Do We Live in an Intelligent Universe?

The universe has been set up in an exquisitely specific way so that evolution could produce the people that are sitting here today and we could use our intelligence to talk about the universe. We see a formidable power in the ability to use our minds and the tools we’ve created to gather evidence, to use our inferential abilities to develop theories, to test the theories, and to understand the universe at increasingly precise levels. (Ray Kurzweil 11-05-02)

Mary Morrissey

Coming off the latest Mary Morrissey Dreambuilder Live[1] weekend has left me wanting to understand more about this question—since she asserts that there are forces, directionalities, frequencies, and vibrational levels that we can align ourselves with in order to have better results in the world.

These forces are invisible—like electricity is invisible. She states that there are natural laws, just like those of electricity, that apply to human affairs. Our understanding of these laws largely determines the outcomes we get in life; if we can decode these natural laws and align our actions with what “the Universe wants to happen through us,” we can use these forces to help us achieve our dreams.

How does this translate into our lives?

In Morrissey’s view, each individual has a purpose in life, a dream or series of dreams that is part of what the universe wants to bring into being. Our unique vision of living “a life we would love” may have been suppressed, but we can choose to discover it for ourselves by looking inward at our longings and our discontents. And once we have identified what’s possible for us it becomes compelling. We just need to get our identity and our hangups out of the way and let the spirit guide us as we take the dream from thought to reality.

If we look within at what truly calls to us we can discover our unique potentiality and contribution, and can consciously choose to take action to move toward it. She asserts that our purpose must be good for others as well as for ourselves, in order for it to become a dream that we can choose to build in the world, doing “what we can / where we are / with what we have,” always keeping in mind our larger vision of ourselves as a vehicle for spirit to manifest itself through our willingness to be our greatest selves.

An Uplifting Vision for Our Times?

The inspirational flavor of her teachings can be off-putting to some. Morrissey seeks to embrace a great deal of what used to be called “positive thinking,” and she is certainly deeply religious in the eclectic Christian tradition of New-Thought pastors. I might prefer to see it expressed differently. But it’s hard to take issue with any of it from a moral standpoint.[2]

It’s also consistent with what we know from studies such as those of Shawn Achor at Harvard—it’s not “success” that makes us happy, but the other way around, if we’re happier and more positive we are likely to be more successful.

Morrissey and her family (all of who seemingly assist in delivering her programs) also argue that her teachings are grounded in practicality: they underpin the recovery of people’s dreams with practical tips and formulas for working through exactly what each of us is trying to create, and exactly what steps are needed to get there—while having faith in the possibility that seemingly miraculous coincidences can open a way to our dreams when none seemed possible before.

Choosing Faith in Possibility as a Paradigm

Conceptually, what she’s offering is an alternative frame that, as Werner Erhard would say, you can try on to see if it produces results for you; or rather, helps you produce better results for yourself. Morrissey is one of the most powerful of the self-improvement teachers of our time, and she has an approach that is both a synthesis and an extension of transcendentalism, est, the divine light, and more recent self-improvement movements, with a set of distinct transformational tools and mental practices she calls “Brave Thinking.” (Which surely deserves its own place on WorldThatWorks.org.)

It’s worth examining this and seeing if there is a way to express it that’s consistent with science as well as with religion. The idea that we inhabit a living and intelligent Universe has real-world implications that we can test out, for ourselves at least, and that can help us further explore explanations that do not require anthropomorphizing or personification.

Our Existence is Unassailable Evidence of Meaning in the Universe

Part of the argument for this viewpoint is that our own intelligence must somehow be contained, at least as a potentiality, in the inanimate atoms and particles that make up our physical bodies, very much like the acorn contains all of what’s needed to give rise to the oak tree. In a time when reductionist science seems to have led us into an impasse, these sorts of ideas—which derive not only from Christianity but also draw on many indigenous spiritual beliefs, on what Huxley called the perennial philosophy—may offer a pathway to a more sustainable and more meaningful world.

What’s of most interest to me, however, is the application of this perspective to the current condition of the Earth, our badly damaged and overheating space vehicle, whose restoration and repair need to concern all of us today.

Listening to the Voice of the Earth

If the Universe is “intelligent,” to me this implies that our Goldilocks planet is also. The Earth is not just our home, our “environment,” it’s also the source, the matrix from we spring, the womb of our own existence. We are, for better or worse, Earthlings. In the most direct and obvious sense, it is in the primordial molecular soup that we ourselves are birthed, made of molecules of water and air and dirt. It is from dust that we are made, and to which, in the end, we return. The Earth is not an inert ball of rock, but the source of every element in our body, the source of the energy that enlivens us. How then do we justify our trampling on it and exceeding its ecological boundaries?

Does the Universe Have a Purpose for Us?

To many, it may seem that the Universe’s “purpose” for us is either an unfathomable mystery—or else amounts to a version of our being here to learn some sort of cosmic lesson. And while surveys show that most of us think humanity is still in its adolescent stage, the notion that there is some educational value to our being able to destroy the world and ourselves with it seems, well, self-defeating. Humans learning not to foul our own nest is a pretty thin reason to give birth to a vast 14-billion-year-old cosmos. But perhaps this simply demonstrates the implausibility of the notion that the universe was “created” as a sort of school or proving ground for humans to be tried and found wanting.

Isn’t it more likely that the “intelligence” of the universe is emergent, and is evolving in much the same way as we are? This intelligence may have no other “purpose” than the emergence of conscious awareness, individually and collectively, an awareness that is capable of grasping this larger reality.

Of course, a great deal of it necessarily precedes us, as we are relative newcomers to the Earth (250,000 years or so, though there is archeological evidence of predecessor hominids going back at least 2.5 million years). But what we observe is that the Universe unfolds through time, and in our neighborhood at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy at least it unfolds its self-awareness through us.

The Universe appears to be fine-tuned to support the conditions for life

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence of this inherent potential for intelligence is the incredible fine-tuning of the Universe that is required to create the exact conditions needed to sustain life.

This “fine-tuning,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, refers to “the fact that the universe is able to support life depends delicately on various of its fundamental characteristics, notably on the form of the laws of nature, on the values of some constants of nature, and on aspects of the universe’s conditions in its very early stages.” While this is not necessarily an argument for a pre-existing “Creator God,” it does lead to the sort of conclusions that Morrissey asserts, namely that the Universe is constructed in such a way that its unseen forces influence our experience of the human world, much as the laws of physics determine the shape of the physical universe.

There is, of course, a lot more that could be said about this (and indeed a lot of it has been and continues to interest scientists and others who argue whether it “proves” the existence of a more-or-less benevolent spirit guiding the events that we observe and experience). But my interest here is in connecting this with our understanding of ecosystems, the Earth, and the multiple crises of climate change, species extinction, resource depletion, and toxic waste accumulation that threaten not only our existence but also that of all life, at least down to the microbial level.

So How Do We Reconcile this with What We Know is Happening?

The obvious first question is, how can an intelligent Universe and an intelligent Earth allow the disasters that we’re now witnessing to overtake the biosphere? How do we reconcile what we now know is the catastrophic and largely inevitable impact of global warming with the idea of a benevolent intelligence guiding the course of events?

In a way, this is a variant of the classic argument against the existence of a loving God, for how could such a benevolent God allow the suffering and evil that we see in the world? What’s most interesting about this example, however, is that it’s clear who’s responsible for global warming, habitat destruction, and soil depletion—and it’s not the Earth or the Universe or a Creator God. Rather, what’s built into the evolution of the biosphere is the fertile and prolific character of the natural world, including a global self-regulating control cycle that led scientist James Lovelock to conclude that the Earth is indeed a living “organism” or organic system.[3]

There’s nothing intrinsic or divinely preordained about our present predicament. Rather, it’s our own ignorant and misguided behavior that is leading us to this literal dead end. The dream of many of us is to find or create a pathway out of this predicament that leads to the possibility of an enduring human future.

In Morrissey’s view, it will take each person fulfilling their dreams, doing that they can to listen to what the universe is wanting to tell them about their own dreams and their role in this miraculous transition and transformation. And an equivalent paradigm shift needs to occur at the level of organizations, societies, and the global population, not just at the individual level.

A place to stand

According to surveys, a growing majority of people are concerned about global warming and biodiversity loss, dissatisfied with the resistance of the economic system to change, and wanting to contribute to the solutions. We are committed to those who see the real possibility of a better future, by bringing transformational tools—and, where appropriate, capital—to help people implement regenerative solutions through Possible Planet.

Together with a growing number of community activists, enlightened civic and business leaders, we work with people to regenerate the land, the built environment, and the community. By seeking out the existing leadership in the community, we can put our shoulders to the wheel to help expand the regenerative movement. We embrace the philosophy of doing what we can / where we are / with what we have. Playing to our strengths we’re starting with structured financing models that allow capital to flow to regenerative projects that reduce emissions, sequester carbon, and support the transition to renewable sources and ecological restoration.

Transforming Our Collective Consciousness

What this requires of us is to change the paradigm of our collective consciousness, and to realign the whole of humanity’s actions with the purposes of Nature and of “Nature’s God.” This does not necessarily mean that we will build a utopia. We may keep on coming into conflict with one another, but ultimately we only can do so in the context of a viable and shared human future. Perhaps the very real possibility of the near-term collapse of the biosphere will finally have us unite in a common cause—to ensure at least our own species’ survival, as the essential foundation for the continued evolution of life.

Needless to say, the planet itself would do fine without us. What we call “intelligent life” is not a requirement or an inevitability; it’s only a possibility. The same is true for humanity’s future. It’s just a possibility. That’s our focus here at Possible Planet, and we’re committed to thinking, feeling, and acting in harmony with what’s “wanting and needing to happen,” being guided by our own dream for the transformation of humanity, in harmony with nature.

Remember, we are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter, because we’re so deeply interconnected with one another. Working on our own consciousness is the most important thing that we are doing at any moment, and being in love is the supreme creative act.” —Ram Dass

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[1] Please note this not an affiliate link. We do not derive revenue from linking to programs or other sites that we reference.

[2] Morrissey was in fact a pastor at one time. According to the blurb that Google Books uses, “Morrissey is the author of “Building Your Field of Dreams” & founder & senior minister of Living Enrichment Center in Wilsonville, Oregon, which serves 4,000 people weekly. Her Sunday talks are available by radio outreach in over 80 countries, through a national television program, & through online courses.” But her success with Living Enrichment Center ended badly when it was discovered that she and her then-husband Edward Morrissey had misappropriated more than $10 million of their parishioners’ money. Edward was sentenced to two years in federal prison, taking a plea deal on condition that Mary would not be charged; but she was nonetheless obliged to repay the $10 million. She acknowledged this in her presentation, saying that she used the principles she now teaches in order to reconstruct her life.

[3] James Lovelock is the creator of the still much-debated “Gaia Hypothesis.” Lovelock was initially interested in the question of whether there was life on Mars, and whether we could determine this without going there ourselves. What he noticed was that our atmosphere, unlike that of Mars, was in constant turbulent motion as a result of a continuously-sustained “dynamic disequilibrium” and could be observed to be “alive” even from outer space. Our atmosphere, with its complex hydrological, carbon, and oxygen cycles, is actually created and sustained by organic life in a continuously renewed mutual feedback relationship. 

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