Climbing the Summit: Storytelling Through Film Reawakens Biocentrism

Through documenting and celebrating mountain, surfing and other outdoor adventures, a new era of filmmakers are celebrating the magic of life.

Darwin, Einstein and Thoreau walk into a bar…ba dum bump.

A good setup for a joke with a punchline like dry, white toast, the trio grab a table in the back of the dimly lit bar, sit down, order a round and dive into matters of nature, the universe and biocentricity.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space,” contends Einstein. “He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.”

Taking a deep pull off his beer, froth hanging from his overgrown mustache and beard, Thoreau notes, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

“If I had my life to live over again, I would make it a rule to read some poetry, listen to some music, and see some painting or drawing at least once a week,” ponders Darwin over a stiff gin and tonic. “Perhaps the part of my brain now atrophied would then have been kept alive through life. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness.”

These are actual quotes from Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Henry David Thoreau, but as they existed in different times and different worlds, surely, they never sat down for a drink together…but it would have been awesome. 

“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty,” surmised Einstein.

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The Origins Of Biocentrism

For centuries, science has endeavored to explain the mysteries of the universe largely through physics. In the most basic sense, some of the brightest minds are trying to answer the question, “How far does the universe go?”

When lying on your back at night, looking up at the stars, planets and cosmos, wondering if what you’re looking at ever truly ends. That’s the riddle.

But in the 21st century, there’s a line of thinking that shifts the focus from the non-organic to the organic–to biology. One of the core principles of biocentricity is that “life creates the universe.” 

It’s like that old conundrum, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear or see it, did it really fall? Leaning into what we already know about the universe through physics, biocentrism puts biology squarely at the center of it wall. Without life, it’s just all empty space. 

“This new model — combining physics and biology instead of keeping them separate, and putting observers firmly into the equation — is called biocentrism,” writes Robert Lanza and Bob Berman. “Its necessity is driven in part by the ongoing attempts to create an overarching view, a theory of everything.”

“Some of the thrill that came with the announcement that the human genome had been mapped or the idea that we are close to understanding the ‘Big Bang’ rests in our innate human desire for completeness and totality,” continue the two.  “But most of these comprehensive theories fail to take into account one crucial factor: We are creating them. It is the biological creature that fashions the stories, that makes the observations, and that gives names to things. And therein lies the great expanse of our oversight, that science has not confronted the one thing that is at once most familiar and most mysterious — consciousness.”

In 2010, Lanza and Berman published the book “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe.” Publishing multiple books together, their writings are largely defining the subject. 

“[Biocentricity] will release us from the dull worldview of life being merely the activity of an admixture of carbon and a few other elements; it suggests the exhilarating possibility that life is fundamentally immortal,” boasts the book’s description. 

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness,” concurs naturalist and environmental pioneer John Muir.

In terms of biocentricity, he’s not wrong. 

“There are many problems with the current paradigm,” continue Lanza and Berman. “The overarching problem involves life, since its initial arising is still a scientifically unknown process, even if the way it then changed forms can be apprehended using Darwinian mechanisms.”

“The bigger problem is that life contains consciousness, which, to say the least, is poorly understood. Consciousness is not just an issue for biologists; it’s a problem for physics. There is nothing in modern physics that explains how a group of molecules in a brain creates consciousness.”

Biocentricity Goes To The Movies

Darwin, Einstein, physics, blah, blah, blah. It can all be pretty dry stuff. What’s not dry is summiting Everest, snowboarding the Alaskan backcountry or charging deadly Australian slab waves. And that’s exactly where biocentricity and the Coast Film and Music Festival intersect.

A host of inspiring films about outdoor adventure were screened in Laguna Beach this year, and perhaps unknowingly, almost all, in their own unique way, celebrate biocentricity. They put the human experience at the center of the universe. 

Surfing is a prime example of this. Whether it’s the articulate, thoughtful film “The Yin and Yang of Gerry Lopez” or the jaw-dropping, hair-raising exploits of Aussie hellman Kerby Brown in “Facing Monsters,” riding waves is inherently a cosmic mission. 

Think about it, waves are just bands of energy. Wind blows over water, the sun and moon influence the tides, and there’s the humble surfer, perched where the land meets the sea, waiting for all the elements to come together for that one perfect ride.    

“Whether any surfer wants to admit it or not, I think we’ve all had moments like looking at nice waves coming through the lineup maybe, only for a moment, feeling that we are in the presence of something holy,” Lopez explains. “There is a spiritual-ness when you actually get in harmony with something as natural as the waves and the ocean, and yeah, it is definitely a religious experience.”

Bringing religion into this conversation isn’t the point. The point is that through riding waves–bands of energy–surfers are able to tap into a deeper connection with the planet and solar system.

This concept is further supported by the Blue Mind theory, which points to people falling into meditative states when they’re near, in, on or under the water. 

Wallace J. Nichols’s 2015 book, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, explores this subject.

“There is a spiritual-ness when you actually get in harmony with something as natural as the waves and the ocean, and yeah, it is definitely a religious experience.” - Gerry Lopez

“Blue space gives us half of our oxygen, provides billions of people with jobs and food, holds the majority of Earth’s biodiversity including species and ecosystems, drives climate and weather, regulates temperature, and is the sole source of hydration and hygiene for humanity throughout history,” writes Nichols.

“We are beginning to learn that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us, increase innovation and insight, and even heal what’s broken.”

It’s interesting that Wallace would point out the healing nature of the water and how a connection with water can, in fact, be very therapeutic. 

“Most surf spots are best at low tide when the ocean’s ribs are exposed and vulnerable. People are like this too. When we’re hurting, when we feel rejected or unloved, our usual complacent approaches and all our hard-shelled survival mechanisms no longer seem to work,” writes Jaimal Yogis in Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea. 

“But lotuses grow from mud - and from brokenness, in my experience, beautiful things emerge. We are forced, out of necessity, to write a poem or song in tears. We’re forced to go on retreat, into silence, into the realization that this feeble body and brain can’t do it all.”

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The Highest Heights

Of course, surfing and the ocean aren’t the only places people are connecting with the universe on a higher plane. It happens most anywhere folks stare down the elements and go headfirst after them. 

Screening at the Coast Film and Music Festival this year was the award-winning documentary “Pasang: In The Shadow of Everest.” Detailing the historic and tragic life of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, who became the first Nepali woman to summit Everest in 1993. Billed as “an uneducated, indigenous woman and a Buddhist in a Hindu kingdom,” Pasang would defy the odds and touch the sky. 

Dying in a storm on Everest on April 22, 1993, she inspired generations of women to come to chase their dreams and live their truest lives. After her passing, Pasang became the first woman to be awarded the Nepal Tara (Star) by the King of Nepal. There’s a life-sized statue in Bouddha, Chuchepati, that celebrates her life and accomplishments. Her name is on a postage stamp. She even has a highway, strain of wheat and a mountain in the Mahalangur Range named after her. 

“We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for,” famously said George Mallory, the first human to summit Everest. 

That sentiment is echoed in the opening lines of Thoreau’s “Walden.”

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” writes Thoreau.

It’s this awareness of consciousness and appreciation for life that lies at the heart of both biocentric thought and adrenaline junkies.

Billed as “an uneducated, indigenous woman and a Buddhist in a Hindu kingdom,” Pasang would defy the odds and touch the sky.

Enter Olympic snowboarder Danny Davis and his new film “ARK.” Screening at the Coast Film and Music Festival, over the last few years Davis has been on a mission to enjoy the best snow and have the most fun with his friends–and that’s exactly what’s at the heart of “ARK.”

A competitive beast throughout most of his career–he’s the first snowboarder to land a triple cork in competition–Davis freely acknowledges that there’s more to life than standing atop podiums.

“Contests are a very tough grind. To stick with halfpipe riding for more than ten years has been a great blessing and I’m really glad that my body has allowed me to do it, but my brain is just interested in other stuff. I think snowboarding is so great because you never really master it,” Davis told Snowboard Magazine this year.

In terms of being in tune with the planet issues it’s facing, Davis continues to experience climate change firsthand, and it has a direct impact on what he does for a living.

“Just in the past decade that I’ve been traveling and snowboarding, there are more erratic weather patterns. From wildfires in the West to torrential downpours in the Southeast, crazy cold snaps in the Midwest—the weather, just in North America even, is getting so crazy,” Davis continues. “I look at Michigan, where I grew up. I swear we used to be snowboarding in December every year. The mountain would be open, they’d be able to make snow and we’d be shredding. We had snow on the ground at home. I’ll tell you, I’ve been going to Michigan once a winter for the past few years and it’s just a different thing than I remember. And I am only 33 years old. So yeah, snowboarding is going to be affected. But more than that, the general life of a lot of people is seriously impacted by climate change.”

Whether it’s climbing mountains, riding down them, or riding mountains of water, outdoor adventurers and filmmakers are sharing their own biocentric views of the universe and inspiring others to get out there and do the same. Why lay on your back and look at the stars when you can chase them?

It’s like theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking so eloquently put it, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” 

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Key Takeaways
  • If you can’t hit the slopes or the seas, there are other ways to awaken a connection to nature and one way is through adventure films. 
  • Anyone can do it–Pasang Lhamu Sherpa wasn’t trained as an athlete when she first ascended Mount Everest. If you missed the film, Pasang: In the Shadow of Everest, at Coast Film & Music Festival, catch one of these screening times at different locations in the US. 
  • Participate in next year’s Coast Film & Music Festival to experience what it means to climb the summit through the eyes of adventurists who have.