Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Optomisim, Pesimism And Faith. Deities Are Not Required To Have Hope For The Future
It always amazes me how much one can stumble over by chance on the internet. The sheer, vastly random, nature of what people choose to put into it guarantees a wondrous, as well as appalling, depth and breadth, of content.
I mention this because, just by accident, I fell into a marvelous bit of filtering delivered to me via YouTube.
You know how this can work sometimes. The boffins behind the algorithm of anticipation, working to present you what you might be interested in, have a great deal of result that I feel they could be certainly be proud of, but also quite surprised at. You pick at one thing because of a link you found by chance, and from that, suddenly, you are presented with a wholly unexpected content theme.
Case in point, the view, as expressed by the British, of the differences between the States and the U.K. Quite illuminating I can assure you; especially if you listen to every day Brits, as well as their luminaries. For the purposes of this post, however, I would like to start with the latter. And there are few better to do this with than Stephan Fry. If you aspire to be well read, quite reasonably intelligent and articulate, you could hardly do better than use Mr. Fry as a role model.
One thing that he seems to emphasize in interviews (as culled from my limited sampling) is the American sense of optimism, and the willingness to take risks. And of course that got me to wondering, are we still an optimistic people?
Quite by chance again, however, I started clicking on British and American comedians doing standup on the various differences and, of course, making great fun of the various stereotypes and cliches that operate on both sides of the pond. And therein one inevitably gets to the ridiculous extremes of religion we manifest here (beyond the guns, crass commercialism, and obesity we are also noted for). Which also got me to wondering. Where does religion fit into the idea of optimism? Or more fundamentally, where does faith itself fit it?
If you ask yourself: are the overtly religious optimistic? You would probably have to scratch your head and think... well, maybe, but then... maybe not. After all, a lot of American religious belief starts with the notion that we are born sinners and are held over the fires of hell by an angry god all too ready to let us fall to our virtually assured judgment. Only by the most arduous of commitments to piety, denials of the temptations of the flesh, and perhaps most important of all, an absolute, unquestioning acceptance of scripture, which is the word of god, can we even begin to hope for salvation.
Other religions don't go to quite such extremes of course, but they still put significant amounts of dogma towards the idea that the word of god is supreme, and salvation comes only from giving your life over to those words, as well as unquestioning belief in him, and/or his son.
The bottom line here is this: just how optimistic can you be when so much of human nature goes against what is purported to be the word of god? And it's not just that evolution has made us hard wired to want sex, or to be fear based in so many of our emotions (where the loss of love, self worth or meaning creates the lions share of our passions). We've ended up with a brain that demands curiosity. That is built to question. How can such a being believe in anything unquestioningly?
Going down this road then gets one to thinking on how faith and optimism are related. For it certainly seems to me that faith and hope are related. To be hopeful for a better day tomorrow, one would think, ought to mean that one has a certain faith in the means to achieve it. Unless, of course, one is talking about blind faith. Which, unfortunately, is kind of like talking about evil. Everyone might agree that, at the very least, evil exists in the abstract. The problem comes in when, and how, the term gets applied.
I mention all of this because one of the other things one gets from the above mentioned comedians, as they make fun of religious extremes, is that Atheism isn't very optimistic at all. In fact, one of my takeaways from Mr. Fry is that it is precisely the denial of faith inherent in Empiricism, and scientific rationalism in general, that forms the foundation of British pessimism; where this opposite of optimism is formed in the cold realities of fixed cause and effect. The exact opposite of wonder, magic and the notion that anything is possible.
Where does all of this leave us?
Well, for one thing, I don't believe that this is an optimistic country any more; at least as one gets a general sense of it from the popular cultural, religious, and commercial expressions one sees currently predominant. Apocalyptic movies, end of days sermons, and a market mentality that grows ever more fearful of risk every year hardly makes a good case for an optimistic nation. Sectors in changing areas of demographics, and/or geography, still retain various amounts of optimism certainly, but the overall environment doesn't seem conducive to the preservation of this important sense of spirit and mind set.
The problem for me, and for which I have already written about (see “Cosmolosophy: Why is Faith Important“), is that good people on the one hand, having become disgusted with the obvious shortcomings of extreme religious belief, have given up on the idea that faith can still have great value. And on the other hand, other good people have forgotten that blind faith is not only possible, but that any adherence to it is not really faith at all (as the essence of faith is belief within the framework of the doubt of a questioning mind).
The thing these two groups have in common is certainty. In the former group this manifests itself in the certainty of the absolute truth of empiricism, numbers, and logic. In the latter group it is the certainty that something written down by generation after generation of men and women is the literal word of one or another deities.
To start with, let's be clear on one thing. Empiricism, numbers and logic, can be very powerful indicators of the truth. We have come to rely on a great many relationships revealed to us in this way. Relationships that have provided huge boosts of improvement to every aspect of our lives. The problem there however, as we delve into trying to understand ever more complex systems, is that the application of the empirical method becomes ever more tricky. And this is precisely because it is human beings who attempt to do it; the very entities whose frailties, and proclivity towards subjective thinking (where everything from outright wish fulfillment, to subconscious desires, run rampant), make them imperfect creators of objective tests and measurements. Whereupon we now have reoccurring commitments to all things “double blind,” as well as rigorous numeric proof.
This becomes even more so when you begin to cross ever greater scales of consideration; especially when the scales cross down to higher energies, and much shorter time frames. Not only do you come to the fringes of what can constitute effective instrumentality, you begin to question the nature of objectification at its most fundamental level. This is precisely why the “Grand Unification” of quantum theory and general relativity have been so difficult.
I believe, and I want to emphasize that it is a belief, that we will face a fundamental limit on what can be measured, or tested, objectively exactly for the reason that what we test with, and the choices made in testing, are part and parcel of the very thing being tested, or measured. In other words, the outcome of the test will ultimately be significantly caused by the test itself, and there will be nothing we can do to change that. And make no mistake. This has been established experimentally (see “Let's hear it for sentient measurers”).
The danger that I see here is that we test or measure at one scale, and then extrapolate what we find there for application at other scales altogether. Not fully appreciating the one thing that very complex systems are notorious for; hiding channels of feedback, or even feed forward, for which cascade events can occur out of what always seems like nowhere. And in the case of an entirety that might be made up of an infinite number of quantum varied realities, you are guaranteed to have a lot of unexpected channels, and a completely new concept of what “coming out of nowhere” might entail.
On the other side of the equation, however, is recognizing the fundamental importance of faith. Without faith, it seems to me, one cannon keep a sense that anything is possible. Faith based at the very least in the notion that infinite complexity ensures that there will always be possible e channels for transfer, and translation, that we do not yet know of; avenues of affect that will always resist specific objectification and predictability. The thing to always keep in mind with this is to simply accept that somethings will also still be a great deal more, or less, probable than others.
With that in mind, I think, is it possible to keep a balance between reason and wonder; logic and magic. With that in mind we can dream the impossible dream. We can aspire towards a reach that exceeds our grasp. But we can also stay mindful of what is probable this moment and of the next few. Of what practicality demands because of what we love, and cherish and feel responsibility towards each moment to the next.
The whole point of love, it seems to me, is that your faith in what you feel from this other is why you take the emotional risk of integrating them into your sense of yourself, and your being, as you make choices in the great dance of being and becoming. Likewise, how can you love life at all if you have no faith in what you feel, or faith in larger than logic possibilities of what you can accomplish when honest effort is applied. The benefits of effort after all are seldom foreseen in high fidelity. What may seem impossible now, after working towards something, and taking on some risks, may seem a great deal more possible further on down the road, and from combinations of factors and occurrences that would have been unthinkable beforehand.
Failure is a fact of life of course. And it can be painful beyond expression. How we deal with that pain, and the facts of the failure, are always a choice however. Just as what we perceive as a worthy goal is a choice. As well as what constitutes being successful is. The fact of the matter is that, some times what we want must yield to what is most probable, and then find a way to make the best of it. Having said that however cannot be allowed to dissuade as many of us as possible to dream beyond our grasp, for that is certainly what the entirety requires of us; for in no other way will we rise to the task of fully appraising and appreciating its vastness otherwise. A task that can never be fully completed but one that is essential none the less. Because it is only by our appreciation and understanding, as well as our application of love of life, and creating loving structure, that keeps it going. Something that I have great faith in.