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Mike Bell


There is no doubt that this discussion—Is the Universe a Living System?—has been quite stimulating. We are indebted to Duane Elgin for starting it. People have been hanging in and expressing their opinions for some seven months. There are those of us who strongly believe that the universe is living and there are those of us who believe just as strongly that it is not living.


Recently, it seems to me that we have been going around in circles. I was wondering if, after seven months of discussion, a common ground may have emerged.  I read back over many of the postings but couldn’t find a common ground. Both sides are sticking to their positions, saying the same thing but in different ways. (After reading all those postings I had an image of a Mobius Strip or the osborous eating its own tail.) Neither side—including myself– could move off the dime and find common ground. I wondered why.


Recently I had an “aha” experience. I was reading an article by the theologian, Ilia Delio, entitled Laudato Si and Vatican 111




Delio had significant praise for the insights of Pope Francis and his ability to move the relationship between science and religion forward in his discussion about climate change. But she also discussed a limitation of Francis’ approach. He was adopting the traditional geocentric cosmology of the medieval theologians, Bonaventure and Aquinas, that is based in large part on the insights of Aristotle. But Francis has not recognized that, since the early part of the past century, science has been moving into a new cosmological world based upon the insights of quantum mechanics.


Could we be having a similar problem in our discussion of whether the universe is a living system?


Let us imagine a discussion between two scientists—a biologist, an expert in cellular biology, and a physicist, an expert in quantum mechanics.The biologists asks the physicist, “From the point of view of your science, Is the Universe a living system?” The physicist answers, “I can’t answer your question. My discipline does not deal with material substances like yours does. It deals with elemental particles, quanta, waves, entangled energy fields, non-localities and so forth.”


Then the physicist says to the biologist, “Now let me ask you a question about your science. Since Earth is part of the universe, what can you tell me about the relationship between cellular inter-action on the one hand and, on the other hand, waves and particles, energy fields or, say, what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.


”I think the example shows the difficulty we are having in our discussion.  It is a logic problem. The question, “Is the Universe a living system”, is a non-sequitur. There is a disconnect between the premise and the conclusion. In terms of the science it’s the old apples and oranges problem.


But is there a question that is true to science and helps us find a common ground? I think there is. It might be this question: Is the Universe Conscious?  Neither the biologist nor the physicist can come up with a satisfactory, agreed upon definition of consciousness. But they can both come up with numerous examples that suggest that both the Universe and earth seem to manifest consciousness.


We might start with Thomas Berry’s observation: “Human consciousness is the Universe reflecting upon itself.”