When we first got the following article, we were unsure about how relevant a 19th-century philosopher’s vision was to the present day U.S.S.R. But when, during our trip to Moscow in November 1986, one of our Soviet friends asked us, out of the blue, if we knew of this philosopher because he was important for understanding the Soviets, we knew we had better pay attention.
Philip Holliday gives workshops in institutional transitions from tribal societies to civilizations and from civilizations to a new era of planetary culture. He can be reached at Box 9529, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
- Robert Gilman
The great Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev made a visit to Egypt a few years before his early death in 1900. As he returned home, he wrote down for the first time, in a poem called "Three Meetings," the inspiration of his life work and the reason for this last trip. He had gone to Egypt hoping to have another vision of the great being Sophia, who had appeared to him three times in his youth.
Few people in the West know of the divine Sophia, the feminine Wisdom whose voice is heard in the Bible in Proverbs 8: "…from the beginning, before the earth came into being,…I was an artisan at God’s side…" In Russia and other eastern countries, however, the greatest church buildings have always been dedicated to Sophia, who provided the vision for the universe.
Sophia spoke to Soloviev in his early 20s and told him to meet her in Egypt. There she appeared to him in the desert at dawn as the transfigured Earth in seas and rivers, forests and mountains in female form, giving him an overwhelming feeling of the unity of all. This experience of the oneness of conscious spirit or mind and the earth’s natural material environment became a symbol of the Russian vision.
SOPHIA AND GAIA
Soloviev’s lecturing and writing about Sophia had as dramatic an effect on his contemporaries in Russia as that which James Lovelock’s "Gaia hypothesis" is having on us in the West today. Lovelock has proposed that there may be an overarching intelligence or self-revising information system "Gaia," which creates and preserves physically improbable conditions in Earth’s environment such as constant salinity of the oceans, fixed proportion of gases in the atmosphere, and narrowness of temperature ranges.
Through the post-World War II development of cybernetics and computers, we have come to a new appreciation of the effective role of information in the physical world. The same abstract information may take many forms, for example, from radio waves to audible sound to brain activity to written words to impulses on a wire to changes in a microchip to images on a video screen to recordings on magnetic tape, each carrying the same message.
These days, we experience every day the many forms abstract information takes, and we begin to understand the abstract force that information has. This understanding brings us close to what Soloviev meant by Sophia. Sophia is the fullness of the information for the universe. She is life, not only as it is or as it has been, but also as it will be — the living ideal of life.
A VISION OF UNITY
When we ask ourselves today why humanity is so careless and destructive of the natural environment, many of us come to the conclusion that we see ourselves as separate from nature and see nature as lacking the kind of life we have. Soloviev received from Sophia the message that there is only one common life in the universe. Nature has the same intelligent life that humanity does.
In language which he took from the German philosopher Friedrich W.J. Schelling, Soloviev calls Sophia the "total unity" of the "Absolute" and the world. Increasingly, people in the West understand that the separation between God and the world, which we have inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition, is not an idea shared by much Eastern and native tribal religion. And we face a crisis in our inherited religiosity.
Soloviev and other Russian thinkers experienced this crisis in the period before World War I. As Russians, standing between Europe and Asia, they rose to the special calling of their motherland and prophesied to the West about the denial of unity and the violation of the common life which higher being, humanity, and nature share.