Our Haunted Planet
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Our Haunted Planet

Does The Universe Care?

Answering the fundamental problem of our isolation.

This seems to be an important question in my life currently. Behind all my mistakes, pains, hopes, and fears lies this question. There’s a satirical take on this. However it presents a real problem, does the universe not care about us? I often feel like it doesn’t, but my psychical and psychedelic experiences have taught me otherwise, so I must deal with this cognitive dissonance. Quora the repository of sometimes useless knowledge, has something to say about this. Often with a variety of responses, some quite optimistic, others bordering on the depressive. However faced with our existence next to something much larger, we must ask ourselves does it care about us?

I think humans need to believe in a caring God or universe, or some sort of higher power otherwise they become depressed. Humans fear indifference, I think we fear it even more than cruelty. I’ve always been a cold sort sometimes, but I’ve always seen the beauty within the smallest of things. Within the smallest elements of the universe, there is within another universe. With its own rules, regulations, and even problems like ours. Do even the largest of things care about the smallest of things. I was thinking about this with insects and myself, I do sometimes care whether the insect lives. However sometimes if it is hovering around me, I’ll just swat it. That seems very uncaring, but I do feel bad that I had to swat it. An unfortunate outcome for both involved.

There’s actually a simple answer to this question, which is that we are a part of the universe and some of us at least do care. So in that sense, the universe does care. Strangers, friends, and family may hurt you, but out in the midst of all that, there are those who do care about you. A family member talks to you or helps you, a friend is with you during difficult times. However, does the rest of the non-human universe care about us? It seems dead and cold, doesn’t it? To care about something you must be aware of it and your relation to it. In effect, you must have consciousness as well as some sense of relational awareness.

Conscious — Characterized by or having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations, and thoughts.

However often we don’t perceive other things besides humans as conscious. I think this stems from our separation of man from the rest of the universe. A kind of reverse anthropomorphic cognitive bias, we notice the dissimilarity rather than the similarity between us and other actors in the universe. We believe we are the only conscious beings. It was sometimes assumed in times past that animals and even some humans weren’t quite conscious. The dehumanization that occurs during enslavement or conflict often sets aside the conscious aspect of the individual, ignoring that they may have consciousness. However, where does this stop, if animals are conscious, then could plants be? Even stars, galaxies, an entire universe? We often see anthropomorphization as a cognitive bias, but is it if a panpsychic view of the universe makes more sense?

I don’t have a definite answer to this. Other than to say, I believe other parts of the universe do. It may not be exactly like our consciousness, they may not be self-aware. However, stars for example undergo similar metabolic processes to humans in a sense. They are very much alive, and if a plant is alive I must say that a star and galaxy must be as well. Since stars grow and live as well. Stars undergo similar processes to humans. They undergo lifecycles. Experience gravitational attraction and repulsion, and undergo something like a metabolic process with stellar nucleosynthesis. I’m not saying stars are conscious in exactly the same way we are but they seem to be similar in certain ways that are similar to us. They seem very alive with coronal ejections and atmospheric phenomena adding an extra sense of aliveness to them. However, you can never know for certain unless you shared a mind with a star.

The universe in many ways looks like a giant complex system with intention. This is the teleological argument, that the universe must have a creator otherwise it couldn’t exhibit the complexity that exists. I’m not going to go into this debate, for now, it is endless. My belief in the intentionality of the universe rests on the notion that it is moving towards greater complexity. McKenna had this notion that complexity is increasing and in some sense is a teleological goal of nature. The universe started out as a ball of dense matter then separating during inflation and the big bang. Then slowly over time evolved the complex systems we see today despite its entropic workings. This increasing complexity to me seems teleological in nature, what else could it be? There’s no reason a “randomized” universe with entropic processes should necessarily lead to complexity. However, if it does have an intention what is it. Is it a good one or a negative one, will it destroy us or save us? This is the problem for me, and I will give you an answer I’m not sure of but I hope is true. Maybe wishful thinking, but that is for the ages to tell.

I at this point ask you to look at your own life? Is it so bad, or are most of the difficulties you’ve experienced of your own making? I don’t mean that in a condescending way, I hope the universe doesn’t punish us, and I don’t believe it does although often it seems that way. Rather I mean that as a serious contemplation exercise. Often it’s assumed that taking the universe as inherently just implies a lack of mercy, the world is so bad, and so on, therefore in a just universe why do seemingly unjust events happen. Often termed a victim mentality, and used with a negative connotation. I’ve had those feelings before, I’m a victim, so on and so on. However, I don’t think the universe is punishing you but rather helping you in its own way. Like a wasp stinging you so you can leave its nesting area, the wasp doesn’t necessarily wish to hurt you. However you as a human need to get away so the wasp can do its thing and care for its young without human interference. It’s simply a mediating mechanism between different aspects of the universe that have compatibility issues. It doesn’t mean they can’t get along, humans and wasps get along quite well when wasps aren’t concerned about their young and the human isn’t acting aggressively even if unintentionally. I can claim the wasp stung me as a punishment, but the wasp had no such intention other than to protect itself and its young. After the experience, you learn not to visit wasp nests again, especially during certain times of the year because they could be protecting something. I sometimes wonder if the wasp even feels for the human it stung, I cannot know, maybe they don’t.

This growth aspect of nature I often see in situations where animals that are too sick or old to live, die and are scavenged or hunted by predators. Trees that are too old and sick are felled by a powerful storm. Nature takes away what is not working to bring in something that does work, and works better. We can call this the productive principle, it works in such a way that all needs are met. An implicit form of socialistic existence. This is why trees can grow at all, and animals get fed. Humans introduce a kind of artificial scarcity, for example in pricing, housing markets, and so on. However, this is corrected by charities, food banks, welfare, and foreign aid. It just so happens to work, how it does without falling apart is quite amazing really. As Jung said “In all chaos there is a cosmos.” That’s not to say things can’t be changed and tweaked a bit, new ideas introduced, maybe making the world a bit more compassionate. Fundamentally however I think this universe isn’t that bad. Although that optimistic thinking sometimes depends on my mood at the moment, and I worry I might be wrong and the world really is a bad place.

We can take the opposite view here that it is a cruel and heartless place. Sometimes it can seem that way to us humans, but often it is not our fault when it does seem that way. We don’t control the market forces or natural forces, but like the stoics believe we can control our responses to them. I don’t know of anyone whose life is objectively that terrible, I know of bad events that sometimes occur in one’s life but whatever is lost is always regained in some way. There are some really bad possible worlds out there, look at the dystopian Hunger Games trilogy or Vonnegut’s and Harlan Ellison’s short fiction, or the mirror universe in Star Trek to get a taste of that. Nothing in this world compares to that. Some might argue historical events might be that bad, but since it’s long gone we cannot know how objectively terrible those events really were other than from subjective accounts usually from secondary sources. I don’t think you can argue this is an objectively cruel universe any worse than a fictional one.

I wish to implore you, that if you think this universe truly is a heartless place. That you make it a little bit less so by your actions. I would rather die than live in an indifferent compassionless universe. I believe however that we humans fundamentally give a key sense of compassion to the universe. We need to stop seeing ourselves as parasitic attachments and as beings that can improve this planet. Ultimately my hope is that this is not a cold dead place.

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