We might or might not be free, but we are most certainly dependent.
Our existence depends on the air we breathe and on the space and the atmosphere that provides the kind of area in which breathable air can exist. We are dependent on atmosphere to protect us from harmful, cosmic radiation and to help stop us freezing in the frozen wasteland of the cosmos. We are dependent also on the fire within the core of our planet as well as the light that reaches us from the sun in order to provide conditions warm enough for human life to exist. Likewise, we are also dependent on the molecular structure of our body and especially our DNA to allow us to exist, be knowledgeable, reproduce ourselves and think we are free.
These are only a fraction of the things we depend on for our survival. If any one of them fails, our existence will stop. We are held together by forces and enclosed within other forces, and without these powers that ensure our physical construction and make the benevolent environment in which to move, we would not exist at all. But existence also depends on awareness, light, consciousness. Without a consciousness of existence, there is no real existence. Without life there can be no consciousness. If intelligent, conscious life only exists on Earth, then the planet Earth is the most significant point in the universe. We are necessary for the fulfilment of the universe.Everything we are dependent on depends on us for its Being.
Cosmologists today talk of a finely tuned cosmos. Finely tuned to create life, as if life were a cosmic ambition. However, if that is so, why would it be? What can life give to the cosmos? But, of course, we have already answered that question – life, especially conscious life, enriches the universe with Being.
This idea implies a kind of anthropocentrism. In a numerical sense we are positioned in the very centre of the cosmos, between the macrocosm (1025) and the microcosm (10-25)[i]. However, this is a different kind of anthropocentrism to the traditional arrogant view of man as the most privileged of all creatures, in which the world is a thing put here by God for humankind to freely exploit. This new anthropocentrism doesn’t say that the universe was created for humanity, but rather that humanity was created for the universe. We are significant but also dependent. We are not the owners of the universe but rather the eyes and mind of it.
The idea of a humanity, significant in the universe and fundamental to the creation of Being in the universe, is a deeply positive one. It is also a profoundly humanistic one. We are not talking about races or nations, we are talking about humanity: humanity as a species, the homo sapiens. Thinking positively about the role of humanity in the universe is itself a form of self-preservation. And, in a world with a biosphere that is perilously close to becoming irreparably damaged by ruthlessly selfish human activity, positive thinking is vital in order to change that destructive, human behaviour.
Even the seemingly pessimistic idea that we are alone in the universe, has to be, in reality, a deeply positive incentive to ensure the preservation and good health of our biosphere, and of humanity within that biosphere.
Nihilism is constantly dragging humanity down into pessimistic fantasies of apocalyptic end days, prophesised with some degree of desire – as if our extinction would be doing the universe a favour.
Historically, pessimistic cultures have crumbled. The Aztecs and Incas both believed their time was up. Prophecy had ordained it. The Spanish conquest was pretty much assured even before it began.
Nihilism is a decadence, and nihilism and decadence provoke a cultural sense of being unworthy, and a lasses-faire attitude to any Armageddon.
[i] See Martin Rees, JUST SIX NUMBERS (THE DEEP FORCES THAT SHAPE THE UNIVERSE), Perseus, 2000, pp. 6 & 7.