To Be or Not To Be: Morality, Mortality and Immortality
The Gaian paradigm has implications to our belief systems that go beyond a view of the cosmos. They include implications to our ideas of morality, mortality, immortality, as well as our system of human values. Some people have taken these implications into the sphere of religion. Some see the formation of a new Gaia religion. To others, an understanding of Gaia supports the values that have governed humanity for eons past. Without taking positions on such speculations we should at least open the dialogue on the degree to which these scientific notions might influence our pragmatic view of our lives.
For most of the 13.7 billion years that the Cosmos has been in existence, there was no one to ponder the question of to be or not to be. While quarks evolved into atoms, the atoms, into molecules, and the molecules into cells, consciousness of being did not exist. Each new step of evolution brought new entities and new properties. Only in the evolutionary phase when brain cells had evolved and created the human mind did “being” — the property of thought, memory, and consciousness — emerge. Only in this brief miniscule submoment of cosmic evolution has the sense of being existed. Only in this small window of time have humans been the source of conscious being and recognized, as Descartes put it, “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think therefore I am).
It is safe to say, that for most of the past billions of cosmic years, I as an individual, did not exist. It is also reasonable to believe that in billions of future cosmic years after my physical death I, as an individual, will not exist. Only in a brief, transient flash do individual people exist. Certainly, I did not exist before a zygote was formed by the union of cells from my two parents. And, certainly, the development, by chemical and biological means of an embryo from that zygote did not have the property of independent action and conscious thought. It is also clear that, when I drew my first breath on being born, I was not the evolved being that I was to become. The question
“to-be or not-to-be?” was not in my mind. My process of becoming a human being was still ahead of me.
It is clearly impossible to identify all of the experiences in one’s life that contributed to one’s development into a unique being. Everyone is learning every moment from birth to death, from waking to sleeping. Each moment is a step in becoming. Our bodies, brains, and minds slowly evolve from the nothingness of our pre-births to the to the final passage back into dust. If there is no heaven or nirvana into which to pass, it is reasonable to think we come to an end.
So far, I have written about only two aspect of being — the body and the mind. There is a third aspect. It’s probably more the essence of who we are than the other two. It’s more ethereal and more everlasting. I’m not sure what I should call it. But, for lack of a better word, I’ll call it “soul.”By soul, I don’t mean anything mysterios, mystical, magical, divine, or other worldly. The soul is the essence of who we are. It’s who we are more than either our minds or our bodies.
This soul, the true center of one’s being, is not easy to circumscribe. It, like the mind and body, evolves. Its evolution is over all time. Not that the past will be embodied in one’s physical and mental being, but from the beginning of time to the end of time what we become involves the whole cosmos. We have a birth date and a death date. But who we become is already, in part, predetermine by the world around us. The essence of our being — our soul — is absorbed over time from the preexisting world of ideas and actions, of nature and technologies, of awe and wonder, and of the beauty and mystery that exist in, and is, the cosmos. It is the universal cosmic soul. It is similar to the “noosphere” of Pierre Teilard de Chardin, the “collective unconscious” of Carl Jung, the “ideosphere” of others. It is the totality of the physical, biological, technological, and cultural worlds and more. It is the the knowledge, the beliefs, the feelings, as well as the written word and the passed on memories of everyone who has ever lived. It is inherited from our ancestors and from the evolving physical, biological, mental. technological and social spheres. It might as well be called the cosmic memory.
This cosmic soul has been evolving since the Big Bang. Each step in cosmic evolution has created a new part of the cosmic soul. It includes Mount Fuji, the Johnston flood, the ice ages, the Crusades, the invention of the computer, and all other happenings. Each individual at birth is enmeshed in the cosmic soul of the time.
A simple example of this idea of soul is in a flock of birds. The soul of the flock evolves as a unit. It includes migration patterns, eating resources, nesting places, and other characteristics. The flock follows certain patterns for centuries. Individual birds live for but a short time. But the memory essence or soul of the flock is passed to new birds as they hatch, join the flock , participate, and learn by doing. The soul of the flock evolves as it continually finds new opportunities and faces new challenges. Each bird gains its individual soul and passes its know-how on to other new birds that join. The soul of the flock is passed from individual souls to individual souls, as it evolves to meet contingencies of the time.
Humans likewise are born into the cosmic soul. They are embedded in the essence of all that exists. Who they are to become depends on what they absorb into themselves from all that is. Each soul is immortal. It is part of the cosmic soul. “Every thing anyone, makes, writes,says,or does becomes part of the cosmic soul and is everlasting. Shakespeare, Edison, Einstein, Jesus, Marx, Smith and others are still with us. So is Joe Blow, Anna Finklestein, and other common people. All have left their marks for eternity.
Each act or expressed idea is like dropping a stone in a mill pond. The stone may sink to the bottom never to be seen again. But its ripples spread out and may join other ripples to produce an overwhelming wave of social transformation. The origins of any act of social change may be lost in its myriad of its sources. Once we recognized that, we are driven to live a positive creative life of value– to be one of the sources of what will become. Whether anyone remembers the name of any one of us, everything we’ve done, said, or written is part of the evolving cosmic soul.
Each person’s soul is formed by every experience and every thought they ever have. It is passed on in the same way. Each “unexpected act of kindness or senseless act of beauty” makes a ripple like a grain of sand dropped in the cosmic mill pond. Every kind word one utters forms a pebble’s ripple that will be passed on. More telling in the cosmic soul will be some of the memos, papers and posts that are written. They are rocks that make a bit bigger splash, or at least have a guaranteed longer life. Most important are the interactions with among people close one another — families, friends, and communities. In a person’s children, friends an colleagues there is a continual riling of the waters (particularly of the good stuff). It is passed into the cosmic memory/soul in that it remains real in the future and assures the immortality of everyone who ever lives.
Recognizing the immortality of our souls suggests a new emphasis on morality. Every act thought or word we utter should be in the context of its impact on the cosmic memory. They change the cosmic soul as they happen and they will be remembered and they will affect cosmic evolution for ages into the future. They provides us with reason for living. As one colleague stated it, the new moral imperative is: “Make all decision based on whatever promotes the health, competence and adaptive flexibility of oneself and of all the larger system of which one is a part.”
Whether we accept this view of the human or the cosmic soul the Gaian paradigm suggests a view of It does suggest the below value system.
A GAIAN CREED: All That Is — Is Webs of Being
We belong to the Webs-of-being – – to the Cosmos – – to Earth – to Gaia.
Belonging is the protovalue from which all other values derive.
We belong to the physiophere, to the biosphere, to the ideosphere. We belong to Gaia. As the aborigines said it ““we are the ownees of the land, not the owners of the land.” As Chief Seattle said it, “ We can not own the land, we are part of the land. ” We belong to and are inseparable from our culture– from one another –from Earth — from Gaia. We are interdependent with all that is.
Belonging is scientific fact; and, belonging is more than scientific fact.
Belonging is not merely “being a member of”, but it is being subject to- being in partnership with – – being responsible for. We belong to — are responsible for — the webs -of-being — the universe — the Earth — Gaia. Belonging to-Gaia means recognizing that we are enmeshed in the webs-of-being and that our well-being is dependent on the well-being of Gaia. If we destroy Gaia, we destroy ourselves.
Belonging implies “cooperation” — working with what is — with Gaia — the webs of being. Belonging implies “community.” In our face-to-face relationships with people we form community — we belong to community. Belonging implies “responsibility.” We are responsible for Gaia. We are responsible for one another. Belonging implies “Love.” We can not separate love (agape) from the fact that we belong to Gaia. We love because we must love to preserve Gaia — to preserve ourselves — to preserve the webs-of-being
Cultures built on values other than belonging are doomed to self-destruct. A culture built on “domination of the earth, and all the animals therein” is doomed to disappear. A culture based on “self-interest” is doomed to disintegrate. A Culture based on “survival-of-the-fittest” will not survive. A culture based on competition will destroy itself.
To be stable and sustainable a culture must be based on cooperation, community, responsibility, love, honesty, caregiving, and the other values which are implied by and intertwined with one another and with belonging.
We can no more separate ourselves from belonging — from Gaia– and remain a viable culture; than an oxygen atom can separate itself from hydrogen atoms and retain the qualities of water.
Bill Ellis is a retired science policy consultant who worked at the National Science Foundation, UNESCO, and The world Bank. He left the rat race 30+ years ago to volunteer at alternative and transformational networks with TRANET: a networking journal on Cooperative Community Economics.
You can access to the whole of which the above words are a part at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AGaianParadigm/