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possibility

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possibility last won the day on June 16

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  1. possibility

    I versus i

    I'm going to try and describe my perspective on the 'I' versus 'i' - not as two sides of the same coin, as Rom suggested, but more like the way we 'experience' the world - as a function of consciousness (I know, Rom - bear with me). With the human brain bombarded by so much data through our senses every second, our consciousness can process only a small part of it by comparison - even in those rare moments when our awareness is fully in the present, as opposed to pulling up data from memory, imagining possibilities or manipulating abstract concepts. So the mind manages a seamless awareness of the universe by focusing only on a small section at a time, and then generically renders the periphery with memory, knowledge, guesswork, systematic grouping and gross simplification. If we think of our awareness or consciousness as a camera lens on a satellite, then we can focus in as the 'i' (the experiencing self) or focus out towards an experience of the 'I' (the experiencing universe) - but not consciously experience both simultaneously, because in order to fully understand or experience the unfolding 'I' as it is, the mind must let go of a number of concepts as illusion, including language, thought, time, objective reality and the 'i'. When the mind or consciousness returns from this experience to regain its 'control' of language, meaning and a concept of 'self' (illusory though they may be), any communication of this subjective experience is going to be insufficient. This is because thinking and writing/talking about what is a holistic experience of the unfolding 'I' must rely on simultaneous recognition of subsets of the 'I' that have been compartmentalised by the mind or defined by language, but appear to overlap, coalesce, contradict and disappear in the holistic experience of the 'I'. As an example, the notion of 'decay' is irrelevant when you consider that there is no loss experienced in the unfolding 'I' - 'decay' is a term defined by the illusion that each subset exists independent of each other: that a decaying apple or a body in a casket, including the 'life' that was once evident and the , is not simply an illusory subset of the 'I' but 'something' or 'someone' 'existing' in its own right, leading to the thought-defined experience that the 'person' who has 'died' is lost and their body decaying, instead of 'living' eternally as a subset of the unfolding 'I' that exists as a 'person' only in the communication of our shared subjective experience.... The 'I' that is conceived as I write this - that each 'i' conceives mentally - is also incomplete in that the subjective experiences we each have of the universe (including our first hand and second hand knowledge or understanding), are limited by the 'i'. We can imagine or speculate on the experiences of others based on the information we currently have, but even the most observant, imaginative and empathic human being cannot fully experience the pinpoint focus of every 'i' that has ever experienced the universe. And so it helps me, at least, to recognise that a complete awareness of the 'I' remains beyond the 'i', but its potentiality exists in every interaction with the universe - that I can approach a more complete and accurate awareness of the 'I' through my connection with others, my attempts to understand their subjective experiences and my recognition that, within that diversity from my own experiences, lies the experience of the 'I' that is missing from my own.
  2. possibility

    How We Form Beliefs

    Sorry, Rom - I don't believe in summaries How did I form a belief that Jesus was born of a virgin? By trusting the source (parents, teachers, clergy, books, etc). I had an almost cloistered childhood - 'beliefs' were synonymous with facts. How did I lose that belief? By holding it up to logic and knowledge. I wouldn't at first - instead I tucked it away unchallenged for years, safeguarded as a connection to my family and culture. This is imperfectly simplified, but I think losing a belief is a conscious action to reject information that was previously trusted - it doesn't just happen when you're exposed to accurate and conflicting information. The mind is surprisingly adept at holding conflicting ideas safely apart from each other...one tied to logic and the other to emotion, for instance.
  3. possibility

    I versus i

    Of course, if they're all blind....
  4. possibility

    I versus i

    No problem, Rom. I had gone back to an interfaith site recently, and it struck me how well most posters here negotiate differences in beliefs by comparison. I felt I needed to say so. As for the analogy, you assume that one has an 'elephant' in one's experience to simply name and have everyone go "Hey, yeah - you're right - it IS an elephant, isn't it?" I don't know if this is the case here. Perhaps if he swings one arm in front of his face and makes trumpet noises, someone else might get a clearer picture of what he's saying. Sometimes precision of language can be more of a hindrance than a help. When you achieve a recognition of the subjective experience that lies behind the words, that's when you get mutual understanding. Meanwhile, I'm thoroughly enjoying the discussion.
  5. possibility

    I versus i

    Joseph, thormas and Rom, I'm reminded of the blind men surrounding the elephant. Rather than comparing and discarding different positions in search of the one truth, you at least recognise that we're attempting to integrate limited, sometimes contradictory and/or overlapping subjective experiences - communicated from different positions - into one holistic understanding. If what at first thought couldn't possibly be flat, broad and solid as well as long, cylindrical and hollow can eventually be conceived of as two limited experiences of one large elephant, then there is certainly hope for these discussions yet... In the meantime, you have all provided plenty of food for thought, and the fact that I more or less agree with so much of what each of you have said at any one time is not only rather confusing for me, but also suggests to me that, yes - you are perhaps not far apart at all. Certainly much closer than those blind men... Cheers
  6. possibility

    Religion - Positive or Negative

    Agreed. I think also the idea or promise that pain and suffering can somehow be averted through religion, whether that promise is for this life or an afterlife, has been just as damaging. Religion has the potential to divide or to unite and connect us. I sometimes think the more solid, definitive or concrete a religion appears, the weaker its ability to unite and the more it divides us.
  7. possibility

    Evolution and Original Sin

    Fair enough, Paul. I hope you get some interest, although it seems to me as if you're hoping for someone who takes Genesis 1 and 2 as figurative, but then Genesis 3 as literal...?
  8. possibility

    Evolution and Original Sin

    Hi Paul The story of Adam & Eve and its relation to sin has intrigued me, particularly since the idea of 'original sin' is not actually mentioned in Genesis at all. Everyone focuses on the eating of the fruit, and as a catholic it was never clear to me what the 'original sin' was. Was it disobedience, eating the fruit, listening to the serpent, recognising their nakedness, being ashamed of nakedness or hiding from God? Below are some of my thoughts... As far as I can see, the story of Adam & Eve marks that turning point in evolution when humans became humans instead of just another animal. In looking at the tree of 'the knowledge of good and evil', what did they gain in terms of knowledge by eating from it? Defining knowledge as 'an awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation', what Adam & Eve gained in particular was an awareness that they were naked. This is a deeper perception or awareness of the world - not of 'good' and 'evil', but of 'ourselves' as active participants in life. Being naked in front of someone else is the most vulnerable a person could ever be. No barriers, no shield, no interface, no pretence. And no weapons, either. Nakedness exposes us to every potential danger that we know: from cold and pain to assault, criticism and rejection. When we are naked, we have nothing to help us deflect or absorb the injury - we must bear it all, physically and emotionally. In evolution, we know that humans are just like other animals in most respects. When an animal senses danger, it responds instinctively by preparing to fight or to flee. But an animal is aware of danger only as a stimulus. It has no concept of the participating self, so it cannot be afraid, and therefore it has no awareness of good or evil. Like the serpent, all it knows is what is seen, felt, tasted, heard, etc. in relation to the response of its physiology. So the serpent also encourages Eve to respond according to her physiology: her instincts to survive and to bring her specific biological system to dominance. In eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve acquire the knowledge or awareness of themselves interacting with life. By knowing ourselves to be participating in each interaction, we are no longer confined to 'fight or flee' in response to threatening stimuli - we can also apply change to ourselves. Covering the body with fig leaves is different to a chameleon who changes colour to hide from predators. We are able to learn and adapt how we interact with life in a way that changes how life interacts with us. And even though it has so many other, much more productive applications, we mostly apply it to try and protect our vulnerable, naked selves from potential danger. An awareness of ourselves participating in this interaction of life brings with it an awareness of our vulnerability, which results in fear of what could undermine our ability to survive, to procreate or to bring benefit to ourselves and our kin, our kind. This fear encourages us to create barriers and shields - to close ourselves off from interacting with life - and prevents us from seeking the awareness, knowledge and understanding we need to reach our potential. Fear also encourages us to classify everything around us on a sliding scale of good and evil. This is for our own protection, of course. The difference between our knowledge of good and evil, and this idea of God's knowledge, is one of perspective. God sees His creation in its entirety, is aware of every tiny part of it and the role each part plays in perpetuating the whole and maintaining a perfect balance. Everything He sees is 'good', because He knows exactly how everything works and interacts with each other to benefit the whole, not just at this moment but into eternity. There is nothing here that has the potential to destroy life when viewed as a universal whole. Adam's perspective of God's creation is significantly limited in comparison. He has no idea how anything works. All he knows are the names he has given to everything, and what he has experienced so far - and that isn't much. He has barely grasped the concept of a day and night, let alone a million years. So the knowledge of good and evil that he acquires is equally limited. What Adam sees as 'good' is anything that is pleasing to him, such as beauty and taste, or that offers direct or indirect benefit to him-self. What he sees as 'not good' or 'evil', therefore, would be anything that is potentially harmful to himself. So natural disasters would be evil, as are any animals that are dangerous to humans, such as snakes, sharks and spiders. The first to make Adam's list of evil, however, is the first thing he notices with this new awareness: his own nakedness. After all, what could potentially be more harmful to Adam than a recognition of his own vulnerability? And the most evil of all beings is the serpent, without whom he would still be in the Garden of Eden. Women, other humans and animals are potentially evil, too - but they can also be beneficial. Even now, with many thousands of years experiencing life and the universe, we classify 'evil' or 'wickedness' as anything that intentionally sets out to be harmful towards, or else indirectly or potentially threatens the 'protected' status of, me or mine - depending on how we happen to define 'me or mine' at the time. Paedophiles and serial killers are considered increasingly more wicked or evil the closer they get to those we seek to protect, and so are weapons in the hands of strangers, devastating earthquakes or tsunamis, illicit drugs and anyone with a strong ideology that is different to our own.
  9. possibility

    How We Form Beliefs

    I don't think it sounds silly at all, Paul. I still feel the occasional urge to 'talk to God', before reminding myself that I no longer believe there is anyone listening. Romansh, I can relate to that sense of belonging, of community, that encourages us to appear to 'live out' beliefs that are not our own, without consciously thinking "does this fit with what I believe?" When confronted with the conflict on a conscious level, though, it's hard to go back to that disconnect. You feel like you're not being true to yourself - living a lie, almost. But in the moment, it's surprisingly easy to keep what we think or believe from interfering with what we say or do or how we act. I hope she has since found a community, and didn't feel that particular loss too deeply. We build lots of 'walls' that appear to compartmentalise our conscious awareness of our own beliefs, words and actions - it's what enables people to cheat and lie, I guess. Denial is a big part of this internal sense of disconnect. The 'fear' I mentioned, Thormas, was not so much a conscious fear of harm, hatred or ostracism, but a need to hold onto the comfort and safety of a solid, known world that made sense - rather than tear down apparent walls that I can't get back. I chose to avoid the risk of losing that sense of connection to my culture and family by closing off any thought of beliefs that might compromise it. I could be conscious of my original beliefs in connection to my family, and conscious of the logic that would ultimately destroy those beliefs - but it was like there was a wall separating them - I couldn't or wouldn't be conscious of both at once. I am still re-routing the connection to my mother in particular, now that I no longer entertain those beliefs. I occasionally sense the gap in our relationship where that connection used to be - but it is what it is, and I know dwelling on that particular area of 'disconnect' will only spoil the connection we do have. Like a wound, it's a little tender in that area on both sides, but I'm making repairs bit by bit - building a new appreciation for each other's sense of God.
  10. possibility

    How We Form Beliefs

    Thanks Paul - I think in order to feel betrayed, I would have had to attribute the formation of my beliefs to others. But these are my experiences and how my mind has processed them that have formed these beliefs and subsequently how I have lived them, just as my parents' or teachers' words and actions are guided by their beliefs, which are in turn formed by their experiences, and so on, until blame becomes irrelevant. At the time, I wanted to crawl back into that worldview where I was able to ignore or dismiss the logic as a lack of faith, to feel the comfort of being surrounded by like-minded believers - but I looked around and wondered how many others were simply rattling off the sounds without thinking about what they were saying, or if they ever had a chance to 'live out' these beliefs, or were they just there, rattling around unchallenged in their mind...
  11. possibility

    How We Form Beliefs

    I'm happy to take it back to the original question, although I am interested in where thormas is headed with the creator-created discussion, because I think he's missed my point somewhat, as the decay, like the separation of creator and created, is merely perception - it's only 'decay' because of the way we 'believe' the system operates. While I am unable to put into words how this has changed for me, I can say that I no longer believe that the word 'decay' fits my understanding of what is happening. But let's humour Romansh and go back to the original topic... I once 'believed' that Jesus was born of a virgin. Born into a catholic family, this particular belief was perceived in my mind as a 'fact' - in much the same way as I also believed that the earth was a spheroid: I 'knew', because I relied on and trusted the data or information I had experienced, because I relied on and trusted the source: my parents, teachers, parish priest, church leaders, and the books, documentaries, etc that I was exposed to. Anyone who said differently was distant enough to be disregarded or distrusted - no reliable source directly challenged either belief, and I never felt the need to search. I was secure in my world. After 12 years of catholic schooling and very little exposure to alternative religious beliefs, it wasn't until I reached university that I had any thought that what I believed might be a 'belief' as opposed to a fact. People I began to care about or learned to trust as a source of information made conflicting - and convincing - arguments, and previous sources were gradually found less reliable or less informed by comparison. But I am non-confrontational by nature (and nurture), so for the most part I avoided processing this conflicting data, and focused only on thinking about or discussing those beliefs that were discussed by my social circle...for twenty years. I believed 'A', received new information, but then avoided the need to investigate, question or wrestle with that new information. In hindsight, I was afraid - I had become very good at avoiding conflict, both inside and out. 'Never discuss religion or politics' worked well for me for many years. I stopped going to church, and my mother, probably afraid to face the possibility that her eldest daughter may have lost the faith, and unable to make a strong argument herself, never pushed the issue. Because I avoided the need to articulate or even think about my religious beliefs, it's hard to say what they were at that stage - because I never had to 'say'. When pressed, my 'belief' would depend on the audience - if I'm being honest. I think fear can play a big part in the formation of our beliefs. I could say that I 'lost' my belief when I stopped going to church, but in truth I simply avoided it. I don't know if we lose a belief until we are asked to 'live out' that belief in word or deed, and find that we can no longer do so. I remember sitting in church a few years ago and starting to mindlessly rattle off the creed, when I realised that I no longer believed the words. It was a jarring experience for me - I remember feeling a distinct sense of loss.
  12. possibility

    How We Form Beliefs

    But aren't you still separating the creator and created? You observe 'decay' because you perceive the individual body, for instance, as a closed system. But if created is the same as creator, then the body you observe is really an inseparable part of a much larger, interconnected system of energy which is not subject to decay. Pardon me for piping in - I have been reading along with great interest.
  13. possibility

    Free Will

    Tough one. I think our language is ill equipped to define what may exist in the universe that is independent of physics and chemistry. So I'm going to ramble for a bit, if you'll indulge me, because I can't deny that there is something... We often refer to it as 'something else', something undefined, unexplained, strange or surreal, a sensation, a gut feeling, a sense we can't put into words. We struggle to observe it, measure it or quantify it objectively, and often dismiss it because it exists only within the subjective experience itself, and is changed by the act of observation or measurement. Perhaps it is that 'wave of potentiality' inherent in each particle, oscillating continually in spaces between molecules, between elements of matter, between life forms and objects. Perhaps it is 'life' in action. We tend to think of the universe in terms of subjective experiences that we can share with others. If I experience something, I know it is real only if that experience is verified by others. The more people I can share it with, the more real it seems. If others can't relate to what I communicate then they doubt the experience, and I begin to wonder myself if I really experienced it at all. This is the basis of science. The key is communication. If I see a flash of light move briefly across the sky at night and disappear, then I turn to others around me and ask "Did you see that?" "See what?" "That bright flash moving across the sky." "Where?" "Over there, above that clump of trees." "When?" "Just a second ago." "Oh - no, I was looking at my phone." "Oh." Then someone else speaks up. "I thought I saw something, too." "You did?" "There was a flash out of the corner of my eye. In that direction." "Yes! It was moving down like this, and then it disappeared." "What was it?" "Maybe it was a meteor?" "Probably. It makes sense." The flash of light could very well have been a meteor, or it could have been something else. But it is an experience successfully shared through communication, and that makes it 'real'. But sometimes we respond to something in our subjective experience that we fail to share or verify convincingly with others. David Eggers' novel The Circle illustrates this purely subjective element of experience, and its rapidly decreasing importance in a world that relies more and more on sharable data. A crucial turning point in the novel comes when the main character must justify her decision to paddle on the river alone, without sharing the experience with others. She is unable to articulate the value of her unique experience, where she encountered a group of seals, and eventually accepts that her actions were dangerous, selfish and anti-social. For those of us who acknowledge the value of such an experience independent of any sharable data, her capitulation at this point is tragic. Society may be rapidly approaching that point where you can no longer trust your own experience - as if you didn't really go on that holiday or swim with dolphins unless you've posted a selfie on Instagram to prove it, and it's almost considered selfish or anti-social to not share everything. But the experience of paddling with seals or swimming with dolphins can't be fully expressed in a selfie, a tweet, or even a conversation. There is an element to the experience that can't be recorded or measured, satisfactorily explained with physics or chemistry, or proven to exist. Admittedly, you won't understand quite what I'm talking about unless you've perhaps swum with dolphins yourself, and even then you may not have been fully in the moment, or your own experience may have had a different focus. I'm think maybe what we insufficiently describe as the 'beauty' or the 'magic' of such an experience exists only in the space between molecules that are actively participating in that particular place and time. You're either conscious of it at the time, or you're not. And once the moment has passed, your memories (the retrievable data in your mind) can only point to the experience without recapturing it entirely. The subjective value of the experience leaves no trace in your physiology that can be reliably attributed to anything other than a 'feeling' or 'emotion', which we then reduce to chemistry and physics. But every possible method you have available to objectively share this subjective value with others feels incomplete, insufficient. Something isn't covered. And yet it is that 'something' more than anything measurable, that has changed you. Your view of the world is different, your decisions affected, even in some small way, by the experience. The closest you may get to sharing such an experience is through artistic expression: fine art, literature, dance, music, sculpture, theatre, film, etc. In this way you can attempt to fabricate a subjective experience for others that approximates your own. Looking at pictures of Michelangelo's David, for instance, or reading a book on the subject, is so far removed from the lived experience of standing at the statue's feet imagining a young man at the turning point of his career, embarking on a task that many 'greater men' had abandoned, using nothing but a questionable method of approach, his courage and his raw potential. The parallels are striking, and the result is nothing short of a masterpiece. The experience is as if thousands of years and thousands of miles were condensed into the truth of humanity carved into this block of stone, humanity in the process of conquering its sense of fragility and realising its own awesome potential. But many people don't share this experience at the feet of David. Does that make mine less credible? If I make decisions based on this experience, can it be reduced to chemistry or physics, or is there something else there? Is inspiration perhaps independent of physics or chemistry...?
  14. possibility

    Shades of Grey

    Thanks for clarifying, Paul. It seems like your definition of 'traditional' differs a little from Burl: it can mean regular, common or usual as well as conservative, orthodox or old-fashioned. This only points out that such sweeping generalisations as 'traditional Christianity' aren't doing either of you any favours. Personally I see the points you made as traditionalist teachings within Christianity, because these types of teachings also occur across other faiths, and undermine interfaith discussions as much as they damage progress within a particular religion. What we try to do with religion is to make the spiritual or eternal appear concrete and tangible - it seems to be the only way some people will accept it as real, because we have learned to distrust our subjective experience. Then we begin to define it, perhaps kind of manipulate it, even try to control it... But it's like trying to keep pure white smoke in a gilded cage. Eventually you're going to have to decide which is more important - the smoke or the cage? I like to keep the cage handy because it reminds me about the smoke when I have trouble seeing it. It also makes a handy talking point. But I'm focused very much on the smoke these days. I know the cage can't confine it - all I have is my subjective experience to share with others. Traditionalist teachings will insist: - that the smoke is only inside the cage; - that the cage makes the smoke precious; or - that the cage is the smoke. But all you really possess in the end is an empty cage.
  15. possibility

    Shades of Grey

    Yes, it does include it, but to 'run far away' from traditional Christianity as a whole is to deny the positive influences it has had on your life, alongside the negative. Perhaps this is an example of the 'black and white' thinking to which you were referring. My own Catholic upbringing has been a factor in a lot of problems I've experienced: my relationships, feelings of shame and guilt, my sexuality and the narrow view I've had of the world for the first twenty or thirty years of my life. It's easy for me to focus on these negative influences, and dismiss traditional Christianity as 'bad'. I did walk away from traditional Christianity from the age of 18-19, but I know now that it never left me because, like it or not, it's a fundamental part of who I am. I came to realise that I am fifty shades of grey - no purest white or darkest black, but everything in between. Any attempts to deny a part of who I am, to label it as 'bad', hide it in the darkness or reject it as something outside of myself only contributed to the shame and guilt that plagued my life, and prevented me from truly understanding (and accepting) myself. Letting go of black and white thinking has enabled me to accept my traditional Christian upbringing as a factor in many aspects of who I have become - from the issues I've had to work on, through to the values I want to pass on to my own children. My kids are now attending catholic school, were baptised and even decided for themselves to be confirmed in the church. With guidance from my own experiences and from my agnostic husband, they haven't been indoctrinated by any of the narrow-mindedness you've listed above, although they've certainly experienced it. But I see the positive influence this 'traditional' foundation has on their developing worldview, as they draw from all the myths and legends of their childhood alongside their experiences and expanding knowledge of the universe. And I have no regrets.
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