The Inconceivable Nature of Reality
What is God?
What is consciousness?
What is the fundamental nature of reality and what role does science, religion, physics, philosophy and mathematics play in understanding it?
These are questions a friend of mine asked the other day but ones I have asked myself throughout life. This is the expansion of my reply.
I have often thought about what it means to be a conscious being and continually refine my world view based on life experience, science, the humanities, pattern recognition and inner awareness. However, I know I will never know the true nature of reality. All I can do is get closer to it and at the same time allow myself to be fascinated by the complex, beautiful and inconceivable nature of it.
To me, the universe is governed by guiding principles driven by mathematical rules. Otherwise, there would be no system to manage the increasing complexity, no balance and no trajectory for life to trend towards. As with systems thinking, if you want to understand a complex system, look at its behaviour over time. That gives you an indication as to its nature. You can apply this thinking to financial markets, humans and even to the universe itself.
We see that the universe expands exponentially with time, that all forms of consciousness grow over time, that you get increasing biological complexity and diversity over time, that entropy increases with time, that mathematical rules govern the running of reality, that matter is a form of energy and the product of excitations in the fundamental fields and that a quantum field (the Higgs) permeates all of space. So that gives an indication as to why the universe exists and how reality perpetuates itself somewhat autonomously over time.
Matter makes up less than 5% of the universe with 27% dark matter and 68% dark energy comprising the remainder. The scientific method is a system of inquiry that produces knowledge, not necessarily fundamental truths. This knowledge is the best we know to date based on what is measurable in the material world and how we choose to interpret these results with our current level of human understanding.
If we don’t understand over 95% of the universe, if we can only measure a small part of the light and sound spectrum, if we don’t understand how consciousness originates, then it is clear it is difficult for us to ever understand the true nature of reality. We can refine our model of understanding but we will never have a definite answer. The atom was named after the Greek word atomos, which means “indivisible.” With scientific advances, over time we found that it was not the indivisible unit we thought it was.
As such, our view of the nature of reality continuously evolves and requires an open-mindedness, a willingness to be wrong and a curiosity for greater understanding. A humble acceptance that there are certain things beyond our comprehension. You can somewhat ‘believe’ in the scientific process as being the most reliable method for knowledge production to date, but you can’t ‘believe’ in science itself for it’s knowledge is a perpetual work in progress.
Religions completely oversimplify the nature of reality. Maybe they are needed to create hope, to guide the values of society, to attempt to answer some of the deeper questions of life and to create a relatively simple, communicable version of reality. Physics isn’t exactly the easiest thing to communicate. They may be derived from what some person, at some point in the past felt was their divinely inspired truth, but you lose a lot of the original meaning with translation, interpretation and manipulation for reasons of power. For it is powerful to be able to influence the ethics, morals and world views of society.
Language is also limited and prone to misinterpretation. In order to truly read, you need to understand the language in context of the word choice of the writer, the societal context it was written in and the structure of the language. Language structure, word choice and grammar also varies across languages so it is difficult to translate.
It is impossible to translate poetry to another language as the very act of doing so changes its meaning. Therefore religious texts, which are usually written in quite a poetic way that is open to interpretation further lose their original meaning as they are translated across languages and endlessly interpreted by disseminators of that knowledge.
How literal is the intent of the writing? What is actually intended as a metaphor? Why do certain myths resonate with our psyche? What questions does it actually ask us to think about?
They may provide guidance, accumulated wisdom, tools for self exploration and a sense of community but they are not flexible enough to account for the uniqueness of every individual. To allow for the open exploration of a persons own nature and curiosity. They are mass market membership products with set rules, customs, benefits and consequences. They take the full weight and responsibility of meaning creation away from an individual so that they are free to focus on what society deems as more important.
It is not surprising that the value of the humanities as a career path and social interest diminishes the more capitalistic a society is. For in many ways, this sort of society doesn’t require too many critical thinkers or philosophers, rather people who can execute and manage systems. If we don’t value a human life beyond what it can output on a market and see nature as a commodity for extraction, then our health and quality of life are eroded.
It follows that we don’t commonly talk openly about the nature of reality, consciousness or our world views. Most people talk about these topics only through the filter of their religion which is usually tied to their identity, making it difficult to have a truly open conversation.
However, each human life is a unique experience as no other person in history would have gone through the same sequence of events. We exist in a moment in time. If we are to live to our fullest potential, completely in the present rather than the past, we need the flexibility to derive our own tailored guidance systems. Our own nuanced interpretation of what gives life hope and meaning. What values we should live and die by.
Otherwise we are reliving someone else’s. Some other human created system. To constantly live by someone else’s life principles is to deprive yourself of your innate nature. You know yourself better than anyone else as you are the one living through your own awareness. You are the one who has experienced, every thought, dream, emotion and moment in your life. Others may think they know you and often like to judge your life choices but everyone has in internal compass or gut instinct if you will.
It is not irrational to follow your gut, for following only conscious thought is using a limited part of your consciousness. It suits certain tasks better than others. If our thoughts are in language then it is restricted by language. Try describing a colour! Your subconscious has kept you alive, encapsulates a broader spectrum of information and includes your range of senses and emotions. It combines both describable and indescribable experience. For example, your dreams are not able to be rationalised on pure logic but they have a powerful influence on your subconscious which might influence your decision making. In a way, they are simulations we run every night, within the relative safety of our minds. A sandbox environment.
It is not to say we shouldn’t learn from or be inspired by the great thinkers throughout time, the poets, philosophers, scientists and religions. It is not to discredit the systems of self inquiry and discovery that have proven to be beneficial across time. Meditation is such an example. However, living dogmatically through someone else’s lens in every aspect of your life from what you think, wear, value and associate restricts the fullest expression of yourself.
Religions have persisted through time, the majority of the world believe in one and they are intertwined with the human experience to date. It is interesting to look at them with an open perspective and learn from their system of propagation. To look at the useful morals they may hold, the enduring symbolism of their storytelling, at what they provide people and their multichannel methods of dissemination and influence in society.
To look at the way they organise and structure themselves and the arguments they each use to justify why theirs is the irrefutable truth. To look at the process and benefits of membership as well as the mechanisms of threat and fear they employ. To look at the way they conduct ritual and ceremony. The way they create community and allow individuals to show their group affiliation. The way they translate across cultures and languages.
There is something to learn and something they teach us about ourselves. Our ever-present need to understand the inconceivable. However, based on the sheer complexity, scale of life, limits of science and interconnection in the universe, it is illogical to think that you can ever understand the true nature of reality. It would also remove the fun, mystery, exploration and growth of life if you did. For if one is not given all the answers, they are free to use their imagination to play with the puzzle of life.
There is however, a critical distinction between religion and spirituality. Spirituality is about deepening your relationship with life itself. The relationship you have with your inner and outer self, with others and with the universe. It is still attempting to answer many of the same questions but with much greater flexibility and self reflection.
Every human being is unique in their life experience. They are changing in every moment. With every experience. Spirituality allows for greater self discovery and personalised meaning creation in a way that religion does not. Religions may have originated from different systems and interpretations of spiritual exploration but it has been tainted by egotism, closed mindedness, group thinking and power. In many ways, it prevents people from expanding their field of awareness and creating personalised meaning.
We tend to think of the world through our own human centered perspective. We start at the big bang and automatically ask what created it. Does it need a creator? It would seem so based on my human logic, but again it’s just based on my limited knowledge of how the universe works. We do know that particles come in and out of existence in empty space so it seems like it’s a fundamental property of space. Without any form of consciousness to perceive reality would reality even exist? Science may be able to predict how our universe started, but can it ever tell us why it was created or who or what it was created by? Could there be multiple universes which we can not observe? It is likely beyond our level of consciousness.
I don’t like to use the word ‘God’ as it has too many connotations. Religion is man made and so is our concept of God. God has been humanised and reduced to a more relatable, communicable presence we feel we can communicate with in order to make existence more approachable, hopeful and comforting. God is usually some sort of masculine, divine being that acts like a genie, a fortune teller and an all knowing superhuman being. God has been commercialised to make him more relatable to man.
I guess that’s the double edged sword of having a greater level of consciousness. The ability to think deeply is in many ways a blessing and an eternal curse. The need to make sense of our existence and demise as individuals, as a species and as a planet in an overwhelmingly large universe. In many ways we are completely insignificant in the scale of the universe whether you look at it from the level of an individual, species, planet or solar system.
Yet we are still here. We are the only known intelligent life in our observable universe to date. All the conditions for planetary life are met. We are conscious. We can think, we are aware and we can feel. There is something miraculous, supernatural and divine about our existence which religion attempts to understand in a way conventional education does not.
The creation of religion and God tells us something about human nature. That knowledge and nutritional sustenance alone are insufficient to nourish humans. There is a deeper drive for greater intimacy and wisdom in understanding meaning, love, purpose, beauty and our own mortality. Eternal questions that are never truly answerable for they can not be captured in form. Art, poetry and music attempt to capture a hint of the divine, the non rational that makes up a human yet can never do so in a definitive way.
God is broken. At least the traditional notion of what society thinks of as God. The God that I was taught to believe at the Catholic school I attended.
I typically say infinite, universal or super consciousness to refer to my concept of ‘God’, but for simplicity I will use ‘God’ henceforth. I define God in a completely different way. I guess I’m spiritual but not religious. I recognise my innate individuality and allow myself to pull from all forms of inner and outer knowledge in order to create a personalised, deepened understanding of my self, my consciousness and my connection with the universe. I guess I’ve created a ‘religion’ for myself, except my views and values are constantly evolving and not tied to my identity.
God is all. God is nature. God is everything including you and me. God could be a supercomputer. God could be some type of super-consciousness. God could even be an intelligent alien species running simulations. There could be multiple gods and universes. They could all be running simultaneously.
I don’t know and won’t ever truly know.
My God or understanding of nature, is just my best attempt at making rational and non rational sense of reality. All I can see is that the universe appears to run on fundamental mathematical rules. God is the universal guiding force of nature as well as nature itself. God is the ultimate conscious force driving reality. The ordering force of the universe.
What I see is that everything is interconnected and influencing one other. I am conscious. There are universal emotions and needs for hope, beauty, love. Over time, all forms of consciousness grow. Over time, the universe expands exponentially. Over time, there is increasing biological complexity and diversity. That guiding principle of growth in spite of entropy is the common thread connecting all life. It gives an indication as to the reason consciousness and life itself exists.
Why do we choose to love when the people and things we love the most will eventually leave us? Why do we choose to get out of bed everyday and better ourselves when we know we will die? Why do we undertake space exploration and interplanetary settlement when one day the universe will no longer support life? There must be something inherent about growth and the reason for life as growth is directly tied to the passage of time.
In order to understand the growth of our consciousness we need to define it. I define consciousness as the level of awareness of one’s own existence. There’s a spectrum of consciousness and we are not the tip of it. I’ve developed this meaning as I wanted a universal definition that would reflect the consciousness of various forms of life. An amoeba is conscious. So is a worm, a dog, a monkey, a human and beyond. They are conscious as they react to their environment, process information and have some level of understanding of their existence.
The depth of their understanding is linked to their understanding of their inner and outer selves, their relation to others within their species, to other forms of consciousness and with nature itself. The greater their consciousness the more they can alter their guiding principles and shape their existence.
By that definition, ‘God’ would be some sort of universal cosmic consciousness whose influence can be seen in the algorithms and mathematics that form the basis for the propagation of reality as well as the innate drive of all forms of consciousness. God is the guiding force of the universe, creating order within the endless cycles of growth and destruction, life and death.
By the same definition, you can differentiate between the level of consciousness within a species. One that has a deeper understanding of themselves and their connection with the nature of reality is likely to have a higher level of consciousness. An amoeba may be conscious as it reacts to light for example but I doubt it is pondering the meaning of life. Humans can vary in their level of consciousness based on their depth of understanding reality.
In many ways, every consciousness is a creator, co-creating reality. However, what we are able to create is limited by the rules of reality itself. What is it that creates the rules of reality?
Does consciousness arise from matter itself or is there an immaterial soul?
If a field permeates all of space, could each of our consciousnesses be connected? If so could our unified field of consciousness be shaping or refining the algorithms by which reality is governed?
Perhaps reality is some sort of interconnected, quantum feedback loop optimising for some form of growth. The scale of which we can’t see as we are in the loop itself and influencing it.