Garry Jacobs, Chairman of Board, World Academy of Art & Science (July 10, 2012)
I revisited your piece on the three cosmologies to mine it for further insight. As you will see, my response is not so much intended as an effort to improve on your draft as to understand it fully and use it as a base for enriching my own understanding. So please regard these as comments rather than suggestions.
The nature of the three cosmologies is clearly and powerfully presented in your draft. I thought it might be helpful to spell out more fully the implications of these cosmologies in the section on why creation stories matter. Your comments are right on the mark, but readers would benefit from a more elaborate discussion. Some of them may be a restatement of your own thoughts, others an attempt make more explicit what is implied.
The view of Cosmos as a Grand Machine has brought with it a divorce between science, society and ethics, since a mechanical universe can have neither purpose nor values, other than the value of survival so cherished by Nature. Indeed it could have no real consciousness for that matter, and if no real consciousness, then no real knowing and science. I was delighted to see in the revised draft the statement that science has forgotten its deliberate decision to recognize only the material dimension of reality as its realm of investigation. This idea is central to abolishing superstition masquerading as science. We explored the implications of a mechanical world view applied to society and economics in a Cadmus editorial:The Great Divorce: Economics & Philosophy. In an Introductory Paper for the first issue of Cadmus, we applied this argument to denote current theory as Newtonian Economics and argue the need for a radical change in perspective (cosmology).
The Grand Machine cosmology also characterizes life as essentially competitive (Darwinian survival of the fittest, mechanisms in conflict with one another), as you have emphasized; thereby providing an ideological basis for social Darwinism, colonial imperialism, racial domination, the battle between communism and capitalism, an undemocratic UN controlled by the P5, predatory markets and neoliberalism. In doing so it overlooks the far greater role of cooperation and synergy in all living systems, which is also the foundation of human society, civilization and culture.
The view of Cosmos as Rule by a Distant Patriarch condemns life on earth as at best a way station, a spiritual test or purgatory, and directs our attention to the beyond life and beyond earth; thus diminishing concern for the earth and its environment. You state that this view affirms individualism, materialism, and separation. The pursuit of personal salvation or liberation is certainly an expression of egoistic individualism – every man for himself. Separation is clear. It drives a wedge between man (the soul sojourning on earth while waiting for liberation) and Earth Nature, a Cartesian divorce which is the perspective of modern science. That certainly supports a utilitarian attitude to Nature, though I am not clear why necessarily a materialistic one. Protestant ethic aside, monks, saints and sannyasis have often rejected materialism in the quest for otherworldly liberation.
The view of Cosmos as Integral Spirit emphasizes the unity between cosmos, Nature and spirit; the unity of all beings; the pervasive action of a conscious intelligence in the universe; the primacy of relationship between human beings (community, society) as the true source of knowledge, wealth, enjoyment, creativity, civilization and culture; and the primacy of relationship between humanity and Nature. Since consciousness is purposeful, this view implies an evolutionary intention in Nature and a distinctive role for conscious human beings in navigating that journey – giving power and extraordinary significance to human choices.
In the late 1990s, Harlan Cleveland and I wrote a monograph on the role of human choice in social development that elaborates this role. Ivo Šlaus, President of the World Academy of Art & Science, and I examined it more recently in an article on human capital and sustainability. Here you have brought out the implications more explicitly than in the first two cosmologies. This view is incompatible with disregard for or ravaging of Nature. If cosmos is evolving and Nature is evolving, it implies that human beings can evolve also and that the conscious exercise of choice is an instrument for that process.
The paper effectively applies the analogy of the human body to depict the relationship between man and Nature (cosmos). I like the additions you have made to bring out the integrality of bodily functioning. They touch on many of my comments. The same analogy applies wonderfully to society and its institutions. Society can be understood as a vast collective organism held together socially by an intricate network of interrelated functions, systems, and organizations; and, psychologically, by shared (largely subconscious) aspirations, values, attitudes, and beliefs, as the cells of the body are linked and related to one another by the body’s subconscious awareness and a variety of interrelated functions, systems and organs to form a self-organizing organism. No part or system of the body can exist on its own or by asserting dominance over the others.
Money and markets are remarkable examples of self-regulating mechanisms, but like all such systems they must have in-built controls to prevent or root out cancerous growths. Regulation is not contrary to Nature, but rather a fundamental principle of all natural systems, as exemplified by the body. In almost all cases the regulatory mechanisms are redundant to ensure failsafe operations. The divorce between economy and financial markets can be likened to a lymphatic system that tries to dominate over the nervous system or a cerebrum that tries to commandeer the circulatory system for its own purposes. Neoliberalism can be likened to the suspension of hormonal, sympathetic and parasympathetic regulatory functions in favor of a physiological free to all.
The analogy to the human body makes evident the crucial values of balance and harmony (cooperation) in all living systems. I am glad that in second version you have emphasized the pathological character of extreme individualism, greed and violence.
Shameless selfishness may not vanish just because we expose its raw character. But at the very least we can show it is the root cause of the problem and not a solution to them. People may be educated to see that unbridled selfishness is self-destructive and contrary to the underlying principle that has created so much prosperity. People still think of money as a thing and fail to see that wealth is a product of constructive human relationships. Suitcases full of money on a desert island are worthless. Cooperation is the one and only viable basis for human security and sustained progress.
The analogy of the human body can also be applied to depict -- in a manner that is otherwise very difficult to describe -- the real significance of the words integral and integration. Every part of the body is not only linked to and related to the rest of the body. Each is also directly linked and interrelated with the functioning of every other part. You cannot alter one part without influencing all the others. This too comes out clearly in your revised draft.
This clearly implies that the health and vitality of the whole and each of its parts depends on the health and vitality of every other part. An infected tooth or toenail left untreated may eventually lead to the death of the entire organism. Socially, the overall health, stability, security and prosperity of all human beings can best be attained by ensuring the health of all. Ecologically, the implications are self- evident.
This realization that the health of the whole depends on its most vulnerable parts is a major reason why India introduced a guaranteed rural employment scheme for the poorest 50 million households, a rationale FDR understood and the neoliberals have conveniently replaced with beneficial tax cuts for the super-rich.
The role of money can be likened to that of the red blood cells essential for the distribution of oxygen for cell metabolism. Imagine if one part of the body decides to hoard all the red blood cells for its own use or if the bone marrow goes on multiplying them infinitely unconnected to the circulatory and respiratory systems (the real economy) which they are intended to serve. I am not suggesting you include these analogies. I am only exercising my mind to explore some of the implications of the third cosmology for society.
I like the fact that your narrative emphasizes both the power and responsibility of human beings, both individually and collectively. That is of central importance. Both of the other cosmologies diminish the place of individual choice and action. As parts of a machine, we are insignificant and helplessly subject to cosmic laws. As exiles from heaven, we are lost souls striving only to recover what we have lost. But as conscious creative human beings, we have the power to alter the rules we have fashioned and the instruments we have created. We can break our slavish dependence and imprisonment by the institutions fashioned in the past that are no longer relevant or conducive to our welfare, as we have rejected feudalism and monarchy, slavery and apartheid. Money, markets, government, laws, systems and other institutions are only so many tools fashioned for our advancement. If they do not effectively meet the needs of all human beings, we have the power to modify or replace them with something that does.
[In the section on “Conscious Choices”] you argue that the Living Cosmos need not necessarily be conscious or cognizant of human beings. I have reread the passage several times and do not find that it adds anything essential to the argument. Cosmologies should be as inclusive as possible without undermining their central inspiration. I see no reason why a cosmology of the Integral Spirit should be incompatible with a cosmic consciousness that is cognizant of all that it has created and even intimately concerned with it. This is consistent with most spiritual traditions that I know of. (Sri Aurobindo wrote that the Infinite is infinitely aware of humanity but humanity is so lost in its egoistic self-absorption that it is blind to the very existence of a divine consciousness.)
When I ponder the wonders of a double hibiscus flower or a mango, I find it difficult to believe that these things were not created with an intention to evoke delight and a reverence for beauty. Moreover, the analogy to the human body may not really apply here.
While mentally conscious human mind is unaware of most of the functioning of the body which is subconscious, clearly there is a pervasive body consciousness (integral spirit of the body?) that knows precisely what is going on everywhere, even in the smallest cell. I hope and believe that whatever universal consciousness is out there lacks the insufficiencies of the tenuously conscious human mind, which is still only half evolved out of animal subconsciousness and need not be the last (or highest) word in consciousness.
If your intention is to argue on the need for human beings to be responsible for the consequences of their own actions, I totally agree with the conclusion. If your intention is to deliver a good dose of much deserved philosophic humility to humanity, there may be more effective ways to do it. Humanity’s own fallibility (idiocy) is very easily documented (the fact we built 70,000 nuclear weapons in the name of security should be argument enough). We recently launched a new WAAS project entitled limits to rationality. My hope is it will expose all forms of irrationality and superstitions in the prevailing religion we call science.
As the first self-conscious species to evolve in Nature, we have lost the automatic, self-regulating subconscious instincts which guide and compel the behavior of other species. Humanity has acquired an unprecedented freedom and power. Freedom always carries with it the possibility of abuse, freedom for evolution or for destruction. Our greatest opportunity is our greatest challenge. If all creation is a manifestation of spirit, then humanity may be the first species with the opportunity to discover its origin and give conscious expression to it in life.
The third cosmology heals the rift between humanity and nature. It not only brings out the importance of that relationship. It also reminds us that human beings are a part and expression of Nature, consciously evolving beings in a complex, mysterious, self-regulating and self-multiplying universe. It seems ludicrous to reduce the whole thing to a cosmic mechanism or mutating gene pool. Chance and cosmic Necessity do not create an ever expanding, ever unfolding orderly universe. It is sheer hubris to think we can control and manage the cosmic machine (the Soviets couldn’t even manage an economy). It is better we listen carefully, learn the rules and discover how the evolution of consciousness in the cosmos really works. At the very least that might help us figure out how to live peacefully with one another and with Nature on earth.
The last section on Transition to an Ecozoic Era reduces the status of humanity to a derivative position, subordinate to earth. No doubt intended as a humbling message, I have suggested elsewhere that it is not essential to demote humanity – nature’s most conscious and remarkable creation – in order to argue for balance, harmony, humility and integration with the world around us. It should be sufficient to insist we recognize our limitations. If you seek a cosmology that can inspire and motivate the greatest number to the greatest good, I would suggest restating this conclusion in a more positive, inclusive form.
I like very much the new concluding paragraphs about humanity’s exploration of the unsolved mysteries, the greatest of which is humanity’s ‘epic journey to self-discovery.’
Thanks again for your essay and for the opportunity it has provided to reflect on our story. By juxtaposing the three cosmologies, you have created the basis for a wonderful new narrative.]