Monday, July 10, 2006

The brainsucking starts at 3PM

I asked God about this one. He says my writing it has His blessing, but only if everyone is told up front that it is my maniacal, paranoid delusions, not prophecy. Duly noted, I trust God. But how does He know? Was He satisfied just asking His God?

A downside to considering every possibility for God is that there are so many sinister possibilities. When I was as scientific as any of my colleagues, the worst the universe could be was indifferent. Very bad things can happen out of indifference. I could wander into the territory of some beast that sees me as food, indifferently compared to whatever else he might eat that day, but torn apart and eaten just as well. Most of us think we can avoid such things. All of our ancestors did, at least until they reproduced. Our experience with such terror tells us if we stay away from inhospitable places, we will avoid it. An indifferent universe is manageable, at least up to the day the asteroid hits, but until then we are free to do what we can.

To one who starts asking questions, though, you don’t have to be paranoid to believe that things are not what they seem. It wasn’t in a single moment that I decided the traditional description of God was wrong, not as some who watch the protracted, painful illness of a child and change their mind about God. I suppose I just knew that science made sense and the Bible didn’t. The former was constantly verified for me. The latter was constantly at odds with what went on around me.

Yet science is lacking any knowledge of the ultimate reality. There is considerable detail in the here and now that science provides, so one can put off its ignorance of the ultimate origin of the universe, its ultimate fate and whether the brain really accounts for every bit of consciousness. If one just believes that there isn’t much of a story to tell about those things, that whatever the ultimate story is, it is something mechanical that makes no difference to us at all, then one can feel secure that the universe is indifferent and go about one’s business, as many do.

Other people go their entire lives without finding anything wrong with traditional religion. If they become aware of some tension between reality and religion, there are a lot of apologetics that paper over such tensions for whoever wants them to go away. You just snip your image of God this way, tuck it up that way and voila, everything looks fine, if you don’t look too hard. It’s not just science that creates tensions, but science goes farther than say the problem of evil to blow away religion in terms of explaining the physical world. Sin causes disease? Oh come on, not any more it doesn’t. One can list a slew of factors that cause any disease, and sin is rarely there. Even if one makes a big deal of addictions and sexual diseases, it’s never just a matter of sin. Good people sometimes get sick. Bad people don’t always get sick.

Yet if you look too closely at science, there are problems there, too. People propose a lot of miracles that are beyond science to explain. Usually someone with experience can see why what happened was not a miracle. It wasn’t cancer in the first place for one person. Another person was in fact treated medically with an expected benefit, not a miraculous one. Despite all those false alarms, though, there are some phenomenon that will make anyone open-minded enough wonder.

Many experiments have been done regarding people having a sense that they are being stared at. English biologist Rupert Sheldrake has written multiple books about this and other odd phenomena. They are easy to dismiss. OK, so some soldier in battle suddenly whirls around to find an enemy soldier pointing a rifle at him. The first soldier shoots first and is left to ponder how that happened. He didn’t hear anything. He didn’t remember any sensation that told him to turn around. He just felt someone was there, and he turned. Did he really sense someone behind him, or is that just explaining away something lucky? Hundreds of such anecdotes, even thousands, don’t mean much.

Psychologists have been testing this for over a hundred years, including some at academic citadels such as Cornell and Stanford Universities. At first experiments looking to see whether people could tell when they were stared at were reported as negative. When one looks at these old experiments, though, there is a consistent pattern in the data. People are no better than chance at guessing whether someone is staring at them when in fact no one is. But if someone is staring at them, people detect that about 60% of the time. Such an effect is so weak that it was easy to say there was nothing in the data at first. This pattern has been consistent, however, over early studies, for studies beginning again in the seventies when ESP research became a fad, and continuing since then.

If it were the case that biased researchers were getting the result they want to get, why are the data always very much random in the case where no one is staring at someone, yet consistently around 60% when someone is in fact being stared at? A consistently weak effect is not meaningless. The statistical significance over many studies is astronomical. The practical significance is questionable. It’s one indication that the world is not what it seems to be, but also indicating something we can’t use very well at all. Maybe once in a while it does save someone’s life. Sheldrake proposes the explanation that consciousness does interact with the physical world more actively than science realizes, but who knows? Maybe it’s strictly an interaction between one consciousness and another. Until such a phenomenon connects with something we do understand, it’s hard to say much about it at all. Experiments trying to identify something more than a weak effect like this in certain people, from remote viewing to anticipating events, have been intriguing sometimes, but never enough to prove anything.

It is so hard to know the ultimate reality of the universe, of anything beyond the physical universe that reaches into it somehow, or into me, either objectively out there or subjectively in my perceptions of what is out there or within me. “Computer, end program!” Yeah, nothing changes with that, but who says the computer simulating all this would listen to me anyway?

If the universe is one false reality around another, like a series of shells, who can say where it ends? Even God may be fooled by a false reality produced by some shell around Him. Even if the reality that we know best, the world our senses say is real, is completely true, what might be hidden alongside it, behind it, within it, beyond it in time if not space, in extra dimensions if not the ones we know about? Where do possibilities end? They don’t, right?

So what is there to trust? Many people trust what they see and touch, what moves when they move it. It’s only natural to get used to such things, but it’s also only natural to look beyond them, as our brain is forever looking for hidden things. So there are religions or more recently empirical models for how everything works. When everyone you know believes one of these, is that enough for you to believe, too? Sometimes I think that must be the biggest factor when some claim that it’s smarter to believe Genesis than mainstream science. Yet some people escape from such conformity, sometimes to something better, sometimes to something worse.

One thing I’m sure of is that seeing all possibilities is not a comforting thing to do. Suppose there is a spiritual side to reality, something undetectable to our senses or any machines that extend our senses. What goes on there? If communication with some spirit is possible, can I trust it? I know my motivation for communication – curiosity, exploration, loneliness, hoping for something helpful. What might motivate a spirit?

I have found spirits to be helpful, whether they are indeed spirits, Spirit, or an illusion that is strictly within my consciousness. That’s no proof that they are indeed altruistic. Maybe spirits feed like we do, aware enough of the feelings of a lower life form not to be overly cruel, but no more worried about us than I worry about my food. Maybe the rhythms of feeling energetic and tired we feel are not as natural as we think. Maybe everyday at 3PM spirits start sucking out our experiences of that day into them, sustaining them, even building them up. They remain connected to one place in space over the Earth, so everywhere at 3PM this brainsucking starts as the Earth turns underneath these spirits.

Spirits might drive us emotionally so there is more to feed them, fattening us up for them. It would explain so much strife among us. Maybe we were just like our docile ape cousins until spirits realized they could feed off of us this way. Then they pushed us to have more and more experiences. Whoever it was who discovered cocaine has a statue in the spirit world. Every spirit knows to suck especially hard over California, because it’s going to be several hours of a limited supply of people as 3PM passes over the Pacific. That would explain a lot.

I don’t believe this, of course. Sure, that’s what the spirits want me to say, just as many conservative Christians would say it’s demonic deception that keeps me from believing what they believe. Hey, the potential for deceptions is more than astronomical.

It is curious to me how few people walk around realizing that the potential for deceptions is more than astronomical, even unintentional deceptions. Maybe I do have more of a tendency toward paranoia than most people. Maybe it’s my experiences as a scientist and otherwise that let me be open to such possibilities. The world is not what it seems to be. If the complete story of the world is ever told, that certainly will be true. Does it matter?

Whatever power there is, it is much more than me. Whatever knowledge there is, it is more than mine. I suppose one reaction to that is to know my place, tend to those things closest to me and live my life. I do that, but there’s this longing for more. Maybe all these great things human beings have done make me think of greater possibilities. Then there are always more possibilities. But they are beyond me. Can I get any help?

Of course, I can get help. Is such help worth anything? Not if it turns me into Jim Jones or David Koresh, it’s not. Not if it asks me to believe things I’m sure are not true. Not if it leaves out something very important.

Who am I for God to help me? God tells me I help Him, too. That’s despite all the images the media has put in me over a lifetime. I think of the one from “Star Trek Deep Space Nine”, where an alien feeds on Jake’s brain as she helps him write really well. God assures me She is not a space alien, never has been, never will be.

Oh yeah, so what’s that napkin for? “You can see that? How do you see that? No one else sees that.” No, we’re just kidding, I think.

Just trust what the universe would give you, and understand, it’s more than any human being can explain to you. Whatever puzzle I’ve found, there’s another piece that makes it not so frightening. The dawn always comes. Then again, so does 3PM.

(To the symbolically challenged, the ninth hour was when Christ died, roughly 3PM. Something is taken from us during life, however one sees it. That I see this process as a very loyal Christian is something that I know many who give lip service to Christ can’t understand. Understanding everything is not necessary. It’s what we do with what we understand that matters.)

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