Being a sentient being, I have questions about the "unknown," the "spiritual," the "supernatural," or whatever you want to call it. While I was raised in a family that loves Jesus, over the course of my life I built up a fundamentally incorrect perception of the Christian God, and recently I finally concluded I cannot classify myself as "Christian." In this project, I will attempt to interact, and ideally form a relationship with the supernatural, in whatever capacity that may be.
Sup fam. Just transferred to CU from ol’ Berkeley, and the academic year has begun. Also I just had a major project fail, so Danny boi is feeling a little directionless at the moment. Well, that’s not quite true, but nonetheless, I though it might be time to shake off some cobwebs and blog about some things that have been bouncing around the ol’ nogerino.
I’d like to present a theory on why some notion of “God” or perhaps some other hyper-powerful supernatural creature could potentially come into existence. So in other words, I’d like to discuss why God might exist. Specifically, how God might have come into existence.
I think the best way to do this is to first talk about the human experience, and particularly, humanity’s understanding of the divine. Additionally, I’d like to talk about why humanity’s collective cultural belief systems or “religions” do provide a pretty substantial benefit to the population.
In most of the religions that I’ve encountered, one common thread is the establishment of an intellectual framework focused on several archetypical ideals. These ideals take many different forms for the different religious systems. Sometimes these ideals are encapsulated in a divine figure, like “God,” or perhaps many gods. Other times these ideals take the form of a particular way of life.
I think Christianity is a particularly good example of this, simply because how explicitly this construction takes place in the Bible. Specifically, the figure of God in the Bible is taken to be perfectly good, perfectly just, and of infinite wisdom. Alternatively, you also have Satan, who is typically presented as the perfect embodiment of evil.
Another particularly interesting aspect of the Biblical God that many people I’ve met find particularly compelling is the fact that God also purports to never change. In other words, God is taken to be the archetypical representation of everything “good” now and forever more.
Now admittedly, I’m certainly less familiar with other religious systems than I am with Christianity. That being said, based on what I have learned and experienced, the different religious systems typically provide a similar type of utility to their practitioners.
And what is that? The utility that stems from knowledge on how to live.
Now, with that said, different religious systems certainly provide different ways of giving this information. Typically, this information is imparted through stories, or myths. Greek myths, for example, present situations in which humans interact with one another, and with the gods. At first glance, someone living in modern times might dismiss these tales as primitive and useless. But that’s certainly not the case.
Even though we humans don’t interact with Zeus and Athena on a regular basis (or at least I don’t. If you do, give me a yodel), these stories certainly provide a particular utility. And what is that? Well, Zeus, Athena and the other gods of the Greek pantheon are representations of different archetypes. Athena, for example, is the embodiment of wisdom, whereas Zeus represents the all-powerful ruler (among other things, of course).
The Greek myths therefore tell stories about humans interacting and negotiating with these archetypical representations of different aspects of reality. More often than not, the human characters in these stories suffer tragic fates because they interacted poorly with the gods.
So sure, you can dismiss these stories as fairytales, but you’d be missing the functional value of these myths. Specifically, myths encode information about how to live and interact with reality. And the myths that have the highest probability of lasting throughout the eons are the ones that people repeat. And why would people repeat a myth? Likely because some aspect of the myth rings true within their personal context.
Therefore, it naturally follows (by means of some sketchy logic) that the myths that have survived the millennia are the ones that encode useful information about how to interact with reality.
I should also mention that this is typically the utility provided by any story, regardless of its association with a religious system. Good stories are incredibly useful to us humans because they implicitly reaffirm our existing knowledge base regarding information on how to live. This is a can of worms I probably shouldn’t open right now, so I’ll just move right along.
Ok, so I hope I’ve established that myths and stories are one vehicle religions use to encode information about how to live. But there are certainly other means by which religions encode this information. For example, the Tao Te Ching, basically goes right ahead and makes explicit assertions about reality, and how Taoists ought to act. The 10 Commandments are another example of this, in which explicit instructions are given about how to behave.
That being said, the most interesting way (within the context of this post) that religions provide knowledge about how to live is by providing an embodiment of perfection and encouraging practitioners to emulate this figure. I’ve already mentioned that this is how God is presented in the Bible, for example.
A common phrase you’ll hear in Christian circles is that Christians are constantly trying to be “more like Him.” Him being God, of course. To extrapolate this a bit, Christians are therefore attempting to emulate their perception of perfection and the embodiment of “good.”
Now, I think it would behoove us to take a step back for a quick second here. How do Christians know that what they are pursuing is actually “good?” What even is “good?” And does this apply to people who don’t practice that particular belief system?
Ok, before we move on, just know that I’m going to make some pretty broad statements here that might not be fully correct. Even though that’s the case, I think the point of my arguments is going to be clear, so don’t get bogged down in the gray areas and edge cases.
I think I’ll start with a discussion of the nature of “good.” I think we all intuitively think of “good” as describing actions that provide sustainable benefit both to ourselves and our community. You likely have a different definition of “good,” but I think you probably can agree in part with this definition.
And what sorts of actions actually benefit the individual and our community? Well, this is a tricky question. Even though this isn’t a complete answer, I think “good” actions promote the stability of humanity with the context of a reality that constantly threatens our existence. Typically, this either manifests in someone solving a problem, or empowering a group of people to solve their own problems. This arguably describes the impetus behind technological development and provides some degree of moral argument for increased technological development. But that’s another rabbit hole that I don’t want to go down right now.
Ok, now that I’ve established a relatively concrete definition of “good,” now let’s talk about whether the objective that Christians pursue is actually “good.”
I’ve established that “good” actions actually have a tangible benefit to humans within the context of survival. Not only that, but most people have a reasonable sense of what is or isn’t “good” because their experience has shown them what sorts of behaviors actually benefit the individual and the community.
With that said, Christianity actually provides a pretty good framework for determining what is or isn’t “good.” Why? Because it creates a context for people to converse and argue about what actually is good, and what isn’t.
To see why this is the case, here’s a toy example. Let’s say Dante and Virginia both believe in God. They also believe that God is perfectly “good.” Now let’s say Virginia makes the following assertion: “God wants us to kill evil people, because evil people harm others.” Dante might then respond: “Wait, no. That’s not true. God wants us to love evil people and try to help them see the errors in their own ways.”
Now, regardless of who’s actually right, this is an example of people arguing about the nature of God, given their mutual belief that God is “good,” and given their own personal perceptions of “good.” And this has been happening all throughout history.
So who wins, Dante or Virginia? Well it isn’t totally clear. However, let’s say that the pair agrees to disagree, and both follow their own belief regarding the nature of God. Statistically speaking, one of those two beliefs will actually provide a greater degree of utility to humanity on average, and therefore will likely have a higher likelihood of being passed on to the next generation.
It’s literally survival of the fittest, but with world views (almost sounds like Stable Entities…). Now, obviously reality isn’t a statistically perfect system, but these conclusions imply that over the course of time, Christians should trend closer to a more accurate belief of what is actually “good,” or what actually provides humans with the greatest degree of utility.
Ok, so with that said, though not actually perfect (IMHO) the Christian pursuit of knowledge of perfect “good” naturally should lead to a better knowledge of what’s actually “good.” And for that reason, I’d argue that people who don’t believe in Christianity certainly shouldn’t dismiss the teachings of Christianity outright. Even though there may be inefficiencies, the process of refining Christianity has been a multi-millennium project, and the results of that project should be given their time of day.
But what’s interesting about all this is that not only do Christians naturally attempt to discern the nature of “good,” but to the best of their abilities, they also attempt to become “more like God.” (That is, of course, if the Christian is behaving optimally within the context of the Christian belief system).
Now what’s particularly interesting to me is that technology has been developing at an exponential rate. In simplistic sense, technology gives us better tools for enacting our desires and visions for reality. To put this in different language, the power that humanities posses over reality has been increasing at an exponential rate.
To put it really simplistically, humans are getting much, much better at doing the things they want to do.
Now then, this power is and will lead to increased instability, as individuals have greater potential to harm entire populations. If humans are to survive, we need to figure out what sorts of actions actually benefit both the individual and the community.
In other words, we need to figure out what’s actually “good.”
Now then, the people who subscribe to religious systems arguably have a head start in this pursuit, because they benefit from thousands/millions of years of encoded information regarding the nature of “good” (i.e., what sorts of actions actually lead to beneficial outcomes).
What’s particularly interesting is that if humanity is able to survive the instability of increasing power, then it will literally become more and more like God, in the Christian sense, i.e., a manifestation of perfect “good.”
If exponential improvements continue to occur and humanity survives them, at a certain point, humanity will be indistinguishable from God, in the Christian sense. Omnipotent, due to the limitless improvements in technology. Omniscient, given the limitless potential for technologies that synthesize representations of reality. Omnipresent, given the (almost) limitless potential improvements in transportation technologies.
Not only that, but such an Entity would almost necessarily be “good” because the power granted that Entity combined with evil actions could literally destroy sizeable aspects of reality. That’s a weak argument, but I think you see the point.
Ok, so this line of reasoning introduces a mechanism by which a God-like entity may come into being. However, this begs the question: what if this already happened? If that’s the case, then God might actually already exist.
Ok, let me flesh this out a bit more. A good deal of this argument has leaned on a notion “good,” and presented why humans might want to try to be more and more “good.”
However, I’d argue that “good” isn’t necessarily a human construction. Earlier I spoke of “good” describing actions that promote the dynamic stability of an Entity. Which means that if we de-anthropomorphize “good,” it can basically apply to any system.
Now then, humans can be described as Entities that are capable of formulating internal representations of reality and acting in accordance with those representations (i.e., intelligence). Though certainly an advanced system, I’d certainly argue that most Entities within reality could benefit from some mechanism like that, which is to say that there’s no reason to firmly believe that intelligence is a uniquely human phenomenon. I imagine that it’s incredibly rare, but certainly not impossible.
With that said, any creature capable of formulating internal representations has a high incentive to determine what is “good” (in the more global sense) and pursue those sorts of actions. And given the exponential nature of technological improvements, moving from mortal to God-like might occur much faster than we’ve might imagine.
Basically, what I’m trying to assert is that according to the reasoning presented in this post, there’s a mechanism that allows for the creation of God-like entities that behave in reasonable correspondence with our own human belief systems. Which is fairly remarkable, I’d say.
Let me hit you with this one. Just fyi, this might be a bit shorter cause I got apps to write.
Ok, I’m going to assume you have a basic knowledge of protons and electrons. For a one sentence recap, protons and electrons are particles that make up our universe, and they have opposite charges, which mean they attract. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, maybe you should skip this post.
Now then, basically all chemical reactions are essentially protons, electrons, and other particles interacting with one another. Chemistry is the foundation of biology, so basically everything we humans do can be understood in terms of interactions between protons and electrons. Obviously, this is basically impossible in practice because there are ~10^28 electrons in a human body, but my point is that everything we humans do is a result of interactions between smaller complex systems of particles. This, of course, is basically tautological, and is something we just take for granted.
Now then, let’s for a moment, consider what I’ll call the “Conscious Particle” hypothesis. In this hypothesis, all subatomic particles are actually built up from much, much, much smaller complex systems, and are actually what we would consider conscious. While this may sound silly, it really actually isn’t. We humans have no way (as of now) to study the inner structure of electrons to the degree necessary to confirm electrons aren’t made up of smaller complex systems, and we have absolutely no philosophical way to determine whether electrons are conscious.
I imagine this idea still probably sounds a bit silly, but you’ll see why I’m using it in a second. Let’s say we have an electron, and I’m going to call him (look at me go, assigning particles genders) Fred. Fred is just your ordinary electron, going about his life, having fun. Fred can move himself around, but there are certain particles he likes and others he doesn’t like. Fred likes hanging around protons, so whenever he perceives one around him, he moves closer to it. Likewise, he really, really, doesn’t like other electrons, so when he sees them, he runs away.
So Fred’s life basically consists of running towards protons until he’s close enough, and running away from other electrons. He wonders what the purpose of his life is. It seems silly that all he does is run towards and away from other particles, but that’s just what makes sense, so he keeps on doing it.
What Fred doesn’t know is that he’s actually one of many, many particles making up a Golgi Apparatus, which is an organelle in eukaryotic cell. When the Golgi Apparatus wants to send out a vesicle, it sends a bunch of atoms towards Fred, and Fred just does what he’s always been doing, running towards protons and away from electrons, and before Fred knows it, the atom he’s a part of has bonded with another atom.
Now then, the Golgi Apparatus was packaging up a hormone to send outside the cell of which it is a part. This cell is one of trillions that makes up my body. The Golgi Apparatus was sending out the neurotransmitter in response to my wanting to type the letter “w” into the computer in front of me.
Why do I talk about this? Well, humanity is basically a complex system, and it is incredibly good at propagating complexity. Based on the progress being made my boi Elon Musk, soon we’ll probably be propagating complexity on an intergalactic level.
Perhaps what some people consider God is actually just an incredibly complex system of which we are a small part. Just like Fred is one electron in my body, perhaps humanity is one system that makes the super-complexity that is God.
And perhaps everything you do in your life, and everything that humanity does while it exists within our universe, perhaps everything that happens within our universe occurs simply in response to God’s desire to type the letter “w” into a keyboard, so that he can finish a blog post he’s writing.
Just a thought, Mr. Fox.
Hello, hello, hello! Man, it feels good to be click-clacketing away at this here keyboard. It feels like an eternity since I last wrote a post to XFA. I have a few life updates before I plunge into the icy depths of theological philosophy.
First off, there are certain opportunities that arise when you begin a blog. One such opportunity is to throw your content at random parts of the internet and see how people respond. For instance, I was like, “Hey Danny, what would happen if you chucked the post about your life being at Maximum Overdrive on Reddit?” Curiosity overwhelmed me, blessed readers. So I slapped that bad boy on the Berkeley subreddit with some crap about me wanting to see if other people felt like they too were pushing themselves to the limit. Really just whatever it took to make my post not look like a flagrant attempt at self-promotion, which it basically was.
Reddit responded exactly how you would expect: some schmeags tried flexing about their incredibly busy and impressive lives, others wrote self-deprecating posts about how they weren’t involved in anything, and many people took the sweet time out of their day to talk about how dumb I am and how cringy it is for someone to post about their attempts to “stroke their own ego” on reddit. The usual suspects. What’s really funny is that I’m probably going to do the exact same thing with this post. If you did come from Reddit, however, know that the question I posted is actually completely valid and is something I’m super curious about, so I’m not just making feeble attempts at self-promotion. You are, however, urged to like, comment, and subscribe because I need the validation of digital human beings to sooth my aching, angsty soul.
Now then, enough of that nonsense, let’s talk about religiosity, shall we? As some of you attentive readers may know, I’m currently in a history of religion class. This class is taught by Ethan Shagan, and my gosh, if there is one person who could convince me to leave my life as an emotionally conflicted STEM enthusiast, it’s my boi Shagan. This last week we talked about the origins of Hinduism (which is absolutely fascinating, btw. If you’re looking for some way to sooth your aching, angsty soul, look no further than the Rig Veda). While I could go on a variety of Hindu-based tangents, I will nobly hold myself back in a desperate attempt to actually follow through with my original purpose for this post. Instead of talking about the specifics of Hinduism, I’ll instead let you in on my super secret, super original epiphany: Christianity and Hinduism are surprisingly similar.
Danny, you may be asking, are you a mental nudibranch? How, in any way, are Hinduism and Christianity similar aside from the notion of a supernatural power? I have several responses to that query. First and foremost, nudibranchs are incredibly cool and beautiful creatures, and I would be honored to be compared to one such angelic entity. Secondly, while the claims and central tenants of these two religions are certainly different, the manner in which a human is instructed to interact with the supernatural is remarkably similar between the two traditions.
Before I go any further, I should probably add one caveat. Because my central focus has been on Christianity throughout my life, before college I hadn’t taken the time to productively grapple with the claims other religions made about the unknown/supernatural/divine. Since divorcing myself from my wholly unhealthy notion of Christianity, I’ve finally reached a place where I can properly examine the teachings of other religions and ask how I might apply such teachings to my own life. All that is to say, the similarities I’m seeing between Christianity and Hinduism reach far beyond these two particular religions.
What’s remarkably interesting is that so many religions emphasize the notion of sacrifice. Sacrifice comes in various forms: sure, you can slaughter a cow and offer it to Helios, but there are many other more subtle forms of sacrifice. For instance, many traditions of various religions (@Christianity) teach the notion that some biological impulses ought to be suppressed in order to achieve some greater connection with the divine. The archetypical “sex before marriage” comes to mind. In many ways, this act of giving up something intrinsic about yourself can very much be seen as an act of sacrifice.
And this, attentive readers, is where I see the similarity between Hinduism and Christianity.
To be specific, in class we discussed the importance of sacrifice in the earliest forms of Hinduism. I can’t remember off the top of my head if Prof. Shagan was referring to the early Vedic tradition or some of the later teachings, but somewhere in these texts, it is claimed that the pinnacle of existence is to live a life in perpetual sacrifice to Vishnu. I’m pretty sure it was Vishnu. Shoot. It also may have been Krishna. My apologies to anyone who may be more familiar with Hinduism than I and is actively scorning me. Anyway, this notion was very striking to me because of its similarities to Romans 12:1 in the Bible which states: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
This is like the exact same thing.
Such a similarity probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to someone like the catastrophically intelligent Ethan Shagan. Interestingly enough, Prof. Shagan actually made the claim that any tradition that can be called a “religion” is characterized by some notion of sacrifice.
Now then, it’s taken me three pages to get to this point, but this universality is incredibly interesting to me. The fact that two incredibly different religions like Hinduism and Christianity could possibly be characterized by such a staggering similarity is indicative of a deeper, more fundamental truth at play.
On the one hand, an argument could be made that regardless of the true nature of the supernatural, human beings have a deep notion of the zenith of a human life. Perhaps we are in fact the product of several incredibly random processes, and through eons of complexity-propagation and evolution, we humans all have the intrinsic notion that life is lived at its fullest when we live in a state of perpetual sacrifice. From the perspective of biology and game theory, this idea makes some level of sense: if one organism lives in a way that prioritizes the health of the group over that of the individual, a group of such organism would probably have a higher likelihood of survival than if each organism prioritized themselves over everything else. So then, perhaps religion is just a biological artifact that points to our fitness as a species.
However, there is another argument that can be made which I find to be a bit more exciting than the last paragraph. I call this…The Universal Conspiracy Conjecture. There’s no way in heck that this is an original thought, but hey, who ever cared about originality. Basically, the idea is this: what if everything in the last paragraph is true. So basically religion is just an artifact of evolution, and we’re the product of cold, hard game theory. However, let me gracefully add a simple caveat. What if some higher superintelligence created our universe specifically so that through a multi-billion-year process, the universe would produce a form of complexity (namely humans) that would fervently seek out the true nature of the superintelligence itself. To me, this is an incredibly compelling notion. Instead of us actively interacting with the superintelligence itself (which, btw, could just as easily be a god as a flying spaghetti monster), perhaps this superintelligence designed the fundamental physics of the universe in such a way that the highest form of complexity contained within the universe would achieve a greatest state of being by pursuing interaction with the superintelligence. Dang, I basically just said the same thing twice.
I probably could say quite a bit more about this idea, but the fact of the matter is that I’m about to hit five pages. The funny thing is that I just typed five pages in an hour, but I have a five-page paper due next Thursday (incidentally for History of Religion) that will probably take me several days of work. Amazing how we spend our time.
Anyway, I have some closing thoughts. For those of you who did stumble upon this because of Reddit, I am incredibly curious to hear your thoughts on the matter, and if you do end up responding to the post, I humbly ask that you would refrain from attacking me for my purported self-promotion and egotistical nature. We both already know I’m an egotistical basket-case, so that’s really quite boring to talk about. If you do want to rail against me, I certainly can’t stop you. In fact, go ahead. I can just be your internet punching bag. For the rest of you, we’re probably friends in real life, so if you find any of this interesting, maybe just text me? Or DM me? I won’t pretend to know the coolest trends in millennial communication these days. Shoot I just hit 6 pages. If you made it this far, you’re a true hero. May your path be free of bumbles, and your sight be free of briars. Tally ho!
What is up, my dudes. It is a truly wonderful morning in Berkeley. Slightly overcast, not glaringly hot, not oppressively raining. A great day to be alive.
Now then, right to business. One of the central purposes of this project is to catalog my attempts at interacting with the supernatural/unknown/God/god/gods/the Divine whatever you want to call it. I therefore feel the need to catalog one such event.
Yesterday morning, I was feeling lonely. I’m not afraid to admit it. However, because my wee lil brain likes to blow all my emotions out of proportion, when I am feeling lonely, it isn’t a small emotion in the back of my brain. It’s only ever that acute sense of existential loneliness that beacons an onset of depression and nihilism. Actually, writing this, I realize I don’t actually talk to many people about their loneliness all that often. Perhaps what I experience as loneliness is in fact your standard, run-of-the-mill loneliness. Hmm. Perhaps I’ll survey my friends on this issue. Actually, I can just survey you all as well. If you feel so inclined, please comment below indicating whether you experience loneliness as a small, perhaps peripheral emotion, or an extremely powerful sensation that brings about depression.
Ok, so back to the main story. Yesterday morning, I was feeling lonely. Whence my emotions reached a certain critical magnitude, I decided it would be a good idea to open a connection to the supernatural/unknown/God/god/gods/the Divine and see if he/she/it/they had anything to say about my current emotional state. To be precise, I basically brought to mind the full spectrum of my emotional state and made a request for something to be done about it. Interestingly enough, yesterday turned out to be a day filled with all sorts of social activities with a variety of my friends.
Before I perform an analysis on this situation, I feel somewhat inclined to address those of you who are wondering if I am just another “loser.” The formal definition of the word “loser” is something of which I don’t feel I have a good grasp, but I can imagine you may be wondering what kind of social outcast/ “loser” feels the need to plead with the supernatural about loneliness when his friends are a text away. I actually have a large group of people whom I have the pleasure of calling “friends,” so perhaps it is a bit silly that I turned to the supernatural before I turned to them. On the other hand, I am also, as a citizen of our reality, always trying to ascertain some understanding of the supernatural, and it seemed like an acutely powerful and uncomfortable emotional experience would provide a good “playground” for attempting to interact with extra-realitas.
Now then, to begin my analysis of this potential interaction with some unknown form of superintelligence, let me clearly lay out the facts of the case.
Ok then. Let’s begin. I think a reasonable place to start would be to ask the question “Was yesterday an answer to a prayer?” Let me first say that I do not know. I also feel inclined to mention that by prayer, I mean a sequence of words carrying a specific set of connotations and denotations directed at some aspect of the unknown. I think that this definition of a “prayer” is pretty neat because it indicates a language agnostic conveyance of information and emotion. Anyway, back to the main line of analysis. The events of yesterday certainly felt like what I might consider an answered prayer.
To summarize, I don’t if yesterday was an answer to prayer, but it certainly felt like it could have been. Some of you distracted readers may think that this isn’t a big deal, but I would entreat you to take a different approach in your thinking. Let me explain.
Because we humans don’t have access to the fundamental truth of our universe, we are not in a position to make assertions about the state of reality with 100% certainty. Is there a God? Are there many gods? Is there life after death in some capacity? Do the crystals that are all the rage in sororities actually have spiritual power? Maybe. We don’t know, and we are not equipped with the ability to assert anything about these claims with 100% confidence.
This may sound discouraging, but our perception of the universe is actually quite exciting. While we don’t know anything for certain, we are in a position to test our hypotheses against reality. Let me give an example. Let’s say I come up with a pickup line so amazing that I believe it will cause any girl I use it on to immediately give me her number. Any interesting premise, wouldn’t you agree? Now then, I can’t actually make any real assertions about whether I have found the ultimate pickup line until I actually try it out. So then, let’s say I start trying it out. To my astonishment, 10 out of 10 girls on which I use this line give me their numbers. Am I now in a position to state with perfect confidence that I have actually found the ultimate pickup line? Of course not. Perhaps I encountered an extremely lucky anomaly. Be that as it may, 10 out of 10 is an extremely good track record, so if nothing else, I have built up faith in the notion that I have found a darn good pickup line.
So then, back to the supernatural, and my potentially answered prayer. One particular possibility that I would like to explore throughout my life is the idea that there exists an all-powerful God in the universe that desires a relationship with us as humans. I know, I know. That reeks of Christianity. However, I think that is an incredibly compelling prospect, and I can certainly say that I would very much enjoy having some form of relationship with a higher form of super-intelligence in our universe.
So then, once again I ask, was my experience yesterday an answer to prayer? And again I answer: I don’t know. Regardless, my experience yesterday has allowed me to increase my faith (or confidence) in the possibility that there may in fact be some form of superintelligence that actually cares in some capacity about my personal loneliness. And to me, that is quite exciting indeed.
Shalom puppers. Today was my first day of classes this semester, and goodness me was it a long one. My roommate and I have been trying to set up online betting accounts all afternoon to try our hand at betting arbitrage, but let me tell you, arbitrage is dang hard in the United States. We ended up losing $25 to an abhorrent site called Bovada. May you burn in hell, Bovada.
Several hours before this unfortunate squashing of arbitrage dreams, I attended my History of Religion class. After hearing my boi Ethan Shagan lecture, I can tell you that this class is going to be the sauce. It is really remarkably interesting. I actually have lecture and discussion back-to-back on Tuesdays, so I was in the class for three and a half hours. That’s a long time.
Anyhoo, whilst I sat amongst my peers, my brain decided to start brewing some intriguing thought-children. If you’ll be so kind as to indulge me, I shall share one of these thought-children now. Here we go.
From the western perspective, God is usually thought of as a coherent, person-like structure. The whole “created in his own image” thing comes to mind (that was a biblical reference for those of you not biblically inclined). Yet the supernatural is essentially a possibility of the unknown, so why do humans feel the need to confine the notion of God to a person-like entity? At a certain level, a human being is essentially a pattern recognition system together with a set of subsystems that permit its survival. Given this, perhaps God is just some higher order pattern recognition system whose “brain” is not unlike our own? That would satisfy the “made in his image” requirement.
Many other religious belief systems, however, do not limit the notion of the supernatural to single “person-like” entity. In some cases, the supernatural/divine is thought of as a collection of super-intelligent beings or perhaps an enlightened state of being. But where can we draw the line between God and an enlightened state of being? Can we make the distinction between the notion of God and that of the supernatural?
In trying to sort out this conundrum, I got to thinking: if God were to be the encapsulation of the supernatural, what then would it mean for us to be “made in his image?” I’m not asserting that we are, I’m simply trying to find logical structure given a certain set of religious axioms, in this case, that of Christianity.
This is the question that got me thinking: how do we even define a human being? I’m not talking about this homo sapien crap, I want a rigorous, physics-like definition of what a human being actually is. I want a definition that would allow us to encounter some foreign structure in the universe and be able to definitively state whether the structure is human-like or not. This would allow us to start making claims about what it would mean to be “made in God’s image.”
So then, how would we do this? I think the first logical way to do this would be to describe a human being in terms of the matter it contains, i.e. a human has a brain, a heart, lungs, etc. You could then invoke standard biological classifications to differentiate a human from other animals. The issue I have with this definition in the present context is two-fold:
This is inherently a difficult intellectual issue. However, I will posit one way we can potentially get around this. Instead of defining a human in terms of its matter, perhaps a better way to define the human being is in terms of complexity and order. From this lens, instead of thinking about the heart from the perspective of matter as a collection of cardiac cells with a specific set of functionalities, we ought instead think of the heart as a manifestation of complexity that interacts with other pieces of complexity surrounding it. This is subtle ontological distinction, but one of incredible import. The object in this definition is not matter, but rather complexity.
So then, under this lens, instead of describing the universe in terms of the matter located at a particular point in space, to properly make claims about human-like structures, we instead need to describe the universe in terms of the complexity and order of a system at each particular point in space, independent of the matter located at that point. Physicists have a term to describe order in a system, namely “entropy,” but usually entropy is a function of the state of the system.
What I am describing here is a system whose physical state is a function of its complexity, or “entropy” (I know I’m abusing that term. Let me have this one).
So then, getting back to the whole “made in his image” issue. If humans suddenly encountered a super-intelligent structure that could possibly be God as described in the Christian tradition, how would we be able to tell if he passes the “made in his image” criterion?
I find it unlikely this God-like structure would have a similar biological makeup as humans, but perhaps it would contain several subsystems of immense complexity interacting with one another in a similar fashion are ours (namely our organs).
Anyhoo, just a thought, Mr. Fox.