Hegel and Contemporary Cosmology

Stephen Yearwood
3 min readMar 2, 2024

the uncanny way his dialectic applies to physicists’ view of the Universe

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

[This little essay started life as a paragraph in a footnote inAn Idea That’s Time Has Come?: the place of respect in our human relations” (here in Medium, but not behind the paywall.]

G. W. F. Hegel was philosopher in the late 1700's/very early 1800’s in what would become Germany. He is most famous for his idea of the dialectical process as explaining the “becoming of Being,” i.e., essentially material existence + consciousness.

According to Hegel any dialectical process starts with the Thesis, which is necessarily opposed by its Antithesis. The two then react to one another in an ongoing process called the Synthesis. The process ends with the Thesis in a different form.

A hobby of a kind of mine is keeping up, in a layman’s understanding of these matters, with the latest developments in cosmology, i.e., physicists’ understanding of the ‘story’ of the Universe: its beginning, middle, and end. It occurred to me that it follows strikingly Hegel’s dialectical process.

In this sense the Universe started from the ‘Thesis’: essentially, ‘nothing’ (nothing with mass, anyway). It went from there to the ‘Antithesis’: ‘everything’ (when all of what would become material existence was contained in a teeny, tiny cloud of unimaginable energy). The result was the ‘Synthesis’: the Universe ‘becoming’ — eventually, what it is today (including, according to scientists, the development of life on Earth — and possibly elsewhere — with at least some of that life — we humans — being conscious of Being), on its way to becoming what the Universe will be in the future. According to scientists, it will in fact in time be the ‘Thesis’ in a different form, in this case matter and energy so thoroughly diffused that the Universe will be in essence ‘nothing’ all over again.

Another concept in Hegel’s philosophy is the “Geist.” It is usually translated as “Spirit,’ but it is not in any sense a spirit being. It is whatever exists beyond Being. The Geist determines how the dialectical process of the becoming of Being will transpire (but we can only — dimly — perceive it through the our conscious knowledge of the unfolding of that process up to any point in time; we can speculate on the future, but we cannot know it).

So with the Universe the “laws of nature” are the equivalent of the “Geist.” They determine how the Universe will physically evolve, but they are not within it in a physical sense. We humans with our consciousness can learn about them in a provisional way, but only by studying what has transpired so far in the history of the Universe. We can speculate further, but we can only ‘know’, at most, what the process has revealed so far about those laws.

Of course, anyone of a religious bent can interpret the Geist as a Spirit-being: God. Alternatively, God could be said to exist as the Consciousness that gave rise to Being, including the Universe of material existence (eventually to include humans with our limited consciousness). As I understand it (though I haven’t really studied it), ‘panpsychism’ expresses essentially that point of view. As it happens, that is close to where my own meditations on and (perceived) experiences of the Ultimate Reality have taken me.

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Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice