This is an early draft of the last chapter of Co-Creating a Brilliant Relationship, which discusses in detail the science of the universe and what it implies:
Chapter Eight: The Universe--Science and Spirit
Recalling Our Cosmos
And Who We Are in It
1.Being: The Big Bang
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --A. Einstein
“At some point in the past…the universe was squashed into a single point with zero size….At that time,” physicist Stephen Hawking tells us, “the density of the universe and the curvature of space-time would have been infinite. It is a time that we call the big bang.”
” …the old idea of an essentially unchanging universe that could have existed forever, and could continue to exist forever, was replaced by the notion of a dynamic, expanding universe that seemed to have begun a finite time ago and which might end at a finite time in the future.”
Whatever the big bang was, what we experience as the world is the result. You and I, and all that exists were held somehow as a creative possibility within the big bang. I and we flowed from the big bang—and all that is in the universe we know flowed from the big bang. Holmes Ralston, author of The Three Big Bangs, wrote, “…one of the surprises of contemporary physics is that the human person is composed of stardust, fossil stardust! ...we humans are leftover nuclear waste” “At some point in the far distant past”, the NGS series The Known Universe noted, “we were dealt a pretty good hand when an ancient star died a spectacular death, and seeded our little corner of the galaxy with everything we’d ever need: all the raw materials—iron, carbon, calcium, oxygen and other elements—that would billions of years later lead to this: life. Our bodies are composed of star stuff, the debris of exploding stars that manufactured the atoms of which we’re composed. Every atom in every one of us was at some point part of a star. In fact, everything around us was once part of a star… we’re all recycled atoms.” Or, as Jimmy Buffett sang, “It‘s something more than DNA that tells us who we are—it‘s mythic, and it‘s magic. We are of the stars!” Whatever existed 13.8 billion years ago is, and likely will remain, ever a mystery. Hawking states: “Questions such as who set up the conditions for the big bang are not questions that science addresses.” What is not a mystery or a question, in the sense that we now can describe it with some certainty, is that about 13.7 billion years ago there was a massive explosion or expansion. What was it that exploded? We call it a “singularity,” but we really have no idea what a singularity is. A ball of matter-energy and consciousness (it had to be consciousness too, somehow; latent, or in some kind of potential, as we will see) compacted to zero size, and bearing all the weight of the sum total of what exists in our Universe, erupted. This explosion blew rapidly outward, first as a soup of basic atoms, molecules, and chemicals, and then, quickly, as a main course of more and more complex chemicals and forces. “Over time,” Hawking continues, “as the universe has undergone a complex evolution (its) makeup has also evolved. It is this evolution that has made it possible for planets such as the earth, and beings such as we to exist.” If we fast-forward to today, we can see that this Universe continues to expand outward and with increasing speed, which is, as the famed astrophysicist Arthur Eddington described, like a balloon being blown up.
An Incredible Vastness
We know that we exist on a planet we call Earth, which, along with seven or eight other planets, all circle our sun. Our sun is a star, like many of the objects we see in the night sky, and we have learned, (starting in 1927, when the Wilson Observatory first became operational), that it swirls around in a tightly knit spiral along with one hundred billion other stars we call the Milky Way Galaxy. We have relatively recently learned, with the launching of the Hubble telescope in 1990, that there are, within the range of our observation, 100 billion other galaxies as well, each containing 100 billion (or more!) stars. The number of stars is inconceivable—if we count only those we know of, that number exceeds all the grains of sand on all of the beaches and in all of the deserts on the entire planet Earth! That‘s not counting planets, asteroids, space debris, or other material entities out there. And the dimensions of space in which they exist are another order beyond that. “Put three grains of sand inside a vast cathedral,” says Sir James Jeans, “and the cathedral will be more closely packed with sand than space is with stars.” There are other mysterious aspects to the cosmos as well: “dark energy,” which makes up 73% of the universe and “dark matter,” which makes up 26% of the universe. As the universe continues to expand, new stars and new galaxies continue forming, and then, inexplicably, life, and eventually, conscious mind! Cosmologist Brian Swimme sums it up: “It‘s really simple. Here‘s the whole story in one line…You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebuds, giraffes, and humans.” In this truly unimaginable largeness, grandness, and mystery, off in some uncharted and minuscule moment in the life of the universe, humanity was born…
A Very Precise Tinkering
I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.
--Wernher Von Braun, German-American rocket scientist
John D. Barrow cosmologist, theoretical physicist, and mathematician at the University of Cambridge, observes of the universe: “Many of its most striking features—its vast size and huge age, the loneliness and darkness of space—are all necessary conditions for there to be intelligent observers like ourselves.“ In addition to its incomprehensible size and age, along with the captivating mysteries of life and mind that have evolved within it, scientists of all varieties remain astonished at our perplexing beginning in what we call the big bang—and scientists are virtually unanimous that our universe began with this “originating huge explosion.” More befuddling still, as cosmologist Paul Davies notes, are the “extraordinary physical coincidences and apparent accidental cooperation” that have stemmed from the big bang in a synchronistic symphony beyond any ever heard. Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow write in The Grand Design, “The emergence of complex structures capable of supporting intelligent observers seems to be very fragile. The laws of nature form a system that is extremely fine-tuned, and very little in physical law can be altered without destroying the possibility of the development of life as we know it. Were it not for a series of startling coincidences in the precise details of the physical law, it seems humans and similar life-forms would never have come into being…What can we make of these coincidences? …Our universe and its laws appear to have a design that is both tailor-made to support us, and, if we are to exist, leaves little room for alteration. This is not easily explained, and raises the natural question of why it is that way.” And astronomers as well marvel: -Fred Hoyle (British astrophysicist): "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." -Alan Sandage (winner of the Crawford Prize in astronomy): "I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle.” -John O'Keefe (astronomer at NASA): “If the universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for (humanity) to live in."
Scientists have identified scores of calculations with regard to the forces and speeds and charges in the first moments of the universe, along with the chemicals and gases formed out of the earliest atoms, which, had any of it varied in amount, power, or interaction by even miniscule amounts, the universe, let alone life or us, would not have happened!
We now know, for example, that: -If the speed of the expansion of the universe was even a bit faster or slower the universe would not exist: either it would have collapsed into nothingness on the one hand, or have been stripped of stars and galaxies on the other. -If the force of gravity that shapes and guides and structures the universe and everything in it were a tiny percentage stronger, the Earth and the Sun would not exist. -Additionally, even a very small adjustment in the electrical charge of an atom’s electron would have resulted in an impossibility of chemical reactions occurring. -And if the attractive force of protons in atoms were a small percentage higher, all hydrogen would have turned into helium, and no matter would have emerged. -Without the four known forces in the universe having somehow come into existence, we know with certitude we would not be here. And there are countless other specific tweaks in the physics and chemistry of the universe, that, had they been slightly different—each one, let alone the collection!—this universe and all life would not have come into being. Scientists take notice and a large, distinguished cohort in many disciplines, come to conclusions that suggest that there is more to the universe than we have sensed: a driving force, an intelligence, a visionary conception of some sort. -Roger Penrose (mathematician and author): "I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance." - Arthur Eddington (astrophysicist): "The idea of a universal mind…would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the present state of scientific theory." -Arno Penzias (Nobel Prize in physics): "Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say 'supernatural') plan." - George Greenstein (astronomer): "As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency—or, rather, Agency—must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?" -Tony Rothman (physicist): "When confronted with the order and beauty of the universe and the strange coincidences of nature, it's very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion." -Vera Kistiakowsky (MIT physicist): "The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine." -Stephen Hawking (British theoretical physicist): "…we shall…take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer…it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God." - Max Planck (quantum physicist): “We must assume, behind this force, the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
Despite the enigmatic largeness of this universe we call our home, the components that combine to shape all we see and more, hold a mystery for us as well. Since Einstein determined that matter and energy are the same thing, scientists have been searching deeper and deeper into the tininess of the universe to try and determine the smallest thing out of which all else is made. And they have found… Nothing! Incredibly, we now know that matter itself is an illusion. Quantum theory has revealed that every atom is 99.9% empty space. Duane Elgin describes it visually: “If a typical atom were expanded to the size of a football field, the seemingly ‘solid’ portion (the nucleus) would be no larger than a baseball.” He adds, “The fabric of space-time is…involved in this dance of creation. So-called empty space is no longer viewed as a featureless vacuum…Space is not an absence of form, waiting to be filled out by matter; instead space is a dynamic presence that is filled with incredibly complex architecture….Space is not static emptiness, but a continuous opening process that provides the context for matter to manifest.” Further, if we examine the content of the nucleus, we will find only quarks, “unimaginably tiny knots of energy.” And the protons and electrons that rotate around the nucleus? Not matter, but packets of energy—packets of action—as well. Mostly space with extremely tiny energy “clusters” scattered about. So, why do we feel things are hard or solid? Elgin, inspired by Bill Keepin, uses the analogy of an airplane propeller. “When a propeller is spinning, it creates a circular arc that appears to be a nearly solid surface. If we try to put something in its path…it functions as if it were solid.” Physicist Max Born ratifies this new, counterintuitive picture of what matter is: “We have sought for firm ground and found none. The deeper we penetrate, the more restless becomes the universe; all is rushing about and vibrating in a wild dance.” And Max Planck, regarded as the founder of the quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 agrees: “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration, and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together.” “Discoveries in the…sciences of quantum physics, as well as in certain areas of psychology, neurology, evolutionary biology, and consciousness studies are ushering in…a new worldview… In this approach, the fundamental ‘stuff’ of the world is not solid, substantial, material things—like particles, atoms, and molecules—it is something much more like fields of vibrating energy, or vortices in dynamic warps of space-time. In short, the world is made up of processes, events rather than things,” concludes Christian de Quincey in his book Radical Knowing. Although relativity theory and quantum theory are inconsistent with each other, (except in the theoretical constructs of string theory), both, incredibly, agree that it is not “things” or “matter” that makes up physical reality. “Since the quantum is a ‘packet’ of action…events or processes are now understood to be the fundamental nature of physical reality.” “Relativity theory…has made the cosmic web come alive,” says Fritjof Capra, theoretical physicist, systems theorist, author, and proponent of living systems theory, “by revealing its intrinsically dynamic character, and by showing that activity is the very essence of being….The universe is seen as a dynamic web of interrelated events.” Who we are and the complete environment in which we exist—indeed the whole universe and the whole cosmos—consists of forces in motion, of movement. “We live in a world of energy—we are surrounded by it, we consume it, we transform it, and in a
way, we are it,” says de Quincey. “As Einstein showed, all matter is a form of energy (E=Mc ). The entire world around us—the land, mountains, forests, deserts, oceans cities, sky, and the vast, perhaps infinite, cosmos of innumerable stars and galaxies—is a world of energy, vortices, fluxes, flows, currents, and vibrations. As embodied creatures, we are thoroughly embedded in this vast energy matrix as it streams in, through, and around.”
Space itself, as well, is not empty, but consists of an as yet unknown swirling something. We are having to come to terms with “a wild and different set of rules. Even if you try to remove every atom and every particle, empty space is…alive with activity. Particles are continually popping in and out of existence, erupt out of nothingness, quickly annihilate each other and disappear.” In fact, space “is so flooded with activity, it can force objects to move,” says physicist Brian Greene. “For quantum mechanics, space is not that empty. It is filled with fluctuating fields full of all sorts of jittery things going on. It’s a place where particles are constantly fluctuating and annihilating each other,” notes Greene in the 2010 Nova series, The Fabric of the Cosmos. “Empty space is not nothing. It’s something with hidden characteristics, as real as all the ‘stuff’ in our everyday lives.” And further, he observes, “In fact, space is so real it can bend, can twist, and it can ripple. It’s so real, empty space itself helps shape everything around us, and forms the very fabric of the cosmos.”
A Holomovement of Unbroken Wholeness:
An Undivided Flowing Movement without Borders
Because of the exponential growth in the sciences since the early 20th century—in astrophysics, molecular biology, cosmology, chemistry, botany, epigenetics, to name only a few—and because of the exciting and new potentials of relativity and quantum theory, the notion of a holographic universe, complexity and chaos theory, string and M-theory, and so on, the science many of us were raised with, the “old” Newtonian science of celestial mechanics, has been modified, enhanced and altered so that old ways of thinking are in some ways unrecognizable. Today’s science is not your daddy’s science! Even though we are still trying to define, describe, and understand the implications of these theories, collectively they have replaced an exclusively mechanical view with a quantum view that must be reckoned with as well, including (at least) two game changing realities: -In some way, what happens in the world is affected by human observation. “The observer is not and cannot be separated from the object being investigated…The so-called observer is actually a participator, an integral part of the quantum system,” and -Motion isn’t caused only by physical bodies acting on each other: somehow, particles can affect each other instantaneously over great distances through non-physical and non-energy means. “…When two quantum objects…are separated in space so that no signal could possibly pass between them…(by) changing a property on one…the other was observed to undergo a complementary change—as if it somehow knew what had happened to the first (object).” Quantum physics describes physical reality in a new and unfamiliar way, so that it is difficult sometimes even to envision what it describes. It speaks of a world of black holes, changing time, holograms, multiple dimensions of existence, and two dimensional worlds. Physicist David Bohm’s hologram model of the universe is a good example. Bohm was one of many who tried to find a coherent theory in order to understand the implications of these two results of quantum research. He articulated a perspective that everything that exists is part of an “unbroken wholeness” which operates as an “undivided flowing movement without borders.” His view of reality was that matter and life is a whole and integrated realm, which he called the Implicate Order. All of the objects in the universe, which he saw as the Explicate Order, are an “unfolding and enfolding” continuous process of movement, a primary and flawless whole. (Imagining what we want to make for dinner exists, as an example, in the Implicate Order of what’s possible. Actually making the meal occurs overtly in the Explicate Order). Before he died, he brilliantly articulated this theory of the universe, using the idea of a hologram in motion, a holomovement. At the time, (the 1960s-1980s) he was largely scoffed at and dismissed by the scientific community, but today, these ideas are taking center stage as a likely description of our existence here. Brian Greene recalling Bohm’s holomovement model, suggests that, as a result of recent work on the mathematics of black holes, it is thought now everything we experience as three dimensional may actually be a projection from a far distant two dimensional surface that surrounds us, which results in a hologram. He uses the illustration of his wallet being pulled into a black hole. The “information” about the wallet, he says, is stored (like information is stored in a computer) as two dimensions on the spherical periphery of the black hole, even as the actual 3-D wallet exists within the hole. (Imagine mirror-like icing on the top of a donut and reflecting the “wallet” as it falls into the donut hole). He wonders whether this is an illusion of some kind—but muses that, as we have seen, the three dimensional world of matter is itself an illusion, after all. David Hawkins says that “in viewing a hologram, what you see depends completely on the position you view it from. So what position then,” he asks, “is ‘reality?’” “In fact, this is a holographic universe,” he asserts. “Each point of view reflects a position that’s defined by the viewer’s unique level of consciousness…Each of these…goes ‘back in time’ to the original source of its existence, which is now.” What kind of fanciful, fantastic, and implausible world is science describing? Is this holomovement—with its swirling energy—and its optical 3-D illusion of a projection from a two dimensional distant perimeter—possibly the reality of our existence? Let‘s mix it up some more: we know from Einstein that time is not a constant, steady, unchanging reality: ”…(I)n the theory of relativity, there is no absolute time. In other words, each observer has (her or) his own measure of time.” Even though we experience time as the same for all of us, we‘ve learned that over great speeds and distances that time changes, and it is part and parcel of space and the objects contained in space. What time it is depends on who is doing the perceiving. Further, says de Quincey, scientists are conjecturing that the past and the future may perhaps exist as co realities with our present! There is a phrase made popular in the 1950‘s TV series Science Fiction Theater that haunts: “Time is Just a Place.” Is the whole shebang akin to a gigantic cats-eye marble, swirling and spinning and moving in formless imaginings, shape shifting, now at one time, now another, (and where)? Is the whole of existence contained in some spherical orb, reflecting inward and shaping our “reality?” Or has science lost its collective mind?
One Gigantic Process, a Process of Becoming
If we believe that science has reliable and truthful things to say about the world we live in, we have to take to heart the current condition of science—that the truth of it all is not something we‘ve ever imagined, that it is even beyond the scope of our imagining, and yet, it manifests with an integrity and order far beyond randomness, chance, and grand scale chaos. Let‘s let voices of science point to the conclusion:
-Erwin Schrödinger, (physicist and theoretical biologist, a major quantum theorist, famous especially for the Schrödinger Equation): “What we observe as material bodies and forces are nothing but shapes and variations in the structure of space. Particles are just schaumkommen (appearances). The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist.” - Gottfried Leibniz, (1646 - 1716, German philosopher, mathematician, and logician): “Reality cannot be found except in One single source, because of the interconnection of all things with one another. ... I do not conceive of any reality at all as without genuine unity. ... I maintain also that substances, whether material or immaterial, cannot be conceived in their bare essence without any activity, activity being of the essence of substance in general.” - Thomas Huxley (defender and advocate for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection): “The different branches of science combine to demonstrate that the universe in its entirety can be regarded as one gigantic process, a process of becoming, of attaining new levels of existence and organization, which can properly be called a genesis or an evolution.” - Arne Naess (Norwegian philosopher, founder of deep ecology): “Life is fundamentally one.” It seems that science is speaking in a unified voice as it identifies the single fabric, the oneness that is the cosmos. The physical world is not a world of material or matter; it is a world of emergent movement and continual activity. The universe that was born out of the big bang was not just some initial, powerful explosion, and then silence. The energy released in the big bang continues today to swirl in space; to create planets, peonies, ponies, and people; and to continue to emerge—evolving new plots and new twists in the greatest page-turner of all time. The universe is emerging, movement and action, evolving. And, because of the implications of quantum data, we know too that we participate in and shape the universe unfolding. We know that there has been subjective awareness in all of being since the beginning of time, and because of time—notions we’ll explore as we go. But, even now, we are seeing that the cosmos consists in a grand and mysterious indissoluble vision, a union of which we are an inextricable part. Science has taken on the study of matter, and has discovered its essence is well beyond material. Understanding at all the notions of matter-energy and space-time leaves us humbled and flustered—yet filled with a sentiment of marvel and awe. And that’s how we feel before we throw in the question of the emergence of life! How in the world has life possibly appeared? And has it really appeared out of presumed inert, dead material? 2.Life: The Cosmos As a Living Process
“The most promising definition of life among biologists… seems very nearly to fit galaxies, if not stars. This definition we owe to the Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Their concept of life is a process called autopoiesis, (pronounced auto-po-EE-sis), which in Greek means self creation or self-production. An autopoietic unity…produces the very parts of which it is made and keeps them in working order by constant renewal.” – Elisabet Sahtouris, EarthDance
Continuing a theme of wonder and incredulity, the famous molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist Francis Crick, who died in 2004 once remarked: “In some sense, the origin of life seems almost a miracle, so many are the conditions that would need to be satisfied to get it going.” We likely will never conclusively know where and how life originated. “Unfortunately, it is impossible to obtain direct proof of any particular theory of the origin of life,” according to James D. Watson. ”The sobering truth is that even if every expert in the field of molecular evolution were to agree how life originated, the theory would still be a best guess rather than a fact.” But, nevertheless, life did emerge on Earth, confounding physicists and chemists wedded to the idea of a mechanistic world. “How remarkable is life?” asks the Harvard chemist, George Whitesides. “The answer is: very. Those of us who deal in networks of chemical reactions know nothing like it…How could it be that any cell, even one simpler than the simplest that we know, emerged from the tangle of accidental reactions occurring in the molecular sludge that covered the prebiotic earth?” Further, de Duve notes, “If you equate the probability of the birth of a bacterial cell to that of the chance assembly of its component atoms, even eternity will not suffice to produce one for you.” “When the earth was newly condensed, it was very hot, and without an atmosphere. In the course of time,” describes Elisabet Sahtouris, “it cooled and acquired an atmosphere from the emissions of gases from the rocks. This early atmosphere is not one in which we could have survived. It contained no oxygen, but it did contain a lot of other gases that are poisonous to us… Primitive forms of life…flourish(ed) under these conditions. It is thought that they developed in the oceans, possibly as a result of chance combinations of atoms into large structures, called macromolecules.” We now know that the surface of the Earth was already swarming with single celled life, monera, in excess of 3.5 billion years ago, and because of this, a nest was prepared for the hatching of humanity. It turns out that blankets of bacteria and other one celled life forms have served a much greater purpose than we ever might have imagined over the course of the early history of Earth, as we will see. Indeed, explains Sahtouris: “Without the bacteria the Earth’s atmosphere would be unbreatheable and its crust would have remained a cratered desert of glassy rocks. Without the activity of bacteria even the oceans…would have gassed off our planet.”
Life Evolves As “The Essential Process of the Cosmos”
When Rolston describes the first big bang—that is, the birth of matter itself—you can palpably feel his sense of astonishment and marvel at the miracle of something (so sensational!) from nothing. But his bewilderment pales in comparison to his discussion of life, (the second big bang) and its origin and purpose. “What is novel on Earth is this explosive power to generate vital information. In this sense, biology radically transcends physics and chemistry…Such complexity involves emergence... a capacity and behavior of the whole that transcend(s) and (is) different from …the previous levels of organization.” Life is an emergence and a transcendence.
“Growth and development are irregular and nonlinear;” says David Hawkins “practically nothing is known about the essential nature of growth, or any ‘process’ in nature for that matter. No one has ever studied the nature of life itself, only its images and consequences.”
Daddy‘s science would have us believe that inert (dead) chemicals somehow mobilized to generate proteins and amino acids which we have defined as necessary for life. But in a paradigm of a dead universe based in an undocumented hypothetical theory—a mere conjecture that living somehow emerged from dead—it’s hard not to be skeptical. And if it was so, we‘d probably have to chalk it up anyway to the category of “miracle”. Science has simply not been able to give us an answer about how what we call life has originated. In fact, the scientific definition of the concept itself has been somewhat of a moving target—changing dependent on who is defining, and changing over time. Indeed, there is no commonly agreed on understanding in science of what, exactly, life is. “Physicists now tell us...that the matter-energy of the earliest universe was already, by its very nature, bound to form living systems. Had things been just the tiniest bit different at the beginning, this would not be so, and we could not have evolved. Perhaps then, life evolves as the essential process of the cosmos as a whole and is not just something happening at a special point we hunt for…,” proposes Sahtouris. In our endeavor here of trying to understand the cosmos which is our home, we started by looking at matter and found it to be illusory. Now we are trying to get our arms around what life might be, and we find that it, too, is illusive. Perhaps we can consider a far more powerful, and potentially meaningful, interpretation for our presence here, one based in the perspective that “life is the essential process of the cosmos.” Do we need to expand our definition of what life is, or differentiate it? The vital creative movement of the emerging universe is better understood as a living process as opposed to a lifeless mechanism, which leads Elisabet Sahtouris to want to broaden the definition of life, as we’ll see. We might understand life as having different manifestations or attributes when describing the living process that seems to pervade the universe, in contrast with features that describe carbon-based life, or Earthlife. The commonalities between the two are significant; the differences are, perhaps, more related to size (in a way that is similar, for example, to the different laws of physics seemingly applying at the planetary vs. the microscopic levels of the material world). The notion of the cosmos as a unified, living being is a perspective that has been adopted by a wide variety of scientists from the various fields of computing, biology, cosmology, astrophysics, physics, epigenetics and others. Through the Wormhole, a documentary produced by and hosted by Morgan Freeman, interviewed MIT quantum computing engineer Seth Lloyd, “whose research area is the interplay of information with complex systems, especially quantum systems. He has performed seminal work in the fields of quantum computation and quantum communication, including proposing the first technologically feasible design for a quantum computer, demonstrating the viability of quantum analog computation. “In his book, Programming the Universe, Lloyd contends that the universe itself is one big quantum computer producing what we see around us, and ourselves.” Freeman says, “Lloyd developed and runs a quantum computer, based on the fact that atoms and every subatomic particle can think. Seth argues that his computer proves that subatomic particles can think, and that the universe, which is entirely built from such particles must also be a quantum computer. It processes and stores information at the microscopic level on everything we see around us. And if the universe is processing information, then it must be thinking. And it must be alive.” But Lloyd goes further: “The universe is not only alive; it is more than alive. It contains life. It does all the things that living things do. It processes information. It moves energy from one place to another. Different pieces reproduce each other. But the universe as a whole can do much more than just what living things can do.” Morgan explains: “The human brain can perform to the power of (10 to the 16th), or 10 million billion computations in a second. In the same time, Seth believes, the universe performs about (10 to the 106th) computations—which makes the universe impossibly smarter than we can ever imagine. Lloyd concludes: “If the universe is behaving like a great quantum computer—and let’s face it, it is—then it’s capable of any kind of complex behavior we can imagine: not just the creation of stars and planets, evolution of life. It’s also capable of behaviors that we will probably never be able to comprehend.”
“The universe,” says Freeman, “could be the ultimate intelligent organism.”
Duane Elgin is a strong proponent of the idea that the cosmos— everything that exists—is, indeed, a living, unified being. He notes, “Physicists once viewed our universe as composed of separate fragments. Today, however, despite its unimaginably vast size, the universe is increasingly regarded as a single functioning system.” Elgin sees the unity in much the same way as David Bohm does, observing that “Bohm sees animate and inanimate matter as inseparably interwoven with the life-force that is present throughout the universe, and that includes not only matter but also energy and seemingly empty space. For Bohm, then, even a rock has its unique form of aliveness. Life is dynamically flowing through the fabric of the entire universe.” Elgin portrays the universe as “…a unique kind of living system. I wouldn‘t say so much biological, but rather, there‘s a deep aliveness that permeates and sustains the universe. And so we are more than biological beings, we are beings that also partake of the aliveness of the living universe.
Sahtouris is of the same persuasion: she has suggested that we use a meaningful definition of life as a process that is self creating or self producing. Then we can take a perspective that is different than the traditional scientific paradigm that life emerged out of “dead” material, and can begin to see life from a more cosmic perspective.
Earth as A Living System
Elgin says that “what we‘re discovering through both the lens of science and the lens of spirituality is that the universe is not a non-living machine: it is a living subjective presence and what we are doing is learning how to live in a living system.” In his books, he argues for a definition of a living universe that includes these features: it is unified, there is energy flowing throughout, it is continuously regenerated, there is sentience (consciousness) throughout, and it is able to reproduce itself. He describes further that our cultural understanding of a dead universe is both obsolete and serves as a poor interpretation to start with as a means of understanding the purpose of humanity‘s existence. The traditional scientific view, the view that has dominated western cultures for almost 400 years, is that the universe, (according to the scientist Newton and the philosopher Descartes), is a grand machine, a collection of parts composed of matter, functioning in a cause and effect way. As we’ve seen, there is no life here, only mechanics. There is no awareness or growth or self creation; no aliveness. Atoms have no inherent life in this conventional model, and yet, in contradiction, when matter evolves in complexity (inspired by what causality is not quite clear), life in general and human beings in particular result. All being is conventionally understood in terms of material and matter and mechanics, and yet, inexplicably, life, mind, and consciousness, result—emerging, so the story goes, out of chemical reactions with inert and dead substances. Consciousness is considered to be, with no evidence, (since science has no empirical data about it), simply a manifestation of this somehow emerging biology, located in the brain. “Bohm’s cosmology is radical when viewed from the perspective of mainstream science: He believed,” de Quincey explains, “that a complete theory of the cosmos must take account of consciousness. This must be so because clearly consciousness is an undeniable reality of the universe. Without it we would know absolutely nothing.” It is nothing short of remarkable that an outdated science with so many gaps and so little explanation, evidence, and documentation would be so earnestly clung to by so many for so long—despite the vast amounts of new knowledge its own disciplines have gleaned over the last one hundred years. Science itself has evolved, and with it a new order of knowledge. It has arrived at notions of the world far different than the science of the last four hundred years. In fact, “science has entirely overturned what we know about the structure of the world,” says the late physicist Evan Harris Walker, “But rather than revising our picture of what reality is, we cling to a collage of incongruent shards. We preserve a false assemblage of images, one pasted upon another, so that we can keep unchanged the mental portrait of ourselves and the worlds to which we are accustomed.” The great fear is that, should we expand our view, and truly wrestle with being, life, mind, consciousness, love, compassion, ideas, heart, or soul that we’ll be cast with no compass into a world of magic, superstition, and make believe: non-science. So, instead, we ordain that everything that is—the energy of space, of the universe, of the big bang, persons and personality, love, intimacy, relationship, Spirit, joy, pain, the love of baseball—all are artifacts or epiphenomena of lifeless, inert matter. Now, however, instead of a worldview in which inanimate rocks morphed into purposeless intelligence and awareness, Sahtouris argues for a rich, thriving, and integrated worldview of the cosmos, the universe, life, and the immense brilliance of human mind that has emerged. Virtually, “every molecule of air you breathe…has been recently produced inside the cells of other living creatures! Thus the atmosphere is almost entirely the result of the constant production of gases by (living) organisms. If they stopped…the atmosphere would burn itself out rather quickly.” The National Geographic Channel series, The Known Universe, has more to say on this: “The atoms that form the planet have been reused to create and sustain every organism that ever lived. When you take a glass of water and you drink those oxygen atoms, really what you are drinking is the remnant of star explosion. Of course, since those oxygen atoms came to Earth, they’ve been recycled a good deal too, so you’re also drinking bits of dinosaurs and bits of all the famous people you’ve ever heard of.
“Each time you take a breath, quadrillions of atoms enter your lungs. These atoms have been mixed throughout the earth’s atmosphere over time, but they’re still the same nitrogen and oxygen atoms that were there… Each one of the trillions upon trillions of atoms inside us began their journey inside a star. Since then, they’ve made countless stops in mountains and rivers, in trees and blades of grass, in molds and mushrooms, in deer, daffodils, and dinosaurs. And when the atoms are done in us they’ll go on to recombine with something else. That’s how it’s been since the beginning, a continual process of creation and re creation.”
Sahtouris writes, “On the Earth’s surface, scientists have a hard time finding any rock that has not been part of living organisms, that was not transformed into living matter before it became rock again. “Thus, the molecules in virtually all of the atmosphere, all of the soils and seas, all of the surface rocks and much of the underlying recycling magma, have been through at least one phase in which they were living creatures!” So here, in contrast, when we speak of a living universe, we are saying it cannot be dead, inert, or chemical. Denton writes, “Every living system replicates itself, yet no machine possesses this capacity to the slightest degree.” Sahtouris explains: “The creatures we used to think of as alive, such as plants and animals, contain much supporting ‘nonliving‘ matter in their woody trunks and shells and bones, their thorns and hoofs and nails, their hair and scales. Nonliving planets may also be very much a part of live galaxies, perhaps even play a structural role in their dynamics…What about the earth itself? Many scientists argue that it cannot be a living being because only its outermost layer…shows signs of life. What then, we may ask, about a redwood tree, which is ninety-nine percent deadwood with just a thin skin of life on its surface? No one argues that redwoods are not alive. It is new in modern science to look at the cosmos and the nature of our planet this way.” A healthy living system shows dynamic vitality on a large scale despite components being perceived as “non-living.” Sahtouris sees Earth as a living system, sustaining, renewing, and creating. Specifically she has identified a number of principles inherent in all healthy living systems, including: -autopoiesis (or self creation), -related to parts as a whole and as part of other wholes (holarchy), -self knowledge, -capacity to self regulate or self maintain, -ability to respond to stress, -transformations of matter, energy, and information, -communication among parts, -empowered use of all parts, -coordination among parts, -negotiated self interest at all levels of hierarchy, -reciprocity and mutual assistance of parts, -ability to conserve what works well, and -the capacity to change creatively. This is a fairly broad list of descriptors of characteristics of living beings—like tomato plants, bacteria, humans, galaxies, and planets. According to criteria such as these, it makes sense to understand our home environment as a living universe. Autopoiesis,” says Sahtouris, first and foremost recognizes that a living entity is “one that continually creates itself… being able to reinvent itself in an evolutionary trajectory.” All cells are largely made of biochemical compounds known as proteins, as anthropologist Jeremy Narby points out in Intelligence in Nature, and proteins are considered precursors to life as we know it on Earth—but not life itself. And yet, incredibly, proteins seem to exhibit a kind of intelligence! He quotes biochemist Christopher Miller, who, writing in the Journal Nature, states: “Proteins are intelligent beings. They have evolved to operate in…a turbulent cellular environment.” Neurosurgeon Frank Vertosick, in The Genius Within, writes, “All living things—including even those entirely devoid of nervous systems—can (and must) use some form of intelligence to survive. In fact, I believe that intelligence and the living process are one and the same: to live, organisms (or communities of organisms) must absorb information, store it, process it, and develop future strategies based on it. In other words, to be alive, one must think.” That sounds like what Seth Lloyd is saying. Narby goes on to describe an interaction with Thomas Ward, a chemistry professor and a protein specialist, in which he asks Ward whether he believes proteins have the capacity to know, and Ward replied, “A protein can move, powering itself from an external food source. A protein can interact with others of its own species, as well as with individual entities of other species, such as DNA and RNA molecules. A protein can build a large edifice, such as a cell. A protein can even reproduce itself, according to recent research. A protein can lose all of its functions, or ‘die.’ The foremost function of proteins is to recognize. For example, they recognize RNA molecules, or viruses, or other proteins. Then, based on this recognition, they can take appropriate measures. If this is what you mean by ‘to know,’ then I find proteins undeniably have the capacity to know.” A biochemical compound with the capacity to know? The universe, it seems, has a vital essence. In its beginnings were held the potentialities for all that we see, live, think, feel, believe, relate to, and all that exists within this present moment—even amid all the unpredictable and mind boggling twists and turns of evolution. The universe is a swirling, moving, ever active, ever evolving, ever creating aliveness; an aliveness that is “able to reinvent itself in an evolutionary trajectory,” and an aliveness that includes awareness and subjectivity, self creation, complexity, communication, self maintenance, mutuality, and creativity. It is a universe that “must absorb information, store it, process it, and develop future strategies based on it.” Despite the difficulties the rubric of science has in reckoning with this dynamic aliveness—that its own facts repeatedly document—the problem with understanding our existence as if it were a giant, mindless, lifeless machine has become unequivocally clear.
All of Life is Aware, Intelligent, and Communicative
“The same stardust that was transformed into a rocky planet continues to be transformed into living creatures,” says Sahtouris. “To make things more complicated, much of the rock that is transformed into live creatures is later transformed back into rock. And so, just as creatures are made of atoms that were once part of rock, almost all rocks on the Earth’s surface are made of atoms that were once part of creatures.” The pioneering scientist, James Lovelock, author of Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, and consultant to NASA, noted that the living organisms present on the Earth have been responsible for regulating and generating the chemical balance of the air, of the seas, and of the land, so that life can continue to exist. The Gaia theory says that life forms on Earth create and maintain the specific environmental conditions necessary for these life forms to exist. “Scientific research,” Narby observes, “has come up against the impossibility that a single bacterium, representing the smallest unit of independent life as we know it, [i.e, carbon-based life], could have emerged by chance from any kind of ‘prebiotic soup.’” (Italics added). “Other species are our kin,” writes the influential biologist E.O. Wilson. “This statement is literally true in evolutionary time. All higher eukaryotic organisms, from flowering plants, to insects, to humanity itself, are thought of as having descended from a single ancestral population that lived 1.8 billion years ago. Single celled eukaryotes and bacteria are linked by still more remote ancestors. All this distant kinship is stamped by a common genetic code and elementary features of cell structure. Humanity did not soft land into the teeming biosphere like an alien from another planet. We arose from other organisms already here.” “Our planet never was a ready-made home, or habitat,” explains Sahtouris, “in which living creatures developed and to which they adapted themselves. For not only does rock rearrange itself into living creatures and back, but living creatures also arrange rock into habitats—into places comfortable enough for them to live and multiply.” And importantly, “Planetary life is not something that happens here or there on a planet—it happens to the planet as a whole.” With cellular self creation and self maintenance, a new level of information and creative possibility emerged out of the nascent capacities of genes, DNA. “In the middle of the 1990’s,” says Narby, “biologists sequenced the first genomes of free living organisms. So far the smallest known bacterial genome contains 58,000 DNA letters. This is an enormous amount of information, comparable to the contents of a small telephone directory. When one considers that bacteria are the smallest units of life as we know it, it becomes more difficult to understand how the first bacterium could have taken form spontaneously in a lifeless chemical soup. How can a small telephone directory of information emerge from random processes?” Here is Sahtouris’ description: “DNA is virtually the oldest thing in Earth's evolution still alive on its surface—propagating itself from the beginning in an unbroken chain, as surface rock transformed into endless creatures, who recycled it in turn into sediments that were subducted back into the magma of origin by great tectonic plates. All the while, DNA's species came and went, playing their roles and then disappearing, while it continued the dance.” “Some biologists describe DNA as an ‘ancient high biotechnology,’ containing ’over a hundred trillion times as much information by volume as our most sophisticated information storage devices,’” writes biologist Robert Pollack. This intelligence inherent in the DNA of all of Earth’s life forms enabled the artistic brilliance of evolution on Earth to ingeniously burst, slowly at first, and yet eventually culminating in a creative living process which, in humanity, has transcended even its genetic intelligence itself through language and culture. “No simple theory can cope with the enormous complexity revealed by modern genetics,” says Robert Wesson. Bruce Lipton, in The Biology of Belief, describes this intricate and imaginative journey: “For the first three billion years of life on this planet, the biosphere consisted of free-living single cells such as bacteria, algae, and protozoans. While we have traditionally considered such life forms as solitary individuals, we are now aware that signal molecules (created through DNA and) used by the individual cells to regulate their own physiologic functions, when released into the environment, also influence the behavior of other organisms. Signals released by cells into the environment allow for a coordination of behavior among a dispersed population of unicellular organisms. Secreting signal molecules into the environment enhanced the survival of single cells by providing them with the opportunity to live as a primitive ‘dispersed’ community… “Single celled organisms actually live in a community where they share their “awareness” and coordinate their behaviors by releasing “signal” molecules into the environment.” Lipton says that cells, beginning with unicellular bacteria, began to assemble into simple colonies at first, and then, into highly organized cellular communities, to increase the probability of surviving, and that they acquired more awareness as a means of doing so. And it was a mere 700 million years ago—paltry moments in the life of the universe—that these communities complexified into multicellular communities we call animals and plants. “By tightly regulating the release and distribution of these function-controlling signal molecules,” Lipton observed, “the community of cells would be able to coordinate their functions and act as a single life form.” (Italics added). Narby adds, “Even bacteria communicate. It turns out that all bacteria species relay information to one another in a ‘bacterial Esperanto,’ which they use to work together…Bacteria use chemicals rather than words to communicate, but this does not stop them from acting efficaciously.” The predecessors of what becomes the brain first developed as the nucleated centers of single cells. Then, “as more complex animals evolved,” Lipton continues, “specialized cells took over the job of monitoring and organizing the flow of behavior regulating signal molecules. These cells provided a distributed nerve network and central information processor, the brain… (and) the brain controls the behavior of the body’s cells. “Humans and a number of other higher mammals have evolved a specialized region of the brain associated with thinking, planning, and decision-making called the prefrontal cortex. This portion of the forebrain is apparently the seat of the ‘self-conscious’ mind processing… “Endowed with the ability to be self-reflective, the self-conscious mind…can observe any programmed behavior we are engaged in, evaluate the behavior, and consciously decide to change the program. We can actively choose how to respond to most environmental signals.” Atoms and molecules, the stuff of matter such as it is, complexifies through its interaction, sparked and spurred on by energetic forces that reside in the invisible, dynamic space that fills the cosmos--sparked and spurred on by the intelligent essence within the cosmos. This is a self creating and self maintaining process, an autopoietic process that is self aware, living, becoming, and unfolding, as one fabric. At some point, the unfolding process of the evolving universe complexifies into cells with the awakening ability, via the technology of DNA, to self create and self maintain in the arena of the microscopic. Cells organize into communities, increasingly more complex and sophisticated over time, due to a primitive subjective awareness which is reciprocally communicated, yielding discrete communities of unicellular organisms, highly organized multicellular communities, and plant and animal multicellular communities. Lipton describes how communication results from awareness, down to the level of primitive cellular life. The greater the sophistication of awareness, the more powerful and the more impacting communication becomes, and so, the more the concept of “meaning” begins to make sense. Even in the earliest life forms on Earth, communication has a meaning.
The Living Cosmos
The notion that the entire cosmos is an intelligent living entity is a shocking statement—especially since we have been so conditioned to understand the cosmos, the universe, the solar system, and the planets as so much nondescript, motionless, and lifeless matter. But as Sahtouris and others have explained to us, what we think about as the essence of life incorporates several key ingredients which, when we examine them, broaden and deepen the definition of life, and greatly expand our big picture view of how the cosmos and everything in it functions as one interconnected, interdependent, and alive process. “Our universe, our cosmos, has always been a dance of interactions among large and small moving patterns, each contributing to the other’s formation. It…evolved as a dance between great and small.” Sahtouris for many years has been a truly significant yet somewhat unheralded visionary on the subject of the aliveness of the Earth as well as the universe as a whole. In the book Mind Before Matter, she bluntly states, “Instead of projecting a universe of mechanism without inventor… I propose that there is reason to see the whole universe as alive, self-organizing endless fractal levels of living complexity as reflexive systems learning to play with possibilities in the intelligent co-creation of complex evolving systems… I propose that it is possible to create a scientific model of a living universe, …that…is not only scientifically justified but can lead to the wisdom required to build a better human life on and for our planet Earth.” “…We can construct a new scientific model...that takes into account the entire gamut of human experience and recognizes the cosmos as fundamentally conscious and alive … a holarchic, evolving, intelligent, process intrinsic to the cosmos itself.”
She writes, “Recent discoveries in physics strongly suggest that the nature of the universe was from the beginning such that it would come alive however and wherever possible…If we agree that nature is not mechanical but organic, why should we not understand the energetic motion of the first whirling shapes in the early universe as the first stirrings of that self-organizing process leading to living organisms?”
…and also to consciousness!
3.Consciousness: The Ultimate Nature of the Universe
"I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness."
–Max Planck in The Observer (January 25th, 1931)
The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter... we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter. -Sir James Jeans The Mysterious Universe
Beyond the remarkable manifestations we call matter and life, there is an even further, deeper, and most intriguing aspect of the cosmos in which we exist: that of mind and consciousness. “The more detailed one’s analysis of the structure of ‘out there’ is, the more one discovers that what one is examining is, in fact…the nature of consciousness in here. There’s nothing ‘out there’ other than consciousness itself,” says David Hawkins.” Deepak Chopra concurs, “Perception is the world: the world is perception.” Inadvertently, by the empirical quest to understand “out there,” modern science is confronted with “in here.” And even though science has yet to take on in a meaningful way the existence of consciousness itself—the very means by which we know anything—we nevertheless have become a self reflective and conscious species. We have evolved to become conscious, intelligent, self-reflective, perceptive, and relational beings. “The paradox facing science…is that for science to exist at all it requires experiencing beings who can know,” asserts de Quincey. “Yet the subjective experience of any knower is precisely what modern science cannot account for.” “To a growing number of scientists and philosophers it is beginning to look suspiciously as if the ultimate nature of the universe is much more akin to what we call ‘consciousness’ than matter,” says de Quincey.
Conscious, Participatory Agents
Now, it seems, as conscious beings, we have become perceptive participants in shaping what becomes of the story of the universe. We have become co creators—knowers of what exists, capable of reflecting on it all and of knowing that we know. We are agents of observation and witnessing, interpreters of meaning and purpose, doers and designers of our destiny, pursuers of our preferences, and self determiners of our values and our movements within the greater movement of the cosmos. Stuart Kauffman, theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher and author of At Home in the Universe and Reinventing the Sacred, notes: “It is utterly remarkable that agency has arisen in the universe—systems are able to act on their own behalf; systems that modify the universe on their own behalf. Out of agency comes value and meaning.” “Life is valuable on its own, a wonder of emergence, evolution and creativity. Reality is truly stunning.” As we’ve now learned through the discoveries of quantum physics, what happens in the world is affected by human observation, and somehow, particles can affect each other non-locally—instantaneously and beyond the speed of light over great distances through non physical means—decidedlya non-mechanical finding. It acts in ways which are not strictly material cause and effect, and this means, (as the noted physicist John Wheeler says), that the universe is participatory. Coupled with Einstein’s relativity theory—which says that time and matter affect each other, so time is not a fixed reality, and it is unique to each person’s experience—we can truly say that we live in a participatory universe which acts in ways that are often more of an organic process than mechanistic cause and effect, and in which each individual’s perception of temporal flow is uniquely shaped. The notion of a solely mechanically driven universe is an antiquated one: it deprives us of appreciating the great depths of perceiving and knowing, reflection, awareness, intelligence, cooperation, compassion, and creativity we have become capable of being, and it cheats us of a regard for the impressive deepening we might arrive at as a species. It denies us of entertaining a greater vision of the potential that these attributes offer us as we grow forward. Quantum mechanics with its world of possibilities and potentialities unequivocally counters the materialist scientific view that all is cause and effect--and it underscores its non-negotiable truths by such quantum required and inspired inventions as transistors and superconductors, and therefore by all the technological tools we depend on for our daily transactions. “Until the moment of observation all the quantum possibilities exist simultaneously,” reiterates de Quincey. “Only when an observation is made is the set of possibilities ‘collapsed’ into a single actual event… “In other words, what we experience as the “real” world is built up from countless quadzillions of…collapses of quantum probabilities to actual reality—happening every moment. And such quantum collapses happen only when a quantum system is observed. In fact, quantum theory is telling us the world comes into existence only because it is observed. By whom? It must be some experiencing entity, an entity with consciousness…An observation without consciousness would not be an observation.” In an interview by Alan Steinfeld for New Realities, Chopra makes the following observations about the phenomenon we call consciousness: “Right now we’re perceiving each other, talking to each other. And we seem to think that we are doing it. But it’s actually an activity of the universe…It requires all the dark energy, all the dark matter, and the rotation of the earth on its axis, and moving around the Sun, as it does, to have this moment. So consciousness is an activity, this second, of the total universe…If the total universe didn’t exist as it exists, there would be no awareness….” The fundamental essence of the universe itself, he says, is consciousness: “There is nothing ‘out there.’ There is only ‘in here.’ And the ‘in here’ experiences itself as the ‘out there’ as well…. And further then, “There is in fact no such thing as a person. There is only the universe pretending to be a person…There is only one ‘I.’” Robert Lanza, author of the book Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, “believes that the entire cosmos is a figment of our imagination. He says the universe is unquestionably a living thing, but with a shocking twist. ‘The universe is definitely alive. It’s not an object. It’s an active process that actually involves our consciousness. So if we look at the trees or the sky, the truth is that everything you see and experience is a world of information occurring in your mind.’" Lanza firmly believes the universe begins and ends in the mind of the observer, that the universe is nothing more than the vivid imagination of our brains. He calls this theory ‘biocentrism.’” His conclusion is that “all of these things are not determined by the external world. They are determined by us…It’s actually us, the observer who creates space and time, and that’s why you’re here, now. Reality begins and ends with the observer.” Since things are affected by our observation, says quantum theory, we in some way participate in creating what happens. And since particles can instantaneously impact each other over vast distances, there must be some other explanation beyond mechanical cause and effect that underlies cosmic unfolding. This point of view that everything we experiences emerges out of our consciousness is a perspective we’ll expand on shortly, when we talk about consciousness and radical naturalism. “The philosophy of science that ignored the question of consciousness is standing there dead,” declares Walker. “Science can no longer ignore the fact that our conscious observation affects the quantum potentialities of matter, and we can no longer ignore the significance of what our will does in bridging minds and affecting phenomena in the physical world.”
Reality is a Living, Subjective Experience
When Einstein settled the relationship between time and space (that as a physical body moves through space, perceptions of time are different for you and for me) he wrote the idea of a purely “objective” universe (that could be agreed on by everyone), out of existence. Relativity theory has concluded that time is conditional, not absolute—it is relative. And this, along with the fact that, as Sahtouris notes, “…no human—scientist or other—has ever had any experience outside of consciousness or outside of the eternally present moment,” points us to the unarguable conclusion that it is not an objective viewpoint that is the cornerstone of reality, but a subjective one. The eternally present moment is experienced uniquely, subjectively, by each individual. Individual interpretation of experience exists, and has, for as long as time and matter have existed, and is the basis for all that we know. And that means that subjectivity (the idea that individual perception is unique) had to exist from the beginning of time and matter, since the beginning of spacetime. Through 13.7 billion years, time was not the same for all physical objects, any more than it is in reality the same for any human physical object. Subjective experience has existed as long as time-space has, because time-space itself is a subjective phenomenon. There had to be some form of awareness or consciousness or sense of self-presence existing in being from the moment of the big bang, the singular event that resulted in the dimensions we call time and space—or time-space would not exist, (i.e., it would be unknown). Now, if subjective awareness is what underlies our universe, than equally a living process must, somehow, have been going on, from the beginning. Indeed, some form of consciousness, some subjective presence, must have existed from “the beginning of time.” The notion of a “dead,” inert universe filled with lonely matter that mysteriously results in chemical interactions called “life” and “mind” must be put to bed. “You come to a view of a living universe,” Sahtouris says. “Rather than this strange concept among human cultures that western science came to that we’re a non-living universe—mechanical, celestial-mechanical if you like—that’s running down by entropy, and in which, by some miracle, life emerged from non-life, consciousness from non-consciousness, intelligence from non-intelligence—and those have been the stickiest problems for western science.” The cosmos appears to be conscious as a subjective presence, in a dynamic process, unfolding as an undivided movement over time-space and resulting in ever more complexity and self reflective capacity. But, as Walker points out, “Consciousness is not so many atoms. It does not consist of photons or quarks. Neither is it molecules spinning about in the brain. Consciousness is something that exists in its own right.”
Matter and Consciousness Must Have Co-Evolved Since the Beginning of Time
The existence of consciousness begs one of the most intriguing questions “of all time:” How are “matter” and “consciousness” interconnected? Is only matter real (and consciousness merely a manifesting of parts and processes contained in the brain)? This is the “materialist” position that science has assumed for four hundred years. “If only matter and physical energy is ultimately real…the problem is how to explain ‘something‘ that has no mass, occupies no space, and has subjectivity could ever evolve or emerge from something that was massive, spatial, and wholly objective to begin with,” notes de Quincey. “For materialism,' he says, "the difficulty is in accounting for the emergence of sentience and subjectivity wholly from insentient and objective matter.” Is the existence of consciousness completely separate and independent from matter? This is “Cartesian dualism.” “Both matter and mind are real, but they are different substances and exist separately…if this were the case, we would be left with the unyielding problem of explaining how two mutually alien substances could ever interact,” observes de Quincey. Is nothing but Spirit, God, mind, or consciousness real? In other words, is consciousness primary? This is “idealism,” also known as the perennial philosophy. “The problem with idealism is logically less severe than with either dualism or materialism, but nonetheless, needs to be addressed: If all is spirit, and matter is ultimately illusion or manifestation of spirit, how do we account for the universal, commonsense, and pragmatic supposition of realism—that the world is real in its own right?” wonders de Quincey. If our experience is that the world is real, we naturally want to operate out of that mindset. Or, instead, have life and consciousness and subjectivity in some form co existed and co emerged with matter from the beginning? This is “radical naturalism,” or panpsychism, the solution that Christian de Quincey suggests. He says, “”It is inconceivable that sentience (subjectivity, consciousness) could ever emerge or evolve from wholly insentient (objective, physical) matter.” He continues, “…(if) consciousness exists now, it must always have existed in some form…The central tenet…is that matter is intrinsically sentient—it is both subjective and objective…or consciousness within matter.” Physicist Freeman Dyson writes: “Matter in quantum mechanics is not an inert substance but an active agent, constantly making choices between alternative possibilities...It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every electron.” Duane Elgin comments further: “This does not mean that an atom has the same consciousness as a human being, but rather that an atom has a sentient capacity appropriate to its form and function.” De Quincey would argue for the ”radical naturalism” conclusion, as novel as it may feel, as truly reflecting the conclusion that is most in alignment with the facts of the quantum and relativity theories that form the basis of our scientific understandings today. Both matter and consciousness have co-existed from the beginning. Each requires the other. Matter has no meaning without co-evolving consciousness, and consciousness has no meaning without co-evolving matter. Blogging on the kwelos.tripod.com website, Sean Robsville states this conclusion as well: “We can dismiss all claims that consciousness, mind and awareness are emergent properties of matter or brains, because we need the presence of a mind for emergent properties and phenomena to appear in the first place. The subjective activity of the mind of the observer, together with the 'objective' procedures and the structures upon which they operate, is an irreducible component of emergent phenomena.” What does this mean? It means that sentience—knowing—exists in matter and has since the beginning. It means that the universe has an innate aliveness, subjective awareness, and intentionality. It means the universe, and our being here, are not random, not meaningless. It means we have a purpose that was present for us from before the time when we came into temporal existence. And now, it means that we may be growing closer to understanding exactly what that purpose could be. Deepak Chopra from his own perspective adds this insight: “To separate the body-mind from the rest of the cosmos is to misperceive things… The body-mind is part of the larger mind; it’s part of the cosmos.”
Human Consciousness: An “Explosive State Change”
“Consider a universe of pure energy with the appearance of material reality.” suggests Sahtouris. “To have an appearance, there must be an observer, and as quantum theorists pointed out long ago, in a completely interconnected universe, consciousness anywhere means consciousness everywhere. Now non-locality tells us that anywhere is everywhere! In fact, it would seem that energy itself, like matter, is an “appearance” of consciousness… Thinking things through in this way we see how limited our worldviews have been.” Quantum theory has revealed that we humans are participants in shaping what is created: we are co-creators with the universe. We know the universe is not strictly cause and effect: there is a non-mechanical element, a vital, emergent, active process of unfolding, in which we play a conscious and subjective part. And because ”consciousness anywhere means consciousness everywhere,” what we grow to be conscious of matters, and what we choose to be conscious of matters—because it shapes what the universe and we become. “…there will be enormous effects of learning that our consciousness creates our reality—that our assumptions, our beliefs as individuals, as society, and as humanity are the basis for the world we produce for ourselves and co-produce together, along with all living systems, from moment to moment.” Because of our conscious awareness, we exist in relationship with the cosmos. It is a new threshold, a new game entirely: Our…”genes, in making possible the development of human consciousness,” says Richard Lewontin, evolutionary biologist, geneticist, academic and social commentator, “have surrendered their power both to determine the individual and its environment. They have been replaced by an entirely new level of causation, that of social interaction with its own laws and its own nature.” “The biological evolution” pronounces Dobzhansky, “has transcended itself in the human ‘revolution.’” According to Bruce Lipton, the new science of epigenetics, (i.e. “control above genetics”), “profoundly changes our understanding how life is controlled…Epigenetic research has established that DNA blueprints passed down through the genes are not set in concrete at birth. Genes are not destiny! Environmental influences, including nutrition, stress, and emotions, can modify those genes without changing their basic blueprint. And those modifications, epigeneticists have discovered, can be passed on to future generations….” We are finding that, since the development of a depth of consciousness that involves intelligence, self reflection, compassion, and creativity—among other distinctive features in humans—no longer do our genes alone determine the course of our future. Our ability to imagine, plan, to think in abstract ways, to feel, and to communicate from human to human; all congeal to impel us, in harmony with and yet beyond the potential of our genetic makeup. We now move to an unknown world where our creative potential both transcends and includes our DNA, that adaptive and intelligent agent of our evolution that has brought us to here. Rolston notes with regard to the third big bang, the emergence of mind: “So the puzzle is how a change of some one or two percent in DNA results in light-years of mental explosion…Perhaps the radical threshold is crossed with the emergence of consciousness…. Although consciousness preceded humans, there was an explosive state change when humans crossed the divide and gained their self-reflective, ideational, linguistic, symbolic capacities. Humans are not simply conscious; they are self-conscious….The key threshold is the capacity to pass ideas from mind to mind,” that is, the capacity to have a conscious creative relationship with another, and with others. The logical conclusion: we exist in a living universe (and on a living Earth). The cosmos is an alive, intelligent, conscious and relational unfolding. We are involved in an emerging, evolving, intentionally creative process of being and becoming. We‘ve seen the advances in physics and chemistry resulting from the insights of the theories of quantum and relativity. We’ve seen from biology and epigenetics the transformative understanding we now possess of living processes and the interdependency that defines life. We‘ve learned that the universe is a vital creative process, not an inert, inanimate machine. Indeed the truths of the cosmos are likely more like what we would consider science fiction than anything we might imagine could be true. “Quantum physics tells us that the world is composed of an underlying field of intelligence,” says Chopra, “that manifests as the infinite diversity of the universe.” We know that consciousness acts on matter and energy—it is intrinsic to our every chosen action. Self reflective consciousness unequivocally exists, and indeed defines humanity, and yet, it is not matter, and not energy, though it pervades and influences matter and energy as a normal course of events.
The arrow of time progresses, and self reflection emerges in the brilliant conscious intelligence of humanity as one its finest aspects yet! From this view, from this data, incredibly and unfathomably, we can see that the entire cosmos is somehow a living entity, conscious and continually creating itself. “Meaning involves intentionality,” says Christian de Quincey, “in the…sense of directed awareness. It is awareness that refers to something beyond itself, with which it participates in some way.” And participation implies relationship: relationship is central. So we see from this perspective that subjective awareness of existence must have been present in each cell, and in cellular alliances from the beginning of time. Eventually unicellular subjective awareness, via signal molecules, resulted in functional communication alliances and cooperative cellular communities of greater and greater complexity, resulting in increasing cell specialization, nucleated cells, sophisticated nerve networks and increasingly more capable animal brains. In humans, subjective awareness blossomed into consciousness with its self reflective capacities, (the capacity to know, and to know that we know), and into the intricate and unique human creations of language and culture, and into the rich potentialities of relationship. Here, in the partnership of DNA and human culture, the possibilities are limited only by what we can dream, it seems. We can see from all of this that the Einstein quotation at the beginning of this chapter is the shot across the bow: "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." We’ve noted the immense intricacy and complexity of the cosmos in which we live, along with the uncanny and unlikely ”coincidences” and “accidents” out of which being, life, mind, and, (with self reflection), heart developed. We’ve noted that humanity has been especially and uniquely positioned because of our capacities for awareness, intelligence, self-reflection, caring, creativity, cooperation, collaboration, and relationship to contribute significantly, somehow, to what unfolds next in our universe. We are at a place of consciously choosing what kind of relationship we want with our life and with our world and for our future together: In the process of our being and becoming within the cosmos, we have arrived at a place where we might use our consciousness to partner with our home, the cosmos, to co create something deliberate, intentional, intelligent, mindful, and compassionate. We can decide as individuals and as a species, out of awareness and will, to better ourselves, each other, and our planet, and thus—in a kindred way to signal molecules—to indicate what we wish to co create in our cosmic home.
The basic pattern of life is a network. Whenever you see life, you see networks. The whole planet, what we can term 'Gaia.' is a network of processes.
--Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life
When we step back from the materialistic worldview of Newtonian mechanics and the dualistic split between mind and body of Descartes, (scientific materialism, the dominant worldviews in science that preceded quantum and relativity theories), we learn that there are strange and mysterious, yet well-documented new scientific principles, which lead us to an alternative worldview—which Marcus Tullius Cicero, orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher from one hundred years BCE, in the time of the Roman Empire, foreshadowed:
“The universe must be a rational being and the Nature which permeates and embraces all things must be endowed with reason in its highest form.“
Though mainstream science, even with these new paradigms and with these great challenges, would be reluctant to call the universe and the cosmos “living” or reasoning, when the definition of what life actually is is expanded to include processes that are self creating and self sustaining, none ought argue that there is a dynamic unfolding process to existence, a unified living system, that has moved from consciousness in matter to Earthlife, to mind and even heart; that has always, and continues to complexify; and that resolves the competitive struggle for use of resources by organizing large scale cooperative communities. We have seen that atoms into molecules of increasingly greater intricacy have led to the eventual organization of molecules in the form of one celled beings such as bacteria, which, in turn, form collectives to promote individual well being and even their survival. The three billion year existence of bacteria in cooperative collective organizations on the Earth predated and prepared the environment for humanity’s birth. This living system that formed on the surface of the entire Earth worked together as one unit to create and sustain an environment which allowed each of the myriad species on the planet to survive and thrive and evolve in ever more creative, unique, and adaptive ways. They communicated by signal molecules, we have seen, and they have developed an ability, across species and across time, to communicate, via subjective awareness, the information required for the survival and sustenance of the greater organization, the greater organism. These multi-celled coops became plants and animals, an immense leap in managerial, communicative, creative, and consciousness capacity over earlier organizations. But the living universe was not finished. Out of animal life evolved brain and mind, and out of human life evolved self-reflective mind, a mind now capable of compassion and caring. For humans, this gigantic cooperative sophistication of brain functioning over animal life, further, transformed and transcended the genetic information and agenda of DNA, the original intelligence of the Earth’s living system. The human mind, which emerged from the evolutionary choice-making of our DNA, has resulted in inconceivable capacities—capacities we would only consider laughable fiction from the vantage point of a beginning with the “deadwood” of the old paradigm. DNA has led to human mind, and DNA now cooperates and collaborates with this intentional, deliberate, creating mind of humanity, de facto. Albert Einstein once reflected that “a human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. And Fritjof Capra, author of The Tao of Physics, observed, “Quantum theory…reveals a basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated ‘basic building blocks’, but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole.” It is because of our basic oneness that when we consider “relationship,” all of this must be pondered—for all of this is our context, story, identity, and our meaning. Without all of it, there is no sense. All of it is required for our existence and for our being, to make sense. We are all aspects of one, living, active, creative, conscious, compassionate and cooperative system. Are we not? If not that, then what? Not dead. Not separate. Surely we are brilliantly unfolding in deliberate, intentional, and creative ways, conscious ways, compassionate ways, and cooperative ways—as one, none of us is less than all that is. Physicist David Bohm summarizes: “Ultimately, the entire universe…has to be understood as a single undivided whole," which as we saw, he sees as a “flowing holomovement.” The universe and the cosmos—all that we know and can imagine—is not a thing, not matter. Rather it is a process, an action, movement. The cosmos is a subjective, conscious, intelligent, intentional, cooperative, and creative process, authored by an immanent and transcendent Grand Life Force that involves and includes Earthlife and Earthmind, and which binds humanity up in its noble becoming. Once we comprehend that we have a role to play in this unfolding and becoming, our own purpose and meaning becomes clearer, and the possibility reveals itself that we might deliberately co create a Brilliance beyond imagining in relationship with the Grand Life Force itself. Despite all of this, accepting the innate intelligence and brilliance of the cosmos—of Spirit—remains an act of faith as much as knowing. There will never be unanimity about any of this, if for no other reason than that each of us develops uniquely, in our own time. And over time our perspective can expand. We each grow, and each of us experiences our own subjective truth as we go. But, ironically, the science is pretty convincing, and it aligns remarkably with what the gurus and saints and sages and those living in the Emergent Movements of Self have always averred: it is one, we are one. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, and known as the last of the "Five Good Emperors,” was apparently a pretty good philosopher as well. His sentiment:
”Constantly think of the universe as one living creature, embracing one being and one soul; how all is absorbed into the one consciousness of this living creature; how it compasses all things with a single purpose, and how all things work together to cause all that comes to pass, and their wonderful web and texture.”
“We are here to co create a personal and dynamic cooperative relationship with the cosmos itself…We can intentionally make a choice to co create a world where the reality of our oneness manifests in our love and care for each other, for all of us, for all of it.” This was a statement we made at the beginning of this chapter, before we looked at the cosmos in more detail, before we saw with a bit more clarity what the fundamental nature of the cosmos might truly be. Scanning the landscape broadly, we could see how, in some general way, that everything that is is tied to everything that is. But now we see in fuller detail what the nature of those connections might be, and what the implications are for what the cosmos means. We see that it is not some “thing;” rather, it is a living process, a movement. We see that the cosmos is living and active in every moment as it flows through time. We have seen there is no true “matter” or “energy.” It’s all a form of action. And there is no true space: it is full of activity and structure, such that it even “shapes” gravity. And there is no true time: it changes with location and movement. And there are no true boundaries: all “discrete” objects are spatially connected as atoms endlessly holding hands in a fullness that is space, as one single object—an undivided whole encapsulating the entirety of all that is! Everything we thought was real about the physical world in which we exist turns out to be an illusion, something else! Just a process, a moving, deepening, unified vortex of action in which we emerge. This movement has a direction and an intention; it’s not just random, chaotic, and without purpose. We have seen that it is full, even in “empty” space, but more, we have seen that beyond space and matter and energy and time there is another reality, consciousness, that is the underpinning all of it—for without consciousness, it and we would not exist, because, for us, it and we would not be seen or known. Since there is consciousness—knowing—it must, like every other process in the cosmos, have some purpose or meaning, just as the process of natural selection in evolution adds, modifies, or eliminates over time for the purpose of survival and emergence.
The reality of the existence of consciousness suggests it has a purpose—survival and emergence, we can speculate, at least. Perhaps something more? What is the value of knowing in the context of a universe that is an unbroken wholeness? …an undivided flowing of movement?
What is the cosmos flowing toward? What is it (and what are we) becoming? What grand unfolding is emerging? And what is our part in it? We have a task ahead, it seems. We have a task of acknowledging and appreciating, of enriching and deepening and participating in the co creation of something more, through the power of the flowing of conscious movement and emergence within the Oneness and the Spirit within it that we have detected. We have a partnership here—to embrace, consciously, deliberately and fully. Shall We Dance?