Archive for category Spirituality
I have just posted a spiritual fantasy called “Dreams.” The heroine Jenny finds herself in a different reality, able among other things to enter into the dreams of others – past, present and future. Go read it if you’re into that kind of thing! I wrote it about 20 years ago and have given up on ever having it published. However, more than anything I’ve ever written it outlines my core beliefs about life, including speculation about the nature of reality. Read that and you know me, even 20 years after the fact.
The story had an odd genesis. While I was studying in Germany I had the pleasure to spend a chunk of time in a Studentenheim (dorm) in Bonn on the Endernicher Allee. When everyone left for Christmas I stayed in my room. I could have gone to visit friends elsewhere in Germany, but I wanted a little bit of time alone — I had been traveling all through November as I shifted from staying in Berlin to Bonn, and wanted some time by myself.
On December 25th I took a magical train ride through the snowy Moselle valley (I had a German rail pass I was using up), eating my Christmas dinner at the Frankfurt train station. On the 26th I took another train ride, finishing my rail pass. That evening the Letsch family – caretakers for the Studentenheim – invited me for Raclette. I drank at least two liters of beer and enjoyed a wonderful evening.
The next morning – December 27th – I awoke at about 4:00 AM. I had been listening to a CD from the former Supertramp member Roger Hodgson Eye of the Storm quite a bit that week. It has strong spiritual undertones, and the time alone had me in an introspective mood. I woke up with a story in my head. I grabbed my Zeos 280 laptop and started typing.
It was like that for the next two and a half days. All day on the 27th and 28th I was in my dorm room, typing out this story. I’d run out of ideas, take a break and lay down…and then get up as new ideas popped in my head. I finished it on the 29th, a sunny bright day. “Wow,” I said to myself, “where did that come from!?”
I then went for a run through downtown Bonn and along the Rhein river, finally getting outside after spending nearly three days consumed by this story. I thought I had something really good – I printed it out, made copies, gave it to friends, many of whom reacted positively to the ideas. A couple said it was remarkable and inspiring. I looked into publishing it a few times, but with no luck. I would share it with people I thought might enjoy it and for awhile fantasized about getting it published and maybe even becoming a full time author. But that was a pipe dream – I write too much like an academic!
This morning I started a blog post in which I mentioned how I used to keep a journal of my dreams, including lucid dreams. I had interesting encounters with vicious dogs in those dreams, and some of that had worked its way into my story. I put that post aside and decided to post my story for anyone who might be interested in a story I still feel really close to.
So I’d be honored if any of you take the time to read my story Dreams.
Boredom is the root of evil. That was the wisdom of Danish existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and he had a point.
Happiness can mean many things, but it probably requires an attitude towards life of gratitude, joy and love. Boredom works against all of that. Boredom replaces joy. We think we want something new, but once we get it the newness wears off and it becomes unimportant. A fine meal is joyful, stuffing ourselves with cheap junk food is a joyless habit. We don’t like being bored. So how do we handle it?
Think about a game of monopoly. Once you have the hotels on the dark blues and greens and know it’s a matter of time before you win the game, the game ceases to be fun. If you’re struggling against an opponent, each with a chance to win, relying on the roll of the dice, then the game is engaging and stimulating. So one response to boredom is to try to add excitement.
Therein lies the wisdom of Kierkegard’s claim. For many people in hum drum routines excitement might be an illicit affair, playing the lottery, heading to the race track, partaking of chemicals to alter one’s state, or things even more destructive.
Of course many people have too much social responsibility to choose those kind of escapes. Socially acceptable methods of relieving boredom include throwing oneself into a career, spreading oneself thin with commitments and social engagements, or becoming addicted to sports, television shows, books or in my case earlier this fall, following pre-election polls. While clearly someone who relieves boredom by constantly reading new books has a much more constructive approach than one who turns to whiskey, it’s an escape nonetheless.
This brings me to another Kierkegaard quote: “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”
Boredom seems not only to be a lack of something intriguing to do, but perhaps a disconnect from ones’ self. Boredom is an emotion, or perhaps a message from the soul to the self: “don’t lose yourself…you’re alive, vibrant and you’re wasting that – do something!”
So we do something. But in so doing we can either find/be ourselves, or lose ourselves. Engaging in a hobby, interacting with friends, building community, doing something constructive usually means connecting to ourselves in a way that combats boredom constructively.
The problem is that distractions – actions against boredom that can actually cause us to lose ourselves – are often easier to begin than constructive responses. If I feel bored and have nothing to do I could choose to watch TV, have a beer, and eat cold pizza. That’s an easily accessible way to try to counter act boredom, but it brings no joy. Sitting on the couch clicking through stations with a slight beer buzz and chewing at a cold pizza is a distraction. It’s not joyful, but distracts from boredom.
Working on a project, exercising, family activities, getting together with friends, or volunteering to help others could bring joy and connect one to their real self, but it takes more effort than trudging over to the sofa and grabbing the remote.
The irony of our convenience oriented world is that it is really a distraction-oriented world, one we can lose ourselves in more readily than if we were actually confronted directly with the question of what we need to do to survive. If we had to tend to the garden to assure we’d have food in the winter we’d not be so easily played and manipulated by marketers selling us the latest product we absolutely need and which will bring us at least 10 minutes of distraction disguised as joy.
Boredom is the curse of the modern. We have everything at our fingertips and survival is no longer a struggle. So we can choose – dive into meaningless distractions or focus on not losing ourselves. The distractions may yield dramas that cause some to seem to jump from life-crisis to life-crisis. Or they may create a laziness that leads to an anxious depression and addictive/self-destructive behaviors. To gain weight in front of the television and choose inaction in a world so full of promise seems insane – rejecting life in favor of emptiness. To fall into soap-opera like personal dramas may add excitement, but rarely contentment. Yet it is so easy to fall into those traps.
Ironic. We’ve achieved so much and yet have not mastered ourselves. In some ways the danger posed by boredom is worse than the threats to life and limb from past eras. At least then we were forced to assert ourselves, recognizing the danger. Now it lulls us in, like a quiet hypnosis. We have to work to live awake, not to lose ourselves or our joy at living!
From Wikipedia: “Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner. The concept of synchronicity was first described in this terminology by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist, in the 1920s.”
One can look at synchronicity in terms of deep non-material causation, or as an interpretation of events that are not causally connected but to which humans give meaning. If someone’s car breaks down outside a diner, and then he goes in and meets his future wife waiting tables inside, he might conclude that the car trouble was meant to be, designed to connect him to his soul mate. It could, however, have been mere coincidence.
I’m a believer in the first kind of synchronicity, that there are forces at work beneath the material that bring things together and create important opportunities and life experiences. On its face that seems a strange belief, so why do I hold it?
1. The inherent question of meaning. Why is there something rather than nothing? This question is unanswerable in any objective sense. We can’t know. This world is space-time, a realm in which you can’t get something from nothing, and where time progresses from start to finish. Our space-time world cannot simply be, because that would contradict its own laws. It had to come into existence at some point. Why? How? The big bang 15 billion years ago may answer “how,” but that just pushes us to ask why the big bang occurred.
2. The inherent limits of materialism. Our thinking is materialist and rational. We focus on measurable “stuff” in the world and try to generalize how that stuff acts and interacts. Up until the 20th Century that seemed good enough. Thanks to Isaac Newton people knew this was a clockwork universe and theoretically if one knew the speed, position and attributes of all that existed one could calculate both the complete past and the future yet to come. By knowing the laws of physics, each moment had within it information yielding complete knowledge of the past and the future.
Modern physics blew that world to smithereens. Now reality is relative to ones’ frame of reference, space and time are unified, and thanks to quantum physics, knowledge of the present only yields probabilistic knowledge of the past and future — and there is uncertainty even in that. Matter, the “stuff” of universe, breaks down into ever small subatomic particles, which themselves are not so much particles as ‘ripples in fields.’ Things that we see are mostly illusion: Atoms are 99.99999999% empty space, meaning all matter we experience from our bodies to buildings and even the planet is almost completely empty. A few interacting ripples in fields create the reality that our sensory organs interpret as the world we believe we inhabit.
In that light, the idea that material reality itself may be subject to non-material causal forces is quite plausible. Especially since the act of observing is what solidifies a probable quantum reality into an actual one, material causality may itself be a misguided interpretation of our reality.
3. The limits of rational thought and reason. Reason is a tool; our assumptions about the world determine where reason leads. Alter the assumptions, and reason yields a different answer. Rational thinking and reason can’t determine meaning or truth, they only can help us figure out what works in the world. Material causation may be an interpretation of reality that seems to work in the world, but there is no inherent reason it should be seen as superior to synchronicity or the idea that there are non-material deeper, “spiritual” forces at play.
4. Intuition and Sentiment. Intuition is often wrong. Remember how the Republicans “felt” Romney would win, while the hard statistics analyzed by Nate Silver predicted the result we got. We learn not to trust intuition. Yet there are two kinds of intuition. I may intuit something about the goings on of the material world (e.g., “I feel the Vikings are going to win this week.”) or I may intuit something about life itself – its meaning and my purpose.
Since reason cannot determine purpose or meaning in life, it makes sense to follow ones sentiment and intuition about those higher issues. Intuition may be stronger there than in guessing particular material phenomena.
I am absolutely convinced that we are, to draw on another Police allusion, “spirits in a material world.” What really matters are the connections and interactions with others, not the material stuff that surrounds us. Synchronicity operates at that level.
Looking at life that way I have to change focus from the pursuit of goals defined in terms of material success towards what I learn from my life circumstances, and how I connect with and help/teach/learn from others. That’s true reality, the material stuff is stage scenery. It creates the story lines in which we live our lives. But the story is not the purpose, the story is the vehicle in which we pursue our purpose.
So when I go through the day I notice chance encounters, events that happen seemingly out of the blue but which connect to my thoughts, actions or personal dilemmas. I try to see meaning in everything and everyone. I see people and situations that push me away, realizing those dramas and situations are not for me. Others draw me in.
Life lived this way becomes magical and meaningful. There is a purpose, there is something profound in living day to day. To get lost in the material pursuit of success and gain is akin to falling into a dream or trance; we need to wake up and experience the present and the meaningful.
And life lived magically, with an eye to meaning rather than stuff, goals or plans, has a reward: one recognizes that happiness is available to everyone. That’s because happiness cannot come from other people, stuff, success in the world or even family. Happiness comes from inside, achieved by being open to the magic, focused on meaning and purpose. That banishes fear and despair. And once happiness is claimed one can turn to family, the world, stuff and other people with a renewed sense of confidence and clarity.
Don’t believe me? Practice living that way. Look for meaning, look for coincidence, look for signs and signals in the daily routine. Look for magic. Pay less attention to worldly pursuits and more towards whether or not you’re living a life that provides joy and meaning. Just try it and see if it works!
Today Americans travel to be with family and/or friends to celebrate the most traditional of American holidays. Most people will roast a turkey, enjoy potatoes, veggies, dinner rolls, pies, and various family delights. Even the most secular of families will talk about giving thanks for what they have. Many families will take out the Christmas decorations, ready to celebrate “the holiday season,” where the Christmas values of peace, love, and goodwill overcome greed and selfishness.
One need not be Christian to appreciate the Christmas spirit, expressed in everything from Ebeneezer Scrooge’s visit from the spirits of past, present and future to George Bailey’s journey in It’s a Wonderful Life. Kids get it when they watch the Grinch’s heart expanding as he hears the Whos celebrate joyfully even after he stole their Christmas loot. The Christmas spirit reflects a belief there is something more important than material possessions and the daily grind. Love, connection to others, and a sense of the spiritual combine to point to a more joyful and meaningful mode of living. The eternal trumps the temporal, values trump self-interest.
Yet today, even on Thanksgiving many “big box” stores are opening, usually at around 8:00 or 9:00 PM. Those not opening today will do so early tomorrow, sometimes at midnight or 2:00 AM, so that shoppers can get the best bargains of the year, so called Black Friday. Stories of violence often accompany Black Friday — shoppers being trampled as they rush to get bargains, people fighting over the last of a specially priced item.
Then for the next month malls will be full, kids will be adding to Christmas wish lists and then feel deprived if they don’t get most of what they wanted. Stress will grow as people churn out Christmas cards as an obligation, juggle party schedules, deal with shows and activities planned for the kids, and try to get that shopping done. The music, lights and smells of the season will offer momentary distractions, but far too often the Christmas spirit gets defined by materialism and stress.
Peace on earth, good will to men. “Yeah, yeah, but I have to shop, get this package to the post office, and damn, we got a Christmas card from them? Sigh. I think I have one more I can send out.” “Dad, why does he have five more presents than me, it’s not fair!” It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yeah, for the retailers! For the small shops in the mall!
A savior is born in Bethlehem. Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, Wiccans and others might smile and nod, but don’t get meaning from that. Christians will, but many will quickly pivot “hey, that’s the true meaning of Christmas, but I have to go get supplies for our party…why’d we invite so many people…”
What irony! The Holiday most focused on our better selves has become the most stressful and materialistic time of the year. Instead of learning the value of sacrifice and sharing, children shout “me, me, me” and fantasize about the stuff they’ll get. Starting Thanksgiving evening we embrace raw consumerism in the extreme — “you are what you own, and today you can get great deals!”
What if people decided to reject that and grab the true Christmas spirit instead? For Christians the answer is right there — the teachings and traditions provide a guide of how to steer clear of crass consumerism and materialism.
One does not have to be Christian to celebrate and appreciate the joy inherent in the Christmas spirit: Love for others, good deeds, giving without needing to receive, forgiveness, family, friends, and connections. The Christmas spirit appeals to the part of ourselves that rises above self-interest and sees meaning in core human values rather than the daily routine or material possessions. After all, early Christians choose late December in order to mesh the holiday with already existing pagan traditions. The holiday spirit belongs to all of us, not just Christians.
The holiday spirit is a sense that life has a meaning beyond our mundane material existence. If one cannot bring oneself to believe in something specific, then imagine — imagine the best each of us can be and the best for humanity. The boundary between faith and imagination is blurry and perhaps non-existent.
The Christmas spirit is truth, even if one rejects the story behind the holiday. That spirit can be tapped to defy the stress, material excess and greed that too often subverts this time of the year. That spirit is here, inside each of us, and in the songs, movies, and ideals expressed this time of year. Grab the Christmas spirit! Share it. Make this a season of joy rather than greed. Let love and human connections trump selfishness and consumerism. A family snowball fight always beats a day roaming the malls. And maybe, just maybe, we can enter 2013 renewed rather than spent, focused on values rather than stuff, and thankful for our family, friends, and the lives we’ve chosen to lead.
(Note, this is part 10 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.” It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all thecomplexities of the world as it really is. I’m not sure where this book came from). Picking up where I left off, the next section in this ‘guidebook’ is “Evil”
Perhaps the most difficult to understand aspect of the Quantum Life world is the existence of evil. Evil is defined as volitional cruelty to others, either for personal gain or out of a desire to see others suffer. Since there is a fundamental unity to all existence any act against another is an act against oneself. The consequences of such action are immediate and clear, and thus absurd in the real world. Evil does not exist.
Yet in the Quantum Life world there is separation between action and consequence. As explained earlier, part of creating the experience of separateness and individuality requires breaking conscious knowledge of the inherent unity of all existence. This requires disguising cause and effect; one sees cause and effect in material terms in the Quantum Life world without understanding the deeper impact of action. Evil can appear rational and effective.
Yet to reap the benefits of Quantum Life – choice, the experience of individualism, sensation, and volitional partnership with others, evil is a necessary attribute of the game.
The Law of Karma
Ultimately even in Quantum Life one has to experience the consequence of any choice made. However, to maintain the illusion of separation, the consequences are often felt much later, often in a different round of play (or lifetime). “Later” here refers to the flow of the game. Since players can choose to return to the game at an earlier time the consequence may appear earlier than the action in a Quantum Life frame of reference.
For instance, in the game many people come to believe that material possessions yield happiness. To get those, they may take something from someone else (stealing). Ultimately something will be taken from them, and the person who was stolen from will gain. The balance or justice of karma remains hidden because the mechanism appears arbitrary. Due to the illusion of separation it may appear that A has taken something from B, but later has something taken due to something else, perhaps a natural disaster. The events appear unrelated.
For that reason, karma is not self-evident and people can choose a path of cruelty and evil.
Why Choose Evil?
Players do not come into the game predisposed towards evil. Due to the unity of all, players are inherently drawn too each other as social creatures. That is what allows for the joy and learning that players experience in the game. Fear leads players off track.
Earlier in the guide fear was defined: “Fear is unique to Quantum Life. It is a state of utter uncertainty about existence, ones’ own value, what will happen next, and what could happen. In Quantum Life it is easy to imagine numerous experiences that would be painful, and fear acting lest they become ones’ reality. Lacking the core inner knowledge we all have about the nature of reality, Quantum Life strips the soul bare, leaving it uncertain and afraid. Only through experience does one learn at every level to overcome fear.”
A possible consequence of fear is evil. People attempt to overcome a perceived emptiness by achieving material excess, controlling others, or even doing purposeful harm to others. Fear can manifest itself as evil on the individual level or through group actions. In the game, evil appears to be a force in and of itself, powerful and perhaps stronger than “good.” Good is defined as acting in accord with our inherent unity, even if that unity is hidden by the structure of the Quantum Life game.
In the game, karma acts to work through the consequences of all action, good or evil, in a way that allows people to learn to recognize the inherent unity despite the game’s illusion of separateness. As such, it’s a complex web of interactions designed to create opportunities to learn and understand, rather than a retributive force requiring one to pay for ones’ acts. The highest form of learning involves grace and forgiveness.
Forgiveness occurs when an individual accepts that another did harm, but does not require retribution within the game. Grace is when one chooses to make retribution to another for an act committed by someone else. Learning the power of grace and forgiveness comes from overcoming fear. Grace and forgiveness also soften the karmic “debt.” Given the inherent unity of all, showing grace and forgiveness to others also extends it to the self. Although not self-evident within the game, players learn over time that grace and forgiveness are the most powerful and beneficial actions possible within the game.
(OK, enough transcribing from this strange ‘guidebook’ or ‘manual’ I found for today.)
(Note, this is part 9 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.” It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all thecomplexities of the world as it really is. I’m not sure where this book came from). Picking up where I left off, the next section in this ‘guidebook’ is “Empaths and Extensions.”
EMPATHS and EXTENSIONS
One of the more difficult aspects of playing Quantum Life is the nature of existence in Quantum Life as a single, discrete entity with connections to others blocked (at least to the conscious mind).
In true reality there are no such distinct barriers, real world entities reach out, touch, feel, and integrate a wide variety of experiences into the “self.” That lack of a discrete self and meshing of identities, experiences and emotion is what gives real existence its fundamental joy and contentment. It is why we lack the drama, horror and ecstasy of the Quantum Life experience.
The game would be unbearable if the self was truly discrete and disconnected. Despite the blocking of both memory and psychic connections, the game requires ways of allowing players to still maintain aspects of their true selves outside the discrete Quantum Life identity they don for the game. Most do this through extensions, but some play the game as empaths.
Some players choose a life where the connections are more “open” than usual. These people are called empaths. In a sense they experience game reality a bit more like true reality, though in a manner that can be overwhelming. Anyone choosing such a life should be an experienced, advanced player. In the Quantum Life world it isn’t expected that people connect with others, and as such empaths may appear to be weak, overly emotional, hyper-sensitive or lost in their imagination. They are prone to escapism both because such connections can overload the Quantum Life self, and because empathic connections decrease the need for Quantum Life style “social” connections.
Such players must learn to trust their enhanced connections which inevitably work against the materialist conventional wisdom shared by most players. When they trust their experiences as legitimate and true, they find a disconnect between themselves and the reality of less connected players. They see the world and its inner truths more clearly, almost as if they are awake and others are in a kind of hypnotic state.
People choose such a life for a variety of reasons. Very advanced players want to take the lessons learned from the separation and uncertainty of playing Quantum Life back into true reality. Such lifetimes are efforts to learn how to hold on to a concept of self while re-connecting with greater reality.
Others choose such a life in order to either help other players or play a larger cultural role in bringing about and understanding major social changes. Such an existence can be quiet, with an individual using empathy to guide other players through difficult life lessons as a kind of teacher who not only understands but in a real way lives the experience with those being helped. Others might become known as great teachers. Most religions are built on the experiences and teachings of empaths, though often these are mangled and altered in the course of time. Empaths have at times been called teachers, speakers, healers, gurus, or holy men/women.
Most players don’t have the capacity to choose such a life and thus need to redirect their inherent need not to be completely alone/cut off. In Quantum Life they do so by having a variety of other experiences that symbolically reflect their life choices. Every individual player has aspects of themselves living as animals, plants, soil, rocks and other “material” aspects of the game environment. Almost every player has trillions of simple extensions, including entities such as bacteria, viruses, etc. The cells that make up their game body are such extensions. The entire game environment is comprised of extensions.
Extensions are literally what keeps players sane — able to play the game without losing the capacity for rational thought. It creates a comfortable web of knowledge and a sense of connection to the wider world which exhibits itself as such things as an instinct to survive, a belief in the importance of the world in which they find themselves, and as a force for psychological stability. Nature reflects the thoughts and actions of players at a fundamental level — players are linked with their environment completely.
Such extensions are also the way that entities outside the game can communicate and interact with players in the game. They exist only as small particles or very simple creatures (though often trillions of them at once) to integrate some of their real world insight into the fabric of the Quantum Life game, thus available to players. The players don’t know they are receiving these messages, which show themselves through symbols or synchronicity — what players often dismiss as luck and coincidence.
All players have at their finger tips a vast reservoir of insight and strength available to them. They need to look inside and trust connections they feel, but can’t understand. They can find power working with nature, recognizing it as a reflection of/extension of themselves. Without extensions, players would be overwhelmed by the game. Without extensions intruding from those still outside the game, players would lose themselves in the game more often and veer ever farther from their purpose.
(OK, that’s enough transcribing of this strange book for today)
Disenchantment was the term Max Weber used to describe the impact of enlightenment thought on humanity. Humans moved from a world of deep spiritual significance to one that can be measured, analyzed and reduced to it constituent parts. Rather than experiencing reality as a deeply meaningful and even magical whole, it has become complex mechanistic set of causal mechanisms outside the self known as nature. Any meaning it has comes from the human mind.
Such a view of reality is both implausible and untenable. It is untenable because recent discoveries in modern physics, especially in the realm of quantum mechanics, defy a mechanized view of reality. We don’t know exactly what the nature of reality is, but it’s definitely not some kind of mechanistic set of material chain reactions! It’s implausible for the same reason we now see old geo-centric cosmological theory as misguided – it views human experience as the center of all reality.
Think of it – a whole cosmos and the vast multiverse, all a lifeless, soulless set of material interactions with no meaning or core value. All meaning, value and understanding in the universe takes place within the brains of carbon based life forms on one nondescript planet. Even if we allow that there may be life forms similar to us on other planets, the result is the same: a meaningless universe of causal mechanisms, forces and particles. Meaning only comes as minds behold, label, and try to understand it.
Oh what vain creatures we mortals are! We no longer believe our planet an unmoving center of the universe, but we think our minds are the essence of what gives reality meaning. Without our minds to behold the world there would be no meaning, no value, just inanimate forces and particles buzzing about. Looked at that way, the rationalist world view of enlightenment thought looks pretty absurd.
Still, the enlightenment was about liberation. The individual now came first. Rather than being products of a community, individuals were now seen as the creators of community. As such they had to use reason to determine how to structure it, became responsible for their own happiness and success, and learned to question or distrust the religions and traditions which had provided meaning and social cohesion.
The biggest drawback, noted by first real critic of the enlightenment, Jean Jacques Rousseau, is alienation. The individual used to be part of something greater than himself. An individual in so-called primitive times was one with nature, a part of an enchanted world where every event, action and experience had meaning connected to that person’s life. The boundary between the self and the wider world was imprecise. Even after Christian thought came to dominate the individual was part of a community, had value due to his or her role, and had a network of support in the clan, village or extended family. Religion provided certainty in life – as bad as things may be here, a paradise awaits!
Now we’re not so sure. Most religion myths are seen as implausible, and ever since Montesquieu it’s been clear that the idea that salvation could be an accident of birth – a baby lucky to born in Iowa is likely to be taught the “right” religion while one born in Cairo may be doomed to hell – doesn’t seem likely from a loving God. In fact the ability of one culture to think its religion the one true one is far fetched. When you look at the claims of individual religions, their stories break down.
Moreover, individual responsibility for happiness, value and meaning in life — what the enlightenment liberates us to pursue — is a daunting task. With advertisers insisting that you can’t have a happy life without the newest product, magazine covers defining beauty, and material wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, it’s easy to feel like one is failing. Even Mitt Romney, the GOP Presidential candidate, stated that prosperous countries have “better cultures” than those with less wealth (he used GDP per capita as the defining principle). Get that – a culture is judged to be superior ont the basis of its economic output!
Disenchanted humans, burdened with these tasks handle the challenge in various ways. Most will turn to existing religions, friends and family, their communities, and their own life experiences to find meaning. Often this yields an outcome good enough to make life bearable, and sometimes even pleasurable. Others lose themselves in a host of distractions – sports, gossip, politics, activism, life-dramas, entertainment, books, etc – and train themselves not to think about any deep meaning to life. That may be hectic, but it makes life like sleep walking.
Yet this disconnection with the world has yet another sinister side, the violence and destruction which has accompanied western thought. We have high GDPs, but we’ve had the most destructive wars and pioneered true weapons of mass destruction. We continue to devastate the environment and treat plants and animals as mere products. After all if only the human mind provides meaning, everything else is to be used. Their value is measured by the utility they provide for humans. Colonialism, war, and the destruction of cultures (which, of course, are inferior if they are economically lower — hence exploiting them is doing them a favor by extending western ideas to them) are all actions inherent in this disconnect between individuals and the rest of existence.
It’s time to recognize that enlightenment thought without a spiritual component is untenable. It’s time to assert that meaning cannot just exist in individual disconnected minds. It’s time to recognize that we are part of a larger reality where meaning permeates all of existence. We may not buy the symbols primitive peoples held – indeed, we need to build on rather than reject western thought. Religious fundamentalists fear modernism because of its disenchanting quality, we need to rediscover enchantment!
As a new information revolution expands our power to connect and communicate, as modern physics breaks down boundaries and shows how little we understand the true nature of reality, we humans have to discover the natural empathy within us. Enlightenment thought turns off the deep connections we have with the rest of reality, forcing us to experience life through a stark dichotomy of internal and external. Somehow we have to find a way to reach and feel beyond that. If we can we’ll have a revolution in thinking that can open doors, expand understanding, and overcome the dark side of enlightenment rationalism.
I don’t mean some kind of new age mysticism or magic crystals. I also don’t mean a complete rejection of western rationalism. We simply need a re-enchantment of human existence. I’m not sure how this will look, but the first step must be to think about the world differently. See it as magical, see ourselves as connected, to try to feel those connections and the lack of a true boundary between object and subject. Experience coincidence as synchronicity, see the internal reflected in the external and vice-versa. The world isn’t as meaningless, cold and separate as we’ve been taught to believe.
(Note, this is part 8 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.” It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all thecomplexities of the world as it really is. I’m not sure where this book came from). If this reads very strange to those following my blog, click the link above and look at the basic premise of this series and earlier entries. Picking up where I left off, the next section is “Purpose and Meaning”:
PURPOSE AND MEANING
After childhood the player enters what is known in quantum life reality as adulthood. However, that is simply a term that reflects the physical development of the player in the quantum life world. In reality childhood is designed to prepare the player for challenges to be faced throughout the rest of any round of play (life). The most important component is purpose. Every quantum life player has a purpose. Many fulfill their purpose in childhood and their round ends. Most experienced players, however, have a variety of challenges beyond childhood.
Purpose is a hard term to define using a quantum life language like English. In essence it is the core reason for this round of play — a goal, a particular challenge or lesson the player wants to internalize so that it is carried over to future rounds of play. It gets associated with meaning in that a player is more attuned to their purpose when they experience life as meaningful. The two are linked in a very powerful way. Ideally the quest for meaning in life (or the sense of engaging in something meaningful) should keep people focused on their purpose.
That formula — using the measure of meaningfulness in life to tell if one is fulfilling ones’ purpose — sounds easy, and care is taken between rounds of play to try to make meaning as clear as possible. However, within the game itself there are a myriad of factors that either hide meaning for create a false sense of meaning, often completely misleading the player.
Two main obstacles emerge that can prevent a player from recognizing his or her true purpose. Inexperienced players often succumb to these obstacles despite care being taken between rounds to prepare them. The obstacles are culture and fear.
Culture refers to the set of meanings dominant in a round of play. (Note: here meaning simply refers to a shared understanding about a concept or idea – in quantum life languages words confusingly have multiple meanings!) Each player is “born into” a cultural world with customs, traditions and shared understandings that they are socialized to accept. These “cultures” vary vastly over time and place, and reflect the choices made by players. As such, culture is a product of the game which often has little connection with true reality.
One challenge for players is to become critical of how culture might prevent them from achieving their life purpose. Cultures can define groups of players as inferior, certain practices as morally right or wrong, and certain goals as acceptable and unacceptable. In some cases a player’s purpose requires opposition to the existing culture. That is a challenge often embraced by advanced players.
It’s hard to overstate the ease in which players can lose sight of their purpose and fall into the trap of being hypnotized by the culture world in which they find themselves. They may realize that “something is wrong” inside, or that their life is unfulfilling and lacks meaning, but their response can be to more tightly embrace the culture, hoping that conformity to the norms of the game will bring satisfaction. While numerous lessons and experiences can still be gleaned from such rounds of play, the true purpose of that round becomes hidden and the round is ultimately unsuccessful.
Another obstacle, one that often is connected to culture, is fear. As noted earliler in this guidebook, the core cause of fear is uncertainty. Players enter this world from a world where the connection of all with all is understood and embraced. Pure certainty of meaning is a key aspect of existence in the real world (again, these concepts are hard to convey in a quantum life language). In the game there is a sense of being alone and uncertain.
As an obstacle to be overcome, fear is first dealt with by living as an instinctive creature (an animal) or a human player in physical danger. Fear becomes a response to threats to survival in the world, and as such players learn to see it as a positive force, giving them strength and awareness when necessary. However, it takes practice to take that lesson and use it when fear is a response to uncertainty in the game, especially when a player doubts his or her own worth and meaning.
Rather than using fear as a source of strength players might submit more fully to the culture in which they find themselves. Cultural beliefs often seem to comfort uncertainty by positing a person as superior to other players (e.g., a superior gender, race, ethnic group or class). This can create an illusion of security but the disconnect between the player and his or her purpose generates deep discontent and dissatisfaction.
The result is a destructive downward spiral as players try ever harder to prove their own worth and value in the game-world, and increasingly find it unfulfilling as it is ever farther from their true purpose. Such actions can reinforce cultural norms that create obstacles for other players. This makes for some of the most difficult life lessons and experiences – a player may believe he or she is totally prepared for a meaningful round of play and then emerge having “wasted” a life on material pursuits or efforts to gain power over others.
These obstacles, however, are essential to the game. Overcoming fear and culture requires self-mastery. A player must be confident enough to reject conformity as a moral good, with no need to prove self-worth through comparison to or dominance over others. That is why the game is so popular — players learn to develop the certainty inherent in real world existence even without the ubiquitous real world connections. It is, however, a much more difficult task than most people realize.
(All for today – I’ll continue to transcribe this guidebook in future blog posts!)
(Note, this is part 7 of a series called “Quantum Life,” in which I post the contents of a strange ‘guide book’ I found for a game called “Quantum Life.” It is in English, which the book calls a “Quantum Life language,” unable to capture all thecomplexities of the world as it really is. I’m not sure where this book came from). If this reads very strange to those following my blog, click the link above and look at the basic premise of this series and earlier entries. Picking up where I left off, the next section is “Childhood”:
In a nutshell, the goal of childhood in the game Quantum Life is to create an identity in this round of play (lifetime) that reflects the player’s personality and experience, and engages the chosen environment (era, culture, etc.) effectively. A successful childhood yields a player who, while not understanding he or she is in a game, recognizes that through choice he or she is fundamentally in control of the life experience. Moreover a successful childhood yields a player who intuitively understands and can use the myriad of connections and shared experiences to learn and grow.
Childhood is the most pure experience of the game, with stronger connections to past experiences than any other time. This makes it an exuberant part of life, or one in which great resiliency and surprising strength can be shown. Nonetheless many players spend multiple “lives” simply trying to get through childhood successfully before attempting adulthood. Others choose obstacles in particular lives (illness, injury, a different perspective on reality often seen as mental illness within the game) to work on particular challenges. Relatively new players to the game often choose to leave at or near the end of childhood. By age 17 almost all “psychic” connections are fully subconscious and operate invisibly.
As with any “life,” different experiences are chosen for diverse reasons. Almost always the parent-child dynamic is important. At the age of 3 or 4 the child first leaves the protection of extremely close contact with and understanding of true reality. Sometimes this corresponds to a point of trauma. Many people want to experience a particular kind of lesson in life, and trauma at that point can be life shaping – it sets up a more rigid set of probabilities, conditions a player is less likely to veer away from. Those who experience trauma of some sort at an early age will find that experience (losing a parent or sibling, having a life changing injury, etc.) a part of their entire life and identity. Traumas throughout childhood play a similar role; their influence is strongest at age 3 or 4 when the child emerges from its deeper connection with true reality.
Even without major trauma, a key role of childhood is identity construction. Since each game or “life” requires the player to don a new personality, childhood is when the ground work for doing this happens:
1. Relation to others. Early on children are completely dependent on others for material survival. Between birth and age 5 the relationship to the parents determines the ease players will have in trusting and opening themselves to others. Players have considerable control over this, as these ages are the easiest to plan with the game counselor. For various reasons some players might want to overcome the challenge of having a lack of trust for others, or perhaps help their parents learn lessons about the consequences of their actions.
For example, two players between games may decide that one has a real problem with patience and empathy. Another player may choose to enter the game as a child with a major handicap in order to try to force the problem player to work on those traits.
2. Confidence. Confidence in life is an important goal of the game, but it has to be learned. Early in childhood this involves asserting ones’ will, defying authority, and even “temper tantrums.” This can be countered by ideas of shame and outside control by parents or an existing culture. Depending on goals and challenges to be faced, players may want to have low confidence as an obstacle to be overcome. Other times poor choices by parents limit the confidence and increase the shame in a player. Many players play multiple rounds (lives) primarily to practice developing or fostering confidence in the roles of parent or child.
3. Action. After age 11 players also learn how to take action in the world and achieve results. Toys and games are particularly important, as are relationships with others. Players model out actions and possibilities, preparing themselves for the choices adulthood will require. This is integrated with the goal of confidence building: low confidence action can inspire guilt, high confidence connects action with initiative.
4. Understanding. Throughout childhood players are acquiring knowledge about their new environment at a tremendous pace and learning how the world — the quantum life game reality — works. Learning in the game is a communal endeavor, not something the player achieves completely on his or her own. This understanding of the world takes place on many levels — causal understanding of how things happen in a “material” world, as well as determining what kinds of things have value for the players.
5. Taking Control. As players near adulthood the primary goal is to take control of ones’ life and take responsibility for the choices made and their consequences. Players should be comfortable with the identity they have constructed for themselves at this point. For many players, especially new ones, this is a daunting task which must be attempted multiple times before success. Even seasoned players may fail, making adulthood very difficult.
The two goals of childhood seem straight forward: a) accept and be happy with the identity they have constructed, and b) to take control and accept responsibility for ones’ life choices and path. Yet numerous obstacles stand in the way, despite the closer connections with reality. This is a necessary consequence of “forgetting” past rounds of the game. Moreover, for all the difficulties and opportunities that “adult” players endure, childhood remains the most important and difficult (if also joyful) stages of the game.
Finally, the tasks listed above accumulate over rounds of play. A player who has mastered the notion of control and identity acceptance will have an easier time doing so in future rounds. These differences appear in the quantum life game as differences in personality or temperament. Extremely advanced players often choose to experience childhood in difficult ways in order to help less advanced players who may be their parents or otherwise connected with their life.
(OK, enough transcribing for today! I’ll post more from this intriguing ‘handbook’ latter on!)
Modern physics is only touching the big questions about the origin of the universe. Do black holes spawn universes? Are we in a multi-verse with parallel realities less than an atom’s length away? Perhaps — those are the kinds of theories occupying modern physics these days as scientists probe the nature of the big bang and what may have caused it.
So what should we humans believe? Clearly scientific knowledge is uncertain at best. We know we are in a space-time universe, space-time appears to have come into being at an event called the “big bang,” and if we take quantum physics seriously, the world is probabilistic and far more weird and indeterminate as most of us would like to believe. The old determinist Newtonian world of clear laws and causality is long gone, even though in every day life that is still the approach we take.
Consider: Since we live in a space time universe, we are incapable of comprehending or even imagining reality outside space time. Something outside space-time has no beginning or end, since those are merely temporal markers. If something is outside space-time it has no location, that is a spatial marker. Yet there is no way to dismiss the possibility that reality includes entities outside of space-time. We just can’t comprehend what they would be like or how they operate, it is beyond our cognitive capacities. Just as an ant in the White House can’t comprehend the politics going on around it, our frame of reference and mental capacities are limited to the space-time reality we inhabit.
For religious folk, this opens up the possibility for the existence of God – an existence that is not in denial of science. If God is outside space-time, then we cannot imagine God’s nature. God need have no beginning or operate under causal laws like we do. This fits Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu conceptions of God well, though Christians and Jews have tended to anthropomorphize God and give it human traits.
That said, claims about God that can be tested in the material world are fair game. The idea that the earth is 6000 years old, for instance, can be falsified. But for those of us who are not religious, the real question here is what the term “God” means. Is it a source for this reality from beyond space-time?
There are a few ways to deal with this question. First, you can dismiss it as irrelevant. There is no way to test any hypothesis about reality outside space-time, so contemplating it is at best a playful intellectual indulgence, at worst a waste of time. This is generally the atheist/materialist reaction. Speculation about something we cannot know is meaningless and beliefs about it are irrational and potentially dangerous. Better to stick to trying to figure out the world we have access to and can study.
A second way to deal with this is to simply choose a religious faith and believe it. We can’t know, but maybe a benevolent God gives us access to knowledge through the heart, with faith the key to achieving that kind of enlightenment. Supplement that with emotional satisfaction about one’s perceived connection with God, and religious belief can be very satisfying, it can create a sense of meaning in life. The trouble is that this is true for a vast variety of diverse and often contradictory religious claims. Either people are choosing to believe in myth and fantasy, or they all grasp aspects of the truth but build human stories around it that can conflict, or (to me unlikely) one group has it right and the others have it wrong.
A third possible reaction is to consider subjective experience and intuition as evidence to explore connections to a spiritual side of reality that may not be testable in the scientific/materialist sense. That would involve consideration of dreams, feelings, meditation, and efforts at deep empathy. The idea here is that we may be connected to the God/spiritual world outside space time, but not in a way that exhibits itself through what we can measure and test within the confines of space-time. Any knowledge gained from such explorations is subjective and personal.
It seems that spiritualism of this sort would have to deny dogma, since dogma rests on claims of certainty. Instead, ideas would be judged by how well they work in the world or each individual, or whether or not they ring true inside. I can believe that I draw to me all my experiences through my state of mind and my choices, but I can’t prove it or demand others believe it.
Despite the uncertainty there is a sense of liberation in this approach. If one takes a purely atheistic/materialist approach to life, there is a kind of meaninglessness and emptiness to existence. We all will die, the sun will eventually go nova, the universe will dissipate and everything we do and achieve will be forgotten. Nothing truly matters, except for our transient and fading experiences. These experiences can be very meaningful, to be sure, and atheists can find meaning in rational materialism – but to me a reliance on the material side of life seems incomplete. I cannot look at the world that way.
If one takes a religious approach, there is some heaven or judgment one looks forward to or dreads, with hope for some kind of paradise, be it union with the whole via Nirvana or a heaven of spiritual delights. For a spiritual approach there is uncertainty and a sense that it is most important that one live true to oneself and ones’ beliefs and reflections. Success or failure in the material sense are less important than spiritual living. The idea of judgment seems absurd because how can one be judged when our knowledge is so ambiguous? Rather than judgment day there’s karma – our actions and choices create our situations. And that’s where I end up. I can’t prove it, but I have a sense that there is a unity to all experience and that there is deep meaning. Living with a spiritual perspective works for me, and that’s ultimately all one can hope for.