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I Am the Universe

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Knowing our origins & our role lays the foundations both for our sense of identity and our sense of having some purpose. Both are huge problems for individuals and societies at the present time, and I believe they also bear on the many of the big challenges facing business: what is business for? what role does business play in society and the global order? what are the responsibilities of business? how can it get the best out of its employees’ potential? This chapter outlines the personal history of each of us, from our cosmic origins at the moment of the Big Bang 14 billion years ago, through our biological origins in the evolutionary history of all life on this planet & then the more immediate genetic inheritance from our ancestors, the cultural origins of our thinking, assumptions & values, and then our most personal origins in our own life experiences and relationships. Grounding each of these stages of our personal history in the latest science, and illustrating how each of us is influenced in our everyday actions and decisions by the fact that we carry all of this history within us (each of us is 14 billion years old!), gives us a full background for understanding who we are, what challenges we face, & how we can get the best out of ourselves.

Zhang Zai (1020–1077 AD), one of China’s most important Neo-Confucian thinkers, has written, “Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst. Therefore, that which fills the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions.”Footnote 1

One of the “big questions” that humanity has been asking since we began asking questions is, “Where do we come from?” What is our place and our purpose in the wider scheme of things? Was all of creation made for our benefit, as the Western religions claim, and thus we are the masters of the universe and the rightful inheritors of all the earth’s resources? Are we instead just some inexplicable afterthought in a wholly materialist universe governed by the deterministic laws of physics, or the accidental byproducts of random evolutionary forces, as Newtonian and Darwinian science have described us? Or has Taoism got it right, and our existence is in fact an integral and necessary part of both an evolving universe and a living earth whose futures we help to write? Once again, we will see, quantum physics agrees with the Taoists.

According to quantum science, our universe began with a Big Bang about fourteen billion years ago. No scientist can yet say with authority what existed before the Big Bang, but grounded speculation suggests that the creation of our universe was part of a cycle of creation and destruction that saw universes being born from infinitely condensed “singularities” that exploded, then expanded for some billions of years until they began to contract and finally, once again became infinitely dense singularities. Grounded speculation also suggests that ours may not be the only universe that resulted from the last Big Bang, or that there may have been other Big Bangs, and thus we may in fact live in a “multiverse.” But for purposes of this book, let us just concentrate on the one universe within which we know that we dwell!

The first thing created after the Big Bang was the Quantum Vacuum, a field of potentiality that remains today and acts as a force that lies within, and acts upon, every existing thing in the universe, including ourselves. The Vacuum has a misleading name, because it is not empty, like a vacuum flask, but rather infinitely full with the potential existence of everything that ever was, everything that is, and everything that ever will be. It is a field of pure, unexcited energy, and is called a Vacuum simply because it has no discernible qualities or characteristics. In our quantum universe, qualities and characteristics are the result of excited energy, and it is only when the “zero point” field of the Vacuum gets exited that “things” emerge which possess qualities or characteristics. Thus the Quantum Vacuum can be thought of as a still sea underlying all existing things, and all existing things, including ourselves, as waves upon that sea. Indeed, the word ex-ist means “to stand out from,” as a wave stands out from the sea. All existing things, including ourselves and our companies, are patterns of dynamic energy “written upon” (excitations of) the Quantum Vacuum.

Because the Quantum Vacuum contains the potentiality for everything that exists, or ever will exist, it contained the potentiality for what became you and me. In truth, each of us has existed as a potentiality within the Vacuum since that first split second that it was created after the Big Bang. Each of us has been here through the whole long history of the universe itself so far, and so each of us is really very old—fourteen billion years old! We were here when a perturbation of the Vacuum’s stillness gave rise to the Higgs field and the Higgs boson, which then gave rise to matter (its mass), and then as matter formed first into elementary particles, then fiery gases, then stars, then planets, and, in our case at least, then life on earth. As the Tao te Ching tells this story, “The One gave rise to the two, the two to the three, and the three gave rise to the ten thousand things.”Footnote 2 And we are among the ten thousand things.

Thus each of us carries the whole history of the universe, the Quantum Vacuum, and the whole panoply of its infinite potentialities within us. Our bodies are made out of stardust and both our bodies and our minds obey the same quantum laws and forces that govern everything else in the universe. And our subconscious minds, at least, know this and remember it all. This is the source of our quantum intelligence, or gangying, as the Taoists call it, that I will discuss in more detail later, and the reason why we do have the ability (and the responsibility) to govern our companies and our societies with those same principles that underpin the successful functioning of the universe, Nature, and our own living organisms.

I Am Nature

Not only did Newtonian physics assert that we humans play no role in the wholly material, mechanistic universe, but the Western religions also maintain that neither are we any part of Nature. The Western Bible tells us that God created the natural world for our benefit, and gave us domain over all of Nature. Nature is our “resource,” to be used for our own benefit as we think best. This lingering attitude still exists in the minds of many today, including those of many business leaders, and of course underpins the activities that have now led to our climate crisis. But Darwin’s Theory of Evolution challenged it, and the quantum world view asserts very clearly that we are fully part of both the universe and Nature. We can see this very clearly in the “archaeology” of the human brain, the seat of both our personhood and our thinking.

By nature, the brain is quite conservative. It carries the whole history of the evolution of life on this planet within its complex structures. Its architecture is like the twisting alleyways and jumbled buildings of a very ancient city—layer upon layer of archaeological history built one on top of the other and all somehow being “lived in”.

In the simplest layer of our bodily organization,— the part corresponding to the lowest archaeological level of the ancient city—we find structures like those of the single-celled animals, such as amoeba. They have no nervous system; all the sensory and motor functions of these animals exist within one cell. Our own white blood cells, as they scavenge for rubbish and sweep up bacteria, behave in our bloodstreams much like the amoebae in ponds. Simple many-celled animals like jellyfish still have no central nervous system, but they do have a network of nerve fibers that allow communication between cells so that the animal can react to its environment in a coordinated way. In our bodies, the nerve cells in the gut form a similar network that coordinates peristalsis, the muscular contractions that push food along the gut. More evolved animals develop increasingly complex nervous systems.

As evolution progressed, a primitive brainstem developed in the lower skulls of multicelled animals, such as fishes and reptiles. Indeed, the human brainstem is even called the “reptilian brain.” With the arrival of mammals, the brain grew more complex layers,—first the primitive mid-brain of the lower mammals, ruled by instinct, then the midbrain of higher mammals like tigers and wolves, ruled by instinct and emotion, and finally the cerebral hemispheres of the forebrain that we share with the higher monkeys, with their more sophisticated computing ability and increasing social skills. The prefrontal lobes, those “little grey cells” that we identify with the human mind, but shared in their less developed form by the higher apes, have evolved most recently, and are essential to rational ego abilities. Yet drunkenness, the use of tranquilizers, great stress, violent emotion, or damage to the higher forebrain result in regression to primitive, more impulsive, less calculating types of behavior found in lower animals.

So despite the increasing centralization and complexity of the nervous system as it evolves, even in human beings the most primitive nerve nets remain, both within our expanded brain and throughout the body. And we live and think with it all, with the instincts of the snake and the wolf, the emotions of the apes, and on our better days, with the rationality of humans. Yet we share 98% of our genes, our minds, and our emotions with chimpanzees, so at this stage of our evolution, we are only 2% human. It is little wonder then, that we behave irrationally so much of the time, and make such a mess of things! Our computational abilities have now created a highly complex world that has outgrown our own capacity to live in it intelligently.

This presents us all with a personal challenge and a purpose. If just 2% of being human has got us this far, another mere 1% or 2% of brain evolution might make us able to cope with life in the twenty-first century. In terms of natural evolution, that would require tens of thousands of years, but we know now from modern neuroscience that our brains are “plastic,” mutable, changeable. We have the capacity to rewire them and grow them in dialogue with our own thinking and experience. We can speed up our own brain evolution. We can think and experience ourselves “more intelligent,” and the way we manage our companies and other social organizations can contribute to that. I believe that is the promise of “quantum thinking,” and why I hope that at least 10% of those in leadership positions might grow into it. As international law professor Richard Falk expresses it,

The human species has a special co-evolutionary capacity and responsibility. Unlike other species, we are aware of our roles in the world and bare the burdens of awareness…As humans, we can respond to the pain of the world by devoting our energies to various kinds of restorative action, building institutional forms and popular support for a dramatic reorientation of behavior.Footnote 3


  1. 1.

    Jung-Yeup Kim, Zhang Zai’s Philosophy of Qi, Chapter 1.

  2. 2.

    Tao Te Ching, No. 42.

  3. 3.

    Richard Falk, Explorations at the Edge of Time, p. 36.

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Correspondence to Danah Zohar .

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Zohar, D. (2022). I Am the Universe. In: Zero Distance. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

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