the two is present and stimulates thought processes toward this grand, for some unthinkable, unification. So I am commenting about this book today, recommending it to people interested in this subject.

Collider is the story of particle physicist Fin Canty, on the verge of a trip to the CERN particle collider to evaluate what may be a seminal particle physics discovery when he is killed in what appears to be random gang violence. (As the novel unfolds, we find out Canty’s death was not random at all.) His post-death choice to leave heaven to pursue his toddler daughter, who has ended up in hell after being killed as a result of the same gang violence, brings him into contact with vivid, horrifying imagery and sensations. The result of his efforts to rescue his innocent daughter burst forth into the consciousness of living humanity with the potential of creating a bridge between science and the Divine.

Within the action of Fin Canty’s struggle in the afterlife, and the investigations of the still-living characters into Fin Canty’s murder and its aftermath, Hejmanowski addresses issues of faith and belief. The strength of Fin Canty’s faith serves him well. But faith also warps some of the other characters’ motivations and behaviors. Faith and belief are very much double-edged swords for Good or Evil in Collider.

Collider is a vivid, suspense-filled story set within cutting-edge physics suggesting a union between science and religion—entertaining and thought-provoking simultaneously.

Also/Afterthought: I enjoyed the quote at the beginning of Hejmanowski’s novel from Albert Einstein: “Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” I think this quote reflects the human limitations of perceiving reality. We are only capable of perceiving what is available to our own three/four dimensional space/time frame of reference. I would not use the word “illusion,” unless we want to call reality a shared illusion. I have read that cats occupy the same locales as their pet-owners, but experience a very different reality with different focuses and priorities. This is “relativity” demonstrated at its most basic level. I think we humans face the same issue. But, it is a persistent reality we occupy—even if we understand we may not perceive what other consciousnesses perceive, this is what we have! Perhaps a more accurate quote would be: “Reality may shift depending upon the perceptive capabilities of the consciousness experiencing it, but we have only our own perceptive tools available, so are stuck with reality the way it is.” On second thought—Einstein, yours is simpler, and more elegant!

I explore these issues in other blog posts on this subject:

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness – August 30, 2011

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness II – October 7, 2011

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness – Commentary on Dr. Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven – February 1, 2013

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness – Commentary on Dr. Eben Alexander’s book PROOF OF HEAVEN February 1, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in afterlife, consciousness, Eben Alexander, metaphysics, nature of reality, nde, near death experience, Proof of Heaven, spirituality.
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At the beginning of the year 2000, at the outset of the new millennium, I wrote about my predictions for the next one thousand years (published in an on-line journal “New Works Review.” My most “out-of-the-box” prediction was that science and religion, physics and metaphysics, would join—the spiritual world would come together with the material. Since then, I have gone into my own speculations about the subject, very conscious of the daunting nature of the subject and how I am trying to skip centuries ahead of my own prediction. But I have seen signs that this predicted union inches closer and closer. Proof of Heaven, written by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, brings us a piece of the puzzle. I found this book invigorating, inspiring and a harbinger of what I hope will be a spiritual leap forward for humanity, as elaborated in my year 2000 prediction for the year 3000.

Basically, Proof of Heaven is a chronicle of Dr. Alexander’s near-death experience when he becomes deathly ill with E. coli bacterial meningitis. Of course, near-death experiences have been described in diverse publications for many years. What makes this one different is that Dr. Alexander is a highly trained specialist in the human nervous system and human brain function. He acknowledges he would have previously explained near-death experiences as the final convulsions of dying brains, illusions, spiritual mirages tantalizing the fading consciousnesses of purely material beings. His transformation from that point of view into his certain embrace of a spiritual component of reality, and of “life-after-death,”—with all his training and indoctrination into a material medical way of thinking—makes this story compelling. If he was a different person, we might offer some explanations as to why he would offer this story. Maybe he is a person easily fooled by his brain’s malfunction. Maybe he is a person looking for money or attention. But the truth is, this is an individual who would be extremely unlikely to be fooled by brain malfunction. This is a prosperous person not in need of a bestseller for money or status. In fact, Dr. Alexander specifically refers to people “with medical degrees” as the most likely to be skeptical of the description he gave of his experiences. So this book could well hurt his status as a still-practicing doctor.

Of course, I recommend reading the entire book, and I’m hoping most people who come across this post have already read the book and are interested in discussions about the joining of physics and metaphysics this book is certain to generate. This post is not intended as a book review—I am relating Dr. Alexander’s book to some of my own thinking on the potential unification of science and religion, of physics and metaphysics.

During this post I will refer to two of my previous blog posts about the issues raised by Dr. Alexander’s book:

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness – August 30, 2011

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness II – October 7, 2011

Some thoughts:

  • Dr. Alexander makes it clear he was not suffering from a sick, poorly functioning brain—“the neocortex was out of the picture” during his experience, he “existed completely free of the limitations” of his physical brain. This refutes any theory that Dr. Alexander simply experienced the sensations of a brain in its death throes.
  • Dr. Alexander discusses the difficulties of communicating his experiences, what he learned, within the limitations of human communications capabilities. He describes for us imagery and sensations, but we sense his frustration as his words are clearly inadequate to convey the full scope of his recollections. He says “I’m struggling to give you the vaguest, most completely unsatisfactory picture of… the single most real experience of my life.” As I discussed in Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness II, we are interacting energy fields with the limitations of our unique human sensory abilities. Dr. Alexander refers to entering what I call in Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness the “all-consciousness.” He cannot relate this entire experience to us because of human perceptive limitations. A challenge we have as humans, on our journey toward unifying the material and the spiritual, is to identify what is knowable and pursue that knowledge with all our ingenuity and creativity, and to identify what is unknowable, and not chase the unknowable or even worse, argue or fight about it. This, of course, is much easier said than done.
  • Dr. Alexander mentions instant knowledge and understanding. I believe this addresses another issue I have previously discussed. Time, time’s forward arrow, is a perceptive tool reserved for humans. I believe time, in the ultimate reality, in the all-consciousness, does not exist as we perceive it—in arrow form, in strings of causes and effects. Everything exists always—simultaneously. Dr. Alexander experienced this. Knowledge exists always. There is no time needed to learn. Learning is a time-dependent, time-arrow activity. Instant knowledge comes from immersion into the all-consciousness.
  • Dr. Alexander says “certain members of the scientific community, who are pledged to the materialist worldview, have insisted again and again that science and spirituality cannot coexist. They are mistaken.” Thank you, Doctor. Well said. For most of humanity’s existence, we have sensed a higher power. Now, in a few centuries, we are rejecting all of that? Are we really so much smarter than all those past human beings? Should we really be so smug and arrogant that we discard spirituality, with a casual dogmatism, with a narrow-mindedness that adherents to the scientific method should categorically reject?
  • In my meditations on these issues, I have wondered why we are treated to such a small slice of consciousness, and why we can’t tap into more of it during our lives. More disturbingly, I wonder why the death of the brain should free us to tap in to more of the all-consciousness—common sense points to the opposite idea. Dr. Alexander offers an answer. From his near death experience, he learned “the brain itself doesn’t produce consciousness… it is, instead, a kind of reducing valve or filter, shifting the larger, nonphysical consciousness that we possess in the nonphysical worlds down into a more limited capacity for the duration of our mortal lives.” He goes on to explain the advantages of this. In my words, the interconnected energy fields that make up our physical reality are full of gigantic amounts of information. We need filters to simplify all of this so we can function in our narrow human existences. Life is a gift of intense, narrow sensations, captivated into three/four-dimensional space/time. Dr. Alexander hints at an “afterlife” existence that blends us with the all-consciousness, but which would surely lack some of the focus our narrow perceptive abilities require—and grant to us as a result of that requirement.
  • Dr. Alexander now understands explanations for “dark matter” and “dark energy.” Good luck with that one, folks. We only know about these phenomena by implication, by mathematical calculation. Right now, no one can even find this stuff to study it.
  • Dr. Alexander also discusses good, evil and free will. Free will seems an elemental part of the gift of life. But if there is free will, good and evil have to follow. The ability to make choices make it absolutely unavoidable. He says he became aware of much more good than evil. I hope he is right. I’m not sure this necessarily follows logically, at least from the information we are working with. He does say “beings” in the “worlds above” are watching us as we “grow toward the Divine.”
  • How do we “grow toward the Divine?” Love. I was gratified to read this, because I wrote specifically about this in the seventh paragraph of Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness. I mentioned the difficulty of maintaining that love. Dr. Alexander’s experiences may help guide us toward a way to find it more often, and more widely. Perhaps confidence in an afterlife of the type described by Dr. Alexander could help humanity in that direction.
  • Dr. Alexander mentions religion and discusses an important distinction: “I didn’t just believe in God; I knew God.” He describes an incident after stepping up to take communion with tears streaming down his cheeks. I couldn’t help but think Dr. Alexander, with the experiences he describes, would not limit God to one religion. I think his experiences also argue there could well be more than one path to God. I mean, do we really think that God, the Divine, the all-consciousness, has finished revealing Itself/Himself/Herself? That just a few spiritual sages from humanity’s past, pre-scientific revolution sages, have given us our religions and there is no more spiritual discovery to come?
  • Dr. Alexander takes on quantum physics, cutting edge knowledge science has to offer us on the elemental nature of our physical reality, bringing those ideas into the context of his experiences. He says “on the subatomic level… this universe of separate objects turns out to be a complete illusion. In the realm of the super-super-small, every object in the physical universe is intimately connected with every other object. In fact, there are really no ‘objects’ in the world at all, only vibrations of energy and relationships.” This, to me, leads to the inevitable conclusion that everything exists always—I go into details on this in Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness II. Why should we assume an interconnectedness only at the quantum level? I think Dr. Alexander’s spiritual experience, and his insights linking his cutting edge spiritual experience with cutting-edge physics, leads us to this conclusion.
  • Dr. Alexander discusses our still barely rudimentary understanding of consciousness. He suggests “we live in the dimensions of familiar space and time, hemmed in by the peculiar limitations of our sensory organs and by our perceptual scaling within the spectrum from the subatomic quantum up through the entire universe.” My suggestion—the all-consciousness may well exist as a single point. Our own piece of consciousness creates our perceptions of size and dimension beyond that point.

Yes, I know at times during his post, I seem to be saying “Hey, I mentioned this in my previous blog posts.” What I am really saying is “Hey, Dr. Alexander, I get it. Not at a level of direct experience like you, but I get it. It makes sense to me.” I invite others to comment if they “get it” too.

Dr. Alexander has a website set up for further development of these ideas:


Interim Post—Music, Physics and Metaphysics October 19, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in metaphysics, music, physics, spirituality.
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As I indicated at the end of my last post on this topic, I am nearing the end of my study of the subject (for now—I am never closed to new ideas), and conclusions are forming. At the risk of this study winding on into infinity, I have identified yet more additional material to consider. As I finish up Bruno Nettl’s book on ethnomusicology, I find myself wanting familiarity with more “non-Western” music. I have identified material for further study. I have no chance of absorbing everything on such a broad topic. But I would like to learn more than I know now in order to address the issues I have taken on. I don’t think this will take long. I can see offering some comprehensive conclusions in a post during the first half of next year.

I need to clarify, for any musicologist, ethnomusicologist or other music scholar who has stumbled onto this—I am not a music scholar. I am a music creator—songs, music pieces, improvisations—I study music to expand my capabilities to create music. I am extremely grateful to scholars who have devoted hours/years/lives to studying aspects of music. I feast on your findings—then I draw my own conclusions from your work. And those conclusions function for my own creative purposes. If I have advanced any sort of scholarly understanding, I would be honored—and surprised! But the results of my feast on music scholarly findings will be in the music I create. I write here simply for anyone interested in my thought processes.

Conclusions that are starting to take shape:

  • Music, more than any other art, has the potential to relate the physical to the metaphysical. I will address this in detail in my final post, going into all three of the subjects, to offer an admittedly speculative and unconventional conclusion.
  • Music appears to be universal to all of humanity. The physical/metaphysical relationship with music may be a primary aspect of this.
  • Some basics of consonance and dissonance are discernible and may be universal. But cultural context also plays a part. Within some broad general principles of consonance and dissonance, wide fluctuations across cultures seem obvious.
  • Tonality also appears to be built into humans despite all recent (within the last century) efforts to shake up the tonality framework by music creators. (I will be reading the Leonard Bernstein book of his interview on this topic, The Unanswered Question, which will address this. I suspect it will do nothing to dissuade me from this conclusion!)
  • A harder question is whether music is universal for all sentient beings. I will discuss this—conclusions still forming on this one—though this is a highly speculative area!
  • I will discuss how all of this will influence my music production going forward. I’ve acquired some incredibly sophisticated music production software.  This opens up capabilities rarely dreamt of when I produced “Issa Music” back in 1998-1990. With the time I have left, hopefully a few more decades of creative productivity, I intend to utilize this gift computer technology has provided for a number of different projects: 1) more “Issa Music,” cross-cultural “mystic jazz,” 2) a Christmas CD of mostly familiar songs (four originals/eleven “covers” will be included) that will celebrate the “cross-cultural” musical idea, celebrating Christmas as a spiritual holiday that belongs to all of humanity and 3) a series of Richard Warren Field songbook albums that will offer about 25% originals and 75% covers of rock/pop/jazz songs, also reworked with the cross-cultural idea.

So expect a few more posts on reading and other activities related to this topic, and then a grand post. Brace yourself for that one—some of the ideas will seem “out there,” but I believe “out there” in a magical, mystical place.

Previous posts on this subject:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music by Joscelyn Godwin

(This series has been triggered as a result of  my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”  and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II).

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness II October 7, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in consciousness, metaphysics, nature of reality, spirituality, Uncategorized.
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(This follows “Meditations of Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness,” originally posted on August 30, 2011.)

We exist as a series of energies arrayed in entangled fields. Our senses sift through these energy fields, creating our own unique human perceptions of reality.

Human science has attempted to poke and probe physical reality into revealing its nature. At the micro level, we have gone from molecules to atoms to electron/neutron/protons to quarks. At the level of the tiniest particles we have found there is a lot of space between particles, and the particles seem to be in constant motion. At the extreme micro level, this leads to one of the truly mind-boggling aspects of quantum physics—that the act of measuring a particle’s position and direction changes that particle’s position and direction, and that the best we can do to designate position and direction is to use probability formulas. We perceive solids, but these solids are really full of space, with tiny particles in motion, teeming with energy. Various forces rule these particles, forces that harness the energies of all these particle motions into fields. The interactions of these energy fields hold atoms, molecules and larger perceived solids together.

At the macro level, we have looked out as close as we can to the edge of what we perceive as an expanding universe. A consistent finding is that there is a lot of space between the various celestial bodies we are looking at. And our best measurements show “space” expanding at break-neck speeds, with everything in motion. We perceive reality as having a general lack of motion unless something is done to start the motion. (This is one of Newton’s basic laws of physics.) As I write these words, I’m stationary with pencil and paper (and eventually will be stationary with my word processor). But I am actually on a spinning planet, hurtling through space in orbit around a star, which itself is part of a moving galaxy, occupying an expanding space, with constituent parts accelerating away from each other and all the other galaxies. Here I am, this shimmering bundle of countless energy fields bound together, flying through space, but somehow able to contemplate the nature of it all, and perceiving myself as solid, interacting with stationary objects.

We human beings consist of a complex set of energy fields, forming a unit of consciousness, one of many such units on the planet, and likely one of even more consciousness units in the universe. As I suggested in “Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness” (August 30, 2011), consciousness is the key understanding the nature of reality and to bridging physics and metaphysics. The truth is, we barely know what consciousness is. Some argue it is entirely a product of brain, that mind completely derives from the chemical/physical reactions taking place within our skulls. When brain dies, consciousness ends. That view assumes there is only physical reality. But any contemplation of “mind,” of what we as humans are capable of with “mind,” seems to counter this idea. We suspect there has to be more than the physical—we encounter the evidence in our minds every moment. But can we cite any evidence for consciousness existing beyond brain?

Here we run into the quantum physics observation problem again. How can we reliably observe the intricacies of our own faculties without influencing the results of our own observations? Can we step out of our own orientation toward reality to make sense of how we come to understand and experience reality? This is a mind-bending task, a task that requires a willingness to throw over every assumption about reality that our education and even our senses provide to us. We will likely be looking at indirect evidence of something like the all-consciousness that I described in “Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness,”—God, or a god-force.

One huge piece of indirect evidence of something beyond only physics, beyond only a massive cauldron of interacting energy fields somehow accidentally leading to the extraordinary gift of consciousness, is provided by discoveries in physics. The universe as we know it would not be possible without a number of fundamental constants of the physical universe existing exactly as they exist. This includes constants like an atom’s mass number, Avogadro’s number in chemistry, Newton’s gravitational constant, Planck’s constant—this mentions only a few of many such constants identified by physics. If one of these basic constants was just a hair different, reality would be totally different, and life, therefore brain, could never have come into existence. Could our universe really be a lucky accident, or is there something beyond brain, beyond mere overlapping energy fields, that explains this extraordinary convergence of universal constants to create our reality? Does this imply an all-consciousness force/creator beyond physical, beyond brain, that we touch with mind? And no, we can’t say there is an obvious answer to these questions. There could be, over the vast time-scale of existence, an infinite number of “big-bangs,” forming all sorts of universes where these constants did not come together in the right combinations to form what we know as our own personal, tailor-made universe. We’re only conscious of the one that works. The rest? Just a lot of energies flying around in nothingness with no conscious life-form available to turn them from nothing into something.

But we don’t perceive the world as a cauldron of energy fields. We sense separateness—solids, colors, sounds. We share this basic perception of reality with all our fellow human beings. We may actually share the universe with other consciousnesses we are not aware of because we do not share their way of experiencing this cauldron of energy fields, their “consciousness lenses” as I called them in “Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness.”

So how do we absorb reality? First, we experience a time arrow. This is fundamental to our interface with the cauldron of energies. I believe (here is a word—needed when the unprovable comes in) that everything exists always. I have read “Big Bang scientists” say that at the beginning, everything was in contact with everything else as a small point of extremely hot, dense matter/energy/forces scrunched together under enormous pressure. Why isn’t that still true? Just time and space as separation? The results of quantum physics experiments show particles continue to interact with each other over vast distances, seeming to disregard the speed of light for whatever force is at work during the interactions. The best explanation is that these particles are still connected—they are always connected! They seem oblivious to any time arrow, existing as if there is no time arrow. This is because time’s arrow is built into us as an observational tool, as a way of sorting and understanding reality. But overall, reality makes more sense if everything exists always, and we occupy a small part of the total existence. The findings of the physical sciences, the apparent infinities as part of what we perceive as a finite universe—these may be explained with the idea that everything exists always.

Also offered in “Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness,” is the idea that our piece of the all-consciousness is like a gleam along the vast gem of the all-consciousness. Time’s arrow, the perception of space—really it’s a space-time arrow—and our senses, are gifts to allow us to experience our gleam in the all-consciousness gem.

Our physical senses are identified as sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Sight allows us to perceive light and form it into colors, shapes and distances. Our eyes and brain work together to process this information, inverting images, even filling in blind spots. (This has been confirmed experimentally).

Our ears take vibrations and turn them into sound. Again, our brain aids in the processing of this information. The perception of sound gives us the great pleasure of music, a gift that brings extraordinary joy to me personally. Music brings something beyond vibration—it is to mind as sound vibration is to brain. Humans have relished some form of music for most of their existence. I believe (yes, here is intuition over the provable again) that music touches the all-consciousness, the God force, God, in a deep and meaningful way. But that idea will need to await expansion and development at another time.

Touch allows us to perceive boundaries between our self-contained network of energy fields and other networks of energy fields. Taste is part of this—molecules interact with the nerves in our tongues to allow us to form ideas about what we should and shouldn’t consume for sustenance. Smell works similarly—particles come in contact with nerves in our noses to communicate information about nearby energy networks giving off those particles. Our brain processes this information as well. Touch is also fundamental for sharing emotional bonds between us and those we love. We embrace our loved ones—our children, our parents, our spouses. We touch to make love to reproduce. Touch is an extraordinary gift with the potential for physical pleasure. Touch also uses pain to let us know when we are encountering something that is dangerous to our physical well-being.

So we experience our gleam in the all-consciousness, from what we perceive as birth to death. For the all-consciousness, we are a tiny, tiny speck in the huge, teaming-with-energy-fields whole. For us? Consciousness creates our existence. Where do we go after our gleam is over? Back into the cauldron to be reformed into another gleam? If this was true, I believe we would have more direct evidence of it. Do we simply reexperience our gleam over and over? There is no way to answer that question. If we take only the evidence of right now, then because we are conscious, we can conclude that we are always conscious. A comforting thought when life is going well. A terrible thought when life is not going well. Heaven might be the description for great life lived always. Hell might be the description for a terrible life lived always.

So, we are bundles of energy fields, experiencing our lives through a time arrow using the senses of sight, sound and touch/taste/smell. This is our window to the all-consciousness, to perceiving a reality where everything exists always, where time and space are distinctions for us, but not true distinctions in ultimate reality. These senses, these perceptions, come together to form our consciousness, our interface with the all-consciousness. Consciousness brings us existence—what it is, how it works—still mysteries, possibly unknowable mysteries. But maybe, when physics and metaphysics come together, we will unravel these mysteries.

Song from my website: “Mystic Tide” 

Song from my website: “Trying to Make Sense of the Universe”

Song from my website: “Fine Line In Between”

Meditations on Physics, Metaphysics and Consciousness August 30, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in consciousness, metaphysics, nature of reality, spirituality, Uncategorized.
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(Here is another example of what I wrote when I started this blog, that I could end up posting just about anything.) 

There is an answer to the fundamental metaphysical question: Why is there something instead of nothing? 


For a rock, for an isolated hydrogen molecule, there is nothing. When elements combine to form even the rudiments of consciousness, something emerges. “God,” the “God force,” is all-consciousness. Religions are a tool to reach as far as possible into the all-consciousness. But we are limited by our physical presences to small pieces of the all-consciousness. We occupy a small part of the all-consciousness. We have our little “gleam” in a facet of the gem of existence, and existence consists of all time, all space and all dimensions. (Some of the current theories of physics posit ten or more dimensions as an explanation for the nature of physical reality.) Consciousness is our personal lens enabling us to view and experience our part of the all-consciousness space-time gem/mass/conglomeration. It limits us as to how much of the all-consciousness we can perceive. Our senses, our tiny location in the vast space-time gem, create that limitation. But everything exists, always, including aspects of existence outside of the limitations of our own consciousness lenses. Some of those aspects are completely unimaginable to us, the way the sensation of sound would be unimaginable to a conscious creature without the ears to sense the vibrations of sound, or the way the sensation of sight would be unimaginable to a conscious creature unable to sense light reflecting off images. That means we exist always in our piece of the all-consciousness. Our consciousness is like a tiny gleam on the vast gem of all-consciousness.

Time does not separate cause and effect in the all-consciousness. Everything is connected and exists simultaneously. Time’s arrow is a property of the lens of our own consciousness within the all-consciousness. In essence, we experience reality through three dimensions of space, and a fourth dimension of time—a unidirectional time arrow. Individual time arrows overlap and intertwine with all the time arrows for all the consciousnesses within the all-consciousness. Connections can flit about in all sorts of exotic and unusual ways, either discovered or not discovered by our individual lenses. Our lenses very much influence and even create what our consciousness reveals to us from the all-consciousness. What our consciousness lens focuses on shapes our perceptions of reality. This is where recent spiritual concepts such as the “Law of Attraction” fit in. Even the “Big Bang” is a huge time arrow. Everything before and after the “Big Bang” exists always as part of the all-consciousness. If no consciousness evolves, then we have nothing instead of something. But consciousness did evolve—no, “evolve” is a time arrow idea—consciousness existed from the beginning so exists always.

When we tap into the interconnections and expand deeper into the all-consciousness, we move closer to “God,” though with our lens limitations, we can never completely access the entire all-consciousness. This also supports the “more-than-one-Path-to-God” idea. There can be many ways to access the all-consciousness. Assimilation of ideas and methods used by great spiritual sages is a way to connect.

As to the rightness or wrongness of a particular Path to God, the key is love. Not love for a spouse, or a child, or chocolate, or a country or even a religion. It’s an inner feeling that glows from within. It’s a feeling that puts a smile on our faces, that has us greeting every human, every creature, with benevolence. It’s a feeling—not always possible. We fight to maintain our own consciousness within the all-consciousness, to keep our own lens into the all-consciousness aware and alive. Our physical bodies house the lens. So we defend our lives, a precious gift, a gift of a small piece of the all-consciousness. When we feel threatened, we find it hard to find that feeling of love. But we are better off if we can use whatever method or Path to God we develop to access that love. People of all different religious persuasions have found a viable Path to God—of this I have no doubt. Is one path better than another? Of course. The Aztec priest tearing the heart out of a living fellow human as part of his religion could not have been experiencing the warm glow of spiritual love in the midst of such horrendous cruelty. The Christian slaughtering an innocent “infidel” at the time of the “Crusades,” a Muslim blowing up a crowd of innocent people—such a warm spiritual glow would not be possible. The Golden Rule, a universal concept that has emerged in cultures and traditions at many different times and locations on our planet, a concept probably universal to all conscious creatures everywhere, is a good guideline for behavior, and for whether a particular “Path to God,” a particular religion or approach to our lives using the tenets of an organized religion, reaches toward the all-consciousness with the flow and glow of love. Would that Aztec priest want his own heart ripped out of his living body? Would the infidel- slaughtering Christian crusader want to be killed because someone did not like his faith? Would the Muslim terrorist bomber want himself or family members killed by a fanatic trying to pile up bodies to make a twisted religious statement? The Golden Rule guides us to make these judgments. The Path to God can be found with the guidance of great spiritual sages opening doors to the all-consciousness.


I will be writing about this. That is what I do. Right now, the concept is a series of short stories, skipping about on the vast gem of the all-consciousness, lighting up gleams from different times and places, telling interconnected stories exploring these ideas, exploring spirituality and consciousness, and Path to God, at different times and places. To start, I’ll stick with earth, our familiar planet. But my imagination, my own attempt to connect with the all- consciousness from my nearly infinitesimally tiny gleam on the gem, could carry this almost anywhere. Stand by for more details as the project takes shape.

This feels to me, at this point in my time-arrow, for my lens, like another baby step toward unifying physics and metaphysics.


The great spiritual sages, for the most part, were not focused on founding new structures of organized religion. They were focused on the Path to God, on clarifying it, and making it available to wide numbers of human beings—a direct Path to God that does not require intermediaries.


On feeling the glow and flow of spiritual love:

The best way to attain it—focus on helping others, on improving the situations of others.

The way to lose the feeling—focus on the self, on the wants and desires of the self, especially material, transient desires and pleasures.

Song from my website: “Mystic Tide” 

Song from my website” “Trying to Make Sense of the Universe”

More Than One Path to God—A Controversial Idea? May 19, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Christianity, God, Islam, religious fanaticism, religious tolerance, spirituality, Uncategorized.
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The key to religious tolerance is the recognition that there may be more than one path to God, more than one route to the Divine for the righteous, spiritual human being—that is one of the major themes of my novel about the “Third Crusade,” The Swords of Faith. True, two of the major religions of the world, Christianity and Islam, are proselytizing religions, professing only one legitimate route to God. But except for fanatics, haven’t we all grown to recognize the “more than one path to God” idea, not withstanding less tolerant tenets expressed by those faiths? Recent experience indicates to me that this is not as obvious to others as it is to me. This is an issue we need to face to establish peace in our times.

Let’s start by recognizing a little history. In the movie “Ben Hur” (recently compared to the original book in this blog, Books-Into-Movie Commentary – Special Easter Edition: “Ben Hur”), Balthasar, one of the three “wise men” of Christian tradition, turns to Ben Hur and says “there are many paths to God—I hope yours will not be too difficult.” This struck me as an extraordinary statement for a character who would become one of the first followers of the Jesus teachings. But this isn’t extraordinary at all. At that time, Jesus was preaching about a relationship with God. Christianity—its scriptures and tenets—did not exist. Judaism is not a proselytizing religion. In fact, there were no major proselytizing religions at this time. Conquerors in the ancient world simply adopted the gods from the peoples they absorbed and added them to their own gods. So Balthasar’s statement to Ben Hur, given with a tone of benevolence, of fatherly concern and love, makes complete sense.

Balthasar’s hope for Ben Hur still makes complete sense as a simple prayer for all of us to offer each other. But it is not so easy to offer now.

In my essay “Demonizing Islam is Both Wrong and Foolish” (published in Opposing Viewpoints: Islam), I touched on this obliquely, suggesting scriptures, especially those ripped out of context, should not be used to demonize any religion. I heard from angry detractors accusing me of moral equivalence among all religions. One stated to me that Christian scriptures appearing to be fanatic and extreme have been taken out of context, but that Muslim scriptures appearing to be fanatic and extreme were actually meant seriously and should be considered as entirely in context. His implication was that Islam truly is a “bad religion,” an unworthy path to God.

I am not arguing for moral equivalence among all religions. I have no trouble making the judgment that the Aztec priests tearing the hearts out of live human beings were practicing an evil religion. I’ll add to that the judgment that a Muslim fanatic who sends a Downs-Syndrome child strapped with bombs into a crowded area to kill as many innocent people as possible is committing evil in the name of his religion.

The question becomes how to judge these acts. I think this is not difficult at all. We can use a principle found in cultures from ancient Greece and ancient China to the Buddhist faith to Christianity and Islam—what is often called the “Golden Rule.” If you wouldn’t want your heart torn from your living body in front of masses of people staring at your final agony, don’t do it to someone else. If you wouldn’t want to be blown up, or sent unwittingly to blow up others, don’t do it to someone else.

For those who have touched the spiritual force, there is a feeling—I’ll call it love, but we’re talking about an inner glow beyond the love of a book, or a movie, or chocolate, or even a spouse or child. While under the influence of that feeling of spiritual glow, that love, we are not capable of tearing hearts from live victims, or scheming to use one innocent person to kill others.

I also believe another key to applying this concept is to judge humans and their spiritualities by their behaviors, not by their scriptures. This eliminates the debates over which religion has the most righteous tenets.

I also ran into resistance to this idea when a publicist I contacted left a polite voicemail indicating that because their firm is a “Judeo-Christian” company, they could not work on behalf of someone who advocates this idea. I deleted this voicemail too quickly—I should have called back to discuss this. I’m not sure this idea is so contrary to Judeo-Christian principles. The very phrase “Judeo-Christian” implies more than one path to God. But the reaction from this publicist has been part of my learning experience that this idea is more controversial than I believed it would be.

It was also surprising to me that I caught resistance from people I would consider to be on the other side of this argument when I argued that some people acting for religions needed to be resisted. I argued that violent fanaticism is the true danger in our world. I ran into real moral equivalence arguments as a result of this assertion. On a recent radio show appearance, I pointed out that Muslim fanatics, misappropriating their religion as they killed innocents, needed to be fought—by Christians, and by moderate Muslims who find this fanatic behavior as abhorrent as those of other faiths. I was told I needed to acknowledge that Christian fanatics were just as responsible for terrorism in our modern world. (I acknowledge that Christians have engaged in brutal activities in the past. That was not the argument. They were saying Christian fanatic terrorists are just as dangerous as Muslim terrorist today.) I asked for an example of a Christian terror network around the world trying to take as many innocent lives as possible. I was referred to the Illuminati and the Rothschild family (I think the Rothchilds were Jewish), and the “terrorism” of Proposition Eight in California against defining marriage to include same-sex unions. (I voted against Proposition Eight. I have written about this in one of my internet columns. I disagree with the state’s voters on this, but this is hardly terrorism!)  They also mentioned fanatic Christian killings of abortionists. I wholeheartedly condemned that behavior; most Christians do too. But this activity hardly rises to the level of the worldwide assaults on innocents by Al Qaeda.

A blogger listened to my appearance, during which I repeatedly argued for more than one path to God and exalted moderate Muslims who have condemned fanatics, naming Muslim writer Kamran Pasha as an example of a man to be praised. The blogger condemned me as an anti-Islamic bigot, as a person who spreads “anti-Muslim propaganda.” Now, I have to say, this person ended her post by stating I was out of line to blame fanatic Muslims for the Nine-Eleven attacks—it was really the United States government that perpetrated the whole event. Okay. Consider the source. But it is a further illustration that this idea, seeming so obvious to me, comes with nuance and unforeseen ramifications in our modern world.

Still, I strongly believe by recognizing there may be more than one path to the spiritual force, to God, to whatever we call it, we find the key to ending religious wars. It is historical fact that Jesus and Mohammed, so-called “founders” of the two major proselytizing religions in our world today, were not focused on founding new organized religions. They were focused on assisting fellow human beings with finding the path to God. The scriptures, the formal tenets of these religions, did not form until decades after the deaths of these men. It is not in dispute that the New Testament of Christianity and the Koran of Islam were written down decades after these spiritual sages completed their time on earth. Both men were inclusive; they wanted to help humans from inside and outside their ethnic groups, traditions and birth religions to find God through their teachings. It can be argued that the “only one path to God” idea formed and developed through the efforts of later adherents to the original message, efforts directed at forming new organized religions. I believe Jesus and Mohammed would have been unhappy with the violent fanaticism generated by the “only one path to God” idea. We can honor them by embracing the idea of “more than one path to God.”

Opposing Viewpoints: Islam

Opposing Viewpoints: Islam


Ben Hur (DVD)

Ben Hur (DVD)

Ben Hur (the novel)

Ben Hur (the novel)