Tag Archives: history

Alchemical Thoughts: Of Tales and Fires

In Plato’s seventh letter (341c), he says that what he pursues in his studies cannot be expressed in words, but emerges through sustained communion with “the thing itself” (to pragma auto) and “is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself.” There is always a call for a return to the thing itself. Contemplation feeds on an alimentary fire. Thinking is alchemy.  Continue reading

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The Philosophy of Big History

I attended the recent conference of the International Big History Association.  The association is oriented toward researching and teaching “Big History,” which aims (as their website says) to “understand the integrated history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity,” specifically by means of “the best available empirical evidence and scholarly methods.”  That opens up the field of history into a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary account of the entire 13.8 billion year history of our universe.

Big History is far from alone in its aim to articulate an integrated and evolutionary vision of matter, life, and humanity.  Multiple scholarly fields and schools of thought share the integrative aims of Big History (e.g., the universe story, the field of religion and ecology, integral theory, ecofeminism, complexity theory, posthumanities, process philosophy).  Big historians still have much to learn from those and other integrative and transdisciplinary sources of evolutionary knowledge.  Continue reading


Earth Stories

I’ve been thinking about Bruno Latour’s term, “geostory” (from his Gifford Lectures), which refers not just to stories that humans tell about Earth but refers to the implosion of the categories of the semiotic and the material, the sign and the thing in itself, history and geology.  If geostory is a story of Earth, “of” should be read as a double genitive, both objective (story about Earth) and subjective (story belonging to Earth, i.e., the narrative unfolding of Earth itself).  In any case, what really strikes me here is how many people have already proposed concepts that resonate with Latour’s proposal for geostory.

Consider an example from Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (New York: Dutton, 1979).  “Now I want to show you that whatever the word ‘story’ means […], thinking in terms of stories does not isolate human beings as something separate from the starfish and the sea anemones, the coconut palms and the primroses.  Rather, if the world be connected, if I am at all fundamentally right in what I am saying, then thinking in terms of stories must be shared by all minds, whether ours or those of redwood forests and sea anemones […], the evolutionary process through millions of generations whereby the sea anemone, like you and me, came to be—that process, too, must be of the stuff of stories.” (p. 12).

I’m also reminded of one of the working notes from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1968).  “In fact it is a question of grasping the nexus—neither ‘historical’ nor ‘geographic’ of history and transcendental geology, this very time that is space, this very space that is time, which I will have rediscovered by my analysis of the visible and the flesh” (p. 259).

Finally, I’m reminded of The Universe Story (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1992), by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry: “There is eventually only one story, the story of the universe.  Every form of being is integral with this comprehensive story.” (The Universe Story, p. 268)