Nearly everyone would agree that all things are in some sense connected. Because our actions have consequences that affect other living things, at a minimum we are connected in that way.
But it’s possible to imagine the interconnectedness of things in a deeper and more profound way. Maybe it’s not just that we are connected in the sense of being moving particles that sometimes collide with one another. Maybe our connectedness is more purposeful.
In her recent post about moving onto their new homestead, Katie referred to the earth as a living organism. I’ve had that sense about our farm–that it isn’t two people, some trees, plants and animals that sometimes bump into each other, but rather a unified living organism. But if that’s true and real, then it obviously doesn’t stop at the border of our farm. If we’re part of unified organism, then it must be the entire biotic community. Actually , the organism must be planetary. No, universal.
Pondering this unity of all things can have a significant impact on our worldviews. I know it has on mine.
It seems to me that there are 3 ways to think of this unifying connectedness.
The first way is spiritual. Some spiritual traditions pursue this belief explicitly–the notion that there is ultimately only one unified being and that all perceptions of separation are illusions. Common to mystics of nearly all traditions is the “unitive experience”–the perception, achieved through meditative or contemplative discipline, of a oneness with all things, or as some would put it, the experience of a unity with God.
The second way is physical. Physicalists and secularists who dismiss the ultimate validity of anything transcendental or mystical nevertheless agree that all material things are connected. In fact, the interconnectedness of all things may be even more obvious at a purely material level than at a mystical level.
There is nothing in the universe today that wasn’t there 14 billion years ago when it came into existence. While human self-consciousness renders us distinct (maybe) from every other thing on this planet, at the most fundamental level we are still ultimately just like everything else in the universe–a rearrangement of the stuff spit out at the Big Bang. That’s pretty amazing.
Scientists can also easily demonstrate our kinship with the rest of the biotic community on earth. Geneticists have been able to prove that not only do we humans all have common ancestors, but we share common ancestors with every other living thing too. That’s pretty amazing too.
So science, like mysticism, reveals the unity of all things.
Lately I’ve been fascinated with a third way to think about this universal unity, a way that combines the mystic and scientific understandings of ultimate unity.
Integral philosopher Steve McIntosh describes what he calls “evolutionary spirituality.” He argues that there is a telos (purpose/meaning) behind cosmological, biological and cultural evolution. I’ve had a sense of the truth of this for several years now, but am only just now discovering that there is a body of philosophical work on it.
I take the fact that all things are connected materially, together with the fact that evolutionary history proceeds ever toward greater complexity and goodness, to be compelling evidence that our spiritual sense of oneness with all things (and with the Ultimate) is valid. I’m persuaded that the entire universe is on a journey toward some goal, and that self-conscious humans are to play an essential role in attaining that goal.
Of course I could be wrong. Maybe human self-consciousness is just an illusion, or some randomly selected evolutionary artifact, and humanity is nothing more than another arbitrary assembly of matter in a universe that has no ultimate meaning or purpose. Maybe, but I don’t think so.
There are probably plenty of other ways to look at it too. But however we slice it, the interconnectness of all things seems hard to deny.
This quote from naturalist John Muir is one of my favorites: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
So from here on White Flint Farm, a component part of our awesome common organism, best wishes for a great week to all my cousins reading this.