The Modern Story of Realism
If I ask are you a realist or an idealist, you will probably consider your basic approach to life. The realists live more cautiously or even pessimistically, while the idealists see the bright side, spotting silver linings in every cloud.
Philosophically, however, I’m trying to get at a bigger question: what is the fundamental nature of reality? Put most simply, what came first, God or the atom? Dean Radin, chief scientist of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, addresses this question by contrasting two philosophical positions taken throughout history, realism and idealism. The realists believe that the basic building blocks of reality are physical bits that we call atoms and molecules. Billions of years of random mixing of material elements resulted in the lucky strike of not only a habitable planet, but an increasingly complex evolutionary ladder that has culminated in the miracle of human personality and reflectivity that we call mind, awareness or consciousness. This certainly is the current cosmological story underpinning modern civilization.
The Traditional Story of Idealism
Historically, however, there has always been a strong voice opposing the realists that we might call the idealists. This group believes that awareness (or mind or consciousness) is more fundamental to the universe than matter. Before the physical universe appeared there was some God, some First Cause or Power or Logos or Intention, that called all matter into existence.
One of the corollary concepts associated with the idealists is the Great Chain of Being, the linking of all matter – everything from protons to planets – in a journey of return to Source. In this story, there was nothing in the beginning but Spirit, which then gave birth to all the matter in the universe. Entry into physical form separated all material objects from their original home in the unity of God, thus, all things, including human beings, are on a journey of return to Spirit. Whether it’s heaven, moksha, or nirvana, the goal of life is to escape material existence to rejoin our essential oneness in the spiritual domain.
In weighing the traditional and modern stories, most HKIS students opt for the realism of science, dismissing the idealism of traditional religion as an attractive, but ultimately unbelievable series of myths and fairy tales. Yet still, the majority of students wish that they could find a way to believe in the idealist’s dream. Many sympathize with Albert Einstein’s famous statement, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Each seems incomplete without the other.
The New Universe Story
Is there a way out? The good news, dear students, is that a new story is emerging from the ashes of both compromised belief systems. The remnants of this two tiered cosmology, whether in its traditional religious form or its extreme agnostic materialism of 20th century science, is being called into question by a growing chorus of modern mystics and avant garde scientists who are advocating for a new story of the universe.
This new story seeks to combine the best of both previous narratives by synthesizing spirit and matter into an integral spiral. In terms of traditional religion, rather than the Great Chain of Being which sought to escape this material plane in hope of the eternal, the new paradigm literally brings heaven down to earth. On the other hand, modern science’s declaration that materiality cannot be dismissed as temporary or unreal has been given new stature by these cosmologists.
According to these third way mystics and scientists, every level of material reality contains some form of knowing or intention, collectively known as awareness or consciousness. Atoms and molecules cohere and follow laws, plants and animals participate in the circle of life, and stars and planets move in their orbits: all actively participate, in accordance with their potential, in the pursuit of cosmic wholeness.
So, what about humans? Consciousness, present as differing capacities of yearning for harmony at every level of the cosmos, comes full flower in the human ability to reflect on and seek out the meaning of the whole. Instead of returning to God as Spirit as in the traditional story, humans in this new narrative combine their raw physicality with divine energy, creating people who participate in this world (rather than live for the next) with a vibrant body-mind consciousness that lives in sympathetic resonance with the universe. The Romantic poet William Blake heralded this new way of thinking, writing that “heaven is in love with the productions of time . . . To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palms of your hands, and eternity in an hour.”
For Blake and other modern idealists, the original animating energy of the universe has always been love consciousness. Only in the last several decades has this grand integral love story of spirit-matter fusion known as the New Universe Story been shared with the world at large. In this new story the collective purpose of the universe is to make love manifest in our everyday lived experience, the daily outpouring of divine love through the particularity of our lives into time and space. This is the newly understood journey of the universe manifesting itself in us, the new story emerging in our times.
Related Articles of Interest
- A website dedicated to Thomas Berry’s understanding of the New Story.
- A free, online course, “The Journey of the Universe: A Story for Our Times” by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim of Yale.”
- Is the Modern Psyche Undergoing a Rite of Passage?” by Richard Tarnas
- Rupert Sheldrake and Charles Eisenstein have a wide-ranging conversation about the new story.