Universes Living and Dead

family photo - Universes Living and DeadThere is, of course, a question as to whether there is (or ever has been) such a thing as divine creation.  There is a mechanistic view of the universe, taking the first creation as an entirely impersonal big bang.  In its most extreme form, adherents of this view interpret everything that has happened since the big bang as the working out of impersonal forces.

In a less extreme form, the mechanistic view makes an exception for our own species – allowing us free will to shape (in some wise) our own creations.  Immanuel Kant wrote a short book, the title of which may be translated as The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (different translations have slightly different titles).  In this brief work, Kant advances the idea that we can only exercise free will by acting morally.  If we do not act morally, Kant argued, we act purely according to our desires – and these desires are determined mechanistically.  This seems to echo a number of ideas found in Buddhism – including a negative view of desire.

This mechanistic view, taking on board free will, assumes that there is an enormous gulf between us and all of the other creatures on the face of this planet.  The same, no doubt, goes for most religious viewpoints.  Having the pleasure and privilege of living with a cat, I don’t think this can be justified.  It seems to me that my cat makes decisions in a very similar way to me.  We are, clearly, similar creatures.  Every bone in our bodies has an equivalent in the other’s body.  The things that make us the same are more numerous and significant than the things that make us different.

Long ago, cats and people had common ancestors.  Did some of the descendants of these ancestors (our ancestors) suddenly acquire free will – while others did not (the cats’ ancestors)?  What was that strange event (the emergence of free will)?  How did it happen?  Was a creature, whose parents didn’t have free will, born with free will?  Did the creature acquire free will after birth?  Was the free will thereafter transmitted genetically to its descendants?  Can we transmit genetically anything with which we are not born?

family boat trip - Universes Living and DeadI feel easier with the idea of a purely mechanistic universe than I do with the idea of the universe as a machine from which we are (partly) excluded.  The latter is special pleading.  Of course that doesn’t apply to my species is an extension (on a grander scale) of the familiar line: of course that doesn’t apply to me.  I think (for example) of the bosses who insist on pay restraint although of course that doesn’t apply to me.

The question of whether the universe is a machine – or filled with (composed of?) spirits – can be rephrased as the question of whether the universe is living or dead.  Both the living and the dead universes seem to me tenable constructions on the observable world.  In favour of the living universe, I advance merely that it seems to agree better with my experience of the world.