Saturday, December 18, 2004

Logos and Cosmos

Dear Reader,

Though I do not believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, or God, or Heaven or Hell, neither do I believe in science's empty world, the accidental, meaningless universe. I believe in the cosmos and my place in it.

To make sense of this requires that we delve back to the deeper meanings of a few words.

"Universe" denotes the scientific concept of everything (alternate universes aside). Science's universe is governed by natural laws, but has no intrinsic meaning. What we mean by "universe" fits uncomfortably closely what the ancient Greeks meant by "chaos."

The structure of science, its base assumptions, only permit it to investigate reality in limited ways, heavily slanted toward mechanical analysis of finite, measurable topics. Through the processes of experimentation and analysis, science splits apart reality into tiny pieces, sorts and catalogs them, stitches them back together into a kind of Frankenstein's monster, and calls the results knowledge. This kind of understanding of reality the Greeks called technae, mere use-knowledge, and so our understanding of reality is expressed in terms of how we do or can imagine using reality for our purposes. The purposes themselves, as well as all non-technae aspects of reality, science has little to say about.

The reasons we investigate reality inevitably determine the techniques we use, which in turn inescapably determine the kinds of information generated, and thus determine how reality seems to make sense to us. Because scientific research is funded overwhelmingly by corporations or by government agencies that long ago became dominated by corporate interests (at least in America), science as it exists in the modern world is an arm of industry, above all about investigating reality with regards to how it can be profitably manipulated. The shallow, mechanistic, empty result we call the "universe." Science's "universe" is a homunculus of the cosmos in which most of reality is amputated, and the remainder is grotesquely twisted.

I do not believe in the "universe." I believe in the "cosmos."

"Cosmos" is the opposite of "chaos," and therefore the opposite of "universe." The cosmos has something the universe and chaos lack--the logos. I do not refer to the Christian Logos--the Word of God--but to the ancient Greek logos, which is quite different. I cannot define the logos for you because we humans are too limited to do more than catch the tail of it, if we are disciplined and passionate and lucky enough, but I can write a little about it so long as you keep in mind how inadequate my description will be.

The logos is the meaning and logic of reality. Reality is not governed by it the way the universe is governed by scientific laws; rather reality is the unfolding of the logos over time. Reality expresses the logos.

The logos is like an eternal, ever-changing fire that ignites all things, including us, transforms them, and consumes them.

The logos is like the perfect work of music in a single, eternal movement, developing countless parts and refrains according to its own intrinsic meaning and logic, and all of us and everything else in reality are themes and passages in that music.

The logos is a little bit like The Force from Star Wars, except that The Force is a debased logos that is both supernatural and merely utilitarian--we cannot know the logos nor control it, and there are not dark and light sides to it.

The logos is like the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu's Tao from his masterpiece the Tao Te Ching--not the later Tao of sorcerers nor the hippie Tao of just going with the flow, but the original awesome, incomprehensible Tao to which we submit like the reed or be blown down like the willow tree.

The logos was discussed in detail by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus twenty-five hundred years ago in his book On Nature, of which we have only fragments left. Even those few fragments reveal the kindred spirits of Lao Tzu and Heraclitus, despite their alien cultures.

The logos is the secret life of reality, the invisible metabolism that processes all things. This broader concept of life is discussed in detail by architect Christopher Alexander in his four-volume series The Nature of Order. When fully grasped, life and living processes as he explores them begin to suggest part of the nature of the logos. In this broader, non-supernatural, non-organismic sense of life, the cosmos is alive and the logos is its spirit and soul.

The logos is like fate. Each thing in the cosmos has its essential nature that it cannot escape, since each expresses part but not all of the logos, and that essence drives that thing toward some ends and away from others. Where things interact their essences affect one another, weaving together the outcomes of reality. Jokes, riddles, proverbs, stories, songs, lives, cultures, civilizations, species, worlds--all have their essences that drive them toward their specific ends rather than others. The weave of the logos creates the fabric of the cosmos.

The logos is like meaning. We may try to express it as the principles that guide all things, that prioritize and shed light on things. We may try to express it as wisdom, or as compassion, or ruthlessness. It is value-laden in profound opposition to science. It puts all things in context, without which they are mere noise. Putting all things in context, it thereby reveals the uniqueness of all things, at the same time that it reveals the interrelatedness of all things. The logos makes the cosmos a profoundly, intricately meaningful universe, with strands and webs and tides of meaning flowing through all things.

Above all, the logos is beyond us. The cosmos that reveals the logos is both too vast and too minutely intricate for us to perceive it clearly. We are tiny parts or expressions or aspects of the logos, and the part cannot encompass the whole. More crucially we are crippled. We are not intellects, not angels of wisdom, not fundamentally rational. We are especially willful animals, and we can only perceive reality through so many filters of bias, appetite, ambition, and delusion that our perceptions bear only a tenuous relationship to reality. Reality to us is a great Rorschach Test. As the Bible says, we see through a glass darkly. As Heraclitus wrote, eyes make poor witness for barbarian souls, or as he summed up, "Nature loves to hide." The logos is everywhere in plain sight, but we are blind to it, so the cosmos appears to us as a mere universe.

Believing in the cosmos and its logos, I believe I have a specific place in the cosmos but do not know what it is. I must learn about the cosmos to seek insight into the logos, and I must learn about myself as well to try to learn my place, my meaning, my purpose.

In summary, Dear Reader, I am a truth seeker. The truth matters more to me than I can express. I hope by the time I die I have become at least a little bit wise.

Sincerely yours,


Anonymous said...

I know you feel your description of the logos is necessarily inaccurate, but one of the things that confuses me most about it is my inability to tell the difference between the Greek logos as you see it and the Christian God-Logos as the "immanence theologians" see it. As I recall from my college studies (not necessarily accurate, either), the immanence theologians' view of God was not of a supernatural, sentient being with humanlike thoughts and will, but more of an "ultranatural" embodiment of the underlying meaning and purpose of the universe. (They used "purpose" in the Christian sense of "place in the pattern of things" rather than a scientific utilitarian sense.) Just wondering if you can clarify the difference for me, if there is one. Curiously yours, B

Anonymous said...

Should anyone wish to review some of Heraclitus of Ephesus' book "On Nature"

An online version of some of the work is here: