Is the universe alive, intelligent, aware and self-aware? Are human beings cells in the body of the universe?
According to ancient Greek philosopher Plato, "The Universe is a single whole, comprised of many parts that are also wholes."
In similar vein, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius saw the Universe as "...one living organism, with a single substance and a single soul." (Marcus Aurelius "Meditations")
More recently, in "Sun of gOd" Gregory Sams talks about the concept of a "...self-organising consciousness that underlies everything." (Thanks to Sams for the Plato and Marcus Aurelius quotes, both of which are "borrowed" from "Sun of gOd".)
In "Cosmos and Psyche" Richard Tarnas proposes "...the possible reality of an ensouled cosmos of transformative beauty and purposeful intelligence. ...the cosmos as a living whole appears to be informed by some kind of pervasive creative intelligence ...of scarcely conceivable power, complexity and aesthetic subtlety..."
In "Oriental Mythology" --- Volume 2 of his four-volume work, "The Masks of God" --- Jospeh Campbell suggests that " ...the universe ... is correlative, is generally interdependent and thus mutually originating: no single being exists in and of itself...".
According to Japanese scholar Professor Takakusu (quoted in "Oriental Mythology") the "Profound Theory of Correlation" of Buddhist philosophy points to the fact that "... all things coexist, simultaneously arising. They coexist, furthermore, not only in relation to space, but also in relation to time; for past, present and future include each other. ... Distinct as they are, and separated as they seem to be in time, all beings are united to make one entity---from the universal point of view."
But never mind philosophers, emperors, mythologists and professors. No hard-nosed scientist would subscribe to such rampant anthropomorphism, or would they?
Today, cosmologists tell us that the Universe was born in the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago, and has been expanding, exploding outwards, ever since. According to one particular cosmological model, the expansion is slowing down due to the pull of gravity, and will eventually halt, then reverse as the so called "Big Crunch" gets underway, ie as the universe implodes towards the singularity of its origin. And when it gets there, according to the model, it will explode outwards again in another Big Bang, as part of an eternal cycle of explosion/implosion. Metaphorically at least, the Big Bang/Big Crunch cycle is the Universe breathing in and out. Or its heartbeat, if you prefer.
As discussed in Living Arrangements, under the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Universe is on a path from order to disorder, with total disorder representing death. From the moment of its birth in the Big Bang the Universe has been moving from order to disorder. When the Big Crunch gets underway, the movement will be in the opposite direction, from disorder to order. And thus the Big Bang / Big Crunch cycle gives rise to yet another metaphor: the recurring reincarnation of God, in which creator and creation traverse the endless circle of birth, death and rebirth.
Now, apologies but we need to go on a brief but important terminological digression, concerning the word "universe". It's simply no longer big enough. At one stage, "universe" meant literally and figuratively "everything". But the currency has been debased; the word has been hijacked to mean less than it once did, particularly since the advent of such concepts as "multiverse", "maxiverse" and "pocket universe". After all, if there are multiple universes, then they are not universes.
To write this post I need a word that refers not only to the material universe, but also to all immaterial domains; in which live such things as thought, time, emotion, meaning, laws of physics, mathematical formulae, relationships, patterns, processes, dreams, archetypes, hallucinations, recipes, etc. These things are no less real for being immaterial.
I need a word that refers not only to things that are, but also to things that are not, and to things that have been, will be or could be.
For the purposes of this post, the word "Reality" is bigger and better than "Universe" but still not big enough. I need a word that includes material things and immaterial things; plus things in the past, present and future; plus things that are actual and things that are only potential or conditional.
Trouble is I can't find a suitable word, so let's use the acronym ETI, to stand for Everything That Is, has been, will be or could be.
Now let's rephrase the orinal question:
Is ETI intelligent, aware and self-aware?
Referring to the "process/substrate" symbiosis discussed in Living Arrangements, it's instructive to think of the material universe as the substrate (the hardware) on which "runs" the process (the software) of universal consciousness. Together, that substrate and that process comprise the person referred to as ETI.
A name for the substrate could be what Hindu/Buddhist philosophers refer to as "Brahman", "... the eternal, unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond..." (Wikipedia 18th April 2010). Another name for the substrate could be what cosmologists call the "Higgs Field".
Referring to the "Gestalt" concept discussed in Living Arrangements, to identify ETI as a single, living thing is to formulate the biggest possible gestalt-of-persons. The thing that contains all living things is not only the biggest living thing of all; it's simply the Biggest Thing of all.
In Living Arrangements we discussed the concept of the "holon" --- that which is a whole and simultaneously a part. At this point it's instructive to repeat the Plato quote:
"The Universe is a single whole, comprised of many parts that are also wholes."
Let's see Plato's holon and raise him infinity. Everything is a holon: you, me, the Solar System, the works of Shakespeare, each leaf on my patio that needs sweeping. Everything is a whole in and of itself, and a part of something else. The only possible exception is ETI, who is a whole but (maybe) not a part. I say "possible exception" because it's unclear (at least to me) whether ETI is a part of zirself, or not.
Plato's statement suggests the concept of nested holons (holons within holons); each is self-contained, and simultaneously contained within another.
I am a self-contained whole, and a part of ETI. Every cell in my body is a self-contained whole, and a part of me, and a part of ETI.
Every living thing is a self-contained, self organising whole that is also part of something else. Living things continue to explore new ways of living through, across, within, below, above, adjacent to and far from each other.
A pregnant woman is part of ETI. The little person living in her womb is part of her (and of ETI).
An ant is an organism that is a part of an ant colony. An ant colony is a potentially immortal super-organism greater than the sum of its parts. Every ant and every ant colony is a part of ETI.
ETI includes immaterial as well as material things. All the immaterial "persons" mentioned in getting personal are parts of ETI, including the shadowy, non-corporeal persons living outside of time and space that stand behind every species of living thing: the genome, or the "soul of the species", so to speak.
Every civilisation, culture and society is a part of ETI. And so too is every meme, computer virus, and 'artificial intelligence".
And of course, lastly but by no means leastly, every god is part of ETI.
And guess what? ETI is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.