Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum Is the universe a "living system"? Reply To: Is the universe a "living system"?

Elisabet Sahtouris

I have not yet weighed in on this dialogue for two reasons: 1) I am in a complex transition from living on the island of Mallorca in Spain to living on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, and 2) I did not want to get embroiled in an unwinnable war between the radicals and fundamentalists of science.  However, I do see real value in the dialogues among those of us in the latter camp as a way of honing our ideas and discovering our harmonies.

My approach to the issue of Living vs Non-Living Universe is to look very deeply into the foundations upon which science necessarily rests: the conceptualizations of the universe to be studied by science as its essential task.  The very issue of life vs non-life begins right there: in the unprovable assumptions (dignified as ‘axioms’) necessary to making theories.  So let me begin my contribution(s) with the following quote from my article published in Kosmos journal in 2008, called  

The Evolution of Science:

A Changing Story; a possible Global Science

I quote myself:

Could planet Earth—even the entire Universe—be conscious and alive?

 Most people inclined to a scientific worldview think the answer to this question is a clear “no” because they believe that science has proven the universe to be made of non-living matter/energy, accidentally evolved from the singular Big Bang event, and that planets are accidentally assembled stardust—our own being Earth, on which life evolved from non-life, intelligence from dumb mud and consciousness from brain matter. 

This is indeed the Creation Story of western science, but has it been proven? Current debates, and even court trials, between Darwinians and Creationists have opened the story to question. This debate is framed as being a conflict between science and religion, but the story of science itself is changing and this sharp, publicized conflict may be solved from within science itself. 

In fact, many western scientists, influenced by also studying eastern sciences and philosophies, as mentioned above, have come to the startling conclusion that life does not come from non-life, that intelligence is already inherent in “dumb mud” and that planets, as well as people and their brains, evolve within a limitless universal consciousness that gives rise to everything we know as our universe. 

How can we come to such conclusions in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary? The simple answer is that science has no evidence to the contrary. Science, as already stated, is necessarily founded on a set of beliefs arrived at through reason, rather than revelation, but unproven beliefs nevertheless. These fundamental assumptions of science are held by agreement within a scientific establishment as the most reasonable assumptions that can be made as a basis for scientific inquiry. As a graduate student half a century ago, this was clearly taught to me by a well-known philosopher of science J.R. Kantor1, with assigned exercises in founding a science on assumptions to drive the point home to us budding scientists. Unfortunately, as philosophy of science in academia has been replaced by more ‘practical’ or ‘realistic’ courses, even scientists now often lack awareness of the difference between their fundamental beliefs and the enterprise of forming theories and performing research. Nevertheless, all theory, research and interpretation of results are deeply biased by unproven foundational beliefs. 

Descartes’ belief in a universe created by a Christian Grand Engineer God who designed all of nature as machinery and put a bit of God-mind into his favorite robot, man, so that he, too, could create machinery was a merger of western science and religion. Note that this foundational scientific story accounted for conscious intelligence as the root of all creation. The later revision of the story to exclude God clearly divorced science from religion. Most importantly, for our understanding, it eliminated all consciousness and purpose from nature while keeping the concept of nature as an assembly of machinery, clearly implying that ‘natural’ machinery could and did create itself in accidental material processes. 

This remains the current belief in biology, the study of life, although, somewhat ironically, astronomy and physics have moved far beyond the mechanistic metaphor into birth and death of stars, the dance of energy, collapsing wave functions, etc. if still divided on the primacy of consciousness. Biology, having long accepted the primacy of physics, seems stuck in Newtonian physics, still seeing mechanism as the appropriate metaphor from the level of individual molecules now visible in their amazing ‘machinations’ to entire vastly complex organisms such as our own bodies and the engineering diagrams of entire ecosystem interactions. But metaphors do not make truth, much as they imply it. In the next section of this chapter, I make the arguments for how we can reasonably accept alternative assumptions about a living universe and planet Earth upon which to build science, as many scientists have done by now. 

The real sticking point for western science, ever since intelligence and purpose were removed from its worldview, has been the question of consciousness, brought to attention by physicists as quite possibly fundamental while biology persisted in seeing it as a late emergent property of evolution. Erwin Schroedinger, the physicist popularly noted for his cat- in-box conscious wave collapsing model, published an essay in 1958 called “Mind and Matter”, later published together with his earlier 1943 essay “What is Life?”2 , in which he pointed out that scientific models of the universe are generated entirely within the human mind, which is then conveniently, if not logically, omitted from the models themselves. Evelyn Fox Keller3,4 has since been an important analyst of the history of a wide range of vitalist propositions that life cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry— seeing hope of ending the argument soon in models of the universe based on information theory that continue in denying the primacy of consciousness. 

What might a new scientific model of a universe based on a different set of assumptions look like? The following is an attempt to go deeper into the current assumptions of established western science and the reasons for adopting alternative assumptions better fitting the data of science itself.

(the next section is called  

Introduction to a Tentative Model of a Living Universe

Let me know if anyone wants more…..