The Nature of God?

I noted awhile back I was reading Columbia physicist Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality and trying to get my mind around just where theoretical physics is taking us these days.  It’s mostly conjecture, though often buttressed by pretty sophisticated math.  All this begs the question why do we even have a reality?   

Our minds have trouble with that question because it’s hard to imagine something without a clear beginning or causal explanation.  To get a universe you have to get something from nothing.  To get a God there has to be something from nothing.   If time stretched back an infinity, how could we reach the present?

Of course, part of this is simply that we’re limited in perspective by inhabiting a space-time universe where we move from past to future able to explain what happens by looking at how nature operates.  We live in a world where you don’t get something from nothing, where things happen for a reason, and everything we imagine had to come from somewhere else.   Clearly, the universe must reach out beyond space and time.

Modern physics suggests that as well.  String theory posits ten dimensions; we only experience three (or four, if we include time).   Holographic theories even see the reality we experience as a kind of projection from elsewhere.   To answer the question “why is there a reality” or “why is there something and not nothing,” we have to change our perspective.

It’s like the old joke “A cowboy rode into town on Friday, stayed three days, and left on Friday, how is that possible?”  If you get fixated on Friday as a day, then you’ve got an impossible dilemma.   You might try creative answers (he rode in on Friday but didn’t stay there and rode around for the next four days before actually staying), but that gets silly.   The only way to answer that question clearly is to recognize that the frame of reference is wrong.   Friday is not a day, but the name of the Cowboy’s horse.   Suddenly it makes perfect sense – and is far more parsimonious than some contorted explanation.   We need to think outside our three dimensional box.

We try to understand the world as having to fit into reality as we experience it.   Either we throw up our hands and say “it’s meaningless, we just live, die and that’s it” or we find some belief to hold on to, or choose to have faith in teachings proclaiming themselves to be the answer.

In religion the God concept emerges as the point of mystery, the source of a reality we cannot grasp.   The Tawhid in Islam is a concept that God is one — perfect, incomprehensible and indivisible.    Hindus have the Brahman, the supreme and universal spirit from which the universe emerged.   It is the source of the material world, but its essence can only be known from inner meditation.   Both would be consistent with the idea of a holographic multiverse.  Even the Christian God is often put in impersonal terms — the Word, the Alpha and Omega, the Spirit.    Yet while Christians do personalize God, Muslims see God’s nature as so incomprehensible to the human mind that it is forbidden to try to make an image of it, or give it human traits (God cannot be angry, jealous or sad — such petty human emotions would be beneath God and in fact to attribute them to God is extremely disrespectful.)   For Hindus, despite starting from a similar point, anything goes in describing God.   Brahman encompasses all so God can take a multitude of forms.  Hindus appear extremely polytheistic, but ultimately there is only one Brahman.

If  the source of reality is outside not only of space time, but of our capacity to even reflect on the nature of its existence, a God or Spirit concept is a shorthand for an unknowable (and least through material inquiry) source of reality.   In this view there is one key difference between science and religion.  In science the source of our world is likely impersonal, a force of nature that can be explained and studied (or perhaps not, if we don’t have access to it in our three dimensional space-time world).  In religion there is a sense of will or consciousness that not only constructs our world but gives our spirit life.   In such a view the nature of reality is consciousness, not just material cause and effect.   Consciousness would have some immaterial connection to that larger reality that cannot be measured or understood through science or investigating the nature of material/three dimensional reality.    This “spirit” thus is key to both self-discovery and understanding the nature of our world.

In that sense scientists are looking to math as the abstract key to transcend the limits of our capacity to make sense of explaining the origin of material reality.   The hope is that we can find a way to test it or see into a “larger reality.”   Religion and spirituality represent a similar effort, but one done through internal reflection and meditation, hoping that access to a ‘hidden reality’ or other dimensions can be achieved through exploration of the mind and consciousness.

If the consciousness/spirit theory is correct, the good news is that life is probably unending and expansive.   This existence is only a part of what we are, and we will likely never cease to exist.   In fact, if consciousness projects reality, we are probably all part of some greater unity.  As in Plato’s allegory of the cave we are living in a world of illusions, shadows on the wall, and mistaking it for reality.   But if reality is just impersonal forces of nature, then we may be condemned to never truly understand it; our capacities are too limited.   Just as a cat will never understand general relativity, we cannot perceive beyond our horizons.

So I for one will continue to explore thoughts, consciousness, dreams and intuition on the possibility that perhaps that’s a key to understanding a world larger than this one.   If I’m right, a journey inward may yield rewards and lessons.  If I’m wrong, well, as long as I have some fun and treat this effort playfully,  no harm done.

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  1. #1 by Juliano on April 16, 2011 - 12:06

    I distrust Plato and his allegory “As in Plato’s allegory of the cave we are living in a world of illusions, shadows on the wall, and mistaking it for reality. But if reality is just impersonal forces of nature, then we may be condemned to never truly understand it; our capacities are too limited. Just as a cat will never understand general relativity, we cannot perceive beyond our horizons.”
    His philosophy looked down on nature, and his philosophy has enormous influence still on the western worldview–if I had a pound (UK money) for every time i have heard his cave allegory mention from a diverse section of the community, i’d be a rich man. it is trying to claim that BEYOND ‘imperfect’ nature with its darkness/shadows there is this ‘perfect’ realm of pristine unchaging ideas—ie, his rational interpretation of reality. And of course the physicists and mathematicians love all that, because they live a lot in an abstract world of numbers and symbols.
    But the world is REAL, and it is under attack on all sides by a mindset that seems to want to destroy the very Web of Life—oil, gas, wars, radiation, depleted uranium, etc etc etc. THIS is real! Has ANY physicist got an answer for this? Wasn’t it a physicist–a very well-known one–Albert Einstein who not only came up with the math that birthed the nuclear bomb, but also promoted its development in war?

    I cannot get through to you the urgent situation we are in to wake UP to what is going on for R E A L, and not get lost in abstractions. You cant eat or drink or breathe maths.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on April 24, 2011 - 15:06

      Experience is real. The nature and context of experience is what one has to question.

  2. #3 by Steve on April 17, 2011 - 20:52

  3. #4 by Steve on April 17, 2011 - 20:53

    Heck. Try this: http://bit.ly/hMdF6w

  4. #5 by Josh on April 22, 2011 - 13:51

    Even mathematics, despite its emphasis on truth and precision, can only be used to approximate reality. Take calculus for example. All of calculus follows from a few measly axioms. These axioms cannot be labeled “true” or “false”, but we must accept them in order for us to do calculus. Who knows if our postulates actually approach truth? Therefore, who knows if mathematics can tell us anything about reality?

    Wikipedia has a nice article dealing with one really interesting axiom needed for calculus (as well as many other fields). It’s called the Axiom of Choice.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axiom_of_choice

  5. #6 by renaissanceguy on April 23, 2011 - 23:23

    At least you acknowledge the problem that something cannot come from nothing. The solution that God poses is that there can be such a thing as an eternal, infinite being, if that being is not material. I think that someday in the future physics and religion may merge, as the thing sought in physics may turn out to be the spirit realm and perhaps even God.

    • #7 by Scott Erb on April 24, 2011 - 15:10

      Yes, the something from nothing paradox seems unsolvable if all that existed were the material world we perceive. Anything outside this reality is hard if not impossible for us to imagine, especially since it has to transcend the ‘something from nothing’ paradox (the great question since Leibniz, why is there a world instead of nothing?) That certainly leaves space for a rational acceptance of religion or spiritualism.

  1. Is There A God? « World in Motion

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