Well, first of all, it's actually a compendium of essays from an interdisciplinary journal called Main Currents in Modern Thought. As for why it made an impact, check out its vertical mission statement: "A cooperative journal to promote the free association of those working toward the integration of knowledge through study of the whole of things, Nature, Man, and Society, assuming the universe to be one, intelligible, harmonious."
The journal was founded by F.L. Kunz in 1940. If I recall correctly, its editorship taken over by Ken Wilber at some point, and presumably went downhill from there, into Chopraville, Franklin Jonestown, and Coheny Island. But it was once a serious forum for the sorts of things we discuss here.
I can't imagine how difficult it must have been back then, in the days long before the internet made it so easy for scattered members of vertical diaspora to reconnect. How did these oddballs find each other?
Probably in the usual way, via nonlocal attractors synchronistically drawing them together into the same vertical phase space. In fact, it was probably the same nonlocal attractor that drew me to this obscure book and caused me to pluck it from the shelf at the old Bodhi Tree bookstore in West Hollywood.
Before Amazon opened the floodgates and put every book at our fingertips, the Bodhi Tree was the only place in town for all types of spiritual weirdness, high, low, and in between. Whereas the typical chain store might have a couple of books on UFOs, the Bodhi Tree had a whole wing. But they also had entire sections devoted to Christian mysticism, Vedanta, Buddhism, the occult, weird and wacky science, etc. Without the Bodhi Tree, I don't see how I would have ever gotten off the ground.
In fact, the store was divided in half, East and West. I remember once seeing George Harrison there on the eastside, perusing the yoga section. Which is a synchro-circular nicety, since his interest in yoga had been one of the early influences that piqued my own. I well remember my 11 year old Bobself pondering the pseudo-profundity of the space between us all / And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion / Never glimpse the truth, then it's far too late, when they pass away.
(?!) So when I saw George at the Bodhi Tree, there was only one thing to say: Can I buy some pot from you?
Back to this book I read all those years ago, probably in the mid-1980s. I see that some of my marginalia could have been marginalized today: "metabolism recapitulates biogenesis." "We are foci for the build-up of order." "Physics is 'psychics' inverted." "Life is quite as primal as energy" (that one from Kunz).
But let's focus: music. In an essay called The New Dimensions of Nature and Man, a Donald Andrews writes that the behavior of the "fundamental entities" of the world "is characterized less by a particle-like and more by a wave-like nature."
Of course, the particles and waves are irreducibly complementary, so the former may be analogized to notes and melodies, the latter to harmonic structure. He concludes that "in a word, both the universe as a whole and we in particular are not matter but music."
There can be no music without matter-in-motion, so our lives are a musical matter. Again, that would be the point of the Incarnation, which is very much analogous to the composer jumping into and taking part in his own composition. "Word made flesh" is essentially identical to "composer become music"; it is especially apt because it factors in the dynamic/temporal element, not just the spatial/static. Which is why the Incarnation is a melody that is still playing today, an oldie but goodie.
"So I think that Pythagoras with his vision of the universe as music or waves deserves as much credit as Democritus with his vision of the particulate or atomic aspect of matter." Exactly: not either/or, but both/and.
Having said that, as Hartshorne writes, of the two sides of a complementarity, one will always be more fundamental than the other, even if we never see them apart. As for wave/particle, the wave must be ontologically prior, because it is impossible to get from random particle to coherent wave.
The wave is kind of boundary condition. There is freedom within the vibrational phase space, without which there would be only random chaos: "the internal tensions and boundary conditions make possible only certain definite vibration patterns. This means that the atom can exist only in certain energy states.... these may be said to be the tones..." Thus, the boundary conditions of the waves are analogous to the score to which the electron dances.
So: because music is "pure dynamic form, I think that it is both suggestive and meaningful to say that the atom now appears to be music."
Note that music has the interesting property of being simultaneously continuous and discontinuous: a melody is composed of notes. Outside the context of the melody the notes have no meaning, but without the notes the melody cannot be composed or played. This reveals one of the fundamental complementarities of existence, i.e., continuous/discontinuous.
Which is really the basis of a number of other irreducible complementarities such as part/whole, form/substance, individual/group, linear/holistic, subject/object, interior/exterior, analysis/synthesis, freedom/necessity, participation/detachment, one/many, PS <--> D, etc.
Before we move along, let me just see if there is anything else we can pluck from this book...
The great physicist Werner Heisenberg contributed an essay that makes a point that has captivated me ever since. Speaking of his colleague Wolfgang Pauli, he writes that he too "was captivated by the attempt to talk about material and psychical processes in the same language." He even spoke of the possibility of a "common language" to describe both physical and psychical processes, what he called "psycho-physical monism," a "mode of expression for the unity of all being."
Which was precisely the mission of my doctoral dissertation, and later the book: again, if it is One Cosmos, then there must be One Truth, and this One Truth can only be the One God. Otherwise nothing makes any sense. In other words, this is very much a binary, all-or-nothing question, God or nihilism, O or Ø, with no alternatives in between. The world cannot be a little bit pregnant with meaning.
Pauli was skeptical of the Darwinian reduction of evolution to accidental mutations. Rather, he proposed a nonlocal order of the cosmos revolving around archetypes that shape "matter and spirit equally." For example, there are mathematical archetypes (i.e., boundary conditions) to which matter dances, just as there are spiritual archetypes -- those helpful nonlocal operators standing by, ready to assist us -- that help guide our journey.
So, "contrary to the strict division of the activity of the human mind" into binary opposites, Heisenberg proposes "the ideal goal of surmounting the opposites" via what I would call a transcendent third.
Physicist Jean Charon writes that "evolution reveals a tendency toward unification and toward differentiation," such that "the universe has evolved out of its chaotic beginnings into a present state which is infinitely more unified and more differentiated..."
This goes to our recent discussion of the Invention of the Individual, in that the arc of this invention involves many distinctions and differentiations from a prior fusion, for example, of self and group, law and custom, mind and nature, etc.
Here Charon speaks of the Great Attractor, O, through which "each living element has an awareness of the final state to be attained," "defined by boundary conditions which... guide life toward the goal which evolution has assigned it." That's not the most elegant or precise way of putting it, but as we were saying the other day, "One need only observe how life multiplies itself in the living cell to be convinced of this."
In fact, the biologist Harold Morowitz defines biology itself in a much broader sense, as a study of organization as such, "of the underlying principles behind the organization of matter, the evolution from less organized to more organized states."
And speaking of the wave/particle complementarity, he writes of how "at the genetic level there is a clear-cut distinction between all individuals" (the particles), within the context of "a continuum point of view which stresses that no individual human exists in any kind of biological isolation: every individual is really very much a part of the global system and his existence itself is related to the existence and the properties of the continuum" (i.e., wave). Can't have one without the other.
And with that I gotta run...