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The Earth has circled around the Sun about three-and-a-half billion times since that special molecule evolved within the primordial milieu that characterized our planet some 10 billion or so solar years after our Universe blasted into being. This tiny dot of RNA was equipped with a genome. It could replicate itself. It was alive. It was LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor of all life that has spanned time on our now-living planet Earth. We, as the human species, retain elements of the genetic code that resided in LUCA.
Metaphorically, LUCA was the seed of life that gradually blossomed into trillions of species, and lately—relative to geologic time—consciousness. LUCA spawned Life and Consciousness, a complex dimension through which the Universe may be perceived, contemplated and partly understood, perhaps a window through which our Universe may perceive itself.
We are the recipients of LUCA’s potential. We, and the rest of life on Earth, are the cast of LUCA’s dream. Long may it last.
In the Biblical Book of Genesis, creation lasted seven days. It took us a week to get from nothingness to here. Referring to the great Tome of Science, if we symbolically conceive of 500 million years as a day, it took six days for LUCA’s dream to span the planet with small unicellular organisms—and on the seventh day, the Cambrian Explosion burst upon the planet, marking the dawn of the Paleozoic Era when multi-cellular life forms gradually fomented over time into ever more complex organisms, thwarted occasionally by great spasms of extinction, diversity of life always recovering until humanity blinked into being, achieving species-hood only a couple of hundred thousand years ago.
Evolution, as interpreted by Charles Darwin and his intellectual descendants, provides a conscious reflection on LUCA’s evolving dream that presently results in recognition of the miracle that exists in our tiny space in the Universe. If life and consciousness prevail here on our planet Earth, considering that our Sun is but one of 200 billion or more stars in our Milky Way galaxy, and that the Milky Way is but one of 100 billion or more galaxies in the Universe, human imagination still has a very long way to go to grasp the potential that exists in the Universe. And in the great Tome of Science, new pages are being written about the possibility of other concurrently happening universes, perhaps infinite in number.
This is our glimpse into the Great Mystery available to be pondered at any moment as long as we live, and as long as we survive as a species…
Now is not the time to squander our ponderings by focusing on so much that is irrelevant, relative to our continued existence.
We are currently engaged in a time of hastening cultural evolution that far outstrips biological evolution. Our collective consciousness is presently offering an extraordinary palette of potential areas of focus. Our species is fragmented into highly diverse cultural systems of practice, themselves having blossomed, withered and re-manifested myriad times over the 15,000 or so years since the final days of last Ice Age. Then we existed in bands of hunter-gatherers and were concerned that we owned no more than we could carry. Our scale of cultural perspective had yet to expand beyond subsistence necessary for survival. Evidence strongly suggests that we were egalitarians, that social hierarchy was thwarted by the need to practice mutual cooperation within the band and beyond, that tyrannical bullies were kept in check by the advent of weapons that could strike from afar.
With the coming of the warming trends of the Holocene, so came the advent of agriculture. We gradually became more sedentary and settled into villages, towns and eventually cities, less inclined to the nomadic ways of our forbearers, more inclined to pursue accumulating wealth. Some were more successful at this than others, thus social hierarchy became an organizing factor in human culture. Perhaps this is in keeping with humanity’s place in the animal kingdom. Civilizations appeared autonomously around the world. Curiously, evidence reveals that many civilizations waned during periods of extended drought—something to bear in mind as we challenge the elements.
Concurrently, spiritual realms crystallized into religions. Many of the gods were taken out of Nature and relocated in heavenly or hellish realms available to human souls only after death. Gradually, much of the landscape was secularized. Human sense of kinship with the rest of life began (and continues) to wane. Thus we perceive ourselves as separate from LUCA’s dream, imagining ourselves to be the reason-to-be in this age we have dubbed the Anthropocene. Indeed, we are presently the keystone species… but for how long?
That we as a species have achieved such an evolved level of consciousness is awe-inspiring. No one knows of other planets that are alive, let alone spawning life forms capable of consciousness. Surely we are not alone in the Universe, or even our home galaxy.
Certain pages in the Tome of Science reveal that it is possible that billions of solar years hence, the Universe will rip apart, perhaps to re-assemble in a new incarnation. Before then, our Sun will have gone nova, ‘obliviating’ our planet Earth. Other pages reveal possible perspectives that we are but holograms dancing to the delight of elsewhere imaginations. Or that there are parallel universes mirroring our own. Or that the notion that our Universe, though appearing infinite, is rather but one of an infinite number of universes.
The truth is, we are here and now. That tiny dot of life known as LUCA of billennia past has resulted thus far in a level of complexity of life and consciousness and attendant technology and collective lifestyle that we as a species now strain the capacity of our planet to sustain. The last three centuries have been witness to a great rise in human population and industry, extraction and expenditure of non-renewable resources, energy consumption, pollution, scientific data, lengthening human lifespan, tempering infant mortality, medical arts, education, standard-of-living capability, sophistication of media, and now digital technology. The Industrial Revolution set the stage for the 20th century, wherein our human population more than tripled, as did human appetite and consumption.
Today we are beginning to perceive the presence of global warming and climate instability. We face grave jeopardy because of our own carelessness and lack of timely response to warnings by James Hansen and other scientists who watched with dismay as CO2 levels continued to rise in spite of their repeated warnings.
I personally think that the greatest single problem we must address is our system of cultural attitudes. Until we recognize that our ecology is far more important than our economy, we will not arrest the juggernaut of our own invention. We must achieve a steady state economy and stay further population growth if we are to establish any kind of sustainable balance within our planetary ecosystem. We have allowed economics to become the dominant force that now drives our collective perspective. A certain amount of avarice has crept in—a nasty word for a nasty human characteristic that defines the Midas approach to ultimate disaster. The territorial imperative is now defined in national and other political boundaries that carve the commons into unnatural apportionments, denying rather than welcoming recognition of kinship implied in LUCA’s dream.
We are a crisis-driven species in a finite world. Our crises are more than plentiful, each tinged with a cultural bias. The keystone of our species-hood is showing points of stress and potential collapse. No matter where we look, there we are, each of us surviving as best we can, our spoor in our wake, none of us leaving a traceless passage through life and consciousness—especially in the virtual world of the Internet.
Consciousness is our greatest commons. It is filled with what we put into it: our thoughts, the words we utter, our writings, world and local news, documentary films, TV entertainments, arts and sciences, twitters, skypes, facebooks, cell phone calls, radio programs, musical compositions, our poetry, advertisements, spam—the shared perceptions of our senses, intellect, intuitions and emotions. In our ‘march of progress,’ we have largely neglected the presence of Indigenous Mind offered by those of us who yet remain traditionally rooted to homeland, who continue to recognize kinship with all living creatures on our planet Earth that spawned LUCA three-and-a-half billion years ago.
We who reside in the landscape presently known as New Mexico live in a state of grace. Biodiversity and cultural diversity abound. Indigenous mind, scientific mind, artistic mind, musical mind, sustainable mind, conscious mind live in overlapping cultures of practice that invigorate a level of cognitive diversity unique on our planet. Almost all of us can look beyond our windows into the exquisite habitat in which we share membership. Every creature, every plant is kindred. Each of us is part of the flow of Nature that sustains our planet Earth, our solar system, our galaxy, our Universe from the microcosm to the macrocosm. That is the most significant concept that we can both digest and plant as a new seed so that we may grow to maturity from the grassroots and continue to evolve. We are part of LUCA’s dream.
Jack Loeffler is the author of numerous books, including Healing the West: Voices of Culture and Habitat. Jack Loeffler and Celestia Loeffler are contributors and co-editors of Thinking Like a Watershed, a recently released anthology of essays published by the University of New Mexico Press. For more info, visit www.loreoftheland.org
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