Amazing Capacities & Self-Inflicted Limitations: An Interview With Joseph Chilton Pearce
Joseph Chilton Pearce has authored many books, beginning with 1973’s The Crack in the Cosmic Egg and continuing through Magical Child, Evolution’s End, The Biology of Transcendence, and most recently with 2007’s The Death of Religion and Rebirth of Spirit. He is both original and unique in his view of human potential and our limited development of that potential. In Pearce’s view, we human beings are the apex of billions of years of creative, evolving adaptation. The complexity of our structure includes all that came before; we are truly magical. We express, moment by moment, the creative force that formed us. And yet, generation after generation, through our habits, beliefs and traditions, we fail to manifest the full spectrum of our inherent potential. Joe’s lifelong quest has been to “understand our amazing capacities and self-inflicted limitations” in hopes that each of us, by sharing in this journey with him, will discover and become more of what we truly are—but don’t yet know it. Author and educator Michael Mendizza sat down with Pearce and had this illuminating conversation.
Michael: What started you on your journey?
Joe: My first book, The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, which I wrote and rewrote for 12 years, was a protest against the prevailing academic, consensus view, which narrows our perceptions and limits us to grim necessity, as William Blake would say, to the death of spirit. In my 23rd year of life I underwent a series of paranormal events which challenged the foundations of classical thought. These events took place with abundant objective witnesses. Over time, however, I watched how these witnesses screened out or blurred-over their own perceptions, and I realized this was a necessary move to keep intact their established consensus of what was real. This selective tendency of the brainmind is part of a general maintenance system, which keeps our collective world experience stable, and seems to function below awareness, healing little rifts in the fabric of the known.
Since these paranormal events were my direct experience, not just witnessed, I questioned their meaning, which opened a whole new realm of possibilities, and I wondered how much of our potential this automatic survival system filters out? Through studying child development, I saw how our cultural worldview was formed by our social models, and how this view is locked into the very neural structures of our brains, not as opinion but as our world-forming, perceptual-conceptual process. When writing my third book, Magical Child, I started giving workshops and seminars to get feedback on my ideas. By the time I completed the book, this feedback had enlarged my original focus to include astonishing capacities and self-inflicted limitations.
Michael: So your intention has always been to draw our attention to these undeveloped capacities and limitations we impose on ourselves and on our children?
Joe: To grasp the nature of adult spiritual development we must understand the nature of child development, which in turn opens fully to us only when we understand the self-organizing properties of the brain and the way our brain draws on fields of intelligence and memory. The paradox of the idio-savant is a dramatic example of this, and challenges large sectors of common sense and classical belief.
Michael: What are our hidden possibilities and why are they important?
Joe: For a long while academic thought has considered the brain a chemical-electrical soup, bringing in signals from the outer world and processing them into an inner facsimile of that world, which includes, of course, all the information we try and “teach.” Current research has pretty well exploded these notions. Consider instead that the brain is translating from fields of potential— physical, emotional-relational, and intellectual potentials—all of which are inherent within any child’s system, simply awaiting the appropriate stimulus and nurturing.
Obviously we need to develop cognitive skills and discover the processes by which these fields manifest, but to spend years trying to pound information into the young person, from the topdown, so to speak, is a very limited approach.
Michael: You have said the capacity to learn is infinite. Brain matter is localized, but its operations are both in and beyond time-space, what quantum physicists speak of as localized and non-localized, as wave and particle.
Joe: Within any brain is the potential for unlimited structures of knowledge, but nothing is as worthless as infinite potential. Actual education, coming into knowledge, can only take place by selectivity, distinguishing a particular reality from the whole. And this selectivity is determined by our models, parents and society.
All processes are complementary dynamics. Brain-mind and world create each other through “structural coupling.” Mind shapes its environment, which gives shape to that mind, and the two can never really be separate. An environment for the child includes all the shaping forces, including our misguided notions of schooling, testing and failing, with the inevitable guilt, anger and closure of the absorbent mind.
Within the first three years of life the absorbent mind of the child has either opened up to embrace a benevolent universe or closed down into a frightened defense mechanism on guard against a world it can’t trust. Which is the root cause for the social mess we have today.
Michael:This calls into question the critical role we adults play in this process.
Joe: Stages of development unfold at birth, age one, four, seven and eleven, concluding (for now) at age fifteen. Except for birth, these are statistical averages. Any child may vary from them as much as a year, but the universality of the stages themselves is beyond question. Each stage consists of a block of potential intelligences and/or abilities appropriate to that age. For optimal development, those abilities must be stimulated and nurtured within the time frame of that stage. This stimulus-nurturing implies a model imperative. Just as no teeth could appear unless the new infant is nourished, no intelligence or ability will unfold unless given a like stimulus from the environment. Not even the physical senses can function until the infant is given sufficient sensory stimulation. No intelligence can unfold unless the child is given an appropriate environmental model of that intelligence— someone who has themselves developed that intelligence and, in turn, provides the child with both initial stimulus and ongoing guidance in his or her own development of that capacity. There are no exceptions to this.
As part of this model imperative, the nature, character and quality of the model determines to an indeterminable extent the nature, character and quality of the unfolding intelligence-ability of the child. Children don’t become who we tell them to be. They become who we are, and the mother is the first and most important model in a child’s life.
Plato said, “Give me a different set of mothers and I will give you a different world,” which is simply to say that the mother is the most powerful presence in shaping the emerging mind. She is the infant’s environment and emotional world, and that infant has no choice except to rough in his basic knowledge of the world as he finds it expressed in her.