One night a young man and his grandfather walk down to a pond where they sit amongst trees and the swaying cattails at the foot of the water. The grandfather looks out reflectively at the stars, the wrinkles of his eyes squinting in his old age, and he looks back to his grandson and says, "I want to tell you a story about Man's journey at the end of his lifetime... About his journey of self discovery and his searching for meaning in the chaos of existence."
The young man nods and holds his gaze, then looks into the dark sky watching the clouds roll over the dimly lit stars of the night, and the old man goes on...
"Long into the future, man has found a place for himself, a home he can belong to in the universe. It has been several thousands of millennia since he struggled with the pains of consciousness. Man was once very confused about his origins and place in the world. Being so young and the first of his kind on the planet of Earth he found all sorts of creation myths to explain his existence. It was at one point and stage in his early adolescence that he believed that the world and indeed the universe had been made for him, that a singular god favored man above all other forms of life and that the laws of nature did not apply to him.
"He once believed that the Earth, as man's home, lay at the center of the universe, but Copernicus disproved this, showing that it was the Earth that revolved around the sun. Man was still reassured though, as he knew that man still stood at the center of creation, being the end product of a divine power's creation. But soon Darwin came along centuries later and disproved this as well, showing that we were shaped not by God's will, but by the same universal evolutionary principles that has shaped everything from bacteria to lions and dolphins. Grudgingly and hesitantly, Man accepted these realities. But he still held onto the belief that he was separate and superior to the rest of the life on Earth.
The Earth was his to plunder and exploit. Each forest raised to the ground, each ocean emptied, each sunset dirtied by pollutants to fit the needs of Man and his ideas of "progress" and boundless "economic growth" was considered an act of divine will. It was his manifest destiny..."
Grandfather let out his breath, as if he held his next thought with great resignation, as if he did not want to speak of it.
"But that is all in the past," he goes on.
"Stubbornly but eventually, man came to see how un-special he was, or rather, and more succinctly, how special everything around him was too. He faced extinction at the eve to this understanding, bringing the planet near to ecological collapse. But, with great fortune, the people who were fighting to shift the tide, did, in the end, reclaim their power from the empires of the age. People saw the havoc that their economic system was wreaking on the planet. People lost their faith in the conventional wisdom of the status quo, and this opened the door for new alternatives to be heard.
In a movement more grand than any previous generation had witnessed, a second renaissance took place which transformed the consciousness of humanity. Billions of people took part in what was called The Great Turning
. Man had found a vision of his place in the world that allowed him to live sustainably and in balance with the rest of the community. This wisdom granted man life on Earth for several billions of years, able to live and allow all other life to live with him. He was privileged to watch many other species evolve similar levels of consciousness, and Man lived in solidarity with all the species of Earth. This period in Man's history lasted to the time where the sun was near to burning out, but Man had since developed the technologies to travel and live on other planets.
Man, by then, was not surprised when he discovered other life forms at various shapes of conscious development in other parts of the universe, and he was satisfied in discovering that there was a very wise and compassionate design to the universe's network of communications.
There was a community of races from all over the universe that acted in cooperation to watch over developing life forms. This group was very cautious in revealing themselves to man until he was ready. They had seen our movies - stories of aliens conquering earth and seeking dominance over the universe, with intentions of destruction and selfishness - ironically, all reflections of the culture that created them. No, they waited until quite a ways after man had realized their former depictions and ideas about aliens were projections of what they themselves would do, and that their assumption that aliens would just naturally want to conquer other planets was rather foolish.
But once man had become a young adult, the universal community revealed itself, after which an entirely new era in man's existence took hold. Man lived throughout this time for many thousands of millennia, and he was able to live at peace. During this time they discovered a great deal about the universe.
The universe, as he discovered it, had existed forever. It had no beginning and no end. The universe was like an expanding balloon, exploding in size with what we called 'the big bang' and eventually, shrinking back in size back to a microscopically small point at which point it would explode and a whole new universe would be created, endlessly, forever. This cycle was, in fact, the universe breathing.
But Man was struck abroad when he learned of this. Could one escape this event, this moment when the universe would collapse and explode again? The implication meant that everything in the universe, all of the life that had evolved, all of the societies, all of the histories, joys, sufferings, and accomplishments of the universe would be destroyed - lost forever with nothing escaping this ultimate destiny. How could everything in the universe, all of the gained knowledge and experience be thrown away, wiped clean with an unflinching and indifferent blow?
The ultimate and finite mortality in that moment became clear. Man's fate was sealed from the beginning and its knocking led man to feel the sickness of death, the fear of dying, of losing everything.
For a time man fought against his destiny and went through the five symbolic stages of death: denial, bargaining, anger, and sadness, but without a means to accept this truth man quickly found a way of dealing with it. He forgot, or suppressed, or didn't think about it. This time was, after all, still a long ways off, and the people's attention to this soon fell out of the public awareness.
Billions of millennia passed and man was happy. Truly, life was rich in beauty and joys. Still with its sufferings and tragedies, but all together life was rich and full of good stories.
Then eventually, yet still billions of millennia later, the universe had began contracting and had been for some time, slowly at first, but as time passed shrank exponentially. Planets had started moving toward a gravitational center, known as God's black hole, named however symbolically. As planets and solar systems became sucked up, man traveled farther to the outer reaches and their stay on each planet became increasingly shorter.
Finally, there came a time where things had become urgent. Man still refused his destiny, and was in conflict with himself, trying to find meaning in his existence, in his life story. This is what man still needed to find out. This is what he was searching for.
It was at this moment, as the flaming suns collided with stars and the fabric of space unraveled around him - breaking into the chaos of infinite form - man fell to his knees in his final hour of contemplation."
Several moments passed and as the young man realized his grandfather had finished his story, he asked, "Did man discover a meaning at the end? What did he find out?"
"Well, that hour is for you to decide. It is the place of discovery you find in your own heart... Do you think he finds an answer to his searchings?"
"I think he does." The young man responds.
A moment passes and the young man watches a flock of geese lift off from the pond and fly into the night sky. "Much of this story hasn't happened," he says. "What makes you think this is how it will happen?"
"You're right. I do not know. The fate of humanity and the Earth is still very much uncertain. But as you are growing up, you will increasingly discover how things are in the world, and you may likely find dismay and disillusionment at first", he says.
"As humans, our unique contribution to the complex diversity of life is our ability to create culture, and to pass on the beliefs, understandings, and traditions of the past, always evolving and accumulating in depth.
At its heart, telling stories and the way in which we frame our place in the world determines future history. Our stories give our lives meaning. They help us make sense of the world, and the present state of the world we find ourselves in is, itself, created by the cumulative stories of our ancestors. That is why, when confronting the suffering and injustice of the world, it becomes increasingly important to inquire, doubt, and question the nature of these tales.
Wishing to create a better world, a better place for our grandchildren to one day inherit, it's necessary to have new stories to tell. We cannot replace our old beliefs about the world with nothing. We have to imagine new stories, new interpretations of our existence.
Every culture that is woven by the human species must inspire its individuals, give them meaning and purpose.
We have always been confronted with new memes which challenge our mythologies. The science and ideas of Darwin, Copernicus, Quinn
, and Grey
forced us to reevaluate our assumptions about our place in the world because of contradictory evidence. It is hard to accept that, at a biological level, we are evolved to reproduce and rear offspring that will ensure the immortality of the genes in our DNA. It is much harder to accept that we are animals, like every other, with the same unifying instincts and needs as everything else. We are so in love with ourselves, because of the stories of our old cultural view, these ideas lead many to denial - a sort of double think where we can accept these facts in moments of rational concentration, but in our every day lives, we live unconsciously apart from them, as if we are somehow separate and above these scientific realities.
But we must discard all our past standards of value, and weave these new scientific understandings into a new story, one that I believe, will ultimately prove to be a far grander, a far more joyous and meaningful story of our existence than we ever could have imagined."
The old man breathes deeply, smiling.
He continues, "Many of our beliefs are framed by how we see history. The very idea of history, that it began with the advent of civilization, and whose focus concerns only the achievements and events of "civilized" cultures, by itself, frames the way we perceive the meaning of our history. As it is taught all over the world, the progression of human events and civilization is leading somewhere, it's progressing towards - what? Towards creating a paradise, where man has completely mastered nature through agriculture, war and science (the most recent frontier) and built man a world he can all home, shaped to his needs and image.
Our view of history is an expression of how we see ourselves. Could a new interpretation of history offer a different meaning? Could rewriting history, not in terms of events, but in interpretation of those events, lead to a radically different world for our children? I believe the answer is yes.
But do not simply accept this idea. Ask yourself. Inquire into it. Above all, my grandson, I want to teach you to question these things for yourself. Do not accept what people tell you on faith. Ask questions. Seek outside the normal pathways of school and work. Above all listen to the world, to the whole community of life, to all of your experiences. Everything can be your teacher, if you have ears and eyes to listen. Do not listen solely to people we call teachers. They are just humans like yourself. Everyone contains knowledge, or expertise on something. It is best to learn from yourself. That is - to let the world be your teacher."