Countenances

Salvationist: “My wife and children are in heaven and though I believe we will meet again I can’t understand God’s purpose in leaving me here knowing that I suffer so much because of their absence.” 

Atheist: “I sympathise with your loss, but your belief that there is a divine purpose to life is preventing you from coming to terms with reality.  Even if there remains a part of you that can’t get over your bereavement and doesn’t want to forget, life requires you to carry on and move forward – to allow your wounds to heal naturally beneath their scars.” 

Apologist:  “Be careful what you wish for.  Tales of myth, magic and manipulation, from time immemorial, serve to remind us that our attempts control destiny, by fair means our foul, can invite tragedies that are far worse than any we are trying to avert.  Perhaps this is the best of all possible worlds.  And who are we to reject God for doing nothing, as if we could do better given the power to cancel all pain and suffering?”

Cosmogonist: “Take heart, it is possible that we live in a ‘multiverse’ whereby alternative, potentially infinite, versions of reality exist in parallel.  So there could be multiple versions of you existing in diverse ‘elsewheres’ – because the possibilities can take different turns at innumerable junctures.  It may be only in this ‘here and now’ that your loved ones have departed.  Yet there will be others in which you have an entirely different life and relationships, with or without children.  In some versions you are happy in others you are sad, for different reasons, whilst your beliefs and disbelief’s might be many and various.  And the message from quantum physics is: nothing is impossible.”

Scientist:  “Nature is everything – and we know what it is because it is all-inclusive.  We need to stick to the facts instead of trying to conjure scenarios that exist only in the imagination – and, therefore, don’t really exist.  One day science will explain everything; in the meantime, it has given us a life of leisure and luxury that is better and longer than anything our forebears could have dreamed of.  In addition, advances in medicine and therapy have moved forward in leaps and bounds to alleviate our suffering.”

Sage: “We are cleaved of a truth that is bigger than us and united in the being of which we are all lesser examples.  But death and decay show that everything we presume to own of life is not really ours.  Meanwhile, everything we take upon ourselves in the name of ‘the self’ encumbers us with consequences we cannot avoid.  Indeed, the claim to possession invites the spectre of loss.  Moreover, the comfort we seek from one another merely intensifies the prospect – as we subsume the question of life and death to one of gain and loss.  Yet no one else can restore you to the greater truth that you have willingly surrendered to your experiences of separation.”

Existentialist: “Belief and disbelief are two sides of the same coin – squandered upon the vain circumspections of our presumptions to categorise the truth.”

Realist: “We are obliged to live life prospectively whilst understanding it retrospectively.  Of course, we don’t know what we don’t know, but our ability to acknowledge that fact enables us to adjust our expectations accordingly rather than trying to make the world fit into our preconceived ideas and ideals or conform to our summary prescriptions of right and wrong.  So we must find a balance between fact and belief that works in the present – and even if looking ‘on the bright side’ can turn out to be wrong, it may still, on balance, prove to be the most sustainable way of proceeding.”

Moralist: “Even if we can’t change our circumstances we can always change ourselves.  And though we cannot know what the future holds in store, it’s enough to know that we are doing the right thing by one another.  At the very least, we have a duty to keep trying.”

Humanist: “Human experience and rational thinking need to work towards finding a positive meaning to this life without the expectation of supernatural assistance, revealed knowledge or divine redemption.  We can waste our lives in the belief that another life awaits us.”

Psychologist: “The self that you take to be the recognisable continuum of your being is but a psychological device for creating a recognisable continuum.  Born into different circumstances you would have acquired different memories, understandings and attachments – in effect, you would function as a different person.  It is the emotional investment in a particular identity, with all its accompanying affinities and affiliations, which galvanises your mission to navigate a world of joys and sorrows as you experience the grit and glory of life through all your triumphs and tragedies.  All things considered, life is never more wonderful or daunting than when it pushes you to the limit – to actualise your latent potentials.”

Mike Laidler

Questions: ‘Loaded dice’ and ‘a theory of everything’

’What is a theory of everything?
Based upon the current idiom of science, it is a theory that can capture the whole of existence in a single factual or mathematical proof – as if that fact or equation can stand apart from the realms of theory, and as if reality dictates to theory that everything reduces to that one thing.

What is a theory of chance?
We are surrounded by chance events, which prompts us to ask whether the universe might have started that way. Chance can be seen to operate within certain boundaries to yield uncertain outcomes. For instance, rolling a die can have uncertain outcomes, but they are limited by the nature of the die, which doesn’t look like it got here by chance. Of course there may be additional uncertain consequences, such as an ensuing fight, but these are indirect and tend to remain only notionally connected. Normally, chance and probability are used to calculate the likelihood of an outcome, but that’s not quite the same thing as explaining it; however, other, more fanciful suppositions court the idea that anything can happen by chance – that a rolling rock could in theory turn itself into a die – although fewer still would go so far as to say it is theoretically possible for a rolling rock to turn into a chicken. Yet many hypotheses are promulgated, to varying degrees of nonsense, in the attempt to explain changes we can’t explain except by putting them down to chance – even to the point of decrying the importance of known non-chance events – as if the works of Shakespeare could, in theory, be replicated by placing typewriters in an infinite monkey cage. Other theories place chance at the origin of ‘life, the universe and everything’ – as the essential pre-existing or spontaneously exiting cause, or as a nexus in multiple universes.

If the answer isn’t ‘in the beginning’, where is it?
It’s likely to be in ‘an end-point’ outside of our reach. That’s why we prefer to look to beginnings – because they seem more accessible and there are still clues to be found, although we tend to treat each discoverable beginning as not the actual beginning of ‘it all’. However, an ‘ultimate beginning’ is not likely to be a repository of everything in any event, simply because of the fact that we can see things changing to become more than they were, and it is happening right before our eyes. So we are witnessing new beginnings all the time and remain challenged by the inexplicable facts of change, which we try to make explicable by looking in vein to ever more distant beginnings for a more ample cause. Meanwhile, theories of beginnings and ends remain highly theoretical – for isn’t every end a new beginning in the bigger picture of a dynamic universe where effects adorn the reality of their causes with something new? Furthermore, the idea of a first cause setting up a consistent chain of events, seems to suggest that ‘the dice were loaded from the start’, unless this consistency is an illusion of our place and time in ‘our universe’ – because the infinite variety of alternatives that are consistent with chance remain hidden from us in an unobservable ‘multiverse’.

Is there a purpose to existence?
This is a question we can feel more at home with, indeed we can also make some firm inroads towards an answer, because we already know there is purpose and meaning in existence, if only by way of our own presence, nature and outlook – and since we happen to be a real part of the universe we bear proof in ourselves of what can transpire. This change in the nature of nature is no less significant in cosmic terms just because we find it happens to be peculiar to us. But questions remain to be answered: where does it all lead and does it end with us? It seems that the answers lie in the bigger picture, where ends turn out to be bigger than beginnings – whereby our sense of meaning and purpose, despite manifesting as a part of us, may in fact be a staging point of a further beginning. (The question of ‘a bigger picture’ has been examined above).
So it may well be the case that we are privy to only a part of the answer, given that it is fair to assume that we exist in a universe that is bigger than us and that the nature of our being owes to more than we bring to it. Nevertheless, we can take comfort from the incompleteness of our situation, in the stark realisation that the purpose in existence is likely to be bigger than all we can make of it, just as the facts are likely to remain bigger than all we can make of them. Thereafter, the main obstacle to our progress is ourselves and our equally deficient observation that reality is confined to the facts of a purposeless nature that fixes the fate of what it all adds up to, which we uphold by promising ourselves that this explanation will win through in the end – as if we can deem ourselves adequate to explain the existence of existence or the extent of its nature and possibilities.

Mike Laidler

What God Where?

Who can say there is no power of being in existence or deny that the power takes the form of a sentient reality? Who can say that the power of personal being belongs to something else, wherein it is absent? What is the evidence to show that consciousness can be understood better as something unconscious? And how do we discover the origin of consciousness in something else, as if to say that consciousness is really an after-effect? Is not everything seen as an after-effect? Is that not how power appears to be?

Do we not avail ourselves of consciousness in order to begin to look for it as something else, said to be its cause? So how can we say that it is explained by tracing its nature to a different, unconscious nature, as if to say that the one reality reduces to the other? And in the process do we not underrate the very thing we are looking from whilst attending to its preconditions in the lesser reality we are looking at? Then by what criterion do we identify the change to awareness, which we are eminently qualified to recognise of ourselves, as a fact of something less, deemed to be more substantive in being the cause?

Is it not time to re-evaluate the evidence we look to when we claim that sentience and subjectivity, knowledge and understanding are merely after-effects of something more real – that things are more real when reduced to something less? Is it any less realistic to regard change as a fact of what can be, of something more – a power-to-be?

Mike Laidler