Is Reality Trying To Tell You Something?
One of the greatest puzzles facing each of us is whether the events in our lives form a pattern, and if so, what does the pattern mean. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” Some people say it in passing, others take it more seriously. But officially, if we accept the basic scientific principle that the physical world operates essentially through random chance, it’s not credible to believe that we live in a universe that has purpose and meaning. We can ask when the big bang occurred but not why. We can investigate how sodium and chlorine combine to form salt, but it makes no sense, scientifically, to ask the purpose of salt. Salt and the big bang just are.
Since the question of meaning and purpose are deeply embedded in religion, let’s set those claims aside. If God or the gods control human life, this is a matter of faith, not science. Humans have constructed faith-based systems for many centuries, of course. Placing an invisible higher power at the center of reality, a power who judges right from wrong, who punishes and rewards according to divine morality, is simply outside the rules developed by science and secular society. There are enough glitches in those rules without hauling God into the argument.
Those glitches center around a simple observation. Human life has meaning and purpose. The physical world, absent humans, doesn’t. When we are motivated by love or fear, when we make moral choices or create a vision of a better life, there is no doubt that human beings not only value meaning and purpose, we have evolved, along with the higher brain, to support meaning and purpose. Since Darwinian evolution allows for only genetic mutations, how did DNA, which is built from completely ordinary atoms and molecules, acquire any more meaning than salt? Or if DNA isn’t linked to the meaning of life, how can there be meaning and purpose outside our genes?
Surprisingly little is ever said about the conflict between the meaningless physical world and the meaningful human world, largely because the mismatch is so radical. In some vague way certain theories will point us in the direction of complexity, for example, claiming that as simple molecules accumulated to form a hugely complex molecule like DNA, evolution took a leap into consciousness, and with consciousness came reason, leading to civilization. But this is false reasoning. It amounts to saying that if you add enough cards to the deck, they learn to play poker.
There is another popular strain of argument based on information. It holds that the obvious patterning in the universe, from the pattern of atoms to the huge scope of spiral galaxies, DNA’s double helix, and so on, is founded on bits of information, and this information is indestructible, like matter and energy. But there’s no proof that information exists “out there” in empty space or anywhere else. The big bang, in fact, was a chaotic state devoid of what we call matter and energy, an unruly state where even the laws of nature may not yet have emerged. Getting order out of chaos is difficult enough—and far from proven by physics—much less information. Moreover, information is a mental concept; it takes the human mind to either create or recognize the concept. In either case, saying that information created the human mind gets it backwards.
The bottom line is that meaning and purpose, wherever they came from, are attributes of consciousness, and no physical theory of the universe has been able to account for the exact moment, either in the cosmos or here on Earth, when atoms and molecules learned to think. In fact, it seems absurd to say that atoms and molecules think, yet the human brain is composed of them, so if the brain is the source of consciousness — as 99.9% of neuroscientists believe without question — the transition from random, unthinking, everyday atoms to a thinking machine either exists or it doesn’t.
There is good reason to say that consciousness cannot be considered a property of atoms, a byproduct of complexity, or a pile-up of information. The simplest way to account for meaning and purpose is to say that consciousness has always existed. Cosmic mind has evolved within itself to give rise to every aspect of meaning and purpose that we as humans are aware of. We are aspects of cosmic mind looking at itself through human awareness. If this is so, then meaning and purpose are part of a grander scheme that surpasses religion by needing no transcendent God or the gods. Instead, the universe is telling us to look at ourselves if we want to understand how deeply meaning and purpose permeate the whole of Nature.
This viewpoint is too important to relegate to a few words, so in the next blog the reality of cosmic mind will be described in terms of a universe where consciousness rules, and ultimately a universe with human beings at its core.
(To be cont.)