Last Philosopher in San Francisco

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People are being swept out of San Francisco, washed away by pulsating torrents of tech cash.  Children, always in short-supply in this Peter Pan playground, are being replaced by a rising population of designer dogs, who soon enough will have their own dedicated restaurant, probably called “Doggy Diner.”  African Americans, making their last stand at the City’s southeastern edge, have become mostly a metaphor, symbolically represented by a handful of high-level politicians whose clan has moved to the East Bay and beyond.  Family-owned businesses are folding, chased out by start-up-fueled rents that never stop rising, and the comfort brought by cardboard box-cluttered living rooms serviced by just-in-time deliveries.

Transmutation. Lindahl’s art courtesy of the Intropy=Entropy Institute.

Fast going too, are the eccentrics, creatives, stubbornly iconoclastic characters that once defined Fog City.  The fellow who lived in a shack alongside one of the few remaining daylighted urban creeks, who knew the name of every native plant and animal, disappeared.  The sprawling extended family, blood-related or not, making babies, art, and dreamcatchers for sale at the Alemany Farmer’s Market, departed.  

Left behind is the latest layer of 20-something strivers, more interested in making a buck then giving a…and at least one 80-something philosopher-scientist-artist, who has spent a half-century painstakingly separating spiritual-intellectual wheat from fast food chaff in a refurbished former movie theater located in what once was San Francisco’s industrial buckle. 

Harold Terry Lindahl trained and worked as an architect, designing Daly City’s Civic Center, and, during the 1980s, San Francisco International Airport’s boarding lounge, among other projects.  But his life’s labor has been to understand and advance humanity’s place in the universe.  During the great awakening that was the 1960s, and through the disco, greed,, and social media ages that followed, he dove deep into the teachings of philosopher George Ivanovic Gurdjieff, and engaged in intensive study of physics, biology, and other sciences.  He collected a small tribe around him, dedicated to fostering self-awareness as a birth canal for higher consciousness, what he calls “pysvolving.”  

Along the way Lindahl had four wives, cared for seven children, hitchhiked around the world photographing architectural monuments, and drank countless glasses of coffee, mostly in the form of Gibraltars, at a neighborhood coffeehouse whose motto is “community in a cup.”  He also created multiple art pieces that attempt to provide windows into the universe’s secrets.

Lindahl, perhaps the last 1960s-era philosopher-scientist-artist standing in our gilded city, may have the antidote to our current chaotic-myopic age, though conveying it takes more than 280 characters. We’re digitally watering boarding ourselves into stupefaction with images of cute cats, caustic politician-celebrities – “politibrities” – and whatever else is dished up on our feed.  The religious highlights of the year consist of visits by rabbits bearing yummy chocolate eggs and an oddly clothed portly fellow whose reddish countenance seems to imply troubles with alcohol.  Yet we have supernatural powers, able to change the weather, terraform the earth, wipe out entire species without much thought.  Humanities’ current aspirations, as summed up by big screen Marvel superheroes, is to be ever ready to smash the world into smithereens to save the world from being smashed into smithereens by someone else.

Still, we yearn for something better, to understand the meaning of life, or at least lead lives of meaning.  The challenge, when it comes to Lindahl, is that he can be nearly impossible to understand.  He makes up complicated words.  His sentences are Germanic in their lengthy use of multi-syllabic science terms, each set of consonants and vowels layering more impenetrability onto his insights, reminiscent of the accretion of geological time.  He writes, and can even be heard to utter out loud (take a deep, cleansing, breath), 

Ubiquitously, momentum properties broke the coherence of the autocognium releasing the medium of field-consciousness to regulate the propagation of being-existence (particulate matter) through being-experience (vivifying energy) and to normalize the triadic ergodic structure of involutionary particle collision-intercourse forming galaxies, stars, planets, the evolutionary biospheric properties of the transmutation of care and thought from light, atmosphere and minerals and the psyvolutionary refinement and transpiration of being-experience to assist the normalization of outer-space/solar dynamics. (emphasis his)

Uh huh.  Yes, of course, involutionary evolution!  That’s obvious; why even bother saying it.  So, what’s on Hulu..?

We’re a people of ever-shortening attention spans.  There are just 10 commandments; you, right now, can remember seven at best.  The Bill of Rights, in the U.S. Constitution, consists of 10 amendments; name six.  In retrospect, the television era of three channels and the one that never came in clearly was a golden age of welcome simplicity.  Too much detail and we lose interest, or, worse, become irritated snarling animals hurling insults at one another over the infinite Internet.  Perhaps the problem is that we’re being forced-fed indigestible artificial info-nuggets. 

The imperative, according to Lindahl, is to learn how to digest information that’s good for us and discard the rest. Literally digest, through one of the branches of the autonomic nervous system, a biological control structure that unconsciously regulates bodily functions, such as digestion, heart and respiratory rates.  It’s a tricky business, as pointed out by one Middle Age alchemist, who advised, “Separate the earth from the fire, the subtle for the gross, deftly, with great ingenuity.”  More on that later. Unlike many New Age philosophers, whose insights might be based on “medicine” fueled vision quests, or painful efforts to crack open deeply held internalized emotions, Lindahl built his perspective one intellectual brick at a time, while also engaging in painstaking efforts to extract his own ancient, harmful, and distracting patterns.  His thinking has been molded by Erwin Schrodinger, who published What is Life? in 1944, after receiving the Nobel Prize in physics a decade earlier, and Harold J. Morowitz’s Energy Flow in Biology, which theorized that “the energy that flows through a system acts to organize that system,” an insight later quoted on The Last Whole Earth Catalogue, and that “life is a property of an ecological system rather than a single organism or species.” He’s seriously studied works by Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, among other transformative scientists.  

To fully unearth the roots of Lindahl’s insights one would need at least an undergraduate understanding of physical and natural sciences, as well as a decent grasp on humanities’ spiritual wanderings. That, and a clear and present mind undistracted by layers of unexamined personal, cultural and religious prejudices. Even without those emo-intellectual assets at least two penetrating perspectives are apparent, which can be characterized as: humans have a purpose that is nested in their connection to the universe; and we can positively alter our consciousness and biology in ways that increase our awareness, advance our own evolution, and contribute to achieving our purpose.

Put differently, we can learn how to see God.  Not the image burned into our subconscious at Sunday school and black and white movies, but the divine, pulsating, expanding web to which everything is connected.

Picture the universe as a constantly expanding container in which everything inside is in relationship with and influences one another.  Planets gravitationally pull at all around them, like pushy shoppers at a pre-Amazon Black Friday sale.  Billions of stars pulsate heat and light, which in the case of our own sun, spits out the energy needed to catalyze and sustain biological life.  Sometimes abrupt interactions take place that alter pathways; an asteroid slams into Earth, incinerating the landscape, triggering mega-earthquakes and waves that wash away all existing lifeforms, making room for their replacements, us.    

Psycho-catalytical processes as illustrated in the three stages of human speciation: Homo Hypnon, Essence Individual, and Homo Sapiens. Lindahl’s art courtesy of the Intropy=Entropy Institute.

People live inside this busy, buzzy, sometimes jarringly silent container.  As with everything else, we’re effected by and impact everything around us; our collective forces intermingle and extend throughout the massive vessel that’s our universe.  

The notion that all things influence all other things follows the laws of physics; it’s a scientifically accurate way of characterizing existence.  This principal is perhaps further confirmed by the fact that we – from the tiniest of bacteria, to the largest of suns – are composed of the same basic materials.  All come and intermix from an identical place.  Humans are made of stardust:  people and the galaxy share roughly 97 percent of the same kind of atoms.

The cosmos’ push-pull fundamentals are deeply embedded in ancient spirituality.  Jewish teaching speaks to the origin of the universe, science’s Big Bang, as a shattering of a gigantic pot; a Jew’s job is to help put the shards back together.  Astrology, according to Lindahl, reflects a crude attempt to understand how the stars empirically tug on individual behavior. 

Humanities’ impact on Earth and space can be seen tangibly, in the form of climate-altering pollutants and space debris from broken satellites. But the effects also occur in less visible ways.  We, perhaps uniquely or with few peers, as inhabitants of the “Goldilocks” planet, yank at the strands of the universe.  This is our purpose. Humans, like planets, stars, and all else, are a part of an infinite webbed system. We’re a critical link; the changes we make alter the cosmos.

This point is the missing link between religion, spirituality, and material science.  Just like the anthropological missing link, there’s no one piece of ah ha! evidence to prove it.  Physics points to it: all matter goes somewhere, it doesn’t just disappear, including human thought, an energetic pulse that’s as tangible as the wind.  Religion and spirituality – at their best, wisdom – confirms it.  Consciousness and spirit end up somewhere.  Creating a tangible connection to the great out there is the purpose of prayer, which, when allowed to settle into its essential self, sounds the same no matter the religion. Amen is one gigantic om. 

If President Donald Trump sent out a tweet to his 55 million followers saying “humans are a product of evolution” he’d no doubt get some angry blowback. But we are.  Elements of our evolutionary passage remain deep inside us.  Physical anomalies remind us of this fact.  We all have a residual tail bone; I have relatives with webbed feet.  Perhaps more alarmingly, left behind are also bits of the consciousness of our previous embodiments.  We have lizard brains and mammalian fears, which, if we’re not careful, lead us down false paths.  The devil doesn’t make us do it, our unexamined, unmanaged biological past does.  

When you reflect on this idea, it seems obvious.  Most of us know people stuck in their lizard or mammalian attitudes.  They’re human, to be sure, they just haven’t yet fully evolved. But they have the capacity to change; all of us do.  According to Lindhal, by vastly expanding our ability to pay attention, to our bodies, minds, and everything around us, we can advance our ongoing evolution, rearranging ourselves at the biological and consciousness levels.  Again, science supports this perspective.  What happens in the head, so to speak, can reshape other organs, including the heart.

In this respect our quest for artificial intelligence is a distraction. It’s the cultivation of our own intelligence, emotional, spiritual and otherwise, that’s of greater importance.  We can, with hard work and the right practice, perceive the information we’re already receiving from the stars.  We can see God, as defined by understanding, in an ongoing way, the throbbing connections within and between ourselves, everything and everyone.   

Evolving isn’t easy. It requires cultivating consideration, in an era of distractions and multi-tasking.  Fortunately, our attention is subject to our will. We can perform any undertaking more thoughtfully, bringing attention to dressing – sensing the fabric of our clothes – dining – tasting each bite and sip – and every other action, or even thought, we take. As a simple exercise, Lindahl suggests that right handers use their left hand to perform all duties for a day – opening doors; shaking hands – a tactic intended to prompt more intention to attention.  

Lindahl calls carefully crafted methods of self-development “The Work.” It’s the means by which we become conscious and self-aware. Self-remembering, is what Gurdjieff named it, now more widely known as being present.  That’s the job, humanities primary responsibility:  to do the work necessary to evolve.  

And if we take Lindahl’s advice he’ll no longer be the last philosopher in San Francisco, because everyone else will replace him.

“The Art and Architecture of Harold Terry Lindhal,” is part of Open Studios, October 26 and 27, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 312 Connecticut Street.