Principles of Cosmic Creativity

Thomas J. McFarlane
March 1998

Abstract: This paper explores patterns of cosmic creativity from the creation of the cosmos itself, to the creation of stars, life, and consciousness. The evolution of the cosmos is characterized as following a dynamic process of creativity having four stages: stability, stress, crisis, and reorganization. The pervasiveness of this pattern at all levels and periods of evolution suggests the existence of cosmic creative principles.

The Creation of the Cosmos

The ultimate act of creativity is the creation of the entire universe--all of matter, energy, space and time--from an impenetrable Mystery about 15 billion years ago. Because time and space themselves are created, the cosmic Mystery is both outside of time and eternally present in every moment, both outside of space and everywhere present in every being. The very stage upon which the story of creation is played out is a creation just as much as any of the props or actors.

The story of our cosmos begins with the miraculous birth of a singular point containing all possibilities for the manifestation of energy, matter, space and time. The cosmos at this stage, however, manifests only the quality of unity, having no distinguishable forms of manifestation, not even space or time. The energy density is so high that it allows complete freedom of transformation of any form into any other form, so that no stable distinction between any two forms can exist. None of the many complex and enduring forms we know in our present low-energy environment can exist in this high-energy state of complete symmetry.

In principle, the cosmos could have simply remained in this state of unity, and not evolved any further. The cosmos, however, has at its very foundation a profound creative impulse to give expression to its infinite potential, to manifest its beauty in the form of diverse structures and complex processes. In order to give expression to form, however, a necessary first step is to permit the emergence of stable distinctions, and to allow distinct forms to be sustained.

Thus, the perfect symmetry of the cosmos is broken, giving birth first to stable forms of space, time and gravity. Space and time provide the cosmic drama with a stage, and gravity is the first actor to appear on it. Just as ice comes into being by cooling water below a critical freezing temperature, space, time and gravity come into being when the universe cools below a critical energy threshold called the Planck energy. Below this energy, some transformations of form are not allowed, creating a stable distinction within the original unity. The manifestation of gravity, space and time are thus the result of a limitation of cosmic freedom.

As the cosmos continues to cool, its energy density drops further and further, resulting in additional limitations in the allowed transformations. These limitations of cosmic freedom result in additional divisions of the original unity, creating the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and various associated particles. These three forces, together with gravity, are the fundamental actors in the cosmic drama.

These initial stages of creative evolution are thus characterized by a principle of creation-through-division: to give expression to distinct forms and make manifest its full potential, the cosmos sacrifices its state of unity by reducing its energy density and thus limiting its self-interactions. The limited self-interactions then provide the basis for the stability of distinct forms. Because the continual lowering of the energy density is what limits the possible transformations of form, this creative process is ultimately made possible by the expansion of the cosmos which lowers the energy density. The cosmic expansion, therefore, is a fundamental creative force of the cosmos.

In the secondary stages of cosmic evolution, the expansion continues to drive cosmic creativity. As the energy density continues to drop, the particles that were stabilized now start to bind together into new composite forms. First quarks collect to form nucleons, then nucleons collect to form nuclei, and nuclei bind to electrons to form atoms. In contrast with the initial stages of evolution, where the creation of new forms is through division or analysis, the secondary stages of evolution are characterized by creation through collection or synthesis. The synthesis, however, does not return the cosmos into its state of unity. Rather, it builds upon the entities that emerged through division to create novel composite forms. Cosmic evolution, therefore, exhibits from the very beginning a process of layered development, where new composite forms are built upon those created at earlier stages. Through the intimate and synergistic association of elementary entities, composite beings emerge with their own unique identities. The stability of a composite being depends on the close bond between its parts, and the relative isolation of these parts from interactions with anything outside the composite structure. The process of creation, therefore, involves from the beginning the relationship of part to whole, and the emergence of relatively isolated systems.

Although new principles of creation emerge as the cosmos evolves, they too build upon the earlier principles. Still at the foundation of the creation of new forms is the cooling of the cosmos due to the expansion of space. As the energy density of the cosmos drops, the free elementary particles sacrifice their energy and freedom to the expanding space by binding together. Their creative act is thus a direct response to the expansion of the cosmos. In order to bind together, however, the particles must be close enough to each other. Yet, the expansion of space pulls them apart. The cosmic expansion, therefore, serves to inhibit creativity as well as spark it. Like the Hindu god Shiva, the expanding impulse is both the creator and the destroyer, the source of both birth and death.

Because creation and destruction originate in this expansion, its precise rate plays a critical role in the regulation of creative activity in the cosmos. For example, during the period of nucleosynthesis when protons and neutrons collect together to form nuclei, the expansion is so fast that only a few of the protons and neutrons are able to combine to form composite nuclei. If the expansion were slower, the creation of heavy nuclei would be so prolific that the result would be a cosmos of iron, with no stars, galaxies, or life. Because the expansion of the universe is fast enough to allow only partial creation of composite nuclei at this early stage of evolution, the cosmos retains the possibility for creatively releasing this energy at later stages of cosmic evolution. What might appear at one stage of cosmic evolution as incomplete creativity, therefore, may actually be a postponement of creative potential for a later time.

Galaxies and Stars

In the previous stages of cosmic evolution, the universe as a whole was largely homogeneous and uniform, and the stages of evolution were associated with continuously decreasing density and decreasing energy throughout. When neutral atoms form and gravity emerges as a dominant force of further evolution, however, the distribution of matter in the universe becomes non-uniform, and the global expansion of space is contrasted by regions of local contraction of matter. As with nucleosynthesis, this creation of local structure is regulated by the precise expansion rate. Had the rate been slower, all the matter in the universe would have collapsed back on itself into a single cosmic black hole. Had the rate been faster, the atoms would have been dispersed beyond the capacities of gravity to collect them together at all. The expansion rate in our universe, however, is just slow enough to allow gravity to collect the gas into large galactic superclusters while just fast enough to gravitationally decouple these superclusters from each other. These decoupled regions of space then evolve independently. This stage in cosmic evolution, therefore, marks the emergence of separated regions of cosmic development having independent and parallel creative evolution. Uniqueness expresses itself in the character of each individual region, with its distinct identity.

Within these isolated superclusters, gravitational dynamics form relatively independent galaxies of many different types, and within these galaxies, gravitational attraction forms localized clouds of gas having many different sizes. As gravity pulls the atoms in a cloud together, the density increases and the energy rises, resulting in a localized reversal of the cosmic expansion and cooling. Remarkably, through their contraction and heating, these isolated clouds recreate a living replica of their earlier higher-energy state in the early universe.

Like the superclusters, these clouds are relatively isolated from each other and express a unique identity. For small clouds, the collection of gas forms a planet of H and He, and eventually cools again. If enough gas is collected in a cloud, however, its own gravity continues to pull it together against its own heat to the point where the atoms dissociate, restoring to the electrons and nuclei the freedom they enjoyed at an even earlier state. If the cloud is even larger, the gravity energizes the nuclei to the point where nuclear reactions begin converting H to He within the core, reactivating the creative process of nucleosynthesis that was arrested earlier by the expansion rate. The steady nuclear reactions in the core release tremendous amounts of energy, giving birth to a star, a new and dynamic form of creativity. Although this form is new, it also expresses the nucleosynthetic creativity present in an earlier stage of evolution. Thus, a star is at once a step forward and a recreation of the past.

In contrast with structural forms of creativity in the early universe, a star is a dynamic localized process that balances the inward pull of gravity with the outward push of energy released by the nuclear reactions. This balance between inward and outward forces is a homeostatic point of dynamic stability that maintains the creative activity of the star in a non-equilibrium state. Cosmic creativity is now embodied in this stable center of light, shining in the empty space around it. As if to defy the ever expanding and cooling cosmic space, matter contracts at these magical points and radiates energy in all directions. This creative release of energy from the stars is their gift to the universe, an echo in the present of the incomplete nucleosynthesis of the past.

Eventually, the H fuel in the star is largely consumed, reducing the amount of energy released in the core. The star is then starved for H fuel and drowning in its own He waste. With less outward pressure, however, the gravity no longer experiences as much resistance, and the star is compressed. This compression heats the star to an even higher core temperature at which the star is able to burn He in addition to H, releasing more energy and creating a new and more complex dynamic balance. The creative process of cosmic evolution here manifests itself locally as a creative adaptation of a single dynamic structure in order to preserve its unique living process: dissipating into space the nuclear energy inherent in the H and He nuclei, as if to re-enact and complete the creative process of nucleosynthesis in the early universe. The creative process here reveals four distinct stages: an initial stage of dynamic stability, a second stage of instability and stress, a third stage of holistic crisis, and a fourth creative stage of new differentiation and dynamic stability.

These stages are repeated over and over in the evolutionary sequence of a large star, resulting in a progressively complex creative process and structure. A star that burns He to C eventually runs low on He fuel and the energy production again decreases. The star then enters the stage of instability and stress where the outward pressure of the energy no longer balances the inward force of gravity and the star begins to contract. It enters the third stage of evolution when the contraction evokes a new type of nuclear reaction, previously unavailable and unknown to the star. In the next stage, the star stabilizes in a new state of dynamic balance where, in addition to the continuation of the prior reactions, a new reaction is evoked where the C is burned to form O. Note that the evolutionary process of self-transformation experienced by the star results from a stage wherein there is an introversion of its energy to evoke its latent potentials into manifestation.

If the star is large enough, it passes through another creative cycle, burning O to form Ne. Very large stars then burn Ne to Mg, followed by burning Mg to Si, and finally Si to Fe. These higher elements are created for the first time in these large stars, ushered into manifestation by the delicate balance between the interactions of the cosmos. By tapping into the creative energies of the cosmic evolution in its own uniquely creative way, stars give birth to new creative structures, transmuting the elements with their own stellar alchemy.

If the star was extremely large, it continues to evolve, burning heavier and heavier waste products, until it produces iron. Because it is not possible to extract any energy by burning iron, the star must die. As if in an attempt to transcend the limits of its own stellar identity, however, such a heavy star does not resign itself to a quiet death, but drives itself to the extreme of creativity in a sudden and spectacular self-destructive event called a supernova. The star blows itself apart, blasting into space a rich supply of higher elements created out of the last explosive breath of its life. These higher elements cannot be created any other way but through such awesome explosions that are at once profoundly creative and profoundly destructive. Here more than anywhere else, the cosmos shows us how intimately intertwined are creation and destruction, as if to remind us of the critical role the expansion rate plays in regulating the creative process, arresting nucleosynthetic creativity at an early stage only to make stellar creativity possible in a later stage.

Earth and Chemistry

If a supernova takes place in a spiral galaxy, a second generation solar system can be created which contains not just the synthesized elements produced in the natural stages of stellar evolution, but a large variety of other elements, including heavy elements, like gold and silver, which are only produced in the catastrophic final explosion of the supernova. Gravitational attraction eventually compresses this rich cloud of elements, forming planets and a new sun from the remains of the supernova. The large variety of elements make complex chemistry possible in this solar system, allowing interesting chemical compounds to be created through the unique chemical bonding of atoms to each other. These bonds, however, can only be maintained on the relatively cool planets, and not in the very hot sun. Thus, the focus of creativity shifts from the sun to the planets, for it is on the planets that these complex chemical creatures arise.

With the emergence of these new creative structures, we are reminded once again of the levels of creative structure produced by the cosmic unfolding. These chemical structures originate from more fundamental atomic elements. These atomic elements, in turn, were created from H (protons) by the creative process of stars, and the protons were created by the bonding of quarks in the early universe. In each chemical compound, therefore, there is represented different levels of stable structure, each created in a prior phase of cosmic evolution. Each created form is retained as a stable structure in subsequent stages of evolution. Thus, existing implicitly in each chemical creature are various deeper structures, as well as the process through which they were made. The condensation of quarks in the first instants of the universe is implicit in every proton, the creativity of a star is implicit in every atom, and the creativity of a planet is implicit in the dynamics of the chemical forms. Moreover, all these forms of creativity are implicit in all life. We embody the creativity of the cosmos. We notice here yet another pattern in the creative process of the cosmos: the building of novel forms from stable forms created in earlier epochs, and the implicit existence of the earlier stages of evolution in all present existence. We also notice a pattern of increased variety at later stages. From just three elementary particles are formed nearly one hundred stable atoms, and from these atoms are formed countless numbers of possible chemical compounds. All this variety, however, derives from a common basis at earlier levels.

As the planets of our solar system cool and radiate their energy to the expanding space around them, some planets freeze into silent bundles of ice while others solidify into inert chunks of rock. Our Earth, however, has the right size, the right mixture of elements, and receives the right amount of light from the sun to continue the creative process. We see here the principle of environmental selection at work in cosmic creativity: the creative evolution of a system, such as a planet, depends not only on its own inner resources and nature, but on its relationship with its environment. For example, the proximity of a planet to its sun will determine to a large degree what forms of creativity are possible there. Whereas the expansion rate delicately regulated the cosmic creative process through cooling, and gravitational attraction regulated the creativity of stars through compression, now the creativity of the planets is regulated by the precise amount of energy available for them to dissipate.

The emergence and evolution of complex forms and processes on Earth is made possible by a plentiful and steady flow of energy, both from the heat intrinsic to the Earth and from the continual creative radiance of our sun. This steady flux of energy is low enough that it allows some chemical molecules on Earth to become stable, yet high enough that it activates the chemical compounds, stimulating them to explore various combinations and reactive processes. By maintaining the Earth in non-equilibrium, this flow of energy sparks on an amazing creative unfolding. As the Earth cools, more and more complex chemical creations are able to maintain stability. With the constant influx of energy, this stability is not static but dynamic. Like the Sun nearby, the creativity of the Earth is a dynamic process driven by the flow of energy through the system. While the Sun is performing nuclear reactions, however, the Earth is exploring the creative possibilities of chemical reactions. These chemical reactions are possible only at lower planetary temperatures where such chemical structures are stable. This planetary process, however, cannot sustain itself without the constant radiance of the Sun. Thus, the creativity of the Earth is ultimately driven by the creativity of the Sun, which in turn owes its creativity to the expansion of the universe. Creativity on Earth, therefore, is ultimately evoked into being by the opening of cosmic space.

The Emergence of Life

As soon as the temperature of the Earth cools enough to permit their stability, simple self-replicating molecules emerge in the primordial soup. These creatures have the remarkable ability to use the energy contained in other molecules to make replicas of themselves. In the process, they liberate some of the energy and store some of it internally. This self-replication, therefore, at once serves both to liberate bound energy more quickly and to reorganize the energy in order to proliferate these self-replicating structures. These dissipative structures discovered an amazing principle of creation: in systems experiencing an influx of energy, new and self-sustaining dynamic structures can emerge as vehicles for the enhanced dissipation or liberation of that energy. In exchange for their increased dissipation of energy in their environment, these structures can use a portion of the energy themselves to evolve and complexify. In other words, their own entropy is reduced as compensation for helping to more efficiently increase the environmental entropy. In the proximity of a large flow of energy, such as near a sun, systems are not isolated and, as a result, do not necessarily decrease in entropy. Quite to the contrary, complexification and the emergence of order can spontaneously emerge in such rich regions of energy flow. By making the overall dissipation of energy more efficient, they get to use some of the energy themselves to decrease entropy locally even though it still increases globally. Thus the emergence of localized order is not only consistent with the overall increase in entropy, but actually enhances it.

Whereas in the sun the gravitational curvature of space provides an attractor that evokes the creation of radiance, on the Earth the flow of radiation provides an attractor that evokes the creation of dissipative structures. Thus, the product of one creative process is the basis for evoking the next stage. Creation is naturally a cumulative process. The process of evolution and complexification of dissipative structures follows the same basic pattern we saw with the stars. First, there is a state of stable organization, a local equilibrium or homeostasis. Second, there is a pressure that pushes the system away from equilibrium into an unstable, non-linear domain. Third, there is a crisis where the former organization of the system breaks down. Fourth, the system spontaneously enters another domain of organization characterized by new differentiation, variety and complexity.

The self-replicating molecules discovered how to maintain and propagate structural information that constituted their identity. Because efficient dissipation of energy is the creative attractor on Earth, the dissipative structures that are able to maintain and propagate their identity are naturally stabilized, as are the methods they use to enact this feat. Thus the basic genetic code of all life on Earth comes into being, as well as the first representational language. The cosmos discovered a technique by which specific structures can maintain a stable self-representation, as well as a technique for manifesting it. In addition, because every structure exists in relationship with its environment, this self-representation is also an implicit representation of the organism's environment as well.

The attraction to self-maintenance evokes the first cell membrane which isolates the genetic information from destabilizing environmental influences. The first cells are the prokaryotes, and they will live alone on the Earth for about a billion years. During this time, by altering their genetic identities through mutation and the exchange of genetic materials, they discover and share an enormous variety of metabolic processes that provide the foundation for all subsequent forms of life. These metabolic processes, such as fermentation and photosynthesis, provide life with different ways to extract and dissipate the energy bound in the environment. The creative attractor of the Earth, therefore, evokes into being a wide diversity of prokaryotic life forms, each of which is uniquely suited for a specific niche, or way of using and dissipating a particular form of energy contained in the environment. (The energy that is available for use and dissipation is of necessity bound, contained, or otherwise ordered. It is a great misnomer of science, therefore, that this bound energy was given the name "free energy". In fact, it is the dissipated and liberated energy that is free.)

As life proliferates, the limited availability of specific forms of energy in the environment results in competition between different forms of life that share the same niche. Consequently, the attraction to maximize dissipation of energy results in a natural selection of the specific form of life that, in addition to maintaining and propagating its identity, most efficiently capture and dissipate the energy in that niche, i.e., their food. The attractor of life, therefore, selects for excellence in capturing and liberating energy. Whereas the early phase of cosmic evolution was characterized by the limitation and restriction of energy, the phase of life is characterized by its release and liberation.

Most metabolic processes of life do not extract or dissipate all the available energy of their food. Instead, they produce waste products that themselves have useful energy. The waste of one organism, therefore, can be the food of another. As a result, intimate symbiotic relationships naturally develop as species emerged to exploit all available forms of energy. These relationships of life echo earlier creative processes of the sun, where the burning of H produces He waste that is also the fuel for a second order creative process.

The proliferation of prokaryotic life and its vast array of metabolic processes not only result in the development of intricate relationships between forms of life, but also have a dramatic and irreversible effect on the aqueous, mineral and atmospheric environment of the Earth. The environment, therefore, is not a constant and passive backdrop to life, but is evolving with it. The environmental matrix is a living reflection of the various life forms within it. Moreover, because every organism exists in such close dependence upon its environment, the impact of life upon the environment inevitably feeds back upon life, just as the impact of matter on the curvature of space feeds back on matter. Inevitably, this feedback becomes so large that it stresses the existing forms of life and forces them into a crisis. Specifically, the concentration of oxygen waste in the atmosphere becomes so high that it starts poisoning life. The planet is drowning in its own oxygen waste. Just as a star drowns in its He waste just prior to a creative reorganization that uses the He as a new source of energy, this oxygen holocaust is the catalyst for the emergence of new metabolic processes and new forms of life.

Although oxygen is a poisonous waste to all prokaryotic life at the time, a new metabolic process called respiration learns to breathe in this oxygen and extract its energy. This new metabolic process is the perfect complement to the preexisting processes. New eukaryotic organisms then emerge from a symbiotic merging of these breathing prokaryotes with the original oxygen producing prokaryotes. Like the star that combines the burning of H to produce He with the secondary burning of the He waste in the core, the emergence of these eukaryotic organisms represent a major step in the evolution of life.

During the next billion years, eukaryotic cells learn to organize themselves into large cooperative groups of differentiated cells. Yet another layer of complexity is added to the creative forms of the cosmos. Such a cooperative has several advantages over single celled organisms. For example, they can sense food, move around more efficiently to find it, and can eat smaller forms of life. The advantages of being able to more efficiently find food, however, are traded off for the fact that their food provides them with a degraded form of energy. Because the smaller forms of life have already used and dissipated some of the original available energy, these collective organisms are essentially feeding on waste. Generally, the larger the organism, the further removed it is from the original source of energy. Thus, as organisms increase in size, they become less numerous. This pyramid of numbers is a reflection of the pyramid of stellar processes: The most energy is released by the burning of H to form He. When He is burned, less energy is released. When the star finally reaches Fe, no more energy can be extracted and the life of the star has ended. Creativity thus proliferates a hierarchy of forms in order to increase the dissipation of energy. At the same time, the dissipation is regulated so that evolution unfolds gradually through time.

As long as there is any available energy, life is attracted to fill the corresponding niche. For billions of years, following the pattern of creative evolution, life adapts through genetic changes that result in new species that fill available niches. While single celled life continue to provide the foundation for life, complex forms of life spread from water to land, from land to the air, and from land back to the water. Life differentiates to form plants and animals. It develops organs to see, smell, hear, taste and touch. Then, it develops the most remarkable and revolutionary organ of all: the organ to know.


Life originally adapted through changes in its genetic representation of itself and the world, a process that acted on an entire species over many generations. With the new organ of knowledge, however, life develops a conscious representation of itself and the world that is both profoundly powerful and capable of rapid revision. As a consequence, the homo sapiens, who are the most prominent possessors of this organ, are able to quickly adapt to new niches without genetic change. More importantly, by developing a profound conscious representation of the world, they are able to exploit new sources of energy, such as rivers, wind, fossil fuels and nuclear energy, that no other forms of life have the ability to access. Because these sources of energy are so large, they have a power over their environment and other forms of life that is unprecedented in the history of the planet.

Because of its profound power, consciousness has a simultaneous potential for both catastrophic creativity and catastrophic destruction, and it has accelerated evolution to an unprecedented pace. It is possible that consciousness appearing on Earth may be the equivalent of a star going supernova, destroying an increasingly unstable creative system in a giant destruction of life. Although this would destroy the existing structures of life, the explosion might also produce the necessary seeds for the creation of a new and unforeseeable creative process, just as the supernova creates the seeds of life. It is also possible that consciousness marks the emergence of a fundamentally new manifestation of cosmic creativity, as different from genetic life forms as they are from stars. If the past is any indicator, the fundamental stages of the evolution of consciousness will follow the same stages that have been expressed at earlier periods of cosmic evolution. In fact, we can already see that creativity in consciousness does follow the cosmic pattern.

Scientific knowledge, for example, is embodied at any given time in a paradigm, which is a conceptual system and experimental methodology for understanding and investigating our experience. Like a living organism, a paradigm maintains itself by feeding on data that it can digest and propagating itself through time. If the paradigm is exposed to anomalous data that it cannot digest, however, it begins to be stressed and pushed away from its former state of stability. If the anomalous data persist, a crisis results in a reorganization of the structures that characterized the very identity of the paradigm. Normal science then continues for some time in a new region of stability until anomalous data again appears. Moreover, just as life evolves in relationship with its environment, science evolves along with its experimental data. The evolutionary development of paradigms also builds on and incorporates prior knowledge and exhibits a layered development, just as we have seen in the evolution of stars, life, and the cosmos.

The pattern of cosmic creativity also expresses itself on the level of individual consciousness. There are four generally accepted stages of cognitive creativity: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. These stages follow quite closely the stages found throughout the cosmos. In the preparation stage one proceeds on the basis of what is known until these resources are exhausted, like the star burning all of its H fuel. In the incubation stage, the system naturally turns inward pushing the system to a critical state, like the gravitational compression that pulls a star inward after the H fuel is largely gone. In the illumination stage, a creative reorganization takes place, like the sudden onset of He combustion in the star. In the verification stage, the new structure is integrated and stabilized, like the new balance of forces in the star now burning He. Moreover, just as the creativity of a bacterium depends on the energy available in its environment and its ability to make use of it, the creativity of an individual depends on its environment and how well it is adapted to the available sources of energy. Just as the attractor for life is the efficient liberation of bound energy, the attractor for consciousness is the liberation of bound psychic energy, the energy that is contained in the unconscious, both collectively and individually. We are at just the first stages of evolution in this new domain of consciousness, taking the first steps toward the liberation that promises to recreate the human at a new level. Perhaps it is not the explosive death of a star we are about to experience, but its birth.