Art, Science and Consciousness

F. DAVID PEAT

The Landscape becomes reflective, human and thinks itself through me. I make it an object, let it project itself and endure within my painting… I become the subjective consciousness of the landscape, and my painting becomes its objective consciousness.
Paul Cézanne, quoted in Cézanne and Modernism: The Poetics of Painting, Joyce Medina, State University of New York Press, 1955

I have always claimed that painting’s prime function is to dictate what the world looks like…What we imagine to be the ‘objective’ look of everything and anything is largely a complex, a weave of textures, forms and colourswhich we have learned, more or less unconsciously, from painting, and have superimposed upon external reality. The actual ‘objective’ appearance of things (of anything and everything) is something that does not exist…  Patrick Heron, ‘Solid Space in Cézanne,’ Modern Painters Vol 9 (1), 1996

It would be difficult to find two more striking statements than those which head this essay. In one, Paul Cézanne, speaking of his own experience, claims that the natural world achieves consciousness through the work of the artist. In the other, the painter Patrick Heron argues that the artist’s work determines the way we see the world around us, for without art the world would appear as a meaningless jumble of sensations. These are dramatic claims and I think that their startling boldness is more a challenge to a certain habit of thought we have inherited than to what, to some, may look like outrageous fantasies.

Despite the revolutions in thought that took place during the twentieth century, we remain inheritors to a worldview that sought to objectify the world and rob it of values and qualities. As the physicist Basil Hiley put it, ‘scientists come to praise Bohr (the leading figure to interpret the full meaning of quantum theory) and decry Einstein (who refused to accept quantum theory) but end up ignoring Bohr and thinking like Einstein.’ Likewise the physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, who had a long association with Carl Jung, argued that spirit had been banished from matter for three hundred years and that the crisis facing the contemporary scientific viewpoint was its lack of soul.

In this essay I will suggest that the remarkable scientific advances of the 20th century—quantum theory, chaos theory and the theory of relativity—suggest ways of thinking that are harmonious with much earlier ones and that this form of consciousness is also being expressed by artists such as Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley and Janine Antoni as well as in a theatre dedicated to the notion of the stage as a sacred or ritualistic space.

Many early peoples experienced the world as sacred, and matter as a living substance. The Blackfoot prayer, ‘all my relations’ includes not only the members of the tribe but the four-legged, the winged and the trees and rocks. Likewise Thomas Aquinas wrote that ‘the essence of the stone is in the stone and grasped by our mind, but it exists before in the mind of God who is full of love…God can think the stone as it becomes itself but could equally cut off its energy.’

In the early Middle Ages matter was considered sacred, metals were born in the womb of the earth and the artisan, alchemist, miner, and artist thought of themselves as the midwives to nature, helping her in her striving for perfection. Dürer’s self portrait of 1500 depicts the artist as Christ; an identification of the painter with the redeemer of matter. Indeed this tradition of alchemical transformation in art continued down the ages until the present day with an artist such as Anish Kapoor.

During this period, time was the cycle of sunrise and sunset, the clock of the seasons and the hours of prayer. Indeed, Aquinas argued that usury was morally wrong because time belonged to God and should not be secularized. Similarly space was a container for the sacred. The image of space in Dante is of a series of circles, and within the space of society each person had their proper place. In this, the microcosm mirrors the macrocosm, with the social circular space of the city mirroring the celestial spheres. It is also probable that in that same period space and time were experienced as more unified than to us today. Certain Native American languages, for example, unify space and time by using different tenses for events happening ‘here’ from those happening a distance away—because it would take time to reach that distant place.

Within such a worldview matter and consciousness were closely related and in the work of the alchemist there was a synchronicity between inner and outer. All of this was to change with the advent of some remarkable mental technologies that arose towards the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the fourteenth. This period saw the introduction of the Arabic number system in place of the Roman, which enabled complicated arithmetic calculations to be performed with ease. It was also a time when more systematic philosophical arguments appeared, along with the formalization of logic. People learned accurate mapmaking and the compass allowed ships to sail out of sight of land. At the same time double entry bookkeeping surfaced in Europe.  For the first time merchants had the tools that would bring about a clear understanding of how their business was progressing. They could calculate the advantages of increasing their stock, or of investing in ships to bring back spices or other goods. In addition, the first mechanical clocks began to appear on public buildings. Now time became secularized and reduced to number. This allowed time to be metaphorically equated to money—as in ‘saving time,’ ‘wasting time’ or ‘putting time aside.’

In a relatively short space of time these truly remarkable mental tools had appeared; tools which allowed people to envision the world as an object within the mind—one that could be contemplated and manipulated in the abstract. Double entry bookkeeping allowed people to exert control over their businesses and to predict the future. Where early peoples had lived in an eternal present or in the cycles of recurring time, now individuals in a linear and numerical time could dream of progress and a future that would be in some way larger than the present.

I believe that these new technologies of the mind had a truly revolutionary impact on European consciousness. Not long afterwards the Renaissance began and with it the development of the tool of perspective in painting. Just as philosophy had been refined with the tools of strict logical argument, one in which each step in a deduction in fitted into a global scheme, so too with perspective the world of appearances was bent by the global logic of what mathematicians call projective geometry. With the early art of Byzantium and the school of Sienese painting, multiple viewpoints were allowed and time was present in painting. Now time was banished and the world abstracted into a single logical viewpoint.

With all this going on, the rise of science could not be far behind, with figures such as Galileo and Newton. According to Newton, living space now became no more than an inert backdrop for the mechanical motion of particles, and time was reduced to a mere mathematical parameter. All of nature was governed by Newton’s three laws of motion. Gone were the sympathies and correspondences of an earlier age to be replaced by mechanical interactions involving forces. And if all matter was governed by the laws of causality what meaning could there be for mind and free will?

As science advanced it brought with it the benefits of new technologies but it also showed us how insignificant we were. We lived on a tiny planet circling a star towards the edge of one galaxy out of countless millions. And life itself was no more than a mere accident. Even in our own time there are scientists who assert that consciousness is just an epiphenomenon of matter, a secretion of the physical brain that cannot act back on that brain. We make no decisions, we have no free will. We are in the position of a child holding a toy steering wheel in the family car and believing that their turning of this toy wheel is actually driving the car.

This pessimistic position has drained the natural world of all meaning and reduced human beings to objects whose behaviour is determined by automatic nerve impulses and flows of chemicals. Yet the earlier ways of seeing had never totally vanished. They were always present in the work of poets, artists, and mystics. After all, Teilhard de Chardin could write that ‘all created things, every one of them, cannot be looked at, in their nature and action, without the same reality being found in their innermost being—like sunlight in the fragments of a broken mirror—one beneath its multiplicity, unattainable beneath its proximity, and spiritual beneath its materiality.’

Take, for example, the theme of alchemy that threads its way through the visual arts. Dürer had not only portrayed himself as the redeemer of matter but had also produced the etching Melancholia I, with its Black Sun and many alchemical references to the first, nigredo, state of an alchemical working. Likewise, Michelangelo’s sculptures for the Medici tomb portray Day with a face partly obscured and only roughed out—a clear reference to the Black Sun and the first stage of an alchemical working. Night is androgyny—a male body with female breasts—again a reference to the mystical marriage or Chemical Wedding in which male and female principles become unified. This latter reference pops up again in the twentieth century with Marcel Duchamp placing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Likewise the French title of his Great Glass can also be read as ‘the Virgin Mary translated into clouds by her celestial beaters’—the lower part of the glass being read as earth with its empty tomb and the upper level being that of heaven. Alchemical references can also be found in the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio De Chirico while Jackson Pollock explicitly names one of his action paintings Alchemy.

The pessimistic, reductionist mindset which persisted for several centuries was to be swept away in the twentieth. While it is possible to see the scientific revolutions of that century in terms of theoretical, experimental, and technological advances, science is never truly context-free. What scientists choose to study, and the sorts of questions they ask, arises out of the wider context of the society they live in. After all, Einstein argued that a scientific theory is not so much a deduction made upon the basis of experimental observations, although that does come into it, but a free creation of the human imagination. Indeed, he told the young Heisenberg that it is the theory which suggests what is observable in nature and not the other way round. In other words, I am suggesting that there was a general unfolding of human consciousness, or at least Western consciousness, that occurred about the turn of the nineteenth century and blossomed both within the arts and sciences.

The year 1900 is a convenient watershed marker for this change because it was in that year that, during a lecture, the President of the Royal Society claimed that science had discovered everything there was to discover and all that remained were two small clouds on the horizon. Ironically one of those clouds turned out to be relativity and the other quantum theory. 1900 was also the year when Henri Poincaré published his results on the stability of the solar system, indicating that under certain conditions a planetary orbit could become unstable and chaotic. This was the seed that several decades later would blossom into chaos theory. It was also the year in which Max Planck proposed the existence of the quantum of light.

But thinking had actually begun to change several decades earlier in the arts. Claude Monet introduced a new level of subjectivity into painting by including his ‘fugitive sensations’ on the canvas. Georges Seurat had begun to break down a scene by the use of small spots or atoms of colour. While the quantum of light did not appear for a decade and a half later, nevertheless the physicist Ludwig Boltzmann was proposing that the laws of thermodynamics could be broken down into the random motions of underlying atoms. While this theory was strongly criticized by Ernst Mach and the Vienna Circle, it nevertheless showed that general thinking in science and the arts was moving to some sort of reality that underlies conventional outward appearances.

But it is to Cézanne I turn as the great exemplar of a combination of artistic temperament and scientific attention to detail. In 1900 Cézanne moved to a house close to Mont Sainte-Victoire where he was to make so many studies of that great white sail in the sky. Cézanne wished to move beyond Impressionism. For him Monet was ‘only an eye, but my God what an eye.’ Cézanne wished to revisit Impressionism, but with the intellectual rigor of a Poussin. And so he constantly experimented, constantly sought to express the consciousness of nature, constantly sought to ‘realize’ his ‘little sensations.’

‘I am becoming more lucid before nature,’ he wrote, ‘but always with me the realization of my sensations is always painful. I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my senses… Here on the bank of the river the motifs multiply, the same subject seen from a different angle offers subject for study of the most powerful interest and so varied that I think I could occupy myself for months without changing place by turning now more to the right, now more to the left.’

What Merleau-Ponty termed ‘Cézanne’s doubt’ inhabits each of his paintings. It tells us that we can never be certain about the world (just as chaos theory claims), nor can we ever exhaust its richness in a single description (just as quantum theory demands complementary descriptions). With Cézanne, time had re-entered painting and was never to leave—after him came the Cubists with their multiple viewpoints, the canvas as an arena for the action of a Jackson Pollock, or as the artist’s actual body as the space for expression.

What is more Cézanne’s work anticipates one of the claims made by the theoretical physicist, David Bohm, that the underling nature of reality is an enfolded or Implicate Order. Curiously this idea came to David Bohm though a long correspondence with the artist Charles Biederman, author of The New Cézanne. Bohm for his part was looking to a new order in physics, one that would embrace both quantum theory and relativity. In their correspondence Biederman explained to Bohm about Cézanne’s method of painting in which each tiny area of the canvas in a sense was an expression of the whole.

There is a story of the endless sittings that the art dealer, Ambroise Vollard, had to endure for his portrait. In the end Cézanne announced that he could not continue for there were two tiny patches of bare canvas where Vollard’s hands were portrayed. If he, Cézanne, were to touch them then he would have to repaint the entire canvas. Truly this was the Implicate Order anticipated—the whole enfolded in each of the parts and each of the parts enfolded over the whole.

If Western consciousness was changing, or rather unfolding a much earlier viewpoint in which we were all enfolded into the natural world, then science did make some of this transformation more explicit. In 1905 Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity and three years later Hermann Minkowski in an address to the 80th Assembly of German Natural Scientists and Physicians announced ‘Henceforth, space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.’

Space and time had finally healed the facture that had divided them at the end of the 13th century. What is more, space-time now played an active role in nature; its twists and turns causing the elliptic orbits of the planets, the bending of light and the existence of black holes. Where once space had been the mere backdrop for Newtonian mechanics, now it was the container for dynamical richness.

I doubt any explicit connection existed between the two, but the notion of scientific space, or rather space-time, as an active container for events rather than a passive backdrop, does have the same feel about it as experiments that began a few decades later in the theatre. No longer would such a theatre seek to portray a depiction of reality, a type of illusion in which the fourth wall had been removed to allow an audience to overlook what was being portrayed on the stage. The stage now became a container, a crucible, an alchemical vessel, a sacred space in which actors could move beyond conventional limits of language and gesture. The experiments of Antonin Artaud, The Living Theatre, Peter Brook, Jerzy Grotowski, La Mama and others sought to extend the theatre and even touch on sacred ritual.

Space also plays an active role in the work of the British sculptor, Antony Gormley. As a boy Gormley was required to rest in his bedroom of an afternoon. At first he found the experience claustrophobic but gradually he began to experience an inner space. It was, he said, a space without dimension, beyond good or evil, a space rarely visited by most of us. Gormley made this space the basis for his work. He begins in a meditative state, experiencing the inner space of his body that is then cast in plaster. This plaster cast then serves as a mould when the work is cast in iron.

Faced with one of Gormley’s sculptures one’s body begins to subtly adjust position and orientation. It is as if the piece serves as a form of mirror to one’s self. As we come into relationship with the iron figure, we begin to experience a sense of internal space. It becomes an involvement, a reflexivity and exploration of one’s own interior space.

Here it is possible to make a jump from art to science yet again for the physicist, David Bohm, once told me that he felt there were two ways to arrive at the laws of nature. One was by looking outwards, at experiments in the laboratory, and the other was by looking inwards. After all, he said, the matter of his own body was the same as the matter of the universe. When doing physics he sometimes had experiences of inner movements that mirrored those of the equations he was writing down. He once spoke to Einstein about this and Einstein told him that while working on the field equations of general relativity he would sometimes squeeze a rubber ball to experience the muscular tensions in his arm. Likewise Jackson Pollock was asked that since an abstract artist had to abstract from something in the natural world, what exactly was Pollock abstracting from. His reply was, ‘I am nature.’ The abstraction of nature was coming from within himself.

I should add here that more recently Gormley has begun a new set of pieces ‘Quantum Cloud’ which had their origins in a discussion he had with the physicist, Basil Hiley, and myself. In quantum theory the old notion of a continuously divisible space is inadequate. Along with David Bohm, Hiley had been investigating what he termed ‘pre-space,’ that is, a set of algebraic relationships that would provide the underpinning for what could perhaps be called a proto space, a mathematical scheme out of which the space of quantum theory could emerge. When we mentioned to Gormley that, in the words of the mathematician, David Hilbert, algebras were ‘relations of relationships,’ Gormley was stuck with the idea of sculpture based on sets of relationships in space which, when viewed from a certain angle would take on the appearance of a human body.

The metaphor of the space-time container also surfaces in Jungian therapy where the therapeutic hour is envisioned as a sort of alchemical vessel in which healing takes place. The Jungian therapist Beverley Zabriskie suggests that each one of us carries a set of ‘frozen accidents’ dating from incidents in childhood. While Freud believed that his ‘talking cure’ could release the pressure of repressed memories by going back into the past of his patients, Jung preferred to remain in the present, in the actuality of the encounter between patient and therapist. For Zabriske the alchemical vessel of the therapeutic hour allows therapist and patient generate ‘heat’ together; possibly another word for this heat would be eros. It is not so much that the therapist seeks to cure the patient but at some point they both become psychically entwined, or in her own words ‘they fall into the dark hole of the unconscious.’ At this point a healing takes place within the encounter and the ‘frozen accidents’ are thawed. Just as in sacred theatre there may be a point where the isolated consciousness of the individual actor becomes possessed by the sacred, or the god, so too the separation of healer and patient vanishes.

This would be well known to the Naskapi of Labrador, for they have two words that were translated in a Jesuit dictionary of 1729, as ‘the magician/sorcerer sings to the sick man.’  Naskapi is of the same language family as Blackfoot, Cree, Mi’kmaq, and Ojibwe, all of which are very rich in verbs and do not tend to divide the world into categories of thought. Alan Ford, a linguist who has studied the Naskapi language, told me that what was really being expressed was the action of singing or that ‘singing is going on’ and that modifiers to the verb implied one who sang and one who received the song. Just as with actors on the stage, or patient and therapist, the notion of a transaction between separate individuals becomes replaced by some sort of enveloping, unanalysable whole, an expression of a totality, of something emerging that is perhaps sacred.

And having written the above, I am so struck that again the metaphor bounces back from art into science. In trying to understand the meaning of quantum theory Niels Bohr would invite physicists such as Heisenberg and Pauli to Copenhagen to discuss together. One area they had to clarify is what happens when a measurement is made. For anything to have been observed or measured some sort of change must have been registered. This could be the click of a Geiger counter, the movement of a needle on a chart, the writing of data onto the hard disc of a computer, etc. But whenever a record is made an exchange of energy had to take place. Measuring the temperature of a cup of hot coffee, or a cold Martini requires an exchange of energy between the liquid and the thermometer. Normally we can ignore this as being very small indeed. But what happens at the quantum level?

Suppose we made the most delicate measurement possible on an atom. For the measurement to be recorded some energy exchange must occur and the minimum possible exchange is that of a single quantum. But a quantum cannot be divided. We cannot say that 50% came from the atom and 50% from the measuring apparatus, or 99% from the atom and only 1% from the apparatus. All we can say is that at the moment of measurement the apparatus and the atoms form an indivisible whole. The observer is united with the observed. Before and after the measurement we can speak of an atom and a piece of apparatus but at the moment of observation there is only an unanalysable unity.

One can even go further. The physicist John Bell has shown that if two particles, originally united, are taken apart then in a certain sense they remain co-related in that what happens to one is in some way sensed by the other. Since this co-relation does not depend on distance, physicists refer to this as non-locality. Again the metaphor of stage, therapeutic hour and quantum theory seem to merge within this deeper sense of connection, wholeness and unity.

This dance between separation and connectedness features in the work of the American artist, Janine Antoni. Antoni, in part, investigates our separation from the materiality of the world. We may be able to touch the world but never fully incorporate or enter into its essence. In a work such as Lick she cast a bust of herself in chocolate and then began to lick away the features—in a sense incorporating her face into her own body.

In my discussions with Jungian therapists, we often touch on the question of ‘Where is the healing?’ That is, in what space does this healing take place—in the space between patient and therapist or, as I have suggested above, in a space beyond the distinction of either? A similar question was raised in my discussions with Anish Kapoor who asks, ‘Where is the art?’ In other words, in what space does the art exist? Is it located in the physical piece, in the interaction between the work and the viewer or in some space beyond either of them?

As a companion question Kapoor also asks, ‘where is the matter?’ He is concerned with the nature of the materiality of his work. After all, many of his pieces involve voids in which it is not possible to locate oneself—he speaks of these as ‘endarkenment.’ In some pieces many layers of paint are applied to the interior, each time with less and less thinner being used to the point where, in effect, pure pigment is being applied. The result is an inner surface, a void, that sucks in light and gives no sense of dimensions or location. As with Gormley’s work, the response of the viewer is more visceral than intellectual.

Unlike some other sculptors Kapoor does not begin with detailed drawings of the piece to be completed, rather he starts with what he terms ‘the intention.’ By holding onto this intention he allows the work to emerge and may not know its final form until later. Holding an intention was also the way the composer Michael Tippett worked. The music, for him, had to be contained within the body until such time as it was ready to be written down. On one occasion this music was contained within the body, within the alchemical vessel, to such an extent that Tippett became ill. Indeed music itself poses a form of paradox. In some ways it can be the most abstract of the arts, yet (with the exception of electronic and computer-generated music) it requires the human body of the performer for its realization. The composer Edgar Varèse claimed that ‘music is the corporalization of thought.’ It is at one and the same time an abstract art form and an embodied one.

For Kapoor the work emerges out of an intention and he is even willing to use alchemical metaphors for the way in which matter is transformed under the manifesting intention of the artist. Indeed he believes that in truly successful works the matter of the piece has undergone a type of change that could only be described in alchemical terms.

‘Where is the matter?’ is also a question asked in quantum theory, for our picture of the underlying nature of matter and reality changed radically during the twentieth century. Take Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, for example, which tells us that there is a basic uncertainty in the position and speed (technically speaking, the momentum) of a particle. Heisenberg initially interpreted this as being the result of the disturbances we make each time we observe a quantum particle. That is, through the act of observation the initial speed or position of the particle is shifted slightly. Niels Bohr adopted a more radical view. It is not possible, he said, to even speak of an electron as ‘having’ a position or ‘having’ a speed. The electron does not ‘possess’ such intrinsic properties. Indeed, if we observe an electron at point A and later at B, we cannot even say that the electron ‘had’ a path between A and B. Rather it is our act of making an observation, of interrogating the quantum world, that provides a context in which nature gives us an answer. In some contexts this answer will be about position, in others about speed.

In other words there are no well defined intrinsic and independent elements of reality ‘out there’ waiting to be observed by us. Thus Bohr denied Einstein’s assertion that the world must be created out of independent elements of reality. There are only acts of observation in which we interrogate the natural world, and the way in which we make this interrogation establishes the context in which an answer will be given. We must replace Newton’s vision of the world as some sort of ‘Lego’ toy built out of independent parts in interaction. While speaking to the present author the physicist John Wheeler linked the earlier vision to seeing the world though a sheet of plate glass. Quantum theory has smashed through that glass. ‘So the old word observer simply has to be crossed off the books,’ Wheeler said ‘and we must put in the new word participator.

Bohr went even further. Heisenberg had claimed that the understanding of quantum theory lay in the mathematics, but Bohr pointed out that when physicists discuss the meaning of a mathematical equation they are forced to use ordinary, everyday language, admittedly with the addition of some technical terms. But within our language, which evolved amongst beings of a certain size and living on a planet with a certain force of gravity, are enfolded all our assumptions about space, time, matter and causality. As soon as we begin to talk about the quantum world, as soon as we search for some model of its reality, we are importing concepts that apply only to our large-scale world. ‘We are suspended in language, such that we don’t know what is up and what is down,’ Bohr claimed. To attempt to discuss the deeper nature of quantum reality is to enter into paradox and confusion.

A somewhat similar train of argument was pursued by Ludwig Wittgenstein who shifted emphasis from philosophical discussion from the ‘great questions,’ such as the nature of ‘truth,’ ‘goodness,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘free will,’ and ‘ethical action,’ to investigating the way language was actually used in philosophical arguments. That is shifting the focus from asking what a concept ‘means’ to taking into consideration the various ways a term is used. The great challenges of philosophy were compared to a person trapped in a room who tries in vain to escape through the window or up the chimney, never realizing the door to the room was never locked in the first place. Great problems become pseudo problems generated by our lack of attention to the way language is being used.

David Bohm agreed with Bohr on the limitations of our language but at one time believed that it would be possible to extend language into a mode that is more expressive of process and transformation than of separate objects in interaction. He called this the rheomode, or ‘flowing mode.’ It was only in the last year of his life, when he met with Blackfoot people and learned that their worldview of flux, process and transformation was reflected in their strongly verb-based language that he realized how close all that came to the worldview of quantum theory. This discussion of the limitations of language also surfaced in the philosophy of Wittgenstein, the writing of James Joyce and in theatre experiments designed to move beyond the limitations of a particular language.

Earlier in this essay I suggested that Western consciousness was seeking some deeper underlying level of reality. This, I believe can be widely seen in the visual arts. It was present in music with the breakdown of tonality in order to seek other forms of musical organization, as well was with an increasing emphasis upon the spiritual basis of music in composers such as John Tavener, Henryk Gorecki, Aarvo Pärt and Steve Reich. It was present in theatre as directors looked beyond the West to the traditions of India, Japan, Bali, and China. It is also a trend in popular culture with its interest in meditation, alternative medicine, and eastern religions. While on the one hand I am arguing that we are all heirs to a reductionist and restricted worldview of the Newtonian era, at the same time there has been a freeing up and search for something deeper.

This is also present in the scientific ideas of David Bohm. As I mentioned above, his interest in the way Cézanne painted suggested to him an order of reality that was close to that of quantum theory. Bohm refers to the Newtonian picture, of well-defined objects separated in space and in interaction with each other as the Explicate Order. But this is not the primary reality, only an unfolding from something deeper which he called the Implicate, or enfolded, Order.  Objects that are separate within the Explicate Order are mutually enfolded within the Implicate Order, and hence may ‘know’ about each other. I should add that Bohm’s goal was to include mind within this Implicate order with the mind/matter duality only emerging in the Explicate Order.

These ideas can also be expressed in a more explicit way using what Bohm called the quantum potential. Bohm reformulated conventional quantum theory by using a particular mathematical transformation which left all the predictions and calculations of the conventional theory untouched but changed the look of that theory. In Bohm’s approach the electron becomes a particle that is pushed and pulled by the conventional forces of physics—i.e. electrical and magnetic fields, and as with all conventional forces, the bigger the field or potential, the larger the effect. But with this additional new term, the quantum potential, the effect does not depend upon its size but upon its form. In fact Bohm interpreted the quantum potential as containing information about the context, i.e. the physical apparatus, that surrounds the electron. In this sense the electron is capable of ‘reading’ the information about its environment and responding. At this point Bohm argues that proto-mind—the ability or ‘read’ information—exists even at the level of the electron. There is no duality between matter and mind, no point of evolution where mind suddenly appears, both have always been co-present.

In a further development of the theory Bohm no longer views the electron as a particle but as a process, a process of constant unfolding and enfolding that is guided by the information within the universe. Yet again we encounter a form of thinking that has moved away from fixed explicit forms into something that is more fluid, process-oriented and holistic. This I feel is a characteristic of so much that has been happening at the leading edge of the arts over the last decades.

In conclusion I would argue that, starting in the last decades of the nineteenth century, ‘Western Consciousness’ began a gradual but radical transformation. This appears to have started in the visual arts with Impressionism, and the emancipation of traditional musical forms with Wagner and Debussy, but soon moved into the fields of science, literature, theatre, philosophy, and general cultural life.

This movement placed less emphasis on positioning the ‘object’ at centre stage in favour of something more fluid—a process, flux or transformation. At the same time, it shifted the emphasis on the object in space, upon boundaries and categories of thought in favour of orders that lie between and beyond. It questioned ways in which we allow language to limit ourselves in theatre, philosophy, literature, and even theoretical physics. It acknowledged a new vision of space as a container for events, both material and numinous. Matter was to be seen in more alchemical terms as not wholly being distinct from consciousness.