Excerpt | The Living Universe

by Duane Elgin

A Living Systems Paradigm for Viewing Big History

‘Big History’ is the name given to an emerging field of study that describes the evolution from the big bang up to the modern era. This is an enormous span of time—nearly 14 billion years—so it is understandably called ‘big’ history. However, it is also a shallow view of history because it leaves out themes and ideas such as consciousness, meaning, and purpose. This article seeks to deepen big history by bringing in these neglected themes through the paradigm of a living universe.

To begin, it is helpful to briefly mention several of the basic assumptions of materialism that establish the foundation for the current description of big history. ‘Materialism’ is the belief that only physical reality truly exists and nothing else. In this view, all things are composed of physical matter and all phenomena, including consciousness, are the result of mechanical interactions of matter. Physical matter is regarded as the sole cause of every possible occurrence, including human thought, feeling, and action. In this view, the universe is dead at the foundations—inanimate, mindless, and without consciousness. Materialism contrasts with the living systems view that there is vastly more to reality than interactions of physical matter. For example, given recent findings that 95 percent of the known universe is non-material and invisible, it implies that materialism applies to only a very small fraction of the overall universe.

The idea of a ‘living universe’ is not a new perspective. More than 2,000 years ago, Plato described the universe as a single living creature that encompasses all living creatures within it. In this view, we live within a living system of unfathomable intelligence, subtlety, power, and patience. In turn, we appear to be evolving expressions of that living universe, infused with a knowing capacity or consciousness and with an existence that is largely non-material in nature.

In what ways does our universe function as if it were a living system? There is not the space in this short essay to do more than gesture toward the beginnings of answers to this provocative question. However, summarized below are five attributes of our universe that point to a ‘living systems’ perspective rather than a non-living perspective.

If you are a subscriber, you can read more here.

To subscribe, please go here.