Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Lukas Gessner & Sarah Nelson


Summary by Eddie LaVilla

Oneness in the Universe


M. Gleiser “Tear at the Edge of Creation” Chapters 1-10

The discussion on the oneness of the universe was led by Sarah Nelson and Lukas Gessner. The beginning of the talk incorporated a handout with some brief notes and definitions from the reading of Marcelo Gleiser’s book “Tear at the Edge of Creation”. A strong first point was made by Lukas, from the handout, by suggesting that a theory of everything or global oneness comes from a Christian/western monotheistic view. From the reading, we discussed two types of people, as illustrated by the author on this matter. One type is a believer, one who believes in the existence of some form of spiritual entity that created and controls the universe or exists under the surface of the entire material world. The second type is a unifier who is a person who seeks some theory of physics that incorporates the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics into one. The group leaders then presented the author’s big question, “Can or should our fragmented worldview be unified?” before explaining the three types of oneness. The first is philosophical which encompasses religious, philosophical, and political examples and arguments. The second is physical oneness, that of our material world. The third type of oneness is our biological oneness, relating to the idea that we are connected to other humans and our living world through our biological components.

The class then shifted gears to the discussion questions. Lukas posed the first question: “How does the idea of sacred oneness play into the equation of a general feeling of universal oneness?” What quickly arose from this question was an argument between religious oneness and universal oneness. A point was made after some short back and forth that oneness is incomprehensible on a global scale, which I found interesting. However, a clever counterpoint was made by saying that we are all connected on a global scale already for example through inter-person pollution (the breath I breath will be recycled by another and so on). More questions began to develop. The class then began to look at oneness from within. Oneness from within in this case was referring to a person’s integrity and becoming more whole as a person. The main question was whether by finding internal oneness we affect the outside world. A point was made by commenting on the Buddhist religion and its search for internal oneness with the world and cosmos. This point came in support of the search for oneness within. In response to this question, another one was proposed that was stated as follows, “What if alien life forms were to arrive on Earth?” If alien life were to appear, we would finally see proof that there are life forms other than “life as we know it.” I think this would give us a radically more unified feeling, grounded completely in realizing our humanity, a definition that would take on new meaning in this situation.

At this point in the discussion, the two most critical points, in my mind, are made. The first is from Eric: when so many different opinions were arising from each question of the idea of oneness, so he stated that since we can’t agree, we’re connected by not agreeing with anything. The second statement came from Joe and should be kept in mind for the rest of the summary. Joe stated that the scope of oneness is very powerful. This means that when talking about oneness it is crucial to be aware of the scale on which you are speaking and what you are actually defining by oneness. For example if we want to try and discuss oneness in a biological sense, we must keep in mind that we are trying to connect oneness to a global scale of all humans and then one step further to include all living things. I find this to be absolutely critical for making sense of both the discussion and the topic. I will reaffirm this idea later in the summary.

From the spiritual to internal, then to the political and economic, our discussion on oneness took many turns. We tried linking together ideas of economy to oneness by saying that if perhaps we eliminated competition in something like our free market economy, we may find oneness there. To achieve this goal, the same speaker brought up events such as war or epidemics in order for a shift to occur in search for this oneness. The shift I’m talking about is connecting the search for oneness through a common feeling like suffering as opposed to a more cognitive view of oneness. Looking at oneness through suffering would give us an idea of oneness through human emotion rather than some idealistic view of oneness. Professor deVries then brought up a counter to this by arguing that a totalitarian oneness may not serve for the betterment of the populace, which put a negative spin on our idea of being all-inclusive. In relation to Professor deVries’ point, I was reminded of Marcelo Gleiser’s question, “Can or should our fragmented worldview be unified?” with a strong emphasis on the “should” in the question. It is also from the look at economies that a disagreement arose about whether we were discussing oneness or equality. In the economics discussion, it was not clear whether it was referring to oneness or equality. Although I think it is an interesting point, I felt that the idea of equality as oneness as someone suggested was simply a byproduct from looking too closely at a specific example of oneness and really served no benefit for our search for an answer.

After spending some time slightly off topic the group was led by Sarah back into the proper direction by introducing science into our realm of oneness. I stated in the discussion that even if we had a unified theory of everything, it would do little to persuade the masses into feeling as if their neighbor were much closer to them in some way. Professor deVries commented on my point by saying that there is a difference between a natural oneness through scientific ideas, giving us a systematic way of how things work, as opposed to a cognitive/normative unification that brings us together through the mental or societal view of oneness. Although I agree with his point in the difference, it made me ask yet again: “through what scope are we looking at oneness, or oneness of what?” This question surfaced throughout our discussion over and over again.

Our endeavor into science was a brief one and we were brought right back into religion as Tom proposed a question relating to God: where does good come from? Is good built into us or expressed through our actions? The statement suggested that our view of right and wrong comes from some transcendent being, which was argued from the idea of “torturing a baby. ” The transcendent view was only one proposed idea of the discussion, as it was stated that different societies view what is right and wrong in various ways, and there were many more ideas discussed. In regards to the transcendent view, the thought is that we realize this act is wrong based on a higher power telling us that it is not good, but a strong counter is made by Professor deVries by bringing up Greek society that used to break the ankles of unwanted newborns and leave them for death. The Greeks did not see this as wrong and Professor deVries stated this in his argument against the idea that good does not have to come from some higher power. The question of how we know what’s right and wrong speaks against the “higher power” because there has not been a universal determination of right and wrong, thus leaving us to make up our collective mind of right and wrong.

The last part of the discussion was spent trying to put oneness under some sort of blanket to encompass its complete idea. It was brought up that respect should be grounds for oneness. This proved to be a difficult concept to describe oneness, because there are issues with how much respect each person needs to show or what someone should respect. Suffering was brought up following respect as a ground for oneness. But this too failed to hold a lot of weight. I’m not sure why we dismissed the notion of suffering as a ground for oneness. I think a good question was posed by asking if there was another benefit to oneness other than having less suffering? This is how we determined that suffering alone was not a solid ground for defining oneness. Yet another attempt to grasp oneness was made by saying that one needs to recognize good to recognize bad, so that you need one to recognize the other. This idea too found little gain towards the definition of oneness. As Marcelo Gleiser states in his book, the search for oneness becomes futile when taken too far. This is idea of oneness being futile comes from a flaw in trying to view everything as “one.”

Even though our attempts failed at uncovering a solid ground for oneness, I think a very important point can be drawn from this end of the discussion. As Joe stated before and I reemphasized, the scope of oneness is very powerful. I believe that oneness can be described or discussed if the scope of the argument is clearly laid out. When discussing oneness of the mind for example, it must be determined whether you are arguing for oneness of just yourself or oneness of the mind as it relates to all of humanity. This, I think, will provide room for helpful ideas in describing the idea of oneness. However, to follow this, one must accept that you cannot have one description of oneness that describes all situations, the absence of an oneness or onenesses. This is why I believe our discussion took so many turns and seemed so off track. We tried to box in a topic that may very well have no bounds at all. I am on the side of the author in questioning whether our world should try and fit its very complex pieces together into one big picture.