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Amber Paulen

Cosmos and Decisions

Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of Chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things. It conveys awe for the intricate and subtle way in which the universe is put together. — Cosmos by Carl Sagan

In the evenings Simon and I have started watching the early-80s TV series Cosmos by Carl Sagan. It is about how we got here, who we are and our place in the universe. Some of the science is outdated, but Sagan doesn’t depend only on science to make his claims; he speaks with wonder and curiosity about things that will never change.

Over and over he repeats the word “Cosmos,” pronouncing it like a Greek would, I imagine. When the Greeks started thinking about the Cosmos, because it was the Greeks in 600 BC who made great scientific advancements all but lost until the Renaissance, they envisioned it as the opposite of Chaos. The ordering of Chaos, which means there’s a reason for things—that the origin of life, though it was an accident, preceded in a very knowable way.

Ordering Chaos is what novelists do. (Even Henry Miller who proposed to love Chaos—probably loved it more because he could order it, reason with it, when he wrote his books.)It’s something that everyone does naturally on a very small scale, searching for the interconnections of our lives, the reasons why this happened and then this and then this. (I’m currently reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton that uses astrology as its structure. And while I find it interesting, astrology as an answer to “why?” seems to me very weak and uncompelling.)

In the last year I wrote a college entrance essay for Columbia that thought about these things but in terms of making decisions. Do we ever make our own decisions—can we order the Chaos of our lives in ways we choose? If we did make our own decisions wouldn’t we have a veritable mountain to choose from? Instead, what we can choose is narrowed down by the events of our lives. In the essay, I wrote about when I left the States over ten years ago and how that might not have been a decision but the result of certain things that happened to me. Although at some point I said “I’m not going to school anymore. I’m going to leave the country.” (And followed through on the words, which is another beast entirely.) The deciding formed out of the mess of my life and probably because of it.

I’m writing about Cosmos and Chaos and decisions because I feel like I’m standing somewhere near where I was standing then, over ten years ago, because the events of my life have led me somewhere and I have to say what I’m going to do with what I’ve been given, what I brought about, too. The offer of admissions from Columbia’s School of General Studies sits in the blue folder it was FedExed in. It feels big. This is big. In the Cosmos of my life, it seems I’ve been heading in this direction the whole time. (And this despite that, after I recieved the email saying “Congratulations!”, I expected another one, saying “Oh, we meant this for someone else.” Which I could understand more easily.) I’m honored, excited, thrilled. Whenever Simon’s green card comes through, it’ll be “See you in New York City!”


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