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Consciousness and The Living Planet

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

"We do not live òn the Earth, we are a part of how the Earth lives."

David Richo

“All historical experience demonstrates the following: Our world cannot be changed unless in the not too distant future an alteration in the consciousness of individuals is achieved.”

Hans Kung

“Technology is, in the broadest sense, mind or intelligence or purpose blending with nature.”

Paul Davies

The audio version of this blog post


As I announced in the September newsletter, A Biosphere Project now has a logo.

The new logo is captioned: 'consciousness and the living planet' .

This indicates two ideas that are important to me:

First, the observation that the convergence of ecological crises we are in the midst of is ultimately a problem of our consciousness.

Consciousness in several meanings of the word.

On the one hand, we are still insufficiently conscious of what is happening now and yet to happen and thus remain largely ‘un’-conscious’ of the seriousness of these ecological crises. This 'un-‘consciousness’ also stands in the way of an adequate response to these crises.

But we also nurture this ‘unconsciousness’ somewhat from the idea that "ignorance is bliss," or in other words, "I don't want to know." We think that this ‘unconsciousness’ will protect us and that "everything will be all right. Well, everything may still be all right, but not until we really become fully aware of what is happening.

On the other hand, the caption also reflects the idea that the crisis humans and the biosphere are in (and of which the 'climate crisis' is only one part) is largely a result of how our way of thinking about our consciousness has developed.

How we think about the nature of our consciousness and the relationship of our consciousness to the world largely determines what we do and don't do in our world, and we now actually see our consciousness as an outsider in a strange and hostile universe, an anomaly, an 'accident' in a meaningless world, an illusion in our brain. That sense of being an outsider in an indifferent and lifeless universe has created in us the idea that we must at all costs master, control, dominate and bend that outside world, that universe, to our will - an enterprise obviously doomed to failure. But science is beginning to explore a very different story about that relationship of the phenomenon of consciousness to the ‘outside world’, and I will explore that path also. It is beginning to look more and more as if consciousness is an inherent property of the whole outer world, the whole universe, and this radical scientific revolution that is coming will also enable us to see and experience our place in the whole very differently.

And secondly, the caption puts forward the idea of the ‘living planet’.

We are very used to thinking about the planet as an essentially inanimate object, with no inherent intelligence or feeling. A collection of raw materials for our economy, a backdrop for our personal dramas and ego goals, a dead lump of matter. That idea dates back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and is so widespread that we can consider it part of our ‘common sense’, the set of assumptions we no longer question. We also like to believe that this is a 'scientific' view of things, but science begins to tell a very different story even there, a story that invariably bears very close resemblance to humanity's oldest intuitions. Wherever we look and at whatever level of magnification or scale, everywhere in the latest developments in biology, genetics, evolutionary theory, but also physics and astrophysics, there appears to be an improbable degree of harmony, of synergy, of intelligence and self-organization at work on our planet, in our biosphere. A degree of self-organization that, as systems thinker Jeremy Lent aptly notes in his monumental work ‘The Web Of Meaning’, implies a great degree of purpose, although that idea is still very much taboo to the scientific community.

One of the challenges before us is to change our perspective of our home world from one of a mechanistic, inanimate lump of matter in a meaningless universe to one of an improbably complex intelligence and synergy that is itself also a form of life. And I want to explore that road further in A Biosphere Project.

For we can create a much better world than the one we are creating now, a world in which we exist in harmony with the larger organism of which we are a part - the biosphere. Our inner cynic doesn't want to believe that, but we can (consciously) choose what we believe, and we can keep our inner cynic occupied with a treat or some distraction in the meantime - after all, the future of our planet and our species should not depend on a few ancient negative habitual circuits in our personality and culture. The future belongs to us - to whom else? We must all become aware that we live on a living planet, or rather, as David Richo put it, "We do not live òn the Earth, we are a part of how the Earth lives”.

The grid at the center of this image evokes for me both associations with a mandala and a structure that is technological in nature. The branches that culminate in leaves already speak for themselves, but how so, that these blooms emerge from something that also seems mechanical or technological?

"A mandala is a a plan, map or geometric pattern that metaphysically or symbolically depicts the cosmos in Tibetan art and Tibetan Buddhism. The concept has Vedic origins but is also widely used in Tibetan Buddhism." (Wikipedia)

A geometric pattern that metaphysically or symbolically depicts the cosmos, but one that also seems to produce a natural flowering from a pattern that also seems to suggest something technological or at least of human origin?

For me, that combination is not contradictory.

I love the image of the mandala, both from an aesthetic point of view and from the feeling that images like mandalas can indeed present an image that can evoke, imply, represent something sacred in a very powerful way.

And nature is nothing other than a manifestation of a sacred energy in our dimension, and that sacredness of nature is what we need to begin to experience again, rather than seeing that nature as a mute collection of electrons and molecules, as our property, as a mere backdrop for our personal dramas or as a source of ‘ecosystem services’.

As Thomas Berry put it, "The absence of a sense of the sacred is the fundamental flaw in many of our attempts to adapt our human presence ecologically or ecologically to the natural world. It has been said, 'We will not save what we do not love.' It is also true that we will not love or save what we do not experience as sacred.... In the end, only our sense of the sacred will save us."

Many prominent thinkers, activists, spiritual leaders as well as scientists today point to the need for a ‘re-enchantment’ of nature’. And enchantment we must re-create, yes, like children. Children know that nature is magical, and we must and can come home to that knowledge. This is not even difficult, it doesn't take much more than spending time in nature - preferably alone, and without distractions.

But we don't often allow ourselves that time.

And then that pattern that also bears some resemblance to a technological structure?

To me, one of the possible meanings of the pattern seems to be the expanding potential of connectivity, connection, networks - including technological networks. Human networks will change our society from the bottom up. We can not wait for the right measures from our governments and institutions, as these are too entwined with the structures that need to change; we will have to do it ourselves. And in order to initiate and speed up the transitions that are needed, we need to connect in a way never seen before on the planet. And that human connectivity has indeed begun to take on a planetary dimension in the 21st century partly because of - yes, electronics and the Internet.

Many grassroots movements in ecology, agriculture, localization, climate activism, degrowth and so on, are spreading exponentially much faster across the planet today thanks in part to the Internet.

Technology can help save ourselves and the planet, that's for sure. But not in the sense as eco-modernists would have us believe. Not by always wanting to invent a quick ‘techno-fix’ for every problem that stems from our previous techno-fix. Not by always wanting to use technology to pursue complete control over nature.

But by engaging technology as one of the many 'tools' we have to find ourselves and our place in our world and in nature, in a truly integrated, 'wise' way. By thinking very carefully about what technology can help us and what technology we don't need. By abandoning the idea that if we càn do something, we mùst certainly do it. By not seeing technology as our way of dominating nature, in the meanwhile making incalculable mistakes because we, as arrogant apprentice wizards, have insufficient insight into the consequences of a certain technology (such as genetic engineering or nuclear energy). But rather by tailoring technology to our actual needs and our synergistic connection to the wider organism of which we are a part.

So what we need is ‘wise’ technology that can go hand in hand with the oldest wisdom we know. As farmer-technologist Dorn Cox explores in his book The Great Regeneration: linking millennia-old principles of regenerative agriculture with digital data networks and other cutting-edge technology to help decentralize and 'localize' agriculture, with technology serving to de-industrialize agriculture precisely through smart use of technology. Which is a very different vision of technology and agriculture than the somewhat immature dreams of food produced entirely in (energy-consuming) factories and labs.

Or like Michael Smith who, in 'The Green Power House’ in Montana, used A.I. technology that was actually developed for animated films and video games in his own original and rather genius fashion, to find a way to regenerate and restore farmland naturally, and reverse the loss of fertile topsoil without the use of artificial boosters like fertilizer. Using cutting-edge technology, Michael developed a way to produce ‘biochar’, a special form of charcoal known to our ancestors thousands of years ago, that has the capacity to both boost the fertility and life-sustaining capacity of our farmland ànd turbo-boosts the uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere faster than trees could, in a process that also has green electricity as a by-product. This is technology that helps us reconnect with the earth and our roots (literally and figuratively) rather than accelerate and perpetuate our dissociation from all natural processes inside and outside ourselves, but which also helps us evolve further.

That kind of ‘wise’ technological innovation coupled with respect for the Tao of nature and the oldest wisdom of man will be explored further in A Biosphere Project. Technology can indeed help us, but only if we use it in reverence and respect for what nature teaches us.

There is infinitely more to say about all this, but I am well over my aspired limit of 1500 words for a blog post, so I will leave it at that for now. Besides, I will circle back to these themes time and time again in the coming years, as A Biosphere Project grows.

One last note about the Internet: it is a double-edged sword yes, and things can go very wrong there too. There are very destructive forces at work throughout our social media, polarizing and fragmenting our society, and exponentially increasing anxiety and disorientation and depression. But that is one side of the issue: there are also a lot of forces operating for the greater good in that wonderful Internet, and you are reading this text and everything I have written so far through that Internet. Information that we need in order to turn the tide is àlso spreading much faster now, not just disinformation or polarizing propaganda.

And maybe we can also begin to see thàt side of our creativity, our technology and scientific progress, as a part of nature rather than something that must necessarily conflict with it. A part of us that we need to see integrated both in our own development as a species, in our Tao and in our reintegration into the Tao of nature.

All the best to you!


Mandala of Amitayus, Tibet, 19th century, Rubin Museum of Art .


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