Cosmic Pointlessness or Infinite Immanence?
By Martin LeFevre
The creek along the edge of town, dry half the year, is running full again after the winter rains. Sitting on the bank as the sun slides below the leafless tree line, passive awareness quickens attention, and the watcher ends in the watching. A mallard pair, feeding in the sedges along the opposite bank, slowly makes their way upstream. The brown-feathered female leads, and the multi-colored male follows her, keeping a close eye on the human sitting on the bank a few meters away. Despite trash in the creek and along the banks, and cheap apartments blocks going up across the stream, thought yields to effortless attention, and a meditative state ensues. Spontaneously, the chattering mind falls silent. In that state of stillness, one again feels, beyond words, the all-encompassing intelligence of the universe. It isn’t imagined, since all faculties of thought, including imagination, have ceased. Meditating in nature doesn’t lead to worshipping nature, but to experiencing the undeniable actuality of beauty and essence. Time stops as the sun hangs, in a cloudless sky, like a brilliant orange ball on the horizon. Sunset is a recapitulation of death every day. Allowing oneself to emotionally experience that actuality, one fearlessly gains a deepening insight into death. And with it, the mind and brain are renewed. At the end of his book, “The First Three Minutes,” the Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg wrote, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” As a reviewer noted, “Weinberg paints a picture of our universe as a vast purposeless place in which we can see no evidence of a point for ourselves as human beings.” Such a view, all too commonly accepted these days, contrasts with religious believers, who see “the universe as inherently purposeful, and humanity’s role as central.” Looking at the universe from a personal perspective, they imbue it with meaning. More sophisticated religionists, such as Father George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and astronomer, intone, “When I hold the hand of a dying friend, and see the expression of hope and joy – even at the moment of death – in that friend’s eyes, I can see that there is a meaningfulness to existence that goes beyond scientific investigation.” Notably with the Jesuit however, meaning and purposefulness are still found in the contexts of our experience as human beings living in the world. And that provides an opening for strict atheists like Weinberg to make a facile link between science and religion. Though science paints a picture of a “chilling, cold and pointless universe,” Weinberg also insists “we human beings give the universe purpose by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art.” “Faced with an unloving and impersonal universe, we can create for ourselves little islands of warmth and love and science and art.” That view is not dissimilar to religious believers. In any case, both the pointless universe and the human-centered purposeful universe are projections of thought and self. Another scientist, Avi Loeb, the head of the Galileo Project and founding director of Harvard University’s Black Hole Initiative,” further complicates matters by conflating the supposed pointlessness of the universe with loss of 65 of his relatives in the Holocaust, as well as the hundreds of thousands of soldiers lives wasted in the trenches of World War I, and war generally. He adds, “The reason I seek a higher intelligence in outer space is because I do not find it on Earth.” None of these worldviews accord with meditative states and experiencing immanence. Humans project the pointlessness of our own fragmented and conflict-ridden world onto the universe, just as we see in the predator-prey dynamic of life on Earth a justification for man’s barbarity. During elevated states of consciousness, when attentiveness brings about the stillness and vacancy of the mind-as- thought, one experiences the wholeness and holiness of life on Earth, and the universe that gave rise to it. The domination in the human brain of thought, with consciousness based on the symbols and memories, prevents the awareness and experiencing of the intrinsic and inseparable cosmic mind. There is no thought without memory, words and images, but there is Mind. Therefore the idea that the universe is pointless and purposeless is just the flipside of the idea that it is personal and human-centered. And the notion that “we human beings give the universe purpose by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art” does not resolve the existential crisis of a purportedly cold and pointless universe. However randomly and rarely, the universe evolves brains with the capacity to be fully aware of the intelligence that inseparably suffuses the cosmos. The evolution of ‘higher thought’ is both the last threshold and a tremendous impediment to realization. Given this is true, why is directly experiencing the sacredness that suffuses nature and the universe so rare? Martin LeFevre
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Martin LeFevre, a contemplative, philosopher and writer in northern California, serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times. His "Meditations" explore and offer insights on spiritual, philosophical and political questions in the global society. LeFevre's philosophical thesis proposes a new theory of human nature. He welcomes dialogue. email@example.com