Most of us have a classical (Newtonian) world-view: things are what they seem; the universe is made of objects that move around in space; a clock-work universe of things and systems that are separate but interacting. The last 150 years in physics, cosmology, biology, geology, and all their related sub-sciences have revealed that this view is overly limiting, and misleading.
Science now tells that we live in a universe of relationships, flow, interconnectivity (“interbeing”), ambiguity, creativity, and cooperation. Revelations about how reality actually works help shock us out of our obsolete paradigms; Insights we glean from how it actually works can guide us to a new way of thinking that’s better aligned with reality.
The revelations are science; well-established understandings about how reality works. The insights are implications—meaningfulness—that JD extracts and extrapolates from how reality works. In other words, the insights are interpretations, not facts (though some of them are akin to natural laws).
When I began teaching, I began noticing things. Taken one at a time, each revelation is intriguing, perhaps awe-inspiring, but then forgettable in the hustle of daily life. Taken together, they are overwhelming. They force a radical re-assessment of our place in the cosmos. That is deeply meaningful to me. If you want more explanation, attend or watch one of my talks. You can also write to me.
Note: Expect this page to evolve.
Another note: Each of these summarizes a vast body of evidence. Don’t quibble. This is about changing our perspectives, not splitting hairs. If I’ve misrepresented the essence of something, please tell me.
Our meaning-making practices are central to forming our identities,
and these identities are always in the process of becoming.
—Whitney A. Bauman
Humans are meaning-makers; we can’t stop ourselves (and shouldn’t try). We think in analogies and metaphors, in science, in religion, in politics, and in daily life. We will make meanings from what we know, so we might as well include what we know about reality.
When a theologian writes or preaches about the meaning of scripture (any scripture), they are doing something called “exegesis,” a fancy word for interpretation. What if we do this with natural reality as our “scripture”?
Science does not and cannot ascribe meaning to its descriptions of nature, so when we do, we move into an in-between realm: not quite science, but a kind of exegesis, a meaning-making grounded in science. We become interpreters of reality. Besides personal satisfaction, there is another reason to do this, and it’s a crucial one for a world on the brink.
Sources matter. If your primary source of meaning comes from an ancient scriptural text, you can obtain great spiritual* satisfaction and meaning from it, but that meaning will not be shared with your neighbors who use a different scriptural source.
Every culture, every religion, every tribal sub-sect makes their own meanings, and agreement between sources is rare. There is one (and only one) source of knowledge and wisdom that we all share: natural reality. We don’t “believe in” reality; we live within it, every day, in accordance with its laws. Reality works the same for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Pagans, Atheists, Jains, Buddhists, Taoists, and any other wisdom tradition you care to name.
Reality is the one thing we (mostly) agree on (notwithstanding a handful of flat-earthers). Science is how humans from every tradition and culture describe and understand reality. It is the only truly interfaith scripture. Yes, it is fallible. Unlike other scriptural sources, science changes its mind when new evidence presents itself. That’s a good thing. Our interpretations can change and evolve, too. They should.
Like any scripture, our interpretations will vary, even given the same source. That’s OK. There’s still plenty of room for mystery and wonder in the cosmos. Our differing cultures will influence our thinking, and that diversity will enrich our conversations about what it all means. But we will be starting from a common source.
So what meanings can we discern from the way nature works? Lots of ‘em. What follows is a partial and ever-evolving list. You are free to make your own. Attend one of my talks or wait for my book if you want more on any given insight.
As you may have discerned, these insights overlap somewhat. Some aspects of reality suggest more than one insight. If we lived ourselves into all of them, the biggest change might be a deep and enduring humility, a significant decrease in arrogance and self-righteousness, with greater acceptance of and compassion for our neighbors of all kinds.