Principal Assumptions: 1) story is medicine 2) we can learn to see new/different stories 3) the ability to chose our story resides within our autonomy
So I bought a deck of tarot cards a few weeks ago. They immediately became a screen for my projections (perhaps those of archetypes and the collective unconscious). I believe the major arcana (the only cards I have spent time with so far) allow us to project our story through a distinct set of symbols that have stood the test time (so far) and seem to carry meaning. In their best form, they carry with them those things that link us together, have linked us together, and will always link us together.
The cards will mean something a little different to all of us. But my current understanding is to just observe the initial image and energy associated with the reveal of the card. Immediately then, my mind starts to weave together associations about what the VI Lovers card represents for my life (at that point in time-space). Then realizing that this was the card that forced its way out of the shuffle just to show me something at that very moment!
It is only a guide, not a fortune, not a prediction, nor declaration. In this most applicable sense, it is an attempt for you to see aspects of yourself that are often forgotten. Every card represents some part of us. Through them, you can slowly reveal those lost, repressed, and projected aspects of yourself. Take from it what will help you move forward, simply acknowledge the rest.
Cards Used: Voyager Tarot, only major arcana
IV Emperor: society, identify, rules, growth, progress | dogma, narrow mind, confined, old
XII Hanged Man: a symbol of transition. A display in the changing of ideology
XVIII Moon: reflect, cyclic, unknown, potential | dark, dangerous, void, power
Story: The IV emperor is the story of society. The show of progress and conquest (typically over matter) allowing for movement into the future. However, the emperor, the father, society, becomes reluctant to change, citing its success in the past. Eventually the tides begin to synchronize and force a change in direction. A new way of thinking, believing, a new morality emerges. Eventually it becomes significant enough to make the lasting changes to an aging and failing system. Finally beginning its journey to become the next IV Emperor. During this changing of wind is the time of the 0 fool-child. That magical time when everything is latent with potential. It is a time of growth, wonder, and pain. Complete openness to experience is certainly associated with growing pains.
All this happens, of course, under the watch of the XVIII Moon. This is the event she so well embodies. The changing of the guard, the return of the dark, the pushing back of the unknown. This is the time of empowerment, and the time to embrace all that you are.
The time has come for humans beings to acknowledge consciousness and their role in its drama.
The premise of this argument is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what we are, where we are, and when we are.
Picture yourself walking outside. You hear a bird sing.
Bear with me through this first paragraph, I am going to describe the process that must occur for you to hear the bird’s song. The bird has to emit a sound. A simple manipulation of the air pressure in and around the bird’s body. This change in pressure creates an acoustic pulse or wave. That wave travels out from its origin in all directions. One of those directions happens to be in line with your body, and the acoustic wave travels through the air until it meets your ear. Your ear then acts as a funnel to send that wave into your ear canal. Eventually that waves hits a membrane which separates your inner ear from your outer ear. The wave pushes on the membrane, causing the tiny bones (the tiniest in your body) on the opposite side of the membrane to create waves in a fluid filled structure deeper inside your ear. These waves are then converted into a specific electrical signal in your nervous system depending on their frequency (the frequency of the waves depend on the frequency of the original sound emitted by the bird). This electrical signal travels through specific nerves en route to particular locations in the brain where the signal is processed and we finally perceive that beautiful sound of the bird.
So where are you in this process? The answer is of course a paradox (as everything is in the realm of God). You are everywhere, or nowhere. In order for you to have the experience of perceiving the sound at the level of the brain, you also had exist in its pathway through your nerves. You exist in the complex architecture of the tiniest bones in your body that contact the tympanic membrane, you exist in the particular shape of your ear that directs the sound inward, you exist in the surrounding air which allows for the passage of the acoustic wave from the bird to your ear, and of course you have to exist as the bird itself, the origin of this infinitely complex string of events (which is admittedly simplified). If you remove any part of this sequence, the fundamental experience or perception of the sound changes. And isn’t your perception part of you? As you can see, your experience depends on much more than your body. Where you are is not limited by your body, you extend much further, infinitely further in fact.
Now that your perception of space has been called into question, we should also abolish your conception of time. When we hear the bird sing, we think of it as a singular moment in time, exactly when that perception of sound pops into our awarenesses. But as we just described, the acoustic waveform has to literally travel from the bird to our ear. Meaning the entity that creates the sound we hear exists through multiple slices of time, even before it has been perceived by our senses. A complex sequence of events had to happen before this point in time in order for you to have the experience of now.
You are everything. This is what I mean by you are God. You are a unique instance of source. Continually experiencing new versions of yourself.
You exist outside your body. And you exist outside the present moment. All time is stacked upon itself. The entire history of the Earth and Universe had to play out just as it has for you to be here now, reading this.
That life itself is dependent upon, if not made from, the opposition of forces, the fight. The pitting of two drives against one another, and the necessity of declaring a winner.
Take the tectonic forces coming together at a fault. One side eventually slides under, accompanied by a shaking of the foundation; one side eventually rises above and remains there until some colossal force is strong enough to overturn what has already been decided. If this fighting of wills is removed, if all is equalized, you lose all movement, all change, and all life. The pervading will is not all that emerges from this confrontation, it subjugates the lesser, making it part of a new whole. And the denigration of the lesser will, that is so common and easy to come to, only comes from man’s misplaced shame of man. An obvious devaluation of a part of the whole, an opposite required for the other. This has blossomed into an all out declaration of war on losing, as they have attached the experience of suffering to the loss itself in some cleverly misplaced equalization. In the name of suffering, they claim, we must protect, nay prevent, the losing entity from even becoming. Do not be fooled, this is an incorrect aim, as the existence of the winning drive presupposes a losing drive, and therefore each is equally required. The subjective devaluation of the lower is the root of the desire to remove it at all costs. With this removal, you do not remove potential, you simply strip out the surface level incarnations of the underlying drives. Now these drives compete at levels outside of our awareness. Life as we know it stagnates, our “life” is no more.
A legal organisation, conceived of as sovereign and universal, not as a weapon in a fight of complexes of power, but as a weapon against fighting, generally after the style of Dühring’s communistic model of treating every will as equal with every other will, would be a principle hostile to life, a destroyer and dissolver of man, an outrage on the future of man, a symptom of fatigue, a secret cut to Nothingness.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay: “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like, aphorism 11
Look around. Everything you experience is the successor in a long and brutal fight against time. Our organs, our consciousness, our ideas, all are current manifestations of a block of marble that has been chipped, formed, and forced into existence by eternal competition. You do not go from single cells to incredibly complex organisms unless there is an underlying, pervading will. A will to do things better, to acquire better, utilize better, be better, a will to power. This is operating at a level we are not privy to, we only perceive its manifestations. We have the ability to observe and hypothesize, but our observations are never enough to infer original utility. At best, we are able to make judgements about an entity’s current utility, and even that is only a minutely educated guess. For example, take the mitochondria that exist inside almost all of our cells. These cellular substructures are the primary producers of ATP, the preferred energy currency at the molecular level. So we can look at the mitochondria, and many scientists have, and have a decent understanding of what its function currently is, that it acts as the power plant of the cell (obviously much more complicated, but not the point here). If one looks into their history however, their role has drastically changed. The prevailing idea is a theory of endosymbiosis, stating that mitochondria previously existed as free living, single celled organisms. And at some point these individual entities were taken into another cell (endosymbiosis). A particular strong piece of evidence for this theory is that mitochondria contain their own, unique set of DNA, that is different from the germ line DNA found in the nucleus of our cells. So certainly their role has changed, their utility has changed over time, and there has to be some underlying drive for these processes to occur. The will to power continually seeks to express itself in any way that increases its leverage. Our current observation, a snapshot in time, is the mitochondria existing inside the cell, serving a larger purpose, or larger drive. This tells us nothing about the way that entity was used in a time before. We should certainly project this idea into our future. Our institutions, the demonstrators of power, are not confined to the role and ideology they serve today, and it is unlikely they serve the ideology they were initiated upon, even if they claim to do so. They, like the mitochondria, are always ripe for subjugation by a stronger, underlying force.
Everything, anything which exists and which prevails everywhere, will always be put to new purposes by a force superior to itself, will be commandeered afresh, will be turned and transformed to new uses; all “happening” in the organic world consists of overpowering and dominating, and again all overpowering and domination is a new interpretation and adjustment, which must necessarily obscure or absolutely extinguish the subsisting “meaning” and “end.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay: “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like, aphorism 12
It should be emphasized that the will to power has no conception of “good” and “bad.” These subjective judgements are only overlaid at a much higher, more superficial layer. A thing does not exist to be “good,” it only exists, or it does not. And in that interpretation, it may even be plausible to say, that to be, or to exist, in itself – is “good.” The environment or society or space of reality existed in such a way to allow anything that exists to come about, and now, we play a role in what shapes are allowed to form next. We do not have the option to not play, we are involved with both our action and inaction. If you do not act with intention, you will be subjugated by the will of another. When we do not pay attention to what is actually going on, if we refuse to look a layer deeper, then we allow our institutions, our customs, our culture, to be carried away by forces that have no connection to our sense of “good,” and to be manipulated by that objective will to power. That drive that can and will take any form presented, any form that allows it to increase its influence and tighten its grasp. Look under the hood, boldly venture one layer deeper. There are incredible forces at play, and we are only beginning to see the bubbling over of the many atrocities that brew under a stagnant, repressive, and reactive society.
Where are you? That thing that is the doer, where is that located?
Our brain is divided into to hemispheres, left and right. These hemispheres are connected through a bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. This structure allows for information exchange between the two halves of our brain. This, it turns out, is very important as the individual hemispheres of our brain complete separate tasks, then share the information with the other half. The specific tasks that are carried out by each hemisphere are conserved in most people. That is to say, there are some exceptions to these rules, but the work is typically divided the same way across different peoples. As a brief example of this, examine the figure below.
This list could be longer and more detailed, but the important distinctions are: each hemisphere receives different visual inputs, controls different sides of the body, and that speech and language are confined to the left hemisphere.
A treatment for the most severe and uncontrollable epilepsy is to cut the corpus callosum. This is a last line measure (no response to anti-seizure medication and other treatments) to limit the spread of the electrical activity of epileptic seizures. While cutting the corpus callosum did not completely stop the seizures, it relegated them to the half of the brain they originated in, no longer being able to spread to the other hemisphere via the corpus callosum. I will leave the ethics of this procedure for others to debate, but to the impartial observer, this procedure shed light on some peculiar aspects of consciousness.
Let’s walk down the logical progression of cutting the corpus callosum. No communication, no information exchange between the two hemispheres. Each hemisphere only receives visual input from one visual field. For those that are unaware, if you stare at a dot in the middle of the screen, images to the left of that dot are located in your left visual field, and vice versa. Therefore, observing a word in the right visual field goes to the left brain. This means the person could say the word out loud, as the speech and language centers are also in the left brain. They would also be able to move their right hand if, for instance, they were asked to draw the word presented to them. So far, pretty normal. Now, let us walk down the path of presenting a word to the left visual field. The visual input is sent to the right hemisphere of the brain. When asked what word was shown, the patient says nothing. The visual input, stored in the right brain, has no pathway to the speech and language center in the left brain. The patient cannot represent the information in words or speech, as these two pieces of informations are located in opposite hemispheres, unable to communicate. However, when asked to close his eyes and draw with his left hand, the patient is able draw a picture of the word. I recognize this probably sounds very confusing. Watch the video below for a visual explanation.
So with this basic physiologic understanding, let’s jump to the fun part, its implications for consciousness. For this discussion it may be helpful to invoke a particular definition of consciousness. In the words of philosopher Thomas Nagel, “an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism.” This assertion is made in his paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” For example, as soon as we say, “if I could perceive via echolocation, I would understand how a bat negotiates its surroundings,” we assign some level, or type, of consciousness to the bat. It has consciousness because there is something that it is like to be the bat. This definition of consciousness is a decent starting place. While it does not violate any of my intuitions, or directly contradict my developing notion of consciousness, it does not offer much insight either. The obvious thing we must extend from this definition is that consciousness is no one thing. You and I can both be conscious, as can the bat, but there are clear and obvious differences between these incarnations of consciousness. There are levels to the game, so to speak. This goes against the materialist and rationalist tendency to discretize and demand a concrete form of things. Through this definition we are clearly allowing consciousness to take on different forms, while also retaining some element of commonality. In my own interpretation of this idea, consciousness is the awareness of what it is like to be.
Back to the split brain experiments. If we apply the above definition of consciousness to the split brain patient, we are forced to assign individual consciousness to each hemisphere of the brain. As seen in the video, when shown different words in each visual field, the cognitive processes are distinct. The left hemisphere knows the he visualized a hammer, while the right hemisphere knows he visualized a saw. Both are 100% correct, both are 100% convinced of their perceptions, and both are completely unaware of the other.
What does this do for our understanding of consciousness? For me, it shows that consciousness is differentiated from the body, while also being dependent upon it. It is detached, but receives input from the body. I visualize it as a little entity floating right above my head. It takes inputs from inside the body as well as outside, welds them into a coherent story, and then poses as the all mighty conductor of volition. It incorporates all the stimuli of the senses, the inner psychic drives and images, our history, our place in the group, our place in society, our direct environment, possible future outcomes, and possible ramifications of those outcomes. A complex data mining, data combining, and narrative building machine.
So when we split the brain, the direct bodily inputs of consciousness obviously change. It is clearly like something to be the experience of the left brain, and clearly like something completely different to be the experience of the right brain. When we split the brain, we create another instance of consciousness. We introduce another way to be, and consciousness is there for its interpretation. For it is always there, always a level removed from direct perception. Thinking about split brain as a splitting of consciousness may be a helpful visualization, but in reality we aren’t splitting consciousness, it is just there, aware of whatever inputs are available to it.
I would like to close with a bit of a thought experiment. As this post was started, where are you? That thing that is the doer, where is that located? Before I really started thinking about consciousness I would have immediately answered that question: I am in my head, of course. My thoughts have drastically changed since.
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“Now you see that the hope and the desire of returning to the first state of chaos is like the moth to the light, and that the man who with constant longing awaits with joy each new springtime, each new summer, each new month and new year – deeming that the things he longs for are ever too late in coming – does not perceive that he is longing for his own destruction. But this desire is the very quintessence, the spirit of the elements, which finding itself imprisoned with the soul is ever longing to return from the human body to its giver. And you must know that this same longing is that quintessence, inseparable from nature, and that man is the image of the world.”
Leonardo da Vinci
Is that feeling of yearning a simple disapproval of our current situation, or does it emerge from something deeper, as a manifestation of a drive we have labeled progress? It is easy to appreciate the teachings of those enlightened ones; the complete acceptance and appreciation of each and every sacred moment. But this is not the teaching of our culture. This is not what draws today’s society forward. It is this antithetical idea of progress and change that define our world. I, for one, do find those moments of bliss and weightlessness to be quite compelling, but I cannot claim to be driven by the pursuit of peace and oneness. No, I seem answer to that call of progress and growth more readily. I want to be better today than I was yesterday, and I remain content with this strategy. However I readily admit, as Nietzsche states, our drives seek to philosophize in their own regard.
“Returning to the first state of chaos” must be something like the dissolution of ego consciousness, the dissipation of tension, that realm before opposites, unity. What if our yearning is a much deeper drive. A drive for reunification with the whole. I do not see this as a drive for death, or a “death instinct,” but something more along the lines of some part of us wants to reach that ultimate connectedness. Whatever we are, whenever we are, we are only the current manifestation of an intricate history. There must have been a beginning, with that an end, and every circle ends in the same place it started. It must be plausible then, our desire for change is the manifestation of a drive seeking to reunite with the beginning. Of course, only to be found through the end.
If this were true, certainly that drive would feel imprisoned. Only knowing its dissatisfaction with the current situation. Only knowing that change is its singular hope of resolution. Of course, it would not know what changes to make, or even what it desires, only its discontent. It is no more than a vector directed in a particular orientation, without regard to what surrounds. It does not have direct access to our conscious volition, so we are not necessarily privy to its goals, or even its existence. However, it obviously lies beneath those levers that play on the level of our conscious awareness. It finds solace in the constant comparisons we make between one another. Objectifying why someone else has a better situation than us (our future self included). Wanting this or that, never quenching, only leading to the next this or that. This is the drive playing puppet master to the grass always being greener.
The drive is not mischievous. It does not plot for our demise, push us towards misery, nor a mindset of perpetual inadequacy. These all occur at the level of consciousness, much downstream of the drive itself. It is our duty to channel this libido (psychic energy) into something that improves our lives. The only comparison deserving of our commitment is the comparison to who we were yesterday. That is the only manifestation we should allow this drive to take. Let it push us to ever so slightly better versions of ourselves. To small changes over a lifetime that amount to becoming who we are. Complete your circle on your terms.
If you like thinking about the nature of reality or consciousness or cool things in general, and are unfamiliar with the double slit experiment, you must watch the video below (or any number on YouTube). In 10 minutes you may be completely flummoxed by a foray into the quantum world.
I am no physicist, and I’m certainly not qualified to be sharing my opinions on such things, so I can’t think of a better topic to discuss. The experiment clearly shows the act of observation has some affect on the way we perceive light to behave. I emphasize perceive because that is a much different statement than claiming the act of observation changes the behavior of the particle. I do not think our observation changes the behavior of the particle, I think it changes what we perceive. Not that we are necessarily looking at two different things, but that we are viewing another side of the same coin. Through observation we collapse the dual nature of light (particle and wave) into one particular incarnation, a particular particle. Through observation we define a path.
The act of observation occurs at a specific instance in time, and at a specific instance, the entity has to be exactly somewhere. This only occurs at the smallest possible increment of time (theoretically possible), exemplified by the derivative. As the light is traveling through space, you cannot distinctly define its position unless you freeze time. The act of observation is this act of momentarily freezing time. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is the relationship between two complementary variables, for example, spatial position and momentum. There is no way to simultaneously know both the position and momentum of an object. If the object has momentum, it is by definition moving. If it is moving, it is by definition not in a fixed position. This can also be completely defined through the lens of time. In order to know the exact position of a moving object, time must be stopped. However, if you stop time, then you stop velocity, and without velocity you have no momentum. So the idea of complementary variables is the idea that the closer you are to pinning down the value of one variable, the less you know about the other.
It is as if through the act of observation we are assigning destiny. The act of observation freezes time, and in that moment, everything must be spatially accounted for. All possibilities collapse into a particular output, all momentum goes to zero, and a precise position is required. Then instead of perceiving the possible outcomes of traveling light (wave behavior), we perceive the outcome of that distinct particle which was observed.
It might make sense from an abstract “energy” point of view. It would be energetically more efficient to simply define a cloud of probability (wave behavior), than to output a specific path (particle behavior). Without an observer to output to, why waste computing power or energy to display an output?
There is some connection to consciousness expressed in this experiment. I do not think the observation itself has to be “conscious,” but the experiment is somewhat analogous to the idea that things only exist once they enter our field of consciousness. At this moment, look straight up. The ceiling or sky you just visually perceived (or mentally perceived if you actually didn’t look up, and are now just thinking about that ceiling above your head) was nowhere to be found in your conscious experience until the moment you perceived it. It had no defined real estate in your consciousness before, but there was certainly the possibility of it appearing in your consciousness. As soon as you bring your awareness to the ceiling, it exists. Your awareness is just like the act of observation in the experiment, calling forth a specific entity from the nebula of possibility. Consciousness has to filter down the possibilities of reality and present us only with what is of the highest importance. It is energetically impractical do discretely define all of reality, we must operate with a nebulous or probabilistic understanding of most things at most times. Light only behaves as a particle when it is forced to, when the act of observation demands certainty. We trade variety, novelty, and open possibility for limited but discrete understanding.
Like I said, don’t trust me on this. This is no more than a neophyte thinking out loud. However, I do hope it makes you think for yourself.
“The sense of well being of a tree for its roots, the happiness to know oneself in a manner not entirely arbitrary and accidental, but as someone who has grown out of a past as an heir, flower, and fruit.”
Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life
You are multitudes. In the first part of this post we wandered down the improbable road of our human ancestors being able to successfully reproduce 100,000 times in a row, roughly (really roughly) the number of generations needed to take us from 2.5 million years ago, to today. We emphasized just how incredibly unlikely it is for anything to be done 100,000 times in a row, much less, survive on Earth long enough to raise viable offspring! Quite the miracle, if you don’t mind the term.
That post was solely focussed on us, the human species. Now I want to take a step back, and examine an even wider picture. Imagine yourself in a park, forest, or really any unblemished part of nature. Now take your attention further, to the trees, grass, squirrels, insects, soil, even the microbes that surround you. Each one of these incarnations of nature is the product of an improbable journey, just as you are. Each one of the entities had “parents”, and “parents” before that, often extending much farther back than the paltry 2.5 million years of human existence. Many have much shorter lifespans, meaning they have been through vastly more generations, winning the game of life an impossible amount of times. They too are constellations of that original cosmic dust of 13.8 billion (at least) years ago.
This perspective is important, for you are not simply limited to your body. At some level, you are your experience, or your reality is built upon that which you perceive. In a way you are something like the integral of your perceptions across your life. In fact you even extend back before your birth. Do you not have instincts? And certainly we cannot lay claim to the development of instinct in this lifetime. Now, turning back to those perceptions that construct our reality. If we go back to the landscape we were picturing, with trees, birds, plants, etc., those entities exist as part of our perception. If they are part of our perceptions, then we are one in the same, as we are some type of summation of our perceptions. Or if you prefer to think in experiences, you experience the tree and the grass and the birds. Now take a snapshot in time, that experience becomes part of you. Somewhere, somehow, some piece of that experience is stored in you.
Now it’s time to explode your mind. If we are some type of summation of these snapshot experiences, we are entirely dependent upon the perceptions that made up the experiences. Meaning, if that tree was not there, in its exact place, we would have a fundamentally different perception, a fundamentally different experience, and therefore we would be something fundamentally different. The snapshot has changed. A piece of the puzzle that is us, has changed.
This means that our improbable existence just got infinitely more complex. Our existence requires not only 2.5 million years of successful Homo sapien reproduction (improbable in itself), but it mandates 23 million years of successful reproduction by the ancestors of that specific Oak tree. And 7 million years of reproduction by the predecessors of the squirrel. And don’t forget the grass, plants, soil, microbes, or that other human across the park. They are all part of your perception, all part of your experience, all part of you. As you are their’s.
It is hard to not appreciate our momentary existence with this perspective. Or does this perspective actually prove our existence is much deeper and more profound than initially assumed. You are everything, and everything is exactly as it has to be.
I grew up in a religious home. Do not take that to mean I was religious. I went to church because my mom made me. I was not exactly waking up cheerful and proper on Sunday morning, singing harmonies of Amazing Grace. We didn’t go every single week, but I was exposed to many of the common teachings of today’s non denominational Christian church. And I at least knew enough to be completely turned off when I was exposed to science in high school. How was I supposed to believe some dude died and CAME BACK TO LIFE three days later, all to somehow save mankind? How was I supposed to believe God created literally everything when I had learned about Darwin’s theory of evolution and selection? And the fact that none of these contradictions were even broached in church really turned me off. The church goes on acting as if many of the things they preach are not in direct opposition to hard science. These contradictions were not spoken of – more or less tucked away in the DO NOT DISCUSS category. Surely, if you ignore something long enough it will just go away right?
One of the things that bothered me most as a kid was the extreme geographical bias of the great savior Jesus. Was I simply lucky to be born in the blessed holy land of the southern United States where Christian churches were on every other street corner? What about the billions of people born around the world who will never be exposed to the Bible, Jesus Christ, nor ever see a church? Did the great forgiving savior simply forget about those billions of people? Were they sentenced to Hell simply by virtue of birth location? That didn’t strike me as a great strategy by the almighty one. It was also not difficult to see that many of the religions shared a great majority of their teachings. Sure they were dressed up in different words and practices, but they seemed to almost be coming from the same source. If my God was teaching the same principles as your God, should we not go to the same Heaven? Unfortunately the dogma and traditions of religious institutions seek to emphasize distinctions rather than embrace the many of qualities connecting the world’s religions.
My largest stumbling block was the manner in which the Bible or Christian stories were taught to me. They were taught as objective truths. God did create the entire world in 7 days (or whatever), and Jesus did in fact come back to life after being crucified and killed. The basic theory of evolution I was taught in high school clearly contradicted the truth of creation I was taught in church. But factual contradiction was not the the only problem here. I was forced to entertain the idea hypocrisy. How can one assemble a tome espousing the virtue of truth and honesty, when the first book on the creation of the world is a blatant lie when interpreted literally? At this point I was not aware of the metaphorical and metaphysical truths actually being described by the creation story. I did not have that belief structure because the idea of the Bible as metaphorical truth was never discussed during my time in church. From the viewpoint of the dogmatists and traditionalists of institutionalized religion, claiming a metaphorical truth would be the largest surrender and step backwards possible, so I understand their predicament. I could go on with the problems I was finding in the teachings of the Christian church, but these illustrate the point clearly enough. These sentiments generally sum up my spiritual position from high school up until about 1 year ago (I’m 26 now).
“The power of moral prejudices has penetrated deeply into the most spiritual world, which would seem to be the coldest and most devoid of presuppositions, and has obviously operated in an injurious, inhibiting, binding, and distorting manner.”
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
I never had a feeling of contempt or disdain towards those who considered themselves religious, or believers. In fact, I admired those people. Not only because they were generally good people, but because it was evident that religion was this intricate connecting fabric of all peoples. I went to engineering school and was surrounded by people who were technical, science minded individuals. Many of my classmates were religious and seemed to have no problem building a career based on science while also believing that a man rose from the dead. I don’t know if these people were living their lives with some form of low grade cognitive dissonance, or if they were spiritually advanced to the level of holding paradox and understanding deep metaphor (I would have to guess the former based upon my experience with religious teachings). Anyways, I suppose I always had a deep respect for religion even if it I didn’t understand it or believe it.
Over the last year my views have changed rather dramatically. Or perhaps, they have simply come full circle. I became very interested in the ideas that lay under religion, those common threads. This led me to Jospeh Campbell (The Hero With a Thousand Faces) which led me to Carl Jung (multiple books), while previously being influenced by the metaphysical ideas of Marcus Aurelius (Meditations), Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now), and Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements). Over the many months of these readings, I eventually realized they were all talking about the same thing. Each, through a different perspective, attempting explanations of the divine – that force or essence connecting all things, that is all things. The thing that gives rise to religion.
The fundamental problem with teaching religion is that God is all things. Therefore, when you speak about God, you are always making some sort of abstraction. Words can be classified as denoting substance, activity, quality, or relationship. For example, dog and human would belong to the category of substance, he runs or she jumps would belong to activity, dark and light would belong to quality, and lastly, having wealth or status would belong to the category of relationship. The idea of God does not fit into one of these categories, for it is all things. God is ineffable by nature, words are no more than partial descriptions. This is the fundamental reason why we must look to religion as teachings of metaphorical truths rather than concrete, objective, or historical truths. The fact that words unfailingly recoil from the idea of God demands a deeper interpretation than simple historical fact. When one views religious teachings as metaphors, the room for development and spiritual growth is magnified. Dogma feels this as reduction, when in reality, this opens the door to the infinite.
This understanding creates plenty of room for both Darwin and Jesus. The genes that are the units of selection for Darwin’s theory have been through innumerable events of birth, death, and re-birth, just as the followers of any religion have been. Science and religion are not diametrically opposed. They are two distinct lenses through which one can gaze upon reality. They are both tools capable of fantastic dynamism, growth, and innovation. Both able to generate insights into our existence, and quite possibly into our purpose. When the western scientific approach seals its walls to religion, it is limiting its possibilities and trapping creative minds. It is quite literally placing bounds on what is possible. If we limit science to only that which we currently understand, we will not be able to meet the demands of our world. We must be willing to leap into the unknown, and we must reward those bold thinkers, nay, bold adventurers. When religious institutions rely on dogma and tradition to spread their message, they are alienating future generations and severely limiting the profound spiritual wisdom of our ancestors. They are acting as a reducing valve to an unfathomable beauty and source of insight and creativity. Tomorrow’s church must embrace the deeper truths, those that underly all the religions. It must embrace the complexity of God instead of attempting to reduce the ideas to flat historical fact. We must fight the tendency to identify with only one of science or religion. Together, they can be constructive and their collaboration might just be necessary for the fantastic problems of our future. Here is to future scientist shamans.
As an engineer and future medical student I have no love lost for science. It is a beautiful machine that churns out rules of reality and forms a formidable scaffolding for our futures. It is the vehicle we use to get from the ordinary present to the unimaginable future. However, every tool has its strengths and weaknesses. So as any good strategist would, I wanted to contemplate a possible shortcoming of the tool I have chosen to dedicate the majority my life to. And if you have read any of my other posts, you will not be surprised at the metaphysical turn this took.
In science, only what is measured exists. What if, at our current resolution, the sand still falls through the sieve? To believe that we understand fundamental cause and effect is arrogant and dangerous. And our understanding of probability is probably well overstated. It is completely obvious that forces operate and influence outside of our perceptions. To think that we are seeing the full picture is no more than the bliss of ignorance.
In the realm of united duality, all exists as one. The essence of everything. Perception and consciousness undoubtedly exist downstream of the bifurcation of the ultimate cause (a priori). Science lives in our beautifully constructed consciousness. It weighs, measures, and identifies the patterns that are tangible. But in this dualistic universe, we must acknowledge its opposite, the unconscious void. At best science is mastering half of the causal phenomena, at worst, it only perceives the air bathed cap of the glacier.
Science demands boundaries and categories. Do we lose the big picture when we focus on boundaries?