Earth's Imagination Video Series
hosted by Brian Swimme
Center for the Study of the Universe. 1998
Mathematical cosmologist and physicist Brian Swimme has put together an excellent resource for secondary courses in science and religion or religion and ecology. Supplemented with any number of books by Mr. Swimme, ("Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, Universe is a Green Dragon) or especially Mr. Swimme's and Thomas Berry's "The Universe Story" these works in combination would make for an exciting and innovative course.
There are four videos in this series that together run for a total of 3.5 hours. Especially beneficial for teachers is that each segment or topic runs no more than twenty-seven minutes. This makes it very easy to show a video segment in a class period and to have time for beginning discussions.
Each video is divided into two segments. Video #1 discusses "Macrophase Transitions," and "Free Energy." The first section, "Macrophase Transitions," asks from the perspective of the Universe and our embedded position in it, "What have been the major transitions or dynamics that radically marked the evolutionary impulse?" Swimme sees these as the self organization of matter, the creation of the biosphere 2.3 billion years ago, and now the ability of humans to radically alter the dynamics of the biosphere. We have in effect become a planetary power with the ability to change the very nature of life on the planet. The second section, "Free Energy" discusses the role of mind and the centrality of the second law of thermodynamics among others.
The second video is divided into sections on "Synergy" and the "Birth of Imagination." The section on synergy is interested in the question of evolutionary dynamics on the development of the primate mind. How does the universe build order and complexity? The answer is through mutually enhancing relationships that give greater access to "free energy." In this thrust for greater access to free energy new combinations, evolutionary combinations or synergies have arisen. Out of these synergistic strategies arose the most fundamental human synergistic strategy, sexuality. This evolutionary revolution allowed the combined capacities of both parents to be passed to offspring. The primate interest in sexuality, the urge to have as many offspring as possible, greatly enhanced the chances of survival. The basis of our primate minds then is that males tend to invest a small amount of energy in reproduction, whereas females expend a great deal of energy. The development of emotional bonds between mothers and offspring, siblings, and bonded pairs become according to Swimme deep structures of the human mind. These root structures that we now take for granted are seen in the larger evolutionary context as a synergistic strategy.
The second part of the tape picks up on the concept of the primate mind and asks what distinguishes humans from other primates. Genetically our DNA has a 98.6% match with that of a chimpanzee. We go on to learn that at a young age humans and chimps are very much alike. The difference is that the human maturation process stretches out for a much longer period of time than that of the higher primates. It is in this stretching out process that according to Swimme we are to find the birth of the imagination, most essentially our ability to seize possibilities that are unseen and invisible.
The third video is divided into presentations on "The End of the Cenozoic,"and "An Ocean of Energy." "The End of the Cenozoic" looks at how with the rise of the ability of humans to drastically alter the biosphere that the Cenozoic Age has come to an end. Tracing our collective history from Neanderthal to Cro Magnon to the Neolithic Revolution to the rise of hieratic city states, Mr. Swimme notes that humans have always been nomadic. Our genetically programmed needs to reproduce and have access to more "free energy" has meant that we have constantly overwhelmed the natural world around us. This nomadic quality has meant that unlike any other animal we have had the power to override the natural "negative feedback" that is endemic to any ecological system. He gives an example of the fox and the rabbit. If foxes overhunt the rabbit population then there are no more rabbits and a natural "negative feedback" loop is established which causes the foxes to stop hunting rabbits and for the rabbit population to gradually comeback. Because of our migratory nature humans have been able to avoid this negative feedback. What has happened is that as a species we have gone beyond the capacity of the earth to absorb this process. We are creating mass destruction of the complete biosphere, and Swimme would say that it is the greatest disaster since the destruction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This disaster he calls the end of the Cenozoic. Part of the difficulty we have in grasping this problem is the fixation on the local of our primate minds. Our collective single species strategy has been brilliant, in that it has created our dominance on the planet. But, it has been absolutely disastrous for the planet as whole and will soon be disastrous for us as well.
The second segment, "An Ocean of Energy," begins with a discussion of the end of the Cenozoic and looks at the potential and need for a radical shift in human consciousness. Mr. Swimme begins to offer us insight into how this radical shift can take place through an explanation of the "Baldwin's Effect." Simply put, this means that consciousness itself is a source of evolutionary change. In essence, through the powers of imagination we can create another form of humanity. As we come to realize our essential embeddedness in the evolutionary dynamics of the Universe then it is possible for us to take on the mind of the Universe, of Life, of the Earth Community. This is the creative possibility that awaits us if we will only grasp it. He suggests too that we are called upon to envision or to imagine new forms of synergy or mutually enhancing relationships to the life around us.
The fourth video is divided into two sections, "New Forms of Energy," and "The Surprise of Cosmogenesis." Taking our basic primate synergistic impulses of kin bonding and the need for offspring, Mr. Swimme asks how might these impulses evolve in the future. He suggests that the answer lies in our extending the powers of kin bonding to all life, to developing a "comprehensive compassion" that results in a profound concern for all life. Our task is to create a concern that goes beyond the local centeredness of the primate mind. The impulse for offspring he sees as expanding to include all species. This concern for all life he sees as directly tied into the impulse of the Universe to always give birth to the new. This task of giving birth to the new is a direct reflection of our deepest impulse to create.
The final segment is devoted to the "Surprise of Cosmogenesis." Mr. Swimme suggests that humans have reached a point in our evolution that our goal is now to grow as conscious participants in the unfolding of the universe story. The method of our participation in this process is through the imagination, our ability to envision possibilities. The pull of the future is in the imagination, and it is in the imagination that we hold the potential to create the new worlds we need to inhabit and participate in.
The important ideas presented in this highly accessible video series are important. We all need to work hard that our students are exposed to them, so that they can begin to envision new worlds of possibility.
review ©2000 by Tom Collins and RSiSS
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