Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme who developed the new story of the universe talk about three core values which seem to be embedded in evolution. It’s a really interesting and different take on evolution. The story we have heard most over the last hundred years or so is one of a random, harsh, competitive universe full of “stuff” or materials which somehow have stuck together to make ever more complex objects which can each be studied and understood in isolation from each other.
That story never resonated with me and it can be argued it has more to do with the dominant politico-economic model of capitalism and “the market” than it has with science.
The three values Berry and Swimme articulate are differentiation, subjectivity and communion. Their claim is that take away any one of these three and the whole universe as we know it collapses. Brian Swimme also claims that we can use these three values to check if our actions are in harmony with the evolutionary direction and activity of the universe. In other words they can be considered as fundamental values which help us to assess and judge our behaviour and that of others (including politicians and economists).
Differentiation. The universe started differentiating from its earliest moments. We don’t look around and see a homogenous mush – we see clusters, or “objects”. But the universe doesn’t just produce what Swimme calls “articulated constellations of energy”. It produces UNIQUE articulated constellations of energy. No two galaxies, no two stars, no two creatures are identical. Producing uniqueness turns out to be a key universal value.
Subjectivity. Everything has an inside. Even the simplest atoms are self-organising, self-maintaining phenomena. The particles within the atom are held together and organised by the atom itself. This self-organisation reaches its most complex in human beings. We are all “autopoietic” – we are “self-making” creatures. We self-defend, self-organise and self-maintain. Yet this interior “self” remains unknowable. We can’t see it, can’t define it, can’t pin it down. This interiority is what enables us to see every object as a subject.
Communion. Thomas Berry used the word “communion” to describe the relationships which exist everywhere. Nothing exists in isolation. Everything is connected to other things. We all live in a vast web of relationships.
This all leads to Berry and Swimme describing the universe as an “communion of subjects”, or as a “communion of differentiated subjects”.
Try this idea out for yourself. What does the world look like through this lens? What sense do you make of life which part of a “communion of subjects”?
When considering any political policy, any scientific description, any choices you might make, what happens when you set them in the context of the three values of “differentiation, subjectivity and communion”?
For me, I experience a shift from fear to curiosity, from senselessness to meaningfulness, from isolation to belonging…..how about you?