PART I: EVOLVING PERSPECTIVES
Chapter 1. Old Stories Retold Over Time
The people live with a collage of stories. Accumulated since ancient times when the ancestors variously originated them, remnants of the stories are still revered by many. Justly so, for these stories are the only stories that consistently try to address the few truly important questions, such as who we are, why we are here, and our purpose for living. All the stories have evolved substantially in their re-tellings over time. The ancient contexts in which they originated are no longer remembered, nor are they likely to be understood by scholars seeking to rediscover true original circumstances and meanings.
This forgetting is not apparent to most of the people, whose memories, knowledge and understandings mostly reflect the brief spans of their individual lives. They hear the old stories precisely as now told, and believe them accordingly. Most do not even notice, are unaware of, the many changes wrought by the continuous evolving of the stories over many centuries, like children playing the rumor game for thousand of years.
The evolving is veiled from recognition by the forgotten circumstances of the stories’ respective origins, which ancient ancestors lived through but descendant inheritors did not. Modern inheritors mostly know only the evolved details which, after centuries, are less true and convey less understanding than did the original stories. The legend of the Biblical Flood means far less to you and me than did the lived experience of an ancient Semite who survived a true deluge that left behind massive evidence of its occurrence throughout the Mediterranean and Atlantic basins some eleven thousand years ago.
Supposedly new stories that originated in modern times—of who we are, why we are here, our purpose for living—are in fact not new. They simply re-tell distorted revisions of the old stories, with miscellaneous imaginings appended—where they are told at all.
All the old stories, at their innermost, are similar to each other. This too is not noticed by modern people who, focused on separatings, are aware only of the differences in extraneous details rather than the similarities at the old cores of the respective stories.
Such distractions are often caused by inappropriate focus on the allegories with which the stories, over time, came to be told and passed down, substituting allegorical imaginings for the original real circumstances. After so many centuries, millennia even, most people know nothing of the differences between the old true stories and the allegorical modern re-tellings of them—for who is left to remember and tell the original versions that were true and factual? When the evolved and still-evolving stories are told again and yet again in modern times and contexts, the people in their minds see and hear only the allegories—about Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tzu, Krishna, Mohammed, whoever, whatever.
The similar cores of the old stories—long ago devised in response to real circumstances through which real people were then living real lives—conveyed important meaning and advice. Those ancient cores are now encrusted by evolved details which have been added, revised and re-revised, mistakenly changed by dozens of accidental strokes of the pen, and revoked and created anew, again and again over many lifetimes over many centuries.
Often the old stories make no sense to people who grew up in the confines of other particular stories, with their particular beliefs and traditions. In many respects none of them make sense alongside that newest of stories, the story called science, because their ancient ways of knowing seem (seem) inharmonious with science’s way of knowing.
Most grievously, proponents of the old stories—usually focused on details instead of core similarities—take time from their disliking of each other to proclaim how uniformly they all dislike science. And science, wasting time from its discovery of a new story, returns the favor. Egos are quite well expressed, spleens are vented, but spirits are not uplifted.
The intent of this writing is to uplift spirits by attempting a new focus on the core of all the old stories, perhaps to refresh modern awareness of how similar that core is across all the stories, and seek understanding of core meanings with regard to modern science.
Most of all, this re-telling will invite new thinking within a perspective that integrates the old stories with science—treating them all as one story, that was ever a single story all along, which the respective proponents, in their firm separations, failed to recognize.
It is a tall order.
A great perception
There is a great perception available to be known and understood by every person who has attained or approaches maturity of mind. So many people hold knowledge without actually understanding what they know. Knowing and understanding are here separately distinguished as progressions on a continuum—first knowing, then eventually coming into a fuller understanding—which might (or might not) advance to a smattering of wisdom. This great perception comes in two parts.
One is understanding that the process called evolution has constructed everything we perceive as “universe” from that colossal ancient explosion known as the big bang up to everything the universe contains in the present moment. This of course coincidentally includes our planet earth and everything inside, around, and on the earth—such as us.
The other part is understanding that the condition we call “consciousness” is a rising continuum which proceeds from an extremely low measure (e.g., protozoan) up to the highest level that has occurred to this point (human consciousness) in the universe’s long evolution. Understanding this knowledge reveals that the continuum’s lowest level of consciousness exists somewhere around the juncture at which complex mineral molecules undergo transition from non-living to “alive,” and that the highest level of consciousness attained thus far in earth’s evolution dwells within ourselves, human beings—which is not to say it won’t go higher yet in the evolutionary future.
In between these two extremes of consciousness live a great many things—mammals, fish, earthworms, algae even—including many of very considerable consciousness, intelligence, thoughtfulness, cleverness and ingenuity, that have been mistakenly thought to have far less of these talents than they actually do. In this regard, most of the people most grossly mistaken about non-human consciousness are, surprisingly, those who trained to earn a living by using their minds and are called scientists. How ironic.
In any case, it is common to “know” about such things as evolution and consciousness without “understanding” them at all. Knowledge can be easily attained if effort to attain it is exerted, but understanding what is “known” requires more than mere attainment—often a great deal more. For example, the term evolution is often misperceived as a limited biological theory about how living species change over time and beget new species. Similarly, consciousness is widely misperceived as an ill-defined measure of human self awareness and aliveness that does not exist in any non-human species. Persons who display these misperceptions normally possess virtually no understanding of the dab they think they know about evolution and consciousness.
Two fundamental questions: How? and Why?
Evolution and consciousness are in fact extremely comprehensive subjects which if considered in any depth at all lead our minds directly to those fundamental questions ever raised by thinking people throughout history and around the world today: How did we get here? Who are we? Why are we here? What is our purpose? In simplest form these reduce to just two simple questions: how and why—how we living beings got here, and why we are here at all. Is there Purpose behind the undeniable fact of our existence?
This book makes incidental observations of several arenas of human folly, such as economics and politics. But science and religion are the only two disciplines that fundamentally address the how and why questions (actually, science addresses only the how; religion claims to address both but doesn’t really), and so we shall give them some special attention. Their respective approaches are drastically different from each other, and—if we look to religion for how and to science for why—mutually unenlightening.
Through the eyes of science
Science, as it grew and slowly matured to its present state over the past four hundred years, has been moderately successful at providing answers to the how question. Much of this success is traceable to the refining over time of scientific method to its present status as a discipline governing how scientific research shall be conducted. Under this rigorously enforced standard, only those phenomena that can be measured are considered within the purview of science and thus legitimate topics for scientific inquiry. The crude interpretation is that if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.
All unspoken, a hard line evolved over the most recent eighty years or so to separate out, set aside and ignore any topics which, being unmeasurable or perceived as unmeasurable, must be treated as illegitimate—forbidden—not appropriate for scientific inquiry. Examples of such topics include, among other things, where the big bang came from, anything that smacks or might conceivably smack of religion, or any conceivable iteration of the concept of non-material “spirit” and its various non-material synonyms such as mind, soul, ghost—or even the widely accepted synonym “consciousness.”
But there is paradox at best and inconsistency worst. It should be clearly understand that “non-material” things which are scientifically agreed to exist, such as magnetism, or which just maybe might exist—such as dark energy or the presumed sub-quark strings in string theory—are fair game which science tries to explore all the time…so long as they carry no implication of religion or God. It’s only when you conjoin the concept of non-materiality with the concept “spiritual” that anathema enters in, rises up, and forbids further enquiry by respectable science. Intensity of the felt anathema ranges from mild to outraged depending on which scientist you ask.
This was not true a mere hundred years ago, when notable scientists such as William James pursued widely recognized (and decidedly non-material) psychic phenomena with great professional interest. But at our own point in the modern evolution of science, any immateriality associated or even suspected to be associated with the ideas of religion—or their much bigger brother spirituality—is regarded as outside the realm of science. Non-quantifiable, they say, and turn away. Unlike the imagined immaterial strings of string theory pursued on deep faith derived from arcane mathematics, the spiritual type of immateriality is disparaged as “non-scientific.” Hundreds of scientific careers have been spent (some would say wasted) on string theory to date. In ironic contrast, open-minded scientific pursuit of any immateriality with the adjective “spiritual” attached will elicit ridicule from most peers and damage a conscientious scientist’s reputation among them.
Given these truths, it is no small irony that scientists spend entire careers in approved and acclaimed professional pursuit of non-material things that cannot be measured, cannot possibly be observed, the very existence of which is inferred from indirect observations, logic and mathematical models. Examples include dark matter, dark energy, electrons, protons, neutrons, neutrinos, quarks, Higgs bosons, the fundamental forces, and wherever the big bang came from, among other things. In many respects scientific belief in such non-materialities is indistinguishable from faith. On such faith-based logic, scientists can describe in exquisite detail the plethora of things that happened during the first second after the big bang, graduated to trillionths of a second, as well as during the 13.8 billion years that subsequently elapsed. Do you see anything at all wrong in this picture?
On somewhat firmer ground, astrophysicists are fairly certain they know how gravity causes galaxies, stars and planets to form. Comparably, though precise beginnings of first life remain unknown, biologists have accomplished near-miraculous understandings of how living things evolved from the first virus-sized primitive predecessors of one-celled things, neither plant nor animal, up through DNA-bearing vertebrates and mammals until homo sapiens emerged at the apex (so far) of cognitive consciousness. These things and the processes that produced them are measurable, or at least subject to credible models.
What is consummately not measurable is consciousness itself—or why it exists in the first place. What, really, is consciousness?—this obviously-alive phenomenon we humans and our little-brother animals obviously have within us and which almost certainly exists as well in trees and their little-brother plants that are all quite as alive as we are? Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? What is our purpose for living? The questions seem very much akin to those other questions raised earlier—what is energy? and how does it manage to manifest in such a multitude of different faces?
Most scientists reject such questions because, they demur, “that’s outside our scientific purview.” Notwithstanding that around ninety percent of all humans hold some version of belief, handed down since pre-history, that an all-knowing vasty creator brought the universe into existence for a reason or reasons unclear, a majority of scientists hold that all nuances of questioning about a supra-normal creator-spirit are wrongheaded. Some go further by declaring they know, most certainly, that these questions reflect preposterous superstition and should not, by god!, even be raised. In this, their faith-based closed mindedness equals anything found in the religious establishment, for we all know that they cannot possibly know what they claim to know. Thereby they exemplify faith.