Monday, March 27, 2006


Originally uploaded by cgoblemoblo.

An interesting podcast from Science Friday about great discoveries had this quote from Alan Lightman

"I am writer as well as a physicist, and I know in my little corner of the world that when I have had a creative moment it has felt exactly the same in science and in art. There is a feeling as if your head is lifting off your shoulder and you loose all tract of your ego, you loose track of your body, time and where you are. It is a wonderful ego free state. What is always ironical about this and gives me a laugh is that many scientist have big egos."

While one could immediately jump into similarities between this and conventional takes on spiritual experiences, this won't be my point.

If one takes a limiting view of religion, assuming only that it is a natural phenomena, one doesn't have to assume spiritual experiences have no value. While I assume supernatural experiences do correspond to a certain reality (probably less than some, but more that others), from most any open perspective one would have to say spiritual experiences correspond strongly to a moment of creative synthesis. Ideas come together, assumptions harmonize, and, perhaps most important of all, (subconcious) background ideas seem to fit together providing a sense of euphoria wherein one believes answers in any direction are possible and at one's fingertips. Now obviously people take this in different ways.

People who tend to see religion as a natural phenomena would probably say visions like Nephi's and Lehi's are explained as they reached this state, and applied their religious assumptions to create an experience that harmonized with their view of God and the world.

People from a more classical religious background would probably say this state corresponds to a chance to see the harmonization God lives under. The reflection of this means that events are perceived as they should, with past, present and future discernible and illuminated as an eternal perspective.

Atheists would probably say it just corresponds to mental feedback loop where strong harmonization has caused a resonant state.

From any of theses perspectives, though I don't know how one could deny the utility of such experiences? Certainly one could say that natural perspective is dangerous because it allows people to propagate ideas that may not be "real". While I would tend just to say I believe that there is a reality behind these events, the benefit of such harmonizing experiences seems to be based on the process of rationalization.

Background ideas and subconscious preferences are hard to work with. Indeed the whole idea of an unconscious mind has gone through a series of rises and falls. Nonetheless it certainly seems true that there are numerous non-overt thoughts whose balance colours our decisions. When we deal with hard science issues, these things usually don't matter much (except perhaps in exploration). As we move over to the realm of ethics and morality though, they certainly to. It is hard to get away from the idea that morality is based on the sum of these background preferences. If this is the case then, any tool which lets us deal with these things would certainly seem to be very valuable.

Indeed I remember being relatively young, hearing that the way one organizes their thinking determines the problems one is optimized to solve and trying to figure out a way to think as symbolically as possible in order to not be limited by the speed of self talk and the size of short term memory. Of course it wasn't very successful. Most everything in life is best dealt with common methods. Yet I wonder if religion's focus on spirituality doesn't offer tools for just such types of meta-representational subliminal thought?

The harmonization with god that religion values, may, in large part, correspond to a complete rationalization of ones thoughts ideas and desires with one's environment. Of course this idea isn't new. It is what religion is really after. What is interesting is to think of the consequences of a society that is fully rationalized this way. There is certainly a sense of perfection, but also lots of chance for progression.

1 comment:

chris g said...

I would just add that I think the sum of the background preferences I was talking about include the paradigm one chooses to use to process information as well the biologically determined preferences that seem inherit from our DNA ancestry (the New Scientist article on chimpanzee business ethics comes to mind here)