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Is the Universe or Its Spirit Trying to Connect Us?

Many people say so. What does the science suggest?

Key points

  • Many "spiritual, not religious" people believe that a "higher power" or "spirit" is rooting for infinite love and connection.
  • Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that the universe is strongly biased toward connection, maximum entropy, infinite mixed-upness.
  • Maximum entropy is not love. Love is connecting and disconnecting right, not wrong.
  • Love is not the answer; it's the question: How to connect where the connecting is good.

At my neighborhood’s monthly block party, I chanced into conversation with a computer programmer whose father was a minister. We got talking about his break from the church and what he believes now.

He doesn’t believe in God anymore. He believes in a higher power that wants love. I asked him what love is. He said it’s connection.

That’s a popular notion these days with people who leave traditional religion. They no longer think of God as an old man with a white beard. They're relieved and proud to have settled comfortably into the idea of a disembodied spirit or higher power, or maybe the universe overall coaxing everything toward love.

Ask them what love is and they’ll tend to say that it’s connection: The higher power has no white beard but still, like a human, it has a will, goal, effort, or aim. Its invisible hand is at our backs encouraging us to love and connect.

I think we use a common language for two distinct purposes, hope, and realism, spirituality and science. I can see why it would be spiritually hopeful to believe that a higher power wants us to connect and love one another.

Scientifically, the evidence strongly suggests that the universe doesn’t want anything. Organisms want things, but inanimate things don’t. Your coffee mug has no preferences and neither does anything we’ve found in the universe’s first 10 billion years, two-thirds of its history, at least in this neck of the woods.

One can imagine that there’s some force outside the universe that wants love and connection. But “universe” means the infinite everything. Once you’ve got a God or higher power interacting with the universe, it’s part of it.

One can claim that there’s a supernatural force, outside of nature, permanently undetectable despite its influence on everything. Lots of folks do. But notice how dangerous that gets. ISIS makes such claims.

A supernatural higher power is, at core, a wild trump card. With the wildcard, you can believe anything about what it wants about what’s beyond nature and no one can prove you wrong and you can claim that whatever it wants trumps all other considerations. That’s like claiming the support of an all-powerful imaginary friend. You can say you believe in a higher power for a good cause, but that’s exactly what ISIS says.

Scientific evidence suggests that the universe does have a direction to it, and yes, it is toward connection, though hardly what any of us think of as love.

With time, everything gets desegregated, mixed up, co-mingled. That’s what scientists call the second law of thermodynamics though they agree it's the first in terms of universal consequences. It’s not a law but a statistical inevitability: There are simply way more mixed-up possibilities than segregated ones. If you drop a sewing box, everything sorted out within it is almost certain to land all mixed up. In the box, your sewing stuff is segregated. Drop the box and stuff gets unsorted, disordered.

We organisms depend on that second-law tendency for stuff to get all mixed up. That’s what energy is – segregations desegregating. When you cook a frozen pizza, you’re not pumping energy into it; you’re removing the segregation between a cold thing and a hot thing, letting the hot and cold get all mixed up.

Likewise, when you eat the pizza, you’re body desegregates it and then resegregates sorting it into energy you channel into effort to regenerate yourself.

Back when I was more new age, I’d about channeling energy. Having delved deeper into the science, I come back to that: I’m not the energy I use any more than I’m the toast I had for breakfast. Rather I’m how I channel energy into effort. Channeling is about preventing connections, not letting my energy dither, spilling, and connecting with just anything.

There are people you would and wouldn’t want to connect with. Even in love, you need to take space – even if just psychic space, occasional time alone. You may have tried fusing with someone when you were a kid in puppy love but you matured out of that idealization. The goal for us isn’t infinite connection; it’s connecting and disconnecting right, in ways that help, not harm.

Your cell phone connects you to other people. It wouldn't if every part inside it was short-circuited, connected with every other part. A cellphone channels energetic flows by means of carefully engineered connections and insulations. The insulation is as important as the connections. A computer programmer, like my neighbor, is to be in the business of making the right connections, not the wrong ones.

Everything connected to everything within us is death, like if you ran an organism through a blender, making a slurry out of it, breaking down all its internal barriers.

Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code, wrote another potboiler, this one about the scientific origins and destiny of life called “Origin.” Spoiler alert. Its “good news” is that ultimately everything will be connected to everything else. No barriers, no constraints. He calls that love and makes it sound like we’d be rooting for it.

We wouldn’t. It would be the universe’s heat death. Total desegregation, nothing left to channel energy.

I mentioned some of this to my neighbor. (See, I live in Berkeley. You can talk like this at block parties.)

He said he’d have to think about it. Still, he acknowledged that though he thinks that the higher power wants universal love and connection, he didn’t raise his daughter to say yes to all connections.

His bubbly daughter was there with us, interrupting to connect and crossing the street a little carelessly. Her father kept trying to get her to look both ways since her connecting with a passing car would not be a lovable outcome.

References

Brown, Dan (2017) Origins. NYC, NY: Random House.

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