Let’s see how far you are willing to go with me here.
- Proposition 1: The physical universe emerged abruptly out of a singularity of quantum energy, in an event that cosmological science names the “Big Bang.”
- Proposition 2: After approximately 10 billion years, on a planet thrown into orbit around a medium sized yellow star, material conditions obtained for the emergence of life.
- Proposition 3: After another 3 billion years of evolution on Earth, life gave rise to consciousness, and consciousness to the uniquely self-conscious species of homo sapiens.
- Proposition 4: As a member of this species, you are a human manifestation of the universe, which has evolved to the point of becoming conscious of itself in you.
- Proposition 5: Looking outward (with “outsight”) you can observe the vast expanse and explore the deep complexity of this cosmic order, while looking inward (with “insight”) you can contemplate its grounding mystery in your own existence as a self-conscious living being.
If you have chosen to disregard the research evidence and reality-based theories of contemporary science, but subscribe instead to a literal reading of some religious mythology, then I likely lost you at Proposition 1. But if perchance you have not fallen under the spell of mythological literalism (in Christianity known as biblical literalism), then I might have gotten you as far as Proposition 4 – maybe even all the way to Proposition 5.
Still, that last one might be a stretch beyond your range of intellectual flexibility.
Proposition 4 – that you are a human manifestation of a universe which is conscious of itself in you – follows very logically from the preceding propositions, even if it feels like an ill-advised metaphysical leap. To insist otherwise, that you are somehow separate from the universe, that your consciousness is essentially alien to its evolutionary process, would itself be a metaphysical leap, putting you more in agreement with the mythological literalists than with sound science.
If instead, you have emerged with and are a product of this evolutionary process, then you and everything about you must be regarded as belonging to the universe – as the universe having become aware of itself (insofar as you are self-aware).
I’m going to consider it safe to assume that you are reasonably comfortable with Proposition 4, notwithstanding any leap that may have been necessary for you to get there. Your hesitancy is understandable, given that science itself might rather have you observe the universe from a more objective, detached, and impersonal standpoint. Let’s stay with this difficulty a bit longer.
As long as science can keep the question of your objective and impersonal standpoint off the table, operating somewhat dogmatically as an unimpeachable assumption at the heart of its empirical methodology, not only will Proposition 4 remain problematic, but Proposition 5 will have to be rejected almost as a matter of principle. There can be no inner depths to consciousness, no grounding mystery within, as these are not observable data.
By inventing this privileged yet utterly delusional standpoint of objective and impersonal observation, the very continuum of evolutionary existence has been arbitrarily broken. Everything up to consciousness is included, but self-consciousness – you here, pondering it all – has been preemptively suspended, or else reduced to nothing more than a surface foam agitating at the edges of consciousness itself.
By thus ignoring the one evolutionary capacity that makes you uniquely human, science can leave you out of the full picture.
And that’s why, if you could agree with the first part of Proposition 5, about your ability to observe the expanse and complexity of the universe outside yourself, the second part, about a complementary orientation inward for contemplating the grounding mystery of the universe as yourself, felt as if you were stepping off an edge and into a dark abyss.
But think about this. What happens when the universe, which has produced self-conscious persons such as yourself, is described, cataloged, and explained without any suggestion of your place in it? What kind of universe is it, really? The answer, I think you will agree, is a nonhuman universe, even an inhuman universe, a universe indifferent or hostile to your existence and that of every other human being. It is a universe that holds no recognition of you and has no place for you.
By excluding the one thing that holds it all together in self-conscious meditation, we cannot really refer to it as a universe at all. Technically speaking, the universe is not an observable datum, not a fact to be observed, and any science that seeks to establish itself on a purely objective and impersonal foundation should refrain from using the term.
That’s why the second part of Proposition 5 is so crucial. Only to the degree that you are not only capable but intentionally engaged in the inward descent of consciousness, into the grounding mystery of your existence as a (4) self-conscious, (3) sentient, (2) living, and (1) physical being, will you be able to cultivate the experience of mystical communion, where “all is one.”
With each step deeper into your essential nature, the more profound and vivid this insight becomes.
This inner experience of communion is what the myths of religion have been revealing to us all along. They are not explanations of the observable universe, true in the degree that their descriptions and predictions match up accurately to objective facts. Rather, the myths are metaphorical and poetic expressions carried up from this depth experience of oneness, true in the degree that their images (called archetypes, or “first forms”) give shape to a mystery too deep for words.
To read these images as referring to objective (though perhaps invisible) facts, as the mythological literalists do, is to reject and close down their revelatory power.
But when you are contemplatively rooted in the grounding mystery of existence, the cosmic environment outside and around you spontaneously evokes your curiosity, wonder, and awe – even your worship, understood as the reverent response of surrender, sacrifice, and service to what is greater than you but also includes you.
This higher wholeness is the creative process and provident order that began as a quantum singularity 14 billion years ago, waking up just this morning as you.
2 thoughts on “Waking Up As You”
Enjoyed this. I *try* in my life to go with you to the second half of Prop 5. I *try* to be introspective. I *try* to look inward. Sometimes I think I succeed and sometimes… not so much. I can be hard to let go of pedestrian focus on the outside world. Hard for me, anyway.
But really what I wanted to say was different. It was about “awe.” I don’t remember if you’ve seen my “Our Place in the Cosmos” presentation, but it was always focused on awe, and I’ve recently done some reading that makes clear what I was unwittingly talking about. The “science of awe” talks about how the feeling of awe – transcendence – leads to a diminished sense of self and an increased openness to *real* connections with others. As we diminish self, we provide space for others in our reality. Going through, as I do, all those images of the expanse of the cosmos was always intended to diminish the self, though I didn’t have the vocabulary to see it that way. When we experience transcendence, when we feel personally insignificant, we have the opportunity to experience the significance of other people and of the world we exist in.
So that’s what this made me think of.
I hope this message gets through. I tried commenting on your last post, but in trying to log in and whatever, I don’t think it ever got through. And by the time I realized it, the urgency had passed. If you don’t see this I’m going to be surprised, though, because it seems to have recognized me. We’ll see. 🙂
I did get it, and thanks! I was privileged to see your presentation several years ago and it impressed me deeply. I’m not sure if feeling “insignificant“ is an adequate term, at least as I’m looking at it. Participating in something magnificent like the universe certainly does put my life in perspective, but in a way, it raises my sense of significance rather than diminishing it. Just not in an “egoic” manner. Thanks for the comment!