Starlings and Process Theology
An Open Society of Creative Collaboration
Scroll down for more videos on biomimicry, the internet, and starlings, interspersed with nature photography. The videos are valuable in their own right, quite apart from the column on on the right: Starlings and the Internet. The column is a response to the videos, offering a spirituality of biomimicry in the tradition of process or Whiteheadian theology. Such a spirituality begins with a sense of wonder at the beauty of nature, followed by a desire to collaborate with nature's creativity through innovative engineering and design. This kind of collaboration is one way of responding to a divine lure within the very depths of creation. From a process perspective the divine heart -- the Soul of the Universe -- is within each person as a lure to innovate. This lure is present within other creatures and the universe as a whole. We live in an improvisational universe. Biomimicry is a human way of joining the larger symphony. Even if undertaken by people who aren't sure about God, biomimicry is a form of prayer as expressed, among other ways, in architecture, engineering, chemistry, and design.
A Worldwide Murmuring
A flock of starlings in flight is called a murmuration. The starlings murmur to each other by the flapping of their wings, providing guidance as they seek food and avoid predators.
The starlings are our elders in the spirituality of cooperation. They are a spiritual pioneers in the evolution of consciousness. Certainly their spirituality is more than individualized self-preoccupation. It is more democratic and jazz-like in spirit, filled with variegated harmonies relative to shifting winds. In their flying they form an open society of creative collaboration.
Can we learn from them? Can we evolve into open societies in an open world, where people share information and attitudes of respect and care? Can we enter into a human vlersion of starling consciousness?
We may not have wings to flap, but perhaps we can develop winglike technologies -- the Internet, for example -- which help us evolve into a worldwide community of respect and care. And, who knows, maybe even the world religions can help. Perhaps the religions can highlight their teachings of compassion and the technologies can be mediators of such compassion. Such is the hope of the Charter for Compassion. In any case, it all begins with murmuring: that is, with communicating feelings of care and respect to one another in ways that offer mutual guidance.
Murmuring is a low continuous sound such as we hear in a brook or wind or trees. From a process perspective even the Soul of the universe murmers.
The Soul is the encompassing context of galaxies and stars: the womb-like receptacle for everything that happens in the universe. In this sense the Soul transcends us, not as a monarchical ruler overseeing his territory but as a wider Wisdom in which we are small but included.
And the Soul is also a still small voice within us, beckoning us to realize our potential for wisdom, compassion, and creativity. Even as the Soul transcends the Soul is also immanent within us as our innermost lure toward fulfillment. We murmur best when we respond to the Soul's beckoning by living with respect and care for one another, other animals, and the earth.
The Soul of the universe does not require flattery in order to be effective in life. The Soul is not especially interested in being worshipped. But the very life of the Soul can be enriched by our living with respect and care for the community of life. Our love is the Soul's glorification. Our respect is divine pleasure.
This respect can be active as well as receptive. We live with respect when we stand in awe of nature's wonders. And we live with respect when we creatively respond through innovation: that is, when we create things for the sake of the common good of the world.
In science today innovative activity of this sort is called biomimicry. It is very active and dynamic, employing many kinds of intelligence: mathematical-logical, verbal-linguistic,visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, for example. But it is also a form of prayer. It is a way of being with the natural world in a spirit of creative rapport. In process theology even science is a form of listening.
The outcomes of biomicry are manifold and can take many forms: green buildings, green chemistry, healthy villages, creative friendships, acts of love, acts of justice. As humans enter into biomimicry, we produce tangible outcomes which can be measured according to empirical standards, but we also create an affective atmosphere, a culture, of creativity and respect. We create a low, continuous sound of our own. A subjective murmuring.
The philosopher Whitehead speaks of shared moods as subjective forms.
Objective forms are items of perception which we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands. They are the subject matter of the natural and social sciences, and they are also the domain of architecture, design, manufacturing,and engineering. Janine Benyus provides twelve examples of sustainable objective forms in the video called "12 Sustainable Designes."
Subjective forms are things we and other animals feel. from inside our own skins, as we dwell within the worlds of objective form. They include pleasures and pains, hopes and fears, desires and longings, memories and motivations, emotions and attitudes. Subjective forms are the subject matter of the humanities, cognitive ethology, and the science of consciousness.
Laughter and Music
Subjective forms have a private side, but they can be expressed in objective ways. They can be communicated. For example, you hear subjective forms in the laughter of the women after they watch the starlings in the video at the top.
Music is especially effective at communicating subjective forms, and this is part of its appeal in human life. It is an acoustic externalization, an outward expression, of subjective forms. Music is what feelings sound like.
Music is not alone in its capacity to communicate forms. Subjective foms can be communicated in myriad ways: artistic, religious, political, economic, linguistic, and imagistic. By these means we human share subjective states. We are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from each other and other animals; instead we are porous cells in a web of intersubjectivity.
At least this is what process theologians propose. We feel one another's feelings, both consciously and unconsciously, and form communities of intersubjectivity. A community is an inter-subjective network in which information is shared and, more deeply, moods are shared. Moods are information, too. They tell us what other living beings are feeling.
Whitehead proposes that the whole universe is a network of feeling. Human feeling is a sophisticated expression of, not an exception to, the very kinds of feelings that are found in other animals and within the very depths of matter. Ultimately, thinks Whitehead, energy is a form of feeling and feeling is a form of energy.
Back To Starlings
How, then, might we humans communicate with one another in respectful ways? How might we share feelings at a global level? How might we murmur?
Perhaps the internet can help. This very website -- Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism -- is a small attempt to share feelings of respect and care for the community of life.
But perhaps, in the spirit of Don Tapscott in the TED talk below, we best begin with starlings. He takes the communicative powers of starlings as an example of the creative collaboration the world needs today.
An Open World
An open world is one in which citizens in various nations enjoy the fruits of collaboration, transparency, freedom, and a sharing of gifts. In its openness it has moved beyond nationalist idolatries toward transnational cooperation. It has a freedom to it. Its boundaries are porous. Jesus called it the basilea theou.
In his TED talk called Four Principles for an Open World Tapscott discusses the four traits of an open society. He is especially interested in the role that technology and the Internet might play in helping create such a world. He is what you might call a technological optimist. He believes, tragedies to the contrary, that the arc of human history is, or can be, a positive arc, and that the Internet can play a positive role. Tapscott points out that Martin Luther saw the printing press as an expression of divine grace because it made possible a spreading of the word of God. Tapscott presents the Internet as a parallel source of divine grace.
In this website one of our advisors, John B. Cobb, Jr., points in a similar direction in Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet. He is not the technological optimist that Tapscott is. We might better call him a technological neutralist.
A technological neutralist is one who believes that technologies such as the Internet have both constructive and destructive possibilities, often present simultaneously. Nevertheless, Cobb proposes that, in conjuction with other factors, modern technology can indeed help us move toward a more just and sustainable way of living in the world.
His tenth idea is that the world is, can become, a community of communities of communities in which people work together to build sustainable communities and avoid self-destruction.
Cobb is quite serious about our possibilities for self-destruction. Already we have destroyed too much. Our need, he says, is to balance technological consciousness with planetary consciousness, which includes an appreciation of the organic side of life.
In our time, the web of life on earth is not simply an issue among issues but rather than context for all issues. For Cobb, it is not enough that we fall in love with machines. We must fall in love with life, too.
The falling in love is not mere sentiment. It involves a sense of wonder combined with a willingness to think clearly, critically, and imaginatively about the state of the world.
Such thinking, like biomimicry itself, is a form of prayer. In order to pray, a person may or may not believe in God. All she needs to do is to look around, look up, look down, in welcoming spirit, hospitable to the countless revelations presented to us in the more than human world. That's prayer.