Big History in its Cosmic Context



Current models of Big History customarily take the observed increases over cosmic time of material-energetic complexity as their central concept. In this paper, we use Erich Jantsch’s pioneering masterwork The Self-Organizing Universe as the primary perspective from which to extend the customary ‘increasing material-energetic complexity’ view of Big History in two principal ‘directions’. Firstly, outwards, with an emphasis on increasing scale, scope and context to consider whether non-terrestrial analogues of Big History might exist or have existed elsewhere, and thus to embrace the ‘sibling’ multidisciplinary fields of SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence), Astrobiology, and ‘Cosmic Evolution’. And secondly, inwards, with a focus on (human) consciousness and the increasing complexity of human cognitive experience (‘interiority’) that has been apparent over the time-frame we have been able to observe it. Since Big History is a narrative which necessarily includes our own awakening to conscious awareness—and the felt sense of ‘meaning’ which our interiority brings with it—it would be valuable to examine related models which might also allow for an integration or unification of the two perspectives of physical-objective material-energetic complexity, on the one hand, and the complexity of subjective-conscious interiority, on the other. This is important, because it might provide a pathway that could help resolve recent debates around whether, and if so where, ‘meaning’ might reside in Big History. Current models do not tend to have a clear way to do this, so a particular integrative framework is introduced and outlined—due to the philosopher of consciousness Ken Wilber—which seeks to unify the customary complexity of matter-energy view of Big History with a ‘complexity of consciousness’ view, and which thereby suggests a very natural way to resolve the question of meaning ‘in’ Big History. It also provides a useful framework for thinking about a third direction of exploration, namely onwards, towards the future of our civilisation (and even our species), in both explicit and implicit modes, each of which are also briefly outlined. We end with a dedication to the memory of Erich Jantsch and his work.