A reader’s comment raises the question of the difference between the Cosmic Mind (as I picture it) and a human mind. Discussing this now feels a bit out of order, but hey, there’s no preconceived outline!
Interestingly, exploring differences between cosmic and human intelligence brings us directly to this notion of something being ‘preconceived.’ Let’s see why…
Human minds operate partially divorced from external material reality. As a consequence, a thought can occur in the brain/mind without influencing the matter/energy outside the skull.
By contrast, the universe’s mind-like quality manifests directly and simultaneously with material reality. According to the idea we’re developing, the cosmic arena itself (by which I mean the aggregate of matter, energy, space, and time) acts as the substrate that implements the universe’s mind.
When we have a thought, we change our cortical neurons. You could just as well say that when cortical neurons change, we have a thought. The change and the thought are one and the same. But all this occurs in the skull, and an extra step intervenes between thought and action, which requires movement such as speech or walking.
When the universe has a thought, matter changes. You could just as well say that when matter changes, the universe has a thought. In this case action, the process of change in the world, occurs simultaneously with thought. Which means there is no difference between cosmic ‘thought’ and cosmic evolution. They are exactly the same thing!
One consequence of this is that there can be no forethought prior to action, no planning ahead. This limitation solves several ethical puzzles that arise when people think in terms of a ‘God’ that manages the cosmos as a separate being. A Cosmic Mind that generates form on the fly, without preconceived design, is one that is bound to create products that fail to endure or (more relevant to ethics) harm other previously successful ventures.
This echoes a central tenet of evolutionary biology: most genetic mutations are harmful and lead to non-viable or non-reproducing offspring. Only rare ones enhance success and propagate to future generations. The result is an ad hoc mechanism for change: progress by trial and error.
Consider humanity: it seems obvious that our species was created (or, as materialists would have it, arose) without preconceived design. Only in the realm of raw survival and reproduction does it appear at all optimal. We seem well suited for enlarging our numbers, but not for doing so in ways that serve either collective wellbeing or the planet as a whole. Which is what you’d expect of organisms that came into being without forethought, by natural selection.
Does this mean that reality is random and directionless, that the Cosmic Intelligence isn’t so smart after all? Does it force us to the materialist’s worldview? I don’t believe so.
The fact of self-correction saves us from the dismal view of the cosmos as dead and utterly random. We see healing, adaptation, and growth on all sides. Response to perturbation turns out to be central to the entire concept of a Cosmic Mind, and we will be considering it at length, though at another time.
For now, let’s take a look at spontaneous correction within human culture. Doing so will add nuance to our understanding of how human and cosmic intelligence compare.
Many commentators on human history have pointed out that executions and brutal torture were once sport for spectators, but are now condemned by civilized elements of society. In advanced nations they’re banned outright.
A hundred-and-fifty years ago only mystically minded naturalists like John Muir, plus a few visionaries, advocated protecting the environment. Now ecological ethics are taught in elementary schools.
When I was young, fusion weaponry threatened to incinerate the earth’s surface. These days, we seldom worry about thermonuclear apocalypse; we focus instead on keeping small fission weapons away from unstable dictators.
Seeing all this progress, we might conclude that universal intelligence operating by natural selection is the right mind for the job after all. It appears to be a fairly robust and flexible entity.
“Wait a minute!” comes the objection. “The progress just sketched was the product of human design, not cosmic intelligence!” (Other objections, like all the problems that appear to be worsening, will be neglected for the time being.)
But was it? Who planned to force torture underground and make executions shameful? Who plotted the growth of the environmental movement? Who engineered the receding of the nuclear threat?
In each case, the answer is no one. Sure, activists worked to advance their viewpoints, to further just causes. But they didn’t implement long term plans; they merely pointed out problems. Solutions were developed ad hoc on the basis of shifting conditions and according to what either worked or did not. The shock of the Holocaust led to war-crime tribunals. Ozone depletion led to restrictions on fluorocarbons. The unforeseen collapse of the Soviet Union changed the nuclear landscape.
When we humans plan ahead, the result is seldom what we imagine. Sure, we can alter conditions, but the consequences of those changes are rarely predictable even in rough form, and certainly not in detail. Even blueprints and similar design schemes depend on prior trial and error. Think of the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which forced major changes on the engineering of all subsequent suspension spans. Blueprints are like intellectual DNA: successful design concepts are run through the copier, while failures are dropped in the shredder.
So although lack of pre-planning separates the Cosmic Mind from the human, we should recognize that human progress primarily builds by duplicating the occasional ideas that work while discarding a much larger pool of failures, i.e., by natural selection. And although inventions are often conceptualized before they’re constructed, prototypes get tested and revised in real time. Compare the personal computers of the 1980’s with those of today. No one could have designed iPads thirty years ago; they came about through incremental adaptations to a changing technological landscape.
In other words, the human mind shares much in common with the cosmic. We do enjoy a capacity for forethought, but in practice most action occurs in response to present-moment conditions.
But there is one central implication that arises when a mind that lacks forethought is compared to one capable of it. Cathleen, who prompted this post, points out that if the Cosmic Mind can’t preplan, it appears to shoulder less responsibility than humans do. Are we alone capable of choosing to act constructively or destructively?
Possibly, but preplanning and choosing aren’t quite the same thing. We can, and often do, choose in the moment to act well or badly. Ethical behavior is promoted not so much by long-range planning, but by a solidly built value structure. We make our signature ethical decisions in the heat of the moment. Do we kiss the flirtatious coworker and betray our spouse? Do we hand back the extra change given to us by the cashier? Do we risk life and limb to pull a stranger from a burning car? We respond to fast-paced, real-time situations reflexively, according to values we’ve nurtured in advance.
Once our values are solidly in place, we no longer can even be said to choose ethically; instead, we react ethically.
We can therefore see that the cosmic mind might react according to something like an ethical code despite lacking forethought. Indeed, basic qualities of cosmic preference (values) can be detected prior to the emergence of complex brains, in that the universe’s behavior follows consistent rules (such as the local elaboration of form driven by a global increase in entropy). The evolution of social and linguistic intelligence, and forethought, adds tremendous complexity to the terrain, but many basic tendencies (like preference for creativity) remain the same.
There’s an enormous amount that needs to be said about values and the cosmic mind, especially since our hypothesis posits a loving quality in the universe. We also need to investigate why humans so often fail in the ethical domain. In exploring these issues we will discover further vital distinctions between human and cosmic intelligence. But remember that since humanity is part of cosmos, the human mind is part of the cosmic mind. It was for that reason that I mentioned earlier how it’s helpful to restrict attention, at first, to the universe’s behavior prior to humanity’s appearance. After we see how the Mind performs prior to the evolution of complex nervous systems, we can ask what comes into play afterward.Share on Facebook