The White Hole in Time
Have you ever gazed up at the stars on a clear night and wondered: What it's all about? Whats going on out there in the vastness of space? And what are we doing here on Earth? Is life a very rare, if not unique, occurrence? Or are we human beings utterly insignificant?
Our sun is but one of billions of stars in our galaxy. And there are billions of other galaxies spread across the Universe. In terms of space we really are a mere speck in inifinity.
Similarly with time. The Universe has been around a billion times longer than you or I. We are, according to Indian Philosophy, "but a blink in the eye of God".
From such perspectives we do indeed seem insignificant.
Yet in other ways we, and the times were passing through, are far from insignificant. Never before, as far as we know, has a species arisen on this Earth that can change the world as we have done. Never before has so much been possible. And never before has so much been at stake.
Not only are these times of great change, the pace of change itself is speeding up. Calculations that would have taken decades are now made in minutes. Communications that used to take months can happen in seconds.
But this acceleration is not just a twentieth century phenomenon; its a pattern that runs throughout the history of life on Earth.
Imagine the billions of years of biological evolution condensed into just a single year.
During the first nine months only simple cells evolve.
In October more complex cells appear.
The first multicellular organisms develop a few weeks later.
Late-November fish crawl onto the land.
December 10th dinosaurs appear, and ruled till Christmas day.
In the final week of that year mammals evolve.
But not until the middle of the last day does man walk.
It has taken 99.9% of life's evolutionary journey to reach this point, but humanity is only just beginning.
Five minutes before midnight, language emerges.
Twenty seconds before midnight, the first civilisations.
And now with seconds to go things really start to speed up.
The Renaissance occurrs two seconds ago.
And the whole of modern history happens in a flash.
Wherever were going, were going there fast.
But where are we going? What does the future hold in store?
Usually when we look to the future we do so in terms of physical development in terms of scientific and technological breakthroughs, or environmental changes. Or, if were looking a very long way ahead, in terms of our biological evolution.
But we can also look at the future in terms of inner development the evolution of our thinking, attitudes and values. And these internal changes could turn out to be far more significant than any external developments.
To see just how and why, let us go back and consider evolution, not in terms of the familliar story we know, but in terms of the processing of information.
At the heart of all life on Earth is DNA. A genetic data bank so compact that if the information contained in just one molecule were typed out on paper it would fill a book of six thousand pages.
Sexual reproduction can be seen as a major breakthrough in information processing. Two cells coming together to share their genetic memories, producing offspring with a new set of codes. An advance that speeded the rate of evolution a thousand-fold.
The development of senses was another major step. Organisms taking in data from their surroundings, becoming aware of their environment.
To make sense of all this information nervous systems evolved . . . filtering . . . analysing . . . learning from experience.
And now the human brain, the most complex information processor in the known Universe.
And through this has come another major breakthrough symbolic language.
We can exchange information with each other, and so learn not only from our own experience, but also from the experiences of others.
Limited to speech alone ideas could not travel far. But this soon changed as we began making our own breakthroughs in information processing.
Writing allowed us to record our experiences, and hand them down to others.
Paper enabled us to share ideas with people in distant lands.
Printing made it possible to mass produce the written word.
The telephone allowed us to speak to someone far away
Radio enabled one person to broadcast speech to many others.
Television gave us the ability to see at a distance.
And now computers and satellites have taken us another step forward joining humanity together in a network of global communication.
The interlinking of humanity that began with the emergence of language has now progressed to the point where information can be transmitted to anyone, anywhere, at the speed of light.
Billions of messages continually shuttling back and forth, in a ever growing web of communication. Linking the billions of minds of humanity together, into a single global brain.
Communication was not the only gift that language brought us. It also gave us the ability to think about our experience
Not only did we see the stars; we gave them names. We saw patterns in their movement, and began to predict future appearances. And we began to ask questions. What are the stars? Why do they move as they do?
We wanted to understand this world in which we found ourselves.
We looked through microscopes into the fine structure of matter.
Through telescopes into the vastness of the Universe.
And we looked back through time, and began to consider how we came to be here.
And through this knowledge our consciousness expanded into completely new realms. Not only was our picture of the world painted in the colours the senses saw, it was also being painted with the understanding of our minds.
This "expansion of consciousness" is one way in which we human beings are different from most other creatures. But its not the only way.
Weve also changed the world in ways that no other creature has.
And what has made this possible? A very small, but very significant, thing . . the human hand . . . one of the most elegant and skillful biological organs ever evolved.
Combine this marvellous instrument with a growing understanding of how things work, and you have the most creative creature this planets ever seen.
We have taken the clay of Mother Earth and remoulded it into a diversity of new forms.
Weve irrigated the land . . . sown seeds and developed agriculture.
Weve built shelters for ourselves, artificial caves full of comfort and beauty.
We tamed fire . . . developed the wheel . . . and created a revolution in transport.
We've invented new ways of harnessing the sun's energy. . . . New ways of seeing. . . . New ways of handling the world.
We've even made advances that biological evolution alone could never have achieved not in a billion years.
But our prolific creativity has also had some unexpected and unwanted side-effects.
We set out with the best of intentions. We wanted to be free from pain . . . free from crippling diseases. We wanted to live longer and more fruitful lives.
But the longer people lived, the more there were of us. Unintentionally we had triggered a population explosion. And today our numbers are approaching the limits of what this planet can sustain. Somewhat paradoxically, trying to improve our chances of individual survival has led to a situation that now threatens our collective survival.
A similar paradox is apparent in our industrial development. Again we set out with the best of intentions. We wanted to raise the quality of life. To lessen the load on our muscles. To produce things that would make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable.
But the more we produced the more we consumed . Today an average Westerner consumes 350 times the energy of a person two hundred years ago.
Combine this with the fact that there are ten times more of us than there were two hundred years ago and the result is a three-thousand-five-hundredfold increase in consumption. To put it another way, in one year we now consume more than our society did in the whole period from the rise of ancient Greece to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Worse still, all this additional consumption produces a lot of extra waste. Waste thats accumulating in the environment far faster than the planet can handle.
Once again our desire to improve the quality of life has led to a situation where our very existence is in peril.
So, why do we continue? Why - now that we understand the long-term consequences of our actions, and the threats they pose to our continued existence why dont we change?
We know what we need to do.
And, it turns out, we have the money to do it.
The Worldwatch Institute in Washington recently estimated the total cost of a six-year programme to protect the soil . . . reforest the land . . . reduce population growth . . . raise energy efficiency . . . develop renewable sources of energy . . . retire the debt of third world nations . . . and so save the world . . . would come to seven hundred and thirty billion dollars.
A lot it would seem . . . until we compare it to the more than a trillion dollars the nations of the world currently spend on arms. And that in just one year.
What we do not seem to have is the will to change.
But why? What is wrong with us?
The source of the problem appears to lie within in our beliefs and values.
We humans have become so good at manipulating and controlling the world, weve seduced ourselves into believing that this is the answer to all our needs.
If were not happy we try to change things . . . we try doing something different . . or try a new experience.
Its as if weve all been hypnotised. We continually tell ourselves that whether or not we are at peace within depends upon what we have or do in the world around.
But any fulfilments such things may bring are usually short-term. And before long we find ourselves searching for some other source of satisfaction.
It is this addiction to material things that lies behind so many of todays problems. This is why we consume so much more than we need.
It is this that lies behind our love of money. Money gives us the ability to buy the things we believe will bring us greater happiness. And the more money we have, the happier well be or so we think.
And there are other, more subtle effects of this addiction. We start worrying about whether or not the world will give us what we want.
Does this threaten my mental peace? Will this make me happy?
Yet somewhat ironically none of this worry gets us any closer to what we really want. In fact it does the opposite. Because a mind that is worried is not a mind that is at peace. And it is peace of mind that we are really seeking.
The fear that things may not turn out as we would like forces us to spend much of our time thinking about the future. We think about what might or might not happen . . . about what we might or might not do. And all the time that our attention is focussed on the future we are not in the present moment.
We lose the full experience of now.
As if that were not penalty enough, all this concern plays havoc with our relationships.
We judge others according to whether they will help or hinder us in our search for happiness. In so doing we make the other person right or wrong . . . worthy or unworthy . . . saint or sinner.
In judging another person we project the past onto the present, and dont see them as they really are . . . as another human being, just like us, in their own way seeking peace of mind.
Most tragic of all, it is this fear that the world may not be the way we want that leads us to resist change.
This is why we continue to spend more than a trillion dollars a year on weapons of destruction; rather than ensuring our collective survival. Someone somewhere fears that change is not in his or her self interest.
This is the reason our will to change is so weak.
The crisis that humanity is now facing is, at its root, a crisis of consciousness.
If were to survive these troubled times we must find ways to liberate our minds from outdated attitudes and beliefs.
This is the real challenge now facing us. To break free from our material addictions.
To become much less self-centred in our thinking. To let go of unnecessary fear and concern.
We must learn to be more in the present.
To love another person whether we like them or not.
To return to the present moment, to carry unconditional love in our hearts, to find the peace that passeth all understanding this has been the goal of all the great spiritual teachings.
They have each in their own way been trying to free us from the grip of our self-centredness. To help us discover the true nature of our being.
As one great teacher put it: 'Be still let the mind be still from the stimulus of the senses and know know as a direct experience that I that is, the inner self, the light of consciousness shining within me is the same light that shines in all people, in all conscious beings, and through all existence.'
We stand on the threshold of a great awakening. The exploration and development of inner space. An exploration that could turn out to be the most fascinating, most surprising, and most fruitful of all our explorations. An exploration that could bring us what weve all been seeking all along the realisation of our true identity, and with it peace of mind.
And this inner awakening could come about much faster than any revolution in industry or information technology. Its not a development that requires any changes in the world around only a change in our perception of the world. And a change in perception can happen very rapidly indeed.
Rather than slowing down, our rate of development would speed up even further. Only now it would not be our external development that was accelerating but our inner development.
Who knows, we could experience as much inner progress over the next fifty years as we have physical progress in the last five thousand.
So where we might ask, will this ever-accelerating rate of development lead? Could it continue to wind up faster and faster taking us towards a moment of unimaginably rapid transformation?
Such a pattern is not as uncommon as one might at first suppose. The evolution of a large star goes through a series of phases each much faster than the one before. The main phase, the burning of hydrogen, is a process that lasts billions of years. From there it moves to processes taking millions of years . . . then thousands . . . then mere years . . . and finally, in a process lasting only minutes, the star collpases in upon itself in a brilliant explosion of light a supernova. Behind is left a star so dense it cannot be seen whats known as a black hole in space.
Could it be that a parallel destiny awaits a self-conscious species? Our evolution has moved from changes taking billions of years, to millions of years, to thousands, to tens of years. If we do survive these troubled times and enter the next phase of evolution the evolution of our own consciousness change is likely to come much faster still. We could find ourselves spiraling towards a moment when the light of inner knowing radiates across the planet. A supernova of consciousness. Creating a white hole in time.
A bold presumption, perhaps. But who is to say it is not possible? Its what the French priest and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin called the Omega Point. The culmination of human evolution. A moment when we shall harness the energies of love and come to know the essence of Creation.
Its this potential that makes humanity and the times were passing through so significant. We may not be the only intelligent life in the Universe. There may be billions perhaps quadrillions of other self-conscious species out there, each in their own ways exploring the nature of reality. From this perspective we are not that important. No more than a single bud in a rose garden.
But as far as planet Earth is concerned we are very significant indeed. Here, in this minute corner of the Universe, a bud is on the verge of flowering. Here, after billions of years, a creature has arisen that has transcended biological evolution. It is our minds, not our bodies, that are evolving. We are a species that can explore and study its world. A species that looks for meaning and understanding. A species aware of its own consciousness. A most creative and ingenious species.
And we have the potential to be much much more. We could be on the threshold an evolutionary climax far more profound than most of us have ever dared imagine.
Will humanity make that shift? Only time will tell. But it would be a pity to have struggled so hard and come so far, and then miss what could be our crowning glory.