Comment on the Accidental Universe

by Blisk McQueen

April, 2013

[This was a comment on reddit, regarding this essay by Alan Lightman in Harper's.]

It seems like the physicists are so bent on describing a mechanistic universe without design or purpose that they are ignoring (at increasingly frail pitch) the proposal that the universe is how it is for a purpose.

Science is caught in a faith of everything being accidental, and there being no purposeful connections among living things, or between universe and life. This is a schism dating back to the hegemony of catholicism, when scientists had to confine themselves to areas where the established orthodoxy did not already explain things. Now science is part of the orthodoxy, and is blind to its own shortcomings because those areas or research which would illustrate the shortcomings are off limits and illegitimate.

To take psychoactive substances - the psilocybin, dmt, iboga, mescaline range of substances especially - is to be granted an insight into the inadequacy of materialism to explain consciousness. Indeed, science has been flummoxed by more questions than just "why is the universe here?" Science has no answer for consciousness. It too must be an accident. Which is a fine theory if you are the orthodoxy refusing to examine Galileo's new telescope, but once you dare to look, and you see just how far the rabbit hole goes, the basic tenets of an accidental, pointless universe become inadequate to explain existence.

Having grown up within a very strictly scientific household, to rational parents without a hint of religion, I was in an ideal position for a physicalist, rational philosophy to become my worldview. And it did; as parents so often pass their views to their children, I grew up within the framework of "what is measurable and knowable exists, and all things can be reduced to component parts which, if broken down far enough, become comprehensible. Therefore, by reducing things to smaller, understandable pieces, we can know the whole." It was all pretty standard scientific orthodoxy.

I became dissatisfied as a young man studying genetics and computer programming. I saw the similarities between DNA and the primitive programming languages man had invented, and this became my area of focus for a while. I realized that DNA is what we were trying to create - the ultimate programming language, one that self-repairs, creates copies of itself, and which can rearrange its own structure in order to create vastly different results. I wrote a paper about it, combined with some ideas I had about the structure of DNA being ideal for storage of all sorts of data. The results were... Awful. My mentor mocked me. My department blocked me from registering for further classes. I was accused for being religious and not understanding genetics at all. Now, rereading my work, it was heavier into the idea of a creator (a universal programmer) than most mainstream scientists will accept, but it wasn't that far off base. Certainly the second part, about DNA data storage, has been pursued by others more clever than myself.

The result of this ban from genetics and ridicule by people I trusted was to push me into another field of study. I moved to neurochemistry, and was fascinated by the idea of chemical reactions forming my thoughts and feelings. It was about this time I got my "these are technically the only things you enjoy" Dopamine and Seretonin t-shirt. But my life was turned upside down by a professor in Neuro-pharmacology, who advocated radical treatments - MDMA for depression, Psilocybin and Iboga for addiction, and LSD for finding one's purpose in the universe; basically the use of psychoactive substances in both research and for personal philosophical and ethical development. It struck me as hippie bullshit.

I spent a lot of time sitting with this man, arguing that experiences created by chemistry are just reactions, that human consciousness is merely an emergent phenomenon mediated by electrochemical signals. Thoughts are salts crossing a membrane, writ larger by their immediacy inside of us. He spent a lot of time laughing, and telling me that I really needed to try some of these "chemicals" before forming such opinions. I was basically quoting my textbooks at him, and he would counter with personal anecdotes and speaking from a position of first-hand knowledge. I came to a point where I either had to give up the argument or actually have the experiences I was arguing were reducible to biochemistry.

So I bought, and consumed, a lot of psilocybin mushrooms.

The first time, I was with six friends, in our ratty, rented backyard. We ate them and played like six year olds for a day. Our minds merged into one, we didn't speak for hours, and I could see human consciousness as a fuzzy white cloud around each of our heads, extending to those we were thinking about, and connecting the minds of us all. It wasn't only the people on mushrooms who had the "auras" around them. All life did. I spent the night rearranging the stars on a hilltop overlooking the city and the sea, and slept in nature for the first time in years.

It was incredible, and by that I mean I actually refused to believe it. A few weeks later, after convincing myself it had been a trick of my brain on poison, I did another round of mushrooms, alone this time, far away from the human world, on a secluded beach in a marine preserve.

This time I found myself awash in a dream. I was the last man on earth, shipwrecked after a cataclysm. I had visions of humanity destroying itself, and was given insight into my own troubles that would have taken years of self-study and honesty to deduce. I lived there for a timeless eternal moment, in my own universe, until finally I was visited by a figure I knew to be God, the creator of the universe. We spoke at length about the problems facing humanity, and about my place among the living universe. God told me that all creation lived, that it was only humans who separated living from non-living, and that by divorcing our physical bodies from the spiritual whole, we humans were setting ourselves on a collision course with extinction. God granted me the gift to hear the voices of the non-humans, and bade me never to forget that all things have voices, and all things have feelings. Then God left, and I found myself lying, sunburnt and dehydrated, on the sand.

It has been about ten years since that day. I found myself unable to continue studying science soon after, and ended up in ethics, theology, and mythology. I have never since been able to pretend that the rationalist, reductionist worldview of science is capable of perceiving the universe's mysteries. It has since been quite apparent to me that the focus, for several hundred years now, on only the measurable things outside the purview of theology, has driven science into a blind corner. We now have our most brilliant minds shackled to an ideology every bit as blinding as the old religious view of Catholicism. "It's all chance" is the "God works in mysterious ways" of our time. It is a fiction perpetrated by an institution invested in a certain way of seeing the world.

When scientists dare to expand their minds, and experience perceptions opened to the breadth and depth our minds are capable of, under psychoactive substances, deep meditative or yogic trances, or in near-death/out of body experiences, then marvelous discoveries explode in every direction. The wall between acceptable areas of inquiry and the off-limits areas of the spirit must fall, if human knowledge is to ever approach ideas of consciousness, the purpose of existence, and the nature of reality. Until then, we will continue our deluded, laughably narrow view of what constitutes consciousness, and find ourselves in an "accidental universe" of unbelievable coincidences and mysteriously just-right parameters.

For my part, I will continue to plumb the depths of the human spirit. What I have seen, in my travels and in my own head, has shown me that the world is far more purposeful than we pretend, and our lives have very distinct, personal meaning. God is real, omnipresent, and perfectly capable of direct conversation, with no priests or mediums necessary.

Even the psychoactive plants are not necessary. Frenzied dance is enough. Sitting quietly is enough. Just asking questions of the divine and waking for an answer is enough. The drugs are for us stubborn fools, tied to ideology and refusing to see the truth around us.

I love watching the spread of spiritual realization in the world around me. The old, stodgy scientists, with their fables and their denial of consciousness, will pass, like the old guard of the heliocentric universe. Until then, we shall all suffer the emptiness and lack of purpose which stems from denying everything we cannot understand.

Consciousness, especially the shared consciousness of all life, threatens the foundations of western science. It is for this reason that scientists are not allowed to study these areas under threat of professional suicide, and for this reason that substances which have been integral to human spirituality for longer than civilization are now illegal, and treated as dangerous weapons. They are dangerous, but not to you personally. They are dangerous to the orthodoxy, and the societal organization of our time. All those who dare to consume the apple of wisdom risk being cast out of Eden. At least from the outside, looking in, one does not have to suffer such a meaningless, unsatisfying ideology of accidents.