New Article at Meer Magazine 14 NOVEMBER 2022
If a man is walking alone in nature, is he truly alone?
In the late 1970s through the early 1980s I was a graduate student in Philosophy in New York City. I did not have plans to become a professor of philosophy or any such thing. Rather, I was simply interested in the “big questions,” and philosophy seemed to me to be the discipline most suited to addressing these big questions. “What is a human being?” “What is the ultimate nature of the universe?” “Is the ultimate nature of the universe connected with what it means to be a human being?” In other words, “What is the meaning and purpose of human life?”
These are the questions that I was concerned with on a very personal, existential level. I hoped the study of philosophy could help me address them because I believed these questions bore directly on my personal search for meaning and truth. I had also pursued these questions during my undergraduate years (in the tumultuous 1960s) but in a more idiosyncratic, haphazard fashion—reading books that promised to address these big questions, mostly on my own, apart from my formal class assignments. I read books on Buddhism, psychology, economic theory, liberation philosophy, and spiritual enlightenment. My understanding of the complexity, difficulty, and nuances of the questions deepened, but the questions remained—“What is the meaning and purpose of our existence on this Earth?”
I discovered that the quest for wisdom, insight, clarity, and understanding was not an easy task but rather a lifelong quest. Early on, I embraced Friedrich Nietzsche’s formulation of the problems I felt: “the threat of nihilism,” that is, of meaninglessness, of nothingness, of life without direction or purpose. My quest in graduate school in New York City was to overcome this nihilism and discover answers and a deeper meaning to existence. Fortunately, I had some professors in graduate school who addressed these questions and contributed to my search for answers.
But also, unfortunately, at that time, much philosophy within the United States had been affected by movements known as “Positivism” and “Analytical Philosophy.” These movements declared that the big questions were unanswerable and even meaningless. The business of philosophy was to stick to scientifically demonstrated facts and to analyze arguments. Philosophers did an analysis of texts to show their logical structure and cogency of arguments. It also attempted to show that arguments regarding these “big questions” were both futile and meaningless. Philosophy no longer had any business trying to address these big questions.
This is illustrated by an encounter I had with one of the examiners who read my Ph.D. dissertation. This dissertation was a huge piece of writing in which I attempted to deal with Nietzsche’s problem of nihilism by using the insights provided through the philosophy of language developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein. The dissertation gave a complete interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy and a complete interpretation of Wittgenstein’s thought and showed why the latter addresses the problem of nihilism in the former. This examiner was from the Analytical tradition.
He thought it was OK to write interpretative accounts of historical thinkers (like Nietzsche or Wittgenstein), but actually attempting to address the big questions with possible solutions or wisdom was not acceptable. He argued that my dissertation was really two dissertations—a study of Nietzsche and a study of Wittgenstein, but there was no sense in putting them together in this way. I replied that putting them together was exactly the point because my juxtaposition illuminated the big philosophical question of how to address nihilism. He thought that my answer was incomprehensible and had nothing to do with the discipline of philosophy.
Despite his criticisms, I graduated and continued to pursue the big questions and integral solutions to our most fundamental human problems. Since that time humanity has been facing ever more severe crises, and even ever greater challenges to its survival (see Martin 2021). The threat of a planetary life-ending nuclear war did not abate after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the threat of climate collapse has continued to accelerate since that time.
Do these apparently suicidal tendencies on the part of human beings have to do with the big questions? I think that they do. Would human beings continue to act in ways that destroy our beautiful Earth, civilization as a whole, and the life prospects of future generations unless they were lost in nihilism—in the belief that there is no meaning or purpose, no infinity, no sacredness to life, no deep meaning to existence? Today, the big questions are more important than ever. If we are to have a future on this planet, we need to discover a way out of nihilism.
Ancient civilizations, for example, in China, India, and Europe, always believed in a higher meaning and purpose to human life. In one way or another, each civilization believed that human beings were a microcosm of the macrocosm, that is, human beings contained within themselves all the constitutive elements of being and therefore were bearers of the sacred foundations of existence itself. In each of these civilizations, there was the understanding that the inner life must be cultivated to become ever more resonant with the foundations of existence, capable of experiencing union with the divine ground of Being, the sacred source of all existence.
But the rise of early-modern science in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries rapidly changed all of this. In the year of his death (1543) Nicholas Copernicus published On the Revolution of Heavenly Bodies and began the process of reframing the meaning of human life that has continued to the present. His shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric cosmology soon blossomed into a paradigm shift of immense proportions. Humanity’s claim to being the center of the universe evaporated almost overnight. We soon appeared merely as tiny, insignificant creatures orbiting a remote star within a vast universe of incomprehensible size and emptiness, a universe mute to our demands for meaning and apparently in contradiction to our religious sense that this universe was a divine drama of which we were the center and main player. At the same time the human mind was no longer considered a microcosm of the divine mind. It was reduced simply to the egoistic impulses of tiny, individualistic creatures inhabiting the third planet from the sun. In the 18th century, the philosophy of David Hume epitomized this reduction.
In the 19th century, Nietzsche summed up the implications of this collapse of those ancient cosmological worldviews. He wrote: “Since Copernicus, man seems to have got himself on an inclined plane—now he is slipping faster and faster away from the center into—what? Into nothingness? Into a “penetrating sense of his nothingness”?” (1969, 155). Man had entered the era of nihilism—the old meanings have evaporated, and no new meaning appears, only the cold, endless regions of a universe apparently unaware of our existence. If there is no transcendent meaning to our existence, what is left? Only egoism, the personal life of self-indulgence, power, and greed. “I care only about relations in which I and my kind dominate others in order to keep the means of life under our control. We take as much as possible for ourselves in the short lifespan we possess simply to use it all and use it up.” The world at that time also gave birth to the modern system of nation-states in which power, war, and exploitative market relations become supreme and to modern capitalism in which my profit and ascendency supersede all respect of the quality of life and well-being of others. “My power and profit” emerge as the supreme goals of the capitalist, and national power and military prowess as the supreme goals of the nation-state (as Kant pointed out in his 1795 essay on Perpetual Peace).
No longer are we microcosms of the sacred macrocosm but rather agents of what Nietzsche called a “will to power” operating “beyond good and evil” in societies of isolated human egos characterized by the “general inclination of all mankind of a restless desire of power after power that ceaseth only in death” (as Thomas Hobbes declared in his Leviathan of 1651). The world is now composed of collective egos eager for power (nation-states) and individual egos pursuing power and wealth (capitalists), and not much else. The old sacredness is finished, and the stage is set for World War One and World War Two—the industrialized destruction of all peoples, one against another, a world militarized to the teeth with gigantic forces dedicated to one another’s ultimate destruction (see Glover 1999).
Is this how we answer the big questions today? Collective and individual egos in a war of all against all? Is there no meaning to existence beyond the mad will to power of nations and capitalists? No wonder we are facing an omnicidal process of self-extinction. What does it matter if we destroy all life in thermonuclear war or total climate collapse? Just a tiny, insignificant power-crazed creature struggling meaninglessly within the infinite reaches of space. Is this the paradigm assumption behind the collective egoism of nation-states and the individualist egoism of capitalist greed?
However, our civilizational paradigm has shifted again, beginning some 122 years ago. The new paradigm is often called the “counter-Copernican revolution.” Copernicus moved us out of the center; the new paradigm places us back in the center, a center now very different, because it is no longer a physical center but rather a spiritual, cognitive, and moral center. The new paradigm shift began with Quantum Physics and Einstein’s Relativity Theory in the early 20th century and has continued to deepen and expand since that time.
The new paradigm can be termed “cosmic holism.” The entire range of sciences, beginning with physics, has discovered the oneness of the universe, the oneness of our planetary ecosystem, and the oneness of human beings on planet Earth. And quantum physics has discovered that our universe is a “conscious universe” (Kafatos and Nadeau 1990). Mind is not just the little egoistic self-awareness of human individuals; it informs the entire universe and human minds are awakened and animated insofar as they participate in the cosmic mind. Human beings can ascend to “cosmic consciousness” (Bucke 1974). Quantum experts conclude that the universe evolves with a cosmic memory, and is imbued with “entanglement, coherence, correlation and resonance.” Their article expressing this holism concludes and sums up the new paradigm with this ancient Sanskrit proverb:
God sleeps in the minerals, awakens in plants, walks in animals and, thinks in man
(Mitchell & Staretz 2011, 219-20).
Not that the dominant institutions on our planet have been influenced. They have not, and power-hungry nation-states and greedy capitalists remain dominant. But around the world, millions of individuals and non-governmental societies have evolved who are dedicated to promoting and actualizing this new paradigm. The old, early-modern paradigm is embodied in the UN Charter, based upon militarized sovereign nation-states. The new paradigm is embodied in the Constitution for the Federation of Earth, based on the unity and dignity of all persons in one planetary civilization.
The Earth Constitution, of course, does not directly address the big questions of the meaning and purpose of existence. It provides a brilliant set of rules for governing ourselves on the Earth—for ending war, protecting universal human rights, diminishing social differences, and protecting the planetary ecosystem. But once we comprehend the holism of the emergent paradigm of the 20th and 21st centuries, we also understand that this holism needs to be embodied in our institutions. We need a system of democratic government that works for everyone on Earth and an economic system that promotes the common good while protecting the planetary environment.
Militarized nation-states and unrestrained capitalism can do neither. They are key causes of the suicidal trajectory that human beings find everywhere in the world. The Earth Constitution is premised on holism from beginning to end. If we adopt the new paradigm of holism, we also need to actively support the ratification of the Earth Constitution. Life once again has meaning, significance, and sacredness.
These answers to the big questions inspire us with the immense meaning and significance of our own lives and human project. But this meaningfulness must be turned into transformative action before it is too late. The Earth Constitution brings the coherence and harmony of the cosmos directly into human economics and governance. Today, the truly big questions are addressed through definitive action. We embody holism within our planetary institutions and thereby create a truly redeemed future for humanity.
Bucke, Maurice (1974, orig.pub. 1900). Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind. New York. Causeway Books.
Constitution for the Federation of Earth. WCPA. In print with Institute for Economic Democracy Press, Appomattox, VA, 2010 and 2014. Glover, Jonathan (1999). Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century. New Haven. Yale University Press.
Hobbes, Thomas (1963, first pub. 1651). Leviathan. New York. Meridian Books.
Kafatos, Means and Robert Nadeau (1990). The Conscious Universe: Part and Whole in Modern Physical Theory. New York. Springer-Verlag.
Kant, Immanuel (1983, first pub. 1795). Perpetual Peace and Other Essays. Trans. Ted Humphreys. Indianapolis. Hackett Publishing Company.
Martin, Glen T. (2021). The Earth Constitution Solution: Design for a Living Planet. Independence, VA. Peace Pentagon Press.
Mitchell, Edgar and Robert Staretz (2011). The Quantum Hologram And the Nature of Consciousness in Quantum Physics of Consciousness. Cambridge. Cosmology Science Publishers.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1969, first pub. 1887). On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York. Vintage Books.
Glen T. Martin, Ph.D., is an author of twelve books and hundreds of articles concerning global issues, human spirituality, and democratic world government. A recipient of many peace awards, he is the longtime President of the World Constitution and Parliament Association (WCPA).