We Are Here, and You Are It. A Summary

•August 16, 2018 • 2 Comments

[Another extract from my work-in-progress You Are Here. A Travelogue, our common evolutionary story since the big bang. An attempt at a very short summary of our Big History up to this present critical point of evolutionary decision for humanity in the Anthropocene: One World or None. The images chosen for their symbolic resonance are of the Gothic rose window at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and a 9-10th century CE painting of two Buddhist monks in dialogue: a blue-eyed Central Asian and a dark-eyed East Asian.]

We Are Here, and You Are It. A Summary

Here is an attempt at a short summary of our common travelogue together as beings of Matter, Life and Mind since the big bang around fourteen billion years ago.

Three Great Waves of Matter (Atoms, Stars, Planets) and three Great Waves of Life (Cells, Organisms, Ecosphere) have created our present bodies and minds. Fourteen billion years ago there is nothing, no space or time, no universe. Nothing, no-thing, exists. In this nothing we think there occurs an explosion, a ‘singularity’ or ‘big bang’, and within a split second something or other exists and quickly expands until some three hundred thousand years later the first atoms of hydrogen and helium are formed.

Every atom and element within us has come from the unfathomable ocean of energy and matter we call the cosmos. We know we are much re-arranged stardust, the material product of some initial great, high-temperature conflict between the four great forces we postmoderns drily call gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear force (perhaps six if we add our two ‘known unknowns’ of dark energy and dark matter). The first big-bang breaking up these forces and subsequent cosmic cycles of stellar deaths and rebirths have created all the atoms, elements and minerals we know and are. As material beings we are born in cosmic fires, cataclysms, catastrophes, a cascading torrent of breaking unities or ‘symmetries’ self-organizing into new waves of entities. Death and birth, old and new interpenetrate from the word go.

Then, as it all cools and condenses, and tossed off by another exploding star, our sun, about four and half billion years ago we come forth – in the eighth and ninth waves of self-evolving Matter ‒ as the solar system and Planet Earth with its internal nuclear furnace driving its plate tectonics, its water, air, rocks, minerals and soils, all soon self-assembling over time into complex self-reproducing molecules of DNA, RNA, proteins and the miracle of the first Great Wave of sentient living beings, bacterial cells. Biological evolution, the Superwave of Life, has begun. Life, ourselves, are today still predominantly bacteria, these first ones. So now we are bacterial stardust evolving through conflict, cooperation and incorporation, through competition and symbiosis, eating and being eaten.

Our dear Earth travelogue begins.

Nature loves mistakes: biological change, diversification and evolution are only possible because of imperfection and error. New species arise when mistakes are made in DNA copying and these imperfect copies manage to survive and produce descendants. Within our huge oceanic womb, through long processes of development, of catastrophes, mass extinctions, adaptations and creative ecological responses, we get ever more complex, ever more differentiated, ever more interior, ever more relatively free to choose. Every innovation changes and speeds up our evolution. As bacteria we begin to change the Earth to make it ever more suitable for Life and biological evolution. We oxygenate the atmosphere and later form an ozone layer to protect life from harmful ultraviolet rays, making it easier for life to eventually leave the ocean womb and evolve on land. We invent sex to individuate and supercharge the pace of change and diversity, and pay the price of individual death.

In our next great leap in the Cambrian fourth wave of Life around six hundred million years ago, we become larger, complex and cooperative collectives of cells, we become organisms and superorganisms, we differentiate further into co-evolving plants, fungi, animals. As bacterial stardust animals feeding on plants or other animals, i.e. condensed sunlight emitted from the sun’s nuclear furnace, we metabolise and differentiate this chemicalised sunlight into the beautiful complexities of movement, nervous systems, heads and brains. In the fifth wave of Life, as simple plants, fungi, wingless insects and amphibians, we emerge from the great womb of the oceans and colonise the continents, changing them as they change us. We become a planetary web of interdependent populations of organisms-and-environments (or ‘holobionts’) co-evolving together, we become the sixth Great Wave of evolution, a complex superorganism-of-superorganisms we call the Ecosphere.

As the Ecosphere evolving through mass extinctions and mass adaptations driven by cosmos, planet and our own ecological adaptations as Life itself, we evolve ever brainier, more complexly sensitive and reflective animal selves, amphibian, insect and reptile to bird, mammal and primate. In this self-organizing process we thus open up new worlds within the Ecosphere which evolve their own higher-deeper codes, principles, rules: evolution itself evolves. Thus we reveal ever new ex- and internal dimensions of reality: ever new perceptual and cognitive realms of flight, binocular colour vision, grasping and sensitive hands, motherhood and nurture, childhood and play, cultural learning, the primal emotions of fear, anger, jealousy, grief and joy, ever more prominent individual personalities within the mammal and primate packs of the eighth and ninth waves of Life.

As birds, mammals and primates, within material and biological interdependence, we are individuating, and the next leap from Ecosphere and Life to Mind, to culture and self, is emerging.

Nudged by ice ages, changing climates, grassfires and the spread of savannahs, in Africa perhaps seven to four million years ago we gradually raise ourselves from the ground, stand upright and walk on two legs, look up to the stars and out to new horizons. Bacterial stardust has become preverbal Premodern Mind, the first hominins. Now the human journey, both incorporating and transcending cosmos and Ecosphere, Matter and Life, has begun. We gradually embody, transform and transcend our animal and primate roots into sociality, ritual and custom, biology into culture and Mind. Our brains, hands, tools, group interactions, reproductive success and environmental pressures interact in ever widening and deepening feedback loops, further differentiating and accelerating evolution.

Over hundreds of thousands of years in Africa we move from scavenging to hunting, get more cooperative in order to do so, work and caring splits more into male and female forms, the first great gender division of labour. As homo, our real breakthrough to Mind comes with our development of verbal language and symbolic representation within the context of our extreme sociality, social learning and cultural teaching. We branch out into many adaptive experiments of the genus homo until homo sapiens wins out by fair means and foul. We are pushed by material, reproductive, climatic and ecological constraints and pulled by curiosity towards the unknown. Already as homo erectus around a million years ago we have walked out of Africa and into southern Eurasia. As homo sapiens we later also move beyond Eurasia to Australia and the Americas. Unlike most other species, we are globalisers from the word go. Our unknown trajectory is One World. But before we can know this there are the myriad differentiations, conflicts, regressions and circumlocutions of human history first to be absolved.

As the first great cosmic fire leapt into six successive Great Waves of Atoms, Stars, Planets, and then into Cells, Organisms and Ecospheres, the fire of Mind leaps out of Matter and Life as human speech, body ornamentation and cave art, as dance, chant, ritual and ceremony, trance and magic. Animals use tools, build shelters, communicate, feel, but we are the only animals to represent, symbolize, imagine, worship. Our interiority is becoming ever more differentiated and complex. We are creating another world within the world, a cultural and symbolic dimension of reality within and beyond the biological Ecosphere, an imaginative and infinitely differentiated new world of internal and external representations and images, of meaning and metaphor, of thought and beauty.

Yet the achievement and promise of such new differentiations of Mind cannot be had without loss and the possible perils of new dissociations and pathologies. Becoming more complex and dominant, we also become ever more vulnerable. We celebrate and we fear our immersion in a marvellous and frightening world. Assailed by the potential sensory and cognitive chaos of an overwhelming world and of the spirits of our own subconscious fears, dreams, nightmares, we create our first cultural order and law in ritual and ceremony. We stabilize our world and social group by chanting and dancing together, by imitating and celebrating, and thus we gain a first feint sense of cultural (or ‘magic’) power over both the invisible and the wild creatures that feed us and frighten us. Leaping, shuddering shamans, we create both white and black magic. The mysterious powers of the female over birth, nurture, death fills men with awe and fear.

Around ten thousand years ago, under various pressures of climate, food availability and population growth, we gradually move from foraging the wild to domesticating it. We store our food energy surpluses, have more children to help us with our now greater labour, and settle down in villages, towns, city states. Life is becoming more complex and hierarchical. We radically simplify our nutrition and lose our intimate knowledge of, and respect for, the wild. Insecure, fearful, thankful, we feel we must sacrifice life to keep life flowing into us, that there can be no birth and re-birth of plants and animals and humans without death. We sacrifice humans and animals to the Great Mother Goddess of Life-and-Death and the gods we create in fear and gratitude. Matrilinear and matrilocal, we live in egalitarian and fairly peaceful villages for thousands of years. Yet over time, some of our warriors or herders become ‘big men’, chiefs.

Big men become chiefs, chiefs become kings, kings become emperors. Now having grain surpluses and property to hoard and covet, we split into exploiters and exploited, order-givers and order-takers, the literate and illiterate, enslaved and free, hosts and macro-parasites sucking off their tributes and taxes. In our first agrarian civilisations about five thousand years ago, we invent numbers and writing to track the stars and keep accounts, our scribes and priests living off our siphoned surplus grain. We begin to despair, and to hope. We become ‘civilised’ and create the first mass labour machines, organized religions, armies and warfare. We both build great new monuments and engage in mass slaughter. We learn to kowtow and to rebel. As women we are made men’s property, chattel slaves, birth machines. Yet both war and trade link us into ever greater webs of exchange of matter and mind. Within the Premodern, we have now moved from a planet of isolated few worlds to one of many, often linked, worlds.

In our agrarian civilisations and empires over the millennia we are always still tossed by climate, weather, animal competitors, micro-parasites, our own overpopulation, sudden invasions, mass atrocities and massacres, plunder and slavery, taxes and tributes, by abundance and famine, population growth and crash. Premodern (and later modern) empires, linking several worlds, rise and spread, contract and fall like species, like waves, like individual lives. We continue the degradation and destruction of soils and forests, and we also find many different ways of sustainably adapting to local ecological constraints and challenges.

Finally, perhaps eight hundred and fifty years ago in Europe, we begin to first enter the Modern: taking up some of the cognitive achievements of the premodern Classical Age, we break through into the modern individual and new humanistic and secular horizons beyond the closed world of the Medieval and premodern Mind. About five hundred years ago, our continents of Afro-Eurasia and the Americas come together for the first time through European exploration, exploitation and trade, and we thus create the first truly global system of exchange, one based on plunder, slavery, spices, sugar, cotton. We begin to erect the purely secular reign of quantity, of science, of increasing commodification and the market society, the machine, and at the same time the emancipatory notions of social progress, potential human liberation and universal human rights. We develop a secular, mechanical, ‘disenchanted’ worldview and learn to harness the stored energies of ancient forests compressed into coal, gas and oil.

About two hundred years ago we use these fossil fuel technologies and build the first industrial factories, organize and apply science, begin to envisage the possibility of a material good life for all. In the nineteenth century we finally create One World, a global economic and industrial system under the domination, and for the benefit of, European imperialism. We engage in the first global wars. We split the unsplittable atom and have learned to use the explosive power present in the Big Bang to potentially annihilate civilisation or the Earth. Culturally, we collapse into the industrialised inhumanity of Auschwitz and Hiroshima.

And thus we have arrived in the present, the Postmodern, the Human Age, the Anthropocene.

We are now ever more objectively One World, but we do not yet consciously know it. We are now objectively hybridising and merging into One Human Family, but we do not consciously know it. We are now objectively in charge of evolution, but we do not yet consciously know it. It is now objectively possible to create a sufficient material standard of living for all within the planet’s ecological limits, but we do not consciously know it.

On a deep level of our being, ‘within our bones’, we do know all this, however. Can we let this deep, intuitive knowledge, this wisdom we all share, rise up into our consciousness? Can we let this consciousness inform all our individual and collective actions? Has all our fourteen billion year evolution been leading to this present moment of decision, a decision to realise our true common humanity on One Earth?

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Your Friend the Ego

•August 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[Recent thoughts while driving home from a bushwalk. Took the photo of the window in the country town of Braidwood about five years ago. I think Einstein’s ‘reality’ certainly includes the ‘I’ as ego or personality or image, and all that self-image stuff that’s put on Fakebook, InstantGrammy etc…]

Your Friend the Ego

Your ego is like your fingernail.

You need to clip it now and again,
otherwise it will grow so much,
it will incapacitate you.

Then it grows back again.

It’s no big deal if you lose one,
it will regrow, more or less the same.

It’s tenacious: apparently
it even grows a bit after your brain
stops and your mind wings it.

It’s both part of you and not YOU.
To identify with it as ‘you’,

would be quite strange indeed.

On the hottest midwinter day on record

•August 11, 2018 • 2 Comments

[Recent poem, an elegy for an old friend who died four years ago. The poem has just been published in the Grieve Poetry Competition Anthology 2018 of the Hunter Writers Centre. Took the postmodern photo at a recent sculpture show at Hillview Southern HIghlands.]

On the hottest midwinter day on record

i.m. Barbara Sterling

Now changes carry sharper edges,
cut deeper into the thin skin
of memory. The house just visible
now among the tangle of trees
from the fire-trail hacked through
your anarchically unfenced bush.

These days another person dies
every other day. Then always air
thick with silence, sudden cool breeze
soughing leaves, that dull ache
pulling memories out of now
like an overworked midwife.

Not even sure if it is your house,
the hardwood house I helped you build,
always loved being in, so small,
so large with the sheer force
of your life poor in means, rich
in spirit, your house a creaking
wooden boat with an unrailed, death-
defying deck leaping out into that
grey-green ocean of fire-loving trees.
Into all that silent, waiting space.

Philosophical Assumptions about Evolution in a Nutshell

•August 8, 2018 • 5 Comments

[From my writing project on Big History, some philosophical assumptions about evolution and our current choices as a species in the ‘Human Age’/Anthropocene.]

Philosophical Assumptions in a Nutshell

Evolution

The Origin, the moment of the universe’s creation lies both in time, in some unimaginably distant past, and in this very instant, this timeless now. And we are it.

Evolution is a spontaneous, self-organizing, self-transforming, self-transcending process of the universe that can be perhaps usefully divided into the succession of Matter (or cosmos), Life (or Earth) and Mind (or humanity).

Evolution evolves. (This is also known as ‘emergence’). Successive new levels open up new and higher dimensions and ‘laws’ or ‘codes’ of reality that both incorporate and transcend previous levels.

As evolution and history, time is accelerating. (Yet: no time without Timelessness).

As evolution and history, space is complexifying and differentiating. (Yet: no forms without Emptiness).

Evolution and history have a general direction or trajectory, but no purpose or end or ‘pinnacle’.

The general trajectory of evolution is increasing complexification, differentiation, universalisation, consciousness, autonomous interdependence.

Evolution is neither linear nor uni-linear. It is spiralling, meandering, multi-linear, sometimes regressive, yet also converging on a general trajectory.

Evolution evolves from sentient Matter and conscious-feeling Life to history and reflective Mind.

Evolution and history can be arbitrarily but perhaps usefully divided into Nine Great Waves from Atom to Postmodern Mind (Matter: Atom, Star, Planet; Life: Cell, Organism, Ecosphere; Mind: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern).

In evolution the later development is contained as a potential in the earlier.

In evolution the later development is on balance more complex and differentiated and relatively ‘free’ or autonomous than the earlier, not ‘better’.

The more complex-differentiated later development usually incorporates and transforms the earlier and is in that sense ‘higher’, ‘deeper’ and relatively more ‘free’ or autonomous, but not ‘better’.

In a ‘dominator hierarchy’, a later development attempts not to dialogically incorporate, transform and transcend, but rather to monologically suppress and dominate an earlier development (often seeing itself as ‘better’); this attempt always causes great suffering to both developments.

Paradoxically, every complexification-differentiation, especially in the realm of Mind, may both open a new dimension and also involve a de-differentiation or simplification. Thus every innovation may involve a significant loss, every ascent a descent.

The 5:95 ‘tip of the iceberg’ rule. The more complex/differentiated higher development often exists in a much smaller ratio compared to the earlier less complex/differentiated (5:95%, 10:90%).

The earlier often then becomes the later development’s often unconscious ‘base’, ‘foundation’, ‘infrastructure’, ‘life support system’, ‘unconscious’.

Matter: 5% visible matter to 95% ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’. Life: 5% visible species to 95% invisible/bacterial species, 5% mammals to 95% non-mammal animals, 10% human genes to 90% bacterial genes in the human genome. Mind: 5% verbal content to 95% non-verbal content in human communication.

The higher-later, more differentiated development is more vulnerable to dissociation, pathology and extinction than the more fundamental lower-earlier.

Any extinction of the lower-earlier development destroys the higher-later (but not vice versa).

Destructions and extinctions are evolution’s means of self-organizational innovation, overcoming stagnant stabilities.

Every evolutionary entity is a part-whole (‘holon’), i.e. both a whole made of incorporated lower parts and itself a lower incorporated part of another higher whole.

Each holon is also interdependent within complex horizontal webs of other holons (‘systems’).

This whole vertical-horizontal structure of nested part-wholes or ‘holons’ can be called a ‘holarchy’.

This universal holarchy or holarchical universe has no end or beginning, no ‘top pinnacle’ or ‘rock bottom ’, no final ‘foundation’ or ‘ultimate’. It stretches infinitely and eternally ‘up’ and ‘down’. (This proposition is also known as ‘turtles all the way down, and up.’)

This way of interpreting the universe and evolution is thus neither atomism not holism, neither modern reductionism nor premodern spiritualism, but rather postmodern ‘integral thinking’ synthesising science and transcultural spirituality.

Paradoxically, all stages or waves of evolution in the universal holarchy are equidistant from, and expressions of, the Origin.

Origin, Mind

Origin is not a ‘point’ or ‘event’ in time or space, and thus beyond beginning/end, birth/death. Origin is the Non-Dual and Unconditioned.

Origin is thus paradoxically both inexpressible and everyday mind/Original Mind. Origin is also known both as Tao, the Non-Dual, Godhead, and as enlightenment, unknowing, ‘nirvana’, ‘original nature’.

Cosmos (Matter) is simple, Mind is complex. Emerging from cosmos, Mind integrates cosmos.

External complexity/differentiation is internal complexity/differentiation (‘as without, so within’), two sides of the same coin.

Evolution is thus also a process of increasing interiority of feeling and consciousness, of Mind.

Mind is not a material, measurable entity but rather meaning-making emerging from, integrating and transcending Life and Matter.

Mind is the material-biological brain’s ‘emergent’, the most complex-differentiated known entity in the universe.

Self-reflecting Mind is the universe becoming conscious of itself, self-reflecting itself. Knower (‘inside’) and known (‘outside’) are not separate but rather unified pattern-in-process. You are it.

Mind as meaning-making is not the realm of science and quantification but of the arts, humanities and interpretation (hermeneutics), of contemplation.

The Anthropocene Choice

The universal trajectory is from evolutionary self-organisation of Matter and Life to historical self-organisation and self-management of Mind and society on a universal, global scale.

The current choice before Mind in evolution is that between business-as-usual in an unconscious, oligarchical and technocratic Anthropocene (‘posthumanism, ‘dataism’, man-machine merger) or else a conscious and participatory Anthropocene.

This is a choice between blind business-as-usual and civilizational breakdown and destruction or democratic transformation and breakthrough: an evolutionary leap to conscious global self-organisation and One World consciousness.

The globally participatory Anthropocene of One World does not technocratically or ‘post-humanly’ deny and dominate biological evolution and the important living legacies of the premodern and modern.

Rather One World consciousness seeks to integrate into the postmodern both the humility of ecological awareness and biological embeddedness and all the best of the premodern and modern, of science and transcultural spirituality.

Methodology

An integral perspective seeks to move from either/or to both/and, from polarisation to complementarity.

Both science and the arts/human sciences are needed to make sense of evolution, history and our current crisis point.

Science and the arts/human sciences (including history) operate according to different but complementary methodologies, the ‘scientific method’ and ‘hermeneutics’.

The scientific method is based on empirical measurement of aspects of reality seen externally as surface objects without interiority or depth (‘facts’). Hermeneutics is based on intersubjective meaning-making and interpretation of aspects of reality seen as qualities, interiorities, values (‘meanings’).

Both scientific method and hermeneutic practice are in essence anti-dogmatic, anti-authoritarian, democratic.

While hermeneutics is no science and can make no validity claims based on quantification, experimental evidence and falsification, its validity claims are based on the intersubjective negotiation and shifting consensus of educated peers, as are a great part of the validity claims of science.

Neither science nor hermeneutics can be reduced to the other. To reduce the field of science to hermeneutics would be the ‘anything goes’ of subjectivist relativism or nihilism, while to reduce the field of hermeneutics to science would be the ‘Gradgrind facticity’ of reductionist scientism and positivism.

Science deals in information (data) and external-causal understanding. Hermeneutics deals in internal-acausal understanding (meaning), knowledge and wisdom.

Hermeneutics is a ‘higher-deeper’ level of Mind: interpretation can incorporate scientific information, while scientific information (data) cannot incorporate interpretation as a dialogic, intersubjective practice. While there can be an interpretative history of science, there can be no science of history or interpretation.

Big History in six minutes

•August 7, 2018 • 2 Comments

Not a bad scientistic summary of cosmic and planetary evolution in six minutes leaping over all that human culture, religion, gender and class struggle stuff that actually defines us and frames the way we see our evolution itself. Of course ends with homo sapiens heading out into the cosmos as the Earth is swallowed by the sun anyway in a mere five billion years…Meanwhile, back at the kitchen sink I’m washing up and listening to the John Butler trio…

Happy sweltering northern readers, and how are we going to rapidly reduce our energy consumption and switch to renewables I wonder, plan together for increasing levels of all kinds of shocks, water and food insecurity, more mass migrations, panic and authoritarian non-solutions that make things worse, how do we get our communities more cohesive, resilient, democratic…? Could be fun too, get us out of our shells…Hmmm..

Beyond Recognition

•July 22, 2018 • 5 Comments

[Older poem. Took the shot in Melbourne eight years ago.]

Beyond Recognition

first they took their commons
then their ozone layer
then they took their brains

but they couldn’t take
their natures
like you can’t take water

from the rock or sky
tigers from the jungle
without changing both

beyond recognition

now their natures roam
the malls restlessly
seeking recognition

the fungi, birds, mammals
of their imaginations
bored stiff and shitless

with goods, spouses, selves
catastrophes, when, they ask
will it all end

when, they ask, will
we
finally begin

Grandfather

•July 20, 2018 • 3 Comments

[Very recent poem, might change. Photo taken at one of our dams/ponds.]

Grandfather

The dog is
still alive:

his twitches
are dreaming.

Another day
I wake

to still see
the world

un-
dimmed.

Later,
my grandson

is climbing
in the tree

by the dam.
Dappled wind

is soughing
through leaves

as he settles,
still. He says:

This is
a good place

to think.
He says:

you know
the moon

does not
fall

to
pieces.