Monday, August 12, 2013


Does the universe exist by accident or design? 
   You know that I am not going to answer the question properly and directly, but just go round in circles, as I usually do. Yet that is what it is all about, going round and round in circles or ellipses. For my part I have just completed 77 circumnavigations of our sun, and it is time I started thinking about the big questions.
“To be or not to be”. I always thought that was the question, not “whether the universe exists” (never mind the unnecessary appendage “by chance or design”).
   Shakespeare was thinking about the human condition, and the universal dilemma, whether life (a veritable “sea of troubles”) is worth living, not whether there is life out there, divine or whatever.
   But the word “be” is (ontologically?) applicable to the universe, which is likewise a surging sea of double toil and trouble, in which fires burn and caldrons bubble. The universe certainly “bes” (biiz); it just is, a philosopher (of education) once said to me, and that is all there is about it. But I added that it is very dynamic.
   I see a “life force” in it all; there is “biotic life” (examined by biology); but there is also “inert life”; the life force is in rocks, meteors, comets, stars, and spiralling galaxies.
   There are philosophies which question the existence of reality.
In India  everything is maya, “illusion”, the same word as used for the tricks performed by a magician, an “illusionist”; and so we could be the victims of the merry pranks of some unseen master-conjurer; but even that sounds like a kind of “intelligent design” rather than mindless chance.
   When asked what my field of study is, I say “the universe and beyond”. My role at university was to examine the beliefs and practices of religions ancient and recent. The essence of religion is paradox (its foundation is the gathering of money, of course, but it also involves an earnest and sincere attempt to connect with the mysterious maker of all things).
   I loved putting labels on classes of things and types of people; I invented numerous systems of categorization. But ultimately there is only one title in this respect; some may rejoice in calling themselves Theist or Atheist, but Agnosticist is the only true category for labelling humans. They are in that state not by choice nor by chance, but from the sheer complexity and paradoxity of reality, in its steady state of creative change. A Christian mystic I study all the time (John Dalyatha) tells me that the ultimate knowledge is non-knowledge, experienced in the cloud of unknowing.
   In Hinduism, the polymorphomonotheistic paradox is that there are 330 million gods, yet there is only one God. But that unmanageable number can be reduced to 33, or merely 3: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer, Shiva the Destroyer. The creator does not receive much attention (allegedly, he only has one temple in India) but energetic and lavish worship is directed to the Destroyer.
   In Buddhism, an offshoot of Hinduism, there are gods, but the Buddha wisely advised his disciples to ignore them; they have their own troubles and karma to work out; humans have to work out their own salvation individually and independently. But he emphasised the constant change that goes on in the cycle of existence.
    Indeed, as we now know, though only tentatively, from the minutest psychotically tossing particle to the most colossal swirling galaxy, everything is in a state of flux. Nothing is still, nothing is motionless, everything is running around in circles, or ellipses, or spirals, or parabolas.
   Parabola and parable are the same word. That is what Judaism, Christianity, and Islam offer (all centered on the same God, of a patriarch named Abraham): stories that enlighten and encourage us. And they teach us to be thankful for the good gifts that are bestowed on us by an invisible hand (not the one in the marketplace).
    One story I like has an all-powerful father moving about the universe exerting his control, for good or ill (I create good and evil, Yahweh says). He has a son who tries to go about doing good; his name is Luke Skywalker, and his father with the big voice is Darth Vader (“Father”).

   When confronted with a choice between two things, in this case chance or design, I would typically want to have both.
    Also, being a harmonist, I would apply the philosophical method of Hegel.
         Thesis: ACCIDENT       
 Antithesis: DESIGN

   One way of putting it would be: it all happened by accident, but the results are so complex and so intricately related that it looks as if it was intelligently designed.
   On the other hand, in the other postulated presumed universes things might be more chaotic and not hanging together so nicely.
    I still like to think that there is a mind in or behind the machine, experimenting scientifically, discarding failed planets and species (look out, we could be next), and delighting in the discovery that this is the best of all possible worlds.

Be thankful. And may the life force be with you.

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