Going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
Wisdom usually involves intelligence beyond the merely personal. What I am calling universal intelligence embraces many different ways of moving beyond our personal perspective, intelligence, and information. Nature and evolution have deeply embedded in them massive intelligence, information, solutions and wisdom. This is true in any given part of nature, whether a natural system, particular organisms or particular kinds of organisms, relationships between organisms, or the planet as a whole. These are all dimensions of nature.
Nature is always evolving and evolutionary solutions to the problems of life are embedded in the forms that nature takes and the processes that it goes through. So we can get beyond our personal and even species/human-centric ways of seeing things to the extent we open ourselves and investigate what nature has to tell us about what it has found as it has done its complex processes of trial and error and systemic and holistic creation. Everything is bound together and that binding – the connection and the kinds of diversity it embodies – is exactly what we (who so often think of ourselves as separate entities) need to learn from, absorb the wisdom of, and apply in our individual and collective lives.
Such lessons of nature are similar to the common ground we find in spiritual, philosophical and ethical traditions. There are, of course, many differences and battles between different religions and philosophies. But there is also a lot of common ground. There are universal understandings that come from mystics of all different traditions. There are universal understandings that come from philosophers who have thought deeply about what’s going on in the world, or the nature of reality. The common threads among these thinkers offer some really powerful insight.
There are also parallels between human ethics and evolutionary dynamics because both have to do with relationships. For example, The Golden Rule is a very fundamental principle that shows up in virtually every major spiritual or religious tradition. It’s pretty obvious that if you are doing things to other people that you wouldn’t want done to yourself and that they don’t like, the chances are good that it’s not going to turn out well. If you are doing things that other people like, value or enjoy, then things are probably going to turn out well, particularly if they are doing such things to you, too. This is so basic and obvious, but so often we still don’t do it. My father used to talk about having “a golden rule foreign policy” to treat other countries the way we would like them to treat us. Once we in the U.S. (and elsewhere) talk about foreign policy from the viewpoint of the Golden Rule, we see just how far we have wandered from these basic understandings. So going back to such wise guidance that evolved among us human beings – whether they are spiritual, philosophical or ethical – is a feature of tapping into universal intelligence.
There’s a lot that can be said about things that survive and that show up all over the place – whether ideas, innovations, or organisms. The ideas that survive and show up all over place tend to survive because they have some value to them, just as traits in organisms survive because they have some value to them. The more of those we can understand deeply, the more wisdom we can extract from them when we are consulting them in our decisions.
Wisdom comes to us from transcending our limited awareness. This can be as basic as me talking to you and listening to you, and you talking to me and listening to me. Right away in that basic conversational dynamic – if we both take it seriously and do it well – we are transcending our limited awareness and getting into systems thinking to see the larger picture.
But there’s an important hidden factor here: We often don’t directly perceive the kind of relationships that are going on in biological, geological, and social systems. We don’t necessarily see all that’s going on – especially when it is subtle, secret, systemic, distant, etc. But we can learn about them and become more aware of them. We can learn to perceive them and to discern more clearly what’s going on in and around us. We can become more aware of internalized oppression – internalized racism, sexism or things like that. Every person can realize: “I have been brought up in a system that trains me to think and feel and respond in particular ways that are not necessarily functional.”
There are other ways we can learn to transcend the limits of our individual, cultural, and species awareness, deepening our sense of our common humanity and even our common life. Tribal societies have long known – and science is now realizing – that animals and even plants have levels of intelligence and feeling and responsiveness that we in our hyper-materialist sensibilities may not have properly granted them. But if we really look, we find out. More and more science is clarifying things that many more traditional societies have already assumed and experienced in their many interactions with the world.
Another realm of universal intelligence involves “seeing God in every person” or really getting that we all come from a common ancestor, or feeling compassion when something difficult happens to somebody we always thought of as “the Other” or just getting to know them. Very often people have prejudices because they don’t know anybody “like that”. They don’t know a gay person, they don’t know a black person, they don’t know a rich person, they don’t know who this “other” is, and so they put all such people in a box surrounded by assumptions and treat them as an “it” or a threat, rather than as a legitimate being who is, in most ways, quite like themselves. So various ways of deepening into our common humanity is another way of universalizing our intelligence.
Some meditative traditions can train us in mindfulness or witnessing how our personal consciousness links to the universal. The more we observe the dynamics of our own consciousness, and the way those dynamics make us feel separate, the more we see that there’s something underlying that feeling of separateness which actually ties us, or makes us realize we are an expression of something that is deeper, larger and broader than our individual personhood. The idea of an “individual person” is to a certain extent a construct. Just as “race” is a construct of the society, separate personhood, too, is a construct of the society and of biological and psychological developmental dynamics such as “ego development”. That can be transcended by meditative processes that help us witness – right now! – our own mental dynamics making us think we are separate from everything “out there”.
All the above are ways to expand our intelligence beyond the merely personal into increasingly universal ways of experiencing engagement.
(Note: My best articulation of my perspective on “universal intelligence” is my 2003 essay on the subject. – Tom Atlee)