The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Our topic today is "Time and Transformation." With me is Peter Russell, a visionary writer, a filmmaker, a management consultant. Peter is the author of numerous books, including The Creative Manager, The Global Brain, and The White Hole in Time. Welcome, Peter.

PETER RUSSELL: Thank you. Nice to be here.

MISHLOVE: You've given a lot of thought to the issue of human transformation, particularly through time, and I think one of the real paradoxes of time is that while we divide it into present, past, and future we seem to always be in the present. It's inescapable, and it sometimes makes me wonder if the past and the future aren't in some sense an illusion.

RUSSELL: I wouldn't say an illusion. It's fascinating, but in some senses there is only the now; that's all we ever know. The past is but a memory, and all that a memory is is something which we draw upon and recreate now. If I think of the past, I am thinking of it now, in the present moment. If I think of the future, I am thinking of the future now, in the present moment. There is only now in that sense. And if you look at it from the physical side, now doesn't exist. There is all the past, there is all the future, and then there's that point between them.

MISHLOVE: Infinitesimally small point.

RUSSELL: Yes. So we always have a paradox there. From the physics point of view, now doesn't exist, hardly exists, and yet from our own experience there is only now.

MISHLOVE: And yet Einstein proposed that we view time as a dimension, a spacelike dimension, so that if we could just stand back from it we might see all of time, just as we could look out over space.

RUSSELL: Yes. Well, that's the physical point of view; except it gets very interesting, because if you look at time from the point of view of light, if you follow Einstein's theory through, that when something travels at the speed of light, time slows right down, and at the speed of light time stops, this means from light's point of view there is only now.

MISHLOVE: There is no time.

RUSSELL: There is no past --

MISHLOVE: We come back to the illusion of the past and the future.

RUSSELL: But what is fascinating is, from the point of view of light there is only the now, and from the point of view of human experience, in the light of consciousness, there is only the now. And so there's some very interesting parallel between the way the universe is seen from light's point of view and the way it's seen from consciousness.

MISHLOVE: I realize we're really plunging into things rapidly here, but let me just push it a little further with you. The Hindu concept of maya suggests that the reality that we cling to, that we build our lives on every day -- we wake up in the morning, we go to work, we progress from birth to death, in effect -- the Hindus would say this is all an illusion really.

RUSSELL: Um hm. Well now, you can see maya I think on many different levels. There's the maya -- we often translate it as illusion. There's the illusion like I think this is a solid object. When I look at it under a microscope or electron microscope, I realize it is 99.99 percent empty space with a few solitary particles floating around. That's one interesting way it's an illusion. But there's a second way which this is an illusion, that I think this is outside. It's actually a construct of my mind. When I look at my hand, light is coming from my hand to my eye; it's becoming an electromagnetic-chemical impulse in the brain, and out of all that brain activity, I generate -- in my mind, in my consciousness -- I generate the experience of a hand out here.

MISHLOVE: That's right.

RUSSELL: And yet everything I experience, everything you are experiencing, everything we are experiencing at any moment, we are creating in our mind.

MISHLOVE: Sometimes called in our sensorium.

RUSSELL: Yes. So we are continually creating our experience of the world. And that's another sense, I think a deeper sense, in which the world is maya, an illusion. We think we are in touch with the world; what we have is this incredible generation power of the human brain, to create reality.

MISHLOVE: Our ability to know whether our images of the world actually correspond to what the world is really like -- assuming it exists at all, which I'm willing to assume -- is limited.

RUSSELL: Well, I think it's clear something exists out there. There is an external reality. I think we can never fully know that reality; I think that's something which the philosopher Emmanuel Kant was trying to say -- we never fully know that reality. I mean, our senses are just a tiny, tiny window. We have a tiny spectrum in the electromagnetic spectrum that we see, which is visible light, and we have some sense that we have touch and smell. But our smell is nothing compared to a dog's smell. A dolphin has sonar senses which we don't have, and a snake has heat senses. We are just seeing a tiny, partial view of reality, so reality must be much, much richer than we ever experience it. And what we do experience is just this creation in our own mind.

MISHLOVE: Yet we get caught up in our reality in the very limited sense -- as I, say, go to work in the morning, what are my goals for the day? It's to provide shelter and clothing and to help raise the kids and put them into college and hopefully will vote for the right political candidate. We live in kind of a narrow band.

RUSSELL: Yes, and even that's something we're continually creating. We may not create it right. We may see a person -- like we may see somebody on the street who seems to be homeless. We may form some judgment about that person, and then when you start talking to them, and you realize who that person is and how they came to be here, you may create a completely different perception of that person. So all the time we are creating our reality of who other people are, the people we work with, or people we see on television and think, well, that's not a very nice person, or that person's a wonderful person. We are continually judging and creating our perception of other people. I think that's something we have to be careful about. It's so easy to misjudge other people.

MISHLOVE: And often our judgments, I suppose, are conditioned by very commonplace things, like what social class we may belong to.

RUSSELL: Yes, and does this person remind you of someone else you know? Or even what happened to you in your own early experience, in childhood or something; it may remind you of an aunt or something who you didn't like, and so you immediately start not liking this person.

MISHLOVE: One of the things I find very striking in your work is that you try to understand the now moment in terms of the whole history of the universe as we know it. Many people take a large view. Goethe said you won't understand yourself if you don't understand all of human history. But you go much farther than Goethe in that regard.

RUSSELL: Yes, I like to go right back to the beginning of the universe, to see where we stand. Because I think the time we are living through right now is probably the most significant time ever to have lived -- not just for human beings, but I think on this planet. I think evolution has brought us to this point, where we have a species which has a certain degree of intelligence -- I think it needs a bit more intelligence -- which is capable of creating so much. I mean, we today can do almost anything we think of. We have the technology to do it. If we don't have the technology, we know how to invent it. And yet at the same time we could destroy ourselves; we could destroy a lot of life on this planet. And I don't think ever before, as far as we know, has a species arisen on this planet that had that power of creation and that power of destruction simultaneously. And what happens in the next five, ten, fifteen years, out of billions of years of evolution -- these years that we alive now are living through are going to be absolutely critical for the future of evolution on this planet.

MISHLOVE: It seems like an odd coincidence. It's as if, you know, you're born right there with front-row seats at the fifty-yard line for the Super Bowl, or something.

RUSSELL: Somebody had to be born in this time, and we happen to be the people who were born in this absolutely critical time in the whole evolution of the planet -- not just human history, but the whole evolution of the planet. It's like evolution has been working, I think, towards this point of an intelligent, creative species, to see what it can do.

MISHLOVE: The very thoughts that we think in these years may affect the destiny of the entire planet.

RUSSELL: Yes, yes.

MISHLOVE: That's very profound. That says that the now moment is pregnant with possibilities. This is not a trivial time.

RUSSELL: It's not at all. And a lot of what I try to do in my writing and talks and films is to get people to step back and see the significance of these times, because I think so often we are engrossed in what we're doing -- our work and paying the bills, whatever it is, watching television. We forget where we stand in history. And it's not to put a huge onus of responsibility on us, but just to appreciate almost the magic of the time we are in.

MISHLOVE: But to be fair about it, Peter, I think throughout history people have often thought that about themselves -- that they were living in the momentous times.

RUSSELL: Yes, and they were right. They were the most momentous times up to then. I'm sure that if you were living 500 years ago, at the beginning of the Renaissance, you would have said that was a critical time. And it was; it wasone of the most exciting times so far. Or further back, the beginning of the whole Greek culture -- that was the most significant time so far.

MISHLOVE: Those were crucial times.

RUSSELL: They were, but today is far, far more crucial.

MISHLOVE: Sixteenth-century Iceland might not have been so important.

RUSSELL: Right, but what was happening then wasn't global, and there wasn't so much hanging in the balance as there is today. That's why I think today is -- let's put it this way. It's the most significant time so far. Maybe in ten years' time we'll have a more significant time.

MISHLOVE: Well, as you look at the whole process of evolution, beyond biological evolution, but the universe itself unfolding according to the scientific story we know, it seems to you in your writing that the universe is moving toward a kind of self-aware consciousness.

RUSSELL: Yes. You can see the evolution as the evolution of matter, which is the way it's normally seen, which is how atoms evolved and got more complex, and they collected together to form molecules, and as the molecules grew you had viruses and you had simple life forms, you had simple cells get together and become more complex cells, and that whole growth up to being such as ourselves, which is the normal way we look at the physical side. But you can also look at evolution as the evolution of consciousness. Now, I believe all creatures are conscious. Even a simple amoeba is conscious. I don't think you can draw a line anywhere, because by conscious I mean a sentient being.

MISHLOVE: With some awareness.

RUSSELL: There is some awareness.

MISHLOVE: Perhaps not self-awareness, and certainly not language.

RUSSELL: Exactly. A dog is aware; I think anybody who's had a dog as a pet, or a cat or a horse, they're clearly an aware creature. They cannot speak, may not be aware of so many things as us, but they're aware. You know, maybe a fish is aware, but not aware of so much. What's happened, if you look at the evolution up from simple cells, is that a bacterium is probably just aware of a fairly vague sense of heat and light, maybe, or vibration. As organisms evolved, the senses became more complex. Eyes evolved which could detect a better spectrum of light and fill in the details, and hearing evolved, which meant the vibrations weren't just a sense of vibration in the body; you could pinpoint where the vibration was coming from. So the senses have been continually evolving, and with that we evolved brains, or life evolved brains, to process all that information that was coming in through the senses, and then to store it and remember it and then use it for later use. What happened with human beings is, in terms of our consciousness of the world around I would say we're no different from dogs or horses. In fact dogs are probably better than us; their smell is better, and possibly their sight or something else is better. But what is special about human beings is we developed language, and with language we can begin to share our learnings with each other. A dog learns basically from its own experience of life. We learn from our own experience, but we also learn from everybody else's experience who's come before us. We learn from our parents. We learn at school the knowledge that has been built up in our society. So we are a collective learning system. We are building up this huge body of knowledge. So our awareness of the world is much, much greater than any animal's awareness, because we have this ability to share, through language, our learning. So we're building up this collective body of knowledge, and it started with language, whenever that emerged -- what was it? -- fifty thousand years ago; we're not quite sure, something like that. And then we developed writing, which meant we could begin to record our ideas and take them to other people; and then the printing press, and we could reproduce ideas much faster. Then we've gone through telephones and things like that, and now we have computers and satellites beginning to link us together into one single informational unit.

MISHLOVE: It's as if what we're doing with the electronic communications linking the planet now is creating an extension of our own nervous systems.

RUSSELL: Yes, very much. In fact it's almost like we are the nervous system of the planet. There's an interesting idea which has been around for about twenty years, which was put forward by James Lovelock, an English chemist, who put forward the idea that the whole planet can be seen as a living organism.

MISHLOVE: The Gaia hypothesis.

RUSSELL: The Gaia hypothesis, yes. Gaia is the Greek goddess of the earth, Mother Earth goddess. He called it the Gaia hypothesis, suggesting the planet is like one single living system, in which case we must say, "What is our role in it?" You know, the rain forests play a role, and maybe certain bacteria play a role. Everything has its role to play in this huge organism. What is humanity doing here? And to me there are two possible answers to that question, and maybe they're both true. One is we seem to be like a nervous system, because we process information far better than any other creature on this planet, mainly because we have language. So we are the information processor, which makes us like the nerve cells of this huge planetary organism, which is why I sometimes call humanity the global brain. The other possibility is we are a cancerous growth, because the planet has survived perfectly well without humanity for billions of years, four and a half billion years, and now, just in the last one million years, which is one four-thousandth of the planet's history, humanity arises, and then in just a tiny fraction of a second the earth's history goes crazy. We are destroying the planet like a cancer destroys the body. It's interesting to take a photograph of a cancer in a body and look at a photograph of the way a city grows out of its environment. They're very parallel.

MISHLOVE: I suppose in some existential sense we have a choice as to whether we're going to function as a cancer or as a nervous system.

RUSSELL: I think that is the very, very real choice before us at this time, and it's a question of asking ourselves, "What is it we really want? What is it that's really important?" in our own lives -- to actually begin to think about how we act. Because if we continue acting in this careless -- and it is literally a care-less way; we do not care about others, we do not care about the environment -- if we continue being careless, and that is really what a malignancy is, we will destroy our environment. And if we destroy our environment, we will not be able to survive.

MISHLOVE: Peter, let's step back once again and recapitulate this a bit from the long view of time, from the beginnings of the origin of the universe itself. You've written quite a bit about the anthropic principle, and how it seems as if the whole universe was designed to support biological systems such as ourselves.

RUSSELL: Yes, it's fascinating. This has just come out the last -- what? -- fifteen years or so. The cosmologists and physicists started looking at the various fundamental constants. They call them the fundamental constants. These are things like the strength of the gravitational force, the mass of the electron, the charge on the electron -- these sorts of things.

MISHLOVE: The givens.

RUSSELL: The givens. And these are just numbers which we now know maybe to eight or ten decimal places.

MISHLOVE: They seem arbitrary in some sense, but they're unchanging, as far as our scientific measurements indicate.

RUSSELL: But what's fascinating is if you start changing these numbers by a tiny bit, the universe doesn't work anymore.

MISHLOVE: The way we know it.

RUSSELL: Right. For example, if you make the gravitational force about one percent stronger, then in the early days of the universe, or the early weeks to be exact, as the universe expanded the gravitational force would have pulled it back together again, and the universe would only have existed for four weeks. If the gravitational force had been one percent weaker, then the universe would have expanded so fast it would never have slowed down enough for stars to form. So the fact we have a universe that lasted, A, for more than four weeks, but also was one that stars could form in, depended upon the gravitational force being exactly the way it is. And there are now some like forty coincidences like this.

MISHLOVE: All of which had to be just exactly perfect in order for us to be here where we are now.

RUSSELL: Well, first of all you have to have a whole series of them to be perfect for the universe to exist -- not just the gravity, a whole series of them. Then you have another whole series which had to be perfect in order that atoms could evolve, stars could evolve, that life could come into existence. And then you have another whole series which were important that human beings come into existence. And what this principle says is that any universe that exists has to be one which is capable of producing creatures able to observe the universe. And so it seems that the universe has a function, which is the observation of itself -- to evolve creatures like us, and we just happen to be, at this time on this planet, a creature able to observe and understand the universe. And I'm sure all over the universe there are other creatures, maybe in the past or in the future, or even at the same time, who are at this stage of beginning to understand the universe in which they live. So it's almost like the creation was created in order that the creation may understand and observe itself.

MISHLOVE: Now, I know that scientists interpret these unusual coincidences in very different ways.

RUSSELL: Yes. What I'm talking about here is what's often called the strong anthropic principle. There's another interpretation which is the weak anthropic principle, which says there's nothing significant about this at all. If we can observe the universe, the only universe that we can observe is the one which is absolutely perfect. If it wasn't perfect we wouldn't be here, and it's just a one-in-a-zillion chance that this is the universe that exists. I find that more difficult to take than the idea that there's some underlying purpose here in creation. To me that makes more sense than feeling this is just a one-in-a-zillion coincidence that the universe happens to support its --

MISHLOVE: Well, either way you look at it, it means that there's an incredible momentousness about the now moment, because if we lose this chance to put this planet into good working order, so to speak, who knows when the universe will ever be able to create another opportunity?

RUSSELL: On this planet. Remember, we are only one of a quadrillion possible inhabitable planets.

MISHLOVE: I think you suggest that you might view this planet as a tiny little rosebud in a --

RUSSELL: Yes, a huge rose garden with other roses blossoming. But we have the responsibility for this particular little rosebud that's blossoming now. And I think if we come back to this idea of the universe discovering itself, we are, I feel, halfway through that process as human beings. We have now got to the stage where we can look down into the depths of an atom; we can understand quantum physics; we are decoding the genetic code, understanding how life operates; we are looking out to the edges of the universe, understanding how the universe came into being. In terms of physical reality, we are almost reaching the limits. Probably in five or ten years we'll have a unified field theory, which is sort of the mathematics of creation. The area we've hardly touched upon is ourselves. The human mind is still as mysterious as it was two thousand years ago, and I think that is the next great frontier -- inner space, understanding ourselves. And I think that's the reason we are at the moment messing things up, because we've got so focused on the external world we don't fully understand ourselves.

MISHLOVE: In effect it's quite ironic, when you think that here we are, the pinnacle of evolution on this planet, this marvelous, fantastically complex, aware being, and we're kind of polluting the place.


MISHLOVE: To say nothing about the wars, the starvation, the homelessness, the ways in which we treat each other. It seems quite ironic that such fantastic organisms as ourselves would be behaving this way.

RUSSELL: No other creature does. Well, I think this is the question we have to ask -- why is it, of the millions and millions of species on this planet, one of them, which calls itself the most intelligent species, behaves in such an insane way? Because it is insane, to realize, as we now do, that we are destroying our own habitat; and then to continue destroying it, is mad, it's insane. And I think we have to look inside ourselves and say, what is it in our thinking, in our attitudes, in our values, that leads us to behave in this insane way? And until we do that, until we begin to understand ourselves, I don't think we're going to get out of this problem.

MISHLOVE: Well, it's not as if the human species hasn't had teachers in the area of self-understanding, going back to ancient times. There have been guides and great books written. The accumulated wisdom of humanity in this area is quite significant, and yet it doesn't seem to have stemmed the tide of things.

RUSSELL: It's interesting, this. I think there have been many, many teachers, and I think they're all underneath saying the same thing. The great teachers, the Christs, the Buddhas, the Mohammeds, and the saints, and even your local greengrocer can be enlightened. There's an underlying wisdom, but we keep on forgetting it. And I think what happens is a teacher comes out with this wisdom and teaches it to people. It's just basically the wisdom of how to act as a mature, selfless, caring, compassionate human being, and not get so hung up on things and materiality. And what happens is the teachings get passed down after the teacher's gone from one person to another to another, and inevitably it begins to get distorted -- something gets left out, a little bit gets added in, something is misunderstood. And after centuries of this -- and it gets absorbed by different cultures, and it's translated from one language to another -- it ends up as nothing like it was originally meant, and often ends up completely upside down. The process I sometimes jokingly call truth decay; over time the truth decays. And so I don't think we can go and look back to what other great teachers have said, because whatever we look back to is a distortion of what they were saying. I think the challenge we are facing today is to rediscover that wisdom for ourselves. And I think this is what is happening on the planet now, particularly in the Western culture. We are beginning, just beginning, to say it isn't just about materiality; it isn't about how many yachts you have, or how many VCRs you have in your house, or how big your bank account is. We're beginning to recognize that that doesn't work. It doesn't lead us to be more peaceful and more happy in ourselves.

MISHLOVE: Well, you've written about how throughout human history each century seems to produce more and more inventions, technological innovations. Perhaps we're at a point now where what we need to produce are more and more enlightened people.

RUSSELL: Yes, I definitely think so, more and more -- even the word enlightened is loaded. I think more and more wise people, more and more caring, selfless people -- people who are not driven by the fears inside themselves, most of the fears that we don't need.


RUSSELL: Fears. We have so many fears: "What will someone think of me?" and "Oh dear, if I don't have enough money I'm not going to be secure. I'm going to die, or something." These things; this is what corrupts us, I think. This is why we need to look inside ourselves and begin to become masters of our own minds.

MISHLOVE: The fear seems to be the heart of what one might think of as the cancer. I mean, we do destructive things, I suppose, because we're afraid if we don't get our own we're not going to survive.

RUSSELL: Fear is great in certain situations. If you're about to be run over by a bus, you need fear to get you out of the way. Or if someone's going to attack you --

MISHLOVE: It has survival value.

RUSSELL: Exactly. If there's a physical threat.

MISHLOVE: In a short term; there's an immediate danger.

RUSSELL: But in our society, those threats are very, very seldom. Maybe once, twice a year or something like that, you need that survival response. And yet we live in fear. We fear each other; we fear what people are going to think of us. We fear: "What will they think if I wear this?" This sort of thing. We fear, as I say, our security: "Am I in control of the world?" We fear being out of control. These sorts of things. This is, I think, the root of the cancer, and nearly every one of those fears, when you examine it, brings it into the light, is empty, it's an illusion.

MISHLOVE: So we're at a point in history where maybe through just a shift in attitude we can begin to get a handle on some of the fundamental reasons why we've been messing things up. Well, Peter Russell, we're out of time right now. This has been a very exciting, stimulating half hour. Thanks so much for being with me.

RUSSELL: My pleasure. I've enjoyed it too, greatly.

MISHLOVE: And for those of you who've enjoyed this half hour with Peter Russell, check your program guide for Part 2 of this two-part series on "Time and Transformation." We'll be looking at the potential within humanity for positive spiritual change at a greatly accelerated pace.

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