Existence Matter (formerly the inanimate)
In my previous discussions of the Great Chain of Being, I presented the chain that you see on the right. I thought it would be useful for this current discussion to begin naming the categories by the ideas that they are meant to embody rather than the entities that we see or perceive, hence the list on the left. Every step of the chain on the left is a piece of a whole, the most basic pieces of what a human is. Strip all the circumstantial pieces away, take away all memories and thoughts, erase all scars and marks of identity, and these are the most fundamental pieces of what a human is. At our core we are nothing more than this. And what a marvelous “this” it is, is it not?
So what of God? What is God in all of this? The creator of all things in our world? Yes, that is what he is a symbol of: whether or not you believe in the existence of God, God is an idea meant to embody the role of creator. But what is our world? What universe is God the creator of? There is a universe before you, one that you see, hear, taste, feel, and smell, one where physics happens and apples fall from trees just as they should every time. Then there is the universe in your mind, one which is made up of internal representations of the outside world, the realization that it is an apple that you are looking at when you actually see one. It might seem weird, but these two things are not the same. An apple on a table is not the apple that it is in your mind, so when you say, “Look at that apple!” are you talking about the one on the table, or the one that you see? Some might say that these are the same, and for all intents and purposes, the apple on the table and the apple that you see are one in the same. But a very careful examination shows that they are indeed not.
God is creator of both these worlds, or at least God is the idea meant to embody the creator. Today I want to talk about God, or the idea of God, and its role in the shaping of our internal worlds. In this internal, mental world, God is the entity that paints a personal picture of the universe for each and every one of us. As the external world undergoes phenomenon, there is another version of this world being created simultaneously inside the mind. This version is made up of sense impressions and reflections about those impressions. God is architect of this subjective world, just as it is architect of the objective world, but what roles does this concept of God play in our psyche?
Let’s turn back to a question I asked before: How big is the universe? It seems like a strange sort of question to ask because all one could really say is, “Really, really big,” but let me add a bit of a restriction to my first question: “How big is the universe, as far as you know?” One might be tempted to provide the same answer as before, but there is an important distinction to be had here. As far as you know, the universe is only as big as the room you’re sitting in now. In fact, one’s own personal universe is only as big as his or her perceptions. If one sits in the center of a room facing a wall, why does one assume that the rest of the room is still there? It might defy one’s common sense, it might defy physics, but common sense and physics are forms of knowledge that exist through our observation of cause and effect: we saw the room a second ago, it must still be there when I turn away because it’s there every time I turn to look. Physics is based on observations about the nature of bodies to each other, yet it is just that: conjecture about what we observe. Observations may be flawed or incomplete: even when we look at the big picture, do we also see the frame in which it is held, or the wall that holds it up? Why do we assume that the world outside of perception follows the rules of the world we are currently perceiving? What if this corner of the universe is the only place where gravity works the way it does? What if we are the anomaly?
With this in mind, is observing the repeated occurrence of a phenomenon (the existence of a room, the falling of an apple) enough proof to postulate that the phenomenon will continue to occur the way it does every single time and in every single place in the universe? No. In fact it is for this reason that gravity is still a theory: there is nothing that says that it is necessarily true, it is only the repeated observation of the same phenomenon that leads us to believe that it is.
Everything that we know could be a dream: there is no inherent truth to the reality before us. The people, the places, even the physics and the science that govern the world, could be fictions of your imaginative mind. I’m sure you’ve all heard this or thought about this before, and whether or not it’s true, this proposed notion provides an interesting perspective about the world. It demonstrates that the world is a highly uncertain place, one where all people, places, events – matter and physics themselves – have some element of doubt associated with them, most of the time extremely minute, but always inescapable. It’s almost baffling how anything gets done when nothing is for sure, but it does, and for that matter, in very predictable ways. And this is the only reason that we do not normally doubt the universe.
If we eliminate all objects which we may doubt at all, to any degree, we, like Descartes, arrive at one conclusion: the only truth is the truth of one’s own existence. Not a physical form, not a body: just a mind. It is through thinking that we prove our own existence: “I think therefore I am.” This is the only universal truth there is that we know with complete and utter certainty. All else that we experience – sights, smells, textures, and even emotions – are all elements of a world filled with doubt.
Yet why is it that we don’t go around doubting everything and everyone around us if it seems perfectly plausible that nothing exists? Why is it that we have no trouble accepting that reality is exactly the way our senses perceive it to be? We do not doubt the things in front of us because, from the moment of our birth, our minds have slowly been forming beliefs about things. If, for example, we put a child in a world where the color of apples change every hour, what beliefs would he form about apples? He certainly wouldn’t believe that apples were red, but he might believe that apples are a thing which changes color every hour. By observing the repetition of an occurrence, the same cause and effect relationships between things, we slowly start to form solid beliefs about the world. Enough time and enough exposure to the same stimulus, and soon it becomes something immutable, something we say is a law of the universe. It is in this manner that we create the world and fill it with our ideas.
Events in the world (an apple falling from a tree) have the meaning that they do (gravity is affecting that apple) because our mind tells us that the meaning is there: there is nothing about the constant repetition of something, no matter how often or how precisely similar two phenomenon may be, that itself instills meaning. I could imagine any preposterous reason for the apple falling from the tree: there is a boy performing long range telekinesis from the nearby town. While it is highly improbable in comparison to the theory that gravity is making the apple fall, it’s still just as likely in that it does explain the observed phenomenon quite well. It’s not a matter of whether or not this preposterous scenario is true, it’s the notion that it could be true that is the issue at hand. It is only through the workings of the mind that the world and its laws are created, only by thinking and reason does a world with any sort of order take hold. It is in this manner that our internal universe is created, through reflections about the external world.
God is an entity meant to embody the creator of the universe. Yet who is the creator of the internal universe? Me. You. Everyone. Each person is creator of his or her own internal universe. At birth, we have very little control of how we create the universe, but as we get older, we slowly gain more control over what we believe. Thus it seems that we all agree about many things, about how apples are red and how wood is brown, because at an early age we can only form beliefs about the things that we observe with our outwardly directed senses. Since we all have the same sense impressions about the same things, we form the same beliefs about those same things. Yet as we get older and the picture gets more complicated, our worlds become different, opinions are created, and disagreements about the nature of the universe arise (thus is the birth of philosophy and all science). The nature of the world is created by us. And if we are the creators of our internal worlds, does that not make us Gods of our own worlds?
Our idea of God is the portion of our psyche which acts as a representation of self. God is thought of as architect of the internal world, building it out of sense impressions and thoughts. Yet this mental architecture is created in our minds through the formation of beliefs, beliefs which are formed by us. All of this discussion was to lead to one point: that the role God plays in the psyche is as an embodiment of self, an idea meant to represent the notion of identity. When we form beliefs about the world, we insert a bit of our own thinking into them. In this manner, all objects and events in one’s personal reality is imbued with self, the internal world merely an extension of the workings of the mind. Our idea of God is this: the extension of self into the world that occurs when we assign meaning to the pieces (the objects and events) that make up the world. God is in everything because we are in everything : we color all things in the world with our beliefs about them, our unique perspective on objective reality creating it’s own world inside each of our heads.
So if we claim that God is the notion of identity in our psyche, the chain now looks like this:
What I’m about to say might sound somewhat strange, and I’m aware of this, but just bear with me.
One’s own dentity (i.e. God) is the only thing which one may claim to have absolute certainty about. Identity is the confirmation of one’s own existence, which is the only truth that we know, but it is a truth that we arrive at through our reasoning. And we must have desires to reason, for if we did not, we would have no need for reason, for reason is the control of our desire. And imagination is needed to create the objects of our desires. And cognition is needed before we may even understand enough about the world to imagine those objects of our desires. And before we may understand the world we must first perceive it. And for us to perceive things, we and objects to perceive must exist. And the only way we may confirm our own existence is through our notion of identity.
According the the Bible, God claims that he is both the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. In a sense, our identity confirms our existence: the first affirms the last. Each step of the chain is a piece of what a human is, yet the chain itself is a circle. We are complete in this: our most basic property is confirmed by our most complex one, and our most complex one confirmed by everything below it, including the most basic one. This is God, and this is you: a complete circle of being, one that confirms itself backwards and forwards. This is the only truth that we may know because it is a truth that proves itself. God and you, one in the same beings, the only beings (or being) which you may claim to exist with utmost certainty.
So to end rather abruptly, if you find that this whole thing was annoying, stupid, confusing, amusing, enlightening, a waste of time, or complete bullshit, then please, feel free to comment. I do love comments.