Thursday, April 16, 2009
Shapes in the Clouds Pt.1
Down through history, mankind has tried to make sense of his world through the shaping of perceived phenomena into some kind of understandable context. This tendency, sometimes coupled with atypical mental states brought about by intense concentration (including prayer), bodily privation and/or mortification, and hallucinatory episodes chemically induced or otherwise, is the fountain of human imaginativeness from which all religions and mythologies spring. If you study the history of any particular religion, what you’re really seeing is the history of the source culture(s) of that religion, as well as the succeeding cultures that later informed it. A religion is a lot like a PlayDoh sculpture fashioned by a child, then handed down a line of other children. How much of the original shape is left at the end of the line depends a lot on the chain of subsequent handling. But no matter how carefully or recklessly the thing is passed on, you can be sure to find the prints of each child if you just look carefully enough.
Then science came along. With its methodological approach to observation, its systematic analysis, as well as its insistence on experimental and logical coherence, we finally had a tool worthy of our developing rationality. If religion was the blunt object approach to investigating our world, then science was truly a dividing blade. A scalpel which, in modern times, has been sharpened to a remarkable acuity. Of course, scalpels can still be wielded by savages. I don’t think I need to enumerate the manifold examples of scientific accomplishments exploited and turned against the common good, and certainly not all in the name of religion. Deep down, it seems we’re still apes swinging sticks. However, that’s not the subject of this post.
I mentioned that we have a need to explain our perceptions in terms of our cultural understanding. Perhaps even more importantly, it seems we have a need to fill in the gaps of our knowledge with what we already know, or think we know. In primitive times these gaps regarding the nature of existence ofttimes dwarfed our actual knowledge of things. This led to wildly speculative and diverse mythologies which are still at play in the world in most cultures today; superstition runs rampant amongst even the denizens of the so-called ‘first world’, and there are many places whose belief systems are not remarkably different from thousands of years ago. But lest the reader think this is a simple attack on primitivism, I guess I should be getting on to my real point, which is this- there are STILL gaps in our knowledge folks...PLENTY of them. And they make us uncomfortable, because we don’t like it when we don’t know something, because knowing is important. In fact, the ‘need to know’ is probably one of our most basic evolutionary characteristics. Knowing means survival no matter how you slice it; from eating the right food, to picking to right place to hunt, or sleep, or procreate, to understanding the difference between solid land and quicksand.
But it’s more than that. The need to know is hardwired into our psychological makeup. Why else would we invest time and money in speculations about the big bang, or the expansive universe, or multi-verses, or any of that other stuff that keeps sci-fi geeks flocking to the Star Trek reunion tours (btw, Babylon Five sucked)? Now, I’m not saying that the saner of us realistically EXPECT to ever grok all the mysteries of existence. But doesn’t that just bug the hell out of you? That you’ll die, and never know? It certainly bugs me, and it makes me uncomfortable as well. I know it’s just that psychological need to know thing twisting around in my brain, but that doesn’t make the feeling of frustration any more pleasant. Ergo, I need a security blanket in much the same way that a lot of otherwise rational people hang onto their religions, even when the religion itself doesn’t make much sense anymore. I need a story, a context comprised of factual content as gleaned by current scientific understanding, but fleshed out in a way that seems real-or at least, somewhat understandable. A picture-book tale, punctuated with facile little analogies I can relate to without surrendering to sheer gullibility. Hell, I don’t even need a happy ending...just some contextual closure, for gods sake! I’ve been trying to formulate one for quite a while, but it never held together for very long, until recently. Or, maybe impending senility has relaxed my requisites a tad. I can’t be sure. You be the judge...Pt.2
Posted by metamorphhh at 9:33 PM