We are well aware of the idea that life constantly evolves. But how far does this process of evolution go? Does it stop at life, or could it be argued that evolution is a property of the cosmos?For instance, if the universe began from a Big Bang, and has constantly changed from this point, does this show the property of evolution? And could a similar argument be laid down for known, and constant, change upon planet Earth?
LIFE AND EARTH
The fundamental problem with the idea that planet Earth evolves concerns the place of life within the evolutionary process. Does life evolve separate to the planet, or is life - including mankind - part of the process of Earth’s evolutionary mechanism?
To accept the latter holds severe problems for science. It not only removes us from the top of the evolutionary tree, but would suggest a form of co-ordinated intelligence invested in planet Earth which is guiding us along.There are, infact, many indicators that this is, indeed, the case. One of the absolutes of evolution is the idea that evolution only evolves what is required for survival. There is no surplus.
However, the massive explosion in the size of the human brain goes way ahead of our ability to use it. Our brain capacity is far greater than is required by this evolutionary law. Yet if seen as part of an evolving requirement of planet Earth, our brain size could fall into the evolutionary pattern.
French philosopher Henri Bergson would have had no problem with this idea. He believed that nature had an urge to create - a principle he called the ‘elan vital’. Such an urge would be above an individual species, placing all of nature within an evolutionary concept which could easily be seen as part of the evolution of planet Earth.British physicist Peter Russell could have placed our big brain within this format.
He theorised upon a growing planetary level of consciousness called the ‘Gaiafield’ - a self-reflective consciousness of all minds, forming a social superorganism.In a way this is similar to psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s idea of a collective unconscious lying under the personal mind. But instead of being a species supermind, Russell would invest the property on a planetary level.
THE QUANTUM EFFECT
A big stumbling block to such ideas concerns the extent to which consciousness exists in nature. The suggestion is made that consciousness is a fundamental property of, not only nature, but the universe at large - in effect, a higher intelligence exists.Yet quantum theory seems to be hinting that such a consciousness may well be out there.
For instance, quantum reality is probabilistic. In its natural state, a particle can be said to be in any position possible.An exact reality is only known through observation by an intelligence capable of understanding it. Hence, for a reality to exist, it must be created through observation. Hence, a form of consciousness must exist for reality to come into existence.And seeing the reality of a physical universe existed before life entered the cosmos, consciousness must be a property of that cosmos.
If such an evolving universal intelligence does exist, then it is fair to say that the investing of consciousness in life is a recent development of consciousness. As such, human consciousness can be seen to be towards the lower level of consciousness.But placed in terms of an evolving cosmos, it can equally be argued that it is our place to evolve into a more universal mind.Such an idea was proposed by Catholic mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. To him, life evolved towards an Omega Point, or completion.
When life had evolved to this point, the Omega Point would move forwards.Hence, we constantly evolve in stages. The Omega Point presently lies at the creation of the ‘noosphere’, which can be described as a planetisation of the mind. This would cause ‘noogenesis’, and the creation of a planetary consciousness.
WORLD IN HARMONY
To achieve such a planetary mind, life and the physical characteristics of the planet would have to work in unison. And such an idea was put forward in 1958 by theorist Alfred Redfield, who noted that the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans seemed to be biologically controlled.However, it wasn’t until 1979, and the publication of ‘Gaia: A New Look At Life On Earth’, that James Lovelock took the idea to its ultimate expression.
Lovelock, a British biologist, formulated the Gaia Hypothesis whilst working on equipment designed to find life on Mars for NASA.Gaia, a survival of the ancient Mother Goddess, was adopted by the ancient Greeks, and was the mother of Zeus, who was allowed to rule only on her consent. Hence, it was the perfect name to give to what in effect became an Earth entity.
For to Lovelock, Earth is an overall biosphere organism, where life on Earth makes a contribution to the regulation of the planet. The atmosphere and the biosphere (life) conspire in a form of symbiosis to produce a self-regulatory mechanism which makes life possible, with even the oceans and crust falling into evolutionary line.The obvious continuation of the Gala Hypothesis is to argue that planet Earth is conscious, and in seeing itself through our space cameras it has become aware.
But of course there is no way of testing such ideas, for to test a system, it must be tested from outside. And at present, we cannot do this.
THE BIG STORY
In a philosophical sense, we can argue the validity of the hypothesis. Knowledge throughout history has been the product of culture. Within the scope of knowledge we place the hopes and aspirations of the people.
This was easily identified within religious knowledge, where knowledge of deities was very much an expression of the social mood. It is not so easy to identify in science, but it is still there, for science is an expression of our belief in our superior intellect.It does not matter whether planetary consciousness exists or not.
What is important is to see if such consciousness can be seen as analogous to our history, our present, and where we see the future as going.American historian Thomas Berry understood this point. Every culture has to have a spiritual ethic in order to bring people together and make them whole. And this requirement still exists, even in an apparently secular world.And Berry realised that we need, in effect, a ‘new story’; a form of creation myth for the planet, imbued with meaning and expression.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell thought likewise. In an increasingly connected global village, a new planetary mythology would be needed, seeing the world as a whole, and above nations and their cultures. So can such a mythology be constructed to take all these points into account? Perhaps it can.
LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION
One vital point of evolution is that every lifeform evolved the ability to communicate. To what degree of sophistication this goes on we are not sure, but there is no doubt that purposive communication takes place.
Man also communicates - and without the need for words.
We have an instinctual language we can all understand. Fear, love, hunger, happiness and the need for procreation can all be communicated through mannerisms and subliminal means.And the strange thing is, this is the only language we need for survival. The spoken word is surplus to evolution.
Complex spoken language seems to be an idiosyncracy of a species that routinely deals in abstracts which have no intrinsic survival value.
Yet, if evolution has any validity, our species drive to complex communicative skill must have some purpose.
Applying the rules of evolution, it is possible to argue that it is the evolutionary purpose of mankind to consciously understand the purpose and mechanics of communication. And this can certainly be seen in our impulse towards high technology, which is primarily geared towards communicative skills.We are presently, and increasingly, talking to ourselves, other species and the stars.
We are, in effect, becoming global chatterboxes. And interestingly, communication causes abstracts, and abstract ideas require increasingly complex information-processing equipment to understand them.And nothing is more complex for this purpose than our evolved big brain.
Evolution has given us the most complex information-processing equipment available, suggesting we are evolving ever more complex communicative skills for an evolutionary purpose.
If this process continues, the day is not far away when, through us, the whole planet will speak as a single voice. Indeed, all that stands between us and its realisation are the dying dreams of Empire and the violence they engender.
Basically, our present technological impulses are leading us to bring the planet together as a single communicative organism with man as its mouthpiece. And in increasing our communicative skills we are also realising our interdependence with the whole ecology of planet Earth.
Basically, the ecological movement is leading us back to symbiosis. Man, nature, and the planet we all inhabit are coming together, and coming together through our custodianship.
THE END OF FRAGMENTATION?
Unconsciously this coming together has been gaining ground throughout our recent history. Of course, many would argue that this is wrong. Rather, recent history has been the epitome of violent fragmentation.Even now ethnic and national minorities seem to be striving to return mankind to tribalism.
However, could this be part of a process that will inevitably result in planetary consciousness? Just look a little closer at what has been happening.In the past, despots have risen and imposed themselves upon the world with little or no opposition. Empire builders have still risen in modern history, but are increasingly unlikely to get away with it. As soon as a despot tries to export hIs despotism outside his own country, free nations are increasingly likely to band together to say no.
This was the reality of the two world wars, of Korea, of the Falklands, and of the original 1990 Gulf War, leading logically to the armed forces as peacekeeper in nations such as Bosnia.This is where an increasing amount of violence within modern warfare has come from - not to conquer, but to liberate - no matter how ill defined and poorly understood those motives might have been at the time.
Certainly there are still problems - we are a long way from being perfect - but the principle is there are gaining ground.
A BRAVE NEW WORLD
Increasingly, and perhaps unconsciously, our species is coming together to uphold individual and group freedoms in the species and in nature in a way unthought of in preceding centuries.In the future, I suggest, this principle of denying despotism - of whatever kind - the facility to freely operate will grow until despots will be unable to rise to power at all.
And in conjunction with a growing ecological consciousness that is teaching us that planet Earth is one and an interdependent life support system, the principle outlined could well be the first indication that we are leaving our barbaric past behind and moving towards a true planetary consciousness. But where will this leave us?
As far as we are aware, we are the only lifeform on planet Earth that has so far attempted communication beyond the planet. But to do so we had to evolve the hard way, learning to understand barbarism and the need for possessions.It was possessions that grounded our advancement in the physical and the material; it was barbarism and fragmentation that eventually led to the impulse to communicate to bring ourselves together again.
And the two evolved towards the ‘physical’ need to communicate.And our advancement to the attainment of high technology communicative skills is suddenly the answer to the question posed by philosophers down the centuries - why are we here? We are here to aid planet Earth in its attempt to become cosmically conscious. But then again, perhaps more than even this.
DESTINATION, THE STARS
Man has begun to learn the value of ecological co-operation at the same time that his technology has reached the stage of seriously contemplating the idea of space travel. Already systems are on the drawing board that could transport us to the stars.Certainly it would not be travel as seen in Star Trek, but ideas concerning generation starships and the Ramscoop, not to mention the ion drive, take star travel away from science fiction and place it in the realms of scientific possibility.
Except for one problem. Evolution evolves only what is required. There is no surplus. And it is now becoming apparent to those who envisage star travel that nothing less than the entire resources and co-operation of mankind would be required to turn it into a real possibility.
The coming together of so many factors can be seen as the root of a new mythology for the Space Age, combining the past, present and future into a new meaning and direction for mankind.Ecological awareness, realisation of the errors of our barbarism, increasing high technology communicative abilities and the realisation of star travel are all coming upon us together, shaping our destiny for the future.
Perhaps we do have purpose after all; and that purpose is to aid planet Earth in becoming a conscious organism and exporting awareness to the stars. And is it not strange that this is only achieveable by man coming together in co-operation with each other and nature?
Basically, to export ourselves, we can only do it when we come to peace with ourselves. And if this is so, we can look forward to a beautiful, exciting and rewarding future.