Monday, June 6, 2016

Confession of a Metaphysical Atheist

I'm not sure if that title is quite right; but I'm not sure how else to say it. In just about any conventional sense you can frame, I don't believe in God. Nor then, do I believe in Satan; this should go without saying, but there are people who've convinced themselves they can somehow have it both ways. Why don't I believe? It's not for lack of societal pressure, I can tell you. It's simply that it doesn't really make sense to me. I don't believe it because I can't.

Regarding larger cosmology: the idea of a universal being or mind which is solely or primarily concerned with us is preposterous to me. The universe is just too big for us to be of primary concern to something in charge of running all that.

I could see the possibility of a more localized non-physical (not matter-encumbered) system somehow looking out for us or keeping things running smoothly; but to think that we actually understand the workings of such a system, based on our limited and one-sided knowledge of what it might be, is equally preposterous to me. I would say it makes a lot more sense to start with sociology and history, and understand reasons why belief systems might have taken the forms they did, reasons which have more to do with immediate earthly influence than with what may have been at the core experience of their prophets and saints.

Mystical (contemplative) experience is one thing; religion is another. And religion is essentially sociological. It is the product less of a mystic, and more of a social response and resulting framework for the mystic's observations. It is always destined to depart from the meaning of mystical experience, and head in directions never intended by its core observer. Internal and external methods of governing are incompatible. Where one flourishes, the other inevitably declines.

Because religion involves the social, and as such is not particularly mysterious to me; and because it is near and dear to a good number of people in my life who are very important to me, I have chosen to not go further into that than I have just done, and I'm not interested in ridiculing or tearing down belief. People's beliefs are their own business. Belief only becomes my business when it impinges on me. My friends aren't like that. Were they to become like that, they would not stay my friends for long. Understand also, that by stating my lack of belief, I am not "going after" my friends or family or anyone, really. It is not my business to tell anyone else what to do or think, if they are doing no harm.

As I have said elsewhere, I believe the word "supernatural" should be thrown out of the dictionary. It too does not make sense. There is nothing above or outside of the natural world. It either exists or it doesn't. It may fall outside of our knowledge, but that's different. There is the explained, and the unexplained. Unfortunately, there is also the "explained away". And it's there that this article will soon go, because I have a big problem with this. It's a problem that has everything to do with science and nothing to do with "belief".

I forget who said "Belief atrophies the mind", but it's a good quote. You may remember the poster in the office of the show "The X-Files", the one with the picture of a UFO on it, and underneath it the words, "I Want To Believe". Here's the thing: I DON'T want to believe. I don't need to believe. I want to KNOW.

Throughout my life, seemingly through no fault or intent of my own, I have run face first into odd things. Over and over and over again. I am convinced that many of them have explanations beyond the simply psychological, and beyond coincidence. Because my efforts to ignore such events, and thereby make them go away have been unsuccessful, I have spent years studying what literature was available to me. I have paid very close attention to the details of my own experiences, in an effort to learn and understand. I don't "believe" these things happened. I know I experienced them. On what level and to what extent they are physically real, and not a product strictly of psychological processes, it has not always been easy to say. In order to explore that, I have had to be both objective and open-minded, willing to be self-critical as well as having a critical eye on my sources. This is not an easy way to go, but it's a must. It is uncomfortable to lay a trap door under yourself-" I know x, y, and z, but I may be deluded just the same and everything I know may be wrong and I might be nuts".  I see no other way to keep one eye always open for the truth. That said, you would have to prove to me how and why I am not in my right mind. The interest alone is not enough, nor is the sense that real things happened.

Some people may be critical of my insistence on the validity of subjective experience. I believe all science and knowledge and exploration starts there." Observation! It's what's for breakfast". But because observer will almost always have some effect on what is reported as observed- in other words, acting as a filter of the objective experience- I do not believe you can get by entirely without taking the observer's psyche and biases into account. These things don't always influence the observation. But they can, certainly, and need to be figured in, to form as complete a picture as possible. This is especially important when dealing with things that can't be physically observed at will, repeated in a lab setting, etc.

It also means that the unremitting bias of many skeptics must be considered as important as that of any starry-eyed believer. Unless you can treat an unknown as just that, you are at a huge loss when it comes to having what it takes to find the facts. I was disappointed to discover that the SPR (Society for Psychic Research) had an agenda to go along with their telepathy experiments: they were searching for proof of the soul. Feh! Just focus on establishing facts! One thing does not establish anything else, that's a different set of experiments and proofs. It did the entire field a disservice and cast a very bad shadow on what was otherwise some really useful and good work. On the other side of things, you had the French Academy of Sciences denying the existence of meteors all the way up to late 1700s. This, despite massive physical and observational evidence; or medical science's initial resistance to recognizing the existence of micro-organisms and the need for sterilizing techniques before surgery. It seems very real and natural now, but the idea was first met with much derision by the medical and scientific communities.

Often, criticism will come regarding these "unknowns": they make no scientific sense, there are no known technologies which can do such things, etc. Such criticism ignores a very simple fact- we don't know everything. If something is observed repeatedly, by people all over the world, people with different cultures and different sources of influence, and have been observed in much the same way for centuries, I contend it's not wrong to assume there is some basis in fact for it. It does not disprove anything to say that we do not currently understand them. And it proves nothing to say that because we have no proof such things are possible, that such things cannot happen, and the observers are all liars, delusional, or dishonest. How then, to handle such things? Examine the extant reports and theories. Collect and report new data. And theorize anew, because we know more know than we did, say, a hundred years ago. Know where the line is between speculation and something repeatable under controlled conditions, and act accordingly. And remember that things which are now proven were once speculations too. Last, never, ever, get so attached to one explanation that you become unwilling to keep an open mind to new info.

So it is the non-religious, odd experiences that interest me. Telepathy, precognition (and other time-related phenomena), remote knowledge/viewing- these things have all seemingly happened to me at various times. My experiences have forced me to theorize, because they were intense enough that I could not simply let them go. I hold out no hope of converting anyone, but if I open a mind here or there, that would be nice.

UFOs interest me. I had a sighting in 1979, and it was not a high-flying amorphous dot of light in the night sky. It was very visible, and very obviously not any kind of conventional craft open to common knowledge. I do not have an explanation for what I saw. I have speculated a lot, as is natural when faced with an unexplainable experience. I do not automatically equate UFOs with space visitors. I honestly do not know what they are, and feel good in stating my lack of knowledge clearly. I wish others would do the same. A guess is not proof. The one thing I detest more than automatically assuming these things are from outer space is that they are all hoaxes, misperceptions, or the products of overactive imaginations. Read the literature amassed over the last 70 or so years- the best of it, the rest of it, as you like- and you will see: something has really been happening something beyond the psyches of the witnesses. We don't know what, but that doesn't mean anything beyond itself. There are definite patterns, some of which have never been particularly obvious, in an "everybody knows those stories" kind of way. There are almost as many theories as there are theorists.

A parting, summarizing note now. Not believing in God does not mean I believe we know everything. We most certainly do not. I think a realistic approach to things formerly and wrongly painted with the brush of "unreal" is a worthwhile thing. I do not want to believe. I want to know; to the best of my abilities, limited though they are. I'm fine leaving questions open until thoroughly answered. That's exactly as it should be. That does not remove the questions. It only challenges us to keep looking for answers.

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