Written By:


Maximilian DeArmon*

  • The universe is coming to know itself. . . . The meaning of [human] existence is to provide a space in which the universe can reflect upon and activate itself in conscious self-awareness.

–Thomas Berry[1]

Modern scientific cosmology has expanded the limits of our imagination and revealed the secrets of cosmic evolution in ways Copernicus could never have dreamt. There are currently estimated to be two trillion galaxies in the observable universe[2] and around 200 sextillion (200 billion trillion) estimated stars.[3] With new data from the Kepler space telescope, scientists estimate that there could be as many as 300 million habitable planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone,[4] and over five thousand exoplanets have already been discovered (some of which may have the potential to support life).[5] New information is coming in at an exponential rate, including the most recent data from the James Webb space telescope, which some astrophysicists are saying might call into question the timeline of cosmic development of the standard model of cosmology.[6] Still, the change from our old understanding of the cosmos as cyclical rhythms of the heavenly spheres to a time-developmental, irreversible sequence of transformations has forever changed humanity’s consciousness.[7] We are becoming cosmogenesis.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s image of a young, star-forming region NGC 3324
in the Carina Nebula. Photograph: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI.

According to the cultural historian Richard Tarnas, “Cosmology influences how we think about the human being’s position in the universe” and “is the container for everything in a civilization.”[8] Traditionally, a culture’s cosmology situated the human in the cosmos and provided a sense of meaning and purpose for the culture. And while the scientific understanding of the material universe has given humanity a deeper, richer, more complex perspective of our physical world, there are some fundamental omissions in its cosmological framework: (1) It leaves out humanity’s role in cosmic development, and (2) it completely ignores the interior dimensions of experience (e.g., human subjectivity as an extension of the universe, the subjectivity of plants and animals, and potentially more). Evolutionary cosmologists have sought to address some of these omissions in the cosmological narrative, since around the turn of the twentieth century.

In The Universe Story (1992), the evolutionary cosmologists Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, continuing in the tradition of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, told a comprehensive story of the evolution of the universe based on contemporary science. This cosmology resituated the human back into the cosmos, and, most importantly, included cultural history, and cultural self-expression, as part of cosmic evolution. Without including human subjectivity in modern cosmology, “human consciousness emerges out of nowhere. The human is seen as an addendum or an intrusion and thus finds no real place in the story of the universe.”[9]

Swimme’s latest book, Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe, not only recognizes humanity’s place in the universe story, but also acknowledges the author’s personal life experience as part of the evolution of consciousness that springs forth from cosmogenesis. Through Swimme’s series of irreversible epiphanies, the reader is awakened to the universe’s journey—a journey that is alive in both the author and the reader. Swimme writes that after decades of teaching evolutionary cosmology, “I had tricked myself into thinking cosmology was the story of how things ‘out there’ evolved through time.” He had forgotten to include himself in the story of the universe and realized that he was “as much a development of the universe as were stars and galaxies.”[10]

This realization led to an exposé of some of modern cosmology’s greatest scientific discoveries through the auto-cosmology[11]of this awe-inspired evolutionary cosmologist, Brian Thomas Swimme. From his point of view, we get to experience the discovery of the cosmic microwave background, by Penzias and Wilson, and get a sense of how his consciousness was awakened by the light from the beginning of our universe. His “pilgrimage” to Bell Labs in New Jersey where Penzias and Wilson made their discovery, was a dream come true for Swimme. He considers Bell Labs and Mount Wilson Observatory to be “sacred spots of cosmogenesis,” and believes that one day Bell Labs will be called “the Bethlehem of the new cosmic story.”[12] Each epiphany, each awakening, is seen through the eyes of a lover of the universe, which helps to personalize major historical events and discoveries in a way that is transformative for the reader. As Mary Evelyn Tucker writes, Cosmogenesis is a “life-changer.”[13]

Swimme has other teachers throughout his professional journey, but the transmission from Thomas Berry is the most palpable. There are many times in Cosmogenesis when one feels Swimme’s mind being blown by his conversations with Berry, both in expanding life-enhancing ways and in catastrophic life-threatening ways. In one instance, Swimme is left “gawking” at Berry as he describes a hawk’s flight from the perspective of “the time-developmental universe” as being “fourteen billion years of creativity taking flight.”[14] In another instance, Berry encourages Swimme to expand his awareness around his self-identity beyond his occupation, nationality, and gender, towards being a “cosmological being,” and “the universe in the mode of a human.”[15]

This deep and expansive perspective of Berry’s continues to flow through the pages of Cosmogenesis, like an ocean of golden wisdom, as Swimme’s worldview continues to be washed over—accelerating a paradigm shift in him. Even though this knowledge was thrilling, it also came with dire warnings about the potential fate of our world as Berry tells Swimme that “we find ourselves in the midst of the worst destruction of Earth’s life in sixty-five million years,” and that “we have brought about a mass extinction of life.”[16] Hearing Berry’s words, Swimme “sat in silence, stunned by the revelation that we were causing the first mass extinction in millions of years.” This conversation took place in the early 1980s, and Swimme was shocked that he had not heard of this before. What was worse, he felt his own ignorance in “telling the story of the universe without mentioning the unraveling of Earth’s life,” and felt a sense of personal responsibility.[17]

These intimate moments throughout the book make you trust Swimme’s integrity, as well as deepen your sense of Swimme’s own evolution of consciousness and how it was and is part of the universe coming to understand itself and to know itself.

As a student of Swimme’s for over a decade, I can attest that Swimme not only sees his own personal story as a meaningful contribution to the universe’s story, but he also activates the “zest for life” in every one of his students and hopes to awaken each reader in similar ways. Cosmogenesis is not only an auto-cosmology of Brian Swimme, it is also an invitation to its readers to write their own cosmic stories. By participating in writing our own auto-cosmologies, our individual consciousness changes from being a person in the cosmos to becoming cosmogenesis. We become aware that our interiority is continuous with the universe itself and part of cosmic evolution. We too come to know through experience that “always and everywhere, it is the universe that holds all things together and is the primary activating power in every activity.”[18]


* Maximilian DeArmon is a PhD candidate in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

[1] Brian Thomas Swimme, Cosmogenesis: An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2022), 207.

[2] Christopher J. Conselice, Aaron Wilkinson, Kenneth Duncan, and Alice Mortlock, “The Evolution of Galaxy Number Density at z < 8 and its implications,” The Astrophysical Journal, 830, no. 2 (October 14, 2016): 83, https://doi.org/10.3847/0004-637X/830/2/83.

[3] Brian Jackson, “Astro for kids: How many stars are there in space?” Astronomy, September 28, 2021,https://www.astronomy.com/science/astro-for-kids-how-many-stars-are-there-in-space/.

[4] “How Many Habitable Planets are Out There?” Press Release, SETI Institute, October 29, 2020, https://www.seti.org/press-release/how-many-habitable-planets-are-out-there.

[5] Jessie Christiansen, “What the discovery of exoplanets reveals about the universe,” TED, 2022, https://www.ted.com/talks/jessie_christiansen_what_the_discovery_of_exoplanets_reveals_about_the_universe/comments/transcript.

[6] Ashley Strickland, “Webb telescope makes a surprising galactic discovery in the distant universe,” CNN, February 23, 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/22/world/webb-telescope-massive-early-galaxies-scn/index.html.

[7] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 223.

[8] Richard Tarnas, Changing of the Gods, episode 9, “Scientific Paradigm Shifts: Towards a New Cosmology,” directed by Kenny Ausubel, July 27, 2022, https://vimeo.com/ondemand/changingofthegods.

[9] Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 131.

[10] Ibid., 4.

[11] Auto-cosmology is a term first used by Ursula K. LeGuin to describe an autobiography that is written from a cosmological perspective, see Swimme, Cosmogenesis, 4.

[12] Ibid.,199.

[13] Mary Evelyn Tucker, advance praise for Cosmogenesis.

[14] Swimme, Cosmogenesis,218.

[15] Ibid.,212.

[16] Ibid.,221.

[17] Ibid.,222.

[18] Swimme and Berry, The Universe Story, 27.