Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

What is “The Universe” Telling Me?

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 15, 2010

Cigarette smoke swirls in the air and teaspoons swirl patterns in the coffee cream. The waiter wanders past with someone’s bowl of fries. It’s Friday night and I’m hangin’ with a dozen friends at our usual café-cum-nightspot. Conversation rises and falls. Sometimes people say unexpected things: “The universe is telling me to let go”, says Carole. Carole is an atheist. Others nod and murmur in agreement, I look away and say nothing.

Have you heard someone say “The universe will provide”? “The Universe is trying to tell me something”? Or perhaps “Put your intentions out to the Universe”? Do you believe in “signs from the universe”? If these words simply mean something metaphorical, I can accept that. Just what IS this “Universe” Carole talks about? It’s obviously more than the stars, rocks, oceans and life that make up the physical Cosmos.

Is it energy?

I think most Universe-invokers conceive of the Universe as some kind of energy or force. A Universal Energy like electricity, or perhaps a force like gravity. If you put out positive energy, you get positive stuff back, and vice versa. Karma, if you like, it’s a kind of cause-effect thing. Flick the switch on the wall, the energy flows and the light bulb gives light. Forgive me, but aren’t we just talking about the consequences of actions in a blind universe? What does the “Universe” add?

The Universe

But Carole often goes further than this. She talks and behaves in ways that imply the universe cares about her. She seems to say that the universe has a purpose or plan for us.

A purely bricks-and-mortar Universe doesn’t care about us. An energy can’t speak, it can’t “tell us” anything. If the universe can give good things based on the “positiveness” of our energy, can communicate, can take notice of us, can be on our side— those are all things only a mind can do.

So Then, Is it Personal?

OK, so perhaps there is a powerful energy that is also personal. By personal, I mean something like a mind. Does Carole mean a “something” that has personality— has intelligence, consciousness and maybe purpose, ethics or desires? If this is what she means by the Universe, I think she’s talking about another word for g0d.

I don’t have a problem with her calling God “The Universe”. But let’s not kid ourselves when we’re doing it.

Is There a Middle Way?

Carole dips a cigarette into the ash-tray. She might suggest I’m closed to some other “middle way”. I’ve been trying to conceive of how that might work. Maybe a kind of “force” like gravity? Do a certain thing, and it reacts. Apparently, if I think negative thoughts then negative (unhelpful? bad?) results flow. The idea of “positive versus negative” thoughts reminds me of the warm energy of reason, a gift the Universe gives us.

[What "positive" energy actually means, is another good question. I think to be labelled "positive" implies something ethical, like "helpful" or "good", which in turn could lead to a moral argument for God.]

Unfortunately I don’t think a force helps us any more than an energy. If the “something” is in any sense benevolent, if it in any sense “notices” us, then we are again left with some kind of g0d. We know that in our Universe only minds can speak, or love.

There is nothing we can conceive of as a mind in the middle, a “half mind”. We know of damaged minds, and of animals that don’t quite seem to have a mind in the sense we understand, but these are not half minds. These are minds that are not able to do the full range of mind-stuff. A half mind would be like saying I both have a brain in my skull, and at the very same moment, do not have a brain. (Quiet with those rude comments in the back seats ;) )

I don’t want to be mean. I’ve really tried, but I can’t conceive of any other option. Either the Universe is impersonal (negative?)— and therefore useless in the way the concept is used. Or it is personal (positive?), a mind. And therefore a g0d. There seem no other options.

“The Universe” is Personal

For all Carole’s neurotic foibles as a fashion designer, I love her. Maybe one day we’ll discuss what she means about “the Universe”, but people don’t like having the bubbles of their personal beliefs pricked. I don’t know if she realises it, but she’s not an atheist.

.

.

I love this track from King Crimson’s brilliant album, Discipline. Well, I love all of them, actually. “The more I look, the more I like it. I DO think it’s good.” It speaks to our obession around creating a thing (a philosophy?) which is good.

King Crimson | Indiscipline

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22 Responses to “What is “The Universe” Telling Me?”

  1. Well, yeah there are those who think that there is no god, but believe in Gaia principles and such, or that the universe is “guiding them in some way”. I’m not one of these people. I think the universe is indifferent to our existence. I’d even go so far as to say I think the universe has no capacity to “know” anything in any case.

    As to the idea that the universe has a predetermined pattern which the human (and all action takes for that matter) in a Donnie Darko-esque way, well I can’t say one way or the other. But i must say, apart from the ideas of cause and effect, I’d have to say, in my experience, when people say “The universe is telling me to blah blah blah…” what they REALLY mean is, “My subconscious is telling me to blah blah blah,” or “I’m not sure why, but I really feel like I should blah blah blah”.

    The mind is EVERYTHING. Everything we see, feel, interpret, wish for, know and experience. That’s not to say there’s not more to the brain than we understand, because there IS more than we understand.

    • I agree about the indifferent universe if there is no god. In fact, even if there is a god, the universe (of matter) is still indifferent to our existence. That just occurred to me. As you said, pure matter (stars, dust, cobwebs) is not capable of having an opinion about us.

      While I don’t judge her for it, it’s the little – well, I’d call them inconsistencies – of Carole’s position that interest me. (Not her real name.)

      Thanks for stopping by, Marty :)

  2. Iain said

    I appreciate your analysis. It’s very clear.

    I’d be interested to hear what Carole would actually say if you asked her what she DID mean. I mean, she might have been using the phrase as a figure of speech to really mean, “If I accept that things are as they are, and realise that circumstances are against me in this particular area, then the best thing to do if I don’t want to push water uphill with a rake for all eternity is to simply stop trying and let go.” Maybe it’s a cute way of saving face while admitting resignation.

    On the other hand, she might actually mean it more in a destiny sense, or universal consciousness/meaning sense, or some other similarly non-scientific way.

    I don’t feel that the God-as-energy idea really makes much sense. Once you actually know what energy is, you realise it makes no more sense than to say “God is a Transcendent Fat Cell” or “God is Noise”. Energy has become a catch-all stand in word to mean something generically vague and important sounding for those who want to use words to describe a type of god that isn’t of the orthodox monotheistic variety.

    Certainly, if she is referring to any kind of personal force looking over her shoulder, then really she’s no different to anyone else who believes in guardian angels.

    “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond
    all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose
    this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others
    are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly
    being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds
    are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there
    ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an
    increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and
    misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind
    physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get
    hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme
    or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has
    precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no
    design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless
    indifference.”

    ~ Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” published in Scientific
    American (November, 1995), p. 85.

  3. [...] Inspired by Jonathan’s blog piece here. [...]

  4. leesis said

    how can I possibly find mind space to write my own stuff if you keep comming up with brilliance like this kiwi that makes me just want to jump in like a terrier! (a compliment by the way :) )I’ll be back….

  5. lunargrrrl said

    A while ago, I had a little convo on Twitter that started something like this:

    Me: Another mention of the Hitchens book around me today. A cosmic sign I should read it?

    B: Well, if you read the Hitchens book, you won’t believe in “cosmic signs.”

    So, I was taken back a bit when I saw this post because it runs along the same lines as the snippet above.

    In my short lived time as an atheist, I repressed thoughts like “the Universe ” because to me, they were antithetical to atheism as I’d come to know it.

    I am aware atheists reject deities and organized religion, but in *my* experience, they also reject any semblance of a Supreme Being, or omnipotent, guiding cosmic force. So, no, there is no “Middle Way,” which, is a Buddhist concept. The Universe is, as you said, “the stars, rocks, oceans and life….” To me, Atheism is black and white, 1 or 0, on or off.

    And, as I sit here now juggling my belief in science with a sense of spirituality that will not leave me, I am reminded I have a book to finish reading. :)

    Great post, again. Thank you.

    • Iain said

      I might come across as somewhat antithetical to those who embrace mystery and the more “wishy washy” flavours of life, but I feel like I need to respond to what you say there about atheism.

      In its weak form, atheism is nothing more than NOT affirming belief in any gods. It is perfectly consonant with weak or strong agnosticism.

      Because of that, I feel that I need to defend the idea that strong agnosticism and “weak” atheism can still be somewhat flexible in their outlooks on life. It is true that neither claims to believe that there are any gods, but they don’t have to be the polar opposite to those who like to spice up their metaphysics a bit.

      Strong atheism is black and white sure, just like dogmatically certain theism is, but not even Richard Dawkins will commit to that position (just read his scale of belief in The God Delusion).

      Of course, it is certainly fair to say that your average scientifically minded “weak atheist” would say there is nothing at all well founded in the idea that the universe CARES for them. But I think that still leaves some wiggle room… or at least room for positive discussion.

      p.s. which Hitchens book are you referring to? I’m quite a fan.

      • lunargrrrl said

        That’s why I tried to make a point of saying “to me” or “my experience” with atheism, which was fairly negative.

        Beyond that little point, we agree completely. I’m probably too open minded, with the exception of the physical universe I noted, for my own good sometimes.

        The Hitchen’s book is “God is not Great” and I can see why you’re a fan. He is a fabulous writer. Have not read Dawkins, though I’m well aware of his writing, and actually just bought someone else “The God Delusion.”

        • Iain said

          Excellent, well it’s nice to meet you. Have we spoken here before? I think I happened to view your twitter page this morning (I have no idea why now, perhaps through Jonathan’s tweets)… you’ve recently changed internet name?

          Oh yes, Hitchens is just a blast. He’s the most amazing writer and the most abrasively hilarious public speaker. But i’m getting off topic ;)

          You mention your short-lived time as an atheist, so I’m guessing it’s a past state? Despite the fear of bring labels into the picture (and i’m sure it’s none of my business), how would you describe yourself currently?

  6. lunargrrrl said

    We tweeted quite briefly last month, I believe and yes, I did upset the balance of my little Twitter universe by changing my name from @maysgg71. :) Nice to meet you again. I’ve read your thoughts through Jonathan, too.

    My brush with atheism was brief and is past tense, yes. How to describe myself now (labels don’t always bother me; wiggle room, you know ;) )… That is a good question. I’ll tag myself as curiously agnostic as I’m something of a spiritual fractal image.

  7. One of my favourite posts, Jon. There are God, entities, the universe, energy and more. Poor Carole. Dichotomies, the black and white don’t fit. Good writing. I want to start smoking.

  8. leesis said

    Okay a confession…stone me not…I often use the term Universe so here’s my personal reasons why.

    I know there is a god but…not as we know it. I know Jesus was an awesome teacher but…not as we think him. I know the law of attraction is one hundred percent valid..but not as we describe it. So…

    I use the term universe exactly because it has no specific definition and people can’t think I’m agreeing with their specific dogma. Otherwise too many difficult conversations (maybe it’s just a cop-out?) occur like happened to me when I slipped up last week and mentioned the name Jesus and had the person talking of dying for our sins…something I don’t subscribe too…and then they got cranky I didn’t and ……:)!

    But I am confused as to how an atheist can go along with the term. Yet that confusion adds to my point which is…

    I think Universe is a good term because it doesn’t have to enter the realms of personal specific beliefs. A realm that needs to stay in Pandora’s box until we all evolve a little more psychologically. The term can incorporate all.

    • I don’t want to stone you Leesa – nor anyone.

      I know not everyone uses it in the same way, which is why I’m happy to hear other perspectives. I might be misunderestimating. I can certainly see the “ease” of use of the term. I very occasionally use it myself. It’s not the term itself, I’m just curious that some people think they aren’t talking of some kind of “god” when by the way they use it, it seems they are.
      :)

  9. Mystiiic said

    Dead on !!

  10. [...] Inspired by Jonathan’s blog piece here. [...]

  11. [...] news, especially in light of our discussion on what “The Universe” might [...]

  12. I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic.

    I needs to spend some time learning much more
    or understanding more. Thanks for great info I was looking for this information for my mission.

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