Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Cosmic Perspective Part 3

Here is the third (and last) part of an essay I wrote in 2000 AD....

Matter is beautiful  and unreal, but there's loads of it out there.

The actual nature of matter is profoundly mysterious, but it is, nevertheless, very common and our bodies and minds are composed of the same mysterious medium that the Great Artist has used in enormous quantities elsewhere in the universe (*1). But as we look out across the cosmos it is clear that the endless cubic miles of sparingly filled volume tell us one thing: That living things, such as our selves, are highly unrepresentative arrangements of matter and what distinguishes us from the relatively prosaic formations scattered across the depths of space is that we are an extremely rare form of matter. This rarity is not just a physical fact but is also true in an abstracted mathematical sense, because of all the myriad upon myriads of the things which can be contrived using the medium the Creator has chosen, living things clearly represent a very, very, tiny fraction amidst the relative banality of all that is mathematically possible. To secure the existence of living entities taken from such a small fraction requires something of unprecedented power to make an extremely precise selection from the enormous but abstract realm of mathematical possibility. Think of it like this; prior to their existence those highly atypical permutations of material particles we call life can be thought of as lost combinations of matter, lost as might be the key to a highly complicated combination lock. Humanly speaking the activity of seeking a lost combination amounts to a kind of computation and computations of all types necessarily involve the knowledge and thought embodied in a context of calculations within which the sought for result is to be found (*2). Likewise, retrieving the extremely rare configurations of life must surely involve the application of Divine knowledge and thought because I don't think for one moment that living things sprung from nowhere, as if by magic, into the Divine mind; if they did one might question if something bigger and better than God himself created that complex idea out of nothing. Therefore, it is likely that God actually did some kind of mental work in the act of conceiving the creation, mental work that amounted to an assembling of the idea in the mind of God. Now here is a crucial question: Just as there exists the question of whether the knowledge and workings encapsulated in a calculation should be packaged together with the product of that calculation, so a similar question arises in regard to Divine creativity: That is, has God chosen to give us some kind of revelation as to the magnitude of the knowledge and thought He invoked in the act of creating life? My guess is that he has done so and in the absence of better guesses I have been able to draw only one conclusion about the meaning of the scale of the universe; that the spacio-temporal dimensions of the cosmos are a revelation of the enormous mathematical costs of seeking and finding highly complex living configurations of matter. In a sense, the surrounding cosmos is not the creation - living things are the creation - but our surroundings, most of which are seen as they were billions of years ago, symbolise the scaffolding and other trappings of a work in progress; a work that was ultimately to be the home of an exceedingly rare organic configuration - humanity. (*3)

Given the vast mathematical space of possibilities from which living configurations have been extracted, the great canvass of the universe is, at the very least, an eloquent comment on the priceless rarity of living conscious material beings such as ourselves. The cosmos is a grand statement on the physio-mathematical cost of life and the living planet is an oasis of interest amidst the relative banality of its astronomical surroundings. "For a single rose a field of thorns was spared", goes a Jewish saying; a picturesque metaphor apposite to the hard mathematical truths of creating organised complexity, truths which imply that something as beautiful as a rose comes with an unavoidable cost. Likewise, the ample and seemingly superfluous cosmic dimensions are ironic allusions to the truth: We may well ask "Doesn't it all seem rather of a waste?" when, in fact, "waste" may be exactly what the universe is! Not all waste, but 99.9999....% of it is waste, waste in the sense that it symbolises the necessary collateral output of an ultimately purposeful activity, output not unlike the workings of a vast calculation. And in case we should have any doubts, the generation of waste is clearly within the Divine prerogative as is testified by the many natural processes that generate what we would evaluate as waste. In the cosmic case the waste we see represents Divine workings on an unbelievable scale; the unavoidable mathematical waste products similar to the workings of a vast calculation, a calculation needed to arrive at highly sophisticated end results; namely, ourselves and the living forms with which we share the planet.

The Turing Bombe: Searching for rare solutions.

If this guess is correct then we have before us the extraordinary irony that whilst on the one hand the vastness of the cosmos could be construed as conferring upon us our utter insignificance (as the psalmist provocatively suggests in Ps. 8:3&4:), yet the true interpretation is precisely the opposite. The vast and beautiful overall appearance of the heavens is like some breath taking work of art, an elaborately prepared canvass, which when looked at closely reduces to rough smudges of oil paint, but it is, in fact, a sophisticated piece of finesse with an ironic message. That work of art actually tells us of our staggering uniqueness as living configurations and of the astronomical mathematical costs of creating such configurations. Perhaps the Creator would not have bothered with the universe beautiful though it is, but for living things: "The whole universe was created for the Pentateuch" asserts another Jewish saying, a saying which well expresses the lengths the Creator goes to sieve out that which He seeks and that which He desires. If it was required to search a whole universe for something extraordinary beautiful or desirable it seems that the Creator will do it; and it seems that we are the one sought for case in that Universe.

...Final part added 24/09/2001...

The creation is an extraordinary Divine achievement and its underlying lesson is cost, cost of staggering proportions; literally the computational cost of seeking and finding the incredibly elaborate material juxtapositions we call living things. An alternative view is to regard the creation as a display of magic; the primitive notion that raw brute power precipitates existences from nowhere without effort, without work, and without thought. In a word magic embodies the idea of something for nothing and in the magical context the dimensions of the created order seem unintelligible and superfluous, and perhaps even something to be denied (*4) I don't believe in magic, but I do believe in the Divine propensity to support costs of incredible magnitude. The creation is a virtuoso display of seeking and finding the combinatorial novelties called life, but the Divine person seems to be prepared to go much much further in His seekings and to pay a far greater price than the physical costs of solving mere computational problems, which to Him are no doubt trifles. One cannot underestimate how far God is prepared to go in bearing cost. In fact His main motivation seems to be that of bearing cost for the sake of that which He loves; for it seems that all the achievement of the creation is the mere base and show case, as it were, in which He has set some even greater and more wonderful act of seeking and finding: I am talking, of course, of the costs of redemption. The cost of finding human organic forms, lost in the mathematical pathways of computational complexity, although very great, is nevertheless finite, but in contrast it seems that the price of redemption, the cost of seeking and finding the morally lost involves a far greater Divine personal cost than that of creation. For unlike the creation the work of redemption required, even of an infinite God, the kind of giving we call sacrifice; that is, giving where the giver gives in such proportions that his wealth is compromised. Because somehow, and to us incomprehensibly, in the work of redemption God gave up His greatest possession, namely, the unity of the Godhead. Perhaps no greater sacrifice can be imagined than of Him who has most to give and therefore has most to lose: He who had all things gave up all things, and thus, in a sense, God gave up being God and He revealed that His love was a far greater force to be reckoned with than His hold on honour, glory, strength, power and wealth (Philippians 2:6ff). Thus, He chose to live, not just the humble life style of a primitive Palestinian artisan, that even by our standards was unthinkably crude and basic, but to also suffer loss of honour, shame, pain and above all the nameless horrors of a kind of self-rejecting schism in the Godhead. This is how far He is prepared to go in bearing cost for that which He loves and seeks. If finite resources are required to create finite beings why are the infinite resources of the Godhead needed to redeem finite beings? Perhaps it has more to do with the resources needed to cross the infinite gap that separates us from Him.


*1 That we, our very selves, are material concomitants is apparent from the fact that in Earthly life even our thoughts and feelings are inextricably mixed with the distributions of matter and electric fields within our anatomy and brains. But this mapping between physical matter and our thoughts and feelings, rather than demystifying the mind, probably points to the deeply mysterious nature of matter, a fact that any one who has studied physics understands.

*2 There is often an attempt to disguise the non-trivial nature of the creation by suggesting that the processes needed to form living things can be quite banal. But whatever way you look at it far from trivial conditions are the logical prerequisite of life: Whether appeal is made to the off-the-peg information found in the wonderful complexities of random sequences or the enormous computational resources needed to arrive at complex configurations from scratch, we are dealing with qualities whose existences are in themselves remarkable and deeply mysterious. Ultimate truths, whether we believe them to be simple or complex, being the outermost explanatory context, cannot themselves be explained with reference to greater things; thus, standing as peculiar one-offs they will thereby seem strange and inexplicable.

*3 I have fought shy of affirming a too literal relation between God's creative mental act of conceiving creation and the expansive cosmos by suggesting that the latter is only representative of the former. Thus, cosmic dimensions may only symbolise a mathematical point about the singularity and cost of life by juxtaposing it with its prosaic alternatives by way of an enormous cosmic tableau that contrasts the novelty of life against overwhelming numbers of discarded cases. Certain aspects of physics, however, may suggest a more literal connection between the development of the universe and God's act of creation; if this is true, one may then wonder if omniscient Divine Intelligence could not have short cut what sometimes appear to be the inefficient and haphazard random workings we see in the universe. But a closer definition of the nature of intelligence leads one to believe that its power is to be found in the ability to explore pathways and possibilities in abundance, almost regardless of efficiency. The ease with which we ourselves draw conclusions may blind us to the fact that what comes easily to us actually involves an enormous number of neural events and a very large database of knowledge.

*4 Young Earth Creationists and Christian geocentrists both have difficulties accepting with the size of our space-time context and our physical insignificance. They cope with the apparent slight on our significance with a denial of our physical circumstances; Viz: denial of the temporal dimensions of the cosmos and the non-centre place we have on its stage.

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