Everything is simple, at the same time, complex. Does it sound enigmatic? In reality, this ambivalence bothers us when we embrace multiple perspectives.
For example, there is a glass of water in front of me on the sofa table. It looks like a mere object, which doesn’t impact my life. I don’t consider it as any artwork whatsoever. It is too simple as it is.
Once, however, I fathom this mere object with multiple perspectives, its emerging complexity overwhelms me.
What is this glass?
It is this twenty-first-century human civilization that made this object possible. It emerged from the global, industrial, and information societies; its mechanical craftsmanship is superior. Nobody can manually craft its complete geometric shape with a standardized abstract design.
Is it a mere object?
I am not talking about any masterpiece of artists, but about a product by modern mass-production of industrialization. There must be millions of the same clone-like things. A glass of water exists not only in front of me now but consumed in any household indiscriminately. It is too simple to pay attention to our everyday moments.
Nevertheless, it is too complex to the extent that the planet Earth needed almost 4.5 billion years until this simple glass can emerge itself in this reality of here and now.
How about water inside the glass?
Water’s chemical composition is straightforward, one hydrogen and two oxygen atoms. It is one of the most fundamental chemical substances for life to sustain the biosphere on our planet Earth. Without water, any organic substance in the globe can never survive. This transparent, colorless entity represents the complex biosphere of the world.
Compared to other plants in the solar system, we see Earth is the place for water, almost 71 percent of the entire globe. Likewise, nearly 60 percent of the human body consists of water, and the brain and heart 73 percent of it. The same is for all other creatures on the globe.
Everything is water, which is simple yet complex. A photo from the Moon shows that the Earth is the hydrosphere. In it, the diversity of the microcosm overwhelms us.
How about other planets?
Are they simple and complex? We tend to think that Earth alone is unique and others are a mere material substance, far from the biodiversity on the globe. We have forests, deserts, mountains, rivers, oceans, and many places here for human civilizations and other life forms. Even the inorganic deserts contain a complex biosphere with numerous flora and fauna.
Can we expect the same diversity in the other planets, such as Mars and Venus? How about Jupiter and Saturn? How about those satellites like Moon, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, and the like? Are they not different from the lifeless rocks? Is Earth alone rare and unique among the things in the entire universe?
Why does the specific point where the solar system (in it, the planet Earth exists) rare and unique in the galaxies? Are we alone as one precious oasis in this vast universe?
Are we alone in the universe?
In one perspective, I don’t think there is this asymmetric imbalance in the universe. Everything in the cosmos should equally share the same level of simplicity and complexity. We shouldn’t be exceptional at all. We are not alone. Nevertheless, we can’t stop wondering about the difference, for example, between the surface of Mars and Earth.
Even with a mere glass of water, we get overwhelmed by the 4.5 billion-year-old evolutionary process of the planet and civilizations. Do other planets and satellites show this complexity from a simple object like a glass of water?
In 4.5 billion years, a mere stone has transformed into a glass of water on our planet. In other planets and satellites, a mere stone is as it is despite 4.5 billion years (except for the decay of its atomic particles).
Is Earth alone different?
The difference could be from what we call evolution and historicity. What are these things on Earth?
From the Big Bang, the universe has been continuously expanding itself. In the scale of hundreds of billion years, we can scarcely see the process of how all the stars and galaxies have evolved. The star movements we observe at night tell us these cosmic dynamics. We experience days and nights.
And yet, a mere stone is as it is without any evolutionary changes despite the length of billion years. But, a glass of water is different.
The difference should be from the category of each sphere. Using the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Vladimir Vernadsky, there could be the following distinctions:
- Geosphere (Inanimate objects)
- Biosphere (Self-organizing substance, life)
- Noosphere (Self-referential, consciousness)
The geosphere covers the physical universe. The evolutionary dynamics of the galaxies from the Big Bang to the present cosmic realm should be in these scales of around 13.8 billion years. It’s hard for us to feel and grasp the scale of this change. We can scarcely articulate them with a mathematical perspective. We can’t sense the scale of the universe without numbers. That is one of the reasons why we have the mathematical universe hypothesis. The spacetime realm is consistent throughout the entire universe. The mathematical universe hypothesis can tell us this reality.
However, we don’t know if evolution is ubiquitous throughout the cosmos. We are not 100% sure about the self-organizing nature of the material objects, but sure about their increasing entropy and innate ahistoricity (a stone is a stone except for resolving itself into more basic particles).
When a glass of water is no longer a material object, it is in the biosphere despite its inanimate nature. It belongs to the self-organizing life form like us humans and their combinations.
We don’t know why but almost 3.5 billion years ago, sets of molecules gained the functionality of replicating and multiplying themselves. With self-organizing nature, life was ready for its emergence.
Around 454 million years ago, the archaic biosphere was ready to embrace the first biodiversity. The ancient life forms replicated and multiplied themselves to be more suitable for the environments with their self-organizing features. They learned how to sustain and develop themselves by counting generations. The more diverse options they have, the more chances to become the fittest for survival, known as the Cambrian explosion.
We see the deserts on the Mars surface. However, one big difference is that Earth is a biosphere, while Mars is a geosphere. At least for now, we haven’t seen even any viral, bacterial indications on Mars. How about the archaic forms of self-organizing molecules? I don’t know.
Is Mars now in the dawn of the Cambrian explosion? It’s unlikely. Even if these traces may exist, it couldn’t be possible without the hundreds of million years of preparation that happened on Earth.
Yet, the biosphere is not enough for a glass of water. In addition to the self-organizing nature, another leap took place with the self-referential nature, the revolutionary functionality of seeing oneself in oneself, the birth of consciousness in the noosphere.
All life forms adapt to the environment in the biosphere through counting generations. If one is no longer suitable for the environment at hand, the survival should be in the next generation by replicating and multiplying oneself to better and more. This strategy was successful to the extent that the biodiversity has covered up the entire surface of the planet Earth. All life forms can become more competent in the next generation and the next. But then, they are under the limitation of the randomness of the new possible competencies. If the next generation is lucky enough to survive, it can be the next step to further evolution. If not, it will be in the fate of extinction.
In the noosphere, the life form has self-consciousness to see itself from the meta-perspective. We are not sure which life form has a complete set of self-consciousness. It has a gradation from the primitive to the advanced level. Spiral Dynamics could be one of the models to articulate these consciousness levels from the instinctive to mythical to tribal to institutional to rational to empathetic memes and more.
In the noosphere, we humans see ourselves in the universe from consciousness. Therefore, to articulate our existence, we need to generate grand stories and theories from myths to religions to cultures to sciences. While the biosphere caused the complex biodiversity on Earth, the noosphere built the complex civilizations. We turned a stone into bread. We stood at the pinnacle of the temple.
Here, we are with a glass of water.
And our consciousness can’t stop asking the following questions because of our inevitable self-referential nature in the meta-perspective.
- Who are we?
- Who am I?
- Where did we come from?
- Where are we now?
- Where are we going to?
- What does it mean to say we are alive and die?
We can see ourselves in ourselves. That is the most significant advantage of the noosphere. But then, it is the limitation of the noosphere.
In the geosphere, the universe is measurable in numbers; in the biosphere, life has evolved by counting generations; and in the noosphere, we have histories by inheriting civilizations.
Can we transcend these spheres? What would be beyond consciousness? After our self-referential nature, what is the next strategy beyond life and death? I am not sure if a glass of water could give us a hint.
Image by Ri Butov