An Eco-tethered Liberation Part II

Continuing our discussion of how the entire universe can express liberation, we are looking at what Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry suggest are 3 principles or intensions that govern the universe. These principles are differentiation, communion, and subjectivity.

Differentiation, can also be thought of as increasing diversity or complexity. Some of you might recognize it in biological terms: mutation. However expressed, this principle refers to the extraordinary variety and distinctiveness of everything in the universe. When the universe burst out in every direction some 13 billion years ago – in what is commonly referred to as the Big Bang – there was an expansive and differentiating force at work. This force embodied the pervasive insistence to create anew, which means no two things are completely alike. To exist, is to exist differently from all else! Diversity in all its forms becomes important. Think how important this intention of the universe is: were it not for differentiation, the universe would be one blob of sameness.

The principle of communion immediately came into play after the Big Bang when the universe began, as forces pulled the primordial particles together. Communion can also be referred to as interrelatedness, interdependence, or kinship. Biologically, think of it as natural selection. This intention infusing the universe gives all subjects the ability to relate to other subjects or realities. Communion is relational. All in the universe is related or bonded. This bonding enabled the first atomic beings of hydrogen and helium to form. This bonding through gravity helped galaxies to form over billions of years (today there are over one hundred billion galaxies).  This bonding has continued and, eventually, as Berry likes to put it, because of communion, the music of Beethoven also came into being. This bonding, then, plays an important physical and, when you think of it, poetic role for the universe. Berry puts it well: “without the gravitational attraction experienced throughout the physical world, there would be no emotional attraction of humans to one another.”*

From NASA, the galaxy called NGC 3749. It lies over 135 million light-years away.

Subjectivity is a bit more difficult to grasp at first, because we like to think of the universe as a collection of objects. On the contrary, the universe is filled with structures that exhibit self-organizing dynamics. Think of these dynamics as interior numinous (fancy term for spiritual) factors that are present in all reality. The biological term for this is autopoiesis or even niche creation: this is the self-organization and self-articulation or interiority of all beings. You might also think of it as consciousness. And since all living beings, including humans, emerge out of this single community (from the first non-second of the Big Bang), it is likely that there must have been a consciousness component of the universe even in primitive form from the beginning.

Here, you might be noticing something: subjectivity connotes a power or spontaneity that each thing has to participate directly in its own flourishing. Where have we heard this definition before? Liberation!

From a cosmic level, then, we see how, in an analogous way to human self-participation, liberation can apply to all of creation. Each subject follows its evolutionary impulses leading to greater differentiation, subjectivity, and communion. It is not just the human, but the rivers, trees, and animals who ought to be free to follow their own interiority without the domination from political, economic, or social structures. This is what I was referring to in in my earlier blog (What Type of Ethics, Part IV) where we see within ecosystems a complex and diverse community of producers, consumers, decomposers, and detritivores, celebrating a certain form of subjectivity.

It is important to understand that I am not implying here any romantic notion of reality in life where there is no suffering. I’d like to touch upon that briefly in the next blog entry as I move into what an eco-tethered liberation might mean.

~ Simon

* Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 46.

Author: Simon Appolloni

I am a writer, teacher, publisher and lover of the universe

3 thoughts on “An Eco-tethered Liberation Part II”

  1. So I can start saying, ‘I am not religious, but my interior is numinous!’ 😉 Thanks for this Simon. Interesting argument about the conciousness of the universe being present before humans – especially if we add the question, ‘consious of what?’ I have always loved the teaching that humans are creation conscious of itself. I wonder if any other living plant or creature, could be argued to be consious in this way. Because we do not speak their language – I suppose it is impossible to prove one way or another.

    Also, I wonder if liberation is tied at all to notions of free will? I think there is a difference between the freedom to choose to participate in one’s own flourishing and simply developing because that is what one is created to do. A tree will grow from a seed because that is what it is created to do. That growth may be interupted be destructive human actions. But can a tree freely choose to disrupt its own growth? I wonder if there are experiments where scientists puzzled over why a tree, despite having all the conditions to flourish, did not?


    1. Thanks Luke for the thoughtful comment. I am of mind, and there is evidence to support this, that we humans are not as “free” willed as we think we are. I’m keen on looking up your puzzling tree though!


      1. I forgot the earlier query you had. Another good point. I do not consider liberation and free will synonymous though. The former refers to an internal dynamic and does not require self-reflective consciousness. In other words, I do not think a tree can commit hiri kiri


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