where do we come from
Inflation made the universe very large and very smooth and flat. However, it was not completely smooth: there were tiny variations from place to place. These variations caused minute differences in the temperature of the early universe, which we can see in the cosmic microwave background.
This creation myth, like many others, wrestles with the kinds of questions that we all still ask today. Fortunately, as will become clear from this special issue of New Scientist, we now have a tool to provide the answers: science.
Thus, in addition to offering numerous explanations for the vast, unseen, sublime dimensions of life, spiritual and cultural traditions the world over have distinct practical and instrumental value in sustaining their peoples over time. Paying attention to the worldview that inform how people in a particular place interpret their experiences and guide how they create solutions is an important part of a whole systems approach to creating regenerative cultures.
Many of the scientific discoveries of the last century have opened the possibility of a new synthesis of science and spirituality, that connects all of humanity and the rest of life to the mystery of our existence as co-creative participants of a continuously transforming universe. This emerging synthesis of science and spirituality is offering cultural guidance based on knowledge and wisdom, informed by reason, intuition, and inspiration.
Provenance 1898, sent by the artist in Tahiti to Georges Daniel de Monfreid (b. 1856 – d. 1929), Paris; consigned by Monfreid and his agent to Ambroise Vollard (b. 1867 – d. 1939), Paris [see note 1]; 1901, sold by Vollard to Gabriel Frizeau (b. 1870 – d. 1938), Bordeaux [see note 2]; probably 1913, sold by Frizeau to the Galérie Barbazanges, Paris; before 1920, sold by Barbazanges to J. B. Stang, Oslo [see note 3]; 1935, probably sold by Stang to or through Alfred Gold, Berlin and Paris [see note 4]. 1936, Marie Harriman Gallery, New York [see note 5]; 1936, sold by the Harriman Gallery to the MFA for $80,000. (Accession Date: April 16, 1936)
 A letter of February 1, 1935 to the dealer Germain Seligmann, held by the Archives of American Art (Seligmann papers, box 426), states that the dealer Alfred Gold said the painting was still the property of Stang (“la grand Gauguin était toujours la proprieté de Stang”) and that it would be included in the forthcoming Brussels exhibition. The writer has not been identified. Later that year, Gold lent the painting to the exhibition “L’impressionisme,” Palais de Beaux-Arts, Brussels, June 15 – September 29, 1935, cat. no. 28. Gold purchased other works from the Stang collection, and almost certainly acquired this painting directly from him. As early as 1932, Gold acted as Stang’s representative in lending the painting to the Kunsthaus, Zürich (February 20 – March 20, 1932); at the end of the loan period, the painting was sent to Paris.
Gauguin indicated that the painting should be read from right to left, with the three major figure groups illustrating the questions posed in the title. The three women with a child represent the beginning of life; the middle group symbolizes the daily existence of young adulthood; and in the final group, according to the artist, “an old woman approaching death appears reconciled and resigned to her thoughts”; at her feet, “a strange white bird. represents the futility of words.” The blue idol in the background apparently represents what Gauguin described as “the Beyond.” Of its entirety he said, “I believe that this canvas not only surpasses all my preceding ones, but that I shall never do anything better—or even like it.”
This is Paul Gaugin’s most famous painting, and he considered it his masterpiece, and the culmination of his thoughts. In Tahiti, as he was painting his masterpiece, Gaugin declared that he would commit suicide upon its completion. Although this was something he had previously attempted, this was not the case, as the artist died of syphilis in 1903. The painting was meant to be read from right to left, with the three main figures in the painting representing the three questions of the title. The figures are arranged from the beginning stages of life, from young figures with a child, to the middle aged figure in the middle, to the elder figure on the left of the painting. The idol in the background, situated behind the elder figure, represents the “Beyond.”
In December, 1897, Gauguin decided to kill himself. He was sick and miserable, without enough money for medical treatment, he was in debt and abandoned by those who owed him money. His tropical paradise had failed. He wished, before dying, to paint one great, last testamentary picture, and summoning all his strength in a single burst of energy he painted this canvas his largest. The attempt at suicide failed, apparently through an overdose of the arsenic he took, and so in later letters, we have his own comments upon the picture and its genesis:
Gauguin did more than describe the allegorical subject of this picture. He also told of the method and manner of its execution, stressing what his predecessors in romanticism would have called inspiration, and his twentieth-century heirs the uncontrollable workings of the subconscious, true source of the artist’s genius: