Posted by: dacalu | 30 July 2011

Cosmonomy I – Field and Regions

A couple posts ago, I introduced the idea of cosmonomy, the study of cosms, or the little maps of the cosmos we each keep inside our heads to orient ourselves. I want to play out some of the aspects of cosms, starting with how we make them.

Every cosm has a field, a conceptual space, in which the action takes place. (All the rest here is an exploration of that concept.)

It seems to me that the most fundamental question in cosmonomy should be one of stuff – that is, what kind of stuff do we use to make our cosms. This question traditionally goes by the name ontology, but recent philosophers have gotten somewhat persnickety about it because they confuse the concept “what makes up your cosm” with the question “what makes up the cosmos.” These two questions are completely different, despite the fact that the first informs and shapes how we answer the second. So, with that note, let’s start building a cosm.

The question I think should be answered first has to do with the way we construct models and here I think we can only speak by analogy. A cosm is like a little model of the cosmos in your head. Depending on your inclination, you might think of it like a map, a diagram, an orrery, a miniature, a board game, or any number of other things. For my part, I tend to think in terms of games, so I use that metaphor, but we can explore several.

The cosm requires a field, a reference frame in which to work. If it’s a map, the field is a piece of paper or a computer screen. If it’s a miniature, the field is a table-top. If it’s a board game, the field is the board – perhaps 64 squares in black and white. (Those of you familiar with set theory and Venn diagrams may choose to think of the field as the rectangle labelled S.) The field forms the bounds of our cosm.

It’s not necessary for the field to be fixed. Dominoes take place on table top, but the field slowly expands as the game is played. It starts with a single domino that forms the reference point for the rest of the game. Likewise, we can consider a Cartesian cosm in which the self forms the starting point and all expansion occurs in reference to that one point. Alternatively, we could consider a Neoplatonic cosm for which the ONE (God) forms the reference point.

On the other hand, many people have had bounded cosms, like chess board. Most people will be familiar with the three tiered universe of Heaven, Earth, and Hell. Here you have a cosm made of three regions stacked on top of each other. Alternatively, we have the medieval cosm in which human live in the spherical region between the surface of the Earth and the sphere of the moon, with heavens (planetary spheres) extending in shells farther and farther out, until, out past the stellar sphere lies the eternity of God. It’s relatively easy to add new squares to a chess board or new spheres to the stack. It’s relatively hard to add whole new regions. For me a region would be an area where the rules are different. The Christian models usually involve separate regions for heaven and eternity on one hand, earth and time on the other. Skeptics find it hard to believe that any region exists other than the one in which we operate – an appeal to parsimony.

Different regions might overlap, as when we speak of the Kingdom of Heaven being at hand or the Church Triumphant. Different regions can also be adjacent and interacting, as when we ask for heavenly intercession or speak of the influence of the planets. One could have a cosm with completely independent regions, but one wonders what would be the point. Generally we speak of things that intersect with our own experience.

So I would challenge you to think about your own cosm. What field do you have? Has it changed shape or extent during your life time? Does it have one region – one set of rules – or more than one? How do you know about the other one? I fear many of us go through life assuming that our cosm lines up with others’ and it may not be so. Consider how other people might answer these questions and, if you have the chance, actually ask them.

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