A Modern Day Adventurer

November 18, 2014

I’ve heard that the British naturalist David Attenborough is the most well traveled man living today.  If you’re not familiar with him, he’s been making nature television programs for over sixty years.

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Insects to whales, flowers to termite mounds, he’s made films documenting every imagineable form of life across all geographic areas of the globe.  Without a doubt, they’re the best of the genre.  If it wasn’t for his work, I wouldn’t know half of what I know about wildlife.  Even at 88 years old, he’s just as active as he’s ever been.

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A Youtuber compiled some of his greatest moments along with some memorable stories.  It’s sure to put a smile on your face.

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A World Created By Our Questions

November 14, 2014

The physicist Niels Bohr was one of the founders of quantum mechanics.  It’s fascinating to learn that on his death bed, just hours before passing on, he told his friends that the deepest realization he’d ever learned throughout his life was that we are creating this reality by the questions that we ask and by what we choose to think about.

In other words, this world is not a spectator sport.  We’re building our universe as we go along.  You can hear about it in this documentary here.  If you want to just hear the conclusion, jump to time 38 mins.

Albert Einstein couldn’t believe that.  He asked the question, “If a person such as a mouse looks at the universe, does that change the state of the universe?”  Apparently so!

The film ends with some of Bohr’s philosophical remarks, “We must look toward thinkers like Buddha and Lao Tzu, who tried to harmonize our position both as spectators and as actors in the great drama of existence.”

All of this brings even greater importance to a quote from the astrophysicist Carl Sagan.

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Does Life Need Meaning?

November 7, 2014

It’s been a month since my last post.  Geez!  Actually, I’ve been too immersed in my studies of particle physics to take the time to write any blog posts.  I also got rather involved in a few video games, so I apologize for neglecting all of you!

I want to pick up on the conversation I was having with Michael.  Let’s abandon all the jargon and terms I had come up with in past posts.  I can’t stand jargon, even if I came up with it.  We’ll instead begin with a short talk by Alan Watts where he discusses this life and our search for meaning.

In this video, you’ll hear him say this:

 “So often when one listens to the beautiful character of the Baroque composers, Bach, or Vivaldi, it is felt to be significant not because it means something other than itself, but because it is so satisfying as it is.  And we use then this word ‘significance’ so often in those moments when our impetuous seeking for fulfillment cools down and we give ourselves a little space to watch things, as if they were worth watching.”

– Alan Watts

Many of Vivaldi’s compositions are practically perfect.  The conscious experience you have when you listen to the music feels complete, polished, and finished.  It doesn’t need fixed or fine tuned.  It’s almost as if you see the image of God through that music.  If you were to enter the throne room of God, and you asked Him to play you something, he’d play something like that Vivaldi composition.

Finding those diamonds of perfect experience in the rough of life is very challenging.  Undergoing this search in any creative endeavor seems to send you through these oscillating stages, bouncing back and forth, trying to converge on these eternal diamonds.  Like if I was composing music, you’d hear me flailing away on the piano, saying to myself, “No this isn’t it.”  So I’d keep trying different notes in varying patterns, hoping to stumble onto this “something”.  I’d keep at it, and slowly converge as close as I could to it.

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Imagine that straight line is the “perfect” song, and the temporary song I’m working on is the curved line.  If you were to ask me what the perfect song was, I’d have no clue, but as I flailed away, somehow and in some way, I’d know I hadn’t found it yet.  Even still, in many cases I can get closer and closer and converge on it with practice, hard work, and mental effort.

I’m not a musician, but if I was, I would be having all sorts of experiences of playing the notes as I worked on each new compositions.  None of those experiences would feel complete.  They’d be lacking in perfection.  They would all be pointing to something else which I could feel inside of me.  All of my work in the studio would just be intermediary steps to find what I’m after.  However, if I stayed at it long enough, I may finally converge on that melody, that perfect sequence of notes, and then I would exclaim, “A ha!  This is it!”

I find it really interesting that this very thing is what St. Thomas Aquinas meant when he described our world as fallen.  Those “perfect”, complete, fulfilling experiences, they’re images of God.  Somehow God has been buried and hidden, but sometimes we uncover a small part of His existence.

It’s as if we’re all fragments of God trying to put ourselves back together.  The rest of our body is buried and scattered all over, hidden within a complicated maze of disorder, which we have to sift through.  That’s what it means to be “lost”.  It’s to be separated from this divine essence.  It’s to be separated from this deep, true perfect beauty which has always existed.

Aquinas argues that we can never put ourselves back together in this temporal life, but we can only glimpse fragments of what we should be.  Temporal happiness can never fulfill every desire because of this ‘dross’ obscuring our vision of God.  This dross is ‘evil’.

“In this life every evil cannot be excluded.  For this present life is subject to many unavoidable evils: to ignorance on the part of the intellect; to inordinate affection on the part of the appetite; and to many penalties on the part of the body….Likewise, neither can the desire for good be satiated in this life.  For man naturally desires the good which he has to be abiding.  Now the goods of the present life pass away, since life itself passes away…Wherefore it is impossible to have true happiness in this life.”

– St. Thomas Aquinas

And what does Aquinas argue is true happiness?  It is “the vision of the Divine Essence, which men cannot attain in this life.”  We are only as happy to the degree that we partake in the divine essence.  On earth, there can be only a beginning “in respect of that operation whereby man is united to God….In the present life, in as far as we fall short of the unity and continuity of that operation, so do we fall short of perfect happiness.”

The divine vision would be a series of conscious experiences which are all perfectly done, always beautiful, always infused with joy, excitement, and ecstasy – never ending, unceasing, an infinite stream of pure joy, beauty, and perfection.  That’s what we want.

We all have an inner craving to be reunited with such a conscious stream.  It’s almost as if we wish God would come down with a filter and sift away all the garbage from this world, leaving behind only those divine diamonds of experience, like Vivaldi’s musical compositions.

My father likes to play bluegrass music, so I grew up hearing songs like this one.  This whole discussion reminds me of it.  I’ve always loved bluegrass.

I can’t say what this life feels like for others, but for me, I feel like I’m equipped with a sort of inner sonar system.  I look around me and I’m almost completely surrounded by things which are poorly put together.  I then tune into this sonar and it leads me to small glimpses of a perfect world beyond, and I find myself asking, “Why aren’t more things like this?” In his Ethics, Spinoza writes, “All noble things are as difficult as they are rare.”  I don’t want to live in a world where they’re rare or difficult.  I want to live in a world where I don’t need to search.  I want that divine perfection to be all around me at all times, infused in every experience I have.  That, to me, is the quest for meaning in life, and the older I get, I do believe it’s too much to ask for in this human life.  That inner feeling makes me feel a stranger, belonging elsewhere.

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Gospel Tracts On My Car

October 11, 2014

After playing basketball in the gym for several hours today, I found that someone had left a Christian tract on my car window.  We’ve all seen them.  It basically said that I needed to repent, and asked me what I’d do if I died and had to stand before God.

I haven’t worried about that sort of thing for a long time.  The Bible claims that we all descended from Adam and Eve, and that we’ve all inherited some form of original sin.  This innate sin condemns us to hellfire for eternity absent us calling on the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ to save us.  Is that reasonable to believe?  In light of all we know today, I don’t think so.

The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. You can look at it all from several different fields of study, whether it be comparative anatomy, embryology, fossils, DNA/genetics, or the distribution of species over the planet.  They all point toward the fact that life evolved on this planet by natural selection.  Just to give you a taste, check out this video.

When I think about the issue and consider the evidence, there is no original sin, Adam and Eve never existed, and the whole idea of needing to be “saved” is unnecessary.  Saved from what?  The whole premise of the Christian faith seems to be misguided.

As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I saw the group of young men who had placed the tracts on my car.  They had made these posters, “Jesus Saves”, and other young men were holding posters, “Hell is Real”.  They were attempting to get the attention of cars passing by.

I can remember growing up as a kid and people from my church would do similar things.  Sometimes they’d ask me to come along, but I was always too embarrassed to join them.  Thinking on it all now, it all seems like a strange dream.  There was a point when I actually believed those same things.  Driving past them, I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

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Answering A Question

October 10, 2014

The other day Michael asked me,

“Can you explain more what you mean about reality justifying itself. How does it do that? To whom? How is there no interpretive layer there from a person?”

I’ll begin with a few minor clarifications.  When I use the word “justification”, I’m meaning that it can be shown to be right and reasonable.  By reality, I’m referring to the sum total of what everyone living in the world consciously experiences.  If there is some “outside” world of which no entity, not even God is experiencing, I don’t see any point talking about it.  Primacy is given to the subjective conscious experiences of individual living entities (animals, people, etc).

I want you to imagine a very different sort of world.  Imagine you simply “wake up” and find yourself as this flower sprouting in a sea of color.  Slowly you’re watching this color around you coalesce into other flowers and soon you’re surrounded.  Everything is glimmering and you feel pure joy and ecstasy.  Soon stems grow from your base and it’s a glorious sensation.  It’s soft, warm, and very pleasant.  Soon you’re standing on this stage of flowers and they’re all twirling.  As time passes, other “flower people” are being born and they’re joining you.

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You and all the flower people go into this vibrant dance, skimming across the glowing waters, hopping onto flower petals, and spinning your partners.  There is a wind, and as it skims through the leaves, a musical melody plays in the background. Everyone feels loved and adored, with a part to play in this dance.  Also, everyone just knows what to do.  There are no mistakes.

After several such dances, everyone takes hold of one another and falls into the water, painlessly dissolving like ink into a sea of bliss.  This process just keeps going on and on with new conscious observers coming into this reality and leaving.

Compare that to our world.  We’re born as a bloody mass which is painfully shoved out of our mother’s womb in agony and pain.  We males then have our penises mutilated and enter this world of confusion, violence, and death.  We look around us and every living thing is at war with everything else.  The powerful oppress the weak.  There is no justice.  Being good is often not rewarded at all.  Evil people get ahead.  As for the animals, they’re all eating one another for nourishment.  Every other life-form before us has died and most all species have went extinct.  The world we live in is violent, and doesn’t seem to care about our existence at all.

There are storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  There is cancer, ebola, and ISIS.  It’s hot and then it’s cold.  Giant fireballs burn in space, shooting out cosmic rays which will give us cancer if we’re exposed to them directly.  We’re fragile and watch our bodies slowly lose strength as we age.  We have a weak intellect with no inkling what to do.  We don’t know who we are, what we are, or how all of this came into being.  We have no purpose or plan.  We cry out for these things, and even make out bearded men and women in the sky to give our lives meaning.  To exist we have to take jobs which are boring, tedious, and exhausting.  Need I go on?

So what do I mean by reality standing alone?  What am I talking about when I talk about reality justifying itself?

It has nothing to do with the the laws of physics.  There’s no reason to care whether a particular conscious experience is made of matter or something else.  What matters is the quality of the conscious experience.

Instead of thinking of physics as describing some world “out there”, think of it as a way of predicting what you will experience next.  There is a stream of conscious experiences and you’re in that flow.  Physics can give you probabilities of what will happen next in certain types of situations.  It’s patterns of conscious experience, not reality itself.  You and your experiences are the true reality.

Now to talk about reality standing alone.  The world of the flower people stands alone.  If you’re born and living in that world, it doesn’t need you to “fix” it.  In some sense it’s already perfect.  To exist and flow within it is a state of perfection.  The flower world takes you, holds you, and guides you through a series of perfect conscious moments.  Our world does not.

In our world happiness is used as bait.  It’s held out like a carrot on a stick.  You have to chase after it and hope that your actions eventually lead to a reality which is enjoyable.  Considering the human condition, no matter what actions you choose, you will watch everything you love and care about rot as well, assuming you don’t die and rot first.  Overall, it’s a quest we all have to eventually fail.

We exist in a state of ignorance rarely knowing where our decisions will lead us.  Our happiness is deeply intertwined with chance.  Our most important life choices are gambles and we live in a state of constant apprehension and worry.

Our world’s game is, “Fix the world around you or suffer.”  And if you make a mistake, you will suffer. Like slaves, we’re beaten with suffering, and “hope”, as much as it’s praised, is really a belief that hopefully that suffering will relent and we’ll experience joy once again.  Short periods of relief and happiness are what we live for.

So why do I use the term “stand alone”?  As you probably know, I’ve worked as a computer programmer for most of my life.  When you compile computer code into an executable program which can run on a person’s computer, you can either compile the code stand-alone, meaning the executable is able to run on its own, or you can make it dependent on other code libraries in order to function.  Without those libraries, if you double-click the executable to run it, it will say, “Error: blah.dll is missing”.

As far as conscious experience goes, our world is not stand-alone.  Living observers can’t plug into it and be pleased with the outcome unless they really play this game of life well. You may say, “But Jason, this universe can run itself.  It was here a long time before any of us were born.”  Yeah, and it’ll be here after we’re gone too.  That’s not really saying much.  If none of us are here to experience it, who cares?  And if we are here to experience it, why is this place such a fixer-upper?  Why do we have to fix anything up, especially considering this world is temporary and will eventually fade back into nothingness?

Maybe I can put it all another way?  Reality stands alone when happiness is assumed and given without any conditions.  To exist, you should be happy and not suffer.  In a stand-alone world, happiness is not a pursuit.  It’s not hoped for, it just is always there.  Reality no longer stands alone when happiness becomes a capricious fairy which comes and goes on its own whims.

The flower people live in a stand-alone, perfect world.  They don’t have to earn anything.  They don’t have to hope for happiness, they simply have it at all times.

One last point before ending this.  I’ve often used the word “stand-alone” when talking about consciousness as well.  I often find myself saying that all conscious experiences stand-alone.  As you sit in your room, petting your cat, sipping a cup of tea, no words are necessary to tell you what it’s like to be you.  You simply know what it’s like to be you, having the experiences you’re having.  Words will only distract your attention away from who and what you are, dulling the experience of being you.

That may seem to contradict what I said earlier, about us not knowing who we are.  It’s true, we live in a state of ignorance in this life, but that’s not really what I meant.  That’s more referring to an understanding of your desires, expectations, etc.  We don’t know what will make us feel happy, so we just go out and try different things.  Slowly we learn things about ourselves and this world, but that’s just another way of saying what I was saying before.  We’re chasing after happiness, like bait on a string.  But we all know that we’re having experiences and that we’re alive, in this world, at least for now.

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