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"We are on the verge of a paradigm shift of unparalleled magnitude. Such a shift occurs when new science forces us to adopt a different overall framework and perspective.

Rather than steadily drifting toward a more disordered and lifeless state, the universe is undergoing a transformative evolutionary process that began before biology and goes far beyond. Through a series of hierarchical emergences—a nested sequence of parts coming together to form ever-greater wholes—the universe is undergoing a majestic self-organizing process. In other words, nature’s simplest parts organize themselves into wholes, which become the building blocks for the next level of complexity. Atoms come together to form molecules, which come together to form cells, which come together to form complex organisms that self-assemble into societies. Now, the integrated network of humans connected by the internet is forming something like a global brain.

This means that cosmic evolution is multi-level self-organization that includes physical, chemical, biological, cultural, and technological evolution. Life, mind, society, culture, science, art, and technology are manifestations of a single evolutionary process. Since this natural process produces consciousness, cosmic evolution is literally the inanimate world waking up.

As the great cosmologist and science educator Carl Sagan famously put it, “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” Rather than brushing it off as poetic metaphor, I take Sagan’s statement seriously, and place it within the context of cosmic evolution. As sentient life inevitably emerges, evolves, and expands into outer space, the universe wakes up bit by bit, and gets to experience the fruits of its creation.

It seems obvious that the biosphere and human civilization are becoming increasingly complex. This increase in complexity drives progress toward higher intelligence and technological capability. At the same time, the world seems more chaotic than ever, with mounting existential challenges like climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and weaponized AI. What explains this paradox, and is progress real or just an illusion?

The answer can be summed up by a simple principle: problems create progress. The engine of progress is the need to find solutions to our survival problems. Life does this by constantly adapting and learning.

World War II was a catastrophe of epic proportions, but that same period gave us the computer and information technology. Compared to a century ago, human civilization is doing better by just about any metric. Democracy has spread, poverty has diminished, and ignorance is at an all-time low—despite what turning on the news might make you think.

Humanity’s collective desire to transcend mortality and expand outward into space (apparent from our scientific and technological endeavors) emerges not incidentally, but because continuous knowledge acquisition is a fundamental, biological imperative. The fact that our sun will explode in a few billion years creates a looming deadline for intelligent life on Earth. To persist, life must progress at an increasingly fast rate, with increasing detail and accuracy. To use a rough analogy, we can think of life as a chess-playing AI program that loses again and again, but by learning from each failure, it soon becomes unbeatable.

Humans are exchanging and integrating information through their interactions in a way that mirrors neuronal signaling in the brain—but this brain spans the entire planet. As a result of this technology-aided self-organization, a globally-distributed superintelligence is emerging that will allow humanity to reach new heights.

But to fully realize this transformation, society must become aware of the cosmic self-organizing process we are a critical part of. Knowing that we form the nervous system of a developing superorganism—the evolving biosphere—will force us to think about the larger consequences of our actions and the urgent need to coordinate them, so that we may foster global sustainability and promote progress for humanity as a whole. This is required for the planetary brain to find its optimal configuration for the long-term persistence of life.

If life is a natural manifestation of physical law rather than an improbable fluke, then the new cosmic narrative has spiritual implications. We are not a cosmic accident; we are a cosmic imperative."

- Bobby Azarian, PhD
Cognitive Neuroscientist & Science Journalist
Author of "The Romance of Reality"

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