Some Reflections on Cosmicism — part 1
I usually read anything I come across on Medium by Sender Spike, so his most recent article entitled ‘Criticism of Cosmicism’ was no exception. Before reading I wasn’t completely sure what Cosmicism is, but vaguely remembered from correspondence with Benjamin Cain some time ago that it is a philosophy that he subscribes to. This memory proved to be correct because there have already been some exchanges between him and Sender Spike about the latter’s article.
Like him I also intend to criticise Cosmicism, but from different angles. I’ll focus on that in part 2; here I’ll just prepare the ground.
Cain says “I used to call the philosophy I worked out on my blog ‘existential cosmicism’ ”– I don’t know what he calls it now, but it is presumably something similar. There may therefore be subtle differences between different varieties of Cosmicism, which Cain understands better than I do, but for my purposes here I’ll stick with the description that Sender Spike found on Wikipedia. It postulates that, “there is no recognizable divine presence, such as a god, in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence”. The predominant theme is then “humanity’s fear of their insignificance in the face of an incomprehensibly large universe: a fear of the cosmic void”. H. P. Lovecraft (the developer and, as far as I can tell, the originator of Cosmicism) “embraced a philosophy of cosmic indifferentism. He believed in a meaningless, mechanical, and uncaring universe that human beings, with their naturally limited faculties, could never fully understand. His viewpoint made no allowance for religious beliefs which could not be supported scientifically. The incomprehensible, cosmic forces of his tales have as little regard for humanity as humans have for insects”.
Sender Spike continues: “Thus, according to a cosmicist, all religions and mythical allegories are just anthropocentric bedtime stories to alleviate said fear, and the true heroes of modern age are the brave, intellectually superior, atheists who regard themselves as humble, because they can withstand the look into the void accepting their human insignificance”.
He is not impressed by Cosmicism — towards the end of his piece he twice calls its advocates ‘comicists’ rather than ‘cosmicists’, which I assume is a deliberate play on words, although it could be a typo or a Freudian slip. He uses these phrases: “the pot calling the kettle black”, “psychological projection”, “pure hypocrisy”, “a twisted version of anthropocentric worldview” rooted in “biased human hubris”, “untenable”, “shortsighted”. He says that cosmicists “commit a similar, if not the same, error” as theists. He also makes an insightful observation that Cosmicism is essentially an emotional reaction: “Comicists (sic) ask why they were manifested into this seemingly hostile, unknowable environment when nobody asked for their consent, and their position in their self-professed ignorance (at best) boils down to anger in the face of fear”. (Philosophy is, of course, supposed to be built upon logic and reason, not raw emotion.)
Sender Spike further points out that Cosmicism seems to have been developed primarily as a reaction to Theism which, in its most naïve form, claims that humans are the centre of the universe. Cain agrees: “the cosmicist’s main point (is) that we’re not cosmically crucial”, and “the cosmist takes naïve theistic, anthropocentric religion as the standard, and shows how we’re insignificant relative to that standard. We thought we were more important than we really are. That’s what scientific and philosophical progress is supposed to show”. Sender Spike says the same thing in similar words, “theists revel in their delusion of utmost self-importance”, concluding that “making humans the centre of the universe is untenable”.
It is reasonable to ask therefore, if Cosmicism is primarily a reaction to Theism, whether it is indeed the necessary valid correction, or whether it is a vast overreaction, as Sender Spike seems to suggest. Just as there may be different shades of Cosmicism, can there be different versions of Theism, perhaps some far less ridiculous than others? Is Cosmicism perhaps as naïve and ignorant as the Theism Cain and Sender Spike condemn? (The latter seems to think so.) Is Cosmicism arguing against Theism itself, or merely against some of the more extreme theists?
Cain expresses his basic position as follows: “The idea is that nature is absurd, but the presence of intelligent life within nature is anomalous, so all bets are off. We are not fully natural. Something has emerged within nature which calls for other forms of explanation”. He is thus suggesting that consciousness and intelligence are extremely unlikely and accidental by-products of the evolution of inanimate matter — which is what basically ‘nature’ is. This leads him to conclude that human selves or societies do not matter to the rest of nature. He rejects Cartesian dualism — which makes a sharp distinction between consciousness and matter — a form of which he finds in Buddhism, which he therefore also argues against. (This seems somewhat strange, given that he has just apparently subscribed to the same, or some form of, dualism by calling intelligent life (i.e. mind) anomalous, and not fully natural.)
He thinks that nothing ‘nature’ does matters. He does think, however, that “the higher order interactions” which have emerged (i.e. humans) can be meaningful: “Indirectly, then, nature isn’t wholly absurd since its biproduct is meaningful and even potentially heroic, moral, honourable, and enlightened”.
The position he is advocating is a “cosmicist, mystical, or agnostic kind of atheism” which combines “the pessimistic metaphysics with more hopeful existentialism”. Some room for optimism then? On another occasion, however, he seems determined to be unrelentingly gloomy; he describes as “laughable” an atheism which “stands for a strident, optimistic kind of secular humanism, coupled with scientistic naturalism”. I’m sure all this makes sense to him, although it’s not so clear to me.
Having prepared the ground here, I offer my criticisms of Cain’s worldview in part 2, click here.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).