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Involution: An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God – Philippa Rees

Involution: An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God – Philippa Rees
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A brilliant and profoundly erudite epic charting the evolution of Western thinking processes, probing the frontiers of rationality and naturalism and opening up a deeper understanding of the nature of reality based on the reality of mystical experience. The author’s grasp of the principal elements of Western culture is masterly and her poetic narrative woven together with extraordinary subtlety. The detailed footnotes demonstrate a rare depth of perceptive scholarship. This is nothing short of a heroic intellectual tour de force and deserves the widest readership.


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Praise for 'Involution- An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God'

Philippa Rees wrote a book that is a rarity: it is on a controversial, actually hair- and eye-brow-raising subject, and it is totally sincere. And totally insightful. If you the reader are as brave as this author, you are in for a fantastic ride. Getting close to science as well as to God at the same time. That's no mean feat. Enjoy the ride - and the light!        Dr. Ervin Laszlo

Your journey through poetry is more than just an alternative treatment of the material you originally theoretically described; it is the very act of genius, which is able to treat the ambiguous nature of the world differently. The poetry is an alternative for how the world makes meaning from the ambiguous.  It is a completely alternative direction for an exploration of the world in itself.

The scale of the feat you have thereby achieved by writing in poetry is immense. This goes far beyond the mechanistic notions of wholeness arrived at by some modern scientific authors. Your work reintroduces the aesthetic, beautiful, meaningful process that is poetry into science.  The genius of involution is not just a mechanism of science relating to the whole but a completely different realisation of the beautiful, within living process

Philip Franses. Editor of The Holistic Science Journal - Lecturer Schumacher College

(From Canto the Seventh)

Then the cleft fell like an axe/Split Eden’s innocence/ Sent Man into Exile with a brain/ With which he could survive….Until he traced full circle ( as any planet orbits sun)/ Old soldier with his bandaged eyes/Returns limping to what he once called home/And does not recognise…

At a quick glance, Involution-An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God seems like a scientific or spiritual read, and possibly a dry one, at that. But those too ready to judge a book by its title may be in for a surprise, here: for Involution is in actuality a poetic-based exploration of the Western thinking process, and is more focused on the process of Mankind's incremental rediscovery than scientific or spiritual analysis.

It's neither poetry nor science, spiritual reader nor philosophical investigation - but it incorporates elements of each. Nor is it 'fish nor fowl' - which makes its intended audience and placement a bit ambiguous. How do you tell an audience mired in one discipline that there's value to be had (and elements of that discipline) in a book that crosses genres? Therein lies the presentation challenge; for it'd be a shame for the reader of science, spirituality, philosophy or history to miss the unexpected treats embedded in Involution.

So what, exactly, is 'involution'? It's defined here as the basic idea that the progress of science in fact reflects its ability to recover memory, or involution.  Strictly speaking, 'involution' happens when something turns in upon itself; but in this case it's more than a geometric or mathematical expression, more than a medical description, and more than the path the soul takes to become more self-realized. Here it's described as a impetus to the evolutionary process, key to understanding the idea of scientific investigation and progression: "Involution, the in ‘folding’ of memory, and its recovery by man, does not seek to challenge Darwin, whose world is the evolution of outer forms, but offers a  counterbalance, the in‘forming’ of evolving awareness that shapes his creatures and their relationships. The central premise of this book is that evolution, prior to man, has been achieved through the infolding of experience – involution – and that its legacy, memory, resides in the very structure of matter."

And if all of this sounds too challenging a view from the get-go, then Involution isn't the book for you. While its tone is lively and its delivery understandable, it's not 'light reading' per say, despite its unexpected vehicle of poetry as the delivery wagon of choice.

Poetry? Really? Yes: because poetic structure in this case lends well to a survey that has to speedily traverse all of time, but which requires slow, careful reading for maximum benefit. Anyone seeking a quick set of insights despite the lightening effects of its poetic structure will be disappointed. Its light-heartedness belies the depth of its insights on the human adventure.

Perhaps Involution can best be described as an 'ambitious work exposing the inspired development of science and philosophy (and parallel art and music) wrapped in the mantle of epic poetry'. Surely its conception marries the disparate worlds of science and religion more firmly with a structure and presentation that will capture readers of either genre. The poetic evocation (addressed to the instinctive right brain, and the heart) is unambiguous, direct and occasionally breath-taking.

Perhaps ideally one should have a familiarity with classical poetry and an appreciation of thinking anew from first principles in order to fully appreciate the purposes, language and history provided in Involution: "But why address the already long converted?/ When science is in greater need of vision/Believing, as it does, it holds all truth./Scientists were caged, not by commission,/Invisible are the bonds to its repute…" It is the ‘blindness of the old soldier’ (science) that is here offered new eyes to see, in its own history, an alternative spiritual journey of purpose and meaning.

Saints and scientists break the same bread’

Here you will find it all: poetic cantos, scientific footnotes, discussions of ideals of liberty, Renaissance history, the psychology of love and reunion…all provided in a unique format with a distinctive perspective; perfect for multidisciplinary, college-level readers who want a scholarly yet evocative presentation of the concept and workings of involution through its increasingly unifying stages. This broad-brush journey through the history of Western culture offers an alternative vision of Man’s powers and his destiny; a return to Eden, now as co-Creator, conscious of the unity of all creation.

Incidentally, Involution-An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God has been nominated runner-up Book of the Year (2013) by the Scientific and Medical Network. It's easy to see why it deserves this accolade.

Diane Donovan, Midwest Review June 2014

As soon as I heard about this book, I wanted to review it. Involution, An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God sounded completely different from anything I had ever read before – a challenge. On opening the book, I found a much-loved quotation by Teilhard de Chardin which I have often used when speaking of the work of the Alister Hardy Trust, RERC and SSSE: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

This set the scene for the adventure to begin - heralded by appreciations from people as diverse as Arthur Koestler, Konrad Lorenz and Irwin Schumacher (in the early years of The Theory of Involution) and forty years later for this book, with comments by Ervin Laszlo and David Lorimer among others. That in itself was an indication of the lengthy period of gestation, a labour of love for the author.

The prose Introduction offers the opportunity to explore the concept of involution before embarking on the main text of the Cantos in verse. I skipped ahead and read the Appendix first, as well as about the author’s extraordinary life and the experiences which triggered the book.

Involution proposes that humans carry within them the history of the universe, which is (re)discovered by the individual genius when the time is ripe. All is stored within our DNA and awaits revelation. Such piecemeal revelations set our finite lives in an eternal chain of co-creation and these new leaps of discovery are compared to mystical experience.

In nine Cantos of dialogue between Reason and Soul, Philippa Rees takes the reader on a monumental journey through the history of everything – with the evolution of man as one side of the coin and involution the other. The Cantos are complex and the extremely learned and extensive footnotes offering background knowledge are necessary and fascinating. In effect there are two books, offering a right and left brain approach.

As I wanted to understand the thinking as well as to feel the beauty of the verse, I was at times torn between the notes and the Cantos. I could not switch one off to concentrate on the other and hopped between the two. Sometimes I wondered if her chosen format was an advantage or a hindrance, but as Rees makes clear, there are plenty of prose works available on similar themes. She wanted to be – and certainly has succeeded in being – different. Ultimately I decided to read the explanatory notes to each Canto before immersing myself in the verse, where she weaves magic in her words.

Rees could have chosen any field to illustrate her theory of involution, as it encompasses everything. She chose to focus on science but embraces art, music and touches on religions. We are caught up in the vast sweep of human development and expansion of knowledge through the ages - from the earliest humans to the philosophy of Ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance to modern science and contemporary consciousness studies.

So does Philippa Rees reconcile science to God? She weaves the thread of God as underlying consciousness manifesting throughout creation, giving meaning to everything as opposed to all being a result of mere chance. The mystic vision reveals an underlying universal wisdom and the ever-present transcendent, which draws us to itself through love.

This is a personal review. It has had to be. Each reader will approach this remarkable book differently and each will read it and gain from it in their own way. I can only express what Involution, An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God has meant to me and hope that I have done some justice to a book which I have yet to fully comprehend, but will treasure.

The reader who finishes the book will not be the same as the one who began it. New ideas will expand the mind but more profoundly, the deep, moving power of the verse will affect the heart. This book was a written pilgrimage for Philippa Rees “(costing not less than everything)” in the words of T.S.Eliot and it is a privilege to share the experience with her.

Marianne Rankin (Director of Communications AHT&SSSE)

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