Who are We?—and What is the Universe?

Toomas Välja, Ursa Major & Campfire light – via Flickr, CC BY 2.0]

I met an interesting man last night at a gathering at our friends’ farm. It was a small last-minute get-together, a lovely end-of-summer night. We were sitting around a fire, people drinking and talking. There was music and flowing water. It was getting late, and the kids were still running around playing. Arriving, I had seen a van in the parking lot. It looked really cool. It was a big dark grey modern utility vehicle, no windows (other than the front windshields), which obviously had been outfitted as a camper. There were small antennas sticking out of it. It looked like an FBI surveillance van.

I thought, yes, I’d want to travel across the country in something like that—bigger than a family-size van but smaller than an RV—if it could run on electric even better, and I would want windows… (I began dreaming). Later, I figured the van belonged to the man I met so I asked him about it, just curious at first, and we got to talking, and when I asked him what he does out of that van, he shared with me that he’s a philosopher slash entrepreneur slash engineer (or technical person of some kind—he had done the van’s electronics) and that he was previously a Christian minister, but that he had experienced a crisis (or transformation) of faith. His companion was a golden retriever, who came up to us for nuzzling all wet from the river. He said that his life now is about asking two questions:

  • Who are we? and
  • What is the Universe?

He said he was starting a podcast on these topics. I asked him how far along he thought he was in actually answering his questions? Which was funny, that I asked, because he had recently determined 16% (an educated guess). He mentioned ancient Sumer a number of times, and the idea that humans could be (evidence suggests) a created race originally bred to serve a group of extraterrestrial “gods” who were in conflict with other galactic beings. There is a struggle underway (and has been for thousands of years) to liberate ourselves from bondage. He is working on a TED-style presentation of his findings so far.

It was an interesting conversation, as he shared information I hadn’t heard before. And though I realize some might judge such views as unscientific, nonetheless—perhaps it was the Mezcal being passed around—I felt our conversation was completely reasonable in the spirit of open inquiry. I let myself wonder—

What if?

Does the mainstream biological evolutionary story really make sense of the archaeological evidence (such as pertaining to Göbekli Tepe—and the uncanny correspondences in ancient texts—and all the UFO sightings (some of which my new acquaintence has recorded on his phone)—the experiences of ‘visitations’—the paranormal and visionary and lucid dreams from the beyond? Do the stories we learn in school connect the dots? Or are there deeper, truer stories we’re not facing or aware of? I thought of Jeffrey Kripal’s work. Graham Hancock’s name also came up. And of course, Sri Aurobindo (who we are reading here on Infinite Conversations) was profoundly engaged in answering these question, too. As was Octavia Butler and Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin. As are so many other writers, philosophers, scientists, spiritual seekers, artists, and researchers who have wondered, questioned, studied, and probed existence for answers throughout history.

WHO ARE WE, after all? And WHAT IS this Universe?

Don’t we ALL have a story about what’s real, what’s true, and who we are in the big reality? How do we know what’s real? And how do we know that we know?

By “we,” here, I mean what conventionally we call “human beings,” while acknowledging that some people talk about becoming post- or trans-human; some say they are ‘children of God’; some say they are ‘spiritual beings having a human experience’; other say they are ghosts spontaneously arising out of machines. I mean all of that and more.

By the “universe” I mean everything that exists. Literally everything…but also, specifically, our existence here on this planet (or plane) we call Earth.

I am proposing here some very, very open-ended questions…

I would especially like to invite people who are NEW to the forum to share their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. It doesn’t have to be related to my conversation with awesome van guy. There is no absolute vanguard here! Of course, our veteran @readers and @writers are also welcome to share their views, as I hope some will. But the questions are deliberately not limited to our particular readings or other cosmic projects. I want to ask the questions freshly, as I felt they were being asked last night. I am interested in ALL OF IT—your unique view of the TRUTH.

WHO ARE WE? And WHAT IS the Universe?

Inquiring minds want to know!


Love it! Question: the campfire: why does it lead to such thoughts? The misattribution of arousal? Just asking. See you Tuesday.

1 Like

Question to @Geoffreyjen_Edwards : what do you think of Lisa Randall and her work/writing, etc.?

Beware, Marco, of the black mud of occultism! Freud would say you are suffering from attempts to overcome traumatic narcissism, engaged in infantile attachment fantasy. He admitted that synchronicity, telepathic communication, clairvoyance, prescience, and remote viewing do occur but that we must resist the mudslide and accept that the feelings of oceanic bliss that are often felt in the presence of the uncanny, are just regressions to the peace of the womb. Sigmund lamented that, like homosexuality, there is probably no cure for this condition. You will just have to learn to live with it.


Ha ha, yes Johnny the “tide of the black mud of occultism”. But wasn’t Freud always reducing everything?

I used to love these conversations as the standard theories never enthralled me as much as an Edgar Cayce reading on Atlantis or Zecharia Sitchins research on humanities origins (yes, we are simply a fourth or fifth generation biologically engineered slave race).

The question is where to go with this now?

My research continues with the unconscious, which I still think is vast and vital.

Enjoyed this post though Marco.


Marco, thank you for the luminous (true) story, and your two questions, which I feel are the same question, and it’s the one I’ve been asking all my life. The first conscious moment of asking/answering was when I got lost in the mountains at about six years old and didn’t know how to get back down…where I was staying with my parents and god-parents. At the height of my fear, while I was crying, a ray of sunlight passing through a leaf and split the whole world into Alive Loving Intelligences that were everywhere and everywhen, many and one. Didn’t have those words, just somehow the perception that God is Everything (Universe and All) and later on: I am a ray of that, I am a fractal loop in the Whole Movement.
But once I found my way down, I was also that Question…and its continual Answering. Through every kind of experience (conversations, reading, direct experience), a partial answering, and all the while rearranging tentative answers into a great pattern that is beautiful, coherent, always with irregular areas of dark unknowing, of chaos or anarchy, of openness, rips in the fabric of the weave, because it will never ever be finished, it’s a collective/collaborative endeavor extending before and beyond our personal lifetime into whatever else there may be. It seems I am sometimes able to add a tiny line or dot here and there… and it’s all good, and by that I do not mean guarantees for personal safety or rescue, etc (for myself or anyone). The goodness is intrinsic, includes all the painful, small ills of life and also
I AM the Universe, all of it, and my work is my pleasure: to come to know this in more and more vivid and vast detail, to come to communicate mutually with and through all of it, to realize and express this reality as not exclusively a human enterprise, but literally involving all beings and processes, even what we do not ordinarily call beings: stones, rivers, wind, stars… as “ourselves”.

And that’s enough (or more than enough?) for now!


Maybe, and maybe not.

A friend of mine of almost 30 years had a paraphysical experience while meditating in 1972 in which Enoch, then later, Metatron took him into the presence of the Ancient of Days. On the way, he was taken to Arcturus, a midway station for the Council of Nine, which is the governing body of our local universe. He was shown how earth was part of a biological testing zone using both fallen and divine thought-forms in determining what type of intelligence could eventually free itself from the countless physical rounds of existence controlled by the fallen hierarchies. Among other things, he was tasked with writing “a scroll” explaining how the Seven Seals of the Book of Revelation will be broken as all measures of science from the biophysical to the astrophysical are attuned to a new spiritual revelation. On his return he was taken past Mars, shown the pyramids there and returned to earth. He wrote his scroll, spoke openly of the pyramids, too, and one day NASA showed up at his front door asking about the pyramids. He naturally told them the story, but was curious why they were interested. They had just received the original Viking photographs and wanted to know from him how he knew about them since the information hadn’t yet been released to the public. Go figure. Of course he gave up his day job (as professor), founded an organization to promote his new work and has been doing what he was “(t)asked” to do ever since.

He is a dear soul and as devoted to his work as ever. It’s pretty much an uphill struggle, as you can imagine.

The “black mud of occultism”, improperly worked-out unconscious proddings, or might there be something real in all of it? Who’s to say? How would we know? There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.

This whole thread is quite enjoyable.


I once had a client who threw herself off the sixteenth floor of her apartment building and broke every bone in her body. Somehow, against all odds, she survived. The day she arrived for the interview she appeared to be quite odd, she could walk fine but moved with a certain formality. She asked me to open a window as she smoked her cigarette and let me know her complaint. She wanted to remember that day of her attempted suicide. She said she was never suicidal and doesn’t remember anything and yet the doorman of the building, who found her broken body, said that she was talking clearly.

I asked her," What did you have for breakfast this morning?"

" I dont eat breakfast."

" For dinner, then?“She described the meal. " How do you know that?”

She seemed to wonder why that mattered. I told her that if you don’t know how you know what you had for dinner last was how will you know what the missing memory was really real or just your imagination?

She acknowledged how that was useful. She kept a diary of daily events and recorded dreams, too, in order to develop good recall of actual daily events and figure out how she knew the difference. After a few sessions she started to let go of her original request as she developed new skills. I suggested to her that we should respect her amnesia for that tragic event. Details did emerge after she had learned about her strategy for sorting out memory from imagination. The problem, of course, and this is a very deep one, is that reality is made up of both and is not measurable in any quantifiable way. We remember and create in great abundance. The facts are a production of what we desire and what we can find and attempt a match. This is basically a magical movement. It is also the basis of most science.

And in a trance state, my client eventually contacted her long deceased brother. Her contact with him gave her a sense of safety.

Sri Aurobindo , who some of us are studying, makes huge claims about the human condition and with nothing like a memory strategy offered. I read him as I read good poetry. And I register the effects/affects in my sensorium,- the head, heart, gut connection-which is the best bullshit detector we have.

Ye shall know them by their fruits…


And , Marco, what did you have for breakfast this morning? How do know you that? Are you absolutely sure of that?

I always try to chunk down and chunk slow but that is probably a different way of doing poetry, Marco.

When I am asked about the TRUTH I fall silent. It is perhaps only those who are free from trauma that can respond to that complex question directly. For those of us who got the shit beaten out of us for telling the TRUTH there maybe an haibutal shutdown around that question. And a tendency to tell stories instead. We are mostly I believe story tellers most of the time, unless we are in a court of law. We rely on our best guesswork and hunches.

Like Emily Dickinson, I tell the truth but tell it slant.

vanguard -a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas.

avant-garde -favoring or introducing experimental or unusual ideas.

I like the broad strokes, Marco, and trust you will bring it on down to where we ought to be.


My question was casually flippant … always a risky undertaking in these parts.

To be certain, I agree whole-heartedly that approaches like you took with your client are essential for the individual’s own orientation. It’s where we start, and we need an absolutely firm foundation there. I was particularly pleased to hear that you were able to help her.

But memory, as the term is generally understood is oriented toward what we call the past; imagination (when everything is functioning properly) has a future-like orientation to it. But what does that have to say about where we might be right now. I seriously don’t know. Perhaps we are fifth-generation, biologically engineered slave race. Perhaps we are part of a biological testing zone. How would we know? I’m on-board with you 100% that the head-heart-gut-connection can be (and if it isn’t should be developed into) the best bullshit detector we have, but how do we know?

Wasn’t the premise of the original Matrix film that you have to somehow step outside of your reality to know that reality?

For the most part, it would seem that what we know is based on first-order (i.e., direct experience), whereby amnesia, to any degree, would be a suppression (be it voluntary or involuntary) of part of that. We also believe we know based on second-order (e.g., vicarious) experience, but it seems that we believe we know things based on further-order experience as well (artifacts, films or picture, accounts of others, etc.), and in many, if not most, of these cases we accept them not based solely (most likely initially, however) on our bullshit detector, but also on how we feel about/toward the source of those experiences (credible witnesses, third- and further-party corroboration, etc.)

My first-order experience is that the world is flat and that the sun and moon rise and set. We all know, however, that this is not how things really are. In this regard, my head-heart-gut-connection bullshit detector has been massively influenced by further-order experience factors to say the least. Those factors depend heavily upon the witness of others who stepped outside that first-order-experience reality (mentally, intellectually, mathematically, etc.) to compile evidence that makes a convincing case that eventually leads me to change my mind.

Of course, how we individually decide to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is rejectable remains a very individual issue.


I think you raise some very solid questions, Ed, and respect your usually very sober account. I would just add that third person accounts ( even mathematical ones) are special cases of first person perspectives.

A mathematician who makes the claim that a series of numbers are infinite has to imagine a mathematician who can add one to each number infinitely and so on…this is not empirical knowledge of course it is using a kind of logic and as Godel claimed a system cant be complete and consistent at the same time…

I am not advocating a free fall into first person accounts as the solution to our conundrums. The Copernican Revolution was an engineering problem that got mixed up with the Church. Galileo, God fearing man that he was, pleaded that in matters between Science and State Religion, that we adopt an attitude that these are non-overlapping magisteria.

That noble compromise no longer sounds workable we move toward the brave new world of AI and the transumanisms that are being hatched in the labs of Monsanto and the Pentagon.

With the advent of the internet and the increased tensions and turf wars between the humanities and the arts, we are trying our best to create a bridge between…we need to admit there are overlaps between these magisteria and that they cant be separated in any deep sense without creating havoc in our ecosystems and our psychology.

The arts work mostly with percepts and affects, the sciences work with concepts and measurement but we who are in the in between rely heavily on the trust factor as most of us are experts in only a few areas and need to sort through the reports for alternate ways of knowing.

That familiar theme we have perhaps only begun to develop as we have compared and shared our maps of our interiors in small groups and in a controlled way, trying to bridge the gaps…in our ‘we’ space.

I have been vigilant in trying to catch the micro-perceptual and the macro cognitive in flight. I am dedicating this creation research to a future people. We are just starting to emerge out of the slime…


That was also my point … such reports are similar, to be sure, but that is what I was thinking of when I used the term “different order of”.

Agreed. Since we can’t do it all ourselves, we have to rely on others, yet we need to be careful, as you point out, on how we go about doing that. This is where the head-heart-gut-connection can be helpful, but there are other areas in which it is no help at all. That’s the black-swan phenomenon. In such cases we have to simply – but firmly – place the “facts/information/knowledge” in abeyance until we can gather enough reasonable (i.e., head-heart-gut-connection filtered) evidence has been gathered that we can move in what might be a reasonable direction.

This may have always been an issue, but I would agree that it has been highlighted, if not exacerbated, by the advent of modern technologies and the “turf wars”, which, to my mind, are little more than ego-spats between alleged experts.

One point on which I’m sure we are very much in agreement is that while being open, slowness is a virtue. There are areas in which I’m personally more comfortable with quicker, but those are areas in which I have developed a relatively secure sense of assuredness (though that’s certainly not an infallible, nor recommendable, guideline … it’s just my own sense of things). When interacting with others in those domains, however, I would still opt for slower.


And this, I believe, is what Gebser and Sri Aurobindo recognized in thier own often obscure accounts. They are philosopher/poets who work with slow mind in a magnificent way. And I also appreciate that they were born before the atomic bomb. We who were born after that turning point in human history cannot turn back the clock to a slower time when we were better in synch with natural rhythms. We are their future. And they wrote for us. And some of those ideas are still workable. And I have my doubts.

I have started a WE ARE GOOD ENOUGH ALREADY campaign. We dont need to better than we already are, we just need to give our attention to our relational fieldwork( no matter how far out) to the shifts between the perspectives ( I, you, me, myself, we, us, them). We need the human scale now more than ever to sort it all out. From where are you observing from? As we move out of the subject/object grid we will need a new kind of cognitive, a new kind of discourse.

We will need the wisdom of tortoise and the speed of the hares.

" I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning." -Stevie Smith


And who was that friend Ed? Someone like Drunvalo Melchiezadek? (sic), Ingo Swan, or JJ Hurtak who had similar sounding experiences and later wrote the Keys of Enoch? I used to seek these people out and try and gril them for verification. JJ still travels around doing interesting things with my friend Alan Steinfeld. I think I still have a CD of him opera style chanting in the great pyramid somewhere. Great for banishing earthbounds. :joy:

1 Like

I am loving these replies. It feels like oceanic bliss is bubbling up under the sand castle of my little opening story. It is all washing away, but in the meantime —

This is such a great point. For all the lack of subtlety, I think the virtue of big questions is that they open up to what we have in common, even as we wildly differ in our responses, and can acknowledge that many areas remain a pure wilderness. What I like about stories, and telling things slant, is that they provide a means of approach to the infinite. It is not safe to look at the sun without special glasses.

But the sun is there. And depending on your glasses (or other viewing apparatus or filters) you will see it (and everything it illuminates) differently—and it is interesting (and de-light-ful) to compare and contrast.

A random field note: I have trying to figure out how to repair my relationship with physics. I was actually a pretty decent science student in high school and aced my AP tests (for college-level credits). In university, I studied up to Calc III and aced that too. At one point I thought I might major in math. But when I discovered philosophy—specifically, existentialism—I completely abandoned my scientific studies, which I was never very serious about, if I’m honest. It also happened to work out that due to my test scores, I wasn’t required to take any science classes after freshman year. So I took all philosophy and literature classes instead, which I became obsessed with, learned Zen and a little Yoga along the way (to take the edge off), and the rest is history. These days, I’m lucky if I can do simple arithmetic in my head.

I know if I really wanted to I could go back and refresh my mathematical-physical intellect—it would just take time and effort, like building up a muscle. For 20 years, I haven’t known why I would do it, when there have seemed to be so many bigger fish to fry.

But lately I’ve been mediating on the nature of quantum reality—inspired especially by @Geoffreyjen_Edwards and his ‘Quantum Poetics’ initiative with @hfester—I mean literally meditating on it, and I think I found a way back in.

It all comes down to the attempt to directly perceive—rather than conceive—the quantum level. Here is my approach: If I sit quietly and realize: everything around me—my body—my sensations—everything I can feel, see, hear, or otherwise sense is made of quarks—if I look for quarks within my body, as a pervasive feeling state and the most direct reality I can identify (with)—THEN I can proceed to an intellectual image of what quarks are in the universal context; and then it makes sense (for me) to do science.

I am reporting this so you know better where I’m coming from with these questions, which I DON’T intend to be anti-scientific. Science PLUS 1st-person experience I feel is where it’s at. We might call it: Science+1.

How do we know something is true? A felt integration of heart, head, and gut—and Ed, you often add hands—would seem to me a great place to start. I want to know: What is true for us, in our heads, hearts, and bloody guts?

I want more stories! What’s most integrally true for people? Who haven’t we heard from yet?


I used to ask myself this daily until the age of about 20 when I found a booklet about advaita vedanta which told me that I’m the One without a second which is kidding itself by believing to be the many. It made and makes a lot of sense to me, it was a sort of ‘aha-experience’ and everything became crystal clear, almost self-evident. Interestingly however this never led me to lose my interest in science. Perhaps because I never did take it too seriously.


'Twould appear that we have a lot more in common than one might first suspect.


Ahhh… and you shall have them my son,



Just want to add this to my first response:…when I write about experiences, I seem to be leaving out all the intellectual work…and (accidentally) give the impression that I am not ALSO talking about what we call science… I’ve been studying/reading/writing deeply, contemplating and meditating with…physics, astronomy, biology, genetics, ethology, microbiology, philosophy and literature, all along, and even more these days in the sciences than philosophies/religions, and as I wrote above, all of this is being woven into the complete experiential knowing that has been given many many times in my life, but the weaving and learning and contemplating never ever stops, and does not preclude/exclude physics or anything else! It’s all learning, weaving, learning, isn’t it?


These two questions are the basis of metaphysics, and would lead to the perspectives of both modern day science and religion. There are loads of text trying to explain these two questions. Modern day concepts of existential thoughts are strongly tied to these ideas and so are the tenets of Buddhism.

It may be appealing to read Nietzsche and Heidegger to just guess the depth of these two queries. Heidegger’s inquiry, ‘why are their beings’ and Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ and ‘eternal recurrence’ have tried to explain these questions but not without criticism and alternate opinions. Heidegger in his magnum opus, ‘Being and Time’ concludes that ‘Being IS Time’.

Buddhism considers us human beings as an eternal part of the universe, and therefore being selfless and letting the universe decide the course of our lives is central to its values. Chögyam Trungpa suggests that human beings can only ponder on the ‘here’ and ‘now’, and apparently rest of the questions are never within our grasp, nor meant for us to fully understand them.

Other religious texts as the holy Quran, Guru Grantha Saheb and Bhagavad Gita have explored such themes.

If you are adventurous, then you can try reading Kurt Vonnegut, Gene Wolfe and Philip K. Dick to find answers to these questions on the backdrop of a sci-fi story. In some of Philip K. Dick’s stories, a human being and human values is understood in comparison to artificial beings (AI and robots).

I will rather try to tell about my perspective and the struggles I have had in answering these questions. My vocation is in science and later engineering, and in part I agree with current existential thoughts that human beings do not have a well defined role in this universe, but we tend to find meaning from our local environment and local interactions and therefore in some sense at least I do agree with Viktor Frankl. I also agree with Buddhist thoughts, since all that we can ever do with our restricted and localized existence, limited senses and with the brunt of our corporeal needs, is indeed the ‘here’ and the ‘now’.

And, if one looks at it pragmatically, all we can ever do is limited and restricted more or less to our planet - which is not even a speck in the scales of the universe [1,2]. All that we can ever do - good or bad, mother nature can willingly undo it in about a million years - which is nothing compared to the time scales of the universe [3] . Even if we are utter morons and blow up this planet to bits, mother nature will once again build up everything in about one million years, and maybe another genesis to form another strand of human-like entity.

This may seem romantic, but the bigger perspective tends to scare me. If the universe is indeed a higher entity, and we are nothing more than ants on an ant hill and a higher intelligence is governing us, then everything is more or less deterministic and free will is just a good topic for discussion. Alternatively, various scientists and AI enthusiasts have suggested that the universe (and our existence) is merely a simulation (Yes! we can have a heated debate on this topic).

A pessimistic approach is that since we cannot do anything worthwhile then let us not attempt to do anything at all. That would lead to a boring life. Alternatively, tallying to our natural human values of survival and inquiry, it is always more rewarding to attempt to find some meaning in our localized existence, and walk this apparently deterministic pathways with a smile on our faces. Always acknowledging our humanly values, our existential truths and our ethos.

I will end with a line from Hamlet.

“What a piece of work is man!”
– William Shakespeare

[1] The Scale of the Universe 2 - YouTube
[2] Universe Size Comparison | 3D - YouTube
[3] Cosmological time scale 1 | Scale of the universe | Cosmology & Astronomy | Khan Academy - YouTube