Providing an Integrated Story

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Photo Credit: Harmonia Macrocosmica, by Jan van Loon

We are at a new moment in our planetary history, one fraught with uncertainty and violence, as well as rapid change and unforeseen compassion. As we see our present interconnected global challenges of widespread environmental degradation, climate change, crippling poverty, social inequities, and unrestrained militarism, we know that the obstacles to the flourishing of life’s ecosystems and to genuine sustainable development are considerable.

In the midst of these formidable challenges we are being called to the next stage of evolutionary history. This requires a change of consciousness and values—an expansion of our worldviews and ethics. For the evolutionary life impulse moves us forward from viewing ourselves as isolated individuals and competing nation-states to realizing our collective presence as a species with a common origin story and shared destiny.

The human community has the capacity now to realize its intrinsic unity in the midst of enormous diversity. And, most especially, it has the opportunity to see this unity as arising from the dynamics of the evolutionary process itself. We have for the first time a scientific story of the evolution of the universe and earth that shows us our profound connectedness to this process. We are still discovering the larger meaning of the story. There are many movements in this direction, including Journey of the Universe and Big History.

The Journey of the Universe project consists of an Emmy award–winning film, a book from Yale University Press, a series of twenty conversations with scientists and environmentalists, and a website.

Drawing on the latest scientific knowledge, Journey tells the story of cosmic and earth unfolding in a way that makes it both relevant and moving. What emerges is an intensely poetic story, which evokes awe and excitement, fear and joy, belonging and responsibility.

The story of the universe is clearly a dramatic one. Throughout billions of years of evolution, coherence and disintegration have been only a hair’s breadth apart. Chaos and creativity are pervasive. The ability of matter to organize and re-organize itself is remarkable—from the formation of the first atoms to the emergence of life. We are coming to realize that the energy released at the very beginning has finally become capable, in the human, of reflecting on and exploring its own journey of change. Simple hydrogen has become a vibrant, living planet, with beings that now are able to investigate how this has happened and imagine a life-sustaining future.

We are indeed the “mind and heart of the universe,” as Chinese Confucian philosophy would say. As such we humans are endowed with reflexive and emotional capacities for finding our role as co-creators in this unfolding evolutionary process. For the Confucians we can be transformative agents of positive change in the social, political, and educational orders. Thus, our creativity can align with the creative process of the universe.

Waking up to our fundamental relationship with the cosmos is a means of re-engagement with life and assisting its future flourishing. The Journey of the Universe enables us to connect more deeply with the universe and the earth of which we are a part. In doing this, we may appreciate the need for a sustainable human presence on the planet. We need to engage in mutually enhancing relations with earth’s ecosystems. Therefore, we need a broader understanding of how systems work—both human and natural.

Thus, the integrated story of the origin and development of the universe, of earth, and of humans can become an inspiring vision for our time. This is because this story gives us a sense of our common evolutionary heritage and shared genetic lineage. This new understanding of the kinship of humans with each other and with all life can establish the foundation for rediscovering our past and sustaining the future.

We can be inspired by this scientific view of nested interrelatedness—from galaxies and stars to planets and ecosystems—so that we sense how personally we are woven into the fabric of life. We are part of this ongoing journey and interdependent with life’s ecosystems. This is what Journey of the Universe film and book offer to contemporary humans.

From this perspective we can see that our current destructive habits toward the environment are unsustainable. In an evolutionary framework the damage we are causing is immense—indeed, cataclysmic. We can thus recognize ecological, economic, and social change as not only necessary but inevitable. This is what Journey of the Universe Conversations provide in interviews with environmentalists and change agents.

This Journey perspective, then, requires expanding our frame of reference and broadening our worldview. It invites us into a journey of deep time—a great story for the great work still ahead of us. Earlier cultures have had epic stories to guide them in creating sustainable societies. This is the hope of Journey of the Universe—an invitation into awe and beauty that will provide energy for the transformation toward a flourishing earth community, now and into the future.

To learn more about Journey of the Universe please visit www.journeyoftheuniverse.org.
To learn more about Yale University’s online Journey of the Universe courses please visit: https://www.coursera.org/specializations/journey-of-the-universe

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  • Mary Evelyn Tucker

    Mary Evelyn Tucker is a Senior Lecturer and Research Scholar at Yale University where she holds appointments in the Divinity School and in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is co-director with John Grim of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale.

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