A Double Dose of Ascension:
Deconstructing the Paradigm of Growth Through Story
What is the underlying goal of humanity? Is there an unspoken assumption that is driving our relentless technological evolution and value of progress? Perhaps humanity is too large of an umbrella to use and it would be more appropriate to call it “Western Society”. Then again, the story of which I speak is apparently visible in nearly every corner of the world for it is embedded within another story that most certainly affects every human on Earth.
Within the last month I have been gifted the opportunity to view two incredibly insightful and engaging films. Both films, in their own way, illustrate this larger Story of the World which I will title the Story of Ascent.
Each society answers fundamental questions about life in their own way, through story. The Story of Ascent is a foundational story that answers questions about who we are as human beings, what our role is on the planet, where we came from, and where we are going. Whether or not we as individuals ponder these questions, or even agree with each other on the answers, our current mainstream societal paradigm is an outgrowth of a few deeply hidden assumptions. The Story of Ascent is embedded into our societal values and growth economy, directs our scientific inquiries and technological focus, and keeps us looking just around the corner into the future for the solutions to our present pains. I will dive into the manifestations of these concepts after a quick review of the two films: Mysteries of the Unseen World and Transcendence.
Mysteries of the Unseen World is a film exploring the subtle and miraculous world that is beyond our capability to see. It features state-of-the-art filming techniques that capture images of wonders too small, too big, too fast, and too slow for the human eye to catch. The jaw-dropping visuals displayed on the dome screen above restored my faith in the magic of the world above, below, within, and without.
Opening with the most visually pleasing and simplistic explanation of light waves and the way in which our eyes perceive the world around us, Mysteries of the Unseen World then takes the audience on a journey unlike any other. Still images captured over long periods of time and then condensed into movie speeds show us the movement of plants and the dancing of flowers. We witness strawberries growing, ripening, and then decaying within seconds. Suddenly the still world around us comes to life with movement where we believed there to be none.
A transition into the realms of “too big” shows us the entire Earth as a moving, breathing, living organism. As the planet fills the screen and ocean currents dance with clouds formations, separation between dissolves in awe at this magnificent sight. Did you know that when a drop of water lands in a larger body of water, it forms a small sphere on the surface that then turns into a smaller drop, and then again into an even smaller one, and over and over again? This instantaneous and continuous process is too fast and too small for our eyes to catch, but it happens every time.
In the film we learn of the flight of the dragonfly – nature’s most skilled pilot – able to move each of its four wings independently, enabling it to fly forward, backward, and even upside down! Immersing into the world of “too small” unravels a reality even more expansive than we ever thought possible. Zooming into the threads of silk from a spider shows us bacteria living on the strands, and even smaller still, a virus living on the bacteria. We witness the sea of unseen floaters all around us in the air we breathe – filled with bacteria, insect parts, and 30,000 tonnes of space debris added each year to our atmosphere. Exposing the world we cannot see on a giant screen begins to break down the phobias of germs – the worry appears to be a moot point against the innumerable tiny swimming beings in, on, and around us all the time.
The final segment features images of cells, DNA, molecules, and even atoms visually displayed on the screen. A single atom thick point illustrates how we are able to manipulate the atomic world, appearing as a three-dimensional grid of spheres, by shifting the positions of atoms. This latest technological development at the forefront of scientific exploration – the discovery of nanotechnology. As a final ode to the Story of Ascent, as if to capture it perfectly in literal metaphor, we are shown an elevator to space made possible from a carbon material created at the atomic level.
Transcendence is a bit of a departure from Mysteries, although I have never seen a more illustrative and peak example of the Story of Ascent. In the movie, Johnny Depp’s character, Dr. Will Caster, is part of a team working to develop the world’s first artificial intelligence. After a series of attempted disruptions by parties opposed to what they see as “creating a God”, Will Caster’s consciousness is uploaded into a prototype AI program. Dr. Caster’s vision is to create a self-aware intelligence that is unbound by the limitations of the human brain and that will exponentially expand its capabilities until a tipping point is reached. He calls this moment transcendence. Once he is successfully “uploaded” and released onto the internet, Dr. Caster describes himself as being freed; he is everywhere.
Now the depth of story contained within this film is something that each individual will need to explore on their own viewing. Deconstructing the messages and underlying metaphors in Transcendence made watching the movie an absolute joy. Once freed, Dr. Caster knew exactly what he needed to do. As his online consciousness had total virtual freedom, anything became possible. Over the course of the story the technology at his disposal took on new forms. Can you guess what the crescendo was? Self-replicating nanotechnology. Perfect engineering at the atomic level that empowers us to affect the change we want at the material level in which we live. Without giving too much of the movie away (I highly recommend both films) – I simply mean to point out the embedded paradigm of progress toward singularity and the perfect illustration of the Story of Ascent that is this movie. It is through the light of our awareness that we can begin to deconstruct our hidden stories.
What is the Story of Ascent?
This story basically says that humanity began as helpless and ignorant in this world, totally at the whim of the unpredictable, and even hostile, forces of the natural world. Slowly over time science has given us the knowledge to replace ignorance with information and technology has given us the tools to replace helplessness with control. We are to continue this onward march of progress, expanding the realm of science and technology further – to make our lives easier, to cure all disease, to eliminate pain and suffering, to re-engineer the Earth to the needs of humanity, and to perhaps even one day conquer death. Or at the very least, depart this planet to live among the stars in a final transcendence of nature itself. The completion of the stairway to heaven or the mythical Tower of Babel.
Now you may not necessarily believe the previous propositions, and actually, I would be excited if you do not. That just indicates the breakdown of the story. Perhaps a few decades ago we would have believed in total cure of disease – indeed, our initial medical breakthroughs certainly indicated such a possibility. The leveling off of life expectancy and increasing input requirement of resources over the last thirty years is a perfect illustration of the falling away of this belief in our story of medicine. Similar trends exist in agriculture and economic growth.
The story of technology saving us and making life better is not holding its promise anymore (if ever). Leisure peaked in the 70’s. Health and happiness is more challenging to find. Crises are mounting in nearly every field as new problems emerge through each implementation of control-based solutions. Each new technological development was touted as the next, “Gee wiz, the future is almost here!” moment. Coal! Electricity! Chemistry! Nuclear! And now? Nanotechnology!
A generation ago a young person would be excited to become the next scientist to contribute their energy to this Story of Ascent. What an honour to develop the next cure-all antibiotic or the chemical that saves crops from pests. But now it is becoming harder for us to contribute to this story. We are looking for a new way to interface with the world around us. What if it is at the level of story that we must examine ourselves if we are to create lasting change? What if our current hidden assumptions about the world mean that any solutions we come up with are doomed from the get-go?
Another aspect of the Story of Ascent is exemplified in our global growth-based economy. This is shown through the basic tenant that growth is good and the value of the self-made individual. The breakdown of the growth paradigm and the leveling off of economic expansion is accelerating due to our collectively reaching the limits of the Earth’s ecology. One assumption of the Story of Ascent is that there is no limit to our capacity to effectively “deal with” our new problems. We believe that somewhere, some scientist is solving this problem or that crisis. Sure we live on a finite planet, but economic growth can always continue because we will find new markets to exploit. Who cares if new superbugs arise? We adapted before and we can continue to do so into the future.
The Story of Ascent also takes hold in many spiritual schools through the language of ascension and the desire to “rise above” our Earthly desires – to move beyond the material plane as though we do not really need it. We are to let go of the sins of the flesh so that we can one day be rewarded in heaven, raise ourselves into the 5th dimension, or attain enlightenment. Sacrifice happiness now for security in the future, for it is in the future where our salvation awaits. The funny thing about the future is that it never arrives…
What is the point of exploring these stories? Is there something wrong with our approach, our underlying stories? And if so, how can we transition into a story that is in alignment with nature and the planet? I believe there is nothing wrong with living out these stories for it is through this process that we come to the full awareness of our creations and are finally able to re-story our world. Will we build the elevator to space? Can we create nanotechnology to cure all disease and clean out toxins from water globally? I believe that we can accomplish the miracles that we require today in order to ensure the continuation of the human species and the thriving of planet Earth. Many of the miracles (something impossible from one story but possible in another) already exist – we simply do not view them as miracles because we have grown so accustomed to their daily existence.
The internet is one such miracle – a virtual intelligence that covers the entire globe that is created, sustained, and evolved by the entire population – a collective mind. What about instantaneous communication to someone on the other side of the Earth? Or a device that enables us access to the collective mind of humanity? Throughout most of history these possibilities would have sounded insane – you might have even been burned at the stake for mentioning such demonic ideas. Miracles now so widely accepted they are the norm.
I believe these capabilities we have obtained externally are equally available to us internally. The march of humanity’s progress and technological achievement has a purpose – to show us that miracles are indeed possible. Once we are opened to the possibility, new potentials are revealed. Suddenly, a collective global consciousness doesn’t sound so crazy because the internet is essentially just that. We created the internet to remind us of our interconnection. Nanotechnology is the external manifestation of our inner potential for healing and transformation. The movie Transcendence externalizes an internal potential within each one of us – the crescendo tipping point of the telescoping nature of human evolution. An expansion of our individual awareness and the realization of our collective existence on, in, and with planet Earth.
As long as we continue to externalize the solutions and base them on manipulation and control of the environment, we will continue to create more challenging problems to solve. I do not believe our capacity to handle such challenges is limitless. I do not believe that we require a world in which crisis is in our nature. Just as we continue to individually project disowned aspects of our shadow onto the external world around us, we will project the solutions to our troubles externally into technologies that carry a gift and a curse. If we are to align with nature we must take responsibility for our shadow and own the mess we are in internally. Only then will the gifts emerge within, free of the curse, for we have finally integrated the curse with the gift and returned to our whole Selves. The external solutions exist internally. This is where you will find them. You are perfect and whole in this moment. The sky starts an inch off the ground.
For more information on the films discussed, check out these links:
Louie Schwartzberg on TED: