Cosmos, Logos, and the living universe
[ Below is the text of the presentation. Note that in the video I sometimes explain statements which are not found in the text. I also noticed some typos which are visible in the video but should no longer be found in the text. ]
Table of Contents
- Universal interconnectedness and the constitution of the case
- The immanence of Logos and universal language
- The Cosmos and the Cosmétor
- On Being and modality
- The significance of metaphysics
Hello everyone! My name is Protesilaos, also known as “Prot”. In this video I will talk to you about the philosophical underpinnings of the words “cosmos” and “logos”. More specifically I will explain how they imply that the universe is alive. This is a discussion about the abstract structure of all there is, which is also referred to as the study of metaphysics.
The text of this presentation is available on my website. If you are watching this on the video hosting platform, please follow the link in the description.
Let’s start with some important definitions which will inform the rest of the presentation.
Cosmos (Κόσμος): It denotes order or harmony. The word has the same root as other Greek terms that pertain to the theme of a harmonious structure. For example, cosmétor (κοσμήτωρ or cosmétoras/κοσμήτορας in modern Greek) is the agent of action who preserves order in a given domain: the creator or enforcer of order. While cosmima (Κόσμημα) refers to a jewel, though something qualifies as such when it essentially has harmony and order: it is refined. Furthermore, the notion of cosmima implies excellence or extraordinary quality, just how we describe an altruistic person as “pure gold”, a prodigy as a “gem”, and so on. The Cosmos, then, is of extraordinary quality in terms of its order and harmony. Another use of the word denotes “the totality of people”, which again refers to an orderly set.
Logos (Λόγος): It signifies several seemingly unrelated concepts: ratio, rate, pattern, language, reason (as in a cause as well as that which is reasonable). We may think that there is no connection between significations such as ratio and reasonableness, or language and pattern. Though upon closer inspection we can understand how language and its underlying capacities have an inherent order to them—an immanent logic—as do ratio and pattern, a cause and its effects, et cetera.
- Synpan, else Symban (Συν+παν, Σύμπαν): This is the Greek word for
“universe”. It describes everything (pan) that is together (syn): all
as coexisting. We already know its constituent terms from English
loanwords such as:
- Synthesis: the combination of multiple views or positions/theses;
- System: the joint standing of things (factors in their interplay);
Symbiosis (Syn+biosis): the conviviality or interdependent living of multiple forms of being;
- Panther: the hunter of everything (apex predator);
- Panacea: the cure for everything (remedy for all diseases);
- Pandemic: that which lives/spreads everywhere.
- Chaos (Χάος): A state that lacks order. Colloquially, it is used to describe the disintegration of a once-orderly condition. Though, in absolute terms, any process of disintegration exhibits Logos. As such, Chaos is an analytical construct which is conceived as the opposite of Cosmos.
Universal interconnectedness and the constitution of the case
Let’s talk about Symban, the Greek word for the universe which states that all coexist. Think about it for a moment:
- Can there be an atmosphere in the absence of the Earth’s gravity?
- Are there plants that grow without an environment that sustains them?
- Is there a predator qua predator without its prey?
The more we observe patterns in the world, the more we realise that nothing has a standalone presence. Every item that we study is informed, influenced, framed, or otherwise determined by a set of factors external to it. Every presence unfolds in a given milieu to the effect that the world is a system of systems governed by rules that are global to all strata—all levels—and some that are local to particular systems.
We can always think of things in their own right. We focus on a set of factors in their interplay—a system—and treat it as if it has no environment. For example, we talk about “the economy” and how it performs: we communicate in a manner that renders it distinct from other magnitudes such as “the society” or the world of politics.
We call the method of treating factors in isolation “analysis”. In our mind, “the economy” exists in its own right though in practice it cannot be separated from other analytical constructs such as “the society”. Same principle for dichotomies such “the national economy” and “the global economy” which actually are interdependent (and also dependent on non-economic factors).
When we perform an analysis we pick a set of factors and study the phenomena which emerge from its interplay. I call this “the case”. The qualitative aspect of it, how factors relate to each other, is the “constitution of the case”, or “the composition of”, “the makeup of”… The case conditions our understanding of the subject matter because the factors we examine in their joint presence already delineate the horizon of possible outcomes we may ever discover.
We revise the case, we alter its constitution, when we acquire new knowledge or develop a more sophisticated method. In other words, how we approach a topic is underpinned by a way of thinking that I describe as the “mode of application”. When we are aware of the mode of application, we understand that knowledge of the world is conditioned by how we perceive of it. This ultimately means that we try not to be overly confident in the totality of our knowledge: we maintain an inquisitive and dubitative disposition. To that end, we are sceptics in the original sense of being contemplative: we keep examining the subject matter as well as the mode of thinking that engendered it.
The immanence of Logos and universal language
[ Shows pine cone ] I gathered this earlier while walking in the forest. Look how nice it is: I can discern ratio, pattern, order, harmony. There is a structure to it. I also know this is no coincidence: all pine cones are this way, and then all pine trees, and all trees in general, and so on for all other forms of being I have ever encountered. What I can say about this specific pine cone and of everything like it is that it is not chaotic in the sense of having no order whatsoever. It incorporates Logos: ratio, rate, pattern. Us humans have ratio, pattern, order in our very constitution. We too share the Logos. And so do dogs, chickens, mushrooms, flowers, grass, proteins, our DNA… Everything! The fabric of the universe itself has Logos woven into it.
What about the other meanings of Logos such as reason and language? Humans have them as well but what about this pine cone, pine trees, trees in general, dogs, chickens, flowers, grass, and so on? Do all those have a language and reason as well? The conventional answer is negative. Vegetables have no apparent logic or speech of their own and in everyday parlance we use derogatory phrases such as “bird brain”. Is this correct though? Or has our mode of application prevented us from examining some crucial factors?
Let’s think about language in its most basic form as a feedback loop of cause and effect. Some event occurs which produces consequences. Those trigger new events which in turn have their own effects. The same can happen without an expected cause which produces a different reaction. There is conditionality involved. Observe a flower and you will notice how it responds to sunshine or water. It essentially communicates a preference. Go to the forest and look at a tree. You may notice how as it grows it stops feedings its lower branches and focuses its vitality upwards: it tries to maximise its exposure to sunlight and in the process discards what it no longer needs. This is intelligence even though we tend to not think of it as such because we conflate it with conscience; it is intelligence because the action is purposeful even though it may seem mechanistic.
Language in its basic form is binary. Individual feedback loops in their combination are equivalent to an elaborate mode of communication. Essentially the same as what we do with computers where a series of 0 and 1 can combine to highly complex data structures which communicate richness of detail, pattern, structure, Logos, such as how this multimedia I am recording right now which shows the text I am reading, the view of my webcam, and also captures my voice.
For as long as there are feedback loops—and the universe is all about them—there is language.
Whatever differences are of degree, not substance.
How about reason? Is it immanent as well? Think again about language in its basic form and consider it in light of all the other closely related meanings of Logos. This pine cone right here is the vessel that carries the seeds of the pine tree. What is a seed? It can be described as a program which gets activated when the conditions are right in order to produce a pine tree. In other words the seed encodes knowledge of the whole: it knows what the tree is and will always create that instead of something random.
We can extend this to the DNA. It essentially is a program that is self-reprogrammable. Just like the seed which carries knowledge of the tree so DNA codifies information about its ultimate form. We discern Logos in action: pattern, ratio, structure, language.
For a seed to react to the prevailing conditions in its immediate environment, for it to know when it should start growing into a tree, it necessarily has the minimum requisite means of evaluating the propriety of the factors in its milieu. In other words, it has to make a judgement call and say “okay, this looks right so I will initiate the process that will eventually turn me into a tree”.
Same principle for every pattern. It holds information and can, given the circumstances, communicate meanings and contribute to evolving states of affairs.
Now you may think: does everything have Logos as language and reason? Does this stone think for itself? To which I would answer that we should not fall into the trap of analytics, where we treat the stone—and any given abstraction for that matter—as if it has a standalone presence. You need to be able to think of things in their combination. Remember that the universe is the Symban.
Substitute the word “stone” with, say, “acid”. Does acid have language and reason? You will likely say “no”. What about the DNA then? What about that combination of acids and proteins and other elements that are seemingly devoid of reason and language? Is not the DNA carrying a set of meanings, concepts, or else all the details that are necessary for the manifestation of a given organism? And is not the DNA adaptable? So a program that can reprogram itself.
What I am trying to suggest, then, is that the answer is contingent on the constitution of the case. It can be affirmative if we are to consider another set of factors in their interplay; a set which captures this reality of the immanent Logos.
The Cosmos and the Cosmétor
The Symban has Logos so we call it the Cosmos: it is orderly, harmonious. Which makes us wonder whether there is some being that enforces this state of affairs. Does the universe have a Cosmétor?
Remember that “cosmétor” is the agent of action who preserves order over a given domain. So the one who does so for the Cosmos must have a universal reach. Understandably this relates to notions we have about the divine. We understand that everything around us has Logos and so we may infer that this is so because a Cosmétor imposed order to some primordial Chaos, thus establishing the Cosmos. In short: the world around us may be the creation of a god.
In the various traditions gods exhibit human-like features. They have a disposition, such as being all-loving, or they maintain an agenda or some preference such as by listening to what humans ask of them and interfering in human affairs to influence their outcome. As such, it is difficult to think of god as anything other than basically a more powerful human. For example, in Christianity (at least the denomination that is prevalent in my part of the globe) God is said to be the creator of the world and humans are designed in God’s image and imitation.
Does the notion of a god as the Cosmétor of the universe mean that in god’s absence there was Chaos? I think not. Because if there was Chaos, in the sense of an absolute disorderly state, how did God take form? For there to be a God, there necessarily exists order. Even the concept of a “disorderly state” is self-contradicting because for it to be a state, for it to be describable as such, it must have some pattern.
In the ancient Greek tradition, from whence come the concepts of Cosmos, Logos, et cetera, the world exists independent of the gods: the gods themselves may influence the world around them, in the same way we humans do, but they are not responsible for it being there. Implicit in this notion is the idea that the Cosmos is everlasting: it is always present. In this sense, divinity is not the cause of the Cosmos but one of its phenomena.
What about creation from nothing? What about the view that God created all there is? I think the claim that creation can come from nothing must explain how something is brought into being, in terms of the mechanism or cause. Did the cause of the creation exist or not. If yes, then we do not have absolute nothing, but something. If not, what caused the cause? And whatever that is, it cannot be nothing. By the same token, the idea of God as creator does not justify “creation from nothing” because God is not nothing. Whatever name we may pick for the prime cause of what we may describe as creation, we cannot avoid recognising it as something, as “being there” so to speak.
Which brings us back to the idea of a Cosmos everlasting with Logos being immanent. It is always present, with no beginning, middle, or end. This might be interpreted as pantheism which, perhaps paradoxically, is consistent with both monotheism and polytheism. Why? Because if there is divinity in the universe, and if there is at least one form that expresses it, we can imagine multiple forms partaking of divinity, as whatever caused the one could cause another(since divinity is not the prime cause; the Cosmos is always there).
Alternatively, we can inspect how Christianity tries to reconcile the
idea of a single God with the presence of the Holy Trinity by suggesting
that the Three are One as they are of the same substance: they are
consubstantive (EDIT: consubstantial). If so, there is nothing which
prevents this otherwise common substance from being shared by four or
twelve or a million instantiations. One divinity, many forms:
monotheism and polytheism as two sides of the same coin.
However, I think this kind of reasoning ultimately does not help us answer the question of whether the Cosmos has a Cosmétor because it keeps us limited to the anthropomorphic conception of the divine: how God or the Gods are better versions of humans and how they micromanage the world.
What we observe with the immanent Logos of the universe does not necessarily require some exalted human-like being to actively keep things in shape. Why intervene to impose ratio, pattern, order, language, and reason to something that already has all of those as indistinguishable from its existence?
We can then think of the Cosmétor as an abstraction, as an inference that we draw, not an omnipotent being that has the discretion to remain aloof from the fray or take action. By observing Logos in everything we deduce that they all have something in common. This means that the Cosmétor is not “outside” the Symban, imposing order without requiring order of its own. Rather, it is inextricably bound up together with the universe: the Cosmos and the Cosmétor are one and the same.
All that is present has the Logos in common. All that exists shares the quality of existing. We can then argue that every instance in the Symban partakes of the same substance as all others. Rather than the Three being One, All is One: consubstantiality on a universal scale.
Again, the Symban, the immanent Logos, the everlasting Cosmos.
On Being and modality
Let’s continue scrutinising the notion of an anthropomorphic divine and whether it can be identical to an everlasting Cosmos.
All that exists, does so in some way. It has a mode of being (Τρόπος in Greek). So not only we know of its existence but of how it exists. The basic way to think of this modality is to imagine a switch. The switch in a system can only ever exist as being “on” or “off”. No particular switch exists without modality. However, an abstract switch cannot have modality, since the on and off states cancel each other out or, otherwise, are contradictory. So the switch as such does not have modality, but only the potential of it once instantiated in a given case.
Everything we examine has modality. Though as we discern patterns and as we build up an abstract structure of the relations between the factors of the case and of every case, we no longer think in terms of modality. We simply talk about presences and their shared existence. By extension, the common in the multitude of all that exists cannot have modality of its own. Thus, the most abstract among the abstractions has to be described as “substance”.
We can call it “Being” (Είναι in Greek). This is not the same as an almighty god, because our conception of the divine involves modality. We ask from the gods to heed our prayers, accept our sacrifices, and so on. Our gods are presences, meaning that they are forms of being that have modality. They have a character, a disposition, a way of existing.
Couched in those terms, Being is perhaps counter-intuitively indescribable. It is the most abstract of the abstractions, yet we cannot attribute to it individual qualities. We cannot say that it is Good, for example, because that means that there must exist a non-Good and, by inference, some third magnitude that is common in both the Good and the non-Good. However we go about it, we return to the notion of Being as substance: the common in all that is.
This does not necessarily lead to atheism. We cannot know with certainty whether gods exist simply by deducing Being from the Cosmos and the Logos. All we can say is that gods may only exist as presences, i.e. they will have modality and be of the same substance—Being—as everything else. Otherwise our appeals to them are pointless.
This raises questions about life and death. If the Cosmos is everlasting, then what exactly is the birth of some form of being and its eventual death?
We already established that there is no creation from nothing. We can add that there is no creation in nothing and no transition towards nothing because either of those would imply non-Being. The problem with this implication is that we cannot possibly infer the common in the multitude of non-present presences, because they are not present and thus do not have any pattern to be discerned. Consequently, there can be no abstract structure of the sort. We thus fall back to Being as the only possibility. Which means that life and death are phenomena that hint at a universal process of transfiguration.
Presences change from one form to another. The process of change continues to share the Logos and to belong to Being. As such, the abstract structure of the universe is constant. Whatever change we observe is in the particulars, not their underlying patterns. Logos does not annul itself in becoming non-Logos, just as Cosmos does not turn into non-Cosmos or else Chaos.
Is this the same as immortality then? No. Or at least not how we traditionally think about this issue. Because our notion of eternal life is attached to our anthropocentrism. We believe that we can live forever as humans or human-like presences or, at least, as something that will preserve the kernel of selfhood that each of us believes to have.
Rather, transfiguration means that we may turn into dust, yet this will eventually give rise to other forms, and so on in an endless cycle. Recall what we covered earlier about universal language and the immanence of Logos.
So what is life? I think we can answer this by trying to determine its opposite: to figure out what non-life could be. Wouldn’t non-life imply non-Being? And wouldn’t that bring us back to Being as the only option? Consequently, we must conclude that life is also immanent and thus is another way of describing the Symban. Everything is life.
This is not to be conflated with the everyday use of the term “life form”. We speak of abstractions here: we do so by using a particular mode of application. Whereas, for example, expeditions to Mars which may search for proof of extraterrestrial life have another mode of application. Their case is constituted differently, as they equate life with known organisms, not with the very possibility of there being such organisms, which pertains to the abstract structure of the universe.
The significance of metaphysics
That’s all for now folks. I tried to convey the idea of the living universe and cover its basic themes.
Metaphysics conditions our overall thinking. Every other philosophical consideration is ultimately reduced to our notion of existence.
In future videos I will elaborate on at least some of the implications of the ideas I discussed today. Not everything will be about metaphysics. We will instead consider epistemology, ethics, politics, and related.
There is a lot to talk about. Thank you very much for your attention.
Remember that the text of this presentation will be available on my website: https://protesilaos.com.