2019 Newsletter 1: Earth Trek
|Rajesh Kasturirangan||Feb 1, 2019|
Today is the 1st of February. Let's just say I took January off and am now ready to take on a year long writing project. What's it going to be?
No surprise, it's the same project as last year. Way back at the beginning of last year, I said I wanted to investigate the concept of Samsara, the wheel of time and space in which we find ourselves. Some think Samsara is infused with suffering; others embrace our worldly condition and ask us to enjoy it while we can. Why are we finite? Why do we grow sick and die?
The Buddha left the comforts of home in pursuit of these questions. Did he answer those questions to everyone's satisfaction? Is there anything new under the samsaric sun? Disease and sickness haven't gone away, though we are better at curing some of them than we were back then. Death refuses to budge from its full stop at the end of the sentence.
Then there are new phrases like Anthropocene that hint at a new phase of our samsaric condition. While it's always been true, it's never been more apparent that our welfare seems inextricably bound to the welfare of other beings on this planet and the governance of our bodies has to incorporate the governance of both our interior and exterior landscape. From the bacteria in our guts to the whales on our beaches, we have to pay attention to the samsara of all creatures. Everything that shares a worldly destiny in fact.
That's the question I want to explore this year. It's a question about the nature of the world as seen from the inside, a cosmic earthworm's (CW) point of view rather than a cosmic eagle's. Pay attention to that cosmic earthworm for a moment as he hides from the cosmic eagle. The eagle is the eye of science, the view from so far above that it might as well be nowhere. The cw is the exact opposite - a being embedded deeply and firmly in the ground.
The universe belongs to the eagle. Samsara, to the earthworm. The eagle is Star Trek. CW is Earth Trek. Behind the cw is an even bigger conceit - that we can create a new field of knowledge by:
setting aside the default assumptions of the current dominant framework,
borrowing concepts from traditions that don't adopt these default assumptions and reshaping these concepts to suit our needs
inventing new concepts and tools as we go along while:
making sure that all our moves are well motivated and feel "right."
It may or may not work, but a journey that features bacterial minds and banana republics as stopovers promises to be interesting.
We want to be crawling along with the cw to the four corners of the earth, asking questions that chew at the boundaries of every scholarly discipline. Why? Because we can't answer questions about how to govern this planet unless we also understand the needs of its inhabitants. The first requires us to expand our political sphere from nations to oceans. The second requires us to look at the minds of butterflies and banana trees.
We will trace the connections that bind living beings to each other, peer into their worlds and ask how we can create institutional structures that lets those worlds flourish. Some of what I will say has clear affinities to panpsychist and animist views; the resemblance isn't coincidental - in fact, it's a natural outcome of a cw approach to knowledge.
Wouldn't that be radically different from the eagle's view of the universe?
Yes. That's because we have forgotten samsara in our quest to understand the universe. I remember being awed by the voice over in Star Trek ("To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations"); I still think the sentiment was right but the target of exploration was wrong. It's terrestrial existence - Samsara in so many words - that's ripe for exploration. The key to new knowledge is through the world of beings. Earth Trek.