Universe and Cosmos
March 26, 2017
To simple word for everything that exists but the differences between them are interesting and significant.
Let’s start with the seemingly easier term, universe.
The word universe points toward the totality of physical stuff that is studied by scientists on the grand scale in the fields of astronomy and cosmology. When scientists deal with the study of the workings of this grand collection of stuff they are dealing in the study of astrophysics and physics. When they are dealing our corner of the universe then they are studying geology, ecology, weather, biology, and chemistry.
Hopefully those brief lists, though they may be incomplete give you a rough idea of what I am talking about. The universe is physical stuff and the interaction of that physical stuff that can be quantified, and studied with the senses and tools that augment our senses.
The study of the universe generates a vast collection of facts; perhaps an infinite collection of facts can be gathered and accumulated by all this study.
Albert Camus in his 1942 novel The Stranger, near the end of that novel, Camus wrote a phrase that is very descriptive concerning the relationship of the universe and humanity; ‘gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.’ [As translated into English by Stuart Gilbert]
I take from this quote the meaning that for some people, and this would be true of the scientific worldview in particular, the universe lacks the capacity to concern itself with any specific aspect of itself, let alone take notice of the activities of humanity. The universe as a collective entity is indifferent to what occurs within itself.
Let us begin to move toward explaining the word cosmos.
We can start with a quote from Aristotle, ‘All men by nature desire to know.’ (Metaphysics, 1.1, 980211-7)
The desire to understand the workings everything is what drives the scientist and the philosopher.
Most important of all and underneath it all for the philosopher and the scientist is the belief that the universe is orderly and that we can by observation and reason understand that order.
That belief is a state of faith. It is not directly provable but is indirectly ‘proven’ by all that the scientist and the philosopher does and tries to do in their respective endeavors.
Both the scientist and the philosopher believe that work proves and justifies their faith that the universe is orderly and knowable.
That belief begins to move us from quantifiable facts about the universe to qualitative ideas concerning cosmos.
Cosmos is the belief that the universe is meaningful and a source of meaning.
Cosmos is the belief that there is meaning and purpose to be found in the order and activities of the natural universe.
When we create, conjure, invoke, assume and project meaning into and towards the universe we have transformed it into cosmos.
- The cosmos(UK/ˈkɒzmɒs/,US/ˈkɒzmoʊs/) is the universe regarded as a complex and orderly system; the opposite of chaos. The philosopherPythagoras used the term cosmos (Ancient Greek:κόσμος) for the order of the universe, but the term was not part of modern language until the 19th century geographer and polymath, Alexander von Humboldt, resurrected the use of the word from the ancient Greek, assigned it to his multi-volume treatise, Kosmos, which influenced modern and somewhat holistic perception of the universe as one interacting entity. [source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmos]