New Review, October 2008
John Robert Colombo, Reviewer
Posted at www.gurdjieffbooks.com
The Hermetic Code in DNA
By Michael Hayes
I quite enjoyed reading this book, but its title is a mouthful of words, so I have found myself referring to it in conversation with friends as: 'the new book which I am reading that tries to find a relationship between the so-called 'hermetic code' and the code that informs the structure of DNA.' When I say that, people look amiss or agog, and I know why. I repeat that the author is 'trying to find a relationship', and that it is a struggle worthy of the exertions of a Sysiphus (an uphill battle) or the frustrations of a Tantalus (an ever receding reward).
The author who so resembles Sysiphus or Tantalus is Michael Hayes, described on the cover of this quality paperback as 'an administrator at the University of Central England' (formerly Birmingham Polytechnic) and, 'the author of The Infinite Harmony:Musical Structures in Science and Theology' (Weidenfeld & Nicolsen, The Orion Publishing Group, London, 1994). I have yet to see a copy of that publication. After reading the present book, I find myself moderately curious about it.
The present book is a new title, for it was originally published in England in 2004 by Black Spring Press, a quality literary publisher in London, under the title High Priests, Quantum Genes. The edition that I am reviewing is titled: The Hermetic Code in DNA: The Sacred Principles in the Ordering of the Universe, and was published in 2008 by another quality house: Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, which specializes in books of a non-secular and spiritual nature. (Both companies have readily accessible websites).
Here are some bibliographical details for the American edition under review: Trade paperback, 6" x 9", xviii + 334 pages, ISBN 978-1-59477-218-4. $18.95. There are 17 chapters with notes, bibliography and index. Also included is the arresting Introduction, to which I will now turn my attention.
The Introduction is a long personal essay from the fountain pen or personal computer of Colin Wilson. I am second to none in my admiration of Wilson's oeuvre, and I really enjoy reading what he writes for his choice of subjects and his agreeable style. His strength has always been his remarkable ability to present the unconventional ideas of 'outsiders'. He is a great explainer of ancient and advanced thinking, though lately he has become more of an advocate more than an interpreter.
Here, for instance, is the first paragraph of the Introduction to the present book:
'I suspect that the name of Michael Hayes is going to be remembered together with those of Stephen Hawking and Watson and Crick as a thinker who has made a revolutionary contribution to our vision of modern science.'
That is taking a giant step. Indeed, it is equivalent to the step that Wilson took when he completed Alien Dawn: An investigation into the Contact Experience (1999). That book, about the contactee dimension of ufology concludes with the statement that the author believes that not only do aliens exist, but aliens are right here now, walking the streets of our cities, moving among us. The evidence for this claim is lacking, but people will believe what excites them and what they want to believe.
Indeed, when the atomic scientist Leo Szilard was asked if he believed in the existence of alien beings, he replied that he did. Then he was asked, 'If they exist, where are they?' He replied, 'They are here, right now. They live among us. They are called... Hungarians'. Unlike Szilard's aliens, Wilson's critters are creatures or characters from outer space, from other times, or from other dimensions - hybrid humans, perhaps. Maybe.
I doubt that Michael Hayes's name will ever be linked with those of Hawking, Watson or Crick - at least not as long as the names of those scientists are honoured. And Hayes has yet to make a contribution to 'our vision of modern science', but he has modestly contributed to our view of 'the wisdom tradition'. From now on Hayes's name will be linked with a lively and intelligent discussion of a range of subjects of popular speculative interest. This book of his will be shelved alongside works of dozens of writers who have contributed to the 'occult sciences', or what I have called in another context, 'speculative non-fiction'.
Numerology is one such subject and it has been newsworthy for the last decade. For instance, the Fortean movie Magnolia (1999) features the number 8. A Beautiful Mind (2001) drowns in a tsunami of coded numbers, zillions of digits. The comedy, The Number 23 (2007) makes much use of the correspondences of the unlikely number 23. Behind much of this is the Kaballah, and behind that cerebral discipline there are the 613 Hebrew laws (curiously the number of bones in the human body.
In the present book, Hayes devotes chapters to different traditions, so each has its own special number or numbers. Hayes finds special relevance in such digits as 3, 3.1457, 4, 7, 8, 22, 64, 838, etc. The Law of Three and the Octaves of the Ray of Creation are featured. But no special importance is given to the numbers 1.6, 9, 13, or 613, perhaps because these come from traditions that are not surveyed here - in this case, sacred architecture, Baha'i, the superstition of folklore, and the Kaballah.
Excuse me if I am being a little light-headed or flippant, but unlike the scientists named by Wilson, Hayes undertakes no research, contributes findings to no scientific publications, and demonstrates no special scholarly or linguistic abilities or aptitudes. However, what he does display is an omnivorous curiosity and the ability to respond creatively to extensive readings in many popular books and a few serious ones (although it is with the latter that he does express some serious reservations).
By 'popular books', I mean 'eye-openers' like Robert Bauval's The Orion Mystery (1994) and Christopher P Dunn's The Giza Power Plant (1998). By serious books I mean Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker (1998) and Giorgio de Santillana's Hamlet's Mill (1992). I am limiting myself to titles selected at random from the first page of the three-page bibliography. Hayes also accredits reprints of G. I. Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales (1964), as well as P. D. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous (1976), and A New Model of the Universe (1977), recalling here and there pertinent passages to good effect.
The Hermetic Code in DNA is hard to beat for a fast moving survey of current thought about the interaction of the wisdom tradition from archaic times to the postmodern period and its possible connection with the recently revealed structures of the human genome, specifically its basis in DNA. It makes use of comparisons and contrasts, similarities and analogies, and above all it uses associative thought processes, what in another context Ouspensky called 'psychological thought', to distinguish it from 'logical thought'.
I am not going to pursue them here, but two general criticisms that I have are that there is no discussion of the tendency of the human mind to find symmetry where none exists, and there is no discussion of the nature of language itself, the appeal of metaphor, or Northrop Frye's 'order of worlds'. Nor is the insight of the poet as distinct from that of the scientist mentioned. At some later point I may tackle those criticisms as subjects worthy of consideration in their own right, for such shortcomings are characteristic of 'occult literature' generally.
Basically what Hayes has done is to offer a discussion of the scientific basis of the existence of the spirit, as well as the spiritual basis for the existence of science. What we have here is a convergence of two disciplines - call one of them 'science', the other, 'occult science'. (Hayes handles this distinction by distinguishing between 'regular science', and what he calls, 'Science with a capital 'S'')
If I can encapsulate Hayes's aim in writing this book, it is to find a convergence and ultimately an identity between hermetic studies and the structure of the gene. In other words, we have in our genes - coded in our genetic structure - the wisdom of the ages. It evolves physically and psychologically through the Law of Three and the Law of Octaves. Hayes encapsulates this theme for the reader in the sole detailed footnote of any length. Here it is:
'One would not expect exact superimpositions to be visible at every level, because the universe is continually evolving, constantly in flux. But as long as the various symmetries link in at these main 'points of entry', the Hermetic Code is valid. If anything, the fact that the code can be directly linked to all of these various symmetries - and many others found in the natural world - is precisely what one would expect of a 'theory of everything'.
Apparently mathematicians and cosmologists are johnny-come-latelys with their own physical 'theory of everything', trailing by centuries if not by millennia metaphysicians associated with obscure schools and monasteries in claiming to have found 'a key to the enigmas of the world'.
But enough of beating around the bush. Hayes in his book focusses on the following subjects and argues in the following fashion:
Introduction. Proponents of all the major belief systems agree that there is an existence after death, the author writes. Matter is composed of particles or vibrations of light. There is a timeless or eternal form of reality. The major religions harness very real forces. Creation is the result of the Law of Three and the Law of Octaves embodied in the nature of the mathematical ratio Pi. The DNA in the cells of human bodies has four chemical bases. There are parallels here with the 64 permutations of the I-Ching. Music and specifically musical harmony offer a scientific key to the tones or wavelengths under discussion.
'As the first recorded version of this archaic science first appeared in the Nile Delta about five thousand years ago, I have called this musical symmetry the Hermetic Code, after Hermes Trismegistus, the Greek name for Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of Wisdom. This is the Hermetic Code, a universal formula that, as we shall find out, encompasses within it practically everything.
This is another form of the axiom, 'As above, so below'.
The author's Introduction takes the reader this far. As a reader of the book, I like the handling of the details that appear in the seventeen chapters. As a reviewer, all I can do is point out a few of the approaches that the author takes. Suffice it to say that the author writes very readably; he is familiar with standard popular books on offbeat topics, and he seems intent on proving that there is a numerical code, if not a Hermetic one, that underpins the genetic code and acts as a cipher for philosophical and theosophical systems.
Here is my simplification of the author's arguments:
There is the four-fold nature of DNA. There are the four traditional elements in the natural world. There is a parallel here between scientific discovery and metaphysical inquiry. Could this be a coincidence? (I am inclined to say that in many cases the 'resemblance' or 'correspondence' is an artifact of the question itself).
Now here is the author's argument, chapter by chapter, with one sentence or two for each of the seventeen chapters.
1. 'The Sacred Constant'. Ancient wisdom first appeared in Egypt some 5,000 years ago B.C., and it holds the 'sacred constant', expressed in the number 8. This is the Law of Octaves, counting the two Do's. Note that 8 x 8 = 64, another type of greater harmony associated with the I-Ching.
2. 'A Different Way of Seeing'. Rhythms and harmonies of the universe are expressed by their Hermetic Code, especially as evolution proceeds by octaves, and this is seen in music and art (Gurdjieff's distinction between subjective and objective art) and architecture (Rene Scwaller de Lubicz's views on architectural forms of man.)
3. 'Music over Matter'. Music (all those octaves) may have managed the construction of the megaliths, evoked by the phrase 'musical magic', and perhaps the phenomenon of the 'group mind' as advanced by Colin Wilson was used by early peoples to great effect: mental building cranes and cranial forklifts.
4. 'The Electron and the Holy Ghost'. Subatomic particles and the theory of 'quantum potential' advanced by David Bohm are considered, as are the views of Sri Aurobindo, leading to the conclusion that matter is alive and composed of vibrations and/or light.
5. 'Further Light'. Christopher Dunn's speculations on 'sonic/ultrasonic stone carving and drilling' and Princeton physicist Robert Jahn are, in a sense, compared. This chapter and indeed much of the book is 'metaphysical' in the sense that literary scholars call John Donne a 'metaphysical poet', for there is a roping together of heterogeneous elements to create a greater whole. A sense of the greater whole may be felt in these two long sentences:
'So the Great Pyramid, the most impressive monument to light ever created on Earth, massive and imposing as it is, is really no more than a foundation stone upon which has been constructed another, infinitely vaster, metaphysical structure, a creation of sorts, whose indeterminate dimensions are even to this day expanding ever outward and upward. I am referring here, of course, to the ongoing evolution of human consciousness, which began its present stage of development at the time the Great Pyramid was designed, and which has ever since been guided subconsciously by the all-embracing hermetic principles embodied within it.'
This is indeed metaphysical prose. In another comparison, it embodies the principle of the hologram, for from a single fragment may be generated or regenerated the multifaceted whole.
6. 'Live Music'. So-called 'scientific creationists' and evolutionary scientists are contrasted and Richard Dawkins is taken to task for his notion that 'stumbling blindly through geological time' led to life as we know it today, not a noble notion of 'transcendental evolution' whereby: 'it is possible for individuals to emulate the living cell and to achieve a similar condition of 'optimum resonance'.'
Here the author expresses his naked thesis: 'I stated above that I believe that the growth and development of consciousness is an organic process. Logically it has to be, because the Hermetic Code and the genetic code are fundamentally one and the same system.'
7. 'Extraterrestrial DNA'. Another extension of 'the theory of transcendental evolution' which leads to the Pyramids ('The Lights' is apparently how these structures were known to the Egyptians of old) which leads to the star systems above them, Sirius and Zeta Orionis, as well as the starry-eyed speculations of Rodney Collin.
8. 'Interstellar Genes and the Galactic Double Helix'. Robert Temple's The Sirius Mystery is discussed along with Gurdjieff's 'missing semitones', to suggest that the universe is a being that is fully conscious.
9. 'The Hermetic Universe of Ancient Times'. The Pythagorean cosmological system is considered with respect to reincarnation, the nature of the universe, modern science, metaphysics, and 'zoon', the Greek term for a 'living thing'.
10. 'The Hierarchy of Dimensions'. So the universe is 'organic', but it exists on a hierarchy of planes or levels or dimensions.
'Confused?' the author questions the reader. 'To be perfectly honest, so am I. Frequently. But then we are trying to come to terms with the imponderable here, and left-brain logic alone can take us only so far in the quest for the ultimate reality'.
11. 'The Fate of the Universe'. Speculation on the fate of the universe gives equal weight to science-fiction writer Wilbur Wright in Time: Gateway to Immortality and writer-scientist Paul Davies in The Last Three Minutes, to build the argument that there is 'music literally everywhere, in the chromodynamic and atomic scales of matter, in DNA and the genetic code', etc.
12. 'Inner Octaves'. Outer octaves were explored, so here the investigation narrows and deepens into the inner octaves, through the symbol or structure of the Ray of Creation.
13 'The Holographic Principle'. Michael Talbot, author of The Holographic Universe, is a big help here to demonstrate that a part is as great as a whole, a whole as great as a part.
14. 'Quantum Psychology'. What the author calls 'quantum psychology' sheds light on the findings of particle physicists (notably Karl Pribram), parapsychologists, and neurophysiologists, permitting the reader to see that there are ways the brain resembles subatomic particles in their 'non-locality'. Here I recall the delicious pun in the movie, The Golden Compass: Lord Asriel is described as a 'particle metaphysicist'.
15. 'QP2: The Universal Paradigm'. Man is composed of 'triple octaves' of resonance, so we are 'walking trinities' composed of our sensations, emotions and perceptions, a point that Hayes argues in his earlier book, The Infinite Harmony.
16. 'The Shapeshifters'. Mayan and Egyptian texts and Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods all lead to an examination of 'extraordinary mental and physical powers' shown by members of 'the Egyptian elite' to permit them to build their monumental structures.
17. 'Al-Chem - the Egyptian Way'. Octaves of resonance are invoked to account for the harnessing or focusing of exceptional powers for exceptional effects. The author writes powerfully:
'We know that in the natural course of Darwinian evolution successful genes can survive all manner of catastrophes: ice ages, rapid meltdowns, deluges, earthquakes, cometary impacts. In the same way, the hermetic ideas we are dealing with here - the metaphysical equivalent of successful genes - have survived all kinds of social upheaval: wars, dark ages, periods of total ignorance and barbarism, inquisitions, revolutions, and so on. Therefore we are not speaking in metaphor: we are talking about organic processes of creation and evolution, both microcosmic and macrocosmic, which are identical in every way, with a difference in scale only'.
So much for this Baedeker-like tour of the countryside. My own view of Michael Hayes's achievement is that The Hermetic Code in DNA is a literary composition written in an underrated literary form, that of the 'anatomy' - think of Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy - and that through accumulation of detail and organisation by association, rather than by classification and disinterested pursuit of its thesis, it embraces other subliterary forms in an attempt to reveal common characteristics and congruent conceptions that have to do with the evolution of nature, man, and spirit. It is an ample and in a way an impressive anatomical achievement.
How successful is it? That is for the reader to decide, the reader who is familiar with associative thinking as well as the material that is included and the material that is excluded, or the reader who is flustered by all the material and perhaps over impressed with it. Hayes is committed to his point of view (Hermetic Code = Genetic Code) to the exclusion of criticism of sources and commonsense reservations. Even so, Robert Burton was ultimately unhappy with his classic Anatomy of Melancholy, perhaps because most people read it for its bits and pieces rather than for its 'metaphysical' whole.
John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto. His current publication, 500 pages long, is called The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories. He is an Associate, Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria College, University of Toronto.