It's the unviverse, stupid!

Cosmology and the Present Moment

In 1543, Nicholas Copernicus asserted that Earth circled the Sun rather than the Sun, Moon and Stars revolving around Earth. It was a leap from a belief system and culture based on the assurance of an earth-entered, rather than a sun-centered, Universe. The leaders and ordinary people of Europe nearly ran him out of town. They had built their lives, careers and fortunes on the foundations of their cosmology.

Sunset On The Mountains (Allamuchy), photograph by Luisa Kazanfer from 2020 Highlands Coalition Juried Art Exhibit.

The ineffable relationship between Sun, Earth and Moon, marking this planet from its beginnings, is the foundation of all human experiences of beauty and sacrifice, communion and community, which later emerged into our human consciousness and fulfillment.

The evolutionary cosmologist, Brian Swimme, writes, “In a culture in which cosmology is alive, children are taught by the Sun and Moon, by the rainfall and the starlight, by the salmon run and the germinating seed. It has been so long since we moderns have lived in such a world that it is difficult to picture, but we can just now begin to imagine what it might be like for our children, or for our children’s children. They will wake up a few moments before dawn and go out into the gray light. As they’re yawning away the last of their sleep and as the Earth slowly rotates back into the great cone of light from the Sun, they will hear the story of the Sun’s gift. How five billion years ago the hydrogen atoms, created at the birth of the universe, came together to form our great Sun that now pours out this same primordial energy and has done so from the beginning of its existence. How some of this energy is gathered up by life to swim in the oceans and to sing in the forests. And how some of it has been incorporated into the human venture, so that human beings themselves are able to stand here, are able to yawn, are able to think only because coursing through their blood lines are molecules energized by the Sun.”

With the multiple shock waves of this year’s events, it could seem utterly naïve to hope that today’s adult decision makers could face the challenge of exploring a new cosmological perspective different than the familiar one of the past centuries. But that is exactly what Swimme, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking have proposed by entreating and encouraging us to change our own inadequate perceptions of the world around us. They prompt us to trust our own capacities to weave together the core human wisdoms of the past with the present scientific insights that were simply unavailable to earlier generations of humans. It is exactly what David Attenborough and Indigenous leaders, and untold legions of climate scientists, climate strikers, religious and moral leaders, Extinction Rebellion communities, and untold creative and courageous grassroots propose.

Various biologists, hydrologists, geologists and other scientists who pay attention to disruptions in Earth’s planetary timing have been sounding alarms for decades. Their voices are often submerged by other voices that promise that progress is worth with the risk of damage the disturbances may cause. The warnings may also have been attenuated by the belief systems of certain cultures and religions that adhere to the fundamental origin stories passed on over the last several thousand years. These stories, also understood as cosmologies, are being shaken to the core. They may be unwillingly contributors to the behaviors that suggest our human species is overshooting its privilege to exist.

Given the monetized, commoditized and digitized world view dominating present historic events, it has become easy to alter and suppress the innate human capacity to feel empathy with the suffering and cruelty experienced by any other living being. It has become easy to convince us we can surrender the human burden of thinking, judge, discerning and choosing to the dazzling promises of artificial intelligence and robots. Still, Swimme offers hope.

“By reminding ourselves of the possibilities of true greatness and true nobility of spirit, we excite the energies necessary for our fulfillment. The challenge of moral and spiritual achievement is not something that can be dealt with in an hour on the weekend. The task of transformation must be the way we start each day as we remind ourselves of the revelation that is the Sun. Through repetition and through years of deepening, our children and our children’s children will be provided with a way to escape the lures of deceit, and greed, hatred, and self-doubt, for they will begin each morning and live each day inside the simple truth: a gorgeous living Earth circling light as a feather around the great roaring generosity of the Sun.”

Excerpts from Miriam MacGillis, Spring, 2020; with permission from Brian Thomas Swimme. Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story, revised edition. Orbis Books.
This story was first published: Autumn, 2020