The Rotating Blade of Meaning

helicopter-meaning blog - 1

You have probably never heard of him. He was an engineer by training. He was the primary inventor and developer of the Bell helicopter, which made the promise of point to point flight a reality – though it had been discussed for centuries beforehand. This inventor, engineer and scientist was from an age when a few scientists could still challenge the overall approach of modern science – with its focus on the smaller and smaller, and lack of vision of the ‘whole’. They are almost gone as a species, so, in this series of posts, I’d like to pay tribute to Arthur M. Young and explain in non-technical language how important his work was… and is.

He was also, and unusually for a scientist, a master astrologer…

Despite being skilled in engineering and mathematics, Arthur Young returned to university as an adult to study Quantum Physics, recognising that here was something that completely altered the way we should visualise the world. He was fascinated by the consciousness potential of the relationship between the ‘observer’ and the ‘observed’, something that science had tried to ignore for centuries. This dismissal was brought up, sharply, by Quantum Theory, which proved that only the presence of the observer allowed the presence of the object to be ‘measured’. In other words, proved it was there… but not alone.

Helicopters make people nervous. They are  heavy objects, oddly shaped and dangerous looking. When flying, they would plunge to the ground if the massive rotor, above, stopped working or broke. We can think of a plane as being safer because it has fixed wings that give it the theoretical capability of gliding back to Earth. Most of them don’t. For both planes and helicopters, the focus is on making sure that they are reliable and controllable in a failsafe way, and, for helicopters, that controllability is a very complex thing…

Given Arthur Young’s involvement in the development of the small, commercial helicopter, it’s not surprising that he was focussed on this central aspect of control. We will see, later, how this led to startling revelations that bridged physics and philosophy.

Consider the opening photograph. It shows an Art Deco style wall lamp, caught in a beautiful moment of rainbow colour coming into the living room from a clear winter’s day, outside. It has its own beauty, and that is what draws us to it. It has a complex shape that can be considered at differing levels of detail. Some of these details (properties) are objective – they can be measured by science and classified into such properties as material and shape.

Some of the properties are subjective – they only mean something to us – the observer. If I wanted to break down the ‘stages’ of knowing the wall-light lit by the rainbow, I might deliberately ignore the feeling of beauty and its minutely shifting colour, and examine only the overall form of the object. Its fundamental shape is an inverted triangle. I know enough about the delicate glass from which the ‘saucer-shaped’ leaves are made to be concerned that they are easily broken. With that small set of information, I feel I know the material content of the object; I could describe it to someone else and they would get a good picture in their minds.

The world of science is concerned only with this latter description: the inverted triangle – the form of the object, and the chemical material from which it is made. Arthur Young called this the formal description. Science is focussed on this level of knowing because is the only one that is objective: that is, not dependent on how we see something (bad mood, poor eyesight, colour-blindness, etc.) Using this formal description, science can categorise the object, and make it part of a common set of things – a very important process.

But the human, awakened to the form and beauty (or not) of the world around them, has a much richer experience. I understand the objective nature of the inverted triangle and the delicate chemical composition of the fragile leaves, but I’m staring in wonder at the texture of the glass and how it is reflecting the rainbow. I lean closer and find that the glass has a faint but definite smell to it. It’s clinical but not unpleasant.

These are subjective impressions. Science could never reproduce them because they belong to me, to you, to anyone with sense organs. We all experience these things differently, but we can try, with language, with photography,  writing, art or poetry to convey that this is not simply an inverted triangle made of fine glass; it is a rich experience and unique in the entire history of the universe… You could experience something similar, but the fine details would belong only to each of us, differently–and they would change the event. We seldom consider this power we have – be a unique observer of the universal beauty all around us. We, whose bodies are made from the atoms created by ancient exploding stars, must come close to our zenith when we find such beauty and stop our everyday consciousness to ‘be’ with it.

Science is not deficient in its lack of concern for this; it’s simply that the full experience of the observer cannot be reduced to numbers… The collective mind that created numbers can never be subservient to them.

So far we have encountered the formal description of the object: the inverted triangle and the chemical properties of fine glass. We have also used our sense organs to experience the way the rainbow light shimmers on the petals of the lamp, and we have even smelled the glass. These sense impressions come from the object. They may be slightly different to each of us, but the properties from which they issue belong, also, to the object. Our object therefore possesses a formal description and specific sense impressions. The formal description could be shared, using shared language or mathematics, with anyone. The sense impressions could not, but could be likened to something else in our experience.

Step back and the experience of being an observer has two main aspects. There is a ‘me’ and an ‘it’. The experience of the wall lamp is deemed to be ‘out-there’, but the knowing resides ‘in-here’. I am helped, by the formal description, to recognise or locate the object, even if I’ve never been in that room.

Young said that, to realise the process and the power of knowing it is vital to (initially) separate our aspects of experience in this way. When we consider the received information and the sense data from the object, two more things happen in our perceptive mind. The first is that we place a value judgement on the experience – perhaps I am in awe of the beauty of the rainbow on the lamp. Without rationally considering it, I feel moved by an emotion, a kind of joy that this rare impression of living perfection is present.

The second ‘in-here’ aspect is the purpose of the object. In this case it’s not to show off rainbows, but to give light when evening comes. In other circumstances, my knowing of the lamp would have been part of the inventory of the capabilities of the room. Arthur Young named this the function. These two ‘in-here’ aspects belong to the observer, not to the object. We project them onto the experience based on our learning. Young called this kind of aspect projective, and the aspects belonging to the object, alone, he called objective. Where something in an aspect was specific, he used the term particular; where it had a shared nature, he named it general.

If we unravel the above example, there emerges a process of incremental perception which, conceptually, looks a lot like the opening of the famous Russian dolls:

  • Aspect one, which is an inverted triangle shape, made of a chemical structure of fragile glass.
  • Aspect two is the contents of the above plus the sense impressions belonging only to the objective nature of the inverted triangular shape (its colours, shades and smells)
  • Aspect three is the subjective experience of all the above plus the feeling of beauty and awe I have when my attention and perception is captured by the occasion.
  • Aspect four would be all the above plus the function of the wall-lamp, which, in this case, has been subverted by the unexpected rainbow… exactly what happens when we open ourselves to the possible in real life!

These four aspects therefore comprise: formal description, sense data, value and function. The first two are objective (‘out-there’), the second two (‘in-here’) are projective (subjective).

We can put these into a table for easier reference:

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The creation of this was not a casual work. Arthur Young tested it against all the situations he knew of, in both a scientific and philosophical sense. He determined that it was a universal description, an ‘anatomy’ of how we perceive and how we ‘know’. These four stages – aspects – of knowing were at the heart of being human, they were not only the containers of what we learned, they were how we learned.

Four was an interesting number and features predominantly in the ancient mysteries. ‘Fourness’ is a key part of how mankind has conceived of the universal divisions of experience. Fourness is one of the keys to Astrology, in the form of the ‘Elements’ of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. For Arthur M. Young, an astrologer as well as a scientist, the notion of fourness at the centre of human experience was about to take him on a mind-expanding journey…

To be continued…

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

Where are we going? (2) – The Vice

Where are we going?2 Sweetheart Abbey2 - 1
It may be that the present compressed and negative feelings that we humans are experiencing is a birthing chamber rather than a vice.

This outrageous idea ties in closely with what was written in last week’s blog. In it, I suggested that just as a body has trillions of cells, so the planet has a vast number of connected parts of its ‘mineral, animal and mammal’ consciousness; each made up from the physical atoms of the Earth, Sun and the ‘debris’ of ancient exploding suns; without which there would not have existed the chemical components of life.

Through our human body passes the dying bodies of life on earth, be they vegetable or animal. We cannot, yet, ‘eat the Sun’ though one wonders if this is where evolution will eventually take life on Earth.

We don’t really question this ‘eating’ of other things – and plants are alive, too, of course; yet our aliveness depends on the absorption of this sacrifice.

The biggest act of sacrifice we know of is the Sun, the ancient symbol of ‘life-giving’ in all cultures. The Sun – our Sun, because we owe it our very lives – literally gives up its energies to feed the lives of its children. Looked at from a mystical perspective, it is slowly dying so that we can live. Something has made a transition from the cosmic level of physics to the vastly organised awareness of the human (and other) organisms, whose eons-long development has resulted in consciousness not only of things, but of ‘self’. This is a pinnacle very different to being top of the food chain.

The star that made this possible – our Sun – is not outside the laws of physics, and the atomic fusion of hydrogen can only last so long before the whole solar system dies to organic life.

Is the Sun conscious? Mystics speculate it has a hyper-consciousness, a vibrational awareness of life in the whole solar system, but over a vast timescale which sees our own lives as a blink. Scientists, quite reasonably, from their training and experimental perspective, say this is emotional nonsense, and that the laws of gravity and nuclear physics take care of the rest. It is wise to be open to both perspectives, and to remember that even science, accurate and marvellous though it is, is conceived and evolved through the window of the human consciousness, though it seldom acknowledges this perspective. A growing number of scientists have observed, wryly, that the ‘mystics got there first’ when it comes to some of the consciousness-related revelations from the quantum world.

Whatever the truth, no-one steps out on that first spring morning of the year, when the power of the sun replaces the long and cold winter chill, and feels physics in their hearts…

As a species, we are rather taken with our ‘specialness’. Educated to be the top of the food chain, the ‘apex predator’, our civilisation has felt free to work its indulgent will on our world… and we wonder at the resulting lack of happiness, and that lack of inner belonging.

The idea of us being organically eaten – as we do, unthinkingly, with our own food, seldom occurs to us, yet it is plain that everything that lives is eaten in its turn – only the fleeting and creative state called consciousness seems to be from a different place than the purely organic… though it would be nothing without that organic basis as a vehicle.

This kind of thought can be both humbling and re-aligning, since it shakes the fluffiness from our life-expectations and also threatens us with some basic reality – a very important aspect of being alive in an age where we increasingly live in our heads and in front of screens that distance us from the vividness of life ‘out there’. When we are disconnected in this way, it is easy for intolerance and prejudice to fester. We meet, on social media, with those of like mind… and Like their actions and opinions. If we don’t like what someone ‘says’, repeatedly, we Unfriend them, leaving us in a potentially sterile pool of self-reinforcing opinion.

The human process of maturing requires that we brush up against often painful experiences that are definitely not what we like… but the digital world is taking us away from this school of maturity that has ensured that our lives are at least broadened rather than narrowed. It is to the credit of the emerging generation that many of them seem to be caring and involved, and, certainly in the UK, politics and social involvement are on the increase. Much of this is a reaction – a very positive one – to years of so called ‘austerity’. Sharing the pain of overspending is a necessary goal, but not if that sharing is a farce…

The most troubling parts of the world are where those in charge are exhibiting the strongest ‘egoic’ characteristics. It is as though we are being shown the inner nature of this negative and tyrannical aspect of the human soul; shown it in a way that bares its ugliness. There are, of course die-hards who thing such fundamentalism is a good thing, and will offer us control of our lives again, making our countries great in the process. But anyone with real maturity in their own lives knows the bitter taste of such egoic self-aggrandisment; and its ultimate cost.

To truly ‘come together’ we need to feel our shared humanity in a way we have not done, before. We need to see the unsurpassed beauty of being part of a life-wave that has been gifted this beautiful planet for our collective and personal evolution; and, within that, to see that we also have the power to destroy it. To ride that edge of the utmost danger can only be part of our collective maturity as we evolve from eating and eaten to something potentially magnificent that is ‘involving’ itself with the star-dust of the Earth.

Our survival as a species is by no means assured. But the large-scale awareness of the present horror shows that fill our screens might just bring us, kicking and certainly screaming, into a new age – one where the true ghoul is seen to be the dark side of human nature and not circumstance or those we can victimise.

Other parts in this series:

Part One

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

Image: Sweetheart Abbey, near Dumfries, Scotland. Taken by the author.

©️Stephen Tanham

Where are we going?

Where are we going?

When things are going well in ‘our’ world, there is an understandable tendency to assume that a generally benign evolution of civilisation is taking place, one in which we play our part, however small, being a kind of swimmer who lives and dies within that flow of slow progress.

But when we are faced with the kind of politics, violence and social upheaval we are surrounded with at present, we find ourselves questioning the assumptions of the good times. These are certainly not good times, not when measured against a yardstick of caring, kindness and any semblance of equality. They may be good times for the relative few who ‘own’ the planet, but they are not so for those who care about the general welfare of mankind. The general system we call capitalism has carried us far into the expansion of our world, and produced wonderful systems and things, but now seems to be falling from its own, autonomous ledge into an unknown abyss.

This is not a political website, though, as directors of the Silent Eye, we are free to express our own, often strong, opinions.

Normally, I would not begin a post with the above sentiments, but I have begun to see a strong spiritual thread in the events around us, and on a global scale.

The human has a psychology. The concept, given to us by the early pioneers like Freud and Jung, is based on the fact that we form a ‘self’ which governs our actions at a different level to our biological survival mechanisms, though it derives from them, in its primitive stages of individual development. This multi-faceted self is what psychology addresses in its treatments. For other schools of teaching, such as the Silent Eye, the elements of this self are the starting points in the individual search for a deeper identity – one without the limitations of the egoic nature we wear during the day.

The self forms by separation. We are born a part of the world. Though seen by our loving parents as separate, that is not our experience. Reaction is the key to our development. Reaction forms from pleasant and unpleasant organic responses and an increasing need to choose the pleasant. Eventually, this reaction become a ‘thing’, a centre for our experience; and the brain turns it into a self. The attributes of this self are ‘groomable’ to make us fit better into the world by conformance and intelligence, which grow together until they are challenged by the individual who comes to see their unhappy limitations.

Sadly, this thing at the centre, this ‘us’ is little more than a machine of reactions, a composite of our personal history, conscious of its vulnerability but intent on its own survival at the centre of things.

So here’s the link to our civilisation: nations have ‘selves’, too. They are made up of the collective selves of the individuals, just as our own bodies are made up of the trillions of cells that have evolved to work together to provide us with an aware and sensitive vehicle. The human self or ego has its parallel in the society where we have our lives. We are a part of it, dramatically linked to its essential health in a way we cannot yet see, but our spiritual qualities of essence, kindness and selflessness do not flow into us through the ego – they come from beyond it.  In the same way, the outer, conditioned responses of the individual within a society do not represent the potential inner state of that nation; or group of nations, that make up a country or continent.

The lowest levels of control centre on violence. Violence generates fear, which conditions group behaviour. Is it more violent to have a war or to find that the wealth of a society is concentrated in the hands of a few? There are many forms of violence, and we need to take a fresh look at them and empower ourselves to feel true, moral outrage, again or we will sink beneath the sea of despair that threatens to overwhelm us now.

I am not an advocate of revolution. It solves nothing. I do, however, believe in the power of the deep, collective mind to link with others of like intent in the throwing off of old ideas which have become morally and spiritually bankrupt. What is seen in truth is seen differently. That action of truly seeing is its own light and its own motive force. Quietly and without violence, it reveals what can no longer be hidden; and in so doing shows a pathway to a different future.

In this lies hope, and hope is so very needed in these dark times. We were never society; that is an invention to help us manage the collective. We were never a body, that is a collective to allow us to experience the trials and joys of matter. We are, singly and collectively, an un-cageable creative individuality whose existence is part of the unfolding of the universe – our aliveness ranges from atom to cell to human to planet, and is something that will not be denied… We were born to share it because we are it…

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

Image: Sweetheart Abbey, near Dumfries, Scotland. Taken by the author.

©️Stephen Tanham

Grand designs


No matter how I tried, the damaged camera would not focus on the tiny pyramid… which was a shame, because its structure was incredible. It is nothing unusual, just a crystal of sea-salt, but the precision with which it was formed for some reason struck me as mind-blowing.

It is a thing of beauty. Each line and angle ordered after some complex design we can only observe, not decipher. Billions of trillions of these amazing structures are formed  and consumed… and we barely notice them.

The cat, incurably curious, came to see what I was doing and I marvelled at her design… absolutely lithe and flexible, able to move in ways we would find impossible. I played with her, watching how she uses that litheness to become a dead weight. Cats are not heavy… yet she can chase and fight a piece of string whilst laying on the floor, utterly relaxed and therefore difficult to move. Her very relaxation acts in a way that seems to make deliberate use of gravity to enhance her skills.

Once you start looking, you cannot help but notice…and it doesn’t matter if it is an eagle or an earthworm… that the design of every living thing, every element of nature, is magnificent… including our own.

To try to photograph the salt crystal, I placed it on the black surface of the table in which the leaves of a plant were reflected. I remembered studying plants at school and seeing their incredible structure under the microscope, learning how the parts of the plant worked together to turn sunlight into the fuel for growth through photosynthesis. I remember being amazed even then at the perfection of the design. Even more so when we learned how plant and animal life seemed designed to work together in perfect harmony… the vegetation breathing out what we need to breathe in and vice versa.

Their bodies nourish us and, when we have finished with our own bodies, nature would use them to nourish her garden. It is a simple thing, something we all know but yet it is taken for granted and therefore overlooked as we move through the world and go about our daily business.

All organisms are made of cells, simple building blocks that will eventually develop into the specialised parts of a greater organic ‘machine’ that work together, be that plant or animal. I recalled a conversation with my then-teenage sons about whether we could merely be cells  forming  the body of greater organism, something we could not see and would call a god. The cells would not know their purpose, or even the nature of the being they were part of…but they would perform the specialised function for which they were designed. My sons took it one step further and wondered if the gods themselves were no more than the cells of an even greater being… it was a good conversation.

‘Interconnectedness’, ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ are buzz words in spiritual circles and with good reason it seems. We have only to look at how the physical world works to see how the same concepts might apply at a non-physical level. Without speculating on the nature of divinity, by looking at these grand designs from the cellular level to the complex organisms that they form, we might begin to see the divinity of nature. Even our own.