The harmony of natural law...reveals an
intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all
the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly
The World As I See It
There is something about the universe --
an elegant order in the way everything fits and unfolds, an inexplicable
beauty in its living patterns, and the mysterious depth and expressiveness
of it all -- that reminds us of the brilliance we see in the
works of great artists, scientists, engineers, and saints.
Some people believe that human intelligence
is the pinnacle of natural evolution and can outdo anything nature
has to offer -- and that there is no God, and that nature has
nothing remotely resembling consciousness or intelligence. Others
say that nature's (or God's) brilliance is greater than any human
intelligence -- ultimately awesome in its scope and endlessly
surprising in its details -- and that human intelligence is a
small but elegant expression of this larger intelligence and
has much to learn from it.
More often than not, I find myself in this
latter group -- those who sense some kind(s) of universal intelligence.
To some degree, this is a matter of faith. To some degree, it
seems that the evidence surrounds us.
For those of us who see things this way,
I suspect it honors universal intelligence more if we contemplate
it, share our sense of it, and tap into it rather than argue
about it with others who see things differently. In any case,
this article describes how I see it.
Christians see a higher intelligence they
call God's plan, or the will of God. Taoists see a higher intelligence
they call the Tao, the Way of Nature. Meditative traditions speak
of cosmic consciousness. Most indigenous peoples consider all
of nature to be intelligent and alive. Scientists speak of natural
laws -- and some are now researching what they call complex, adaptive
systems -- systems that respond to the world around them, in ways
that look a lot like learning. The whole process of evolution
is clearly a learning process, a developing of new variations
that work better, or work in new environments. Some people see
evolution as the dynamic unfolding Great
Story of the Living Universe and consciously celebrate and
learn from it.
I bundle all these phenomena into one package
and label it "universal intelligence."
When I'm feeling esoteric, I might describe
it something like this: We live in a sea of information, a web
of interconnection, a field of what some Buddhists call inter-being
-- a dynamic state of interactive,
resonant existential communion. There are universal patterns,
powers and wisdom at the
core of our being, and the universe vibrates with our every
act and thought. What happens in one place and time is linked
to everything else far more intimately than we could ever imagine.
Synchronicities and analogs abound. Certain patterns keep cropping
up: We see BRANCHES in trees, rivers, roads, fields of study,
computer circuitry. We see CYCLES in planets, electrons, food
chains, wheels, the flows of water and carbon through the biosphere,
and the recycling bin. It is no accident that we use the word
VISION to describe perception, imagination, insight and prediction.
Patterns like these (branches, cycles, vision, etc.) are alive
with useful meaning. At every level, the universe is rich with
lessons and resonances as it in-forms itself, intimately co-being
and co-evolving, learning and remembering. Intelligence is everywhere.
There is information
and wisdom here we can tap into. There are flows and textures
and energies, resistences and assistances, that we can join and
follow, or grow stronger and wiser wrestling with.
Among those who see such intelligence operating
in the world around us, there is endless speculation about its
nature. Is universal intelligence built into nature by a human-like
Creator and then left to unfold -- or a sign of a Creator's continual,
contemporary engagement in creation? Are the natural patterns
that we think of as intelligent merely analogs of our own intelligence,
or are they somehow the same thing, writ large? Are we anthropomorphically
projecting our experience of consciousness into the dumb matter
of the world, or is our own intelligent consciousness somehow
an expression or facet of some larger intelligent consciousness?
Are we dreaming God, or is God dreaming us? I, myself, entertain
several seemingly contradictory beliefs at once about all this,
and keep it all balanced with a generous ballast of "maybes."
For my purposes here, though, we don't have
to agree on the nature of universal intelligence. Despite
all the disagreements about that, few will disagree that there
is something ultimately mysterious and creative about the order
of the universe. Even top scientists who see nothing "spiritual"
in the world around them agree on that. At the very least, the
word "intelligence" provides an excellent metaphor to
describe that reality.
So for now let us not argue over the exact
nature of this thing I call universal intelligence. Rather, let
us explore our relationship to it.
In the explorations that follow, I simply
assume that there is an order that is larger than us, which has
its own logic and direction which we are not in charge of. If
this is true, then working against this higher power will demand
more effort than working with it, and will generate little, if
anything, of lasting value except learning -- which is always
available -- and sometimes catastrophe. This would suggest that
we subjugate ourselves to this higher intelligence. However, experience
suggests that we can, to a certain degree and with great caution,
manipulate this higher intelligence for our own ends -- which
we do through science and engineering by applying natural laws
and through religion by praying. But natural order is complex
beyond our capacity to know fully, and if our manipulations are
at all arrogant -- presumptuous that we know what we're doing
-- we will likely end up creating a mess like the Sorcerer's Apprentice.
A third -- and, to me, more satisfactory -- strategy than total
submission or manipulation is to respect, befriend, cooperate
with and creatively move in harmony with this infinitely powerful
and complex intelligence, to the best of our ability.
Humility is, naturally, an excellent place
to begin in our efforts to cooperate with universal intelligence.
Humility in this case simply means an honest appreciation of our
own limitations and a real respect for the ancient and awesome
wisdom of the greater intelligence(s) in which we're embedded.
Humility means starting from a place without arrogance, with flexible
certainties, a place of respect, curiosity, wonder and willingness
to learn -- in every situation we can manage it.
"Letting go" is another part of
cooperating with universal intelligence -- being unattached to
outcome, realizing we're not in control. Not being in control
doesn't mean that we don't have a significant role. Indeed, our
influence is part of what shapes the unfolding of whatever happens
next. But that is influence, and not control -- sometimes
more, sometimes less, and always participatory, not unilateral.
(This also means leaving behind blame and shame and reconceptualizing
responsibility as our [or another's] actual role in events in
which all of us have roles. Taking responsibility for the past
would mean consciously acknowledging that what we did -- whatever
we did -- played a role in what happened. Taking responsibility
for the future would mean consciously choosing a role and playing
it out as best we can, knowing that we are only one of many players.)
In what I experience as my best times, I
feel more like a conduit for a larger, all-inclusive intelligence,
or like my life is an active part of something larger that is
trying to happen. When I'm in that state of awareness, there is
a sense of being guided. It isn't so much that I'm told what to
do in so many words (although that has happened occasionally,
too), but rather that I can feel when I'm "on track"
or "off track." It is a gut feeling that what I'm doing
is the right thing (or not) at this time. Often it is more than
a feeling of "being in the flow," but an apparently
objective fact. Ideas, resources, opportunities, and other openings
inexplicably appear in ways that facilitate rapid progress in
a particular direction -- as if someone or something were clearing
the way for me.
But sometimes "the way opens"
(as the Quakers say) in directions that seem to me wrong. So I
end up having to make judgments and choices anyway. How do I know
that this impulse is aligned to universal intelligence while that
other one is not? I'm not even sure we can talk about universal
intelligence as something we can "know."
So I certainly don't believe that any of
us can legitimately claim to know what its marching orders are,
even if we wanted to follow its dictates. I see our challenge
as more complex. In the spirit of co-intelligence -- as noted
above -- I prefer to view what seem to be the patterns and promptings
of universal intelligence not as something to submit to or manipulate,
but as something to join in partnership with, in a sort of dance,
as one would with a good friend or lover or comrade. We influence
each other. My intentions have a role in shaping The Plan, and
my actions have a role in realizing The Plan, but I never know
exactly what The Plan is, although I often think I sense its patterns
in my life and in the life of the world around me. I open myself
to universal intelligence, and let my inevitably limited perception
of it inform -- but not control -- my reason, my passion,
my intuition, my action.
One part of that Plan -- that intelligence
-- is crystal clear: Universal intelligence is definitely concerned
with more than me. It is concerned with the operation and well-being
of the Whole -- a Whole so large I can't fathom it. So opening
myself to universal intelligence automatically influences me to
keep my intentions for myself in perspective. And from that perspective,
I know that when I try to benefit myself at the expense of someone
or something else, it's not going to work out as neatly as I think,
because the Plan simply doesn't operate that way. On the other
hand, the closer I get to benefiting The Whole, the more aligned
I become with the operations of universal intelligence. And, since
I can't know The Whole, that translates into doing the best I
can while giving universal intelligence lots of space to do what
it does. In fact, I can become an ally with universal intelligence
by providing contexts in which things can co-creatively self-organize,
rather than forcing them into pre-determined outcomes. That doesn't
mean just standing back (although that's often what's called for);
it means going with
the grain of life, not against it. This can be quite active,
like helping children learn what they really want to learn instead
of forcing them to learn what they're not interested in (or neglecting
them) -- or creating an open space
conference where all the issues hidden inside the participants
can emerge and get dealt with, rather than organizing a conference
where experts tell people what to think. This is working with
universal intelligence, giving universal intelligence the space
it needs to do its thing through whatever aliveness is present.
Then we can truly do wonders, because that's
what universal intelligence specializes in.