Mind Matters (1981)
by Marguerite Iwersen
116 pages, DeVorss, $6
We might view history as a great lattice of paths, with some coinciding in nexuses where certain ideas reach clarity, sort of like how learning staggers from plateau to plain and then repeats that pattern at a higher level. Mind Matters explores where hermeticism, German idealism, and “New Thought” converge.
For those uninitiated, New Thought — think of Manly P. Hall, Aldous Huxley, Wallace D. Wattles, and Judge Troward here — attempted to make a “scientific” view of faith, based in the Platonic notion of an underlying thought-like framework to the universe as cause of the effect that is physical reality, which carried forward the ideals of Vedanta and ancient pagan myth in a contemporary form. Most of it got swallowed up by the New Age movement, which took the focus away from a transcendental outlook allowing appreciation of this informational substrate to all reality, and turned it into the usual Crowd-friendly “if you wish it, it will happen” type stuff that is now preached in churches as well. Mind Matters appeared before the neurosis and attempted to summarize New Thought, synthesize a history of Western learning which showed the next step after Christianity, and introduce basic exercises for the initiate, all in one tiny 116-page volume.
Intelligent use of the Law of Mind implies guarding all of our choices against overintensity. Certainly we must love, but just as certainly our love must not be overindulgent. There must, in matters of loving and rejecting, be calmness, balance and logical evaluation. Our choices and decisions must be made with an open-minded willingness to allow for unknown factors. Our own unconscious drives and the inherited thought patterns of others all influence the course of the Law. As Julian Huxley put it, we must rise to “a new level of co-operative interthinking.” (93)
A reader should know that first, the title of this book serves as a complete sentence, referring to “mind” in the way that Schopenhauer did, as a form of thought-like Will that pervades all matter and all life. Mind matters, in the sense of being important, and this means that we should pay attention to Mind in the view of this author. Iwersen begins by viewing the modern psychology, then exploring what is meant by religion, and then exploring a history first of religious understanding and then of Christianity, which she follows with an analysis of how Christians migrated into New Thought and Christian Science as ways of melding the ancient faith with the type of awareness brought by science while keeping the intermediate faith of Christianity, which she sees as highly metaphorical, in the frame of reference. She then explores the question of mind and how it relates to religion before introducing a sample practice of the psychological/religious practice advocated by this book, a type of coming to awareness of and connecting with the underlying order of the universe which is thought or thought-like.
For those of us arriving nearly four decades later, it makes sense to disentangle this view from ideas of a “universal mind” or “collective unconsciousness” which followed it. These posit that all humans share the same mentation and are equal parts of a divine order which manifests in physical reality according to symbolic initiation, which is something similar to dualism if crossed with primitive superstitious talismanic faith. If translated correctly, the “universal mind” idea proves no different than any other individualistic/egalitarian philosophies, in that it suggests that humans are identical and can find a social reality which replaces physical reality. New Thought in this sense remains highly distinct from both New Age and popular interpretations of ancient religions, all of which seek to provide a philosophy of self-empowerment for the consumer. That one-way outlook suggests that humans use the world as a means to their own ends; New Thought, on the other hand, addresses a two-way process by which humans integrate with the world and are shaped by it through an esoteric process of learning.
Iwersen builds her philosophy around a central idea, which is that the universe operates as one organic thing and is supremely logical, therefore we can observe consistent behaviors in the intangible in the same way we can in the tangible:
What, in non-dictionary terms, is metaphysics? It is, quite simply, a concept of how the world works, of the architecture of the universe, physical and supraphysical. Philosopher Will Durant felt that “science assumes a meta-physic in its every thought.” William James defined metaphysics as an “attempt to think things out clearly…to find their substantial essence in the scheme of reality.” Alfred North Whitehead held that every archaic myth, every religion, every so-called cult is the metaphysical supposition of a given culture. “Apart from the metaphysical pre-supposition there can be no civilization.” (61)
In this interpretation, all logical systems rely on the idea that the universe has a central organizing principle so that its parts are consistent with one another, and this implies an underlying informational order which organizes all existence, sort of like a Platonic form to organize all forms. This analysis proves convincing for any attempts to understand the world beyond pure empiricism, which is limited to physical sciences and excludes any type of broader theory since it cannot be directly observed.
From this initial argument, Iwersen builds a case for the “Law of Mind,” which states (in echoes of Schopenhauer and Plato) that all of reality operates by the same logical principles as thought, therefore thought is the cause and physicality the effect, which implies a larger domain of thought which controls and engenders our physical reality:
If the seen, finite universe arises in an infinite Unseen universe, could it not be that there is a similar continuity linking the many physical laws to one pre-physical Overlaw? As there is one continuity of Substance, so there is one continuity of process — one Great Law of laws in which the calculations about gravity and electricity are merely the local outworkings. The metaphysic here being considered makes this assumption and, since the World Stuff is Mind Stuff, names the Overlaw the Law of Mind. (76)
This law of mind serves as the second half of relativity which humanity has not yet understood. If all things are relative, we are all participants, but because we are bounded by the logical rules of our world, our different relative experiences converge on the same vital truths of reality, and since those are logical and indicate a complex organized system as a whole, it means that reality has some organizing principle which, being logical, resembles mind. At that juncture of understanding, we realize that our acts — including thoughts — feed back into this system, and therefore we have influence beyond the physical, which is why we consider it “metaphysical” in the first place.
Low on jargon and devoid of woo, Mind Matters tackles the question of human survival by pointing out that not only do we need God or an equivalent, but that some God-force that is thought-like is inherent to the universe, and we cannot manipulate this directly but can emulate it in order to influence it, and in so doing, both reform ourselves into logical beings and achieve what we need out of life. Parallel to Plato’s question “what is the best life?” that initiates The Republic, this book calls us to participate in a logical universe through the idea of self-benefit, but in doing so, shows us the “calmness, balance and logical evaluation” necessary for doing so.
Although New Thought gets little consideration either by the herd or the official authorities in science and religion, it shows us a way forward past highly metaphorical religions that being dualistic are prone to be taken literally, as well as past the droning materialism of science, industry, and social popularity. Iwersen makes a good foothold here, with clear and efficient prose, making this short volume an essential for any twenty-first century library.