Introduction to Voices from the Edge
We are currently witnessing an extraordinary shift in the evolutionary winds of history. Poised on a bridge between worlds, our species swings between crisis and renaissance. Never before in the human adventure have there been so many reasons to rejoice and celebrate, yet also, paradoxically, so many reasons to re-evaluate and re-navigate. Wonderful advances in science and the interface between high technology and the creative imagination have spawned forms of artistic expression with a sensory richness inconceivable to previous generations. The imagination has never been more tangible. And yet, sad to say, never before has our own extinction via our own ignorance–hovered so close.
Within the pages of this book, through conversations with some of the most far-reaching cultural innovators of our day, we explore a variety of exciting new options made available by the cultural renaissance that is upon us and examine some possible solutions to our impending global crisis. When Rebecca McClen Novick and I finished the first volume of Mavericks of the Mind, there still remained many extraordinary individuals whom we had wished to include. In addition, friends flooded us with recommendations for potential interviewees. If that were not enough, every time we did a lecture or book-signing, we would meet people who had yet more recommendations. A number of individuals whom I did not even know called me and recommended themselves as candidates. Upon consideration of all this, we decided to do an additional collection, which you now hold in your hands. And a third volume is in the works.
In 1988, Christian theologian Matthew Fox, the Dominican priest we interviewed for this volume, was silenced for a year by the Vatican. Instead of preaching about our Original Sin, he was doing this rap on our “Original Blessing.” After a full revolution around the sun, during which he supposedly contemplated his sins in silence, the very first words that he uttered were, “As I was saying … ” It is in that spirit that this book begins. As with our first volume, the people we chose to interview represent the mavericks of their fields, the engineers of evolution, the messengers of our future those remarkable and brave individuals who stand at the front-line of the cultural frontier, taking the storms of change full in the face. However overlooked, misunderstood, ridiculed, or punished they may have been by society at large, these men and women have persevered to the point where they are now viewed as revolutionary leaders in their fields.
When putting this book together, we operated under the premise that most cultural advance is accomplished by a certain type of individual: those who resist adherence to any particular group or belief system and have an interdisciplinary approach to their work. These were the people we sought out to discuss the basic philosophical issues of life, to ponder the Big Questions: How did we get here? Why are we here? Where are we going? But while our previous collection approached these questions primarily from a decidedly scientific viewpoint (with several notable exceptions), our new collection gathers a perspective from a wider cultural arena. And though our pool of interviewees has broadened, the theme of the new volume remains the same: exploring the evolution of consciousness. Also, our approach matured. Rebecca and I became bolder in our interviewing style, and we are perhaps a little less naive than when we set out to do the original collection.
Although the collection spans a diverse spectrum, there are many areas where boundaries overlap. From the emerging gestalt, a vision of our future begins to take form, perhaps providing us with a glimpse into the twenty-first century. We discuss possible solutions to the hunger and ecological crises gripping our planet, new computer and multimedia technologies as vehicles for enhanced communication and artistic expression, future directions of psychedelic drug research, the reclamation of our bodies and our connection to the divine through more expansive forms of sexual expression, the revival of the Goddess, and the reformation of religion. These and other spiritual issues are pondered in depth, always with thoughtfulness, often with humor.
After the publication of the first volume of Mavericks, when Rebecca and I hosted a series of events at UC Santa Cruz and UCLA, we brought together individuals from the book and encouraged them to discuss and debate various controversial issues, such as the relationship between technology and the mind. As we sat there on stage, surrounded by all these great minds and their often conflicting perspectives, we realized repeatedly just how relative truth really is. No one has the answer, yet everyone makes a point and contributes a perspective to help create a more encompassing whole.
One of the topics we explore in this book is the mystery of what happens to consciousness after the death of the body. When I posed the question to environmentalist John Robbins, he replied without pause, “I think it celebrates.” Ironically, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead told us he thinks it probably dies with the body.” Cultural historian William Irwin Thompson said he thinks we move into “subtle bodies,” which “are woven into this larger angelic formation.” There is perhaps no greater mystery than death, and infinite mystery will spawn infinite theories.
This is not the first time that crisis and opportunity have danced together arm in arm, and as we evolve through time, this dynamic will most likely be encountered again and again. This is part of the Great Mystery at the center of existence, which inspires art, science, philosophy, and the spiritual quest. Stating the obvious here is powerful. There is simply no escape. Life is mostly mystery, and the mystery only deepens with time and “understanding.” A moment’s reflection will confront us with the fact that the foundation of every belief rests upon an assumption made in faith. Life is a journey through our own dream fabric.
When I was in graduate school I was amazed to discover that the majority of my professors thought that science had solved about 99 percent of the fundamental mysteries of the universe and that it would not be long before we would have the other one percent figured out. I was completely dumbfounded by this, and by the fact that much of the world appeared to follow suit with my professors. As a consequence of my commitment to the exploration of consciousness, my world view was the reverse: 99 percent mystery, one percent (or less) figured out.
The universe is an infinitely mysterious place, where consciousness and physical phenomena interact in largely unknown ways to form the adventure of our existence. Because of this fundamental truth, Matthew Fox suggested that we adopt the perspective that “mystery is not something you’re ever going to solve, it’s something you live!” John Alien poetically reminded us that “beauty attracts, but mystery … lures.” After contemplating the nature of God and other timeless philosophical questions with us, Ram Dass asked about our “relationship with the mystery? Are you defending yourself from it? Are you making love to it? Are you living in it?” How we respond to these questions is significant. One of the few things we can state with any certainty about this grand and ambiguous universe we inhabit is that although the phenomena of the physical world will come and go, the mystery lurking at the heart of existence is forever here to stay.
David Jay Brown
Ben Lomond, California