A SUMMER’S JOURNEY INTO THE FUTURE
Thought #1: Where Are We Going?
It’s summer, and the trees are full of leafy green goodness, while the ocean calls us to kayak and laze. But meanwhile, behind our backs, things of a massive scale are falling apart. It’s time for some summer thinking, before it’s too late.
Are we like the farmers in Belgium in August 1914, who were contentedly harvesting their fields in the long, golden summer, when out of nowhere, a German army marched over the horizon and changed their world forever?
We live on a very small planet in a very large galaxy, in an even more enormous universe. We inhabit a world that is unbelievably beautiful, where life spent two billion years developing before it was able to create humans. We are gifted with the ability to sing like angels, think like geniuses, work like fanatics, and sleep like babies. What more could we ask?
And yet we are rushing into an ecological black hole that’s entirely of our own making, taking with us much of the world’s forests, fisheries, glaciers, wetlands, topsoil, freshwater, and millions of species that evolved alongside us.
In just the last 50 years, we have consumed 90% of the world’s large fish: the marlin, cod, tuna, swordfish, sharks and others.
Meanwhile, the world’s most dominant nation has gone to war to win control over the world’s remaining oil supplies before they are gone, and a quarter of all land-based animals and plants are facing extinction by 2050 as a result of global climate change, which is being caused by our use of this oil.
Why are we destroying our planet? Why are we paving paradise? Are we droidal obsessives on a kamikaze mission to obliterate all that is beautiful? We must look at the big picture.
Our journey of progress has been slowly gathering speed ever since we developed language. Since the 16th century, when we freed ourselves from religious dogma and superstition, it has accelerated with every passing year. Just 102 years ago, we saw the first airplane fly. Today, there are 25,000 commercial flights every day.
We do this thing called “progress” with style and delight. Our fishing boats are filled with space age equipment; our bodies are filled with drugs designed to heal our sleeplessness, smooth our hearts, and keep us alive for longer. Our thoughts travel at the speed of light along the Internet as we shop for cheaper flights and better investments … and seek solutions to our problems.
Who are we, in this enormous cosmos? And where are we going so fast?
Thought #2: Science’s Response
Evolutionary biology says we are going nowhere. It says evolution is strictly a process of reproduction by selfish genes. We might as well be sandworms or crab lice, for all evolution cares. There is no meaning to life. Life is just a random dance of atoms, designed to perpetuate the genes.
To most scientists, any talk of human “progress” is meaningless. It is mental comfort for the spiritually love-sick that few scientists want to touch. The message: don’t expect science to shed any light on our eco-suicidal mission. They are going to fall into the ecological black hole along with the rest of Nature. They may write poetry while they fall, but they must not think outside their narrow self-defined box.
It’s no wonder some Christians are rejecting evolution in favour of “intelligent design”, with God (who else?) as the designer. The Bible, that fabulous book of history and wisdom that was written two thousand years ago by an obscure tribe of desert-dwelling refugees, is sufficient to make sense of their world. Yikes! And now they’re running the White House, in partnership with Exxon. Roll on the Rapture, when all true believers will be taken miraculously into heaven.
So is that it? Should we sing along with Peggy Lee as we pile goods cut from the forest and fish sucked from the oceans into our freezers and SUVs, and prepare for the final curtain?
Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball?
If that's all there is.
Thought #3: Science and Spirit
Today, modern science is just 400 years old. Imagine yourself as a scientist of the future, looking back on the present from the year 5005 AD. Science is now 3,400 years old. All of science’s theories eventually fall to grander and more encompassing theories. Will this also be true for the selfish gene theory of evolution? In 5005, will there be a wider and more encompassing theory, that we have yet to grasp in 2005?
And what about the realm of spirit, that some say does not exist? Every culture has a word for spirit. For the native Japanese, it is “tashami”. In Chinese Mandarin, it is “jingshen”. To the Hebrews, “ruach”. To the Arabs, “ruh”. For Croations, “duh”. To the Ojibway, “Manitou”. To the Navajo, “Ye’i”. For the Xhosa of South Africa, “umoya”.
There are cultures whose people use fasting, trance, and ritual to help their human consciousness expand to other realms, where it can talk to eagles, bears, and ancestors. There are cultures whose people know that healing energy can flow from one person to another, causing aching wounds to recover. There are cultures to whose people it is no shock when a distant grandmother appears by your bed to say goodbye, before passing on.
Science does not deny the realm of spirit. It simply says that it is outside science’s purview, since it can neither see nor measure it. It is only by setting such limits that science has made progress, carving out the knowledge that has propelled us from steam engines to solar-powered space craft.
The word “science” simply means “knowing”. It is a way of listening to the poetry of the universe that helps us to understand the universe’s secrets. There are no limits to what science can explore. There are only limits to what it can say that it knows. It is time to explore the world of spirit.
Thought #4: The Experience of Spirit
What happens, when you are suddenly filled with inspiration by a tree, or a word of unexpected kindness? What happens when something fills your soul, and the hairs on your back stand upright? What happens when a prayer goes out, and you feel the response return? What happens when deep gratefulness fills your heart with love?
Dallas Road dancing, the breeze in your hair, snow mountains watching, the ocean’s calm stare.
Consciousness is a vessel that we fill with stuff, in which spirit already exists. When we fill the vessel with thoughts, emotions, intentions and desires, we crowd out our awareness of spirit’s existence. Take away the stuff, and the space is ready.
I experience the world as filled with spirit. We are all connected to spirit. When we open up and invite it in, it is there. When we pull back the shrouds of our smaller self and surrender to the greater place that some call God, some call the fullness of emptiness, we open to the space where spirit has been present all along.
There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground. (Rumi).
Thought #5: Spirit’s Origins
If spirit exists, where did it come from? Does it exist only in humans? Did it arrive from outer space? Does it have boundaries, outside of which it doesn’t exist?
If it exists, it must be present throughout the universe, and it must have been here all along. It may even pre-exist the Big Bang. If there are beings in faraway galaxies, they must surely share the same realm of spirit.
The French theoretical physicist Jean Charon was always uneasy with the reductionism of his colleagues, who worked hard to distance themselves from anything that was not measurable. He spent the final years of his life exploring the notion that every atom has consciousness, and that matter and spirit coexist. He suggested that a different kind of space-time existed inside each electron, connected to the realm of spirit. There are other physicists, from Fritjof Capra to David Bohm, who have expressed similar thoughts.
If spirit exists in every atom and every tree, how would this effect our understanding of evolution? The question is huge, for it affects our understanding of who we are, and where we are going. In one direction, Peggy Lee sings “Is that all there is?” In the other direction lies something completely new.
Evolution is a one-way process. Life accumulates complexity as it evolves. The richer the complexity of cellular matter, the greater is its capacity for consciousness. With the arrival of language, the holders of consciousness discovered that they could write poetry, create mathematics, and wonder about their origins …. and their future.
All life wants to exist; greater complexity gives it a better chance at survival. But why does life want to exist? Why are our genes so determined to reproduce themselves? Why do they bother?
Thought #6: Syntropy
In the realm of inert matter, the tendency of energy to lose organization, fading away to heat-death, is called entropy. It is clearly spelt out in the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. And yet for some unexplained reason, the evolutionary story is a negentropic process that defies the rules. It shouldn’t happen this way.
In the realm of spirit, there is a constantly observed tendency of consciousness to seek organization and wholeness. This is called syntropy. You won’t find it in the dictionaries yet, outside of a complex computer language use, since this use of the word is still new. Syntropy is a deep-seated evolutionary tendency among all forms of consciousness to seek higher levels of unity. Atoms merge, and create molecules. Molecules merge, and create organisms. Humans merge, and create communities. Individual humans have perennially sought to merge with the greater whole, by whatever name they called it. The science of yoga is thousands of years old. The soul seeks union with the divine.
In 1918, following Einstein, Paul Dirac found that in the world of quantum mechanics, every physical law is symmetrical with respect to time. In the 1940s, the Italian mathematician Luigi Fantappié was working on a unified field theory that would link the physical and biological worlds. He discovered that diverging waves, corresponding to common physical and chemical phenomena, tended to be produced by processes that followed the laws of entropy, set in the past, while converging waves, corresponding to biological and living systems, followed syntropical processes that converged towards sources set in the future. Life, it seems, is governed by the principle of syntropy. It creates the future, moment by moment. It seeks differentiation, order, organization, and higher levels of wholeness.
If this sounds weird, remember that time is not what we take it to be. Strange things happen to time when we approach the speed of light. Within the cellular matter that constitutes our brains and nervous systems, whose complex organization has given us the gift of consciousness, electrons and particles are spinning out their dance, even as you read these words. Now think about this: all of our human actions are premised either by a habit, set in the past, or by an intention, set in the future. Our habits are fixed; they tend not to change. Our intentions, on the other hand, create change. They weave the future.
Thought #7: The Quest for Wholeness
The call of syntropy can be heard both on a grand, evolutionary scale, and in the quiet of our hearts, where we are sometimes troubled with perennial, difficult questions. Why do I hurt so much? Why do I feel depressed? How can I find the light?
During childhood, some children have parents who neglect them, abuse them, and put them down. Some meet bullies who build their self-esteem with fists and cruel words. Some meet racial, sexual, and gay-bashing slurs. It is easy to accumulate anger and hurt.
If we respond from habit, with anger, blame, and self-judgment, the wounds continue to fester. But if we respond from choice, if we choose to pause, pay attention to our wounds, and seek the healing we require, the healing begins immediately. We create a different future for ourselves.
All beings long for wholeness; we are syntropically inspired. With persistence, and a loving friend or therapist, most wounds can be healed. As soon as we pay attention and make that choice, the billion year old call of syntropy becomes alive in our souls.
"Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us."
Meister Eckhart (1260-1326 AD)
All humans yearn to be happy and fulfilled. You will never meet a person who says “I wish I had a miserable marriage”, or “I wish I had haemorrhoids”. Even Hitler wanted beautiful things for the Germans, at the expense of everyone else.
We also yearn for freedom, and justice. We have fought over centuries for freedom from kings and dictators, for an end to slavery, for civil rights, for the right of workers to organize, and women to vote.
There have always been humans who saw their purpose as accumulating power and riches, and others for whom cruelty, evil and spite have been distorted ways to fulfillment. But through it all, we have always persevered with higher goals, and a nobler vision of what it is to be human. When someone becomes a tired and jaded cynic, giving up on the belief that life is full of promise, we are all the losers. Our passion to care for the Earth’s fragile environment, to protect the Spirit Bear and the caribou, comes from the same place. Many people feel deep inside that it is their birthright to live in a beautiful, loving, caring, planet, and it is not mere fancy that calls them to contribute.
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.
Thought #8: The Drive for Unwholeness
If this is what is happening in the universe, why are we rushing into the black holes of ecological collapse, taking so much of nature with us? Why is there still so much poverty, cruelty and hunger? It doesn’t compute.
The facts are stark. As you read this, the last of the planet’s albatrosses are dying, caught in the mouth by the hooks of long-line fishing boats that kill 100,000 albatrosses a year. On the other side of the world, big defense companies are signing contracts for ever bigger arms sales. It is easy to despair.
All species learn by trial and error, as well as by forethought and wisdom. Most of our destructive tendencies are driven by a deadly cocktail of enthusiasm and ignorance, that allows us to indulge in the misguided faith that all will be well. We have inherited a strong evolutionary trait that rewards curiosity, inventiveness, and initiative.
We also like to take control. We like to use power. We become corrupted by power, and have to be pushed off our thrones by uprisings and revolts. We thought we had it sorted out with democracy, but now it is clear that even democracies can be hijacked by the rich and powerful, if they can gain control of the media.
When it comes to our environmental problems, we are like children let loose in the garden of science, wondering at the powers we have discovered, with almost minimal awareness of the greater ecological whole of which we are part. The science of physics is 400 years old. The science of ecology is only 40 years old.
The fact that the stakes are so much higher today is a reflection of the enormous potentials that we have discovered through the use of science. If we put our minds to it, we could use these potentials to serve global cooperation and harmony with nature. We could change the rules which govern corporations, and require that their shareholders serve social and environmental goals, as well as selfish ones. It is a choice we could make.
Thought #9: Journey’s End
The summer’s journey draws to an end. The future is determined by our thoughts, and the choices we make. If you think “it’s all hopeless”, or “any effort is a waste of time”, you are one less person who is available to make a difference. You have given up on the dream of what’s possible, so you may as break out the booze and sing along with Peggy Lee.
The critical thought here is that as a planet, we do not know where we are going. There is no consensus that the realm of spirit exists. The science of evolution does not accept the principle of syntropy. As a culture, we haven’t a clue about who we are, where we are going, or what we’re doing. It’s no wonder we are drifting towards disaster, like a planetary oil tanker heading toward an iceberg. We have no “story” that can give us any guidance. Science is our planetary religion, but the only story it has to offer is that of the selfish gene, in which evolution is a meaningless meandering of random mutations.
Since the future is determined by our thoughts, this lack of a story is very destructive. It undermines our ability to project a strong image of the future, and act on it. Instead, we have corporate images of a future shaped by quarterly earnings, while the social justice and environmental movements act on pure instinct, without benefit of a story. We are impelled by the power of syntropy, without really knowing it.
If we accept this new story, however, our efforts to make a difference gain a deep new source of strength, allowing our choices to be clearer and stronger. We can dedicate our whole lives to the work, and know we are part of a great unfolding.
Thought #10: We Are Part of The Universe
If you are not guided by a conscious vision of the future you want to see, you will be guided by your unconscious acceptance of the present you already have. It is the shape of your intentions that determines the future of your life. It is the shape of our shared intentions for the world that determines the future of the world. Our consciousness has evolved from stardust. It is part of Nature. We live in a conscious Universe. We are part of the Universe, pondering its future.
How are you going to choose?
If you sit back and allow global climate change and other disasters to run their course, you are, in effect, giving up on the gift of choice that Nature has given you.
Nature is awaiting your decision.
Guy Dauncey is author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change, and other titles, and Editor of EcoNews. He is also President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. In October 2005, he is leading a 5-day workshop at Hollyhock, on Cortes Island, called Spirit, Science and Evolution: The Great Unfolding. His website is www.earthfuture.com.