We are approaching a critical tipping point of human existence on this planet. Our future is at stake: the destiny of the biosphere’s grand experiment with a species capable of consciousness. Such a species not only experiences the world, it also experiences itself in the world. And it can make a fateful mistake: it can conceive of itself as separate from the world.
This mistake puts the entire experiment with a conscious species at risk. It puts at risk not only the species that embodies the experiment, but the whole web of life in which the experiment takes place.
Separateness: the fateful mistake
A conscious species can make a fateful mistake: the mistake of separateness. This is the mistake called “duality.” But it can also rectify that mistake and recover its fundamental unity. Herein lies the crux of the problem, and also the crux of its solution.
Humankind has lost the instinctive, intuitive oneness in which other species are embedded. It cannot go back to its instinctive, intuitive oneness because a higher level of consciousness, once evolved, cannot be put on hold: it colors everything that is experienced. The modern consciousness questions the validity of instinct and intuition; it trusts only observation and commonsense. Hence the way forward is not a return to the previous, intuitive state of oneness, but a conscious recovery of that oneness. This recovery can make use of observation and reasoning, even if the relevant kind of reasoning goes beyond the one accepted as good commonsense. This is the path that follows the method of science.
Overcoming the mistake through science
When we look at the condition of humanity in the biosphere through the lens of science, we perceive the web of life as a vast, organically interconnected and coherent system. On a closer look we see that this system has become partially incoherent. It harbors an incoherent element that disturbs and damages its intrinsic coherence: this element is the human species—a species that, some thirty or fifty thousand years ago, evolved a higher form of consciousness. The species itself—homo sapiens—is much older than this, with its origins reaching back five million years or more. But the kind of consciousness that could make the mistake of separateness came about only with the emergence of homo sapiens sapiens. It is made possible by a consciousness that distinguishes the experiencer from the experienced, and creates a radical separation between them.
In the modern world this flawed conception is underscored by the belief that only the human being is a truly conscious being; other species have either a much lesser consciousness, or no consciousness at all. Acting on this belief gives rise to behavior that damages the integrity of the web of life: it “suboptimizes” this delicately balanced and strongly interconnected system, favoring one of its elements—the human—at the expense of the others. If behavior prompted by the mistaken belief of human separateness from the rest of the world is not corrected, it will irreversibly damage and ultimate destroy the balances that ensure the persistence of higher forms of life on the planet.
Science tells us that the healthy organism is coherent, with all its parts collaborating in the task of maintaining it in the dynamic, physically improbable living state. The healthy organism is not only coherent in itself, it is also coherently related to nature. The embracing system of life on the planet is more than coherent: it is “supercoherent.” Supercoherence is the coherence of in-themselves coherent systems.
The mistaken perception of duality introduces a factor of incoherence into this supercoherent system. The species that introduces such incoherence is a kind of cancer in the web of life: it is a threat to the system of life, and thus also to itself.
Overcoming the mistake through lived experience
The realization of the objective and urgent requirement to recover our coherence with all life on the planet is one of the paths that permits us to recover our oneness. There is also another path: the path through spontaneous, lived experience.
Sapiens sapiens did not lose the ability to experience its coherence with the system of life on the planet; it did not divest itself of the perception of its oneness with the world. Ever more people develop the sensitivity that enables them to experience this oneness. They feel that they are part of a larger whole: that they belong to nature and the cosmos as one of its intrinsic, organic elements. This is the hallmark of the spiritual and religious experience, and it is a real experience regardless of what religious or spiritual tradition expresses it.
The spiritual experience of oneness conduces to the same insight as reasoning through science. Both convey the insight of fundamental interconnection between ourselves, other people, other forms of life, the biosphere and, ultimately, the universe.
Science and spirituality, far from being mutually exclusive and conflicting elements, are complementary partners in the search for the path that can enable humanity to recover its oneness with the world. Science demonstrates the urgent and objective need for it; and spirituality testifies to its inherent value and supreme desirability.
We can reason to our oneness in the world, and we can experience our oneness with the world. The time has come to do both, for they are complementary and mutually reinforcing. The international Oneness Days encourage us to take up this challenge: to live up to our destiny as a conscious species, creating a flourishing world that is worthy of the intellectual, moral, and emotional potentials present in the heart and in the mind of every human being.