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Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Philosophy ... Religion ... Science ...

Physics is really pushing the boundaries these days, regarding how we understand what reality is “really like”. It seems increasingly possible that reality is not entirely like what we think it is, from our day-to-day experiences as human animals roaming the planet earth. First, there’s the quantum world and all its Alice in Wonderland weirdness. Then there is Einstein’s relativity, with all its time-space distortions and gravity warps. Today there is even more weirdness in the offing, questioning the existence of space and time itself. Perhaps what we thought were the minute and fundamental building blocks of our world aren’t really real at all. Relativity and quantum theory made time, space and sub-atomic particles fuzzy or rubbery, and new ideas melt them even further.

E.g., a recent experiment hints that time, space, and the motion of things within them may just be an “internal illusion”. Quantum entanglement may be responsible for a holographic process that is grounded in pure information. From the outside of this entangled system, the overall bundle would appear to be unchanging; no time, no motion through space, nothing changing, everything still. From the inside, when you are entangled in the system, the hologram of space, time, particles and motion becomes real, and you experience a world of things moving, and space and time for them to move in. Pretty weird. It’s the holographic relationship between all the information that is real (or “realer”) than electrons, quarks, photons, etc.

And as to the origins of everything, many physicists are now speculating way beyond the big bang. They say that there are “multiverses“, such that entirely new universes are constantly being formed through a chaotic inflation process. This process sets out all possible universes (each having a different mix of underlying physical characteristics such as electron charges and gravitational constants), such that one like ours (with all its unlikely things such as sentient life) just has to be in the mix somewhere.

Many scientists feel that there is no God. They say that the multiverse, eternal inflation, and all of their other mathematical models and concepts regarding matter, energy, space, time, and the dynamics between these elements, are more than enough to explain things. But we inevitably get into a word game here, a question of just what one means when using the word “god”. The boffins are in effect admitting to a “god”, in the broadest sense of that word (here’s a definition of G/god that I find useful: God is the indescribable, uncreated, self existent, eternal all knowing source of all reality and being). It’s just that the god implied by modern physicists is quite unlike the God that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. would posit. This “new god” (i.e. creator and principle behind all of reality) might even be infinite, like the “old God”; but the big difference is that the physicist god does not share our conscious, sentient and self-reflective nature.

Recall that Einstein talked a lot about God, and you can find all sorts of quotes about God by Einstein (e.g. “God does not play dice with the universe”, regarding Einstein’s distaste for the stochastic nature of quantum reality). But when you drill down as to what he meant, it becomes apparent that Einstein’s God was really a “little g” god, a mighty god of physical laws and processes and possibilities; perhaps an almighty and infinite god. But not a god of feeling and relationship, not a “personal God”.

As such, the scientists posit a universe where our conscious experience and our emotions are basically a side-show, not fundamental, an epi-phenomenal emergence at best. In some ways, in some places, this universe is entirely predictable and knowable; in other aspects, it is perfectly and predictably unpredictable, as with certain phenomenon within the quantum world (e.g. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). But there are no foggy, fuzzy in-betweens, such as within the world of feeling and subjective experience that we conscious and emotional humans believe (however wrongly) that we inhabit. The God of religion, by contrast, is closer to us, closer to what we know and feel from within our conscious being. This God stands apart from all that is not God by having perfect free will, and an inherent (undestroyable) identity — a God not bound by laws, a God before all laws and principles, a God that invents laws and principles and can change them or eliminate them at will (but arguably only does so sparingly and with great discretion — what many religious folk call “miracles”).

So, the God question appears to comes down to the problem of consciousness. If consciousness is eventually proven to be just a predictable physical phenomenon (or a perfectly unpredictable phenomenon as in the quantum world), then nothing about reality need be inherently sentient and conscious. Relationship then is ultimately more like Y = Ax + Bx(2) + C, than like “Love Story”. (Being determined by a math equation means never having to say you’re sorry . . .).

But if consciousness as we live it and know it ultimately escapes the math models, if the famous “Mary problem” from philosophy of mind can survive its many assaults, if the “hard problem of consciousness” remains hard — then perhaps the universe, even a universe propelled by eternity, WILL have consciousness embedded somewhere within its fundamental nature. And thus the “big G” God really does exist (or just plain “IS”), after all.

If so, then we move on to the problem of pain — how can a God that knows what experiencing pain is like let us go through so much of it. Hopefully we would be talking about a God with reason and ability to make good for all the bad stuff we go thru. Hopefully, that God knows what the true meaning our our sufferings are, and will eventually reveal it all to us — in the fullness of time, however holographic and quantumly-entangled that time is.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:39 pm      

  1. Jim, I am beginning to wonder if physics, rather than “pushing boundaries” is not *really* limited – trying to fit everything into a nice little box that physics “sees” (regardless of how many different theories physics may have of reality). For instance, my first reaction to the point that “reality is not entirely like what we think it is” (as posited by the physicists) is a great big *duh!* Just looking at the limited number of people I know, it’s obvious to me that each one of them has his/her own perception of the world and no two are entirely the same.

    The concept of “reality” seems to me to be a subconscious and generally agreed upon idea of what “real” is; all the while inside each one of us is his/her own perception of “the world” as seen by that individual. When one deviates too far on either end of what the rest consider reality, then that person is considered “deviant” in some manner. But still, the fact remains that there are as many versions of reality as there are people.

    Regarding your definition of God: While I just do not have a definition of God myself (in fact, I am not sure what I think about God, but all the while I would agree there *is* a God), I find the business of God being “indescribable, uncreated, self-existent” etc., less than useful. Again, I think my definition here is likely appropriate only to me; each person, perceiving his/her own reality (even though there are more or less overlaps in that reality perception) would have his/her own definition of God.

    On this point I find myself agreeing that maybe reality is not real at all; perhaps all reality is our perception of what we call reality. As to the definition of God given by religion, it seems to me that that definition is a product of the reality as seen by those in religion who themselves “made it up”.

    I am not sure at all that I agree that the “world of feeling and subjective experience” is a “foggy, fuzzy in-between”; I find the world of feeling to be a true source of part of our reality, just as valid as any other part that contributes to our reality.

    It also seems to me that if “nothing about reality need be inherently sentient and conscious”, one has a robot, which may bring us back to the whole discussion of Artificial Intelligence (and sometimes I think that phrase is an oxymoron of some sort).

    As to the “Mary Problem”: Seems to me we need more of that kind of thinking.

    And moving on to the problem of pain: I don’t know what to think of that aspect of things. There are so many different kinds of pain. I can think of two immediately: One is the pain that is just plain “mean” (and here I include the “outer edges” of “mean” where someone might do serious harm to another just for the sake of enjoying seeing the suffering of another). The other is the kind of pain where growth of some sort is involved – a positive thing and not to be avoided but embraced.

    When it comes down to a discussion of such things, I cannot really say exactly where one should go for answers; but I do think that physics has little, if anything, to contribute to any of this. MCS

    Comment by Mary — January 15, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

  2. Jim, Today after reading Ilia Delio’s The Unbearable Wholeness of Being I find myself thinking about what (so far) is the idea she gathered from her readings of physicists, philosophers, and theologians: What if God is the entirety of everything that is? And then what if all that is, all evolution, all growth on all levels and all dimensions, everything that *is* is God coming into being? MCS

    Comment by Mary — January 16, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

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