by Peter Russell
Excerpted from book
I would like you to come with me on a great adventure, an
exploration of humanity's potential as seen through the eyes of the
planet, and to share with me a vision of our evolutionary future.
The journey will take us beyond this place and time, allowing us to
stand back and behold humanity afresh, to consider new ways of
seeing ourselves in relation to the whole evolutionary process.
We shall see that something miraculous may be taking place on this
planet, on this blue pearl of ours. Humanity could be on the
threshold of an evolutionary leap, a leap that could occur in a
flash of evolutionary time, a leap such as occurs only once in a
billion years. the changes leading to this leap are taking place
right before our eyes-- or rather right behind them, within our own
Put as bluntly as this, the hypothesis might seem to be an
unbelievable fantasy. Yet I hope to show that it could be a very
real possibility that an increasing number of people are beginning
to take seriously. The seeds of my own explorations in this area
were sown some twenty years ago while in high school. I can recall
lying in bed one night, looking out at a starlit sky, and
considering the rapidly increasing human population and the many
ways in which we were consuming scarce resources and misusing the
planet. It was no great effort to extrapolate these trends into the
future and see that sooner or later impossible situations would
occur. (To take an obvious example, there would eventually come a
time when there would be more people alive than it was physically
possible to feed.) But impossible situations do not occur, I
reasoned. Therefore, before such points in time would be reached,
humanity would experience some very dramatic changes. Whatever
happened, we could not continue on this path much longer.
In retrospect, the conclusion is hardly profound, but for me it was
an important turning point. It became very clear that during my
lifetime I would probably witness the end of a set of trends that
had been going on for thousands of years.
How would the changes come? At the time my attention was occupied
with various "negative" scenarios such as nuclear holocaust,
ecological collapse or worldwide famine. These all seemed quite
possible ways in which humanity's growing size and consumption could
be curtailed, halted, or even reversed. But gradually over the years
another, far more optimistic scenario began to dawn within my mind.
Rather than humanity suffering major setbacks, the dramatic change
could be a growing-up and maturing of our species.
By this time I was at
Cambridge University studying theoretical
physics. Fascinated as I was by science, however, I was even more
fascinated by the workings of the mind. Western philosophy and
psychology seemed to offer a few insights, but I had felt for a long
time that there was a vast amount of wisdom locked up in the East,
in particular in various teachings on meditation. So I ended up
spending a winter in the Himalayan foothills, studying with
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and experiencing dimensions of my
consciousness of which I had never dreamed. As a result I knew
beyond any doubt that if everyone could contact such states of
consciousness, the world could be transformed. Humanity could change
its direction constructively, rather than be changed destructively.
So I returned to England and spent much of the next few years
teaching meditation, encouraging others to discover for themselves a
different way of being.
My vision of a transformed world continued to evolve, though for a
while I felt very much on my own. Then one day a friend introduced
me to the works of Teihard de Chardin. Here was a philosopher who
had considered similar ideas about humanity's future, considered
them far more deeply, and had not been universally dismissed. I felt
both inspired and strengthened.
From then on support started coming from many different directions:
from developments in a number of sciences, from the writings of
philosophers and visionaries both Eastern and Western, from
conversations with others, and from my own experiences and insights.
Piece by piece the jigsaw was coming together, and an overall
picture began to emerge. More and more it appeared that we alive
today might be standing on the threshold of an evolutionary
development as significant as the emergence of life on Earth some
3,500 million years ago.
The nature of this possible transformation and the ways in which it
could come about are what I want to explore with you....
Our inquiry will draw upon the insights and experiences of many
individuals, from mystics and religious teachers to scientists and
astronauts, as well as on recent developments in many different
disciplines. Biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, psychology,
physiology, medicine, sociology, and systems theory will all shed
their relevant lights.
At times we will be looking at the similarities between aspects of
society today and various phenomena in these sciences. In most cases
these are not just analogies introduced to make a point clear; they
illustrate a deeper, underlying pattern, what is technically called
a homology. (The layout of bones in the forearm of a dog, elephant,
seal, and bat, for example, are in each case similar to the layout
in the human forearm. This is a homology revealing a more
fundamental common pattern.) When we start finding consistent,
underlying patterns running through the whole of evolution, they can
give us a very strong reason for believing that society today may
follow homologous developments.
The vision I shall be sharing is certainly a highly optimistic one --
some might even say Utopian -- and I make no apologies for this. As
will become clear later, the image a society has of itself can play
a crucial role in the shaping of its future. If we fill our minds
with images of gloom and destruction, then that is likely to be the
way we are headed. Conversely, more optimistic attitudes can
actually help promote a better world. A positive vision is like the
light at the end of a tunnel, which, even though dimly glimpsed,
encourages us to step on in that direction.
The Living Earth
The view of
Earth from space brought with it yet another
insight: the possibility that the planet as a whole could be a
living being. We Earthlings might be likened to fleas who spend
their whole lives on an elephant, unaware of what it really is. They
chart its terrain--skin, hairs, and bumps-study its chemistry, plot
its temperature changes, and classify the other animals that share
its world, arriving at a reasonable perception of where they live.
Then one day a few of the fleas take a huge leap and look at the
elephant from a distance of a hundred feet. Suddenly it dawns: "The
whole thing is alive!" This is the truly awesome realization brought
about by the trip to the moon. The whole planet appears to be
alive--not just teeming with life but an organism in its own right.
If the idea of the Earth as a living being is initially difficult to
accept, it may be due partly to our assumptions about what sort of
things can and cannot be organisms. We accept a vast range of
systems as living organisms, from bacteria to blue whales, but when
it comes to the whole planet we might find this concept a bit
difficult to grasp. Yet until the development of the microscope less
than four hundred years ago, few people realized that there are
living organisms within us and around us, so small that they cannot
be seen with the naked eye. Today we are viewing life from the other
direction, through the "macroscope" of the Earth view, and we are
beginning to surmise that something as vast as our planet could also
be a living organism.
This hypothesis is all the more difficult to accept because the
living Earth is not an organism we can observe ordinarily outside
ourselves; it is an organism of which we are an intimate part. Only
when we step into space can we begin to see it as a separate being.
Stuck like fleas on an elephant, we have not, until recently, had
the chance to see the planet as a whole. Would a cell in our own
bodies, seeing only its neighboring cells for a short period, ever
guess that the whole body is a living being in its own right?
To better understand the planet as a living system, we need to go
beyond the time scales of human life to the planet's own time scale,
vastly greater than our own. Looked at in this way, the rhythm of
day and night might be the pulse of the planet, one full cycle of
every hundred thousand human heartbeats. Speeding up time
appropriately, we would see the atmosphere and ocean currents
swirling round the planet, circulating nutrients and carrying away
waste products, much as the blood circulates nutrients and carries
away waste in our own bodies.
Speeding it up a hundred million more times, we would see the vast
continents sliding around, bumping into each other, pushing up great
mountain chains where they collided. Fine, thread like rivers would
swing first one way then another, developing huge, meandering loops
as they accommodated themselves to the changes in the land. Giant
forests and grasslands would move across the continents, sometimes
thrusting limbs into new fertile lands and at other times
withdrawing as climate and soil changed.
If we could look inside, we would see an enormous churning current
of liquid rock flowing back and forth between the center of the
planet and the thin crust, sometimes oozing through volcanic pores
to supply the minerals essential for life. Had we senses able to
detect charged particles, we would see the planet bathing not only
in the light and heat of the sun but also in a solar wind of ions
streaming from the sun. This wind, flowing round the Earth, would be
shaped by her magnetic field into a huge, pulsating aura streaming
off into space behind her for millions of miles. Changes in the
Earth's fluctuating magnetic state would be visible as ripples and
colors in this vast comet like aura, and the Earth herself would be
but a small blue-green sphere at the head of this vast energy field.
Thus if we look at the planet in terms of its own time scales, we
seem to see a level of complex activity similar to that found in a
living system. Such similarities, however, do not constitute any
form of proof. The question we have to ask is whether scientists
could accept the planet as a single organism in the same way they
accept bacteria and whales? Could the Earth actually "be" a living
This no longer seems so farfetched. On the contrary, an increasingly
popular scientific hypothesis suggests that the most satisfactory
way of understanding the planet's chemistry, ecology, and biology is
to view the planet as a single living system. The Gaia Hypothesis.