Yale University Press, 2017
Reviewed by Ian Mowll.
This book is about the Universe Story from the big bang 13.8 billion years ago through to today. Many enthusiasts of this story tend, understandably, to be very science based. They give us an up to date account of the science of the Universe Story and then infer meaning within the strict parameters of reductionist science.
There is a growing movement of people who seek to include the developing interior of the human experience within the Universe Story. This is expressed in human consciousness and refers to such values as right living, justice and compassion. These values are often expressed in poetry, music, ritual and other creative expressions that can hold both paradox and meaning.
I found this book refreshing in its unabashed search for meaning from both human consciousness and the scientific account of the unfolding universe. This linking of science and spirituality at a deep level is rare. Many people follow our societies unhelpful obsession with specialisation – either someone is ‘scientific’ or ‘spiritual’ but rarely both. We need big picture thinkers who can embrace both disciplines.
The author is widely read and embraces many spiritual traditions in his writing. For my part, in order to embrace a spirituality that is deeply relevant and connected with today’s world, I moved away from my Christian roots – moving away from what I call ‘churchianity’. But I acknowledge that I do well to dig up some of the treasures from the Christian tradition. In particular the idea of anticipation which is the author’s main theme. That is that we can anticipate a better, more just and beautiful world. This blends well with the scientific story in that science shows us there is a clear trend towards diversity, complexity and inter-connection. The author writes:
We can fully embrace modern scientific discoveries while leaving ample room for the coming of novelty, surprise, more being, deeper meaning and human freedom into the cosmic narrative. The universe, in that case, is not fixed or frozen by unbending rules.
It is an unfinished story whose meaning is far from having been set in stone from the start.
It is the idea of anticipation in this book that I find so compelling. The idea that we are on a journey and the future is not yet known. We cannot know what amazing discoveries in technology or transformations in consciousness await us. The Universe Story is so full of surprises – I suggest that part of our reason for being on this planet is to participate in transformations towards an ever more wonderful, meaningful and beautiful world.