The Universe is layers of complexity built one upon the other. In fact, it would seem that the Universe strives to create more and more new things.
Look at the course of the evolution of the Universe. Highly energetic particles from the Big Bang eventually formed the furnaces that were the first stars, a layer of complexity above the initial chaos. The stars, as we know, arranged themselves into galaxies around forces of intense gravity. Another layer of complexity, of higher organization, was added. Galaxies are the structures that hold all of this in place. You can consider them to be the skeletal structure of the Universe. Well, the heavier elements cooked out of these stars cooled even further and came together to form planets. These planets orbited in solar systems around their home star. More complexity. Basic chemistry eventually gave way to complex, organic chemistry on some planets. On one very special planet, it resulted in the creation of a very special type of molecule called DNA. At the time, this could very well have been the most complex thing in the Universe: a self-replicating molecule. Organic evolution ensued, from which we eventually got a creature that could IMAGINE. For the first time in the Universe (as far as we know), there existed a creature with the ability to manipulate language like code, who could dream things up that hadn’t existed before, and with the hardware (like a neocortex and opposable thumbs) to bring that dream into reality. The creature, the human being, then went on to create society, a further layer of complexity and higher organization. They created art, schools of thought, governments, economies, the World Wide Web. Complexity upon complexity. And we are still creating.
Terence McKenna postulated a model based on this observation of this tendency of the Universe to create more complex, new things. He put forth two quantities, known as Novelty and Habit, and supposed the Universe to be Novelty producing engine. Each period of Novelty is followed by a period of Habit in which not much changes, but the Universe is always pushing for Novelty, and these cycles are happening faster and faster. It took many billion years for the galaxies to form, a few billion years for conditions favorable to life to appear on Earth, a few hundred million years for evolution to take place, only 50,000 or so years for human history to span, and just look at the progress we have made in only the last 100 years. More and more Novelty is added in less amount of time since the previous burst of Novelty.
It seems that the entire Universe is exhibiting some kind of crystallization. McKenna makes this point in the talk “Linear Societies and Nonlinear Drugs”. He mentions the book “A Thousand Years Of Nonlinear History” written by Manuel DeLanda, which talks about how humans are very much concerned with movement of a large amount of geological material. In other words, we move around a lot of rock and we use this rock to build highly complex structures. It is as if these structures are an extension of a crystallization process of the Earth itself via a biological intermediate, that is, us.
It is interesting to look at the Universal process as one of crystallization. What is crystallization, after all? It is the process where particles in an unorganized solution come together to form a highly organized structure. Is this not what the entire Universe has been doing the whole time, crystallizing to form ever more complex things? In every instance, from chaos came order, and so on. The Universe is very much alternating layers of chaos and order. The Universe crystallized galaxies- ordered structures- from the chaos that was the super-energetic plasma that came from the Big Bang. Even the process of evolution is a crystallization of sorts- unorganized DNA crystallized into a cellular structure, which crystallized into tissues, which crystallized into creatures.
So what, then, is the next step? Are we to build some kind of super structure? Are we to give our entire life and efforts to furthering this crystallization of geological material? Or, will we use those structures to live our life in such a way that we crystallize some kind of greater mind? Is that truly our purpose? To be the vehicle of transformation of the greater consciousness of this Earth? Are we supposed to birth the spirit of the Earth through our minds?
Evolution- a tiny part of the crystallization process of the entire Universe- has always been a conquest of dimensionality. DNA transcribes in one dimension, along a straight line. Cellular animals, for all intents and purposes, only move in two dimensions (like in petri dish). Higher animals are able to move in all three spatial dimensions. Human beings have the hardware to perceive the passage of time, which lower animals do not. We can remember the past and anticipate the future- this is access to an extra time state, which exists in our imagination. So you might say that we have access to 3 dimensions plus we are just getting into the dimension of time. What will the next stage of evolution then be? Extra arms? Heat vision? Something banal and clichéd like that? Or will we rupture into the next dimension where we are no longer bound by three dimensions? It will be the end of time. We would no longer require to travel in a straight line from the past to the future, but all states of time will be accessible to us. Is this not a layer of complexity on this Universe the likes of which it has not seen yet? I mean, as far as we know?
If we look at this model of the Universe, it shows us that we are not incidental, that we are not meaningless, that we do have a role to play. We are part of a much larger process, and we are responsible to take that process to the next level. Why? Because it’s what the Universe wants, and it’s what WE want.
So we need to look at how we are going to approach this. Business as usual simply won’t work, because we will destroy the substrate of this next stage of crystallization, which is the Earth. If we don’t have a planet to stand on, we won’t be able to birth this new spirit from our minds. We really need to take a look at what the common human issues are, and how we can use this wonderfully crystallized planet to do the Universe’s work. After all, the Universe can’t do it without us. We would emerge, like butterflies, from the dark chrysalis of matter and into Infinity… but we have to do this together.
(If you liked the ideas represented in this article, they come from the man Terence McKenna himself, on which I simply sprinkled a few toppings. I strongly urge you to listen to any McKenna lecture, because he is a great advocate for the freedom of the individual and an outspoken critic of the values of Western culture. The lecture linked in this article is as great a place to start as any.)
(Cover art by Dhananjai Sinha)