The introduction explains the thesis of the book and the meaning of involution in this context. It is related to collective memory through acts of consciousness, recovering and transcending what has gone before. Genius plays the role of being an advanced emissary of consciousness enabling others to follow in their understanding. Philippa’s understanding of the basic impetus of evolution is not as accidental mutation but rather ‘behaviour or act as the critical driver of change.’ This is elaborated in the series of six propositions:
- Interaction leads to interiorisation
- Internal selection increasingly overrides natural selection – mind is the driver of change
- Interactions between organisms and environment are retained as memory – the development of mind leads to autonomy
- Matter is in‘formed’ by mind through memory
- Memory of evolution is stored
- Involution in man occurs through the recovery of memory – we have the entire memory of our evolutionary path and understand its connection with everything else. Consciousness is able to return to its origins and recover a lost sense of wholeness.
The theory has parallels with the work of Teilhard de Chardin, Ervin Laszlo, David Bohm, Carl Jung and Rupert Sheldrake, all of whom have found their own ways of reconciling the scientific with the spiritual. Many readers would agree that we are paying a ‘high price for science’s limited certainties’ by excluding subjective experience in terms of revelation, inspiration and intuition. Philippa’s approach opens up access to these realms, all the more so through the use of poetry as her medium and a counterbalance to the dominance of the left hemisphere not only in science, also in academia in general. As she points out, the metaphorical language of poetry is able to address the implicit and paradoxical and express involution as mystical science. This is scientia in its broader form as acknowledged by the perennial philosophy. Some thinkers like Parmenides (as explained by Peter Kingsley) and Wittgenstein have realised this – philosophy is essentially intuited rather than deduced.
The dialogue between Reason and Soul is sometimes tense, sometimes creative. Reason is always wanting to cut to the chase in a literal fashion, while Soul is more expansive and imaginative. Reason refers disdainfully to ‘a spoonful of soft syllables to help all sophistry slip down’ and is a little impatient with the paradoxes of quantum mechanics. Soul reminds the reader that:
‘The world is all en-folded mind.
The yeast of any forward thinker
Leavens the whole loaf entire.’
The reader is able to consult the footnotes on the way through and alternate between the mode of poetic narrative and more detailed background explanation, which demonstrates the author’s considerable erudition. Perhaps the best way is to read through a canto and then reread it looking up the references so that the narrative is not interrupted all the time. The reader passes through the early states of unity – what Barfield called original participation – through the genesis of tools and language, the world of the Greeks, Archimedes and Alexandria, the dark ages and the preservation of culture through monasteries and Muslim thought, the Renaissance (especially art) then the Enlightenment and rationality leading onto Modernism and dissolution before finally arriving at love and reunion, Barfield’s final participation where Reason falls silent and Soul continues the narrative.
Following on is an appendix discussing the relationship between mysticism and science and drawing on William James, among others, but also mystics from different cultures, those who have experienced a more ultimate state than reason can attain. This is the work of the intellect, properly speaking, our capacity to apprehend unity, as also explained in my review of sacred psychology below. Some mathematicians like Poincaré and Penrose have followed in the footsteps of Plato and understand harmony in a deeper way. In an Afterword, Reason and Soul explore the author’s experiences leading to her thesis – ‘the brain is the soul’s receiver.’ I should also mention that there are informative charts at the end of each set of canto as a way of conveying information in a different mode.
I know of no comparable work covering the Western Odyssey in its many thematic variations and using an interplay of poetry and prose to convey the adventure of the journey and arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of reality as a whole. The author’s grasp of the principal elements of Western culture is masterly and her poetic narrative is woven together with extraordinary subtlety and eloquence. The result is a heroic tour de force that deserves the widest readership.