Today is a new day. You will get out of it just what you put into it. If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. And supposing you have tried and failed again and again, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call 'Failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down.
DISCLAIMER: I am bored and am procrastinating on doing work, so I'm compiling some thoughts I've had.
I was thinking about science, rationality, and religion again today. I believe science is an important tool to living the best life, but is far from the be all and end all. Science strives to be the methodology used for discovering objective truth; in other words, discovering the relationship between objective facts and uncompromising logic. And that's great. It lets us discover all sorts of useful things about the world and about ourselves. But I think there is one vital fact, an objective and indisputable one: We are not purely rational beings.
Science often assumes that we are, at the core, essentially computers, or dispassionate and bodiless brains floating in vat somewhere, that ultimately, while we are easily distracted, misled, or confused, we are capable of discovering fundamental truth through objective thought processes, and that how we think, feel, behave and desire can be a matter of pure free will, stripped of earthly confounders. Think about the passionate objections by many scientists to the value even of exploring genetic or gender based differences in intelligence and personality, or similar defenses to the "blank slate" theory of psychological development. These beliefs boil down to a denial of the mind/body connection, or even the mind/brain connection. But there are two problems with assuming that we are capable of, and should strive for, purely objective thought. First, it likely isn't possible. Second, it doesn't help.
I don't think pure rational thought is possible because I don't think true free will is possible. Even if the computer or the brain in a jar could come always to correct conclusions, and could think and do whatever it chose without influence from the outside world, we are neither of those things. Our minds are not free agents out in the world. Instead, our minds, whatever they may be, only are able to experience the world, and act in it, through the intermediary of our bodies.
And our bodies are not capable of pure objectivity or rationality. Think of optical illusions. Think of hallucinogenic drugs. Think of dreams, or hypnosis, or isolation chambers, or meditation, or sleep deprivation, or seizures, or comas, or shock. All of these things cause our bodies bring to our minds information about the world that is different than we would receive in a "normal" state. This lack of objectivity isn't limited to major trauma or changes in our brains and bodies either, nor is it a one way street. Simple things, like being lost in thought or wearing tinted glasses (and removing them) can bring us "false" information about the world. The mind can change what information the body brings it- the same rainstorm might look, sound, smell, and feel different if it's at a wedding or a funeral. Further, even if there were an ideal "normal" body state, such a body still wouldn't bring perfect information to the mind. We can't see ultraviolet radiation, or hear ultra high frequency sound. We can't look at an open book and see every word at once, even though they are all right there in front of us.
More fundamentally, it isn't just our senses that can be affected by our bodies. Our thoughts, too, can be compromised away from rationality and objectivity. Anyone would do differently on the same test if tired, or drunk, or hungry, or stuffed with primal food, or stuffed with Pringles, or whatever. If there is a state of thought that is purely rational, it's hard to achieve, and harder to define.
And I don't think either is possible. I think this idea of humans as rational creatures goes back, ironically, to pre-scientific days and to religious ideas. In the Bible, we and the animals were created on different days. The idea that we are fundamentally different than animals has been around forever. But it's not true. If we are different from chimpanzees or dolphins, it's because we have cars and computers, and they don't. And if we have those those things, it's not because our brains and thus our minds differ fundamentally from theirs. At best, it's because our brains have evolved past a tipping point, and we're at a stage where our intelligence can feed upon itself and grow exponentially. That doesn't mean we aren't animals, stuffed with and mostly guided by animals instincts, any more than it means that the first animal to crawl onto land hundreds of millions of years ago stopped being an animal when it crossed that threshold.
The consequence of having animal brains, products of billions of years of evolution, means we want certain things, regardless of the rationality of those desires. We want food and shelter and sex and comfort and love. Even if you reject the idea that we are slaves to our animal desires, you are still stuck with a tautology: we want what we want. We want to be happy.
And that's the key point. Science can't define happy. Happiness is by definition the thing that everyone strives for, every second of every day, yet what happiness is, except "what we want" can't be defined. Sure, science can discover how our bodies and brains and minds work and uncover pieces of the puzzle, like "We like being touched" or "We feel best on at least 8 hours of sleep," but science can't uncover the magic bullet, the one vital piece that will make us happy, or even the magic potion, the complex brew of countless factors that make us purely happy. Even if a magic potion of actions and thoughts and nutrients and everything else existed, as soon as we achieved it, we would want more. If there was an objective ideal state of happiness, as soon as we achieved it and reflected on it, our minds would change in countless tiny ways, and the balance would be off. And then we'd think about that, and our thoughts would change our balance further. And once the balance was changed, the solution would change. Think about a Rubik's cube with 60 million individual faces. Lining all of those up would be infinitely easier than achieving this ideal balance that would be perfect happiness.
If science can't even define happy, if it can't tell us with objectivity and rational certainty what it is that we should seek to become content, then it cannot be the be all and end all. It is a useful tool, undoubtedly. But, at our cores we are irrational animals who want irrational things. If we force ourselves down a fool's road to view the world only through a rational lens, we ultimately fail, because we can't achieve that, and even if we could, that is not our nature. It isn't who were are, or who we are capable of being, or what we want. And if pure reason can't make us happy, we must use our minds in other ways, and look elsewhere, to find it.
I am sure that all religions are more wrong than right. They're the products of flawed, irrational thinkers like ourselves. But they all have similar values at their cores, and they all serve the same purpose. They are all wholly irrational roads that lead some to happiness. Not every road leads every person to the same place, because we aren't all the same. But for each of us there are roads that take us closer to where we want to be.
And a quick followup. A devotee of science as the ultimate truth might argue that even if our specific desires are irrational, they can be placed into a rational pattern when viewed through the properly objective prism. But that's wrong too. It's true that plenty of people enjoy, and thus find contentment and peace through, exercise or sex or succeeding in life goals like earning a degree or finding a job. And the Darwinian explanation would be that such things make us healthier, or give us a chance to pass on our genes, or allow us access to resources that help us survive and thrive. But some people enjoy intensely catabolic and therefore self defeating exercise, or sex while dressed like stuffed animals or that cannot lead to procreation, or smoking crack, or setting things on fire. These things may be bad for the self or society, but I doubt the subjective pleasure of those who enjoy them is less, even if evolutionarily they are dead ends or even destructive.
I have an oddball bundle of spiritual leanings that I call my "beliefs." The major tenets?
1) There's something "up there". He/ she/ it/ they? Not a clue. Possibly just a bunch of random energies bundled together? Quite possible. Does this thing have personal care of what happens in my life? I dunno, I don't care. Can this thing be beseeched, begged, or bribed? I dunno. Do I worship this thing? No. I acknowledge it's existence, but I do not worship it.
2) I believe in reincarnation until you've every lesson there is to learn until you've learned them all. You then go to a variation on heaven, wink out of existence, or become a deity. No clue which of those 3 it is. For all I know, a soul can never learn all the lessons, simply because there's always one more to learn.
3) Treat everyone and everything with common decency and courtesy and it works better than not doing that. Anything you do comes back to you threefold. Why three? Because that sounded like a good number and the pagans had a nice way phrasing the Threefold Rule.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church with a family of engineers. I knew both sides of the creation story and knew how one could make them fit together. I knew how evolution fit into G__'s plan. Yadyadayada. I had a crisis of faith, went hunting for a different belief system. Tried Judaism, Pagainism, Wicca, Islam, Buddhism, atheism, agnosticism, and several other varieties, researched hundreds of others. Never found one that fit. Realized that many of the belief systems held facets of what I believed and started cobbling together my own belief system.
The point of this is to say that, having been there, done that; I see no point to get into a cyclical argument about religion and see even less reason to deny a person their source of sanity and their faith. We may not agree, but I can not deny them their beliefs. Mind you, I don't like being lectured on beliefs; and I like being told that I'm less of a person than you for not sharing your religion even less. However, if someone wants to point out that a factoid I bring up doesn't mesh with their given belief system, fine, dandy. I acknowledge that and move on. If they want to harp the point, I try to agree to disagree or walk off. If they won't leave me alone about it, then I may bring out the big guns.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, steak in one hand, chocolate in the other, yelling "Holy F***, What a Ride!"
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@ MDLaw - Thanks for your post. I really enjoyed it and believe many others will too.
Find me at aToadontheRoad.com. Cheers!