Knowing - A Conscious Universe
From joy all beings are born By joy they are all sustained, And into joy they again return.
In the first part of this book we saw that the gathering and processing of information has been one of the principal threads of evolution. The first breakthrough was DNA, which gave matter the ability to store and reproduce information, and became the molecular data bank of Life. Later, sexual reproduction allowed two organisms to share their genetic learnings, speeding up a thousandfold the rate at which Lifes growing body of data could be processed and built upon.
As living systems evolved they learnt to detect changes in their environment. Nervous systems emerged, processing this sensory data and integrating into a coherent model of the world. The nervous systems of some creatures became so large they were able to perform the very complex information processing necessary for symbolic language. Such creatures could share their learnings with each other, and think about the world they saw. They began to form concepts, establish general principles, and so construct a picture of the world in which they found themselves. Nature had begun to know itself.
Thus began our quest for meaning. We became hungry for knowledge, asking no end of questions in our search for understanding. We even thought about the very process of knowing; and to ensure our knowledge was reliable, we organized our quest into disciplines of science .
Our ability to mold the world into new forms led to tools and technologies that added to our powers of knowing. No longer did we have to rely only upon our own senses. We created electron microscopes, radio telescopes, X-ray cameras, mass spectrometers, and bubble chambers. We peered into the depths of matter and out into the further reaches of space. How did the Universe come to be? How does it function? Where is it going?
Now, after millennia of seeking, we seem to be closing in on some of the answers. We can look out to the edges of the Universe, back to times when the first galaxies were forming; we can begin to understand how it all started and how it has developed. We have looked back over the history of Life on Earth and put together a picture of how we came to be. We have discovered the molecular code in the genes and are piecing together the hundred million instructions of our own biological program. We have realized that space and time are manifestations of a deeper underlying continuum; and that matter and energy are similarly related. And we seem, at last, to be approaching a unified field theory -- an integrated understanding of all the fundamental forces of nature in a single set of mathematical equations.
Needless to say, there is still much that we do not know. And much of what we do know may later prove only an approximation to the truth. But given how much knowledge we have gathered in just a few centuries -- particularly in the last few decades -- it seems unlikely that it will be another million years before our knowing is complete. Cross-fertilization and positive feedback will ensure our rate of progress in this direction continues to accelerate. We could learn as much in the next twenty years as in the last two thousand.
The Strong Anthropic Principle suggests that the Universe has to be one that can come to know itself. If so, it is unlikely that this knowing would be restricted to its physical manifestations. There is the equally real -- in some respects more real -- realm of the mind also waiting to be known.
As self-conscious entities we can take that inner step. We are aware of our thoughts and feelings. We are conscious of our knowledge; and conscious to some extent of the Self that knows. However, compared to our understanding of the world around, our knowledge of this inner realm is at present much more thinly spread.
We do know that more is possible. Dotted through history there have been those who have awakened to this inner realm in all its glory. They have come to know the essence of consciousness, and in doing so have realized that this inner essence is the essence of all creation. In the language of Indian Philosophy, they have come to know that Atman, the consciousness that manifests within us all, is Brahman, the source and essence of all Creation
The vast majority of us may still be far from such realization. But it is the direction we are headed in, both as individuals and as a species. And, as we have seen, there are good reasons to believe that our inner awakening need not take a lot of time. We could, if we put our minds to it, find ourselves fulfilling this inner quest within a century or so -- or even less.
Then Brahman would know Itself in all its dimensions. Through our perception and understanding it would have come to know Its physical manifestations in all their depth and beauty. And through our own inner explorations It would have come to know the many manifestations of mind, including the Self, the pure consciousness that underlies all knowing. Lifes long journey of data gathering, information processing, knowing, and understanding would be complete. Through us the Universe would have fulfilled its design.
A Universe of Knowing
This is not to imply that the fulfillment of this function rests with human beings alone. As far as we know, there is nothing unique about planet Earth. If the conditions here are right for life, they are almost certainly right on many other planets.
There are over ten billion stars in our galaxy, and if only one tenth of one per cent of those have planets with the right conditions for life, that is still ten million suitable planets in our galaxy alone. And there are, according to current estimates, a billion other galaxies out there. That means there could be a ten million billion planets out there capable of supporting life!
How many of these planets actually have life on them? Possibly the majority of them. The fact that life on Earth got started soon after the conditions here were right suggests that life probably takes hold wherever it can. If so, the Universe must be teeming with life.
Moreover, the Strong Anthropic Principle postulates that the Universe is set up not only so that life can emerge, but also so that the conscious observers may evolve. If so, the Universe may be teeming with intelligence as well. There may be billions -- perhaps quadrillions -- of other self-conscious species out there, each in their own ways discovering both the fullness and the essence of Creation. Each and every one of them an opportunity for cosmic self-discovery.
They may not all be at the same stage as us. Life on many planets may still be at the equivalent of bacteria or simple sponges. On others it may have passed our phase long ago. And on some evolution may have reached a similar stage to that on Earth.
From this perspective we are not, after all, that significant. No more than a single bud in a rose garden.
From the perspective of planet Earth, however, we are most significant. 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. We are a species with self-consciousness; a species that knows that it knows.
We are the most creative, most intelligent, and most thoughtful creature the Earth has ever seen. And we have the potential to be much, much more.
Could we be the moment Earths been waiting for?
Only time will tell.