Cosmology for the Ridiculous

What are the three models of the universe?

DISCLAIMER: Another whopper that took a lot out of me. I sincerely apologize to any individual who feels that reading this was a major waste of their time. I enjoy wasting of time, I think It’s one of the most pragmatic activities one can practise. So get a glass of water and get ready for one of the most ridiculous post I’ve had the pleasure of writing. The Cosmos series is a tribute and an overview of the body of work of the philosopher Alan W. Watts(see the P.S. section of article Reality Is Bliss for more information.)

A myth is an image, in terms of which we try to make sense of the world. There are three great images under which human beings have been operating for the past two thousand years and maybe more. They have influenced the way we talk and the language we use, the way we think and our common sense, and even the way we see our external surroundings. The following is an attempt to describe the three models of the universe. These are the ceramic or mechanic, organic and the dramatic.

A long time ago physicists asked themselves what is matter. And the more they asked that question, the more they realized they couldn’t answer it. So they stopped asking. Because if you’re going to say what anything is, you have to describe it in terms of behaviour. You describe what does it do. When one looks for “stuff” in nature, that is to say primordial matter, they can’t find any. The only thing they’ll discover is ‘organic pattern’, to use Joseph Needham’s term. ‘Stuff’ is a word used when our eyes are out of focus, so that it’s fuzzy - change your level of magnification and you see a structure. Change it again and it becomes fuzzy once more, and so on. So all that we can really talk about, is mathematical pattern.

But the idea that underlied our common sense of the universe in the West for a long period of time, was a political one. And it went further than that saying it was based on a monarchy. The western image of the world was that it was an artefact. It was something which was put together, or made. It sees the universe as being created by an architect or a technical engineer that has a plan in mind. And so he arranged all the galaxies, stars and planets and everything in our universe corresponds and obeys that plan. And so we got the idea of laws of nature. And we inherited the idea of the law from our theology.

We carried over the idea that god stands behind the king or the judge and that he is a very serious fellow and afraid of laughter. So we built churches called Basilika from the Greek word basilus which means the king. And so everything in the church were designed as in the form of the house of a king. And they had people facing and kneeling down so that you can’t use weapons or attack the king. Churches are also hardly places of joy. People are morbidly serious, singing a bunch of religious lullabies. And so the rituals of the church were based on the court rituals of Byzantium. But this idea did not work so well anymore. When you wanted to apply this image to the rest of the universe, it had limitations.

In the 18th century however people began to question this idea. They reasoned that you didn’t need a lawmaker. Why? Because the hypothesis of god does not help us to make any predictions. In other words, if the function of science was to make predictions, science itself was prophetic. And thus, you didn’t need god as a hypothesis. So they got rid of the engineer but they kept his plan and the idea of laws of nature. And so, as the idea developed throughout the centuries it evolved and changed into the image that the universe is a machine, and everything is explained in terms of mechanics, including human beings. This idea is still present in our every day thinking - that we are something made or put together.

For example when a child asks its mother: “How was I made?” It is under the assumption of the ceramic model. In some parts of the Far East however, a child would not ask its mother how were they made. They would instead ask: “How did I grow, or how was I grown?” So the point becomes one of relating one’s self as something mechanical, as opposed to organic.

We tend to think that we are something inside our bodies sort of the same way as being inside of an automobile, that needs periodical repairs in the repair shop, when we go see doctors. Only we don’t even identify with the car itself. We get parts replaced by surgeons as if they were pieces of metal being delivered in and screwed on. We digest minerals and shove them down one end of a tube and it comes out the other end. As our favourite 19th century scientists described it, it’s nothing but blind energy. Everything is electronic, circuit-like, hydraulic gadgetry, and so on.

With the aid of quantum mechanics and several other theories, this idea has blown straight to the farthest reaches of imagination. Where we are not only mechanical but also holographic. First we took out life, than we turned the rest into something barely substantial. No wonder people feel depressed. The universe is nothing but mechanical ticking, which doesn’t give a damn about people. And it might now be nothing but a simulation of itself.

I would like to congratulate those men who coined the idea that everything in nature is clock-like mechanical processes, which already takes the life out of life but also that we are virtual and holographic, making whatever is left into a mere shadow of itself - that we are nothing but mechanical flukes, trapped in a perpetual scheme of blind, and furthermore dumb forces. I would say to them: “I congratulate you, for making people participate in the most far out game ever thought of. Not only do they believe everything to be a lifeless machine, they have no purpose in that machine other than to take part in its reproduction process, in a mere simulation of a once real universe.”

And people should really come to the realisation that these are different philosophical ideas, nothing more. They have just as little to support them as do the idea of the engineer. They are strong only in sheer number of people who choose to subscribe to them. But they are not facts found in nature, only in concepts. It depends on how you define yourself and your relationship.

However, these concepts are extremely plausible in our environment, making them very successful. But as an example, take calendars. Inconveniently enough, the Earth does not go around the Sun in a neat 360 days. This has always bugged calendar makers. How to make a calendar which makes sense? So what we do is we project an ideal shape of a circle on top of our solar system. Same way as we have projected the lines of latitudes and longitudes on top of Earth. But they are not found on our physical planet - same way as you will not find centimetres ingrained in wood, or the number 9 lying around the country side. We imagined a net in the sky in order to break it down to bits which we can then number and keep track of. So we started calculating and mapping the night sky.

Take the constellations we have. There is no such thing as the actual position of the stars. Because wherever you look from, the position changes. The constellations vanish when you shift your perspective. So there’s no such state of affairs as the truth, because it’s all relative. So that all unique points of view can be simultaneously thought of as part the truth.

Eventually there arose a theory which described our universe as something that blew up billions of years ago out of nothing. And all the galaxies scattered out into space. When you take an open can of black paint, and throw it across the floor, it spreads out. And at its centre it’s very thick, but as it gets further and further way, the paint becomes finer and finer making all these little patterns. We are like those little patterns way out on the edge of that explosion. But then we cut ourselves off and defined ourselves only as the little patterns at the end, not realising that we are still the Big Bang happening. We are still the original energy of the universe expanding in these amazing dances.

But we as human beings in the west, have been brought up to feel not to notice this, our connection with the rest of the universe. That we are something made or put together from unintelligent blocks of primordial stuff. That we are something just inside the universe, and we came from somewhere else altogether. But we did not. We came out of that universe, as a bud comes out of a flower. As there appeared a field of science called ecology, this connection between organisms and their environment has become much more obvious in the past few decades. But I wonder, where this talk of the universe as being merely a simulation will get us and our basic sensation of the world. Connected? Or dead.

It just seems to me, that an adequate theory or a model of the universe, has to be one that’s worth putting your money on. In other words, if one makes up a model of the universe that isn’t worth betting on, why even bother? Just give up. But if you want to go on playing the game, then you have to have a theory which satisfies all optimal levels for playing that game.

However, there is a more lively version of the universe that has been present for the past 2,400 years, what is called the organic model as opposed to the ceramic. It originates in ancient China. It sees the universe as an organism. And a thing that is an organism, has no chief. It is a pure democracy. The difference between a mechanism and an organism is so, that where as with the mechanical you build and arrange parts slowly, from the outside in, an organism works exactly the opposite way. It grows from the inside out, complicating itself everywhere all at once. Moving from the relatively simple to the relatively complex. It blows out like a fractal of pattern - and when you magnify into it enough, there isn’t a single clue to where it’s coming from. And all the so-called “parts” in the organism are mutually co-operative.

The Chinese word for nature, tzu-jen (pronounced ziran) - which means that which is so of itself, in other words, spontaneous occurrence without governance. It’s a kind of anarchic order. It sees the universe as a spontaneous patterning of energy in co-operation. They have a word - Li -, which is the same as grain patterns in trees or the fibre in muscles. So Needham’s translation for this would be organic pattern. You know immediately when you see the shape of a cloud or foam in water, that what you are witnessing is not chaos, it is order. Only it is not symmetrical order in terms of which we as humans are used to thinking. It is greater in its complexity than anything we manage to conceive.

As neurologists studies the brain, they will always come to the conclusion that they have only just begun to understand the complexity of their own brain. What they are actually saying is, our brains have a complexity so great, that we, as our organism, cannot understand our own organism - it has out smarted us so far. And so we are trying to feverishly build a computer that will one day match up with our own nervous system in its complexity, to learn from it. How can a linear process calculator teach us something we cannot learn from ourselves, by ourselves? What a paradox. Our brain is infinitely more complex than any machine algorithm can spit out. Maybe in time we will get to see our own brain getting bested by a linear process, but it’s still linear process. And our brain has more subtle means of gathering information than just linear thinking.

The Chinese caught unto our linear way of thinking and devised an ancient book and a philosophy which describes almost the mapping of the thinking processes of human beings, dating back for 2,400 years. The principle of our digital computers were founded on that philosophy. So it might very well be that the further we get from our origins, as in the development of those computers, the more probable it is we might get back to our origins. We go so far out, we come out the other end. Oh the suspense.

Speaking of suspense, we now get to the final image of the universe, the dramatic model. This idea originates in India and is the oldest of the three images, dating possibly more than 4000 years. It sees the universe as the play of one energy. It is a drama, a show, being acted out by the actor we call all the different beings in the universe. Their word Maya which means magic, illusion, play, creative power, is the reason we are feeling so disconnected with our basic sense regarding the rest of the universe.

It is compared to a dream, or to a grand illusion. Basically, the Eternal Self gets involved in the plot of its own creation, through ever so many channels. And it’s playing that it isn’t really who it is. It is a fantastic game of Hide and Seek with itself. The first game that we play with newly born babies is we take up a book and cover our face with it. And the baby laughs even without the slightest idea given to it, because the baby knows that Hide and Seek is the basic game of the world.

So why would the universe be a game in the first place? Well very obviously. If one was the eternal divine Self, they wouldn’t just float in eternal bliss - because it would get boring. So they would play games to make it interesting. First thing the divine being says to itself: “Get lost.” And lost it would get, into it’s own game. And so the opposites were created to keep the dynamics of the game going. And one of the first games we tend to play is the one called Black Might Win. And the one that follows from that is but White Must Win. And from the game of black and white comes all the polarities of opposites that include sensations, light, sound and motion. It’s an incredibly vast pulsation between on and off. The next thing is a paraphrased excerpt Watts gave in one of his lectures:

“Let’s imagine that we were able to dream up in one night, any length of time we wanted to have. And naturally as we began on our journey, we would fulfil all our inmost desires and wishes, have every kind of pleasure we could conceive. And after several nights of such long period of dreaming, we would get tired of all the bliss so we’d make a change. We would have a dream that has the element of surprise somewhere in it. In other words, we would dream a dream that wasn’t under control. And after a good scare and a twist, we would come out of it and say wasn’t that something! But then we would introduce the ultimate kicker and forget that we were dreaming. And as time went on, we would get more and more courageous and gamble more and more as to how far out we could get until one day, you would dream where you are right now. That you were reading this very article and thinking you were only you and it was actually for real. Because the whole idea according to this image is that you’re playing that you weren’t the dreamer of the world. It would be within the infinite multiplicity of possibilities. That you weren’t the eternal Self. Thanks to the forgetfulness of the Self it doesn’t remember it has already experienced the dream, and so it never gets tired of the dreaming. Every life is a new dream.”

They measure time as kalpas or aeons, where each kalpa is a period of 4,320,000,000 years. Each kalpa is then divided into yugas or epochs, each of which vary from billions of years to the shortest or our current one, which is supposed to be the last yuga which lasts for 432,000 years. And at the end of that particular kalpa the universe is being destroyed in a fire and the Self will wake up from the dream of life. And then the whole thing starts over. Now, don’t take these numbers literally, they are part of a cosmology which describes the general idea.

Just as you can change the level of magnification in space, you can change it in time. This can be done by speeding up the time. Take a bean sitting on a flat plane and put a camera next to it and start recording until it falls apart and disintegrates. Then we run the film as a sped up version and what we’ll witness are little patterns that would otherwise be much too slow for our eyes to catch and comprehend. Now take a sea of hundreds of human beings and start speeding up time, and we’ll see them as babies, morphing into adults, and what seems to be a show of patterns appearing, disappearing and reappearing, as in the process of life and death. We are seeing the patterns ‘reincarnating’ but you don’t need any mystical or religious ideas to understand it. Now, take this analogy and apply it to anything in nature, and you’ll see patterns appearing, in short cycles and in very long cycles. This is one interpretation of the meaning of reincarnation - it is the reappearance of patterns in nature.

So the dramatic image sees the world as a big show, a drama. And at the end of the drama, the audience after having been scared, crying, sitting on the edge of their metaphorical chairs, gets absorbed back into the greenroom along with the actors. And they congratulate the villains along with the heroes for playing their parts perfectly. And finally they would retire and wake up from the dream that life was a serious business. And then it would be bliss again. Now… Isn’t that an optimal game rule?

If you ask me personally, I think you might get the best sense of how things really are when you combine the mechanic, organic and the dramatic aspects. A kind of game where everything occurs spontaneously that has regularities in it, not laws obeying any plans. And that one day we will wake up from it and return to the source. There are merits and interesting aspects to all images, but no one can know for sure which of them are the true state of affairs - it might all very well be a hoax and we’re living in a colossal virtual simulation with game glitches and other mysterious unexplained phenomenon, but that is just a concept. The material world is also just a concept. It’s a way of talking, and once you go out in to the nature and start really listening and seeing how things really come at you in these fantastic ways, you’ll realize that none of these concepts really apply to it, it’s just “suchness”.

But yet again, that which lies outside all classifications is something that is very difficult to talk about, even though it can be experienced and felt without difficulty. So they use a special word for it which indicates that, called non-dual. Any of the three models of the universe will still fall flat trying to define something that is undefinable, simply because it lies outside all the concepts that can be made about it. And yet, that is exactly what my next article in this series will try to talk about. That which escapes all concepts.


P.S. I often wonder if there really is such a thing as ‘love’ or is it merely a game rule that was erected upon to keep the dynamics of human social interaction going. But lately, doing a lot of contemplation, has left me smiling for absolutely no reason at all. All I can say is, it might not be another human being that one can love, but also the universe and all it contains.

P.P.S. Since I originally wrote this article, I have found love in my life. I can say without a doubt in my mind that love is not a game rule, it is a force which underlies everything. Another term for bliss is indescribable love. I love you sweetheart.