There is an old cliche that says, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Another way I saw this recently expressed was, “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools.” For that matter, I cannot understand how anyone with the least bit of common sense can consider himself or herself an atheist. How can any person, looking through these two holes in their skull with two unbelievably complex devices made of flesh and blood - the eyes - emulating all the attributes of the world’s most sophisticated computer and seeing all there is around them come to the conclusion that when they die all that is gone. Oblivion is not a viable option.
I recognized my mortality a long time ago and my experiences in Korea only reinforced that revelation. My attendance at the Lutheran Church’s confirmation classes when I was about 13 or 14, instead of bringing me into the church had exactly the opposite effect. It caused me to lose all interest and faith in “organized” religion. To hear our minister loudly rant against the Catholics whose church was a block away and then see how he lived in a horribly messy house mistreating his wife and children left me cold. So what if the Catholics played cards and Bingo and held dances and drank beer. What was wrong with that? But, No! We Lutherans wouldn’t stand for that – we just belted our kids and smoked like chimneys.
I met many religious people who I liked and who impressed me. Especially in the military where there were some excellent chaplains. I admire those that so dedicate themselves but I’ll never buy the idea that one religion is better than another. Yann Martel in his wonderful book “Life of Pi” has the aunt of the main character not hear the name of the Hara Krishnas correctly when she first runs into them and believed for a long time they were called “Hairless Christians”. Pi relates, “When I corrected her, I told her that in fact she was not so wrong; that Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”
Consequently, not being able to identify the best one, why bother with any?
Another way I like to express my thoughts on religion in general is thus:
Whether it’s Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, Wiccan, whatever. I don’t care what people believe in as long as they don’t try to proselytize or criticize me for not believing as I do. Some of the world’s biggest and most terrible problems have been caused in the name of some religion or other and are still being caused today with the rise of extremist Islamics.
I feel that true religious persons are totally selfless. These are the saints we should revere and admire. Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi were such. Our brains are wired to be, basically, egoists. A baby cares about nothing else except its wants. The small child is no different; it just takes one witnessing of a terrible two’s tantrum to be convinced of that, somewhere along the trek of our voyage into adulthood most of us gain some degree of conscience and a willingness to think about the well being of others instead of just ourselves, but, that original wiring has a great influence on us. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for true saints to overcome that constant, inner drive and ignore it for the purpose of helping others.
I believe a nun working with the ill and destitute in some little, primitive African village is a saint as is the Marine who throws himself on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades. I don’t believe any Pope can ever be a saint, not living in the lap of luxury as they do.
The notion that avid believers in (and donators to) a single religious concept, that is to a personal God, to the extent that they defile all others, indicates to me they are of limited intelligence. Islamic extremism is the ultimate example of this. The young terrorist is taught that only he and his fellow believers will go to heaven. So, he blows himself up and kills a bunch of non-believers who, I assume, will all go to hell. But, among the non-believers are many who are just as strong in believing they will go to heaven and the terrorist, through his act, will go to hell. And, neither one can prove to any degree that there is a heaven or hell. What a lot of nonsense.
Interestingly, I've noticed that many of my friends who are of my age and with whom I've had the opportunity to discuss this appear to be of like mind and have shown a decreased degree of faith even though having been more devout while younger. But, getting back to my theory:
Exposure to a number of dangerous happenings put the fear of God into me and had scared me sufficiently to make me look for some other answer to what life and death was all about. My first conclusion was that there must be a God. And, secondly, there cannot be a complete disappearance of myself when I die – although admittedly egoistical, this seems to me to be neither reasonable nor logical.
If I’ve concluded that there is indeed a “God”, then what are my thoughts on what or who this thing can be? I’m not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole, at least not in a definitive way. If millions of philosophers and religious leaders haven’t been able to answer that question who am I, philosophically ignorant as I am, to do so. The only thing I can conceive of is a humongous entity made up of some form of energy that is somehow intelligent far, far beyond our limited levels. Possibly equal to the size of our galaxy or maybe even the entire universe and certainly not in my or anyone else’s’ “image”. Further, that we are somehow a part of it and in touch with it. So prayers are possible but not always heard because it is so busy trying to keep everything in order. Does God love us? I doubt it, at least no more than anything or anyone else; there is just too much in the universe for it to be selective in its love.
I was greatly impressed by a book I read in the forties written by a French mathematician, Le Comte de Nouey, that espoused the belief there had to be a God because, early in the formation of life on earth, the basic chemical composition of life forms inexplicably changed from a copper to an iron base and that allowed life to profligate. Years later Isaac Asimov wrote me in answer to my question about this earlier work and disenchanted me completely when he pointed out the author had been grossly mistaken and all life was based on some relatively simple chemical formulas.
In spite of that setback, I still continued to pray when deemed appropriate and looked for another answer. I think I’ve finally found one, at least one that satisfies me. I call it my own “unified theory of life in the universe”.
To arrive at this theory I had to deal with a number of questions that no one seems to have answers to. First there is the phenomenon called déjà vu. I’m sure you the reader have, at some time or other, experienced déjà vu, that feeling of “I’ve been here before or seen or tasted or smelled this before.” The latest study of the human brain has shown that there is something not yet explainable that happens when an incident of déjà vu occurs. Some postulate it is only an imagined memory but that doesn’t explain its intensity.
So what is it? Can it be a significant argument for reincarnation? As much as I’d like to believe that, I’m not convinced it is but I think it has validity in another explanation. The reason I don’t think it can be a result of reincarnation is that this latter concept has a huge flaw – the continuing increase in the world population, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
There’s also the mystery of dreams. I have very vivid dreams, and a lot of them. There is hardly a night that goes by that I don’t have at least one dream, and most often a number of them. Because I get up frequently to use the loo, I sometimes even continue a dream I was having before I arose. They are all in color and mostly populated by people I know or have known – often in incongruous juxtapositions. But here’s the funny part, quite often they are about some person I don’t recognize – have never seen before in my life, at least not this one. The same is true of landscapes. Sometimes they are quite ordinary and at other times very bizarre but many I have never seen before. Where would I have seen these people or places?
Here’s another strange thing. Did you ever try to imagine something as a picture? It can’t be done, at least I can’t. Try it. Put your head back, close your eyes and then try to “see” something (other than the inside of your eye lids, that is). Imagine a purple cow. You can do that but it’s in the form of a “thought” not an actual image. If you stay still long enough you may begin the “falling asleep” process and, lo and behold, pictures start to form. At this point you can simply open your eyes and wake up or you can let the process continue and you may then really fall asleep and dream nothing. It's at this point something called hypnogotia may occurr, an interesting phenomenon I touch on elsewhere on this web site. But first there’s that short period where you do see images and, here’s an even stranger thing, you have no control over them. Try as hard as you will you cannot make one appear that you to want to see nor can you change one. Hey! What’s going on here? That’s my brain that’s showing me pictures but it’s doing so on its own, completely out of my control!
One of the most accepted recent theories concerning the dreaming process states that they are the result of the brain “rewiring” itself based on the events it has experienced during the previous waking stage. Hogwash! It’s true that there may be an occasional event in a dream that appears to be related to something that was seen or experienced earlier that day but, it’s been my experience that these events are rare and most of my dreams have not contained anything remotely resembling something that actually happened to me earlier and can under no circumstances be interpreted as such.
So, let’s take the first step into my “unified theory”. We know that entropy is the process by which all organized matter in a closed system must, through the laws of thermodynamics, change into an unorganized state, i.e., into chaos. Scientists have “proven” that is the case with our universe. Everything we know of is slowly disintegrating into a chaotic state – it cannot do otherwise. All matter is composed of cells and it’s also been proven that all cells - vegetable, mineral, and animal contain energy. All cells can transform energy and when such transformation occurs there is energy released that can be used for other purposes, for example, plants store solar energy and transform it into chemical energy which, when eaten by an animal, is transformed into kinetic energy. When this happens the release of energy resulting from these transformations can be measured. It’s my understanding, and believe me there’s a lot about entropy I don’t understand, that each time this happens there is a little bit of energy lost and no one can explain why or exactly what’s happened to it. It is this action that’s called “entropy”.
Scientists consider that, even though the universe is a closed system, something they can’t prove but only imagine, all systems within the universe are open systems. And herein lies one of the keystones of my theory because in an open system instead of entropy only moving in one direction, from order to chaos, it can move in the reverse. Furthermore some have supposed that this reverse entropy actually consists of that little bit of energy that is “lost” when entropy occurs in such an open system is in fact the basis of life.
Let’s for a minute put aside the fact that reverse entropy may possibly be a form of life and consider another factor. In forming their theories concerning entropy the scientific profession ran into an enigma when one of them, Jamel Slerk Maxwell who is best known for his Maxwell’s Equations of Electrodynamics proposed a series of events that have been named “Maxwell’s Demon”. I’m not going to explain it for the principal reason that I don’t understand it. If the reader is interested there is a very good explanation of entropy and some of these intriguing theories in www.halexandria.org. But what it comes down to is that most physicists agree his proposition shows that “information” is also a form of energy. An overly simplified example is the invention of the bicycle. Walking from point A to point B requires a certain amount of energy. But if a thought results in the creation of a bicycle then the trip can be accomplished with much less energy. Thus the efficiency of the method of transportation is improved by information also and this slows the rate at which entropy is increasing. So, we can consider that information then becomes a form of energy in the sense that information can be used to reverse entropy.
Now comes a real leap. Information implies consciousness so, from the viewpoint of entropy, many feel that explaining away “Maxwell’s Demon” is conclusive proof that consciousness reverses entropy!
From here on I’m going to have to leave some of the quasi-scientific stuff and start supposing. But first, it’s interesting to briefly explore some of the existing “religious” beliefs. Is it possible that sometimes religion comes close to explaining science or vice-versa? For centuries the “church” of whatever denomination you may pick was the center of all “scientific” study. The earliest beliefs of the religions at their peak times almost all believed in a life after death and its continuation in one of four ways – transmigration, reincarnation, metamorphosis or resurrection. The first two are somewhat synonymous, believing in the rebirth of a soul in a new body.
I simply can’t buy reincarnation as a viable answer. Consider the issue of the world population - it has been increasing for millennia. In the beginning there were only small numbers of aborigines. So when they died their essence had to find another home if the reincarnaters are to be believed. Since the population was increasing they always would find another body to occupy but since they were lesser in number what happened to bodies that were born but had no one to occupy them? And if, after plagues and other disasters there were a great increase in released souls and a shortage of new births where would the souls go?
Metamorphosis considers the transformation of a living being into another form of substance of life (as a person into a tree) and resurrection, especially the Christian version, is the rising again to life of the body after death. Both of these are, to my mind, ridiculous.
In the Eastern religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, the general belief is for a soul to go through a number of incarnations being reborn in either lower or higher states of life and eventually, after atoning adequately for past evils, being released into a state of karma. This begins to sound interesting because we’re talking about something called the “soul”, not the body itself.
Plato proposed an interesting opinion. He maintained the soul is eternal, preexistent and wholly spiritual. After entering the body it begins to accumulate bodily passions but it retains, nevertheless, a minimal knowledge of former existence (déjà vu? dreams?). After many transmigrations in several existences and, if it has a good character, it is allowed to return to a state of pure being. If it doesn’t – but you don’t want to hear about that.
Now I ask you to consider why is it that so many diverse cultures all came to believe a very similar scenario, namely, that there is a soul (consciousness) that transmigrates at death and birth (an exchange of energy)? Religions aside and considering some of the modern thought on entropy there has to be another way to explain where “life” comes from.
At this point, to support my later arguments, I have to make an even greater leap – into pure speculation. What’s also always bothered me is why are there are good people and bad people? Why does one person apparently do nothing but nice things and another the most horrible?
OK, I’ll buy that psychiatrists give us reasons for this happening but, other than for incidences at birth or disease or trauma at a later time, as I understand it our brains are physically very similar and that, of course, is the computer that will determine how we behave. If all are basically wired alike what causes one to go haywire and not another?
Here’s another thing to consider, even though we are “animals” our behavior is quite different from all other animals. As I understand it, the entire animal kingdom operates on the basis of the tribe and the alpha male. I’m not sure about fish, but I believe birds and reptiles follow that instinct also. We do not. Animals occasionally exhibit aberrant behavior but this is usually because of a physical problem. But I have never heard of a serial killer amongst any breed of animal. Humans, on the other hand -----!
I’m sure we all have bad thoughts. Even Mother Theresa probably had occasions when she’d like to have killed someone but she didn’t and most of us don’t. Something keeps us from going that far – some kind of firewall. Early mankind was very likely much crueler than modern man. Those early “humans”, fewer in number, had less of a firewall because of their desperate need for survival. Hold that thought for later.
Before digressing I said there has to be another explanation for where “life” comes from. Well, here’s mine.
I propose that reverse entropy is indeed “life”. You may call it what you want - the soul is preferred by many. I think Freud identified it as the "ego", the organised realistic part of the psyche as differing from the id or the super ego. In his natural German he called it "the Ich". When we die that which is this essence of our being is that little bit of energy that is accounted for in the entropitic process as being missing or lost. It floats around somewhere; think of it as going into a pool. It loses most of its identity and doesn’t wholly remember itself as it was in life, as we know it, well, maybe just a smidgeon or three here and there. It doesn’t become amalgamated into the existing pool of energy but remains a discrete bit. At some point in time it is directed by something, imagine a form of Web master, to occupy a new mind. When it does this it may carry with it a very small amount of memory of its past that may, under very specific circumstances, be recalled - hence déjà vu and dreams and the formation of similar religions.
This “bit” of life may have been carried forward for millennia and, if so, is “old” life. At the same time other bits of life that have had less time to exist in a life form can be thought of as “new” life. New life is rawer, less disciplined, less controllable while “old” life is more certain to be placid, understanding and “good” instead of “evil” because of the long time it has had to develop as it recycled through numerous reverse entropy sequences. “Old” life inhabits the universe, as saints at its oldest, and as generally good and well intentioned life forms while “new” life brings into being all those who cannot or will not live in society with peace and conformity. The former include such names as Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, and Mother Theresa. There are many such and there is another Jesus in the world at this very moment - circumstances have just not been appropriate to bring him or her to our attention. In fact there likely are many of them running around.
“New” life can, but not necessarily must, result in beings that are prone to be less caring and, in extreme cases, like the Mansons, Hitlers, and your local serial killer or pedophile, etc., can be outright evil. How else to explain why the master programmer of the system, “God” if you will, would allow the emergence of such life forms? Logic would dictate that a system that supports its own continuance would not voluntarily permit itself to be polluted with substances enhancing its own destruction. This immaturely bad “new” life would only lead to increased entropy.
As the universe ages and “old” life increases and exceeds the number of “new” lives, the living universe will ever more closely approach stability. For those that believe in an ever-expanding universe the result will be an approach to a totally peaceful one for that of its parts that harbor life. For those that are convinced the entire physical universe is collapsing to its original chaotic state, what remains at the end will be energy consisting of “old” life only. In either case there will come into existence some state of being that we might consider as “heaven”.
A funeral prayer begins, “Heavenly Father, you have given us life; and in time we will return to you.” This describes in a nutshell how I envision the universe. When sentient life first appeared on Earth, or, if you’re a believer in the bible, Adam and Eve had their first progeny, the life he or she received was given to them by some higher entity that programs us for the acceptance or installation of that energy controlled by it and generated by reverse entropy. When Adam and Eve died their life energy returned to the pool of energy so controlled and ultimately was programmed to be installed in another new life but it was at this time already a version of “old” life. As this bit of energy continued to be passed on it became older and older and, of course, wiser and wiser even though not retaining any direct memory of past lives. In this way, although there is always “new” life being created the universe is populated by an increasing majority of recipients of “old” life bringing about the eventual peaceful universe prophesized by so many.
I'm sure someone reading this at this point will think, "Aha, but how do you explain the probable imbalance between the numbers dying and the numbers born? With world population constantly expanding is it possible that the containers to be filled outnumber the contents available?" I don't know what the figures show and have no idea if they are even available but would simply have to assume that the total number of humans that have died since humanity appeared on earth has to continually exceed those being born. So, you may ask, where do the ichs, souls, life essences go that exceed the number of containers available. I have an answer for that. It explains the phenomenon we call multiple personality disorder. It's been pretty well proven that these do exist and, in some cases, number in the dozes for a single individual.
Two mysteries escape me. First, at what point in time does life in a person begin. Is it at conception or at birth? Being a proponent of pro-choice I would prefer that it be at birth but, of course, the other could be the case.
Another is the existence of other life in the universe. Are we alone? I doubt it and I think my theory has enough flexibility in it to make it a good probability that this continuing recycling of energy can and does occur in the entire universe. Possibly the force controlling its being meted out requires that, akin to a computer system, the recipient of the life energy has to be programmed in the proper manner in order for it to be acceptable to its recipient.
In fact, it is a must for such other life to exist to account for the all of the original energy released by the reverse entropy that occurred at the birth of the universe, which also accounts for the constant availability of “new” life energy. A new birth of sentient life on a planet of the Betelgeuse system may be programmed substantially different than one on Earth but the process and ultimate result could still remain very much the same. I also believe that the matrix used for such other life would be more similar than not to what we are. I can’t logically believe that, under my theory, life could exist in a gaseous form or based on silica. It is corporal, but may be much different from us in appearance.
Our particular “matrix” in earth forms is amazingly similar. Take a look around at your fellow man and all the various animals on land and sea and what can you note. Almost all have two eyes, a nose, a mouth, ears, four limbs (even fish and birds have them), etc. There are exceptions especially among the insects but ‘Hey!’ maybe their matrix comes from somewhere entirely different.
The noted author and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, “the rash assertion that ‘God made man in his own image’ is ticking like a time bomb at the foundation of many faiths”. But all living entities on far away planets would likely have limbs to maneuver and manipulate, a digestive system to maintain itself with the chemical soup needed to support such a system, and a brain.
After writing the above I ran across an article in the Bradenton Herald where the author questions some of the recent writings concerning the document discovered in 1896 and first published in 1941 that is titled “The Gospel of Mary”. Some have labeled it the “fifth” gospel, in the sequence of those by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and its existence is the basis of that popular pseudo-thriller, “The DaVinci Code”. In this gospel “seven Powers of Wrath” interrogate the human soul, accusing it of being a “human-killer” and a “space conqueror”. Isn’t that interesting? The “soul” only leaves the body when the body dies, ergo; it kills its container in the act of leaving. And where does it go, well, into the universe, or space if you will.
The Gnostics - early secret sects that rejected biblical Judaism and orthodox Christianity adopted this fifth gospel. Gnosticism was based on the belief that the New Testament was a lie and that Jesus and his followers despised material reality and sought inner enlightenment without external rules. The Gnostics preached (1) the future dissolution of matter, (2) the ‘modeled form” of created beings, (3) the soul’s ascending powers, and (4) the extermination of desire. How about that?
So there you have Klein’s Unified Theory. It explains what “life” is. It clarifies what happens at “death”. And it proposes the possible existence of an almighty Being that is controlling things for the better. I think it’s rather neat and am inclined to believe it.
On the other hand, not being sectarian by nature, I can’t help but keep an open mind. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in these conjectures is provable. This goes for the “organized” religions, the most intellectually based opinions of the world’s most famous philosophers and the suppositions of highly educated scientists. So, please excuse my occasionally having thoughts about a possibly different scenario – see “The Long Walk”, “Finis”, "Green Acres"and “Intelligent Design” elsewhere on this site.
(The following was added on 1/22/2017)
I was casually looking through a recent "Mensa Bulletin" when something caught my attention. No, I am not a Mensa, My IQ lacks a few numbers making me eligible to be a member of their Society. However, one of my grandson's is and I occasional skim through their magazines . One of their members had written a letter to them commenting on a recent discussion concerning the existence of a God. He is an author and included the following in one of his books. I'll be more that happy to let you, the reader, know who he is if you wish to contact him. Here is his very interesting comment:
"Assume for the sake of argument that God exists. It follows from the definition of God that God is omnipotent. Being omnipotent God can do anything. In particular, he can create an immovable object, that is, an object that neither he nor anyone else can ever move. Now, assuming that God creates such an immovable element can he then move it? Either he can, or he can't. If he can move it, then the object was not immovable, a contradiction. If he can't move it, then he is not omnipotent, again a contradiction. Thus the hypothesis (i.e., that God exists) leads to a contradiction, and must be false."
Kind of clever - What?