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Wednesday, 30 June 2021

WHAT DO WE BELIEVE?

 Here is the third chapter of the book currently being drafted by Clinton Smith. Enjoy.

 

What do we believe? Generally, just about anything we're told.

We can fervently believe any piffle, poppycock and balderdash. 

We can believe in atheism, spiritualism, cargo cults ─ in literal interpretations of the devil, heaven, hell. We can believe that God is on the side of our armies, that he notes the sparrow's fall, that human sacrifices placate him, that killing infidels is his wish.

Once we believed that the sun moved around the earth and that we were the centre of everything. 

In 1492, clerics believed that an all-loving, all-forgiving God hated heretics. So, they stretched them on the rack or burned them at the stake. 

Today, Muslim martyrs wearing bomb-belts believe that, if they incinerate a crowd of non-believers, they'll go to paradise and be pursued by 72 concupiscent virgins. 

But even fanatics can't believe in a purposeless universe and still believe in 'God'.
When science dumped understanding for knowledge, it sabotaged religion. And when religion abandoned insight for belief, it became equally uninviting. Science can't see the wood for the trees and religion can't see the trees for the wood. So, both now inhabit a wasteland of blowing paper and dried bones. 

It wasn’t always this way. 

Long before the Dark Ages, the knowledgeable ones were, at once, priests, scientists, alchemists, natural historians and philosophers. Whatever we now think of their notions, their search was integrated by the striving for a single world view. 

In ancient Egypt, Greece, India and medieval Europe, science was an aspect of religion and psychology — and remained an integrated study even as late as the 1500's.

For instance, Descartes, was an engineer as well as a philosopher. He studied optics and analytical geometry. He formulated the First Law of Motion before Newton did and repudiated magnetism, gravity and action at a distance. He thought that inertia made bodies persist not in a circular but a straight motion and that planetary orbits were the result of vortices in ether. He reduced the world to particles whose only reality was extension in space and motion in space and time — a sally at physics that so pleased him that he hoped to complete it entirely by himself. As a philosopher, he believed that the idea of god implied his existence. Today, despite his flawed assumptions, we would call him a Renaissance Man.

The Cartesians (those with notions deriving from Descartes) saw animals as machines. They believed that the human animal, however, was fitted with an appendage called mind. And that God was still around somehow, tacked onto the system.

Then Newton worked out that planetary orbits were governed by gravity and centrifugal force. His billiard-ball universe was accurate enough to be a benchmark for 200 years. His Laws of Inertia, Acceleration, Reciprocal Action et al banished mystery from the cosmos. But he was still unable to account for the precise movement of the planets. So, he considered God a corrective force guiding the worlds. He was, in fact, a Deist — believed that a divine mechanic governed the machine. 

Darwin, who wrote The Origin of Species was also vexed by a meddlesome god. In 1860, in a letter to Asa Gay,  he wrote, 'I cannot think that the world as we see it is a matter of chance, and yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of design. ...I am, and shall ever remain, in a hopeless muddle.' The whole point of his thesis was that variations were not directed. In a letter to Hooker in 1856, he cited, 'the clumsy, wasteful, low and horribly cruel works of nature.'

Although Darwin hardly used the term 'evolution', the dumbed-down popularisation of his theories has become the non-thinker's mind-worm — the vaunted 'theory of everything'. We now believe in progress, the continual advancement of knowledge, the progressive refinement of politics, conduct and social systems. Even though bald evidence shows the futility of these views.
Take progress, for instance. Are things really developing, getting better, or merely becoming more complex? Every innovation creates six more insoluble problems. Technical advances are matched by an increase in generalised stupidities. Such as the scores of SSBNs (Ballistic Missile Submarines) lurking in every ocean, ready to vaporise the world's cities. 

As for the advent of social media, the internet and instant communication, its data gathering and manipulation is deeply destructive. It creates multiple problems such as identification and information theft, scams, bullying, fake news, propaganda, and increasing slavery to IT technology. And incites an abnormal world-wide reaction to a single local stimulus. 

Everything is designed to be engaging, to grab and keep our attention — to commodify our love of gossip, sensationalism and hyperbole. To waste our time and dumb us down. To manufacture compulsion. The need to click produce an instant dopamine hit. If we engage with social media for ten minutes, our oxytocin level soars. 

At last count, forty-eight countries have at least one government agency engaged in placing blatant falsehoods on social media and engineering consent and dissent. Shady media outlets on corporate payrolls fabricate doubt, disorientation and distraction. They control information through the censorship of outlet-swamping or 'noise'. This promotion of mistrust, fear, disinformation designed to manipulate thought and behaviour is now a profitable market using the methods of advertising and PR. The appeal is emotional, compulsive, addictive and amplifies negative traits. Advertising, of course, is propaganda. Not truth but hype.

This destructive digital gully-trap promotes conspiracy theories, outlandish claims, deep fakes, confusing 'facts' and fiction. The constant bombardment of tainted 'leaks' makes us question the validity of all media. 

With the internet now manipulated by pressure groups, multinationals and state autocrats, the upshot is social divisiveness and public chaos. Monopolies such as Facebook and Twitter pay lip service to removing tainted accounts, but are acutely aware that this cramps their bottom lines. So, as long as gathering subscribers is their business model, malicious actors will continue to thrive.

Meanwhile adolescent girls are given the chance of indirect aggression, the ability to shame and belittle with 'who's in, who's out rants. Adolescent boys are fed first-person war games that have been found by psychologists to promote callous indifference.

Everywhere you see agitated, self-promoting zombies shackled to their cell phones, compulsively micro-managing their profiles. Long before such technology was invented, Reich was already talking about, 'Compulsive, contactless sociability.'

The 'evolution' mind-worm also prompts us to believe that life started from inorganic matter, or arose spontaneously from amino acids in the oceans of the primitive earth. This assumption fits a barren cosmos devoid of sagacity or purpose because it negates all semblance of design. It means our presence here is incidental and reduces us to sophisticated apes.

The materialist, Hobbes, prompted this comment from a complaining theist: 'The root of all atheism consists in making senseless matter the only existent thing.' 

Despite such protests, God is no longer 'needed on voyage'. Knowledge and reasoning are enough. We believe in appearances only and believe that life can be organized through science alone.

Scientists believe that the whole can be understood by examining its parts. Their method isolates things from their surroundings. It separates items that can be weighed, numbered and measured from things that can't. It works in stricture of useful abstractions and finds in these fragments no meaning or design. But the layman, believing the analysis inclusive, accepts that view automatically, no matter how much clerics argue that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. 

But can one really explain anything in terms of itself? Is it credible that nature created itself — was self-derived? That matter created matter? Can we, for instance, by dismantling a radio, extract the music and voices it emits? Or extract thoughts by dissecting the brain?

So, as the gap widened between science and religion, the inner and outer aspects of cosmology became progressively opposed.

As science began to learn more and more about less, the less it understood. But it knew enough to shred believers in benevolence from above. It reduced the hierarchy that had guided our values and equated religion to a childish fiction equivalent to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. 

In a godless world, we became governed from below — by isolated objects, genes, atoms, blind laws of attraction, random forces... By an automated cosmos and closed system. Meaning became meaningless. 

Meanwhile, the remnant of religion, still convinced that 'design' required a vaguely anthropomorphic deity, closed its cage of thought in defence of its beliefs. 

Now, the literalists who still attend its temples are well-meaning people with conventional minds snared by self-comfort, establishment and routine. Or those having a bet each way. Or doing it for the kids. Or emotionally cathartic happy-clappers swaying to the rants of money-motivated 'prosperity theology' evangelists.

But beyond the churches, mosques and synagogues are still a reticent few who covertly believe that there is 'something out there'.

Is

it gentle Jesus meek and mild? Believe that and you'll end up with the disaffected and dismayed.

'Why,' people complain, 'is God such a shit? Why does he permit cancer, war, paedophiles, pain, corruption, poverty...?

It's the same complaint Darwin made about the cruelty of nature. Consider for a moment, the wonderful world of parasites. 

You may have encountered the hookworm, leech, flea, head louse, tick. Perhaps even the guinea worm that burrows through living human flesh and eventually has to be wound out on a spool. These are just some of a vast tribe that living creatures are prone to — such as the ichneumon fly which lays its eggs in the larvae of insects so that when the grubs hatch they eat their way through the developing creature's tissues. 

Then there is a fungus that, for 48 million years, has used chemicals to control the muscle movements of the bullet ant. It grows until it is almost half the weight of the insect's body and induces it to climb a tree and hook on. There, a stalk grows from its head and rains down spores on the ants below. Another fungus disintegrates the abdomen of cicadas and forces them to fly around dropping spores.

Add the myriad hideous diseases such as leprosy, bubonic plague, oesophageal cancer... The sum of suffering for life forms is enormous. For example, everything eats everything else, prompting Woody Allen's quip that, 'Nature's just one big restaurant.' 

Even our cells suffer. As their nucleus shrinks they become feeble. And like old animals in the jungle, are eaten alive by their peers.

The energy of each organism is directed more toward reproduction than longevity. When molecular disorder outpaces its repair mechanisms, it ages and dies. As for our life expectancy, for 99.9% of the time we have inhabited the planet, it has been 30 to 40 years. Predators, diseases, starvation and accidents rarely gave us time to grow old.

As St Paul puts it: 'The whole of creation groaneth and trevaileth in pain together.'

Is this unjust? 

Life faces injustice from beginning to end. We have to die.

Unjust! 

Consider this tiresome opera of your life and ask yourself, 'Does it lead anywhere?'

There are few things sillier than a sentimental view of 'God'.

So, what manner of creator would produce this callous phenomenon? Does it delight to see everything suffer? Or doesn't it give a damn?

You can know someone most truly, not by what he/she says but by what he/she does. So, nature, for want of a better benchmark, remains the prototype for the temperament of god. Spinoza equated god with nature because nature is its exudation. So, with this clue, we should be able to tell what he and the other pronouns is like. 

Clearly, nature is not our friend. It is both beautiful and cruel, awe-inspiring and rancid. Volcanos, tsunamis, conflagrations destroy without mercy or intent. 

Everything is in flux and no living thing is significant or safe.

Nature doesn't see us as special.  And we are not destined to enjoy ourselves. It makes sure we procreate, raise young, then, as far as it is concerned, our existence is meaningless. It sprinkles our lives (nasty, brutish and short) with just enough satisfaction to stop us opening our veins. Then slaughters us.

So, what is the nature of Nature. It's major characteristic?

What is the nature of a tree. A tree isn't angry, illegitimate or adulterous. It doesn't take sides. It just is. 

Nature is like that. Disinterested. Neutral. 

Go into the jungle or sail out of sight of land. The immensity of your surroundings accentuates your irrelevance. Even if you're famous, a genius, Nature treats you with utter indifference. As Blake put it:

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

The problem here is binary thinking. We either believe that there is a divine will that creates and maintains everything or that things just happen by themselves.
But what if both are true?

By using the master key of scale, we can perhaps see how this could be.
If we look at the small universe called ourselves and regard our intellect as 'the Absolute', then we can ask, how far does its influence extend. We can control our movements, our limbs, and even, to some degree, our breathing. Beyond this it gets harder. If we place our attention on part of our bodies, for instance on the palm of one hand or one finger, we can, eventually, induce a sensation in the skin and possibly even deeper in the tissues. But there is no way we can influence or know a separate cell in our bodies — let alone atoms or electrons.

So, Mr God, by analogy, could initiate the general process, but only proceed so far. Because, beyond his initial impetus, things would become more diverse, progressively more automatic and dispersed. 

Heraclitus said: 'All things come out of one and the one out of all things. But the many have less reality than the one.'

As 'creation' moves further from the source, mechanical processes would begin. And to mess with this arrangement — for instance, to answer our prayers — the 'creator' would have to destroy all the intervening laws of the universe. 

So, do we have a supervising god or the utter indifference of nature?  The answer to this question, to borrow from Edward De Bono, could be not yes or no but both or bo.

This third possibility, bo, would then reconcile religion and science — would make both studies legitimate approaches. Legitimate, because as the initial impetus and eventual manifestation are entirely different in nature they require two completely separate but valid methods of investigation.

But nothing stays constant for long.

Although science still cleaves to the sterile, empirical universe — an arid sea of objects and forces formed without intelligence —the counter-intuitiveness and indeterminism of the quantum state now has it bemused.

Faced with this conundrum, some physicists have become numinous. For instance David Bohm with his theory of Implicate Order. He says that objective reality does not exist and that the universe is a form of hologram. 

If a hologram is cut in halves and illuminated by a laser, each half will still contain the entire image, and this will continue, no matter how much it is divided. This echoes the fractural effect where patterns repeat in smaller patterns throughout the entire display.

This 'whole in every part' insight implies nature as a seamless web in which the past, present and future simultaneously exist. This theory also explains how subatomic particles can remain in contact regardless of the distance between them. Bohm says that their separateness is illusion. They are not separate entities but extensions of the same fundamental ground.

Bohm is not alone. Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram puzzled about the way memories were stored in the brain. Many studies have established that this storage is general, not particular — that is, not contained in specific regions. Also, every piece of information in the brain is cross-correlated with every other piece. This also equates with the holographic model. The similarity of both men's views has come to be called the Holographic Paradigm. With this touchstone, synchronicity, telepathy, and transpersonal experiences make sense because thought images are as real as perceived reality. 

This also affects biology. Keith Floyd, a psychologist at Virginia Intermont College, pointed out that, using the Paradigm, it would be false to say that the brain produces consciousness. That consciousness would create the appearance of the brain, the body and everything around us we interpret as physical. In other words, the apparent physical structure of our bodies and the universe is simply a holographic projection of consciousness.

Bohm's theory also has a bearing on cosmology. He asserts that our thinking corrupts reality — that thought is a reactive not active ability. And since it is based in time, what is real lies beyond language. So, the death of the thinker is the essential step for greater understanding. This equates with Kant's insight regarding phenomenal experience — although Kant's now widely accepted view is so far acknowledged only theoretically. 

What of the sages who claim to know the disposition of this Absolute, this 'Something', with inward certainty? They also espouse the end of thought.
'The voluntary stopping of thought,' according to Anirvan, 'leads to direct contact with the initial point where the basic note of all known harmonies resounds.'

Is this simply more belief? 

Let's examine their methodology. 

Imagine a small still pool reflecting the stars. Now tip in a pile of junk including old fish heads, plastic bottles, rusty cans and rotten fruit until it's completely full of garbage. Then add oil and sludge. Can you still see the stars? 

No.

The garbage in the pool represents David Hume's 'bundle of perceptions'. He was the fellow, together with Buddha, Heraclitus, John Locke, William James and a throng of others, who stated that we don't exist. That we have no permanent self. That we are a bundle of conditioned reactions.

So, these sages, after a lifetime of removing the junk and sludge from the pool...
Just a minute.

How?

Back to religion. While it is has now become mostly empty ritual and belief, it originally had two parts. The first told what has to be done. The second, how to do it. The 'how to do it' part, now long forgotten in most traditions, requires precise instruction and great effort. 

For instance, there are three traditional methods which represent the inner or practical psychology of religion. The first is mental. The second, emotional. The third, physical. The Yogi attempts to still his mind. The Monk attempts to purify his emotions. The Fakir attempts to discipline his body. If they are sincere and have competent instructors who oversee their attempts, after a lifetime of dogged struggle, they manage to clean the junk and sludge from the pool and still the water completely until it accurately reflects the stars.

A quote from Al Ghazzali's "Alchemy of Happiness":
'Besides mere incapacity, there are other hindrances to the attainment of truth. One is externally acquired knowledge. The heart may be represented as a well, and the five senses as five streams which are continually conveying water to it. In order to find out the real contents of the heart, these streams must be stopped for a time and the refuse they have brought must be cleared out of the well.'

Then, as the Tao Ti Ching puts it:

Without leaving my door
I can know all things on earth.
Without looking out of my window
I can know the ways of heaven.
For the further one travels
The less one knows.
The sage, therefore
Arrives without travelling
Sees all without looking
Does all without doing.


Believe this or not, it's the rationale for the comments that follow. Comments closely aligned with De Bono's bo construction.

The notables below, having used one, two or all these methods of personal refinement and after decades of extreme efforts that have ostensibly resulted in clear insight, explain the nature of the ineffable thus:

According to Ramana Maharshi, the absolute is like the sun and does not have the least volition. He said that it does not know anything because its nature is the ever real whole — other than which nothing exists to be known. So, it has neither will nor desire. That it never acts — just is. He states that, 'there is no meaning in attributing responsibility and motive to the One before it becomes many.'

Shri Ramakrishna echoes this concept of an inchoate, unformed entity. He said, 'It is immoveable, actionless, unattached — without qualities or attributes — between existence and non-existence. Unlimited. It has form, is also formless and beyond both.' 

Now listen to Meister Eckhart, the 14th century Dominican mystic:
'He is non-loving — being above love and affection. ...is neither a being nor intelligence and does not 'know' this or that. God is free of everything and therefore he IS everything. There is nothing in all the universe so like God as silence.'

Beliefs? 

Insights perhaps? 

The implication? We are not perceived by this enormity. We are adrift, uncared for, abandoned — subject to every hazard around us and vast blind forces beyond us.
Believe in such a situation and such a god if you dare.

Better still — believe nothing. 

Query everything.

For instance, at the start of this chapter we mentioned the Inquisition. But failed to mention Ferdinand, Isabella and their war with the Moorish caliphs of Grenada. And the barbarism, greed, cruelty, decadence, and lawlessness of the age. 

Factor in The Black Death and famine. A cash-strapped kingdom. A society of aberrant nobles. No wonder the rigidly pious Isabella connived with the church to create terror and obedience. 

The tyranny of the Inquisition solved many problems for the crown. It concentrated royal authority and brought great riches to the state, principally by persecuting Jews and confiscating their property. In a few years, over 3000 'heretics' were burned at the stake, allegedly purifying the church for the coming day of judgement which, in such a perilous age, seemed imminent. 

Fear of the Inquisition was simply an instrument of social control.

As for jihadist martyrs, most are reasonably intelligent altruists weaned on social approval and have a sense of profound self-fulfilment. Their average age is 21 and many are trained in special camps. They are taught that they only die once and that the greatest crime is rejection of God. Some are also fed eschatology — the study of the 'end days', the Gotterdammerung — religious tropes about the raptures of the apocalypse. They are prepared, for love of our souls, to kill us all, until true believers and infidels alike are finally in paradise. In the process they become not only national heroes but also gain the pride and veneration of their peers, friends and families. 

The bombings, of course, are secular — strategic methods of asymmetric warfare.
By the way, it is highly unlikely, according to the historian Toynbee, that the world will ever be conquered and united under any of the great religious faiths despite the hopes still held by Moslems, and earlier, by Christians. 

But back to belief.

Belief is for followers and the indolent. 

Every religion, cult and political system has strident beliefs and is ready to massacre people, for, as they see it, the best of motives. Belief is supposition, not reality, and one of the most divisive traits we have. And religions are beliefs. Belief can produce an ethical person but never transform that person.

Belief is based on popular misconceptions. 

On emotionalism, fanaticism, fear. 

On comforting assertions and cowardice.

Belief is always opinion. 

Junk in the pool.

Belief's a conviction, not a fact.



 

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