Thursday, February 23, 2006

the magical universe

amidst all that's been going on in my life, i realized i haven't posted anything that thought-provoking lately. i thought that meaning of would turn some heads, but i guess not.

one of the things i've realized lately is that getting good conversation started on the internet is an artform in itself. and since i thrive on good conversation about stimulating topics, i guess it's one i need to refine (at least if i'm going to be a critic). i originally started blogging again because of a post on fletch's blog. he tended to ask questions on his blog, and i've realized that this is one of the best ways to start a good conversation.

so, here's a conversation starter: IS THE WORLD MAGICAL?

being at MIT for the past few years, where naturalism seems to reign supreme, i've slowly been swayed to believe that the world contains no special "magic", but instead is composed of only what our senses tell us is there. while this is a valid argument for describing what humans can actually perceive, i believe that such a view is faulty in many regards.

the primary problem i have with such a view is that it assumes that the human being perceives everything. it is this assumption that i believe to be the achilles' heel of modern naturalism. we humans do have five senses, and it appears to us that we are the supreme beings in the universes, insofar as we can tell. but, we overstep our boundaries when we start to assume that we perceive everything that is. put another way (in the form of a question), how can we know that when we look at something, we are seeing everything that is there?

there's a constant pattern throughout the course of human history whereby humans assume one thing about the physical world, only to be shown later, with the revelation of new evidence, that the previous conclusion was false. take for example a flat earth, or a geocentric universe. over time, human beings, through the tool of scientific analysis, have provided us with additional information informing us of what actually does exist, and many times these new findings conflict, or rather destroy, old notions we have about the universe.

so, back to my original question, is it possible to believe in a "magical" world, where things happen that we can't provide explanations for, and still have this view fully supported by modern science? i argue YES. and my primary supportive point is that we still don't know everything that exists. years ago, we thought that the atom was the basic unit of physical reality. now, we know that it's not. i wonder how many more layers of physical reality we'll know about in 200 years.

if we don't know everything that exists, then how can we conclude that miracles are not possible? how can we conclude that prayer is something that is completely contained inside one's own head, and that there isn't really a communication with some other form or being? to operate one's life in such a manner that we assume that we know everything is very dangerous, for it places us on a pedastal of infallibility. many people, both naturalistic scientists and fundamentalist Christians, have placed themselves in this posture, and there continuance in that manner only causes them further damage.

we have to learn to live with an openness to the fact that we don't know everything. furthermore, we have to admit that it's quite possible we (humans) won't ever know everything, because as we discover more, we'll realize that there's still even more to discover. of course, this doesn't give us excuse to dismiss knowledge that we have discovered. even though we don't know everything, it is still our responsibility to do the best with what we DO know.

so, with regards to my original question, i guess i want to ask those who are reading:

do you believe that the world is magical?

do you believe prayer works, even though you don't see any "communication lines" between yourselves and God? do you believe that miracles actually happen, or at least CAN happen? for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, do we REALLY believe that the world can support all the things that the Bible accounts for Jesus doing? do we still believe that the world is like this? i admit that i DO believe in this aspect of the world, although this belief for me is relatively young. i have a full faith that the world is magical, and i'll be happy to field any questions from doubters who might think otherwise.



Mike said...


i am not a scientist, i would say i am more of an artist (fine art photography and constuction - yeah construction) so i can really only speak with authority from that perspective.

i perceive magic all around me. when a scent transmits my soul to the past, or a melody reminds me of some sweeter time - that is magic.

i also think that it is how one is predisposed. i grew up way out in the country on a little farm and you were dependent on the wind and rain and sun and a million other things. there was magic in the soil and magic in the rain and magic in the stalks of wheat and corn and prairie hay. there was magic in the deer and foul we hunted for food and magic in the cows milk.

and there was magic in the sound of the first drop of water hitting cracked and parched dirt.

and there was magic in the old native american haunts and the old barns and the old homestead.

i mean no metaphore here. it was real magic.

also, i would add to the discussion Evelyn Underhill's Practical Mysticism. she makes some of the same comments you do in regard to that what we perceive is only a small fraction of the available information out there and we shouldn't assume that our perceptions are accurate.

kidpositive said...

thanks for sharing that...

the only thing i might disagree with (or "prefer") is that i do believe our perceptions are accurate, just not complete. put another way, our perceptions are limited. therefore, if we take our perceptions as full truth, then we fail ourselves. but if we realize that our perceptions are limited, but true within the correct context, we arrive at a healthier understanding.

Mike said...

i would say that we may perceive accurately and certainly limited, we can't know that our interpretations of the limited info we do receive is accurate.

therefore i would say that we cannot even trust what we perceive.

kidpositive said...

what do you mean by interpretation? does an interpretation change what actually transpires? probably not. but maybe the interpretation of events, and what context we choose to view them in, changes their meaning to us. so, in a way, your 'interpretation' is sort of the story you're choosing to tell you life within.

it seems like figuring out the correct interpretation of your life is something that each of us is doing individually on a moment-by moment basis. of course, with maturity it grows and stabilizes to the point where you don't see large fluctuations all the time. but, it's different for each person. i think that a life lived in pursuit of God greatly transforms that process so that you have a wonderful story to tell yours within (i'm starting to sound like mclaren). however, many people have used the key players' names (Jesus, Moses, the Bible) within this story to craft one that is very harmful to other human beings. theirs is based on self-dominance and control, and so are their teachings.

anyway, it seems to me that trying to live like Jesus, and carry out his will to love other humans as you would yourself, is something that shapes our interpretations, and thus guides us forward, in a wonderfully beneficial (for everyone) sort of way. maybe faith is the process of trying to tell this story on a constant basis, so as to always be refining one's own self (with fear and trembling).

just some thoughts...

btw, what you wrote earlier was very poetic. i really liked it. i think that urban living has removed so much of the natural rhythm of life, to the point where we've lost our sense of seeing the wonder in other things.

kidpositive said...

alright, don't know if anyone else is going to post on this thread. maybe i should have posed the question this way:

do you still believe in miracles?

we profess a faith in which the early followers were apparently capable of miracles. yet today, i would argue, very few people believe they possess this power, or understand how it is accessed. so then, what does that make us out to be? did the world change dramatically since Jesus' time, such that miracles aren't possible anymore? what does that make of us, if we believe miracles could happen then, but not now? this seems to me to be a dichotomy that is largely ignored by most Christians, and yet it is something that forms the foundation of our faith. how can we believe that miracles were possible then, but not now?

Mike said...

i don't think people don't believe they could happen now. i do think that the dynamic of our lack of faith limits the miracles we see. like when jesus couldn't/wouldn't do any in that one town. (sorry can't remember the chapter and verse).

i also think that they happen but we don't see them because we are so damn full of our selves and how advanced we are. i know missionaries to third world countries, and poor urban neighborhoods who have seen miracles, and the demonic, and all that jazz.

when i put the question to them the answer was always the same from all of them. we don't believe we need miracles because we put our faith in modern technology, or we take the word of the materialist science community, or what ever and so we rule out the supernatural.

i think the real question is when are we going to start believing in the supernatural and the other worldly again - over against scientific materialism and the myth that because we live today we are all that advanced and our society has progressed all that much from folks who lived 2000 years ago.

kidpositive said...

so here's my take on it. i do believe that there are miracles. i believe that they are still possible. i also belief in scientific materialism, but only within its limits. i think that for what science can measure, its done an extremely accurate job of measuring. however, i think that science is bounded by the same boundaries as humans, because it is a creation, a tool, of ours. therefore, it is inappropriate to apply science beyond the realm of what it can measure.

i could very easily foresee that in a few hundred years, science discovers the existence of multiple sub-dimensions of space-time. physicists have sortof already done this with string theory. could it not be that the miracles we've seen in the past are really just operations upon a smaller physical scale, and that the reason we haven't been able to explain them thus far is because we've been limited to how much we've discovered?

let me pose this issue another way. what if everything we've understood as 'spiritual' really exists within the physical domain, but just exists in form and fashion on a level that we can't measure? does this make the spiritual experiences untrue? no. does this nullify science because it can't measure these things yet? no. it just reflects the limitations of our own abilities.

the science community has many times overstepped its boundaries by saying that things can't exist unless we can measure them. this act assumes that we have supreme understanding, knowledge and measurement tools, which we know isn't true. at the same time, many people in spiritual communities have hastily discarded the findings of science because they perceive scientists as hating God or some other ridiculous assumption. both sides are at fault, and both need to be reconciled.

we need to realize that the efforts of both sides in this dichotomy are honest efforts, and that the limiting factor in reconciling them is our limitations in what we understand. scientists are not out to disprove God; spiritualists are not out to deny scientific truth. on both sides of the spectrum, we have to realize that we don't know everything, but that the other side is valid and true in their attempts, and we should try to listen to them. only when both sides learn to listen to each other, will we find cooperation, and healthy progress.

Mike said...

sure but what if everything we've understood as 'spiritual' really is beyond explanation and measurement? and doesn't exist within the physical domain? what if there really is a God who does things that are out side of physics? what if there is no explanation for them except that miracles are an act of God out side of physics? what if we need to be more humble in our estimation of our ability to understand reality?

i am not afraid of "science" i just don't have as much faith in it as other folks.

maybe that is because i am an ignorant farm boy from KS, i dono.

i just don't have that much faith in it.

i don't need a scientific explanation for everything. i can accept my place in the cosmos, i don't need to circumscribe and measure and quantify everything to apriciate it, and i don't need a scientific/rational/logical explanation for everything.

i think that hits on the different ways you and i approach things, don't you think?

i think (forgive me for my assumption) i am more willing to accept the superstitious/supernatural where you like to explain/discover the scientific explanation for everything.

i don't think one is better than the other.

honestly it may be a matter of personal comfort?

kidpositive said...

i'm not saying that you have to believe a scientific explanation for everything. i think that different people understand the world in different ways, and therefore it's not a good idea to force people to see things the way you see them. at the same time, because you might not see the world through a 'scientific' lenses, i don't think you have a right to discredit those who do see the world that way, and vice versa.

i guess what i'm trying to get across here is that it's possible to see the world both ways. and our insistence on describing the world a certain way, while eschewing the other viewpoint, leads to division. if you choose to see God as acting completely supernatural, with no correlation in the physical realm, then fine. but stay there. don't take the next step and attack scientists because they found something that disagrees with your perspective. (in noy way do i think you do this...i'm taking a general approach here).

at the same time, if i choose to see the world as having existed for billions of years, that's fine. but i shouldn't use that to attack someone who believes it was created in seven days. of course, if a seven-day creationist started attacking me because i believed the world to be created over millions of years, then i think that person should face up to the evidence provided by science.

i don't think we have that different of viewpoints. or rather, i think that we view the same things with the same sort of meaning, although we might disagree about vocabulary. it is a matter of personal viewpoint. the trouble is when we allow our personal viewpoints to dominate, to the point where we discard the truth that a person with an opposite viewpoint might offer. i think this is primarily due to us believing in a God that is defined by our viewpoint, rather than believing in a God that continually is tranforming our viewpoint. if i believe the world to be created in seven days, and a scientist comes and shows me evidence otherwise, and my belief in God fails, then what kind of God did i ever believe in? the answer: one of my own imagination.

btw, where can i get your email address? there's a decent chance i'll be visiting your part of the world soon. it'd be nice to actually have one of these conversations in person, eh?

Mike said...