Brian Swimme is a mathematical cosmologist and philosopher. We went really deep in this conversation: the limits of human knowledge, cosmic evolution, science as a road to the sacred, and other speculations. I loved this fun, humorous, and mind-stretching conversation, and had the feeling that together we reached a place that neither could have reached […]. I loved this fun, humorous, and mind-stretching conversation, and had the feeling that together we reached a place that neither could have reached alone. Access a transcript of the podcast episode here or read below.
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Brian Swimme is a mathematical cosmologist and philosopher. We went really deep in this conversation: the limits of human knowledge, cosmic evolution, science as a road to the sacred, and other speculations. I loved this fun, humorous, and mind-stretching conversation, and had the feeling that together we reached a place that neither could have reached […].
I loved this fun, humorous, and mind-stretching conversation, and had the feeling that together we reached a place that neither could have reached alone. Access a transcript of the podcast episode here or read below.
Many thanks to Rachel Wakefield! CE: OK. And in a former incarnation you were a practicing cosmologist, is that right? CS: Yeah. So during the modern period we looked at the stars as objects out there. BS: You know, of course we have proceeded throughout modern science by assuming that it is a random, mechanical process. The difficulty comes when we realize that this mechanical process created a consciousness that reflects on it.
So clearly, our understanding of the process as mechanical is insufficient. We were so content just thinking about the way it happened in terms of matter, of mechanism.
CE: What started you thinking this way? Where was the deviation from conventional scientific thinking? What happened to you? BS: I love it. What happened to me? I wonder about that. And when we were introducing it in Berkeley, there was this amazing moment and it relates exactly to your question. So in the audience at the book release was Huston Smith. I went to a Jesuit high school, and one of the things they had me read was the works of the French Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
That was like a crossover point, you see, because he was speaking from a much deeper place than the standard modern science. He was really an impressive scientist, all sorts of results, but he had a larger vision of reality, and just having that in my mind, his ideas, enabled me to escape the prison of reductionist science, I would say.
BS: Charles, let me interrupt to say, is it comparable with you? You started off studying mathematics and so forth. CE: Well, for one thing I was really dissatisfied with the answers to the deep questions that I discovered in mathematics and philosophy too, I studied in college.
The reason I studied mathematics and philosophy, or one reason, or the reason that sounds good at least, is that I thought that these are the foundations of knowledge.
So that those became the ally of my dissatisfaction, and I began asking bigger questions. BS: So in a certain sense you left the scientific tradition and explored the Asian wisdom of meditation and consciousness? CE: Oh I had these experiences with Chinese medicine and qi gong. Things that would be considered supernatural in our society were quite commonplace and unremarkable.
In other words my encounter with this French Jesuit Teilhard, it was similar in that he lived in a different culture, and for him, the universe was suffused with a divine presence, so that he just took that as the foundation of reality.
Of course, that throws him out of the reductionist, materialist, scientific point of view. What are you going to do with that whole body of thought? In order to maintain a reductionistic worldview, you have to pretty much denigrate it, dismiss it, and not really take it fully on its own terms, because what are you going to think? Oh, he just squandered his entire career chasing rainbows. Like, I had to hold myself apart from and above basically everybody who disagreed with me. BS: Yeah.
Yeah, the arrogance of the modern scientific tradition is something to behold. It was so amazing! We were learning things that just were never known before and it just went to our head, sort of like an adolescent response. We thought we had everything, and we overdid it. We just rejected all the other forms of knowledge, but one of the exciting things about our time, and I know you share in this, is that that scientific, reductionist arrogance is breaking apart.
Would you agree? CE: Yeah, I mean, very few scientists will come out and say that they are reductionists now. But I think that reductionism gives primacy to that way of explaining things. Like it says, out of all the different ways, all the different causes of something - what did Aristotle call it?
BS: Very well said. CE: Right. Someone gave me a book by Ilya Prigogine -. CE: Oh my God, that was - that just blew my little mind at the time. Because here was an impeccable scientist -. CE: Nobel Prize winner, yeah. Just basically demonstrating that meaningful things happen that cannot be explained by the reductionistic causes. CE: You can say that the hexagonal convection cells in a beaker - well, those are nothing but these individual molecules bumping against each other and expanding, etc.
He was the head of the anthropology department. Anyway, his book Incomplete Nature does exactly what you are speaking of. So, Incomplete Nature by Terrence Deacon. CE: Yeah, I have not read it yet, and I will.
But what really blew my mind also was the emergence that comes from non-linear thermodynamics. BS: And just keeps coming and coming and coming, as you go penetrating down. Just the infinities within infinities in this universe.
If you say, why? So here is design without a designer. Beauty without an artist. BS: Built into reality. We had that sense, again going back to the unfortunate arrogance of 19th century modern science, we had the sense that we were real close to finally understanding everything in our simple little models.
I think that is fantastic. BS: Yes. The word recursive, and recursion, the way in which the universe folds back on itself - these are all related to what I was trying to say earlier, that looking out at the stars is looking at that which created the looking.
So I just want to make that connection between the recursion in the Mandelbrot set, and the recursion in contemporary cosmology. CE: This also reminds me of holographic universe theories. Holograms are very similar to fractals in that way.
Have you developed any thinking around holographic universe theories? I would love to hear you reflect on it. You were talking before about the miracle of conscious matter looking back at itself. And one way to look at it is, that if you are positing kind of a random universe, then to explain something as highly organized as brain tissue, or a microchip - I mean, if you just had a random gas of various elements, the chances of them coming together in that way are -.
CE: Or basically zero. The number that you would have to write to express the chances of that would not even be possible to write with all the ink in the world. Ordinarily people think of the sun as this big ball of fusing hydrogen gas.
But actually it has incredibly intricate structure. And a lot of it comes from electromagnetism and not gravity. And organization, structure and emergent organization seem much more at home in some of these electric universe theories. I wonder if you have anything to say about all that. BS: I do. But that is an overall theme. It still just blows my mind when I think about it. We have the universe expanding. So that is an unbelievably massive expansion of our view of the universe.
But then Stephen Hawking did a calculation. So if you modify the rate of expansion just by the slightest amount - if you made it a little bit faster, the universe would never have had life in it.
So trying to understand that has been a central challenge for the entire scientific community, but especially mathematical and observational cosmologists. Now, the current so-called explanation, which would be favored by the majority of mathematical cosmologists, is to imagine that there are an infinite number of universes. And in every one of those universes, the universe is expanding at all different kinds of rates. Now, I object so violently to this -. I think actually -.
Brian Thomas Swimme
Sold by: Amazon. Skip to main content Brian Swimme. Something went wrong. Please try your request again later. His department, "Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness" PCC , is the only graduate program in the western world that places equal emphasis on contemporary science, indigenous spirituality, classical philosophy, and feminist thought for its masters and doctoral programs. He and his colleagues at CIIS have created this program in order to re-imagine the human species as a mutually enhancing member of the Earth community. The heart of Swimme's work is his focus on knowledge that is transformative--of ourselves and of our civilization.
Brian Swimme: The Cosmos Watching Itself (E35)
He received his Ph. He brings the context of story to our understanding of the Such a story, he feels, will assist in the emergence of a flourishing Earth community. He is co-author of The Universe Story , which is the result of a 10 year collaboration with the cultural historian, Thomas Berry. For further information: www. Tom Collins has taught secondary school students in independent schools for over 20 years.
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