Life ... it's our epic story!
Life is worthy of veneration
- The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together. —Carl Sagan
Life puts atoms together in very interesting ways. One configuration of atoms gives us an ant carrying a leaf many times larger than itself. From another configuration we get an eagle slipping gracefully through the sky. Yet another configuration becomes a person who feels, thinks, and loves.
Without Life, the energy from our sun simply bounces off the planet. Life literally collects the energy Sol sends to earth, and stores it up for future use. Plants take energy from Sol and convert it into denser, more storable forms. The sugars and fats that our bodies burn are little pools of energy that originally came from our sun.
Ants carrying, eagles soaring, people loving … none of these would exist without Life’s awesome capacity for organizing matter.
Worthy, but not perfect
Life is not perfect. This is obvious to anyone who has experienced cruelty or misfortune. And yet, Life is the only game in town. Without Life the Earth would be just another dead ball of rock.
Life cannot exist without death. This means that the alternative to death is the absence of Life. Imagine that everything that had ever lived was still alive today. There is not space on the earth for all those creatures. The only way there could be space for them all is if at some point in time they had stopped reproducing altogether. But reproduction is what powers evolution. Without reproduction there would be nothing but simple primordial slime, barely metabolizing in a stagnant stinking sea. But not to worry, there would be no-one to complain about the smell.
Life is also intrinsically messy. There is in the wake of every living organism a stream of refuse. In the words of Paul Krafel, consuming things we need and dumping our waste is an ancient and venerable part of Life. Consumption and dumping is an essential part of Life. And yet there is more to Life than just consumption and dumping. Life also creates the conditions for more Life in an upward spiral of ever greater possibilities. In addition to the get mine attitude it is also possible to cultivate a grow ours attitude. It is also possible to practice a way of living that considers the needs of others as if they were our own.
Life is what it is ... and it is worthy of veneration!
Destruction is Quick and Easy
Every one of us knows from personal experience that it is easier to destroy things than it is to create them. In fact, we don't even need to exert ourselves to destroy things. If we just ignore them for a while they will erode and disappear. A vacant house that starts out structurally sound quickly rots into a sagging derelict ... unsafe for human occupation.
In the opening scene of his movie, The Upward Spiral, Paul Krafel contrasts two different scenarios in which a tower of blocks rises from the ground. The same two boys create the tower in both sequences. In the first sequence the boys slowly build the tower one block at a time. In the second sequence the boys simply raise their hands up from the ground and the tower springs up in their wake. The building of the tower in the second sequence looks like an explosion of blocks placing themselves one on top of the other in a trail of creation following the movement of the boys' hands.
The two videos of the tower being built demonstrate the assymetry between creation and destruction. If you reverse the video of the boys building the tower you see them slowly dismantling it, one block at a time. This slow dismantling doesn't violate our reality detectors. It may be a little out of the ordinary, after all they could have just knocked the tower down and been done with it. But we can imagine the boys patiently taking the tower apart one block at a time.
The second video of the tower exploding into existence is clearly a fake. We know that no matter how sophisticated the boys are, the world simply does not work that way. If we reverse the second video we see two boys knocking a tower down by moving their hands from the top of the tower down to the ground. The explosion of destruction lines up with our experience and we suddenly understand the nature of the fakery in the video. The boys actually destroyed the tower and the filmmaker played it backward to mess with us!
Building a tower of blocks requires sophisticated coordination patiently deployed over time. Destroying the tower needs only the clumsiest of efforts requiring neither care nor patience. It is easier to destroy than to create. The destruction of possibility is the natural order of things. Scientists call this tendency for things to run down the "second law of thermodynamics." The second law can be summarized as "energy always flows downhill toward less and less usable forms."
And yet many wondrously complex things do exist! In our world that is strongly biased towards decay and collapse, how is this possible?
The upward spiral of life
- Life creates the conditions for more Life,
- in an Upward Spiral of ever-growing possibilities.
- - from the SolSeedCreed
- in an Upward Spiral of ever-growing possibilities.
Life is the force that creates an upward eddy in the downward current of destruction. Creation by life is a process of slow growth. The laying down of one layer on top of another. This slow process of creation often spans generations.
Turning to Paul Krafel's "The Upward Spiral" again, we find succession as more than just a brutal competition in which taller plants shade out shorter plants. In fact, the shorter plants that came first created the conditions that allowed the taller plants to exist at all. The story is about competition, but it is not just about competition. It is also a story of multi-generational, multi-species cooperation to slowly raise up greater and greater possibilities.
The process of evolution that created the wonderful diversity of species is a long slow steady climb. And like the story of succession, it is a story of competition AND a story of cooperation. The long slow steady climb of evolution is the story of the creation of possibilities by countless individuals making countless contributions across countless generations.
Ants carrying, eagles soaring, people loving ... none of these would exist without Life’s slow and steady creation. Life creates an upward spiral of ever-growing possibilities! And we are agents of Life!
Wherever we go, whatever we do, our sacred duty is to bring Life with us. As we pursue the work of Life, we must create around ourselves the conditions that support us being fully alive, that help us flourish and thrive "Happy in the sun!" When we walk into a room full of other people, our task is to increase the freedom, expression, and possibility those people feel -- to help the group itself flourish and thrive "Happy in the sun!". As we live in our local and global ecosystem, our charge is to give back more than we take -- to help the body of all Life also flourish and thrive "Happy in the sun!"
The Ultimate Fate of the Universe
In our vast empty universe, things are running down. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that possibility will gradually diminish until the entire universe is nearly the same lukewarm temperature and there are only the weakest energy gradients to drive the flows of matter and energy that make life possible. Taking the universe as a whole, this arrow toward decreasing complexity and opportunity seems to be an absolute. Things ARE running down. This effect is called entropy and the future it predicts is called the Big Freeze.
And yet, there is another arrow that points back upstream. This second arrow is in the direction of life. In the cosmic perspective that encompasses all time and space, this arrow of life is simply an eddy in a vast current streaming toward the heat death of the universe. But this eddy, this upward spiral of life, is the most precious thing in all existence. This effect is called emergence and the future it predicts does not have a name.
Life has the potential to last an infinite amount of time. Although energy gradients are ever decreasing they will never completely run out. Life adapts to changing conditions through evolution. Dr. Freeman Dyson of Princeton University has demonstrated that life can actually rejoice in an infinite subjective experience with an infinite amount of time but a finite amount of energy. (Dyson, Freeman, 1988, Infinite in All Directions page 111)
But Dr. Dyson wrote this before the discovery of dark energy. Dark energy poses a dangerous threat to our distance future. Physicists have found that dark energy is increasing in power. They have not measured how quickly it is increasing yet but if it is increasing quickly enough then it will outpace entropy and eventually destroy the universe, tearing first galaxies, then stars, then planets and finally even people apart? This possible future is called the Big Rip.
How are we to be "happy in the sun" when we are caught between these two possible futures, the Big Rip and the Big Freeze? It is a frightening future that physicists paint. But we know very little about dark energy yet. The Big Rip, if it is coming is billions of years in the future. Is it possible for life to harness dark energy? In billions of years life can learn to grow on dark energy, and life can grow exponentially outpacing the growth of dark energy. Perhaps, in the distance future, life can learn to balance dark energy and entropy, growing ever more complex and creating ever more possibilities, using enough dark energy to prevent the Big Rip and leaving enough to prevent the Big Freeze.
Physicists prefer to look at the universe as a dead mechanism in which life is but an observer. But it was physicists themselves who discovered that it is impossible to observe without changing what is observed. It may be life's destiny to control the fate of the universe and our destiny to help life take a crucial step toward its destiny.
The "body of all life"
- The beauty of a living thing is not just in the atoms that go into it but in the way those atoms are put together. --Carl Sagan
The cells in your body don't know who you are and don't care about you. And yet, by each cell doing its own little thing in its own little context, this miraculous emergent thing called you happens!
Groups of people are more than the sum of the individual parts just as the group of cells in our body is more than the sum of the individual parts. When a group of people are talking together they will have ideas and think about things in a way that is different from what the individuals alone would come up with. To paraphrase Sagan the beauty of an effective team is not just in the living beings that go into it but in the way those living beings interact together.
Just like our body is composed of cells that each do their own different unique thing, so too there is a body of all life composed of living organisms of which we are a part. What stage of development is the body of all life in right now? Is it an infant that is yet to become self aware? Or at the other extreme, is the body of all life already senile and decrepit?
In the cosmic scale of time, conscious life is still very young. As a body of all life we're probably not even school aged yet. Imagining a human trajectory for the body of all life we expect the growth through childhood and adolescence to be attended by a growth in opportunities. The possibilities grow along with us. As we reach adulthood, we begin to make focused investments toward particular callings. As we focus and invest in particular areas, some opportunities that we chose not to focus on become unavailable.
Imagine for a moment that the body of all life is your child. What investments has your child made in its future? What opportunities lie within arms length? Given who the body of all life is right now, what do you want for your child in the future?
juxtapose a homeless man or woman who's gone to drink against a happy family that is healthy and thriving in the sun.
Put together an art exhibition or some sort of creative thing that shows all kind of different visions for the future of the body of life.
SolSeed imagines the future for the body of all life becoming not just a lone individual world, but a family of living worlds with great diverse opportunity among them for what life can become. Each world perhaps specializing in the family. This world no longer alone in the universe.
Life has invested in us
- Every item has its use, a role to play, a thing to do. --From a SolSeed children's song
Getting a good return of investment (ROI) depends upon making good use of the thing you've invested in. If you invest in a fine Stradivarius violin, you are tying up resources in the violin that could have been used on a different investment. To get a good return from the violin you use it to play beautiful music. If you want to be sure that the investment in the violin is a total waste, you use it to pound in nails. The violin makes a lousy hammer and its ability to produce beautiful music is destroyed by encounters with the nails.
Life is a lot like a human investor charged to manage a large fund. The "fund" that Life manages is the pool of diversity and other accumulated resources of our biosphere. Just like a human investor, Life risks resources on bets that may or may not provide a good rate of return. Good bets increase diversity and possibility, bad bets do the opposite.
Right now, Life has a lot riding on humanity. Consider the myriad species that have gone or will go extinct as a result of human activity. Consider also the human consumption of fossil fuels, a large portion of Life's densest reserves of concentrated energy. We're using up pools of energy that took eons to accumulate. These are significant expenses. What can humanity do that provides Life with a good ROI on its investment in us? What is it that humanity can do for Life that is unique? Has all the expense been squandered on consumption? Or have those extinct species and precious fossil fuels purchased an infrastructure that could be of use to Life?
Investment is one metaphor. Paul Krafel, a teacher, has a different way of looking at this story:
- "We are in a very dangerous part of a necessary learning curve. By degrading our environment, we are learning that we have the power to change it. Now we can begin to wonder what change in the other (harder) direction would look like. Now we can begin to practice patience, perseverence, and self-restraint. We can learn to listen and watch. If we can learn quickly enough, our current destruction of other species and habitats contains within it a seed of hope."
- ~Seeing Nature, p. 170
The metaphor of learning and the metaphor of investment can be combined. Perhaps humanity has just realized that its education, the long project of scientists seeking knowledge by studying the world around us and engineers using that knowledge to build useful things, was not free. Without realizing it, we've taken out a gigantic student loan from the Bank of Gaia, and the interest is now piling up. If we default on our debt, both debtor and creditor will suffer immensely. But by paying it back in the form of works that help ecosystems thrive (after first learning how to do those works properly), we can both provide just compensation to the Bank of Gaia for all the trouble we've caused, and ensure that it will still be willing to lend resources to us in the future.
Who you are
- Ray of summer sun
- Inseparable from Sol
- Know yourself and thrive.
Einstein as he developed the theory of relativity often imagined what it would be like to ride alongside a beam of light. I invite you to do something similar. Imagine yourself actually as a beam of light. A ray of sunshine from our star whose name is Sol. As this sunbeam, you have several different ways that you can think of yourself. On the one hand you are a transient burst of photons that will soon be absorbed and cease to exist. On the other hand you are the Sun itself. You are the provider of practically all the energy that animates life on earth.
The ability to sometimes perceive ourselves not just as the ephemeral ray of light, but as the sun itself can add a great deal of power and purpose to our lives. This ability to identify with the larger whole is an essential characteristic of spiritual enlightenment. It offers freedom from reactive grasping and the option to proactively create our lives.
I invite you to take a moment to close your eyes and imagine that you are not just your skin-bag, but that you are life itself! Think of the possibilities!
Excesses of the non-dual perspective Inadequacies of the simply dualistic perspective. Anxiety paralysis self-loathing fear -reactive rather than proactive.
Living a beautiful life
It's naïve to think that there is only one job one role that each person can play. Thinking of this way leads us to spend our entire lives searching for who we are and what our job is. Perfect is the enemy of good enough and right now. living a perfect life is impossible our goal should instead be to live a beautiful life. Is there one perfect painting one perfect meal? No! There are many great meals many great paintings and there are also many lousy meals and many lousy paintings.
- Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos ancient and vast from which we spring. --Carl Sagan
The history of life is a many branching tree and humanity is just one branch on that tree. When inhabitants of the far future look back on humanity as it is now, they will see not the pinnacle of evolution, but a transitional species that diverged into new branches in the tree of life. Our place in the body of all life is not one of special rights and privileges, but rather one of purpose and responsibility. As life's intelligent spark we are called to nurture the body of all life -- we are called to ensure that it survives and flourishes.
We are called not just to live -- not just to get by -- but to create a life that brings honor to all the ancestors who came before us and creates opportunities for all the generations that will follow us.
Borrowing a metaphor from Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough:
- "Life is a coral reef. We each leave behind the best, the strongest deposit we can so that the reef can grow. But what's important is the reef."