Part 1 Introduction and Summary Part 2 Big Bang to Planet Formation Part 3 The Rise of Life
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More About MythIn the olden days (when I was a youngster), science had become a small-g-god, myth was equated with superstition, impersonal mechanism was how things worked, and meaning existed out there, to be ultimately discovered by science. Astronomy, physics, biology, psychology, and all other fields were neatly compartmentalized. There was prevalent existential angst, to be sure, but that could be solve-able by science. Religion would disappear, according to the modern secular philosophies. But it didn't. Several things happened:
1. Science was found to be a god with feet of clay: Its application led to all sorts of unintended consequences, not the least of which was the threat of ecological catastrophe.
2. The illusion that humans could live without illusions led to the paradoxes demonstrated by Becket's play, "Waiting for Godot,"---a dead end.
3. Continuing cross-cultural analysis of myth revealed that myth underlies human experience and cultural experience, even for the seemingly enlightened (but really far from it) Euro-American dominant culture! The term "myth" evolved to refer to those images and stories that gave meaning to life. Psychology has revealed that meaning-making is far from purely rational or even able to be fully articulated by language, theory, or doctrine.
A !Kung bushman storyteller in Botswana
4. A continuing battle between secularist "science" and traditional religion has heated up, partly as a result of the political activation of the fundamentalist churches. What tends to be missed as this battle is fed by media that panders to conflicts of extreme positions is that another set of alternatives has arisen that operates in-between the two extremes, a way to preserve the best insights of Faith while also respecting the most cogent findings of Science. This presentation offers one example of this response, a synthesis to the dialectical collision of the thesis of faith and the antithesis of secularism.
StoryHumans think in part in terms of stories far more than dry theories. Even the dreams of scientists are stories. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What's it all about? Interestingly, discoveries in the aforementioned seemingly separate fields show that there is a continuity, an overlap, an interdependence among the various fields. The illusion that nature and life exists in compartments is a temporary expression of a phase of human evolution during the last three hundred years, and it's leading to a re-unification: One example of this is that the story of existence can be told so that it is emotionally and spiritually meaningful.
--Robert Crumb's Illustrated Book of Genesis, 2009.
Of course we've had a story, but it was localized to Earth, humanity, and more, to a small tribe in the Middle East. Some of that story can be interpreted to reflect insights about the Great Story. The art of interpretation is called "hermeneutics," and it has been practiced by many types of theologies in many cultures. It's the opposite of literalism in that hermeneutics seeks the deeper meanings, the implications, the resonances of various stories or myths.
Can a story be told about the Universe we live in now that there's growing evidence of its origins about 13.7 billion years ago? Consider that the Big Bang (also known as the "Great Radiance"),. this along with theories of star formation, the creation of elements through the process of nova and supernova culminations or deaths of stars, new star formation, planetary formation, the emergence and complexification of life, and the emergence of consciousness, all can be woven into a story -like format that has meaning and relevance to how you imagine the purpose of your life!
This talk is about the trends in modern science and culture that are re-mythologizing (what a mouthful!)--- re-forming those many discoveries into an inter-disciplinary theory, one with continuity. Many mysteries remain, but it's a fair guess that illuminating those mysteries might not significantly change the underlying thrust of this creation story, but rather only require minor revisions.
Remythologizing The Great StoryFrom:
Swimme, Brian. (1989). The Cosmic Creation Story. In D. Griffin (Ed.), The Reenchantment of Science. Albany: State University of New York Press. (Pp: 54-56)
Here’s an imaginary event—a moment in the future when children are taught by a cosmic storyteller. We can imagine a small group gathered around a fire in a hillside meadow. The woman in the middle is the oldest, a grandmother to some of the children present. If we can today already imagine such an event, we can be assured that tomorrow someone will begin the journey of bringing such dreams into practice.
The old woman might begin by picking up a chunk of granite. "At one time, at the beginning of the Earth, the whole planet was a boiling sea of molten rock. We revere rocks because everything has come from them—not just the continents and the mountains, but the trees, the oceans and your bodies. The rocks are your grandmother and your grandfather. When you remember all those who have helped you in this life, you begin with the rocks, for if not for them, you would not be"
She holds the rock before them in silence, showing each person in turn. "Do you hear the rock singing? In the last era, people thought there was no music in rocks. But we know that is not true. After all, some rocks became Mozart and showed their music as Mozart. Or did you think that the Earth had to go to Mars to learn how to play its music? No, Mozart is rocks, Mozart is the music of the Earth's rocks."
Now she slowly sinks her hands into the ground and holds the rich loamy soil before her. "Every rock is a symphony, but the music of soil soars beyond capture in human language. We had to go into outer space to realize how rare and unique soil is. Only the Earth created soil. There is no soil on the moon. There are minerals on the moon, but no soil. There is no soil on Mars. There is no soil on Venus, or on Sun, or on Jupiter, or anywhere else in the surrounding trillion miles. Even the Earth, the most extraordinarily creative being of the solar system, required four billion years to create topsoil. We worship and nurture and protect the soils of the Earth because all music and all life and all happiness come from the soil. The soils are the matrix of human joy."
She points now to a low-hanging star in the great bowl of the nightsky. "Right now, that star is at work creating the elements that will one day live as sentient beings. All the matter of the Earth was created by the Grandmother Star that preceded our Sun. She fashioned the carbon and nitrogen and all the elements that would later become all the bodies and things of Earth. And when she was done with her immense creativity, she exploded in celebration of her achievement, sharing her riches with the universe and enabling our birth.
"Her destiny is your destiny. In the center of your being you too will create, and you too will shower the world with your creativity. Your lives will be filled with both suffering and joy; you will often be faced with death and hardship. But all of this finds its meaning in your participation in the great life of Earth. It is because of your creativity that the cosmic journey deepens."
She stares into the distance. In the long silence, she hears the thundering breakers on the ocean shore, just visible in the evening's light. They listen as the vast tonnage of saltwater is lifted up in silence, then again pounds up the sand.
"Think of how tired we were when we arrived here, and all we had to do was carry our little bodies up the hills! Now think of the work that is being done ceaselessly as all the oceans of the world curl into breakers against the shores. And think of all the work that is done ceaselessly as the Earth is pulled around the Sun. Think of all the work that is done ceaselessly as all 100 billion stars of the Milky Way are pulled around the center of the galaxy.
"And yet the stars don't think of this as work. Nor do the oceans think of their ceaseless tides as work. They are drawn irresistibly into their activities, moment after moment. The Earth finds itself drawn irresistibly to the Sun, and would find any other path in life utterly intolerable. What amazing work the stars and the planets accomplish, and never do we hear them complain!
"We humans and we animals are no different at all. For we find ourselves just as irresistibly drawn to follow certain paths in life. And if we pursue these paths, our lives—even should they become filled with suffering and hardship—are filled as well with the quality of effortlessness. Once we respond to our deepest allurements in the universe, we find ourselves carried away, we find ourselves on the edge of a wave passing through the cosmos that had its beginning 15 to 20 billion years ago in the fiery explosion of the beginning of time. The great joy of human being is to enter this allurement which pervades everything and to empower others—including the soil and the grasses and all the forgotten—so that they might enter their own path into their deepest allurement."
The light of dusk has gone. She sits with them in the deepening silence of the dark. The fire has died down to become a series of glowing points, mirroring the ocean of starlight all above them.
"You will be tempted at times to abandon your dreams, to settle for cynicism or greed, so great will your anxieties and fears appear to you.
"But no matter what happens, remember that our universe is a universe of surprise. We put our confidence not in our human egos but in the power that gathered the stars and knit the first living cells together. Remember that you are here through the creativity of others. You have awakened in a great epic of being, a drama that is 15 to 20 billion years in the making. The intelligence that ignited the first minds, the care that spaced the notes of the nightingale, the power that heaved all 100 billion galaxies across the sky now awakens as you, too, and permeates your life no less thoroughly.
"We do not know what mystery awaits us in the very next moment. But we can be sure we will be astonished and enchanted. This entire universe sprang into existence from a single numinous speck. Our origin is mystery; our destiny is intimate community with all that is; and our common species' aim is to celebrate the Great Joy which has drawn us into itself."
(B.S.:) Rocks, soils, waves, stars—as they tell their story in 10,000 languages throughout the planet, they bind us to them in our emotions, our spirits, our minds, and our bodies. The Earth and the universe speak in all this. The cosmic creation story is the way in which the universe is inaugurating the next era of its ongoing journey.
Naming the FirstOne part of mythologization (what a mouthful of a word---meaning the elevation of a story to mythic status) is making it more personal, less mechanistic (impersonal). One way of doing this is to recognize that there were firsts, and what if we imagined them to be minor spirits, worthy of appreciation. The point is not to worship from a submissive position, but simply to enjoy the idea that there were heroes lost to memory---the person who discovered that fire could be useful, or who invented the wheel. (Or as a comedian noted, that was okay, inventing the wheel---but the real genius was the one who realized that you needed four of them to really work! Or at least three points of gravity!)
I tell a story of the invention of art, Og-the-caveman's wife, Mrs. Og, who brought flowers to decorate the meal. Og spit them out, glaring at his wife. His wife managed to communicate "Not eat. For pretty." I think it might have taken Og a while, but finally he began to get the meaning of "Pretty." I think it had to do with his wife's eyes gleaming. (I do not underestimate the communicative power of a loved one's delight.) (And Og did love his sweet wife dearly. I am willing to imagine that our more distant ancestors were capable of deep tenderness.)
Anoteher way to bring more of a sense of story, of relevance, to the chronology as we have compiled it is, as I said, to dare to imagine that these early events were heroic efforts embodied in beings that, though not reflectively sentient, nevertheless carried the spirit of the Creativity of the Cosmos. So, the following was proposed by Brian Swimme, one of the pioneers who have written about and spread the idea of the "Great Story:"
Who was the giant star who exploded as a supernova in the general region of the Milky Way Galaxy that gave birth to what evolved as our sun and solar system? It didn’t have a name, because naming is a human predilection, but there was such a star. Drawing from the ancient pre-Hebrew Sumerian myths, let’s call her Tiamat. Tiamat’s body was dismembered, half became heaven, half became earth.
Who was the first living cell, closer to a bacterium, formed on Earth? There was one. There had to be a first one. Let’s call it Aires. (Technical term—prokaryocyte) 4 billion years ago.
Who was the first cell to parasitize another cell? There was one. Let’s call it Viking.
Who was the first prokaryocitic cell to be parasitized: Engla
Promethio was the first living being who invented photosynthesis, taking the energy of the sun and thriving on it. (From the man who procured fire from the gods)
Prospero, the first living being capable of utilizing oxygen rather than being poisoned by it. (Prospero in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, was the wizard who transofrmed his enemies into creative and serene renewal.)
Who was the first cell to work out a symbiotic relationship that drew on the best features of all the components? Vikengla. This was the first eukaryotic cell, the ancestor of all forms of advanced life.
Sappho was the first eukaryotic cell to engage in meiotic sex, union involving tow complementary set of genetic information. (The name is based on a writer living around 600 BCE, a poet whoe earned her title “tenth muse”).
Iseult, the first sexual gamete cell created by Sappho and sent forth into the surrounding waters. (Name from celtic mythology, the Irish princess who falls in love with the knight Tristan)
Tristan, the first sperm sell.
Kronos, the first eurkaryotic cell that discovered heterotrophy. A being that swallos its own children alive. The first creature to thrive by swallowing whole some of its living neighbors.
Who was the first multi-cellular animal? Argos. (In Greek mythology, Argos was a being with many eyes.)
So we can play with this idea, personalizing things rather than allowing them to remain as impersonal mechanisms. Our story really is the story of the heroic struggle of our ancestors, and these folks just mentioned did survive to play that role. If they hadn't, well, we wouldn't be here. Each was a stepping-stone, a pioneer who pushed the project of making life more intense, adaptable, efficient, just a little further---and got a competitive advantage over the other organisms who didn't make this step.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org