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The Incredible Journey 

By Lindsey Blomberg
E - The Environmental Magazine
July 1, 2011

A New Documentary Explores Not Only the Origins of the Universe — But Our Place In It, Too

We are “sailing through the great ocean of the universe,” says Brian Thomas Swimme, as he stands framed by the scenic island of Samos, Greece, in the documentary Journey of the Universe. The bright morning and vacant beach give Swimme—the film’s host and co-writer—the sense that he is “the first person on the first day of creation.” This is the same island where philosopher Pythagoras pondered the origin and meaning of the human race, leading to his breakthrough that the universe could be expressed through mathematical science. In the film (and companion book), we’re told a story 14 billion years in the making, one that has a beginning, a middle (now) and, ultimately, an end. The story begins with the “Great Flaring Forth,” where all light and matter went from a single point a trillion degrees in temperature to an expansion that unfolded the creation of the universe and life.

Extravagant caves, ancient castles and a colorful, bustling culture make Samos the ideal landscape to demonstrate the extraordinary creations the universe formed from its origins as a “cloud of dust.” The Greek island’s flowers, animals, fish and other “endless, elegant explosions of energy,” meanwhile, accentuate the beauty of life that originated from an “outpouring of cosmic breath.” Journey poses the question: Surrounded by such magnificence, can we find a way to sink deeply into these immensities? And if we can, will this enable humans to participate in the flourishing of all life?

On a clear night in front of the Samos Archeological Museum, Swimme details the timeline of human evolution from stone tools, cave art and “symbolic consciousness” to the modern breakthroughs in chemistry, astronomy and biology that now shape our world. But today, he argues, the irony of our wonder and awe in Earth is the development of a psychological transition that breaks from our natural past, one that has led us to the “destruction of life’s dynamics by the idea that nature is ours to control or a resource to exploit.”

As he concludes on the banks of the north Aegean Sea, we are left with not only the story of the universe, but also with a deeper understanding of our origins and the power that understanding has in evoking a feeling of responsibility toward the Earth.

In addition to the documentary, Swimme and Tucker released a small but powerful companion book to give readers a deeper understanding of the origin and development of the universe, of Earth, and of humans. The book explores our common evolutionary heritage, shared genetic lineage and responsibility. The 11-chapter text covers everything from the “Emanating Brilliance of Stars” to “Life’s Emergence” and concludes with a detailed timeline that covers the formation of the universe 13.7 billion years ago to present.

Swimme and Tucker also connect readers to an understanding of the importance of their own role in the future of their planet and the global community. They write: “We are involved with building a new era of Earth’s life. Our human role is to deepen our consciousness in resonance with the dynamics of the fourteen-billion-year creative event in which we find ourselves. Our challenge now is to construct livable cities and to cultivate healthy foods in ways congruent with Earth’s patterns. Our role is to provide the hands and hearts that will enable the universe’s energies to come forth in a new order of well-being.”

Below, E speaks with the film’s executive producer and co-writer, Mary Evelyn Tucker, who is a senior lecturer and research scholar at Yale University’s Divinity School and School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

E Magazine: How do you believe this film conveys the story of the universe in a way that hasn’t been explored before?

Mary Evelyn Tucker: The Journey of the Universe film is the first time the story of cosmic, Earth and human evolution has been told in a film. The Cosmos film series made by Carl Sagan several decades ago gave the viewer a feeling for the universe and its vastness. However, it did not concentrate on the evolution of Earth and humans. The Journey film weaves these together with a sense of our place amidst this evolutionary narrative that includes universe, Earth and humans. Similarly, the BBC series Planet Earth captures the profound feeling of the beauty and complexity of Earth and its ecosystems and life forms. It does not include the universe or humans, but it is an awe-inspiring series and awakens us to a new sense of wonder, as does the Journey film.

Another film called Powers of Ten gives us a feeling of the relationship of humans to both the atomic small scale level as well as the galactic level. This sense of relationship is what we are also trying to do in the Journey film. We are the microcosm related to the macrocosm of the universe and Earth. So in essence we are trying to bring alive the sense that we are part of an immense journey, that we dwell amidst extraordinary beauty, and that we are related to each part and to the whole. We are kin to all life.

E: What do you hope viewers take from the film?

M.E.T.: We are trying to avoid presenting doom and gloom in terms of the news of our times about social and environmental destruction. People are already shut down with despair and disempowerment regarding the immense challenges we are facing, especially regarding ecological diminishment and the loss of community ties.

In this film and book we are aiming to ignite hope and inspire energy for the transformations ahead. If we lose hope, we lose so much. We wish to awaken awe and wonder in relation to the universe and Earth. If we can evoke a deep responsiveness to life and its complex processes that have birthed us, then we have the possibility of evoking the responsibility for its continuity. Future generations are looking to us for this, and there is an urgency about our moment filled as it is with both peril and promise. 

CONTACT: Journey of the Universe.

LINDSEY BLOMBERG is an editorial intern at E.


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