Ilia Delio and Gabi Sloan interview Cosmologist, Dr. Brian Swimme on Cosmology and Evolution.
A discussion of cosmogenesis: the story of an unfolding universe, one that inspires awe, wonder, and mystery. Along with Teilhard’s vision of the noosphere and consider technology’s role in human evolution, the development of consciousness, and planetary life.
About Dr. Brian Swimme:
Brian Thomas Swimme is the Director of the Center for the Story of the Universe and a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He received his Ph.D. from the Department of Mathematics at the University of Oregon in 1978 for work in gravitational dynamics. He brings the context of story to our understanding of the 13.7 billion year trajectory of the universe. Such a story, he feels, will assist in the emergence of a flourishing Earth community. Swimme is the author of many books, including Cosmogenesis, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, and The Universe is a Green Dragon.
“We belong to a dynamic unfolding universe that inspires wonder, awe, and creativity.” Brian SwimmeSupport the show
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Robert: 0:02 Welcome to “Hunger for Wholeness”, a podcast from the Center for Christogenesis. I’m your host, Robert Nicastro. Today, Ilia and Gabi continue their conversation with cosmologist, Brian Swimme. In this second part, they deepen their discussion on how the mystery of the universe gives us perspective on ourselves.
Ilia: 0:28 Following in sense what you’re saying, because is there a universe outside our awareness of a universe? There’s nothing out there. That’s not first, in a sense, in the human mind or human consciousness.
Brian: 0:44 Yeah.
Ilia: 0:45 Can we really separate those things — this thing called the universe and by the way, there’s this human person who can see the universe? I don’t see I can separate them.
Brian: 0:54 No. I agree.
Ilia: 0:56 So, we literally are, you are, in a sense, the stars.
Brian: 1:00 Absolutely.
Ilia: 1:01 Or dust. Now looking at the stars, you are the star seeing yourself. Thinking of yourself, we are the universe looking at ourselves and knowing what we are. I mean, it’s so mind boggling when you think about it.
Brian: 1:15 It’s mind boggling. The nice thing about it is that it’s mind boggling. Because we need to get beyond this industrial modern consciousness.
Ilia: 1:24 Yeah. Exactly. And it just makes me laugh, sometimes, the way we approach even human problems. Like, we’re problem solvers. And then like, “Seriously dude, you need to pull back a little and look at the stars, you know.” I mean, I think it was John Templeton who talks about the humble stance, that stance of humility. And I always think of the psalmist when I look at the heavens and the stars, which have made, like, “Who are we? What are we?” Not presuming to know what we are but just to ask that question and over and over?
Brian: 2:04 Yeah.
Ilia: 2:05 Yeah. But I’m pretty blown away by the fact that I am the universe.
Brian: 2:11 So am I.
Ilia: 2:13 So is Gabi. Like, we are the! So, how many universes are there? There’s 10 billion universes in one. So, what is it that allows us to speak about common universe? You know, even that’s pretty mind boggling. We know it as one, not as 10 billion different versions of the universe.
Brian: 2:39 Yeah, it’d be another amazing fact of our existence that... I mean, there’s some by two trillion galaxies that we know of. And every scientist that studies this knows that each one of them is different. We have general categories for them, but what an amazing place to find ourselves there. For every being is unique, I mean, imagine this.
Ilia: 3:03 Unique. I mean, DNA just doesn’t... I mean, it’s fantastic. But is that the whole thing? I mean, I don’t know if it really spell binding. But I want to talk a little bit about... Because you’ve worked very closely with Tom Berry or Thomas Berry for many years. And he was a tremendous... I mean, I think he was a prophet. He had great intuition. A lot of his writings gave us a lot of road signs and signals and signposts where we need to be heading and how we need to orient our lives. And it’s kind of unfortunate... I know Mary Evelyn and John Grimm have done amazing work. And you’ve worked closely with them in Yale. But we seem to treat... Not Mary Evelyn. Not you guys. But a lot of other people. It just becomes like another historian. We’ve another interesting guy to study. But there’s something about us that really have yet to take that next step, berry’s insights and works along with Teilhard. They really make the leap in shifting everything about us. Everything! What are your thoughts on that?
Gabi: 4:15 A singer, I like once said, “You are a thing the whole universe is doing.” And that like really stuck with me.
Brian: 4:22 That’s great.
Ilia: 4:25 The whole universe... I love that. Gabi, who was that?
Brian: 4:29 The singer?
Gabi: 4:29 Yeah. Enzo, he essentially like puts his opinions on philosophy. And then says them and then adds a little beat into the background to make it worth listening to.
Ilia: 4:41 You are a thing the whole universe is doing.
Brian: 4:43 I love that.
Gabi: 5:11 If you’re a thing the whole universe is doing, then in a similar way, the universe is something you’re doing. And the universe is something that all of us are creating through our actions. And we really don’t see that, especially when people think that they’re not making a difference. Like, you’re literally the stars, you are everything, in a sense. And that I feel like that’s incredible.
Ilia: 5:40 That’s amazing. So, you can say to someone: “You are a star.” And not just mean that in some kind of Hollywood way, but literally, you are the light that shining in this. And what I love about that, just Gabi to follow up, is that every person has that later bears that light in a unique way in a slightly distinct way, like the light of your face and being is distinct from Brian’s or mine. And yet, together in this conversation, it creates this incredible enlightened view of the cosmos and our being and being one with it. And not just in it, right? We’re not just in the cosmos. Are we in the cosmos or are we with the cosmos?
Brian: 6:31 We are things that cosmos is doing.
Ilia: 6:33 There we are.
Brian: 6:35 That’s a great. It’s like the podcast is over. We’re not gonna get going with that. It’s a [Unclear 06:40].
Ilia: 6:48 Here’s a serious question for you that are here. What do you think is the most pressing question we’re facing today as a human species or as a human community? The most pressing issue that we’re facing.
Brian: 7:01 Well, I think it’s on how do we unify. Humanity is searching to unify. Or your language will be more, how do we learn to love one another. We have this fragmentation. And we’re in the process... Out of these antagonisms, our bond, our communion is going to be so much deeper. Because this is a process that is enabling us to understand in a very deep way that humanity is destined to become a unified, all the fragments, and that’s again, Teilhard’s point of view.
Ilia: 7:42 Right.
Brian: 7:42 All the fragments are going to be gathered together through love.
Ilia: 7:46 Yeah, Teilhard definitely saw that there is this sort of an unyielding pressure or presence within this flow of life. You know, this unfolding flow of life and that it’s converging. He used the word convergence a lot. We’re not only coming together but we’re complexifying. We’re forming new relationships as we come together. And so he had this idea that we converge, we complexify, and consciousness deepens. It changes. And these three kinds of interlocking movements have been going on, he says, since sort of the beginning everything. And I do think, again, it’s speeding up a little bit with technology. But do you think, and maybe I can ask you, both you, Brian and Gabi. Do you really think this unifying process will lead us to a more just and sustainable planet? Can we really come to a place of shared being or shared humanity or shared life where we have a more equitable distribution of resources?
Brian: 8:52 This is basically a faith statement. And I do trust that the process as well will carry us forward to that a deeper communion. Well, here’s one example from our history that gives me a sense of support in my own faith around this question i.e. homosapiens emerged something like 200,000 years ago, maybe 300,000 years ago, and they lived in groups of a dozen or a couple dozen small groups for 99% of our existence, and they would see each other and move apart. And this again, is one of Teilhard’s points. It’s that because you’re on a round planet, you’re gonna eventually have to deal with one another. So then, we found a way because of this unique nature of human consciousness. Without going into that, we found a way to move from these hunter gatherer groups to villages, where several thousand people get along harmoniously. Now, I was amazed years ago when I was listening to a primatologist talk about chimpanzees and humans, and he said, “Say, you’re at an NFL football game. Now, there’s 40,000 people cheering. If you replaced those 40,000 people with 40,000 chimpanzees, there would be a massive slaughter.” They’re simply unable to be in... This has been witnessed too. They’re unable to be in that kind of gathering. And once again it’s because humans have developed ways of relating to one another harmoniously. Now, a billion people can get together. And so I think we’re in this process of moving. We’ve gone from hunter gatherers to villages, to classical civilizations, to modern cities. And right now, we’re sort of shuttering with this move to a planetary community beyond the nation state. And it’s already happened. Gabi knows this. Music holds together billions of people from so many different cultures. And so...
Ilia: 11:08 It’s really interesting. Gabi, what are your thoughts here on moving toward a shared planetary life?
Gabi: 11:15 I mean, I think that I would not describe myself as an optimist by choice, but an optimist by circumstance, because I don’t think there’s a way to survive while believing that everything’s just gonna go poorly. So I think that we’ve got to move towards planetary unity. I think that we also have to move towards cosmologically unity. We have to become one with the universe. We can’t just know and love each other. We have to love everything to truly have any kind of real unity.
Brian: 11:50 Nice, very nice.
Ilia: 11:52 That’s great. I love that. Yeah. I think it was Henri Bergson, the French philosopher, who said: “We don’t change easily.” In fact, Bergson thought there’s a resistance to change in human evolution. And there is something of that. Even though we are moving... And I think, Brian, you’re absolutely right. We are converging. Sometimes, it’s against our will. And that’s where we get to see, I think, the frictions in human community and some of the oppositions that we read about in the news and stuff like this, but there is definitely a shift in the human community towards greater convergence, whether it’s across ethnicities or race or gender. We’re beginning to see more and more. The pluralism is becoming optimistism. You know that it’s fine. You know that who you are, is really what counts as being part of the whole that is in movement, and not so much what you’re in your race or creed or anything like that. So I find that really interesting. And I would say that, some people get really bogged down by the news, because it all looks so bad. Sometimes, towers are falling apart, and we’re gonna blow ourselves up and lose the war and the earth is... And it is. I mean, we do have global warming. Because I think part of our resistance to change is that we have not been as attentive to the earth. And we have kind of liked our little tribalization. We’ve liked our little local communities. And we really don’t want to be with people who are not like us. But then when we’re with them, say at a football game or something, it’s like, “Oh Wow!” And everyone’s... Just when you thought I have nothing in common with them, and then you go to like a Packers game or something, you’re like, “We are [Unclear 13:45].” We’re a funny species, quite honestly. I mean, there must be defined humor written right into this whole process of evolution. Don’t you think that? I think there’s got to be some kind of divine loving deity who is like “haha!”
Robert: 14:09 Cosmology helps to develop the framework for unified planetary life. You are a thing the whole universe is doing. Next, Ilia, Gabi and Brian reflect on how to remain hopeful, hopeful for unity despite the challenges of contemporary life.
Ilia: 14:38 Gabi, what is your hope for? As a 13 year old budding star of the universe, what do you hope for?
Gabi: 14:46 I mean, I hope for a lot of things. I hope I do well on my tests. I hope I... But for everyone, I hope that we can achieve greater unity and I hope that we can really begin to understand ourselves and each other. And like the way we’re creating ourselves and the universe, we have to be mindful of just deeper understanding of everything.
Ilia: 15:11 Okay. Are you concerned about the crisis of global warming or migration or gaps between rich and poor? Do you feel if we converge, then some of these problems will be, perhaps, reconciled?
Gabi: 15:28 I think that if we could truly converge, that all of these problems would be solved. I think that people would realize that people are people. And now we would understand what we need to do, and I don’t know when that’s gonna happen, but I think that that is what needs to happen. We need to understand that we are people, we are the universe, we are the earth, and we have to take care of all of that. You wouldn’t go smothering and destroying yourself if you loved yourself. And you shouldn’t do that to the universe or the earth because you should love them too, I think.
Ilia: 16:08 Brian, your greatest hope? [Unclear 16:14] that the universe and life.
Brian: 16:14 That was just beautiful. To people to recognize other people and other beings in the universe. That’s beautiful! Yeah, that’d be my hope, too. So, it’d be the hope of an awakening, right? [Unclear 16:29] Wells, who said: “We’re in the race between catastrophe and education.” I love that! If we can learn widely what we already know, I just think it would be a very different planet. So, that’s why I’ve committed myself to education.
Ilia: 16:50 You know, and I think the words that I would highlight or learn, learning is a contemplative process. It’s a deep gazing. It’s a deep taking in and reflecting on ideas and knowledge and what we understand. It’s so different from, say, Google Chat or chat GPT, or I Google or Wikipedia, and I get information and I can just bite size information into something. I guess, it’s a wakeup call too for those of us in education to nurture the love of learning, the love of really taking in and understanding the art. I think it was Bernard Lonergan, the great Jesuit theologian who spoke of knowledge as insight forming. Like, it’s the creative process of being human, because we form insights, new horizons of meaning. And those horizons pull us onward. We move on from them. And it’s a beautiful process to draw out, educar it, to draw out from us these potent ideas, these new understandings. And then we see in a new way. This was interesting to see in a new way. You see the whole in a new way. You see yourself, this universe, in a new way. And that then that seeing, then it’s a new love. It’s a new energy of love. It’s like awakening saying, “Wow!” And that’s where passion and awe really kick in.
Ilia: 18:51 So, we have hope because Gabi is going to lead us. She will help others as well, but we have hope because we live in a world that’s really immensely beautiful. It’s shot through with beauty. And that beauty, for me, is divine love. It’s the love of what we name as God. And it’s an inexhaustible love, an inexhaustible beauty. And maybe our task is to be always open to discover that beauty and never to give up. We get old sometimes then we want to give up. Brian, you last word. What is your last word to our listeners?
Brian: 19:35 I would say that I’m going back to what you said earlier about, we live in a sea of pessimism. And I would even say nihilism, so that the news and so much of the media coming out of Hollywood and elsewhere, it doesn’t imply with us. Even that I think it can be seen as a quality of humanity that’s important. So, when newscasters or filmmakers write about disasters to our ecology, they’re aware that something is wrong and needs to be changed. So to see that all of these negative reports are coming from an awareness that we have to change. But some really great news has been crowded out of the media. For instance, there has been a steady rise in the education of women over the last 5,000 years from zero to there’s never been as many women educated in the history of humanity as in the 21st century. And then just, maybe, one last word on that, besides the fact that is absolutely necessary, think of what that mean. We are a dimorphic species. So, this has to be nuanced. But the wisdom of humanity comes in this as masculine and feminine polarities. Well, we can’t just take half of that and leave it to the sidelines. Now, that other half is being educated, it’s another example of how we’re going to be giving birth to a very different human species.
Ilia: 21:27 I’m glad you said that because I’ve known that all along that women will be the shape of the future, but Teilhard spoke of the rise of the eternal feminine — the principle of this feminine being a principle of deep relationality. But I do think women bring a distinct quality and vision and knowing to the whole knowing process. That is enriching. And yeah, if I think that’s really worthy to consider. So good. So this is our hope that women are the future. I’m really teasing.
Brian: 22:00 Specially, Gabi.
Ilia: 22:02 Gabi is definitely of the future.
Brian: 22:04 We’re going to leave too much expectation on you, Gabi.
Ilia: 22:06 I know I do it all the time. He’s a futurist, anyway. She just looks 13. She’s really like 63 years old. I know my eyesight is. Well, listen, thank you so much. It’s been great to talk with you. You’ve done tremendous work, Brian. So, we’re immensely grateful for this fellowship, for the work you’ve done over the years and which you continue to do, and your contributions really to the forward movement of this human community, human life. And so many people have read your books. The journey of the universe video, which has really become immensely popular and informative for thousands of people. So, thank you for your great work.
Brian: 22:52 Thank you. And thank you for inviting me here at Christogenesis. Wow, what a fantastic center! I want to be considered an early member.
Ilia: 23:02 Oh that’s lovely, thank you.
Brian: 23:04 Absolutely, it feel at home.
Ilia: 23:05 We’re happy to have you. Count you among us.
Brian: 23:08 Thank you. Thank you.
Robert: 23:14 This concludes our conversation with Brian Swimme. Be sure to listen to our next episode with neuroscientists, [unclear 23:22], on the topic of consciousness as the essence of the universe. A special thanks to our partners at the Fetzer Institute. If you’d like to dig deeper into today’s conversation, please support “Hunger for Wholeness” on Patreon for access to additional study materials, as well as content produced by our team at the Center for Christogenesis. I’m Robert Nicastro. Thanks for listening.