Do you believe in God?

Q: Do you believe in God?

A: Yes.

Q: You think there is a supernatural power controlling the universe?

A: No. There is no supernatural power.

Q: But you said you believe in God!

A: I said there is no power controlling this universe like a driver controlling his car. God is not a supernatural driver.

Q: Then what exactly is your God?

A: God is the Creativity in the universe. God, at its best, manifests as order and lawfulness.

Q: I don’t understand. Why is there order? Who created it?

A: There is no creator. Reality is Lawful. This is God. It is not an active controller; but the essential nature of reality itself. Human beings are the only active agents in the whole universe, and it is in our best interest to identify and follow this Lawfulness, also known as God.

Q: Why should anyone believe you? Why should I follow the ‘lawfulness’ you are talking about?

A: Because we are the product of this Lawfulness. God created us. We are a spark of this creativity. We can satisfy our deepest desires only by resonating with the universal creativity that is God.

Q: I don’t think so. We are created by natural selection operating on random genetic mutations. This is the science of life as you might be aware.

A: Present day science of life is incomplete. Natural selection is only a small part of the story. There is much left to be uncovered.

Q: OK, let us leave it for another day. You said God is not an active force. Why?

A: Imagine a canal carrying water to distant fields. The direction of flow is decided by the canal. Is the canal actively controlling the direction of the flow?

Q: I don’t see any such God operating in the universe.  Isn’t the universe slowly moving towards higher states of disorder, to thermal death?

A: Yes, but we do perceive patterns in the universe. Perhaps it is a cyclical process- birth-development and death of patterns, repeating endlessly.

Q: Science is doing a very good job in explaining the universe and the God concept has become redundant.

A: Science is God’s left hand. The structure and order revealed through science is the working of God.

Q: Science is God’s left hand? Where is the right hand then?

A: We used to have a word for that – wisdom. It is rarely used these days. Wisdom acquired through meditation- that is God’s right hand. We disable God’s right hand by ignoring our inner life, by choosing cleverness over wisdom.

Q: I don’t see the need to bring in God. Science is doing a wonderful job and the rest is pure superstition.

A: Because you still think of God as something external, outside nature. I have already said there is nothing like that. Science reveals the order and lawfulness in the physical universe, it is God in operation.

Q: That means Science is your God?

A: No. Science is the partial description of a natural God in action. God-Nature also has un-represent-able properties, attributes that can be experienced subjectively, but cannot be translated into words. One needs to be silent and inward-looking to see that. Cleverness can never be a substitute for wisdom.

Describing God is like trying to paint an elephant on a white canvas using a bucket of white paint. You could never paint an elephant like that. Perhaps you will end up with an elephant shaped hole in the canvas if you try really hard! Science cannot approach God because its tools not adequate.

Q: This is unfair!  Why only white paint? I can have as many colors as I want to paint an elephant in black or pink or any other color!

A: That is true. Actually there are several colors at our disposal. But we insist there is only one!

Life has a history spanning 3.5 billion years. Scientific objectivity is only one of the several modes of comprehension evolved in the history of life. It is indeed a powerful method and we are absolutely blinded by its power!

Q: I think you are confused. Science is the right way to know the universe and in fact there is no other way to acquire reliable knowledge.

A: That is like saying there exist only white paint. You can’t draw elephants like that!

Q: You are imagining things! May be there are no elephants to paint.

A: But I do see elephants.

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Science and the Subjective

The word science is derived from Latin, scire, meaning to know. Man’s quest to unravel the secrets of reality began as natural philosophy, a branch of philosophy proper. Philosophy (from Greek philosophia, love of wisdom) had a wider scope, including topics such as ethics (study of the right way to live), epistemology (study of the true nature of knowledge) and metaphysics (study of essential nature of things). Any attempt to comprehend reality in a logically consistent manner came under the scope of general philosophy. Science dealt with external reality while ethics, epistemology and metaphysics attempted to deal with questions of a more subjective nature.

Science succeeded remarkably while other branches of philosophy made little progress. This has resulted in a bizarre skewness in modern man’s thought process. Every aspect of reality is considered fit for scientific investigation. The wisdom that conceived natural philosophy as only one aspect of man’s quest is buried deep under the success stories of science and technology.

Is it possible to represent reality using numbers and mathematical models alone? I believe a big NO is the answer. Reality consists of something more than the measurable. I am not referring to supernatural concepts of popular religion. There is no evidence to suggest that Gods, as they appear in religious literature, form part of reality. But there is another aspect of human experience – both real and non-quantifiable. We may call these purely subjective experiences. Feeling of bliss and peacefulness achieved through deep introspection is an example.

How do we understand such purely subjective experiences? Ignore since these appear to have no causal connection with material world? Or should we say that people who experience such things have something wrong with their genetic make up (a dangerous propensity for delusions, similar to a computer that occasionally hangs)? A third option would be to claim such experiences originate from the brain and are real only as far as they can be represented objectively.

I believe these explanations fail to do justice to the obvious reality and essentially subjective nature of such experiences. They must have a deeper meaning. I believe these are glimpses of a fundamental organizing principle that connects all aspects of reality – something that is at the root of all patterns we see in nature, including patterns revealed through science. This organizing principle could be called Creativity or Universal Mind.

We spend most of our time dealing with external world in objective terms. We could live a normal life without ever bothering about purely subjective phenomena. But occasionally some individuals take a deeper plunge, gaining fleeting glimpses of the underlying pattern. A scientific breakthrough or a great work of art results when such glimpses are used to interpret hither to unknown aspects of reality. One famous example from science is August Kekule’s dream of a snake swallowing its own tail. Kekule was working on the problem of benzene structure and in a moment of sudden insight realized that benzene molecule contains a closed ring of carbon atoms.

Let us explore few possible objections to this Creativity hypothesis.

Q: First of all, why is it necessary to hypothesize an underlying creative principle in nature? Aren’t we doing well enough currently, without such a hypothesis?

A: Well, we are not doing all right. We live in an age of extraordinary insensitivity. According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. Half the world (nearly three billion people) is estimated to live on less than two dollars a day while we spend more than a trillion dollars a year on weapons and war machinery. Such appalling facts don’t shock us anymore, but would appear inexplicable to an intelligent alien observer.

I firmly believe that we suffer such insensitivity because we lack the framework to understand the whole of reality in a logically consistent manner- without separating out natural phenomena into Real and Delusional or Scientific and Religious. Scientific curiosity is only the human expression of a primitive restlessness that pervades the entire universe.

Q: Why not believe that science will eventually unlock the mystery of purely subjective experiences?

A: I think this is impossible. The objective knower or human rational mind itself is an expression of universal creativity. How could it ever objectify itself? Any explanation that science puts forth for the purely subjective would be an attempt to explain it away.

Q: Isn’t this fundamental organizing principle a supernatural force, another name for God?

A: Supernatural implies something not rooted in reality. No, we are not talking about supernatural things here. We are talking about an organizing principle that is natural, something that can be perceived by employing both the subjective and objective faculties of human mind. You may call it God, but that would only mean that God is a property of nature.

Q: Doesn’t such a hypothesis lead to miracles, blatantly opposed to the laws of science?

A: No. In fact, such an organizing principle would entirely rule out miracles. Any claim of miracles (such as resurrection from the dead) would imply the organizing principle is broken. There is only one miracle – this universe that is beautifully organized, and we, intelligent observers capable of perceiving its intricate patterns using a combination of our objective and subjective faculties.

I believe human beings evolved to view reality in this manner. We use two eyes to see the world. Two eyes are required to see geometrical depth. Single eye vision will be flat, two-dimensional. We will only see length and width, not the depth of things (it is not so obvious because we are conditioned by binocular vision, but try estimating the depth dimension with one eye closed). Two eyes are essential for stereoscopic vision. This is the case with perception too. Human cerebral cortex has two halves. Left hemisphere mostly deals with rational ideas and logic, while the right half mainly deals with feelings, artistic abilities and pattern recognition. Both left and right brains are needed for stereoscopic perception. When perception is limited to rational or predominantly ‘left-brain’ mode, resulting experiences will lack ‘meaning’ or depth. We evolved with two eyes and two brains. It is natural for us to see depth in what we observe. It is also natural to perceive meaning in what we experience.

Early scientific explorers attempted to comprehend nature as a whole. Greeks at the time of Aristotle and sages in ancient India tried to do that. This method was doomed to fail as the conceptual tools to understand reality as a whole was not available at that time. Compound reality had to be broken down, with an assumption of convenience that mind and matter are different. This is exactly what science achieved in the past three centuries. It must be stressed that such an artificial separation of mind and matter (attributed to Descartes) was a masterstroke. It made science as we know it possible. Denying the existence of mind was not in Descartes’ plan. Descartes kept his faith in God, believing that he is merely uncovering the laws created by God.

Division of one reality into mind and matter had to be maintained until science became powerful enough to understand the presence of life and intelligent observers. Even though duality introduced some error in the resulting worldview, it could be argued that benefits outweighed damages initially, until science took up the problem of observers themselves. The distortion has now become so damaging that Life may not survive unless it realizes the artificiality of mind-matter duality.

This natural progression is not happening yet. Science of life has got itself trapped in a logical black hole. I am referring to the Neo-Darwinist theory of life, which purports to explain life as the product of the natural selection of random genetic drifts.

We may call this the placebo explanation for life.

Dummy pills cure some illnesses just because the patient believes it is going to work. This is the placebo effect. Scientists look for a causal connection between the dummy pill and cure but can’t find any. So they call it placebo effect. But what is it? Isn’t ‘placebo’ another way of saying We-have-no-clue-how-it-works?

The scientific explanation for the mechanism of evolution – natural selection of favourable random genetic changes – is a placebo explanation. It is nothing better than a re-statement of an observed fact. It is true that life evolves. It is also true that offspring in every generation exhibit genetic variation. What causes genetic variation? Nothing – they just happen (by chance), according life scientists. The greatest support for this affirmation being the absence of a detectable cause. Why don’t life scientists simply say we-have-no-clue-how-it-works?

I think we deserve a better deal. Isn’t it a fact that human beings search for meaning and purpose in their lives? Don’t we deserve something better than placebo explanations, which effectively tell us ‘search for meaning and purpose evolved because such tendencies had better survival value’? Man turns to false prophets and tricksters to satisfy his hunger for meaning only because science has refused to take up the mantle for this ultimate quest by accepting the subjective into its fold.

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Then they threw God out of Eden..

The myth of creation in Bible contains a very powerful motif. Unfortunately, it is stated in a manner that is blatantly unfair to man. The story appears as told from God’s own point of view, which we ordinary mortals cannot straitjacket into our limited power of reasoning. Any attempt to do so would result in unanswerable puzzles. For example, how could serpents speak? Or who was Cain’s wife? Isn’t it unfair that believers are expected to defend a story with such gaping holes?

If we look at the story of Eden from another angle, more from a human point of view, it is all about biological evolution. Specifically, about the emergence of human beings as a separate species from the rest of nature. The garden is nothing but our beautiful earth and forbidden fruit represents objective knowledge. God did not expel man from the garden, but man threw God out. And the serpent part was obviously made up by God to cover his own cunning!

I believe this is true for all myths. Either accept without questioning or re-interpret and translate into a language that human reason can make sense of. The mythmaker’s logic bears no resemblance to our own. But a beautiful pattern emerges if we could identify the rules of translation.

‘God’ is a troublesome word. Let us begin by using a less intimidating term – Mind. Almost equally vague but at least gives the impression of being more approachable! After all each one of us claim to have a mind of our own, where as any mention of God can be extremely sensitive.

There is another problem in dealing with myths. We are so used to cause-effect relationships. There has to be a reason, a ‘mechanism’ for everything. If a mango falls from a tree we conclude that it must be a mango tree and the fruit fell due to the force of gravity. God or Mind does not qualify as an acceptable reason because we cannot think of a mechanism involving such entities. God is believed to have created man. Isn’t it pure fiction? I have heard it mentioned that ‘faith can move mountains’. How many of us have seen mountains moving around even with so many ardent believers in our midst? It is difficult for us think outside the cause-effect relationship. Faith or blind acceptance is useless from a purely human point of view.

Whether mind played a role or not, one thing is certain. Man evolved from monkeys. Some of us may find this objectionable, but really, no choice here. Like it or not, you will find a monkey if you trace your lineage few hundred thousand years back. There is enough evidence to prove this beyond doubt.

So there had been a gradual change in some species of monkeys, ending up with man. The change occurred over hundreds of thousand years. A very slow, step-by-step process, but the results are obvious for everyone to see. Once that is clear, the next question is – what caused this gradual change?

There are many people who believe an intelligent designer did this. There are even more people who believe random genetic changes together with natural selection of favorable variations caused it. I think there is another possible explanation – creative Mindfulness is a property of nature and this is the driving force of evolution. If you are curious why I think so, you must read my other posts! But never mind, just come along and see how the Garden of Eden makes complete sense now.

Postulating Mind as a property of nature leads to many interesting possibilities. First of all, the thing that we claim as our individual mind is something that developed out of this universal Mind. This development happened over many thousand years, during early stages of human evolution, when our species emerged out of simian ancestors. In fact it would be much more simple to consider this development as the appearance of a new organ, organ for knowing or the de-mystifier. It is crucial to see that there was no knowledge before this organ appeared on the scene. It is apt to call this organ de-mystifier because its task is to de-mystify nature. Objective knowledge is the result of such de-mystification.

That would straightaway (ah! with a bit of imagination) lead to the conclusion that the universal Mind is un-knowable. It is a consequence of the ‘Knower’ being a minor protrusion on the surface of universal Mind. A meter rod cannot be used to measure its own length. Man, ‘the measure of all things’ cannot measure his own proto-form. This is the limitation of self-referencing. One need to move away from measurements to direct experience to know oneself.

The ‘I’ in our thought and speech represents the de-mystifier. It is the expressive fragment of our wholeness. We are in fact a conglomeration of many parts, much more than this ‘I’ that takes center stage most of the time. My wholeness also includes the physical body and vestiges of a billion year old universal Mind. I am almost like a herd of sheep led by a cunning fox, which alone can see and howl.

And there lies the contradiction. A herd of sheep led by a cunning fox that alone can see and howl is an unstable set – but that is exactly how human condition can be described. A co-existence of potentially explosive forces. A balancing act that would need great amounts of skill and assimilation to go through unscathed.

How else can we describe the relationship between the de-mystifier and its source? Rational mind is an offshoot the unknowable universal Mind. That means we are children of God. Unfortunately we cannot sit back and enjoy the love and affection of our parent, because we are born with the mission of conquering the unknown. De-mystifier fears God as the eye fears absolute darkness or the ear fears absolute silence. Man has no choice but fear and distrust God. At the same time, man cannot cut himself off from his source because he has no independent existence. This is the root cause of our insecurity neurosis. We must fight God all day long but go back to sleep on his lap at nightfall.

Life flourished in the Garden of Eden for millions of years, until one-day man woke up from a long dream and picked up the forbidden apple. Fruits of the tree of knowledge were forbidden because knowing is an act of ‘sin’, a violation of the unspeakable relationship we share with our source. At a more fundamental level, God himself scripted this act of disobedience. Human mind is the only instance where universal Mind becomes self-aware. Man is the realization of God’s quest for knowing him-self. Self-awareness marks the culmination of a creative process that began with swarming molecular life in primeval mud ponds, or even earlier with the big bang, or even before that…

Man and God could not co-exist once the apple was eaten. So they threw God out of the garden. God left after a brief struggle, retiring to write the story in his own terms, for those who cared to believe in Him.



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Scientific progress and the Pineal gland

I grew up in a village at the foothills of Western Ghats mountain range in southern India. Set in the lush greenery of pepper and coconut groves, it was a community of over one hundred families. Every morning, children of the village walked to a school nearly two miles away. Some of my fondest childhood memories are linked to these daily walks through narrow hillside paths embedded in dense monsoon vegetation. Like most other kids, I never visited a doctor except the local homeopathy practitioner during my school years.

That was more than thirty years ago. My kids today enjoy much better physical comforts, but I often wonder about the price. They rarely get an opportunity to interact with nature the way my generation did. Can they survive without the liberal use of antibiotics doctors today consider normal?

Progress comes with a price. Our greed is poisoning the air and water meant for our grand children. Environmental degradation, depletion of non-renewable resources, disintegration of social institutions, people complaining about emptiness in their lives despite material comforts- these are the side effects of man’s quest for unlimited economic growth driven by science and technology.

Two eyes are essential for stereoscopic vision. Single eye vision will be flat, two-dimensional. This is the case with perception too. We should see quantity as well as quality in the world. Human cerebral cortex has two halves. Left half specializes in analytical and logical functions. Right half is more at home with intuitive and holistic functions. Both left and right brains need to work in harmony for stereoscopic perception, to experience ‘meaning’ or ‘depth’ in the cacophony of inputs arriving through sensory channels. Evolution gave us two eyes and two brains. It is natural for us to see depth in what we observe. It is equally natural to perceive meaning in what we experience.

We suffer from an over-dependence on left-brain perception. Our right brain functions have atrophied as a result of three centuries of lopsided scientific progress. A dark, bottomless pit has appeared in the place that used to be our soul. We attempt to fill its emptiness with more and more possessions, more and more noise, but fail miserably.

Rene Descartes (1595-1650), French philosopher and mathematician, is often considered responsible for installing dualistic thinking at the heart of modern science. Descartes suggested that human body is like a machine. Its functions could be analyzed in mechanical terms using gears, valves and pumps. This fantastic machine has a creator, an omnipotent being called God. Mechanical analogies alone are not enough to explain man. There is another non-material entity ‘soul’ or ‘mind’, somehow integrated with the body-machine. Descartes speculated that body and mind interacted through the pineal gland (a small endocrine gland located near the center of brain). Separation of mind and matter into fundamentally different categories inaugurated a new way of looking at nature. Cartesian revolution firmly established matter as a topic of investigation in the laboratory but soul appeared non-existent when scientists studied its seat, the pineal gland.

Descartes was attempting to solve the riddle of universe as it was understood in mid 17th century, fusing his own insights with critical elements of Christian world-view. Like solving a complex jigsaw puzzle, he arranged pieces of different size and shapes to form a meaningful whole, a system of inter-linked ideas that provided self-consistent explanation for observed reality:

1) Universe is a gigantic clockwork.

2) Human body is a machine.

3) Physical body together with a soul residing in pineal gland makes up the human being.

4) Animals are machines without soul.

5) God is the creator of this clockwork universe and its inhabitants.

Some of these ideas appear weird to us today, but Descartes could explain observed reality in a meaningful and self-consistent manner using these hypotheses. Mind-matter complex was divided into independent entities mind and matter, but maintaining both material and non-material kinds of explanatory mechanisms compensated this un-natural division.

Scientific quest is ultimately a search for patterns. Modern scientists limit their search to well-defined areas of specialization, often forgetting that such specialized patterns with strict boundaries must eventually merge into a beautiful, border-less tapestry. The genius of Descartes saw it necessary to maintain God hypothesis for overall consistency of the pattern of clockworks.

Will the idea of a mechanical universe make sense without an omnipotent God as its creator? Would it have made sense to postulate human body as a machine without a mechanism for body-mind interaction? God and Soul were concepts that imparted ‘meaning’ or completeness to Cartesian worldview. Body-machine is a meaningful concept only with a non-material soul and a mechanism of interaction, however far fetched it be. Similarly universe may be treated as a clockwork if we could swallow the idea of a creator God.

Looking from another angle, introduction of mind-matter division was a masterstroke. It made science as we know possible. Early scientific explorers attempted to grasp mind-matter complex in its entirety but failed to make much progress. Descartes’ insight of splitting the complex entity into a real ‘material’ part and imaginary ‘mental’ part was indeed revolutionary. Today, after three and a half centuries of ‘lopsided’ scientific progress, we can look back and realize that this division was a necessity.

Scientific progress could be seen as a process of gradual elimination of ‘meaning’ (ideas that appear wrong to our limited understanding) from overreaching thought patterns created by men of genius. This process of meaning elimination can be painful in the short term, but three and a half centuries is only an insignificant eye wink on evolutionary time scale.

We have now reached a stage were we can heal this division at the heart of man’s quest for patterns. We are almost ready to discard the supernatural ‘meaning fillers’ of Descartes, to move beyond the dumb solidity of matter and slippery vagueness of mind. There is no independent matter or mind. What exists is a unity or a mind-matter complex. Science is slowly but surely inching towards this realization. Key to this final step lies in figuring out the true nature of objective knowledge and its relationship with evolution.

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Unexamined Life

‘The unexamined life is not worth living’, said Socrates.

Life is a blessing, a gift that comes with huge responsibilities. I believe the greatest of all responsibilities is to make an effort to understand life itself. Life is beautiful. It could also be an endless chain of suffering. A celebration of unbounded joy one moment, a bottomless pit of pain and agony the next. Why are there so many contradictions in life?

Our planet earth is more than 4.5 billion years old. Life on earth began about 3.5 billion years ago. Contrasted against these enormous time periods, an individual’s life span of 70 or 80 years is truly humbling. Yet this is the only opportunity for us to contemplate the mysteries of existence. All of us will disappear from the face of this beautiful planet in a few years time, never to return again, leaving behind everything we wish to hold on to. Unexplored paths will remain unexplored till eternity. There will be no second chance. How can we grasp the enormity of this unique opportunity? Who will help us to do so? Which sacred book or guru will awaken us? I believe we are cheating ourselves if we rely on a guru or sacred book to show us the way. The wisdom of ancients can offer useful hints, but the journey itself is every individual’s responsibility.

Imagine reading a great mystery book. A terrible murder happens at the end of first chapter. You are exposed to minor revelations and misleading threads as the book proceeds. You get completely engrossed in the intricacies of the plot and by the time final chapters are reached, you are holding breath to find out who actually did it. Then you realize with a shock that the last few pages are missing!

This is a real possibility. Your life may come to and end before you begin to understand the greatest of all mysteries. In case of reading a book you can find another copy from the local library, but in life there is no second chance. It may be too late by the time you realize the enormity of the puzzle facing you.

I want to make a sincere effort to avoid this terrible situation. I am fully aware that many capable and intelligent individuals have attempted to solve the mystery of life. Am I arrogant enough to think that my tiny and feeble self will succeed where giants failed? I have no such delusions. But I am convinced that this is every individual’s responsibility. However insignificant my answer might eventually turn out, I owe this to life, to nature. This is my unique chance.

How do I start? I am exposed to the ideas of modern science. I have also spent some time trying to understand the essence of religions. My head tells me that science is the path to liberation, but my heart is convinced that there is a great truth behind the religious sense. Science points to little truths that are verifiable and convincing. Religions appear to hide a great truth that is overwhelming and liberating. Is there a path leading from the simple and verifiable to the overwhelming and liberating?

Religious thinkers of all times appear to be unanimous in the view that rational thought is not an effective tool to reach God. Is science anti-God? If this is not a path leading to God, how come God-the-creator allowed us to develop this tool? Well, I am not willing to accept this view. If religious sense has any meaning (I am convinced it has), it should be open to rational understanding. There has to be a path leading to God through science. If God is separated from us by our own present day ignorance, science has to be the tool to navigate through this cloud of unknowing.

Even the longest journey starts with the first step, as the Chinese say. Let us start with the sure and convincing steps, avoiding the cloudy and unsure ones. For example, I accept the laws of physics and refuse to accept that dead people come back to life. I accept the theory of evolution (that man evolved from simpler life forms over a period of millions of years), and refuse to accept the possibility that man could be created from clay.

How does science explain the greatest of all mysteries – Life? Evolution, yes of course. But how did life evolve? Even though many scientists believe that evolution happened due to random genetic changes and natural selection of favorable variations, this is not yet a closed case. Within the scientific community itself, many researchers question this explanation. But the greatest argument in favor of neodarwism is the absence of a credible alternative. I am convinced that life is still a mystery at the present level of scientific understanding.

Life evolved and proliferated for 3.5 billion years without an observer. Natural disasters and mass extinctions wiped out entire species of life many times in its history, but there was no dearth of diversity and innovation. Life was spontaneous, whole and participatory till the emergence of human beings around 200, 000 years ago. There was no division into good and bad, cruel and kind or observer and observed. Self-aware man realized that he is different from all other forms of life. New ways of knowing evolved through a process of de-mystification. The relationship between self-awareness, objective knowledge, and the undivided whole from which self-awareness emerged is the key to solving the puzzle of life.

Remnants of the ancient way of existence, undifferentiated and participatory, though corrupted by the invasion of reason, survive even today. These are our religions. There is no rational explanation for religion because religious sense is more fundamental than reason. Self-aware man is unable to accept the validity of this un-differentiated state that pre-ceded his origin by millions of years. His mind demands explanations and justifications for everything he does. Man has been cooking up stories for thousands of years to justify his innate sense of participation. These are our religious myths.

Just think about it. We feel so cock-sure about our reason and the explanatory power of modern science. But what is this science? How did we come to have this powerful tool? The rational/objective way of looking at nature is something that evolved in historic times. It is crucial to realize that self-awareness did not originate from pure nothingness. There must have existed a proto form of awareness in earlier life forms, down to the first self-replicating molecules.

Life is 3.5 billion years old. How old is Reason? About 10, 000 years old at best. Diversity of life existed on this planet for millions of years being part of nature, not separated from it. Something strange happened with the emergence of self-awareness. Man began to view himself as different from nature. The observer was separated from the observed. This was an entirely new approach to life. Only the ‘Whole’ or ‘Nature’ was in existence before such differentiation set in. Science was born when man realized that he is different from everything else in nature.

Our Gods are misinterpreted. There has to be a realization that ‘God’, ‘Universal mind’ or ‘Creativity’ is a fundamental property of nature, and religious sense is the human way of participating in this joyous dance of life. We are unable to directly perceive the importance of participation in the dance of life because we so completely identify ourselves with the rational fragment of our wholeness. Science alone can help us to reach this realization because science is a God given tool to help us navigate through this cloud of ignorance.

The ignorance finds expression in many forms. There are over zealous believers who are convinced that reason and rule of law is evil. Their faith could even lead them to voluntarily blow themselves up for the promised luxuries of heavenly life. At the other extreme, there are scientists extolling the virtues of materialism, insisting that you exist only because your ancestors successfully reproduced. What we need is a more balanced science, a science that does not shy away from accepting its limitations.

There are scientists looking for evolutionary reasons behind the persistence of religious faith. Various theories are proposed to explain the survival value of faith and religion. It is a futile effort. Religion is not something that evolved; it is the outpouring of a primitive way of existence. Reason or science is a product of evolution. In fact one should be searching for a religious explanation for science. Life multiplied on earth uninterrupted and unobserved for millions of years. Impartial observers of the future will conclude that human reason was only a flash, a bolt from the blue that blinded everything while it lasted.

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Am I Really A Computer?

People often complain about life being mechanical. It is true that I could drift through life functioning like a machine – especially if I am living in a city and spending most of my waking hours at work. Human relations too are turning mechanical. Man has lost his contact with nature. Even though most people recognize this as an undesirable trend, there appears to be very little we could do to stop this march towards total alienation. Scientific theories of life re-enforces this notion of ‘mechanism’ at the fundamental level.

What is the difference between human beings and computers? Is it only functional complexity? A sufficiently advanced computer program, according to the strong version of Artificial Intelligence theory, can simulate whatever man is capable of. All mental function can be broken down to a set of instructions and implemented in a computer program.

Imagine a perfectly normal human activity, for example relishing your favorite dish. The basic idea of consuming food is to generate energy necessary to sustain life. There is also enjoyment associated with this basic function. You enjoy your favorite food. Computers too need energy. Does a computer enjoy charging its battery pack? One could write a program to make the computer display external symptoms analogous to the ‘enjoyment symptoms’ a person displays while consuming food. Now the question, is a computer displaying external symptoms of emotion actually experiencing it? IBM’s Deep Blue could beat Garry Kasparov at chess. That machine must have been extremely intelligent. But did it actually know it was playing chess and beating the world champion?

This is a tough question in man vs. machine discussions. Philosopher John Searle came up with the ‘Chinese Room argument’ to point out the difference between human mind and a computer. Imagine a computer program that takes Chinese characters as input, manipulates them and produces another set of characters as output. The program is so advanced that it functions exactly as a native Chinese speaker with respect to the input-output relationship. It could return appropriate answer for any question asked, exactly as a Chinese person would do. Now imagine that the philosopher, who doesn’t understand Chinese, sitting in a closed room with an English version of the program. He receives Chinese characters as inputs; consult the English program and produces appropriate output symbols, without knowing anything about the question or the answer. Is there a difference between the philosopher working with an English version of the program and a native Chinese speaker replying the questions after reading and understanding?

I believe there is. Computers manipulate strings of 0s and 1s without understanding the context, where as a human person (a native Chinese speaker responding to the input symbols) has the awareness of what is going on. It is this awareness that cannot be captured in an algorithm.

Can a machine be aware of what it is doing? Or is human awareness anything more than the ability to produce correct outputs from inputs received? Can a human being or any other living organism be fully characterized in terms of input-out put relationships alone? A machine can be assembled from its parts. Can a living thing be assembled so? Assuming we have the technology, can a living thing be produced out of the numerous molecules that make up its body? Will such a creation be live?

DNA molecules contain the code of life. Coded information unfolds in the context of the cell. This unfolding is what makes the cell live and it is more than input-output relationships. Living things are more than the sum of their parts. I believe a human being assembled in laboratory can never acquire the property called Life.

Life began as relatively simple molecules. It took over 3 billion years of evolution for modern life forms to appear. This was a very long learning process. Was this random? I believe it is preposterous to view evolution as the result of a fundamentally random process, yet there is no scientific way to counter such randomness arguments. I believe this inability is related to the way our objective knowledge is structured. It is absolutely necessary to understand how knowledge evolved before we conclude on the evolution of life, random or otherwise. Final solution for the puzzle of life lies in the structure of scientific thinking rather than laboratory experiments.

A human individual begins life as a single cell in the womb and in 10 months grows into a complex organism. 3 billion years of evolutionary learning is passed on to the foetus through its growing experience in the womb. It goes through a highly compressed version of evolutionary journey before coming out of the womb. Man is a microcosm, reflecting the whole history of life, or even the whole history of universe from the singularity point through eons of gravitational expansion. Sixty or seventy years an individual spends on earth are not his/her life span. It is only the last phase of a billion year long expedition.

Is there a continuation after death too? There is, in the general sense that each of the atoms that make up my body returns to nature and contribute to some other creature’s growth. There is, in the sense that the vast ocean of life, of which the individual is a tiny droplet that has momentarily detached itself from the surface, will continue even after the individual’s death, individuality being the droplet’s sense of alienation from the source.

Being introspective by nature, I am aware of my inner space to a large degree. I find it amusing when this inner space is said to be mere illusion. To me this is what makes my true self, my unseen connection to mother nature. It is true that I don’t need this ‘inner space’ to perform most of ordinary human activities. I could go on with my computer self, but I would consider such an existence degrading and unworthy. Man evolved to be something more than a machine, to experience life through close contact with his source.

What makes life endurable and worthy is the individual’s experience of its connection with nature. Individual experience of this connection manifests as a hierarchy of needs (as systematized by American psychologist Abraham Maslow). At the bottom level are physiological needs – food, shelter and re-production. Beyond these are the safety needs such as job and health. Once these are met next phase of emotional and social needs take precedence- friendship, family, self-esteem and social acceptance. At the top of the pyramid are the self-actualization needs, such as the need to express one’s creativity, search for life’s meaning and the longing to experience connection with nature. It is notable that Maslow proposed this pyramid model for human behavior after studying healthy and successful people, rather than computer models or mentally deficient individuals.

I began my journey with a 10-month crash course in the womb. I rushed through the latent experience of a billion species, some extinct some thriving, in my 10 months of dream learning. 3 billion years compressed into 10 months. Then I was initiated into a new dawn. I took a new form, a new exterior, moving from the world of distant dreams to the world of life-like shadows. My new avatar contained the possibility of detaching knowledge from subjective experience, granting independent existence to all those stories that I imbibed from the ocean of collective experience during my dream phase in the womb.

Alfred Korzybski famously said that the map is not the territory. Objective knowledge of reality is different from the reality itself, just as the cartographic projection is different from a three dimensional terrain of hills and valleys. We are confusing the map for the territory while equating living things with machines. I, the product of 3 billion years of evolution cannot be reduced to the bits of information coded in my genes because mindfulness is a non-algorithmic emergent property.

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Candles under the Bushel

Isn’t it amazing that human intelligence can send spacecrafts to remote planets but find no solution for more down to earth problems such as poverty? I am frankly puzzled by our philosophy of science. Why is science unable to address some of the most urgent problems of our time? Biosphere, evolved into its present form over millions of years, is crumbling under the weight of few decades of human greed. Isn’t greed, and every other questionable human activity, worthy of scientific attention?

Problems such as poverty and greed are thought to be outside the ‘scope of science’. I believe something is wrong with the way we draw such boundaries. Science is the fire that liberated us from the fate of animal obedience. We use its power to enhance our physical comforts in all imaginable ways. Where else do we turn for guidance to solve human problems such as greed and poverty? “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house”, says the bible. Hiding our precious light source under the bushel of materialist orthodoxy – this is exactly what we are doing.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus created man from clay, shaping him in the image of gods and blessing him with the knowledge of fire. Fire is important to cook food. It is also useful as a source of light showing the way out of darkness. Imagine Prometheus prohibiting man from using fire for anything other than cooking food! Human race would soon have degenerated into a bunch of savages, eating, drinking, defecating and re-producing around the warmth of their kitchen fire.

Unfortunately this comic image is a true reflection of mankind at the turn of 21st century. By some quirk of fate we have come to view science as equivalent to objectivity and religion as an expression of mass hysteria. Restricting science to objectively represent-able aspects of nature is as unreasonable as limiting the use of fire to cooking. Why can’t fire serve as a source of light to make forays in to the darkness beyond?

How science could ever answer fundamental questions on ethical behavior or ultimate meaning? Well, studying rocks or atoms will not help directly, but studying Life will. In fact science has made significant progress with the theory of biological evolution. Isn’t it wonderful to know for sure that we are related to all other forms of life? Such awareness of the connectedness of biosphere should lead us towards answering ethical questions. What remains as missing link in this endeavor is an explanation for the driving force of evolution.

Most widely accepted explanation for evolution involves random genetic changes and natural selection. We are told that it is all about ‘selfish genes’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. It is futile to look for a purpose or meaning in life. Work hard, reproduce and look for ways to increase the survival chances of your offspring. Everything is permitted, as long as you don’t break the law of the land.

This is a Big Lie. Life is not about randomness and competition. Life is about creativity and meaning. Like a bewitched Prometheus, our scientific torchbearers help us with our physical needs, but deny the reality of our spiritual needs. They refuse to point the torch in the direction we need the most.

Creativity is a property of this universe. It is the driving force of biological evolution. I believe any rational, open-minded individual can reach this conclusion with a little effort. There can be a beautiful and meaningful explanation for life. Why are our biologists not recognizing this?

There are two reasons. One, science is dangerously close to its limits in studying life. The problem of self-referencing makes conventional scientific approaches largely useless. Biologists must ask ‘What is objective knowledge’ before they propose sweeping theories of life. Knowledge is a product of evolution and has no independent existence. This simple fact becomes deceptively complicated in the case of biological science.

Two, fear of the unknown. Lightning and thunderstorms were great mysteries to our ice-age ancestors. They were forced to take refuge in the safety of their caves when faced with nature’s fury. Biologists vehemently denying anything other than natural selection as the mechanism of evolution is driven by the same primitive fear. Ice-age man had no choice. Modern day biologist has a choice but fear of the unknown appears to be overwhelming.

May be it is not right to blame the biologist. Life’s solution doesn’t lie in the laboratory, but in scientist’s thought process. Unfortunately our scientists are not trained to look into their own thinking. The question ‘What causes evolution’ can be answered only after the thought process of observation and its relationship with what we call ‘knowledge’ is correctly understood.

This is not an empty philosophical argument without practical consequence. I believe our inability to understand evolution is a much bigger long-term threat to civilization than religious terrorism. Scientific materialism is the slow cancer eating into the spirit of man. Religious terrorism, in comparison, is a minor skin blister. Man still finds it necessary to turn to pseudo-gods and false prophets because natural philosophy has failed to provide meaningful answers to his deepest cravings.

Imagine you are caught in a complex maze of walls. You were given a set of instructions, such as ‘three steps forward, turn left, five step forward…’ with the assurance that you will reach the exit if these instructions are followed religiously. It is dark and you have no other means of finding your way out. You follow blindly since there is no other way.

What if there is a source of light illuminating the maze? You can possibly ignore ‘blind following’ and use your eyes and brain to get out. We, in early 21st century are in a transition stage. We have a set of instructions, extracted from the collective experience of generations that went before, to help us navigate through this journey. We also have a source of light slowly rising above the horizon, beginning to illuminate the maze in its full complexity. There are a lot of passionate arguments going on about the superiority of ‘forging ahead with confidence’ as opposed to ‘blind following’. Blind following can still lead you to the correct exit in partial vision, but forging ahead may knock you down if inter playing light and shades deceive the eyes.

Scientific and religious ought to be kept separate only with the realization that such a separation is artificial, a temporary arrangement of convenience. The instruction set could be discarded once the light of reason gains enough strength to illuminate all the corners and trap doors of this complex maze of reality. I believe we are almost ready to do that, if only we open both eyes and see that life is not a battle for survival, but a graceful dance of non-linear movements.

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