Monday, September 20, 2010

Alice's World.

Alone in a corner, Alice ponders a question: is the future written in stone? Drowning out the noisy cafeteria around her, the lone figure turns over popular answers in her mind. Alice tests the validity of each individual idea before discarding it and moving onto the next. Before long, she exhausts all answers and recommences her thinking, starting with the latest idea and retracing her train of thought backwards. Once again, getting nowhere, she grows frustrated. Her logic simply travels in circles, an infinite loop. As Alice teeters on the edge of giving up on the question, she becomes aware of her friend Louis. Louis approaches Alice and sits across the table from her with a smirk on his face.

"What's so funny?" asks Alice, confused.

"I just witnessed your face transition from thoughtful contemplation to downright annoyance in a matter of about two minutes. How could I not find that humorous?" replies Louis.

"Was it that obvious? I'm just frustrated over this question: is the future written in stone?" Alice observes the interest in Louis' eyes. She continues after a slight pause, "I figure there are two possible answers: either the future is set in stone, or it is not."

"Sounds reasonable enough. Naturally it could be a bit of both, but for now let us start with this distinction." Louis gestures toward Alice, "By all means, please continue."

"Well, there are the ideas implying the future is set in stone such as destiny, Fate, Predestination, and fatalism. According to these ideas, history has happened in the only way possible and I cannot change my future. Inevitability governs us all." Alice's voice ceases and silence ensues. The background chatter of the cafeteria is naught but white noise, easily ignored.

Alice breaks the silence, "Sounds rather bleak, doesn't it?"

Louis sardonically replies, "Truth cares not whether it is bleak or hopeful."

"Indeed," sighs Alice, "Yet I remain unsatisfied with fatalism. It is hard for me to believe my actions are inevitable. They are my actions. I must have some control over them, right?"

Louis shrugs his shoulders. "Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. What do you think?"

"I think humans have free will. I believe we have choices in life, and the choices are not predetermined." Louis does not answer immediately. Alice repeats the words over in her mind. The words sound hollow in her mind, as if they are but shadows of a greater truth yet to be discovered.

Louis speaks, "Choices we have. Control we lack. The laws of nature are beyond our control. We cannot control gravity. We can attempt to understand gravity, its causes and effects, and manipulate gravity, but we cannot control gravity. We cannot control the weather. We can predict it and even influence it to a degree, but we cannot control it. Free Will is an iffy concept. So much is beyond our control, it seems most choices are made for us."

Alice sighs. "Louis, you are so pessimistic." Louis laughs lightly in response. Alice continues, "You bring up a good point though. Humans cannot choose the laws of nature. We can discover them and use them to our advantage, but we cannot choose them. We are forever bound to them."

"Sounds a whole lot like Fate to me," interjects Louis. Alice nods in agreement. "However," continues Louis, "The laws of nature may in fact rule out fatalism as well. Quantum Mechanics is based on the principle of uncertainty. The universe at the microscopic level is ruled by chance. Is not chance a fundamental opposite of Fate?"

Alice's eyes brighten. "That's true! I never thought of it that way. A future at least partially ruled by chance cannot be set in stone." Louis agrees by nodding his head with a half-smile on his face. "Wait. So, the future is not set in stone, but we have little control over the future?" Alice remains puzzled. Rolling his eyes, Louis agrees.

"Of course, since we cannot change the past and we cannot truly predict the future, we are all stuck in a single time-line." Louis reignites Alice's doubt. Her mind begins racing in circles once again. The frustration returns. She begins to sweat. Louis simply sits back and smirks at her, enjoying the scene. Alice doesn't respond well to this.

"I thought you agreed with me when I said the future is not set in stone!" Alice's passionate outburst adds to Louis' amusement.

He clarifies, "We most certainly have Free Will in the sense that we are intelligent social beings capable of making logical and emotional decisions. These decisions give us the power to shape the future. I was just pointing out the fact only one future ever takes shape. Therefore, our decisions seem Fated. The illusion of Fate does not necessarily mean Fate exists."

Alice lets Louis' words sink in. She finds sense in his ideas, as well as comfort. Although she has not told Louis yet, she greatly fears the idea of an All-Powerful Being controlling her every move, her every sentence, her every thought. Herein lies her faith in Free Will and her aversion to Fate. "Thanks Louis, for talking this out with me. I feel much better now. For whatever reason, I've been terrified over the idea of an All-Powerful Being controlling my every move, my every sentence, my every thought."

Louis' smile widens. "It's funny you should say that." The blood drains from Alice's face. The cafeteria is gone. Looking around, Alice finds herself sitting in the same chair at the same table with Louis across from her as he was before, only the cafeteria is gone. The chairs and table rest on nothing. Darkness surrounds them. The only light comes from the pale blue glow of their skin and the bright white glow of their eyes.

"What just happened!" exclaims Alice, fear pulsing through her views, gripping her heart tightly, suffocating her sanity. She clings to her chair, the black abyss beneath her appears to be an endless void. Louis is clearly unfazed. His smile remains just as it was in the cafeteria moments before. Alice's mind continues to race, getting nowhere nearer the truth.

Louis waits a few moments before giving his answer. Alice continues to panic. At last, Louis speaks, "I am unfazed, not because I saw this coming, but because the All-Powerful Being does not wish me to be startled." The words fall on poor Alice's ears. Her panic increases sevenfold. She gets off the chair and stands on the table. The chair falls into the nothingness of the abyss below. Alice watches in horror as the table begins to fall into the abyss, leaving her suspended in nothingness. No, wait. Louis and his chair are still at the table. They must be falling too! "Not quite my dear Alice." Louis calls from below. "I am not sinking, you are ascending."

Alice begins to lose sight of Louis. Horror, fear, panic: they crash down upon her with every heartbeat. She is alone. The abyss surrounds her. She hears Louis' voice coming from all around her, "We are but puppets in a greater scheme Alice. You think you have control over your future, but you don't. A writer at his computer dictates everything about you: your actions, your words, your thoughts. The same writer controls me. We are naught by fictional characters living in a fictional world, born in the confines of the Writer's mind, alive solely in writing."

Alice understands. She has found the Truth of her world. It is fiction, though she never realized: it seemed so real to her.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Music Euphoria

I listen. A symphony of sound floods my ears, my brain, my veins: my entire being becomes one with the music—flowing back and forth with the tempo, movement, and intensity of the song. I breathe in deeply through my nostrils, close my eyes, and let the music permeate my soul.

The music starts. The pianist lightly tickles the keys: the treble notes ascend into the airwaves. Two Spanish guitars follow: one trills, the other plucks a short melody. They crescendo, then cease. Mid-range piano octaves follow, setting a mysterious mood—the minor key of the song is plainly obvious by now. The piano, accompanied by the nylon string guitar, decrescendos into near silence, like glowing embers fading into darkness—I hold my breath.

The bass guitar begins. Like a heartbeat, its rhythm pulses deep within layers upon layers of sound. Then boom! A wave of sound crashes violently, yet elegantly into my ears. The violins, violas, and cellos sway, like reeds in a current. The nylon stringed guitar follows their lead, but diverges in its own path. A lone violin wails over them all, crying out as if in tears. A harsh baritone male voice sings. Counter point melodies rise and fall among a chorus of violins. The lone violin continues its heartfelt weeping. The undercurrent of violas and cellos dances to and fro without a worry. The guitar riffs, teasingly lighthearted. The solemn bass beats beneath them all.

A beautiful male tenor voice sings, low and lamenting, building tension until a passionate outburst, pained and powerful. The orchestra builds with him until his vocal eruption, when the violins begin quick runs up and down the minor scale. The tenor sings along with an eerie melody. The piano adds to the tidal wave of sound with hailing treble and thundering bass.

The guitar plays a mournful riff. A solitary violin gently weeps. Another joins, then another. Dissonance grows. The lonely violin climbs the chromatic scale and brays upon the last note as the rest of the strings crescendo into the grand finale.

A storming symphony sounds forth! The harsh baritone, the mourning tenor, the elevated beating of the bass, the furious piano, the haunting chorus of voices in harmony with the two leads, the braying trumpets, the pulsating string section all come together in a torrential outburst of harmonious passion. The torrent culminates in the song's end. I am left with goose bumps, pins and needles through my entire body, and a smile on my face.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Immortal Soul

After death, there is a part of you that lives on: the Immortal Soul. People all around the world maintain some variation of the belief; the Soul goes somewhere—Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, the Soul inhabits a new body—Reincarnation, the Soul becomes a ghost, or the Soul goes to another world (i.e. the Spirit World). Regardless of variation, these people all believe in the existence of an Immortal Soul. I, on the other hand, reject the idea of an Immortal Soul for a variety of reasons.

First of all, the Immortal Soul implies You do not change over time, which is of course ridiculous. When I die, does my childhood Self move on or the Self directly preceding my death? Does my Self as an infant, a teenager, a young adult, a thirty year old, or a fifty year old live on eternally?

The question puzzled me. Perhaps all of these Selves, merged into one, comprise the Immortal Soul. This, however, made no sense to me. How can I simultaneously be an infant who cannot walk, an innocent child, an angst-ridden teenager, a hard working adult, and a dying old man all at once? Perhaps that is a unique quality of the Immortal Soul: counterintuitive, but nevertheless true. I think not.

To believe in an Immortal Soul is to believe in a Dual Self. There is the Physical Self, the body, and the Spiritual Self, the soul. The Physical Self undeniably exists. The existence of the Spiritual Self is harder to prove. Can a part of oneself really separate from the body? I think not. When people refer to the soul, they are simply referring to their conscious mind.

That being said, the Immortal Soul is nothing more than an undying copy of our thoughts, emotions, personality, disposition, creativity, etc. When looked at in this way, the idea of the Immortal Soul is easily blasted into oblivion. The conscious mind cannot separate itself from the body! It is a part of the body! The conscious mind resides in the brain, a large and complex collection of nerve cells. When those nerve cells collectively cease firing, the conscious mind (a.k.a. the Immortal Soul) dies.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Unknown

The unknown frustrates me. I am a curious guy, I want to know! But alas, the unknown does not care about my insignificant irritation. The unknown does not reveal itself on its own, knowledge and understanding must be sought after by curious minds. This principle applies to all unlearned knowledge, but specifically, I would like to focus on Creation—I use a capital “C” to identify this creation as the famous First Cause, the Beginning of Everything, not just the Earth or the Universe but Everything.

Naturally, no human observed Creation. Therefore, empirical knowledge of Creation becomes extremely difficult to acquire. Scientists have their Big Bang Theory, but it is an unsatisfying explanation. The Laws of Physics break down when so much matter and energy is concentrated on so small a point. Therefore, physicists are seeking a better understanding of the Laws of Physics, but a unified Theory of Everything remains out of reach. Perhaps it will always be out of reach. Current explanations raise more questions than they answer. String Theory, arguably the most elegant theory available, cannot be directly proved. The alleged strings are too small to observe. Without going into sundry tangents, it is clear enough that science currently falls short of understanding Creation.

Religion, on the other hand, claims absolute knowledge concerning Creation. The Bible itself starts with the words, “In the beginning.” Every religion has its Creation story, or stories. They tend to be very similar. In monotheistic religions, an all-powerful Supreme Being creates Everything out of Nothing. In polytheistic religions, there tends to be one or two original supernatural beings that create the heavens and the earth and/or give life to more supernatural beings—which, in turn, give rise to more supernatural beings and so on down the line. Both explanations do not satisfy me.

The logic does not make sense to me. Creation needs a Creator, but the Creator can just exist. Is it just me, or is that a double standard? Let me bring the scale down a tad. The chicken cannot exist without being born from an egg. The egg cannot exist without being made by the chicken. So which came first? It is an infinite digression. In this case, evolution solves the digression. However, in the case of Creation, I am not aware of any satisfactory scientific solution to the digression.

I reject the God Hypothesis, to use Richard Dawkins' terminology, because having a Creator create Creation initiates an infinite digression. Who created the Creator? Who created the creator of the Creator? It just gives me a headache. I next turned to science, but science also failed to provide a satisfactory answer—for the aforementioned reasons.

After religion and science failed me, I turned to philosophy and to imaginative thought. Perhaps we are all living in a computer program, designed by some unknown superior intelligence, not God or gods but aliens or machines (like in the Matrix). Of course, this invokes the same infinite digression as the God Hypothesis—who created the beings that created the computer program we inhabit? Maybe there are forces beyond our perception at work, not God or gods but spirits, ghosts, etc. However, I do not like to go beyond the empirical. Since I cannot know if such forces exist—I cannot know if they exist by definition: they are forces beyond human perception—I disregard the option as pure imagination. Maybe there was no Beginning. Maybe we, as humans, want to give Everything a Beginning because we have a beginning ourselves. This is my favorite explanation, although it falls short of satisfying my curiosity.

After carefully considering all the aforementioned possibilities and being no closer to the answer, I fear I must bow down to the power of the question. It seems there currently is no way of finding the answer. I hope the answer will one day be found, but even if it is never found, the fact that I enjoyed searching for the answer made asking the question worthwhile.

Yours truly,
Gabriel Gethin

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

Life is unfair. Life consists of suffering, toil, and hardship. However, everyone wants to enjoy life. This fundamental problem, how to enjoy life when it is filled with the aforementioned troubles, draws answers from countless sources, everything from religions to advertisements. Christianity promises salvation and eternal life at the end of suffering, where death does not end life but transitions into eternal life. Advertisements promise happiness, but only after buying the product being promoted. Naturally, there is a bit of a gap between the two promises, but that is not the point. With so many answers, from so many sources, how does one choose? How does the individual distinguish the “right” answer?

Learn what makes you, not society, not your parents, not your friends, happy. Happiness is a personal goal, a subjective truth. Although self-knowledge tends to be elusive and hard to attain, acquiring self-knowledge provides a metaphorical road map to happiness—arguably the Holy Grail of metaphorical maps. If introspection fails, trial and error works just as well. Try different activities, anything from reading to base-jumping. Then, simply make the enjoyable activities into hobbies, or, if lucky, a career. Do not be discouraged if this process takes a long time. Remember, there are billions of people in the world, but only a small fraction truthfully content.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Importance of the Pursuit of Happiness

The importance of the Pursuit of Happiness is obvious. Life is short; enjoy it. Make every effort to be happy. Personal happiness is the most logical goal in life. Perfection is impossible. Problems—world hunger, extreme poverty, war, etc.—will continue to plague mankind. Fighting for ideals—justice, order, human dignity, etc.—is great, for progress is possible, but perfection has been and always will be unattainable. Personal happiness, on the other hand, is entirely possible. Personal happiness depends on the individual alone, whereas the aforementioned problems and ideals rely on society’s cooperation. This single principle makes personal happiness the most logical goal in life

True, religious beliefs uphold doctrines such as reincarnation or eternal life after death. Under such beliefs, life does not end with death, a comforting notion. However, without proof of life after death, it is in the best interest of the individual to doubt. Make life on earth enjoyable, there may not be another chance at happiness. Of course, this is a subjective truth. Perhaps for some, belief in life after death contributes to the individual’s personal happiness. Whatever works, whatever cultivates happiness, passionately pursue.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Nature of Religious Truth

The Roman Catholic Church believes it is the One True Religion. All other religions have some truth, but only the Roman Catholic Church possesses the Fullness of Truth. However, does not every religion claim the Fullness of Truth for itself? If a religion did not possess Truth, its followers would all switch to the religion possessing the Truth. That is the purpose of religious truth, to be absolute Truth. No religion would ever imply fallibility. For Catholics, the Pope is infallible. For some religions, the Bible is inerrant. All religions have something of this nature: scriptures, a spiritual leader, their deity/deities.

Religions feign possessing Truth. Theoretically speaking, only one Absolute Truth about God/gods, the creation of the universe, the afterlife, and the proper ethics can exist. Yet, there are myriad religions. One of two things must be true: either every religion on earth is wrong, except one. Or, every religion on earth is wrong. An examination of these two claims is in order.

Assume every religion on earth is wrong, except one. How does a person figure out which one is the True religion? Well, every religion is based off faith—strong belief without proof. To persuade someone using faith is ineffective, especially when the person in question possesses no faith or possesses faith in a different religion. For example, a Christian telling a Jew to believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah probably would not go too well. The two would probably walk away from the encounter as a Christian and a Jew. A Christian telling an Atheist to believe in God would end with a similar result. Faith is not a solid basis for persuasion. This fact complicates finding the one True religion.

Obviously, a person is welcome to research every religion in the world in order to judge which one deserves the title, The One True Religion. However, the task can never be accomplished. Religions are based on faith, not on reason. Therefore, it is impossible to objectively investigate the validity of religious Truth. Religion is a subjective truth masquerading as absolute Truth. Religion is only as true as the individual makes it. Religious truth and the faith of the individual are directly proportionate. Put simply, if you believe, then it is truth to you.