Some Reflections on Cosmicism — part 2
To put what follows into context, unless you are already familiar with Cosmicism, it’s essential to have read part 1. There I gave a basic outline, guided by Benjamin Cain, who is an advocate of it, and Sender Spike, who is strongly critical. Here I’ll offer my own criticisms, which go off in other directions. I’m writing for Medium readers in general, offering an alternative viewpoint. (That is the text as I originally wrote it. Since then Cain has responded, pointing out that this is an oversimplification of his viewpoint, so that it is incorrect to simply say that he is an advocate of Cosmicism. He has outlined his true philosophical position here.)
These are the fundamental beliefs of Cosmicism (according to Wikipedia and Sender Spike — I assume that Cain would be in general agreement), all of which I believe to be untrue to varying degrees:
- there is no recognisable divine presence, such as a god, in the universe
- since there is no God, all religions and mythical allegories can be nothing more than anthropocentric bedtime stories to alleviate our fear of the vast, indifferent cosmos that we inhabit
- nature is absurd, but the presence of intelligent life within nature is anomalous; we are not fully natural
- we inhabit a meaningless, mechanical, and uncaring universe
- humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence.
In this article I’m going to argue primarily against the ideas that we inhabit a meaningless, indifferent, uncaring cosmos, and that humans are particularly insignificant. Before I do that, I’ll just make some brief observations about the other statements.
Regarding the first, I had actually started an article criticising Cain’s position on atheism, when I noticed Sender Spike’s article. So I’ll return to that when this one is finished.
Regarding the second, since it is a logical deduction from the first, which I believe is untrue, I don’t propose to deal with it here. Anyone who believes that simply hasn’t studied religion and myth in the same depth that Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung have. Also interesting is the statement by Ananda Coomaraswamy: “myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words”.
Regarding the third, the idea that intelligent life is anomalous within nature is an assumption based on the truth of ‘scientific’ (atheistic) naturalism (see below). If the philosophy is false, then any deductions following on from it may well also be false.
Regarding the fourth, the idea that the universe is ‘mechanical’ (and therefore by definition uncaring) is usually associated with Newtonian physics which, if not superseded, has at least been transcended, by quantum physics as the most up-to-date understanding of the universe that we have.
Cain’s cosmicist worldview is heavily dependent upon the philosophy of materialism/physicalism; as he says, “it’s just a dramatization of the existential implications of atheistic naturalism”. Assumptions of this philosophy are:
- the primacy of matter following on from the Big Bang
- the emergence of life and consciousness from inorganic matter
- evolution along Darwinian lines.
Since his philosophy has been built upon these foundations, he presumably thinks that modern science has proved the truth of these ideas, that they are facts — obviously because this is the ‘science’ of the so-called Enlightenment. I would argue, however, that none of these theories have been proved, and therefore remain hypotheses, philosophical speculations, even though Cain sincerely believes in them.
He believes that he stands in a tradition of “scientific and philosophical progress”. In another series of articles on the theme of atheism and theism, he talks about the superior group to which he belongs, “we moderns”; he thinks that his philosophy, based as it is on modern ‘science’, has left behind the errors of the past. That would of course depend upon which scientists and philosophers one reads. Another perspective is that his beliefs have already been superseded by what is known as New Paradigm science.
I would like to suggest, along with Sender Spike, the possibility that belief in Cosmicism is actually a projection of human psychology, thus one’s upbringing and cultural background. A recent article on Medium by artist David Price is very helpful in that context. He says: “The environment we grow up in constellates our inner world and forms how we think and feel. The reverse is true too. Who we are creates the built environment and perpetuates our mental and emotional selves down the generations. The process is mostly invisible to us. Culture penetrates us and molds us moment by moment”.
He goes on to say: “If we never step outside the culture that formed us we don’t know how deep its influence goes”. He seeks out culture shock; he enjoys “the brief transition to another culture and language. It’s a transitory moment when you can glimpse your conditioning. You notice your assumptions and judgments as such rather than obvious truths”. As an example he says that, having been brought up in a puritanical atmosphere in the USA, he was surprised to discover in France that pleasure is seen as something positive.
The examples Price gives are changes of physical location, but he is obviously also talking about the related psychology and worldview. In similar vein the philosopher Albert North Whitehead said: “There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them”¹.
I’m sure that readers can see where I’m going with this. Not everything in that quote applies to Cain, but I’ve italicised the important words. The only one which doesn’t quite fit is ‘unconsciously’. He is obviously aware and conscious that he is advocating the philosophy and related ‘science’ of materialism which is the product of the Enlightenment. This is a fundamental assumption of his, which he presupposes; it is so obvious to him that it seems that no other way of putting things has ever occurred to him. Has he ever seriously questioned these assumptions, however, and attempted to prove them?
I don’t know his background, other than that he has obviously studied a lot of philosophy. There seem to be two scenarios. Either, he has grown up in a culture of Enlightenment philosophy and science, in which case I would say that he has allowed himself to become brainwashed or bewitched by this. If he has not had such a background, the alternative question would be, why are the gloomy, pessimistic metaphysics of Cosmicism so psychologically appealing to him?
Here is the philosopher Bertrand Russell, outlining his perspective on humanity and the universe, seemingly identifying himself as a proto-Cosmicist: “That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling can preserve an individual life beyond the grave… All these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built”².
I imagine Benjamin Cain and all Cosmicists would applaud enthusiastically. It’s therefore interesting that the psychoanalyst Paul Vitz identifies Russell as someone whose views stem, he believes, from a very unhappy childhood. The title of his book is Faith of the Fatherless³. I’ll try not to overstate the case and make unscientific claims, because such hypotheses cannot be proved. He does, however, note strong correlations between fervent atheists and their unhappy childhoods; those with dead, weak, or abusive fathers can be especially hostile to Christian theism with its insistence on a Father God.
At the age of four Russell had stood by the side of his father’s deathbed, having already lost his mother two years earlier. (I’ve provided more details in this article.) Other noted atheists that Vitz associates with a dead father are: the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, the quasi-existentialist Albert Camus (both very gloomy), the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, the fierce critic of Christianity Friedrich Nietzsche (who eventually went mad), and Arthur Schopenhauer. (Another vociferous atheist, extremely hostile to religion, was Sigmund Freud. Vitz places him in the category of those with weak or abusive fathers — exceedingly so in Freud’s case. I’ve discussed this in detail in this article.) Is it reasonable to suggest that such people might benefit from some psychoanalysis or primal therapy before going on to formulate their philosophical ideas?
So let me spell out what psychological projection means in such examples. When a philosopher says that the universe is “uncaring”, “pitiless”, or “indifferent”, what they might mean is that life has been very cruel to them personally. (As Sender Spike says, the universe is actually impartial.) Rather than come to terms with and deal with their own painful memories in therapy, and perhaps move on, they choose to blame the universe itself for their misfortune. (Vitz points out that the opposite also seems to be true; those who become noted Christian theists seem to have benefited from a positive father role-model in their childhood. So belief in or rejection of Theism seems to have relatively little to do with the truth or otherwise of the idea, but seems more related to personal psychology.)
I suggested above that one’s philosophy might be the product of one’s cultural upbringing. This was not true in my case. I was not brought up in a culture of the materialist science of the Enlightenment; the focus of my education was foreign languages, and I avoided science as much as possible. I nevertheless found myself in my late teens and twenties attracted variously to Sartrean (atheistic) Existentialism, Atheism, and Marxism (also obviously atheistic). This was not based on any proof of their truth, rather on some kind of strong psychological appeal. That would seem to confirm Vitz’s hypothesis that one’s personal psychological background is perhaps the determining factor when forming one’s philosophical views, although one is unaware of this unconscious process.
Later in my life, however, I embarked upon some personal psychoanalysis, and came to understand how my early upbringing had led to my adopting such gloomy, depressing philosophies. That project also triggered a dramatic spiritual awakening, which included experiences which disproved some of the basic tenets of ‘scientific’ materialism, primarily that the contents of consciousness are produced by the brain.
I discovered that there were consciousnesses independent of my own that were actually trying to help me. This might have been what some call the Higher Self, or what Carl Jung calls merely the Self. Somewhat more fancifully, this could have been a spirit guide or a guardian angel, if you believe in such things. I had no way of knowing, but the experiences were very powerful. Since these helpful consciousnesses (entities?) were operating independently of my brain, I conclude that they exist outside the spacetime universe of matter.
I was also having powerful dreams which were trying to guide and help me. The nature of the creative, intelligent source behind dreams is a complete mystery to me, but I have no doubt that it exists.
Contrary to the beliefs of cosmicists, I discovered therefore that the universe is not indifferent, did care about me. Further evidence of this idea is that the universe somehow mysteriously organises synchronicities in order to help and guide people. During that same period I was experiencing powerful synchronicities of that type.
Is the universe therefore indifferent to humans? It all depends on how one understands the universe. If one adopts Cain’s philosophy, then it couldn’t be otherwise. How could truly inanimate matter be anything other than indifferent? Such a worldview doesn’t fit with my own experiences, however.
Let me sum this up. When I decided to explore my own psyche, my own mind, in order to better understand myself, the universe responded by forcing me into a culture shock of the type that David Price talks about. I had no idea that this was going to happen, but I was transported to the foreign country of the irrational psyche - a place where parapsychology, synchronicity, powerful and meaningful dreams, and bizarre experiences outside the purview of naturalistic science were the norm.
Of course, all this wasn’t the so-called ‘material’ universe trying to help me. Perhaps therefore the universe isn’t material after all, or at the very least has mental levels usually hidden from us. Perhaps it is actually a manifestation of consciousness, of mind. That is the viewpoint of all religions and spiritual traditions with which I’m familiar, and also of several distinguished quantum physicists. It’s also worth noting that some philosophers, for example Thomas Nagel and more recently Philip Goff, who don’t think that consciousness is a bizarre anomaly, are moving in the direction of panpsychism, because the Hard Problem of Consciousness appears insoluble.
Cain, however, thinks that intelligence or consciousness is an anomaly or an aberration, which means that human societies do not matter to nature. Given his firm belief in atheistic naturalism, he could hardly think otherwise. If we adopt the alternative point of view, however, that the material universe is a manifestation of a universal consciousness, then the evolution of selves and societies on our planet and on any others in the vast universe, would be the whole point, the meaning of the universe.
One of the predominant themes of Cosmicism is “humanity’s fear of their insignificance in the face of an incomprehensibly large universe: a fear of the cosmic void”. In response, I now feel confident in saying that, even if the universe is incomprehensibly large, then that is nothing that we humans should be especially bothered about, or afraid of. We may not be the centre of the universe, as some theists believe. There is no need to be concerned, however, once we have understood that each one of us has some role to play in the evolution of our own planet, that what we do here does actually matter. That is all that need concern us but, if the universe is one interconnected whole as quantum physicists seem to believe, even one living superorganism, as some spiritually oriented people believe, then what we do on our planet will also ultimately matter in the grand scheme of things. That, however, is beyond our current comprehension.
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).
1. Science and the Modern World, Free Press, 1967
2. The Free Man’s Worship, 1903, https://users.drew.edu/jlenz/br-free-mans-worship.html
3. Spence Publishing Company, 2000