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Elisabet Sahtouris, Ph.D.
For the Foundation for the Future workshop on
How Evolution Works
Seattle, November 4th and 5th, 1999
What a fascinating and bold exercise it is to stand at this historic millennial juncture looking back into our past as we attempt to look forward another thousand years -- and in that broad timeframe to address the question of "How Evolution Works" as though we few people in this workshop had answers that would hold up into the distant human future, should that itself become a reality.
Our present scientific understanding of Earth's evolution is far from complete and may be subject to change in even its essential fundamentals, as I will propose after reviewing our present "state of the art," if I may use that phrase for our current scientific understanding. Thus, it is not to be taken as dogma. Like the planet itself, our understanding of its evolution will continue to evolve. It is virtually impossible to know just how we will understand evolution in another century, let alone another millenium.
Our actual observations of material reality will probably hold up, but they will certainly be augmented in quantity, accuracy and precision. Year by year, we extend our vision with ever more powerful telescopes and microscopes, scanners, counters and dating techniques, explorations of rainforest canopies, ocean depths, deserts and deep polar ice. We continue to count more species at the same time that we see farther into the vast reaches of outer space macrocosms and deeper into the inner reaches of quantum and molecular microcosms. The more we see, the more the way in which we interpret what we see changes accordingly. In short, our current evolution story is itself evolving with breathtaking speed, and will surely continue evolving for a long time to come.
It is from the leading edge trends in evolutionary science that we can make our best predictions of how this story will evolve. Four such trends are evident at present:: 1) a systems or ecological perspective, 2) the DNA revolution, 3) the new emphasis on our microbial ancestry and 4) the new understanding of life's creativity in response to crisis.
I will discuss each of these in as much detail as this short time permits, and then turn briefly to new developments in physics and astronomy, because these sciences provide the larger contextual framework for biology. As the data and theories of physics and astronomy change, we biologists are required to revise and adjust our understanding of the biological world in order to keep our overall scientific worldview internally consistent.
The systems view
Ecological or systems thinking involves a shift away from tracing the evolution of individual species' lineages against environmental 'backdrops.' Increasingly, we see evolution systemically and ecologically -- as the simultaneous and intertwined co-evolution of all Earth species at once. This way of seeing evolution brings it into new focus, resolving environments into ecosystems -- complex webs of co-evolving, interdependent species, each of which helps shape every other, and is shaped by the others. As figure and ground merge, the old view of, for example, rabbits in habitats becomes a view of 'rhabitats.'
Even our most basic distinctions between geology and biology -- the designated domains of non-life and life, inanimate and animate -- are blurring into geobiology or biogeology. We see how Earth's changes over time determine and are determined by its 'biomass' of creature life. We amass evidence that the Earth's rocky crust (the lithosphere), soils, waters (the hydrosphere) and atmosphere are permeated, altered, produced and even chemically regulated by living creatures (the biosphere), especially microbes. It become apparent that even Earth's temperature is held constant by its life forms despite the ever-increasing heat of its Sun star.
For half of Earth's life -- its first few billion years -- bacteria pioneered all later lifestyles of larger creatures as they created a wholly new kind of atmosphere and rearranged the planet's crust, building continental shelves and sorting its thoroughly blended substances into the pure veins of copper, silver and other metals we humans mine today.
Most scientists today recognize that Earth's lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere are dynamically interdependent systems -- self-organizing and inseparably interconnected. Some scientists now follow British atmospheric scientist James Lovelock's concept of the Earth as a living planet1,2 -- a concept of nature that was informally common to most of Earth's human cultures. The concept of a live Earth still remains controversial, and how this controversy is resolved will depend largely on how scientists agree to define life -- a matter itself still unresolved. Should the definition of life as autopoiesis -- literally, self creation -- become the dominant definition, it is not difficult to show, as this author has done elsewhere, that Earth fits that definition.3,4
The Russian geologist Vladimir Vernadsky viewed life as "a disperse of rock." Vernadsky saw life as a geochemical process that transforms rock into highly active living matter.5,6 In this view life is thus a kind of planetary metabolic activity, `packaging' crustal components into cells, speeding up its chemical changes with enzymes, turning cosmic radiation into bioenergy. Life is literally rock rearranging itself with the help of energy from the core of the planet, solar energy and the energy of weather, such as the lightning produced by air and water cycles.
As rock, solid or eroded into sand and dust, transforms metabolically into ever-evolving creatures, they in turn break up more crust, consuming and moving its components around. Eventually living cells are produced and later they, and the multicelled creatures into which they evolve, are reduced back into soil and sediments, finally completing the geobiological cycle as they return to rock.
To illustrate this process with an explosively visible example, Vernadsky pointed out that a locust plague of a single day has been estimated to fill six thousand cubic kilometers of space and weigh forty-five million tons! This can be seen as forty-five million tons of soil converted
into the same amount of plant matter and then suddenly into the same amount of animal (insect) matter, which is shortly afterwards converted back into soil. Most biogeological activity goes on less dramatically, but it is interesting to consider that the same molecules and atoms may be found over time in rock, soil, plant, animal, microbe, etc.
Certainly Vernadsky's crustal metabolism view of life fits well with the great planetary cycles we have described and helps us take a more non-linear and holistic view of evolution.
G. E. Hutchinson at Yale University promoted Vernadsky's view that life is a geochemical process of the Earth, and in 1937 -- ten years after the publication of Vernadsky's book The Biosphere -- British geochemist V. M. Goldschmidt wrote about the influence of the biosphere on geology. As Canadian environmental chemist William Fyfe pointed out in 1994, the scale of this influence is only now being appreciated.7
Fyfe tells us, as did Vernadsky and Lovelock, that many ore deposits clearly show the important role of microorganisms. Many veins of ores exist because microorganisms coaxed minerals out of water. They also ingested minerals and left them behind as they died in huge numbers within colonies. Thus living beings rearrange and concentrate minerals over geologic time, as mentioned earlier. In Fyfe's words, "For many elements... there is a good chance that they have spent part of their lifetime on the planet inside a living cell."
Colonies of microbes are found down to a depth of 4.2 kilometers inside the Earth's crust. "As deep scientific drilling is developed, a host of observations show the products from the deep biosphere. Indeed, if there is a cavity of appropriate size with sufficient water life will be present... We must understand the deep biosphere if we are to correctly describe the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur dynamics of Earth."8
In seeing the billions of years of Earth's evolution as a single process we begin to comprehend its larger patterns, such as that of interwoven species co-evolving with each other, demonstrating a pattern of maturation from young acquisitive and competitive species that multiply as rapidly as possible and take over all the resources and territory they can to mature cooperative species sharing resources and contributing to each others' livelihoods in more stable ecosystems such as rainforests or prairies.
Seeing living systems as embedded within each other, as by Arthur Koestler's model of holons (individual living entities) within holarchies (nested and non-hierarchical embeddedness)6, reveals other patterns, especially patterns of embedded cooperation such as bacterial colonies living within larger organisms, which in turn may dwell in even larger organisms, while those dwell within complex ecosystems.
Perhaps the most striking case of embeddedness is our own nucleated cells, which -- like those of all other creatures larger than bacteria, from protists and polyps to pine trees and panthers -- house the modern descendants of those ancient bacteria which
came together to form the first nucleated cells, or eukaryotes, or protists, as cooperative ventures. One might say that in forming these first protists, our remote bacterial ancestors formed the first multi-creatured cells, which later went on to form multi-celled creatures. Popular science essayist and former head of Yale Medical School, Lewis Thomas, has even suggested that bacteria may thus have invented us as big taxis to get around in safely.9
The DNA revolution
The discovery of DNA structure in the 1950s has since engendered vast amounts of information about its role in individuals and in evolution, as well as the whole field of genetic engineering. Most notably, our view of DNA as a fixed 'blueprint' in each creature, altered only by accidents in the course of evolution, is changing dramatically. We are still in early stages of an exciting new view of DNA: as a complex self-organizing system in communication with other such systems, notably the cell membrane, such that DNA responds with apparent intelligence to information about events outside its cell and even outside the multicelled organism in which it resides.
Let us recall that Einstein's worldview was shaken when quantum physicists suggested that electrons intentionally leap orbits.10 Microbiologists are similarly shaken when they see apparently intentional activity in molecular DNA. Discoveries of genomic changes in response to an organism's environment are changing our story of how evolution proceeds in very significant ways. What is coming to light is that life forms, beginning with the archeobacteria from which all other organisms evolved, are capable of self-improvement through environmental challenge.
Genomic changes in response to an organism's environment have actually been known since the 1950s, but they challenged the accepted theories of the time, so it has taken half a century to amass sufficient data to warrant changing our scientific picture of evolution accordingly.
Barbara McClintock, who did much of her work on corn plants, pioneered the research showing that DNA sequences move about to new locations and that this genetic activity increases when the plants are stressed. She also found closed-loop molecular bits of self-reproducing DNA called plasmids moving about among the normal DNA and exchanged from cell to cell.11,12 Plasmids were invented by ancient bacteria and persist in multicelled creatures. They are used a great deal in genetic engineering as they can be inserted into new genomes.
McClintock's work on transposable genetic elements was verified and elaborated by many researchers until it became clear that DNA reorganizes itself and trades genes with other cells, even with other creatures.13 The trading process sometimes involves viruslike elements known as transposons. Some are retrotransposons and retroviruses that transcribe their RNA into DNA -- opposite to the usual order and not thought possible before their discovery. Some theorists now believe that bacteria may have invented viruses as well as plasmids.
1993 Nobel Laureate biologists Phillip Sharp and Richard Roberts discovered that RNA is arranged in modules that can be reshuffled by `spliceosomes,' referred to as a cell's
'editors.'14 Other researchers have shown that bacteria naturally retool themselves genetically and can correct defects created by human genetic engineers.15 (Recall that ancient bacteria had already evolved the ability to repair genes damaged by UV radiation.)
Further research shows that bacteria not only alter genomes very specifically in response to specific environmental pressures, but also transfer the mutations to other bacteria.16,17 Many of these genetic transfers appear to be evolutionarily related to `free-living' viruses, according to Temin and Engels in England.18 Retroviruses are known to infect across species and enter the host's germline DNA.
We are still in early stages of understanding the extent to which DNA is freely traded in the world of microbes to benefit both individuals and their communities. And we are just beginning to see these processes of genetic alteration at cellular levels as intelligent responses to changing environmental conditions in multicelled creatures. We know viruses and plasmids carry bits of DNA from whales to seagulls, from monkeys to cats, and so on, but it remains to be understood whether all this transfer is random or meaningful.
Most research in this area of gene transfer among species is still confined to microbes in which these matters are easier to study. As yet we know relatively little about the extent to which DNA trading occurs in creatures larger than microbes, or to what extent it facilitates specific responses to environmental conditions. For that matter, we still do not know what the vast proportion of multicellular creature DNA does at all.
Depending on the particular plant or animal species, only 1% to 5% of DNA codes for proteins. Of the remaining 95 to 99%, 20-30% is made of repeating elements called LINEs (long interspersed nuclear elements) and SINEs (short interspersed nuclear elements) which move from one location to another or even trade places neatly, without revealing exactly why they do so.19 The rest remains utter mystery. Even the much-discussed human genome project is only concerned with mapping the small protein-coding portion of DNA. So our stories are far from complete, but it seems reasonable to hazard the guess that nature would not have evolved an evolutionary strategy as sophisticated as gene trading to facilitate evolution billions of years ago only to abandon it in evolving larger creatures.
British researcher Jeffrey Pollard reports the rapid restructuring of genomes in response to stress in many different species from microbes to plants and animals, with the changes passed on to succeeding generations. This can bring about, as Pollard says, "dramatic alterations of developmental plans independent of natural selection," which itself may "play a minor role in evolutionary change, perhaps honing up the fit between the organism and its environment."20
This growing body of evidence suggests that evolution may proceed much faster under stress than was thought possible. It also reveals how the world wide web of DNA information exchange invented by Archean bacteria still functions today, not only among bacteria as always, but also within multicelled creatures and among species. As microbiologist Lynn Margulis puts it: "Evolution is no linear family tree, but change in the single multidimensional being that has grown to cover the entire surface of Earth."21,22
New emphasis on our microbial ancestry
Margulis has contributed enormously to our evolving story of the microbial world that was Earth for the first three-fourths of its entire evolution up to the present, and to the understanding that multicelled creatures -- fungi, plants and animals -- have the descendants of ancient bacteria providing the energy in each and every one of their -- and our -- cells. Despite her comment that life is a single multidimensional being, and not a linear family tree, it is her work that caused a most dramatic change in the way we picture that old 'tree of evolution' we all know from our schoolbooks. Suddenly and dramatically, a brand-new version of this familiar picture was launched into the public eye by an early 1998 article in National Geographic magazine.23 Animals, fungi and plants were no longer the main branches of the tree; rather, all three were relegated to the mere tip of a single branch on a tree composed of a myriad kinds of microbes -- creatures too small to see with the naked eye.
Before our new wave of knowledge about our single-celled ancestors -- bacteria and protists, or nucleated cells -- the bulk of evolution was as murky a prehistory as the three million years of human existence prior to what we call the Stone Age. Now, quite suddenly, we are unveiling a surprisingly cosmopolitan ancient (and modern) microworld. Discovering the urban lifestyles of bacteria with all their technologies -- from skyscrapers to compass and electric motor, from solar energy devices to polyester, and even to a world wide web of information exchange -- is an amazing journey.
Over the billions of years that the archae -- our name for ancient bacteria -- were inventing diverse lifestyles such as fermentation, photosynthesis and respiration, they were also rearranging the planet's crust, creating a new atmosphere and exchanging bits of DNA information among themselves. We can say they were the first to invent a world wide web of information exchange. The importance this astoundingly flexible gene pool cannot be underestimated. It is still as active among bacteria today as in Archean times and accounts, for example, to their rapid resistance to our antibiotics.
Information exchange gives bacteria close relationships that facilitate cooperation in communal living. We have known of their communal lives for some time, but only now are we able to investigate their amazing urban complexes in real detail. Bacteria
discovered the advantages of communal living eons ago and evolved sophisticated urban lives and cityscapes. We can see these huge urban complexes today, though with the naked eye they appear only as slimy films in the kitchen drain, thick muddy microbial mats or giant fossilized communities called stromatolites -- rocky domes of layered ancient seashore communities that trapped sand and other particles. Living slime cities persist on their surfaces.4,21,22
Stromatolites are found in many locations, some pushed under the surface into fossilized banded rock formations, again reminding us of Vernadsky's definition of life as a transform of rock that goes back again to rock. Other stromatolites are still growing themselves on the surface in shallow waters and on seashores. Other communal life experiments have less rigid forms than stromatolites. Some bacteria create communities that look and sometimes act remarkably like later multicelled plants; others adopt free-swimming lifestyles. One way or another, they all maintain community through their exchanges of resources and information.
Bacteria living on top of microbial mats or stromatolites are burned to death by ultraviolet light, but the dead cells make good filters, absorbing the burning rays while letting the rest of the light reach those that need it below. In other community situations, some individuals commit suicide so that others may live -- a process called apoptosis, also found later in evolution as the embryological process of 'programmed death' in which certain cells must die for multicelled creatures to 'sculpt' their forms.4
Bacterial cityscapes exist today wherever they can take hold -- in wetlands, in dank closets, in the stomachs of cows, in kitchen drains. Scientists call them biofilms or mucilages, as they look like slimy brown or greenish patches to the unaided human eye. Only now can we discover their inner structure and functions with the newest microscopy techniques that magnify them sufficiently without destroying them (for example, confocal scanning laser microscopy).
Looking closely for the first time at intact bacterial microcities, scientists are amazed to see them packed as tightly as our own urban centers, but with a decidedly futuristic look. Towers of spheres and cone- or mushroom-shaped skyscrapers soar 100 to 200 micrometers upward from a
base of dense sticky sugars, other big molecules and water, all collectively produced by the bacterial inhabitants. In these cities, different strains of bacteria with different enzymes help each other exploit food supplies that no one strain can break down alone.
All of them together build the city's infrastructure. The cities are laced with intricate channels connecting the buildings to circulate water, nutrients, enzymes, oxygen and recyclable wastes. Their diverse inhabitants live in different microneighborhoods and glide, motor or swim along roadways and canals. The more food is available, the denser the populations become. Researcher Bill Keevil in England, making videos of these cityscapes, says of one, "It looks like Manhattan when you fly over it." 25,26
Microbiologist Bill Costerton in Montana observes: "All of a sudden, instead of individual organisms, you have communication, cell cooperation, cell specialization, and a basic circulatory system, as in plants or animals....It's a big intellectual break."26 Researchers are coming to see colonial bacteria or even all bacteria now as multicelled creatures.27
Most astonishing to investigators, communal bacteria turn on a different set of genes than their genetically identical relatives roaming independently outside of biofilms. This gives the urban dwellers a very different biochemical makeup. A special bacterial chemical, homoserine lactone, signals incoming bacteria to turn into city dwellers. All bacteria constantly discharge low levels of this chemical. Large concentrations of it in urban environments trigger the urbanizing genetic changes, no matter what strain the bacteria are. (Note that bacteria are classified by strains and not by species because speciation is impossible in creatures that constantly exchange and revise their DNA.)
These changes include those that make bacteria most resistant to antibiotics. Costerton estimates that more than 99 percent of all bacteria live in biofilm communities, and finds that such communities, pooling their resources, can be up to 1,500 times more resistant to antibiotics than a single colony.25 Under today's siege by antibiotics, bacteria respond with ever-new genetic immunity. Our fifth generation of antibiotics failed in 1996.
In Tel-Aviv, Eshel Ben-Jacob also finds bacteria trading genes and discovers complex interactions between individuals and their communities. The genomes of individuals -- defined as their full set of structural and regulatory genes -- can and do alter their patterns in the interests of the bacterial community as a whole. He observes that bacteria signal each other chemically, calculate their own numbers in relation to food supplies, make decisions on how to behave accordingly to maximize community wellbeing and collectively change their environments to their communal benefit. 28,29
Bacterial communities thus create complex genetic and behavioral patterns specific to different environmental conditions. The genomes of individual bacteria alter their composition, arrangement and the pattern of which genes are turned on in response to changes in the environment or communal circumstances. This important information is coming from various research laboratories. Both Ben-Jacob and Costerton see individual bacteria gaining the benefits of group living by putting group interests ahead of their own. Ben-Jacob concludes that colonies form a kind of supermind genomic web of intelligent individual genomes. Such webs are capable of creative responses to the environment that bring about "cooperative self-improvement or cooperative evolution."29
Creativity in crisis
Evolution, in fact, can be seen as a story of crises and solutions, stability out of instability, ever new levels of order emerging from ever new chaos. Tracing its story we encounter fascinating events that can help us understand the crises we face today. We discover that we are not the first global polluters, nor the first species to evolve from competition over resources to cooperative sharing. From the experience of our Earth in evolution we can actually gain hope, courage and even practical solutions.3,30
Within the great process and pattern of evolution we see the holistic, cooperative, energy efficient, recycling ecosystems that nature has evolved with apparent intelligence, trial and error over billions of years: rain forests, savannas, deserts, river basins, coral reefs. In these living systems we can find inspiration and models for a new kind of human invention: the ecologically sustainable human communities we must develop to survive as a healthy species in this new millennium.
Already in ancient times, food shortages, global atmospheric pollution and destructive ultraviolet radiation were challenges that led to the invention of new DNA genes and new lifestyles. Later evolved animals and plants faced repeated massive extinctions, the survivors of each such crisis retooling, evolving into new forms and functions. It begins to look as though crises afford life unusual evolutionary opportunities to create novel solutions.
These emerging themes -- the geobiological systems view, the DNA revolution, our microbial ancestry and the creativity of life in response to crisis -- are leading us to a new story of evolution. Darwin will always be credited as the great pioneer of evolution biology, but Lamarck will also be vindicated for his ideas on the reorganization of species through the inheritance of acquired characteristics. The central theme of our changing story is that life is too intelligent to proceed by accident. We can now see clearly that the accidents we thought were the basis for evolution are rather recognized and repaired as they occur, while DNA is altered in intelligent response to the organism's needs. We see this in the urban complexes of bacteria that simulate later multi-celled creatures, we see it in the multi-creatured cells that we ourselves are made of. It remains to discover far more of how this process works in multi-celled creatures -- to build on the half-century of that evidence pioneered by Barbara McClintock.
The larger picture
If biological evolution is revealing itself to our scientific scrutiny as a holistic and intelligent learning process, what of the universe in which it is embedded?
Western science is but a few centuries old -- a very new endeavor on the scale of evolution itself, which is counted in billions of years. The concept of biological evolution and the pursuit of its nature came into this science and into the public eye only little more than a single century ago. Yet in that brief moment we came very far: from the first voyages of the Beagle to identify and catalog a handful of our planet's still countless species in a framework of the first modern theory of their emergence over time to the temporal mapping of an amazing diversity of life, most of it far too small to see with the naked eye, and to the unraveling of the DNA common to them all, the understanding that it is freely traded in a great world wide web, and the capability of shuffling genes among species ourselves, for our own human purposes.
Does this indicate that we now know how evolution works? Consider that it is now less than two years ago that we officially revised the entire tree of evolution, displacing the visible species that had made up the bulk of this tree to the tip of a single branch on a new tree made largely of microbes. Consider that the truly detailed study of these microbes and their worlds has only become technologically possible in the past decade and that our newly observable information about them is dramatically changing our views of how DNA works. And consider that the sciences of astronomy and physics, within whose frameworks biological theories exist, are in complex transitions of their own, in both observation and theory.
Is it possible to know how biological evolution works without knowing how the physical universe in which it is embedded works? If we believe, as the physicists tell us, that everything in the universe is inseparably interconnected at the most fundamental levels of reality, then I think we can agree that there must be a consistency in the realities of our biological and physical worlds.
In fact, our separation of these worlds has been no more than an artificial convenience of western science -- a division of disciplines and labor for studying various aspects and levels of our observable universe and planet. Such divisions for the sake of convention should not blind us to the search for consistency throughout the entire system we call our universe.
Unfortunately, there has been a serious disconnect, or lack of communication, between biology and physics, such that mainstream biology still works with rather Newtonian models while physics has gone on through almost a century of relativity theory, quantum theory and explorations of superstrings, multiple dimensions beyond the usual four, zero-point energy, non-locality, consciousness and other adventures in understanding reality.
Micro and macro biologists argue that it is a question of levels -- that physics deals with a quantum world the laws and nature of which are unique to its scale, while biology must look to its own unique scale. But when physicists tell us that non-locality, for example, is a basic property of the universe -- that we live in a universe that knows itself because every point in it is ever in informational touch with every other, no matter how distant -- can biology ignore this? Or must we then assume that every cell in our bodies, for example, is in informational touch with every other -- that a change in DNA within one cell is known by all others -- not through chemical or electromagnetic information exchange, but by virtue of the basic property of our entire universe? Do we now have a physical basis for the "wisdom of the body" so long ago named by the great physiologist John Cannon? Can we now explain why a human with multiple personality disorder can instantly change their physiologies from diabetic to non-diabetic, allergic to non-allergic in an instant? If an electron can choose to jump orbits, why can't a cell or an entire organism choose its actions as well?
What we are being forced into is a deep reassessment of the state of our knowledge about universal physical reality, or, more simply, "reality." Since the advent of quantum theory, some physicists have been exploring the concept that reality is the collapse of wave functions by consciousness; that without conscious observers there is no reality. Does this mean that there can be no universe without humans? -- or does it imply that the universe itself is fundamentally conscious -- a learning universe that originates in some simple awareness of itself through non-locality and then ever evolves more complex local consciousnesses within itself until it can look clearly at itself from within? This is what some physicists who center the process on ourselves call the anthropic principle.31
Western science is committed to the concept of a permanent knowable reality that is understandable through reason, just as western religions believe a similarly knowable reality to be accessible through revelation. Eastern philosophy, which is an integral spiritual science with a far longer history than western science, has seen reality very differently -- as rooted in consciousness, illusory, fluctuating or cyclic, at once impermanent and eternal, but still comprehensible, with an internal order.
One of its tenets, as quoted by Swami Muktananda, is that "Universal Consciousness creates this universe in total freedom."32 Muktananda goes on to say:
Contemporary scientists are becoming aware that the basis of the universe is energy. They are discovering what the ancient sages of India have known for millennia: that it is consciousness which forms the ground, or canvas, on which the material universe is drawn. In fact, the entire world is the play of this energy. Within its own being, by its own free will, it manifests this universe of diversities and becomes all the forms and shapes we see around us. This energy pervades every particle of the universe, from the supreme principle to the tiniest insect, and performs infinite functions. ... Just as this energy pervades the universe, it permeates the human body, filling it from head to toe....this conscious energy powers our bodies.32
The simple fact most basic to all human experience -- including that of all scientists for all of our lives -- has been swept under the rug by science until now. That fact is that all human experience takes place in our consciousness and in a single eternal present moment. Neither science nor any other human endeavor has ever discovered a way of getting outside this richly patterned moment of consciousness in which we spin out our histories, our cosmic and biological evolution.
Eastern philosophy and the rigorous science of internal exploration through meditation -- as arduous a training as any western Ph.D. program -- have long explored the consciousness western science is just discovering at the heart of the universe in poking its probes into and through the zero point energy field.
The great human endeavors of East and West have been coming together in understanding during the past half decade. Science and spirituality were separated by historical events into competitive endeavors, just as species are separated into competitive players during their immature phases. But human endeavors can mature like species themselves.
As humanity matures over the next millennium, I believe science will define spirituality from its own perspective while religions incorporate scientific stories of evolution, and that ultimately they will see themselves clearly as aspects of the same whole, the same participatory universe in which all is interconnected. This, in turn, will restore our view of nature as sacred, rather than as the object of our conquest and destruction, and promote our maturation into a cooperative and benign species of beings knowing ourselves as spirit become Earth matter without losing consciousness of our eternal selves.
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