As presented in a previous blog, The Foundations of Reality, our cosmic story plays a foundational role in the way we perceive and interact with everything that exists in our material world. At present, those cultural and individual stories are amazingly diverse; however, as long as we are able to respect one another’s right to hold an alternative view, this cornucopia of beliefs poses no hindrance to peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, too often we observe the hostility that can result when beliefs are sustained through inflexibility and intolerance.
What shifts in our thinking would need to take place to nurture a more harmonious global culture? Is there a story that could be embraced by the majority of the citizens of our planet? If so, the task of promoting an inclusive international identity could become achievable.
Traditional cosmic stories have had thousands of years to develop and convey their doctrines, mythologies, and icons. These competing tales were born from speculation, contemplation, personal revelation, or visions and have lacked cross-cultural acceptance. However, a new scientific understanding is emerging that is based on verifiable observations. As this new empirical knowledge permeates various societies, it has the potential to influence these traditional stories and bring us to a common understanding of our human destiny.
In light of the numerous conflicts currently underway around the world, this may sound like mere wishful thinking. However, we need to keep in mind that this new cosmological view is incredibly young and has not had adequate time to exercise significant influence on our global community. Many of our most profound discoveries have either taken place or been confirmed within the last twenty-five years. The launch of the Hubble telescope opened the window on the universe, and what we are beginning to see is extraordinary.
Of course, what is being revealed is not really a new story at all. It has been going on since the initial expansion began approximately 14 billion years ago. What is new is our understanding of the cosmology involved in the production of our universe and the subatomic structure of matter. Our natural senses are limited and do not accurately reflect the reality of the physical realm. Consequently, most of our previous beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors have primarily been based upon primitive perceptions that are incredibly incomplete.
Traditionally, our observations and conclusions have been founded on a centrist point of reference; egocentric, kin-centered, clan-centered, ethnocentric, nationalistic, anthropocentric, and geocentric. This perspective is reflected in our daily lives. We still refer to the appearance and disappearance of the sun as sunrise and sunset, as though the earth is standing still while the sun courses across the sky. I’m not suggesting any campaign to alter our language, but the event would be more accurately referred to as the morning and evening rotation.
Consider the term “outer space.” What does that mean? Again, it is a geocentric expression that implies that space is something that exists out there somewhere, as though we are not part of it. Although our presence is rather insignificant, we are in fact an integral part of the universe. During the lunar landings in the late 60s and early 70s, the truth of that reality became quite evident as we began seeing photographs of our planet silhouetted against the blackness of space.
Both individually and collectively we are expressions of the universe. It is easy for us to view galaxies, stars, planets and moons as such, but we do not typically think of ourselves in these terms. Perhaps it is time to do so. In the documentary Journey of the Universe, Brian Swimme presents the profound observation cited below. It succinctly highlights the reality that we are each an aspect of this universal process.
“Over the course of fourteen billion years, hydrogen gas
transformed itself into mountains, butterflies, the music of Bach, and you and me.”
--Brian Thomas Swimme
This is a relatively new understanding based on rational thought and empirical observations. However, intuitively we have known this for thousands of years as evidenced by the numerous religious traditions and scriptures alluding to our connection with the heavens. Until now, our intellect had to be transcended because our natural observations were incapable of affirming this reality.
In western culture our sense of cosmic connection has been sustained by denying our natural reason and expressing faith in an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, invisible, and transcendent deity that created heaven and earth. In all of the Abrahamic religions, we find sacred texts that affirm that God dwells in the heavens along with his angels. Furthermore, Christians, Muslims, and some Jews anticipate an afterlife in some spiritual heavenly realm.
Eastern philosophy simply declared that our dualistic perceptions are illusions. Through deep meditation, devotees were able to achieve “enlightenment” and experience a revelatory awareness that “all is one.” Originating in the Vedic teachings of the Hindu faith around 1,500 BCE, it extended through Buddhism, Taoism, and many of the eastern philosophies.
During the fourth century BCE, atomism emerged as an explanation of the natural world simultaneously in Greece and India. It was the belief that all matter is comprised of tiny particles that vary in size and shape and form bonds in infinite combinations. The Greek philosophers, Leucippus and Democritus, coined the term atom, which simply referred to tiny particles that were irreducible.
Atomism played a key role in Epicurean philosophy. Around 50 BCE, an Epicurean named Lucretius wrote On the Nature of Things, an epic scientific discourse in the form of a poem that presented amazing insights pertaining to the role of atoms in the cosmos. Some of the assertions are as follows:
- There is nothing in the universe other than atoms and void.
- All material objects are comprised of atoms including the heavenly bodies.
- Stars are neither gods nor mystical. They are suns just like ours, composed of atoms and orbited by satellites that are inhabited by living creatures in the same way our planet is. They appear tiny because we are merely observing them from a great distance.
What is amazing is the fact that all of this intuitive knowledge came through nothing more than natural observation, meditation, contemplation, and logic. They had no telescope or knowledge of the actual events that formed the material universe. They were not aware of nuclear physics or the fundamental aspects of quantum mechanics. Yet they sensed a cosmic unity that is completely compatible with our current understanding of field singularity and the emerging concepts of string theory.
The source of these incredible insights is expressed in the Tao Te Ching, “How do I know this? I look inside myself.” As this ancient wisdom is affirmed through the scientific method, our rational and intuitive minds are free to integrate and establish a state of harmonious understanding as we collectively write our new unfolding cosmic story.
As you mindfully contemplate this unfolding cosmic story, what implications arise regarding the following issues?
- Your sense of meaning and purpose as a unique element within an evolving universe;
- Your perception of the moon, stars, and other galaxies as traveling companions; and
- Your theology.