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Universal Energy Movement



What is Enlightenment? An inquiry into the most important spiritual questions

Can Enlightenment Save the world?


An interview with Joe Firmage by Carter Phipps

Perhaps the most important moment of Joe Firmage's life occurred when he was just a young boy. One evening in 1982 his father sat him down in front of the television to watch a new highly acclaimed documentary mini-series about the universe, the first of its kind-Carl Sagon's Cosmos. Enthralled and fascinated by Sagan's story. Firmage's bright young mind was 'humbled and staggered' by the wonder, mystery, and beauty of the cosmos and a newfound sense of the sacred , as gleaned through science, was bom. Raised in a Mormon family in Utah, Firmage sensed even then that he had found his true religion. 'No seminary lecture could hold a candle to the awe-some truths I saw in the nature of the cosmos.' Inspired by Sagan's vision, Firmage spent much of his teenage years studying science during the day and studying the stars at night. He eventually discovered the computer, and fell book line and sinker for this exciting new technology. By the time he was in the twenties, space and physics had receded from his attention, and Firmage had given his talent an energy to the world of computers, achieving no small amount of success.

Indeed, at the ripe age of twenty-five he was already a millionaire, has founded and sold a small software business and was a high-profile executive at the second-largest software company in the world. In those days, the Internet phenomenon was just beginning to explode, and Firmage, ever mindful of the future, was in the right place at the right time. He moved to the Northern California and founded a new company, which soon became a multibillion-dollar success story, in a valley of silicon stars, he was suddenly one of the brightest. At twenty-seven, he was considered to be a true visionary, someone who was changing the world and all of our lives through technology. But what he had no way of knowing at the time was that the future already had new plans.

Fate was set to intervene and reawaken the passion for physics, space and spirituality that had once consumed his young mind. Some have called it an alien, an angel, or even a hallucination, but whatever the case, someone or something visited Firmage in his bedroom early one morning in 1997. As he writes, "A remarkable being, clothed in brilliant white light, appeared hovering over my bed. He looked rather annoyed asked, 'Why have you called me here?' I answered without a moment's pause, 'I want to travel in space.' He chuckled skeptically, paused, and asked, 'Why should you be granted such an opportunity?' I responded without hesitation, 'Because I'm willing to die for it.' The visitor was shaken. He stared at me, lowered his head, and out of him emerged an electric blue sphere just smaller than a basketball, which was swirling with what looked like electrical arcs. It left his body, floated down, and entered me. I was overcome by an unimaginable ecstasy... .My body shook as I awoke and continued to shake for what appeared to be minutes. Something had been given to me.

This powerful experience had a profound effect on Firmage and helped give new urgency to a whole series of questions that were already beginning to make him think twice about his role as a leader in the Internet revolution. Where were we truly heading as a species., he wondered, if the purpose of our modem economic system was to turn the world's six billion inhabitants into six billion hungry consumers? Was the Internet economy just going to escalate to new heights the impending ecological crisis we were facing? What was the role of ethics and spirituality in a world of science and business? And his questions did not stop there. Was it true, as he was beginning to suspect, that new ideas percolating on the cutting edge of physics were beginning to make space travel in the near future at least a possibility - ideas that could create new methods of energy generation, radically changing our modem world? Needless to say, these weren't the kind of questions that went down well even in the relative progressive boardrooms of Silicon Valley. After a series of run-ins with the press and his peers over some of his more radical speculations. Firmage decided it was time to trade in his silicon dreams for more carbon-based realities, and he set his sights on pursuing the breakthroughs in science, economics, and consciousness that he felt were necessary if our species was to have a chance of surviving and thriving through the next century.

Today, at thirty, Firmage is more convinced than ever that the next few decades will bring about major transformations in all areas of human society, and he has dedicated his time and much of his fortune to imagining that future, preparing for it, and helping to bring it about. He is founder and chairman of the International Space Sciences Organization, a research institute set up to pursue new breakthroughs in cutting-edge physics and to explore the evolving connections between science and spirituality. He has been a generous philanthropist, providing crucial support to organizations such as Gorbachev's State of the World Forum and Ken Wilber's Integral Institute. And recently, he launched what may be his most ambitious venture yet One Cosmos as science-based media and entertainment company. Nearly two decades after his childhood imagination was awakened by a new kind of television program. Firmage, along with his business partner Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow, intends to carry the legacy of Cosmos to new frontiers. He hopes to awaken millions of minds to the vision that originally inspired for the beauty and fragility of our embattled mother earth, the awe-inspiring vastness of the cosmos we live in, and the possibility that one day, perhaps, in a future he envisions, humanity may travel among the stars.

WIE: As we enter the twenty-first century, there are few who would disagree that the world in which we live appears to be in crisis. Indeed with wide-spread environmental destruction, a rapidly decelerating species extinction rate, a population, explosion, and a number of other disturbing trends, many leading futurists, scientists, and visionaries, yourself included, warn of potentially catastrophic changes ahead that threaten the very survival of life as we know it. In order to face this impending crisis, you have spoken about the need for a revolution in our society- a scientific and technological revolution, and most important of all, a spiritual revolution. Could you speak about the transformations you envision and explain why you feel confident that they will help us navigate the challenges ahead?

Joe Firmage: I think that the work of so many wonderful people in the world-you in your own way and me in mine, and everybody else who is involved in a community of action- is providing a catalyzing function that is very important. I'm certain that scientific and spiritual enlightenment can save the world. But the question of how and when has no simple answers. However, there are increasing millions of people who are finding their own answers and I remain optimistic that we will cross the critical threshold in time to evolve our course toward sustainability and toward happiness. My confidence is also bolstered by the tools that are available now that have never been available in history. A device that fits in a twelve-year-old's hand that speaks and understands spoken words and that connects to the sum total of recorded human knowledge will soon be a reality. That can catalyze a startlingly profound and rapid transformation in an individual. That process is underway right now, and it's one of the brighter side of technology, it's one of the major contributions that the technological endeavor will make to the enlightenment of the people. So I'm optimistic because this transformation can happen more rapidly than has ever before been possible in the history of humanity. I think that there are good grounds to believe that these tools not just can be, but will be, deployed in this way and in the process will mark an inflection point in the trajectory of society.

Another reason why I express the optimism that I do is that I'm close enough to some of these new innovations in terms of my study. There are a lot of people who just don't take the time to thoroughly study and investigate. For example: I'm far more optimistic than most environmentalist that we are close to an energy revolution- an energy revolution that does not depend upon solar energy, that does not depend upon wind, that does not depend upon waves or other types of gross macro methods. I think that we are very close to transformations in technologies for propulsion and for architecture that may transform the infrastructure of society, shrinking our footprint on the earth and allowing us to step very lightly on the land, yet without dispensing with the qualities of life afforded by modem society. If I were not convinced that those kinds of breakthroughs were possible, I would be much more pessimistic than I am. But I do not see a solution to our problems without a combination of technological transformation and consciousness transformation happening. It must happen together. If the technological transformation happens without the consciousness transformation, we will become like the "Borg" on Star Trek. If the consciousness transformation happens without the technological transformation, we're out of luck. What are we going to do? Are we going to return to the forests? I mean, that is not a practical solution. What do we do? Stop driving cars? Stop creating enough energy to power our homes? Once we're all willing , once we all want to see a different kind of society, how do you feed people? What's the system that does it? How do we lift a billion human beings in China out of poverty without exacerbating the consumptive pressure on the planet? So to me the importance of both of these cannot be overstated. And I see the opportunity for both to happen. If these two transformative processes can be woven together in the right way, we can build a third-millennium society that you would want to live in, one that would make you and every other member a happy person. But it's going to take a hell of a lot of work from a lot of people to make that happen.

WIE: While technology is no doubt going to have a greater and greater role in our lives as we move forward into the future, there are many who have issued strong cautions about the dangers of Internet and the information revolution. For example: Michael Lerner, in his new book 'Spirit Matters', warns of "a new global consumer society obsessed with avoiding commitments and entanglements and focused on individual pleasure... Detached from everything that roots us to place and time, we can then endlessly surf the web, isolated tourists in a world of virtual experiences. Our emancipation from the weight of the past creates an unbearable lightness in the present: we become tourist to our own inner beings and tourists to others, never staying long enough to risk getting involved. "As a believer in the power of information technology to help see us through our current crisis. What do you think ofLerner 's concerns?

JF: I wouldn't be as harsh as he is, but I would be as concerned about some of the dangers, especially with respect to the potential for the Internet to dramatically aid the sealing of the economy. The friction that the Internet removes from supply and demand is amazing to behold: it makes it so much easier to transact business from one side of the globe to the other. There are now a couple of companies that have sprouted up that allow tribesmen in the jungle to sell trinkets to people on Madison Avenue through the Internet! Now one group of people says:" Amazing business opportunity". I said: "Holy shit. What are we doing?"

WIE: You 're saying that the Internet may increase the world's rate of consumption?

JF: It allows consumerism to scale up Jast. I have a very deep concern that the Internet allows us to scale up commerce in an abrupt sort of way, and therefore, we are scaling up an economic machine which we already know in its present condition is unsustainable. So that's the dimension where I have equal concern. Where I would disagree with Lerner is that I think that the experience afforded through information communications, while I will have its negative side, is, on balance, a great aid to both society and the individual. The opportunity to convey experiences and share them in the new medium is a profoundly good thing for human beings on the whole. I view it as a successor to paper, a successor to books, a successor to telephones. And the reason why it's so cool is that it's a successor to all of them. It combines the best qualities of paper, phones, televisions and computers and puts them into one device. Of course, it will be used for ill. It will be, and that drives home the point that we need to make sure that we find ways to get rid of the ill in society through non-draconian but nonetheless systemic means. It raises the kinds of issues that Ken Wilber and others write about so comprehensively, which is the need for a reappraisal of the basic ethics of ordinary human relationships. You have to find a way to remove the motivations for people to do ill things with powerful technology. Because in an era when the price of an weapon of mass destruction drops to a middle-class income, when you are able to buy a vial that knocks out a city for $ 25.000, the whole question of security changes. You become dependent for planetary survival on the ethics of the individual and not on a global police force. And the same thing is true with information technology in a different sense. It's an incredible powerful tool for people to magnify whatever it is they want to say. If we have a billion people who are really pissed off and want to hurt each other, information technology will be a very serious weapon.

WIE: You are the founder of the International Space Sciences Organization, a science and theological research institute established to conduct cutting-edge science research as well as to explore the relationship between science and spirituality. What do you believe the future holds for science and spirituality, and how can they help us to save the world?

JF: I believe that most religious systems lack a deeply rooted appreciation for the knowledge that we have gained from science. And I believe that religious traditions as a whole are certainly going to be far less effective if they, as society evolves forward, attempt to hang on to the past to dogmatic notions and moral codes that are frankly irrational and unfounded in any sort of reasoning or logical process. If religions had to appreciate what we have learned about the reality, they will fall by the wayside.At the same time, one of the qualities of religion that science has not presented well, is a sense of the integral nature of the cosmos and the universe. And when one sees the universe through the lens of science without that sense of integration, it becomes somewhat cold and lifeless. One of the things that I think is happening now is that the qualities of the religious experience that are positive and not destructive to human beings, are being recognized and seen elsewhere- other than in religion. They're being seen in science itself. Science is not fundamentally about equations and abstract diagrams and such. It's about truth. It's a truth- finding process. It's a truth-finding methodology. So what if you took an integral spiritual perspective and infused it with a sense of deep respect for the truth-finding process of science? If you brought these together, then you would have both the practice of integral spirituality and the strengthening of it by intellectual development.

WIE: What do you mean by "an integral spiritual perspective"?

JF: It's the sense that the human being is one beautiful, small part of an incredibly vast universe. And more specifically, it's the sense that you are a part of God. God isn't out there as an anthropomorphic being who is going to visit earth one glorious day and pass judgment on all of us Homo sapiens. No, God infuses all things. You are That. Everything is part of this incredibly vast, ancient, macroscopic being. It's a very pantheistic vision, which very much resonates with me. So as we look at a century-long sweep into the future, I see a rapidly rising integration of science with a sense of spiritual oneness with the cosmos. I think the spiritual revolution of the future has to do with an arising awareness of our place in space and time, an arising awareness of what we really are, and that knowledge comes from science. It will be the first spiritual revolution in history that originates from science, and I think that's just a tremendously hopeful concept. Those are the basic principles that will be common to whatever type of twenty-first century or third-millennium spirituality is going to take root. If that type of belief system emerges across society as a whole, it can give us the kind of rugged emotional foothold on -which to rest the social challenges that the twenty-first century will present us with.

The challenges of the twenty-first century cannot rest on the aging and arthritic religious dogmas of the past. So we're in a period of time right now where perhaps the single most important thing to do is educate. Among all other priorities, all of which are urgent simultaneously, it's hard to imagine what's a higher priority than education. We have to find a way to convey the inherently spiritual nature of the universe and the cosmos without sacrificing scientific integrity, and with complete accessibility to the typical person. If we can succeed in significantly expanding people's sense of their place in the cosmos, their place in space and time and the relationships that they have with all other things, if we can dramatically expand that consciousness in the next twenty years, then you can turn six billion people into collaborators in the problem-solving process. Because it's going to take collaboration of the whole planet to save the planet. It ain't going to be done by a handful of environmental organizations, although they can be the catalyst, maybe even the critical catalyst.

WIE: Can you give me a picture of the world as you believe it will look in fifty years?

JF: The kind of 2050 that I envision is not a society that is harnessed to an increasingly powerful economic machine where the output of goods and services is the definition of success. We could live in a society in 2050 where we know that economies is no longer in conflict with the sustainability of our culture, where what is traditionally defined as economically necessary is occupying a declining percentage of time in our lives, opening the rest for other activities. I see a society in which individual human beings are freed to enjoy life, to pursue their own passions. And it would be an era in which the knowledge of science becomes a joined with a sense of wonder at the spiritual connectedness of all things, which is increasingly describable by science. I see a possible 2050 with break-troughs in science that simultaneously lengthen our stride and lighten our footprint by allowing new forms of energy generation and transportation to replace the fossil-fuel-based systems of today. With these tools, I believe we will have the opportunity to transform cultures and societies that are wasting today for a lack of resources and tools for self-transformation, such as in Africa. I see a possible 2050 where the continent of Africa is slowly becoming a garden once again. But if we fail to cross above the fifty percent mark in the number of ordinary modem adults who wake up every morning thinking about these types of issues and making a difference in their own way, if we can't cross that threshold. I don't think that we'll make it. But in spite of all the dire circumstances we face, I'm optimistic, because it just makes so much sense. And when you reach a certain critical mass of people who come to this understanding, you'll see. I think, that while the process of ransformation can be very painful for many parts of society, the joy of actually seeing all of these problems beginning to be addressed in serious ways will be very motivating to people. It's motivating to actually see light at the end of the tunnel, even if the end of that tunnel is a century way.



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