Posts Tagged ‘science and religion’

Go Ahead and Overthink It

In No Particular Path, PeaceAble on April 14, 2017 at 10:55 am

I have often been accused of “overthinking” something.  So, naturally, I cannot help but think about that.

Usually, the offense is committed when I have encountered something that is either intended as a joke, or a clever analogy, or a meme with a narrow scope and that has, I admit, a very clear intent.  But I will see something in whatever it is that seems to need further thought, a bit more careful examination, perhaps something that takes the meaning in an entirely different direction.

So.  Guilty as charged, I suppose.  I do “overthink” things.

And I will continue to do so.  I will proudly overthink things whenever I feel like it.  And I encourage you to do the same.

We currently live in a culture in which we are repeatedly told, both directly and indirectly, not to think very much at all.  We’re told to feel, to react, to seek truth and profundity in 140 characters or less.  Reason is too slow, analysis is the same as bias, facts are whatever we declare them to be and they mean, like Humpty Dumpty’s words, whatever the source tells us they mean.  We’re told to choose our side in any dispute and hold our position against all attacks.  Intellect is suspect, emotions are power, thinking wastes valuable time.  We must act, we are told, and thinking isn’t action.

Culture, however, is not created mainly by the big things, but by the ordinary.  We tell a joke, sing a song, use a common expression we picked up somewhere, buy a product because we remember the ad for it, click on a hyperlink, watch a television show or go to a movie, leaf through the tabloids in the checkout line.

People are amused, they’re shocked, they’re enthralled, they’re outraged, they’re inspired.  And they move on.  they let it go, get over it, wait for the next shoe to drop, shake their heads.  They react; then it’s on to the next meme, the next chuckle or shock or inspiration or outrage.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

But they don’t think.

Often, they don’t even know how.

How many common logical fallacies can you name?  Do you know the order of operations in solving a simple math problem?  Are you proud to tell people that you never use algebra?   Do you understand the difference between a hypothesis and a theory, between a theorem and a law, or between argument, persuasion, and propaganda?  Do you know the structure of a deductive argument and an inductive argument; or why the differences between them are important?  Would you be able to distinguish an empirical study from an experimental one, or know the appropriate use of each?

Does all of that sound boring to you?  Do you think that none of that has anything to do with you or your life?  The fact is that you either use or encounter all of those things, or their direct products, every single day.  They have consequences that affect you, for both good and ill.

Academics and intellectuals are often accused of not knowing anything about real life, as though thinking prevents us from experiencing the things that affect all humans.  Thought and emotion are not, however, enemies.  When properly applied they complement each other.  Problems that are solved with just logic can be dry, unfeeling, even cruel.  Problems solved with only emotion can be rash, clouded with bias, and even counterproductive.  When, however, we apply both reason and emotion, we have the opportunity for both pragmatism and empathy, for solutions that address the human condition realistically and practically.

There is no aspect of human activity or experience that does not require both the mind and the heart for its best expression.  Music is mathematics, sculpture is physics, art is geometry.  Planting a garden is both chemistry and aesthetics, biology and design.

Choose anything that either delights or disturbs you.  Take a moment to examine it.  Try to step away from your initial reaction.  Think about it.  Overthink it.  Practice patience with both ideas and emotions.  Don’t copy, share, like or comment until you have taken a least a few moments to try to understand it, and to understand your relationship to it.  Resist the urge to stop at feeling and go no further.

Hate, prejudice and discrimination are literally thoughtless.  They rely on the triggering of emotion, not of reason.

Compassion and empathy require thoughtful understanding, and the ability to both feel and reason.

There is far too much over-emoting these days.  A bit of overthinking would be a welcome change.  The best answers will usually be found, of course, somewhere between the two extremes.  But you can’t find the center unless you can recognize the poles.

So go ahead.  Join me.  Overthink a few things, or even a lot of things.  Do it for a saner, less polarized, and better understood world.

Or tell me I’m overthinking it.

We Are All God-stuff

In A God of Infinite Possibility on September 25, 2015 at 10:30 am

One of the core questions of religion has to do with what happens to us when we die. “Us” in this question isn’t our physical bodies. We know what happens to them. They decay. “Us” refers to what most religions call our soul, and science might call our consciousness.

Because we are sentient creatures with the ability for abstract thought and abstract language, because we are conscious of the “I” of our existence, then we have to wonder what happens to the “I” after death. Various religions contemplate the passage of our conscious self, the thing that identifies us uniquely as a human being, our soul, into some sort of heaven, or afterlife of continued experience; others suggest a kind of recycling of the soul; rebirth into a new life, a new form, a new physical human or otherwise, a new “I” that continues the old “I” but is different from it. Certain atheists would argue that it simply ceases to exist, that the I is a product of our biological brain and when the brain ceases to function, so does the “I.”

As a deist, a person who believes in a god, but seeks to discover how that god operates by looking at the world as it is, I believe that there may be a mid-point where the scientific and the spiritual may connect.

Let us imagine for a moment that the soul exists as distinct from the physical self; that human consciousness is a function of the soul; and that the soul survives the physical form.

I realize that I have already lost the atheists, but bear with me. Even if you do not believe in god, it is useful to understand how belief can co-exist with science, aside from the old argument that science explains how god created the world, but does not preclude god.

Philosophically, we can begin with the question of what existed before the universe. If there was a big bang, what exactly went bang? The simple science I learned in high school said that matter and energy are essentially the same thing, and the smallest pieces of physical reality that have been discovered seem to exist as both matter and energy almost simultaneously. So we might speculate that the universe was created out of that fundamental energy/matter.

For the sake of argument, let’s call that energy/matter god. We don’t really know what god is made of, after all. Is god spirit or consciousness or divine energy? Okay, but what, exactly are those things? Certainly most people, theists and atheists alike, would not try to argue that god is physically the same as human beings, made of flesh and bone; subject as we are to all our physical ills and limitations. In the same way, we would not argue that the mind or consciousness of god is the same as the mind and consciousness of humans. So let us call the primary energy/matter – or consciousness, if you will, or spirit – of the universe, god.

If what existed before the universe was this energy/matter called god, and that energy/matter is the stuff of which the universe is made, and that god was responsible for the creation of the universe, then we can get to the religious idea that god created the universe out of the only materials available at the time. To put it another way, god created the universe out of god.

If that’s the case, then all that is, is god. We are all made of god-stuff; we are all made of god. God is in every bit of the universe, in every bit of us.

It is also reasonable to guess that god did not use all of the energy/matter of god in creating the universe. Some was left over. And as specific physical systems age and die and disintegrate, they are recycled by the universe. They return to god-stuff.

We know that matter and energy recycle in the physical world. We can see it every time we eat a meal, or light a fire, or start a compost pile, or watch a firefly. We know it every time we dig up a pile of bone fragments that were once a body. And we try in vain to prevent it or at least slow it down every time we embalm a body and encase it in a concrete tomb to protect it from the natural elements of decay.

We know both scientifically and theologically that the body returns to god-stuff, returns to god, when we die. But what about US? What about our consciousness, our soul, and more importantly our identity? Who we are seems inextricably interconnected with our physical existence. When we lose that connection to physical reality what do we become? Are we nothing more than a memory in those who remain in the physical?

But if god is the primary energy/matter of the universe, and if god is conscious energy/matter, and if we are all made of god-stuff and return to god-stuff when we die, then it is reasonable to believe that our consciousness, our soul, our personality returns to god/consciousness. Different belief systems will speculate differently about how that return manifests. Some will see the human soul as distinct and individual, retaining that individuality and distinctness after death. Others will see the individual soul returning to the one soul, becoming part of the god/matter/energy of all things, becoming indistinguishable from it. Still others will believe that the distinct energy/matter of individuals will continue to have individual experience, continue to learn and grow, will go to distinct places in the whole of the god/energy/matter and feel joy or suffering or something else. The differences in these beliefs have, of course, more to do with our human needs, and with who we are in this life, with our hopes and fears and desires, than with anything we can objectively demonstrate about what actually happens.

I believe that the universe is a rational universe. It can be observed by humans, and humans can use those observations to build understanding about how it all works. But I also believe that human understanding is limited by the simple reality of being human. I don’t believe that we have come anywhere even close to exhausting the possible limits of human intellect or human experience or human understanding, knowledge or spirit. So I have to wonder what possibilities open up for us when we are freed of the limits of our physical human existence. As a deist, I seek answers to that wonder in both science and belief and do not see them as incompatible. I certainly do not see them as exclusive or in conflict. It isn’t necessary to reject science to find god or reject god to understand science.

I believe in a universe that is of god and is god; a god of infinite possibility and endless variety. I believe that we are all made of god-stuff and that we return to god-stuff when we die. I believe that it is equally possible that we retain our individual identity and that we surrender it to the larger identity of god.

On the other hand, however we return to the energy/matter of the universe, the idea that we are all made of the same god-stuff that has built the universe might help us to begin to see our relationships with each other and with the world we live in in more loving ways, regardless of what we choose to believe about what happens afterwards. The more important piece is an understanding that, whether you see it as scientific or religious, we are here now, in this time and place; we are part of it and it is part of us. Taking care of any part of the whole takes care of some part of us. We don’t have to die to return to god. All we have to do is turn to each other and to the world; and see them as they really are – energy/matter/god.

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