March 12, 2017.
It occurred to me why I want to explore the interface between science and religion – why I want to explore our thirst to understand the world coupled with our desire for the transcendental. It is this interface that results in the conflict we have between our knowledge about reality, and how we intuitively feel ourselves to be situated within reality. More formally, our third-person understanding of the world conflicts with our first-person experience. This results in a wound – a void once filled by superstition. And this crack in our armor means we are never truly at peace with ourselves – there is a deep schism in our psyches. It is this schism that gives rise to my illness. But it is also gives rise to images that speak truth. In this place, this place of unknowing, we come to know ourselves as most fully human.
What does it mean to be fully human? By trying to understand our ancestors we can try to understand ourselves. Modern humans are said to have evolved around 40,000 years ago, this is when greater complexity emerges in the archeological records – cave art, beads, instruments and so forth. This burst in human activity is sometimes linked to the emergence of language. And, while the emergence of language in our species is still a contentious issue, there are theories as to how our increased complexity around this time was achieved.
I suspect that our ‘spiritual’ disposition must have emerged around this time. We were ‘communicating’ with another world. Our burials suggest a belief in another life. Our art suggests supernatural tendencies. And, certainly, ethnographic records of indigenous communities show strong religious practices. Was it this connection to (what was for us) another ‘dimension’ that separated humans so definitively from the rest of the animal world?
This sense of the sublime, the religious, the symbolic, seems to be quintessentially human. It is deeply rooted in our psyches. But today, in our postindustrial, secular and technological world, the clash between materialism and our deep symbolic nature causes ruptures and disease.
As such, it is not only the interface between science and religion that interests me. It is the place in our society for science in comparison with that of the sublime, of art, of madness. We can feel, like deep chords of music, the vibrations of truth when we hear it. And this is not a product of reason. This is a vast, intuitive sense that comes from being human, from being – at base – unified with one another and the planet. This experiential knowledge cannot be measured – it is a truth that is known only through the living of it.
I don’t disparage science and the knowledge we have gained via these methods. Science, in its own way, is profound. While the truths of mathematics and physics are beyond me, those who do understand these things will swear to the beauty of the patterns they have discovered in nature. That we have elegant equations which reflect the cosmos, formulas that enable us to predict the future. Most of us will never be privy to this elegance, but there is nothing trivial here. Nothing mundane. This is truth yelling loudly, clearly – and with such abundance. Science uncovers the world – our world – and creates order out of chaos.
But the interface of my mind, of my consciousness, as I exist within this universe, results in something beyond these equations. Because there is an ‘I’ that exists here. And there are images which come from I don’t know where. All the mathematics in the world cannot account for this vivid imagery, the felt sense of these emotions … experience as it is given, as huge waves crashing upon stormy seas. Being human cannot be accounted for by equations – no matter how elegant. There is an interface – a place between. A mythic space where the source of our humanity lies. And it is in this space that we, as a species, were born. We cannot deny ourselves this source. We cannot refuse to drink from it – for it gives life, and it gives meaning, and it gives hope. It unifies us.
But as we turn our backs, as we walk away, the sun slowly sets on this moment of eternity that was ours. And as I sit and watch the last death throes of a species that will perish – I wonder, was there another way? Could we have done it differently? Or are these modes of truth so at odds with each other that we could not balance the beauty that exists between them? Why, in the end, has this schism torn us apart? In truth, it should have revealed us to ourselves.