Nov. 30, 2017

The Living Cosmos

"I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment...." David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order

I recently picked up Duane Elgin’s book, The Living Universe and the first chapter had me thinking some deep thoughts about the nature of the universe. Since the Enlightenment, science has viewed the physical world as all there is to existence and to think otherwise is considered superstition. But the idea of the Earth as an integrated whole, a living being, is a long held belief in most ancient wisdom traditions and also in the Gaia Hypothesis put forward by Lovelock.  Even as we consider if the earth is a living organism, we are also beginning to consider if the whole universe is an integrated, conscious life form as well. “The more we look, the more we are finding the universe to be a place of breath-taking immensity, astonishing subtlety, and unfathomable mystery.” Predominate scientific mechanistic worldview that nature is an inanimate object is hegemonic; it has dehumanized nature and marginalized people resulting in environmental and social exploitation. We are not separate from nature, but live in a relational process between the subjective inner and the objective outer world. To rise above materialism, one must realize that self and nature are not separate, they exist along a continuum.

In a previous post I discussed the term biophilia, our innate inclination to connect with other living things. Elgin discusses the term cosmophilia, the affiliation we feel with the holism of nature and our vivid experience of connection with the harmony and beauty of our universe. Both loving life and loving the universe in its connected wholeness are perspective changes that allow transformation of anthropocentric to ecocentric frameworks. “If we are beings whose consciousness can extend beyond our biological bodies and into the reaches of the living universe, then our physical bodies comprise only the smallest fraction of the full scope of our being.” An ecocentric framework views the living earth reverently as a community to which we belong.

Viewing the physical world as inert matter lacking vitality has led to a culture of materialism, which has led to meaningless lives without purpose beyond obtaining possessions, pleasure, power, and prestige. “By removing aliveness from the fabric of the universe…the materialistic perspective has ultimately led to environmental exploitation and profound global crisis.” Living in the context of a dead universe creates an unnatural anthropocentric hierarchy allowing humans to rationalize exploitation of the ‘dead’ earth. “A living universe perspective invites us to shift from indifference, fear and cynicism to curiosity, love and awe.” Rethinking our relationship with each other, the earth and the universe will radically transform our culture from separation and exploitation to harmony and communion positively impacting our environmental crisis towards relational sustainability.


The rethinking involves both large-scale, mythic, reimagining of our world, but it also includes personal connections to the non-human other. The mythic and religious connection that links us to the world around us can be profoundly reconceived. These are not simply a philosophical shifts in thinking but deeply personal and emotional experiences that give people new intuition about our world. Moreover, it is the scientists who are enabling this by “connecting their own existence and moral sensibilities … to evolutionary and cosmological narratives that are understood as sacred in some way.” 

Lucas F. Johnston. 2010. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 7-23.

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