BRIAN SWIMME INTERVIEW WITH WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT? MAGAZINE
- For cosmologist Brian Swimme, the universe is a continuous, radiant, numinous revelation. Contemplating the wonders of the unfolding creativity of the cosmos is a mystical, ecstatic, awe-inspiring event. And if you speak with him, read his books, or watch his educational video series — it’s contagious.
– What Is Enlightenment? Magazine
Brian Swimme: I think the fastest way to wake up to what is happening on the planet is to think in terms of mass extinction. Every now and then, the Earth goes through a die-off of the diversity of life. Over the last half-billion years, there have been five moments like this. We didn’t know about this two hundred years ago; we didn’t have the slightest idea that the Earth did this. Now we’ve discovered that around every hundred million years, the Earth went through these amazing cataclysms. And just within the last thirty to forty years, we’ve discovered that the last one, which eliminated all the dinosaurs and ammonites and so many other species, was caused by an asteroid hitting the Earth. This happened sixty-five million years ago. There was no awareness of this any previous time in human history. You look through the Vedas, you look in the Bible—it’s nowhere. But at the same time as we’re discovering this, we’re discovering that we’re causing one right now. Two years ago, the American Museum of Natural History took a poll among biologists. They asked a simple question: Are we in the middle of a mass extinction? Seventy percent said yes. A mass extinction. You can’t open your eyes and see that. It’s a discovery that involves the whole. Our senses have evolved to deal with the near-at-hand, and this is a conclusion that involves the whole planet.
So now we’re just discovering that we’re in the middle of a mass extinction. We happen to be in that moment when the worst thing that’s happened to the Earth in sixty-five million years is happening now. That’s number one. Number two, we are causing it. Number three, we’re now aware of it. There’s only a little splinter of humanity that’s aware of it. The numbers are this: At the minimum, twenty-five thousand species are going extinct every year. And if humans’ activity were otherwise, or if humans weren’t here, there would be one species going extinct every five years. We’ve pushed up the natural extinction rate by the order of something like a hundred to a thousand times.
The point is that we haven’t been prepared to understand what an extinction event is. We’ve had all these great teachers. We’ve had tremendously intelligent people, going back through time, but you can look, for example, through all the Sutras or Plato’s dialogues, and they never talk about an extinction. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that Plato or the Buddha were even capable of imagining an extinction. First of all, at that time we weren’t aware of evolution. We weren’t aware of the whole process, so the idea of extinction didn’t make sense.
Brian Swimme: It would be to reinvent ourselves, at the species level, in a way that enables us to live with mutually enhancing relationships. Mutually enhancing relationships—not just with humans but with all beings—so that our activities actually enhance the world. At the present time, our interactions degrade everything.
It’s amazing to realize that every species on the planet right now is going to be shaped primarily by its interaction with humans. It was never that way before. For three billion years, life evolved in a certain way; all of this evolution took place in the wilds. But now, it is the decisions of humans that are going to determine the way this planet functions and looks for hundreds of millions of years in the future.
Brian Swimme: It’s really simple. Here’ the whole story in one line. This is the greatest discovery of the scientific enterprise: You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebuds, giraffes and humans.
Brian Swimme: That’s the short version. The reason I like that version is that hydrogen gas is odorless and colorless, and in the prejudice of our Western civilization, we see it as just material stuff. There’s not much there. You just take hydrogen, leave it alone, and it turns into a human—that’s a pretty interesting bit of information. So that’s why I love the short version.
EXCERPT FROM PACIFIC SUN MAGAZINE
Big Bang, Big Story
Brian Swimme at the forefront of a new movement- The Universe Story-that integrates Science and Sprituality
The Universe Story, often called the New Story, is a cosmological narrative that begins with the big bang, which started the whole process, and works through the evolution of the universe, which includes life on Earth. But more than a so-what summary from a science textbook, this chronology promotes deeper relationships through scientific data. If this sounds implausible, there’s good reason.
For centuries now scientific data have presumably had little to do with relationships; science has remained in its own universe, so to speak, separate from those messy struggles with meaning and consciousness. But not anymore, at least not for this breed of new cosmologists. Their science-based movement has a unique way of approaching the data; current research on the evolution of the universe is studied not simply intellectually, but also emotionally and contemplatively. This manner of study, which engages heart and mind together, seems to teeter on the brink of religion. But it isn’t religion; it’s science. However, the New Story people claim that science, absorbed holistically, can have a soul-shaking impact on people.
Even a casual glimpse into cosmological evolution can throw you for a loop, since cosmological scientists are the ones who figured out how greatly the odds were against the evolution of life in the first place. For instance, this life would not exist if conditions affecting the expansion of the universe had varied more than one hundred millionth of 1 percent right after the big bang. And then there’s the big bang itself; nobody knows what caused it in the first place. Meanwhile, these same cosmological scientists will tell you that if the strong nuclear interaction—the force that holds together the nucleus of an atom—were changed by as little as 2 percent, there would be no long-burning stars capable of supporting life. Big-picture science is filled with these little mysterious coincidences, upon which our entire existence rests. Small wonder that reflecting deeply upon these data would inspire awe—even humility as cosmology gently puts people in their place.
In the context of cosmological evolution, the human species is a relative newcomer to a system that has developed in such remarkably “lucky” ways that it appears to have a mind of its own. In fact, scientific theory suggests that it does; and we humans are only a small part of that greater creative intelligence at work.
“The universe as a whole is involved in its own organization,” said Brian Swimme, a mathematical cosmologist on the graduate faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Swimme, a specialist in the evolutionary dynamics of the universe and a leading force behind the Universe Story, explained: “Before we thought the Earth just lucked out by being the right temperature, but science has discovered that over 4 billion years the sun has increased its temperature by 25 percent. The Earth adapted to that.”
“The current common sense understanding of the Earth is as a gravel pit or a hardware store,” said Swimme, explaining that the modern period has been “organized around the theory that Earth is just stuff we can use.”
Swimme explains that “we are enveloped by a self-organizing community that is another form of intelligence.”