A lot of this post is going to be me merely thinking on paper, or attempting to follow ideas to their logical conclusions, even though they may seem a bit wacky at first. I desperately encourage anyone with more knowledge or wisdom in these areas than me to chime in down in the comments section. I’ll update the post with appropriate attribution if there are any important corrections or additions to be made.
The universe seems to be self-correcting. Not in an intelligent way; more like in a programmatic way. Like everything just happens to be the way it is, and although everything seems to be changing near-randomly, there is a practically-infinitely-complex equation that the universe operates on, and every action from the interaction of atoms to the collision of galactic super-clusters is merely a result of this continuous unfolding of the solution to that equation.
Human brains evolved to be more complex because, over many, many years, our ancestors that had more advanced brains tended to survive and make babies. And now we’ve evolved to be able to have complex ideas like in this blog, and to create machines on which to type them, and complicated infrastructures on which to power said machines and save and share this information and re-interpret it programmatically.
Neuroscientist/philosopher/writer Sam Harris has put forward the notion that free will is an elaborate illusion that is extremely difficult to break through. Our genes determine the basic blueprint of our bodies. From there, our mothers’ behavior begins shaping us as we remain in the womb. Upon birth, our brains begin collecting information on the world around us, just as our genes and conditions in the womb have programmed into us. The way we are treated as children, the nature of our upbringing, affects how we behave as adults. We continue learning and putting into practice what we learn. “Original” and “creative” thoughts are connections between disparate parts of our brains, at times misfiring or merely freely associating based on patterns developed by conditioning in other parts of the brain. This equation of a human life is just a part of this universal equation. We cannot help but be any way but the way we are. If time were to rewind a billion times and all factors were exactly the same, the result would be exactly the same a billion times.
On a non-human scale, consider the weather. Wind is simply air moving from high pressure areas to low pressure areas, equalizing. And the various entities moving in the air and water and on the earth continuously through this equalization off-balance. Pressure below the earth builds up and eventually explodes in an earthquake or volcano. This causes ecological and social disruption.
I won’t pretend to have much knowledge of the cosmos or of the micro-cosmos or quantum mechanics, but I imagine this pattern likely continues on those levels.
So what does this mean for our immediate, practical, day-to-day living?
For one, blaming others for anything becomes completely pointless. Everyone is merely acting out their genes and their conditioning. Even Donald Trump. Compassion is the only rational mode of interaction with others. It’s, at present, impossible to figure out who is a “lost cause” and who can be helped when dealing with someone that’s causing a great deal of harm. But knowledge of their conditioning can only help.
And what of God, or the meaning of life?
The idea for this post came about while reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius in a drafty room while it rained outside. The Roman emperor was talking about the logos, and how everything that happens is meant to happen, and to attempt to work against it is folly. I think there are a few ways (some better than others) that one can interpret this idea, but more usefully, one can decide not to fight against “fate,” to accept what they cannot control, to be aware of the effects of their genes and conditioning and those of others, to work hard to act to make things the best they can be for everyone with whom they interact, to remember these facts, to make the most net positive impact possible and limit the suffering that their existence causes.
As for God… nothing I’ve proposed here presupposes any kind of deity or all-powerful being or anything along those lines. The same questions that atheists and agnostics ask of theists remain just as necessary. I don’t have any kind of “faith” in this idea; it’s merely a mental model when it comes down to it. As I’ve said, I’m very open to corrections and alternatives. But I think it is a potentially useful model.
What do you think? I wholeheartedly invite your comments!