Spiritual Mysteries

I’ve been reading, lately, about the likelihood the human mind may be considerably more than a physical compilation of billions of neurons, that, in fact, human consciousness is the manifestation of god within, giving humankind the capacity, through mental focus, to alter the material world.

The idea suggests that if we as a species were suddenly to realize the power within us we could bring about great advancements to our civilization not to mention world peace.

I understand there are those among us feeding their enthusiasm for the spiritual mysteries and hidden meanings in traditional religious texts like the kabbalah, Zohar, Gnosticism and the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus.  These folks are organizing, believing there to be power in numbers and creating ‘focus groups’ they believe will cure the world’s ills by concentrating their collective consciousnesses toward what they may consider to be positive goods but which, in fact, if any credence may be attributed to the activity at all, may turn out to be not necessarily good for everyone.

But, of course, it’s pretty hard to prove that the human mind is anything more than an organic computer, sophisticated though it is, which allows us each to more or less function within our respective worldly milieus.  The idea of being god-within is certainly intriguing and imaginative. I though, as I’m sure you can tell, remain skeptical. On the positive side, I suppose any group activity probably has useful social value.

Our Primitive Brains

I’ve been reading that a significant part of the reason for our contemporary intellectual disconnectedness is due to our primitive brains: that our brains evolved to deal with empirical issues like finding food and avoiding predators and social skills like recognizing malevolence and benevolence and working with others for mutual benefit.

The problem seems to be that our pragmatic brain isn’t yet equipped to deal with the abstract knowledge science is providing these days leading to a denial by more than a few folks of the legitimacy of discoveries we could be benefitting from regarding ecological health, stem-cell cures and the nature and fragility of the universe.

Our primitive intuitive natures lead us to global warming denial, destructive fossil fuel extraction and heavy-footprint product production. A recent president went so far as to refer to ‘fuzzy science’ in condemnation of findings unfavorable to economic growth.

So, our intuitive selves tend to lead us toward the supernatural as explanation for the ills and inconveniences we would all like to overcome, and are to blame for the political motivation to slow down important innovation. Scientific discoveries shouldn’t require the faith of a believer. We all need to do a better job grasping the truth offered by our most innovative thinkers.

Pragmatism

I’ve been reading about certain 19th Century philosophers, William James and John Dewey among them, who developed a philosophic procedure, pragmatism, to deal with the disconnect between the growing validity of scientific discoveries and long held religious conceptions many folks embraced at the time.

Pragmatism was, and still is I guess, about practicality. Acting on an idea, empirical or religious, will produce either a result that proves to be personally useful, one of practical applicability, or will prove itself useless and disposable. The ‘truthfulness’ of the idea is thus established.

I guess it’s pretty clear that being practical, you know, for the most part, is important in decision making regarding social functioning and earning a living. It seems to me important, though, to hang on to idealisms sometimes no matter how trivial or fantastical they may be. Imaginings need to be limitless and be free to reach beyond any notion of functionality.

James and Dewey realized we live in a steadily evolving, transformational world. We need to spend time seeking the unknown in all its potential absurdness. Who knows, such investigations may lead to useful insights that will counter unwanted future evils.

Faith and Reason (part 2)

Although the scientific method, empirical observation, was painstakingly pursued by the best minds of the 19th century, the theistic conceptions through which the empirical data was filtered produced some pretty bizarre conclusions.

Careful observation of fetal development revealed God’s hand in the progression of the fish-like embryo through resemblances of primitive animal life to ape-like higher animals including non-white species until reaching the perfection produced by a Euro-American mother.

The Genesis creation story of mankind originating from an original pair led to the notion of polygenism which determined separate creations occurred for the lesser animals and non-white races, a belief that accommodated a moral acceptance of slave ownership.

I suppose one of the difficulties with establishing any sort of factual truth is no matter where one starts the information gathering, pre-existing ideas must begin the process. Keeping those premises flexible is the key, I guess.

 

Faith and Reason

I’ve been reading that some of the best minds of the 19th century spent a good deal of time trying to reconcile religion and science. Science, based on sensory experience as it was and religion being of an extra-sensory nature created contradictory explanations of the nature of reality. And, I guess, the problem was exacerbated by new ideas of biological evolution conflicting as it did with widely held belief in the biblical account of creation.

There were those who determined no conflict existed, recognizing the existence of an Absolute, an indivisible unity, from which natural laws emerged that could be clearly observed in nature. What science uncovers is nothing more than the workings of the Intelligent Designer.

But, others were convinced of the dualistic nature of reality. They found no correlation between that which can be empirically observed and metaphysical abstractions. These thinkers saw no connection between the realm of the sacred and the chaotic, random natural world.

Of course it can, and has, been argued that scientific investigation requires a bit of faith in the forming of hypotheses and that religion involves a good bit of practical reason in the acceptance of dogmatic beliefs.

I guess neither faith nor reason can stand completely alone, one isolated from the other.

 

Sacred Assissi

Having spent some time recently visiting a Christian pilgrimage site of some considerable significance to believers (and history buffs as well), it became apparent to me the penitents amongst the crowds stood out. It was pretty clear there is a deep emotional engagement, a heart-felt belief in the Christian dogma, many of the pilgrims feel and adhere to.

It got me thinking about the sort of commitment other spiritual engagements require of their followers if their followers can be expected to remain followers. Other than Reformed Judaism which appears to be based pretty much on cultural tradition most other religious endeavors expect, if not an emotional commitment, an intellectual discipline whereby the metaphysical can be approached, the value of which for the honest participant is cultivation of a groundedness that is helpful in seeing through and beyond the petty and not so petty distractions life presents with considerable constancy.

Problems tend to arise when differences in doctrinal beliefs lead followers to deny the legitimacy of other traditions. It would be good, I think, if more adherents would focus on the common rather than the different and set aside the arrogance of an assumed superiority.

Mesmerized

I’ve been reading that there was a point in time, mid-nineteenth century, when the best minds, those of a scientific bent anyway, took great credence in the likely existence of an extra-sensory realm. Psychologists used hypnotism to probe peoples’ minds in search of the extra-personal consciousness through which all individuals were connected. A number of important thinkers were contemplating such ideas: Arthur Schopenhauer thought that if indeed an after-life existed it would be as an impersonal consciousness and Karl Jung, a bit later, wrote of a ‘collective unconscious’. I guess most everyone was pretty interested in these ideas because it suggested immortality might be available. An Austrian physician named Franz Mesmer had everyone’s attention engaged as he was in psychic healing and related spiritual phenomena.

Modern science, full of questions though it is, has come to discount the ideas of an extra –sensory realm, despite the fact sub-atomic entities, which are of great concern to contemporary physicists, are beyond anyone’s ability to see, taste, hear or smell. In fact, it can’t even be determined whether these quantum entities are particles, waves or both: the idea of one thing being two would seem to have some sort of super-natural aspects.

Anyway, whether quantum theory leads us back to the extra-sensory conceptions of the 19th century or not we must be, I guess, content to continue to live with uncertainties.

Born to Angst

Studying, as I have been, the genetic bases for human behavior have me thinking about my own countenance and foibles. The probability I was, at least in part, born to be who I am is worth contemplating even as I recognize familial and cultural nurturing might have something to do with it. I think about my parents and grandparents, assess their personalities and find that some of us have anxious natures: even (or perhaps especially) when things are going smoothly there is a tendency to worry, to think of worst case scenarios, to dread what might happen next, even though, historically, the family has lived in amazingly good fortune.

So, if I assume, as I must, that I’ve inherited the Angst Gene there appears to be little I can do about it. And, since I haven’t suffered any health issues to this point like ulcers or need for psychological counseling, I guess I’ll just sit back, minimize my worrying as best I can in the realization this is simply who I am.

Evolutionary Aesthetics

I’ve been wondering how we’ve come to associate aesthetic values the way we do. I’ve been reading that our human nature, our genetic inheritance, has, over the millennia, found beauty in those things that reflect or resemble qualities necessary for basic survival like verdant planes, water sources, food animals in visual representations, the social bonding realized in sharing structured, repetitive rhythms musically and sculptural representations of fecundity and animal nobility.

I get this, you know, but now I’m reading that the impulse to create art was, and still is I guess, a mating tactic, a way to impress prospective sexual partners with the superior quality of one’s genetic make-up and intelligence. The idea does seem to explain, to some extent the artistic temperament, the volatile and delicate ego that seems characteristic of those engaged in art-making.

Being of a reserved nature myself, I’m good with leaving the romantic intrigues to the more flamboyant among us..

Violence

I’ve been reading that, by nature of our very existence at this point in time, most everyone has been endowed with the genetic propensity to behave violently. Given the necessary provocation, or not, our ancestral drive for survival has instilled the will and desire toward physical aggression in the interests of protecting kith and kin on the positive side and for some of us who may be leaning toward the psychopathic, rape and kill for personal gain. Violence may be the prevailing characteristic of humankind given our histories of Wild West lawlessness, clannish feuds and nearly constant warring.

Passivity is, I guess, a logical reaction against having to deal with any sort of revenge perpetrated upon us by survivors of aggressive behavior on our part, who, then, would have to be back-watching for retributive response from us, which would likely create a stand-off and perhaps perpetual distrust, which would place everyone in a fairly constant state of tension.

So, I’m sticking with passivity; I’m anxious enough as it is.