Home Forums Deep Time Journey Forum Is the universe a "living system"? Reply To: Is the universe a "living system"?

Karen Chaffee

Duane, I know you are away, but I enjoyed thinking about your question: do I see a difference between ‘living’, ‘conscious’ , ‘intelligent’ and I will add, ‘wise’.  Can the universe be these things?  Also, I add my question, is it emotionally interesting?


Living system:  Can the universe be seen as a living system, with functions analogous to those found in a single-celled organism?   Duane’s original four criteria are useful here.  On page 1 of this forum, Stephan Martin introduced a useful approach:  Scale.  Can the Earth exchange ‘nutrients’ with the surroundings?  Can a galaxy?  A galaxy cluster?  Although, honestly, I think we will eventually answer these questions as ‘probably not’, we can debate, and learn about both cells and the universe. 


Emotionally, the question is not interesting to me, with one exception:  The idea of the very edge of the universe if it exists.  What would be the surroundings if the universe did end(the Multiverse?) What would be the ‘membrane’ at the edge?  These questions inspire a feeing of awe in me, because the answers are beyond imagining.


Conscious.  Although consciousness and how it arises isn’t understood, I will define it as “a system that exchanges information within itself and becomes at least momentarily aware it is doing so.”  Ed’s articles on entanglement and the vast information contained in q-bits are interesting.  Brian Greene, in his book Hidden Reality, says something like: because the universe is so vast, every conceivable arrangement of matter and elementary force that doesn’t disobey the laws of physics must be in place somewhere or sometime.  So _in that sense_ an arrangement that momentarily allows consciousness doesn’t violate the laws of physics and should be possible, though I could in no way understand it.


Emotionally, to me this idea is somewhat unsettling, in a ‘Twilight Zone’ sense, but intellectually these ideas about q-bits seem interesting and I have already learned how some encryption programs work by reading the articles posted.


Intelligence     Could a system as described above persist long enough for the entity to have an inner life and ideas about its own surrounding, even in a rudimentary sense, like a mouse does?  Extending  Brian Greene’s ideas that everything imaginable occurs, I suppose it happens, but to me now, it becomes such an outlandish idea it no longer inspires any emotional response at all.  That may be a lack in my imagination.  Could this intelligence have intentionality,  and attempt  to preserve it’s consciousness?   I can’t see a mechanism to provide this.   When I try to imagine it, I again feel unnerved, perhaps at the vastness of the universe in space and time.


Wisdom   I have lived this long and had no idea there are those who believe, as a central tenet, the universe is inherently living and wise, and feel comforted by this, so I suppose some of my earlier posts must have seemed naïve and perhaps unkind.  Elisebet has explained that the Muslim faith holds this as a tenet.   I have just read here that some people feel that matter  has wisdom and that our consciousness is a mirror of this.  I believe, these ideas (new to me) are an example of faith.   I believe scientists shouldn’t lecture to faith (with the exception of neurologists and psychologists who try to understand the religious experience).   Faith should not lecture to science.


If you grew up in a faith that holds the above (I didn’t), you will have a strong emotional attachment to the idea, because it is your heritage.  These ideas don’t inspire emotion in me, nor do I truly  understand them.  I would like to read more and try to understand, as an intellectual exercise. 

Similarly, I don’t believe those who hold these ideas should disparage those who don’t.


I don’t feel writers, like I guess, Richard Dawkins, should hold we know everything in this generation and all what’s needed is a bit of mopping up and connecting the dots.  I believe that scientists not yet born will have insights that would seem as wondrous and unimaginable to us as the idea of quarks would to George Washington.  I am unwilling to harrumph and declare any idea impossible, lest some scientist born 100 years from now read this forum and laugh at me for my ignorance!