PURPOSE AND COSMIC REALITY – BENEFITS – PART I (continued)

Similar analogies with societal purpose exist for cosmic purpose regarding a sense of control and the source of creativity resulting from commitment to one’s chosen profession, though control is less prominent when cosmic purpose is the end and creativity is more essential. The fourth personal benefit, consolidation of virtue, is perhaps more elusive – there seems little ethical significance to pure mathematics for instance. However protection of the environment and of innocent wildlife species entails virtue as we discussed at length in an earlier section.1 Contentment via cosmic purpose is a mixed bag; the pure scientist may be frustrated in the slow process of discovery, but the rocket scientist must feel tremendous satisfaction, even elation, in being a part of a successful launch.

Fulfillment and authenticity are at the two extremes of personal benefit in the case of cosmic purpose . Self-fulfillment obviously is so contingent on a level of success that this benefit is intricately tied to a focus on the success factors detailed in the earlier blogs. For the environmentalist who sees little progress, one must, like in the case of suffering, find meaning in the endurance of failure and feeling one’s efforts are worthy of the purpose one pursues. On the other hand, authenticity seems more assured; one simply does not choose one of the cosmic roles unless it seems to be the genuine purpose of one’s life, partly because of the difficulties involved, but also because of the intangible nature of the likely outcomes. For example, the choice to become a pure mathematician is made only when once recognizes it as the authentic role one should or must choose. This is much less likely to apply to the choice to become an attorney, physician, or educator.

We end with legacy where cosmic purpose offers the ultimate form. Euclid’s book of geometry is one for all time. There is little chance that Galileo’s devotion to astronomy will ever be forgotten or considered inconsequential. His development of the working telescope and his demonstration of the sun-centered solar system are legacies that are eternal. Theodore Roosevelt’s initiation of the national park system is a legacy far greater than his work to end the Sino-Russian War even though it led to his Nobel Peace Prize or his support for the Panama Canal with its waning significance as ships become too large to navigate it. Immortality through legacy is one of the great draws of many cosmic purposes.

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1See posts on this site 3/31/21 through 5/4 2021.

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PURPOSE AND COSMIC REALITY – BENEFITS – PART I

“The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.” – Steven Weinberg.

Given the difficulties of attaining cosmic purpose and the lack of expected utility for humanity we might wonder it there are sufficient benefits to justify this course of action. As in the case of societal purpose, there appear to be several orders of potential benefit via cosmic purpose of which three appear to be shared with societal purpose: subsistence, self-fulfillment, and legacy. The fourth and possibly least tangible benefit is cosmic value per se, but this may be partly mitigated by incidental human benefits as a fifth consideration.

Like societal purpose, cosmic purpose can fulfill the need for subsistence of oneself and one’s dependents. However there is a meaningful difference in that personal compensation for one’s work in the cosmic realm is contingent not on a direct monetary value such as one finds in a business or a practical profession, but on the good will and shared vision of a government, an institution, or an individual benefactor. An intermediate source of funding serves as a filter to affirm the likely cosmic value of one’s efforts. A good example is NASA’s funding for the remarkable New Horizon’s mission to Pluto by the skilled team of dedicated scientists who of course also received  for their work salaries support.

Another dimension of benefit of cosmic purpose is its deeper personal rewards including again: identity, stability, creativity, virtue, satisfaction, contentment, understanding, and authenticity. Starting with identity, the role one chooses for making a difference in the progress of science, the preservation of Nature and the Earth, or in humanity’s extraterrestrial future serve in defining one’s image of oneself in the world, even in the universe, just as much as their profession defines identity for the professor or the concert pianist in society. As before, one’s lifelong devotion to a cosmic purpose becomes integral to the very sense of self.

(continued next post)

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PURPOSE AND COSMIC REALITY- SUCCESS FACTORS (final continuation)

The fifth factor in successful cosmic purpose is realistic expectations. Here I cite the example of Marie Curie, double Nobel laureate and discoverer of radioactivity and the element radium. When she left the comfort of her parent’s home in Poland  for the Latin quarter of Paris in the 1890s, she sought purpose not in the social sphere, but in physics. Quoting from her biography (written by her daughter, Eve), “From childhood the Polish girl had carried the curiosity and daring of an explorer with her…In her walks in the woods she always chose the wild trail or the unfrequented road.”8 For her doctoral thesis Mdm. Curie decided to build on the work of Henri Becquerel who had found uranium emitted rays of an unknown nature that made an impression on a photographic plate.

Through meticulous investigation, she learned this radiation was an atomic property also found with thorium, and assigned the name radioactivity to the phenomenon. But her measurements of radioactivity from raw uranium and thorium ores were unexpectedly high leading her to discover two other previously unknown radioactive elements, polonium and radium. She later stated, “When radium was discovered, no one knew it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it.” Curie understood the pursuit of pure science must include reasonable expectations, even though the utility of her work was an exception. A final concordant thought from from this remarkable woman, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”

The last of our success factors is intention or deciding on a specific goal and formulating a plan for its accomplishment. Johann Kepler (1571-1630) was convinced at age 22 that Copernicus was correct that the sun was the center of the planetary system. Forsaking a career in divinity, he accepted a university post in mathematics and devoted his life to science. “What Kepler aimed at throughout his whole life was to find a law binding the members of the solar system together as regards the distribution of their orbits through space…”9  In his first great work Prodomus Dissertationum Cosmographicarum continens Mysterium Cosmographicum, he made convincing arguments against the Ptolemaic system in favor of the Copernican. When trigonometry failed to explain planetary motion, he chanced upon geometry as his platform, but saw that he required better data than that available to Copernicus. He next traveled to the observatory of Tycho Brahe with whom he collaborated until the latter’s death. With Tycho’s precise measurements and ten years of painstaking calculations, he learned that the planets including Earth follow an oval or elliptical path not a circular one as had been assumed by all prior astronomers and that the speed of movement varies by the distance from the sun. From this decade of pointed work he formulated the three laws that finally explained the nature of planetary orbits still accepted to this day.

In closing these six great historical persons exemplify the critical factors for a successful cosmic purpose: commitment, patience, flexibility, enjoyment, realistic expectations, and intentionality. Next we look at the benefits of cosmic purpose.

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8    Hutchins, Robert M. and Adler, Mortimer J. (editors), Gateway to the Great Books Volume 8. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, IL, 1963, page 32.

9Dreyer, J. L. E., A History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1953. Page 373.

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PURPOSE AND COSMIC REALITY – SUCCESS FACTORS (continued)

The third success factor is flexibility. Here I propose Thomas Kuhn as an excellent example. He began with an academic career in physics initially researching radar at Harvard during World War II.  His doctoral thesis concerned an application of quantum mechanics to solid state physics. Until 1956, he taught a class in science for undergraduates in the humanities from which he developed an interest in the history of science. In 1961, he took up a post in the philosophy department at the University of California Berekely, where he transitioned from the history of science to the philosophy of science  and his publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962. In this influential and controversial work, he argued the development of science is driven in normal periods by adherence to a ‘paradigm.’ The functions of the paradigm are to delineate problems for scientists to work and provide the tools for their solution. When the accepted paradigm fails to account for increasing numbers of aberrances called ‘anomalies,’ a crisis ensues and a scientific revolution follows wherein the existing paradigm is superseded by an alternative which is not fully commensurable with the science developed under the earlier paradigm.4  Like Michelangelo who accepted cultural purpose in painting not sculpting for Pope Sixtus IV, Kuhn achieved cosmic purpose, not by sticking to his comfort zone in physics, but by being flexible enough to find his perfect niche.

The fourth success factor is enjoyment, that is, success is more likely if one chooses work one enjoys that can also serve as cosmic purpose. Consider John James Audubon, who combined his love of nature, painting, and travel into an enduring cosmic purpose. In his Mississippi River Journal he writes, “Ever since Boy[hood] I have had an astonishing desire to see much of the World & particularly to Acquire a true knowledge of the birds of North America.”5 The famous Henry Clay wrote a letter of introduction in August 1820 stating, “I have the satisfaction of a personal acquaintance with Mr. John J. Audubon…being about to take a journey through the southwestern portion of the country with the laudable object connected with its natural history, I have great pleasure in recommending him…”6  Imagine Audubon leaving Cincinnati on a flatboat in the first quarter of the 19th century in his words, “…without any Money My Talents are to be My Support and My anthusiasm [sic] My Guide in My Difficulties, the whole of which I am ready to exert to keep and to surmount -.”7 Anyone who has seen the work of Audubon, not just his paintings of birds, but also his work on mammals (Quadripeds), his observations on Native Americans, and his scientific journals, cannot help but perceive his great cosmic purpose and the rationale for his name being nearly synonymous in our time for wildlife conservation.

(further continued next post)

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4The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Thomas Kuhn. (An example would be the paradigm shift that occurred when Newtonian physics yielded to Einsteinian physics.)

5Irmscher, Christoph (editor), John Hames Audubon – Writings and Drawings. The Library of America, New York, NY, 1999. ISBN 1-883011-68-x, page 32.

6Ibid., page 44.

7Ibid., page 3.

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PURPOSE AND COSMIC REALITY – SUCCESS FACTORS

“It is the old lesson – a worthy purpose, patient energy for its accomplishment, a resoluteness undaunted by difficulties, and then success.” – William Morley Punshon, 19th century English Wesleyan minister.

 

In the last several posts I evaluated characteristics, roles, and decision factors regarding cosmic purpose and am now ready to discuss success factors. As with societal purpose, the first is an optimal selection process such as was outlined in that section.1 The other success factors are again: (1) commitment, (2) patience, (3) flexibility, (4) enjoyment, (5) realistic expectations, and (6) intentionality.

Cosmic purpose almost certainly is untenable without persistence. Consider Robert Zubrin‘s life time commitment to see humans travel to Mars. In 1990 this dogged American aerospace engineer co-authored Mars Direct, a proposal for a practical mission to Mars, later modified by NASA for its “design reference mission.” When Zubrin grew concerned with NASA delays, he established the Mars Society, an international organization advocating a human mission to Mars using private funding. He alsoworked with Lockheed Martin and Martin-Marietta developing advanced concepts for interplanetary missions and drafted ideas for a potential single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft. His inventions include the nuclear salt-water rocket and the magnetic sail. He was featured in a 2007 CBC documentary special, The Passionate Eye, dubbed “The Mars Underground” and in 2016 was one of several scientists and engineers interviewed in the National Geographic miniseries Mars.2 It is to be seen whether Zubrin will live to see the first manned mission to Mars, but certainly he has found cosmic purpose in his research and advocacy.

Zubrin may not be the best example of the second success factor, patience. A better example would be Kenya’s Wangari Muta Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, an environmentalist and human rights activist. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to plant trees across Kenya  in part to alleviate poverty and end conflict. She once said. “The more you degrade the environment, the more you dig deeper into poverty.” She mobilized Kenyans, particularly women, to plant more than 30 million trees, and inspired the United Nations to launch a campaign that has led to the planting of 11 billion trees worldwide.3 No one can expect to see dramatic results from planting trees in a short time frame; but the compelling purpose is undeniable. One is reminded of the ancient Greek proverb, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

(continued next post)

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1See posts on this site titled Purpose and Cultural Reality – Success Factors, dated 12/15, 12/17. 12/20. 12/22. 12/24, 12/27, and 12/29/2021.

2Wikipedia, Robert Zubrin.

3African Renewal website, article by Kingsley Ighobor: ( https://www.un.org/africarenewal/web-features/wangari-maathai-woman-trees-dies#:~:text=Kenya’s%20Wangari%20Muta%20Maathai%2C%20the,Ms. )

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PURPOSE AND  COSMIC REALITY – DECISION FACTORS – PART III (continued)

Last time we looked at personal decision factors in the choice of cosmic purpose. Now we move on to external factors. As with societal purpose, these fall into two general types: environmental (geopolitical and cultural) and temporal (historicity and destiny). Ultimately environmental factors will be mainly  impediments to one’s purpose such as whether an activist will be thwarted by the lack of political will to make the sacrifices necessary to slow climate change. Conversely temporal factors will be mainly motivational, such as the task to save a rare species before it is extinct. Pure science and mathematics are the exceptions here.

In the pursuit of the highest possible purpose, we come upon the paramount of factors, our beliefs on the destiny of the earth and of the universe. The Earth has suffered 5 prior mass extinctions and many more less severe ones. As Carl Sagan and Michio Kaku have argued, given the apparent rarity of life and intelligent beings in the cosmos as we know it, and our unique position as the terrestrial creature that can arrange off-planet travel, a cosmic purpose for our species is to preserve lifeforms including our own perhaps by colonizing another planet (most likely Mars). Thinking still further out, Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin in their intriguing book, The Five Ages of the Universe remind us stellar research shows that in a few billion years Earth will be uninhabitable due to solar expansion into a red giant and life in our solar system will be untenable after the Sun’s death in perhaps 5 billion years. By their calculations, an accidental galactic colonization of the Milky Way would require about 3 trillion years, but an intelligent one would take only about a billion years. A tangible cosmic purpose is to be a part, no matter how small, of that multigenerational effort to facilitate life’s spread in the universe.

Our last category of decision factors on cosmic purpose are intrinsic ones – magnitude, quantity, proportion, measurability, and likelihood of success. One might argue there are no small cosmic purposes;  size is completely subjective. Preservation of the most minor of species is of great import given that each is the result of nearly 4 billion years of evolution. Issues of quantity and proportion are much like we discussed for cultural purpose, though with cosmic purpose, quantity is likely to be few or one and purpose will nearly always be shared with others. Measurability and likelihood of success are lower in cosmic purpose especially since any effects on Nature may be temporary no matter how apparently successful (revitalizing a species off the endangered list is no guarantee of its eventual survival). All cosmic purposes have lower likelihood of success than most cultural ones; and this must be accepted at the outset.

At the end of the day, one must balance the negative environmental and intrinsic factors against the temporal pressures while factoring in one’s capabilities and tolerance. At that point one must make a leap of faith towards a cosmic purpose that validates a meaningful life.

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PURPOSE AND  COSMIC REALITY – DECISION FACTORS – PART III

“The moral shift from anthropocentricity to biocentricity is not psychologically impossible for human moral agents to accomplish… Nothing prevents us from exercising our powers of autonomy and rationality in bringing the world as it is gradually closer to the world as it ought to be.” – Paul W. Taylor, Respect for Nature (closing paragraphs).

In the last two posts I discussed the first two of three key decisions facing a person considering taking up a cosmic purpose, (1) whether to adopt one; where I concluded adopting a cosmic purpose in tandem with a societal purpose seems optimal, and (2) what cosmic purposes one may pursue; namely advancing our knowledge of Nature or elaborating, preserving, or boosting its constituents. Now we examine factors in choosing among various roles.

As with societal purpose such decision criteria will fall into three main categories: individual, external, and intrinsic. In the case of cosmic purpose, there is a unique individual factor – the matter of altering one’s mindset to actually care deeply about non-human reality. I believe Paul W. Taylor (see epigram above) would say the first step is to psychologically overcome a purely anthropocentric or humanist attitude to reality. Thus the first decision factor is which human chauvinisms one believes one can surmount.

Additional individual factors can again be subdivided into two types: (1) physical and (2) mental. Physical factors may demand greater consideration should one choose the sequence of societal purpose followed by cosmic purpose as one will be older for the latter. Significant limitations should be infrequent for the healthy, though as I know from personal experience, one is less giving of one’s time as the candle burns lower. Moreover major contributions in pure science and mathematics typically emerge from a younger brain.1 Other decision factors regarding physical health and mental aptitudes are not fundamentally different then in the case of cultural purpose.2

(continued next post)

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1Consider that Isaac Newton was only 23 when he developed his calculus and laws of motion and gravity and Albert Einstein was only 26 and 36 when he published his theories of special and general relativity.

2See blogs titled Purpose and Cultural Reality – Decision Factors published 12/15, 12/17, and 12/20/2021.

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PURPOSE AND  COSMIC REALITY – DECISION FACTORS – PART II

“Our destiny is to become the gods we once feared and worshipped. Science will give us the means by which we can shape the universe in our image. The question is whether we will have the wisdom of Solomon to accompany this vast celestial power.” – Michio Kaku, The Future of Humanity.

Last time we looked at the first of three key decisions facing a person considering taking up a cosmic purpose, i.e. whether to adopt one at all. I concluded that adopting a cosmic purpose in tandem with a societal purpose offers a greater chance than either alone of leading to the subjective assessment of one’s life as meaningful. Today we look at the second question regarding the kind of cosmic purpose to adopt.

If we infer the purpose of the universe from its trajectory (and no other method presents itself), then we conclude that its purpose is expansion with areas of localized order, and the emergence of complexity and variety, progressing so far, in our limited field of vision, to an immense assortment of living things highlighted by the unimaginable intricacy of the conscious animal brain, and perhaps the pinnacle of all – organically based intelligence.

Following this line of reasoning, human cosmic purpose comes down to aligning one’s life with that understanding of the construct fashioned by the universe as it has unfolded during its 14.9 billion year existence. In other words, one serves as an agent to reveal the secrets of the universe or to foster the diversity of cosmic creation. If Turgenev is correct that humans are the workers in the workshop of Nature, then our ultimate purpose is fixed by that truth. Thus while all people have a duty not to destroy Nature’s diversity, those seeking cosmic purpose or significance must go further by advancing our knowledge of Nature (pure science and mathematics) and elaborating and augmenting its contents through study and direct assistance. IN effect, all cosmic purpose falls into one of these two baskets.

Next time we will consider how various roles meet those exigencies and the manner to choose among them.

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PURPOSE AND  COSMIC REALITY – DECISION FACTORS – PART I

“A superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose.” – Alfred Russell Wallace.1

 

 

We have now considered the ‘purposes’ we can impute to science, nature, and the universe; and studied the characteristics and types of roles befitting human cosmic purpose. This takes us to evaluation of factors that go into three key decisions on this topic: (1) whether to adopt a cosmic purpose, (2) which cosmic purpose to adopt, and (3) the specific role to assume relative to that purpose. I believe we can utilize much of our prior discussion regarding decision factors on societal purpose here, remembering  that what follows must remain general rather than specific given each person’s unique circumstances, interests, and strengths.

We begin with the question of whether one should adopt a cosmic purpose at all. It seems reasonable to assert that one need go that route.  A full and meaningful life is almost certainly possible as long as one achieves: (1) the individual purposes of making a good life for oneself, aiming for self-perfection, and finding happiness; (2) proximate purpose in filling roles for one’s family, friends, and acquaintances and contributing to their quality of life and virtuous improvement; and (3) societal purpose through a role worthy of one’s dedication. This appears to be the unspoken and cogent thesis of the humanist.

However some if not most of us will see any purpose limited to humanity as inadequate; what if humanity ceases to exist or itself fails to ever accomplish a great cosmic purpose? Any level of societal accomplishment becomes suspect should one of those futures await humanity. An informal proof might look something like this:

  1. Societal purpose only serves to improve the human condition.
  2. Improving the human condition has only a small chance of leading to something of enduring cosmic significance.
  3. Pursuing a cosmic purpose has a good chance of leading to enduring cosmic significance.
  4. My life is meaningful only if I achieve something of enduring cosmic significance.
  5. Therefore, my life is more likely to be meaningful if I pursue cosmic purpose.

Needless to say this proof is weak. Most of the points are subjective; some may even be wrong outright. But if the reader believe the first four statements are true, then pursuing a cosmic purpose may be more desirable.

There is of course a middle ground, the one I prefer myself, one ought to have both a societal purpose and a cosmic purpose. This assures the greatest likelihood that one’s life will turn out meaningful. These purposes can be done in parallel though this asks much of oneself and entails a higher risk of failure. A greater chance of completing both to one’s standard for meaning is to do them in tandem – that is, one at a time; waiting until societal purpose is sufficiently complete before taking on a cosmic purpose or vice versa. For the remainder of this site’s work, I will assume dual societal and cosmic purpose is ideal, though each reader will have to decide this question for himself or herself.

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1Quoted by Richard Leakey in Origins Reconsidered page 343.

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COSMIC PURPOSE – ROLES

“The desire to know something of our neighbors in the immense depths of space does not spring from idle curiosity nor thirst for knowledge, but from a deeper cause, and it is a feeling firmly rooted in the heart of every human being capable of thinking at all.” – Nikola Tesla.

If, as I concluded last time, a person chooses a cosmic purpose over a societal one from the sheer desire to advance an undeniable if incremental cosmic good, then one must still choose the form of that commitment. In the case of cultural purpose I identified eight role types: occupations, callings, missions, entertainers, influencers, politicians, practical scientists or inventors, and creators. In regards to cosmic purpose, I would exclude the roles of entertainers, creators, and to some extent politicians, and practical scientists (although some invention is essential to some cosmic purposes).

Occupations, callings, and missions merge in the setting of cosmic purpose. The wildlife manager, botanist, animal researcher may be paid a salary for her labor, but her motivation is similar to that of those with societal callings or missions. The main aim is not some good for humanity, but for other living beings. Other persons choose a role to influence society on behalf of a non-human interest rather than participate directly in its realization. In this case, individuals adopt a cause such as battling climate change, environmentalism, rare species preservation, even extraterrestrial colonization. Alternatively pure scientists and mathematicians usually serve two roles – research towards incremental progress and influence through their function as educators and experts.

One distinction that applies to cultural purpose, but not cosmic purpose is a basis distinct from specific roles. Adam Smith categorized social purpose based on economic productivity while Thomas Hobbes based it on power. Neither of these seems to fit cosmic purpose; one does not choose to preserve nature mainly for its secondary economic value, nor do most devotees consider the ultimate value of space travel to be its financial return as a form of recreation or as a source of future minerals. In this sense cosmic purpose seems more pure akin to charitable social missions such as helping the unfortunate or solving world hunger. This sense of purity appears to underlie virtually all cosmic purpose.

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