Sinn des Lebens:
Sinn der Existenz, Persönliche Ausrichtung, Werte
Versuch einer Vereinigung der Perspektiven von
Wissenschaft, Religion und Persönlichen Beobachtungen
die Erfahrungen eines Praktischen Lebens und Menschliche Sensibilität
(siehe auch die Aufsätze “Evolution: Understanding Our Physical and Mental Existence”,
“Religion und Wissenschaft: Theologie, Astrophysik, und das SETI-Projekt”, und “Religion”
Auf der Webseite „www.schwab-writings.com“)
Hier „Abrufen“ des ganzen Aufsatzes mit einem Klick in Microsoft „Word“ Format zum erleichterten Ausdruck.
Eine neue Perspektive der Existenz eröffnet sich uns, wenn wir das Wunder unseres eigenen Zustandes des „Existierens” bewusst wahrnehmen – als Menschen – in diesem großartigen, schönen, aber auch gewaltsamen Universum und in oft grausamer Natur – zu dieser Zeit kosmischer und menschlicher Geschichte – ja nur für die wenigen Jahre unseres eigenen Lebens.
Solch eine Sicht kann zu grundsätzlichen Fragen führen: Wie kann ich diese kosmische Realität und die Welt der Natur verstehen, in der ich mich befinde? Gibt es einen transzendentalen Ursprung und eine Lenkung unserer Existenz? Kann man einen Sinn oder Ziel der Existenz wahrnehmen? Vor allem, was soll ich mit meinem eigenen Leben tun, welche Richtung wählen?
Aber bevor man weiter vorangeht, sollte man zuerst die verschiedenen Quellen unserer Einsicht auswerten – Wissenschaft, Theologie, Philosophie, eigene Sicht und Wertgebung.
Einen „Sinn“ oder ein Ziel der Existenz kann nicht gefunden werden – und eine transzendentale Essenz der Existenz kann nicht in menschlichen oder anthropomorphischen Begriffen dargestellt werden.
Das von der Wissenschaft gesehene, zukünftige Ende aller kosmischen Strukturen in gigantischen „schwarzen Löchern“ oder sich endlos abschwächender Ausstrahlung gestattet nicht, einen „Sinn“, Ziel oder Zweck in der Existenz zu sehen. Ein lenkender oder helfender Gott kann auch nicht in einer Welt gesehen werden, in der jeder Organismus von Krankheiten, Parasiten, Raubtieren (auch Menschen) oder natürlichen Katastrophen befallen wird und die Unschuldigen von schlimmen Kalamitäten. Die Beobachtung des menschlichen Lebens zeigt nicht einen gerecht richtenden Gott auf dieser Erde. Ein ausgleichendes „ewiges Leben“ nach dem Tod kann nicht in kosmischen Strukturen erwartet werden, die sich doch alle auflösen werden. Aber das Ende unseres Lebens kann (wie ich das selbst einmal erfuhr) als eine zutiefst friedliche und transzendentale Heimkehr empfunden werden.
Was bleibt, ist eine grenzenlose Bewunderung für die abstrakteste, letztliche „Struktur verursachende Essenz der Existenz“, welch immer Namen wir ihr geben, und für die sich unglaublich komplex entfaltende Welt, an der wir teilnehmen.
Man sollte aber nicht einen einfachen, aber tröstenden und stärkenden Glauben den Leidenden und Strebenden in dieser Welt entziehen – besonders nicht, wenn dieser Glaube ethisch konstruktiv ist und in eine gute Richtung führt – wie am besten von Jesus in einigen Lehrsätzen seiner sogenannten „Bergpredigt“ formuliert!
Für uns Menschen bleibt nur, unser Bestes auf, für oder mit dieser Erde zu tun, auf der wir nun einmal leben – um Leiden zu mindern und die Chancen im Leben in Fairness für alle zu verbessern – und um etwas Klarheit, Licht und Wärme in selbst nur den geringen Umkreis zu bringen, auf den wir Einfluss haben – wobei wir Verantwortung für die Natur zeigen müssen.
Welche Richtung sollen wir in unserem eigenen Leben verfolgen?
Praktische Erfahrung zeigt, dass wir zuerst eine wirtschaftliche „Grundbasis“ aufbauen und erhalten müssen, für uns selber und unsere Familie, während wir dann, oder schon daneben, die Erfüllung unseres Lebens suchen, wie im Folgenden beschrieben – besonders, wenn wir dabei ständig nach Exzellenz streben und auch etwas Erfolg haben:
Das spezifische Resultat einer solchen Untersuchung mag widerspruchsvoll bleiben, zwischen dem, was man tun sollte und dem, was man möchte.
Eine individuelle Ausrichtung hängt für uns von den Anfangsbedingungen und dem Umfeld des Lebens ab, in dem wir uns befinden, und von unseren natürlichen Fähigkeiten, Persönlichkeit oder „Charakter“. Außerdem spielen Schicksal und Chancen eine grundsätzliche Rolle. Entscheidend wichtig sind kluge Entschlossenheit und Durchhaltevermögen. Auf jeden Fall müssen wir einen praktischen Sinn und menschliche Empfindsamkeit bewahren.
Man sollte aber von einer übergeordneten Entwicklung und darin von unserem eigenen, menschlichen Potential ausgehen, das zu entfalten unser vorrangiges, natürliches Ziel ist!
Dieses kann eine Ausrichtung bringen, die in des Lebens Mühe durch drei Ebenen aufwärts führt – getragen von leitenden „Werten“.
Auf einer untersten Ebene des Lebens, oft in Elend, aber auch in einer einfachen, menschlichen Harmonie des Lebens, geht es um die Befriedigung der fundamentalen menschlichen Bedürfnisse für Nahrung, Schutz und medizinische Hilfe – für zu viele auf Erden noch ungenügend erfüllt. Da ist auch das Bedürfnisse für Fortpflanzung und das Suchen nach Wärme in menschlichem Zusammensein mit Familie und Freunden, auch schon für Schönheit in einfacher Kunst und Musik.
Darüber hinaus, auf einer erhobenen Ebene das Lebens, aber oft falschen Werten folgend, ist es naturgegeben und dient dem Fortschritt, einen gewissen Wohlstand anzustreben, um Reserven zu haben – aber leider zu oft nur grenzenlos als Selbstzweck verbleibend. Dazu besteht innerhalb von Gesellschaftsgruppen auch der natürliche Wunsch nach Beziehungen, Rang und Macht – als Wirkungspotential dienend, aber leider zu oft nur grenzenlos der Selbsterhöhung geltend. Diese beiden Richtungen ergänzend gibt es dann meist nur noch einfache „Unterhaltung“ – in Sport, Fernsehen und simplen Genüssen. Diese drei Ausrichtungen beschreiben die mittlere Ebene der menschlichen Gesellschaft – leichter erreicht, wenn der Eigenbedarf niedrig gehalten wird, wie bei bewundernswert bescheidenen Mitmenschen oder bei Aussteigern.
Auf der höchsten Ebene der Kulturen, und der Lebenserfüllung am meisten Licht bietend, findet man dann aber das Streben nach Erfüllung in nicht nur einer, sondern in drei verschiedenen Dimensionen der menschlichen Existenz: (1) In persönlichem, geistigen Wachsen (in erforschendem Wissen, tieferem Erkennen, eigener Persönlichkeitsformierung und nützlichen Fähigkeiten) verbunden mit (2) hingebendem Dienen und Hilfe für Andere (um Leid zu mindern und die Chancen des Lebens in Fairness für alle zu verbessern), Dienst an der Gesellschaft und Fürsorge für die Natur – und, zu diesen zwei Richtungen hinzukommend, (3) die Teilnahme an der Freude über die Kunst und das Schöne in Kultur und Natur – eine mysteriöse Gabe der Existenz an uns (wie das auch der Humor ist).
Ein ausgeglichenes Gelingen – auf allen drei Ebenen und in jeder der drei Dimensionen – kann zur Erfüllung der wertvollen Zeit unserer so begrenzten Existenz im Leben führen.
Es sind die faktischen Resultate, die in unserem Leben zählen, aber jeder empfundene „Wert“ ergibt sich aus Emotionen. Daher ist die Definition und Achtung unserer „Werte“ von Bedeutung. Diese Werte beziehen sich auf das Empfinden von einer Befriedigung, die sich aus der Lebenserfüllung im Wachsen ergibt (mit den Werten der Freiheit, Ehrlichkeit, Offenheit und des Strebens) – dann aus der alles Andere übertreffende Wärme der Liebe, die von zwischenmenschlichem Kontakt und Dienst am Anderen herrührt (mit den Werten der Empathie, selbstloser Hilfe, Verantwortung, guter Menschenführung und Vertrauen) und aus dem Licht der Freude an Natur und Kunst (mit den Werten der ästhetischen Schönheit, Eleganz und positiven Ansprache).
Der große, gemeinsame Zug der Menschen durchs Leben in dieser Welt mag nicht auf ein leuchtendes Paradies hinführen. Desto bedeutender ist es für uns, wie wir diesen Zug durch die Zeit miteinander auf dieser Erde gestalten.
In einer symbolhaften Ausdrucksweise resultiert der „Wert“ unseres Lebens davon, wie wir uns entfalten sowie davon, dass und wie wir etwas mehr Klarheit, Licht und Wärme in diese Welt bringen, wo immer wir können – dabei das Positive im eigenen Leben in Freude und Dankbarkeit wahrnehmend.
1. Einleitung: Ein neues Verstehen der „Existenz“
2. Die grundsätzlichen Fragen der Existenz
3. Die Quellen unserer Einsicht
3.1. Beobachtung und Wissenschaft
3.2. Religiöser Glaube und Theologie
3.3. Widersprüche zwischen Religion und Wissenschaft
3.4. Vernunft und Philosophie
3.5. Intuitive Gedanken, Meditation und Empfinden
3.6. Praktische Erfahrung und menschliche Sensibilität
4. Widersprüche und der Entscheidungsvorgang
5. Beobachtung und Interpretation unserer Existenz
5.1. Die beobachtete kosmische Wirklichkeit und die Welt der Natur
5.2. Gibt es eine transzendentale, geistige Essenz der Existenz?
Tut diese die Evolution, Geschichte und das persönliche Schicksal lenken?
Die Übersetzung des folgenden Textes ist noch in Arbeit:
Resulting Meaning, Purpose, and Direction in Existence –
The Path of Our Life
Meaning, Purpose, and Direction in Existence
“The Path of Our Life”
My Personal Conclusions and Position
The Practical Conduct of Life
The Course of Society
Summary of Prevalent Views and Their Proposed Expansion
Corollary Thoughts and Comments
Creative Steps in Evolution
Abilities or Capabilities
What do Death and Suffering Mean to Us?
Afterlife, Continued Existence of the Soul?
Contradictions in Direction
A personal footnote, THE HISTORY OF THIS ESSAY, can be found at the end
* * * * *
1. INTRODUCTION: A NEW AWARENESS OF EXISTENCE
During the late hours of a long journey through life, one would like to pause and, as a parting contribution to the struggle of fellow travelers, possibly leave some useful advice, encouragement or comfort. How does one dare to do that, especially when the vision of life is not just a rosy one and some basic observations do not bring comfort? How can one dare to take comfort away from burdened fellow travelers? My life had good and difficult periods. I received assistance from others. Now, I would like to contribute assistance to others – to my close relatives, to my friends, to the strangers among my fellow travelers who happen to read these words. How can one do that? By lifting one’s eyes to the greater structures one was able to perceive in this existence and by learning from the smaller details of the path through life. Fundamentally, one searches for valid knowledge about this existence we find ourselves in. This should lead to the efficiency of our effort. The valuation of our experience of living, however, comes from our emotions, diverse as they are, from materialistic satisfaction to the most noble sentiments. In either case, we run intellectually and emotionally into the unsolvable contradiction between striving for the greatest good for the most and for the respect for the rights and needs of the individual. What actually occurs is mostly a result of our mental formation and processes. This writing shall contribute to those. Here it is:
Many people have a rather clear concept of the world they live in and of their personal lives. I envy them – if they have really thought about it and are sincere. For some of us, though, the concepts of the world and life are not quite so clear. We cannot grasp the ultimate forces behind destiny, history, nature, and the universe. We see too much that cannot be understood and too many contradictions between the various philosophical, religious, and political tenets we are expected to accept in our diverse cultures. We are not at all sure about the meaning of our lives or the right course to pursue. As we grow older, neither our childhood faith nor our adolescent philosophy of life is as clear or solid as it used to be. As our lives progress, we experience and observe the reality of practical life and participate in a wide spectrum of human experiences. Even then – or, even more so – the results of our intellectually trained thoughts and the (hopefully) matured emotions of our hearts do not suffice to answer our questions; nor are they unequivocal.
Upon further reflection, I concluded that my own perceptions of existence and life were formed largely by my upbringing, the books I read, the people I associated with, my environment, and the communities and countries I have lived in. Are these subjective perceptions objectively tenable and sufficient? What other perceptions would I have arrived at or chosen if I had lived somewhere else or if I had been totally on my own in this world?
An interesting thought occurred to me one day: What if I had just come into existence on that day, at that age, totally on my own? What if I had no knowledge of any prior cultural influences, of any prior perceptions, commitments, or habits of thought? What if I were not settled in my deep respect for Christian values and in Western suburban life? At first, wouldn’t I be amazed that I exist? Wouldn’t I ask many questions? This new attitude of looking at existence in a new light, in an attitude of unencumbered new exploring, is what I want to call the “Awareness of the Phenomenon of Existence”. The resulting attitude of mental freedom is the thread through the thought process in the presentation that follows.
What thoughts came to my mind when this new awareness of existence occurred to me? First, I was startled by existing! I was startled by having been given a body, a mind, a personality, and the chance to be where I was for a limited period of time called “my life”. I accepted the factual knowledge that I, together with billions of other individuals, was on a rather small planet of one among billions of stars in a galaxy, at a point about 30,000 light-years off its center. I accepted as fact that there are billions of other galaxies of billions of stars in the universe, all having already existed for billions of years. This set an interesting scale for the small significance of my own limited existence – which lasts only for a few decades.
Here I am now. How do I proceed from here? As is typical of human nature, I have questions of origin, meaning, purpose, and, mainly, direction to pursue during my existence. After some reflection, I arrive at my main question: Is there a creative and controlling force in the universe, a God, or merely a vague “structure providing essence of existence”? And what, if anything, can one rightly know or believe about this God if there is one, or about this “essence”? Why do I and the world around me come to exist, is there any purpose in existence? Is there an order behind the evolution of existence in time? If so, what brings that order about, and how is that order structured? What are the objectives of any evolution, if there actually are any objectives at all? Can I or anyone else have any meaningful contact with the force or essence behind existence, with God? In other words, is there a personally reachable and responding God? What would it mean to me if it were found that God had not given directives to the human race, would not judge individuals or nations by their moral actions, and was not reachable by prayer? What would it mean to me if there were no active spiritual force, no God, and, mainly, no purpose in cosmic existence? What significance or, mainly, direction and guiding parameters (values) can I establish for my own life under either scenario for the limited time span of my existence?
There are many other probing questions. First, however, a problem consists in defining a suitable approach to the finding of some answers to all those questions. Other people have thought about these or similar questions. Their answers diverge over a wide range of religions and philosophies, from primitive to sophisticated, from Western to Oriental. Then, in the course of history, science occurred and added a modern intellectual perspective. Finally, there are one’s own observations and thoughts, one’s own practical experiences and respect for human sensitivities. How does one proceed from here in venturing out in this new “awareness of existence”?
This is the proposed sequence of steps:
* A formulation of what I call the “Fundamental Questions of Existence”
* The definition and analysis of various acceptable and promising sources of insight
* An analysis of the mental (intellectual and emotional) decision-making process
* A review of the scientifically observed reality in this world and of the proposed spiritual beliefs or interpretations
* The synthesis: Answers to the “fundamental questions about existence”, including considerations of practical life, human sensitivity, and personal observation
It is not surprising that, in the end, I could not arrive at objective, provable, and universally valid answers to all of the “fundamental questions”. However, in the course of this attempt, I did accomplish some clarification for myself – and, possibly, for others.
All too often in everyday life, one has to make decisions without knowing all the answers – all the facts, or all the consequences. In many situations, life demands that we take a stand, that the conduct of our life be consistent with the ground rules we give preference to. Only by taking a stand can we give some measure of direction and character to our own life, though not necessarily to the lives of others. Only such taking of a stand gives strength and clarity to our actions, if not our convictions.
I want to point out a specific problem that occurred to me in writing about religion. I was trained in the sciences and have led a professional life in industry. Consequently, my perspective in writing about religious matters is too easily that of an intellectual observer. Does such a perspective do justice to the human emotional concerns of the soul – especially in situations of suffering, compassion, or loneliness – and to the mind’s domain of theology? Religion, however, relates to this world. Religious insight must also relate to the nature of the universe and the conduct of human life. On the other hand, what we really look for in our religious thoughts and emotions are the concerns of the soul. May these not be overlooked? The ultimate reality is in our minds and hearts.
An interesting side effect can result from the proposed inquiry into a new attitude of awareness, even a marveling at existence. This side effect is an attitude of increased curiosity, a spirit of inquiry, sometimes contentment with limitations. The effect also involves more of a caring attitude toward fellow beings in existence. But it also brings some insecurity, even fear and awe, regarding the greatness of existence and the greatness of whatever forces are acting in it.
2. THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS OF EXISTENCE
In the new “awareness of existence”, I first ask about the observed realities, the scientific view of the world around me, about the ultimate substance, structure, and functioning of existence. The resulting questions are:
* What does observation indicate about reality?
- The physical world
- The human mind and human existence
* Regarding a deeper and possibly transcendental (searching beyond physics) understanding of existence:
- Is there a controlling force behind the existing world – God, Deus, Allah, the Great Spirit, an unnamable transcendental essence, “X”?
o What could the observation of the creation of the universe indicate about the creating force, the Creator, God?
o Is God really the always and still active ruler of evolution and history?
o Is God personally reachable by human prayer? Does God ever respond?
o Is God the ultimate judge of human behavior? Is there continued life for the “souls” (if there are any “souls”)?
o What is the image one can have of God when considering all the evil, injustice, cruelty, and waste of lives in the world (the question of “theodicy”)?
- Is there any meaning or purpose to existence?
- Is everything predetermined, or is there freedom of will and action?
- If there is no God or no controlling and compassionate force in existence, is there still any meaning or purpose in existence and for our lives?
* In view of the conflicting interpretations of existence by various religions and philosophies, what is my own position? What is the meaning, purpose, and direction to follow in the course of existence? From such a personal position, what shall I do with my life?
3. SOURCES OF INSIGHT
The fundamental questions concern some of the very basic, but also the most complex and most mysterious aspects of existence. Therefore, it is proper to first investigate what sources of insight and understanding are available to the human mind before attempting to find answers to the fundamental questions.
Generally, people just accept the perspectives on life of the culture they grow up in, and pursue the values of that culture, often largely formed by some outstanding missionary personalities and religious traditions.
The approach of science is different. Science looks for objective and generally valid truth. Historically, science began by providing practical benefit, as in astronomy or geometry. In the course of time, however, scientific work resulted not only in some benefits but in totally new interpretations of existence – for example, that the Earth is not at the center of the universe, that there is biological evolution driven by excess propagation (beyond replenishment needs or means of support), genetic diversity, and selection of the fittest, that there is some natural, genetically anchored, proto-ethical, social behavior, and that all life on Earth and, actually, the whole universe as we know it will come to a complete end within a calculable time.
Philosophy is different. It appeared as an intellectual pursuit somewhere between religion and science in the attempt to achieve insight through analysis of acceptable concepts and subsequent rational thought.
Most decisions in a person’s life, actually, are based not on thorough thought but, rather, are arrived at intuitively or emotionally. What, then, is intuition? Can one trust emotions?
People in practical life have little time for speculation and limited resources for investigation. They are under pressure to decide and act – and they often mistrust speculation. They derive their orientation from their life’s experience, often tempered by human sensitivity.
This leaves us with the following, common sources of insight:
- Observation and scientific inquiry
- Religious faith and theology
- Reason and philosophy
- Intuitive thought and emotional feelings, including:
o Subconsciously derived positions
- Practical experience and human sensitivity
Some further comments:
Observation and science: In the scientific approach, insight from observation of the world and life around us is reached through the formulation of theories and the evaluation of their validity through experiments or predictions, preferably in the form of objective and reproducible measurements.
Religious faith and theology: Insight from religious faith is derived from the acceptance of inspirations or visions, teachings, and scriptural or hierarchic authority. Theology follows the philosophical approach but is based on religious premises, sometimes also involving intuition and emotional feeling.
Reason and philosophy: Insight from reason and the philosophical approach is derived through the formulation of acceptable premises and the deduction of conclusions through logic and conceptual thought. Moral philosophy comprises the analysis and normative formulation of ultimate values, right and wrong, and, in a general sense, unselfish behavior – based on the rational analysis of “moral” concepts or resulting behavior.
Intuition and emotional feelings: Insight from intuition occurs through subconscious thought processes, commonly called intuition – in ethical cases, through the referral to conscience (see the various essays in the section, “The Human Brain and Mind”, on the author’s website www.schwab-writings.com). In a more formal approach, intuition is derived by searching for clarity of mind through contemplation. The contribution of emotion is the attribution of value (valuation) to thoughts and actions – possibly resulting in a perceived “clarity” or peace of mind.
Practical experience and human sensitivity: Insight from practical experience is a form of pattern recognition in life’s experiences. Insight from human sensitivity results from putting oneself in the position of the other – but such insight does not always lead to corresponding “fair” judgment or behavior.
As one will find, each of these methods covers only a limited part of all the possible aspects of understanding existence and practical life. Furthermore, results derived from these different sources of insight quite often contradict each other. This will be discussed in the following paragraphs. Most important, all sources of insight, upon deeper penetration, end in uncertainty. Yet, it is amazing how well the human mind can operate under these circumstances.
3.1. Observation and Science
The term observation is understood in this context as the registration of phenomena, resulting in knowledge of existence and its functioning. Registration is, ultimately, the acceptance of perception in awareness, consciousness, and, finally, memory. This process, which occurs in the brain, requires clarification on a neurophysiological level. In this context, it is important to note that what a person perceives in observations is related to the associative linking of such new perceptions to preexisting memory elements (prior knowledge or prior interpretation of existence) and to the value which the observer associates with such new perceptions and their associations. This link-up of new perceptions to previously accepted and memorized perceptions results in the feeling of “understanding”. In other words, the usefulness of an observation is related to the associative structure and valuation process in the observer’s brain. Two people can observe the same event and register different impressions, as when a farmer or when Newton see an apple fall or when people with different experiences or convictions listen to a political speech.
In our times, science is presented as the leading source of insight. The elements of the scientific method are factual observation supplemented by inductive, “logical” thought leading to a theoretical concept or hypothesis. Both the prior observation and the proposed theory must be tested by reproducible, objective experiments or predictions, which can be verified at a later time. Thereby, science attempts to be factually correct, precise, and articulate.
It is important to note that penetrating observations in the field of physics ultimately reach the limits of uncertainty, as indicated by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the random distribution of many phenomena of nature.
The value of observation and the scientific approach as sources of insight depends on the area of concern. Human concerns include not only the area of observation of nature, but also the concerns of human society, personal clarification, philosophy, and religion. In the areas of those concerns, however, observation and the scientific method are not easily usable. These are the reasons:
* Many phenomena in society and in personal life are too complex, with too many players and too many variables
* Many situations involve not easily graspable emotions or ethical and cultural values
* In practical situations, there often is
à lack of qualification (or personnel) for observation or scientific assessment
à lack of funds for the above
à lack of time under the constraints of practical life
Complex social situations hardly ever repeat themselves identically. In complex, repetitive situations, all one can do is hope to recognize patterns of relationships or probabilistic developments. Such patterns are expected to provide insight into causality and dynamics. In many endeavors, however, such as the study of history, observation and analysis can explain what happened and why it happened in the past, but they are incapable of predicting what will happen in the future, or when.
Quite often, observers must and do limit themselves to the selective observation of input information. Selective observation is the registration of certain parameters or patterns by some observers at some time. If theories or prescriptive rules are formulated from such limited observation, they cannot be expected to be generally valid at all times. Furthermore, selective observation all too easily leads to selective, subjective interpretation. Therefore, one finds oneself quickly in the realm of opinion, philosophy, or speculation, especially when the emotions and values of the observer come into play (according to Hume’s Law, which says that the interpretation of observations often is burdened or influenced by the opinion of the interpreter).
The scientific approach in a complex situation, without comprehensive input and comprehensive experimental analysis of consequences, can be absolutely wrong and dangerous, as was evident in the case of “Scientific Communism”. By the same token, personal “logical” decisions in emotional family situations can also be wrong. In most cases of everyday life, there is a lack of time or funds to collect sufficient input information to arrive at a “scientifically” correct decision. Examples of this can be found in matters of important governmental or business decisions, as well as in the case of responding to a casual telephone call about plans for the evening.
The individual human being is not fully accessible to scientific observation either. Not enough phenomena of psychology can be “scientifically” observed. The sum total of an individual’s thoughts, motivations, feelings, and aspirations – the present and potential ones – is definitely too complex and variable for comprehensive scientific observation or description. For example, can science really help a young man decide whether he will do better and be more useful to mankind if he becomes a doctor, an engineer, or an activist politician? For such questions, observation yields contradictory results, and there is no room for scientific experiments.
If the human individual is not fully observable, the individual’s life environment is, in the scientific sense of the concept, even less comprehensible. The individual, in his environment, interacts with numerous other individuals. All are part of society. Society is part of Creation. One would have to observe all this to fully observe the individual interacting with Creation.
Furthermore, there is the problem of consolidation of dimensionally unrelated considerations. For example, what if business judgment contradicts social responsibility, as in some employment or pollution cases in industry? What if three dimensions are in conflict – for example, the personal desires for freedom, security, and monetary benefit? Science has developed the concept of “utility” to solve such dimensional disparities. The concept of utility, however, is only a method of quantizing an intuitive process, which, in itself, is thoroughly unscientific. The assessed utility values change in time and between individuals.
Are observations of the world around us and the methodology of science applicable to the search for a better understanding of a possible transcendental essence of existence, God, and his will, or is that the exclusive domain of religion and theology? The fact is that all religions establish a correlation between the observable world and the divine essence or mandate. Either they teach that the world, historic developments, and personal destiny are related to divine will, or they use observation of the world to explain their teachings about divine will, God’s personality, and normative statements for the human life on Earth. The old Hindu religious scriptures of the Vedas (approx. 1500 BC) have elements connecting world observation with such statements and Judeo-Christian teachings, too. The latter resort to the Last Judgment and the expected afterlife to compensate for otherwise unresolvable contradictions in this world, extrapolating this approach to another world to come.
There are two basic problems with this approach of searching for an understanding of the transcendental essence of Creation and for a direction for one’s own life through observation:
1. Does the observation of the humanly observable aspects of “Creation” really allow the deduction of valid statements about the “Creator”?
2. Does the observation of Creation really provide unequivocal normative statements for the conduct of human life (considering Hume’s Law whereby any normative interpretation of observations is fraught with the bias of the observer)?
To the extent that there is an affirmative answer to either question, at least in some areas, science becomes important as an adjunct of religious inquiry. This will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5, “Observation and Interpretation of Our Existence”.
A more important confrontation occurs where some denominational teaching and theology are in direct conflict with scientific observation. Historically, all areas of knowledge were combined in philosophical and religious teachings. In modern times, science became a separate domain of knowledge.
In all confrontations, science appears to have prevailed, dominating all inquiry into existence and casting everything into a view of causal connections in time. However, the mystery of the origin of Creation, quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Chaos Theory, and the relativity of time have provided many openings for a side-by-side existence of science and religion, though not necessarily a comfortable one. But there hardly is any side-by-side coexistence of science with narrowly fundamentalist dogma.
In summary, scientific observation is the most desirable source of insight into the factual aspects of existence. Where complex situations do not allow detailed observation, there may still be room for broad observations of general patterns or probabilistic trends. In areas of personal, social, or religious concerns, however, scientific observation is of very limited use for clarification of the “fundamental questions of existence”. There may even be a risk in over-reliance on scientific observation.
The necessary selectivity of observations in complex situations will lead to substantial subjective variances in conclusions, caused largely by the subjectivity of the selection. Usually, personal opinion and complementing speculation will then fill the gaps of observation.
The wide variance of the various intellectual theories and prescriptive models for society only demonstrate the limited help to be expected from factual observation; while, on the other hand, the progress of Western civilization proves the need for continued observation as one of several sources of insight.
Consequently, the scientific method is of limited use for complex social problems. For example, one should look at the widely varying assessment of political or economic systems by different people at different times in human history.
This leads to three conclusions:
1. The scientific intellectual approach to social problems is, at best, suitable for explanations in hindsight, but rarely for concise predictions of future events or dependable guidance in real-life situations.
2. Hume’s Law applies: The translation from observation to normative statements is difficult and, for the most part, fraught with the observer’s personal bias.
3. Good leadership cannot do without an intuitive element, which is subsequently justified by selectively chosen observations and reasons.
3.2. Religious Faith and Theology
All great cultures have turned to religious explanations for an understanding of existence and destiny. Does that mean humans are inherently religious? Two aspects may have led to the belief in gods or transcendental forces  :
1. In the evolution of the human mind, conscious recognition of causality became a key element in understanding existence. Causality was expected in all the events of nature (including lightning and earthquakes) and also in the events of history or personal destiny. In early cultures, the invisibility of causes in many such events may have led to the acceptance of powerful “spirits” or gods as causes.
2. The human mind is capable of visualizations (mental images of visual, verbal, acoustic, or other sensory characteristics) independent of actual sensory perception. That is what “thought” is all about – or the work of writers in creating fictitious characters and stories. Consequently, we can live in two worlds, the real world of perceptions and the virtual world of our thoughts or visualizations. The natural evolution of human consciousness and the recognition of visualizations in the mind (and emotions of the “heart”) led to a distinction between body and mind – in Greek thought between body, mind, and soul. This allowed for the perception and belief in the gods as beings of mind and soul, without always-perceptible bodies.
Consequently, myths of Creation and destiny arose. Primitive gods demanded sacrifices, sophisticated gods demanded acceptable behavior before they would grant favorable destiny.
In our scientific times, the quest for transcendental concepts remains when considering the origin of all existence in the Big Bang that caused our world to appear (or in the structural foundation of a multiplicity of universes). It also continues in the recognition of natural evolution as a wondrously sophisticated development (even when anchored in the natural laws that appeared together with the first subatomic particles upon granulation of the original energy and from subsequent “emerging” phenomena). But the observation of the often cruel history of mankind, harsh personal destiny, and of the waste of so many organisms and human beings everywhere and throughout all times, leaves one with substantial doubts.
For many humans, the emotions of the “heart” are more important and prevail over the explanations of the searching mind. Consequently, they find their support in existence not in scientific observation but in their belief in transcendental concepts of gods or goddesses of love and compassion or in their belief in a merciful supreme being.
Generally, people do not formulate their own basic questions of existence. People do not search for, and follow, individual interpretations of existence but follow the beliefs of their respective culture. This corresponds to common human behavior: to join, to be expected to join, or be forced to join groups with a common outlook on life, religion, or ideology. Coordinated social action is thereby facilitated in defining value scales, group objectives, and education. Religions and ideologies provide an interpretation of existence, an explanation how the world functions, hence, the objectives for human behavior and actions.
The religions and ideologies of large groups cannot go into specifics for each individual; instead, they concentrate on what they consider the main aspects of human existence, or the main concerns of people. Buddhism, which originated 2,500 years ago, relates mainly to man’s suffering and teaches a path leading to escape from existence by being unattached and by seeking enlightenment through meditation, not science. Christianity, which originated 2,000 years ago, also relates to man’s suffering as being caused too often by human fault, sin, and guilt; and teaches forgiveness, moral effort, good deeds and the hope for a better world in the afterlife in Heaven. In the modern world, Communism and, to a lesser degree, Socialism are still preoccupied with man’s suffering as being caused by exploitation; they teach social change – if not revolution – negation of the preeminence of individualism, and a utopian world after the re-education of all people.
A great blessing of the Christian religion is the provision of comfort to the souls of the suffering – in this world or in heaven – as is the teaching of compassion for those who do suffer. An even greater blessing is the providing of stimulation for pro-active change and for strength to cope with the problems of this life.
It is interesting to note that religions and ideologies are primarily (and almost exclusively) concerned with human suffering and shortcomings, and less with defining and maximizing the wide spectrum of positive opportunities in existence, the development of the human multi-faceted positive capabilities, and the fostering of initiative for responsible improvements in this world.
Religions and ideologies should be judged by the extent of their validity (truth) and of their usefulness to man in fulfilling his existence. Guidance to use opportunities, to grow, and to see positively valued objectives beyond the utilitarian should be as important (or, actually, more) as delving into problems and avoiding perceived dangers.
There is a need for a factually more correct system of thought, one that gives better guidance in our times and provides a better balance between tolerance or goodness, on one hand, and self-correcting forces against abuse or degeneration, on the other.
The following is a detailed discussion of faith, inspiration, or theology as sources of insight:
Faith shall be defined as the acceptance of personal convictions or religious inspiration about God, or other spiritual concerns of existence. Such convictions or inspiration may be one’s own, or they may be received by others. Thereby, faith reaches beyond factual scientific observation or proof and relates to the so-called “transcendental.”
The use of faith as a source of insight is fraught with three dilemmas:
1. God does not communicate with mankind unequivocally or always when asked.
One cannot simply “meet” God. There never has been direct, conscious, and reproducible communication between any human being and God. All reported contacts with God have been subjective, momentary, not reproducible, and often contradictory. Many religious opinions, which were presented as being based on divine inspiration or teaching, turned out to have devastating consequences (for example, the Aztec priests’ demand for sacrifices, the Inquisition, some Crusades, and, lately, Muslim violence). Recourse directly to God for further clarification or correction was never possible. More important, interference by God with misguided or wrong religious teachings or directions did not occur – except possibly through long-term historic developments. Even Pope Benedict XVI lamented on May 28, 2006, upon visiting the former Auschwitz concentration camp: “Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate this?”
2. There are substantial contradictions between the various religious faiths and between most religions and science.
3. The insight gained by faith is, ultimately, anchored in belief, even when called personal conviction, not in reason. But such anchoring is often very firm in the minds of the believers, even when facing objective contradictions (but mostly negating them).
New questions and problems arise all the time for individuals and societies. New insights occur during the evolution of cultures. Different cultures, often far removed from the original source of their religion, may have different concerns. If God cannot be called upon when needed, human interpretation of old traditions or ancient scriptures (exegesis) sets in. As different interpretations are possible, religions split. As prior interpretations from the historic past appear inadequate, new denominations or new religions appear – often too late to prevent damage (see not only the Muslim fundamentalism).
Who judges whether the old or the new is valid from then on? What if, in one’s own life, personal doubts set in and one is exposed to other religions or begins to build one’s own edifice of beliefs and convictions? How can one decide or find what is right?
For the faithful believer, new insight and answers can be found in one’s “heart”, in “conscience”, prayer, meditation, or a deeper investigation of scriptures and faith, preferably by the wise, God-blessed, saints, or appointed priests, who never refuse to assume this responsibility quite willingly. However, this does not resolve the dilemma indicated earlier, regarding the limitation or unavailability of unequivocal insight by faith and by direct reference to God’s will through communication with God when needed.
There is also the question to what degree the “heart” and conscience are reliable indicators of God’s will, since it is known that both the feeling of the heart and conscience are influenced by learning and cultural circumstances, if not, in addition, by personal preferences. If a person has to make a decision that will have an impact on his or her own family, as well as thousands of others, will that person be able to depend on his or her “heart” and conscience alone for the decision to be right?
Unfortunately, history is full of examples where the position of one religious person or party was not accepted by another person or church and was even rejected as wrong, bad, or dangerous (for example, the Inquisition, teachings about modern morality, or some fundamentalists’ proclamations, as, for example, the claim of some Jewish settlers for their religious right to settle in the West Bank or Muslim calls for Holy War against the “infidel” or “apostates”). There have been endless and cruel wars among various groups following different religious ideas, most notably among different Christian denominations, but also between Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
There are a number of arguments in explanation of God’s restraint from communication:
* Such restraint is the basis of human freedom, self-determination, and responsibility.
* God may want diversity among humans and their thoughts, including their faiths.
* There may have been a need for a multilevel, phased development of religious thought in the course of history commensurate with evolving human mental capability and sophistication.
Here are some comments on the preceding list:
Regarding “Such restraint is the basis of human freedom, self-determination, and responsibility”:
The restraint in divine communication has been a concern of mankind at all times. How often was an indication by God asked for by individuals and societies in trouble! The ancient world already reported stories on how dependence on oracles could be misleading. On the other hand, the followers of the Judeo-Christian religions and followers of other religions believe that God did speak clearly from time to time, even though such communication did not begin until thousands of years after humans had managed to develop civilized societies. After that, the speaking of God continued haltingly. Over the past two thousand years, it did not occur at all to Christians or Jews, although God’s message is believed by Muslims to have been heard by Muhammad. Or should one believe more recently reported revelations by Mormons and other religions or sects? Which revelation are we to follow? Which are we to reject as false? How can one resolve contradictions, even partial shortcomings of otherwise acceptable revelations? If we follow one religion, do we have to accept the whole package, or can we choose what parts to accept, and what not? Based on what? Do we have the freedom, even the responsibility, to be critical? Can we, and should we, use our mind to interpret God’s will? Was our mind not given to us to be used? On the other hand, the mind is widely regarded as an inadequate source of insight, as shown in other chapters. Can personal inspiration fill in the gap? Does it? For many believers, such personal inspiration is the greatest source of insight and strength.
It should be noted that such a concept of the divine intent of human mental freedom, self-determination, and responsibility can be in conflict with the God-image of a caring father who averts disaster and helps in predicaments, specifically those resulting from lack of guidance. Religions have repeatedly attempted to provide insight into this predicament through various perspectives or theories intended to provide peace of mind to the believers. Factual observation has shown these attempts to be inadequate.
One should note, in addition, that the concept of divine intent of human freedom, self-determination, and responsibility assumes that humans are interested in assuming responsibility beyond self-interest. Can, and do, self-interest and the pursuit of the best interest for mankind coincide? Most likely, only in the sense of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Thus, God’s restraint in communication remains an enigma, which a religious person must accept and theology cannot explain. Blessed are those who, in predicaments of lacking guidance, clearly know what correct answer to give or what right path to follow.
Regarding ”God may want diversity among humans and their thoughts, including their faiths”:
If one accepts this thought, does it imply that there is more than one truth? How can that be when religious dogma usually is quite specific as to ritual, ethical rules, and life after death? Which religion should one follow? God cannot be understood as wanting false or obnoxious beliefs. Some religions are, or were, truly despicable, as the Aztec’s with their human sacrifices. How can one decide which religions are acceptable to God and which are not? Catholics and Protestants already have trouble with each other, more so the Jews and the Muslims, and beyond. Many people find something good and something bad in a variety of religions, but cannot or do not want to compose their own religious faith. Acceptance of diversity contradicts the major religion’s claim to be the only keeper of God’s revelation and their missionary zeal. The conclusion – that everybody is supposed to construct his or her own religious faith – puts an enormous burden on everybody’s mind and sense of responsibility. Will many people and society at large really be better off if individuals seek insight from their own religious thoughts?
Regarding ’There may have been a need for a multilevel, phased development of religious thought throughout history commensurate with evolving human mental capabilities”:
Such a need, if justified in historic terms, would also exist within our own time, considering the wide cultural difference between human groups all over the globe – some still living under almost prehistoric conditions, some tending to live in the future. A multilevel religion would pose the same dilemma as the diversity of religions, and it would contradict most missionary effort. This approach could also open a full controversy between modern science as the newest level of insight gained by mankind and any historic religion, making all insight gained by religion subject to scientific review. But the weakness of science as a source of insight for the conduct of human life had been indicated before.
After all, there still may be wisdom in a multilevel structure of religion, allowing people to find comfort and guidance in accordance with their mental capabilities and emotional needs (see the essay, “Religion: What is Religion? What Should Religion Be?”, in the section, “Philosophy/Theology” on the author’s website www.schwab-writings.com).
Religious inspiration shall be defined as ideas or thoughts that one considers religiously valid and which one considers as being of divine origin or commensurate with divine intent.
Inspiration is either spontaneous or is sought in meditation or prayer or in response to prayer. The great founders of religions, religious leaders, and saints have often referred to inspiration as their source of insight. Inspiration, as discussed here, is the divine revelation of thoughts or concepts to the human mind. Many individuals, in their search for a course through existence, have experienced the gaining of clarity through what they felt as “inspiration”. Some even report that God or angels have “spoken” to them. More commonly, religious people resort to prayer in situations of great sorrow, insecurity, or joy. This occurs not only out of the need for spiritual communication of the soul with God, but also in the quest for comfort, guidance, and strength to cope with life.
There is no doubt that there have been cases where religious “inspiration” was a great blessing to mankind and to many individuals. In that sense, religious inspiration is a valid source of insight for those concerned. But was it always thus? How reliable a source of insight is religious inspiration? Already the Greeks could not fully trust their oracles.
Regarding religious inspiration, the view of most religions is that God whispered into the ear of only one person, the founder of that person’s religion, expecting this leader to convert the rest of the whole world from their respective religions to the new one. There is another view. As mankind ascends the mountain of knowledge and wisdom, the most gifted or most capable individuals reach new vistas of the universe and interpret them. They tell struggling mankind behind them of their discovery and encourage them to follow them toward the light. Some err in their interpretation of what they see and lead mankind into horrible abysses, as the priests of the Aztecs or the Popes during the Inquisition, not to mention the innumerable other and often less significant misinterpretations.
In the freedom given to mankind, we must keep struggling up that mountain, hoping to reach ever-greater visions of the ultimate “Structure-providing Essence of Creation”, of God, of a meaningful if not correct direction for our lives – and hoping not to err in our interpretations.
The scientific perspective on existence does not fully exclude the possibility of divine inspiration. Not only is there the para-scientific area of ESP (extrasensory perception), but there are also probabilistic (if not random) phenomena and uncertainty limits in neurophysiological processes in the brain, similar to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in physics, but here related to thought and thought sequences. As explained by Chaos Theory, such minor differences could have substantial consequences. This would allow divine influence on thought without violation of the laws of nature.
However, more often than not, religious inspiration must be seen as a form of intuitive thought subject to the typical neurophysiological processes and limitations of all human thought processes (see the various essays on “The Brain and Mind” on the author’s website, specifically the ones on “Mental Creativity”).
If the possibility for divine inspiration is accepted, then the lack of such inspiration in critical moments of great need must also be seen as within divine responsibility – leading to severe questions for the existing religions (see the above-quoted recent statements by Pope Benedict XVI).
Theology is the inquiry into the correct understanding of God and God’s intent. All theology, however, is denominationally determined. In other words, theologians begin with premises based on the teachings of the respective founders of the religious denomination that they investigate while seeking conclusions that result from such premises. If the founders of those religious denominations are dead, the theologians seek their premises in the remembered or reported teachings in scriptures. These scriptures are either canonized (that is, declared as invariable and valid) or become subject to critical review. Therefore, the truth one finds through theology is as good as the truth in the respective original teachings, the reports, the scriptures, and, finally, the exegetic conclusions of the theologians.
What one does not find in theology is a more original understanding of the term: an open, all-inclusive inquiry into any possible knowledge of or about God, possibly leading beyond existing dogma – for example, by means of experiments or statistics in “quantitative theology” (see the STEP-project on the “Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer” under Dr. Dusek at Harvard and other hospitals, reported in April, 2006). Specifically, there is inadequate effort in Judeo-Christian and Muslim theology to reconcile the major scriptures of religion with the science-based observations and understanding of the world and nature as available in our time. Shouldn’t the observation of Creation tell us something about the Creator?
There is inadequate effort, as well, in many religions and among many theologians to account for changing practicality in the world and growing human sensitivity among and for many segments of the population.
The concerns of “religion” have always been in some overlap and, in modern times, in confrontation with science. Some early religions can actually be seen as proto-scientific attempts by exceptional thinkers and pragmatic leaders to explain the world through basic observation and much speculation that was believed to make sense. Today, religion is relegated to the human concern with the perceived supernatural, spiritual, transcendental essence of existence (but mostly concentrates on taboos, less on ethics or morals, and too little on providing a convincing world-view).
As indicated in the Chapter 3.1., “Observation and Science”, it is interesting to note that all religions establish a correlation between the observable world and the divine essence of existence. Either they teach that the world, historic developments, and personal destiny are all related to divine will, or they use observation of the world to explain their teachings about divine will, God’s personality, and normative statements for the human life on Earth. The Vedas have elements connecting world observation with such statements and the Judeo-Christian teachings, too.
In other words, there should be no contradictions between insights gained through religion and science. Either science over-interprets its findings and the conclusions thus derived, or religion has to adjust to new knowledge about God’s Creation.
The Primary Domains of Religion
The primary domains of religious thought and dogma are:
à Prescriptions for sacrifice, ritual, dress code, and cleanliness
à The cause of Creation, God
à The order of the world, Destiny
à The image of God
à The personal God (comfort, help, personal guidance, peace of mind)
à Values (including cultural taboos), ethics, and Divine judgment
à Meaning or the purpose of existence and personal life (objectives in existence)
Prescriptions for sacrifice, ritual, dress code, and cleanliness
This domain of religion is fraught with the three dilemmas of faith and theology – the limited communication with God, the contradictions within the diversity of religions, and the anchoring of faith in beliefs.
One can also consider the previously quoted points – the desirability of human freedom and responsibility in this as it is in many other areas, the possible desirability of diversity, and the possible need for stepped or phased levels of sophistication.
If this is so, sacrifice, rituals, dress codes, and rules of cleanliness are, possibly, not based in divine inspiration or religious dogma, but instead become a domain of culture, hygiene, and psychology, if they do not remain the domain of the whims of the priests. Sacrifices, originally intended for the gods, became historically deflected to support payments for priests, the building, and decoration of shrines, and charitable giving. Rituals and dress codes became folkloristic or badges of membership, whatever their implied symbolism is postulated to be. The rules of cleanliness, including ritual mutilation, must be reviewed, if not critiqued, against a background of medical considerations and the civil rights of individuals.
In sum, Divine mandates for sacrifice, ritual, dress code, and cleanliness may historically be understandable; but, in our time, a religious view of existence provides no insight into their global tenability (except in instances of sacrifices that take the form of public service or charitable giving).
The conflict between various religions regarding the story of Creation could, most likely, be settled by science. But science will never find the cause for Creation (or for the phenomenon of a “multiverse” and its structure, as presented by the newest string theory), thus leaving Creation as the quintessential justification for religious thought.
The order of the world, Destiny
The interpretation of destiny, expressed in evolution and history, is an area of overlap between science and religion. Science attempts to explain every step of natural evolution and the course of history in hindsight, but it can predict neither. Religion perceives the hand of God in evolution and human history, specifically in God’s response to human behavior, needs, and prayer.
For religion to be a source of insight into the course of evolution and history, the religiously postulated God-image and Divine actions should correspond to the past course and should somewhat indicate the future course of evolution and history. The great religions of the world, with their static view of Creation, do not refer to natural evolution, and specifically not to the Darwinian character of pre-human life in its lack of fairness or compassion and its often great cruelty with prevalence of mutual destruction. A revision of their view of the spirituality of existence and of their God-image would be necessary in order to let them provide insight into that phase of Creation (almost in the form of “evolutionary theology”).
The great religions see in the course of human history reward for the beloved of God and punishment for God’s enemies, often in ethical terms. The Judeo-Christian tradition presents the Jews as the only beloved nation of God on all of Earth, in cases of conflict prevailing over its enemies, as long as the Jewish people follow the path of Jewish Law. The explanation of the disasters suffered by the Jews and by so many “innocent” nations throughout history is lost in the intractable problem of theodicy, the understanding of God in terms of the cruelty, injustice, suffering, and waste of life in this world (and taken up by evolutionary biologists in Darwinian terms).
Interestingly, modern historians such as Arnold Toynbee explain the rise and fall of nations and civilizations in ethical terms, mixed with a degree of practicality borrowed from Darwinian considerations. The leading politicians of our day appeal to maintaining “values” as the basis for a strong future of society. This corresponds to the scientific fact that social behavior and the strength of societies is based on natural and genetically anchored “ethical” behavior in caring for clan members, reciprocity, and sacrifice for the clan.
With religions’ static view of human civilization, they do not refer to the evolution of human civilization through the centuries. Religions would have to revise their view of the spirituality of existence, as well as their God-image, before they could allow religion and theology to provide insight into the course of history and the evolution of human civilization.
Meaning and purpose of existence and personal life (objectives in existence)
This domain – together with the foundation of values and ethics – is the most significant one of religion and theology. It is the one with the greatest potential for the benefit of all people on Earth if it could provide a deeper meaning and purpose of life through a spiritual view of existence – its grandiose and often beautiful appearance, its order, freedom, and, thereby, implied responsibility for all humans.
The concepts of “meaning” and “purpose” are not unequivocal; yet they are central to the religious needs of people. “Meaning” relates to “making sense”, to importance, causality, purpose, and usefulness in existence and in one’s personal life. In general, people who are without any mental or professional tasks to accomplish, are lonely, or without any useful place in society, see their life as devoid of meaning. On the other hand, people engaged in substantial mental or professional tasks, in happy family connections or performing useful functions in society, see meaning in their lives. A religious view of existence, facilitating insight into the underlying spiritual forces (God), could provide “meaning” to the life of the believer within the greater order of Creation.
“Purpose” is a more goal-oriented concept. With their static view of Creation and civilization, the great religions have, for the most part, not provided a goal for mankind on Earth. On an individual and almost selfish level, though, all religions present the goal of reaching personal happiness at the end of life, in Heaven or in Nirvana, through purposeful actions or behavior (including the maintaining of “faith”) here on Earth. This makes the expected goal and rules for achieving it pivotal for the definition of purpose in daily life. In other words, the insight these religions provide regarding “purpose” in life is as correct or incorrect, as useful or counterproductive, as their view of death, Divine judgment, and the afterlife.
This perspective would change if religions were to view the development of mankind and civilizations in evolutionary and historical terms here on Earth, and individual contribution to such development as purpose. In the same sense, some people may see the prevention of “misguided” developments as their purpose in life (see the anti-nuclear movement).
For modern environmentalists, the conserving of nature “as is”, even returning to an earlier state, can be another, often overriding purpose, one also not covered by the great religions.
The personal God (providing comfort, help, personal guidance, and peace of mind)
A spiritual view of existence that would comprise God’s action in evolution and history necessarily leads to a “personal God”. How would God, in the course of natural evolution, have created the surprising phenomena of speech, thought, emotions, and values among mankind and would, now, not perceive them, would not be reachable by them? Thus, a religious concept of existence can, or should, provide commensurate insight into the question of a “personal, reachable, and responsive God”.
Most people call out for God when they are in trouble. All religions stall when they attempt to explain the bad and evil in this world except by postulating a spiritual anti-force, the devil, – or they leave the problems of theodicy unresolved.
No religion provides insight into the great rarity and only-probabilistic appearance of Divine response to supplication. The belief in God’s responsiveness and providing help is left to religious conviction and, more importantly, to personal experience. Such experience belongs to the most important factors in a religious person’s life. But that would make such religion a religion of the survivors and the lucky or successful ones. What Divine responsiveness can the ardently praying losers believe in? Should religions not be valid for all?
One would need a quantitative, analytical approach to theology (“quantitative theology”) in order to establish clear insight into the reachability and response of God to prayer. In a minor way, this was attempted a couple of times in the recent past through statistical polling of various population groups, taking their religious position into account (see also the above mentioned STEP-project). The interpretation of such limited observations was inconclusive.
This leaves open the question whether a personal, individual relationship to God is just a matter of religious faith. All great religions encourage personal prayer to God, and all offer the possibility of response by God.
Values, ethics, and divine judgment
The foundation of values and ethics in the spiritual or divine order of existence (together with establishing meaning and purpose of existence) is the most significant domain of religion and theology. Proper guidance in this domain has great potential for the benefit of all people by providing clarity and a firm foundation for their lives in realizing their freedom, but also, more importantly, in assuming their implied responsibility.
The field of normative ethics analyzes and states what is “right” or “wrong”. At stake is the definition of a balance between the pursuit of personal benefit and the conceding of benefit to others (in sharing of time, effort, and wealth), whether in brotherly/sisterly love, public service, or charitable works. A proper balance is considered “right”, the opposite is “wrong”.
Can religion be a source of insight into normative ethics? As far back as history reports, one can see that humans sought the favor of their gods through God-pleasing behavior. Hence, it was believed that the gods did prescribe, or that their priests could prescribe what was pleasing to the gods. Consequently, there is a direct correlation between the God-image of civilizations and their ethical standards (see, for example, Jesus’ concept of God as the loving and providing “father”). One can only hope or pray for the right God-image. One must be careful – but also grateful – if one has reason to believe that one has found the right God-image. The resulting conviction can either be disturbing or it can be the greatest source of peace and strength in life and comfort in sorrow.
The specific problems with all religiously based rules of ethics are the “absolute” terms of their formulations – not taking any practical limitations or balance between extremes into consideration. How far does one have to go in dividing and sharing one’s property with the poor? Must nations accept an unlimited number of asylum seekers and any number of immigrants who are just seeking a better life? No guidance is provided by the great religions as to finding a balance in typical moral conflicts between own concerns (including the personal pursuit of one’s interests, caring for one’s own family, the fulfillment of personal duties, and obeying the law), benefit to society, and the interest of other individuals. Resolving this lack of guidance in conflict or in marginal situations should be a specific task for theology.
If normative ethics are derived from God-given rules, their pursuit must be seen as God-pleasing, their violation as offensive to God. Divine judgment in this world or in the afterlife is the presumed consequence. Since judgment is not clearly visible in this world, it is assumed to occur in the afterlife. Is that necessarily so? Could the principle of freedom and responsibility for the human phase of Creation imply limited involvement by God and full responsibility for mankind to establish ethical conditions on Earth? The clarification of this point would constitute another unfulfilled task for theology.
The image of God
All previously discussed questions can be derived from mankind’s understanding of the spiritual forces (or their absence) in the origin and ongoing evolution of existence. In religious terms, this is the search for the right image of God. Is God the tribal leader of the Jews? Is God the strict judge of all mankind (and by which laws)? Is God the all-providing and loving father?
Should one say, as Maimonides did, that one knows (the attributes of) God by observing his actions? Is this an invitation to study God through a scientific interpretation of the world, including the gruesome Darwinian pre-human phase of evolution as still visible in nature all around us and including all the gruesome events of history? Religion and theology are expected to show the way. In their present divisiveness and inflexible adherence to old concepts, they may be unable to solve the concerns of mankind.
3.4. Reason and Philosophy
With intellectual superiority being the main strength of the human species, one should expect that inquiry by reason and the resulting method of philosophical inquiry would become the main approach to an understanding of existence. Do reason and philosophy lead to insight?
Philosophy is the general term for the intellectual approach to understanding, in contrast to the mystical approach of religion based on inspirations and beliefs.
Moral philosophy comprises the analysis and normative formulation of values, assessment of “right” and “wrong”, and, in a general sense, unselfish behavior. Moral philosophy analyzes but does not create or prove ethical values, except when taking recourse to utilitarian considerations (see the philosophical maxim that “morally right is what provides the most good for the most people”).
Philosophy comprised science through many centuries of intellectual development. Science became separated from philosophy as their respective methods of inquiry digressed. Science pursued the building of factual knowledge in the narrow strictness of objective observation and verifiable experimentation or prediction. Philosophy retained that part of inquiry which uses as its method the starting from generally accepted premises and deduction of possible conclusions through logical thought. In a variation on this procedure, the philosophical approach also serves when starting with new conceptual thoughts and then retroactively proving it through logical deduction from prior points of knowledge or accepted premises. The acceptability of premises and the selection of a logical path in thought give philosophy an often subjective, speculative character. This explains the large diversity of philosophies developed by leading thinkers (and lesser ones) throughout history.
Can science be of use in philosophy? Certainly in establishing premises. Only as the philosophical premises are scientifically viable can philosophical conclusions be considered for subsequent proof by scientific experiments. One could see this as philosophy being subordinated to science (an inversion of the historical order). On the other hand, philosophy may claim that the processes of logic and inductive thought used by science do not escape philosophical scrutiny or consideration.
Philosophy can progress faster than science, though speculatively, in areas of scientific uncertainty. Such areas are found in sociological concerns and speculations about the order of the world and its meaning, in fields touching on political ideologies, and religion. The problem lies in the fact that, in those multi-dimensionally complex fields, philosophy often tends to follow premises based on selective observations, which lead to conclusions that may have been preconceived by individual preference. The results are partial truths and may be misleading, as is visible in so many diverse philosophies. Political ideologies are typical examples of this quasi-philosophical thought behavior, as in Marxism – the perspective of class struggle based on “scientific” materialism.
It is typical for human mental behavior to take a defensive or aggressive attitude toward people with different perspectives, ideologies, or religions. Alternatives of thought are not accepted, even if their results are superior in value. The reason for such behavior may be the mind’s necessary tendency to be satisfied with selective observation  and with man’s apparently innate desire to find the one and only, ultimate truth or formula of knowledge from which all else can be derived. The reclusion to selective observation and the acceptance of an ultimate formula would give the desired guidelines for all problems of life and thus eliminate the fear of insecurity or contradiction. The loss of freedom that goes with the acceptance of such reclusion in ultimate rules is – for the most part – either overlooked or neglected.
The administrators or interpreters of such exclusive rules can establish hierarchies. The belonging to a large group of like-minded people provides security for the weak. Intellectuals, in particular, like to move in large “schools” of thought, hence the success of prevalent thought, political correctness, and ideologies among intellectuals and hence the need for mistrust against prevailing or fashionable teachings by intellectuals.
Critical analysis of any thought perspective shows its superior validity only for some questions or for some people at some times, its lesser validity elsewhere or at other times. Therefore, it is preferable to be able to think from a variety of perspectives or to be open to valid alternatives when presented by others.
Even the Christian perspective, when applied to intellectual thought, had severe limitations or shortcomings – for instance at the beginning of scientific research and in the Galileo argument and the arguments about Darwin’s theory, and lately in some political conflict about Socialism and birth control in the Third World. Openness toward other thought perspectives has to be retained, if for no other reason than to allow investigation of novel areas of concern or progression of thought in times when circumstances or knowledge have changed.
Acceptance of thought under several perspectives constitutes a “not-closed system of thought”; see Chapter 4 on contradictions and decision-making. In search of deeper insight into existence, one must strongly recommend the accepting of such a not-closed system approach to thought. However, a not-closed system leads to conflicting results, depending on the perspective preferred or being applied. Therefore, logical thought and philosophy are insufficient as sources of insight for clearly answering the “Basic Questions”.
While recommending openness toward the perspectives of other individuals, there is also some merit in the systematic completion of one’s own thought concepts. Too many times, life demands the taking of a clear position as the basis for action. At best, there comes an opportunity for a review from time to time. This compromise between perseverance and flexibility is difficult to find, but it is what life demands.
The premises and thoughts of philosophers are expressed in the words of the language used by the originator of such work. The correlation between language and thought is well known. Langer’s “Mind – An Essay on Human Feeling” is of special interest in this regard, presenting “words” as symbolization of more or less complex patterns of “feeling”. Since feeling has some commonality, but also considerable variety among people, the relative significance and even value of thought varies, too. The problems with the translation of philosophical essays into other languages demonstrate this point.
One can observe that thought often follows habitual patterns (for the reasons, see the author’s essays, “Creative Thought” and “Mental Creativity”). Additionally, there are variances with geography which are not only caused by difference in language but also by differences in culture (“culture” being defined as the emotional formation of the environment as expressed in behavior, morals, art, and language). In this manner, the differences in ideology, philosophy, or religion among groups of people are not only forming differences in language, they are also being formed by such differences as expressing culture-specific thoughts and feelings.
From the above follows the conclusion that the usage of narrowly defined words simplifies communications and basic inquiry. On the other hand, more vaguely defined words with ramified areas of coverage are needed for the innovative, associative probing of new and complex areas by thought – and for faster progression of thought.
Somewhat related is the observation that man’s superiority over computers stems partially from the fact that man can think in vague terms. This vagueness may refer either to the vagueness of input information or to the vagueness of the concepts being processed.
In any practical application – whether it is in business, social conversation, education, or one’s own searching thought – one should be prepared to move between simple computer logic and multi-perspective vagueness as the situation demands.
The shortcomings of logical thought in searching for insight are especially apparent in the so-called gray-zone problems of life, when neither one of two extreme positions is acceptable and a middle ground appears optimal. Value judgments often fall into this category.
Greek philosophers postulated that virtue lies in finding the right middle ground between two vices. A typical instance is the use of resources (including money). An ideal of restraint in spending lies between wastefulness and avarice. In another example, courage lies between foolhardiness and cowardice.
Logic argumentation is often used to undermine value judgment through the method of “relativation” of value positions in the gray-zone. Many people find themselves with moral values and traditions that they have to defend against logic argument by “intellectual” liberals or against their own intellect-serving temptations. Consider the following set of related concepts covering a certain value scale: love, sex, pornography, offense – or the value scale: need for law and order, constitution, the constitution serving the people, the people defining what they want, people doing what they want, terror and crime. Other examples reach from democracy to totalitarian systems and from Christianity to the splendors of medieval popes.
The logic “relativation” process starts from the positive, accepted end of the chain of concepts, such as love or the need for law and order. Logic is then used to prove that going to the next step in the chain or gray-zone is justified, and that it still leaves one related to the value frame of the original concept.
On the other hand, logic proves that any opposition to this expansion is based merely on opinions relative to subjective emotionalism in contradiction to the originally accepted values. Thus, he who accepts love can be convinced to accept sex as well, and he who accepts constitutionality is expected to accept what the people express as their wishes. Then, in a step-by-step progression, all value limits between all steps are intellectually argued away. Finally, all scaling of values is destroyed, and permissiveness makes room for negative extremes.
Interestingly, it may be the “intellectual” who is the first to revert back to a chain of concepts leading to suppression, as in political correctness or in dictatorial countries with ideological underpinnings. Thus, the intellectual is often the worst suppressor of the freedom of the mind.
In summary, logical thought can liberate mankind from oppressive codes; but sometimes it introduces new oppressive codes.
Generally, logical thought and intellectualism do not yield insight into value problems of existence or matters of feeling. Reason and philosophy are methods used in the pursuit of insights that are fraught with shortcomings, limitations, and pitfalls. On the other hand, that is all we intellectually have (beyond beliefs and emotions) with which to analyze highly complex situations that are beyond the reach of science and are not covered by religious beliefs.
3.5. Intuitive Thought, Meditation, and Feeling
For many individuals, the understanding of complex situations or the solutions to complex problems can arrive at their minds without prior analytical or logical thought processes – by “intuition”. Meditation is expected to help in arriving at clarity of mind and intuition. For other individuals, clarity of mind in complex situations can be derived from emotions or feelings, as from conscience.
“Intuitive thought” shall be defined as the appearance in awareness of an idea or thought without prior conscious thought leading up to it. Reliance on such ideas or thoughts may lead to acting “intuitively”. In this sense, intuitive thought is believed to be different from associative thought, where one conscious thought phase leads to another, subsequent phase, as in logical thought. As shown in the essay, “Mental Creativity” on the author’s website, intuitive thought may actually be of the same neurological type as logical thought, however subconsciously. Subconscious thought can reach consciousness when important associations are found, which (when they appear in consciousness) are then called “intuitive ideas.” The following provides an analysis of intuitive idea generation.
The left side of the brain specializes in analytical and speech functions. The right side of the brain specializes in three-dimensional and holistic considerations. In the daily tasks of practical modern life, the left side dominates. Therefore – to a large extent – associative connections available from the right side go without awareness. It often takes the calming of left-side brain activity to bring right-sided associations to a relative signal level where they can arrive at awareness and consciousness. Such thoughts or problem solutions suddenly appearing in awareness are commonly referred to as “intuitive ideas”. They appear more easily under quiet conditions, for example, in contemplation or prayer. The origin of many intuitive ideas in the right side of the brain is the reason why many of these spontaneous ideas are of the holistic or structural type.
It should be noted that many intuitive solutions are wrong. Most intuitions are based on a form of pattern recognition or on prior experience with what works under similar circumstances.
Meditation is a controlled thought process (Webster’s: The revolving of a subject in the mind) or a mental exercise that is expected to provide mental calming (peace), strength, and clarification in the sense of a more harmonious or better understanding of existence. In its extreme form, meditation is expected to lead to enlightenment. (Enlightenment provides the psychological effect of a factually un-founded feeling of supreme and holistic insight into existence.)
Meditation covers a wide spectrum of mental exercise regimens, from the sublime to the absurd. There is no doubt that the calming, mentally purifying, and focusing effect of some meditation can sometimes lead to new and holistic ideas or views of existence, such as those described for “intuition”. Therefore, it is recommendable to utilize some form of meditation to arrive at such benefits in any of the four areas mentioned above – philosophical inquiry, religious guidance and inspiration, ethical judgment by conscience, and practical decision-making in complex situations of daily life .... and even in developing a new scientific hypothesis.
The term “feeling” is used here in a colloquial sense as it relates to the emotions. This is different from the term of physical feeling as in “sensing”. Common colloquial expressions are: “I feel that this is right”, or “I feel we should do this”, especially in situations of ethical conflict. In this sense, feeling is another form of intuitive thought, specifically in situations of valuation or indications of what one considers valid in emotional terms. The term conscience is referred to when intuitively arriving at a valuation in ethical dilemmas.
Intuitive thought, meditation, and feeling are found to provide insight or guidance under widely different circumstances. However, four areas are of special importance:
1. Philosophical inquiry
2. Religious guidance and inspiration
3. Ethical judgment by conscience
4. Practical decision-making in complex situations of daily life
The pursuit of insight into complex problems of philosophy can benefit specifically from contemplation or meditation in order to arrive at “intuitive” ideas. As shown in the author’s essay on “Mental Creativity”, the analytical, conscious, left-sided brain functions do not always yield adequate solutions. The meditative approach to activating right-sided brain support may be helpful.
From a scientific point of view (see the author’s essay, “Creative Thought”), all creative thought progresses combinatorially, arriving at ever more complex combinations of prior elements in memory and new perceptions. The thought progression is guided by the prior valuation of associative links. This includes a temperamental input on valuation. Therefore, the results of any form of thought are subject to the available memory content and the valuation of associations in the brain. Meditation and intuitive thought are expected to facilitate additional memory access and additions to the associative process, mainly from the right side of the brain.
In the scientific view, the mental phenomenon of obtaining religious guidance or divine inspiration can be seen as a form of intuitive thought. This subject – with its possibilities and limitations, its strengths and weaknesses, having been so important in mankind’s history – has been discussed in a prior paragraph that discussed religious faith as a source of insight. All religions have found that meditation is helpful in arriving at intuitive insight.
Even in religious thought and inspiration, the above-indicated limitations on the human thought process apply to existing memory content, new perceptions, and valuation of associative linkages – as shown by the fact that all religious thought and inspiration are tied to their respective cultures. (As already indicated, the ultimate uncertainty of natural processes theoretically still leaves some room for some divine inspiration.)
Application to Ethical Judgment by Conscience
In the ethical realm, “conscience” can be seen as a special form of intuitive guidance or insight for valuing or judging ethical situations. Conscience has been a key concept in meta-ethics from Plato’s time to modern-day philosophy and theology. There is no indication of any structure or function in neurological terms corresponding to conscience except the genetically based ethical drives (for example, caring for offspring) projected from the hypothalamus and the value-defining effect projected from the amygdala and other brain nuclei. Thus, “conscience” is a virtual phenomenon arising out of genetically given ethical effects, preestablished valuations (including cultural learning), and holistic, intuitive thinking in complex situations of ethical concern. In such complex situations, “intuitive” conscience speaks loudest in quiet consideration.
Conscience appears specifically in conflict situations between biological drives and cultural values or when realizing alternate priorities with divergent rank in culturally given “value” scales (in our culture, love ranks higher than joy, joy ranks higher than physical pleasure or personal gain). Therefore, the effectiveness of “conscience” and judgments by conscience vary considerably with the relative strength of drives, with learning what is culturally acceptable, and with an individual’s own thoughts about values.
As drives change over the course of an individual’s life, so too can ethical judgment change. One should also note that value scales change in the history of cultures. Honor and patriotism, in first place in the value scale before World War II, have been replaced from their primary position of importance by the values of tolerance and the offering of equal opportunity in ethnic, gender, and social matters. Thus, the decisions of past generations cannot be fairly adjudicated by our generation. Will the value scale change further in future times? In what direction? The great spiritual leaders of mankind often sensed the needs of humanity and formed society through the teaching of new value scales.
In sum, conscience, as a holistic assessment of or insight into conflict situations, incorporates basic natural concerns, culturally learned concerns, the outcome of personal thought, and habit.
Intuitive thought in decision-making is of special importance in daily life when there is neither enough time nor the inclination to pursue a detailed analysis. A very large portion of all decisions in practical life is intuitive in nature. It must be noted that most “intuitive” reactions actually are based on pattern recognition or on “associative” reactions based on prior related perceptions or visualizations, mostly from a holistic perspective. It is remarkable that the human mind is quite capable of achieving a high degree of practical success by means of intuitive decisions and ideas.
Intuitive thought, meditation, and feeling are all important approaches. They provide important inputs to the human thought process, and facilitate practical life. As sources of valid insight, however, the results of intuition, meditation, and feeling cannot be fully relied on, since they are restricted largely to pattern recognition, prior knowledge, experience, and personally learned or accepted value judgments. Therefore, intuitive thoughts require justification by either analytical thought or scientific observation.
3.6. Practical Experience and Human Sensitivity
In practical life, few people have the time or the desire to spend time on research into sources of insight or on the formulation of complex thoughts. As a matter of fact, those who do spend large amounts of time with academic research and speculative thought appear to the rest of us as remote, little founded in the real world, sometimes odd, and given to off-center ideas of little practical value. On the other hand, the academic thinkers and researchers often dispose of insights gained from practical individual lives as “anecdotal”, even when they are the concepts of those individuals who we keep in high regard and consider well founded in life.
Some people are better than others at learning from practical life and handling it, as is proven by the guidance they provide and by their decision-making ability. How do they do it, and what are their attributes?
Learning what works in life – and what does not – is a form of pattern recognition from practical experience. Knowing what to do is a form of intuitive thought. The formulation of intuitive decisions and the ability to provide guidance are both related to temperament and personality.
There are some historically defined attributes of people who are recognized as being successful in practical life. There are also some historically developed methods with which to arrive at these attributes. Here are some short comments:
The teaching of knowledge and know-how are foremost in the minds of parents and educators. They relate somewhat to the foreground phenomena of life and have been well analyzed. Therefore, know-how is the result of insight. It is a precondition to gaining further insight into the areas of existence related to the given know-how.
Smartness or cleverness is related more to knowing the rules of the game and mastering those rules for benefit than to gaining deeper insight. Some smartness or cleverness is taught by practical experience, the personality-related side by emulating role models. Regarding the gaining of insight from smartness or cleverness, the same applies, as said, to know-how.
The concept of “wisdom” was used in times past as the highest attribute to individuals who knew something about life and who could find out more about existence. What is wisdom, and how can it be a source of insight into existence? The concept of “wisdom” may have changed its meaning through the centuries. For the modern Webster, it means “the power of discerning and judging correctly, prudence”. But there is also something in wisdom that relates to understanding life and destiny in the dimension of time, to knowing life in its complexity, to knowing people and their personalities, and to using judgment coupled with temperance.
Wisdom is not necessarily analytical. It can be seen as a form of holistic pattern recognition by an individual with well-balanced observation priorities and wide-reaching thought associations. Wisdom also requires the sharing of common human value scales. Thus, wisdom can potentially be of universal value. On the other hand, wisdom can be colored by cultural aspects – as we see in Oriental sages – thus, it can be culturally limited.
It has been recognized throughout history that wisdom is learned from role models, from the great masters. In fact, though, few direct disciples of great masters became famous themselves. The ever-new situations being offered to the wise require both strength of personality and leadership, either of which may be stifled by extensive subordination under a master.
In sum, a wise person understands existence. This results in wisdom leading to insight.
Practical life is less a matter of academic insight than one of pursuing strategies for moving through existence with other individuals, in society and in the natural environment, through phases of success and abundance, as well as phases of defeat and predicaments.
At the core of successful interhuman relations is human sensitivity, a deep understanding of the thoughts, emotions, needs, and behavior of others, plus solidarity with others as expressed in respect for the other and affection for the other as a brother or a sister. Such attitudes provide insights which otherwise may be overlooked by thought.
Successful leadership in society also requires a deep understanding of the thoughts, emotions, needs, and behavior of others. However, as the evil tyrants of history have shown – lately, Stalin and Hitler – such knowledge can be abused in the worst possible way for the suppression of large groups of people. In its milder form, successful leadership in business and politics requires a certain toughness to get things done.
In sum, practical experience and human sensitivity are the most important ingredients for gaining the necessary insight into the workings of daily life.
4. CONTRADICTIONS AND THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
The previous chapter served to analyze the various sources for insight into the phenomenon of existence. It became apparent that all sources have serious limitations. Consequently, one must expect a certain amount of contradiction between the findings from the various sources. How can one handle these contradictions, and how can one arrive at decisions regarding one’s own way through existence?
The searching human mind attempts to establish a coherent explanation of the issue it is confronted with. If there is a gap in understanding, if a question about the gap must be answered with “I don’t know”, the mind is not at rest until coherence is found. It is equally unsatisfactory for the searching mind if two explanations appear possible which are not congruent among themselves, as when they explain the behavior of a person with two different and unrelated motives. Such a situation leaves insecurity.
The interesting point here is that two (or more) different motives for behavior sometimes exist at the same time. The understanding of both motives, though unrelated, provides deeper insight into that person’s multilevel behavior. For example, many people are both selfish and generous. People may donate to a charity yet view it as a tax deduction.
In the field of religion and philosophy, the development of single-perspective theories of existence and human society is quite common. In many important cases, the applicability of the theory is its justification. Selective observation or forced exegetic explanations are used to establish a closed system of thought and to give the theory universal significance.
As long as we do not fully understand existence in its multilevel complexity, we may be better served in accepting partial theories for partial explanation of existence in a not-closed system of thought.
In politics, there is room for both liberal and conservative thought. In looking at the world, there is room for scientific and religious thought. In religion, there is room for understanding the Darwinian struggle of lower nature and for Christian ideals for mankind, with our actual lives still being involved in both. In philosophy, there is unresolvable duality between emotional and rational decisions – and in “moral” philosophy, between self-interest and the three, sometimes quite contradictory, basic, genetically given ethical behaviors of social animals (humans included) in caring for offspring or close relatives, in loyalty or reciprocity for chosen “friends”, and in sacrifice for the social community.
The decision-making process in the human brain is a weighing process, in combination with one’s own drives (passions), emotions (desires), thought (logical rationality), mental creativity (new perspectives, intuitions), and temperament (personality).
The weighing of conflicting choices – as presented by reason, ethical values, and personal preferences – is commonplace in our daily lives. When there is no preponderance of one choice, a succession of intuitive solutions goes in circles, and such conflicts of choice become uncomfortable. Some individuals, based on their temperamental constitution, have more trouble than others do in resolving conflicts and arriving at decisions.
The reduction of all choices to a common denominator (for instance, money in business) is analytically possible (utility theory), but it does not always work in practical life. It is, then, a matter of values and character as to what one chooses and how swiftly one chooses.
Practical analysis, scientific research, contemplation, meditation, the appeal to conscience, prayer, the counsel of a wise friend, and other approaches are used to gain better insight or to shift the burden of the decision-making process onto someone else’s shoulders.
One basic distinction between decision-makers is that between individuals who choose what they want and those who want to choose what is right (if they know what that is).
The question of “free will” comes up in this context. It will be discussed in detail in a later chapter. This question was also discussed in the author’s essays, “Ethics” and “Ethics in the Light of Brain Physiology”. As indicated there, “free will” is often meant as “free decision-making”. One limitation to this freedom lies in the limitations of the mental process.
Nature and nurture both play a role in this. However, one’s own thought is also key to mental options, as shown in the essay, “Creative Thought”.
If the limitations of thought are not the problem, external limitations can become paramount, as in job-related decision-making.
Beyond that, a person’s character is the main limiting factor in decision-making. While many people would like to have a different, preferably better character, changes are difficult to accomplish – but not impossible (see the essay, “Brain, Mind: Human Personality’s Stability, Variability, and Multiplicity” on the author’s website). The reference to role models is helpful (“how would my role model decide?”).
5. OBSERVATION ANd Interpretation OF OUR EXISTENCE
The “Fundamental Questions of Existence” were presented in Chapter 2 as including:
* What does observation indicate about reality?
- The physical world
- Life – and natural evolution
- The human mind and human existence
* Regarding a deeper and possibly transcendental understanding of existence:
- Is there a controlling force behind the existing world – God, Deus, Allah, the Great Spirit, an unnamable transcendental essence, “X”?
o What could the creation of the universe indicate about the creating force, the Creator, God?
o Is God really the always and still active ruler of evolution and history?
o Is God personally reachable by human prayer? Does God ever respond?
o Is God the ultimate judge of all human behavior? Is there life after death for the souls (if there are any “souls”)?
o What is the image one can have of God when considering all the evil, injustice, cruelty, and waste of lives in the world (the question of “theodicy”)?
- Is there any meaning or purpose to existence?
- Is everything predetermined, or is there freedom of will and action?
- If there is no God or no controlling and compassionate force in existence, is there still any meaning or purpose in existence for our lives?
* In view of the conflicting interpretations of existence by various religions and philosophies, what is my own position? What is the meaning, purpose, and direction to follow in our existence? What is the path of our life?
5.1. The Observed Cosmic Reality and the Natural World
(See also the older essay, “Cosmogony, Cosmic Evolution – Natural Evolution, Human Evolution”, or, under the new title, “Evolution: Understanding Physical and Mental Existence” on the author’s website www.schwab-writings.com).
What is “existence” in this world? How can we understand the fact that the physical world around us exists: energy, matter, radiation, forces, fields, the basic natural laws, uncertainty?
According to scientific theory, existence began with the “Big Bang”, the original appearance of energy – only energy – all originating in one “singular” point. This energy radiated out into the vacuum of empty space, thereby creating time and space. The radiation out into expanding space was in the form of electromagnetic and nuclear forces, and gravitation fields (including a repulsive force of space, “lambda”). Electromagnetic fields can oscillate with a frequency that is proportional to the energy of their radiation. Nuclear forces and gravitation fields do not oscillate.
One of the most important steps in the creation of our universe occurred when the energy emanating from the Big Bang proceeded to “granulate” – to condense into discrete particles. One can understand particles as circular energy waves (string theory), transformable into the energy of outgoing radiation waves or being formed by the energy of incoming radiation waves in accordance with the famous Einstein formula e = mc2.
At that point, a basic process of nature became apparent – evolution based on initial granulation, basic forces, and the action of the combinatorial principle (by some researchers and philosophers defined as the principle of “emergence”). This “combinatorial principle” implies that:
- the smaller components are capable of being combined into larger components – an effect that did not necessarily have to occur (for instance, in a pile of pebbles)
- the new and larger components, upon being combined out of the smaller components, demonstrate new characteristics beyond those of the original components – thereby presenting new dimensions of existence – as in composing an essay out of letters, a computer out of electronic components, or a system of thought out of individual ideas.
The combinatorial principle appeared first in atomic processes, combining strings into subatomic particles, subatomic particles into atoms, and atoms into the first molecules. The dust of atoms and first molecules coalesced into stars. New atomic processes occurred within stars, creating heavier elements along with larger molecules. This formation is sometimes predictable, as in chemical processes. At other times, it is subject to random events and statistical distributions, for instance, those leading to the shape of clouds and the distribution of the stars and galaxies in the sky.
Only about 5% (or, as recently thought, a little more) of the universe consists of the material we know. Another 25% (or a little less) consists of so far unknown dark matter. The remaining 70% consists of so far mysterious dark energy, driving the galaxies in the universe apart at increasing speed.
Among the new forces originating together with nuclear particles, the nuclear repelling force at short distances among particles is the most interesting. Thereby, the individuality of particles and large structures can be maintained, as essential for the evolution of the world. It is this repelling force, together with electromagnetic effects, that gives us the impression that something “solid” of a certain size is perceived to exist in the vacuum.
The scientifically trained among us (and everybody else) became used to these concepts as we grew up with them. However, we should stop and wonder how gravitational – and, more so, electromagnetic fields in the vacuum – can be understood. Is it graspable that the vacuum can show electromagnetic properties? How can the vacuum oscillate? Why would the oscillations of the vacuum, which we call electromagnetic waves, progress at an exact and constant speed, the speed of light, through the vacuum, the nothingness? If particles can be understood as circular waves (strings) and can actually be transformed into radiation, then all forms of existence are only field phenomena of the vacuum, whatever that is. All reality, all existence, consists of abstract field-phenomena of the nothingness.
Existence becomes a perceivable reality by the fact that the characteristics of existence – fields, radiation, waves, or particles – have an influence or impact on each other. Why, and how, do they do this? Without such influence on each other, no part of existence would be aware of any other. We humans perceive existence through sensory perception, the effect of other parts of existence on our senses.
Existence becomes understandable only through its regularity, through the rules it follows in large areas, as those of causality, the laws of nature, and their guiding principles. This regularity allows for causal understanding and predictability – and for mathematics to become the human mind’s language of nature. Without that, in a totally random and chaotic existence of all phenomena, no understanding of existence would be possible. The significance of the regularity in the otherwise virtual field phenomena of the vacuum lets this regularity appear as the key aspect of existence – while the quantum mechanical uncertainty and the randomness of distributions add unpredictability and freedom.
What is the essence of the regularity of the phenomena of the vacuum? This essence of existence is a thoroughly intellectual – one could say “spiritual” – phenomenon, possibly not sufficiently captured by either of the two words, “intellectual”, or “spiritual”. This leads to the question, how do we understand this “intellectuality” or “spirituality” of existence?
There are not only “laws of nature” but basic “principles” as well. The principle of the conservation of energy allows for the transformation of one form of energy into another – motion into heat, heat into electricity, electricity into the lifting of weights. But it does not allow the addition or loss of any energy in the universe. The energy that appeared in the Big Bang has never disappeared – not the slightest part of it. This principle is not the only one; there is the principle of conservation of momentum, along with other “principles”.
Then, there are the “constants” in nature. The speed of light is constant; so is the quantum step of energy and a couple of other units. The world would be totally different if these constants had been established differently or if they had different values in different parts or at different times in the universe.
What established the laws, principles, and constants of nature in the first place, and what keeps them constant throughout the universe and time? Is that the “intellectual” or “spiritual” and “structure-forming essence of Creation”?
A superficial view lets physical existence appear narrowly controlled by links of cause-and-effect. Visions of all particles being tied to a rigid positional and dynamic determinism, as in crystals, may appear. But then came Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, quantum mechanics, and the recognition that large areas of existence can be understood only in terms of the statistical distribution of random events. Chaos Theory added the perspective that the minutest differences at a certain time in a certain place can lead to universal consequences of the largest dimensions.
The possible significance of the minutest variations, the randomness of distributions, together with the Uncertainty Principle, dissolves all rigidity of a deterministic view of this world. It actually leads to a significant openness of the possible future course of destiny in the universe and on Earth. One cannot predict; all one can do is explain afterward.
One more comment – about time. We saw time as an absolute scale until the theory of relativity taught us the relativity of time between moving systems. This may also raise a question regarding the validity of the time scale at or very close to the Big Bang or at an end of all or parts of the universe in Black Holes (unless Black Holes dissipate themselves again, as Stephen Hawking suggests they might).
As a matter of fact, the end or the fading of the universe can be expected within a vaguely predictable time interval by concentration of all matter within Black Holes and their subsequent dissipation in the form of ever colder and weaker radiation in limitless space.
The significance – and definition – of life results from the combination of three phenomena: the self-propagation of specific forms of physical existence, the utilization of resources from its environment, and the continuation of the propagation in some form of evolution.
Even the simplest form of life did not appear until a few hundred millions of years after the formation of Earth, when the planet was cool enough. The evolution of life went through some significant steps:
* Some self-propagating molecules (RNA at first) produced (or facilitated the formation of) other molecules that served as supporting material and surrounded the original molecules.
* This conglomerate utilized the bubble-forming characteristic of lipid molecules (the basic elements of fat or oil) to surround itself with walls, forming protective cells.
* RNA was capable of forming DNA. The chain-forming capability and the great stability of the secondary DNA molecules formed the biological memory and the genetic process of evolution, including the gene combination of two individuals in what we call “fertilization” and propagation by seed cells. Amazingly complex energy conversion and protein mechanisms support the cell propagation and expression process.
* Some cells formed nuclei (eucariotes).
* Life began to feed on organic material – on other life.
* Capillary movement occurred – general mobility of organisms followed, automation.
* Much later, the formation of nerves and their interconnectivity occurred.
The phenomenon of life and the process of genetic control in propagation remained unique. No other, different process was invented by nature. This, together with the absence of silicone-based life, raises the question of the uniqueness of life-generation on Earth. Was life formed only once, only here on Earth? Has life been generated only once somewhere else in the universe and propagated to other places, including Earth, through interstellar transfer? Has new life been originated many times, in many places in the universe, always following the path of further evolution?
The process of propagation, the building of secondary individual entities and the formation of the supporting material, requires energy. The opposite phenomenon, the surplus of energy upon the formation of identical structures of material, as in crystallization, does not exist in the propagation of life.
There were various sources of energy at the beginning of life – geothermal sources and the Sun. The building material of life was formed from carbon compounds, abundant in the early Earth’s atmosphere and dissolved in its waters.
The initial steps in the evolution of life toward cells and strings of cells extended over billions of years. Only about 800 to 500 million years ago, during the Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian periods, there occurred a sudden burst of new steps in evolution. After the Cambrian period, the appearance of new basic configurations of organisms never occurred again (or such new organisms were not viable). The following steps occurred during that period:
* Multi-cell “organisms” appeared with differentiated tasks for the various cells. These organisms evolved only from the “eucariotic” cells, those provided with cell nuclei.
* Soon, there were a number – but only a very limited number – of very specific configurations of living organisms, like prototypes of the various later forms of more highly developed organisms.
* Some configurations never acquired mobility (e.g., plants), others did (e.g., animals).
* The earlier energy process of using Sun energy, and of using the ample carbon dioxide from the atmosphere provided large quantities of oxygen to the oceans or the atmosphere and did not require mobility.
* As the composition of the atmosphere changed, however, some branches of life changed their energy process to the breakdown and oxidation of organic material. The necessary oxygen was taken from the newly available rich oxygen-content of the atmosphere. The necessary organic material for combustion was taken from the large mass of organisms that stayed with the earlier energy process and produced such organic material.
* This meant that, with the arrival of the new types of oxygen-absorbing organisms, life had to feed on life. This required mobility to reach ever-new supplies of immobile organic material and to prevail in competition, leading to automation.
* In the Cambrian period, under competitive pressure in evolution of life feeding on life, the physical size of many species increased enormously.
* The nervous system appeared, though basically of only one type. Never was another basic type of nerve developed by nature. The circulatory system appeared, too.
* Initially, nerves provided the synchronization of movements (cell deformations) or the connection between sensors and the reflexive movement “actuators”.
* Synaptic connections between different nerves and the capability for memory were added later.
* Then, the processing of priorities, memory, and sequential reflexes began, giving rise to movement strategies.
* Finally, “emotions” occurred and “thought”.
* The progression in the automation of life evolved from reliance on reflexes to a need for premeditated actions requiring initiative (automation) and, finally, mental freedom and responsibility.
* Environmental upheavals – on a local or a global scale – resulted in a partial or total restructuring of the evolution of life through the extinction of some overshadowing branches of life (e.g., the dinosaurs) and by letting others prosper thereafter.
What caused these steps in evolution to occur?
There are basically two different explanations for ongoing evolution in nature:
- The religious belief in a divine plan for all evolution on Earth or, at least, divine causation or guidance of certain evolutionary steps as they occur (see the “Intelligent Design Theory” and the essay on that subject by this author).
- The concept of a “Basic Principle of Evolution” in scientific terms, whereby probabilistic or random genetic variations lead from given starting and boundary conditions to modified or new life forms that compete for propagation and survival, sometimes finding new niches or opportunities to prosper, and, thereby, driving evolution. Therefore, for the already existing organisms to prosper, evolution cannot proceed in random directions but must linearly follow opportunities. Such opportunities change with migration, with climate or geological changes, and with varying or increasing capabilities of the evolving organisms. In this concept, evolution is still founded on the characteristics and laws of our universe and nature and, consequently, on the “formative essence of existence” as expressed during the original Creation, whether this is seen in transcendental or scientific terms.
Both of these concepts shall be discussed in later chapters.
There are some additional questions concerning evolution: Why do some developments occur and others do not? Why do some problems find only one solution at only one time, and never find another solution again at any later time (e.g., the nerve as the means of signal transmission)? Why did nature develop some very complex configurations as flight and nerves, but did not develop others, as the wheel and metallic conductivity for nerves? Why do some multi-step evolutions occur so rapidly, with the in-between steps being hardly visible? Were the in-between steps possibly not viable? (Examples are the development of feather-supported flight, or the poison-injecting sting of sea slugs or of serpents’ teeth.) How can one explain the most complex and amazing evolutions on the genetic and molecular biological levels?
Any observer of nature, especially of life on Earth, must be fascinated by the process of evolution. However, one should not overlook the fact that the largest portion of the “bio-mass” on Earth may have undergone some variation and adaptation, but little evolution to any novel or higher forms of life. This portion includes all the species with low complexity and very large populations – for example, the viri, bacteria, plankton, and invertebrates.
The paragraphs above described the structural aspects of life. And what are the dynamic aspects? A major difference between inanimate physical existence and life is the “automation” of life. One can say that “automation” is the new, most basic principle of the era of life. Automation implies a dynamic conduct of life directed from within the individual living being. Each individual moves, multiplies, and acts by itself by a combination of its various innate capabilities activated by external conditions. On the molecular level of life, this may be no different from inanimate, cause-and-effect chains. However, when the quantitative difference of an organism’s abilities to react, to remember, to choose from a variety of options, and pursue a variety of alternative courses becomes significant, we have a qualitative difference between the dynamics of an existing molecule and the dynamic conduct of life by an individual organism.
One cannot leave the discussion of this era of life without admiring the enormous multiplicity of life forms, from viri to primates, often of great beauty, their variety of skills, and their intricacy of behaviors.
One also cannot leave the discussion of this era of life in nature, as seen from the human point of view, without reference to the merciless cruelty of the natural selection process. There is no fairness or justice; and, except within some narrow kinship limits of higher animals, no compassion in this phase of “Darwinian” life. Life prospers by destroying other life.
Must life necessarily be so? We do not know whether life exists only on Earth or in many other places in the universe. The basic principles of evolution may be universally necessary, since stars and their planets originate in violent heat, mature, and come to their end in absolute coldness (see the author’s essays, “Evolution: Understanding Physical and Mental Existence” and “Theology, Astrophysics, and the SETI-Project”). But we do not know whether the evolution of life can, or has, taken different turns somewhere else in the universe as compared to the evolution on Earth.
Here on Earth, the appearance of humans brought further change.
The Evolution of the Human Mind and Human Existence
The creation of higher forms of life during the Cambrian period extended over a relatively short span in cosmic terms and in relation to the length of time during which life has existed on Earth. Further differentiated evolution of the higher forms of life occurred over more than the following 500 million years. Although man’s development may have started some 2 to 3 million years ago, accelerating about 200,000 years ago, the most significant development of humans occurred only during the last 15,000 years. Therefore, considering the much longer time nature takes for its grand exercises, one should assume that this new creative period could still be in full course – if it does not come to an end as a failed exercise.
What is different in the human era of existence, compared to the animal era? Again, it was the effect of a number of significant quantitative differences that led to a qualitative difference. There were at least three major evolutionary progressions that led to the human era:
o The evolution of the brain and advanced, complex consciousness
o The evolution of speech and mathematics
o The evolution of structured society
They will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
The greatest difference between the human brain and that of animals resulted from the growth in the size of the frontal section. The evolution of the human brain, however, is not just a matter of size. Size alone could account for nothing more than additional memory or a greater degree of specific sensory signal differentiation (as in some whales). Significantly important for human development is the exponential increase in the number of interconnections between the growing number of neurons in the human brain, specifically in the frontal lobes. This interconnectivity (along with some complex chemical processes related to the brain) has led to eight important phenomena, which account for the most important human brain capabilities (see also the author’s essay, “The Brain: Mental Creativity”):
* Mental visualizations (whether of visual, acoustic, verbal or other kinds corresponding to any of the human perceptions)
* Self-sustained thought sequences
* Focusing of thought
* Creativity (innovation) through the formation of more complex visualizations or concepts in a not-limited combinatorial process
* Memorization and retrievability of a large number of visualizations or thoughts and resulting consciousness (awareness of oneself and the universe)
* Ethical thought and judgment
* Emotions and values associated with thoughts – leading to individual personality
* Sensitivity for beauty, art, joy, humor
A visualization is the brain-internal activation – without external stimulus – of all neurons that together constitute a perception – for example, a word or an image. In this way, the same visualization appears in the mind as if an external sensory stimulus had provoked the visualization – for example, the hearing of the word or seeing of the image. This neural activation without external stimulation allows for the important phenomenon of self-sustained mental activity over time, beyond instant and temporary reflexes.
Self-sustained thought sequences are nothing but sequences of visualizations that follow each other along the lines of thought or perception associations, physiologically facilitated by their synaptic connections. Among all the possible thought associations, the association with the strongest synaptic connection is selected for the next sequence phase. This selection of the strongest appears to be a typical phenomenon of nature, as also is found in the selection of the fittest in biological evolution. In the brain, the strength of synaptic association is established by thought habit, associated value as provided by projections from the amygdala and other brain nuclei in the mid-brain, or perceived benefit. The synaptic association strength results in signal transfer strength (secondary nerval firing rate).
Emotions and values attributed to thoughts occur already in animals. This lets an animal avoid food types that previously resulted in poisoning, or noises that announced danger, or pursue signals that arouse basic drives. In humans, where this capability is significantly more differentiated, it influences or directs thought sequencing in an important way. Not only will pleasant or previously successful thought associations be pursued, but negative ones as well, even criminal thought sequences (what used to be called the “voice of the Devil”). Thereby, it is important to note that the emotional or temperamental constitution of an individual’s personality influences the course of the frontal lobes’ thought sequences and, consequently, creativity, strategy formulation, and decision-making.
Since antiquity, the great thinkers about human existence have distinguished between “mind” and “soul”. Even in our times, one speaks of the difference between mind and “heart” as if the latter provided something different to mental processes. The definition of “soul” has varied through the ages. It was the essence of human life, the sum total of an individual’s personality, including temperament, thought, and memory, or only the individual’s emotional side and value content. Physiologically, this is related to the function of the mid-brain area, including the amygdala and its co-functioning with the “intelligence” provided by the frontal lobes of the brain. The so-called “soul”-based phenomena account for what we humans value most in our lives and in our fellow beings. They relate to the appreciation of our values, to our freedom being guided by ethical standards, and to our responsibility, if not accountability.
The focusing of thought allows thought sequences to be guided along desired paths. More important, by back-referencing later thought phases to the earlier focus, focusing allows the establishment of new thought associations. Thereby, as when using a building-block system in a combinatorial process, new configurations, “inventions”, new applications, or ever more complex systems of thought can be established in the brain. The focus-related sequences resulting in new associations and their memories are the basis of a surprising new phenomenon in existence: the appearance of inventiveness and mental creativity by human thought. This phenomenon brought humans to their elevated level of civilization and to the scientific understanding of the universe.
It is interesting to note that the above mechanism indicates that all human mental inventiveness is combinatorial in nature, and nothing else. New concepts arise by putting known ones and new perceptions together in a novel way, as in a building-block system. This is in accordance with a general principle in nature: building existence out of elemental building blocks, from subatomic particles up, in ever larger or more complex configurations.
When visualizations, associations, or thought phases have sufficient signal strength (nerval firing rate), they are being remembered through synaptic formation. These sequences of visualizations and their memories form the essence of all thought. Memorization and retrievability of a large number of visualizations or thoughts leads to the richness of human reflective and creative mental activity, specifically since memory content is structured by categories and offers hierarchical grouping (our pet “Sniff” is a dog, mammal, animal).
The human capability to memorize large quantities of visualizations and thought sequences over long periods of time, and in complex associative interconnections, gives rise to the virtual phenomenon of “consciousness”, the capability to perceive and think about oneself and one’s surrounding existence. In fact, that capability for memorization and retrieval of earlier thought and perceptions seems to be all that consciousness actually is.
Human mental functions developed into a variety of directions and formed corresponding capabilities:
* Practical thought – logical, analytical, and holistic thought
* Ethical concerns – emotions, conscience, and judgment
* Justice and fairness
* Humor and joy
* Aesthetic sensation and artistic creativity
* Miscellaneous others
These distinct human mental capabilities and their relative strength have a substantial impact on an individual’s response to the experience of existence, to the individual’s behavior and course through life.
The evolution of speech capability – and, consequently, language – allowed the development and effective use of ever more complex concepts in human mental activities and communication. Speech does not necessarily have to be acoustic. Optical signals, as in sign language and facial expressions, or any other type of signals, can work, too. However, acoustic speech was an extremely good medium here on Earth for highly differentiated and almost effortless expression of concepts and their communication over practical distances, until society became global and electronics occurred.
While having facilitated this world of electronics, however, evolution has not provided humans with natural organs to use it. Mental evolution has forged ahead, attempting to become independent of natural evolution.
It is interesting to note that speech has evolved necessarily parallel to human thought. Therefore, it is also structured in categories, hierarchical, and combinatorial (see the classical method of defining concepts: “definitio fit per genus proximum et diferrentiam specificam”).
The essential benefit of speech lies in the forming and communication of effective and standard “short-hand”, “symbolic” expressions for complex associations (in mathematics, “operands” or “transforms”), with each new concept being definable out of prior elemental concepts and usable repetitively for the development of subsequent, more complex concepts.
This has given rise to specialized vocabularies in the various intellectual endeavors, thus allowing for participation in these endeavors by those who are fluent in such vocabulary, or the holding back of participation by others who are not. On the other hand, remaining with a fixed vocabulary reflecting a fixed set of concepts indicates the lack of mental growth and creativity.
Mathematics is another form of handling symbolic concepts, whether numbers or operands – indicating that language and mathematical symbols are hierarchical – another expression of the combinatorial principle. The importance of mathematics is derived from the fact that nature can be understood and interpreted in terms of the mathematical expressions of theoretical physics.
Human society is dominated by a pecking order and consequent allocation of tasks, as among animals. More important, it has evolved into multifaceted sub-structures of civilization (including the domains of government, business, law, religion, leisure activities, warfare, the arts, and more). Corresponding structures of laws and regulations evolved.
Central control in human society is always in conflict with individual freedom. Thus far, humans have not become dedicated cells without any internal control of their own (as opposed to undifferentiated insects in a swarm), even though totalitarian or religiously fundamental systems have tried to accomplish this again and again. The unusual strength of human societies – their adaptability and ability to innovate – is provided by a combination of central coordination and remaining individual freedom to follow personally differentiated motivations.
There are three types of central control:
Such shared values must not necessarily be the same as the acclaimed Western values of our own times (see, for instance, China). Since “coordinated control in a society” usually is not enough to enforce conforming behavior by all members of a society, such control is often combined with some central power vested with the legislative, executive, judiciary, and the police – if not the mullahs.
The legislative power is supposed to formulate the shared values relative to expected behavior. As most democratic nations show, vocal minorities (including the media) and special interest groups can (often by means of their money) impose their will, leading to the form of type (2) or (1) of control, as described above. Thus, these nations actually live in a combination of all three forms of control. This instability usually leads to conflict.
It is important to note that there is a consistent correlation between the coordinating effectiveness of shared values, the economic strength, and the political strength of a society. As the former are not stable over time, with their ups and downs, the latter is not stable either.
One cannot leave the discussion of the human era without pointing out the potential for strength, harmony, and general well-being in a society ruled by humanistic values, compared to the cruelty of the animal era of existence, which is totally ruled by the natural selection of the fittest. On the other hand, recent history has shown that unlimited humanism, as expressed in Socialism and open borders, does not work in the reality of this world (and unlimited political correctness most likely not either).
It is a regrettable fact that parts of human society, such as nations or enterprises, may be internally humanistic while warring among each other in the cruelest manner. It is also a fact that societies that cannot defend their territories against external enemies or subversion from within fall victim to other societies or go into political or economic disintegration, often as cruelly as in the times of Darwinian natural selection.
Does human society necessarily progress to better conditions? There are the dangers of nuclear or biological war, environmental degradation, climate change, epidemics, internal degradation in terms of law and order or morality, and corrupt tyranny. An equal danger lies in the dependence of human society on a high level of technology and a functioning industry – whether for its food supply, energy supply, or medical services, all of which are extremely fragile. They easily suffer from instabilities in society. The quick collapse of the socialist states in the East and of African states demonstrates this point. After a spectacular rise in cultural and economic accomplishments, a collapse in unspeakable misery could occur.
As indicated, three major innovations – the evolution of the brain, the evolution of speech and mathematics, and the evolution of the structured society – led to the human era on Earth, which is characterized by:
1. The ascension of empires and ever larger structures of society
2. The rise of cultures
3. The increasing significance of values
4. Ethics and the limits of ethics
5. The mental freedom and responsibility of the individual
6. The effects of mental curiosity and mental creativity
7. Population explosion and its consequences
8. The fall of human society
Whenever one considers the accomplishments of mankind throughout history, one’s thought turns to grand empires or grand cultures based on empires – Egypt, China, the Incas, and others. It was the creative and formative power of these structures of society that resulted in their significance. Roving family groups could not accomplish what clans did. Clans could not accomplish what tribes did. Empires over many tribes had the power to build great architecture, to afford a class of artists, thinkers, and scientists, to educate their subjects along the lines of their cultures, and to impress their cultures on large areas over extended periods of time.
Even Athens was an empire in its time. Greek culture was spread throughout the world by the subsequent empire of Alexander and, later, by the Roman Empire. Our time of global power of destruction, global commerce, and global communication demand the ongoing strength of the West, but also global peace and global coordination of interests with others. Will the important clans, ethnic groups, and nations of this world be able to refrain from the pursuit of exploitative, abusive, or religious self-interest?
At the base of building empires is the specifically human capability for organization and management. Extrapolated into modern times, it is the ability to build industrial and commercial enterprises and international organizations that form the basis of modern civilization.
Nothing characterizes the rising spirit of mankind better than the appearance of cultures (Webster’s: “Refinement, the way of life of a people”). Economic strength and technical progress may be the foundation of cultures, but it is the development of thought as expressed in the outlook on life – in the sciences, in philosophy, in religious thought, and in the development of human sensitivity as expressed in the aesthetic, artistic, and social elements of life – that lets us admire more than anything else the accomplishments of a culture. These are the unique contributions of mankind to existence in the universe.
Is humor, a quintessential human capability, also part of culture?
Within cultures, nothing characterizes human existence more than the pursuit of “values”. The aboriginal human concerns may have been – and, in large parts of the world, still are – the natural ones of survival and procreation – and the proto-ethical ones of love of family, reciprocity in friendship, and dedication to tribe or nation. Beyond that, people were, and always will be, driven by a desire for well-being, added security, significance, and entertainment. The strong and mighty have always striven for power. Some people will always look for frontiers to explore and for fame. At our level of civilization, people can afford to look for the satisfaction resulting from mental growth, dedicate their time and resources to local or international charity and public service, and enjoy “culture” through the arts.
The concept of “values” is a modern one. In times past, one spoke of “virtues”. The ranking of virtues changed in historic times. In archaic and heroic times, courage and honor ranked high. Virtue was seen as holding the middle between the two extremes of weakness and exaggeration. Wisdom was a supreme virtue, indicating a vast understanding and knowledge of existence, often finding answers to seemingly impossible problems, often leading to the right temperance and compromise between conflicting views. How does one solve the conflict between peace and freedom, honor and reason, or any other emotion and reason? Usually, the answer lies in the right middle, often closer to reason, seldom in a ranking of principles. It is time to bring “wisdom” back to the center of cultural attention and education!
In Christian times, Christian love, compassion, and humility ranked high. In our times, religious and political leaders, as well as role models of society, appeal to the need for values in our private and public lives. Soundness of family life, work ethics, honesty, respect for others, charity, and public service – all are commonly cited. Our society is based on a profound respect for justice and fairness. Common to all these values is the underlying assumption that there has to be a balance between the pursuit of personal benefit, the dedication to public service, and some charitable works for the needy. The global view of our time increases the range of these values. This is what is considered “right”. The opposite is “wrong”.
The meaning of “ethics” has changed in the course of history and, more so, the height, or strictness, of moral standards. In early cultures, ethics and morals (Greek “ethos”, Roman “mores”) meant customs – customary behavior, as in communal life, dress code, cults, ritual, or war. The personality and behavioral aspects of ethics were described by “virtues”. The discussion of virtues in Aristotle’s Athens referred not only to the “moral” sphere of “good” and “bad”, but also to courage, justice, temperance, and other qualifications of character.
Later, in the Middle Ages, the definition of what was ethical was provided by religious or church-issued commandments and rules. “Moral” matters were no longer “customs” or aspects of character, but became, instead, matters of “right” and “wrong”. Beginning with the Scholastic thinkers, “ethics” became an intellectual pursuit, a discipline of philosophy.
In a parallel development, another part of society, the knights and nobility, retained or revived earlier rules of “honor”. The importance of these rules continued through World War II, especially for the nobility and the military, to which “duty” became equally important.
Honor is still a significant “value” in the Muslim and less developed part of the world – while “dignity” (related to respect) is important to all of us. With the rise of the middle class and, more so, with increasing industry and commerce, “ethics in business” arose as a concern, with the emphasis on trust and fairness. (Interestingly, the Ten Commandments do not address the problems of predatory business behavior or legalistic trickery.)
Since the late 18th century, in a combination of enlightenment and romanticism, “humanistic” values became important. Still, to a certain extent, they dominate the ethical thinking of the world today.
Western democracies promote “freedom, brotherhood, and equality” – the ideals of the French Revolution and the American Bill of Rights. Democracy brought questions of “ethics in government”, with its emphasis on integrity and the condemnation of corruption and the abuse of power.
The environmental movement has given ethical meaning to environmental protection. Supported by progress in the sciences, the movement presents higher animals as sensitive and deserving of ethical treatment.
Modern social concerns brought a renewed demand for social justice and the Civil Rights movement in all its forms.
Moral strictness varied in the course of history, in an oscillation between “liberal” periods of materialistic or rational lasciviousness and “fundamentalist” periods of religious or idealistic strictness, one being the reaction to the exaggeration of the other.
Modern intellectuality (rationality, scientific thinking, and liberal thought), as well as new social concerns, gave impetus to the interpretation and limits of acceptable ethical behavior. Much of what was morally unacceptable in times past is acceptable today (at least, for the time being).
Over the centuries, ethics has always related to the behavior of individuals. In our times, there is an increasing call for ethical behavior of organizations (as in business) and of nations (as in international aid, in accepting refugees, and in transborder environmental degradation).
In Summary, one can distinguish various sources of human ethical thought and behavior:
* Genetically preprogrammed ethical behavior
* Ethics developed through learning and cultural habit
* Religious teaching of ethics
* Ethics based on philosophical thought
Genetically preprogrammed proto-ethical behavior:
The discovery of the evolutionary appearance of a genetic anchoring of ethics as the foundation of social behavior of animals for the formation and maintenance of groups brought some clarity to the complex subject of ethics.
Three types of ethical behavior among humans have a genetic base and not a base in education, culture, religion, philosophy, or practical considerations (in this regard, humans are no different from many animals):
· Caring for offspring and clan-related individuals (decreasing with genetic distance)
· Reciprocity in behavior (as among animals in grooming, sharing of food, and assistance in fighting) with selected other individuals (friends)
· Loyalty to, and personal sacrifice for, the clan (as in heroic deeds for the clan or the nation in general).
All three of these behavior types, among animals as well as humans, are focused and augmented by learning and, in the case of humans, by own thought.
In cases of conflict between different ethical motivations, it appears as if the sequence of priority follows the above sequence, with caring for offspring (or relatives) being the strongest bond and loyalty to the clan at large the lowest-ranking bond, being abandoned first in conflict situations. Such conflicts provide powerful themes for the writing of tragedies. Yet, the historic development of formulated rules of ethics followed the opposite sequence:
With this genetic base of ethics in mind, one can structure a list of ethical concerns:
Caring and Compassion:
Compassionate assistance to the needy, charity, and other humanistic values
Social justice and civil rights
The Golden Rule
Concerns of criminality (see the Ten Commandments) and civil law
Fairness and trust (beyond the law) in interhuman relations
Ethics in the professions (beyond the law): in business, medicine, law, etc.
Loyalty to the group:
National heroism, patriotism, military honor
Service to the community, civic duty
Ethics in government (sense of duty and integrity versus corruption or abuse
Interestingly, there are two important (and typically) human concerns that cannot be fit into the three genetic ethical categories:
- Reverence for the divine (as in religious behavior, Christian saintliness, or Jewish righteousness)
- Sexual behavior, taboos, and morally valued dress codes or “modesty/chastity” issues
However, these “taboo”-related issues have taken center stage in much of religious activism and the concerns of church leaders, whether Christian or Muslim – somewhat to the detriment of truly “ethical” concerns of caring for those in need.
The genetic base of ethics is the only possible common ground for a globally valid ethical code.
Anything beyond this common base would have to be based on a common religious or philosophical view of existence or on utilitarian considerations, would have to be “educated” into the minds of all people, and would have to be maintained by a legal and policing system.
Ethics Developed through Learning and Cultural Habit:
Even the proto-ethical behavior of animals in the three genetic categories indicated above is already subject to some learning (for example, the pairing and bonding between specific parents and their own offspring, and the acceptance and bonding of a pack member to the pack).
Among humans, learning allowed bonding and loyalty to be extended to ever larger sub-groups of society, from family to clan, to tribe, to nation, and, most recently, to international human cohesion. Christ taught the acceptance of a brother or sister in every human being (but was not concerned with higher animals).
It is still common to feel strong ethical bonds to one’s own clan members while being ethically unconcerned or showing ruthlessness and cruelty to outsiders. The Balkans and the Middle East are glaring examples. Countries with ethnic or religious diversity experience this society-disrupting problem. Racial differences tend to perpetuate the ethical differentiation between insiders and outsiders, often supported by the different groups’ different skills and professions, by selective observation, and inflamed by struggle about social standing, limited resources, or land.
Most human ethical behavior results not from conviction or deliberate individual decision-making, but from socially conditioned habit. An example is the conditioning of society in classical China through Confucian teachings – and the opposite formation appears to occur in some Muslim communities. In this context, it is important to note that different cultures still have widely different rules of ethics (see the brutal ethnic egoism, prevalent corruption, social indifference, and accepted tyranny in large parts of the world).
What does the future hold, if clan or ethnic egoism, racism, and cultural ethical differences are not resolved, even get out of hand?
Religious Teaching of Ethics
The thought that ethical behavior was mandated and rewarded by the gods (or God) and un-ethical behavior condemned and punished, occurred in various civilizations early in the course of their history. Thereby, in the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions, religious scriptures and priests became the voice of ethics, whereby the priests often assumed the role of interpreters of divine will in ethical matters and, consequently, assumed the role of judges.
Considering that they are presented as God’s ethical rules for mankind, the Ten Commandments are surprisingly limited to reciprocity in a practical world, establishing practical order within a coherent pre-urban group of people. “Fairness” (at least the prohibition of trickery) and “compassion”, the essence of caring humanistic ethics, are not mentioned in the Ten Commandments (nor are personal sacrifice, duty, or heroism for the common good). It is equally surprising that King Uru’inimgina (Urukagina) of Lagash in Sumeria, in approximately 2380 BC, already had proclaimed himself the caring protector of the weak. Thus far, historians have not covered the subject of the evolution of caring ethical thought in our or other cultures.
Thinkers during the time of Christ awoke to the human ethical needs beyond the Law, with Christ, as the “son of God”, teaching most clearly the ethics of brotherly love based on the father-image of God. Later teachers, unfortunately, deflected much of that spirit. They emphasized the personal benefit in pursuing a behavior of good deeds for the purpose of obtaining personal salvation into Heaven. It took repeated efforts by great religious personalities through the centuries to keep the ethics of genuine Christian love alive, from St. Francis to Mother Theresa.
The philosophical and analytical approach to ethics addressed some fundamental questions:
* Are ethical rules of absolute value or of demographically relative value (as in different cultures)?
* Are ethics determined by process or by goals (the importance of acting ethically or to justify acts by their goals)?
* What is the fundamental basis for ethics (for example, rationally: the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people)?
The Greeks began their intellectual approach to ethics with a discussion of the absolute versus the demographically relative value of ethics (Aristotle versus the Sophists). In trying to arrive at absolute rules of ethics, Aristotle defined virtue as lying between two undesirable extremes. Stoics and Epicureans were more concerned with personal happiness than with ethics.
Beginning with the Scholastic period and the first stirrings of the Renaissance, rational thought was introduced into religious and theological teaching (Maimonides, Abelarde, Aquinas). Finally, a clear separation occurred between “ethics” as a branch of philosophy different from theologically based moral exegesis and teaching. The study of philosophical “ethics” resumed the Greek discussion regarding the relative or absolute value of ethical standards. The difference was seen as one between a circumstantially learned concept of ethics and one of intrinsic, absolute, and general value.
In later centuries, utilitarian considerations prevailed over idealistic ones. The difference was that between a strictly rational interpretation of ethics and an idealistic and emotional one.
The maturing of the human mind in the West through the Enlightenment and later, as a human reaction, through the romantic and humanistic period brought a reassessment of ethics in the new setting of modern society. The results were humanistically formed values, the American Bill of Rights, Communism, and the abolition of slavery concluding with civil rights, and, finally, environmentalism today. Clerics and their religious exegetic efforts were often in the forefront of these movements.
Four developments changed the intellectual discussion and brought it to its present state:
* The Nazi and Communist abuses of utilitarian ethics in the elimination of “undesirables”
* Recognition of the genetic base of ethics
* New and almost Darwinian territorial drives of some ethnic groups and the survival threats experienced by various nations at the hand of the more powerful ones – or climatic conditions
* Fundamentalist religious movements on one side, and liberal extremes on the other
The Nazi and Communist abuses of utilitarian ethics led to the killing of members of society who were declared “useless” (for example, Gypsies and the mentally handicapped) and the enslavement or killing of large ethnic segments of the population for the pretended benefit of society at large (killing of the Jews). These horrors indicated the horrible dangers of utilitarian ethics. This brought a return of the demand for idealistic ethics without utilitarian limitations (with consequences in the American civil rights movement, international aid, and the environmental movement).
The scientific recognition of the genetic base of ethics brought an end to the centuries-old discussion of the absolute or relative character of ethics. The common genetic base of all people made caring for offspring, reciprocity, and clan loyalty an absolute base of human emotions and, consequently, of universal ethical judgment. Everything else turned out to be either learned or a cultural habit (for instance, to what degree all children were perceived with as much affection as own offspring – who all would be comprised in reciprocity – and who all would be included in or excluded from loyalty).
New Darwinian territorial drives and the threats experienced by various nations are visible in many of the small wars and civil devastations in recent times – for example, in the Balkans, between Israelis and Palestinians, on Sri Lanka, and in Rwanda. Also to be included are the waves of immigration into the developed countries and the resulting reactions. In every case, international ethics were violated by people claiming ethical motivations in loyalty to their “own people”, whether family, religious, or ethnic group. It was found that people are not ready to surrender their national territory, culture, or religious homogeneity to others, whether or not the others are in need. The resulting struggles are not decided by wise judgment based on ethical norms, but by the Darwinian force of the fittest in the modern world.
The resurgent fundamentalist movements of our times are directed specifically toward the strengthening of ethical standards. In the process, some adherents of such movements feel entitled to severely punish all those who are opposed to their movement (see the Muslim radicals). This is no different from the behavior in the times of the Inquisition and religious wars in Europe (and, to some degree, the Nazis). In our day, this modern phenomenon, long thought to have been overcome, can be found among Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. Can the world never be cured of these types of ethics-disease?
In contrast to fundamentalism, liberal thought attempts to liberate people from irrational traditions and taboos. In the case of sexual liberalization, however, liberal thought contributes to the weakening of the family. Single mothers and children are the ones who suffer. In another example, gender liberalization finds its limits in the obligations for child-rearing.
Global coherence expands ethical concerns to the behavior of nations, tribes, and clans. It can no longer be acceptable that such subgroups of mankind abuse their power to overrule or exploit other groups in any unethical way, where “legal” is not identical with “ethical”.
Environmental limitations impose a responsibility for nature upon mankind. This responsibility should be seen not merely in the interest of mankind, but as a natural responsibility in itself. On the other hand, nature could not have been left where it was when mankind first appeared. This is a typical gray-zone problem. As with all such problems, especially those in ethical dilemmas, it is not easily treatable in intellectual terms.
In summary, the philosophical dilemmas of times past may be resolved. However, the practical dilemmas are not resolved. Neither utilitarian nor idealistic ethics works; nor does unlimited intellectual liberalism. In addition, the new ethical problems of our time have found no solutions in mature philosophical thought.
Upon further analysis, one finds that the dilemma with religious or philosophic ethical teachings in our time results from the problems associated with the “limits of ethics”. These occur in situations of extreme conditions, where adherence to the rules of ethics would bring severe disadvantage. Where, then, is the limit to which ethical rules are valid, and beyond which they could be modified or abandoned?
The Judeo-Christian rules of ethics and those of some other religions are of absolute and unrestricted nature (in contrast to Aristotelian restraint). The command “love your neighbor as yourself”, when applied to charitable giving, would result in dividing one’s property down to the lowest denominator in the global society. Practical life hardly ever allows absolute and unrestricted implementation of such rules.
There are a number of defensive considerations being commonly presented to justify the withholding of charitable aid.
a) My or our needs come first. I should first give to somebody poor or deserving in my own family, in my own clan, or my own country. There is plenty I have to do yet for my own people.
b) The requesting one is not deserving of any help: He/she is an alcoholic/drug abuser or not behaving well.
c) The money I give only goes to the aid administrators or a corrupt government official.
d) The requesting one got into this trouble by his own free will: Why does he/she not work? Why did he/she not go to school to learn more? Why did he/she get so many children? Why did he/she not stay where he/she came from? Why do they not learn to take care of their own country?
e) Everybody has to do only his share: What have the others done to help? What should they do? Why should I do all? If everybody helps equally, I have to contribute only 50 cents.
The thoughts supporting the recipient’s side are:
a) In dubious situations, give the recipient the benefit of the doubt.
b) Could it have happened to you to be in this kind of trouble?
c) What if your brother/sister or son/daughter were in this kind of trouble?
d) At least support those aid organizations that help the innocent.
e) At least support those aid organizations that help the afflicted people to support themselves.
f) If you want to give your share only, think that at least 50 percent or 90 percent of the people do not give anything. Therefore, give at least twice or ten times your average share.
g) As a general rule: It is better to have given ten times to the wrong person or too much than not to have given once to a person who really needed and deserved help or to have given too little.
There are other situations in individual life and in society’s conditions where exceptions to the ethical laws are expected or become necessary. Even the Catholic Church recognizes “just” wars and self-defense. However, all wars lead to the murder not only of combatants, but also of civilians, as in the bombarding of cities. Killing is commonly accepted in self-defense, and in defense of the innocent. Expropriations are commonly done in the public interest. Everybody’s daily life is filled with exceptional situations. What should one do, and under what circumstances? Where are the limits of ethical obligations?
Unfortunately, religious teaching gives surprisingly little assistance in such practical situations in the conduct of life. The great thinkers and founders of religions have largely not addressed the problem of the practical limits of ethical rules. This is the most significant shortcoming of religious guidance in life. It is also the most significant shortcoming of established moral philosophy. Only the ancient Greeks arrived at the conclusion that each virtue lies in the proper measure between two undesirable extremes. Kant’s philosophical Categorical Imperative may offer a reasonable approach.
The human mind is quite capable of judging, deciding, and moving ahead within undetermined situations. The degree of practical compromise in the field of ethics seems culturally determined. Thus, the amount of charitable giving, the degree of cheating on tax returns, and even the acceptance of street crime varies from one cultural group to another.
In the course of Creation, the animal era of life became characterized by “automation”. Now, in the human era, consciousness and the potential for self-determination and judgment establish the era of “freedom” and “responsibility”. Is there any freedom of the human mind? Is there freedom of will? More importantly, is there freedom of decision-making?
There are actually three levels of discussion regarding mental freedom:
* Political and social freedom
* Mental independence
* Freedom of will and freedom of personality
Political and social freedom:
As Schiller says in one of his great dramas, only “thoughts are free”; words and actions are not. Most of us are politically or socially restrained, as, for instance, at work in an organization. In the interest of personal security or for personal benefit, we say and do what is expected of us. There are political and social conflict situations where we must decide whether we will say and do what is expected of us or whether we will say and do what we want to – or what is morally “right” to say and do – and suffer the consequences.
Un-influenced thought and decision-making are predetermined by who one is and by one’s own personality. This personality is, after all, given by the sum total of one’s genetic predispositions, by one’s prior experiences in life (nature and nurture), and by own thought.
Temperament and emotions enter thought, as discussed earlier. They constitute a person’s “personality”. Most people would prefer having a somewhat different personality from the one they find themselves provided with. Many want to quit smoking, want to lose weight, or want to become tougher, stronger leaders, warmer parents, or just better human beings. They see their nature-given composition or the weaknesses in their personality as limiting their free will.
The fact is, people stop smoking after they are diagnosed with cancer, they lose weight after a heart attack, they are tougher or stronger leaders after leading their followers through a few battles, and they can sometimes become better human beings by taking care of some fellow humans who really suffer in life or by suffering themselves. Why could they not implement their behavior changes and, hence, their personality changes, in the first place, but could do so sometime later after significant experiences? Changes in personality, while possible, are very difficult to accomplish, at best, through constant focusing on role models. Consequently, the freedom of will and decision-making may find their most severe limitations in this predicament.
The plasticity (change in time under external influence) of the human brain between inherited traits, added experiences, and ongoing own thought indicates how unrealistic it is to try “to find oneself”. One may become, to a large extent, what one surrounds oneself with. Starting with an inherited predisposition, one is whom one evolves into in the course of life, partially by one’s own choice and under one’s own influence. At best, one can attempt to contemplate, in holistic thought, what goals one should have in selecting or searching one’s human environment and the forming experiences or activities of one’s life – then seek those. One aspect of environment that is of special significance to an individual is the set of one’s friends or associates at work. To some degree, one can actively do something about this part of environment. One can do something about finding and keeping good friends and avoiding less desirable ones. The most effective approach to personality change lies in following a suitable role model within a supporting congregation of like-minded fellows.
Personality strength grows more favorably with opportunities for decision-making and accomplishments. Therefore, such opportunities should be looked for and used. Personality includes also the capability for restraint and temperance, which also require training.
There is one more factor to be considered: one’s own thought. As alluded to above, one’s own thought may be formed by personality and cultural habituation. As also indicated in that chapter, one’s own thought, through sequences of visualizations, enters memory and nerval interconnectivity in the brain in the same way as perceived experiences. Thought enters into value assessment of associations and, consequently, the course of future thought. In other words, one’s own thought has a strong influence on who one is and how one thinks and judges in the future. As indicated before, such closed circles of cause-and-effect between personality, thought, and personality can spiral off into extremes (from Jesus to Hitler). They can taper off into nothing, or they can be meaningful in everybody’s normal life. Such spirals are kept connected to reality through intervening perceptions. In summary, there is a mystery remaining regarding mental independence, who I am, and the consequences for how I can and do influence my own course in thought and action.
Freedom of “will”
Is every decision of ours merely a direct consequence of nature (given character) or nurture (received education), making every decision of ours theoretically predictable? Can thoughts and decisions ever truly be free? Can one ever free oneself of culturally imposed thought habits? Can one ever arrive at any personally free thought habit different from what one learned and has become used to?
Western thought and attitudes have reached considerable individual and group accomplishments in emphasizing personal responsibility and potential for freedom in personal action. Obviously, the West also sees the individual as depending on destiny and personal gifts; yet the individual is expected to do the best he can under the circumstances. One can only recommend an attitude toward life accepting a large degree of free will and true individuality, though their existence is not fully provable. Therefore, one must recommend the acceptance of corresponding responsibility and accept all opportunities for decision-making and actions. This attitude leads to a fuller life and corresponds more to the total understanding of Creation.
The rejection of free will would easily lead to a rejection of personal responsibility – and, consequently, due to the general weakness and laziness of man, to decay. On the other side, the provable limitation of free will, due to genetic and environmental conditions as well as destiny, should lead to great tolerance toward others and temperance in setting own objectives or aspirations. This is an example of simultaneously accepting two contradictory perspectives and living with the compromise between the two, in a not-closed system of thought as described in Chapter 4.
In summary, I see myself as a human being with an individual combination of gifts, experiences, environmental conditions and capabilities, opportunities, and freedom to act. I can, and shall, show initiative in defining and pursuing my course through existence.
Mankind would never have risen from the most primitive level of existence without a degree of mental curiosity and mental creativity.
Mental curiosity is based on the genetically given curiosity of lower forms of life necessary for survival and propagation. It then became the most important driving force in modern human society and constitutes much of individual life fulfillment in our culture.
The mechanics of mental creativity were described in a prior chapter. The actual use of mental creativity is not only a matter of individual talent and temperament, but also one of cultural attitude and conditions. The uneven distribution of periods of creative progress of mankind in time and geography are witness to that. Why did the Greeks succeed the Assyrians and Egyptians in ancient times as leaders of mankind’s creative progress, and not the Phoenicians or Jews? Why did northern Italy, in its Renaissance, succeed in the mental progress initiated by the Arab universities of Andalusia, and not the neighboring and conquering Spain? What is it that makes mankind progress again and again, and where may it go in times to come?
Population explosions are quite common in nature. There are bacterial and viral population explosions, those of invasive plant species, among certain bird species and bison in early America, and, now, among humans. They occur when predators, large or small (including bacteria and viri) cannot develop fast enough. They begin with disorder and infighting and end with the limitation or destruction of the supporting ecological base.
There is no end to human population explosion in sight. The production of enough carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and fresh water is only a matter of cost – while the natural ecological base for those may be destroyed. Of course, people could then not be farmers, fishermen, or loggers any longer. It is a value-based decision of humanity whether to follow this course or to restrict population growth and protect the natural environment.
The unresolvable problems of fast and limitless population growth lie in the adjustments during the transitions, the allocations of cost and benefit, and, mainly, the governability of society under those circumstances.
History presents the fall of societies through natural disasters and diseases or external enemies, sometimes facilitated by internal weakness. In the absence of a natural disaster (including climate change) or uncontrollable disease, unexpected or humanly provoked, what will be the end of our world order, with the USA as the superpower, some secondary powers in China and Europe, the United Nations, and increasing violent insurgencies as around the Muslim world? Will there be another World War between those powers or more war on perceived “terrorism”? If not, will the world’s power structure fall by its own internal deterioration? A prior chapter indicated the surprising fragility of our industrial structure and the growing fragility of our societal cohesion.
The collapsing of only a small segment of our industrial structure – whether in energy generation, agro-business, pharmaceuticals, electronics, transportation, or other – could bring catastrophes to large parts of society or geographic areas within a short time, to the big cities first, where most of the people live, and to the already so badly suffering parts of the world.
As strains in society grow, the fault lines between interest groups and ethnic groups will become paramount – and these fault lines do not seem to diminish in our time. The balkanization of society may be the larger danger for the future of human society than another World War among the large powers – if not a terrorist bio-, germ-, or nuclear attack occurs.
5.2. Is There a Transcendental, Spiritual Essence of Existence?
Does This Essence, God, Rule Evolution, History, and Personal Destiny?
The concept transcendental (Webster’s: “...beyond the reach of common thought”) is used here as relating to considerations beyond or above the description of the world in the terms of factual observation and the natural sciences. The concept of spiritual (Webster’s: “...not material.........divine....”) is used to describe aspects of Creation that are not material and that might go beyond or above those covered by the natural sciences. The concept of religious (Webster’s: “....recognition of or reverence toward a supreme being”) is used in the approach toward an understanding of a creating, structure providing, and controlling spiritual essence above or beyond the physically existing world. Transcendental or religious concepts relate to the spiritual essence of Creation.
To understand existence, one must ask the fundamental question where existence – our universe and all the laws of nature – comes from and whether there is a meaning, purpose, direction or guidance in the evolution of existence, specifically also in our own lives or destiny.
More specifically, one would search for inspiration and comfort in a transcendental view of existence – inspiration to actively pursue opportunities or to enjoy the beauty of this world and to find strength or direction to act in this often difficult and confusing life – and comfort to find peace or consolation among all the death and suffering of this world – our own, that of our loved ones, and of so many innocent ones.
When everything goes well, human beings feel secure in their world. They analyze the possibility of transcendental aspects of their existence with intellectual calm and are inclined to dismiss the need for a “God” to understand the world. But when great opportunities or catastrophic threats arise in the course of destiny, awe is felt. More readily, a controlling force in existence is searched for, thanked, and, in distress, fervently appealed to.
Any perception of a spiritual essence of Creation would have a direct impact on our interpretation of the meaning of our lives and could possibly form a source for our ethical standards. In this sense, the meaning of our lives and our ethical standards would be directly related to our possible understanding of that spiritual essence and, in a religious sense, to our God-image. Consequently, the spiritual clarification of Creation should come first, before the issues of meaning of life and ethics can be addressed.
Six basic questions lead to transcendental, spiritual concerns regarding Creation with possible religious consequences. The first question necessarily is:
* A. “What caused and formed or gave the observable structure to existence – whether in the creation and formation of our own universe or of a multiverse?”
Even if the understanding of the beginning of Creation were to result in a definition or understanding of a “causative and structure-providing essence of existence”, of a supreme being, of “God”, it would relate only to a God who acted once, many billions of years ago. Is God no longer alive and acting? The spirituality of Creation would become almost meaningless to us if God had never acted again after the original “Big Bang”, if the world had progressed ballistically ever since and often randomly. However, if God has acted again, after Creation, any such additional acts of God in this world would have had an influence on Creation and, thereby, on the course of Creation. Therefore, such additional acts would be acts of destiny – leading to the second question:
* B. “Does a spiritual essence rule evolution, history, and personal destiny, is there some influence beyond the laws of nature?” If one assumes or believes in the action of a Spiritual Force in evolution, history, or destiny of the world, one could or should turn the thought process around by asking: “What does the course of evolution, history, and destiny tell us about the spiritual force in existence, about God?”
Even if God could be perceived as acting in evolution and history, that perception alone could still leave us humans, in our thoughts and emotions, alone with ourselves. However, what many people long for, and often feel in their souls, in prayer, in contemplation, or through inspiration, is a communion with God. This would be more than some feeling of the existence of God; it would be the feeling of the presence of God, of some hoped-for response to prayers, especially in moments of need, but also in moments of joy. Only that communion would establish a foundation for a belief in a “personal” God guiding our personal destiny. Therefore, there is a third question:
* C. “Is there a personal relation to a spirituality of existence, to a personal God”, “can there be a communion between the individual human being and a supreme spiritual essence, God?” If this could be validly confirmed, one could ask: “How can such a communion be – between the individual human being and a supreme spiritual essence, God? What can one expect from it?”
It is from the responses to these questions that one could approach the questions regarding the meaning of life, the conduct of life, and the source for our ethical standards. But if there is a personal God providing us with guidance, should we not expect God to judge our behavior? This leads to the next question:
* D. Did God issue ethical standards and, then, will act as a judge for every individual upon death? Would this necessarily imply a compensating experience upon dying or after death in another world-to-be? Inversely, if such ongoing existence cannot be assumed, will there be no judgment either?
Theology has given us little help in expanding our knowledge or understanding of God beyond historic religious teachings in a way that would correspond to the evolution of nature, our minds, our civilizations or cultures, and in a way that would help us confront the different problems of our time – for example, in the evolution of psychology, treatment of criminal behavior, dissolution of taboos, family planning, gender status, environmental concerns versus human needs, trans-cultural migration, ethics in genetics, united world governance, and many others. Theology has concentrated on forming systems of thought based on the past teachings of Christ, Muhammad, or other inspired leaders, augmented by the theological thought and philosophical speculation of some individuals.
In the absence of recent, clearly understandable directives by God, it would be interesting to conduct an interdisciplinary study, with the participation of physical and life scientists, to investigate whether ongoing action by God (as in ongoing Creation as postulated by “Intelligent Design”  ) and a guided structure in destiny can be proven or disproved definitively, and what this indicates about God and our path through life. Possibly, such a study should include the analysis of historic and modern occurrences of assumed “inspirations” and some quantitative, statistical analysis of perceived responses to prayers.
Whatever a religious thought process may accomplish, one will have to consider some of the age-old problems of theology that are used as the main arguments of atheists – the existence of so much suffering, injustice, senseless destruction, and waste of lives in the world (theodicy). This leads to the next question:
* E. How can one explain so much senseless destruction, cruelty, suffering, and waste of life in this world?
The lack of free communication with God, and the diversity and contradictions among the claimed divine inspirations throughout history make it very difficult to arrive at an all-convincing answer. One would have to consider the interpretations and thoughts of many great minds of centuries past – from the Vedas, Zoroaster’s teachings, and the Book of Job, to modern discussions of a global religious consensus on ethics (Küng) – and their contradictions.
Consequently, one arrives at the final question:
* F. What should be the resulting image of the transcendental essence of existence, God?
ATTEMPTED ANSWERS TO THE ABOVE QUESTIONS:
Most religious inquiries into the origin of Creation are searches for the actions of a God, for a “proof of God”, or for an understanding of a God one already assumes to know. This constitutes a search for a confirmation of a pre-established faith or a pre-established God-image.
There is the possibility of a significantly different and more effective approach. One could look at Creation – our universe and nature – without preconceived ideas and simply ask what such an observation of existence can or cannot tell us about the originating source, essence, or originating power. The originating power of the universe is the ultimate mystery, whatever name we give it. Nobody can doubt that our universe began. Nobody will ever know why it began. All we know is what happened, and even that we do not fully know. However, we can look at Creation with our limited understanding, marvel at it, and try to learn from such observation about the creating and structure-providing essence from which it came.
A religious fundamentalist will not agree with this. In the opinion of such a religious person, we can never understand the spirituality of Creation by ourselves. We can only learn what God cared to communicate to us through inspiration as communicated to the founders of the respective religions. Such inspiration alone, in the opinion of fundamentalists, provides the correct interpretation of what Creation means and who God is.
Many scientists and modern individuals disagree with this point of view. They experience the world through observation, and they search for a God-image that explains the origin and characteristics of existence as it is. They expect that a story of Creation and an image of God obtained from religious inspiration should not be in conflict with factual scientific observation.
The scientific story of Creation indicates the following:
- The release of a large amount of energy and its subsequent expansion marks the beginning instant of time and space.
- The energy occurred as fields – a rather abstract phenomenon. Those fields were in some mysterious way based in the absolute vacuum of nascent space.
- As of that original moment, certain forces, invariable laws, principles, and constants of nature appeared in our universe and remained valid for all time thereafter. An only slightly different determination of the value of those forces or constants would have led to either a collapse or a total lack of structure in our universe and, specifically, would have prevented all forms life.
- The equal validity, as of that moment and for all time thereafter, of the phenomena of quantum mechanics and subatomic uncertainty (augmented by the effects of Chaos Theory) became apparent.
- The granulation of all energy into subatomic particles (or merely “strings”, small stretches of oscillating fields in the vacuum of space) occurred. In other words, all “material” existence in our universe is founded merely on congregations of bits of energy fields in the vacuum of space – leaving all existence as a rather abstract phenomenon.
- Those subatomic particles were able to combine, thereby forming larger particles with new, “emerging” properties – thereby beginning the subsequent grandiose evolution of the universe with all its galaxies and stars, of nature with all its diverse organisms, and of our human minds with all their thoughts or emotions.
- Stars go through energy cycles that will ultimately force all possible life on their planets to come to an end.
- It can be roughly calculated when all matter in our universe will possibly first be concentrated in Black Holes, which subsequently will dissipate in ever colder radiation throughout endless space – resulting in a final fading away of our universe and of all of our existence.
- No meaning or purpose for the existence of our universe becomes apparent from this observation. One can only say that our universe merely exists for the pleasure of the originating essence.
- Our universe is approximately 14 billion years old. But when 1,000 years – a not very long time span in the history of the universe – are equated to 1 second, then our universe is only a little over 4 months old!
- If energy and light were to expand linearly (and not curved, as indicated by relativity theory), the radius of our universe would corresponds to the product of its age and the speed of light. But if the diameter of our Milky Way Galaxy – a rather very small component within our universe – is equated to 1 millimeter, then our universe has only a diameter of approximately 300 meters.
- In other words, in galactic dimensions, our universe in neither very old nor very large and, like fireworks, is of transient, limited reality.
- This leads to questions of previously, additionally, or in the future existing universes – in a “multiverse”.
These observations lead to the following conclusions regarding the originating essence of our universe:
- The origin of existence of our universe must be seen in a transcendental (beyond physics) and totally abstract essence that did provide the original power, structure, and potential for the evolution of our material universe, life, and the human mind in time and space.
- Should one not assume that the structure and evolution-providing essence could and would perceive or resonate with the dimensions of existence, which it had brought forth? Would or could that include the perception of or a resonance to human thoughts and emotions?
- This would indicate a highly “intellectual” and possibly “sensitive” formative and structure-providing essence of existence.
Further thoughts concerning the “image of God” are presented in a later chapter.
Most people, if they give any thought to this subject at all, believe in either one of four different theories or a vague combination of those.
!. Regarding the concept of a divinely guided evolution and history, possibly also personal destiny, following a plan:
The universe, as indicated by its structure and evolution, does not appear to be created for any efficiency in reaching a specific goal as part of a plan. Here are some observations:
The universe is largely empty, lifeless, and inhospitable.
Only 5% of the content of our universe constitutes the material out of which our stars are made (with another 20-25% being mysterious dark matter and the balance being dark energy). This material is concentrated in relatively miniscule dots, the stars, and some widely distributed nebulae in the emptiness of the vast and expanding space of the universe. The way the universe is structured, life can occur only on an extremely small percentage of all planets and, even there, only rarely under specifically favorable circumstances.
Approximately 10 billion years of astrophysical evolution elapsed before life appeared here on Earth.
It took some more billions of years of cellular development on Earth before its atmosphere was totally changed and any complex organisms could evolve.
Numerous extinctions threatened all life repeatedly, leading to new forms of life thereafter.
This observation does not provide the impression of a Creation and evolution, which had humans, their higher culture, and safe personal destinies as its basic plan and purpose. Human life, rather, appears as an afterthought or incidental occurrence.
Furthermore, on the one very small island of life that we can observe – here on Earth – most living beings, plants, or animals are in a very cruel struggle for survival, a struggle without fairness or compassion and with much waste of life. The human character is still half-beastly in its own lack of sufficient compassion and amply demonstrated cruelty. Additionally, all organisms on Earth suffer from the nature-imposed urge toward overpopulation and its cruel consequences. This observation does not let guidance of history or destiny appear to follow a benevolent plan.
In natural evolution, the “Intelligent Design Theory” postulates the formative guidance of a spiritual essence in the appearance of complex forms or configurations. Science, however, has demonstrated the action of “natural evolution” in all those cases and, as a matter of fact, in all of natural evolution, thereby not seeing any unexplainable, spiritual action beyond the original Creation.
2. Regarding the concept of phased creativity, leading step-by-step through the various levels of evolution from the basic material creation to life and the human mind.
This concept does not see a one-time Creation, but a dynamic, ongoing process of the evolution of existence with paradigms changing in time, including the appearance of totally new divine creative concepts or “ideas” in cosmic time.
This dynamic understanding of Creation would lead to the image of a still creatively active power or a dynamically creative formative essence of existence – God.
Such a concept would correspond to the image of an artist who continues creatively to work on his Creation, who develops new creative thoughts that did not exist or that were not visible in earlier times. The later creative thoughts are not only complementing, but possibly also contradicting some earlier creative thoughts. In this sense, the appearance of human values led to a phase of Creation that became elevated above the unfairness and cruelty of the animal world.
As discussed in the preceding paragraph, each earlier phase is relatively little suitable for the next one. Thus, there are few areas in all of physical creation that are suitable for the development of life. Also, the lower life phase, with its basic evolutionary force in selection of the fittest and cruelty in struggle, is unbearable to man with his ideals or intellectual inclinations, his sensitivity to suffering and compassion, or his artistic interests and humor.
This could indicate that the successive periods were not considered initially and that they present truly original creative impulses at the times of their occurrence, possibly inspired by the results of each preceding period. In other words, God had not predetermined everything but retained his freedom to act and decide in the course of time, possibly willing to reconsider earlier creative ideas.
In this understanding, one can distinguish at least three phases of Creation:
* The appearance and evolution of the physical world
* The appearance of life and the biological evolution of nature
* The appearance and evolution of the human mind, spirituality, and resulting values
As the three phases become superimposed, the substance and laws of underlying earlier phases of Creation are still effectively valid, while the significant new creative phenomena of each new phase define the newly appearing participants of that phase.
The problem with this view comes from a cosmic perspective and from the questions of theodicy.
It is unlikely that life appeared only once – 10 billion years after the Big Bang – and only on this Earth. It is much more likely that some forms of life have and will appear in the universe from time to time in different places – some of it billions of years before us, some long after us. All life of higher capabilities must be the result of some evolution. Consequently, all creative ideas could have occurred or actually were tried out somewhere else in the universe long before our natural and human evolution here on Earth. This would have made the earlier phases of evolution on Earth unnecessary. At least, they should have been much shorter .
But the lack of elimination of the ongoing cruelty in this world does not allow the vision of that designing or destiny-determining, all-powerful force to be in accordance with the presumed new creative phase – to correspond to a “father” of Christian or human values.
And how about the negative occurrences that could be seen as divine action in the course of natural evolution and human history, the repetitive and highly destructive extinctions, later the Asiatic invasions, or ever-new plagues?
On the other hand, one should be careful not to see history as being totally guided by God. This would deny human freedom and all human responsibility, thereby contradicting the basic principle of the human era of existence.
But how can one see God as the creator of the universe and deny God’s participation in the evolution of mankind? Without interference by God in destiny, what religious sense would any kind of sacrifice, prayer, or ethical behavior any longer have – except utilitarian benefit and emotional soothing?
However, one should be careful not to asymmetrically ascribe all positive moments in mankind’s history to the direct action of the “hand of God” and all bad moments to human action. The various natural catastrophes (some still occurring on our time), pests, and the arising of mighty Asian hordes overrunning great civilizations were not human deeds. The great calamities of mankind and all its individuals – whether in birth defects, accidents, plagues, invasions, wars, devastations of cultures, premature death, or suppression of great minds – are an enigma, as are the great changes toward progress, enlightenment, and well-being. Anthropomorphic explanations of divine intent in calamities, as the setting of examples or the teaching of lessons, appear inadequate and lack all compassion or logic. Explanations by divine justice are equally inadequate, since too many innocent people became victims. The saving of the innocents, as at Sodom and Gomorrah, usually does not occur.
The only conclusion is that we humans are still part of the world of randomly or probabilistically appearing physical cataclysms and of the Darwinian struggle of all living beings, including bacteria and beasts and including criminals and tyrants. The two earlier phases of Creation, the physical and the Darwinian, have not been invalidated in the human phase. They reach well into our existence. We had better accept this fact in humility, as well as our responsibility to take action to improve our lives.
A more detailed discussion of possible “creative steps” in the course of the evolution of the universe, nature, history, and the human mind is presented in the chapter “B. COROLLARY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS” at the end of this essay.
3. Regarding the concept of free evolution, but augmented by occasional divine inputs in the form of inspirations or interventions changing the course of history and personal destiny – possibly leading to divine responsibility when those are not occurring.
This concept of Creation and evolution is the one most people believe in. Most people fully accept the validity of the forces and laws of nature and see evolution occur accordingly. However, most people also see occasional “acts or interventions of God”. That is the reason why many people pray or sacrifice for divine interference in critical situations.
The arguments against guided evolution (see above) are the same as the argument against this concept, specifically:
- Why did the “inspirations” of God’s will as claimed by the founders of the great religions occur so late in human history, so selectively and rarely, and, then, stop several hundreds of years ago – except those claimed by some modern so-called “sects”?
- Why are there the wide differences in emphasis and the contradictions between the claimed “inspirations” and religions?
- Regarding divine interventions with human history or destiny, why did they occur so selectively? Do we place asymmetric emphasis on the recollections of the survivors and winners as compared to those of the losers and the perished ones?
The unexplainable absence of divine intervention in moments of greatest need was emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI in his speech on May 28, 2006, at the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. He asked “Why, Lord, did you remain silent?” and “How could you tolerate this?” These questions apply to so many other catastrophes as well, to tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, pestilences, and all the many personal suffering of countless “innocent” individuals on Earth. Does the question imply a divine responsibility, a possible sharing of “guilt”? Or does this observation lead to the simple consequence that the spiritual essence of existence does not guide history or personal destiny, and is not active in this world? See the following observations:
4. Regarding Creation of only the initial conditions – with subsequent evolution merely following the laws of nature – without any further divine interference.
In this concept, as preferred by science, the original Creation, complex as it was, included the potential occurrence of all later evolution based on the created energy that empowered it, the forces that structured it, and the natural laws that provided for dynamic evolution in time. One should almost assume that the expectation and vision of a later evolution was part of the concept of the Creation of our universe as and how it occurred.
In this understanding of our existence, our own life and destiny, embedded as it is in all nature and the characteristics of humanity, is founded on that “divine” concept as expressed in the original Creation. The meaning of our lives may be seen as serving to fulfill the Creator’s evolutionary expectation. It is in this understanding of our being embedded in a larger concept of existence that we can attempt to find the inspiration and comfort for our lives.
In this concept of Creation, the creative essence appears inactive in the course of evolution or human history and destiny. This concept also excludes any response of “God” to human petition through ritual sacrifice or prayer – leaving, at best, compensation in an afterlife. As a result, humans must assume the full responsibility for those conditions here on Earth that we could change.
C. Is There a Personal Relation to Spirituality of Existence, a Personal God?
We humans have always searched for contact with the spiritual forces of existence, with our God. We wanted to find answers to important questions, we have searched for spiritual clarification, and we most urgently asked for help in times of need. While we search for direct, conscious, reproducible communication with clear answers to our questions, all reported contacts with God have been subjective, not reproducible, and, unfortunately, often contradictory. Since direct communication with God is not possible, a number of indirect approaches have been tried. Can humans read God’s mind through some forms of divination? Can humans influence God through sacrifices? Can individuals personally communicate with God, through divination, meditation, inspiration, and prayer? Does God hear our prayers? Does God respond to our prayers?
Sacrifices are the oldest form of attempting to influence God, and divination is the oldest form of attempted communication with God. More sophisticated communication with God includes the meditative immersion into a certain one-ness of the human individual’s mind with the spiritual essence of existence. “Inspiration” is hoped to provide some communication in thought. Verbal communication in prayer is the most direct, most practiced, and ideal communication with God. Is there significance in sacrifices, divination, meditation, inspiration, and prayer?
Many people have attempted to influence God and destiny through sacrifices. Examples are the burning of meat, the spilling of wine, the quantities of incantations or supplicant prayers, pilgrimages, self-inflicted suffering, charitable donations and other good deeds. The miraculously healed pilgrim will always indicate that God can be moved. Also, sacrifices in the form of good deeds can be seen as God-pleasing, since they are viewed as leading to a fuller life in human values. Beyond that, sacrifices are exercises of character, in giving up some wealth and some materialism in controlling oneself, in freeing oneself of selfishness.
There were cases where sacrifices of the one kind or other seemed to have changed the course of destiny for the sacrificing person. An objective evaluation, however, as in a form of “quantitative theology”, is missing. Therefore, such positive results can be seen as cases of statistical outcomes, selective observation, or psychosomatic events.
Since God does not speak to humans every time they ask a question, answers from God have been looked for in the outcome of random events, such as the throwing of sticks or the flight of birds. All the antique and modern schemes of divination, however, have shown little evidence of reliable truth. A fatalistic reliance on such methods has proven wrong. Also, having obtained Divine indicators has been claimed too readily when personal desires or individual interpretations actually prevailed .
There is no evidence that divination ever worked except randomly and, therefore, was supported only through selective observation by those, where results just happened to turn out more or less right or could be interpreted in different ways.
In terms of neurophysiology, meditation is a form of calming of neural activity. The calming event may be sensed as a pleasant form of stress reduction. Calming can lead to a prevalence of right-side-of-the-brain thought, which was found to be somewhat more holistic and three-dimensional visual, often leading to creative ideas in a combinatorial process out of previous memory elements, perceptions, and own thought (see the author’s essays, “Creative Thought” and “Mental Creativity”, on the website www.schwab-writings.com).
Religious meditation is an intuitive thought process, often related to feeling. This process is expected to provide a general understanding and insight into Creation, God, and oneself, for the purpose of alignment with God’s will, peace of mind, greater power, or guidance through life.
But meditation, when not augmented by intuitive new thought or new concepts, only facilitates a one-ness with the self-formed or self-perceived God-image, which may or may not be the true God-image, possibly being only the humanly understandable one. What else can we expect? Most often, this God-image was learned in one’s own or in an adopted cultural setting, or was the humanly produced one that is derived from a personal interpretation of existence or projected into existence. All religious apparitions have appeared in the mold of the region and times of the viewer – even the strange Ezekiel apparition had some standard Assyrian connotations of its time. Can humans ever understand the ultimate image of God, the creator of the universe? Could humans bear to see God? Yet, we long for an ever-better understanding of God and, hence, a better understanding of the existence we live in.
To the extent that a given God-image allows a viable explanation of the world and a beneficial approach to its problems, meditative immersion can facilitate solutions to existing problems of the individual. Even if an explanation thus derived actually is not viable but appears to be so to the meditating individual, to that person, the meditation provides the impression of being a solution. This was so for the martyrs in ancient Rome who were expecting eternal salvation after their death, or the martyrs in Muslim holy wars equally expecting instant elevation into Paradise.
For many individuals, their God-image allows neither a true nor a perceived explanation of or viable solution for their actual problems in this world. How can parents of any religion cope with the accidental suffering of their small children? How can one cope with the fact that there are so many innocent victims of violence? But meditative immersion into, and the admiration of, Creation can, at least, lead to a stoic acceptance of the existing problems as part of an evolving universal existence. This was so with Job, the Stoics, and many individuals whom we call “stoic” and admire for their strength of character in either adversity or success. As we perceive our place in the totality of Creation, we may possibly find harmony in existence or, at least, humility for ourselves in accepting existence as it is. This is where we find peace for our souls and strength to act.
One should not forget that exceptional success is equally a cause for concern as is affliction. Most exceptionally successful people in history, politics, business, or daily life were tempted into extravagance or into tackling problems beyond their ability to cope with. For these successful (or lucky) people, sincere meditation in concentration on a beneficial God-image and a beneficial interpretation of the role of human leaders could have provided guidance.
A specific aspect of meditation is the Zen-expectation of reaching enlightenment. The general enlightenment searched for by Zen meditation most likely is nothing more than a psycho-somatic effect providing the feeling of mental well-being but without also providing any actual knowledge of the world.
The occurrence of useful ideas during meditation is a well-known phenomenon. It is explained by neurophysiological considerations regarding subconscious thought (see the above-mentioned author’s essays, “Creative Thought” and “Mental Creativity”). At its limits, as in Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the occurrence of useful ideas does not necessarily exclude transcendental considerations. This is where the faithful among scientists still seek divine assistance or believe in divine inspiration.
In sum, meditation can be a most beneficial approach to a possible spirituality in the origin or course of Creation and, for the religious person, to communication with a spiritual aspect of Creation, but only if it is based on the right understanding of existence or, at least, on a beneficial image of God. Otherwise, meditation could be misleading.
The neurophysiological background of the causation for the sensation of “inspiration” in the human mind is explained in the author’s essay “Religion” (see the website “www.schwab-writings.com/pt/Rel”). Inspiration is related to the phenomenon of sudden idea generation in the human mind.
This phenomenon results from conscious and, more often, sub-conscious creative, combinatorial thought that suddenly reaches significance and, therefore, reaches foreground awareness in the mind. The origin of this sudden appearance can startle the recipient and cause thoughts about divine origins of such new ideas, hence the belief in a divine “inspiration”.
Inspiration, as discussed in the following, is the assumed divine communication of thoughts or images to the human mind. The great founders of religions, as well as many religious people, have experienced the sensation that they interpreted as receiving of divine inspiration. In their search for a course through existence, many individuals have experienced the gaining of clarity through what they felt as “inspiration”. But, mostly, divine inspiration has been claimed too readily, when, actually, personal perceptions or individual thoughts or dreams prevailed. This more critical interpretation of inspirations is mainly accepted and reserved for those inspirations, which occurred in the other but one’s own religions.
Not inspirations, but the prevalent needs of a culture as perceived by exceptional thinkers or leaders are the ideas that most often form people’s religious attitudes, their image of God, and, hence, their insight gained from inspiration.
The individual has every reason to hope for a suitable inspiration. But there is every reason to be careful not to accept one’s own thoughts as divine inspiration. Personal experience may confirm both positions. Yet, what else can individuals and mankind hope for, but that the believed inspirations appearing in their minds at least be beneficial?
Prayer is mostly verbal, often logical and concise, person-to-God directed, for the purpose of improvement of life, forgiveness, direction, insight, gratitude, or for other needs or purposes.
Prayer exclusively for personal benefit is understandable in situations of need. Existence can be cruel and lonely without appeal to divine compassion or peace of mind. But prayer should not lead to less personal initiative and self-reliance than is demanded in this world.
Prayer that verbalizes one’s search for guidance in life, or for clarification of objectives in existence and for a favorable destiny, is quite understandable (as is meditation about the general aspects of Creation and one’s own position therein). I see prayer (and meditation) as the expression of the mental relation between humans – touching on the essence of man’s existence as a human being in this universe – and the transcendental interpretation of the origin or essence of Creation. In this sense, any scientist and even atheist can “pray” in reflecting upon this essence of existence and our role or direction in this world – and may receive inspiration or comfort.
Does verbal prayer reach God? In our phase of Creation, the appearance of differentiated emotions and values in the human mind – combined with the capability for speech – lets humans reach out for a verbal communication with a personally reachable God in prayer. If God’s creation gave us a mind, emotions, and verbal expression, should we not expect God to perceive those aspects of Creation and, hence, our prayers? Any thought that the transcendental essence would not perceive its own creation appears incomprehensible to us.
As stated before, one must be careful in arriving at conclusions about the Creator by observing Creation. On the other hand, as also stated before, the two – Creator and Creation – cannot viably be in conflict with each other. In other words, the creation of an era of ethics, compassion, values, love, justice, and aesthetics should imply that the Creator was sensitive to ethics, compassion, values, love, justice, and aesthetics. The creation of speech implied the usage of speech, also in mental communication, including mental communication with God. Thus, prayer is the base for our calling out in joy or sorrow to the Spiritual Essence of Creation.
It is in this context of our most important aspects of life – our thoughts, emotions, and values – in a verbal communication that the vision of the spiritual forces in existence becomes a vision of a personal God, with whom some resonance of our “soul” can be expected or hoped for, even as expressed in words.
Does that mean that we are actually being heard or even responded to? Can we ever call on God for help? How can we deny that option when considering all the blessings bestowed upon us in our lives! We can be most grateful for so many prayers heard, for so much help received when praying for it and also when not. But how about all the unlucky ones? Are we only creating a faith and religion of the lucky and successful ones?
Life’s experience tells us that response to prayer cannot necessarily or hardly ever be expected, not even in the most desperate situations. How about all the prayers cried out in despair during the genocides, wars, plagues, and daily disasters in the course of human history and personal lives that were not responded to? Pope Benedict XIV alluded to this predicament in his speech on May 28, 2006, at Auschwitz when he prayed: “Why, Lord, did you remain silent …. How could you tolerate this?”
This lets us see the abject difference between us as creatures and a humanly not-understandable Creator in this grandiose but violent universe.
In accord with the principle of freedom and responsibility of our phase of existence, the greater part of our lives is not controlled by the interfering hand of God. It evolves under the influence of all the factors of existence around us, often according to the laws of nature, its random events, and the laws of basic life. We are sent out to act according to our capabilities, in freedom and responsibility, in an attempt to create the kind of world we want to live in.
D. Did God Issue Ethical Standards and, Then,
Will Act as Judge for Every Individual Upon Death?
The starting point of such beliefs is animistic: seeking spiritual forces behind earthly events. In the higher religions, such belief is anthropomorphic. God, the supreme being, must be perfect – in human terms. This must include moral perfection – again, in human terms. Moral perfection requires fairness. Therefore, God must be “fair” and good people must ultimately enjoy a better life than bad people.
The observation of earthly lives does not confirm this. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao had reasonably good lives – and their ends were not worse than some cancer patient’s ones. Many innocent people suffered unspeakable horrors during recent times, as others had already done so through all historic ages.
The observed “un-fairness” on Earth leads to the belief in a Divine judgment at the end of life and following compensation for the earthly deeds or suffering in the afterlife. Thus, the heroes and good people go to heaven, the bad ones to hell. Christian thought additionally introduced possible forgiveness and redemption (and a transition through purgatory).
What if there is no afterlife? What if God is not an accountant keeping track of sins and merits? What if we cannot grasp the transcendental, spiritual foundation of existence?
We might be well advised to live by the moral rules assigned to our human lives: do right because it is right, not because we want to benefit from it, here or there. We are well advised to take our destiny as it comes – in fear, humility, or gratefulness – and still glorify the spirituality of existence, God, as being above our human ways.
Afterlife? Is it merely to redeem our claim for compensation? Again, that would be very anthropomorphic. May the transition into timelessness at the end of life be a peaceful one for our minds.
The scientific understanding of the universe indicates its ultimate demise in either some Black Holes and, possibly, their subsequent dissolution in ever-expanding and ever-colder radiation. There is no room in this understanding of reality, and it does not make sense in any reasonable terms, to see a permanent static “storage” of all “souls” for eternity.
I personally think it should not make that much difference whether or not there is divine judgment and compensation in afterlife. I do advocate righteous living with resulting peace of mind. I hardly ever would advocate martyrdom for abstract principles, curtailing future life potential. I do advocate personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.
The significant point is, in my opinion, the choosing of a course through existence that is meaningful, that one can consider fulfilling life’s potential in accordance with man’s place in God’s Creation. This should be the motivation to pursue worthy goals in life rather than the fear of judgment or calculation for future benefit.
But for simple human beings and the desperate and the marginalized ones in this world – is there hope for going to a better afterlife – for themselves and, more often, for their loved ones, whom they would like to see saved and want to meet again? What else is left for them in an often very cruel world? One should not take this faith from them!
E. How Can One Explain so Much Senseless Destruction, Cruelty, Suffering, and Waste of Life in This World?
Where does this leave the question of theodicy? None of the anthropomorphic images of God and no vision of a guiding hand of God in this world and its evolution can be harmonized with all the negative aspects of nature, history, and personal destiny.
Some people see a religious explanation for some destruction and suffering in self-inflicted punishment. But this can in no way explain the large amount of suffering inflicted on the innocent, the senseless cruelty, and the widespread destruction occurring at all times throughout the nature and the whole world. Theology cannot explain most of those as acts of God within any reasonable God-image.
These aspects of existence can only be seen as being part of the structure of Creation and natural evolution, including the physical catastrophes or random accidents and the violent struggles of species, clans, and individuals. One must come to the conclusion that God leaves the world to its own natural, historical, and psychological causalities – and us with the responsibility to improve the conditions on Earth! Are we guilty not only for what we have done, but too often also for what we left un-done?
There is no protective wall around sensitive humans unless they themselves are able to erect such protection. God’s helping hand cannot be expected to intervene and may not even avert the greatest desperation.
This is the way the world is. We can find peace by admiring the universe and accepting it as it is. We can find strength to act in our own realm. We can hope for the evolution of human society in a direction toward greater prevalence of benevolent values.
F. What Should Be the Resulting Image of the Transcendental Essence of Existence, God?
Can one validly arrive at conclusions about the Creator by looking at Creation? In fact, all founders of a religion, from the Vedas 1500 BC on, including Jesus, and every group of priests throughout history have referred to the observation of existence in defining, confirming, or proving their respective God-image. The obvious and most important reason is that the two – Creator and Creation or God-image and observation of reality – cannot viably be in contradiction or conflict with each other. In actuality, however, that contradiction occurs quite often in various religions. For example, is the cruelty and unfairness in the animal world an indication that God is cruel and unfair? Should such a God-image therefore apply to the human world? Seen in its totality, the world may give an image of Creation that is totally in conflict with our “humane” ideals, aspirations, and values.
The resulting conflicts between the religiously stipulated God-images and the actual observations of existence were resolved in various religions, either by selective observation of reality or by assuming a God-opposed spiritual force (the God of destruction or the Devil). Another common resolution of the conflict between God-image and reality is presented by the assumption of a final judgment and the existence of a compensatory afterlife. This was believed already by the Egyptians and taught by Zoroaster, by Christianity, and even by Communism – in the latter case, by offering the hope for an idealistic society after an initial period of terror and misery. Is that necessary? Is it necessary to take recourse to selective observation, to anti-divine counterforces, or to a compensating afterlife in order to understand Creation? That should not be necessary.
In a more factual view, one can look at the presently observable structure of the world around us or at its dynamic character in an evolution in time in order to attempt to understand its structure-providing, transcendental essence.
In its presently observable state, one can say that the structure-providing essence responsible for its structure was enjoying diversity. Existing species are protected in their individuality by means of specific survival capabilities and prevented from dilution by means of procreation barriers between species. New species evolve in filling ecological and topographic niches wherever and whenever they can be found.
One can also consider the phenomenon of the human mind, including its emotions of love, ethical values, and art. This leads to the attempt to include these “humane” aspects in the image of creating essence, God. But it still is the cruelty of the world – which then also would have to be included in the image of God – which inhibits us from final conclusions.
One can see Creation as having been laid out not only in intellectually creative terms, but also as projecting aesthetic joy.
Can observation of the dynamic evolution provide a better understanding of the image of God? It is certainly an image of increasing expression of spirituality in letting the abstract realm of thoughts, emotions, and values appear. It is one of fostering the dominance of the spiritual over the material; one of expecting boundless initiative in freedom and responsibility resulting from the capability for pre-conceiving consequences and visualizing resulting situations, a capability which also led to fairness and compassion for other living beings.
Therefore, observation of the past and present would not allow conclusions about the future of Creation. Consequently, the God-image would have to be changed by the appearance of each new advance in evolution. For example, an observation of early, inanimate creation would have led to a concept of God that possibly would not have allowed the understanding of the world of life. A pre-human God-image would not have contained elements of justice or love.
However, one should be careful not to asymmetrically ascribe only all positive moments in evolution and mankind’s history to the “hand of God”, or all bad moments to human action. The various pests and the arising of mighty Asian hordes overrunning great civilizations were not human deeds. The great calamities of mankind and all its individuals – whether in birth defects, accidents, plagues, invasions, wars, devastations of cultures, premature death, or suppression of great minds – are an enigma, as are the great changes toward progress, enlightenment, and well-being. Anthropomorphic explanations of divine intent in calamities, as the setting of examples or the teaching of lessons, appear inadequate. Explanations by divine justice are equally inadequate, since too many innocent people became victims. The saving of the innocents, as at Sodom and Gomorrah, usually does not occur. The only conclusion is that we humans are still part of the world of randomly or probabilistically appearing physical cataclysms and of the Darwinian struggle of all living beings, including bacteria and beasts and including criminals and tyrants. The two earlier phases of evolution, the physical and the Darwinian, have not been invalidated in the human phase. They reach well into our existence.
Can Christians maintain the belief in an anthropomorphic, always loving God-Father when a simple look at nature in their own backyard, a visit to their hospital’s emergency station, or to its children’s ward teaches them differently? We had better accept this fact in humility, as well as our responsibility to take our own action to improve our lives.
Can one gain an understanding of the intent or expectation of the Creative Spirit or God from the observation of the dynamic character of evolution? One can see evolution merely as a result of the starting conditions or character of the original Creation, plus the action of the “combinatorial principle” and the “basic principle of evolution”. One can also see God as un-attached to any “moral” or “ethical” values. One does not see an evolution including fairness or compassion – until the appearance of mankind. But one can see God with some important basic expectations regarding life – to express its automation, self-reliance, and prevailing in the tasks of life.
There are specific questions if one looks beyond Earth at the possibility of other civilizations in the universe. If we believe that there was divine influence on human history, should we expect that it was similar or equal in other civilizations scattered across the universe? Should we expect revelations through divine inspirations equal to, similar to, or different from ours? In the terms of Catholic doctrine, were all intelligent or human-like beings on other heavenly bodies also created “sinful” and had to be redeemed, through the murder of God’s only son, or how else redeemed and by whom, or why not? If all other civilizations in the universe were created sinful and had to be redeemed, how can we understand that? And, if we humans on Earth are the only sinful ones and the only redeemed ones, how can we understand that? Can followers of Oriental religions understand why escape from existence into Nirvana should be the ultimate goal for all intelligent beings everywhere else in the universe – and if not, why on Earth? Some theological assumptions and statements by present-day, established religions on Earth and their priests do not appear tenable any longer when seen in the universal context – as they are not when seen in the context of suffering.
There is no doubt that present religious teachings correspond to the mental horizon of humans in times past when they served humans well. There is every reason to be deeply grateful for at least some of these past teachings. It is also, no doubt, true that religious essence, in a grandiose spiritual view of all of existence, should be universally valid. However, this leads to the conclusion that some anthropomorphic ideas of God and the heavens are not tenable. A new image of the essence of Creation – of Alpha, of the Supreme Spirit, of “God” – can only be more grandiose than a purely Earth-related one. However, it will not be for us to understand the ultimate mystery of existence and its dynamic course.
Historically, the process of religious development is related somewhat to the creative thought process of the human mind (see the author’s essays, “Mental Creativity” and “Religion: What is Religion? What Should Religion Be?“). The thought process of the great religious thinkers and founders of religions influences this process through their personal thoughts and religious inspirations. Contacts with other religions bring new perceptions. Breakthroughs in God-vision (paradigm changes), requiring opposition to priestly classes when not coming from them, are difficult to accomplish and are unsettling to religious people.
There is a direct correlation between the image of God (or the understanding of the spiritual forces of existence) which people develop in their religious thoughts and the role they see for themselves in existence – and their consequent behavior. It is difficult to distinguish which is developed out of which. War-bound societies have heroic or gruesome gods (see, for instance, Hitler’s propaganda-return to pagan gods). The law-bound early Jews saw in God the strict judge of their behavior. Christ’s preaching (also Jewish) of brotherly love was based on the image of God as a father.
In many discussions (and in a good part of my writing), a rather factual or pragmatic approach is used in answering the questions about God and human faith. For most people, however, faith is an expression of the “heart” or “soul”. Our scientific age is inclined to treat matters of the heart or soul critically, relegating them to psychology. I do not agree. I see friendship, love, compassion, caring, joy as the most significant aspects of human existence. For Christians, faith is the belief in the divine foundation of such forces or values. As one accepts these forces or values as a real and significant part of Creation, at least in human existence, one is inclined to see their foundation in the essence of Creation, in God. Thus, God, as the Creator, is my source for strength of “heart”, for warmth of “soul”, for consolation in trouble, and for compassionate initiative in life.
In summary, one certainly arrives at a most glorious image of God as the Creator of this grandiose universe and the ruler of its destiny. One certainly arrives at a multifaceted image, combining the understandings derived from the various phases of evolution. It is based on the ultimate abstractness of all that exists in the form of energy and gravitational fields in the vacuum, all abstract phenomena in nothingness. It includes the physical mechanics of the universe controlled by the forces and laws of nature and the large areas arranged in a random fashion. It includes the surprising appearance of life in very few favorable spots in the universe, with life following the principle of automation, the need to take care of itself, with no fairness or compassion. Finally, it includes the appearance of humans and possibly other higher beings and their civilizations in a number of isolated, selected spots in the universe, with a high degree of freedom based on thought and the consequent responsibility to develop their small area in accordance with their values. This implies a God or a spiritual force that contains these new human-related concepts, including the ones of human fairness and compassion. This also implies a God with whom our souls should seek to harmonize in meditation or prayer.
I personally do believe, based on my own life’s experience and that of others, in a supreme essence of existence, whom one may want to appeal to in despair, in search of compassion.
The result of a deeper understanding of this world we live in, however, should not be expectation of help but, mainly, fortitude of heart to bear hardship in humility when suffering is unavoidable, to find strength for struggle when improvement is possible, to adhere to the right course in life at all times, and to be grateful for blessings in the course of destiny.
One cannot end the discussion of the spiritual aspects of our lives without addressing a confusing theological problem – the understanding of providence and predetermination as they relate to free will and personal responsibility.
“Providence”, a concept anchored in the hearts of religious people trusting in the God-father, is the concept that the God-father does and will care for all of his Creation and will “provide” for everybody’s ultimate well-being. As discussed before, this is not borne out by observation. Observation, rather, indicates that life’s principle of automation demands that every living individual must actively take care of its own needs and interests.
In this sense, the pre-human world of lower life presents itself as largely devoid of providence and as devoid of justice and compassion (except for proto-ethical mutual caring within narrow kinship limits of higher orders of animals). Observation also indicates that human existence is based on the principle of freedom and responsibility, while being fully enveloped by the general universe of physical laws and random events and the cruel struggle between species and individuals on the level of lower life forms. This indicates that mankind is responsible for itself in practical, emotional, and ethical terms. Religious belief and selective personal experience (including my own) may indicate that God or His Creation does “provide” for some individuals and people at some times, often miraculously. But what must the many, many unlucky and innocent ones say, who were failed by “providence”?
The demand for human responsibility is even more at stake in the question of Divine predeterminism. A riddle results from the thought that God must be all-powerful and all-knowing. This is parallel to the riddle asking whether God can create some object so heavy that he himself cannot lift it. In the case of the all-knowing God, God would also know the future. This would make the course of the world predetermined. It implies that God will not take action to change the future. Thereby, God would have renounced His own freedom, as well as any further creativity. For humans, the result would be a dangerous questioning of freedom and a consequent release from responsibility.
Both riddles – one regarding the weight, the other one predeterminism – are rather theoretical and exhibit the limits of human thought and religious understanding. The only practical approach to life lies in assuming no predeterminism and accepting human responsibility.
Predeterminism is the precondition and basis for prophecy. There are actually two types of foretelling the future – the truly inspired prophecy foreseeing the future and the prediction or expectation based only on an inherent understanding of a system and its environment resulting in extrapolation.
If the future of the world were predetermined, prophecy could be possible. However, even in the absence of predeterminism, a person knowledgeable about a system can more or less reliably indicate expectations regarding its future performance by extrapolation. A system is the combination of components that function in an interrelated way in accord with the characteristics of the system. A car is a system. A goal-oriented organization of individuals is a system, whereby individual members and the leaders of the organization usually are chosen for their known and predictable behavior. Spengler and Toynbee provided predictions regarding the historic future of civilizations, based on their interpretation of past historic developments. One can rightly assume that most prophetic predictions actually were extrapolating expectations based on understanding.
One must also take into consideration that only those predictions became famous and were remembered which proved correct – the others were simply not reported or forgotten. One can predict and expect that an inherently evil person will end in trouble. In this sense, the prophets could predict that a deviant Jewish people would end up in trouble, a focused people would have chances for success, and good leaders ultimately would appear again.
Predictions are easier to make when they concern general developments supported by a large number of statistical events or individuals. Predictions become unreliable when they depend on a very small number of probabilistic or random events or individuals. For example, one can predict that the rapid disappearance of natural open spaces in the world will lead to an environmental movement for conservancy. One cannot, however, predict whether the protection of a specific piece of land in a specific community will take place, where such an event would depend on the appearing activism of one or very few individuals. Predictions of timing are the most difficult to make and are the most insecure.
As one rejects predeterminism, one also would have to reject prophecy, while retaining the possibility of extrapolating and expectations-based predictions. However, there are some striking cases of historically reported true prophesies. There is the famous case of Cortéz’ approach to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán. There is the case of the prediction of tall, white, bearded men appearing from beyond the sea to destroy the Inca empire. There is also the case in Kenya of the Kikuyu’s historic prophesy of the white humans’ approach in the head of a snake which later turned out to be the approaching construction of the Mombasa-Uganda Railroad. There are several reported cases of a soldier in the desolation of trench warfare one day suddenly cleaning and dressing up, only to be killed that day by a stray bullet. There are more stories of unusual foresight. Is there more to the dimension of time than we know and can grasp? This may well be so. However, we cannot responsibly conduct our lives without assuming our mental freedom and consequent responsibility, both being founded on the absence of predeterminism.
The subject of free will and personality was discussed in one of the last paragraphs of Chapter 5.1 (on “Freedom of will and freedom of “personality”). There, it was indicated that “free will” actually concerns freedom of decision-making and that both, will and decisions, are expressions of personality, including thought, preferences, discipline, and temperament. As an individual’s personality is understood, many of his or her decisions become predictable. The limitation of human freedom in being tied to one’s nature-given personality was indicated, as were the possibilities and limitations for change of personality. 
6. Resulting Meaning, Purpose, and direction in Existence –
The Path of our Life
6.1 Meaning, Purpose, and Direction in Existence
Since Copernicus’ discovery, highlighted by Galileo’s unfortunate process, we know that our Earth is not at the center of Creation. Additional discoveries in modern times – of a universe filled with billions of galaxies – cause us to expect that there was, is, and will be other intelligent life in the universe. There is reason to assume that the appearance of intelligent life on other heavenly bodies has also resulted from an evolution, progressing from some primitive forms of life to the higher forms, as on Earth  . One must assume that other civilizations in the universe have occurred or will be occurring at various times, most of them at different times from the appearance of human civilizations on Earth.
This implies that the appearance of the animate phase of existence and the appearance of more gifted or “intelligent” living beings most likely did not happen first on Earth.
Why, then, did the delay of 2.5 billion years occur between the appearance of single-cell life on Earth and its evolution during the Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian periods into sophisticated and diversified organisms? Why did it take 600 million additional years of Darwinian struggle for humans to appear on Earth? Certain evolutionary phases may have been just as necessary on Earth as they most likely were on other celestial bodies. But why did they take that long if the next creative idea had already occurred to the creative spirit of the universe, to God, at an earlier time?
We now know, that all of this inanimate and natural existence will come to its certain dissolution or end at a calculable time in the future.
As the inanimate phase of celestial bodies of existence may have been, and still is, nothing but the fireworks for the pleasure of one viewer, the creating essence of existence, God, so may the Darwinian phase, ever different on different celestial bodies, be nothing else but a kaleidoscopic pleasure for its creator, without any other purpose in itself.
The “human” phase (whatever that means on other celestial bodies) delegates mental freedom and responsibility to those living beings (or their leaders) – supported and guided by consciousness and goals or values. These other conscious beings become the sole co-viewers and co-actors of existence, within their limitations, thus adding their own purpose to the evolution of existence.
It is indeed pathetic how we humans, possibly still in our early phase of development, continue to struggle with our weaknesses, as insects struggle in the mud trying to lift themselves by their wings. There may be no purpose or meaning in the totality of the universe beyond the pleasure of God. But there is specific purpose, meaning, and direction for our own lives to reach our potential and to form our environment in accordance with our values – in improving, perceiving with joy and curiosity, and fulfilling human existence – specifically as we regard the shortness of time allocated to our individual lives.
It is of great importance to take a new approach to theology, to incorporate what we now know about evolution and the universe. Too many traditional images, perceptions, and dogmas are not tenable in such an expanded view. What is expected of theology is not only an anthropocentric theology, explaining our own lives, but also a theology commensurate with the observation of ongoing Creation, of natural evolution, of natural catastrophes, and a theology viewing the vast and evolving universe of billions of galaxies, knowing that all will certainly find its ultimate end. One must hope for a new religious understanding of universal existence, of the transcendental essence of existence, of whatever name one gives one’s personal “God”, and of our human existence on Earth .
If the universe is aimless, there is no other meaning or purpose in life than to be there. A status of aimlessness would exist if all atoms in the universe were randomly to move around forever. The universe is different. Things take shape – in galaxies and planetary systems – and the configuring movements and transformations continue. In the ongoing evolution of the universe, life appears and fills every existing opportunity for its survival with adapted species. Finally, humans appear and find the unique opportunity of their existence in thinking, having values, and forming cultures. Thinking allows a higher level of comfort and power. The values give direction and meaning to human thought and actions.
Is human development the meaning of the entire universe? Most likely, not. Human existence here on Earth exists in one very remote and very small area of the universe, squeezed in with the violent astronomical and physical events of the original phase of Creation, with the cruel Darwinian struggle of earlier life forms, and will find its end in self-made destruction or in one of the many natural catastrophes – if not in the end of our Sun and the universe. This leaves as the specific meaning of existence for us humans the filling of the specific niche opened to us, the use of the unique opportunities given to our minds.
How can we not see the meaning of our existence in using the opportunities that, in such a unique way, were given to us? We should not just be another species of animals, senselessly feeding on other forms of life, fighting off predators and competitors, and multiplying. This may still be in our blood; we are still part of the real world. But there is more for us in our unique gifts. The fulfilling of our potential in thought and values is the meaning of our existence in the universe.
Are “purpose” and “meaning” the same? Possibly not. Meaning indicates “what makes sense”, purpose indicates “what for”, “ what to do now”, or “what is expected from us” – one being related to the other.
Purpose is related to objectives and results. The earlier religious expectations of another world to come, then perceptions of phases of development in nature, and, lately, the theory of ongoing Creation (“Intelligent Design”) led some people to concepts of direction, objectives, or purpose in human existence on Earth. But the ultimate end of the universe has now become understood by modern science – in either a number of Black Holes, their ultimate dissolution in radiation, or in a total cosmic collapse, the Big Crunch. Therefore, it became visible to us that there is no permanent objective in Creation or possible result thereof. This leaves existence and its evolution only as a purpose in itself.
In individual human terms, this indicates the meaning of existence not only as being here and now as one came to exist, but also to participate in evolution while it lasts. The purpose of personal existence is a mandate to utilize the given opportunities, to fulfill personal existence, and to contribute toward the world’s development in our phase of human values with all our nature-given capabilities and human values and in accordance with opportunities.
One must mention the limits of opportunities, because Creation is moving on a large scale, with unevenness in detail. While Creation grows and develops in general, large sections of Creation have always been given over to oblivion, without continuity, indicating no other meaning than to have once existed. Large segments of our Earth have been destroyed by natural disasters, human communities or families have been wiped out by plagues, all kinds of living beings have been run over senselessly by trucks, children have died in accidents. Many, if not most, human individuals have lived in constrained circumstances and have not found fulfillment in the full use of their gifts. But are we to judge God? We can only search for peace of heart by giving ourselves to existence as it is, by accepting and by struggling to the best of our capabilities for the time given to us in existence.
Can this interpretation of the purpose of existence lead to an understanding of a Transcendental Essence of Existence, God? All one can say is that this essence, God, wants the flower to bloom, the tree to grow high and strong, the lion to kill for food. God must also be seen as wanting diversity, with room in Creation for an infinite variety of existences, from the tender flower to the powerful beast. When one realizes that nothing in Creation remains static, that everything changes in time, ages and disappears, then one must see existence, God, as wanting development. God must have wanted the realization of the phase of Creation comprising human values – within the Darwinian world and within the world of inanimate celestial mechanics.
Mankind is leading nature’s development on Earth to abstract dimensions: Thought, ingenuity, moral values, decision-making, responsibility, compassion, aesthetics, humor, joy, and the building of cultures. Therefore, one can see God as wanting us to fulfill our existence by realizing this unique potential course. We must survive, and, being part of nature, we must keep strong through struggle. Human advance implies struggle. But, with diversity in nature, there is room for both, the weak and the strong. Each individual can or must choose his or her own path from a variety of possible approaches to existence, reaching from the tender and humble to the powerful and pioneering, each one developing initiative to using his or her given capabilities to the fullest.
Should we now work twenty hours every day to implement the results of our thoughts and to transform the world in accordance with our values? Earlier phases of our civilization, especially the last century, were filled with such ideals. Now, we are more critical. We want to conserve the environment and historical places. We see too much development as negative. But we all want to have a car and a computer and fly to distant places for vacation. We want to help third-world countries reach our level of well-being. We do want more development, but of the right kind. The meaning and purpose of human existence – the human opportunity – is not quantitatively defined, it is qualitative. It is value-related.
If “freedom and responsibility” are the guiding principles of the human phase of Creation, what shall we use freedom for, and what implies “responsibility”? As do all living beings, we must struggle for our survival. Beyond that, there is room for the enjoyment of existence. Above all, there are our values. It is the development of a life form corresponding to our values and ethical concepts that is the unique opportunity and, consequently, meaning and ultimate purpose of our human existence.
Quite realistically, we cannot dedicate all our waking hours to the pursuit of our values. Many people, if not most in the world, still struggle for bare survival; they have minimal social contact and are necessarily satisfied with basic pleasures.
In our successful societies, most people just want a more comfortable life, to have some significance in society, to be entertained.
Few people on Earth have the time or resources, or the admirable determination, to strive for mental growth, to dedicate some of their resources to public service or charity, to partake in the cultural aspect of their society. This is the resulting ranking of human goals and values:
Caring Service & Charity
Building a Better Society
Culture, the Arts
Security and Dignity
Positive Significance in Society
Family and Clan
While most philosophies and religions teach the pursuit of only one value – be it ethical perfection or withdrawal – in fact, any single individual is embedded somewhere in a combination of the three distinct values on three different levels in accordance with personal qualification, constantly requiring balancing compromises.
Survival must come first, and procreation is the most natural urge. But the love and caring for one’s family, friends, and an increasing circle of people, is the most important basic “value”. Additionally, some aesthetic preferences and forms of art appear everywhere in the most primitive cultures. Personal strength, effort, and some success is needed to gain security, dignity, freedom, and the necessary resources or power base in society to possibly pursue mental growth, charity, and culture. But how devastating is it to see success only on the middle level, in terms of ever more money and power, as the only goal of gifted individuals and whole segments of the human society, to be used for nothing else but entertainment or basic pleasures? Fulfillment comes from reaching the higher level of mental growth, caring service, and culture.
It is interesting to note that our highest values and ethical standards, to the extent that they are typical for all humans, become more refined as our civilizations grow. The values of fighting bands in courage and honor or the value of hard work of pioneers lose first rank in our times and give way to the values needed in our modern society: personality qualification as expressed by integrity or fairness – and by caring service to the community.
Additional Comments regarding conflicts between different directions in life:
The fact that there are not one but three different directions for our life, the one of personal development, the one of dedication to others and the community, and the aspect of art and culture, necessarily leads to conflicts between those preferences when time and resources are limited. How can one handle the conflicts between specific values – love of family, the arts, conservation of nature, charity? How can one find a compromise? Christ indicated only extreme solutions – preference for celibacy, selling all one’s belongings for the benefit of the poor. There are only two guiding thoughts out of this predicament, Aristotle’s and Kant’s, both of which are unsatisfactory.
Aristotle sees virtue as lying in the right balance between two undesirable extremes, one usually being foolish excess, the other weak deficiency. However, Aristotle cannot indicate what the “right” balance is. This balance may be different from case to case. Nor does Aristotle provide guidance in situations of conflict between different values.
Kant, in his Categorical Imperative, indicates that one should act in such a way that “the guideline of one’s action could be used as a directive for general legislation”. However, all people are different. The situations of their lives are different; and their cultures may be different. Therefore, your own Kantian maxim may not apply to others; that, or the formulation of general directives becomes so vague as to be useless for decision-making in practical life. Kant does not provide guidance in trying to find the right guidelines, especially not in situations of conflict.
Ethical standards of interhuman behavior are a central part of our values. They may even be the most important part of values, providing guidance to the formation and the foundation for the functioning of cultures and civilizations – and, thereby, to the lives of all members of those. In this sense, they are founded in our human essence and, hence, in our role in the universe, whether through “religious” inspiration of gifted individuals or, more likely, through a genetic gift of Creation (evolved as an evolutionary advantage through the resulting formation of social coherence) and expanded through our value-guided minds.
Ethical standards, as discussed before, also suffer from the practical need for limitation and the absence of guidance in handling practical limitations. Nobody will divide his or her property down to the lowest denominator of all the poor people he or she is in contact with. There are moments when lying – even killing – is necessary. Job obligations in an organization do not allow for the pursuit of personal ethical preferences, as in hiring and firing or fighting off competition.
Lack of guidance in the dilemmas of limiting ethical behavior is the most disturbing problem in attempting to clarify one’s convictions and find a clear path through life. Celibacy and poverty for all is not the answer. Conscience, as discussed before, is not an adequate guide – nor are reason, philosophy, theology, and practical experience. Don’t shrug your shoulders, dear reader, and say “that’s the way it is”. That’s not what this essay is about. Rather, it searches for the limits of understanding – and here it can go no further.
What is the conclusion? Compromise of ethical behavior with other demands of life is necessary – time and resources are needed for personal growth in knowledge, skills, and character development, for one’s family and friends, for the arts, a walk through nature, sitting on the porch as an old man and enjoying one’s blessings, pursuing one’s hobbies – all within limits. But which? In any event, in searching for a compromise, one had better stay more on the demanding side of one’s ethical standards.
6.2. The Path of Our Life
- Where do we come from? Should we not stand in greatest awe and admiration of the ultimate essence from where the power, structure, and temporal course of the universe and of our own existence came?
- For many people, life is a serious struggle, with limited hope. But as we lift our heads, we can deeply appreciate our human capability to perceive the grandiose universe and to actively participate in the small area and for the limited time of our personal existence.
- This vision of the ultimate origin and evolving existence provides us with the inspiration to rise and responsibly fulfill our life as best we can. This vision can also provide us with peace and can comfort us in accepting the limitations of our life and our ultimate return to where we came from.
- As all nature strives to live, grow and evolve, we must struggle with prudent determination to overcome adversity and, despite setbacks, to further develop our individual human potential in character and thought – through learning, exploring, and maturing, while always actively striving for excellence in our endeavors. We shall not abuse our skills for selfish aims only or to the detriment of others.
- Only in social coherence can we develop our greatest potential, in contributing and receiving light and harmony – in the love of our family, in caring assistance to the needy, in dedicated service to our community, and in responsible stewardship for our environment. We must attempt to compassionately reduce the many forms of suffering and overcome the darkness of the world – and also strive to improve true opportunities in lives fairly for all. We shall not abuse the social forces of society for personal power only or to the detriment of others.
- We possess and gratefully cherish the gift of aesthetic appreciation in nature and the arts. We shall not abuse the intriguing influence of human sensitivity for selfish benefit only or to the detriment of ethical values.
- We are grateful for harmony in our world and need the community with our fellow travelers through existence in supportive congregations and cultures – for encouragement, comfort in suffering, constraint of damaging behavior, and for coordinated contribution to a beneficial evolution of society. We shall not abuse such congregations for vocal dominance or hierarchical power.
Purpose and Direction in Life:
- We recognize the natural longing for survival, procreation, and companionship. We must learn a marketable skill, find work and work well. But it is not right to gain benefit from the suffering of others and to procreate when caring for offspring is not provided.
- We recognize the striving for additional security and resources, for recognition, and for uplifting rest and joy. But there is no value in the accumulation of resources without their meaningful application, for gaining fame without merit, or for entertainment in frivolity.
- We recognize the personal growth in mental accomplishments or useful skills, the caring dedication to others, and the participation in the aesthetic formation of the human environment as the highest goals of human existence. They find their reward in the deepest human emotions and in benefit for society and the environment.
7. My personal CONCLUSIONS AND POSITION
When considering the greatness of the universe and the intricacy of nature, I can only most deeply admire the ultimate essence that caused this existence to appear, to let Creation occur as it is – for a religious person, this is the veneration of God. At the same time, I feel my own insignificance, but also gratefulness, even joy, for being able to experience this existence for the few decades of my life – for me as for many of us, under quite favorable circumstances, – but remembering that many others live in difficult circumstances, suffering, or loneliness and most experience serious setbacks in the course of their lives.
Our mental capabilities allow us to ask questions about the essence of this Creation, about meaning, purpose, and direction to pursue. That is what this essay is all about. I was trained in the sciences and have always enjoyed exploring and understanding existence in the clarity of scientific methods and terms. I lived the life of a businessman in the practical world. But my and most people’s search for meaning or purpose in existence is emotional, a human search for personal meaning and direction, for support in suffering, and resonance in joy.
I do see the ultimate essence of Creation and existence as abstract, transcendental, or “spiritual”. I see this spirituality in the original formation of existence and, thereby, having provided for the subsequent evolution of nature, including the historic evolution of human civilizations. I was blessed in my own life with the feeling of fundamental sensing of and harmony with this abstract essence or “spirituality” of existence – that we cannot describe but commonly call “God”.
Furthermore, by my experience, a position accepting the existence of a transcendental, spiritual foundation of existence, God, provides a more positive, creative outlook on life and adds to personal strength. Negating God could, logically, lead to an excessively utilitarian outlook (pleasure, profit, and power) with a tendency to intellectual cynicism, inaction, resignation, and feeling of being lost when suffering.
Another observation: The image people have of God influences their behavior. Therefore, the question of having faith in the right God may, in many instances, be more important than having faith in any God. Cruelty and destruction in the name of religion – whether by the Aztecs, the Inquisition, the religious intolerance of the Northern Irish, now so often the Muslims, sometimes the orthodox Israelis, or any other religious fundamentalists of our time – is worse than religious apathy. On the other side, examples of the highest ethical behavior and personal almost “saintly” accomplishment have repeatedly been stimulated by underlying religious concepts in many cultures of the world.
I may have used a rather factual or pragmatic approach in this essay in answering the questions about God and human faith. For most people, however, faith is an expression of the “heart” or “soul”. Our scientific age is inclined to be critical toward matters of the heart or soul, relegating them to psychology. I do not agree. I see mental growth, friendship, love, compassion, caring, dedication to the community, and joy about all beauty in the world as the most significant aspects of human existence. And, after all, much suffering or loneliness and most of deep compassion is felt in the “heart” or “soul”, the emotional essence of our lives. The Christian faith is largely the search for the foundation of emotional forces or values in existence. As one accepts these forces or values as real in human existence, as part of Creation, one can see their foundation in the essence of Creation, in “God”. Thus, my vision of the ultimate transcendental essence of existence, God, is my source for strength of “heart”, for warmth of “soul”, for consolation in trouble and for personal initiative in life.
What is my position in the midst of contradictions and uncertainty? What do I personally decide to stand for?
* I hold a spiritual view of existence, seeing an underlying force as the formative essence of existence. There is only one transcendental, spiritual force, whatever it is called, God.
* The force that we call “God” is approachable by the human mind in meditation and prayer. My soul longs for peace in God and guidance. But I do not expect God to interfere with the course of the world – neither expecting God to bring blessings, nor blaming God for all the evil. I see God as remaining beyond human reach and understanding.
* The greatest enigma of a spiritual view of existence lies in the occurrence of non-understandable cruelty, destruction, waste, and hopeless confinement.
* I hold a dynamic view of evolving Creation in the universe – including the fact that all is temporary and the whole universe will come to its ultimate end.
* In this view, there is no room for a permanent preservation of “souls”, whether in bliss or penitence. But there is a view of peace at the end, beyond all struggle.
* I cannot see any ultimate meaning or purpose in this existence but to temporarily be – for nothing but the pleasure of the creating essence, the Creator.
* For our own lives, however, I see meaning, purpose, and a direction in fulfilling the time given to us to exist.
* I hold that we must accept existence in humility, being the creatures, not the Creator. There is comfort in seeing that everything is temporary in this world. We can admire the grandiose universe and its rules of transition that are not under our control. In this view, we may find peace for our souls and strength to act to follow our values where we can.
* Human existence is subject to the principles of the earlier phases of Creation, to the laws of physics and random events, and to the competitive struggle of species and individuals.
* Human existence is different from any earlier part of Creation on Earth. It is based on a degree of mental freedom to explore, understand, and make decisions in the course of life. With this freedom and these capabilities goes the corresponding responsibility for what we accomplish, to pursue the development of our lives and the world in accordance with our human values.
* The meaning and purpose of human life lies in grasping and fulfilling the unique opportunities granted to the human mind as described by the human values.
* The human values refer to three different dimensions – growth for the fulfillment of one’s personal potential, dedicated caring service to others, society, and nature as we inherited it, and, as a mysterious gift of nature, cultural or artistic enjoyment of life.
* The human values are ranked – there is the necessary fulfillment of the basic needs and desires of life, there is the vast majority of pursuits to secure, improve, and enjoy a comfortable life, and there is the striving for the higher aspirations of the human mind and soul. This results in the following matrix:
Caring Service & Charity
Building a Better Society
Security and Dignity
Positive Significance in Society
Family and Clan
The basic level provides life’s natural and most intense rewards. The middle level is the normal destination for the average person and a base for reaching the exceptional level. It is the top level, however, that lifts humanity to its exceptional potential.
* Ethical values guide the dedication to others – from the care for the family, friends, and clan, to a meaningful contribution to society, to public service and charity when and where called upon, and to stewardship for the natural world we live in. Ethical values evolved in nature by providing the benefits of social behavior, found their greatest teacher in Jesus Christ, and are the hope for humanity’s future in its global struggle.
* The greatest problem in the pursuit of ethical standards lies in the need for compromise with the pursuit of other directions of human values: self-fulfillment and the enjoyment of life. I hold that any compromise should be in favor of sympathy with the one who beckons for help. One should assume that few others do their part in helping, and one should see the brother or sister or son or daughter in the needy one. One should also see the beneficial restraint of egoism in a discipline of charity, service, and prayer.
* The greatest limitation in the pursuit of personal goals and values lies in the weakness of one’s own personality. As we struggle with our own shortcomings, we must have tolerance for others. Exceptional people have set examples of personality improvement in the course of their lives. Role models help us in our lives.
* In the conduct of life, I believe in everybody carrying his own weight and, beyond that, aiming to contribute.
* Nobody, however, can handle all the challenges of life alone. As we are entitled to accept help, so we must lend a helping hand to others to cope with their lives.
* I was always impressed by life’s multitude of positive perspectives – in a combination of intellectual, emotional/idealistic, and artistic views. I was often driven by the shortness of time allotted to our lives. I was grateful for moments of quiet enjoyment and for times of fresh initiative and strength for action. I was especially grateful for opportunities to excel in beneficial pursuits, to take some leadership in building or preserving some detail of our world, to advance thought, and to contribute positively to other people’s lives.
* I was most grateful for moments of perceiving God’s benevolent hand over my life, for exploring the vastness of the universe and nature, for perceiving the beauty of Creation, and for the harmony of human contacts which were the greatest gifts to my life.
* In sum, I seek the meaning and purpose of my life and seek the strength and sensitivity to pursue my course through life in the contemplation of existence by the observing mind, by the spirituality of the soul, by practical experience, and by human sensitivity. I am grateful that I can contemplate the transcendental essence of existence, turn to God, in sorrows and in joy.
Our time has experienced great and often intractable geo-political events, the conflicts of ideologies, cultures, and interests, the searching for answers in a competition between science and religion, between knowledge and values. My conclusions at the end of this essay are not Promethean – referring to the one who brought mankind the fire as a symbol of light in confrontation with the gods the world believed in – , not Biblical – where the tree of knowledge in Paradise was savored in confrontation with God – , and not Faustian – where finding of the last essence of existence required a pact with the devil. More than anything else, the conclusions presented in this essay seek a complementing balance between reason and the heart. They express the longing for mental growth to deeper understanding and wider horizons, the call for renewed dedication to our fellow beings, society, and the environment, and a fundamentally positive spirit in appreciating all that is good and beautiful in this world, emphasizing opportunities more than problems. This results in a call for personal initiative based on our values, on practical judgment, and on human responsibility.
On our path through life:
* We must strive with ongoing initiative and effort to prevail in the struggle for survival and a decent life – hopefully without incurring guilt.
* All of us must struggle for some personal success, to reach security, significance, or personal accomplishment, often by reducing our expectations – hopefully without remaining in frivolous human mediocrity of wealth, power, entertainment, or a wasted life.
* We should strive for fulfillment of our life through our personal mental and character evolution, through caring service for others, the community, and nature, and in enjoying the beauty of the world and the arts.
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a. m. d. g.
A.1. The Practical Conduct of Life
The course of Creation and evolution and the goals and ideals of human life are discussed in the chapters above. It was indicated that human evolution comes from innumerable small steps, but also from the contributions of a few exceptional individuals. Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that such contributions are expected from all exceptional individuals.
The discussion of the right conduct of life must be a very practical one. Real life has to cope with practical matters, with daily necessities, with compromises, with not being able to do everything one sets out to do, with serious setbacks, but with not giving up either.
The basic values must come first – survival and security, harmony and support within the family, and the natural needs for shelter, food, and procreation. The mid-level of values are a basis for the highest value. By themselves, the mid-level values are a bit too normal to pay much attention to and become important only when their satisfaction is prevented – success and comfort, positive significance in clan and society, refinement and entertainment. The top values give true meaning to our lives – mental growth, service to others, the community, charity, and stewardship for the natural world – and enjoyment of beauty and culture.
A good tree has a good root system, grows a strong and tall trunk toward the light, and develops a broad crown. Your life should be based on thorough learning for the development of your mind and character. You must become an expert and reach excellence in at least one marketable skill. Your network of friends is an important part of your roots. You should develop your position in life in focused growth, obtain rank in your job, make some money, and save a good part of it to be able to make use of opportunities and to stay free. Then, it is time to branch out in hobbies and interests – and in public service or charity. In the two latter areas, you can do more from a position of strength in rank and wealth.
The conduct of life, expressed in modern terms, is a management task. In earlier times, human thinking along those lines was developed in the field of administration and warfare. There are enough books about these subjects, from historical writings to Clausewitz and the newest management handbooks from “Silicon Valley”. Here, I want to summarize a few ideas that appeared important to me in the course of my life and which I may have mentioned earlier to my sons, nephews, and friends from time to time.
The choice of a profession or approach to life is a difficult one for many young people, as well as those in a mid-life crisis. Any one choice means the giving up of others, thus implying a narrowing of life’s horizon. Every choice has negative aspects. There are conflicting motivations to choose one or the other. There is no easy answer. There is only the general experience that any one of the more reasonable and honest choices not conflicting with personal values can, if properly and sincerely pursued, lead to equal happiness or fulfillment of life.
There are at least three successful ways to build your life:
* Play your strong cards, pursue what you are especially capable off, where you have an advantage over others.
* Follow your dreams. You will be more successful in what you are really committed to do and, mainly, in what you enjoy doing.
* Follow opportunity, let life lead you, give luck a chance. The art lies first in recognizing opportunities and then in grasping them.
There are several ways to waste your life:
* By not ending school and college on a level of excellence in your chosen field.
* Dissipating your outlook and your energies with bad friends, insignificant amusements, drugs, alcohol, “finding” yourself, doing too many things.
* By pettiness and shallow pleasures, by shallow entertainment, by sitting back too long to enjoy rest, by not reaching out and learning more, getting more accomplished, helping more.
* By not putting in honest work for honest pay.
* By over-reaching, not knowing your limits, indulging in hubris.
As Clausewitz or some other general said: The more committed combatant has the better chances to win. In our day, the one who puts in the extra hour of study, work, or intelligent thought has the better chance of prospering.
Sit back every day and think about
* your priorities
* a smarter way to accomplish your task, be creative!!!
* who can help you in doing it or can do it for you
Don’t put your money into consumption, put it into investment.
President Reagan is said to have chosen the members of his team by three criteria:
* Does he or she have integrity?
* Does he or she have the right capability?
* Does he or she get things done?
There is no point in trying to buy friendship or love. If somebody does not want to be your friend, deal with him or her on the basis of facts. Minimize your own weaknesses, emphasize your strengths. Collect all the necessary information first, probe the adversary’s behavior pattern and weakness. If you cannot surprise him, observe how he moves. Then, put all your effort into the first encounter, to get rid of him right then and there. Think beforehand what he might do next and block that avenue, too. Turn away and try to never see him or her again. Your defeated enemy may remain revengeful forever.
If you cannot win a decisive engagement the first or next time soon, move away, isolate and fortify yourself against your adversary, build friendly connections with those in power, and wait till your adversary shows weakness or is finished off by somebody else.
Zen (but only some of it) is useful. Understand problems and adversaries from the inside out. Put yourself in their position. When criticizing others, think of what you have done under similar circumstances.
If you cannot expect to win, try to let your adversary understand your side, win him over ... and still go your own way as long as you can.
Anybody whom you defeat, criticize, or fire is prone to become your enemy and, first of all, is prone to spread bad rumors about you.
Don’t explain your unpleasant deeds. It just gets you into endless arguments.
Even when rejecting the requests of others, or when prevailing over others, we must see the brother or sister in the other human being. Try to help those you have to fire. Let them keep their self-respect and try to help him or her toward a new start. Do not expect any thanks for doing this, however.
We should be trustworthy in our dealings with others, be known for our integrity, and better be humble than insist on having it our way. Smart talk is always transparent.
The more people you get along with, the greater your network.
Even a short sentence spoken to another person in passing may be remembered by that person for a long time; it may even influence that person’s life. Say and do what is right, always, also to the meek and humble.
Say only good things (or nothing) about other people behind their backs. In due time, you will become known for that, people will confide in you, and will do the same for you.
We must conduct our lives in accordance with our ethical standards, in a wise compromise with reality.
Life may be longer than your planning horizon. Think in five-year terms, at least, better in ten-year terms, where you want to be at that time. Think how you want to look back on life, especially when it gets late.
All lives offer moments or situations of opportunities. To find opportunities, you may have to begin by casting a wide net, then narrowing down on promising areas.
The art is in recognizing, grasping, and transforming opportunities into success. To learn and implement this must be your highest priority! Opportunities may pass you in plain sight or pass you silently behind your back. Some may turn out to be empty temptations, some may turn into obsession. Prudent determination is needed to reach success.
A.2. The Course of Society
Are individuals for the benefit of society, or is society for the benefit of individuals? Obviously, this is the wrong question to describe the actual relation, setting one up for erroneous consequences, as do so many questions of this type of interrelated needs and benefits.
Individuals must contribute to the benefit of society, and society must see its purpose in the benefit for the individuals. In this sense, society must be supportive of the purpose, goals, and values of individuals.
What is the right structure of society, between families, clans, nations, regional units, interest groups, social groups, ethnic groups? What form do priority ranking and conflict resolution take between these substructures? The answer is obviously not within the scope of this essay. However, a few thoughts can be expressed.
Economic strength makes the solution of many problems much easier.
Building and maintaining economic strength requires some political freedom, lots of leadership capability within the population, intellectual capability, and work ethic, and – one should note – moral strength in the community. This moral strength is needed to maintain law and order and mutual trust, the bases of a functioning society.
Society’s harmony is built on cultural harmony, including ethnic harmony. In the long run, the existence of abusive and selfish subgroups is detrimental.
A culture has a right to maintain its own identity, as families do. One should love and help one’s neighbor, but one cannot let every stranger into one’s house or backyard. Several families sharing a kitchen get into trouble with each other.
Cultural plurality works only if the common cultural band is stronger than the cultural selfishness of the subgroups.
A.3. Summary of Prevalent Views and Proposed Expansions
What do all the previous considerations indicate and how should they be expanded in order to arrive at a convincing concept of existence?
- What are the traditional concepts within the Christian faith, and how should they be expanded?
- How should the scientific view be expanded, in order to fully understand existence?
- What is the view of practical thought tempered by human sensitivity – and how should it be expanded?
A.3.1. Summary of Traditional Christian Teaching or Theology –
and Their Proposed Expansion
* Creation is seen as a one-time event and as static.
* Christian tradition is presented as being based only on Jewish tradition.
* The image of God is the “God-father”.
* Theodicy (for example, the “Job question”) generally arrives at positive conclusions.
* Divine predeterminism (and providence) is assumed by many believers.
* Trinity is a central concept.
* There is a devil as a God-opposed spiritual force acting in this world.
* Jesus, God’s only son, taught a God-father image, the superiority of human needs over the Jewish Law, the importance of the spirit of the Law over the letter of the Law, the ethics of compassionate brotherly love, and respect for the meek, the poor, the merciful, and the peacemakers. Jesus did miracles and sacrificed himself for mankind’s salvation.
* Christian ethical demands are absolute, with no limitations or compromises being discussed.
* The concepts of “soul”, as the essence of the human being, and the soul’s immortality are of central importance.
* The concepts of sin, good deeds, faith, ultimate divine judgment, and divine punishment or redemption form the important structure of Christian life and afterlife.
* The church centers its teaching on human sinfulness, need for loyal faith, possible divine forgiving, grace, and the afterlife. In the Catholic faith, special importance is given to the role of saints and Mary, and a central significance to priests and their hierarchy.
* The church’s theology is nature-based, emphasizing the “dignity” of all human life (above other creatures and the environment), contrary to utilitarian or politically totalitarian concepts of personal life. In this sense, Christian doctrine offers a religion that is supportive of human life. (However, all Christian teachings could be and were perverted by the church and numerous sects.)
* The church’s hierarchy is often narrowly focused and projects a pompous appearance.
How should the traditional Christian theological view be expanded?
Following are comments regarding the above statements:
“Creation is seen as a one-time event and existence, in this sense, as static.”
Traditional Christian theology does not consider the dynamic aspect of Creation in natural evolution, the evolution of the human mind, and the evolution of human cultures. This leads to important shortcomings in understanding God and the reality of existence in this world.
An expanded Christian view would have to see God as an ongoing creator, from the inanimate first phase of Creation, with its natural laws and subject to random events, to the animate second phase that is subject to the Darwinian laws of selection. Aspects of fairness and compassion appear only in the very late third phase of Creation, as humans appear with their “humane” values. Humans are still subject, however, to the inanimate events and the struggle of species and individuals. Such a view would be challenged by scientific observation. This view would necessarily lead to a contradictory, if not cruel, image of God.
Traditional Christian theology does not consider the probability of intelligent life in other places in the universe. This leads to additional shortcomings in understanding God or existence and church dogma. An expanded view would not see the centrality of mankind on Earth. This would require a reformulation of the dogma of Jesus as “God’s only son” who had to be killed on this little Earth – and possibly on other civilized planets – as the proper means for the salvation of those humans or other beings who believe in him.
With the concept of evolution and the probability of intelligent life in many other places in the universe, the concepts of the inherent sinfulness of humans and the need for Jesus, God’s “only” son, to be sacrificed for the salvation of mankind become untenable when taken verbatim. Exegesis is unsatisfactory in this case. Are all intelligent species in the universe inherently sinful, or only some or only the humans on Earth? Does Jesus have to be crucified once on each inhabited planet in the universe for the respective salvation of the subject species, ongoing through the ages as these civilizations appear?
“Christian tradition is presented as being based on Jewish tradition only.”
The Christian view, based only on the Jewish tradition and on God’s love only for Israel, may be historically understandable in the West. This narrow view is, however, inadequate. The assumption that all Divine communication in pre-Christian times came only through the Jewish people, as recorded in the Bible, is no longer acceptable in our time of a globalized human society of many cultures. Jewish religious thought during biblical times did not develop in isolation. It was influenced by the Jewish people’s living in Egypt and Babylon and by always being at the crossroads of empires and trade routes. A global God-image and religion for all people on Earth – from Indonesia via China, India, and all of Europe, to North and South America – cannot negate God’s action in history and possible Divine inspiration in those areas. A constant reference to God as the God of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital in all Christian church ritual and hymnals, is incredible and embarrassing. How can the global community on Earth accept an identification with Israel, considering the modern state of Israel’s conduct?
“The image of God as the father.”
The Christian image of God as a fatherly spiritual essence is too anthropomorphically limited and does not apply to the Darwinian pre-human phase of animal nature that was without fairness and compassion. Also, too much of our own human lives is still bound up in Darwinian struggle. In sum, the father-image is simplistic and anthropomorphic. God’s ways are above human ways, not precluding our joyful, sometimes fearful, and often grateful admiration of His universe and our existence therein.
“Theodicy (for example, the Job question) generally arrives at positive conclusions.”
The problem of theodicy remains unresolved. The universe is too large and complex, and too far beyond human understanding, to suggest a basically human notion of God. On Earth, there is too much senseless destruction and cruelty. What is suggested is the greatest reverence for the grandiose spiritual force of existence, the greatest gratitude to be felt by those who were blessed in their lives, and humble acceptance of their fate within the fabric of Creation by those who were not blessed, possibly even abandoned.
“Divine predeterminism (and providence) is assumed by many believers.”
As discussed before, the assumption of Divine predeterminism is in contradiction to Divine free will, ongoing Creation, and scientific understanding. In sum, this argument is one of anthropomorphic intellectualism, inadequate for an understanding of the essence of existence.
“Trinity is a central concept. There is a Devil as a God-opposed spiritual force.”
Thoughts or theological statements about the Trinity or the Devil are anthropomorphisms. One cannot see but one spiritual essence of existence, God.
“Jesus, God’s only son, taught a God-father image, the superiority of humane needs over the Jewish Law, the importance of the spirit of the Law over the letter of the Law, the ethics of compassionate brotherly love, and respect for the meek, the poor, and the peace-makers. Jesus performed miracles and sacrificed himself for mankind’s salvation.”
Christian ethics are the highest expression of religious ethics on Earth and the greatest comfort to the suffering. However, Jesus’ life and teaching, as recorded, must be understood in its own time and cultural setting. How else could it have been effective? This leaves open the option to find a deeper interpretation of Christ’s spirit and teaching which can still be valid in our time and our cultural setting. The other option is to hope for a new great teacher of mankind, another messiah, as an inspired teacher for our times.
“The Christian ethical demands are absolute, no limitations, or compromises being discussed.”
The absolute demands give Christian ethics their ideal purity. But the fundamentalist lack of guidance regarding the necessary limitations of ethical standards in practical life is the main shortcoming of Christian ethical teaching (as of any other code of ethics).
Christian ethical teachings are, generally, accepted as the highest ideal for all mankind. However, as in earlier times so also in our present times, the hard facts of practical life make it necessary to limit ethical behavior. How many asylum-seekers should a country accept? How many migrants in search of a better life should be accepted? Why does Socialism not work, and what do Christians do about that? What do we do about the drug users and other abusers of themselves and society, who just want to pursue self-realization? To what degree do we mitigate the problems and accommodate the wishes of all citizens in the ever more crowded world and in the big cities of the international community, globally interconnected by instant and pervasive electronic communication? Christian ethics are a necessary ideal, but in the practical world we are helplessly left to our own compromising judgment.
“The concept of ‘soul’ as the essence of the human being and immortality is of central importance.”
The concept of “soul” is fraught with much philosophical and theological burden accumulated during the last two thousand years. There have been various interpretations of this concept of soul throughout history by various thinkers. The “soul” included either all the mental capabilities of an individual or only the moral and emotional part thereof. In any event, the soul was seen as the immortal essence of an individual. A view of the soul as a “homunculus” is no longer realistic. The time may be ripe for what is called these days a ”paradigm shift”.
Modern science and neuropsychology have left us insecure about the traditional concept of “soul”. Would this not have to include all the thought capabilities and memories inherent in an individual’s brain? These capabilities grow and fade with age or health, just as the brain does. Is the soul the essence of personality, which many people wish they could change, which can be changed by accidents, psycho-pharmaceutical products, and brain surgery, and which also changes with age? Does the soul include the valuation of thoughts, subject to experience, learning, and cultural conditions? Is the soul the essence of what consciousness causes to appear in everybody’s mind as “I” and what looks out from oneself to the surrounding existence through individual consciousness (explained in the author’s essay on “Mental Creativity” as a virtual phenomenon resulting from the remembrance of thoughts and perceptions)? We must accept that an individual is defined by the totality of his or her mental capabilities and behavior patterns, changing not only with learning but also with aging and health, and with the individual’s momentary focus.
Does this mental totality of an individual have eternal life? Can biological functions live independently of their biological base? Why should the universe want to collect and conserve such a multitude of remnants of past human existences on Earth, from all people through pre-history and history, from Bushmen to Inuit, from New Yorkers to monks on Mount Athos? An afterlife in eternity in the verbal meaning of the expression is unrealistic when considering the ultimate end of the universe within predictable time.
Anybody who has had a “near-death experience” knows that the elements of time and corporeality lose their meaning when the experience of going beyond existence sets in. Therefore, I see death, while momentary and final in physical terms, as the transition into a “timeless” mental phase. What do we know about the essence of time? In gratefulness, I can say that I experienced this phase as indescribably harmonious and peaceful.
“Sin or good deeds, judgment, and punishment or redemption form the important structure of Christian life and afterlife.”
The view of existence comprising ongoing Creation, natural evolution, and human existence in the universe leads to questioning the validity of a Christian life’s structure based solely on sin or good deeds, judgment, and punishment or redemption in afterlife. More emphasis on the unique human potential and opportunities in Creation in the pursuit of values and on mental growth, service and charity, and culture would be indicated. This still leaves Jesus as the bringer of elevated divine revelation to mankind, who even had to accept death rather than surrender to oppressive forces, in order to let mankind keep faith in his mission and gain light for their “souls”.
“The church centers its teaching on human sinfulness, need for loyal faith, possible forgiving, and the afterlife. In the Catholic faith, special importance is given to the role of saints and Mary, and a central significance to priests and their hierarchy. The church’s theology is nature-based, emphasizing the “dignity” of all human life (above other creatures and the environment), contrary to utilitarian or politically totalitarian concepts of personal life. In this sense, Christian doctrine offers a human life supporting potential of religion. (However, all Christian teachings could and were perverted by the church and sects)”.
There is a close connection between the following religious and dogmatic concepts and views in the Christian churches:
* Ethical and moral laws are based on the commandments of God to mankind.
* God is the supreme judge, rewarding the good and punishing the bad.
* Sin, guilt, punishment, or redemption and grace are the central themes of human existence and are the basic mechanism of life and afterlife.
* The problem of theodicy – the observation that so many horrors, senseless destructions, and wasted lives occur and that God does not visibly reward all good people and does not punish all bad people in this life – is unresolved.
* There is expectation of a judgment in the afterlife and of following reward or punishment.
Considering the universe and evolution, the God-image of the strict judge appears anthropomorphically narrow and inadequate. Are the concepts of judgment and afterlife really necessary for a life guided by values, for charity in society, for a “God-pleasing” and fulfilled life, for comfort in distress and guidance or restraint in success?
Ethics and values can be seen as part of the Divine Creation, as an option for humanity with its freedom and responsibility to pursue its own course through existence. Injustice may have to be accepted as part of Creation as it is, since it follows the laws of nature and is affected by random or probabilistic events. The strength to counteract and control abuse may also be found in this view of existence.
The attempt to see Divine compensation for each human action, through Divine intervention in the course of the world or in a summary way after some periods of time, is as inappropriate to expect as it is unproved by observation. The transfer of compensation to an afterlife is humanly understandable but appears simplistic. The necessity of somebody’s sacrifice (Jesus’ or a saint’s) in compensation for other individuals’ sins would let God appear as anthropomorphically trading in punishment and reward (and definitely not as the loving father). One should assume that God’s ways are above human understanding.
“The church’s hierarchy is often narrowly focused and projects a pompous appearance.”
Luther saw what is still apparent: many problems of the Catholic church come from Rome and result from its hierarchical structure, multiplying human weakness in high positions.
To date, no religious (or worldly) organization has escaped this problem. This is especially deplorable in view of the high ideals of the Christian faith and the need for an ever-higher view of the spiritual force behind existence as the human mind progresses.
In addition, the clergy of all denominations face the problems of the limits of ethics, as discussed before. This leads to the clergy supporting odd, impractical, or cruel schemes, while at the same time claiming ethical purity. Although this often is understandable in personal terms, it should not be done in the name of God or his representatives on Earth.
Overall, one should not overlook the “silent majority” of the numerous clergymen and members of religious orders who do humble works of charity and unselfish goodness in the service of the needy, often in loneliness and harsh self-denial, without raising dogmatic or public questions about it.
A.3.2. Summary of The Modern “Scientific” View – and Its Proposed Expansion
* Creation, defined as the beginning of existence, cannot be explained since, by definition, there can be no knowledge of anything antecedent. Consequently, the origin of the basic forces, the laws of nature, and the selection of the natural constants cannot be explained either.
* Since the beginning of existence, everything has been in a dynamic evolution, either through gradual changes or through the occurrence of random events and the subsequent selection of the fittest.
* In view of the preceding two statements, the assumption of a spiritual essence still active in existence is speculation without practical significance and is possibly misleading, as shown by many negative religious behaviors throughout history.
* In view of the ultimate end of the universe, there is no visible meaning in existence. With evolution progressing by what happens and is viable, there is no purpose or goal in general existence either.
* There is specific purpose, however, in natural drives that want to be fulfilled. There is self-chosen purpose in goal-oriented societies, whether to expand their turf, build empires, or reach religious goals. There is culturally established purpose in modern societies, where everybody wants to get ahead in life, enjoy it as best he or she can, and possibly find distinction or fame in public service or unselfish deeds.
* One’s own values are determined largely by the values of the culture one lives in.
* Ethics evolved as a means for improving survival rates. For humans, ethics is a combination of genetically given responses, education, cultural habits, and practical concerns – all helping to make life more bearable or enjoyable.
Since the time of Thales of Miletus (600 BC), science has progressed in explaining aspects of existence in scientific terms that were previously explained by religious beliefs. This encourages scientists to postulate that all of existence can, sooner or later, be explained by science.
Science runs up against three limitations – the explanation of the beginning of existence (“Creation”), the explanation of the timing or delays of natural evolution, and the explanation of the chosen direction in the occurrences of evolution, human cultural development, and personal destiny.
Furthermore, the probabilistic or random character of much of natural evolution and history allows science to provide explanations only in hindsight; it does not allow science to make good predictions.
This limitation of the scientific view necessarily leads the searching mind to thoughts about the force behind Creation and behind a possible control of evolution in time, direction, history, and personal destiny.
The first observation in that direction is the abstract character of all existence manifesting itself by nothing more than fields of the vacuum – with even the subatomic particles possibly being nothing else but miniature or circular waves (strings) in and of the vacuum. This is a rather intellectual and, ultimately, spiritual concept of existence – more so, when augmented by concepts of quantum mechanics. The control of existence by means of the mysterious forces, laws, and constants of nature and evolution through the interference of random or probabilistic events, is equally intellectual or “spiritual”.
This leads to an intellectual or “spiritual” view of existence in the universe, further supported by observing the human realm of thought, emotions, and values and by incorporating these human aspects into the concept of the essence of existence.
Regarding the meaning and purpose in life, closer observation indicates a value matrix for purpose in life (see prior discussion):
Social and altruistic purpose
Pleasure/aesthetics related purpose
Service and Charity
Culture and Arts
Positive Significance in Society
A large segment of mankind and most of us during many phases of our lives are struggling along without ever getting beyond the “basic level”. Most of our middle class and most people in the developed nations stay on the “median level”. Few individuals in any culture dedicate their spare time and resources to the pursuit of the “upper-level” objectives. Many of us live in a combination of all three directions of orientation on all three levels.
Comments Regarding a Universe Without God: What Meaning, Purpose, or Ethics?
Have the above chapters proven the existence of God and explained the meaning of life? Did the discussion of theodicy leave doubts? What would be left in a view of existence without the belief in a God? Does an atheist – “agnostic” – see “meaning” in existence?
Many agnostics are susceptible to superstition, yoga, or pseudo-transcendental experiences of the “mind” and the cults that thrive on those. Life’s meaning can become anything for the atheist, from “being yourself” to Scientology. The more reasonable atheist may find science to be the only source of insight into existence. Science alone, however, can find no meaning in existence. This leaves the options of emotional or self-chosen meanings. In all seriousness, a person can choose a meaning without being fully convinced of its ultimate truth. A person can dedicate his or her life to a cause (and there are many) or to his ethnic clan without logical proof of the necessity to do so or without belief in a Divine order requiring to do so.
“Purpose” is somewhat different from “meaning”. What can an atheist (and what does factual science) say about the purpose of existence? With evolution being driven only by whatever genetic changes happened to occur, and whatever was then viable to continue existing, science cannot see a goal-driven “purpose” in general existence. In the case of humans, though, evolution has taken a direction toward the development of the mind, including the development of values and cultures. A human observer of this unusual development in the universe can voluntarily decide to support such evolution or decide only to take advantage of it. Support would consist in pursuing mental development and striving for human values in personal life and in society. Taking personal advantage of humanity’s accomplishments may not be helpful in further developing human potential; it may even be counterproductive to such development.
While science does not find purpose in general existence, science obviously observes the specific purpose being pursued by all living beings in fulfilling their natural drives and seeking well-being. Also, there is a self-chosen purpose in goal-oriented societies: whether to reach religious goals, build empires, or just expand their turf. There is culturally established purpose in modern societies, where everybody wants to get ahead in life, enjoy it as best he or she can, and possibly find distinction or fame in public service or unselfish deeds. For an individual, the degree of intellectual or emotional satisfaction derived from a particular approach will determine the approach to take, and this often changes from moment to moment. That is the way most people act, whether they are religious or not. The satisfaction of such personal preferences and emotional needs is all that remains of the atheist’s meaning and purpose of life. To the extent that these needs are on the same genetically given ethical base as those of everybody else, such a position may be acceptable. It becomes questionable whenever it is an “all-for-me”, a “cosa nostra”, or an “all-for-my-people” – even in religious terms as now quite often among the Muslims. When only the striving for money, power, and pleasure remains, it can become devastating for society and the culture of humanity.
There is one more correcting influence – the natural drive to improve one’s rank in the pack, one’s standing in society. Scheming or brute force are approaches to reach rank and public recognition of personal value. Gaining public approval, respect, even gratefulness are other approaches. In our democratic society, this need for public recognition tends to correct personal behavior and move it toward the commonly accepted values, even when such corrective forces are not derived from religious or ideological conviction.
In a more general sense, one can observe that most ethical behavior is not philosophically founded, but culturally learned. In other words, one’s own ethical values are largely determined by the culture one lives in. Thereby, atheist individuals – as everybody else – generally pursue the ethical standards of their culture as a matter of habit, whether in corrupt selfishness in one culture or in philanthropic generosity in another.
In a reasoned approach to ethics in an atheist view of existence, ethical standards, to be valid, do not have to be promulgated by a God through inspired saints or priests (for example, the Ten Commandments). The need for ethical standards can be derived from observation of the world and an interpretation of its needs. Ethical norms may be seen as commensurate with human civilization and the unique opportunities for human society in an otherwise cruel world.
As one pursues these thoughts and looks at a world without Divine commandments and without Divine judgment on Earth or in the afterlife, but a world with human freedom and responsibility, the domain of normative ethics becomes a concern of philosophy, sociology, psychology, and the practical needs of society. After all, everybody wants “law and order”. The developments of a public educational system and a system of civil and criminal law in the developed countries has long demonstrated this. The recent public discussion of “values” and morality in all spheres of life and education is further evidence of this trend. However, in a strictly intellectual and rational environment, and under the stresses of society, these discussions hold the danger of gliding into utilitarianism and, at worst, Darwinistic ruthlessness, as demonstrated in the course of the century just ended, whether by the Nazis, the Communists, the bombardment of Dresden, or the fighting factions in the ongoing regional struggles around the world.
In atheist civilizations, where the link between God-image and ethics is missing, rational ethical theory and rational ethical rules can be based only on personal or mutual benefit. In practical life, unfortunately, many people seem to be inclined to give the highest priority to personal benefit. This leads to a reduced feeling of obligation to participate in a development of existence aimed at benefit for all. Excessive selfishness makes people ruthless and cynical. There is a specific danger, if personal benefit is seen in terms of wealth and power and if both are obtained. As a matter of experience, wealthy and powerful people become irrational, with a tendency to decadency and aberrations, such as Nero, Stalin, or many successful businessmen and, more so, their heirs have shown.
Philosophically, things look a little different when human “happiness” is seen in a broader sense than power-and-pleasure. In that case, the full spectrum of human emotions has to be considered. Human happiness is predicated on a number of natural instincts or behavior patterns which are the foundation of most human emotions in all people. For example, parents generally do love their children and enjoy their children’s well-being. People generally feel loyalty to their family, group, tribe, or nation. Most people are happier if they have something “useful” to do, even if it is only prevailing in professional or political rivalry. Some people do enjoy dedicating themselves to an idealistic cause.
Therefore, the purpose of a fulfilled existence in terms of happiness is still, in addition to simple pleasures, the extension and application of one’s knowledge and capabilities, caring for other human beings, the improvement, or refinement of the physical and human environment. A fulfilled life may also contain coping with the temptations of success, but more often with limitations, suffering, failure, and death.
However, the sacrifices demanded from each individual for the benefit of society by atheist societies – for example, Communism – are in contradiction to the interests of an atheist individual. Therefore, substitute forces have to be developed: Glorification of class loyalty, a personality cult for leaders, glorification of one’s native country, utopia on one side and threats of an inhuman world on the other side. Where this fails, brute power of those interested in maintaining the system is all too often applied.
It is interesting that the materialistic capitalism of the humanely idealistic Western democracies corresponds more to an atheist interpretation of the world than the “scientific materialism” of Communism or Socialism, with their idealistic goals of assistance for the disenfranchised. In Western democracy, a balance of the self-interest of all individuals or interest groups leads to demands for ethical behavior.
After all, one should not overlook that all human ethical rules are based on the common, genetically given proto-ethical forces of caring for kin, reciprocity, and group loyalty, subsequently expanded or enforced by thought, learning, cultural pressure, or habit.
Rational thought may claim that these natural ethical forces are projected by religious people into their God-image. Even when denying Divine commandments, one can argue – with the world and human nature having been created by God – that the natural ethical forces express God’s intent in Creation. Consequently, atheist and religious ethical norms converge to some degree.
The absence of a religious base for ethics and the dangers of utilitarianism make necessary a humanely acceptable formulation of ethical standards and their public enforcement. As shown in the atheist societies of the communist world, the genetic ethical force of clan loyalty, expanded by indoctrination into nationalism or Socialism, may emotionally substitute for religious commitment to unselfishness. However, in the absence of such ideals and governmental enforcement, when nothing balances personal temptation, individual abuse becomes pervasive. The new Russia and, now, China and other rising societies with few ethical ties in either religion or ideology demonstrate this point. Segments of our own society, as well as many individuals among us, demonstrate the same.
Do all “values” suffer in an atheist society from a lack of foundation in religion or ideology? Possibly not. Pursuit of the values of “mental growth” and “culture” are among the most important (and most pleasant) gifts of nature to mankind; surprisingly, though, neither is founded in or connected to a particular religion. In the Christian religion, the often excessive burden of artistic decoration of the churches and of priestly appearance is in contradiction to religious teaching, thinly justified as being gifts of the people to God. The actual root of such artistic decorations lies in the high valuation of art in people’s minds.
Mental growth usually is restrained – if not suppressed – by religious hierarchies anxious to defend the purity of their teaching and their position. Therefore, societies with weak religious hierarchies or restrictions on thought were historically more creative than the hierarchically dominated ones (see, for instance, the Greeks versus the Jews in antiquity or the Italians versus the Spaniards during the Renaissance).
There is also the observation that mental growth leads to the weakening of moral standards. As shown in the earlier chapters, intellectual analyses of gray zones in value judgments have proven to be the servants of the desires of the analyzers and, consequently, are often quite destructive. All caution is justified. However, this severe fault of intellectuality cannot be a justification for the inhibition of all mental growth and inquiry into the wonders of the universe and our existence.
If the foundation of life’s meaning and human values is not clear, if religious or philosophical insight is not clear, if the limits of values and the limits of ethics are not clear either – then how does one proceed in daily life? Practical life and the need to give some consistency to the course of one’s own life require that one take a stand, that one decide what one wants to stand for.
A final comment on atheism: Things look a bit different, depending on whether one sits comfortably at one’s desk analyzing the world in intellectual terms, or one is in the grips of sorrow or fear for a loved one. Deeply felt prayers to the forces of destiny, to God, are all that presents hope to us humans when we are in deep trouble. And what, in moments of great joy, about destiny and the world? Where would gratitude go?
A.3.3. Summary of the View of People in Practical Life, Tempered by Human Sensitivity
– and Its Proposed Expansion
* There must be some spiritual forces, some God, behind the creation and the grandiose evolution of this fantastic world.
* You better show proper devotion and respect toward these forces, toward God, lest they or He turn against you.
* One can try to appeal to God in situations of need, hoping that He will help. When things get tough, most people do turn to God for help. But you better do your own best to improve matters wherever you can.
* The churches, with their imagery and ritual, are good for some people. Therefore, let them be. Women are more religious than men and do more good deeds!
* The veneration of images or of saints, and the belief in miracles, is good for some people.
* The dogmas of the churches are seldom understandable, are very theoretical, and are important only to church people.
* In the practical world, you cannot be very theoretical about “values”. What is needed is some of the old-fashioned “wisdom”, to know the right way in complexity and to have good judgment, along with a bit of human sensitivity.
* Ethics, especially Christian ethics, are good. The world should follow them. Oneself should follow them, too. There are practical limits, however. One has to take care of oneself and one’s family first. One has some right to one’s own life and, after all the struggle, the right to some enjoyment of life. Only saints do otherwise.
* Countries, nations, and cultures all have a right to preserve themselves – while providing help to others in their respective territories.
How should this view be expanded?
At the base of all these statements is a feeling of awe in admiring the grandiose universe. Also at the base is a feeling that there is a spiritual essence. These views may well have been the base of all religious thought and inspiration for mankind. From there on, thinkers and priests may have attempted to provide logical and systematic answers and coherent systems of thought – leading to the known results.
There is a conflict between providing for the religious and emotional needs of the people and seeking actual truth. Could it not be that the ultimate truth about the spiritual essence of Creation is too complex, too big for humans to absorb, too far removed from the human world?
There may be a need for a religion that allows for various levels of sophistication and providing for various levels of emotional needs.
Practical people are quite aware of the limits of ethics. Most people are humanly sensitive, often the humble people more so than the rich and the powerful. Humble people readily understand the need for charitable help given beyond reason. But they also see a right to their own modest enjoyment of life.
B. COROLLARY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS,
(quoted from “What Is Your Life” by H. Schwab, 1968/79)
As indicated below in the “Personal Footnote: The History of This Essay”, this writing presents a new version of my earlier essay, written in 1968 and edited in 1979, titled “What Is Your Life?”. There are a number of thoughts in “What Is Your Life?” that I could not use in this new essay. I do not want to lose some of these earlier thoughts. Therefore, I add them – out of context – to this essay in the form of these “Corollary thoughts and comments”:
Comments regarding a possible evolution of Creation:
After billions of years of astrophysical evolution of the universe, something new happened somewhere in Creation and, possibly billions of years later, also on Earth: the appearance of life with its very complex mechanisms, with the capability for mutation, with death, with its own “laws of nature”, including the prevalence of the fittest. Was this appearance of life a necessity or was it a new creative occurrence? The older creation was not destined for it, as its prevalent inhospitality shows. To deduct the era of life from the earlier age, as fully inherent in the original nuclear structure of energy, would make the original creation all the more miraculous.
That appearance of life, as we know it, hinged on several anomalies and coincidences in nature:
* The unusual capability of the element carbon to be the base of an unlimited variety of materials. Only silicon is similar, but it is quite a bit more limited in the variety of its derived materials. (Consequently, there is the possibility of simpler, silicon-based life somewhere else in the universe.)
* The unusual qualities of water, including its high thermal capacity, irregular thermal expansion coefficient that makes ice float, and chemical combinability with carbon. Thus, it was possible to provide the thermal stability of this planet, the ample formation of building materials, and a means of transportation for life, food, and waste.
* Life, as we know it, especially in its higher forms, uses a large number of higher-order chemical elements that did not originate directly from the “Big Bang” or within the solar system. It took the explosive collapse of other stars somewhere else in the universe to create these heavier elements and then their accumulation on Earth.
* All these conditions had to come together at the right temperature. This required a planet of the right size, at the right distance from its solar center, with the right rate of rotation, and with the right amount or composition of its crust.
* This concept also required the early formation of a moon from part of Earth’s crust resulting in higher plate tectonic movements of the remaining pieces of crust, more out-gassing from the crust to form and sustain the Earth’s atmosphere, and stabilization of Earth’s axis of rotation for higher climatic stability facilitating life’s evolution.
Can subsequent “creative” moments be perceived in this new phase of evolving life on Earth? Important creative moments can be found in the Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian periods (800 to 500 million years ago), when the most unusual, yet limited, creation of the complex life forms occurred. One can see them in the appearance of the new oxygen-burning life cycle (the prior life cycles had been either caldera- or solar energy and photosynthesis-based), with the consequential development of mobility and life feeding on life. One can see them in the appearance of the basic nerval system and the resulting high degree of reflective automation and of higher life forms, including all those that follow the Darwinian rules of evolution. One can see creative moments in so many rapid multi-step evolutions of the most complex and wondrous kind. One can see them in the eradication of the dominating dinosaurs 60 million years ago and the appearance of mammals. One can see them in the appearance of proto-ethical behavior of un-selfishness for the benefit of other individuals and, thereby, facilitation of social coherence. One can also see new creative moments in the appearance of aesthetic color patterns, music, and pleasant fragrances in the cultures of humans.
Did this phase of Darwinian life have any purpose? Two contradictory answers are possible. One is that the ever-ongoing evolution to higher forms of life can be seen as the purpose of this phase of Creation. The other answer is that only a very small percentage of all living beings actually continued developing to higher forms of life. All bacterial life, all plant life, all insect life, and most animals actually stagnated at their lowly positions. Furthermore, lower life forms often feed on higher ones – virus and bacterial diseases destroy all kinds of plants, animals, and humans, irrespective of their significance in evolution or history (the great Perikles of Athens died of the plague, Mozart of tuberculosis). Therefore, one cannot see a pre-established intent in this phase to emphasize the higher life forms in creation. One can only see the almost artistic and intellectual character of evolution.
Then, most recently on Earth (but possibly not in the universe), one can distinguish a totally new evolutionary step – the appearance of highly developed capabilities for thought, emotions, justice, art, humor, and all the values as given to humans. This phase of “human values” is too much in contrast to the prior Darwinian phase of life to be considered merely an extension of that phase. With the creation of the human species, something occurred in Creation on Earth that is beyond the development of the last billion years of life. For us as human beings, it is exciting to participate in this still evolving phase of Creation, when not all options are explored yet, and when there is more to accomplish yet.
It was necessary for humans to have spare time, spare resources, curiosity, creativity, and both ethical and aesthetic values to bring forth any advancement beyond what Darwinian nature already offered. Darwinian nature was not laid out for that. Several effects prevented it – the next predator in the food chain, constant over-procreation combined with the limited availability of food, and the onset of energy-saving phlegmatic behavior as soon as the belly was full. In this new phase of Creation, the combination of a large brain, speech and mathematical capability, and adequate temperamental tuning to allow for the formation of structured societies provided for the development of civilizations and cultures and the effectiveness of the accomplishments of great individuals. The results of this new phase of existence, which appeared within a cosmically very short time span, are absolutely astonishing.
In modern language, one can say that the “hardware” of the human phase of existence, the human body, differs little from the “hardware”, the animal body, of the Darwinian phase of existence. It is the appearance of the new “software”, the abstract phenomena of thought, emotions, and values, that are the essence of this new phase. With these phenomena came the increasing capability for mental analysis, mental creativity, and decision-making. From there came freedom and temptation and with them, as a consequence, the responsibility of humanity for itself. Consequently, from this point of view one could say that Creation was laid out for, or God can be seen as wanting freedom and responsibility to become the governing principles of the human era, as automation and self-reliance were the principles of the prior era of newly created life.
Was the creative force, God, still visibly active during the human era, during the time we call history? Was there divine influence on the evolution of human history? It certainly has been prayed for and expected by humans innumerable times in calamities of nature and in human strife. It certainly was gratefully recognized and also was bitterly missed innumerable times.
A broad-brush picture of human history may not yield more than the observation of the same forces of nature that were already visible in the evolution, expansion, and struggle of plant and animal species. However, while the majority of plants and animals did not progress to higher sophistication and only a minority did, with mankind it was different. The majority of mankind participated in the evolution of ever more sophisticated civilizations and only a minority became marginalized. There is a pattern of progress for mankind through the ages, different from anything one could have expected from the Darwinian pre-human phase of life.
The progress of mankind occurred somewhat in a diversity of civilizations and in parallel in those civilizations, from China to India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Europe, and the Central or South-American civilizations. The progress of civilizations occurred in many small steps, as progress had occurred in non-human nature before. But it also occurred in a number of breakthroughs, as also in non-human nature before. These civilization breakthroughs, being phenomena of the mind, were contributed by way of the thoughts of certain individuals at certain times when their cultures were receptive to those ideas. Some were of a practical nature, such as the invention of the wheel. Others were philosophical, such as the beginning of the chain of Greek philosophers in antiquity. Others were always seen as religious “inspirations received from the Gods” or as gifts by the Gods (e.g., the use of fire). Specifically, the ideas about religion and ethics were seen as God-inspired thoughts arriving by way of God-selected individuals – even though many brought only significant burden and suffering to mankind.
In this sense, the important turning points in human capabilities, thoughts, or concepts of religion and the world must be seen as moments of destiny. A few of those should be mentioned specifically:
* The beginning of the usage of fire.
* The invention of the wheel, the sail, and the plow
* The first ethical demands in public policy (by King Urukagina in Sumeria, also called Uru’inimgina, 2380 BC, presenting himself as the protector of the weak and of widows).
* The basic religious concepts developed in the Vedas (1500 BC).
* The religious concepts developed in the Middle East (possibly in mutual communication between the Egyptians, Assyrians, Zoroaster (628-551 BC), and the Jews).
* Confucius (551-479 BC), Mencius (approx. 390-300 BC), Lao-tzu (6th century BC)
* Buddha (563-483 BC) and King Ashoka’s acceptance of Buddhism (230 BC).
* Thales of Milet’s (624-546 BC) initiation of Greek philosophy.
* The beginning of intellectual inquiry by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and Pythagorean usage of mathematics to understand nature.
* The Stoic and Epicurean schools of thought.
* Christ’s teaching and life, Pentecost, Paul’s interpretation of Christ and his zeal.
* The survival of the Jewish faith.
* The destruction of the antique culture of the Greeks and Romans.
* The appearance of the competing Islamic religion in the Middle East.
* Abelard, Maimonides, Aquinas, and the beginning of the Renaissance.
* Luther and other reformers.
* The emergence of science and the Enlightenment.
* The discovery of psychology and the workings of the mind.
* At the end, in our time, a return to practical technological innovations, specifically those leading to energy generation, automation, chemistry, telecommunication, the information technologies, genetics, and molecular biology.
And how about the negative occurrences in the course of mankind’s history, the repetitive and highly destructive Asiatic invasions, ever new plagues, devastating wars, genocides, innovations with devilish consequences, and mental obsessions – not to mention drug abuse and vastly expanding religious-ethnic “terrorism” with unforeseeable consequences?
One should be careful not to see history as being totally guided by God. This would deny human freedom and all human responsibility, thereby contradicting the basic principle of the human era of existence – and the cruelty and wastefulness of history could lead to a very contradictory God-image. But how can one see God as the creator of the universe and deny God’s participation in the evolution of mankind? Without interference by God in destiny, what religious sense would any kind of sacrifice, prayer, or ethical behavior any longer have – except utilitarian benefit and emotional soothing?
What does that leave as visions of God’s active participation in mankind’s historic evolution? Earlier paragraphs have discussed the cosmic reasons and the problems of theodicy as speaking against the view of a still-active God interfering with destiny.
In a view of ongoing action of the creative force of existence, God, one would have to include inspirations – a number of the religious, philosophical, and technical breakthroughs listed above. There is no question that even those inspirations that one could consider divine actually are appearing, in practical terms, through the thoughts that occur in the minds of some human individuals. Therefore, the religious person will seek an opening of the heart and mind to Divine inspiration, and will seek harmony with the Divine essence – hopefully, the right one – through contemplation or prayer.
However, one should be careful not to asymmetrically ascribe all positive moments in mankind’s history to the direct action of the “hand of God”, or all bad moments to human action. The various pests and the arising of mighty Asian hordes overrunning great civilizations were not human deeds. The great calamities of mankind and all its individuals – whether in birth defects, accidents, plagues, invasions, wars, devastations of cultures, premature death, or suppression of great minds – are an enigma, as are the great changes toward progress, enlightenment, and well-being. Anthropomorphic explanations of divine intent in calamities, as the setting of examples or the teaching of lessons, appear inadequate. Explanations by divine justice are equally inadequate, since too many innocent people became victims. The saving of the innocents, as at Sodom and Gomorrah, usually does not occur. The only conclusion is that we humans are still part of the world of randomly or probabilistically appearing physical cataclysms and of the Darwinian struggle of all living beings, including bacteria and beasts and including criminals and tyrants. The two earlier phases of Creation, the physical and the Darwinian, have not been invalidated in the human phase. They reach well into our existence. We had better accept this fact in humility, as well as our responsibility to take action to improve our lives.
B.2. Some words about abilities or capabilities:
Mental abilities or capabilities can be described only in part. There are IQ tests and qualification tests. However, the question whether you or another person is qualified to undertake a certain enterprise is often difficult to answer, especially when character qualifications are involved. A low assessment of capabilities leads to unused opportunities. A high assessment leads to risk and, possibly, to frustration or failure.
The assessment of abilities or capabilities should be raised with the capability of coping with risk and possible defeat. In sum, I see the assessment of capabilities in connection with character and the significance of risk. I recommend a rather high assessment of actual and potential capabilities to the young and strong. This serves as stimulation to develop and reach out. As circumstances and the course of life indicate, however, a more reduced assessment, humility and decisive concentration on proven or useful capabilities may be in order.
It is both unfair and unjust to tell each child in each environment and race that he or she has equal opportunity for success in life. If they do not succeed, they will consider themselves a failure and the world prejudiced, unjust, and mean.
Capabilities are often “valued” relative to those of others, specifically relative to one’s brothers’, sisters’ or parents’ capabilities and, consequently, their accomplishments. This is, however, neither fair nor suitable. There is, actually, no foundation to seeing human “value” in more or less capability. There is, at best, a difference in performance qualifications, earning capability, and qualification for a specific job. Human value should be related to how one does with what one has received by destiny. In most cases, it is unrealistic that children should see themselves with the same capabilities as their parents, brothers or sisters.
The assessment of one's’capabilities, character, or personality forms the “self-image”. A negative self-image leads not only to unhappiness but also to unnecessarily poor performance in life. An exaggerated self-image leads to arrogance and, ultimately, failure. A self-image of positive values and resourcefulness, combined with modesty toward others, is recommended. From time to time, one should investigate the image that others have of oneself and, hopefully, arrive at constructive corrections which lead to the building of positive capabilities.
“How should one use one’s capabilities?”
Regarding the earlier question, “What Shall I Do in Life?” most people need or want a more individualistic answer than the indication of general human objectives in growth, service, and culture. This leads to the discussion of specific capabilities and individually available opportunities that influence the choosing of one’s individual course through existence.
To start the discussion, let us consider a list of typical capabilities required for various professional occupations:
Acceptance of and desire for responsibility
desire for challenge
planning and control
decision-making capabilities – also in uncertainty
creativity: concept generation
recognition of opportunities
thinking in alternatives
memory, including coordination capability
comprehension, including intuitive comprehension
The interesting point that emerges in looking at this list is the wide diversity of capabilities in which a person should excel in order to be assured success. Actually, depending on specific job requirements, the list is not even complete. Look, for example, at the requirements for successful performance in social activities, politics, government, and public leadership.
knowledge of people (judgment)
intuitive feeling for situations
intuitive policy selection
concern for others
proper relation to law, authority
proper use of power
balance between group-joining and individualism
Again, it is a very wide list. Some abilities even contradict each other, such as perseverance and flexibility, ruthlessness and concern for others.
Consequently, no one individual can possibly excel in all abilities, capabilities, or skills. This provides opportunities for a variety of individuals to excel in life, specifically since different activities require different capability differentiation at different times.
Capabilities can be improved through learning and training. The amount of capability improvement, however, is limited by an individually different natural ceiling. Close to that ceiling, even a large effort in training brings little capability improvement.
The question arises: Which amount of effort is justified to improve which capability, and by how much? With total effort being limited for each individual, one has to establish ranking of priorities. In other words, different values have to be established for different capabilities.
Some people doubt whether it is fair or justified to assign any value to capabilities. I agree that there is hardly any moral value in capabilities, but there is different use or utility of capabilities relative to a chosen course through life. Therefore, the question of ranking capabilities relates back to ranking motivations or objectives in life, as discussed above.
In practical life, people decide all the time whether to spend their money on food or books, whether to spend their time traveling or improving their property, or to what proportion to spend time and money on each.
In setting priorities between training of various capabilities and various objectives, one arrives at the question of selective specialization versus generalized, all-round life development. The answer obviously varies between that of a professional or sports specialist, whose success depends on specialized top performance in some selected capability, and people in general.
The discussion of effort, diversified or specialized, is an old one for mankind, from the pragmatic to the most philosophical level. In practical life, people always had to choose specialized vocations and train for them. The Western Renaissance man encouraged diversified involvement in all fields of activity, with almost equal interest and effort. In the extreme, Buddhism arrives at a view of existence declining all involvement and effort – for the sake of finding peace in Nirvana.
For most people, the "thumb-tack" approach is best suited for the selective development of capabilities. In this approach, a certain area of diversification is covered through development of a variety of capabilities in pursuit of a variety of objectives. In one or a few selected areas, however, special effort is applied to excel. In other words, one should neither scatter one's effort too widely nor live less than a full life in excessive limitation to one specialization only.
The essential point in response to "how to use one's capabilities" is the proper selection of those individual capabilities for concentrated development and effort, which allow survival, some success, and some positive significance in society as the basis for the pursuit of growth, service, and culture.
Besides a primary domain of pursuit, a reserve objective may be emphasized, and even a third one prepared. The reason for the reserve specialization is protection against accidents in life, as well as provision for a change in interests or capabilities with age.
In pursuing some specialization and a field of generalized interests, trade-offs in effort are necessary. A trade-off consists of giving up something of one kind in order to gain something of another kind. As before, when discussing objectives in life, I propose the lowering of the personal satisfaction or aspiration threshold in a general field of interests, in order to heighten performance in a specialized area. In practical terms: If you need less money for daily expenses, you can afford more traveling to specific places of interest. If you spend less time on newspaper-reading and TV, you can spend more time on your specialized studies.
There are also some synergistic capabilities. The most commonly known is the one between sports, health, and general life performance. Equally important is the maintaining of curiosity and intellectual flexibility with aging in relation to general life performance.
As a final comment, I want to mention the concept of lowering the aspiration or satisfaction threshold in some areas, in order to heighten performance in others. For example, the lowering of the satisfaction threshold in terms of the time and money needed for entertainment allows heightened performance in growth or service through availability of more time or money for those. If a person is satisfied with reasonably limited financial or career success, he or she may have energy and resources to spare for branching out into service and cultural projects or interests.
Those individuals seem to do best who initially concentrate their effort, pursuing only modestly diversified objectives, and who put special emphasis on career success in the age of 20 to 40 life period. The modest diversification in that time interval allows for more success in the selected field of concentration and subsequent better-founded branch-out to truly diversified development at a later age, when ceilings of professional development are reached.
In practical life, there is no accurate method of determining the optimal effort toward success per above considerations. It is often the "disposable" income only (remaining income after "necessary" expenditures) that serves as a base for growth in diversification and for service. Such "disposable" income is commonly only 1 to 10 percent of total income and grows only temporarily with growing income (success). This is one of Parkinson's laws, indicating that demand grows to meet (or exceed) income at any level. Therefore, people always see themselves at the steep foot of the success/effort curve, with only a little bit more success being important for more happiness or for diversification of interests, this effect never allowing them to reach the recommended point of branch-out. Here, the lowering of satisfaction thresholds is the key to widening the margins of disposable money and time for well-funded life expansion.
In sum, discussing the conflict between various objectives, I do not see the exclusive preeminence of any one objective. I see the fulfillment of life in an always changing balance and combination of all objectives. This is more difficult to handle intellectually, but it corresponds to the complexity of Creation and man's role therein.
B.3. What do death and suffering mean to us?
The question of why death and suffering occur is a key issue in many religions (for example, Buddhism and Christianity). The interpretation of suffering is either penalty or purification. Accordingly, the attitude toward suffering is either atonement and hope for forgiveness, possibly through sacrifice, or the attempt to prove oneself in hardship, possibly finding compensation in Heaven. God is seen either as possessing cruel features, as just (and humans as sinful), or as loving and helpful against evil.
I personally interpret Creation differently and see suffering and death within the context of evolving Creation. Observation of early Creation indicates that a decisive step toward suffering and death occurred in evolution when multi-cell beings did not become self-repairing, aged, and became mortal. Another equally significant step occurred when primitive living beings began to feed on other living beings. Both occurrences, however, were in line with automated, self-functioning evolution and at that level of Creation did not have emotional significance. Reaction to suffering and the fight for survival became the principal moving forces in the evolutionary development of nature (besides the pursuit of opportunities for easier living). Death made room for newer, more advanced life.
With the later occurrence in Creation of emotion, morality, compassion, and justice in the human species, those earlier methods of evolution came to appear utterly cruel and unacceptable. The fact is that death and suffering could not be religiously or intellectually attributed to personal behavior alone, in spite of many attempts from Job to modern philosophers. Even guiltless children suffer in car accidents or the wise and saintly from accidents and diseases. Therefore, religious explanations were often rejected and the existence of a just or loving God doubted. But the fact that earlier mechanisms of Creation became unacceptable to later forms of evolving life is not necessarily a disproof of a spiritual essence at the beginning or foundation of Creation, as in providing its appearance and structure.
While suffering is significant to those afflicted, and death ultimately to all, it is important not to see either as an exclusive or the principal parameter of life (as in some religions), but to use remaining freedom or strength in the whatever remaining part of life in a positive view for the pursuit of the potential and opportunities of life in following the basic objectives as indicated before.
The above relates to extreme degrees of suffering and to death. Life is more commonly related to minor forms of suffering: the necessity to work for a living, to perform for compensation, to sustain rivalry, to experience frustrations and unfulfilled wishes.
It is an experience of life that most people who do not have to apply themselves decay quickly by turning lazy, soft, or irrational. Few people given large degrees of wealth or freedom can restrain their desires reasonably. In such cases, suffering in the form of some struggle, some limitations to cope with, is a blessing in disguise or else self-imposed discipline, sacrifice, or restraint is necessary.
What can one do? In order to derive fortitude, we must accept limited suffering. Generally, however, we have to accept suffering as part of the evolution of nature, always trying to reduce it compassionately, hoping for continued evolution toward reduced suffering, and not losing sight of remaining opportunities.
B.4. Is there an afterlife, a continued existence of the soul, or the individual essence after bodily death?
The experience of many dying people is a beautiful one as suffering ends. Many people have sensed the spiritual contact to loved ones, who had passed away earlier. All these visions give support to religious concepts of an afterlife, possibly a perpetual one. Science, however, leaves little room for a perpetual existence after death. Science does not see a justification for the concept of “soul” independent of the living brain – as all aspects of “soul” continuously change with changes of the brain, whether in consequence of aging, diseases, or accidents. Furthermore, the end of our solar system and, ultimately, of the whole universe in Black Holes, diverging radiation, or a Big Crunch does not let another existence of permanently stored “souls” appear as within the concept of Creation. This rather indicates that one should accept death as part of Creation – and be grateful for the lives we now have – and make the best of that.
B.5. Contradictions in Direction
How shall we resolve the contradiction between the moral code of man an the law of nature as we experience it?
In earlier eras of history, it was acceptable to fight for honor, to expand territorial dominance, to live in hierarchical or socially stratified communities and to punish cruelly.
The most recent centuries of development of human thought have brought a rapid increase in the desire for peace, justice, Christian values, Socialism, social justice, and abolition of all forms of cruelty. “Human”, “humane”, or “humanistic” are synonyms for good or preferable behavior. At the same time, it is feared that these ideals will make us “soft” and unmanly, leading to less success of our civilization in rivalry to others. Recent political events give evidence of stronger groups cruelly overrunning weaker ones. In personal life, it is a fact that a person educated for perfect Christian, socialist, or cultural behavior is less successful in a career pursuit or in his or her pragmatic life.
Observation of raw nature indicates a clear preference for behavior of strength and dominance. Without this principle, the elimination of the weak and sick, most species would deteriorate or catastrophically overbreed.
Humans have to live in compromise between the higher ideals which the recent phase of Creation is pointing out (and which should be the human mission in Creation) and the demands of raw nature, which are still very much part of human character. To be a force of love, Socialism, justice, and forgiving, one must be mentally, morally, and physically strong and stable. One’s own survival has to be assured, one’s basic position be built and defended against rivals by a certain degree of hardness, selfishness, discrimination and even some disregard for suffering. Whatever you eat, you have not given to someone more hungry than you. Whatever you spend on yourself, you have not donated to the suffering.
In rivalry, survival must be assured. Some individual success commensurate with personal objectives has to be obtained in rivalry in order to arrive at individual strength, which is the foundation for service to others. However, we can attempt to maintain the dignity of the rival. We can constantly compromise between our own needs and those of others. We can build a society with deterrent strength and then be gentle and exemplary in using the strength for help. We can prevent decay through discipline, sacrifice, and struggle for the realization of our ideals.
How shall we resolve the conflict between the demands for progress and for conservation?
We fear the loss of “humane” existence in an overly progressive and increasingly crowded world requiring conservation. But we must cope with the demands of the Third World for progress, which would make all conservation meaningless. The world has already found the answers; it is only lax in applying them: birth reduction – through birth control, education, or increased rights for women – leading to a reduction in population, strict environmental control, reduction of corruption, abandonment of excessively disruptive projects, limits to consumption in hardware, and properly directed growth in our and the Third World. Will China as the leading country of the Third World and advancing rapidly among the leading nations be able to solve this problem?
How does one resolve the conflict between the desire for peace and freedom?
There were times in all civilizations when fighting was the fulfillment of a manly, noble life. Today, peace is a preeminent ideal of mankind. There is abhorrence of violence and suffering, a desire for security, and regret for the waste resulting from wars. Non-violent, peaceful behavior is also preferred in personal life.
Actually, all lives experience struggle and rivalry. The preference for absolute peace leads to unacceptable yielding and loss of freedom. Freedom is also lost by nations yielding too readily in some international conflicts. Russian foreign policy (prior to its collapse) promoted the peaceful behavior of others in order to foster Russian expansion based on military strength and subversive terror. Israel had no choice but to fight during the early decades of its existence for freedom and survival, now remaining as the cruel suppressor of the neighboring Palestinians. Christ taught peace but did not live peace, preferring argument and his personal suffering over loss of freedom in spreading his message and in helping as help was needed.
Historically, the desire for peace has been in contradiction with many nations’ desire for growth. Rome and its civilization would not have risen to its significance without wars of conquest. The Russians were close to such a philosophy of growth through wars. Nature supported their view for a limited time; but it was the primitive nature of earlier Creation.
Mankind's task should be to arrive at “humane” methods of settling conflict and arriving at individual or social development. In the meantime, people have to stay strong and at times belligerent, to defend their own survival in physical and cultural terms. Nature expects fight for survival and for development in diversity. Fight, however, can be transposed in human society from military violence to rivalry in moral, mental, and economic terms.
As in all the discussions above, the answer may not be in an absolutely extreme point of view. In absolute peace, there is no benefit in yielding without struggle. Absolute freedom, without reasonable limitations, is not realistic either. Creation shows that all life has to struggle for its place, that one can minimize struggle by moving or evading to a suitable territory or by suitably specializing and that one can live reasonably or better with less than perfect freedom.
There can be no absolute freedom. There is a need for moral/ethical behavior codes, and criminality results in the need for police control. Therefore, there is more personal freedom in societies with accepted ethical standards, whether in business, politics, civil service or in interhuman relations in families, among neighbors or with strangers. In this sense, intellectual liberalization from all moral values is a disservice to society.
Contradictions Between Various Sources of Insight
In a situation of rivalry, observation of nature indicates a course of prevailing through strength to the limits of brutality. In the same situation, intuition may indicate a course of compromise between hard struggle and lenience. Christian doctrine may indicate only lenience. How can one determine the relative value of sources of insight in case of contradiction?
There is a vicious circle in attempting to solve this problem, because the selection of a method for arriving at the right approach already implies the preference for a source of insight. Thus, in cases of contradiction, an intellectually oriented person will intellectually arrive at the observation of nature as the prevailing source. Another person may state intuitively that intuition will lead most successfully in situations of contradiction. The religious person sees the Commandments of the Bible as overruling raw nature and human intuition.
Often, contradictions are not realized but, instead, eliminated subconsciously through self-deception. This occurs, for example, when people are subject to different source hierarchies on different levels of their existence. The adolescent may accept science as prevailing in his thoughts, yet act and live emotionally. Some adolescents or immature individuals may claim scientific thinking in pursuing highly opinionated courses such as radical theories for society. Self-deception also occurs through selective observation and the use of selected input information. This allows individuals with low mobility in thought perspectives to stay in their "tracks", even when contradictory sources of insight are available.
Source usage or preference – and, hence, source conflicts – varies with time, in historical development and within an individual's life cycle, as, for example, in the young radical becoming an old conservative.
One should retain a critical attitude, mental liberty, mobility, and width of vision if one wants to come closer to “truth”, to optimal performance, or to lead a fuller life.
Apparently, the structured character of Creation allows understanding by observation, logic, and conceptual thought. However, the complexity of existence and the limitation of the human mind and resources require a complementary approach by intuition, positively accepted feeling and, beyond that, a search for inspiration by meditating about the spiritual essence of existence, God.
There is a need for compromise between these sources of insight, depending on individual conditions of conflict, whereby I personally depend on some degree of intuition in finding the right compromise between a harder interpretation of nature by its own rules and lenience in terms of human ideals – tending to the latter as I can afford it.
The resolution of conflict remains a mystery. Some people think that finding one’s way through life is a matter of luck or of character. I think the vision of the right path to follow through life is a matter of mercy. It is then a matter of character to follow this path.
B.6. Decision-Making, Implementation
In plotting a course through life, as in any problem, one can distinguish three phases:
Search for information as discussed in the preceding sections
The following discusses the decision-making phase and the phase-over to implementation.
The significance of the decision-making phase varies widely between individuals or situations. For example, the only son of a farmer may not really consider any other course but continuation in the farming life of his family. On the other hand, an artist whose career has been curtailed by a mutilating accident is forced to decide what to do next, yet may have a hard time selecting an acceptable, alternative approach to life. There are factual and emotional aspects. Therefore, it may be interesting to analyze the decision-making process in more detail.
The decision-making process can be seen from three different angles, which are presented in the following paragraphs:
- The formalistic decision-making process developed in business administration and government under the heading of “Planning”
- The decision-making process in a complex human environment, which requires not only intelligence but also what is commonly called “Wisdom”
- The step that leads from intelligent or wise insight or judgment to actually deciding and doing something. This is initiative-related and, hence, a matter of “Personality”
This essay is about planning and pursuing a course through life. Therefore, the following chapter, which specifically discusses “planning”, is somewhat longer and more detailed than the others.
Planning is a formalistic approach to decision-making in plotting a course for the future. In the last decades, academic researchers, people in large organizations in industry and government have done much analytical work about decision-making. Specific methods have been developed to optimize this process. Including old and new methods, the following approaches to planning can be distinguished:
A. Planning by prediction
C. Analysis of trends, cycles, and structures
D. Investigation of laws of nature controlling trends, cycles, and structures
E. Classic business planning
F. Enlarged business planning
G. Delphi method
H. Scenario method
I. Conceptual planning
While some of these methods were developed for business and governmental planning, they can also be applied to personal planning. Therefore, a short description and critical analysis of the various planning methods will be given next.
A. PLANNING BY PREDICTION
Historically, this is the oldest method of planning and is based on intuitive, sometimes “inspired” prediction. Hence, it is as good as intuition or the basis for such inspiration. The earlier paragraph on meditation pointed out the importance of the God-image for the quality of the resulting inspiration. History shows that there were outstanding prophetic leaders as Moses and devastating leaders as Hitler. Some predictions or prophesies are self-fulfilling. For example, if an accepted leader predicts trouble with a neighboring nation, mistrust and friction will arise and, finally, there may be trouble just for that reason. If people foresee doom and act in fear and resignation, they may find doom. Past and present history shows examples.
This planning method, by far the most common, consists of presenting the future as the expected extension of developments of the past. Extrapolation fails when the unforeseen happens or when the development of important factors in the course of time is misjudged. At the end of boom periods, many people failed in business because they expected endless continuation of the boom in industry or tourism. Others lose their chance by not seeing the end of a depression and let the competition take the lead over them. Marx has been fundamentally wrong in extrapolating the social development of industrialized nations.
C. ANALYSIS OF TRENDS, CYCLES, AND STRUCTURES
This is an improvement on extrapolation through seeing trends before they become prevalent or seeing the cycles and structures that change trends. However, this method is also based on observing the past or present and predicting from there. Hence, the origin of new cycles or the change of structures may not be considered.
D. INVESTIGATION OF LAWS OF NATURE CONTROLLING TRENDS, CYCLES, AND STRUCTURES
This is the scientific approach to prediction. More than prediction, the attempt is then made to influence the future, rather than merely accept its course. Examples range from Toynbee in the field of political history to economists in governments influencing the development of booms or recessions. Yet, this method finds its limitations in the complexity of the field, the psychological effects involved, and the unpredictability of destiny in the appearance of catastrophes, weather, inventions, or influential personalities of unique character.
E. CLASSIC BUSINESS PLANNING
This follows an established sequence: Definition of goals or objectives, development of alternative routes for reaching the goals or objectives, decision-making in selecting the most suitable route followed by implementation and control. This sensible and comprehensive method has proven itself in simple environments as the planning of a simple business by economic considerations only. However, problems arise in complex environments, for example, if not only economic but also social, political, and, possibly, aesthetic considerations enter into personal planning. Then, there may be dissatisfaction with the capability to develop alternative routes to reach complex objectives. Also selection between complex alternatives may not be possible. Hence, the emphasis in planning may shift to the following.
F. ENLARGED BUSINESS PLANNING
This emphasizes the consolidation of dimensionally different objectives (for example, business and social demands), the development of imagination or creativity in finding alternative routes, and the development of judgment capability for selecting suitable strategies in complex environments. The formation of character is emphasized in matters related to implementation and control beyond formalistic management techniques. Thus, this method addresses itself to underlying complex factual and human conditions of life, in addition to the formalistic steps of the classic planning method. However, the complexity of existence and the limitations of the human mind may still exceed comprehension even by the “enlarged” planning method.
G. THE DELPHI METHOD
This method skips formalistic planning steps by simply collecting and statistically evaluating statements, opinions, or judgments of selected successful individuals. The selection can be one of experts in the field of interest, or it can specifically include non-specialists (“inperts”) to broaden the scope of inquiry. For example, a set of leading physicists and a historian or sociologist may be asked to predict the time when fusion-type nuclear energy will be available. The statistical distribution of the indicated time is then presented. In matters of national development and governmental strategy, a number of known personalities may be asked who may be experts in their specialties but would be “inperts” relative to questions of very broad scope. Applied to personal planning, one could ask several outstanding personalities or friends which course in life one should follow at a certain time. They may be well informed about the situation or just people of good judgment.
The results of this method are interesting but not necessarily dependable. The selection of people asked to respond is relevant to the results. Fashionably prevalent opinions or concerns may overshadow factual investigation. A number of doom predictions, such as the MIT Resources Study, are examples, as are predictions of friendly development of basically aggressive and expansionist powers.
H. THE SCENARIO METHOD
This method is a broad-scope planning method for complex environments and includes both intuitive and analytical elements. In the first planning step, concepts of future circumstances or environments (“scenarios”) are visualized. Alternate scenarios are developed for possible alternate developments or decisions of the future. The scenarios are sometimes supported by factual analysis. The presentation of meaningful scenarios, however, requires a high degree of intuition. After definition of scenarios, plans are developed to either influence future development to arrive at the preferred scenario, or to reach a desirable position in the scenario. For example, future scenarios of a certain country may indicate, alternatively, a democratic/free-enterprise or a totalitarian/socialistic environment. Consequently, one may plan to facilitate strong personal investments and public initiative to strengthen democracy or a strategy of a low-profile position and adaptation to civil service bureaucracy. Thus, scenario-type planning is used extensively in policy planning of governments and large enterprises. But the method could be equally applied to personal planning problems. The weakness of the method is in the intuitive aspect of scenario development and in judging probabilities of future developments.
I. CONCEPTUAL PLANNING
This method expands on the scenario method for personal planning. Personal planning is as complex as the planning individual's personality, life involvement, and aspirations. For simple individuals, planning by extrapolation or analysis of trends/cycles/structures may be adequate (for stable people in defined professions, established interpersonal relations and limited, stable environments). In complex, dynamic situations of personal planning, however, the scenario method will be preferable for gaining insight and direction in existence. The conceptual planning method is possibly best suited for personal planning.
Conceptual planning is an expansion of the scenario method. As applied to personal planning, it includes the following steps:
1. Analysis of the present and future environment (alternative scenarios, starting with the large picture and generalities, leading to specifics in a multifaceted view).
2. Analysis of the basic human objectives (starting with the general human objectives, leading to specific objectives applicable to oneself in these times) and personal capabilities.
3. Conceptual definition of a realistic self-image in the future environment (taking into consideration undeveloped potential, as well as personal limitations and limits of feasibility).
4. Articulation of the plan (using any one of the more basic planning methods).
· No one source of insight or approach in thought gives a complete or adequate understanding of existence.
· Generally, not-closed systems of thought, which accept contradictions, are closer to the reality of existence than perfect, single-perspective systems.
· All planning in life must respect basic human limitations or natural motivations and allow for diversity.
· The more sublime one attempts to think, the less forceful are the results. There, the struggle for further elevation of thought becomes ineffective, and the results revert to trivialities. One should stay in one's band of best performance, not too low, not too high. Possibly, one can raise the upper limit of performance in time.
· Between any two perspectives there is always room for one more perspective different from the others and provable by selective observation.
· Intelligence proves itself by seeing a large number of colors in the multi-dimensional rainbow of life. Wisdom is in recognizing the significant one under the circumstances and tolerating the existence of the others.
· The limitation of resources and time force everyone to make timely decisions in uncertainty. This is a matter of personality, initiative, and wisdom – and of modesty, if things turn out right.
· Concentration on the finding and utilization of opportunities permits better coping with the problems of existence.
· Personal mental growth or character improvement, caring service to others (or the environment) in fostering a better society to reduce suffering and improve opportunities fairly for all, and joy about the beauty (and art) in this world are the three basic directions of human life. They are available to the poor and the rich, to the humble and the mighty in this world.
A PERSONAL FOOTNOTE: The History of This Essay
I perceive my own personal life – and everybody else’s – as a miracle of nature. I perceive any form of existence as a miracle. It was such intense awareness of existence that necessarily resulted during the course of my life in all those questions discussed in this essay; how can one understand this universe, nature, and one’s own life therein? What forces are behind these grandiose, large-scale, and very detailed phenomena? Can one find an order, meaning, or purpose in existence? What direction shall we follow in our lives?
I perceive my own life as a unique, one-time opportunity – to perceive, explore, contribute, sympathize, act, and also enjoy. I perceive the life of any conscious, thinking, and feeling being as a unique, one-time opportunity. This leads to additional questions. What can I do, what shall I do with my life? What makes sense to do? What is a “fulfilled” life?
The search for answers to these questions has been a theme of my life, as it may have been for many others. The search began during my years of adolescence. I suffered from the not uncommon problems of trying to understand this world and of finding a meaningful approach to life. It began at age 14, as I had to leave Berlin, Germany, in 1943, moving to Switzerland in the midst of the war, when Hitler was still in power. This period lasted through 1950, when I was 21 and had finished my high school and college years in Switzerland. During those years, I searched through many classic scriptures of wisdom, through scriptures of faith from various religions, through various biographies, and through my own thoughts and emotions. A few of my personal notes remain from that time.
During the following years, I had to concentrate on my work and business. I found some success and happiness in family life. Then, in California, during those very innovative fifties and sixties, I resumed my thoughts about a deeper understanding of existence. To my surprise, the opportunity for an alternative approach to life appeared as I could sell my businesses. Beginning in the spring of 1969, at age 40, I could afford to devote more than a year of leisure, a “sabbatical” year, to personal clarification. I pursued this goal through ample reading, lots of thinking, and talking to many other people. Traveling around the world during that time opened new perspectives from different cultures. I decided to put the conclusions of my thoughts and research into writing – mainly for the benefit of a more disciplined clarification of my thoughts, but also for possible later reading by my sons. I called those notes “What Is Your Life?”.
The writing of those years was based on five steps in the thought process:
1. An initial liberation of the mind from accustomed perspectives – by contemplating existence in a “new awareness” (as explained in the “Introduction”)
2. The formulation of a set of basic questions about existence
3. A search for sources of insight and an analysis of their validity
4. The formulation of answers to those basic questions of existence
5. The defining of some conclusions regarding the planning of a course through life and the practical conduct of life
After the “sabbatical” year, I returned to work in industry. Ten years later, during a stay in Germany, in 1979, at age 50, my sabbatical writings appeared somewhat vague to me, lacking conciseness. I rewrote everything, trying to finalize the earlier essay, “What Is Your Life?”
Now, in my seventies, I live in Princeton, U.S.A., in retirement, in the stimulating environment of the famous Princeton University, the Princeton Theological Seminary, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center of Theological Inquiry, and many civic volunteer activities. At this phase of my life, the contradictions between the interpretation of existence by science and by religion concern me – again or still. Practical life has taught me some lessons. The need for human sensitivity has regained greater significance in my life. I searched for coherence between these different views. Therefore, I felt the need for one more, possibly last round of clarification of my thoughts about existence and personal life. I wanted to clarify once more where I stand and what I stand for – in intellectual and in religious terms – but also in practical and human terms.
Human thought should not be so polarized between the views of existence through the eyes of science and through the eyes of search for a spiritual essence of existence. After all, both address the understanding of one and the same world. Furthermore, both views should be tempered by practical life’s experience and by human sensitivity. Should one not attempt to define and justify a unified view of the world, of destiny, of meaning, and the purpose of life – a unified view between science and religion, in practical and human terms?
This effort led me to a third writing of “What Is Your Life?”. At first, I called it “Understanding Existence”, but now, another six years later, I added “Meaning of Life, Purpose, Direction – an Attempt at Unifying the Perspectives of Science and Religion, Tempered by Practical Experience and Human Sensitivity”. I did not write for an audience, but – as advised by my sons – put this essay on my website and was surprised by the number of “visitors” searching for this theme. I did not dare to burden my sons and friends with the reading of my thoughts – but let those read them who are possibly sharing my concerns.
In the end, everybody has his or her own set of life experiences, perceptions, and, consequently, perspectives on life. An infinite number of perspectives are possible, all different from each other. I did write – and keep doing so – because I consider this quest for clarification of existence the most significant of all the many “journeys-of-the-mind” that are summarized in the various essays on my website. I wrote to put my house in order. I wrote in humility, awe, and even fear in sensing the ultimate mystery of existence – of a transcendental foundation – of God.
Was I able to retain some of the idealism and strength of emotions of the earliest notes? Was I able to keep some of the marveling at the fullness of life as experienced when writing in my middle years? Did I not write too analytically and too humanly detached, after having lived for so many years in an intellectual environment of science and in the world of business? Was I able to combine my ultimate intellectual curiosity with a deep faith in a transcendental foundation of existence – and combine a practical mind with human warmth?
Where did this “journey of the mind” toward the limits of understanding existence lead? Did it lead to enlightened clarification? Did it lead – like so many others of my journeys – from the humanly familiar to the ever more non-humanly grandiose but also to the great and unfathomable and even strange depth of the universe and of existence? Did this inquiry also end in vagueness, uncertainty, even contradictions, as so many others before? Was I able to return with a stronger mind and soul to appreciate human life as it is and to do what I can do with what was given me – during the time left for me?
 See the essay, “Religion: What Is Religion? What Should Religion Be?” in the “Philosophy/Theology Section on the author’s website www.schwab-writings.com.
 For further detail, see the essays, “Creative Thought” and “Mental Creativity” on the author’s website www.schwab-writings.com
 Intelligent Design Theory postulates divine intervention in the evolutionary appearance of complicated phenomena of existence that otherwise are thought not to have occurred. This theory is based on the observation that some forms of life are amazingly complex and “intelligently” designed, and that their swift appearance in evolution cannot otherwise be sufficiently explained. This observation reaches from molecular biology to the poison-injecting teeth of snakes, the human brain, and the functioning of the human mind. Therefore, an intelligently designing force, God, is postulated as the cause. The consequences for the image of God resulting from all the observed cruelty, destructiveness, and extinctions in nature and also in history are overlooked by the proponents this theory.
 See the essay, “Science and Religion: Theology, Astrophysics, and the SETI-Project” on the author’s website.
 Most recently, an Anglican Bishop and the Pope, involved in a serious theological dispute, both claimed divine guidance even though they took opposite positions at the same time.
 See also the essay on “Human Personality” on the author’s website www.schwab-writings.com.
 See the essay, “Science and Religion: Theology, Astrophysics, and the SETI-Project” on the author’s website.
 As indicated before, see the essays, “Theology, Astrophysics, and the SETI Project” and “Religion: What Is Religion? What should Religion Be?” on the author’s website.