For my Aug 8, 2010, presentation on Awakening Universe Emerging Personhood

Most of all, I want to share Mary Conrow Coelho’s gestalt, her over-all sense of how things are developing. That rises out of the details, of course, but I don’t want to get captured by a focus on any one set of details. In our conversation Sunday, August 8, we will inevitably be talking about specifics, so what I want to do here is make sure to keep the overview, the big picture front and center.

Also, in this text presentation, where I do focus on specifics I’ll lean into the information that most directly challenges today’s materialistic scientism.

AND, with all these adult words, I am trying to reach the child in you, that place of awe and wonder.

In what follows, almost everything is Mary’s words. I show them with double quotation marks. She quotes other people a lot. Usually I show that as single quote marks. Bold-facing in the middle of text is my emphasis.


8 The Generative Cosmos p.131

Our unexamined assumptions about the physical world around us.

… our minds and hearts can begin to have confidence in a meaningful and creative place for human beings in the unfolding Earth story.”

Discoveries About the Very Small: Quantum Studies

“… sub-atomic… particles continually emerge and fall back into the quantum potential or quantum vacuum. … The way particles spontaneously leap into existence is a radical discovery of our own lifetimes. I am asking you to contemplate a universe where, somehow, being itself arises out of a field of ‘fecund emptiness.’ … It is happening trillions of times within us at each moment, so this matrix of fecundity is integral to our being.”

This sparkling, scintillating, effulgence rises out of “… a generative power that ‘cannot lie within the mental or material worlds alone, but rather has its place in some , as yet unexplored, ground that lies beyond the distinctions of either.’”

“David Bohm asserts that ’empty space’ has so much energy that it is full rather than empty… He equates it with the plenum, the same immense “sea” of energy that is the ground of the existence of everything. … The visible world, which necessarily dominates our attention, is a comparatively small pattern of excitation within this background plenum, rather like a ripple on an ocean. … The Big Bang too, Bohm suggests, was actually just a ‘little ripple.’”

“Brian Swimme describes the situation: ‘What I would like you to understand is that this plenary emptiness permeates you. You are more fecund emptiness than you are created particles.’

“It becomes possible to begin to imagine that our ongoing, stable, reliable physical structure and psychological order have a certain fundamental ‘openness’ to a larger, more comprehensive creative order.”

Discoveries in Astronomy

“None of the great figures of human history were aware of this. Not Plato or Aristotle, or the Hebrew prophets of Confucius or Thomas Aquinas or Liebniz or Newton or any other world-maker. We are the first generation to live with an empirical view of the origin of the universe. … Swimme suggests the primeval fireball came out of an empty realm, a mysterious order of reality, a no-thing-ness that is simultaneously the ultimate source of all things. … as the cosmos expanded and continues to expand, there is no place in the universe separate from the originating center, instant by instant.

“From astronomy we learn that even though ‘the originating power gave birth to the universe fifteen billion years ago, this realm of power is not simply located there at that point in time but is rather a condition of every moment of the universe, past present and to come.’ (Swimme & Berry)

“’Each child is situated in that very place and is rooted in that very power that brought forth all the matter and energy of the universe.’ This is key to our integration with the contemplative tradition.”

Origin Out of a Generative “Nothingness” in the Religious Tradition of the West

“Although this perspective is new to modern scientific thinking, religious traditions have long spoken of an unknowable, fecund, creative ‘nothingness.’”

Coincidence of Knowledge from Science and Religion: Danger of Collapsing Modes of Consciousness

“A complete coincidence of the insights of the scientific and the theological traditions is not sought, but it is important to consider them as complementary explorations of the same mysterious realm that mutually inform one another. … both science and contemplative religious people are apparently investigating or seeking to know the same dimension.

“For an individual seeking…the possibility of a viable human/Earth future…
recognition of the complementary exploration of the same realm is critical. … A ‘way of seeing’ like the one being offered in this book, is essential to facilitate the very great change in consciousness that is required of all of us in these dangerous times.”

Support for the Insights of Mysticism from Science

“Our sense impressions and daily experience of solid objects tell us of only on aspect of our being—not wrong but only one aspect.”

Naming the Fecund Nothingness

“Shouldn’t we use the word God?

“The generative realm just explored is characterized by a type of transcendence that will be called ‘true transcendence’ (chapter 17), but it is not a separate, distinct being.”

9 We Have Found No Primal Dust

“In Breakfast at the Victory, James Carse, professor of the history and literature of religion, wrote: ‘We thought scientists would find a primal dust, a swarm of lifeless identical realities, the atoms of Epicurus only smaller, that are the building units of all larger composite beings. But in fact they are describing things more dreamlike than real, more made of empty space than substance.’ To the world of physics, this discovery was an earthquake… Particles are radically dependent upon the ground from which they take form. There ‘occurs an incessant foaming, a flashing flame, a shining-forth-from and dissolving-back-into.’ (Swimme)”

“It is these very wave/particles, abstracted from a deeper level, that over the billions of years of evolution of the universe have become part of the complex, manifest world we know from day to day.”

The Phenomenon of Presence

“Nonlocal causality…occurs when two spatially separated particles are present to each other… A change introduced to one particle causes an instantaneous adjustment in the other particle, even though it may be at the other end of the galaxy. … ‘Events taking place elsewhere in the universe are directly and instantaneously related to the physical parameter of the situation.’ (Swimme)”
That is, the speed of light is NOT a limit to how fast communication between two objects can occur.

Unbroken Wholeness

“…quantum mechanics and relativity theory…imply that the actual state of the universe is unbroken wholeness. … The manifest daily world of things and living beings in their inner dimension are directly open to and are part of the nonvisible depth of things. … Similarly, Whitehead speaks of God and creation as co-constituting a communal Reality.”

Some Reflections

“The fact that contemplatives have discovered a pathway to a permanent union with Abyss/God within their person indicates that the nonvisible realm is present and may, with adequate preparation, become known in a alternative type of consciousness.”

10 Complex, Centered Beings within the Unfolding Whole p.162

“’We need to understand that the evolutionary process is neither random nor determined but creative.’ (Thomas Berry)”

To be an accident, even a glorious one, or to be the result of error and chance alone, denies people the possibility of living in a manner faithful to any fundamental order or intrinsic direction of things.

“This brings us to the study of self-organization. Form generation through self-organization involves the creation of centered, complex beings: therefore, questions of soul and subjective identity are central to the topic.

“Up until the mid-twentieth century … the study of form was the exclusive domain of philosophy and theology.

Examples of Actual Generation of Form

“1958 … Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, in which certain chemical reactants, when mixed, formed concentric and spiral ‘cells’ [that] pulsed and remained stable, and as the reaction proceeded, periodically more ‘cells’ formed. … This reaction proved to be a simple example of a self-organizing system, an important characteristic of which is that its order in structure and function is not imposed by the environment but is established by the system itself. … generation of forms that are not built slowly by the random conjunction of molecules, but appear spontaneously.

Everything is form, including atoms, cells, or human beings. A galaxy is a self-organizing system… A star is a dynamic organization, centered within itself… The flame of a candle, certain thunderstorms, and tornados are all self-organizing systems. … At all scales, the universe is far from equilibrium—self designing at the edge of chaos. Wherever we look gradients of matter and energy create crucibles for self-organizing systems.

Characteristics of Self-Organizing Systems

“The inherent tendency of self-organizing systems in chaotic situations to become changed…makes the universe a place in which there is a predisposition toward novelty and surprise. … New structures and systems develop with unusual efficiency (Davies) …’the origin of life was not an enormously improbably event, but law-like and governed by new principles of self-organization in complex webs of catalysts.'(Kauffman)”

Living Systems: Autopoiesis

“Humberto Maturana, a Chilean neuroscientist, coined the word autopoiesis from the Greek words, auto(self) and poiesis (creation, production) to describe the central feature of the organization of the living, which is autonomy.

“The autopoietic capacity of cells and of multicellular organisms results in far greater stability and longevity than is possible, for example for a tornado, a non-living self-organizing system. … Here we see clearly the remarkable, seemingly paradoxical fact that living beings are simultaneously quite autonomous…and at the same time integral to the Earth, since they are dependent on the flow of energy and matter. … [this] is central to the identity of human and other living beings.

“Earth is thought by some to be autopoietic.


“An important aspect of autopoietic systems is that they are also cognitive systems. The organism’s cognition is essential to its survival; it involves awareness of the physical intimacy of the organism and environment. … a plant may be selectively coupled with the direction of the light, while some deep-sea organisms are not coupled with light at all. … this means an organism constructs a world or brings into being a world, according to the structural coupling it is capable of, but not the world. Much passes it by.”

The Nesting of Parts in Larger Wholes

“Arthur Koestler coined the word holons for subsystems that are both wholes and parts. …each holon has two opposite tendencies: an integrative tendency to function as part of a larger whole and a self-assertive tendency to preserve its individual autonomy. … There is a kind of nesting of subsystems in larger integrative systems. … A cell can be studied as a functioning unit but not known fully unless it is also studied as part of the larger whole of an organism. People are not fully understood unless their identity as part of the Earth system is also taken into account.

“A structure doesn’t appear in isolation…but is a phenomenon born out of an environment in which everything effects everything, like Bohm’s holomovement.”


The emergence of organized forms and living beings does not involve processes outside of what we call matter but instead arises from the inherent principles of the dynamics of the universe.

“Matter isn’t cobbled together piece by piece, like the colorful wooden model of molecules in chemistry class. No one is a fragment or a chunk of matter, unconnected to the cosmos.

Order, vast and generative, arises naturally…”

11 The Depth of Human Belonging

Is DNA a Formative Power?

“…form is not determined by genes alone. …’The structure of DNA and the genes does not contain the life of the organism which develops by using this information.'(Jantsch)

“…great order appeared very early in the universe, in stars and galaxies for example, before there was any life, much less complex beings with DNA to determine order. …a spiral galaxy, which orders perhaps 100 million stars, cannot have achieved its structure by random processes.

Unexplored Shaping Powers of the Implicate Orders and the Plenum

David Bohm’s “…implicate order can account for the origin of forms, which are then replicated. According to Bohm, formative…fields are very subtle aspects of the implicate order that impress themselves on lesser, explicate energies.

“…the true meaning of forms is known by realizing that they are generated and sustained from the plenum, the immense ‘sea’ of ‘no-thing-ness’ that is the ground of existence of everything. … Thus, self-organizing centers of activity, like a tree, a cell, a person, are not fully described as independent separate beings governed by mechanical laws in three-dimensional space, because the unseen organizing of the plenum is enfolded within them. In some manner not fully discerned, local laws and random events are caught up in the larger form patterning of the implicate orders and plenum.

“…when Werner Heisengerg was trying to make sense of the plethora of elementary particles generated in collision experiments, he suggested that the truly fundamental is not the little wave/particle, as physicists had expected, but abstract symmetries and ordering principles that give form to the wave/particles as they are generated from the vacuum. ‘The elementary particles themselves would be simply the material realization of these underlying symmetries.’ (Peat) The symmetries are not part of ordinary space, time.

“It is not only in the discipline of physics that the need to search for unidentified formative powers is now recognized.

“Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry do not see genetic mutation as a random, mechanical, chemical process alone. They describe it as a primal act. It occurs as part of the activity of a universe characterized by ordering movement. It is part of the spontaneous differentiation taking place at life’s root. Thus, it is an integral part of the organizing dynamism that arises out of the larger form-generating capacity of the whole.

“We are propelled by these ideas into a stunningly different world, where the energy of the cosmos is continuously inwardly articulated and ordered by the plenum.

Objective Intelligence and Creative Ordering

“F. David Peat proposes the terms ‘objective intelligence’ or ‘creative ordering’ for the generative ordering power in the as yet unexplored realm that brings about the dynamic ordering of matter and mind. These phrases are useful because they avoid the word ‘mind,’ which in English is associated almost exclusively with the brain and its activities.

“David Bohm, too, was convinced that the ground of all being is permeated with a supreme intelligence that is creative and gives order. He finds evidence for this in ‘the tremendous order in the universe, in ourselves and the brain.’

“’This generative power cannot lie within the mental and material worlds alone, but rather has its place in some, as yet unexplored, ground that lies beyond the distinction of either.’ (Peat)

“’…the universe must have a purpose and the evidence of modern physics suggests strongly that the purpose includes us. …there is “something going on” behind it all. The impression of design is overwhelming.’ (Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint)

…the journey of primordial matter through its marvelous sequence of transformations over billions of years is toward an ever more complete ‘spiritual-physical intercommunication’ of the parts with each other, with the whole, and with that numinous presence which has ever been manifested throughout this entire cosmic-earth-human process. Thomas Berry, “The Spirituality of the Earth”)

“This realm of objective intelligence is certainly very closely related to Plato’s teaching [on] ideal forms…and to Plotinus’s conception of the nous, itself a formative realm. It is startling and heartening to realize how similar their thought is to that of contemporary people like Bohm…who also appeal to a hidden, immeasurable form-generating dimension…”

Bohm, and separately, Swimme, propose “...a kind of memory of what is happening in the manifest that feeds back into the formative realm, with the All-Nourishing Abyss ‘becoming more differentiated…’

The Person within the “Emptiness”, and Objective Intelligence

“Physicists tell us that if we could see the human body in the perspective of particle physics, it would be proportionally as empty as intergalactic space. … A person, a tree, a butterfly, in fact all the Earth is more Fecund Emptiness than created particles. Since a person is largely Emptiness, and the formative powers…are in the realm of Emptiness, it is not difficult to imagine that a person is held in the embrace of those powers and they are part of us…that we share in the ‘objective intelligence.’ …every form, including the human individual, is held in the embrace of the whole and is subject to its formative powers.

Exploring These Insights

A challenge to thought: “Is it possible to make a sharp distinction between what is alive and what is not?”

Is a carbon atom alive when it is inside a plant, and dead when it is not? “Rather, life itself has to be regarded as belonging in some sense to a totality, including plant and environment. (Bohm) …a tree is built out of the implicate order–‘indeed it is the implicate order which makes possible its living qualities. If we perceive the tree in this way, rather than as a bunch of dead particles into which the property of life is somehow infused when the seed is planted, then its aliveness ceases to be such a mystery.’ The so-called dead molecules are already enfolded in the implicate order, as is the living being they are about to enter. There is a common participation in comprehensive formative dynamics, allowing the molecules to nest into the more complexified local order of the plant.

Formative Powers in Relation to Ongoing Physical Laws

“…when the music comes out of the radio set, almost all of its energy comes from the power plug in the wall socket, but its form comes from the very weak electromagnetic wave picked up by the antennae. …a subtle energy…molds a denser energy.

“In a growing seed almost all the matter and the energy come from the environment, so the living seed is continually providing that matter and energy with new information that leads to the production of the living plant.

Since this formative influence affects both matter and consciousness, it can be the source of intuitive insight and intellectual visions. …such insights are part of the contemplative journey … a reversal of the point of view of much of recent science, in which global order is regarded as purely the outcome of local order.

A Cosmologically Significant Life

The new universe story and insight into the form-generating powers that are immanent in all matter provide a ‘way of seeing’ that gives us cosmological meaning. … As a form of the universe, the person partakes in the intrinsic, creative quality of the universe. Thus there is a place for the person at its dynamic heart.

12 Soul Unfolds in the Evolving Universe

What is the work of human works if not to establish, in and by means of each one of us, an absolutely original center in which the universe reflects itself in a unique and inimitable way? —Teilhard

“…two main traditions regarding the meaning of soul in Western thought. …for Plotinus, the form-generating dimension of the universe is identified with the divine Intellect. The world soul and the individual soul are emanations from the divine realm, the Nous, so that the soul is an intermediary between the Nous and the world of senses.

“This is a beautiful tradition because it assumes the possibility of contemplation, the return to the fullness of our being. However, it can so emphasize the person’s relationship to the divine realm that it runs the risk of neglecting the body and of thus cleaving the unity of human nature.

“The second tradition is less concerned with the essence of soul and the possibility of its immortality and more concerned with soul’s relationship with the matter it enlivens. According to Aristotle, the soul is the form of the body… the soul could not be thought of without the body to which it gives life, and like the body is mortal. … The Aristotelian tradition runs the risk of ensnaring the notion of soul within the confines of its earthly existence. It would not recognize contemplation as described by Plotinus.

Aquinas followed Aristotelian thought. Similarly, in Genesis 2:7 …the divine breath is blown into the body and so creates ‘a living néphesh, that is, a person. Thus in Hebrew a person is not a “body” and a “soul,” but rather a “body-soul,” a unit of vital power. After death, the néphesh ceases to exist. Saint Paul introduces terms from Greek philosophy into his letters and develops a distinction between the body on the one hand and the intellectual and spiritual character of the soul on the other.

A Contemporary Conception of Soul

In the contemporary discussion about self-organizing processes, the self (of self-organizing) has been identified as an unseen, shaping dynamism that is constitutive of living beings. … Soul in the context of the new universe story refers then to the unseen self-organizing, shaping dynamism of the person. …Jung’s archetype of the Self is the near equivalent of soul. …soul as a formative power has its origin in the plenum, which we also call fecund Emptiness or Abyss/God. …it plays a mediating role between that creative realm and both the body and daily consciousness. Thus, the creative power of the person arises out of the inseparable, enfolded ground in which the formative soul-powers take shape. …this soul-like organizing dynamism is not a specific gift given only to people, but is integral to all beings…

Does Soul Refer Only to the Formative Powers?

“…Carl Jung… conceived of the Self as both the centering, organizing power and also, at the same time, the totality of the person it integrates (including the body, emotions, cognitive events, and sensations). This…is a way of distinguishing and naming a dimension of the person (the formative, centering soul processes), yet at the same time recognizing that these processes are constitutive of the whole person and that they are not to be separated from the whole person. The unity of the person is maintained, yet the organizing, integrating soul-powers are identified. The identification of the formative soul allows us to honor and pay attention to the integrating, centering powers active in us. And it enables us to imagine the connection between consciousness and the creative, generative plenum while at the same time immersing the person in the Earth and the body. The door to contemplation is opened.

About Richard O Fuller

Quaker, living in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.
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