General Musings

An Existential Cosmology of Purpose

When I was a child, I spent a considerable amount of time in place called Murchison, country Victoria. During the summer and autumn months I picked tomatoes and though I cringe at the memories of the intense heat burning the skin on my face and neck or the man who – with his plane – sprinkled pesticides over us, unaware of the dangers as I imagined the green powder sprinkling from the sky to be space dust. Despite the difficulties, my loneliness all but disappeared at night where, lying on the ground outside and in the absence of any light pollution, I spent hours looking up at the stars imagining different things from wishing that there was someone else who was thinking about finding a friend, just as I was, at the same time we were both looking up at the stars, to designing my own constellations, to wondering why stars sparkled like that and showed up at the same spot every night, trying to hypothesise theories on how a sidereal day reflects the cyclic nature of all things. This cycle or the divine circle embodies the almost mystical belief that the universe itself is circular just like planets rotate around the sun on a constant cycle in spherical motion. Life itself has a cycle and this pattern of determined continuity is saturated in almost all matter. Cyclical history, transition phases, recurrences all add a question mark as to whether we are progressive or teleological, theological conclusions providing us with the fundamental premise that everything is definite as well as vain. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”[1]

Everything in the universe has a life cycle, where nature destroys and renews itself cyclically. For instance, stars are made from a fusion between two hot and light gases – hydrogen and helium – whereby in the core the former burns into helium and gradually begins to form heavier elements such as carbon.[2] Eventually, our sun – considered a yellow dwarf – will become an inert white dwarf but will continue to emit light as it will fall below the main sequence and it emits light as the temperature is still hot due to the presence of nuclear fuels until depleted, becoming black dwarf. Depending on the mass of the star, once hydrogen has been depleted the core will begin to contract [the helium is displaced and the outer surface begins to expand due to the thermal pressure and this contraction loses elements or materials] while the surface expands, leading them to either become supernova or a planetary nebula [the remnants of a supernova] though there are other types of nebulae such as protoplanetary that is causally a result of stars shedding or detaching from the surface.[3] Stars are also born in nebulas. The cycle eventually moves towards – as mentioned – white dwarfs, but also neutron stars where protons and electrons collide to form neutrons from the collapsed core of the star.

That is, a black hole, which is formed when matter is squeezed into a very dense space as a result of the stars’ supernova where the force of gravity is so great that it, collapses into itself. And yet, it is from a black hole that stars are born, driving the galaxy into continuity.[4] Life itself – along with a range of other factors – is only possible through the light emitted by stars, our very own sun a g-type main-sequence star with a temperature between 5,000 – 6,000K.[5] We can see stars such as Bellatrix with our naked eyes despite its distance of 244.6 light years[6] or 76.92 parsecs because it is 8.6x solar masses or the equivalent of 1.671 × 10^31 kg and is 3.16 times bigger than our sun with a radius of almost 2,200,940.06km.[7] All the stars will collapse and form into new ones and when our sun dies, our planet – which is pulled by the gravity of the sun – will ultimately float aimlessly into space until captured by the gravity of another star and be renewed once more. Perhaps intergalactic travel is the very reason why we have life on earth in the first place.

The cycle of our very own seasons is continuously rounded and renews every six months due to our perfectly precise location in orbit around the sun along with our moon orbiting around earth. The celestial sphere is an imaginary radius with earth fixed at its centre (since the earth’s position or axis remains fixed) and earths equator is aligned with the celestial equator, as are both the north and south celestial poles. Since the rotational tilt of the earth that sits at precisely 23.5° and its rotational axis around the sun, the ecliptic plane – which is the path of the sun in this sphere – as it travels and rotates the northern and southern hemispheres are doused with either more or less sunlight.[8] You can see this movement or rotation when the sun rises in the morning or sets in the evening, or as the stars move when gazing at night. The earths circular orbit around the sun and distant stars is the sidereal period, a sidereal day or for a star to reach the same point is 23.56 hours and they rise earlier each night [up to four minutes] as the earth rotates around the orbit.[9] Equinoxes are the rotation when the ecliptic touches the equatorial plane, and a summer solstice contains the most amount of daylight while the winter solstice contains the least or shortest amount.

Everything in nature is a cycle. Everything is born and then dies. As people living in a world where everything dies, including us, well then in that vanity what could possibly be our purpose?

Sometimes, when I have clarity of mind I am able to reflect on my past experiences without the influence of false representations induced by my emotions, I am able to clearly visualise the network of my experiences into a pattern that I see is – completely out of my control – repeating itself. Twice, for instance, spread out over a decade, I met two men at different intervals where at the exact same time of meeting them experienced hardships that prevented any possible development of our friendship; this hardship includes meeting another two men who were monstrous towards me and where I suddenly experienced severe financial hardship that all impacted on my health. This pattern that illustrates a cyclic repetition is visible when we study ourselves objectively as being a product of a whole or existential cosmology. When one thinks of scientific cosmology, it is the study of the large, the whole with all the properties that capture the reason for the existence of the entirety. By understanding the origin, one is able to convey the evolution and theories ameliorate a better understanding of the universe. If we think of cycles, is the universe itself going to infinitely expand or is it going to collapse into itself, or is our universe only one of many ‘pocket’ universes each dying and creating new ones?

Hegelian cosmology is just that, a reality that “is composed of a plurality of finite persons”[10] inclusive of ourselves; being a finite property, our lives are finite or vain and ultimately determined, however rather than analysing the individual components or properties that make our lives, objects and properties become the tools that enable consciousness, allowing us to transcend and become aware of our personhood as being part of a greater ‘whole’ or a supreme Being, that is a part of God.[11] God has no contingent parts and is consequently “God is Spirit.”[12] Questioning the nature of reality and being a part of this whole rather than an individual component, immortality or an eternal continuum becomes possible and that our very lives are also non-temporal.[13] If we are a part of something greater than ourselves, our death becomes meaningless and in our lives our only purpose or obligation is to the wellbeing of that which is greater than ourselves. It being practical, a moral application. ‘I’ may die, but ‘we’ continue to exist.

While it may appear that I am endorsing an atheistic naturalism, I must clarify that I am not here attempting to identify the existence of God through this thesis, but rather attempting to explicate why the transcendence of consciousness enables us to realise the significance of being morally responsible; what becomes our ‘purpose’ and St. Thomas Aquinas also developed a similar thesis that argued a continued existence is dependent on beings.[14] McTaggart who critiqued Hegel’ cosmology believed that the “passing of time is an illusion, and that nothing ever changes.”[15] His interpretation of time involved a series of contrasts and incompatible determinations between past, present and future through two notions entitled A series and B series and that the world is composed of nothing but souls.[16] But questions of time are impossible to empirically verify and therefore should only be viewed symbolically as representative of our subjective place in an external world.

While we may be a product of a whole, where exactly do ‘we’ or our personhood – free will – come into being? It is sufficient to say that freedom is an extension of determinism, that we possess the faculty through rational knowledge and will that enables us the capacity to become self-aware. That is, consciousness is a product of this deterministic social whole, which is why those that attain this transcendence become aware of their moral obligations and the value of virtue. I believe, however, that repetition of our own experiences may perhaps reflect on our failure to transcend to this necessary consciousness. While when we transcend we become aware of our moral obligations and in turn commit ourselves to the greater good, those lacking consciousness are destructive, just as nature is, and therefore ‘doomed to repeat’ history. If all of humanity transcend to this consciousness, for instance, we could consciously maintain an eternal continuum. My experience of repeating history is a result of my failure to transcend to the consciousness necessary to prevent bad things from happening to me a second time.

When I think about individual experiences broken into a shattered narrative that I attempt to dissect and understand, who I am is intricate and complex and it render emotional and psychological complications. I become sad and upset because I spent my childhood working as a labourer. But, when I view myself as part of a sum of all my experiences, there is no longer a temporal domain but I exist as I am in present and thus view the product of my being as a whole. Upon doing so, what I am becomes clear.

 A kind and loving woman who is happily content living a life of virtue and righteousness.

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:2
[2] John R. Gribbin, The death of the Sun, Delacorte Press (1980) 180
[3] John Bally, Bo Reipurth, The Birth of Stars and Planets, Cambridge University Press (2006) 181
[4] http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/12/new-discovery-supermassive-black-holes-create-their-own-galaxies.html
[5] Gunter Faure, Teresa M. Mensing, Introduction to Planetary Science: The Geological Perspective, Springer Science & Business Media (2007) 461
[6] http://www.astronomyenthusiasts.com/constellations/
[7] http://astropixels.com/stars/brightstars.html
[8] William Millar, The Amateur Astronomer’s Introduction to the Celestial Sphere, Cambridge University Press (2006)
[9] Ibid.
[10] Jacob Gould Schurman, James Edwin Creighton, Frank Thilly, Gustavus Watts Cunningham, The Philosophical Review, Cornell University Press, Volume 12 (1903) p 189
[11] M.J. Inwood, Hegel: Arguments Philosophers, Routledge (2013) 202
[12] John 4:24
[13] G. E. Moore, “Mr. McTaggart’s “Studies in Hegelian Cosmology”” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 2 (1901 – 1902), pp. 177-214
[14] http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/essencex.html
[15] Brian Garrett, What is this Thing Called Metaphysics?, Routledge (2007) 76
[16] http://www.iep.utm.edu/mctaggar/

2 thoughts on “An Existential Cosmology of Purpose

  1. Sara,

    Thank you for all your great thoughts.

    ‘Cyclic time’ as a conception is very experiential. Each of our experiences is unique, so when we have very similar experiences we relate them to one another, and patterns arise, the seasons, life/death… It seems to me that many if these recurrent events we experience, unlike going to work everyday, evolve from one another, more of a genesis than a cycle.

    Perhaps this is how ‘transcendence’ comes about. The key events, and the joys & traumas we experience we dwell on. The we dwell on the joys trying to relive the pleasures and how these pleasure came about. Our painful experiences are also re-experienced (sometimes compulsively) as if we could change them (Freud). The effort to transcend the instant, to relive our experiences, to experience how our life has evolved, becomes a way for us to idealize aspects of our experience, as if in a transcendent realm.

    Of course the universe appears to be ruled by the 2nd law of Thermodynamics…the increase in entropy gives direction to time, changes that can never be negative.

    Eastern religions talk about the illusory character of time and self. Some of their followers spend years upon years meditating to escape the illusion. Why?

    I think this has to do with the ‘unity’ of the self, which I don’t really think is a unity, but regardless of what it is, its ours. The unity of the self, gives us a point of view, without that point of view there is no flow to time. The destruction of the conception of the self leads to the end of time’s flowing by and thereby the relief from transcendence, suffering, joy, fear. The ability to live in the moment, unaffected, perhaps that’s why.

    Don’t think I’ll convert (I’m agnostic).

    Like

    • Thanks Phil for your – always – insightful remarks. Apologies for the delay, I only just came across it.

      Even though the universe is ruled by the gradual decline into disorder, there always exists a renewal somehow; a cycle that goes back to the beginning and in doing so regenerates eternally or at least continuously. Several years ago, here in Australia, there was a major bushfire at King Lake – which was a forested area I regularly visited – that appeared to almost destroy it, but bushfires actually help renew the forest as it repairs itself. Unless the bushfires do not occur and cause catastrophic damage twice within seven years, it contributes to flora and fauna vitality. Regeneration is an essential component in movement, in energy, space and time.

      Yet, we die. But do we?

      When we think of ourselves as part of this whole, as part of the ‘ebb and flow’ where the ‘I’ is a part of the ‘We’ or the universe – God being the interconnection of all things – suddenly our contribution becomes a vital aspect to this eternal renewal. Humans have consciousness and therefore responsibility as a species that can manipulate and control nature. When, however, we view the ‘I’ alone, we continuously repeat the same mistakes – we burn the forest twice in seven years – and so we destroy nature. That is, it is in our nature to transcend to a moral consciousness. Thus, as you can see with the environmental destruction that we are causing, the mass violence and death between cultures and religions, and the continuous existential threats that verify how the ‘we’ is not applied; moral consciousness and love is the ‘we’ and my life, its purpose, is to acknowledge and understand this and thus take on what my nature already dictates.

      “Don’t think I’ll convert (I’m agnostic).”

      Everyone articulates the way they appreciate, perceive and understand the world differently. Some people are Islamic, others Hindu, and yet others may rely on social customs or orally transmitted fables and myths. Some prefer spirituality, others science alone. All language is merely our way of understanding the world and as you say, it is very experiential and dependent on many cognitive and environmental factors.

      This is why I follow no institution, no religion, no person, no specific philosophy, nothing that will connect me to rules or regulations that must be adhered to in order to classify me into a category. It is why I take pieces from various thoughts and opinions but I cannot say that there is one specific whole that I admire, other than Jesus [but according to my own hermeneutic interpretation that vastly contrasts with the religious views of him particularly Catholicism] and perhaps even Erich Fromm. It is all just language.

      Thus I am free but restricted with reason and moral consciousness. God is the only reality, but since I will never be able to articulate what that may mean other than through love as it is intuitive, I am happily content living the rest of my life learning how to apply this feeling in a world restricted by space and time.

      Like

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