Bottoming Out the Universe: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing

Richard Grossinger
Rochester, Vt.: Park Street Press, 308 pp., paper, $19.99.

When I grew up as a child, we had a well in our backyard. Our daily bath involved going outside, lowering the bucket, drawing it up, and emptying it on our heads.

I thought of this image when reading Richard Grossinger describe “bottoming out” as sending the bucket of scientific investigation into a well consisting of matter. The bucket could also be consciousness, with the stuff at the bottom “a spagyric mud that is as supraliminal as it is matter.”

The conventional meaning of “bottoming out” is to reach the lowest or worst point. Grossinger uses it to describe the quest to get to the bottom of things, specifically “to understand the fundamental nature of existence.” He asks: “Which is more fundamental: the existence of an objective physical universe or our subjective experience of it?” Grossinger says, “We have bottomed out as a species,” adding, “We are bottomed out ourselves, yet falling through a bottomless, unbottomable void.”

Grossinger takes us on a unique journey that draws upon examinations of consciousness in light of research into past-life regressions and past-life memories. In addition, he cites the views of Seth, an entity channeled by Jane Roberts whom Grossinger describes as “an aggregate transpersonal intelligence” or “an emanation of a huge consciousness.”

There are three main parts to the book: “Worlds and Lives,” “Transmutations,” and “Simulations.” The first part delves into the nature of consciousness. In Grossinger’s view, science does not explain it because “the only thing that verifies consciousness is consciousness’s self-reflection in its mirror.” It appears to be as unexplainable as a Zen koan. Grossinger suggests that instead of looking at the movie, we turn around and look at the projector.

Another adjustment of views arises when reincarnation is “added to the playing field.” The second chapter provides several instances of past-life experiences, for which the only sensible explanation is reincarnation. John Friedlander, who was present for some of Jane Robert’s Seth channelings, proposes that the personality and the soul are both real. Upon death, the personality dissolves and breaks into parts depending upon what karma dictates, while another fragment continues.

The chapter “Karma, Nonduality, and Meaning” asks, “What is Reality?” The Buddhist view is that it is a mirage. Zen master Suzuki Roshi says, “We die and we do not die. This is the right understanding.”

Scientists do not see the mirage or the reality it may conceal. They say that the universe of atoms and molecules is real but meaningless. Grossinger says that none of it is real, but it is incredibly meaningful. In that sense, it is “more real to be meaningful than to be real.”

Grossinger devotes half the book to investigating whether the universe began as a physical reality or as consciousness. I was drawn to the chapter on personal identity, which he describes as “the turnkey; it differs from consciousness in that it recognizes itself as itself. When the self experiences its own existence, things seem to happen to it as an individual, divorced from all other individuals.” (Perhaps it is the bucket that scrapes the bottom!)

Ultimately, for Grossinger, when you send the bucket to the bottom, you reach consciousness and not matter. As Seth says: “Consciousness is always conscious of itself, and of its validity and integrity, and in those terms there is no unconsciousness.”

Is this an easy book to read? Not really. If one has a deeper understanding of molecular physics and statistics, it could go more smoothly. But that shouldn’t stop one from taking on this profound inquiry. We, along with animals, plants, and all living entities, are part of this universe, whether we like it or not. To be conscious of it is a blessing.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for forty years. He reviews regularly for Quest and works as a volunteer in the archives department of the TSA.


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