147 – Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? V …

Update on my quest to answer the profound questions posed by Paul Gauguin on the title of one of his most beautiful and enigmatic paintings. The main change from previous updates* is the substitution of Source by Substance, which I believe better reflects the processes of unfolding, interacting, bonding, adapting, and transforming, not only in us, but in every evolving system in Nature.

Where do we come from?

We emerge from a living, self-determined, primordial substance, a self-creative, self-organizing, self-generating, self-perpetuating, self-transforming phenomenon whose onward movement we call Evolution. But Evolution is just the progressive transformation of the substance towards higher and higher levels of complexity and order. And because the transformation is measurable, its creativity evident, its self-determination discernible, some of us call it God, but we tend to call God what we cannot understand. And because the movement of the source can be manipulated and it can manipulate us, some of us call it Nature, but Nature is just how the substance manifests into myriad supple forms. And because we can only imagine its beginning as an ‘explosion out of nowhere’, some of us call it the ‘Big Bang’, but that transformative moment was merely the birth of one of many universes.

And although the substance thrives in us and in everything around us – in the flow of primal blood in our veins, in our innate need to bond, in our urge to re-generate, in the compelling instinct to adapt and survive, in the boundless creativity and ingenuity of Life, in the self-organization of molecules into a double helix, in the congregation of stars into galaxies, in the constant creation of solar and atomic systems out of recycled forms of energy and mass, in the self-reflective contemplation of self-reflection – what the substance is, how it might have been engendered, what its purpose might be, we cannot comprehend. Not yet. Perhaps we never will.

What are we?

Infinitesimally small from the dimension of the stars and enormously immense from the dimension of the atoms, we are manifestations of the living substance; heirs to its universal mandate to Become, to Self-organize, to Bond, to Re-generate, to Self-regulate, to Adapt, to Survive, to Transform, thus ensuring our participation in the renewal and perpetuation of its onward movement.

And although our actions and reactions are mostly driven by primal instincts, and although limited by our internal and external environments, we are, as far as we know, the only manifestation of the substance that has evolved the conscious awareness of its own consciousness; the conscious awareness of our degree of freedom to choose, to see beyond immediacy, to voluntarily transform ourselves and our world. And it is so that, like the substance itself, we are sources of Transformation.

Where are we going?

Limited by our internal and external environments yet pregnant with the possibilities of a degree of freedom to transform ourselves and our world, we forge ahead until we no longer can, at which point we begin the inexorable Transcendence into the substance from which we initially emerged as measured by

what we have imagined,

what we have created,

what we have destroyed,

what we have taken,

what we have given to our world.

Transcendence is a measure of the significance of our lives.

Think of Einstein – still opening new visions and challenging our understanding of reality; think of Mandela or Gandhi – still inspiring pacifist rebellion against the tyranny of unaccountable power; think of Socrates – still stimulating critical thinking and fueling the generation of new ideas; think of Gauguin – still living in his beautiful paintings, especially the one that keeps asking the profound questions. These individuals, to name a few, live among us in higher orders of our collective humanity, their place among us, their transcendence, a measure of the significance of their lives.

WHERE DO WE COME FROM? We emerge out of a living, self-creative, self-determined substance.

WHAT ARE WE? We are self-conscious sources of transformation.

WHERE ARE WE GOING? At this point in the evolution of our collective humanity, we truly do not know where we are going – we have no vision for the species other than material gain – but as measured by the significance of our lives, we can still transcend as individuals.


All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,/And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.”

From Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

*Posts 78, 95, 118, and 134.

Revised September 2020   

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