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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Essias Loberg is a former student of David Lane and is now a budding film script writer.
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"I Don't Care" -- My Experiences
with Apophenia and Patternicity
Those odds are ones I wish I’d have in Vegas. It’s insane. And yet I sit here and ascribe such things to being God smiling down upon me.
About a week ago, I relayed a story to my friend David that our mutual friend Mike had mentioned to me. The story’s basic summary is as follows: I met a real Christian the other day. He
was actually a good person. Now, being a Christian myself, I feigned personal offense and stated that I felt like Mike had been ignoring me and my staunch adherence to “what is morally just” all the years I had known him. I told David that “He [had] literally exclaimed you’re a Christian!?” and laughed, only to get the exact same response Mike had given me earlier: absolute bewilderment that I was anything but an Atheist.
This exact situation has happened multiple times over the past month, and ten times over if I were to count the past several years. It’s not hard to guess why, I’m as skeptical as they come, to the point that my Deistlite view of the world is as close to Agnostic as one can get while still identifying as Christian. Furthermore, I almost take personal delight in bashing the hardcore members of my faith who have completely misquoted (let alone misinterpreted) an aspect of the Bible in order to serve their own ends, while preaching a message of love and tolerance. But I think the reasons for me being a Christian are much more interesting than those regarding why I am not an Atheist, if only due to the very real acknowledgment of contradiction and the illogical notions that pervade the belief system I have adopted.
The First Kind of Luck
It really all comes down to luck. All of it. Who I am and what I believe in is pure luck. Of course, we could all make that argument. That of the staggering odds that the universe happened to line up the specific way it did, the solar system, in turn, the way it did, the match of genes, the way they did, so on and so forth. It’s a number whose likelihood Carl Sagan constantly mused on and is often likened to “life’s lottery.” So I could certainly make that argument, but that’s a bit of a copout. What I mean is, I am a very lucky person.
Stuff constantly lines up for me as soon as I need it to and has for as long as I can remember. When I hadn’t done my summer project for an AP class in high school two days before it was due, I came across a staff memo stating teachers could not give such projects out anymore (and thus had to make the alreadyassigned project extra credit). I, of course, circulated the memo and got the project nullified and got an extra two months to work on it (anyone who had actually completed it by the original due date was given a bump worth two full grades).
But you could say that’s just me making my own luck. If I hadn’t circulated the memo among parents and students, what were the odds of that specific outcome? Indeed, the English teachers did seem to be looking for the culprit, thereby indicating to me that I had a valid effect on the course of events. So, maybe that isn’t luck. The finding of the memo was more a teacher in another department knowing I’d like to see it, so that isn’t luck either.
What was it then? Well if we’re going to go the inspirational route, there are a number of quotes on the subject: You make your own luck. God helps those that help themselves. So on and so forth. But the best term for it is intentionality.
Intentionality is often ascribed by skeptics to people who fall for psychics, religions as a whole, and just gamblers in general (who may be the most superstitious lot of them all). It describes the notion of one’s literal wants affecting their perception of events. If I’m at a crossroads in my life and ask God for a sign, and suddenly see a flock of doves (or pigeons, more likely) I could ascribe that to being divine intervention. In all likelihood though, it was my desire (read: intention) to see a sign from God merely informing my experience of witnessing otherwise natural phenomenon. We all see what we want to see, as it were.
And that’s fine by me, I can understand that my perception is colored by my limited and specific worldview. After all, someone’s red may be my green, and has likely happened given my colorblindness. So when my friend’s ask me why I’m willing to accept the various inconsistencies, illogicalities, and general nonsense in the Bible, it generally boils down to me really not knowing what is true and what isn’t.
This is definitely a common argument on part of creationists, and in that way I’m a little bothered that I have to share it with them (considering they hate the basic idea of evolution which doesn’t conflict with creationism at all really, and have taken lengths to ban the teaching of the theory). But share I will. In essence, if my perception is clouded by my experiences and desires, even given all of my logic and reasoning, I can never be absolutely sure of anything. Hell, if the “ego” being a prethought being of its own is true, I may not even be in charge of my own mind. Descartes mused about this and ultimately decided God existed, which is coincidental given mine leads to the same conclusion only it’s clouded in doubt as opposed to using doubt as a stepping stone to clarity.
If I don’t know what is, how can I really tell anyone what isn’t?
The basic gist is, I don’t care. I don’t care to force my beliefs onto other people, nor do I care
to reason away every belief I’ve had because the vast majority of logic contradicts it when it has helped me accept certain situations. To reiterate, if I can’t be sure of what’s the case and what isn’t, why am I wasting my time on trying to disprove something that has helped me along the way? That said, I do value the Scientific Method, and the everexpanding search for more knowledge, but on a matter so vast that it makes any current attempts to solve it inconsequential, I don’t care.
However, that is not to say I don’t consider the ideas, the outcomes, and the ramifications of said outcomes in believing in certain ideas. I do, but it ultimately comes down to everything being uncertain and subjective. From a recent twohour conversation with yet another friend who discovered I was a Christian:
I lead with “The value of human life over another is more subjective than the value of human life in general and in those cases I’ll put value judgments in.”
"The value of a human life is directly related to the life that human has led."
"Still, how you interpret 'the life that human has led' is subjective."
"And so is the interpretation of the relation [between the value of a human life and the life the human has led]."
"There are no universal truths or morals."
"Which is why I don't care."
Christianity has provided a framework that I could base my morality upon, such as the Golden Rule (which I practice in a much stricter sense than most people I know) and ultimately test my reasoning against. I had come to the basic idea of Deism as my beliefsystem when I was young, and oddly enough, thought I was forming an entirely new beliefset than those my family had employed to that point. It was only later that my mother’s adherence to a “nondenominational Christian” doctrine coupled with her dislike of the political viewpoints pressed upon everyone by our pastor that I had realized she was ultimately a Deist too (she just didn’t know it, and probably prefers the whole “nondenominational” tag anyway).
The Numbers Game
Let’s assume that I did actually care about the Christian doctrine sounding completely wrong to my rational mind in just about every way. And this was the case, particularly in high school, so how did I reconcile it?
Well back to luck. As I said, I’m extremely lucky, as is my grandma (she always wins in Vegas) and her stories often echo events that seemed to coalesce despite overwhelming odds and “in the face of adversity” and such. So I’ll give you an example of how one such event happened to me.
I had been dropped off at the Irvine Spectrum about two hours before my mandatory orientation at UC Irvine. What I didn’t know was that the mall was about eight miles from my destination, and I had only discovered this once I had figured maybe I should check those directions again. Well no biggie, I had planned to take the bus anyway. I walk around the parking lot, literally around one end of the mall, looking for the bus stop and come across a guy gathering carts for Target. I ask him where this bus stop was. Well, I discover the bus stop I thought I could take to the school was not “five minutes walking distance” from my present location as I had assumed (because of Google Maps) but “five minutes by car.” Who would drive to a bus stop? Bus drivers, and only bus drivers. So I’m screwed. I keep walking.
I’m on the edge of the parking lot, heading in the direction of the bus stop in my trivial quest to get there within 20 minutes and I see a guy walking towards his truck. Keep in mind it’s noon on a weekday, nobody has any reason to be at the mall aside from people who work there. (Then again it is Irvine, and rich people can do what they want). I keep walking, then just suddenly decided to confirm the directions the Target worker had given me, you know, because the first directions I had gotten were so accurate. So I walk up to the guy, ask him, and he gives me this look of “dude you’re screwed” that
I can read plain as day. Before I can say my thanks and continue walking he asks me where I’m going, as I had only relayed that I was taking a bus, and after mentioning my destination, the school, he said he was returning there and had only happened to go to the mall for whatever specific reason he was there for. (Yes I’m playing it up. That’s important.) So he offers me a ride and I get to the orientation on time. Bueno.
That’s all a long way of saying the stars aligned. I’m lucky, seriously. But let’s really examine that for a second. I arrived with ample time, which is enough to discount the entire story really when you consider the amount of possible intersections of coincidence at any given moment. Then there’s the fact that it wasn’t even the first guy that magically transported me to my destination, no it was the second person I talked to. Oh and I forgot to mention that there were at least 40 vehicles in the part of the parking lot where I ran into the second guy (see that’s what I like to call “selective storytelling,” it’s used a lot to bring greater importance to mundane events). And the likelihood that he was leaving at that exact moment that I was passing by? Well given how far away I was from the entrance to the mall, I had a clear view of him walking to his vehicle for about a full minute. Even as I finished talking to him there were several groups of people exiting and entering the store, all about college age, so there’s that to consider. Things start to be less indicative of a higher power when you start looking at the details.
Most importantly though, and hinted at earlier, is the amount of possible occurrences that can occur over any period of time. I’m sure anyone willing to read this paper is familiar with the Infinite Monkey theorem which states that given enough time, a monkey (or monkeys) would be able to create the entirety of Shakespeare’s work. In an infinite universe, anything is possible.
So the larger the amount of time, the larger the likelihood a random, coincidental, “meaningful” intersection of events will occur. Coupled with intentionality, we have a miracle. And speaking of such things, we have Littlewood’s Law.
Every 1,000,000 or so events, we’re going to experience a real, bona fide miracle. That is to say, assuming we’re paying attention, every month or so, (about the time it takes for about a million small events to occur) we’ll witness a cross of events so out of the ordinary (read: meaningful) that we may as well call them miracles. Furthermore, one million doesn’t seem so large given it repeats roughly every month, so that’s something to consider when thinking about sample size.
As for my example of obscene luck, let’s do the math. 1,000,000 chances every 744 hours (length of a standard 31day month). Roughly 1,344 chances every hour. I had two hours. Bam. In those two hours, there was a 1/2,688 chance that I was going to hit something special. Sure it could’ve been a first edition copy of Don Quixote in Barnes and Noble (if only) or any number of opportunities, but it wasn’t, and really messing with qualitative hypotheticals will just go into the realm of uncertainty that isn’t worth considering and I’ll ultimately just end up saying “I don’t care” again and end the essay before its time. (You may like that, but I’m saying something here, I swear.)
Those odds are ones I wish I’d have in Vegas. It’s insane. And yet I sit here and ascribe such things to being God smiling down upon me.
I’ve always ironically likened my luck to that of Job, the biblical figure who was placed under constant duress by Satan as a test of his faith. Reason is, I figure I’m about as lucky as Job was not. He lost everything, every possible misfortune was heaped upon him, and he kept the faith. Meanwhile, I’m in sunny California lapping it up about to embark on a filmic journey to make movies and such. And I’ve always said, if I drew Job’s lot, I’d lose all faith in God so fast.
My faith in God, it seems, is directly related to the life I am living. That sounds obvious out of context, but really, I believe there’s a higher order to the universe simply because stuff just lines up for me. And it’s faulty, almost insincere reasoning. But that’s how it is.
Still, is that really a problem? It certainly could be, were I to express myself like those who share an extremist interpretation of my ideology. Those who stand in judgment of others from their selfsame pedestals. Who preach hate when they should hug. I seem to recall the Bible (or at least the later addendum) stating only that we should treat others as we wish to be treated, that man will stand before God in the end, not before each other. Then again, maybe the people who call for the death of homosexuals and muslims and groups that don’t agree with them are merely masochists in wolf’s clothing. That reminds me of a joke I heard recently: Westboro Baptist Church.
But those are extremists, and extremists exist on every spectrum, leaving the middle to ignore, oppose and even criticize them at their leisure. For example, there are certainly Atheists just as selfimportant and counterproductive as Fundamentalists.. People who decry religion as a coping mechanism for the stupid as an attempt to dissuade any from joining and contributing to religious groups. But that only perpetuates rather than ameliorates. You’re never going to convince Southern school boards to allow the teaching of evolution in classrooms if you frequently call the people in power “idiotic.” You’re never going to convert people, or “revert” if you want to use that argument, to Atheism if you frequently offend them in broken ad hominem arguments as illogical as the doctrines you’re fighting against. You’re doing nothing to further the goals stated, to elevate man above the trivialities of faulty faiths and beliefs. You’re just stoking the flame in an impatient urge to produce change, when all it’s really doing is keeping anything from actually getting done. You’re just making more extremists, fighting instead of uniting.
Really, if you want to look at this practically, or hell, as metacognitive comment on it all, it makes no Darwinian sense to be so dogmatic about religion, from either perspective. I’m pretty sure the invitation to aggression (found in constantly arguing about beliefs) is contrary to the biological imperative. There’s no doubt that it helped when we were a huntergatherer society but does it really make much sense in the time of giant farms, domesticated animals and food madetoorder from the internet? Where ideas clash and intermingle and coalesce if the circumstances are right, and they could be.
Furthermore, if we’re going to look at society as the individual being acted upon here, and our next step in evolution is one of science, you’re not helping anything either. Rather than it being an argument about beliefs impeding scientific progress, it’s ego clouding unification. We aren’t going to see transhumanism, space colonization and the like nearly as quickly as we could if we’re constantly fighting each over something so trivial. Let people believe what they want. Who cares?
That is not to say, however, critical thinking should be left by the wayside. I really believe that’s what the entire argument on part of “rah rah religion is terrible” is based upon. I think you can instill the gift of analysis, selfinspection (I think introspection is more a matter of who I am rather than what do I believe) and thinking critically without resorting to abject disapproval of everything the person stands for. In fact, if you’re actually doing what you claim to be attempting: getting these people to really pick the world apart; shouldn’t it follow that they’ll eventually see the complete lack of logic behind what they choose to believe in? Teach a man to fish and the problems will fix themselves.
It just doesn’t make sense to care. Well, to care so much.