Cosmological Questions: What’s It All About, Alfie?
In this section, we will look at cosmological questions as we search to find "the meaning of it all." We will explore what cosmologies are and then after beginning with a consideration of what the Divine Mind had in mind to begin with, we will consider why the Divine bothered to create our universe at all. We will next explore the Hindu notions of lila (cosmic play) and maya (illusion). Then we will look at the mechanics of creation and finally consider whether the all of creation might just be one big Divine mistake.
Although the question "What's it all about Alfie?" was asked lyrically in 1966 (Bacharach & David), it is one of the ultimate questions with which humanity has struggled. The quest to understand "the meaning of it all," of the universe and our place in it, has been with us for aeons. We see this in the creation myths of ancient peoples. In their cosmologies, they metaphorically and poetically expressed their ideas of how ‘reality’ or their universe was structured (Teresi, 2002). In my dissertation I will be considering Hindu cosmology as it relates to play, so let us first look briefly into cosmology. Later we will return and take a more detailed look at Hindu cosmology specifically.
Cosmology is the study of the origin and history of the universe as a whole, or as Brian Swimme (1992) calls it, “The Universe Story.” Harrison, in Masks of the Universe writes: “the universe in which we live, or think we live, is mostly a world of our own making…. A universe is a mask fitted on the face of the unknown Universe” (Teresi, 2002, p. 159). Teresi says that we can never know the “capital U” Universe in its own right, apart from our changing opinions. We can know models of the Universe, and cosmology is a study of these models or “little u” universes. There are several different types of creation myths, or cosmological theories of creation to choose from, which I like to think of as flavors: Abracadabra or creation out of nothing (e.g., the Big Bang), Have-we-got-havoc or creation out
of chaos (plasma cosmology), Same old-Same old or universe without beginning or end (steady state) and Here we go again or cycles of cosmic birth and destruction (alternating universes) (Teresi, 2002, p. 169). Our present reigning cosmology is based on quantum physics and the Big Bang, although two other major cosmologies, the steady state and plasma universe, also have their adherents (pp. 168-169).
Today, our cosmology is clothed in the language of science, we use mathematical equations and computers to tell about the structure of the universe. But do not let this fool you, it is a creation myth all the same (Swimme, 1995, cassette). The ancient peoples, told stories about how the universe began in their creation myths. Our story goes like this: “Once upon a time, about 15 billion years ago, a singularity occurred, known as the Big Bang….” and the rest as they say is pre-history.
In ancient India, they had several different creation myths, which reflect different types of universes. Like most cosmologies, including our own, these myths contain inconsistencies and contradictions. This didn’t bother the ancient peoples, who it seems were better able to hold difference than we are. This probably is a reflection of the polytheistic nature of their thought, as opposed to our more monotheistic bent, and the single vision and one-sidedness that seems to come with it. Answering these universal questions continues to occupy us, and is what motivated Einstein, one of the forefathers and creators of our current cosmology.
Einstein’s urge to understand the universe kept him in a “state of psychic tension . . . . I used to go away for weeks in a state of confusion, as one who at that time had yet to overcome a stage of stupefaction in his first encounter with such questions” (Brian, 1996, p. 60). The universe is a big place and as we know from Einstein, is getting bigger all the time. So, naturally the contemplation these cosmic questions might be overwhelming. Einstein’s advice can help us out here, too: "One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality," he wrote. "It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day” (AIP, 2005a, online). “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing” (AIP, 2005b, online). Thus it is with a state of curiosity that we will proceed little by little.
The good news, as we have learned from the complementarity principle of quantum physics, is that the observer has an effect on the observed, thus by contemplating the nature of reality, our reality can change. Einstein is also famous for the saying: “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details” (Calaprice, 2000, p. 202). Einstein’s desire to know the mind of God changed the world.