Art and Philosophy and Psychology15 Aug 2010 05:02 pm

This post will be some background thoughts and reflections on the poem Awed which I posted last time.

The first part of the poem focuses on the incredible vastness of the universe. The next theme is how rare and precious life is in this vast and generally empty universe. Even more rare and precious than life is conscious life, or life being conscious of itself. It is this capability which makes it possible for the awesomeness of life and the vastness of the universe to be perceived and appreciated.

Only recently through the inventions of telescopes, space probes and radio wave technology have we been able to get a glimpse into just how vast and complex is the universe. Us conscious human beings have grown and developed to the point where we are beginning to understand the inner working of ourselves and the universe. If our current theories and observations are correct the time that humans have been conscious and self aware is an infinitesimal moment in the life of the universe.

Organic cellular life itself seems to be a relative babe in comparison to the existence of planets which are babes in terms of suns which are babes in terms of the theoretical beginning of the universe. Yet, without conscious life there is no awe, appreciation or understanding of our vast and ancient universe.

Though human life and consciousness are as incredible if not more incredible as our vast universe, we have a tendency to denigrate conscious life and to deem things outside of us as being more important and amazing. In man’s early history we totally denied our consciousness and often attributed our thoughts and feelings to gifts from the gods.

It seems highly unlikely that one day we decided to think, perceive. use language or feel emotions. These capabilities seem to be hard wired into our being human. This is not to say that our basic humanity hasn’t grown, evolved and developed, but only to point out that there is no reason to believe that we just one day decided to become conscious and have an awareness of self.

Yet, just because we didn’t create our own ability to be conscious doesn’t make our self awareness any less amazing. It also doesn’t make it necessary for us to create theories or beliefs regarding who or what created our consciousness. Though very few species show any signs of self-awareness approaching human kind, we are quick to imbue other entities with a superior level of awareness, motivation and intentionality.

Instead of simply appreciating the mystery and awe of being that rare form of life that is self aware, we have to supplicate ourselves before a higher power that not only is superior and more aware than us, but whose very definition negates all that makes up our perceptual and experiential world.

These superior entities always have an awareness, ability and intentionality far superior to ours. We ascribe and attribute to these entities oxymorons such as infinite and eternal being. Whether the concept be god, spirit, supreme being, nature or the creator the message is still the same, that something or someone is in charge and ultimately answers the question of ultimate beginnings and authority.

When it comes to our own consciousness and sense of self we similarly have a need to denigrate our own talents and attribute a superiority to an outside entity or source. We even downplay our abilities to perceive, think, and feel by focusing on our limitations and posing purities outside of ourselves. This is evident in the way we talk about the unconscious, ideals and Truth.

Our sense of self, the ego, is so often portrayed in a negative light. We are quick to point out how often our perceptions are inaccurate or incomplete, and how often we are unconscious of something important.

Tough it is certainly true that we are finite and imperfect, it is absurd to think it could be any other way. Life, experience and human consciousness is an endless process. We learn, grow and develop, yet who would want it any other way.

If we knew everything, or had no errors what would be the point and joy of day-to-day life. Experience itself is only possible through our sensorial and mental limitations. An all seeing person would see no thing (nothing). The same could be said of any other sense or thought, feeling, etc. At each moment we are selecting what to pay attention to and to anticipate next from a whole slew of sensorial input. What we see, feel, smell, hear, taste and cogitate is a selection process.

Without the selection process we would be perpetually inundated and overwhelmed. We would have no sense of meaning let alone an experience of present, past and future. Our sense of self, history and personal meaning are all acquired through the wonder of choice and limitation.

Those who focus on human limitations in a negative way are themselves misperceiving the process. Errors in misperception are rectified by another perception. The way we know that the earth isn’t flat, or that the earth isn’t the center of the universe is through an additional observation and perception. Perception, observation and experience are the only means of correcting misperceptions.

Likewise, modern psychology is often fond of talking about the unconscious, as if it were a thing. One speaks of the unconscious speaking to the conscious, as if the unconscious was superior and had an intentionality. Often times it seems as if the unconscious has become some kind of oracle or god trying to speak to us.

Yet, even if you want to believe this to be the case, the simple fact is that any previous unconscious memory that becomes conscious does so through an act of consciousness not an act of unconsciousness.

What we know best is that which we can sense, perceive and experience. Yet, what we perceive, observe and experience often losses out to what we believe. Being finite beings that live and die and that are full of limitations our lives are not capable of certainty. We do not know everything or even anything for certain.

I am fairly certain that the sun will greet me in the morning tomorrow as it has for every day I can remember, but I cannot say with 100% certainty that it has and alway will “rise” forever. I can say with a high sense of confidence that if I were to deprive another human being of oxygen they will die, yet I cannot say that humans always have nor always will need oxygen. In a finite temporal world of human experience there are possibilities and probabilities but few if any certainties.

There are some mysteries of life that have a high probability of finding an answer to, yet there are many mysteries that have a very low probability of being solved. What is fascinating about us humans is how often we forsake the things we have the most certainty of such as experience, observation and perception for that which we have the least certainty for which is what we believe.

We denigrate our feelings and perceptions while exalting those things which are beyond our comprehension or frame of reference such as God and Nature. Often times those who believe in God treat agnosticism or atheism as an act of egotism. They will often ask don’t you believe in a higher power, or something or someone greater than yourself.

My general response is that in such a vast and diverse universe it is hard for me to imagine that we are the only intelligent life or that there is no one or nothing more developed or powerful than humans. Yet, I’m not so egotistical as to think that anything greater or more conscious than myself has to be God or a supreme being.

Yet, any concept of an infinite, absolute being is beyond my comprehension. Everything I can imagine and logically understand is finite. By definition there can be only one infinite. Therefore no creator could be infinite. For a creator would have to create something, therefore, there would have to be both a creator and its creation. This makes two things hence the creator would not be infinite. Secondly, creating is an action, and an action takes place at a specific moment at a specific place which also conflicts with the concept of the infinite.

When I was young I went to a Catholic school and the nuns were fond of telling us of all the wonderful qualities of God. God was all loving, omniscient, omnipotent, all seeing, eternal, omnipresent and all forgiving.

What I could not wrap my head around is the simple fact that there could be only one infinite. So either God would have only one quality or he would not be infinite. What I did point out to the nuns was that if God existed he could not be infinite for to exist he must have a form and be in space and therefore he would be finite. The nuns responded that this is was just one of the great mysteries.

With that we were in agreement. How, when and why we were created seemed to me to be unanswerable questions. Yes, these were mysteries. So, why not leave them be mysteries rather than claiming with certainty that God exists and he loves, punishes, wants us to believe, etc.

Part of the awe regarding the universe and for our rare and precious self-consciousness is that many parts of it are and will most likely remain mysteries.

Science like religion has been very fond of certainty of finding unchanging laws and Truth. Yet, over the last century a healthy amount of doubt and mystery have been seeping in. In both religion and science everything seemed to be fated. Since God was all knowing nothing could happen that he didn’t already know, therefore, all is predestined. Though we had free choice, God already knew what choices we’d make. Likewise, science said that for every action there was a predictable and predetermined reaction and therefore, everything played out the way it is destined to play out following all the rules of motion.

Yet, when Einstein pointed out that Time is not absolute but is altered by perspective and that each individuals experience of time is different from anyone else’s he opened the door for true individual human experience and choice. Time experienced in a spaceship the speed of light differed from that of one on a plane, walking or sitting still. In addition time for a person changed with the amount of gravity they were experiencing.

A further blow to scientific certainty and its unpleasant counterpart of predestination was delivered by quantum mechanics when it was observed that light could be both a particle or a wave, or later that a particle could be two places at the same time. This branch of science went further went it noted that experiments showed that a given particle had options and choices and the best one could do is predict the probability of its movement.

It will be interesting to see if the scientific community will embrace choice and probability or once again try to make finite existence follow absolute laws, which do not match our internal experience of ourselves or of our environment.

I’d like to offer one more observation of those who claim its arrogance on my part which has me question the existence of god or a higher power. I enjoy being human, of being life becoming conscious of itself. I enjoy the lack of certainty, and relish in the opportunity to learn, grow and develop.

It seems to me that the person who tries to make certain that which is unknowable is more an act of arrogance. The false humility and modesty is no more apparent than in terms such as “the chosen people” or the faithful, who by there very title are given a special status or reward. Isn’t it interesting that to admit ignorance and embrace mystery is a sign of arrogance and egotism while professing that one knows with certainty the existence of the supreme being and what he wants us to do is a sign of humility.

As the poem says,

Is life a gift a miracle?
Perhaps,
yet there is no denying
it is the rarest of opportunities

The opportunity to live,
and be conscious of being alive

Jim Guido

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