Monday, May 02, 2016

Is Science Picking Up Where Religion Leaves Off?

One of the most profound questions humans have pondered since they were able to ponder is the nature of reality.  Is reality the sum of what we can experience through our senses and nothing more or are there worlds that exist beyond the tiny bubble in which we live that can only be experienced under certain conditions, like meditation, prayer, psychedelic drugs or the death of the body?

At some point in our past, and archeological discoveries keep pushing that date farther and farther back in time, humans began worshiping the unknowable  — a creator, nature in all its beauty and cruelty, ancestors, the mystery of death and the purpose, if there was one, of our lives. Religion was born as a way to try and make sense of an existence that seemed otherwise meaningless. Early humans sensed that there was something beyond day-to-day survival and, even though they had no idea what it was, began to create stories to explain the unfathomable in terms others could understand, to try and bring some meaning to our existence on this planet.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century. Religion is, of course, still a significant factor for billions of humans world-wide, and, unfortunately, continues to be a source (or excuse) for violence in many spots on the planet. In the developed world, especially in Scandinavia and western Europe, organized religion is losing its hold on each new generation. Take Sweden, for example. In a 2009 Gallup Pole, a mere 17% of respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” However, lack of interest in organized religion doesn’t necessarily mean non-belief. In another 2010 poll, 45% of Swedes asked said they believed in some sort higher spiritual power.

The same trend is happening in the United States, although you wouldn’t know it by listening to the mainstream press or the Republican Presidential race.  Millennials are far less religious than their parents, and there is no reason to believe this won’t continue to be the case with every succeeding generation. So while the beginning of the end of organized religion is taking place in western countries, a second phenomena is just underway that ironically may scientifically prove that the mystics, seers and shamans were right all along — reality is not merely what we can see, hear and touch, but exists not separate from our consciousness, but as a result of our consciousness, and may very well exist in other dimensions.

The work of Dr. Adam Lanza, captured in his book, Biocentrism, offers an intriguing theory about the essence of reality that stretches back at least as far as Decartes, the French philosopher, but, he claims, is being confirmed today by experiments in quantum physics.  Lanza believes that “there is no independent external universe outside of biological existence,” and “that what we call space and time are forms of animal sense perception, rather than external physical objects.” In other words, our universe, our reality, is a creation of our consciousness, not the other way around. Lanza’s understanding of quantum physics far exceeds mine, but in his book he explains how certain experiments are showing that elemental particles behave differently depending on whether they are being observed or not.

Other experiments in quantum physics are causing physicists to seriously debate the existence of multiple dimensions that exist within or along side our own. So science is just beginning to unlock the complexity of what we call reality and discovering that it does indeed extends beyond what we see, feel and touch on a daily basis into previously unseen realms.

My own views on religion and the “unseen realms” have changed over the years. I have been in and out of organized religion during my life, but over the past three decades, I would characterize myself as an agnostic teetering on the cliff of atheism. I never made the final leap into the chasm of absolute non-belief because, like most human beings, as much as I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that life is meaningless and death is the absolute end. And I feel I am even now stepping back farther from the cliff’s edge after being exposed to the theories of Lanza and other scientists.

Let me add a personal observation. Humans are, of course, animals. We share characteristics of all mammals, with one distinction; our cognitive abilities. For reasons that could fill a library, human brains have developed thinking skills far beyond the capacity of other mammals, resulting in great cities, poetry, medicine, and Pop Tarts. Our minds (and opposable thumbs) allow us to do amazing things that exceed not only the abilities of our fellow mammals, but their reality, as well.

So one day I decide I want to teach a cow about photography. I go to a field with my laptop, sit down in front of Elsie, and begin explaining to her everything I can find related to photography. I do this 24/7 for ten years. At the end of this time, Elsie moos and moves on to greener pastures. Elsie’s cognitive capabilities are simply not developed enough to even understand my words, let alone the concept of photography. To her, I would simply be some type of annoying animal making noises. My point is, photography is outside of Elsie’s understanding of the world, so it is not a part of her reality and therefore doesn’t exist. This would be true for all non-human mammals. Even though photography does exist in the same world as the cow, it does not exist for the cow.

So why couldn’t this be true of humans? Isn’t it possible that there are beings, knowledge, worlds, even within our reality, that are simply beyond our ability to understand, and therefore, do not exist to us? And perhaps humans occasionally catch a glimpse of the unknowable through dreams or drugs or near death experiences. It’s exciting to think that science is now opening the door a crack to a new understanding of the complexities and mysteries of reality at the same time our belief systems are losing their relevance.  We may be coming to a point where science will take us to places and realizations as amazing as any story we can possibly dream up.

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