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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Courage to Faith

Metzinger (Ego Tunnel) discusses the courage to face facts. By facts he means what we are learning through science about the evolution of the mind including the human construction of the world, of the self, of society, and of God. Each of these are brain induced illusions; although illusion is probably not the right word because it implies something bad. In my way of thinking, an illusion is only bad when we do not recognize it as an illusion.

The reality of the World, the Self, and of God is what Descartes tried to prove through his methodic doubt. For Kant these are, like space and time, transcendental ideas which, like necessary categories of quantity and causality, are preconditions of thought. Therefore Kant provides a kind of proof for their existence through the direct experience of thinking. Cultural anthropologists, however, have discovered cultural belief systems, which do not contain some or all of these categories and transcendental ideas or which modify them quite drastically. And neuroscience, following up on Kant and his successors' constructivist philosophy, blurs the line between the virtual and the real, between the artificial and the genuine, in demonstrating that categories and transcendental ideas are also constructions of the human organism as it interacts with its environment radiating information in waves and particles which the brain patterns as subjects and objects in a social world.

This understanding challenges the belief system of the conventional wisdom of western modernity by calling into question its claim of objective, immutable, resolute truth. It actually challenges all belief systems rural and urban, ancient and modern, tribal and civilized of the west, east, south, and north.

This understanding is unsettling for us old-timers who have come to believe in certain fixed realities. We anguish that being dismissed are the truths of liberty, sexuality, family, capitalism, religion, nation, race, ethnicity, privacy, meaning, and humanity itself. And some of us want to desperately hold on to truths contained in divinely dictated tablets, scrolls, and books, in infallible church dogmas, in teachings of ancestors, in enlightened positions of parties, in the authority of business and government leaders, in ordinary language and common sense. No wonder that certain people in our society like older white christian males in the west and tribal muslim males in the east are angry to the point of violence. They sense that their family stability, their masculinity, their social cohesion, and their very meaning and dignity are being undermined and need to be defended against the facts concerning humans being uncovered by science. Ironically, it is often the technology engendered by the new science that is being used for their defense.

In this time of troubling transition, we need to not deny our constructive power nor its potential for destruction, but to develop its potential for good as we consciously, without illusion, choose to define it. This means, while appreciating the myths and meanings of diverse times, spaces, and cultures, we attempt to redefine them and create new myths and meanings that take the best of all of them for advancing in our new situation and environment.

Recently I participated in the Apache Caravan to save Oak Flat, the indigenous sacred site in the Tonto National Forest of Arizona. These public lands are slated to be sold to a foreign company for copper mining thanks to Senator John McCain. McCain reminds me of the general in the movie Avatar who will destroy the tree of life and sacred origins of the people of Pandora to obtain unobtanium a mineral to be used for the profit of Earth. Since the inhabitants won't sell it or allow it to be mined, the general will take it using violence against the people and Pandora. He cannot understand the values and meanings of the people; nor does he try to. He is focused on his mission which leads to a destroy or be destroyed, defeat or be defeated singular option.

The general of corporatized earth, like John McCain, is an ego driven individualist who having  conquered earth wants to conquer the universe. One could argue, as did Max Weber, that this mentality which disenchanted the earth was promoted by modern cosmology that pulled earth out of the center of the solar system and even relegated the solar system to the edge of a galaxy among millions of others. And the crass understanding of evolution as the "survival of the fittest" put humanity at the summit with discretionary powers over all other creatures. But as even Pope Francis demonstrates, such anti-secularization was also promoted by a religious view that gives man the duty to multiply and dominate the earth and its creatures; and even further, certain religions support the elect the power to control the earth enter a heavenly paradise while leaving the infidels behind. The Pope counsels a return to the indigenous view of a sacred earth to rectify the excesses of an economy that damages the condition for human life and happiness.

Perhaps it is by demystifying the ego or the individualized self, as does neuroscience, that we can actually honor the earth and all its creatures large and small, while saving the dignity of humanity and all living, conscious beings.

Metzinger discusses the new ethics that we must build for the new age of the understanding through neuroscience of mind as brain with consciousness and of consciousness as subjective experience or the organism's experience of itself in the act of coming to terms with its environment. He indicates that while he would not go so far as to say as did Teilhard de Chardin that "in us, the physical universe becomes conscious of itself," certainly the universe must always have had the potential for self-organizing life and consciousness, because voilĂ  here we are.

But perhaps we can rely on more than the anthropomorphic principle to demonstrate a universe tending to life and consciousness. Recently a new theory of life was conjectured that would have life and consciousness, not an unusual exception, but a natural outcome of the physical laws of thermodynamics and especially the second law of entropy. The second law portends a universe in which matter and energy are continually dissipating and reaching equilibrium which will ultimately end in uniform temperature and consistency. Life in which self-replication or reproduction seems to counter entropy through self-organization or what we might call "syntropy," are actually modes of increasing overall entropy in the universe. (Certainly we high energy consuming conscious organisms are proving that daily!)

This new theory which is yet to be tested indicates that the lines between physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology are not impermeable. Matter/energy, under its own laws, is tending to life and consciousness. This would give another reason to believe that life and consciousness is discoverable throughout the universe. And this urges us to look for a unified field theory by which the laws of physics found the laws of life which found the laws of consciousness which found the laws of social cohesion and culture, and so on.

Entropy is the "dismal law" (as is economics the dismal science) because it presages a ultimate state of dissipation without patterns and meaning into an eternal sameness; and yet it leads to. . .

Organic life that self-oganizes to counteract entropy, but which as it becomes dominant in humans begins to destroy the very conditions of life; and yet it leads to. . .

Creative consciousness that solves problems and plans a future to defend life which develops bulwarks of conscious organisms in conflict with others; and yet it leads to. . .

Social cohesion or collaboration that builds transhuman vehicles to colonize the universe and so destroys the human race; and yet it leads to. . .

I don't know what. A divine realm of universal transcending consciousness?

Geosphere with its four laws; biosphere with its law of natural selection; noosphere with its laws of pattern discernment and creation; polisphere with its laws of information communication; to theosphere.

The courage to face facts is also the courage to have faith, to act as if, to take a leap that there is meaning and that we can access it, to engage and enjoy the project.

Metzinger's final words are "the greatest theoretical challenge may consist in the questions of whether and how, given our new situation, intellectual honesty and spirituality can ever be reconciled. But that is another story."

It is certainly a story that I want to tell.

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