From the Big Bang to Conscious HumansModule 1: A question to Understand where Everything Comes from.We live in an unprecedented moment in history – an “extraordinary moment” – leading to a major bifurcation in our evolutionary journey as well as a quantum leap in complexity. How did we get to this moment? What is the nature of the evolutionary paradigm? What are the deeper patterns that underlie our evolution from the Big Bang to conscious humans? How do matter, energy, life, consciousness, and spirit emerge over time. How are they related? And what, if anything, is the role of consciousness in evolution?
In this Module – A Quest to Understand Where Everything Comes from– you will address these 4 questions. • Where did we come from? What is our story?• How do the worldviews we hold influence the way we see and interpret the world around us? and• What do insights from the sciences of complexity have to tell us about the deeper patterns that influence our evolutionary journey?
To help you answer these questions, we first present a high level overview of our evolutionary journey, including the Holistic Paradigm that is the lens through which you will be asked to perceive the world.Next, we go through a brief history of the evolution of majorWestern Worldviews and Scientific Paradigms.Finally, we will introduce the key patterns of complex adaptive systems and living systems—patterns that pervade our entire Universe and that are critical to our understanding of the evolution of life and consciousness.
Let’s begin with an introduction to Learning Unit 1: Overview of our Evolutionary Journey
To understand where we come from, we need to look at the “movie” of our evolution, accelerated in time. As Evolutionist Barbara Marx Hubbard points out, our evolutionary journey can best be visualized as a “spiral unfolding as one continuous process of transformation, from the origin of the physical universe — the big bang — through the formation of Earth, single-celled life, multicellular life, early human life, and now to us, going around the next turn of the spiral”— a crucial moment for the development of higher levels of consciousness and for the future of humanity on Earth.
To make sense of this journey and gain a deeper appreciation of the human being, nature, the universe and consciousness, you will need to put on the lens of the Holistic Paradigm, which emerged from the New Sciences: Systems Thinking and the Sciences of Complexity, including living systems theory.The Holistic paradigm stands in contrast to reductionist and mechanistic worldviews.From the perspective of the Newtonian worldview, the Universe was considered as a huge clockwork mechanism. To understand anything, this traditional scientific method asked us to take it apart and examine each one of its parts in isolation. Scientists believed that they could reconstruct the whole system and understand its nature just on the basis of the interrelations of its parts. While this method might work for the analysis of simple systems, it generates intractable difficulties when dealing with complex systems—the elements of which cannot be taken apart without destroying essential properties of the system. Moreover, the reductionist and mechanistic worldview created a deep gulf between scientific and intuitive modes of envisioning the world. It obliged people to believe either in science or in more intuitive and reflective approaches to understanding reality.In contrast, the holistic paradigm is both systemic and non-reductionistic. It aims at a synthesis of the universal principles from traditional and ancient spirituality to modern science and deep ecology. It unifies, on the one hand, energy and matter, and on the other, information and consciousness into a unitary system that facilitates an integral understanding of the evolutionary process of life and of consciousness.The holistic approach is now being used in Physics—in particular, in Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Physics, and Field Theory — where emerging scientific paradigms signal an end to a deterministic model of the Universe. Similarly, in Biology, new discoveries show that coherence and wholeness are emergent properties – arising out of the interaction of the parts, but not existing in the parts, themselves. These properties are present from the smallest element in an organism to the full range of life on Earth.In the field of Psychology, the Holistic perspective now allows us to see how the entire sphere of mind, spirit, body, heart, and soul consciousness form a subtle and effective interconnected whole.There are unifying processes also called patterns that pervade the universe and explain life’s tendency to evolve toward greater structural complexity and organizational simplicity, more efficient modes of operation, and greater dynamic harmony. So it will now be important to turn our attention to understanding patterns.
What are patterns and where can we find them?Understanding what patterns are is critical to your learning journey in this course and knowing how to perceive them in your own surroundings is an important skill to develop. Patterns can befound everywhere around us. There are in Nature: in the marks left on the sand by the wind; in the ocean waves and tides; in landscape. They are also found in the way birds flock and social insects interact.
Patterns are also found in art, like in this painting by Op Art artist Bridget Riley and, perhaps more subtly, in the famous painting “Starry Night” by artist Vincent Van Gogh. Can you see the patterns there? You might also recognize patterns in the way music creates melodies.
Many patterns can be found in the field of mathematics. For instance, in the particular Fibonacci sequence of numbers. Or, in The Golden Rectangle which describes a similar ratio of the length of its longer and smaller sides no matter the size of the rectangle.
Of great interest for us in this course are patterns found in chaotic systems. Most often, these patterns can be generated by computers, as shown here with Lorentz’s weather pattern, and fractals – which are similar patterns that recur at progressively larger and smaller scales.Evolutionary patterns are unifying principles that pervade our entire Universe from the smallest elements (e.g., nutrinos, quarks, electrons, atoms, cells) to the larger ones (e.g., all living systems, Earth, Galaxies and Galactic Clusters as well as the Universe as a whole).
Learning Unit 2 presents you with a quick history of the major Western Worldviews and Scientific Paradigms, from the ancient Greeks to the Scientific Revolution and finally, to the development in the early twentieth century of Systems Thinking and the Sciences of Complexity, which are at the roots of the Holistic worldview.
Before presenting a brief history of the evolution of the dominant contemporary Scientific Paradigms, we need to consider a crucial idea: the idea that the structures we hold in our mind—our beliefs, values and worldviews—influence the way we see and interpret the world around us.Look at this picture for a few seconds. What do you see? Do you see the young and pretty red-haired lady wearing a hat with a feather sticking out of it? Good! Now, do you notice anything else? Can you see another figure in this picture: perhaps the figure of a cartoonish old lady with a large nose and very small mouth? She is looking to the right—can you see her now? Maybe, maybe not. Ask your friends and family members around you to tell you what they see.While looking at the same things, it is not uncommon that we see them differently. The reason for this rests on the way our mind is structured. The physical evolution of our brain and the socio-cultural influences we grow up with are inter-woven in the way we construct reality. In other words, our worldviews emerge from our neural and our cognitive maps which are formed from the dominant memes of our inherited cultures. (‘meme’ is an element of a culture that is passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially by imitation.) So the physical and socio-cultural aspects of how we perceive and form conceptions are mutually interdependent. Why is this important? Because if we want to change the world, we first need to change the way we think and understand the paradigm we hold.
Now back to our history of Western Worldviews and the influence they have on the way people perceive the world.We start our journey in Greece, by examining Aristotle’s philosophy and cosmology.Building on the work of Socrates and Plato, Aristotleintroduced new principles of formal logic and natural causation. These principles had a profound influence on the development of science well into the Renaissance, when they were ultimately replaced by Newtonian Physics. Where Plato had placed direct intuition of the transcendent Ideas as the foundation of knowledge, Aristotle placed empiricism and logic as the foundation of rational thinking.
The Scientific Revolution, also called “The Enlightenment” or the “Age of Reason,” occurred in Europe during the 16th and 17th Centuries, and had a profound influence on the way we think today.Galileo – who, among other things, invented the telescope – supported the then controversial Copernican heliocentric theory: the view that the Earth revolves around the sun. This challenged the dominant Ptolomeic goecentric theory, which held that the earth is at the center of the universe and everything revolves around us. In doing so, he revived the conflict between the Catholic Church and science or, in more general terms, between religion and science. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition, forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest – a slightly better fate than that which befell his contemporary, Giordano Bruno.The French mathematician Rene Descartes, dubbed ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’, is credited with having brought forward two powerful philosophical and scientific ideas. The first concept relates to the mind-body dichotomy: by exclaiming “I think, therefore I am”, Descartes made the case for a disembodied mind having no influence from or on the body. Hence, Descartes rejected the existence of any subjective reality. His second concept is “rational analysis,” that is, our ability to think logically. Rationalism is often contrasted with empiricism, which holds that all ideas come to us through sensory experience.The last protagonist of this period we want to discuss here is Sir Isaac Newton, the man who discovered the Universal Laws of Motion. These Lawsgave humankind precise, predictive power over nature. They led to a deterministic worldview that, together with the discoveries and insights of Galileo, Descartes and others of the time, influenced the way in which we understood the Universe, suggesting it was nothing more than a type of huge clockwork mechanism. This worldview had – and still has – a pervasive influence on the way we think and act.
The spectacular technological developments we have witnessed since the 17th century have proven the success of the reductionist and analytical method of classical science. Yet, the tremendous increase in productivity and the belief in unlimited growth have generated many challenges for our global society.By the middle of the 20th century, the complexity of new practical and theoretical problems faced by science and society as a whole forced the scientific community to admit the limitations of classical scientific methods in interpreting complex natural phenomena.This led to a worldshift in the area of science, some of the driving forces which included:-- The development of information technology, especially the development of powerful computers that are even able to simulate the behavior of complex systems- Complex technological endeavors that require collaboration among diverse disciplines- Biological research related to ontogenesis, metabolism and homeostasis- The development of quantum physics- The emergence of new problems such as air and water pollution, traffic congestion, mega-city planning, and issues of climate changeAll these developments share the same funadmental characteristic: they are all very complex because of the many interactions between and among their constituent parts. The understanding of such systems requires a new theoretical framework, and this is what leads us to the holistic paradigm.
From the 1940s on, the sciences of complexity developed quickly thanks to increased collaboration among scientists working in various fields. The biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy began applying principles from one domain of research to another and founded an interdisciplinary field called “general system theory.” Von Bertalanffy argued that there are systemic principles and laws, which are isomorphic – corresponding or similar in form and relations – across diverse disciplinary fields of study. That is, they applied to observations in fields such as physics, chemistry,biology, psychology, cognitive science, and social science. Thus, general system theory promotes the integration between various sciences, both natural and social. Further development of general system theory was complemented by similar and related efforts in other domains, including cybernetics, chaos theory, non-linear thermodynamics, and even quantum mechanics, all of which come under the collective umbrella of the Sciences of Complexity.Many of the main concepts in Complexity Theory started to crystallize in the United States during the mid 1980s at the Santa Fe Institute, in New Mexico. The Santa Fe Institute is a think tank that brings together an impressive array of scientists from a broad range of fields to collaborate with one another on a deeper and more enriched understanding of the behavior of complex systems.The Sciences of Complexity revolutionized research in physics, biology and evolutionary studies because of how they brought to light the self-organizing and adaptive properties of complex systems. These exemplify the properties of life, which is important for what we are studying in World 1.
To overcome our civilizational challenges, we need a new paradigm, a new way of thinking, seeing, doing and being. We believe holism offers the opportunity to transform our perception that we live in a chaotic world into one that allows for more peaceful and sustainable ways of becoming.As Ervin Laszlo, points out: In the twenty-first century, science is evolving a holistic picture of reality. The emerging holism of the new physics, the new biology, and the newest branches of psychology mesh with and lend fresh legitimacy to the holistic world-concept of the great cultural traditions. The holism of the new civilization we need can have both a scientific and a cultural foundation.
In this unit, you will learn how to appreciate all things around you from the holistic perspective of complex adaptive systems and living systems theory.
As you are probably begin to realize by now, our purposein this course is to discover evolutionary patterns. These patterns are the fundamental properties of life; they should therefore be found in the study of living systems, which are open systems exchanging energy, matter and information with their environment.The patterns of living systems include: Sensitivity to initial condition Adaptation Self-organization Emergence Creativity A tendency to develop ever increasing levels of structural complexity, coherence, and order while remaining organizationally simple (though not simplistic!)Let’s take a quick look at these patterns. You will have an opportunity to learn more about them in Unit 3.
Sensitivity to initial conditions is a characteristic of chaotic systems. The behavior of these systems exemplifies certain regularities and patterns, but their specific behavior over time cannot be predicted. In other words, chaotic systems defy determinism, because you can never predict the exact state of the system at any given point in time. This property was demonstrated by the meteorologist Edward Lorenz while working on providing weather forecasts. Lorenz showed that a tiny deviation in the dynamics of a weather system could produce a very large effect, which itself was unpredictable. This phenomenon is commonly known as the “butterfly effect.”
Adaptation, self-organization and emergence operate in concert in complex adaptive systems and living systems.Under some environmental conditions, the individual elements of a complex system interact with one another and with the environment to self-organize and form new emergent structures. Just think about things like storms and tornados or cyclones.Living systems are dissipative structures: they use a metabolic process to take in energy and matter while dissipating degraded or less usefable energy into their environment. They do this spontaneously, without requiring any external intervention, and as a result they increase levels of internal organizational complexity, coherence and order. This is what the theory of living systems is all about.This theory is now being applied to the dynamics of diverse social systems ranging from bee swarms and slime mold, to the human brain and consciousness, to human economic interactions, human society, ecosystems, and even to Gaia – the Earth, itself. It also applies to evolutionary processes in nature.
This diagram illustrates the complex evolutionary path of chaotic systems. As you can see, it is far from a straight line. You will have the opportunity to learn about evolutionary paths in more detail in this module. For now, simply notice the critical bifurcation point when a system enters a chaotic phase. At that point, the system might either collapse (a path of regression) or undergo a rapid evolution toward new dynamic stability at a higher level of structural complexity.The alternation of periods of dynamic stability and critical instability is typical of evolution throughout the universe. On Earth, the progressive buildup of complexity has led to biological systems based on macromolecular and cellular components, and then to ecosystems formed by those biological systems, and finally to sociocultural systems emerging from humans interacting with one another.
The fact that we are here on planet Earth demonstrates the incredible creativity of living systems, nature and the whole Universe. But as Erich Jantsch points out in this quote, creativity requires a system to be smart enough to let go when the time has come for new structure to emerge. Are we smart enough?
We hope you will enjoy your learning journey through the quest of understanding where everything comes from.Weleave you here with this inspirational quote from the French Novelist Marcel Proust:The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.Have fun developing your new eyes!