What it means to be a cosmonaut

What it means to be a cosmonaut


The dictionary definition of cosmology is as follows: from the Greek kosmos the universe and logica to speak. Hence cosmology means to speak about the universe and cosmonaut means, here, to travel between ways of seeing the universe or speaking about it.
Cosmology. I've always liked that word: it rolls off my tongue with a certain sweetness that betrays its meaning and importance. As a child I confused cosmology with outer space, thanks to the Russian term "cosmonauts." Instead, cosmology refers the study of world views or ways of seeing the world -- it is, in effect, the study of an imaginative, inner space. While it is true that the former Soviet Union and the capitalist Western world maintained different views of the world, today a cosmonaut is better understood to be someone who travels among world views. And, today we are all cosmonauts.

There are people understand what is meant by saying "we are all cosmonauts." People who straddle the religious world view and the myths of objectivity and science regarding the universe are one example, e.g., scientists who are Christian first. Such people travel between two interrelated views of the universe: the one explains the universe in religious or divine terms, while the other sees everything in terms of scientific laws such as evolutionism, objectivity, gravity and the like. But, much to the dismay of many scientists, the scientific world view comes directly out of the religious one.

In our black-and-white, over-simplified moral attitudes, many of us are led to ask: "which is better, science of religion?" It is absurd to ask this, because, like all myths, both the religious world view and the scientific one serve the same purpose: explaining the existence, maintenance, and persistence of the universe. One is just as good as the other: both logically explain the world based upon their accepted beliefs. Both are tautologies - i.e., logical cul de sacs that are only sensible within their own circle of beliefs. While it is true that the scientific perspective, to which we are all over-exposed, is useful, it is only considered preferable because it appears to explain things better than does the religious one. Yet, it is false pride which allows people throughout time to presume that their view is the best and that none other shall explain things as well, ever. Scientists are no different.

But if the scientific world view is so "True," why is fundamentalism reemerging as the 20th century comes to a close? This is a complicated question but I believe that fundamentalism is gaining popularity partially because the scientific way of seeing the world is breaking-down. It is deteriorating, because its logic is increasingly seen to be full of holes, not whole or holy. There is much more to the world and to humanity than can be explained by a mathematical equation; there is more to my understanding of myself than the digital ideal of computers (where there are only zeros and ones, yes and no). Humanity does not conform to scientific laws and scientific laws are but imaginative expressions which describe the world. Fundamentalism is here now because people need a sense of mystery, because scientific explanations leaves a lot to be desired, and because the cosmos can never be explained away. So, if you are not a fundamentalist, you are left with the skills to be a cosmonaut: the ability to inhabit two worlds.

Western society should be completely scientific and rational by now, according to some 19th century thinkers. But instead, as technology has taken over the guise of science, science is turning to religious concepts and behaviours: e.g., the ecosystems approach of biology parallels the astrological principle which states 'that which affects the heavens affects the earth'; the Big Bang has as fervent adherents as did/does the Genesis story; there are denominations emerging in various areas of science which, like religious denominations, diverge only in terms of their interpretations of basic principles; and, there are demons on the Internet which make communication difficult and frustrating on a semi-regular basis.

We are cosmonauts, because we live in one world which sees the mystery and connectedness of all things and we live in another world which denies this. Religion and science, in my opinion, are but two reflections of the human need to locate themselves in the universe by explaining things. Both work and both are subject to easy criticism. Still, we live our lives in a confusing situation, one which requires supplication to one view or the other and, when things get really weird, sometimes to both. Finally, as the scientific world view breaks down further, we know we cannot turn to the religious view as it was historically; it too is seen as imperfect. I suspect that what we will see happen is a blending of the scientific and religious world views, resulting in a completely new perspective combining (hopefully but not likely) the best of both. As cosmonauts we are confronted with the necessity of navigating the space between science and religion. As cosmonauts we must find some meeting ground between the physical and the mental, between outer space and inner space.


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Copyright 1995 Marc Fonda. All Rights Reserved.
Last updated: April 22, 1996.