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Comprehensive Compassion

An interview with Brian Swimme
by Susan Bridle


This interview was re-edited and reprinted with a special introduction for our 15th anniversary edition. Click to read the new interview or to view the full issue.

For mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, the universe is a continuous, radiant, numinous revelation. Contemplating the wonders of the unfolding creativity of the cosmos is a mystical, ecstatic, awe-inspiring event. And if you speak with him, read his books, or watch his educational video series—it's contagious. A specialist in the evolutionary dynamics of the universe, Swimme has made it a central aim of his work to convey the new story of the universe—the mind-stretching story of our fourteen billion years of cosmological evolution that has been revealed by the scientific discoveries of recent decades. In 1989 he founded the Center for the Story of the Universe at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), where he is also a professor of cosmology. Swimme tells the story of the universe in the hope that this vast vision will catapult us out of the myopia of our narrow primate minds. The story of the universe, across the sweeping expanses of space and time, he believes, is the deepest story of ourselves. Swimme is particularly interested in the unique potential of our present moment in the march of time—for now is the moment, through the evolution of the unique self-reflective capacities in human consciousness, that the universe can become conscious of itself. And, most significantly for our current planetary crisis, now is the moment in which we can begin to consciously "reinvent the human as a dimension of the emergent universe" and evolve into a mode of being human in which we are deeply in touch with, and experience a comprehensive compassion and responsibility for, all of life.

Swimme received his Ph.D. in mathematical cosmology from the University of Oregon in 1978. He taught at the University of Puget Sound for a number of years before moving to New York City to study with Thomas Berry at his Riverdale Center of Religious Research. Swimme and Berry then began a longtime collaboration, the fruits of which include The Universe Story, co-written in 1992. Swimme returned to teaching at Holy Names College in Oakland, California, where he taught for seven years and co-wrote Manifesto for a Global Civilization with Matthew Fox before joining CIIS. He is also the author of several other books, including The Universe Is a Green Dragon. Swimme travels regularly to speak on cosmology and ecology at conferences and organizations, including the United Nations, UNESCO, and the State of the World Forum.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Swimme and having the vistas of my imagination stretched to infinity at Harvard University last October, where he was participating in a conference on ecology and religion. As we sat down to begin the interview, he told me he had just that minute returned from a conference event at Thoreau's Walden Pond. As Swimme brought the grandeur and majesty of the cosmos to life, speaking about the birth of galaxies with the intimacy and amazement and eloquence of the Transcendentalist poets when waxing ecstatic about leaves of grass or a Concord pond, I knew I was meeting another nature mystic, but a nature mystic of the twenty-first century, whose sphere of nature includes the farthest star.


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This article is from
Our Save the World Issue