Posted by: Harold Knight | 11/24/2009

Science v. Religion v. Reality v. the Beautiful Shore

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There’s nothing unusual here. Except, perhaps, and only perhaps, my perception.

πιστήμηepisteme-, “knowledge, science” + λόγος “logos” – “theory of knowledge,” 1856; branch of philosophy that investigates the limits of human knowledge

ὄν, genitive ὄντος: of being (neuter participle of εἶναι: to be) and -λογία, “metaphysical science or study of being,” 692; branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence.

If you want to think about the origins of the universe you can find enough resources to keep busy for the rest of a natural lifetime. Stephen Hawkings (Brief History of Time); Richard Dawkins (The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution and [absurdly] Everything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion);  “The Universe,” and “How the Earth Was Made” on the Discovery Channel; the journal Astrobiology (“Why is the definition of life so elusive? epistemological considerations,” by Serhiy A. Tsokolov; “Signatures of a shadow biosphere,” by Paul C. W. Davies et al; and hundreds more); the evangelical Christian geneticist Francis Collins (The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief).

I read stuff—too much—what I  comprehend I can’t assimilate with what I “know.”

One can learn some sort of cosmic plan is behind the universe and the development of “life.” Or one can learn the universe—including homo sapiens—is a cosmic accident. One can discover the theory of evolution is incontrovertible. Or one can read Texas newspapers and find out why it’s not so.

I’ve already written about all of this stuff here, and about my life-long, somewhat erratic and contradictory thinking about epistemology, ontology, evolution, and why I could never in a thousand years get the hang of using an I-Phone. But this stuff has been on my mind again in the past few days.

This morning  I realized I didn’t have studs my ear, unusual because I’ve had two in that ear virtually constantly since 1980 when I entered a relationship in which a public sign was required for people to understand its dynamics. I took them out last Friday to have an MRI on my poor brain. My neurologist wants to see it for himself rather than relying on 15-year-old scans He keeps mentioning surgery on the TLE spots. I tell him he can have the whole brain to play with when I die. That doesn’t end the discussion. I took the diamond and the sapphire out of my earlobe four days ago and forgot to put them back. I decided to find different sparkles to wear. Yes, I am too old for such nonsense. It’s probably “arrested development” from being in love with Yul Brynner in The King and I when I was eleven.

I went looking for other ear studs. I live 24/7 in what most people would consider an intolerable mess. Stuff is here, there, and everywhere. I knew the box of sparkles (all genuine, some ridiculously expensive) was in the top drawer of my antique high-boy (burled walnut inlays on light wood, original brass pulls circa 1879). In the drawer were three socks I can’t find mates for, two empty underwear boxes, two hand towels, the plastic bag my C-Pap mask came in, other pieces of clothing, family pictures in frames, Mom’s old red-leather New Testament, two lacquered boxes with lots of interesting stuff in them, a box with a dozen or so rings I’d wear if I could stand to have anything on my hands, two original Colt Studios photographs given to me by a friend twenty years ago (worth something in some gay second-hand store), and two watches and a cameo pendant that belonged to my late ex-wife’s grandmother. The box with the diamonds, garnet, and the other sapphire was not in the drawer.

The stuff of my life.

My life? Exactly what is my life? That is not an idle question or an epistemological dilemma. Friends tell me to stop fretting: it is not a matter of angst that we may be living in parallel universes or that quantum mechanics has opened the possibility that we are flying off in all directions at all times and the fact is that nothing is real or solid, and we just think it is. The epistemology of ontology. The knowledge of being. I have no (certain) knowledge of my being.

When I was a kid having daily seizures (I wish TLE seizures were visible—I might have had care before I was 38 years old), I began to assume, since nothing “felt” real much of the time, that nothing IS real. Heisenberg’s principle in my brain? I knew the more I thought about what was whirling in my mind, the less certain I could be of my position in time and space. I knew the less I thought about the dissociation in my brain, the more certain I was of my place in time and space.

An then one day I discovered that I will die. That set off a chain reaction of trying to figure out whether or not I was really alive or ever had been, and if I were alive or ever had been, what that meant for the rest of my existence and why it had to end, but at the same time how bizarre were all of those theories and beliefs about eternal life that filled the hymns I played (and loved) as a child.

There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way,
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by, We shall meet on that beautiful shore:
In the sweet by and by, We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

The beautiful shore?

So now I am old; I must, by law, sign up for Medicare within six weeks. Got it? 65 approaches. My recurrent theme, the dreadful awareness that it’s all going to be over almost immediately for me. It could happen today.

And then what. Whom will I meet on the beautiful shore? No one. Because the beautiful shore isn’t. Or is it? And if the electrons whirling around at a speed that only a quantum physicist can think about that make up what is commonly held by other human beings to be my body suddenly stop whirling in exactly the same way they are right now, and the electrons that make up my breath stop moving in and out, and that causes the sub-atomic particles of the electrical synapses that make up my awareness to stop doing whatever it is they are doing right now (or do I—or some creature I can’t even comprehend—imagine they are doing what they are doing), and my “awareness” of myself ceases, then what happens to all of these sub-atomic particles whirling dizzyingly around the matrix that I experience as ME? Don’t they keep whirling dizzily around without me? And do I go on to the beautiful shore, or does the illusion that is “me” simply cease to exist and no one and no thing and no subatomic particle is any the wiser. Except I am not even aware that I am not aware any more.

And my brother and sister are left to sort out all that stuff in my high boy bureau and get rid of all this stuff floating around in my apartment and my nieces get my diamonds and then the universe (if there is a universe) waits for their subatomic particles to stop whirling so it can have back all of its stuff. People and diamonds.


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