We continue the spirit of the "New Story" with another excerpt from physicist Brian Swimme’s wonderful book, The Universe Is A Green Dragon. If you can’t find it at your local bookstore, it is available from Bear & Co., PO Drawer 2860, Santa Fe, NM 87504-2840, for $8.95 plus $1 postage and handling.
The book is set as an evening’s conversation between "Youth" and the storyteller "Thomas," and as their voices drift our way, they have already covered many topics. © 1985 by Bear & Co.; reprinted with permission.
Youth: What does it mean to become the mind and heart of the planet?
Thomas: To live in an awareness that the powers that created the Earth reflect on themselves through us. That’s why we have discussed the night sky, the sea, and the land. Each of these reveals cosmic powers that we are to have and become: We are to live as alluring and remembering activity, as shimmering sensitivity. And it also means the cosmic dynamic revealed by the life forms: surprise and adventure. Call it play; adventurous and surprising play. That’s what life reveals; that’s what life is.
Youth: And that is what we are to become?
Thomas: Yes. But, again, we must understand something especially important. The insistence that we become adventurous play is not our insistence alone – the universe insists on it. As with the qualities of allurement, remembering and sensitivity, the universe created our sense of adventurous play as the latest extravagance in a long history of advancing play. By enhancing it, we work with the grain of cosmic dynamics. Do you see what I’m saying?
Youth: We’re enhancing the movement of the universe, then.
Thomas: Yes. Life showed surprise from the beginning. The earliest organisms advanced by a random appearance of novelty. We call this genetic mutation totally random, by which we mean that there is no controlling machine. The genes show a fundamental freedom of activity. Nothing could predict the outcome before the appearance of the new form of life.
This presence of free activity was enhanced with sexual recombination. Now entire complexes of possibilities could be played with, rather than only individual units. The adventurous play of the life forms burst into the bewildering and sublime diversity of the past five hundred million years. All of this profusion of being and beauty is the outcome of play, of risk, of surprise. The creation of new life forms is not determined, but is the outcome of life’s intrinsic freedom.
Nor is play’s manifestation limited to activity at the genetic level. Life forms play, especially the young of species. In mammals there is a recognizable difference between the young and the old, not only anatomically, but behaviorally as well, and the most conspicuous behavioral difference is the propensity and ability to play. The young come into the Earth’s system of life as if play were what they were created for. They explore, cross the normal limits of things, leap about without reason, climb too far out on limbs, and fall in the water when their curiosity fastens on something new and strange there. The young reveal the core of life’s mystery: the need and opportunity for adventurous play.
Now let’s consider the human in all this. Biologists have discovered that in the primate order there is little genetic difference between species. The chimpanzee and the human share over 98 percent similarity in their gene pools, an astonishing discovery when we consider the tremendous differences between the species. But what is the essential difference? What line was crossed that created the human form, and not before? Is it the size of the brain? Current thinking locates the difference between humans and other primates in the ability of the human to make play its dominant activity throughout a lifetime. Unique among species, the human makes exploration, surprising discoveries, experimentation, and – above all – learning the central activities of life itself.
The human form of life can be considered the child of the Earth. This is especially clear when we examine the anatomies of other primates. The head of an infant chimpanzee resembles the head of an infant human in size and shape, but as the chimpanzee reaches adulthood, its head changes in significant ways. The human head remains comparatively the same infant head, only larger. In fact, the infant chimpanzee’s head looks more like an adult human’s head than its own future adult shape. We can begin to understand the human as an eternal child. The first human types were young primates who never "left" their youth. The shapes of their juvenile bodies were retained into adulthood, as was their youthful behavior. The great accomplishment of the human form, then, was the creation of a mature form of childhood, a form of life that, upon reaching adulthood, could continue to devote itself to a lifetime of adventurous play.
So you see what I mean when I say that life insists we develop the cosmic dynamic of adventurous play.
Youth: And if we don’t, it means we are blocking life’s unfolding again, right?
Thomas: Yes, that’s our impasse now as a species. We can think of it this way: Each species has its own habitat, that place where the species can flower forth. If a species can not find its proper habitat, its true powers of life can not be evoked. A species denied its habitat perishes; we see it all around us. What is the true habitat of the human? Adventurous play. A human denied this habitat of adventure and surprise and play is denied the opportunity to become truly human.
Our anguish today rests in our failure to recognize our true talent. We thought we were supposed to become full-time consumers in one great worldwide consumer society. But that brings no satisfaction, and we end up trashing the garden spots of the planet. We tried to live as appendages to our machines, discovering only unrelenting meaninglessness in the midst of grime and noise. What else could we have expected, trying to live outside our habitat? Can a whale live in hydrochloric acid? Can an oak tree send down roots in a tar pit? We will finally move into our destiny when we understand that we are to live in and as adventurous play.
Youth: What would this mean, specifically?
Thomas: Who knows? That’s the great thing! We can’t go to any other species and ask them. That’s the whole point! Adventure is an adventure into the unknown. True play is without predetermined direction or definition. We are to explore, to learn as deeply as we can, to probe and experiment, and above all to laugh. Humor already reveals the presence of adventurous play – a deep belly laugh might be the one true cry of the human being.
Don’t be saddened by our lack of knowledge concerning our destiny as cosmic play becomes self- reflexively aware. Put your trust in the entire cosmic process. It has labored through fifteen billion years; believe me, you are well-equipped for the job. Think of the tremendous labor of all living forms to have finally arrived at you, the ultimate child of the planet. They did their work; now you do yours! Plunge into the work of living as surprise become aware of itself. You are the essence of surprise, the heart and core of play. Show yourself as truly as you can, and you will in that moment shine with the freedom and frolic and fecundity of creative play.
To say that play is essential to the human species is to corroborate what creative scientists, artists, and the great saints have understood as central to their own activities. Play, fantasy, the imagination, and free exploration of possibilities: these are the central powers of the human person. The development of the Earth depends on the development of the human into its destiny as the self-portrait of adventurous play. Who can say? Perhaps all the other species are capable of profound playful exploration of relationships as well, only awaiting us to start the process. Perhaps the entire natural world is a tremendous party, a festival, and we the long awaited champagne.