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Sun, Dec. 13th, 2009, 01:40 pm
Thoughts on God

I think the course of my life has been to veer towards being increasingly agnostic. Whatever mechanism that people convince themselves that their own religions are "correct" doesn't work for me, nor does it make sense for someone to "choose to believe" a certain thing. To me, believing something isn't a statement that you like it or want to identify with it, it's a statement that you think it's true. But your own opinion has no influence on the greater universe. Can you say "I choose to believe there is sushi in the refrigerator" and by your belief have any influence over whether it's there or not? I say the same is true for religious doctrine.



So at this point, I'm not sure if I believe in god or not (depending on your view of god - there are some views that I definitely disbelieve in), and am unconvinced by most arguments either for or against the general existence of some transcendent being or substance. I know that most scientists believe there's no evidence supporting the idea that there's a god, and I am very favorable towards the idea of rational, observable evidence in claims of belief. But in such grandiose terms as what is the underlying, theoretical architecture of the Universe - be it purpose-driven or chance driven - I don't know if observational evidence (or lack thereof) applies in quite the same ways as it does for something specific, like the origin of a mountain or the nature of a disease. In most versions of god I can imagine, it's not the kind of substance that would be "testable" in that you could do an experiment to see if there is one or not. It's not the kind of being that would BOOM! create a planet, so you can watch that planet's creation and realize it was done by god. God would be, by its very nature, a part of the natural processes of the universe, and would be no different from observing nature itself, which would make it very, very hard to determine its existence.

That's not evidence to the affirmative of their being a god, it's just saying you can't treat a lack of affirmative experimental or observed evidence as evidence of the negative, in this case.

And our universe still has some pretty profound, unexplained things like, what is consciousness and how do you get it out of dead matter? How come some matter forms consciousness (in animals) but other matter does NOT (in trees or rocks or stars or empty space)?

Evolutionary biology explains and accounts for a material formation of life, and explains and accounts for the evolutionary development of animals - even brains, learning, and behavior - without requiring anyone to ask the kinds of questions that religions ask to explain it. There's no greater theory in the history of science that explains more about the nature of our experience. But the Darwinian theory doesn't explain or account for consciousness. Instead, it suggests that a brain should be programmed to do certain things and even programed to learn, based on natural selection, genes, and experience, stored in a material way as electricity or the arrangement of synapses. It should be programmed no differently from the way a computer is programed - the genes arrange for a certain system, the system gathers information and uses that information to control behavior, unconsciously.

Evolutionary biology would say that animals (including humans) are essentially what plants are; their feelings and sensations are as much a matter of programming as a plant's ability to form chlorophyll when exposed to light is programmed. Yet we treat animals as having a moral value beyond plants, and I believe rightly so.

You cannot account for consciousness unless you want to accept a possibility that there is something fundamentally charged, or potent, about all matter or all things in our universe.

So when it comes to God, I am truly agnostic by my own definition, though I'm probably more of an atheist under the definition of an evangelical Christian or conservative believer. I don't believe in capital-G GOD as in Allah or Yaweh or some masculine, creator being with a personality, likes or dislikes, and a need to reward and punish.

But I do think that the universe itself has some sort of intrinsic potential to form consciousness, and that our minds/beings are not separate from it. Another rather contrarian opinion I'll put into my view on all this if my thinking seems like: "we can't explain why consciousness forms in an animal so something magic or supernatural happens in a brain or body," it is NOT that way. Instead, I'll say that since we do know that consciousness (rather than blind programming) exists within ourselves, the burden is to prove that the rest of the universe, including inanimate things, is not conscious.

To say the universe is conscious does not mean that it feels and laughs and suffers the same way we do. A rock doesn't feel pain when you smash it. But also, if a brain is a conscious entity, why is it that those atoms/molecules are part of the entity and at the edge of that entity consciousness stops?

In other words, I'd say that individual-ness (defined by A BRAIN) is an utter illusion. Cut out half of my brain, and I can still live (doctors have done it to people before) and most of us would say I'm still alive, in essence my life continues, even if my personality and nature has been changed. Cut out the exact opposite half of my brain and, similarly, I can still live, though clearly I would not live if you cut out both halves. Which side of the brain is "me" then? The brain changes constantly, cells die and new ones form, so if you want to argue that any small change creates a new individual is to suggest that we die and new people emerge in our bodies on a constant basis.

Another scenario: what if I inject stem cells into my brain and grow new neurons, then over time, over years and years, the existing cells age and die and only the alien cells are left. Have I become a different person that inhabits my body?

I think when you really meditate on those scenarios, you arrive at the conclusion that our brain isn't exactly what defines our consciousness after all.

I see the individual as being more of a knot tied into a cloth that is the whole universe's consciousness; it thinks it's a separate being, but it's really a part of the rest of it. It is a very dense, visible manifestation of the idea of consciousness, while the rest of the universe is very dilute consciousness. But there is really no rational basis for the concept of individualism or the idea that consciousness should exist within the brain but stop at the edge. If consciousness can be purely material, as science suggests, then it should be wherever there is material.

Another example I'll give is consciousness as a hurricane; we definitely look at a hurricane and know what it is, but what are its boundaries? We can see that there are none. Its substance - air and humidity - exist within it and continue beyond it, everywhere on the planet.

In a human brain with the ability to control the body, consciousness results in behavior.

In other objects, consciousness directs the system to do exactly what it does. In a star? Fuse atoms and burn. In a tree? Sit still and grow. In a rock? Transmit heat, sound waves, gravity.

In the case of consciousness, its substance - matter and energy - exist within the brain and continue beyond it, everywhere in the universe. So things like plants, computers, inanimate objects, and all the like, may indeed have some kind of consciousness in a very radically different way than we interpret it for ourselves. Higher and lower animals from lions to snakes to fleas our our virtual twins compared to how difference the consciousness of, say, a star, would be, but somewhere - and trust me, I hate the rational absurdity of it, but I think my thinking that led me here pretty much obliged me to it - in those atomic reactions and energy flows within the sun or anything else, would be a sort of mind. And the universe itself; every molecule, atom, proton, photo, electron, gluon or quark, added together, would be my understanding of god.

It may seem kind of New-Agey, but understand that I really dislike most New Age spirituality. I don't believe that auras have actually been observed in anyone, and I don't believe in things like energy channels. I don't read my horoscope. But I do think it's ironic that after thinking about this issue for a very long time, I ended up returning to something similar to what many indigenous religious believe, before they've been changed by politics and years of political philosophizing. Perhaps it is more natural, and rational, for a human mind to simply observe its universe and honestly consider what spirituality or deeper nature lies therein than pay any attention to thousands of years of scriptural politicking that produced most major faiths.

Mon, Dec. 14th, 2009 01:33 am (UTC)
micahblitz

I actually had a religious awakening while playing a videogame, Digital Devil Saga. It combines at least of eastern religions and it really put things in perspective for me. As I grew up under a Baptist/Catholic understanding of God, it really moved me to another understanding. I think it's good to question these sort of things cause maybe that's finding G/god and figuring who we are.

As far as consciousness goes, I do believe in the soul. And as our cells are constantly changing anyway whether learning or just growing, who we are yesterday isn't always the same as we were today or tomorrow, yet we would never say that our consciousness is different despite these changes. I also have this wacky idea that trees are higher beings than we are, being content with being alone and living for years on end.