Posts from December 2011.

Do we owe gratitude to the universe?

Gratitude begins with the recognition that something we value or enjoy could have been different. For a practically infinite number of reasons, I might never have been born, ranging from cosmic circumstances like if the Earth had formed a little farther away from or closer to the Sun, to details like if my parents had decided “not tonight.”

Gratitude begins with the ability to imagine the world counterfactually.

I can easily feel this kind of gratitude when regarding the cosmos. I feel “lucky” that I’m alive, but is that gratitude?

When I think of gratitude, I usually think of it as something more than just feeling lucky. I think of it as warm feelings for someone else for doing something that I value that they didn’t have to do. They could have done something else, but they didn’t, so I feel grateful to them.

I feel like I owe them something because it is human nature to try to reciprocate good or ill that comes our way. If nothing else, I give them my feelings of gratitude.

My life exists on a razor’s edge. As I mentioned, there are so many reasons why I might never have been born. There are almost as many reasons why I might have died since then. So I feel grateful that I exist at all, but my gratitude is not directed to the universe.

As far as I can tell, the universe is impersonal and therefore indifferent to my existence. The universe hasn’t conspired to give me life and sustain it. Life for me and my ancestors has always been a hard fight against an indifferent universe to eek out a living. If anything, I feel like I have everything I value in spite of the universe.

Yet I wouldn’t have the things I value without the universe.

However unwitting, the universe is the ground in which the beauty of my life has grown. So I feel grateful for the universe, but I don’t give any gratitude to the universe.

This is one reason that even though I can see myself as a pantheist, I don’t see in myself a perfect reflection of the devotion that theists express to their gods.

I feel more awe and fear toward my god than devotion, and yet I still feel gratitude for the cosmos.

Creative Commons License Do we owe gratitude to the universe? by Jonathan Blake is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.