Ecology and Philosophy and Social Issues20 Apr 2016 09:28 am

Here are a few themes from early philosophy, science and religion which continue to influence our beliefs, attitudes and assumptions regarding truth, meaning and the nature of human existence.

Early philosophers such as Plato desired to anchor knowledge and meaning in the impermeable and eternal. While human experience was transitory and unstable ideas and concepts were true, fixed and universally valid. According to this view point ideas are real and valid while tangible objects are imperfect and relatively insignificant copies of reality.

The superiority of form and essence over the world of sensations and subjective perception was also found in the pure science of mathematics. Perfection, precision and universal law were revealed in the pure form of number and geometry. Certainty, truth, natural/universal law, and objective knowledge were attainable not through sensorial human experience but in revealing the underlying immutable form obtained through math.

All hard sciences from astronomy, to physics to medicine acquired objective knowledge and certainty in the realms of math and universal law which lay outside the subjective realms of sensation and perception. Truth, certainty and immutable fact were the sole property of pure form and essences garnered though math and objective experimentation, while human experience was deceptive at best if not entirely illusionary.

The belief that all human sensorial, emotional and perceptual experience was an illusion was fundamental to most spiritual practices such as Buddhism as well as a core tenet of the major salvation religions. All truth and certainty existed in the sacred and ideal space which lay underneath or beyond human experience. Pure knowledge, truth, certainty and universal law were acquired in the esoteric sacred worlds carved out by religion, philosophy and science.

Enlightenment, salvation and eternal life were attainable to only those brave, disciplined and clever enough to not become attached or deceived by the transitory sensorial world of mundane experience. The world of human experience was deemed an empty illusion bound to be dominated by physical and emotional pain and suffering haunted by the inevitability of death.

The denigration of human experience by making it an illusion, something to transcend or a necessary obstacle to gain access to truth, certainty and immortality carries with it many important ramifications and repercussions. The acquisition of certainty, truth and universal law through the creation of ideal and sacred space comes at a severe cost.

Through math and the scientific method we have satisfied our quest for certainty and truth by discovering and proving the immutable laws which govern our planet and the entire universe. These efficient laws of cause and effect determine that each and action and event have an opposite and equal reaction. So what might appear on the surface as novel or by chance is only an illusion fostered by our inability to see more than a sliver of reality. Yet, according to universal law there is no chance occurrence and every event is predetermined by the immutable laws of cause and effect.

When logically implemented this means that not only is every action I take just a link in the causal chain of the universe, but so is every thought I have or emotion that I experience since they are indeed events that occur inside of the universal frame work. In a world of universal law and cause and effect any perception of individual action, creation or choice is a complete subjective fiction.

The quest for certainty is just as strong in the realms of philosophy and religion as it is in the sciences. The idea of a perfect god or intelligent agent which created the universe is extremely common. It is the nature of a perfect god to create all that is good and perfect. Thus creation must to be perfect, immutable and follow a specific destiny.

It is, therefore, not surprising that most religions have the initial creation being perfect and ideal such as the garden of Eden. The one variable allowed in the realm of religion is that man was created with a free will. So while man was born in harmony with god, he had the ability think on his own. Yet, since god was all good the only way man was able to demonstrate his freedom was to willfully do other than god. Yet, if god is perfect any deviation from his ways would be imperfect and wrong and, therefore, a sin.

In essence the only way man could distinguish himself from god and exercise the gift of free will was to sin and be cast out of the perfect garden and live a live filled with suffering, pain and death. From that moment of original sin on, the entire goal of human existence was to try to seek god’s forgiveness and regain eternal life by subjugating himself to the will of god.

The quest for certainty, immortality and perfection is often born of man’s fear of death and the desire to escape pain and suffering. In philosophy and spirituality one is often guided to transcend the harsh reality of life and to take refuge into his underlying perfect essence. While one can’t prevent the body from pain, suffering and death one can transcend the illusion of the sensorial experience finding solace in enlightenment or place all their focus on their inner immutable and immortal essence, soul, mind or spirit.

While much of the above is no longer explicitly stated many of our beliefs, assumptions and attitudes towards ourselves and the world in general are highly influenced by the tacit vestiges of our need to find meaning in life through truth, certainty, and absolutes. Though for many of us human existence is no longer synonymous with pain and suffering, we still feel a need to find meaning and solace in transcendental realities and universal truths, which marginalize and often demonize our sensorial perceptual subjective experience.

No matter how comfortable and pleasurable our sensorial world, we still have a tendency to view it as an illusion or an empty seduction. The abstract immutable world of spirit, mind, consciousness and soul are still considered by most to be both separate from the body and immutable and immortal. This being the case we still place little value on the importance and significance of physical and sensorial pleasure, in comparison to that of ideals, beliefs, absolutes, concepts and transcendental realities.

This could at least partially explain why we show little regard for the physical, emotional, psychological welfare of those who do not believe as we do. The general disregard for the physical body also explains why we so readily pollute our water, air and land despite all the evidence of its harm on our health, quality of life and physical survival.

We are children of Plato when we revere and glorify ideas and abstract thought as more important and essential than the care and protection of the human body and all its sensorial experiences. Our obsession with mind, spirit and pure consciousness is very harmful when it is divorced from its connection to and dependence on the physical body.

An integrated view of human life finds joy and happiness in the perceptual, emotional, visceral and psychological realms of human experience. Rather than transcending the body we can delight in embracing our humanity. Rather than looking for immutable truth which renders life predestined and predetermined, we can enjoy the human potential to discover, invent, learn and process.

Eternal truth and universal law provide ultimate meaning and immortality at the expense of the value and richness of an individual whose choices and joys are truly real, valuable and self-determined. I do not find what is abstractly gained through Truth, Certainty and Universal Law to be greater than what it is lost by becoming a predestined creature whose every action is just the unfolding of a fated script written either by god’s will or the law of cause and effect.

The choice isn’t between Certainty and Chaos, or complete order and randomness. Our existence is an extremely nuanced blend of givens and possibilities. There are basic laws of nature expressed as limits and conditions such as my need for oxygen to breathe, or that I will die without food and water. We know that genetics as well as naturally occurring events can exert varying amounts of influence in our moment-to-moment thoughts, feelings and decisions.

Humanity’s current self-destructive path seems to be fueled by our blatant disregard of the importance, significance and beauty of sensorial/perceptual life. The more we accept the fact that matter matters, that our bodies and our environment are central to all our experiences of joy, pleasure, love and meaning, the more dedicated when can become to sustaining and improving the quality of life of all organic life.

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