Nature impels us to avoid death and seek infinity. Call the first a biological imperative and the second a spiritual imperative.
The first is the survival instinct. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests you must satisfy the first before you can do much about the second. If we feed, clothe, secure, and love our children, they are freer to seek knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and high purpose.
The second imperative, seek infinity, seems to be a basic feature of the universe. Expansion into higher orders is evident everywhere. Out of nothingness, billions of years ago, matter emerged into being. Out of matter emerged life. Out of life emerged mind. Each emergence depends on and builds on the one before it, wave upon wave. Each step incorporates the value of its predecessor, and adds new value. From nothingness to matter to life to mind, each stage rests upon and transcends what comes before. The universe is parts become wholes and wholes become parts — a holarchy of nested wholes and nested value.
The pattern of emergence and transcendence appears on smaller scales, too, like fractal echoes of cosmos in microcosm. Consider the progression of human social organization from family to tribe to nation to planet-spanning community, each level a new whole becoming part of the next whole. Or the progression of technology from ages of stone and metal to ages of industry and information. In human psychology, think of unfolding waves of development: ignorant infant, naive toddler, concrete-thinking child, idealist teenager, reasoning adult, transcendent sage. In each moment, something new is laid down, something surprising, a “creative advance into novelty” as Whitehead called it.
Zero to infinity, the universe generates value in layers. We conscious human creatures, capable of reflecting on nature and self, capable of thinking about thinking, are the first witnesses, at least on this planet, the first creatures able to see what the universe is up to. Think about that. We are the first who are able to do so: to think about that. We are the first spectators of cosmic sport, the first creatures able to see evident purpose and direction in the universe. Zealous scientists, not wanting to give an inch to religion, are reluctant to see so and say so. But purpose and direction need not be Designed, need not contradict science.
On the occasion of The Circle School’s 20th anniversary in 2004, we coined the word “lucitropic” to mean light-seeking. We said The Circle School is founded on the idea that we each embody grand possibilities, and we grow towards their realization. Children’s lucitropic nature, we said, is seen in their attraction to beauty, truth, and goodness. Nature impels us to seek infinity, to seek after emergence and transcendence, time upon time upon time.
If you believe in God you might think of this as attraction to God’s Light. If you believe that we are each made in the image of God, then you might see children’s God-pointing compass as a reflection of the Divine. If you are spiritual-but-not-religious you might think of this as an inborn impulse to realize one’s highest nature. If you are atheistic you might think of children’s value-seeking tendency as an echo of the counter-entropic self-organizing tendency that is evident in the progressions of matter, life, and mind.
The Circle School’s bell tower is a designed reminder of children seeking infinity, leaping upwards in progressively greater segment-stages spiraling around a center made evident only in the culmination, but present from the start. It’s in the backyard. Have a look and count the spaces: four defined by absence, nine by presence, each a greater leap than the last, each including the height of the last and reaching higher.