Module 2:Discovering Evolutionary Patterns in Physical and Biological Systems
Throughout this module you will be invited to reflect on the following questions: What insights can we gain from the understanding of the evolutionary process and pattern for our next stage of transformation? What is life? What are its mainevolutionary principles? Did consciousness evolve simultaneously with the brain or is consciousness an integral part of the fabric of the Universe? What’s primary?
This module includes four learning units. The first two units focus on uncovering evolutionary patterns in physical systems while the last two focus on uncovering patterns in biological systems. Specifically, Unit 1 presents a brief overview of the history of our Universe from the Big Bang to Humankind; Unit 2 discusses the main findings of the new theories of relativity, quantum physics, and other fields theories to illustrate the implications of these theories for our understanding of reality. Unit 3 discusses the evolutionary principles of life, and Unit 4 seeks to expand your understanding of these principles by applying them to the brain, the process of cognition and the evolution of consciousness.
In Learning Unit 1 you are presented with a brief history of the evolution of the Universe and to help you reflect on the notions of evolutionary scales of time and space.Your objective will be to understand what it means to be a part of this grand evolutionary narrative, this process of emergence that we are riding forward into the future on the basis of all that has happened before us, ever since the Big Bang.
In her book on Conscious Evolution, Barbara Marx Hubbard tells the New Story of Creation. She writes:“The new story begins in the Great Emptiness, the void, the field of all possibilities — the mind of God. Approximately 15 billion years ago, out of no thing at all, in one quantum instant appeared everything that potentially is. The spark of life that animates each of us was lit at the dawn of creation. In those first 3 seconds after the original “flaring forth,” as cosmologist Brian Swimme called it in The Universe Story, the precise design was established that led to matter, life, self-reflective consciousness, and, now, our awakening to the whole process of creation.”
She continues, “…Our solar system and Earth was formed 4 ½ billion years ago. Radiative energy condensed and became the metals and materials of our Earth.
Barbara Marx Hubbard tells us that “…then, 3 ½ billion years ago singe-celled life appeared in Earth’s seas. Sentient consciousness emerged. Life became semi-immortal —it divided to reproduce….At some point single-celled life hit a growth limit and began overpopulating, polluting, and stagnating. Faced with this threat, life might have attempted to adapt to limitations, but instead it innovated and transformed…”
“…Oxygen appeared, a poison to anaerobic cells. In an extraordinarily complex process, a new form of organism evolved: multicellular life that could metabolize oxygen. With multicellular life jump in consciousness occurred: animal, or present-oriented consciousness, emerged in the world of single cells…Instead of dividing to reproduce, multicellular organisms learned to join their genes to create new life. The rudimentary beginnings of love were born…”
“…Several million years ago humanity appeared…Imagine awakening in the animal world with the flickering of human awareness…We must have sensed that we were different and felt separate and afraid. We became future oriented, foresaw our own death, and sought to overcome it…We looked upward toward the stars and yearned for more, for a life beyond this life. We buried food with our dead. We had intimations of immortality. We listened for voices and heard signals from gods, from higher beings. The Universe appeared alive.”
What do Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Quantum Physics and other emerging theories have to tell us about our understanding of reality? This is the question for you to explore in this learning unit.At the beginning of the 20th century, new observations and experiments raised questions about the most fundamental assumptions of Newton’s Classical Mechanics. While the laws of motion advanced by Newton continue to hold true under conditions experienced at the surface of Earth, scientists discovered that the fundamental nature of the Universe could not be accommodated by Newtonian principles.
Let’s start off with a reflection on the notion of time.Our common perception and understanding of time in our Western Worldview is that of linear time or clock time. This is the notion that each moment of existence follows the next in a constant never ending succession of moments. Each event that takes place is in a relationship of cause and effect with the next one – as well as with the one the preceded it. Our birth and ultimately our death appear asclear indications of this “arrow of time”. As they say, time changes everything.Yet, each of us has alsoexperienced time at particular moments in our life in a different way. Perhaps it was a feeling of being in flow or “in the zone”; or the perception that time had compressed: that more could be experienced in the flick of a second; or perhaps it was the opposite feeling: that time was shortening and we had less time to do what we wanted to do. It may also have been like an intuition, the inner knowledge of the future. It may have been an experience of synchronicity, when two apparently unrelated events occurred together in a meaningful manner. People in deep states of meditation often experience time as having stopped while linear time resumes immediately when they come back to “normal reality”. In these cases, it is as if time were experienced subjectively. There are even specific terms you can use for talking about these two expressions of time. The sequentional, linear expression of time is known as Chronos, while the subjective, interpretive experience of time is known as Kairos. You might want to Google these terms – if you’ve got the time… For one thing, general relativity demonstrates that time is not absolute: as you will see next, space and time are now understood to be connected in such a way that they not only affect but also are affected by everything that happens in the universe.You will also learn that quantum physics challenges our traditional understanding of time and further opens the door to new ways of perceiving reality.
We owe to Einstein the idea that time is no longer uniform and absolute, and that the physics of reality cannot be understood in terms of space by itself and time by itself. The theory of relativity overturned the concept of motion from Newton’s day, positing that all motion is relative. Einstein joined space and time into a four-dimensional continuum called spacetime. He further demonstrated that spacetime was not flat but curved by the distribution of mass and energy in it. According to him, bodies like the Earth are not made to move on curved orbits by a force called gravity; instead, they follow the nearest thing to a straight path in a curved space.The picture on the left should help you understand spacetime curvature. It is borrowed from Professor Dwight Vincent from the University of Winnipeg Technology in Canada.The picture depicts two balls being shot across a room by a machine located at the lower right side of the room. The fast ball shoots across the room with very little curvature in the 3-D space. The higher ball is slower and therefore it must take a higher path to guarantee that it reaches the other side. This curved path action is recorded by the experimenter inside the room. He captures the side view of both particles. What this diagram illustrates is how that space curves the path of these two balls quite differently.In the figure at the bottom, you see the motion of the balls from the perspective of the person with the camera outside the room. The top strip represents the motion of the slow ball while the bottom strip represents the motion of the fast ball. In comparing these figures we notice that the curvature of the path through time and space (that is, spacetime) for the slow and fast balls are exactly the same – it’s just that the top strip for the slow ball takes longer to describe the curve, so it appears “bigger” or “stretched out”, but in reality it describes exactly the same arc as the bottom strip for the fast ball. The Earth's gravity effect is the same no matter the speed of the balls. The spacetime curvature around the Earth acts on fast or slow balls in exactly the same way. It tells these balls how to move.
While relativity theory did away with space and time as the backdrop for the deterministic motion of mass points, it nevertheless preserved the unambiguous description of the basic entities of the physical universe, what you might think of as the basic building blocks of matter.The quantum revolution in the late 20th century did away with unambiguous paths of motion: particles no longer appeared to move in just one determinate way but seem to move in a way that allows a choice between alternative motions. Quantum mechanics does not predict a single definite result for any given observation. Instead, it predicts a number of different possible outcomes and tells us how likely each of these is. This signals a serious shift in the worldview of the time; from deterministic (based more on predictable outcomes) to probabilistic (based more on statistically forecasts).The mechanistic, predictable world of classical mechanics was replaced by a strange world where unpredictability and randomness seem to prevail.
Let’s now turn to some specific findings in quantum theory and consider their implications.The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that it is impossible to know both the position and the velocity of a particle at the same moment with any kind of precision. The more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be controlled, determined, or known.A quantum of light or energy occupies all its states at the same time—at least, in potential. Until it is observed or registered by an instrument, it’s actual state is indeterminate. But the moment it is observed or measured, its weird ability to be in several states at the same time resolves into the normal condition in which a particle is in just one state at a time. Then, physicists say, the superposed wave function that describes its probability space – it’s potential to be smeared across all possible states – “collapses.” When it does, a particle can be described in the classical manner, as an object in a single, determinate state.
What are the implications of the Uncertainty Principle for our understanding of reality?If we accept Heisenberg's argument that every observable thing has a meaning only in terms of the experiments used to measure it, we must agree that things that cannot be measured really have no meaning in this frame of physics.Also, a basic assumption of physics since Newton has been that a "real world" exists independently of us, regardless of whether or not we observe it. Heisenberg now argued that such concepts as orbits of electrons do not exist in nature unless and until they are measured and observed.Heisenberg pointed out the error of the “philosophical doctrine of Democritus,” which claims that the whole world is made up of objectively existing material building blocks called atoms. For Heisenberg, the world is built as a mathematical and not as a material structure.There are also far-reaching implications for the concept of causality and the relation of cause and effect to past and future events.Heisenberg challenged the notion of simple causality in nature, that every determinate cause in nature is followed by the resulting effect. Heisenberg declared, that because one cannot know the precise position and momentum of a particle at a given instant, so its future cannot be determined. Einstein and others scientists objected to Heisenberg's views, yet had to admit that they are indeed a logical consequence of quantum mechanics. Einstein’s feelings were summed up in his famous statement “God does not play dice with the universe.” For him, quantum mechanics was "incomplete." Since then, research has continued to develop and alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics have been proposed.
Physicist David Bohm refused to accept the weird behavior of the quantum as a full description of reality. He theorized that particle behavior is weird and indeterministic only at the surface; at the deeper level it is determined by a pilot wave he called the quantum potential. Bohm called this deeper level the “implicate order”—a holographic field where all the states of the quantum are permanently encoded. He called the observed reality which emerges from this field through a process of constant unfolding the “explicate order.”New experiments are bringing new understanding of Bohm’s theory. The first experiment was conducted by Thomas Young in the early nineteenth century. In the original experiment, a point source of light illuminates two narrow adjacent slits in a screen, and the image of the light that passes through the slits is observed on a second screen. The dark and light regions are called interference fringes, the constructive and destructive interference of light waves. So the question is whether matter will also produce interference patterns. The answer is yes, it will, and this can be tested by firing a stream of electrons in a similarly designed experiment. What’s really interesting about this is that interference, such as the wave phenomenon illustrated on the left, still occurs even if we only let the photons or electrons through one at a time. So, the next question is what are the individual particles interfering with? It turns out that they are interfering with themselves! But then this would mean that each particle somehow passes through both slits. For this to be the case, we must give up the common sense notion of location.The two-slit experiment is a good test of the role of the observer in the quantum realm. Many experimental designs have attempted to determine which slit a photon has passed through (test for its particle nature), but all such tests destroy the interference pattern (its wavelike nature). This is a breakdown of objective reality. Each quantum entity has dual potential properties, which become an actual characteristic only if and when it is observed. The rest of the time, these properties remain indeterminate and exist only in potential.Finally, experiments show that whether the photons or electrons are emitted at intervals of a few seconds apart in the laboratory or at intervals of thousands of years elsewhere in the universe—particles that originate from the same source still interfere with each other. This contributes to our emerging understanding that quantum particles are entangled – that the particles of the ultra-small dimensions of reality are inextricable correlated with each other. Whatever happened to one particle immediately affect the other particle, wherever in the universe it may be.
English biologist Rupert Sheldrake has proposed the intriguing concept that there is a field within and around a given species that organizes its characteristic structure and pattern of activity and that governs the behavior of its members. A morphic field is built up through the accumulated behaviors of a species’ members. When other members of the species are able to tap into this field, they read the collective information through the process of morphic resonance, using it to guide their own development. This creates a reinforcingfeedback loop that strengthens the field, resulting in new information being added it to. Fields can be considered as universal databases for both organic (living) and abstract (mental) forms.As an example, after parts of a species have learned a behavior, such as swimming, others will find it easier to learn that skill. Morphic fields might also be able to explain strange phenomena happening in our everyday life, like when your intuition tells you that something is going to happen, and that it in fact does come to pass.This concept of morphic fields relates to Bohm’s notion of implicate orders of as well as to the theory of the collective unconscious developed by psychiatrist Cark Jung. And as you will see now, it also relates to the age-old idea of an akashic records in ways that can be scientifically explored.
As you will learn in the next learning unit of this course, from a Neo-Darwinism’s perspective, life appears to have “put itself together bit by bit”—each bit being non-living matter, in and of itself. From this classical perspective, Earth is conceived as a non-living geological ball matter floating in space.But physicist James Lovelock thought otherwise. In the late seventies he developed a new idea which he called the “Gaia Hypothesis,” Gaia meaning “Earth Mother” in ancient Greek. The Gaia Hypothesis proposes that Earth is a self-organizing, and indeed, living system interacting with its environment. In a way similar to other living systems, the elements of Earth—biosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, etc.—interact with one another and use feedback mechanisms as a means to maintain the whole system within a range of relatively constant internal conditions. Gaia captures the energy of the sun for photosynthetic processes and radiates it back into space as long-wave radiation, while matter is recycled within the Earth.While it has gained much support since its conception, the Gaia hypothesis was much criticized by the scientific community in its early days because it challenged the traditional reductionist worldview that life emerged out of non-life and that consciousness developed as a by-product of brain activity. The definition of life as a property of all self-organizing systems forces us to take a dramatically different stand and hypothesize that life, and ultimately consciousness, itself, precedes matter.
What is the deeper underlying reality at the heart of the Universe? What’s reality? What is the underlying field of consciousness?You should know that some of the theories you just reviewed still remain fairly controversial when considered from the domain of classical science. Yet it is precisely their boldness and vision that make them not merely heretical postulations, but powerful and provocative frameworks for understanding reality and consciousness. The Akashic Field, the Morphic Field, the Implicate and Explicate order, the Gaia Hypothesis and the concept of a holographic Universe all provide such creative new perspectives.These theories also begin to offer explanations for paranormal phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, mental interactions with physical objects, near death or out-of-body experiences in ways that are amenable to science. However, the science that can be used to explore these phenomena must, itself, evolve and be re-cast.
You will now turn to the exploration of biological systems to understand the evolutionary principles of life.
The cell is one of the most basic units of life. Early cells were most likely tentative microscopic entities, fragile enough to be destroyed by strong bursts of energy, yet sturdy enough to reproduce, thereby giving rise to generations of descendants. Single-cell organisms, such as bacteria and protozoa, have been so successful in adapting to a variety of different environments that they comprise more than half of the total biomass on earth. Unlike animals, many of these unicellular organisms can synthesize all of the substances they need from a few simple nutrients, and some of them divide more than once every hour. What, then, was the selective advantage that led to the evolution of multicellular organisms?The short answer is that through collaboration and the division of labor it becomes possible to exploit resources that no single cell could utilize so well. This principle, applying at first to simple associations of cells, has been taken to an extreme in the multicellular organisms we see today. It seems likely that an early step in the evolution of multicellular organisms was the association of unicellular organisms to form colonies. Within a colony there is some division of labor among the constituent cells, with a small number of them being specialized for reproduction and serving create the precursors of new colonies. The other cells are so dependent on one another that they cannot live in isolation, and the proto-organism dies if the colony is disrupted.Throughspecialization and cooperation, cells combine and eventually form a coordinated single organism with more capabilities than any of its component parts.To form a multicellular organism, the cells must be somehow bound together, and eukaryotes have evolved a number of different ways to satisfy this need. (Eucaryotes are cells with a nucleus containing genetic material in the form of DNA that is structured by way of chromosomes.)
The concepts of self-organization and emergence were foreign to the neo-Darwinist worldview, which held that evolution occurred through random mutations of organisms adapting to their environment. However, there are puzzles in nature that cannot be explained by this worldview. In particular, the idea that evolution occurred through gradual variations or the accumulations of small changes. This idea is in conflict with evidence of the sudden appearance of new species, as was demonstrated by biologist Lynn Margulis in her study of bacteria which are able to exchange genes and merge with one another to give form to new organisms.Moreover, it has been demonstrated that simple cells such as slime mold were capable of self-organization. In sharp contrast to the established belief in the traditional model of centralized command and control, cells begin following trails created by other cells, creating a positive feedback loop that encourages more cells to join the cluster. The way in which root systems known as ‘rhyzomes’ demonstrate this pattern of growth illustrates the distributed intelligence of such self-organizing dynamics at the multi-cellular level, an example of which can be found in the ginger plant (zingiber officinale). We now know that self-organization and and emergence are common phenomena around us: they explain how organisms develop resistance to antibiotics, herbicides, and pesticides at great speed; or, how bioengineered crops can merge with non-bioengineered ones so that they can resist pesticides.
We find many examples of cooperation, mutualism, symbiosis, commensalism and parasitism in nature. Mutualism is the way two organisms of different species biologically interact in a relationship in which each individual derives a fitness benefit. Similar interactions within a species are known as co-operation. Mutualism can be contrasted with interspecific competition, in which each species experiences reduced fitness, and exploitation or parasitism, where one species benefits at the expense of the other. Mutualism is a type of symbiosis and symbiosis also include parasitic types of relationship. And finally, there is commensalism, where two organisms share an environment in which one benefits from the relationship but the other neither benefits nor suffers from it.
The word Autopoiesis comes from the Greek words auto —meaning “self”— and poiesis —meaning “creation, production.”Autopoiesis means self-creation. You will have the opportunity to review and go further in-depth on this topic in a separate presentation dedicated to it. For now, let’s just grab the essentials.Autopoietic theory was developed by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and his former student Francisco Varela. It states that autopoietic systems are self-creating systems and even suggests that autopoiesis is the definition of life itself. A prime example of an autopoietic system is the biological cell. A cell is made of various biochemical components and is organized into bounded structures such as the cell nucleus, various organelles, a cell membrane and cytoskeleton. These structures, based, on external flow of molecules and energy, produce the components which, in turn, continue to maintain the organized bounded structure that gives rise to these components. In other words, the processes used by an autopoietic systems are network processes of production. As depicted by the Escher drawing here, the two complementary hands can draw each other in a continuous circular loop. An autopoietic system is energetically open –that is to say, it exchanges energy and matter with its environment. It is also autonomous and operationally closed, in the sense that there are sufficient processes within it to maintain the whole. Autopoietic systems are relationally and functionally adapted with other systems and with their environment to communicate, coordinate behavior, and co-evolve.As you will see further on in this module, autopoietic theory has important implications for the understanding of freedom, determinism and the process of cognition.
As you move through the final Learning Unit of Module 2, think about ways in which you might be able to increase your level of awareness about your deeper self and your place in the world. How do you bring about changes in your level of consciousness? To help you with this task, this unit focuses on understanding the evolution of the brain, cognition, and of consciousness.
The evolution of the human brain is a matter of neurophysiological development. In terms of our neurophysiology, we can be said to have three distinct brains: the reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the neocortex. The reptilian brain is the oldest aspect of our neurophysiology and governs our instinctive and protective faculties. The limbic brain developed later and is responsible for our emotional and behavioral drives. The neocortex is the most recent evolutionary addition to human neurophysiology. It is associated with thinking and all related cognitive processes. The interaction among these three brain systems is what gives rise to human identity and ego. When a threatening external stimulus triggers you by way of one of your five physical senses (taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing), the reptilian brain reacts by increasing your adrenaline output. This creates a typical fear response expressed in behaviors such as fight, flight or freeze. The emotion generated by this response is then recorded in the limbic brain, which generates the feelings you associate with fear, anxiety, aggression, etc. Then you rational mind tends to kick in with your neocortex processing this sensory and emotional information and forming thoughts and conceptions and beliefs about how you should or should not act in this situation. At this point, your behavioral response feeds back to your limbic brain by managing and counter-acting the feelings that well up inside you. This creates a “feedback loop” that reinforces your values and beliefs about who you are and how you ought to be in your physical and social context. Over time, this process strengthens your self-identity and helps consolidate your worldview. This is very important for us to be able to navigate our physical and social realities. It provides a series of guideposts and coordinating behaviors that help us make sense of the world around us. Since this process operates at a level below reflective awareness, we often don’t even think about it. This means that when it works well in a given environment, everything is fine. But if our environment changes (either through new internally generated shifts in consciousness, or through external influences), then our old worldviews will create blindspots. These often lead to self-preserving reactions that manifest as forms of subordination of our environment and of others in an attempt to make the external changes conform to what our worldview says they should be. You will pick up on this theme again in the World 2 course, so it will be a good idea to keep in mind this understanding of the neurophysiology of cognition and how it affects our states of consciousness.
The implication of being a type of organism with the capacity for conscious evolution is profound. However, it does not come without challenges or risk. As Francisco León points out: “…self-conscious man and his historical, theological, political and economic culture throughout time were created as a consequence of the inescapable development of the evolution of his own intelligence and, consequently, of his behavior. However, as he develops into a “new species of man” the Homo Sapiens Sapiens now conscious of his self-consciousness, finds himself equipped with the faculties and tools of perception needed to realize not only the astonishing fact of his existence but also to recognize the limits his freedom and insecurity have reached—which include transcending and modifying nature itself. If he aspires to survive, man will have to make an extensive revision and reformulating of the validity of the complex structure of the civilization he has inherited.”What a fantastic challenge this is, isn’t it? Just thinking about what each of us should do – individually and collectively -- to make an extensive revision and reformulation of our worldviews can be transformative in and of itself! And the course of studies you are involved in through this Certificate Program – and, indeed, through the entire Giordano Bruno Globalshift University, for that matter – is designed to help you come up with an answer to this question – one that you will be able to live into and take forward into your life and into the world.
In the next module, you will have the opportunity to learn about the development of different types of consciousness in society over time. For now, simply consider The Spiral of Evolution, which depicts a model of the successive stages in the development of consciousness according to Spiral Dynamics and Integral Philosophy. Spiral Dynamics argues that human nature is not fixed: humans are able, when forced by life conditions, to adapt to their environment by constructing new, more complex, conceptual models of the world that are more able to handle the emerging challenges of a given time. Each new model transcends and includes all previous levels of consciousness.Today, we are at a critical phase in our evolutionary journey where we must make another leap from modernist and postmodern levels of consciousness to integral consciousness. It’s up to each one of us to make this leap. Will you choose to make the leap? If you do so, you will join others in a journey of transformation and change—a self-reinforcing collective process that strengthens the emerging holistic worldview and empowers us all to build a better and a more sustainable future.
Remember: this continuous process of evolution and change is the process used by all living, self-organizing, intelligent, conscious and creative beings. Connected to everything in the universe, we are in a perpetual dance of change—an emerging pattern.What’s more, together with all those with whom we interact, we are this pattern!!