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

Duane Elgin



I have tried to make clear in this dialogue that I do NOT view the universe as a “ biological” system. I see it as an organism that extends far beyond the descriptions of cell biology. For that reason, I asked for your specific criteria of life that extends beyond cell biology. Yet, as far as I can discern, all of the examples you provided were from cell biology, so your reply does not respond to my question.  


You then return to cell biology for defining life and say that life: 1) requires a source of energy, 2) that cells must be structurally coupled with their environment, and 3) it must demonstrate “metabolism.” First, at a foundational or cosmic scale, the big bang demonstrates a source of stupendous energy as does the fact that 73 percent of the known universe is dark energy. So vast amounts of energy are present in the formation and evolution of the universe. Second, “structural coupling” from a local to a cosmic scale has been demonstrated repeatedly with experiments in quantum mechanics that show non-locality and the unification of the universe at its foundations. Third, “metabolism” is defined as the process involving breaking down some substances and synthesizing others. At a cosmic scale, the presence of billions of black holes that utterly break down matter is mirrored at the other extreme by supernova’s that synthesize new elements (“we are made from stardust” has been repeated countless times by cosmologists). My point is that your arguments at the cellular level find their counterparts at the cosmic scale.  


You say I am cherry picking quotes from eminent scientists to make my case for a living systems perspective. I have written an entire book (“The Living Universe”), so my inquiry goes far beyond a few quotes. Also, I would again recommend the extended essay by Larry Dossey, “Consciousness: Why Materialism Fails that I recently included (as posting #4700 on September 5th). In any event, you object to the quote by Freeman Dyson who says that “electrons behave as if they had a mind of their own,” which indicates sentience or consciousness seems to be present at the atomic level. Then you say, ”it really doesn’t matter what scientists say when they speak out of their fields.” Dyson is a world-renowned theoretical physicist, known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, mathematics, and much more. Dyson is “not speaking out of his field.”  


You say that a bigger problem is that to regard the universe as alive means, “there is nothing that is not living with which to compare or contrast ‘living’, so the term ‘living’ becomes meaningless.” Plato certainly disagrees with this view when he says “the universe is a single living creature that contains all living creatures within it.” Life is nested within life which is nested within life. The aliveness within atomic structures is nested within the more complex aliveness within the molecular structures which is nested within the more complex aliveness of cellular structures and on up the evolutionary chain. The presence of life changes nothing in this sequence—except to add a source of meaning, direction, freedom, choice, and purpose—attributes that are absent in a universe that is dead at its foundations.  


Finally, you ask, “why you want the define the universe as alive?” As I have written several times in this dialogue, humanity’s future seems to pivot on this very question. If we see the universe as dead matter and empty space, then why care about it? Use it up. Consume it all. Exploit everything because it is only dead stuff that has no meaning or larger purpose. This is a shallow, narrow, and short-sighted view that has brought our planet to the edge of ruin. In stark contrast, if we view the universe as a living system, we will relate to ourselves, other humans, the rest of plant and animal life, and the universe in a very different way. A sense of sacred regard and care will replace mindless exploitation. So, I conclude by repeating the insightful quote from Larry Dossey:  


“The most urgent issue we humans face is how we conceive ourselves — whether as complex lumps of matter guided by the so-called blind, meaningless laws of nature, or as creatures who, although physical, are also imbued with something more: consciousness, mind, will, choice, purpose, direction, meaning and spirituality, that difficult-to-define quality that says we are connected with something that transcends our individual self and ego. Every decision we make is influenced by how we answer this great question: Who are we? There is growing awareness that the endless arguments between proponents of these two views are more than hairsplitting disagreements among experts, but they have real consequences for our future on earth, and perhaps whether we shall have a future.”