Friday, February 28, 2014

Thinking About the Cosmos is Strange


I’ve recently gotten in touch with David Porush, a friend from graduate school back in the Jurassic era, and have been reading some of his thoughts about the Talmud, digital tech, and telepathy – you can find some of this online under the heading of MS Scars. I’ve only been reading around in David’s stuff, and I’ve been reading in some files he sent to me, so what I’ve been reading may not be there at MS Scars.

The point, however, is that David’s work is quite different from mine. His study is religious, whereas mine is secular. But there is a sympathy between us and David assures me that some of my recent pluralistic explorations (prompted by my encounter with Latour) resonate with him – e.g. The Living Cosmos.

It’s that resonance that I find striking, and reassuring. He’s working through the Talmud, Derrida, neuroscience, cyberpunk, digital tech and who knows what else and I’m working through, I don’t know, cognitive science, cultural evolution, Latour and who knows what else. Somehow we end up thinking similar thoughts about the Cosmos.


Is it THAT THAT is what the Cosmos is?


But what I’m really trying to grasp is that thinking about the Cosmos is strange. Very strange. While I’m not one to think small thoughts – e.g. Beethoven’s Anvil covers music from the brain to the human group, from evolutionary origins to cultural history, from AABA pop tune form to ecstasy – still, thinking about all of reality, the Cosmos, that’s something else.

In the small there is the fact that no one person can grasp all of what is known. And the scope of the known is itself deeply contentious and bordered about by paths and gestures into the unknown. There is no possibility of comprehensive synthesis.

Thinking about the Cosmos, as a whole, is thus more an act of desire than one of predication, analysis, and description. How does, how can one do that in finite time?

What I’m wondering is if atheism is a refusal to recognize and entertain that desire.



  1. > What I’m wondering is if atheism is a refusal to recognize and entertain that desire.

    Well, sometimes it is. But I don't know if that distinguishes it from theism.

    Some atheists might not want to consider that the universe is incomprehensible but many forms of theism are just outright denial of the same thing.

    1. You're right, Rich. So, under what conditions does one turn to atheism to deny the incomprehensibility of the universe and under what conditions does one turn to religious belief to the same end? Perhaps its a matter of cognitive rank.

  2. Sure, but more interesting to me are atheists and theists who share a sense of the unknowability of the cosmos rather than try to escape from it. Feynman was pretty clear about how he felt about this: "I'm not afraid of not knowing." ( )

    My own sense of how unknowable the cosmos is leads me to reject most formulations of god just because any interpretation of the cosmos (i.e. god) that a human being can imagine is obviously going to be inadequate (inadequately awesome, inadequately beautiful, inadequately whatever). Maybe that's a Grouch Marx formulation of atheism.