Pneumogenesis: Spirit Ecology & Evolution

(article revised November 2000)

Rev. John A. Mills

A longer version of this article is at hcsstext.htm

©2000 John A. Mills

Pneumogenesis: The Process of the Spirit

When I was introduced to process theology in seminary, I was excited and fascinated by it. Since, I have always had a love of mathematics, I was immediately attracted to this theology, developed by a mathematician (A. N. Whitehead). But more importantly, it described reality as process. Change is the norm. Process laid the foundation of accepting, understanding and celebrating change within the embrace of a non-coercive, loving God. But my fascination with mathematics has also included the wonderful interconnections and relationships that underlay mathematical reality: a Platonic world of forms. These two experiences, process and forms, seemed disconnected from each other. Though process philosophy taught the interconnection of reality, it seemed to float in the ether without any ground. Plato offered a ground, but valued it as absolute, opposing change. Recently, a parishioner introduced me to Talbott's Holographic Universe in which the theory of physicist David Bohm is described. As I read through this book, I realized that this theory of holograms had the potential to unify process philosophy and Plato's forms.

Thus, from the scientific theories of the collective unconscious, holography, and mathematics, I have formulated the idea of pneumogenesis, an ecological and evolutionary spirit process. Pneumogenesis is a model of our spiritual lives that integrates the plethora of interconnection of all createds, the kenosis of perishing and becoming, and the yearning for the Divine. This article takes the reader through the scientific and mathematical theories that point to this new way of looking at reality.

The Holographic Universe

We begin our understanding of pneumogenesis by examining David Bohm's ideas of the holographic universe. Michael Talbott in The Holographic Universe describes Bohm's theory. Bohm believes that the universe is structured like a hologram. A hologram is a photographic record of the patterns produced when laser light from a source is reflected from an object and interferes with a reference beam from the same source. The film records an interference pattern of waves that appears as a series of concentric circles. Multiple objects can be recorded on the same film by changing the angle of the reflecting laser light. Hidden within these concentric circles are the objects that were "holophotographed". They are enfolded in the film and are unfolded when observed. A three dimensional image of the recorded objects can be "explicated" from the film by shining a laser light on the film. An image of each object is recovered by shining the laser light at the same angle as it was recorded. The film is an implicate in which is folded information that can be unfolded and thereby explicated. Further, a hologram can be associative. If the light of a single laser bounces off two objects simultaneously, and if the interference pattern of the resulting two lights is recorded on film, then whenever one object is illumined by laser light and the resulting reflected light passes through the film, the second object is explicated.

The implicate order has the following interesting properties:

Every bit of the film contains the whole image. If a piece of the film is cut from the film, the piece has the whole image; although hazier with less resolution. If a piece is cut from that piece, it will still contain the whole, but with yet less resolution. Thus, any piece of information can be found anywhere in the film. Spatial-temporal boundaries do not exist and information is non-localized. The image is "fractalized".

Not only is the whole in every part, every part has many wholes. A film can have an unlimited number of parallel sets of information recorded. So it is possible to explicate multiple images observable from different angles.

Acausal, non-local event-relationships occur in the implicate order. For example, if, in the explicate order two objects widely apart, act in concert simultaneously with no cause and effect, they seemingly defy the speed of light, since in order for there to be cause and effect, they must communicate in infinitesimal time. Rather, since location ceases to have meaning in the implicate order, if the two events are connected in the implicate order, they can unfold as widely separate events in the explicate order.

Bohm believes that the implicate order is a quantum potential field existing at the subquantum level. At the subquantum level all things are not separate, but part of an unbroken web, and thus the behavior of the parts are determined by the whole fabric. All of space-time is enfolded in each part of the implicate order. Rather, space-time is a product of the explicate order. The things we observe in our "ordinary" world (the explicate order) are, in fact, not static, but actually a constant series of unfoldings from the implicate order and enfoldings into it. This process of unfoldings and enfoldings is a holomovement.

Reality then is made up of more than what we "sense" (the explicate order); it is also made up of the enfolded reality, the implicate order. If now, we understand the implicate order as the ground of being and the spiritual aspect of reality, then the process of enfolding and unfolding is the interaction of the spirit in reality. But the holographic model does not present a complete picture of reality. It lacks an intrinsic understanding of God's interaction with creation and an explanation of the process of unfolding and enfolding. This leads us to introduce Process Philosophy, a philosophy rooted in mathematics.


Process philosophers and theologians (e.g., Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, John B. Cobb, and David Ray Griffin) have formulated a theory of reality that provides a framework to understand the process of unfolding and enfolding. According to process theology, process or change is fundamental to reality. Not everything is in process; but to be actual is to be a process. Reality is a place of process. To be fully real is to be in process. The real is not beyond change, i.e., it is not absolute or unchanging.

In process, the individuals that we perceive, such as a human being, are actually "societies" of actualities. The structure of process reality consists of these individual actualities, each of whom is a infinitesimal experience which perishes upon coming into being. This is called concrescence: becoming concrete. The measurable temporal process that we experience is the transition from one individual actuality to another. Thus, there are two structural processes: the finite process of transition and the infinitesimal process of concrescence. The transition process hinges time: the past is the collection of those actualities that occurred; the present is the collection of actualities occurring; and the future is where no actuality has yet occurred but has the potential to occur. Time is asymmetrical, non-circular, and non-repetitive.

In the moment of concrescence each individual actuality enjoys experience. Though not all experience is conscious, all actualities at all levels of consciousness or non-consciousness have experience. The higher the conscious, the greater the enjoyment of experience. The infinitesimal experience of an actuality is essentially related to all past actualities (the whole in every part), its own free-will (self-creation), its own past (experience), God's lure towards divine novelty (all potential wholes).

Thus, an actuality is firstmost in relation. Reality is fundamentally interdependent, rather than independent. The experience of all past actualities has the potential of being incorporated into the infinitesimal present experience of any given actuality. The finite past is incarnated in the infinitesimal present and thus is objectively immortal. An individual actuality is influenced by past actualities by incarnating them and by responding to them creatively. By exercising its free will and deciding how it will incarnate past experience and the divine lure, each individual actuality is self-creative. Free will is the gift that allows each actuality to respond creatively.

Now, God is the divine eros urging or luring the world to new heights of enjoyment through novelty. An actuality wants to pervade its environment with its self-expression to contribute to the enjoyment of others. Each individual actuality can have innumerable actualized possibilities. Possibilities that were never actualized in the past and are new in the present are radically novel. Thus, unactualized possibilities are part of the divine experience as the ground of novelty, and the ground of changing and developing order. Our sense of God is essential to our experience; God is the origin of novelty that changes past possibilities. God is incarnate in the world and God-relatedness is constitutive of the experience of every individual actuality. In God, there exists freedom, since from God comes novelty. Without God, each actuality would be just a deterministic derivative of the past. Therefore, God's effect is the continual creative transformation of that which is received from the past in the light of the divinely received call toward actualizing new possibilities.


Now, we can integrate the holographic model and the process model to formulate the pneumogenesis model. The coherent societies of actualities in process are the holomovements in the holographic model. The series of becomings and perishings or unfoldings and enfoldings make up the object that we perceive. In process philosophy, upon concrescence, an actuality experiences the joy of being an experiencing subject. Equivalently, in the holographic model, it responds to meaning or information. Every actuality enjoys its existence and responds to meaning. It is not necessary to be a conscious actuality to experience; therefore, rocks enjoy and can respond to meaning or information however low level or slow. Each actuality that makes up a holomovement exercises self-creation (however low level) and experiences meaning. The holomovement then exercises the collective will of its constituent actualities and is the on-going emergent explication of a series of actualities. Each person or object that we sense is a holographic explication emerging out of the holographic film of the implicate order. At each infinitesimal concrescence we encounter the transcendental implicate order. Our psyches and souls are directly influenced by this experience.

Concrescence is an infinitesimal process, perishing immediately upon becoming; it is the Eternal Now without time or space. Whitehead viewed this instant of concrescence as an instant of aloneness. Pneumogenesis differs with this. This kenotic instant is when an actuality taps into the implicate order. An actuality returns to the ground of being or collective unconscious (the implicate order) through which God's lure and novelty are mediated, and the organic whole of creation is accessible. Free will, then, is what an actuality decides to do with all of this input. An actuality chooses whether to be seduced by God's lure or to go its own way. Together, the holographic model and the process model form a more complete picture of reality.

The Implicate Order

If we now look at the implicate order in greater detail, we will reveal a process of co-creation: the shared and mutual creative process of God and God's creation. Our sources of understanding of the implicate order come from Plato and Jung. Plato describes his world of perfect forms in a variety of works, particularly in the Republic and the Phaedo. Plato theorized that the implicate order was the order of independently existing pure and perfect forms and the explicate order was only a shadow of the implicate. For example, a perfect circle never occurs in the explicate order, though it does in the implicate order. Plato put a value on this: the implicate order is divine and the explicate order is profane. We are trapped in the explicate and ontologically strive to return to the implicate order. However, Judeo-Christian theology teaches (in general) that the Creation is good [e.g. see Genesis chapter 1], and so we reject this value judgment and seek good in both the implicate and explicate orders. Yet that the implicate order is home to pure and perfect forms is evidenced in mathematics. For example the golden mean is a mathematical object that occurs in the abstract world of mathematics (i.e., the implicate order); yet emerges in the explicate order in many forms, such as the chambered nautilus shell, the florets of sunflowers and the quanta energy levels of atoms.

Mathematics, of course, has progressed considerably since Plato's time. In Plato's age and for ages after, mathematics was looked upon as describing an absolute, immutable realm. But mathematics describes an open-ended realm of infinities, process, chance, and chaos. Our inventory of mathematical objects has infinitely increased. Yet their pure and perfect characteristics remain as abstract ideals and templates that are "imperfectly" manifested in the explicate order. So one source of understanding the implicate order is the abstract world of pure and perfect mathematical objects.

Another source of understanding the implicate order is C. G. Jung's notion of the collective unconscious as home of the archetype. Jolande Jacobi in Complex Archetype Symbol in the Psychology of C. G. Jung explains that archetypes are collective forms or images which occur practically all over the earth as the basis of myths and at the same time as individual products of unconscious origin. Archetypes are numinous metaphors that organize our psychic contents preconsciously and unify the biological, psychological, and metaphysical planes. Ordinarily it is the psyche that mediates between the implicate and the explicate orders, extracting archetypes from the collective unconscious. Jung stated, "... there are present in every psyche forms which are unconscious but nonetheless active -- living dispositions, ideas in the Platonic sense, that preform and continually influence our thoughts and feelings and actions." That archetypes are more than just human constructs, but pervade the rest of creation is attested in various animal studies suggesting that their behavior is also organized by archetype. Jung also uncovered that space and time disappears in the collective unconscious and the law of synchronocity holds. Jung also regarded the collective unconscious metaphorically as the "universal soul". Thus, the collective unconscious and the implicate order are expressions of the same hidden order.

If the implicate order is the home of forms and archetypes, how do these arise? If we look at our model, we recall that creation occurs not in the implicate order, but in the explicate order at the instant of concrescence. Unlike Plato who thought we were trapped or imprisoned in the explicate order, we are freed to co-create with God in our response to God's initial aim and novelty. It is in the explicate order that we co-create. God pronounced the creation good: that is both the implicate and explicate orders. The explicate order is divinely vectored on the Kingdom of God. It is in the explicate order that we do the will of God and evolve towards the Kingdom of God.

Moral Choice

A spiritual model must not only guide us to a relationship to God (reflection), but it must also guide us to action for God (praxis); i.e., it must aid us in making moral choices. To apply the pneumogenesis model to ethics, we will build on the work of Murphy and Ellis. Murphy and Ellis in their book On the Moral Nature of the Universe propose a kenotic ethic of nature: self-renunciation for the sake of the other is the highest good no matter the cost to one's self. This ethic is universally applied to humans, nature, and God. The ethic cannot be imposed. It must be noncoercive. An individual must willing and joyfully live it. When applied to God, it establishes the kenotic nature of God: the divine willingness of self-limitation in order to allow creation's free will. Free will is the sign and mark of God's kenosis: The Genesis story tells us, in contrast to other ancient mythologies, that God is creating the creation out of love for love. But to love and to be loved requires free will. The lover must be free to choose to love. There must exist free will and moral intelligence.

All of this is consistent with the pneumogenesis model. Kenosis is at its microlevel. However our model suggests that at the core of ethics is not only kenosis, but also interconnection and "otherness"; i.e., plethora. Each individual is not ontological "separate" from other individual. We are interpenetrated and interconnected by each other. Ontologically, we incarnate the other within our becoming and perishing. Thus, we are not so much called to self-renunciation for the other, as called to self-awareness of our ontological otherness and therefore to renounce our separateness.

Therefore, Murphy's and Ellis' core ethic can be modified to renunciation of the separate self for the sake of the other self is the highest good, no matter the cost to one's self. This ethic still retains the kenotic nature of Murphy's and Ellis' ethic, but shifts emphasis from sacrifice (though it does not abandon it) to a redemptive, celebrative life. It encapsulates Murphy's and Ellis' ethic in a morality of interconnectedness. This is an ethic of kenosis and plethora.

Further Reading

  1. Cobb, John B. and David Ray Griffin; Process Theology: an Introductory Exposition; The Westminster Press ©1976.
  2. Jacobi, Jolande; Complex Archetype Symbol in the Psychology of C. G. Jung; Translated by Ralph Manheim; Princeton University Press ©1959.
  3. Murphy, Nancey and George F. R. Ellis; On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics; Augsburg Fortress ©1996
  4. Plato; The Republic and Other Works; translated by Benjamin Jowett; International Collectors Library
  5. Talbott, Michael; The Holographic Universe; HarperPerennial; ©1991.