Revelations & Insights

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).

Revelations

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.

The Revelations

  • Nothing touches anything.
  • Gravity connects everything.
  • Every movement changes the entire universe.
  • Cosmology, geology, paleontology, and human history now describe a single unified narrative, a Great Story 13.8 billion years long. You are in its pages. It’s not finished.
  • All living things are distant cousins.
  • Solid things aren’t.
  • Matter is made of condensed light.
  • Time had a beginning.
  • The Cosmos evolves.
  • You can see the past. You can only see the past.
  • Starlight we see is ancient.
  • Stars have generations.
  • Stars are ancestors.
  • Mommies don’t make babies.
  • “The Heavens” is below us, too.
  • Atoms are (nearly) immortal.
  • Emergence is like 1+1=3; “something more” from “nothing but.”
  • Photosynthesis reverses combustion and vice-versa. Respiration is constrained combustion.
  • Everywhere you go is the center of the universe. The universe has no center.  (both are true)
  • You are an entire ecosystem of living things.
  • Death is necessary for life (to exist and to evolve).
  • Cooperation underpins evolution as much as (or more than) competition.
  • Forests are neighborhoods.
  • Molecules are really small. On Earth, water and air molecules diffuse rapidly.
  • Complementarity: mutually-exclusive models can both be simultaneously real.
  • There is no ultimate reference frame; everything truly is relative. (for example, right now you’re moving at ~500,000 mph around the galactic core. You have no “actual” speed. (both are true))
  • Evolution isn’t finished.
  • You are in Earth’s cycles (water cycle, carbon cycle, etc).
  • Giant sequoias are made of air and water.
  • Human bodies are constrained patterns of matter waves.
  • You can’t make a scale drawing of the solar system.
  • Some simple quantities of real things are beyond comprehension.
  • You have more than five senses.
  • You can move the earth.
  • Much of our experience of the world is illusory.

Our meaning-making practices are central to forming our identities,

and these identities are always in the process of becoming.

—Whitney A. Bauman

Insights

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.

 

 

The Insights

 

  • Interconnectedness is fundamental, at all scales. There are no isolated systems. Think: kinship, oneness, interbeing, wholism, singularity, unity. There is no rugged independence. Natural economies are circular, interpenetrating, vibrant, and non-optional.

 

  • Humility. In the context of 47 billion light-years and 13.8 billion years of cosmic unfolding, Earth is nearly nothing. A speck. Maybe we should act like it. Human intellectual humility is suggested by many different natural processes, as well as the vast oceans of what is yet unknown.

 

  • Significance. In all that vastness, Earth is the only planet known to have sentient life. Precious.  Maybe we should act like it. If life is precious, we are the stewards of the most precious jewel in the cosmos, and we are the only known way for the cosmos to know and celebrate itself. Do we treat one another accordingly? How about our non-human neighbors?

 

  • Grace. No living creature is denied access to Earth’s bounty because of past behavior. Earth is “loved” by a star that faithfully provides a daily ration of life-giving energy to all. Shame (belief in one’s inherent wrongness) is optional. 

 

  • Emergence. Under exacting constraints, whole systems can exhibit qualities that cannot exist among their parts. Wholes can be greater than the sum of their parts. In a Newtonian world-view (the world seen as a machine), emergence is nothing short of miraculous.

 

  • Evolution stands alone and also offers several sub-insights. Life on Earth is not static but evolves, in a process that is inherently creative. All living things are distant cousins of one another (kinship). And it’s not over.

 

    • In a competitive context, cooperation is a winning strategy, and has been essential to evolution’s creativity, especially in increasing the complexity of living systems.

 

    • Human nature evolved. Gratitude is an appropriate response to even our worst instincts; we wouldn’t be here without them.
  •  
    • Death is essential to the evolutionary process. Life and death are inextricably intertwined; we can’t have one without the other. Death is a gift from the past that we will each pay forward.

 

    • Diversity is an essential ingredient to adaptability and therefore survival. Monocultures of all kinds are fragile in changing environments.

 

  • Complementarity. The objects we interact with on a daily basis, including our bodies, are composed of subatomic entities that exist in two mutually-exclusive modes simultaneously. Somehow, we are made of things that are both-and, when logic dictates they must be either-or. Would we benefit from less binary either-or thinking and more both-and?

 

  • Quantum processes and relations are probabilistic, so some measure of ambiguity is built-in to every process in the universe. Certainty is antithetical to science, too; all knowledge is conditional, subject to new evidence. We are often most insistent in our self-righteousness at times when embracing relevant ambiguities would serve us better (and be more accurate). See Humility, above.

 

  • Ultimate cause, and answers to other questions of ultimacy are forever beyond reach. Causation has no meaning before time began. Mystery is baked-in to existence. See Ambiguity, above. We don’t have to have all the answers.

 

  • Relativity. Everything in the cosmos is in motion. There is no absolute reference frame, so all measurements are relative. There are no still points, no anchors, no metaphorical rocks to cling to, nothing static or fixed, not even space and time. There is only process, unfolding, transformation, becoming.

 

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.