The Mind is Everything

Posted by on September 15, 2010 in Thoughts | 8 comments

Is there a sense of determinism in the universe? Does the universe have a purpose?

My personal understanding of the universe is that there is no definite purpose for the universe, merely that the universe is a result of a series of events, which were the series of a previous series of events, which in turn, are the result of a previous series of events etc. But this is a gross over-simplification. Obviously, since some state that time began with The Big Bang, then how could there have been “previous” to The Big Bang? Unfortunately we may never know, because events before a certain stage of development of the universe are hidden behind an “event-curtain” or “event-horizon” (also known as the cosmological horizon) much like that which surrounds a black-hole. The idea here is that light travels at a finite speed, and objects are also moving at a second finite speed. In order for us to be able to see these objects, they must be travelling away from us (or us from them) at a relative speed less than the speed of light, otherwise the light fails to reach us. It is because of this event-horizon that we cannot see past the event of the fledgling universe, and the light will never reach us here on earth, as we are moving away from that position in space faster than the speed of light, relative to it. (In the case of a black hole, the objects move toward the black hole so fast that light cannot escape back out, so once it’s past this event-horizon we can’t see it any longer.)

Image from Hubble

Image from Hubble

But I digress. The universe is still reacting to the initial conditions that caused its beginning, at least as far as we we can see into the past. This being the case, I think it is folly to think that the universe has a personal interest in you, as a person and what happens to you in your life.

There are those who think that there is no god, but believe that the universe is “guiding them in some way”. I’m not one of these people. I think the universe is indifferent to our existence. I’d even go so far as to say I think the universe has no capacity to “know” anything in any case. I have said this before in previous blogs.

The universe as God?

As to the idea that the universe has a predetermined pattern which the human (and all action takes for that matter) in a Donnie Darko-esque way, well I can’t say one way or the other. But i must say, apart from the ideas of cause and effect, I’d have to say, in my experience, when people say “The universe is telling me to blah blah blah…” what they REALLY mean is, “My subconscious is telling me to blah blah blah,” or “I’m not sure why, but I really feel like I should blah blah blah”. The idea that the universe has a personalised deterministic nature is the human mind’s anthropromorphising of the universe, giving the universe some sort of human characteristics, specifically that of caring for us, combined with the innate wish that everything will work out for the better if we just trust in the “will” of the universe.

We do wish that we were “looked out for” in some way. It would make life a whole lot easier if we could simply throw our hands in the air and say something like “If it is the will of the universe, than that is the way it should be.” It would also be very nice to think that, at any given moment, we were being looked after by a surrogate parent, be it God or the universe. This makes sense, because as we are growing up when we are unsure, or hurt, or scared, we look to our parents or our guardians to give us support, guidance and comfort. The universe however is not capable of this, at least not by my understanding. In our minds, we can formulate all sorts of ways the universe or gods or nature is looking out for us, and for some this is seen as a reassuring. This all takes place in our minds.

The mind is everything.

Everything we see, feel, interpret, wish for, know and experience. That’s not to say there’s not more to the brain than we understand, because there IS more than we understand. The brain, however, is far more complex than a simple binary machine, capable of only “yes/no” decisions piled one upon the other. In fact, we are only beginning to understand the workings of the mind at all. Personally I’m very excited to see what we find out about the workings of the mind. Once we have unravelled the brain, can we then have better control over ourselves, our decisions and our beliefs? Will we then be ready to let go of our wishes to be looked after by the universe or god?

Inspired by Jonathan’s blog piece here.

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8 Comments

  1. On anthropomorphism, I’ve always thought it unfortunate the “anthropic principle” was named that. Even the originator of the idea now wishes he’d called it something else.

    IF there is a mind out there we could call “god”, i think it’s at minimum very different from humans, ie not anthropic.

    I know, I’m probably off topic.

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia :)

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  2. Perhaps I’m just practicing Frommopomorphism, but that bit about wishing to be looked out for reminded me of Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom. That yearning (however vague) for totalitarian submission is especially interesting (read: scary) when combined with the self-importance humans so often wrest out of the anthropic principle.

    Despite the unfortunate terminology, I’m fascinated by the logical leap that so many people make from the anthropic principle to the unquestioned anthropomorphic bias of the mind. It’s the “is-ought problem” taken from the grandest scale (the entire universe) to a tiny scale (the confines of our skulls) with hardly a hesitation. We’re products of the universe, therefore the universe was designed for us? Gotta love hubris.

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  3. I think that the question regarding events “before” the big bang are not valid questions. The arrow of time and the collapse of the wave function are all in the “macro” world that we perceive. At the quantum level there might not be a one-way arrow of time and the cause-effect argument could simply just collapse itself.

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  4. I was into about my fourth paragraph of comment when I realised I should just blog in response – especially because I headed at sonewhat of a tangent. ;-)

    Good post as always.

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  5. I’m continually confused as to the atheistic perspective on the brain. Blogs like this one speak to its splendid complexity and to the idea that we are only scratching the surface of unlocking such a unique machine. Other atheists, when pushed on the nature of such complexity seeming rather unlikely to form as a result of gradual mutation, deride the brain as poorly designed (if God was the Designer, of course) and largely a waste of the majority of its mass.

    So which is it? Any chance that at least a majority consensus can be reached, or do atheists prefer to keep both arguments in their back pocket depending on the position of the theist they are talking to?

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    • @Sabepashubbo
      I don’t really see where the confusion arises from. I’m pretty plain in my opinion. The brain is BOTH the result of gradual mutation AND the splendidly complex “machine” (although I do not use that word with too much credence). Why can it not be both? From where in your opinion do these viewpoints oppose? I disagree that the brain is poorly designed (it’s not “designed” as such anyhow). I also disagree that it is “largely a waste of the majority of its mass”, because we use MUCH more of the brain for simple actions than you or I realise. Do some research into the brain, it’s not that difficult to find information, and to see what huge steps are being taken toward discovering more and more about the brain

      If the brain is not the reason we perceive everything AND the way we perceive everything, then to what do you attribute this? And don’t say “God did it”, because if you do, you deride ALL personal responsibility for your actions, which to me is not only folly, but fallacious also.

      I can ask this of you also, which is it for you? Is the brain a perfectly designed thing from God that allows you to perceive your surrounds, or is it merely a conduit through which you receive messages from your God? Or is it something more?

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    • Hi Marty,

      I think you took my statement in a different direction than which it was meant. I’m not saying that the brain cannot be from gradual mutation and yet splendidly complex. Though I disagree with this fundamentally, it is not entirely outside the realm of possibility. I agree completely that the brain is an amazingly complex machine; however, we differ on how the brain came to be so complex. But that’s not what my comment was about.

      What I’m saying is that based on my experience, those who don’t believe in the supernatural commonly use both arguments to reject theism. When it comes to evolution, the brain over time gradually mutated into this complex framework (the position you hold). But when discussing intelligent design, anti-supernaturalists are quick to jump to the idea that the brain appears poorly designed (a position you do not hold, apparently).

      So what I’m asking is this: do you feel like there ought to be a consensus among anti-supernaturalists about how to explain the brain, or do you think both arguments are valid, and if so, why?

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  6. Awareness and consciousness are missing so greatly from many human brains. The human race, constantly stubles through life adding meaning and purpose, when in reality the world has no meaning or purpose. The meaning we place on it is in most cases simply an illusion.

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