G-d Notes continued….
Who is the Face under the Ice?
Einstein was a closet deist. I should explain here that “deism” is distinguished from “theism”. The first is a theological description of deity as remote designer and the second is the classic active, present and involved G-d of the universe. Einstein saw what other scientists have called the “mind of God” in the order of nature and its rational accessibility and organization.
Albert Einstein understood nature as a masterwork of brilliant predetermination, a vast clockwork mechanism to which science was the key. Einstein didn’t live long enough to really address the implications of the discovery that the universe is not as predetermined as he and others thought.
In another set or articles I have advanced the notion that the so called random processes and indeterminate elements in reality operate as a sort of portal through which creative innovation emerges into what otherwise would be a rigid, innovation unfriendly deterministic regime. If a degree of indeterminism and inherent unpredictability are the necessary features of a universe that is capable of growth, then the downsides, the disasters and evils of the world can be accepted as a necessary price of a universe open to ongoing creation.
The theistic understanding is about a personal deity, the creator being to whom we might turn for solace (and even intervention). Theism or “a personal god” was ruled out by Einstein’s monistic, deterministic world view. I should explain that strict theological monism fails to separate God from the natural world. In one form, it tends to deny the possibility if true evil because, after all, “all is of God.” This view of deity was essentially that of Baruch Spinoza (1632-76), the Jewish lens grinder and philosopher.
Einstein and Spinoza shared the world-view that God is revealed in nature, but otherwise remains essentially unknowable. For those who share the deistic perspective of Spinoza and Einstein, God is little more than the remote architect of nature.
I find an over-the-top materialism lurking within this perspective. The philosophical doctrine of materialism holds – in its extreme form – that everything, absolutely everything, is matter and energy and the space-time regime within which matter and energy operate to cause events. There is no real room in this account for moral judgment, a human soul, nor – really – any basis for valuing life itself (except as our own inclinations to want to live lead us to adopt pro-life coping strategies based on a calculation of advantage). The bleak implication of full-on materialism is that all of us who must live in the “real” world of matter and energy can admire the grand design of everything but we can never expect to extract moral information from its designer, much less any help or solace.
But Albert Einstein was also a passionate humanist whose writings about public affairs convey the unmistakable impression of someone who believed in an underlying moral law. This important insight takes him out of the camp of the arch-materialists, and – as I will attempt to develop here – places him on the very threshold of theism, that of the very “personal god” whose existence the scientific world view compelled him to leave behind.
I remain utterly convinced that arch-materialism cannot be the final, complete model of “all that is, seen and unseen” because materialism, itself, must accommodate to the reality of information as an essential operating element in nature. It doesn’t stop there. Information must in turn accommodate the necessity of meaning, in turn the reality of value and in turn the existence of a moral order which is the rational ordering of meaning and value. This is the sort of moral order that is both real and beyond human whim and invention, one I believe that animated Einstein himself. When an alarmed Albert Einstein witnessed the Nazi juggernaut rolling over German civilization, his essays and letters virtually shouted the truth that power does not dictate moral truth. At core, he never lost his baseline faith in the overarching moral law of his childhood Judaism.
I remain personally persuaded that the current century will chronicle the demise of strict materialism.
Talking to Einstein’s Ghost
I want you to imagine a conversation with someone whose enlightened scientific mind is at least willing to entertain the possibility that there is more to life, the universe and everything than the merely material. Let’s call this person Einstein’s Ghost, a great mind resurrected and brought up to date with quantum physics and the information revolution:
“Well, you might have persuaded me that strict, comprehensive materialism is an incomplete view of things. After all, there must be a better explanation of my own mental, moral and esthetic states than biochemistry, electronics and physics alone can alone provide.
“I can also agree that the realm of information is something real, in the sense that it represents some level of existence beyond the narrow mechanical realm. I can even conclude that this realm exhibits rational order (after all, how else do our rational minds that understand it); and that it exhibits a form of beauty because we scientists and mathematicians agree that the notion of theory “elegance” or beautiful explanatory power and economy is a powerful indication that a particular theory is giving us a true insight into Nature.
“I might even agree that the realm of information might hold design archetypes, in the sense of optimal engineering solutions (I think of the streamlined teardrop, fish and rocket shapes). It is a stretch, but I also am willing to concede that these design archetypes could well include the master blueprints of conscious intelligence, again in the same sense that there is probably a set of ideal designs for cognitive processing, awareness, and so on.
“But all this can be said about any data base, can’t it?
“After all, a hard drive might contain the plans for a concert hall, the design parameters and specs for a hundred musical instruments, texts on music theory and appreciation and the scores for and best recording of all of Beethoven’s known musical output. But the data base remains a data base. It is not conscious. It is not alive. You and I can use it because we are conscious and alive. But we can’t pray to it (except as a self delusional game) and it can’t love and nurture us in the way that a living being can.”
The view I’ve just sketched essentially is one version of classic deism, the watchmaker God, who set things in motion, then becomes essentially non-involved and therefore irrelevant. In this view, it is as if the realm of “heaven”, i.e., of pure information or Platonic form, exists behind a barrier of translucent ice, in a pond we can remotely study but never swim in nor taste. There under the ice lies the “fossil god”, the unknowable designer that is only the master design itself, stripped of all personhood.
What is the core problem with this view? The answer is imbedded in our particular vision of what is truly real. It matters greatly whether you see reality as primarily material, primarily non-material, or – as now I do – as a perfect integration of all relationships that ultimately includes the entire realm of matter and energy as a transient subset of the whole.
Now back to our ghost’s main point:
A Reply to Albert:
“Granted, the hard drive is a thing constructed of matter and energy that holds information. But I believe that the information that it holds (here the product of great art, the understanding and appreciation of which imports an entire context that distils values and human experiences from several centuries) is a reality that enjoys a multi-ontological status. By “multi-ontological” status, I mean that the information exists in our conscious minds and it occupies and gives form to what we call physical reality and it fills (indeed constitutes) the infinite realm of relationship and form that contains both our minds and the physical reality in which they enjoy that special state of existence we recognize as mortal life.
“The deist hard drive metaphor is spoiled by the fallacy of reduction. Unlike a material hard drive, the ultimate realm of information has no bandwidth limitations whatsoever. It can hold and I believe does hold and prefigures everything event, including the complete conscious narratives of every thinking, feeling creature who has ever existed or can exist and the ultimate basis for those feelings.”
I’m hoping that, on deep reflection, you will be willing to make the metaphysical leap represented by such a vision of universal information and a reality of which the material is but an important subset. If so, you will have overcome the strict materialist fallacy. By itself, this doesn’t necessarily drive you into a deistic or theistic belief system, but it does clear away some of the most important mental obstacles to a deeper understanding of ultimate reality.
Please stay with this proposed metaphysical leap for a moment longer.
Assume that ultimate reality, at its core essence, really is wholly relational in nature. If so, then what we experience as space-time materiality is a particular set of relational loops, carved out of the whole as it were. The mind spaces of every own conscious being are examples or expressions a special relational state that necessarily touches, incorporates, and includes relational reality aspects both within space time and outside it.
Anyone who has experienced mind space, that sense of soaring beyond the mundane limitations of time and place, enjoys a fleeting but profound insight into the very nature of mind: I submit that we are ontological amphibians; that our minds exist partly submerged in the purely physical but partly emerged into the non-physical realm of information.
I suspect that if you are able to pause long enough to think through the essential questions at this stage, one further insight –that all reality is integrated – might open the door to the solution to the whole puzzle. Here it is: Information constantly changes phase between the relational regime we call physical reality and the meta-reality from which the physical (finite) realm of being is continually abstracted. Conscious being is the venue in which that phase change takes place in space-time material reality.
I agree that this is a great deal to take in. The whole perspective I’ve just introduced took me years to gestate. It required reflection, introspection and self-testing. You undoubtedly will want to come back to this later. But don’t let anyone ever tell you that someone’s belief in a Supreme Being, G-d, designer of the universe, source of all that is, necessarily represents the results of a weak mind or a poor education.
Please stay with me a bit longer. If the ultimate realm of reality is filled with or is constituted of ultimate information, it still cannot be less real than the transient, time bounded universe of events in which we live our lives. I personally find it satisfying, both as explanation and as a plausible model, that the ultimate realm of information exists alongside our immediate experience, and that realm of information and our innermost thoughts and feelings are at least as real as the material realm to which our minds and experiences relate.
And I confess that I’ve long been gripped by a powerful intuition here: The ultimate realm, the ur-source if you will, of all information, cannot yet be fully expressed in the reality we experience at the moment, yet it is necessarily more real than the transient material world of our experiences. Moreover, it contains the master form of conscious being. Such a master form, design, plan or being cannot be space-time limited. In the classic biblical sense, it is eternal, yet present.
These considerations have led me to the place where I am able grasp how all states of conscious being that take place within space-time bounded physical reality, mine, yours, our predecessors and descendents, are local venues of value assertion and creation-innovation. This can be trivialized as just another way of saying that we may value rocks but they don’t / can’t value us; of that we may invent a sling with a rock but the rock invents nothing. But it is also a statement about the source of our values and creative inspirations. They do not originate with us, as material systems, but as information from the ultimate source; we merely express them as we live out our lives in this universe.
Once I accepted that the ultimate information is a source of value, and that the information-source of creation exists outside space-time as well as within it, I was strongly drawn to the implication that the forms and patterns and designs of value and creation themselves came before life emerged in the universe. The emergence of the processes of the material universe that worked over the eons to give birth to life, then to intelligent life then to our very selves was a carrying out of the blueprints, designs, forms, archetypes and plans of the reservoir of ultimate information.
Which then bought me to the ancient religious insight: We conscious, feeling beings must resemble a divine being or archetype to the end that a divine-local correspondence of the contours and nature of being is a simple core truth of existence, much like the observation that a bird’s wing resembles a particular elegant, universal solution to the problem of achieving flight in atmosphere under gravity.
Naturally, the human mind does more than operate in a purely mechanical way. We conscious, living beings have the value-making faculty, and we make decisions using that faculty. Hence we may reasonably expect to locate the ultimate value-source of the universe within the nature of ultimate being, whether understood as person (the theistic model) or design (a quasi-deist model). This took me back to that deist-theist question. Is ultimate being a mere archetype or innate design, or is ultimate being alive?
I first considered what it means to be alive. We living beings generate values. Our most powerful values, as living beings, inherently subordinate non-life to life. When living creatures first appeared in the universe, other parts of the universe became food. When life developed the cognitive faculties of self-aware intelligence, life began to experience the will to live. Non-conscious life became subordinate to conscious life. This is why as a general rule that animals consume plants and not the converse. Put another way, the value faculties of living conscious intelligence necessarily placed the mind at the top of a hierarchy of biological functions for our bodies (the executive function of organism) and as our civilizations emerged as expressions of our combined values, humanity was placed at the apex of a normative hierarchy of our surroundings (society dominating ecology).
This is another way of saying that the beings capable of caring are the enactors of the value hierarchies of reality contained in and originating from the ultimate realm of information. I am now persuaded that it was no accident that the conscious, intelligent mind has developed three closely related faculties that further the agenda of individual life and beyond that, of life itself: conscious foresight, conscious empathy, and conscious creative innovation. [In other articles, I spin out how these core orientations generate the natural moral law.]
The notion that an archetypical meta-conscious being (or its design/form) and our own individual, separate conscious beings occupy parallel hierarchical normative positions within their respective environments/milieus is compelling. Our own, innate value assertions– the survival imperative, life affirmation, the creative drive, and the innate predisposition to employ conscious intelligence to foster these innate affirmations combine to produce a natural normative hierarchy: me over the inanimate; me over my food; my creative activities over stasis, and so on. There is every reason to expect that the meta-archetype of all conscious, living being would be similarly organized vis a vis its universal milieu, ruling over the realm of information and the realm of the material universes alike. In relation to this ultimate realm, the universal being (or archetype) would necessarily stand at the apex of the normative hierarchy. From our frame of reference, universal being (however we choose to name or not name) is the source code, if you will, of the natural moral law.
This is consistent with the observation that the value function of conscious intelligence produces normative hierarchy in a sort of cosmic bootstrap; that life and consciousness-affirming value trumped the contrary value orientations in the pre-Darwinian orientation of pure form provided only that one principle was allowed to dominate: fecundity trumps sterility. This quickly led me to the idea that there are necessary parallels between the properties of the drives and motivations of any biological intelligence and their originating archetypes in the realm of information.
None of this makes a tightly logical or necessary case for the existence of deity, of the existence of actual universal being as opposed to, say, the inchoate design of being qua being. But it is a coherent and reasonable case for the existence of universal conditions that are consistence with a deity-model that is very close to the original Judaic insight of Genesis: Man made in G-d’s image translates to hu-man-s (i.e., as intelligent, biological conscious beings) made (as evolved from archetypal forms) in the image (i.e., in the design-form) of G-d (as the deity/meta-being resident within and outside the realms of information and materiality).
No one is going to be able to demonstrate the existence of G-d (however described or named) in mere words. No argument, however structured, can substitute for authentic experience. Which brings me to a point I’ve made in other articles: We are not without field data on this most important of all questions. The human experience of the numinous is so profound and so common that reports permeate the human narrative from the very beginning.
A compelling sense or experience of contact with a benign meta-personality occupying a deep, ultimate level of existence is so common to the human condition that reports of the encounter would fill an entire library. These reports, which share a remarkably similar signature, once the cultural differences are accounted for, go back to the very earliest of all recorded human experiences. These are not reports of an abstraction, or a purely intellectual inspiration. They are chronicles of individual encounters with a being (sometimes described as a state of being) worthy of worship, one with the unmistakable signature of a caring persona.
These are not described as casual “buddy” or “guardian angel” encounters. The witnesses tend not to describe a visible person or being. These encounters tend to be life altering moments. The witnesses encounter a presence, begin to apprehend the nature of the occasion, then a sense of awe and wonder follow. Whenever doubts don’t intervene to cloud someone’s ability to apprehend the experience, witnesses find themselves flooded by a benign, piercing illumination.
In a reality constructed of information and relationship, the encounter with the numinous level of experience is the encounter with the numinous level of reality. Moreover, an ultimate source of order that is also the source of caring implies that the source cares. Caring, value-generation, a hierarchy that elevates life over non-life, consciousness over its absence, and caring-consciousness over its absence, is a description of attributes of personhood not of mechanism.
I believe that we are making a mistake when we dismiss the numinous experience (when we personally encounter it), when we deny it (after for example we are told about it by someone whose word we can trust) or we you marginalize it (as when we have accepted the account as someone’s sincere witness, but dismiss it). Whether such experiences are discounted on nominally rational, materialistic, or arbitrarily skeptical grounds, we are sophisticated moderns are rejecting primary information of great value.
Now, let me return to the image of a scientist peering through the milky layer of ice, trying to see the outlines of the “fossil God” inside. I want you to really look at that face under the ice. Take your time….
That face is you. It is God who is trying to break through.
A footnote –
Maybe am making the simple over-complicated. Maybe it all boils down to this: If G-d is, then G-d knows. And if G-d knows, then G-d remembers. If G-d remembers, then G-d saves the good memories. And if G-d saves the good memories then G-d saves the good forever, because G-d’s memories are more real and complete than our own experiences.
So G-d is. All the rest is commentary….