David Jay Brown
Peter Russell is a bestselling author, filmmaker, and management consultant. He is considered one of the leading thinkers on the nature and evolution of consciousness. Russell is probably best known for his pioneering book The Global Brain, which builds upon James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, by exploring the notion that the human species might be playing the role of a giant evolving brain in our planetary biosphere. Some of Russell’s other popular books include Waking Up in Time, The Consciousness Revolution, and From Science to God. Common themes in Russell’s books include the integration of science and mysticism, avoiding ecological catastrophe, the relationship between personal transformation and global change, and the future evolution of the human species. Russell believes that is that only way humanity is going to survive the current global crisis is through a shift in consciousness.
Russell earned an honors degree in theoretical physics and experimental psychology– as well as a master’s degree in computer science–at the University of Cambridge, England, where he studied under Stephen Hawking. For his postgraduate degree in computer science he conducted some of the early work on 3-dimensional displays, which later became part of the foundation for the computer-simulated worlds of Virtual Reality. He subsequently went to India where he explored meditation and Eastern philosophy. On his return to the U.K. he took up the first research post ever offered in Britain on the psychology of meditation, and conducted research into the neurophysiology of meditation at the University of Bristol.
Russell is a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, The World Business Academy, The Findhorn Foundation, and he is an Honorary Member of The Club of Budapest. He was also one of the first people to introduce personal development programs to corporations in the 1970s. In the mid-Seventies Russell teamed up with Tony Buzan, and helped teach “Mind Maps” and learning methods to a variety of international organizations and educational institutions. Since then his corporate programs have focused increasingly on self-development, creativity, stress management, and sustainable environmental practices. His clients have included IBM, Apple, Digital, American Express, Barclays Bank, Swedish Telecom, ICI, Volvo, Shell Oil, British Petroleum, and other major international corporations.
Russell’s books are used as required reading at a number of universities, and have been translated into numerous languages. Ted Turner described The Global Brain Awakens as “A fascinating vision of how the information revolution is shifting consciousness. A much needed optimistic perspective on humanity’s future.” Robert Anton Wilson called Waking Up in Time “Absolutely brilliant.”
Russell has also created award-winning films based on The Global Brain and The White Hole in Time, and he was working on a new film project at the time of this interview. Russell has been a keynote speaker at many conferences in Europe, Japan and the USA. In 1993 the environmental magazine Buzzworm voted him “Eco-Philosopher Extraordinaire” of the year. Further information about Russell’s work may be found on his Web site: www.peterussell.com
I interviewed Peter on March 15, 2004. Peter’s book The Global Brain was an important book for me in my personal development, so I was happy to be able to have the opportunity to chat with him. I had met Peter only once before, around ten years earlier, at a social gathering at the home of Robert Anton Wilson. Peter is holistic and interdisciplinary in his thinking. He sees the Big Picture, and he has a gift for being able to communicate his insights. There’s an elegance, and a simplicity, to the way Peter can make so many diverse areas of thought come together. We spoke about the ecological dangers facing our species, why change is accelerating in evolution, the relationship between light and consciousness, and the possibility of a spiritual renaissance in humanity’s future.
David: What were you like as a child?
Peter: I was always a practical scientist at heart. I loved building things and doing experiments. I loved mathematics and working things out. I was always constructing stuff and solving problems.
David: What inspired your interest in the evolution of consciousness?
Peter: I think that was always there in the background. Many people ask me if I had a transformational moment, and I didn’t really. As a teenager I was fascinated by the mind. I read stories about yogis, started exploring hypnosis, and I built equipment that modified brain wave patterns. Although I was studying mathematics and physics then, and getting more and more fixed in that direction, I was always interested in the mind. So I knew there was something there, and my interest gradually evolved.
At the time I wasn’t interested in spirituality at all. I rejected religion when I was about thirteen. I thought it was a load of mumbo-jumbo that didn’t make sense at all, and didn’t agree with the scientific worldview. Although I wasn’t interested in the spiritual aspects of consciousness, I was interested in the untapped potentials of the mind. I think that’s what eventually lead me to explore mediation when I was in my early twenties. That’s when I started getting really interested.
David: What sort of paradigm shift do you think is necessary for Western science to begin to get a grasp on consciousness?
Peter: I think the essence of the paradigm shift is to let go of the idea that the material world–the world of space, time, and matter–is the fundamental reality. In some sense that’s already happening in modern physics. We’re realizing that space, time, and matter don’t really exist in an absolute way. That came out Einstein’s revolution. But, at the moment, we still think that consciousness emerges from the material world–and that, I think, is the fundamental problem with the current paradigm. Consciousness is so fundamentally different from material things.
We assume matter is unconscious, and then somehow this magical thing happens–when you put matter together in the form of a complex human brain consciousness somehow emerges out of it. The huge problem there for the current paradigm is how does matter, which we assume to be unconscious, ever lead to something so different as subjective experience? So I think the essence of the paradigm shift is challenging that assumption. That’s the assumption that science won’t let go of, and challenging that assumption means saying, maybe consciousness does not come out of the material world. It does not emerge from matter. Rather, consciousness is fundamental to the cosmos.
What I find fascinating is that when we make that shift, it doesn’t change anything at all in modern science. Physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics–they all stay exactly the same. But it adds a whole new understanding of human experience and spirituality. That’s common in paradigm shifts: the old model is still valid, but as a special case. So the materialist worldview still has its place, but it’s a special case of considering only physical reality.
David: You’ve pointed out in your writings that both science and religion agree that the universe started with light. Could you talk a little bit about the relationship that you see between consciousness and light?
Peter: Yes. First of all, I’m fascinated by the fact we use the same language. We talk about “the light of consciousness”, “the inner light”. We say “someone is alight”. I had this “flash” of inspiration. We talk about” enlightenment”. Or when someone’s unconscious we say, “the lights went out”. The word light is associated with consciousness in many ways, and I always found that. Then as I got more and more into physics I specialized in the nature of light, from the perspectives of quantum physics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. What I found fascinating was that modern physics says that, from light’s point of view, light itself doesn’t know time or space, and doesn’t have any mass.
So light seems to be beyond the framework of space, time and matter. I think a lot of the problems that science has had in trying to understand light is because it’s trying to explain light as a material phenomena. That’s why you get things like the wave-particle paradox. We insist that light somehow fits into space, time, and matter. But ultimately it’s beyond them.
Now when you start looking at what the mystics say about when they get down to really looking at the true, fundamental nature of consciousness, they say consciousness in itself doesn’t actually exist in space or time, and consciousness has no mass. And a lot of the problems that we have with consciousness also come from trying to force it into a space-time-matter understanding. Consciousness seems to lie beyond space, time, and matter in the same way that light does.
When we consider mystical experience,