I’ve been reading lately about the strange and self-serving developments that followed Charles Darwin’s determinations of biological evolution. There were certain late 19th century thinkers that found it advantageous to apply the evolutionary theory to the social milieu: that the ‘fittest survivors’ referred to those most able to exploit the economic system, that material wealth meant social progress, and unimpeded pursuit of capital gains would lead to a better world, in the interests of which capital would not be wasted to shore up the least able, and, in fact, eugenic cleansing would provide a superior ultimate outcome.
In opposition or at least counter-point to such an hard-hearted position were those who saw man as a social animal, empathetic to his fellows and reliant on community to provide a reasonable, happy and successful life for all. These altruistic sorts saw social solidarity as evolutionary, naturally evolved over millennia, evidenced by primitive, tribal man whose very survival required social care and cooperation.
Anyway, the majority of folks found well-reasoned logic in both of these fairly divergent positions, the result being a populous which has since embraced philosophical contradictions between our natural propensity for empathy toward our fellows, our common humanity, and the conviction we’re not all equal, some of us being morally and intellectually superior.
We can only hope that, at some point in the not too distant future, recognition of our mental incapacities will be realized and we’ll come to our senses.
I’ve been reading a treatise by the much respected religious historian Mircea Eliade that offers the theory that religious man has a richer existence than someone without religious beliefs.
As Professor Eliade sees it, those who see the physical world as an embodiment of the sacred will more often be able to rise above the profane world to a spiritual plane, basking in and identifying with the sacred. Non-religious man, on the other hand must exist without such a dimension, limited to the hard reality of a profane existence and the anxiety of ultimate mortal extinction.
But, he says, even non-religious man hasn’t completely eliminated the structures of the spiritual from his reality. As religious man may, through ritual passage, be symbolically reborn to greater awareness of the sacred, so too non-religious man will likely transition between life-styles, new living locales and changing occupations, and will experience a sense of newness akin to spiritual rebirth.
I guess we can never completely discount our deeply embedded humanity.
I have just recently spent some time along the shore of the largest freshwater lake on the Continent.
The experience has me thinking about a poetic comment made by a local resident well familiar with the immense waterbody and its impact on the natural environs: the lake, he said, is God.
I’ve been reading how water functions as religious symbol, you know, as primordial formlessness from which all life emerges and as purifier, cleansing the world of the detritus and accumulating filth that profane existence necessarily produces. The big lake does seem to fit the profile in both cases. As I sat on the shore admiring the pristine beauty and vastness, a certain serenity did seem to subvene upon my restlessness. Maybe the lake is God.
So, I was reading that the most hardened atheist more than likely has some sort of sense of the sacred. It may be in the remembrance and contemplation of a personal past experience or as an instance in time and space when an acute awareness of the efficacious natural world transcends the mere physical. I suppose there are all sorts of possibilities.
Anyway, after reading a very convincing tome suggesting the likelihood our universe came into existence from nothing: that’s no space and no matter for that matter and certainly no creative overseer, I’ve nevertheless come to realize a sense of the sacred is and always has been a part of my reality. As exciting as the new theories and discoveries in particle physics are I still, and suspect I always will, relish the enrichments I experience from a cool breeze on a warm summer’s day that often mean more, have a greater personal significance than can be explained by science.
As I sit here surrounded by nature, despite the potential distress the wood tick crawling up my pants leg may cause and the lack of potable water to quench my thirst and the ache in my back due to an unseen mud hole, the sacred, nevertheless is present.
So, particle physicists and cosmologists are theorizing that there are infinitesimal universes popping into and out of existence all the time and that these universes are occurring from nothing: no space, no particles, no gravitational fields, no electro-magnetism, no laws of nature: nada, zero. These universes, they theorize, are the result of quantum fluctuations of ‘virtual particles’ (here one nano-second, gone the next). And, the thinking goes, there is a very strong likelihood that the universe within which we live may very well be an inflated version of such a universe from nothing.
I must admit this is all pretty hard for me to grasp, has me wondering about what nothing is and isn’t, among other things. Does this mean, our universe having popped into existence, that it could suddenly pop out of existence as well? If it did would the resulting vacuum suck all and everything into a very large black hole only to reconfigure as a new universe: a mirror image of its former self?
I find these ideas pretty exciting and they have me wondering about what the quantum world will show us next. I imagine, though, theologians might not like the ideas very much.
I was speaking with a very insightful young Florentine during my recent travels. He commented that the state of American politics (of which I must admit to being a bit embarrassed) isn’t surprising to most Europeans given the populist anti-immigrant goings-on in Italy and throughout Europe. “What we don’t understand about the Americans,” he said, “is the guns.”
This got me thinking about a Goethe quote I ran across recently that goes: ‘There are times when all consolation is base and it’s our duty to despair’, which resonates, no doubt, but I have to wonder how much value there is in despairing, you know, all by itself.
I have this friend who, fairly out of the blue, received a shocking medical diagnosis that put to question the likelihood he would be unable to carry on his chosen life-style not to mention the possibility of an all-too-sudden permanent demise. Well, upon re-evaluation the dire prognosis was over-turned and things suddenly reverted to how things had been, you know, business as usual, except, the scare of imminent demise led my friend to a re-evaluation of priorities, what, essentially does matter after all and a sudden acute awareness of Here and Now.
I guess what the shock of a good scare can do is bring Here and Now into sharper focus. And, of course, Here and Now is where we live and should be where we always want to be but often aren’t, completely, distracted as we tend to be by thoughts of what occurred last week or what will happen after dinner tonight, perceived occupational successes and failures, personal relationships, the rising cost of satisfying our material desires, our minds constantly flitting from one thing to another. We live so much of the time, it seems, in a fog through which Here and Now is only occasionally glimpsed.
The whole episode has me thinking I need to spend more time focusing on Here and Now.
Kierkegaard’s dilemma was that despite his love for Regine he believed himself to be incapable of becoming a good husband, so to spare her he breaks off the engagement, telling her he was never truly serious about their relationship in the first place.
He wrote a lot about anxiety. He stated that, when we become anxious, we are overtaken with fear and trembling, as if we were on the edge of a precipice and afraid of falling. Then he said we should jump; take the leap into faith, embrace God for whom all things are possible.
He also tells us that either we shelter ourselves in the illusory belief that the individuals, doctrines and institutions we rely on for self-fulfillment are sufficient (bad) or we dismiss our worldly distractions, realize our declining physical body and face the existential horrors of life (good).
I think he thought about things too much. He should have just gone out and had a good time once in a while.
I’ve been wondering about this most incredible idea, that, quantum mechanically speaking, there may exist any number of universes. As hard as I try to visualize such an idea in my limited three-dimensional capacity to imagine spatially it all seems pretty much beyond comprehension. When I add time to the mix I can sort of get an idea of it all. After all, the world as it is right now is not quite the same as the world as it is right now. A micro-second in the past or the future might define an entirely separate reality, a parallel existence.
I wonder if these separate realities float around, bump into each other and maybe intersect for brief periods. Is it possible the remarkable sparkling landscape you saw last week was of another world never to be seen in your reality again? Maybe realities are nested within each other. Do the places you glimpse through the trees and bushes on that familiar winding trail through the woods have a certain other-worldly feel?
I find such thoughts intriguing. I revel in the possibilities, and, as long as I don’t think too hard about trying to define the multiverse in three-dimensional terms, I remain content in the limitations of my understanding.
It appears that the very best, the only, really, reality anyone can hope for is a virtual one. Apparently our virtual world is limited to but a tiny fraction of the reality around us. Our virtual world is, I guess, the result of our need to pin down, create a static conceptual world that we, our “I”, is the center of separate from you, the other.
I do catch a glimpse, occasionally, of a richer reality which is available, according to the sage advice I’ve recently been reading, by simply ‘awakening’ to the moment, realizing with open mind what’s before me. So, what I would like to do is get better in touch with the immensity and complexity of the fluctuating, ever-changing reality that I know is out there.
I guess part of the solution may require looking past dualistic concepts like existence/non-existence which tend to lead to ideas of extinction or eternal survival, getting in the way of immediate sustained perceptual awareness. And then, too, I suppose subordinating ego, by-passing that annoying sense of ‘Self’ will also be necessary.
I will attempt, today, to embrace the moment, allow distracting concerns , past and future to pass by and stay focused in the now; no rushing around; everything in good time.