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Peter Russell

we find many parallels with light. Time, for example, seems to disappear. There is just the present with no passage of time. The same things happens with light. There’s the present moment, but no duration. Consciousness does not seem to exist within space.  Nor does it have mass. What that suggests to me is that light is probably the first manifestation of whatever the absolute reality to the cosmos is. Its first manifestation in the physical world is physical light. And it’s manifestation in the subjective world is what we call that light of consciousness, that inner light of wakefulness.

David: That would mean that everything in the material world is ultimately composed of light or consciousness. Isn’t it also interesting that one of the things that makes light unique and different from matter is that it has no opposite in the universe. With matter there’s antimatter, but there’s no “anti-light”.

Peter: Yeah, that’s also true I believe, in our current understanding.

David: Why do you think evolution appears to be accelerating, and what do you think it is exactly that’s accelerating?

Peter: What is accelerating is the rate at which new developments come into existence. People talk about time accelerating, but time doesn’t accelerate. Time can’t accelerate, because what do you measure the acceleration against? You got to have some standard of time. What is actually accelerating is the rate of change. I think the reason for this is because there’s more potential for change as the universe gets more complex. When the universe was very simple, and bacteria were just reproducing by division, change was very slow. When sexual reproduction evolved change got much faster, because it was a more complex system. When multicellular organisms evolved, like mammals or ourselves, it got even faster. Each new level makes it easier for the next level. 

With human beings, we’ve moved on to a whole new arena of evolution, and one which can move even faster. We’re no longer bound by genetic biological evolution. You could even argue that we’ve stopped evolving physically. We’ve taken off the pressures of natural selection. We give everybody equal chances at mating, and we look after our sick. So we’ve taken off the pressures for biological evolution. Where we’re evolving is in our understanding, our knowledge, our values–in our consciousness–and that is going much faster. We’re seeing changes in human culture which are happening in decades, rather than thousands or millions of years.

David: Our biosphere is currently facing one of the largest mass extinctions in its history. What do you think can be done to help turn this situation around?

Peter: The reason for this mass species extinction is that a species on Earth is destroying the atmosphere, polluting the seas, ripping out the rain forests, and in other ways disturbing the ecology. In the past it seems that it was probably asteroid or comet impact, or maybe huge volcanic eruptions, that really effected the species. When you had these mass species extinctions they due to were natural causes, which will happen from time to time. What’s happening now is something which is the result of human activity.

I think nature is remarkably resilient and adaptive, and if we just got out of the way, I think nature would adapt and recover over thousands of years. The longer we go on with our current mode of civilization, we are just creating more and more problems. We’re just making things worse and worse and worse, which means it’s going to be harder and harder for the environment to adapt, and we’re just creating a deeper and deeper crises. I think in the long term it will recover. But, in some way, we just need to end this crazy way in which we treat the planet.

David: You’ve used two interesting metaphors to describe the role that you think the human species is playing on this planet. You’ve said that we’re like neurons in an emerging global brain, and that we’re also like an out-of-control cancerous growth on the planetary body. Can you talk a little about these two metaphors, and also about how your concept of the global brain relates to the Gaia Hypothesis?

Peter: Yes. The idea of the Global Brain started for me a long time ago, when James Lovelock came out with the Gaia Hypothesis. The idea was that you can consider the whole biosystem of the Earth as a single integrated system–much as if it were a living organism in its own right. You can then start drawing parallels between systems in the overall biosystem and an organism, and the functions they perform. So, for example, the atmosphere is a bit like the circulatory system, carrying nutrients around the planet. The rain forests resemble the lungs exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen. As I began to draw parallels, I was forced to ask, what is humanity doing here? Life’s existed on this planet perfectly well for three-and-a-half billion years. Human beings are a very recent occurrence; they’ve appeared in just the last .01 percent of the planet’s history. The biosphere survived perfectly well without us. What function do we perform, if any?

Then I realized what it is that human beings do that no other species does– the processing of information. We are information processors par excellence. That’s come about primarily because we have developed the most sophisticated language and communication system on the planet. That suggested to me that we’re like the nerve cells of the planet. Then I started looking at how the brain develops in the growing fetus. There’s this massive population explosion of nerve cells around the second or third month. The number of brain cells grows exceedingly fast, and then, just before birth, it slows down and stops. The brain is, in a sense, fully grown. Then what happens is the nerve cells begin connecting up. The development of the mind, the intelligence, the creativity, and all of that, is not because, the brain grows more cells. It’s because the cells start interconnecting.

It struck me that humanity’s going through a parallel thing. Human beings have suddenly appeared on the Earth, and now we’ve gone through this massive population explosion–which is now beginning to tail off, thankfully. The current estimates are it’ll probably stabilize somewhere around twice the current size, or maybe less, if we don’t destroy ourselves in the process. And we’re now going through this phase of beginning to connect up. It started off with things like the telephone, then radio and television, fiber optics and satellites, and now the internet, and who knows where it’s going to lead. But we are beginning to connect in the same way as the cells in a brain connect. 

But, at the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that we are also acting in a crazy way. If we continue doing what we’re doing we’re not going to be here much longer. The human species may still be here, but there’s not going to be this wonderful high-tech culture with everybody communicating with everybody else. We’ve already damaged the environment and upset the weather patterns. We may be reduced back to hunter-gatherers or something. We’re in a very dangerous situation indeed.

So I wondered, what is it also about human beings, that as well as making us so intelligent, also leads us to behave in ways which are insane. It is really insane. To realize you’re destroying the planet, your support system, and then to continue with policies that promote yet more destruction, is insane. 

So I started thinking, where does this insanity come from? What’s it about? It became obvious that we are stuck in a rather self-centered mode of consciousness, in which our individual needs take priority over the needs of the collective. Then I realized that’s what happens in cancer. Cancer cells are “rogue cells”, cells that somehow lose their connection to the whole organism. They’re very selfish cells. And I think, by and large, humanity has become a very selfish species . Cancer cells are also stupid. Ironically, if a cancer becomes malignant, and it’s successful in it’s growth, it destroys it’s host organism–-and hence itself–just humanity seems to be doing. In addition, cancers can grow very fast when they become malignant, which, again, is what is happening with humanity.

I once saw a picture of a cancer growing in the human body, and then seeing a picture of a city sprawling out into the surroundings and thought, my God, it’s the same type of system. When you look at the way the cancer is eating into the body, it’s just like the way the city eats into the environment. Then I looked deeper and realized that what happens with a cancer–why the cells turn rogue and become selfish cells–is a result of the genetic programming being disturbed in some way. Whether it’s due to a virus, pollution, radiation, for some reason or other the genetic code gets disturbed, and the cell loses its connection with the whole. 

In the contemporary world, our psyche has become similarly disturbed. We’ve got faulty programs running us. We’re often driven by old survival programs. They may have been valuable when we were in the jungle, and our physical survival was at stake. We needed them then. But today, most of us have most of our physical survival issues pretty well handled most of the time. But we still have these old programs running our thinking. And these programs tell us that if we’re not at peace, if we’re not happy, we need to do something about it. There’s something wrong with the world around us, and we

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