The following is a tribute to the profound and complex forty years long life work of a deep and original thinker – my late great friend Mordechai Nessyahu. It serves me as the introduction of a book I am working on entitled. Cosmodeism: A Worldview for the Space Age. Nessyahu viewed his life work as a product of his Jewish identity and his particular interpretation of Jewish history. He assigned a special place for the Jews and the Jewish outlook on life in the realization of his vision.
The Cosmodeistic hypothesis posits that due to the evolutionary nature of cosmic development, now being revealed by the “New Physics” and “New Cosmology”, it is statistically certain that huge numbers of conscious life forms (equivalent in self awareness to human beings) have arisen throughout the Cosmos. A very small percentage (but large in number) of these conscious civilizations have or eventually will expand throughout their own solar systems and eventually achieve interstellar exploratory capabilities. By doing so they will of necessity have raised themselves to new levels of consciousness.
The vast majority of conscious civilizations will destroy themselves by failing to meet the challenges of their own nuclear stage of development or by ecological collapse. But a substantial number will survive these dual challenges or will have developed by different means.
These surviving conscious civilizations will continue to expand throughout the Cosmos. Eventually a very tiny percentage but still substantial number of them will succeed in transcending (by scientific and technical means) the physical limitations of their bodies thus isolating and enhancing the most essential part of their “humanness” their consciousness. They will in effect become pure consciousness, or if you will, pure spirit. This will be an evolutionary prerequisite to survival as the cosmic environment races towards inevitable “heat death”.
The iron laws of entropy dictate that the Cosmos will eventually “die”; that is to say that all its complex constructs will eventually dissolve into undifferentiated particles of radiation uniformly distributed throughout the Cosmos. Conscious life forms that dedicate themselves to adapting to this inevitable cosmic environment could survive; those that do not will perish. Adaptation to the fate of the Cosmos by definition means liberating “human consciousness” from its physical framework and becoming pure radiation.
The further expansion of conscious life throughout the Cosmos will thus be unfettered by its physical limitations and eventually conscious life will fill the entire Cosmos. It will become coeval with a Cosmos that has dissolved into pure radiation as an inevitable consequence of entropy. Thus the cosmos will become in its entirety a conscious being – i.e. the Cosmos will have become God. Cosmodeism posits God as the consequence of the Cosmos and not as its cause. Not in the beginning God created the Universe but in the end the Cosmos will have created God.
The fateful question that every conscious civilization throughout the Cosmos must eventually address is: will we take part in this cosmic race for survival and strive to survive in the cosmic “End of Days” or will we chose to perish along with the rest of cosmic matter? Will we accept the limitations of our physicality or will we try to transcend them?
Nessyahu did not see his hypothesis as a deterministic teleology but rather as a volitional teleology as it pertained to the human race. His hypothesis was rooted, however, in what one might term a neo-teleological interpretation of cosmic evolution. In other words he claimed that certain cosmic developments were inevitable on the basis of empirical scientific evidence and deductive logic as applied to that empirical scientific evidence. But it was completely dependent on the volitional decision of the human beings on this planet if they wanted to take part in these cosmic developments, thus guaranteeing their “spiritual” survival well past the physical existence of the planet Earth. This would guarantee the cosmic significance of the billions of years of life on this planet. Failure to do so would guarantee the complete cosmic insignificance of life on this planet and would be a tragedy.
The thesis of God as the consequence rather than the cause of the Cosmos is not new. Intimations can be found in the philosophy of Aristotle. The 20th century British philosopher Samuel Alexander championed this view. The Jesuit theologian/philosopher Teilhard de Chardin presented the idiosyncratic view that God was both the cause and the consequence (the Alpha and Omega) of cosmic existence and evolution. He saw end of human history as pure consciousness merging with the Alpha God to create the Omega God. Modern German literature and philosophy is rife with human ambition to be Godlike.
As Robert Tucker points out in his book Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, “The movement of thought from Kant to Hegel revolved in a fundamental sense around the idea of man’s self-realization as a godlike being, or alternatively as God” (pg. 31). What attracted Marx to Hegel and the use of his philosophy, as his own philosophical infrastructure was that “he found in Hegel the idea that man is God” (pg. 75). History for Hegel was God realizing itself through the vehicle of man. This is the underlying intimation of all Enlightenment thought.
Carl Becker in his classic book The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers demonstrates how the Enlightenment is but a secularization of the search for the Godhead. Enlightenment thinkers called it “Natural Law” and wanted to base political organization on it. This was the sub-text of all western political theory from Hobbes onward – how to create political cosmos out of political chaos – i.e. to be Godlike in terms of our own human society.
Nessyahu must be seen as a continuation of this Enlightenment tradition. His contribution has been to base his thinking on a solid foundation of the most up to date cosmological thinking, framed by rigorous deductive logic and related to the present revolution in human means of production. In his perception that there is a special role for the Jewish People in this all-human project he harks back to the Liberal Nationalist tradition of Mazzini that saw an all-human role for every nation. This Liberal Nationalist tradition found its Jewish echo in Moses Hess’s Rome and Jerusalem. Hess, an early follower of Marx turned Zionist, agreed with Mazzini and saw a special role in all-human civilization for the renewed cultural dynamism of both the Italians and the Jews.
Nessyahu foresaw a special place for the Jews and the Jewish outlook on life in “influencing” the rest of humanity to join what he called this “cosmic race for survival and significance”. He based this would-be Jewish ambition on the historic role the Jews had played in the development of human civilization.
The Jews for him were an “Am Olam” – a universal people, or a people of the entire world, or a people whose very ‘people-hood’ was dependent on and a reflection of its ongoing interaction with and contribution to the other peoples of the planet Earth. This concept of the Jewish People as an “Am Olam” is deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition and must serve as one of the foundation rocks of any Jewish identity in the Space Age, whether one accepts the Cosmodeistic hypothesis or not.
Nessyahu had a deep-rooted belief that because of their special historical travail, the Jewish People had been particularly endowed by with characteristics and capabilities that would enable them to take a pioneering role in establishing the Cosmodeistic project on this planet. He felt that the character and needs of modern Israel and world Jewry made them the most suitable objectively and the most needful subjectively to engage in a heroic project of this type. He agreed with Ben Gurion that unless modern Jewry strove to be a “Light unto the Nations” in regards to the all-human challenges of the 20th and 21st centuries they would not be a “Light unto the Jews” and could not generate the energy to survive as a people. He was fearful of the Zionism of mediocrity, advocated by the early Zionist thinker Jacob Klatzkin, that would encourage the Jews to be satisfied with the banal attributes of “normalcy”. He viewed “Tsionut” (Zionism) and “Hitztaynut” (excellence) as synonyms and hence mediocrity was by definition anti-Zionist.
Nessyahu based his views on an historical analogy. He believed that the modern Jewish situation of a national center (Israel) inter-relating with a universal Diaspora was analogous to that era of a national center (Jerusalem) interacting with a universal Diaspora (primarily Babylon) that created both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud and codified Monotheism. This was the worldview that united the far-flung parts of Jewry into a unified culture and also changed the course of all of world history. He believed that Cosmodeism (like Monotheism in the past) would create a new Jewish cultural energy and once again change the course of all of world history.
Nessyahu rejected “The Nation That Dwells Alone” concept. He knew that both ancient and modern Jewish cultures were built with the raw materials of non-Jewish civilizations and cultures. Monotheism was clearly formulated by the Jews but it built on the raw materials taken from other peoples and it came to world cultural predominance by way of other religions (Christianity and Islam).
So it would be with Cosmodeism. The raw materials will have come from other peoples (as well as totally unrelated disciplines such as cosmology and physics) and its success will depend on other peoples, cultures, and religions adopting its basic principles and adapting them to their own cultural traditions. But the Jews can be those people that “chose” themselves to become the progenitors and propagators of this project as well as to be a living example of it. Thus we would have to invent a new Space Age interpretation of the concept of the “Chosen People” and being a “Light Unto the Nations”.
He believed that just the ambition to implement the Cosmodeistic Project would recharge and rejuvenate human civilization and rescue it from the valueless malaise of Postmodernism. He certainly believed that it would rejuvenate Jewish identity and provide added value to the young university educated non-orthodox modern Jew.
One can ascribe to the notion that we must cultivate ambitions to create “Space Age” versions of Judaism without subscribing to the Cosmodeistic Hypothesis. But we all must recognize the need to proffer alternative Jewish visions of a depth and a breadth that at least approaches that of the Cosmodeistic Hypothesis if we are to generate Jewish ambitions in the 21st century.