Intentionality of the Universe…in simple code


Apart from Italian food, the most comforting addition to the human condition, in my opinion, is the invention of super-soft toilet paper. I don’t want to imagine life was like before it—or would be without it!

It follows that life can be viewed from many angles, from the very personal views on one’s physical comfort on the toilet to the universally cosmic. And we human beings are remarkable in our ability to move from one perspective to another radically different perspective. From Majesta toilet paper we can rescale our thinking to Irving Tissue which reportedly produces 75,000 tons of tissue a year, from there to the Irving conglomerate itself which employs about 10% of the Province of New Brunswick, and from there to the state of the world’s economy, and so on.

This can get pretty complex. In a world in which the rate of information creation is doubling every 18 months, it’s pretty clear that we’re being drowned in new data.

On the one hand I have a friend who sends me volumes of email on the state of the world, especially its financial state. On the other hand I have a second friend who dials me into the art of personal power (at least as practiced locally), and has loaned me two big books on the First World War. Neither seemed overly concerned about the state of toilet paper, however.

The first friend flirts with the idea of a corporate takeover of democracy and the hidden rule of a small cadre of wealthy and powerful elites. The second friend is more philosophic about the role of elites, whoever they may be, and seems to be encouraging me to see the world as a playing field between the forces for good and not-so-good, hence the war books.

Before you tune out completely, I’ll quote Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” I would have to say my friends are trying their best to stay with ideas. And so will I.

One of the ideas that my friends and I have discussed is the idea of money. It came to me years ago that money is not a commodity at all, and I’ve written about it in this space before. As I’ve said, money is a make-believe device that allows us to store human energy. It’s a trust, not an object.

The idea of reducing very complex issues into one key word, a “logo”, appeals to me. For a designer it’s a cool challenge to sum up a whole corporation in one tiny picture. The CN logo created in 1960 by then 30-year-old designer Allan Fleming is a great example. After 50 years his logo still looks as fresh as tomorrow and portrays the very idea of a modern railway. By comparison CP has been through several identities and now has an image that looks as old as the company’s history.

Aside from money, what other idea-icons are out there? I keep writing about the dangers to the environment, so definitely the planet is one of those icons. From the photos from the NASA moon missions in the late 1960s, we came to see the planet as a blue marble hanging in lifeless black space. That image is still powerful.

But the kind of idea-icon to which I’m referring is not visual. It’s conceptual. The earth is our provider. All of our resources flow from the earth. To put it most simply, the earth is flow.

From the flow of swirling gases cooling in space came the flow of lava, leading to the flow of oceans and tides, the flow of weather—all of it flowing on and on, turning into the flow of life itself. Millennia of generations of plants and animals followed, flowing around the planet—a planet that’s now overflowing with us.

I don’t quite know what to do with these icons. But they’re like koans or meditation points floating around in my head. Here are some examples:

• The earth is flow
• Survival is capture
• War is contraction
• Civilization is protection
• Power is illusion
• God is release.

When I sent these off to my first friend he didn’t stop to reflect on possible meanings; the logos being mine, not his. However, the concepts of “flow, capture, contraction, protection, illusion and release” are powerful. For example, everything from early hunting to modern enterprise deals with capture—and everything to do with philosophies of religion, spirituality and God deals with release from the material world. Logos help to simplify the complex code.

About a week ago I woke up from a dream with the words, “the intentionality of the universe” stuck in my head. I couldn’t remember what the phrase in the dream meant. In purely religious terms it could mean “God.” In scientific terms it could reference Schrodinger’s cat, the analogy used to explain a quantum phenomenon, in which one particle can be in two places at once. This paradox remains a mystery to scientists. But could the universe have an intentional underpinning? And by that I don’t mean some big dude in the sky. I mean could there be some kind of intentional direction to this whole business—some affinity for coherence and cohesion that keeps a kind of dynamic balance with decay and entropy? I’m treading on old philosophical territory, I know.

The books from my second friend came to the rescue, not with answers, but with a nearer point of view. At the run up to the First World War civilization had reached a peak. By then human beings were the dominant species on the planet, and any thinking about the world was done in human terms. Man truly held dominion over all things, including his enemies. This was industrial man.

What I found most interesting were the historical personalities, the egotists, the blunderers, the imperial highnesses, the sycophants, the philanderers and the mere mortals. I recognized them all. They’re all still here and we work with them every day.

The lessons are clear. There are no answers to the big questions. People, as a rule, won’t change. The earth, however, will keep changing. It’s all about the flow.

Thank God and the Irvings we have enough toilet paper to sop it all up—every last drop.


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