It was the philosophical obsession that largely defined the first 15 years of my adulthood. After having a life-changing “mystical experience” at age 18 of the separative nature of thought as opposed to the homogeneous wholeness of nature, I began to ask: how did nature evolve a creature that operates in opposition to its basic principle?
After more than a decade of sustained investigation, research, and discussion with every Western and Eastern philosopher I could find, there were new ideas regarding the evolution of intelligent species. They apply wherever life develops sufficient neural complexity to produce creatures with the cognitive ability to consciously manipulate their environment and eventually develop sophisticated science and technology.
Although more philosophical and spiritual than scientific, these ideas have a simplicity and elegance that great scientific discoveries have. They can be proven or disproven in my lifetime.
To grasp them, one must first emotionally perceive the truth that this Homo sapiens is not an intelligent species, but a potentially intelligent species, with a limited number of chances to change course and become one. If in doubt, the human species is now rehearsing World War I and World War II, with nuclear weapons.
Within the next few years, using the new James Webb Space Telescope (which will release its first science-grade images on July 12), we may well find out just how common life is in the universe. Although the Webb Telescope won’t be able to definitively determine whether life exists on other Earth-like planets through spectroscopy, in which different wavelengths of light suggest different elements, it will provide evidence for one way or another of extraterrestrial chemistry, and even biology.
Physicists and astrophysicists presume that the same physics that applies to the sun, earth, our solar system, and our galaxy, also applies to all other stars, galaxies, planets, and moons, regardless of how many trillions there are in the expanding universe.
Yet astrobiologists entertain the absurd idea that different chemistries and biology may exist on other planets and moons. In our solar system, Saturn’s two moons, tiny Enceladus, with its geysers spewing organic matter into space from a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust, and the massive Titan, with its super-cold methane lakes and its roughly Earth-like topography, are examples of the confusion that fundamentally different principles of chemistry and biology can exist on different planets and moons. Life can exist in the ocean of Enceladus; it will not be found on Titan.
Since chemistry and biology, like physics, follow the same principles everywhere in the universe, then wherever there is liquid water and the right conditions exist over time, we should find at least one single-celled life. And if the simple life is common, the complex life is probably rare. Potentially intelligent life, like humans, is undoubtedly very rare. And truly intelligent life is undoubtedly extremely rare and valuable.
What characterizes truly intelligent life? An intelligent and thinking species is one that has put thought in its place. To understand this, we must understand what makes potentially intelligent life, and why all species like man face a perilous path.
My ideas may sound a bit like science fiction, but they stem from the opposite of the imaginative source of science fiction – that is, from the so-called mystical experience.
An authentic meditative state has no method, technique or tradition, but stems from self-knowledge, which is always in the moment. When the old habit of internal psychological separation results in a faster growth of passive consciousness than the separation of thought as observer, attention gathers invisibly and acts on the whole movement of consciousness. thought, completely calming the mind.
In this state one sees the basic nature of symbolic thought, which is conscious separation. When early humans evolved, the ability to consciously separate animals and plants from the environment and accumulate knowledge about them defined humans as a very different and very powerful species. No other animal on Earth consciously separates “things” and lives in a symbolic world of its own making.
It made humans psychological creatures, which was okay as long as we lived close to nature or had intact cultures with coherent and cohesive traditions. But once our ability to manipulate nature reached a certain stage (with the Industrial Revolution), man’s inner alienation and outer fragmentation increased exponentially. Climate change and the Sixth Extinction inevitably followed.
With all due respect to Buddhists, a sentient species is not just able to perceive and feel things. Worms, by this definition, are sentient. Anthropologically speaking, sentience is defined as the ability to be aware of being aware. Given this definition, humans are almost certainly the only sentient species on Earth.
The fact that a sentient species is decimating the diversity of life on Earth to the point of causing only the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth should give everyone pause. However, this is not the case, because people fail to see how unique the human adaptive pattern of conscious separation is, and because too few see that the rest of nature unfolds according to a different principle, that unwavering integrity.
I felt confident enough in my understanding of what was once called “the riddle of man” to write a 12-page summary of my thesis to David Bohm, the physicist whom Einstein called his intellectual and spiritual son. I was then able to chat with him over a long weekend in Southern California.
At the end, I asked Bohm if he thought I had finally “solved the riddle of man”. To my surprise, he said, “Yes.” What do I do with it? I immediately responded. “Just don’t make it another philosophical system,” he insisted. Since this is precisely what I was trying to do in philosophy school, his advice changed the course of my life.
So what does the meditative state, which is the ending and emptying of psychological thought, have to do with the transmutation of man? In other words, what is the relationship between methodless meditation, the crisis of human consciousness, and the transmutation of the human species from an increasingly destructive nature? potentially intelligent species to an essentially harmonious intelligent species?
The universe, which is steeped in intelligence beyond thought (including reason and logic), has invested heavily in potentially intelligent species like Homo sapiens. But we have a limited number of chances to change course and become an intelligent species. If we use them all, the cosmos will shed a tear and move on.
There is no separation between the individual and humanity. We are not tiny bits of humanity, but contain within us a microcosm of the right and wrong, the good and the bad of all of humanity. By understanding ourselves and growing into wholeness, we naturally contribute to the wholeness of humanity.
It is not that we return and restore some Edenic time of humanity, but that we radically change from creatures of separation and symbol, identification and identity, to cosmic beings growing in insight, understanding and compassion.
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