I consider it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept, i.e., on continuous structures. In that case, nothing remains of my entire castle in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of modern physics. (Albert Einstein, 1954)
Okay, never mind all that. I knew after the first few minutes that this random string of words would be nice-sounding and soothing nonsense interspersed with some good ideas. I decided to listen to the talk anyways because I figured I might learn something. And I did. What makes religions and their New Age incarnations so attractive became clear in an answer Mamas gave to a question about dealing with chronic pain. He said something along the lines that the first step in dealing with chronic pain is to realize that there is a cure out there somewhere and we just have to find it. Very interesting. The two key ingredients in this answer are: Hope and knowing.
It is frustrating to have chronic pain (or a chronic illness, as I do) and not knowing what you can do about it to cure it. The not knowing can feel very threatening and it is a lot easier to simply think that the answer is out there somewhere if I only look hard enough. Well, that answer might not be out there – accepting that would really be the simplest solution because then we can stop looking and stop focusing on the pain (or the illness). I don’t know what caused my hypothyroidism. Maybe it was the radiation that I was exposed to after Chernobyl. Probably not but it would be so much more satisfying to know what caused it rather than being in limbo. Yet, I have it that’s really all that matters (to me – if I were a scientist studying the thyroid, I’d want to dig into this). As soon as I accept that I just don’t know, I can move on instead of spending countless hours trying to find an answer that’s probably not out there anyways. Granted it might be easier to move on since I don’t have chronic pain reminding me of my condition but acceptance of not knowing what caused it or what can cure it is also important (ironically, despite several commentators’ claims that I didn’t know what I was talking about when I was critiquing the Second Noble Truth, I do agree that we can make our physical ailments worse by remaining attached to being pain-free, having a healthy thyroid, or whatever. That attachment can certainly make the pain worse. But there still is physical pain – it’s not all in our attachments… But I digress). The same is true with emotional or psychological pain. After my divorce, I was torturing myself with the question “why the heck did I marry that guy?” It took me years to realize that it’s okay not to know the answer. Sure, I had some ideas but nothing that felt like The Truth. And that was totally okay. I could simply accept that I didn’t know and move on. Similarly with death: Why did my grandmothers die when they did? Why did my friend die when she did? I have no idea! They just did. End of story. That doesn’t make loosing them any easier but at least I don’t spend time trying to figure out why god allowed it (see Act Two for someone who was desperate for an answer).
I have a hard time understanding why this not knowing is so scary but it must be. Religions and spirituality seems to revolve around answering this by replacing the not knowing with their answers: It’s because it was god’s will; or because we’re all sinners; or because of karma. Now we know. Or at least think we do. Somehow believing a lie is easier than facing the truth of not knowing. Things happen for no reason. Tough. Now move on with your life. (I guess this is why atheists are accused of being cold. But to me, it’s much more honest than to come up with some sort of convoluted answer that – ultimately – is a lie. Lying seems cold to me, especially when that lying is rather profitable).
The other piece is the hope part. Mamas talked about how we can clean the universe by purifying our hearts. Uhm, no, not really. It’s not going to hurt much if we purify our hearts but that’s not going to do anything to pollution. Changing the way we live will but we don’t know exactly how; nor do we know that changes we make really will have an effect, though we have some good reasons to believe they will but no certainty. But in the religion/spirituality world, it is clear: We can save the world if we just pray or meditate properly. Maybe this is just the flip side of the not knowing coin because hope is really a way to push away the not knowing. I could pretend as if recycling makes a difference. I suspect it does but I am not certain. But I can act as if it does.
There were times during Mamas talk when I was wondering why the extra step toward god/consciousness was necessary. We’re all interconnected (through evolution, not through fields, as he seems to be claiming – sorry, I got lost sometimes). That doesn’t require any god or consciousness to be true. But this doesn’t answer the big why: Why did this all happen? Who knows! There are hypotheses out there but ultimately, we really don’t know (at least not yet). So what? Putting a sky daddy on top of it all is only necessary if we have to have answers; if we cannot live with not knowing; if we need certainty.