Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Our Presence Matters
Lauren Howland


Summary by Rebecca Santos

Our Presence Matters - Think Cosmically, Act Globally

The class discussion on May 3, 2010 was led by Lauren Howland and addressed the topic of “Our Presence Matters” by focusing on the reading by Primack and Adams. The main piece of work that the discussion stemmed from was chapter 9, “Think Cosmically, Act Globally” which was derived from the book entitled “The View from the Center of the Universe.” Lauren also provided us with excerpts from books she had read outside of class, which she had found helpful in relation to the topic. She began with a power point slide show in order for us to gain a better understanding of what we would be learning and discussing during the class period.

The first slide pinpointed the types of effects that our actions can have on the Earth. Lauren summed this up by asking the simple question, “Why do we treat the world like crap?” The slide mentions that “the still dominant Newtonian cosmology implies that humans are of no particular significance in the universe.” If we truly are of no significance in the universe, we figure that our actions can’t have that a large damaging effect. In reality, our actions do have negative consequences, because we are wiping out entire species at a rapid rate, running out of fresh water and topsoil, destroying more then half of the Earth’s forests and wetlands, and our consumption has increased beyond what our planet can provide us. The amount of technology we presently use would “require four more planet Earths.” Primack and Adams state in their reading “it is though we are on a great migration across a huge and treacherous mountain range, to get through these mountains we must gain control of human impacts on the earth and develop a sustainable relationship with our planet.” As time passes and we face more obstacles it is important to reach a common ground with the Earth and gain a better understanding of a sustainable global civilization.

The next matters we reviewed, which contribute to our belief that we can take advantage of the planet, were religious impacts, social/cultural issues, and materialism/consumerism problems. While discussing religion we focused on the idea of heaven, in that life on Earth is not the end because we go to a much greater place after. Therefore, people think that they can treat the planet like a hotel. Lauren also addressed social/cultural factors that contribute to our poor treatment of the planet. This is an issue because we live in a dog eat dog world. We fight for resources because they are limited and we hold the belief that some people deserve them more than others. The third factor is materialism/consumerism because we consider Earth not only a provider of resources for our usage but also for us to sell. Most people can’t grasp the concept of Ecological Literacy, which means that they don’t realize that we are utterly dependent on the Earth for our lives. When someone is eco-literate he/she is able to understand the principles of the environment and put them forth in an effort to create a sustainable planet. The ideal ecological literate society would maintain a sustainable environment on the Earth. Blindness to eco-literacy prevents people from having the ability to understand the natural systems that make our lives possible. This ignorance results in individuals treating this planet like crap.

As the discussion carried on, Lauren presented the three new metaphors as a source in our new cosmology; by better understanding these metaphors we are taking a step in the right direction to change people’s views on their treatment of the Earth. Primack and Adams point out that “The deepest metaphors are not optional or decorative: they’re a kind of sense, like seeing or hearing, and much of what we consider to be reality can be perceived and experienced only through them.” These are the type of metaphors that we discussed in class. They can help us to understand the challenges that we face involving economics, politics, and the environment.

Gravity and Wealth: This metaphor suggests a new way to think about economic behavior as well as the distribution of wealth. In the reading, they highlight that “Gravity always makes the rich regions of the universe comparatively richer and the poor regions poorer, and thus gravity is the Ultimate Scrooge Principle.” When this "principle" talks about gravity making an area richer or poorer it is speaking about more or less matter. Wealth works like gravity because the rich usually get richer and more powerful, thus following the Scrooge metaphor. The importance of gravity here is that it concentrates matter just enough for the universe; not too little or too much. We are not positive of how much is too much because it is an empirical question whether a big crunch is inevitable. Motion counterbalances gravity, and a good example that Professor Möbius mentioned is that the Earth moves around the Sun and has been doing so for billions of years, which maintains our solar system. The Earth doesn’t fall into the Sun, but it would with the Scrooge principle alone. Without this same type of balance in wealth there is danger of the world’s wealth ending up in only a few hands. Two types of motion that we then discussed in relation to gravity and wealth were:

- Circular Motion: organized and predictable

- Random Motion: unorganized and unpredictable, some examples we mentioned in our discussion were the lottery (arguable), inflation (Möbius gave example of grandparents bakery)

These motions can be applied to both gravity and wealth. While we were discussing this topic, the debate over size arose and the controversy of the best way to redistribute the wealth. Some believe that this is possible if we become more connected, while others disagree. It is said that you can know up to 150 people and feel empathy for them but anything more than that, and it gets to be too big and impossible. This goes along with the quote, “you can’t call a nation a family because it doesn’t function like one.” Some students also mentioned a controversial issue of living in a smaller community with its own smaller government. They argued that people could cooperate more and agree, but others in the place counteracted with good points that there are costs of being smaller. The costs include the fact that no one would help you because other bigger governments would take over the smaller ones. There would also be trade-offs. For example, some people wouldn’t receive health insurance. “Bigger things always ‘eat’ little things”

The debate continued with the group who truly believed that a small community can in fact be accomplished. They did so by providing the example of the Amish who in fact have proved it possible to connect and come together as one. Since they don’t want the technology, they simply don’t allow it, and this works because they make decisions together and never turn their backs on each other. If someone disagrees with their views, then he/she exits the community.

Scale and Politics: We mentioned earlier that the size of a group that can stay personally connected is 150, because “we haven’t learned to stay assembled in masses.” Lauren also pointed out on one of her slides that “given the looming abrupt end of inflationary growth on the earth it is the young who have the most at stake and who should for their own self interest transcend these barriers.” This quote is in relation to our generation contributing to the change in creating a more sustainable environment. The examples provided in the reading on scales and politics talk about complexity growing as a characteristic of the entire Cosmic Uroboros. This growing complexity is also seen in increasing numbers of people because groups of people don’t behave like individuals, and larger groups act differently from smaller groups. In our society, there are segregations and special sizes of groups in all different types of organizations or government assigned groups. This traces as far back as the seventeenth century.

Cosmic Inflation and the Environment: This metaphor can help us better understand our own world in the sense that if we let the world keep growing as rapidly as we have in the past century, then we are going to reach the end at a fast pace. This metaphor was summed up in a statement saying “if we don’t redefine growth and abundance we are in big trouble.” The earth cannot keep up with what we think is meaningful in life and what we consider to be normal.

Lauren continued by allowing us the pleasure of hearing and gaining an inside look into an article she composed. The piece for her magazine article titled “Sustainable You: Sustainable Universe” was insightful to understand this level of sustainability that we hope to reach. The article talks about the hope of people to inspire in making sustainability trendy and redefine abundance. She pointed out that we need to get away from what we think is a “normal” way of living, i.e. using ipods, laptops, high tech utilities etc., if we want to move forward. We need to