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?
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
? What do you think?
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