THE INSTITUTE FOR
WHAT IS A COSMOLOGY?
A cosmology is an epic story of meaning answering the big questions of human existence: Who are we? Where do we come from? How should we live? We call this process of cosmology construction the truth quest. Such stories develop from a community’s deepest shared experiences of life. They express its most fundamental understanding of reality; they give meaning to its way of life and shape its values and institutions. No society can endure without a functional cosmology. Today we find ourselves in the midst of converging global crises because we are between cosmologies. The old story, scientifically untenable and built on fallacies, is leading us to global ecocide and civilizational collapse. The new story is not yet in place.
THE NEW POLITICAL COSMOLOGY
Some fourteen billion years ago the entire cosmos, what would become the great spiraling galaxies with their trillions of blazing suns, burst into being from a single point, in an unimaginably violent, unfathomably immense explosion of light and energy. Since that “Great Flaring Forth” the universe has been expanding, cooling, and growing in complexity... and consciousness.
The evolution of the universe, beginning with the Big Bang, proceeding from simplicity to ever greater complexity, is the most astounding discovery of the last four hundred years of modern science. It is the foundation for our deepest understanding of reality. It is also the limiting case of credulity. If you can believe this, you can believe just about anything. Yet our best science tells us it is true; that the exquisitely ordered complexities of the earth, the delicate beauty of birds, flowers, forests, and oceans, the glories and tragedies of self-conscious humanity, all of this grows out of that single, infinitely mysterious, explosive beginning.
The philosopher-theologian-paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, recognized the discovery of evolution as the greatest advance in hominid intelligence in the last two million years. The evolutionary story connects each one of us to the dazzling diversity of life in an astounding unity. We now know that all beings emerged from the living tissues of a growing earth over immensities of time. Every cell in every organ of our bodies is bathed in fluids from the primeval oceans. Furthermore, every molecule that makes up those cells is built of atoms created in an exploding giant star, billions of years ago. We can even see our passionate moral and political struggles as recent acts in a single grand drama of an ultimately mysterious evolving universe.
This revolutionary new understanding of our place in the universe should change everything. In fact, it has changed almost nothing.
Our old cosmology rooted in the 17th century philosophy of Classical Liberalism, lives on with the momentum of centuries of habitual obedience to entrenched institutions. The tyranny of what exists has shut down the search for what could, and should be. We are trapped in a global economic machine that has a life of its own, driving relentless competition for wealth, through the conversion of the natural world into quickly trashed commodities. As a result, we have fundamentally upset the geophysics of the planet, destabilizing the global climate, inflicting lethal heatwaves, droughts, climate-fires, floods and famines. Humanity out of balance with nature is generating pandemic diseases, causing global economic chaos and unimaginable human suffering. These disasters are forcing mass migrations and intensifying political extremism and violence. We seem paralyzed by these converging crises, incapable of responding to the staggering fact that industrialized humanity is exterminating living species on a scale the planet has not seen in 65 million years. We have driven the Earth out of the Holocene, the last 10,000 years of relative climate stability which made civilization possible, and have entered the Anthropocene, a geological epoch marked by the destructive impact of humanity on the biosphere.
It has become an urgent practical and moral necessity to recover the ancient universal search for truth and meaning. We need to integrate our deepest self-understanding with our largest, fullest grasp of the evolving universe, to create a new, open-ended, life-loving political cosmology.
The search for meaning emerged perhaps around 100,000 years ago together with conscious self-reflection, language and symbolic culture. With self-reflection and culture come the mysteries of imagination, creativity, choice and freedom; and with them comes the great moral and existential question of politics and philosophy: How should we live? The evolutionary vision allows us to identify four universal practices which are indispensable in the search for the best way to live: 1) Cultivation of the whole person through personal growth—physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual—and then integration of life-experience into self-knowledge. We experience this practice as living a full and meaningful life 2) Face-to-face discussion: establishing a shared understanding of reality through trusting, honest communication with others; 3) Participating in democratic community life; contributing to, and being supported by discussion-based, relationships of caring and sharing; and finally 4) Telling the cosmic story: integrating the fullness of our lived experience—including key turning points in science and history—into an open-ended, ongoing narrative of meaning; a story of origin, identity, and purpose, ultimately a full-fledged cosmology. These four practices of the search for meaning are interdependent and synergistic. Each practice is guided by the experience of the natural world as revelatory—the closest face of the creative ground-of-being. Together these practices constitute the truth quest and the process of authentic cosmology construction.
Strangely, the rise of civilization both deformed and amplified the quest. Some 10,000 years ago climate change and the drying of North Africa scorched the collective psyche; the relatively egalitarian, democratic and peaceful bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers were forced into agriculture and a settled way of life. Around 5000 years ago urban centers appeared based on division of labor, specialization in knowledge, hierarchy and domination. Warfare and slavery became endemic to civilization. The concern with power overwhelmed truth-questing. The elements of the quest split apart, and its practice was eliminated for the majority of the population. Modern Industrial civilization has intensified the defining elements of civilization, and the truth quest has been further deformed and sidelined.
The institute is partly based on the work of University of Hawaiʻi - West Oʻahu professor Dr. Louis Herman.
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The Institute consulted on the Oscar-winning film
My Octopus Teacher.
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Dr. Louis Herman discuss aspects of the film during the making of the documentary.
THE MISSION OF THE INSTITUTE
The Mission of the Institute is to bring the search for truth into the center of our educational system and our political culture. In so doing, the Institute works to democratize and enrich the process of cosmology construction. The vision of the Institute is to accelerate this process; to help co-create a new political cosmology; and to bring human existence into attunement with an evolving Earth where all life flourishes.