Friday, December 11, 2009

Getting Naked

[In the beginning....]
Today I was in the shower thinking about the meaning of it all. I used to think about stuff like that more when I was younger but I gave it up because it always led to the same set of conclusions - that underneath appearances, things are really patterns and processes. But now I am starting to think about those kinds of things again.

It occurred to me once that the Big Bang means that everything has a common origin, that everything that happens is a common process. That the universe is all one big thing, not a bunch of smaller things. It means that only one big thing is happening, not a bunch of smaller things. Or at least that that is one legitimate way to look at it. In our tiny part of it, all life has common ancestors. All living things are cousins.

And our individual lives are not just patterns and processes, in modern parlance they are programs running on the matter of our bodies. Death is when the matter reboots and the program and data ones and zeroes are simultaneously set to all zeroes. Where we go after death is where that email message you worked on writing for an hour goes when your pc crashes. We don't go anywhere. Like your email message, we just aren't there any more.

And at last, in the shower I understood a passage in Spinoza that had gone over my head when I read it. I had thought that Hashem is the universe, the entirety of everything that is, and everything that has ever happened, and the entirely of everything that ever will happen. The short expression for that is the whole space-time continuum from the Big Bang until the end of time. In scientific terms, it is the synclastic infidibulum, or SI.

But I never much liked that formulation because it is both materialist and pantheist. Those are both deadend philosophies and unsatisfying because they don't help one understand things any better than one already does. They don't lead anywhere.

Spinoza described that Everything that ever was, is, or ever will be, as the face of G_d. But that face he said, was only a part of the whole, the way a surface is only an aspect of a solid object.

So what the hell is the rest? What is Hashem? In the shower it occurred to me that the entirety of all that ever was, is, or will be - the SI - is what is or can be known by human beings. And the rest, presumably vastly more, is the unknowable. The sum of the knowable and unknowable is Hashem.

What is peculiar about this definition is that it depends in part on human beings. The boundary between the two realms within Hashem is set by human intelligence and by human history. We can only know what we can understand with our intelligence. And we can only know what we have found out so far in our history.

The common scientific (a pretentious word for materialist) atheist explainer says that nothing is unknowable. In the end everything will yield to human intelligence and inquiry. This is a grand statement, coming from a ground ape. And flatly contradicted by quantum mechanics.

But Hashem in a sense is no different than people. At first all one knows of them is their surface, their face. As one gets to know them better one learns more about them, begins to see beneath the surface. When one develops an intimate relationship, comes to love them, one sees deeper still. One accepts them, and feels their nature more even than one understands it.

I remember one time actually listening to the Jewish liturgy rather than just stumbling through its seemingly endless pieties. And what struck me how emphatically and persistently it expresses the love of life and of the world. Much of our liturgy is ancient, written in times when brutal persecutions and the worst imaginable miseries were not history nor somewhere else but here and now and every day. And it was those very people who wrote that liturgy. How was that possible? Was it just fantasy and escapism? Were they crazy and in denial? No, they were the most reality-oriented people of their time - merchants, doctors, lawyers, scholars, advisers to princes.

I think they must have regarded the pogroms, inquisitions, expropriations, expulsions, plagues, and famines that befell them as we regard the tantrums of a beloved child. Their love of the world ran deeper than the current woe.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:17 PM

    That must have been one long shower.