Blog Archives

A few thoughts on Karma

When you think about it on a mathematical and a psychological level karma must exist. Psychologically we all maintain an approximate balance so that we cannot be too happy or too miserable in perpetuity. This can be seen in the difference between people who live in first world nations and those who live in third world nations. Those of us who are blessed to have computers and electric, houses to live in, etc have different things to feel bad about, we can have bad days, we can even feel suicidal. Those who live with none of these benefits, no house, no electric, no food, etc can have good days; they find their joy elsewhere. If someone who is in a 1st world country will kill themselves out of misery then they obviously feel worse than someone in a third world country who is not miserable enough to kill themselves. The result of this internal balance which draws our feelings and sensations back towards a central stable area will mean that anyone who takes advantage of others for their own gain will achieve nothing because their experience will always pull back towards that central average.

It is similar in action to the way a drug user will gradually feel less joy at using their drug and will always want more an more. There is never any way in which a person can have more than others on an internal experiential level on any lasting basis. In fact there is also no way that a person can maintain an average feeling of sensation unless they are mentally damaged in some way because their experience will always be fluctuating either side of the central average or else the highs will have no lows to contrast against in order to be able to recognise the difference in them.

This psychological tendency to always aim for balance works in tandem with the mathematical tendency for numbers to always balance out. If you roll a dice millions of times you will ultimately find that any particular number will have approximately the same chance as any other number coming up. Life may be more complex than a six sided die but the same principle will apply. Over time things will have a tendency to average out. You may have a number of good days but you will also have a number of bad days in how fate tends to treat you. One day you will find a penny and on another day you will lose a penny. If you work harder you will earn more but if you work less hard you will earn less.

Most of the time this principle is very easy to see in action. The outliers are the problem in this theory. Human experience could be represented on a bell curve where most experience will be in the centre of the bell curve and at the edges there will be a few who seem remarkably lucky or remarkably unlucky. I have already pointed out that these outliers will have their experience drawn to a central stable set of feelings so the appearance of good luck or bad luck is merely an appearance as it seems to those viewing their experience from outside. The homeless person has advantages in some manners and, believe it or not, the wealthy person also has disadvantages. For instance, when you can afford anything you want instantly, then where is the joy of anticipation?  You move from one purchase to another experiencing a fraction of the joy any of those purchases would give one of us. Likewise, if you are cold and wet then the sheer pleasure you can feel from the occasions when you step into the warm and put on dry clothes are unimagineable to someone who has never had that experience. So once again we see the action of the psychological manifestation of karma combining with chance to always see that balance is achieved.

When it happens that someone seems to experience misery or joy for longer than seems natural then it is usually because they have imposed that upon themselves. Someone who has done something bad to another person will often feel guilty about it and that sensation of guilt will force them to judge themselves badly, while someone who has brought joy to others will go away with a warm feeling of having done the right thing. This has been proven in experiments where people were given money and told to go out and spend it. At the end of the day their feelings of happiness were compared to the beginning of the day and it was discovered that those who had helped others with the money felt far more happiness than those who had spent it on themselves. This is probably an evolutionary mechanism that is inbuilt by the mutual protection we gain from living in groups above the danger that individuals would have felt if living alone in the wild. This nature of cooperation and sharing would have greatly facilitated communal living and seen reciprocaton from others, which of course is a far more obvious manifestation of karma achieving balance between individuals.

The obvious exception to this would be sociopaths who feel little compulsion to help others due to their limited empathy. Hoever even sociopaths have been shown to have emotions, although on a greatly reduced level, so even they will be able to feel unhappiness or happiness in response to their actions. Additionally the greatly diminished state of their emotional level could be considered by those who have a typical experience of joy to be a punishment in itself. Plus the sociopath will often have had to have been through a horrific experience to damage their mind in that way so the loss of emotion is once again a way in which the psyche tries to achieve the central balance and withdraw from the extreme of the horror that they have already experienced.

In essence it ultimately becomes impossible for anyone to ever experience any joy over and above their fellow humans, no matter how much they take advantage of them, but similarly as karma dictates, noone is able to experience more misery than their fellow beings. Balance will always be achieved in the end.

However I am certain that everyone reading this will be uncertain about this conclusion.  Everyone knows of somebody, or is somebody who has suffered a terrible life changing incident that has greatly reduced their overal happiness.  There is certainly evidence that such circumstances can impact upon a person’s ability to feel happiness in their lives.  Regardless of what conclusions you draw from this evidence there still may be a way for karma to redeem itself, but to do so the conversation must pass into areas that are somewhat more philosophical.  In religion the problem is easily dealt with through reincarnation or the afterlife.  There are certain harshnesses to the idea of hell and heaven but karma is more likely to be associated with reincarnation.

I am not going to step into discussion of contiuity from one life to another but I will propose that in the event of reincarnation, if it does indeed exist, we are unable to retain memories from previous lives.  If we did then there would be little point in reincarnating in a form to learn the lessons of the previous life as we would simply continue where we left off.  Given the lack of memory actual physical continuity is not necessary as much as a mathematical continuity.  Indeed the essence of spiritual issues is their detachment from the physical.  The question should therefore centre around how much spiritual existence resembles physical existence.  All that would be needed for the corresponding and contrasting life to come into existence following the end of our own would be the laws of averages.  To put it simplistically, if at one point a person has behaved heinously and must therefore be taught the error of his ways then a corresponding life must come into existence in which those lessons can be learnt, perhaps the life of a devout monk or the life of a beggar.  As there is no memory from one life to another there is a missing continuity between the death of the one and the birth of the next.  Additionally there is no physical continuity.  There is a ‘spiritual’ continuity but what exactly does that mean?

 

Essentially, do we have individual souls?  The answer according to many religious and philosophical beliefs is that ultimately we are all one.  We all have god within us and we are seeking for reunification, etc, etc, etc.  Unsatisfying though it might seem, the only continuity necessary appears to be that the death of one with the birth of the other must both be connected by being related by both being part of the same existence.  Given the perceived nature of an all powerful god it is not even necessary that the two lives should exist consecutively.  The nature of us all being one, means, that in the formless nature of a fluid universe, we can in our ‘spiritual’ aspect be experiencing two contrasting lives separately and simultaneously.  Such is the nature of being part of a unified spiritual embodiment that is purported to have omnipotence.  To give it any limitation in that regard or to insist it follows the laws of physics misunderstands the nature of omnipotence and the power it has to be governed by physical laws, yet simultaneously not governed.  Naturally this falls a little outside the previous arguments I have made but considering karma is a theory that has always been considered to fall in line with the more esoteric ways of thinking it would probably be inappropriate not to cover some of the less conventional and scientific manners in which the concept could be described.

Naturally, if we need to rely on this final hypothesis, that can be difficult to come to terms with if we do not already believe in some kind of spiritual world already.  The impossibility of seeing beyond death or before birth renders any concerns academic.  The logic falls into place upon certain assumptions, but even if those assumptions prove to be false it makes little difference.  Similarly to a legal fiction this is a fiction that explains an idea and process, but does so in such a way that is not verifiable by material means.  Unfortunately this means that we have to rely on faith alone to accept this final argument as it is a faith based argument.  The positive side is that it makes no difference whether we believe it or not, so the action of faith is to simply take it for granted in the same way as Pascal might wager.

Advertisements

Second stage thinking erodes religious belief?

I discovered this article in a post of Lynda Giddens on Google+.  As you are probably aware I am a believer in God, but what most people fail to appreciate is that I do not believe in anthropomorphising God.  I will anthropomorphise many things:  my computer; my toaster; my electric fan – all in a sense of fun, but I feel it is inappropriate to anthropomorphise something that is greater than the entirety of existence by an order of infinity.  I therefore had to say something and record it for you to read, mostly on account of the fact that I can’t keep my trap shut.

 

http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2012/04/new-study-second-stage-thinking-erodes-religious-belief/

 

I am afraid I shall have to disagree with the conclusion that people seem to be drawing across the net that this means that God only exists for those who don’t apply their minds to thinking about it.  It is a shame I can’t find the full text anywhere as it looks like a good read.  I have no doubt that the original creators of the study have done assiduous work in reaching their conclusions but science is largely not an occupation of second stage thinking.  Science is generally the slow and plodding crunching of data.  There is usually someone at the top applying the data to the development of an understanding of hypotheses that will require second stage thinking but for the most part drones are needed to carry out tedious tasks and be as impartial as possible, which requires the suppression of second stage thinking.

However, that is not the point I wish to make.

While the vast majority of people do get by on mere faith this does cause the problem that the vast majority of people therefore passionately hold ideas of which they have little understanding.  At the top of the field though there are a lot of people who do apply a lot of second stage thinking.  A typical subsection of the religious community is probably very similar to a typical cross section of the scientific community.  I would imagine that a kind of social brownian motion would occur that would lead to rough dispersal of average numbers of different personality types in all areas of thinking whether secular or religious.

An immense amount of thought has been put into religion by those members of a religion who have a tendency to philosophy.  And lets not forget that the name by which science was originally known was ‘natural philosophy’.  Ask the average follower of secular beliefs something like “how does evolution or nuclear fission work?” and you would simply get a regurgitation of facts read in a newspaper or book if you were lucky.  Very few people would have applied a great deal of thought.  The vast majority of people would rather watch ‘Jersey Shore’ or ‘The Only Way is Essex’ than sit and think about something in depth, and this goes for those with religious and secular acceptance.

Those who do think about it do so in incredible depth though.  Steven Hawkings does nothing but think in the scientist’s camp.  When I was in college for the first time I was given the initial choice in the small college I attended of studying sociology, law or theology.  I chose law because I felt it would be of most use but whilst making my choice I sat in to observe a theology class.  I was very surprised at quite how hard an option it was.  The vocabulary and thought processes of the theologians was intimidating, and this was to me who had himself applied days, weeks and even months to the consideration of the nature of how God might best be described.

A lot depends upon how you define God.  Many people have a tendency to anthropomorphise God.  This is a tendency which is difficult to escape as this is how many of us are brought up and even if it is in contrast to our actual belief system we will obviously have difficulty in breaking out of this mode and will often tend to use personal pronouns to refer to ‘him’.  Of course the idea that there is some kind of omnipotent white bearded man in the sky whose personal appearance and mental processes just happen to be just like those reached by a primate floating on a rock through space after millions of year of evolution is patently absurd.  If there were such a being then it would have been subject to entirely different environmental stressors and would have evolved in an entirely different matter, except of course this is God we are talking about so he was already there eternally before the existence of the universe.  What he was doing in this time is anyone’s guess.  As he is supposedly omniscient I suppose he could have been using all that time watching previews of Doctor Who and the Simpsons.  However even these would run out eventually in infinity so he had to create the universe.  Not a very sensible view of a deity.

Like all modes of thought religious belief has evolved over the centuries.  I think that the people who originally conceived the idea of religion may have known what they were thinking about but due to the crudities and limitations of language at the time could not articulate their beliefs and so preferred to simply tell people that faith was necessary.  Baruch Spinoza was one of the philosophers who first managed to deliver a view of a panentheistic God that was more in line with the sort of thing that a secular mind would be able to accept.  He is mentioned in Wikipedia as having said:  “Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.”  “Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.”  Albert Einstein named Spinoza as being the philosopher who had most influenced his world view.  Einstein considered himself to be a secular panentheist, i.e. a scientist who did have faith in something with a nature of infinity.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was another philosophical thinker with a powerful mind.  He began his career as a mathematician of phenomenal ability.  He is best known for his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus which was named to evoke its relationship to Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico Philosophicus.  What Wittgenstein was essentially doing was dragging Spinoza’s views, formed in the 17th century atmosphere of religious fervour, into the largely secular 20th century.  Although Wittgenstein viewed his work as almost completely misunderstood by his contemporaries it was accepted as an incredibly important work by many of the deep thinkers of the first half of the century.

Even in the 20th century Wittgenstein was forced to bemoan the limitations of language despite its massive improvement in sophistication since the days of the proclaimed avatars.   He wrote a letter to Bertrand Russell in which he said, “The main point is the theory of what can be expressed (gesagt) by prop[osition]s—i.e. by language—(and, which comes to the same thing, what can be thought) and what can not be expressed by pro[position]s, but only shown (gezeigt); which, I believe, is the cardinal problem of philosophy.”

In line with this at the end of his Tractatus Wittgenstein said “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”  Of course the scientists of the time said of course.  These things we can’t talk about because language is unable to express them are below us.  We should not even think about such pointless esoteria.  Wittgenstein’s opinion was that they had all misunderstood.  It was exactly those things that language was unable to articulate which were the very most important for us to think about.

When Wittgenstein was later invited to lecture at Cambridge the thing that stood in his way was that he did not have a PhD.  Bertrand Russell told him that his Tractatus was sufficient to submit as a thesis so he gave it in to be examined.  At the end of the defence he told the examiners not to worry, he knew they would not understand it.  After having read it one of them is recorded to have said “I myself consider that this is a work of genius; but, even if I am completely mistaken and it is nothing of the sort, it is well above the standard required for the Ph.D. degree.”

So in light of this and much more beside I have to say that I do not think that disbelief in God is a reflection of higher thinking and that belief in God is a reflection of failing to think to such a level.  Most people do no know most things.  They simply follow the people who do know, this applies in the secular as well as the religious world.

God?

The following is the response I made to someone’s comments regarding the nature of God on Google+  I imagine if you are interested in finding the full conversation you can do a search on Google+ but I did not consider my previous entries to be important enough to affect the following writing that it was necessary to ask the other speaker for permission to publish the conversation.  If he has a particularly interesting reply to the following that I then follow up on then I may ask his permission to publish the conversation in its entirety.

The topic is the nature of God.  Which I do not believe to be an anthropomorphically imagined old man sitting in the sky with a long white beard.  Such, is a ludicrous idea that is far less appealing than believing in Santa Claus.  I believe God instead to be infinite and omnipresent; to a contemporary reader a good starting point would be to consider the Force in StarWars though that is far more limited in conception than what I consider God to be as well.  Anyway, read on.

Those who say they have a degree of understanding of god say they could explain it to us but we would simply be unable to understand.  That is why spiritual masters seem to be somewhat inscrutable, instead of explaining to us in words they try to prepare us.  They treat us like children until we are ready to understand and then we realise all by ourselves.

Language is precise enough to explain how to build a computer but if you were to explain it to a 5 year old would he be able to build a computer?  Lead him into a certain pattern of life though and 20 years later down the line he might become an engineer at Apple.  We are like children spiritually, we have to grow and learn, then we won’t need people to understand because we will realise when we are ready.  The destination is not the point, the journey is the point.  If life was all about the destination then we would be constantly hoping to die as soon as possible because what else is the final destination in life, but people prefer to walk in parklands and drink wine, to read books and chat with friends.  These are all about the journey, not the destination.

The development of greater understanding does not belittle what we have learnt before.  I read the Lord of the rings when I was nine, I loved it but when I read it when I was in my twenties it seemed like a completely different book.  Instead of loving the first two books the most as I had before, I enjoyed the third book far more.  This did not take away the enjoyment I had when I was nine though.  Everything that happens on the journey is of importance.  Often when we progress we find that what we left behind was what we really wanted all along.  Consider youth, when we are very young we wish to be grown up but when we are grown up we realise we are closer to death and those childhood years are irredeemably behind us.

As for your problem with God being outside the universe he can be outside the universe and inside the universe at the same time, that is what omnipresent means.  The whole point with God is that he isn’t limited by the same things that limit us.  For instance, we are held to the ground by gravity.  Imagine hypothetically that there were such a thing as anthropomorphic Gods; perhaps Thor the god of thunder.  Now if he hypothetically existed, and you imagined his existence then do you think that he would be limited by gravity in the same way as us?  If I remember my comic books Thor would throw his hammer and it would pull him through the air.  Ludicrous, but this is hypothetical.   I will be surprised if you should imagine that such a mythical god as Thor, god of thunder would be limited in the same way as us.  If he were then he would more likely be something like Thor, god of serving tables at cafe rouge on Brighton pier or Thor god of installing broadband for Virgin in region 14.  Not really what a god is traditionally thought to be.  But lets escape the idea of such a ridiculous image as an anthropomorphic god conjured up to explain the rumblings in the sky as a member of a vast pantheon.

Having established to my own satisfaction at least even if not yours that a god is by definition not limited in the same way as human beings to obeyance of physical laws may I ask you what you think about mathematics.  It occurs to me that mathematics must exist because without it I could not work out how to pay my bills yet even the mathematicians themselves admit that they work with imaginary members.  Mathematics can exist even when you do not have things to count.  Do you imagine that once we escape the limits of space that mathematics might cease to work?  Physics is a different matter; people often debate the laws of physics and hypothesise that physics may work differently in different places but mathematics is immutable.  Even outside time mathematics will exist.  A good question would be whether mathematics continues to exist when there is no one to think in numbers, very similar to God, but then as God is unlimited and omnipresent then he must as well as all other things encompass mathematics.  If mathematics can exist both outside the universe and inside the universe then it would not be logical to deduce that mathematics had a greater reach than a philosophical concept that is defined as being omnipresent and unlimited.

I have already described how the carousing pagan warriors fearing the sounds made by the sky invented their god of thunder.  I imagine a Christian might laugh at them as being primitive even whilst believing in their own controversial creator of all.  It is possible that religions will die out soon as the world grows more logical.  I personally believe religions will die out very soon.  I think they are all a load of hocum, I just don’t believe God will because of my personal views on what God is.  Once again if we consider a hypothetical situation of religions not dying in the near future, perhaps they continue for another thousand years; as far beyond contemporary Christianity as they are beyond the Norse warriors.  Wouldn’t the developments made in culture and world view lead their God to be one which would leave them laughing at the primitive Christians of the 21st century?  If we leap ahead another thousand years from there maybe they will again laugh at our imaginary future believers with the same contempt they showed to our contemporaries; the same contempt our contemporaries show the Norse.

Maybe sometimes their beliefs would be more rational than those currently held, maybe sometimes they would be less rational.  Perhaps the Spaghetti monster will be discovered by future students of philosophy and perhaps they will not recognise his satirical nature.  The point is that there are many different conceptions of what God maybe.  Admittedly none of them are accurate; even though I am a believer I will grant you that.  However as we evolve and our minds become more powerful as they may well have done over the last 50000 years our ideas develop.  It is a little arrogant to assume that because something does not make logical sense to the primitive man apes of the 21st century that it therefore cannot be.  Imagine how our conception of the world might be if we had a brain twice as large as we have now; very different.  What if we evolved two brains.  Perhaps this is a bad example as we have a bihemispheric brain but imagine we evolved four brains then; our world view and any God we imagined would be very different.  I was watching an interview with Laurence Krauss last night to publicise his new book on the origins of the universe and although he is a staunch anti creationist it occurred to me that many of his ideas were considered by many in the field of theoretical physics to be impossible.  I would not go so far as to say heretical but then Galileo saw plenty of that for his contributions to physics.

The central tenet of science in my mind is that until you prove something it can not be said to be a fact.  Certainly things like the evolutionary theory carry the name theory but really very few of us would doubt that it adequately explains the development of every living thing on the planet though there is still not a universally accepted theory in the scientific community as to exactly how life was originally sparked.  I like to think that there may have been a number of different triggers as it would give more hope of extra-terrestrial life elsewhere.  However, my point is that God is not the sort of thing that is open to being disproved.  As I said, I believe in evolution.  Creationists say that God created the universe in seven days or some poppycock but to me it seems God, which I will colourfully describe as having some direction, even if it is only an urge to greater complexity, with a mind (pardon the expression, I cannot find a more adequate word), the size of the universe and everything beyond it, would most likely seek to develop complicated biological organisms through testing every possibility over billions of years and allowing those who fail to die out.  Simply because evolution has been proven, in my mind at least, beyond all reasonable doubt does not mean that such a concept as God cannot exist.  And without proof science cannot positively deny God’s existence.

I am very fond of Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind leading to the belief in God.  The idea that millennia ago the two hemispheres of our brain were separate and as they grew together to become vaguely linked as they are now, the subconscious mind in one hemisphere started to communicate with the conscious mind in the other hemisphere.  The subconscious mind is of course privy to information that the conscious mind cannot deal with due to filtering systems built into consciousness so the subconscious would give directions and commands based upon the more complete picture of any situations in which the owner of the brain would find themselves.  These commands would seem to be voices from God that the person would act upon to their benefit and then consider it to be the input of a supernatural being. Perhaps this is an explanation for the phenomenon of atman.

Richard Dawkins described this theory as being  “one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between! Probably the former, but I’m hedging my bets”.  I am sure there are many theories to explain these sorts of ethereal voices but for personal reasons I believe this one has potential.  However, it does not explain God as atman is merely a psychological phenomenon; what about paramatma?  The words of the Pete Townshend song ‘O Parvardigar’ taken from the universal prayer written by Merwan Sheriar Irani, known to his followers as Compassionate Father, or Meher Baba, read in part, “You are the Beyond God and the Beyond-Beyond God also; You are Parabrahma; Paramatma; Allah; Elahi; Yezdan; Ahuramazda, God Almighty, and God the Beloved.”  I would be surprised if this idea that God or Allah or whatever you prefer, due to his nature being ‘the beyond god and the beyond beyond god also’ is new.  The problem with a concept that is defined as the manifestation of infinity and omnipresence is that, even if with a primitive monkey brain that has only been able to write its thoughts on paper for a few thousand years, you are able to define what it is that causes people to believe in it then you are still overlooking the fact that due to this infinite nature you have only actually succeeded in explaining the tiniest part of it.  So far those seeking to destroy God are looking only on its effects on the human mind, but like an imaginary number it exists on such a large scale that if we were to fully explore it then the universe would have eventually atrophied to nothing before we had succeeded.