Our Place in the Larger Scheme of Things

Adapted from Quick and Dirty Answers to the Biggest of Questions

A creative frame invites conjecture with regard to an even more encompassing eternal quandary than those we have looked at so far: our place in the larger scheme of things. We can put this question in science-versus-religion terms. From a scientific viewpoint, we can appropriately ask—as many great thinkers have asked—“Are we but a  speck in an essentially purposeless universe, an odd momentary impulse of no real ultimate significance?” Or do we better think of ourselves as God’s special children, as most religions through time have somehow seen us? A creative perspective offers a third option—neither quite so random nor quite so grand, but arguably more intriguing.

Reframed, the question becomes, What is our place and significance in creation?—as creation becomes what “the scheme of things” is ultimately about. A creative interpretation notes that all creation is not the same, and it proposes that the answer to our question lies in just how this is so. Interpretations of times past have either lumped all of creation together—a picture that gives us humans no ultimate significance—or placed us wholly separate and distinct. A creative interpretation offers that it may all be more like Neapolitan ice cream.

We can usefully think of existence’s creative story as having three primary layers: there is inanimate creation; there is life; and there is this odd addition, conscious life (including ourselves and to lesser degrees other higher life forms). Each layer is the same stuff (here creation instead of ice cream), while at the same time, each layer is fundamentally different. What distinguishes each layer is a “creative multiplier” (or several creative multipliers working together) that radically increases the rate at which creative reorganization can take place. In the case of life, this creative multiplier is natural selection and the learning/adapting capacities that come with life’s workings. In the case of ourselves, the multiplier is the option of fresh creation happening with every new “aha” that arises with conscious awareness and our unique toolmaking, idea-making, meaning-making prowess.

Our place in the larger scheme of things? At the least we represent a fascinating bit of creative innovation (with the jury far from in on just how ultimately successful). If we want to feel a bit more special, we could claim ours to be a particularly significant sort of creative innovation. We are the only creature, at least on our particular earth, that is not just consciously aware, but aware of itself as part of something that has evolved and continues to evolve. In an interesting sense, through us, creation, not just as fact but as process, has become conscious of itself.

In a way, this interpretation makes our human achievement even more remarkable. But it also makes it more tenuous, more explicitly “experimental.” It is quite possible that exactly that which makes us special—our great creative prowess—will be our undoing. Our time on the planet has been extremely short, and with growing frequency, modern invention, and human choice more generally, has dangerously two-edged potential consequences.

CST’s developmental/evolutionary perspective has critical pertinence to the question for what may transpire in the future. In our time, the human “experiment” continues, and in ways that have major implications for its ultimate success. Cultural Maturity describes the possibility—and necessity—of a more aware and more deeply engaged relationship with our creative, toolmaking, meaning-making natures. Homo sapiens sapiens—“man the wise”—is perhaps coming to better deserve his audaciously proclaimed status (proclaimed twice over for emphasis). If the concept of Cultural Maturity is accurate, certainly our continued creative well-being, and perhaps our survival, depends on it.