A couple of years ago Maria and I went to see the film Hidden Universe at the IMAX cinema at the Science Museum in London. The film brings together the most spectacular footage from the world’s most powerful telescopes in 3D. It starts with the most incredibly detailed photography from Mars, and then we fly into the deepest regions of space, via the most sophisticated computer modelling and animation yet developed, taking us back to the origins and evolution of the universe. Billions of galaxies all with billions of stars.
No matter how many times you see this kind of film and immerse yourself in the amazing 3D animations, for me anyway I just cannot get the mind-bogglingly vast size and scale of the universe in my mind. This is not just true of the physical dimensions, but of the time dimensions too.
Our biosphere, and life on Earth, has evolved over the course of 4.6 billion years (4,600,000,000). As sentient beings, not only do we mistakenly place ourselves at the top of the hierarchy of the food chain, but, more often than not, we also fail to understand our place within the timescale of evolution. There have been many attempts to help place the lifetime of human beings and our civilisation in context – for example, the final second of the final minute of the final hour in a period of 24 hours – but these too remain intellectual understandings and not fully graspable intuitively.
To overcome these challenges, Stephan Harding and Sergio Maraschin invented the notion of the deep time walk in order to be able to teach Gaia theory to students at Schumacher College. The idea is simple, but powerfully effective. The deep time walk is exactly that – a walk of 4.6 km where each step of roughly one metre is the equivalent of one million years. The walk is done in a consciously meditative state, allowing you to really absorb the time spans, the eons and periods named by geologists, and thus to appreciate just how recent life, as we know it, sprang up in the context of the overall age of Earth.
At Schumacher College, Stephan takes students on the walk along a wonderful coastal path in Devon, starting approximately 4.6 km from Dartmouth, the final destination. Maria and I write about the deep time walk in detail in our book Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, allowing you to follow the main events in the history of the evolution of life on earth.
Here in Brazil Maria and I have recreated the deep time walk for people who join us on our intensive weekend-long Holonomics workshops. We run these workshops in partnership with our friends at Instituto Jatobás, at the very wonderful Fazenda dos Bambus (Bambu Farm) which lies just outside of the city of Pardinho in the state of São Paulo. We start the walk inside a fantastically atmospheric cave, representing the start of the cosmos, before even earth or our galaxy had formed.
The start walks with everyone emerging from the cave into the light, and we then pass through the beautiful countryside, stopping every so often to contemplate at which stage in the evolution of life we have reached.
The format of the walk means that you can really feel the quality of evolution. In this final stage of the walk, events really begin to come at you every few metres or so. For example, the Cenozoic Eon (the ‘Age of Mammals’) begins a mere 65 metres from the end of the walk. Humanity’s lifetime can be measured in centimetres, with the industrial age fitting into 1/5th of a millimetre (200 years).
What makes the deep time walk so powerful is that you have not just analysed these facts in your mind, you body has actually physically walked the entire lifetime of earth, and so there a type of embodied cognition, an embodied feeling for the complexity and scale of life on earth that is simply missing from a purely mental reviewing of the facts.
The deep time walk is a powerful experience for those who take part in one, and therefore it was great to catch up this week with Rob Woodford, who after having worked for over 15 years with internet pioneer Macromedia (Adobe) and mobile technology giant Qualcomm now works on a range of initiatives bridging the areas of ecology, technology and music, one of these bringing a new incarnation of the Deep Time Walk to life as an interactive app.
As Rob explained, this version of the Deep Time Walk was scripted by award-winning Devon-based playwright, Peter Oswald, directed by seasoned BBC producer, Jeremy Mortimer, and is voiced by the actors Chipo Chung who plays The Scientist, and Paul Hilton who plays The Fool.
The idea of the app is that not only is it a scientific journey through time, but also in having the narrative of the discussions between the scientist and the fool, multiple perspectives can be explored and discussed, be they scientific, mythological, Gaia or not Gaia, which as the authors hope, can trigger an awakening of consciousness and imagination.
Developing an app of this scale and ambition is by no means easy, and also involved in its creation are Geoff Ainscow, Project Lead, Fred Adam, Art Director, Jo Langton, Sound Design, Jeremy Mortimer, Audio Production, Carlos Garcia, Programming Wizard and of course Rob who is the Marking and Product Manager.
At present a prototype for the mobile app has been designed but in order to move forward, the project now needs to raise £20,000 to edit and mix the sound recordings, create symphonic soundscapes to accompany the narration, code the iOS and Android applications and go through two beta testing versions ready for launch in autumn 2016. To raise these funds, the
team have chosen to partner with South West based platform Crowdfunder, the UK’s largest crowdfunding platform. Surplus profits from the sale of the app will be used to fund scholarships for students at Schumacher College.
Rewards for supporters of the project include:
- Exclusive access to a beta-version of the Deep Time Walk app for the first 50 supporters.
- Exclusive new audio recordings from Satish Kumar (Spirituality mediation), Stephan Harding (Science contemplations) and Martin Shaw (Story-telling extract from his forthcoming book Scatterlings on Deep Time).
- Video rewards include the film Animate Earth and over six hours of new tutorials from Stephan Harding on Resilience, Ecology and Gaia Theory.
- Other higher value rewards include a copy of the Deep Time Walk script signed by Peter Oswald and Stephan Harding, a private walk with Stephan Harding, an invitation to the launch party and commissioned artwork.
The crowdfunding campaign launches on Earth Day – Friday April 22nd 2016: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/deeptimewalk. For more information on the Deep Time Walk project, visit www.deeptimewalk.org. For up-to-date information about what’s happening with the project, check out facebook.com/deeptimewalk or @deeptimewalk.