How the Universe Operates Like an Algorithm


How the Universe Operates Like an Algorithm


Instead of viewing the universe as a confusing, scary place, try seeing the universe like a social media algorithm.

Defining one’s spirituality isn’t always easy. If we are raised in a religious context, the rules are laid out and all the answers are provided for us, usually by a book or an authority figure who can tell us why there’s suffering in the world and why bad things happen to good people. Believing in something outside of those dominant narratives can be a bit more challenging—we still want to know why horrible things happen, why praying doesn’t always get us what we want, and why it hurts so much to be a human being so much of the time.

I was sitting in a circle in a Reiki training recently and we were talking about the difficulty of understanding spirituality in a complex world. “Algorithm,” one of the participants said simply, and all of a sudden it felt like all those questions had been answered.

How Algorithms Work

The algorithm at work behind the videos and images we scroll on our devices responds to what we watch and click on. If we tend to watch and like videos of puppies, it will send us more puppy videos. If we like monster trucks, it’s monster trucks we’ll see. My Instagram feed is mostly cats, witches, wellness, and fashion. My husband’s consists of helicopters, comedians, and extreme sports.

We both get random suggestions sprinkled in there, and sometimes we see the same viral videos that get shown to everyone. The algorithm responds to our behavior and reflects it back to us while constantly trying to give us new things to click on. But if I wanted to start seeing, say, images or videos of ballerinas in my Instagram feed, I’d have to search for them first and then start clicking and watching every time I saw one. Over time, my feed would be flooded with ballerinas.

The Universe as an Algorithm

I believe in energy and magic. I know that intentions, rituals, and spells can be incredibly powerful. I don’t really think there’s any single intelligence that is organizing any of this life for us. I don’t believe in a moral structure where people are rewarded or punished for their behavior. I genuinely believe we are all doing our best to survive. Most of us are not evil, but we make mistakes. Many of our automatic thoughts and feelings are dominated by our family’s values as well as the larger social systems that affect us all (the viral videos, to extend the metaphor). When bad things happen, it’s not our fault—even if we prayed. Even if we prayed hard.

As I see it, we are all a part of the web of everything. On some level, we are all connected to each other, to the earth, the air, the land, the animals, and everything else. We work together the way the movements of a web might—in response to each other, but not to a larger intelligence that has more power or knowledge than any of the rest of us.

If the secret to the universe is an algorithm, that means we have the choice to “click” on the behaviors, people, places, and other choices that are in alignment with our intentions. Just like the algorithm that organizes what content we see when we are scrolling through social media, the web of energy responds to the choices we make. If we “click” on kindness by noticing it and expressing it, we’re more likely to receive that back. If we take the actions that are likely to move us toward our goals, we’re going to be closer to those goals. But there are plenty of factors within the web that we can’t control. The web is shifting, and everyone is busy making their own choices. The only place we really have power is to choose what we’re clicking on. The outcome isn’t up to us.

The Power of Intention in the Algorithmic Universe

The other aspect that I like about this metaphor is that it’s the click—the choice, intention, or action—that matters, not the thought or feeling. We don’t have to worry when we have a thought or fear that takes us away from our intentions, because what will matter more is the actions we take—and, to a degree, the energy we bring to the challenges we meet in alignment with those goals. It’s too much to feel like we can never have a negative thought or a moment of self-doubt; those are real and valid and they are going to happen, especially if we are trying something new or scary or attempting to change an old pattern in our lives.

How does it feel to see the universe as an algorithm? What are you going to click on next?

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How the Universe Operates Like an Algorithm

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