Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum The Future of Big History Reply To: The Future of Big History

Duane Elgin

Thanks for your thoughtful comments Jonathan. These are important reflections for the future of Big History.

Very importantly, the paper I presented at the Big History (“Deep Big History: A Living Systems Paradigm“) conference was not about spirituality, religion, poetry, or art. I do have a footnote regarding the work of the eminent historian, Arnold Toynbee, where he uses the words “spirituality” and “religion” but these terms and themes were very purposefully not a part of the body of my presentation and paper. The core theme of my paper is that, seen through the lens of science, the universe seems to be a unique kind of living system. Science now indicates that our universe: 1) is a unified whole, 2) contains immense levels of background energy, 3) is in a process of continuous regeneration as energy flows through it, 4) exhibits a spectrum of sentience or consciousness or a self-reflective capacity that is appropriate to the functioning of systems at every scale, and 5) has freedom at its quantum foundations. Based on these findings from science, I concluded that, while these scientific properties do not “prove” the universe is a living system, they clearly point in that direction and invite a much deeper inquiry into how a living systems perspective could serve as one legitimate track in big history. So, leaving spirituality, religion, poetry, and art aside completely, I do think it is appropriate to include a living systems perspective as one legitimate track in describing big history.

Then, turning to living systems, you write that “systems that weren’t created by natural selected shouldn’t be expected to be “alive” the way organisms are alive.” This seems to assume that a creative force is somehow at work to produce aliveness. What is that creative force? Simply giving it the name “natural selection” does not provide a scientific answer for the evolutionary force that seems at work from the quantum scale up to the level of human systems and then to galactic systems. You write that “natural selection is unique because it creates meaning.” What is the meaning that it creates in your view? 

You further write that “there’s no natural selection driving the universe at large.” Yet, that is the very paradigm that many cosmologists are now using to describe the evolution of cosmic systems in a multi-verse (where our universe is but one of countless others). Many cosmologists assume there is some kind of “natural selection” underway in the multi-verse. The universe’s that flourish are assumed to be those which are most fitting within the larger meta-cosmic system. In short, there is often assumed to be an evolution of cosmic systems to produce, for example, the one we are living in today.

I completely agree with you that, “No one can force spirituality down someone else’s worldview. . . ” Again, my paper and presentation was not about spirituality but about living systems. As I wrote in my paper, I see living systems as “one legitimate track in big history.” I do not see this as the only track but as one of the scientifically legitimate approaches for understanding the deep, big history of the universe and humanity.