3 January 2017 2:12 AM (musing)
I am, to an embarrassing degree, an animist. Perhaps I should say that my emotions and imagination, though not my beliefs, are animistic. While I have occasionally experimented with the idea of panpsychism, I don't believe it. It's untestable even in principle, and it makes me much more uncomfortable with the idea of dying than the thought of ceasing to exist does.
Like everyone, when sleep runs low and excitement runs high, I can't help but feel the world is alive with thought and significance everywhere. Even apart from that, however, I have trouble not imagining the workings of abstract physical theories that way.
In an MRI machine, a powerful magnetic field aligns the nuclei of all the hydrogen atoms in all the water molecules in the body. Pulses of radio waves throw the nuclei out of alignment, and each emits a tiny radio signal when it realigns. When I think of this, I cannot help but think of the phrase in the book of Job: “and all the sons of God shouted for joy”.
In Bremsstrahlung electrons moving at a high velocity will, when decelerating, emit high energy photons. This is how most x-ray machines work; they accelerate a beam of electrons and smash them into a hunk of metal. I cannot think of this without imagining the electrons as screaming and laughing at every stop and turn like kids on a roller coaster.
When I think of the light streaming from the nuclear inferno of a star's core, I hear in my mind a constant joyous shout and song of acclamation, as if every particle involved were in constant rapture at enacting its behavior.
I sometimes imagine a fanciful theodicy where the particles making up all matter and energy are the intended beneficiaries of creation, with the world made for their delight in their interactions with each other. We more complex systems would then be an afterthought, an unavoidable byproduct. Think what a horrible injustice it would be to deprive a few million quarks and electrons out of their bliss and subject them to the anguish of a miracle just to spare one human the misery of polio. It's not a very good theodicy, and it utterly fails when omnipotence is taken into account as most theodicies do, since it simply begs the question of why God couldn't have made a universe in which larger scale systems live in endless bliss too. As usual, throwing God in the rubbish bin improves matters by eliminating the question of conscious choice between infinite alternatives.
This vision of the world feels in some way isomorphic to (but shinier than) an unconscious and meaningless world. Constant joy at every fulfillment of natural law just moving the zero point upward. Since natural law is always obeyed, there is no variation in the delight of matter over time, one might say there's no difference.
Claiming it makes no difference seems awfully inconsiderate of all matter in the universe (for whom it certainly makes some difference). Further, an affective symmetry that leaves the emotional state of our universe unchanged regardless of what we assign to zero would imply that no happiness can be created without an equal unhappiness. Yes, I know. Treating 'mindless and unconscious' as equivalent to the zero on a scale of gradations is illegitimate. And emotions are more vectors than scalars and not really comparable outside of very narrow variations. It's just fun to take a few symbols and run with them to places they don't have any business being.
Still, thinking of the entire cosmos as endless song and exultation With our own unhappiness as merely secondary side effects on a slower and much larger scale makes them feel rather different.