Taking Our Hearts into New Worlds, by Louise Livingstone

 

Almost a year prior to theoretical physicist Stephan Hawking’s death in March 2018, an article in the Independent appeared titled Stephen Hawking says we must colonise other planets to ensure human survival.[1] Quoted as saying “We are running out of space on Earth and we need to break through the technical limitations preventing us living elsewhere in the universe”,[2] Hawking, speaking at a press conference, continued to state that “I strongly believe we should start seeking alternative planets for possible habitation”.[3] Another article in The Telegraph spoke of Hawking’s warning that the human race must start to leave the planet within 30 years to avoid being wiped out by over-population and climate change.[4]

While clearly the history that has led up to this idea is deeply complex, nourished by factors too numerous to mention in this short piece, the words arising urgently from my heart as I digested Hawking’s message were along the lines of, “we’ve messed up the Earth, now we all we need is the technological prowess to go and mess up somewhere else too.” Certainly if one takes seriously the growing evidence suggesting that human beings are responsible for drastically altering the earth’s climate, surely we have a duty to reflect deeply on this fact and to understand how/why we could have fallen out of a respectful relationship with nature before taking our current ways of knowing and relating somewhere else.[5] For how are we to truly flourish on another planet if we continue to apply the same mode of thinking to (and continue to have the same relationship with) the environment that we would wish to call our new home?

In a recent paper, I suggested that our dominant way of approaching the world has rendered heart knowing (related to feeling, openness, non-judgement, compassion and love for others) subservient to knowledge as generated through head (the contemporary seat of rational, logical thinking).[6] Indeed, modern day experience seems disturbingly fixed upon the scientific method of fragmentation of knowledge and empirical evidence—an approach which subsequently dominates the thought processes of our society and culture, often with devastating results.[7] For the past fifteen years my own work has been exploring other ways of engaging with the world, beyond the purely analytical, which might help us to engage with each other and the world differently, more harmoniously. Suggesting that our abandonment and treatment of the earth is actually deeply symbolic of the disconnection between our own heads and hearts, I am discovering that the heart is actually a dynamic symbol of harmony and of reconnection.

Interestingly, it is only as recently as the 1800s that the heart has been understood in contemporary culture as just a mechanical pump, a physical organ of the body that keeps us alive. While the heart can of course be conceived of this way, with an expanded, imaginative, symbolic attitude,[8] it can be so much more—and, I suggest, could provide valuable guidance for how we interact with life as a whole, whether on this planet or elsewhere. Across millennia, the heart has been conceived of as both a physical and non-physical phenomenon (Hoystad, 2007; Bound Alberti, 2010), carrying within itself an innate ability to mediate between different realms of human experience (for example, being able to hold objective knowledge together with subjective, lived experience). In short, because the heart feels, the heart knows—albeit differently, and more deeply. A truly authentic heart is open to direct, lived experience; it is compassionate towards ‘the other’ through an understanding that it is always in relationship and subsequently, that relationship matters (whatever relationship one finds oneself in).

Terra Two is a valuable project. It speaks of the possibility of colonising other planets in our solar system, and perhaps one day breaking out of our own solar system and into the universe beyond. This is an exciting possibility. However, I suggest that in order to create the greatest opportunities to succeed and live healthily into the future as earthlings, martians, or as beings who don’t yet have a name, we need to re-engage with our heart wisdom, tidy up our own backyard (i.e., our relationship with the earth), and then go forth into a relationship with new worlds fully equipped to flourish. Opening up to the significance of heart-centred thinking could make our adventures into new worlds a true, and sustainable, reality.

 

 

REFERENCES

Bound Alberti, F. (2010). Matters of the Heart. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Descola, P. (2013). The Ecology of Others: Anthropology and the Question of Nature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Hoystad, O. (2007). A History of the Heart. Reaktion Books. London.

Jung, C. (1988). Man and His Symbols. Anchor Press, New York.

Livingstone L. (2019) Taking Sustainability to Heart––Towards Engaging with Sustainability Issues Through Heart-Centred Thinking. In: Leal Filho W., Consorte McCrea A. (eds) Sustainability and the Humanities. Springer, Cham

McGilchrist, I. (2009). The Master and his Emissary. Yale University Press. London

 

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/stephen-hawking-colonise-other-planets-ensure-human-survival-a7746016.html (accessed 01/09/2018)

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/06/20/human-race-doomed-do-not-colonise-moon-mars-says-stephen-hawking/ (accessed 01/09/2018)

[5] https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/human-contribution-to-gw-faq.html#.W4qeTvlKiUk (accessed 01/09/2018)

[6] Livingstone L. (2019) Taking Sustainability to Heart––Towards Engaging with Sustainability Issues Through Heart-Centred Thinking. In: Leal Filho W., Consorte McCrea A. (eds) Sustainability and the Humanities. Springer, Cham

[7] Here I am referring to the effects of a dualistic, analytical approach to the world; a way of conceiving reality which has its roots in Ancient Greece (McGilchrist, 2009). Playing a pivotal role in the scientific revolution during the seventeenth century, the growing idea of a “mechanical nature” (Descola, 2013, p.31) which can be measured and objectified has helped to place humanity into the role of ‘spectator.’ This idea has supported contemporary society to become increasingly disconnected from the world, abusing the living earth and contributing to ecological degradation and climate change (McGilchrist, 2009, p.431).

[8] A symbolic attitude towards the world as a whole allows for an expansion of what we know to be ‘true’, beyond the purely analytical into the imaginative and intuitive realms of human experience – into what may lie underneath presenting issues. In his work exploring the dual nature of human experience, psychologist Carl Jung suggested that a symbolic attitude can help us to consider a word or an image as possessing “something more than its obvious and immediate meaning” (1988, p.20), continuing to state that as the mind explores the symbol, “it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason.”

 

 

Louise Livingstone

Louise is a PhD researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University taking an imaginal, auto/biographical approach to exploring ways that heart-centred knowing (in contrast to rational, head-based knowing), might support different ways of engaging with the phenomenon of conflict. She is also a personal academic tutor on the MA Myth Cosmology and the Sacred.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s