Cosmology and Eschatology

When a Christian stands and proclaims his belief in Jesus Christ as Savior, and that his god is the only Way, Truth, and Light, he is proclaiming not only an eschatology, but also a cosmology. In the first place, his eschatology is revealed: there is a god; there is an afterlife; there is a path in the afterlife; there is a judgement; there is a place where people go who pass and fail the judgement; etc. Moreover, he is at the same time declaring a cosmology, for now heaven and earth are linked in a multitude of relationships all of which have eternal consequences. Suddenly, every human action now comes with a moral imperative. God now is omnipresent, existing in every place man occupies, and the structure of the universe is not just some mechanistic, grand clock-work but a stage upon which the real drama of the cosmos is performed–the drama of human relations and moral intelligence. All this is a philosophy of the cosmos and the human race’s involvement in it. All this is a cosmology.

When an atheist stands and proclaims his belief in the Scientific Method, and that reason, experiment, and objective observation is the path to true enlightenment, i.e. is the only Way, Truth, and Light, then he too is proclaiming an eschatology rooted in a cosmology. The rationalists eschatology is in fact an earth-bound utopia of reason and science predicated upon the positivist theologic point of view: human intellect can unriddle anything; nature can be codified by laws of reason and observation; nature, not god, is the thing to discover; and above all, man is the measure. This is the eschatology. It is birthed from the ultimate paradigm of relatedness between man and nature–the cosmology. Modern cosmology is not even heliocentric, if we are to employ the strictest sense of the term. In fact, the modern universe has no center. There once was a singularity, so says the meta-narrative, which expanded in a Big Bang creating the universe; but no one is certain where that was, or why it was, and none of it matters anyway. The relatedness of the cosmos in modern terms is addressed with such words as “randomness,” “chaos,” and above all “evolution.” All this is a philosophy of the cosmos and the human race’s involvement in it. All this is a cosmology.

Perhaps we are unfamiliar with associating the theologian with the word cosmology, as we are as unfamiliar with associating the secular scientist with the word eschatology. Modern sensibility has so severed the ideas of science and religion, and eschatology from cosmology, that this latter term is almost always used in the modern context as a mathematical if not theoretical construct of macrocosmic physics. Besides, science became science when it separated itself from eschatology; just as religion became modern religion when it separated itself from cosmology.

Despite the safe separation in the modern mind between these two fields of knowledge, the truth is, in practical terms of human experience, there is no separation at all. It turns out that human beings are interpenetrated with ideas of ultimate causes and ends which provide a philosophy of relationships and ethics which in turn have their own consequences of causes and ends. I suppose this is a wordy way of saying the universe is so big, and the questions it poses to us so infinite, that our reason and logic, in contrast to the endless horizon of inquiry before us, simply runs out too quickly. We are left doing the only thing we can do: projecting ourselves into the universe to make sense of it all. It should not surprise us, then, to find that our attitudes of the universe are reflected in the ideas of ourselves. Our metaphysics gives birth to a cosmology that is self-fulfilling, and this explains why a change in a culture’s cosmology is so hard to come by. In short, there can be no cosmology without eschatology; nor eschatology without cosmology. Furthermore, there is no real separation between religion and science; there are only varying degrees of cosmology and eschatology within a single system.

This is no idle prattle. It is the eminent historian and philosopher of science, Karl Popper, who indicates that cosmology is not only a central, human concern, but also centrally involves humans in its conceptions. Popper asserts, “I, however, believe that there is at least one philosophical problem in which all thinking men are interested. It is the problem of cosmology: the problem of understanding the world–including ourselves, and our knowledge, as part of the world. All science is cosmology, I believe, and for me the interest of philosophy, no less than of science, lies solely in the contributions which it has made to it” (Popper xviii, italics his).

Popper has got it right, and herein our modern dictionaries have failed to make a critical point in their definitions. Cosmology is not just the study of the macrocosm–stars, galaxies, Big Bang, and the lot. No. Cosmology is also, and perhaps principally, a study of the microcosm– “including ourselves, and our knowledge, as part of the world.” In this respect, the Hermetic saying “as above, so below” is as a good starting point for a definition of cosmology as any, for the universe cannot be separated by its inhabitants trying to describe the universe. Moreover, the universe is reflected in its inhabitants, so that the study of one should say something about the idea of the other. Man and Cosmos are synonymous, and modern cosmologists therefore must include all people investigating human relatedness within the world. It is uncomfortable for some to admit, but philosophers, theologians, economists, psychologists, anthropologists are also all cosmologists.

For Popper, not only is all science cosmology but all cosmology is metaphysics (14-16). This bold assertion is exactly what I have been discussing. It is an idea that challenges the modern tradition that science is a strictly objective method of logic and reason predicated on observations and measurements “reducible to elementary (or ‘atomic’) statements of experience […]” (12). Indeed, Popper challenges the very notion of the inductive method as the basis of scientific knowledge. Popper quotes Moritz Schlick, who observes, “The problem of induction consists in asking for a logical justification of universal statements about reality […]. We recognize, with Hume, that there is no such logical justification: there can be none, simply because they are not genuine statements” (14, italics his). Popper concludes: “This shows how the inductivist criterion of demarcation fails to draw a dividing line between scientific and metaphysical systems, and why it must accord them equal status; for the verdict of the positivist dogma of meaning is that both are systems of meaningless pseudo-statements” (14). 

Again, all this is a wordy way of saying that while the inductive method of science insists that scientists can make observations without a theory in mind, if this were the case, then all such observations would be rendered meaningless. In fact, all observations are already tied to a series of presuppositions, most of which are not scientific, but philosophical. “I am inclined to think that scientific discovery,” continues Popper, “is impossible without faith in ideas which are of a purely speculative kind, and sometimes even quite hazy; a faith which is completely unwarranted from the point of view of science, and which, to that extent, is ‘metaphysical’” (16). One modern cosmologist puts it this way, “Maybe more so than in any other field of physics, cosmologists construct fantasy worlds which they hope may have some bearing on what we observe” (Ferriera 10). How can this be justified from a strict, scientific point of view? Our modern cosmologist continues, “The hope is that, like Albert Einstein, by stretching our imaginations but at the same time remaining firmly entrenched in basic principles, it will be possible to explain many of the unanswered questions in cosmology” (Ferriera 10).

Here lies the essence of cosmology. The positivist focuses only on the “firmly entrenched basic principles” which are made up of formula and proofs and says all the universe can be explained in this way. Of course it is not so. For all those “firmly entrenched basic principles” have to be strung together in a dot-to-dot construction that encompasses a wider area of ideology that itself may not be justified by those basic principles. They are strung together into “fantasy worlds.” It is the construction of a theory, especially a cosmological theory, that turns science into metaphysics. For indeed, in order to create a fantasy world one must already have a cosmology in mind. This means modern cosmology is a product of a cultural cosmology already firmly established.

A civilization’s ultimate framework of cultural imagination is its own cosmology. How we think about the universe is reflected in how we think about ourselves, and vice versa. Moreover, how we think about the past is also tied up in our cosmological constructions. This is why Popper considers cosmology a central human concern that encompasses not only science but also philosophy, and oft times there is no difference. In the end, cosmology is the central human concern about which everything else is an addendum. If we are to study myth and the mystery religions then perhaps we should consider the cosmological mainframe in which they grew? But from what position shall we consider that framework? From our own cosmology? It turns out, ever since Darwin, our conceptions of the past have been projections of modern cosmological constructs. As they say, we look through a glass darkly. Not only is our seeing glass murky, but its focal point is fixated on the wrong target. We have much to see anew.

Billions and Billions of Planets

Carl Sagan was famous for using the phrase “billions and billions of stars” when he referenced the vast immensity of space. Some decades ago, the word “billion” meant something different today. It was a bigger number; actually the biggest number within the cultural horizon. Today we toss the word “trillion” around as if it is no big deal. The truth is no one really understands the scope of either.

In Sagan’s day, scientists believed that the universe was filled with about 100 billion galaxies each containing 100 billion stars. This number is in doubt today, as it also seems too small, and we might be using the word “trillions” in the near future.

This same phrase “billions and billions” and even “trillions” can now be accurately applied to the planets orbiting all those innumerable stars. Currently, scientists have discovered 1700 planets outside of our solar system. A recent article, however, confirms that scientists are now aware that our own galaxy contains at least 100 billion planets. Most stars have planets orbiting them. If our own galaxy contains 100 billion planets, than the universe is really filled with “billions and billions” and even “trillions and trillions” of worlds. Big ones and small ones. Gas giants and rocky midgets. The universe has these in spades.

It was not that long ago when scientists were speaking of our own Earth as a singularity; a unique speck of blue. No one could prove other worlds existed. Now every time we look up and look at the stars we can also perceive that many of these stars are solar systems. How many of these innumerable planets have life? No one knows. Of course, the answer to that question also depends on how we define “life”?

Still, I have no doubt that one day we will look up into the sky and quip, “Billions and billions of lives, big and small.”

Infinite Tree and Eternal Spring

In December of 1995 NASA chose a dark and uncluttered pin-point of sky in Ursa Major and directed the eye of the Hubble Telescope towards it. Over a period of ten days or approximately 150 orbits NASA photographed this pin-point of sky, layering the images as they went. The goal was to peer into the deepest well of space in hopes of glimpsing farther than science had ever seen before; perhaps to see even the distant rim of the universe? The image that the Hubble Telescope slowly produced astounded even the most prosaic and skeptical of minds. First bright swirls and globs appeared: galaxies! Then, innumerable dots began to fill in the dark spaces, until a grand canopy was painted by a telescopic lense. Each dot was not a star, but a galaxy containing billions and billions of stars. The image is called the Hubble Deep Field. In it NASA did not find the edge of the cosmos, but glimpsed an unexpected and mind-numbing view of an eternal cosmos.

Hubble Deep Field

Hubble Deep Field

Eternity is an uncomfortable idea for modern science. Numerous theories are afoot predicting the size, mass, and shape of our universe. Surely there is an end, a perimeter, something that can be seen and measured? Until recently, the estimated number of stars in the universe was thought to be about the number of grains of sand on one earth-bound beach. But a recent study by Dr. Simon Driver, an Australian astronomer, has pushed this number to at least 70 sextillion (a seven followed by 21 zeros) or more than ten times the number of sand particles in all the beaches and deserts on our world. Even this number, Driver admits, might be a drop in the bucket: “The actual number of stars could be infinite” (CNN.com July 23, 2003). To date, the whole grand architecture of the cosmos–its size, mass, and shape, and how it works–is still mired in profound mystery.

As incomprehensible as these images and numbers are, it is perhaps even more astounding  that in the ancient past a few inner-searching minds had already intuited the deep fields of cosmos–above and below. In ancient mythology this grand and apt understanding was represented by the Cosmic Tree, often called the World Tree or Tree of Life. Eliade traces the ancient and mythic image of the Cosmic Tree to every continent on the planet. He writes:

The most widely distributed variant of the symbolism of the Center is the Cosmic Tree, situated in the middle of the Universe, and upholding the three worlds as upon one axis…. It may be said, in general, that the majority of the sacred and ritual trees that we meet within the history of religions are only replicas, imperfect copies of this exemplary archetype, the Cosmic Tree. Thus, all these sacred trees are thought of as situated in the Center of the World. (Eliade, Images 44).

According to Eliade the Center is the mythological space that is the sacred point of orientation for a society–its axis-mundi. The sacred center is the point in which a “break-through from plane to plane [heaven and earth] has become possible and repeatable” (Eliade, Sacred 30). This ancient notion was fundamental to culture and civilization, thus every act of settlement or new founding was a cosmogonic act, a planting of a new World Tree in the garden of cosmos. Eliade describes that the Scandinavian colonists, for example, viewed the cultivation of new land as “only a repetition of a primordial act, the transformation of chaos into cosmos by the divine act of creation” (Eliade, Sacred 31). Furthermore, it appears that the ancient state itself was sacral in nature, and every city, town, and village was built around a sacred Center–a temple, an altar, a grove or tree–in cosmological repetition of the mythological structure of the universe.

The Cosmic Tree was a symbol of the universe–not just the visible universe of which the Hubble Telescope attempts to reveal–but of all the planes and possibilities of existence. The Tree thus represented the underworld by its roots, the material world by its trunk, and the heavenly world of gods and powers by its branches. The Tree also represented the point of creation, the place where all energies meet to transform thought into form. In this light, the Cosmic Tree was also compared to the “Divine Egg, Hidden Seed, or Root of Roots”, the “Pillar or Pole” and the “Cosmic Mountain or primeval mound” (Cook 9).

Numerous pages and volumes could be written about the Tree symbolism in ancient civilization, but what concerns use here is the fact that the Cosmic Tree in ancient myth is often associated with a spring, well, or source of living waters. These two images are oft times synonymous, or are analogous in space and time; thus the Tree is often growing over the top of a well, or is literally planted by a spring or river.

Egyptian TOL

Egyptian Tree of Life

The World Tree of the Norse was named Yggdrasil and had at its base a stream and surrounding it a river. Zeus’s oak tree was planted on Mount Olympus and had the same water features; likewise the tree atop Mount Meru of the Hindus; as well as the tree in the Hebrew Garden of Eden. The Cuna Indian’s Saltwater Tree could be added to the list, as well as the sacred cedars and palms of Egypt growing forth from the Nile; or in the Book of the Dead, the great life-giving lotus rooted in the eternal well underneath the throne of Osiris. Wherever we look in myth the Tree and the Spring are wedded.

Not only in mythology are these cosmic images bound, but in the mythological requirements of mortar, stone, and sacred space of ancient temple architecture. Lundquist writes that ancient temples are “often associated with the waters of life that flow forth from a spring within the building itself… or as having been built upon such a spring” (Parry, ed. 98). This is so because the temple is most often associated with either the primordial hillock or the Cosmic Tree, both of which rise out of the waters at the primal cosmogonic moment. The great Eninnu Temple built by Gudea is called the “foundation of the abyss”, and this is similar to the Jewish temple on Moriah, which too was built over the abysmal waters (Parry, ed. 83-91).

Moses Standing at the Well Before the Temple

Moses Standing at the Well Before the Temple

According to Varner this practice dates as far back as the megalithic age. Varner notes that a well or water source is found many times in stone circles (Varner 14), and Janet and Colin Bord in their landmark study of sacred wells in the British Isles quote Burl: “Wherever an avenue of stones is associated with a stone circle it almost invariably leads from a source of water, indicating the importance of water in the ceremonies that took place in the rings” (Bord and Bord, qtd. 11). Varner also observes that the standing stones of circles or sacred avenues are themselves symbolic representations of trees (Varner 14).

These associations are no coincidence. The Cosmic Tree is the archetypal paradigm for both the structure and potentiality of all cosmic processes. Wherever there is a moment of creation, a point of creation, there is an organization of form (the Tree) predicated upon cosmic laws, rules, and energies which endlessly bubble up from the depths (the Waters). Perhaps, and ironically, these associations also intuit the leading edge of modern physics and Chaos Theory, which posits that wherever there is chaos there is also an underlying geometric pattern. This understanding is revealed through fractals. In other words, chaos is not just disorder and particle bedlam–but rather a non-harmonic field of possibility (the Waters) which, due to the Mandlebrotian nature of chaos, finds nodes or spikes of energy in which harmonic forms can be created (the Tree).

Ancient mythology is not finished with these images, however. The Cosmic Tree and the Living Waters certainly represent an understanding of the material world and of mythological relationships within that world. Perhaps more surprising, is the fact that these images were also used to describe man! Whatever can be represented in the macrocosm is also reflected in the microcosm, for both share the same roots.
The universe was the macrocosm. Man was the microcosm. What existed in one existed in the other, as the ancient mysteries explained, “As above, so below.” Macrocosm and microcosm were linked in what Jacob Needleman calls a “hierarchy of purposeful energies” (Needleman 18) which ordered the cosmos from the cosmic tree branches to the primordial waters. In this hierarchy man was a fulcrum point, both created and creator. This concept of microcosm is no idle metaphor, but an essential paradigm of ancient thought. Paraclesus writes:

Man is heaven and earth, and lower spheres, and the four elements, and whatever is within them, wherefore he is properly called by the name of microcosmos, for he is the whole world…know then that there is also within man a starry firmament with a mighty course of planets and stars that have exaltations, conjunctions and oppositions. (Young, qtd. 12)

If the cosmos has deep fields like the Hubble telescope reveals, and is always associated with the primordial waters of creation and chaos through the fount, spring, or well, then man too has these features (exaltations), shares in this structure (conjunctions), and participates in these energies (oppositions). This notion is not lost upon Carl Gustav Jung, who was an avid reader of Paracelsus. Jung writes, “Not only is the image of the macrocosm imprinted upon him [microcosmic man] as a psychic being, but he also creates this image for himself on an ever-widening scale” (Jung, Undiscovered Self, 43).

Jung understood that man as microcosm meant that there was a cosmic correspondence, metaphorically speaking, between the tree and the spring or well within him. Like Needleman, Jung sees man at the fulcrum point of this cosmic picture. Jung explains, “In my picture of the world there is a vast outer realm and an equally vast inner realm; between these two stand man” (Jung, Modern Man, 122). Jung sees these realms as polarities: man can only view one realm at a time at the sacrifice of the other. Yet as polarities, both rely upon the energies of each other in the form of tension. This tension is beautifully illustrated through the metaphor of cosmic processes. Thus Jung deliberates that the psyche is a “star-strewn night sky, whose planets and fixed constellations represent the archetypes in all their luminosity and numinosity. The starry vault of heaven is in truth the open book of cosmic projection, in which are reflected the mythologems, i.e., the archetypes” (Jung, Psyche, 125).

Here Jung lays out the diagram of inner man. There are both “planets” and “fixed constellations” that move upon the firmament that is man’s psyche. It is helpful, in fact, to know a little astronomy when interpreting such language. The night sky is a place of grandeur, to be sure, but also a place wherein it is easy to get lost. To help define all those blinking dots a band of sky called the zodiac was created by ancient civilizations and divided up into constellations. These constellations are fixed groupings of stars along the plane of the ecliptic. This is important because the plane of the ecliptic is that band in the sky where all the moving luminaries transit, i.e. Jung’s “planets”. In fact, the sun, moon, and inner planets could all be tracked along this plane and their movements measured against the background of fixed constellations or zodiac.

Jung uses this metaphor of both moving and fixed luminaries in the midst of the firmament in microcosmic man to describe what is occurring within him. The fixed constellations are the ever present deep well of space from which the transiting “planets” are measured and moved towards man’s psyche. In other words, the zodiac in man is the collective unconscious–that communal realm from which the moving luminaries emerge.

The Hubble Deep Field is an analogous image which posits every galaxy is a Tree, yet behind every pinpoint of darkness exists a deep well, an “ever widening scale” of possibility, beyond which science has not the ability to measure or even understand. Meanwhile, inner man is also such a place. Every harmonically integrated point in consciousness is a microcosmic Tree, yet behind every pinpoint of darkness within the psyche there also exists a grand stellar firmament from which fixed constellations and planets conjunct and move in an ever flowing current of archetypes and energies. In elegant yet efficient symbolism, the Cosmic Tree and the Spring or Well remind us of the connections within ourselves; connections which share so much with what is above and below.

April 2014 Lunar Eclipse and a Flat Earth

I sat on my back patio past midnight. It was a frigid twenty degrees, and I had my winter jacket zipped to my chin. Next to me was a small table holding a hot chocolate mug, a box of crackers, and a digital camera. My 70 mm binoculars were mounted on a tripod and positioned at eye-level in front of my cold but comfy chair. Bach and Vivaldi strummed beneath the starlight. I was ready for the five hour show.

Before me was the canvas of light that I have come to call my home. The full and glorious moon radiated her grandeur in Virgo, with the bright blue and sparkling Spica just to her west. Above her blazed the copper throne of Mars. Towards the western horizon glittered another white jewel, Jupiter, standing between the Twins. And to the the east, like a pearl balanced in the Scales, lay Saturn.

Not long after midnight the true spectacle began. The full and brilliant moon was touched by a shadow. Within minutes the touch had become an impression. Moments later a cosmic fingerprint had marked the Moon, as if some invisible daemon had reached across the expanse to pluck a pearl out of the waters and imbue it with a new order. Fiat Lux had become Sit Visum.

The dark curved shadow of the Earth slowly drifted from east to west across the Moon. As the dark shadow encompassed the celestial orb the color of the Moon transformed into a reddish-amber. They call it a Blood-Red Moon. In reality, the sunlight refracts through the Earth’s atmosphere spinning the celestial glass of a thousand sunsets onto the lunar sphere.

A total lunar eclipse is a marvel to behold. One needs to sit and watch through the several hours that the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow to see first hand what modern people take for granted. Light and shadow follow the rules of physics. As the Moon became completely enveloped in the Earth’s shadow I became aware of a light display on the surface of the moon that has, I believe, reaching implications.

If one draws or paints a three dimensional object such as a ball or sphere, placed on a table underneath a direct light source, the object displays the light across its surface in zones. Here is one example:

Light and Shadow on a Sphere.

Notice that on the back edge of the sphere there is a thin lighter area. Why isn’t this portion the darkest, as it is deepest into shadow? Because a small amount of light is actually reflected from the table surface onto the back edge; this is called reflected light. During the lunar eclipse I noticed for the first time that as the Moon passed through Earth’s shadow it displayed a very similar texture of light and shadow. The moon showed brighter on part of its surface, with its eastern end in shadow, but with a sliver of lighter area at its edge, as if there were reflected light.  Moreover, as the moon passed through the Earth’s shadow the highlighting and shadow on the moon changed over time, and it was visually clear that the Moon was a sphere:Lunar Eclipse

This may seem elementary. It begs the question however, in antiquity, how many people actually believed the Earth was flat? Clearly, ancient man understood the Moon was an orb. It moved in a circular orbit. The sun is also an orb moving in a circular orbit. Moreover, the shadow crossing the Moon during an eclipse is curved, and it is from the Earth. Oral peoples viewing the skies would have understood the pattern: the spherical nature of the celestial bodies, including the Earth.

Plutarch tells us that the Egyptians had a great celebration when the Sun and Moon were in a straight line (Isis and Osiris 52.1); that is on the day of an eclipse. They understood that the Earth was between the Sun and Moon and that the eclipse was caused by the Earth’s shadow.

As I sat watching the lunar eclipse these were some of the thoughts floating through my mind. How much of those ancient cosmologies do we really understand? I think very little. Like the splendor of the Moon, the greatest things in history are in shadow, and reveal themselves in little slivers of light.