The Heart of the Universe Society Science 101

Our frozen winter is only temporary

February 14, 1996|By Stephen Vicchio

Cease not to think of the universe as one living Being, possessed of a single substance and a single mind and heart.

-- Marcus Aurelius,


The whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than any single creature whatever.

-- Thomas Aquinas,

$ ''Summa Theologica''

MY PHYSICIST friend tells me that one version of the Big Bang theory suggests that the universe exploded out of a tiny compressed dot of immensely heavy matter and will forever expand -- a kind of relentless, cosmic one-shot deal -- an open-ended game of chance where Providence always has time for one more roll of the dice.

A rival theory has it that the universe does indeed expand, but then, after eons of spreading itself slowly over nothingness, it collapses again into the dense chaos from which the Big Bang came. There are few metaphors to be employed in explaining the former theory, but in this latter view of things all that there is undergoes a never-ending cycle of expansion and contractions, like the opening and closing of a human hand, or the constricting and relaxing of the human heart.

Tea leaves and cyclotrons

I must admit to my preference for this second theory. We humans seem forever to be attempting to make the entire universe into a macrocosm of our most fervent wants and desires of the heart. This is why we read tea leaves and build cyclotrons. It would be of some great solace to believe, particularly on the feast of Saint Valentine, that the universe wishes to return the favor by making each of us a microcosm of itself.

The 17th-century philosopher and telescope-lens grinder Baruch Spinoza must have searched for the same kind of spiritual and emotional reassurance. This is why he describes the entire universe as the beating heart of God, and each of our individual hearts as possessing a unitary desire to be at one with God's great heart. Albert Einstein spoke of the real purpose of science as an attempt at hearing the heartbeat of God.

Meister Eckhardt, the 14th-century Dominican church builder and mystic, had the same vision. He wrote that our hearts are all connected, like the single-mindedness of migratory birds, in a desire to be connected to the heart of the universe itself. He was branded a heretic long after he died. Now it is my turn.

In our small corner of the universe where love so often seems absent, and having lived a life, now deep into middle age, with too much love lost and not nearly enough saved, it would be of great comfort to know that the entire universe is nothing more than a big heart beating deep in the chest of a mysterious and loving Void.

We all at times have lived with hearts as dry as the desert, never thinking to ask where the next watering hole might be. We all have waited impatiently for the hearts of stones to awaken. Most of us have lived among hearts frozen thick, like lake ice in Minnesota. Many of us too unwisely have worn naked hopes before these immobile hearts, freeze-dried by anger and disappointment. At times, we all have ceased to believe in the existence of spring.

And so, on Saint Valentine's Day let us remember this curious saint whose heart seems to have been warmed by virtue of a secret and mysterious fire, a heart as loving as it is mysterious -- a heart perhaps as large as the universe itself. And on this feast of Saint Valentine let us root for a theory of the universe that might help us to think of our frozen winter as a temporary state, one perhaps only overcome by the warmest of hearts.

Stephen Vicchio teaches philosophy at the College of Notre Dame.

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