Merriam-Webster defines Universe: The whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated
Regardless of humanity's hindered vantage, the universe is defined as the totality of all. It is the sum of everything that exists in the cosmos, including time and space. Nature is the natural world, consisting of all earthly things unaffected by or predating human technology, production and design. Nature is also defined as the overall universe. Nature and universe are interchangeable in this essay.
The universe, as far as we know, has neither beginning nor end (not that we know what beginning and end ultimately mean as they pertain to the known cosmos). The universe is ALL, including nature, human activities and their artifacts. The universe, as far as we know, encompasses everything that is.
As far as we currently know, the laws of physics apply everywhere in the universe. Not all elements of the universe have counterparts on Earth but the universality of the laws that describe all those things are consistent. Beyond the laws of physics dwells opinion. Example: The laws of gravity apply and we can't break those laws. All the other laws are man-made and man enforced. Non man-made laws are what we cannot omit or avoid or break. A law that can be avoided, defeated, or broken by humans is not a natural law—rather it is a human rule, code, or ordinance. Humans are present players in nature and as we harness the power of the atom then we will indeed impact nature at an atomic level.
The universe is the necessary reference to everything we know. If I am wrong about that then I am wrong about everything.
When searching for artifacts, archeologists look for evidence of human involvement in contrast to nature that is untouched by humans. Obsidian shavings, for example, are dissimilar to untouched obsidian shards in the keen eye of the expert looking for ancient Native American arrowheads. These projectile points of human weaponry can only be identified against the backdrop of nature and nothing else. A Native American chiseled obsidian arrowhead is notably different when compared to a chunk of untouched obsidian. If you remove (steal) that natural, untouched obsidian backdrop from your mind then you simply have no actual comparative reference point at all; only unmerited belief, irrationality, and the unintelligible remain. By mentally removing natural reference from your mind you are then susceptible to making irrational claims such as, “all obsidian rocks are arrowheads.” Up can be down when there is no respect for natural reference. This point may not resonate with you yet but I strongly suggest that it should.
The universe is the grand total of itself. Saying the word universe is like saying infinity. The universe is not a mere human fantasy. Human belief gives the universe a human validation of empirical necessity and obviousness. In short, we take the idea of the universe to mean the archetype or ultimate, actual, original object status that is non-reducible reality. Metaphor comprises all of our thoughts.
The primary human tool of reference is sensory perception. Our five (5) senses are the human portals to the universe:
The senses gather information concerning the universe and relay to the brain. This is square one; the place where we must necessarily start cognitive perception. It is our reference to the universe or, if you will, the universe reflecting upon itself. In order to identify anything [anything], we necessarily do it in comparative reference to the universe as perceived through the faculty of five senses. Human senses and the overall human body are subsystems of the universe. We are of the universe because we are necessarily comprised of and confined by it. The universe and I are inseparable, we are one. This is observed and understood for the obvious reason that the universe, as perceived by my sensory input, encompasses everything that is. I'm harping on this universe stuff because it is sometimes easy to miss the most important ingredient in a recipe. The ancients taught me that much. You cannot understand the concept of nine if you fail to understand three.
As an exercise to support my point, try to imagine a place with no light. As you ponder you cannot escape the concepts of “black”, or “non-light”, or “there”, etc. These concepts are in necessary reference to a very real universe, because your brain is a product of the universe and that very same universe cannot be avoided when we think. We are here, and therefore cannot be non-here.
We know of nothing in us, of us, or about us that is reasonably and logically beyond the universe. In our minds there is no possible reference for a non-universe because the universe encompasses, demands, infiltrates, and occupies every abstracted thought form. The universe cannot be avoided because we, the observers, are a part of it. The universe can only be considered self-evident. Therefore, its ever present inescapable reality is granted necessarily and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other truths. The universe is non-reducible.
Perhaps there is an unknown "realm" that gave birth to the Big Bang--a God that spoke it into existence. Yeah? Maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster spoke the universe into existence. The words I am thinking and typing right now are in UNAVOIDABLE reference to the inescapably known universe. I have now established definitions for this essay.
Consequently, I refer to any concept of non-universe as contradictory. The claim that a non-universe or super-nature exists is to posit that something other than the universe exists. We, as I will elaborate, have no known reference for anything other than the perceived universe. If it exists, it exists within the universe; including gods, their homes, and their subjects. In short, if heaven exists it exists within the universe as far as we can perceive. Humans can, and have for millennia, stated all kinds of things that make sense and things that make no sense as it pertains to perceived reality. Just because you think and/or say it doesn’t mean you are accurate.
So what about the supernatural? A theist is someone who believes in a deity (god). Polytheists believe in many gods. An atheist (or, a-theist) does not believe in a deity or deities. Atheists define themselves in opposition to theists. I can't imagine identifying or defining myself in opposition to anything. Whatever I really am, I am for it. If a god reads this I hope that's cool with her.
The idea of gods for many people is philosophically conditioned in the dualistic West. Gods are presumed to be supernatural beings. What must a human mind do in order to reach such a conclusion? Logically speaking, if there is no intelligible non-universe (or super-nature) then supernatural beings, if they exist, exist within the universe. If that is true then where are the gods? “Unless deities reach into our world through natural and detectable means, they remain wholly outside the realm of existence.”
-Michael Shermer: Ben Stein’s Blunder, a response to Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
So where are the gods? Well, they aren’t detectable within the realm of the known universe. Within the privacy of our imaginations we have the ability and luxury to mentally abstract fantastic and improbable things that are other to the actual confines of the universe. Deception, our ability to deceive, has grown up with human evolution. As hunter gatherers, elaborate plans to confuse, trick, trap and kill animals for food is an ability that humans have developed and mastered over time.
Mental abstractions of deception naturally precede the actual deceiving act. Crafty thoughts have been a part of evolving survival for millennia. That deceptive ability continues today in humans and in other species. Our imaginations and physical evolution have granted us domination on this planet. It stands to reason that thoughts of fantasy and deception continue to persuade and conquer.
Our brains receive and process the data from our five senses. That processed data become thoughts and thoughts give birth to words. Words are the metaphoric utterances of our thoughts. The collective realm of ideas exists within the market of physical words. Only in the written or spoken word do we “share” anything of intelligibility, sans a few body gestures. The physical world unavoidably dominates our coexistent experience.
Words are thought forms that describe other thought forms in many languages to describe their subject’s very nature. Some ideas of actual things may be out of our mental reach—much like time, the universe, and its size. The word “gene” describes something biological; "meme" describes something cultural. A map is not the actual territory and a menu is not the actual food so please do not get hung up on words. We should, quoting Anton Wilson, “probably become more cynical about words.”
Humans perceive, then abstract, and next conceive of thoughts. Perception of the external world arrives through the five senses and is processed and lodged for the subsequent availability of abstractions. Note: Since not all thoughts or series of thoughts are attached to an emotional or meaningful impact, the intensity of their memorable impressions varies. Better said, if the perception is commonplace, that is to say, non-eventful, then the accessible memory of that event is typically scant. Sometimes recalling an uneventful experience makes us wonder why a seemingly random thought would even be stored in our mind. Subliminal and subconscious connections in our brains sometimes trigger such trivial memories.
Perceptions are called upon in a progressive, interactive, and pattern-seeking (due to our evolutionary build) manner by the mind to form mental constructs called abstractions. Abstractions “lift out” and define three dimensional impressions or, forms. These mental imprints, in concert with older relevant and often pattern seeking abstractions, form concepts. Concepts lead to the precious beliefs we hold to be sanely true.
You, for instance, are perceptively abstracting and conceptualizing these words then actively and interactively reflecting upon the very process of your own thought building. This kind of volitional exercise is much like having an emotional feeling. Though the causal experience is different, the resulting impression is often similar in that it produces a memory of the conception. Reminiscence of concepts is possible when we experience impressionable moments.
Thoughts are cerebral forms, that is to say mental geometry. Man is generally not very adept in mathematics. We experience countless perceptions, abstractions, and conceptualizations during our short lives but generally lack the ability to organize those thoughts in a systematic, scientific, and retrievable method. As stated, accessible memories are mental impressions produced by intensely reflective and or emotional moments. I call these moments (whether they be seconds, minutes, hours, etc.) reality. Poor numerical thought organization coupled with short memory often means that we struggle to decipher what of the many influences and events are more impressionable / dominant and therefore important to us.
We do know, however, that the universe is. That knowledge means that we are too. Existence is what we know because we are consciously and necessarily present in the universe. To know anything else is to know nonexistence which isn’t happening. The very concept of nonexistence is contradictory to our perception. A similar exercise: Try to imagine nothing, go ahead and try. Nonexistence is the stuff sleeping rocks dream of. Can you possibly imagine a shapeless shape or a formless form? You can’t do it—even the thought of a silent black room forms absent volume and color shapes in our natural, pulsating brains. We live in the real and to conceptualize anything else is to deny actual existence, which includes our very lives. There is no logical mental abstraction for nonexistence because there is no percept for our brains to rationally trust regarding a nonexistence. That’s because nonexistence is never (at least not up until the time of this writing) perceived through the five senses. Only irrational “words” describing a non-universe are perceived though our senses. Proof of a non-universe is logically foreign because the antithesis: “A” is not “Non A.” That is the premise of reality as we know it.
I can hear the objections here: “Wait a minute, what about the unknown? Maybe gods exist in other realms!” OK, what about unknown realms? Until they are “known” they remain simple fancies living in our minds. What we know is in the known universe and there is no escaping that. If something becomes “known” then it has been recognized in the universe. It is then no longer believed to be super-nature. Our starting point for exploration is not to assume something exists beyond the necessary reference of the universe, quite the contrary. That idea bores the hell out of people who are bored with reality.
It should be noted that that spiritual / religious people (even if they do not claim to be "religious") generally do not think they are superstitious. Believers often assume that other people (deceived people) are superstitious. The theistic belief in gods is really no different than belief in fairies or unicorns. However, the committed believer demands that supernatural things are a part of reality, that it is absolutely real. For those "true" believers, the false beliefs, false gods, and superstition are for "other", deceived people. People like to fancy themselves on the winning team and not on the deceived loser team.
In order to produce a mental reference other than the universe you must believe in something other than the universe. To make the claim that information is perceived and conceptualized from any reference point other than the universe is to deny who you are as a human and also to deny the universe itself. Beliefs are the concepts you currently hold to be most likely true—those things you would honestly bet on. They have been built upon other concepts in a hierarchical manner, from your first conception to now.
Religiously or professionally conceptualizing something other than nature robs you of any possible distinction for tangible, intelligible, and knowable reference. For example, any Obsidian pebble can be a Native American arrowhead when nature is removed from the concept. To profess such a concept to be true is to profess a falsehood. It is a stolen concept.
Ayn Rand was brilliant but definitely had her not-so-good moments. One of her excellent observations was the Fallacy of the Stolen Concept, the absurdity of arguing against a position when the argument depends upon that position. The “stolen concept” fallacy, coined by Ayn Rand, is the fallacy of using a concept while denying the validity of its genetic roots, i.e., of an earlier concept(s) on which it logically depends. Leonard Peikoff, editor’s footnote to Ayn Rand’s “Philosophical Detection,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 22
Some irrational skeptics claim that there is no such thing as entities, that nothing exists but motion all the while blanking out the fact that motion presupposes the thing which moves, that without the concept of entity, there can be no such concept as “motion.” This is also known as the Fallacy of the Stolen Concept. -Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, p. 154
Put another way:
As they feed on stolen wealth in body, so they feed on stolen concepts in mind, and proclaim that honesty consists of refusing to know that one is stealing. As they use effects while denying causes, so they use our concepts while denying the roots and the existence of the concepts they are using. -Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectualp. 154
Conceptualization is the burden of man. Life or death for humans is a choice, not a luxury. If a person refuses to conceive of thoughts then that person will die. Choices are produced by concepts. Faith is belief that has no evidence to support it. Death and faith are the only escape from the naturally perceived universe. Death and faith, correspondingly, are the core prerequisites of martyrdom.
Humans possess the greatest capacity to utilize illusion. Tricking prey originally evolved to gather food or avoid becoming food. But there’s a residual downside. This is the greed, theft, hording, oppression, and nonsense that have grown up with humans as a survival side-effect of trickery. Throughout history humans have fooled other humans for financial, religious, and political purposes. Replication and survival is at the heart of these endeavors. Belief, like the many other evolved human abilities, can be observed as both constructive and nonconstructive. Constructive because it has evolved through specific needs and various altruistic benefits can come from it. Nonconstructive because it also serves immense and unnecessary damage such as greed, unnatural conceptions, psychological abuse, oppression, war, ignorance, and delusion.
You do your intelligence and the world around you a great disservice while yielding to beliefs that are not founded in observed universe. Segregation, racism, bigotry, murder, and theft can all be justified under faith’s umbrella of cultic extremism. The same pitfalls can occur, though less frequently, under atheistic extremism as well.
Through our inherited ignorance we contemporaries have been conditioned to believe that humans and their activities are not necessarily a part of the known universe. Across thousands of years and different legends, the mythology usually goes something like this: man is the son of a god. Humans are not animals, they are divine offspring. Therefore, it is unwittingly assumed by billions that we are connected to a divine super-nature by way of birthright. Humans have evolved to believe that there is (anthropomorphic) personality in storms, mountains, the sky, etc. The Sun gods are naturally the oldest on record; the Sun, has before recorded time, brought light, warmth, food, and visual protection—good. The Sun’s nemesis has therefore always been darkness, cold, hunger, and blinding danger—evil. This, of course, is now understood to be the ignorance of past thinkers with limited technology. Scientific technology, for instance, gives us knowledge that the earth is spherical and that it revolves around the sun. Scientific technology also informs us why terrestrial and extraterrestrial bodies naturally form spheres due to gravity and surface tension, i.e., rain drops and planets.
Humans have evolved as a pattern-seeking race. Anthropomorphism is like a mirror that reflects our human characteristics onto animate and inanimate objects in a pattern-seeking fashion. This is a deception like no other. It is because of this reason that ancient humans simply assumed that nature was “designed” by a human-like super being. Humans seek and find patterns in nature and automatically think that a similar, more powerful being must have designed and created it, e.g., a parent god. Believers simply concede that a divine mother or father of all humankind gave birth to the universe and the humans in it. Thus the son of god idea continues to constantly replicate. That may be really true but there is no actual evidence to support it.
Human choice (or at least our perceived ability to make choices) is the greatest and the worst ability. Choice can safely support millions of people or it can mercilessly torture them to death. One decision leads to another. Sow an action…reap a habit, sow a habit…reap an addiction, etc. Choices are born out of an instinct to survive. The early weeks of pulsation in our mother’s womb are the initial steps of survival. When we open our eyes into this world, survival instincts gradually become choices. We are genetic descendants of other carbon-based life forms. Likewise, we are cultural descendants of earlier cultures. Those dynamics produce our existence. One influences the other and vice versa and are inseparable. Countless biological pieces and events make up the human body; countless cultural pieces make up the human psyche. Because of that (and short memory), the greatest minds of history have disputed whether a person can really be free. The argument is fueled by the fact that humans are products of their environment, physically and culturally; that they will act according to environment they find themselves in, etc.
In closing, if we are really honest with ourselves then we will ask good questions regarding what is actually known and what is mere speculation, or faith. If something looks and smells like bulls%#* then it probably is. Christopher Columbus could have turned back short of his exploration's goal and reported back to the people that the earth is flat. Even if you really LOVE the idea of a flat planet, it doesn't change the fact that the earth, like other planets in the cosmos, is spherical.
We should never be afraid to let go of something that isn't known to be true, even if we love it (or him / her) very much. I think the god(s) of truth would agree.