Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is the Universe Friendly?

Just a little ramble...

It's said that Einstein once declared, "I think the most important question facing humanity is, 'is the universe a friendly place?' "

Some people describe the Universe as "friendly". In most religions, there is a God or spiritual force looking out for humanity as a whole, or certain individuals. Many people trust that "God has a plan," even when things don't turn out so well for us. Even many non-religious people believe in governing forces... "karma" or "destiny" are terms they use to describe the Divine, even when they don't believe in a conscious being called God or Goddess.

Some people describe the Universe as "unfriendly". They point to Darwin, and the idea that it's a "dog eat dog" world and that only the strong (or lucky, or resourceful) survive. Statistically, most living things that are born into this world die relatively young, and we all die sometime. The chances of our dying a "peaceful" death, of old age in our sleep, is a small one.

Of course, "friendly" and "unfriendly" are anthropomorphic terms. They describe how people see the Universe, not how the Universe actually operates. Of course there are both friendly and hostile elements to the Universe, but people generally choose one worldview over another and base their opinions and life on that. However, it's my understanding that in order to achieve a more balanced perspective, both viewpoints need to be considered as correct.

The Universe operates on natural selection. As an example: out of 10 kittens born last year to our fertile barn cat, only 2 survived their first year. 5 died of being smashed under a hay bale when they were only a couple weeks old. One kitten was snatched by a predator. One kitten suffered and died of pneumonia during the winter. Another disappeared unexpectedly one day. You can't explain the suffering and death of innocents- babies- if you believe that the Universe is entirely benevolent. I mean, you can, but you end up with illogical arguments or a twisted view of "God".

However, you can't also discount the tremendous amounts of good things that happen everyday. People find love and form families, baby animals play in the grass, dust and death are washed away in cooling, cleansing rains. Cats nap in the sun with a smile on their face. To some people, the world seems wholly useless and evil, but those people aren't looking at reality, either. Even pain and suffering sometimes brings about a strength of character or a heightened sense of compassion. There are some horrible atrocities that will never be explained or justified, so you can't say with all certainty that "the Universe is friendly." However you can't say "the Universe is unfriendly" either, because then you discount many wonderful aspects of life.

I think the idea that the Universe is either friendly or hostile arises when we blame or credit "God" or "Goddess" or "gods" or "forces" with the good/bad things that happen every day. Don't get me wrong, I'm not discounting belief in the Spiritual. I'm just saying that belief can easily delude people into thinking that everything that happens to you is because your life revolves around you. What is "bad" to one person is often "good" to another person. The kitten who died of predation at least made one other animal happy. The rest of them might seem like senseless deaths, but maybe that's because human beings look for a reason for everything. Even though we tend to agree that the earth revolves around the sun, and that the moon revolves around the earth, we still tend to think that everything that happens is either to our benefit or detriment. It may not be that way. Just because an event happens to us doesn't me it's about us. And yet that's how our perspective makes us see things. From that point of view, the Universe is both friendly and hostile, because our lives are made up of both beneficial and detrimental events.

However, looking at the grand scheme of things might not provide us with an answer. We might not find an overarching purpose for our lives, but we can at least understand that often what we do, or what is done to us, is not hostile, nor friendly. It simply is. For whatever reason, IF there is a reason. Sometimes there is a reason, and sometimes there isn't. I think if we can look at life from that perspective more often, we would ask "why is this happening to me?" less often, and take more responsibility for the impact of our own actions. I don't think anyone in the Universe is "looking out for me, specifically." I think it's up to me to look after myself and my loved ones, which is scary considering the amount of control I DON'T have over my own life.

And that's why this post is a ramble, not a sermon. I don't have any clear cut answers. I don't think my beliefs can give you hope, or make you despair. I don't think that anyone can know the answers, and if they think they do, I think they are just discounting aspects of reality. I don't know if Einstein had an opinion one way or another, but I do know that he asks a very good question.