The incredible discovery of quantum reality, now about a century old, revealed to physicists that the “objective, material world” underpinning what is now called “classical science” is not, at the most fundamental level, comprised of material particles. At the most fundamental level, reality involves bursts of energy whose behavior defies Newtonian laws. Empirical observations at the quantum level precipitated a break-down of classical science that forces a re-thinking of the universe and our place in it. As laid out by Stapp’s Mindful Universe, “the role of human consciousness in the unfolding of reality” is causal and cannot be reduced to material terms. The primary role of consciousness in defining the world was well understood by Max Planck, who won the Nobel Prize for his early work on quantum theory: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness” (The Observer, 25 Jan 1931). Similarly, as Sir James Jeans has it, “The universe is much more like a great thought than a great machine.” This means that we are deeply interconnected and can influence each other in ways much more subtle than physical force (for example, “appeal to the heart” of an opponent) and are much more capable of shaping our own destiny thanpreviously thought. Furthermore, as illustrated by Stapp’s Benevolent Universe, quantum mechanical experiments suggest that there are consciousness-based processes that reinforce positive emotional states.
The idea that animals exist in a state of endless competition is a gross oversimplification, not to say a bias. Animal behavior, and indeed the entire ecosystem, exhibits many forms of cooperation, of empathy, and even rudimentary forms of peacemaking. Life also shows clear evidence of purpose at nearly every level, indicating that our world is not random.
The shift to an emphasis on mind, brain, and consciousness within new science and above all the invention of non-invasive techniques that allow scientists to detect the firing of specific neurons, have lead to eye-opening discoveries of brain function and its relationship to conscious experience. Noteworthy among them from the point of view of nonviolence are the discovery of mirror neurons, motor neurons in the brains of higher animals that 'mirror' the actions and intentions of others (i.e. the neural component of empathy), neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to replace lost cells and reorganize brain tissue in response to experiences, a bit the way muscles can grow with use (or atrophy with the opposite). Neuroscientists like to say today that we are 'wired for empathy'. The physical analogy maybe a bit overdrawn - organic matter can't be reduced to 'wiring' - but it certainly brings out how deep in our evolution are the capacities for empathy and other dimensions of nonviolence.
Psychologists have developed the concept of positive psychology that turns on wellbeing, which is based on positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishment. By increasing the amount of flourishing in your own life and on the planet, you enhance all five of these elements and thus nourish your wellbeing. Therefore, well-being is a function of our interconnectedness and cannot exist only for yourself; it is a combination of feeling good and actually having meaning, good relationships, and accomplishment. Furthermore, training pro-social behavior can be an effective way to enable individuals to handle personal difficulties and improve social outcomes. In a landmark study by Davitz (1952), children trained to be cooperative were more cooperative after being subjected to frustration. The Davitz study supports the startling conclusion that “priming” can create positive channels through which psychic energy flows, regardless of whether the initial energy was positive or negative.
The ‘Darwinian’ model (he never really espoused it) of random mutation and ‘survival of the fittest’ has failed to account for evolution. Such things as moral awareness and cooperation rise throughout the evolutionary process along with the progressive alterations of bodily form. There is no reason to think that this evolution is anywhere near complete.
Despite the popular notion that Homo sapiens is inherently violent, there is a wealth of anthropological evidence demonstrating that the dominant modes of interaction among our ancestors were based on generosity, cooperation, and sophisticated means of peacefully resolving disputes. This is in accord with non-material needs that are deeply embedded in human nature and antithetical to war, including the need for bonding. Indeed, as presented by Douglas Fry’s Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace, the anthropological record suggests that warfare is a phenomenon that has emerged relatively recently. Even today—when the media regales us with news of war and violence—the vast majority of human interactions are peaceful and cooperative, and cross-cultural studies reveal general principles for resolving social conflicts without resorting to violence as well as varied cultures that share strong mechanisms for preventing violence.
Prince Pyotr Kropotkin (1842 –1921), who could be called a forerunner of modern sociology, argues in his well-known book, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), on the basis of extensive research, that contrary to what was made of Darwin, mutual aid, or cooperation is a major factor, if not the major factor, in evolution and even,despite appearances, in human society. Conflict, and consequently the resolution of conflict and to an extent nonviolence, are a subject of study in sociology. Sociology is also adept at understanding and critiquing a number of systemic causes of violence including atomization (see Durkheim), alienation (see Marx), modernity (see Zygmunt Bauman), Comparative sociology and social anthropology have contributed to studies of the characteristics of societies marked by frequent involvement in violent conflict and those equally notable for the absence of violent conflict. Some nations and several pre-industrial societies show violent conflict to be almost absent, showing again that war is not an inevitable result of human nature. By way of example, two modern works to be mentioned are Staughton and Alice Lynd, Nonviolence in America, an excellent overview,and Sharif and Sharif, In Common Predicament, demonstrating that working together is far the most effective activity to bring parties together.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org