The Universe Story, and/or A Pluriverse Story?

Sideris’ article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Lisa Sideris and Mary Evelyn Tucker speak at a conference about The Journey of the Universe

Brian Swimme: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Swimme

Lisa Sideris: http://indiana.edu/~relstud/people/profiles/sideris_lisa

7 Replies to “The Universe Story, and/or A Pluriverse Story?”

  1. Thanks for this, Matt. I’ve been following this ongoing critique by Sideris for a couple of years (since the 2013 conference she mentions in her essay). Personally, her critique doesn’t resonate with me at all. She doesn’t do anything resembling the kind of close reading that these cosmological movements deserve. Responding to the legitimate charge that she conflates different positions, she says that it’s incumbent upon representatives of those positions to differentiate themselves more clearly. That’s like someone conflating Plato and Aristotle and blaming Plato and Aristotle for not delineating their differences more clearly and distinctly. Maybe if she would do some close reading, she’d see that these cosmological movements (Universe Story, Epic of Evolution, Big History) have already done significant work delineating their differences. The irony! With her trite conflation, she’s preventing that multiplicity of flowers from blooming. On that note, I don’t understand her unexplained reference to that Maoist phrase. I like blooming flowers, but that phrase is overused and abused by academics. I suppose Maoism is the most felicitous frame for critiquing a supposedly hegemonic narrative and affirming what she calls “open, diverse, critical scholarly inquiry.” The irony! In any case, I appreciate your balanced response. However muddled and unintentionally ironic, her call for more plurality is not unfounded. After all, in The Universe Story, Swimme and Berry are pretty clear that they don’t like the idea of a pluriverse (pp. 25-26).

    1. Hey Sam. Yeah, I only came across her work for the first time a few days ago. We’ve got a bit of an email exchange going now. She sent me a few of her other papers related to this. I’ve only read the abstracts thus far, but yeah, she is lumping the Berry/Swimme/Yale project in with the Dawkins project?! I couldn’t imagine more diametrically opposed popularizations of science.

      1. Maybe you should try reading my book, y’all. If you can stand that much “close reading.” About 300 pages worth. 🙂 The case for linking Universe Story/Epic of Evolution movements is defended at length there (hardly possible in a lecture or commissioned essay). Moreover, these same parallels have been noted by historians and scholars of science and tech studies, notably Ian Hesketh and his work on ‘epic science.’

      2. Hi Lisa, Thanks for stopping by! I definitely do plan to read your book. As it was published in Aug 2017, and this post and comment exchange with Sam was two years prior, I hope you’ll forgive us for what may be a limited perspective based only on what you’d presented/published up to that point.

      3. I’ve just read the introduction and sections on Brian Swimme’s work from your new book. I plan to read the whole thing as soon as I’m able. As an ontological pluralist, I share many of your concerns, as I think was evident in my video. In your discussion of Dawkins, I appreciate that you drew in Whitehead’s sarcastic comment about how the bifurcated view of nature typical of modern science implies that nature poets should congratulate themselves. I still think that Swimme’s perspective diverges dramatically from Dawkins’ materialism. Swimme has been influenced by Whitehead’s process philosophy just as much as by Teilhard. There is a huge difference between a non-bifurcated cosmological perspective like Swimme’s and Dawkins’ materialism. The latter makes the human being seem like a miraculous anomaly who should take charge of evolution and master nature, while the former situates our species as another creative flowering of cosmogenesis, perhaps unique or at least rare because of our self-consciousness, but not because of our value, agency, interiority, feeling capacity, sentience, telos, intelligence, etc., which all life and perhaps some non-living self-organizing systems possess to some degree.

  2. Well, If there was ever an eminent mythologist who bridged the science/philosophy divide in our culture, and planet-wide cultural and religious gaps, it’s Joseph Campbell. He definitely had something to say about a new mythology for the planet:

    CAMPBELL: There are two things that have to happen if you’re going to have a mythology that’s appropriate to man today. One is to take the world of nature as it is known, and my God, I’ve been hearing recently about some of the things that the physicists and astronomers are finding out, and it is magical and incredible. That’s the ground. It’s not difficult to turn that into a mystical inspiration. And the second thing is to realize that the society with which you are involved is not this group or that group, or this social class or that social class, or this race or that race, but the planet. And we don’t have a mythology for people recognizing the humanity of a person on the other side of the tennis net. So it’ll come, it’ll come; but it isn’t here. [1]

    As an artist, the most powerful symbol for a world-wide mythology that comes to mind is our beautiful blue planet. For a pluraverse, the one symbol of nature and nurture that appeals to cultures worldwide, is Mother Call it Gaia, Mother Nature, the Feminine Principle, etc., that is the universal symbol that appeals to our sense of caring, nurturing, supporting attitude toward all life. It’s virtually right under our noses, but being from the male dominated world of thoughts and ideas, we don’t see it.

    In my work as an environmentalist, I restore natural habitat to one of the most biodiversity-rich environments in the world, the low Pacific coast wetland forest of Costa Rica. For that work to remain a legacy for future generations, we have a grass roots movement in place that teaches the youngest members of society the importance of the natural environment and the intricate web of live that supports it. The young ones tell their parents and the vision of respect for all life begins to take hold. Sustainability is the new model for progress now, and Costa Rica has the highest percentage of protected parkland in the world now (25%).

    So, If I was to give this new mythology for the world a flag, I would put the globe of mother earth surrounded by its children, hand-in-hand, representing the nations on earth, in a star-studded background, representing our place in the universe, because we are all here, in one place, the earth, and we don’t have anywhere else to go if we destroy it.

    [1] THINKING ALLOWED Conversations On The Leading Edge Of Knowledge and Discovery With Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove http://www.williamjames.com/transcripts/campbell.htm

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