By Kelley Bell
In old Europe, the individual was taught to believe that their personal worth was naught. They understood themselves to be insignificant parts of the whole. Just imagine a poor illiterate serf walking into one of the grand stone churches, during the middle ages. The massive scale of the walls, combined with the ornate trimmings, and holy reverence; the walls themselves spoke, loud and clear, to the impoverished masses:
You are tiny. You are irrelevant. GOD is ALL.
Behind this message, was the conflicting idea that each individual had a chance for redemption. The lowly serf could earn entry into the gates of heaven by taking a vow to Love God, by means of committing loyalty to the Church.
The Clergy taught these people that their lives were meaningless without God, and the Church was partially right. People who joined, found that there was indeed a spiritual component to life, that added a fourth dimension to the human experience. The dogma of the church brought meaning, order and hope in the form of entertaining stories and moral parable.
The Church served a purpose. It made it possible for the ignorant uneducated toiling masses, to enter the world of philosophy, and reap the rewards spiritual consciousness, without paying the price, of a lifetime of study. It also served a political purpose, as it used the pulpit to organize communities into coherent cooperatives of social order.
Along comes Renee Descartes, the mathematical philosopher, with his concept of The Mechanical Universe. The world, and everything in it, he argued, could be explained in terms of a machine, like a clock.
Clocks were a very new thing, and watching a clock tick off the seconds was an amazement; a changing force in society. Descartes mused on a Reductionist platform that turned the world on its ear. Illness was not a function of evil spirits infecting the unrepentant sinner in need of exorcism, but simply a function of a machine whose parts were broken. He did not need the church to explain the world to him; he claimed that he could figure that out for himself, through scientific observation of the machine.
This was a HUGE SHIFT for humanity, and a severe demotion for The Pope!
Secular Humanism was born from this idea. Secular Humanism is a Renaissance era philosophy of self-realization. It. advocates reason over religion, centering on the values, capacities, and worth of the individual. Scientific thinking flourished from the seed of this radical new worldview. Modern Medicine departed from spiritual shamanism, and turned to the mechanics of the body, looking at each piece and part of the machine. The philosophy of Reductionism took hold in the Age of Reason.
The Wax Argument was Descartes proof that "what I thought I had seen with my eyes, I actually grasped solely with the faculty of judgment, which is in my mind." He describes a piece of wax, its shape, smell, color, etc. Then he heats it with a flame. The wax changes, but he realizes that even though it is now liquid, it is still wax. His senses are describing something completely different from the solid, yet in his mind, he knows that it is still wax. Therefore, he concludes that he cannot use his senses to interpret the world. (Thus, we have the famous term, "To Wax philosophic.")
Descartes would love the more modern experiment where a scientist created a pair of glasses from two prisms, which caused him to see everything upside down. After about a week of wearing his Prism Spectacles, his brain figured out a way to reinterpret the data, and he suddenly began to see everything right side up, even though he was still wearing the glasses! When he took them off, his brain made him see everything up side down again. Slowly, over a period of days, individual objects, like cars and trees would flip back upright in his topsy turvy vision, and then eventually the whole world righted itself again.
What does this tell us about the way we perceive the world? It should tell us that our perceptions could be flawed, that nothing is concrete. It should teach us to question and test all of our beliefs, and then test them again.
The time has come for humanity to once again test its topsy turvy views, and turn things up side down. The mechanistic thinking of Descartes was wonderful in its era, and led us to where we are now. But what was once hailed as a grand new view of the universe, is now just another flawed system of thinking. Modern medicine would not exist without Descartes, but a mechanist view of the body is now revealed to be an oversimplification of living systems. The old mechanics of primitive machines have been replaced with nano chips and lasers. The world has changed, as it must. We must change with it. We can no longer hold on to our Reductionist, Mechanistic views, any more than the people of the Middle Ages could hold on to their supernatural views.
Plato's Theaetetus defined knowledge as “justified true beliefs”. One cannot be said to "know" something just because one believes it. A sick person, who believes he will get well, just might recover, but that does not mean that the belief is responsible for the healing. The belief lacks justification. Knowledge, therefore, is distinguished from belief by justification. We must use this questioning and justification principle to solve our problems, and that means reevaluating everything we believe.
I believe that we stand now at the beginning of a new age, a time when we are embattled in a war of ideas, struggling to determine which ones will stand up to Plato's Theaetetus, and which ones will diminish. Letting go is hard, as Galileo and Bruno could attest. These progressive thinkers were imprisoned and burned at the stake for daring to challenge the model of the cosmos promoted by The Church. The Church felt threatened, because such a shift of ideas would diminish its power. So the Church fought back. The violence we are seeing today mirrors the violence of the Inquisition. The people in power fear new ideas because they know that the power base will change. They cling to the old and push extreme fundamental views with violent fervor. It is violence based on fear.
We fear change. We fear the unknown. We fear any idea that threatens our beliefs. It is part of the human condition. Just as the abused child will emphatically defend the neglectful parent, society also clings to what it has known, without regard for what is best.
Religion has fought against the forces of secular humanism for centuries, to the benefit and detriment of us all. Both models have served humanity, and both have failed. Both have limitations. Here lies the dichotomy of the human condition. While we fear change, we also have a deep drive to expand our minds, solve problems, and go beyond all limitation. Maybe that is why we cling so desperately to God, for death is the ultimate limitation, and in our minds, we must transcend.
Systems Theory and Quantum Physics will be the next step of transcendence. Systems Theory teaches that we are all part of the whole. The tree can not live without the birds who eat its fruit, the bees who pollinate the flowers, the worms who till the soil, or the oxygen breathing mammals that surround it. The tree can not be seen as a mechanical thing in a Reductionist model. It must be seen as part of a huge interdependent living system. Quantum Physics teaches what the things in the system are made of, at a sub atomic level. Here we learn that everything is made from the same basic stuff: Atoms and electrons, and energy. We learn that this energy is not solid, not static, but dynamic. We learn that matter is not even a thing at all, but a probability, and oh, how that changes our perceptions of the world!
As science explores these realms, new ideas will filter into our shared perception of reality, and alter our belief systems. Our prism spectacles will not only turn things upside down, but inside out, and upside in. We will accept science as a way of explaining the Universe, and with this knowledge, we will again ask the age-old questions: Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is the origin, structure and meaning of life?
When we do this, we will find new answers, answers that will, (hopefully,) promote a peaceful cooperative, for a sustainable environment, with reverence for the human need to be part of a community. We will create new spiritual beliefs, built upon the synchronicity of science, and the epiphany of human experience. We will restructure our communities by replacing hierarchal models of control, with philosophies that flow in harmony with nature. This is the feminine principle. It is a model for humanity that tells us that we are part of the universe, just as the universe is part of us. It teaches that we are no more or less important than any other living thing, in spite of our limited point of view.
The time is near when we must leave the house of Our Father, and venture into the world on our own. We must find our own path, build our own home, give birth to new ideas, and watch the world evolve once again.