Does the universe even care?

Cosmology: Nihilism or Mysticism

or Affinity as the Hand of God

Science doesn’t insist that we discard our beliefs, only that we construct them falsifiably, subject them to empirical scrutiny, and serve them with a side of well-documented reproducibility. Still, many, if not all, scientists find—at some point before they give up the ghost—that science has not been enough to explain the wonder of existence, the splendor of the cosmos, the problem of life. Nevertheless some spend their careers mired in nihilistic illusionment, searching for meaning everywhere but at its source, inadvertently misinforming each other and the hoi polloi.

I want you to believe that the universe is a vast, random, uncaring place, in which our species has absolutely no significance. And I want you to believe that the only response is to make our own beauty and meaning, and to share it while we can. I want you to believe … that you are a way for the universe to be in awe of itself. — Dr. Katie Mack, Disorientation

Which begs the question: why would a theoretical astrophysicist want us to believe we are insignificant specks in an uncaring vastness?

Surely Dr. Mack has no professional motivation for airlocking the value of humanity. One might posit that she holds these beliefs, and that they trouble her, hence their insistent exposition in this video. The truth is not fragile; it needs no defense or assertion. But beliefs crumple unless we continue to inflate them and project them outward.

NIhilistic beliefs like these are the Aegis of the ego, the existential trump cards. When we imagine non-existence, we grow fearful and seek cover. Facing the ultimate imaginary threat, no cover will do, but still we struggle to clad ourselves in a protective shell of other imaginings, a shell with which we come to identify ourselves. So egos come in as many flavors and shapes (personalities) as there are self-awarenesses. But they all trace back to the shared nightmare of mortality.

Does your dog seem selfless and free? Perhaps it has not imagined itself to be finite. As within, so without.

Nihilism aside, Dr. Mack isn’t far off. You are a way the universe can be in awe of itself. And so is every other drop of conscious awareness in this vast cosmic ocean. The significance of our species is neither here nor there, for we are much more than human.

I want you to understand that the universe is a hologram of your essence, a creation of our will to wonder. There is nothing random or uncaring about it. The same force of affinity that draws you into a loving embrace is the driving force of everything else. Affinity drew nebulae into stars, and draws stars into galaxies, which go on growing and whirling until they collapse into themselves and become inescapably affinite black holes. Affinity holds our atoms together: when protons become close enough to touch they share mesons and form nuclear families that would burn the world rather than be torn apart.

As our imaginations grow, so does the cosmos, expanding steadily faster than our telescopes can zoom. The farther we look out, the more there is to see. Was it there before we looked? Or did the act of observation manifest these new realities from among the boundless possibilities? Quantum mechanics would suggest the latter. To make beauty and meaning is the only response, but only because we cannot help it. It is our sole function as agents of the conscious cosmos to evolve with love, to create beautiful meaning, to find harmony in chaos.