I wish I could do whatever I want to do, eat whatever I want to eat, and still be healthy. Biology says no.
I wish I could write out half a page of words that would be efficient, convincing and pleasing to read so that no one in the world need waste their time with counterproductive thoughts and actions any more. Culture says no. People have too much junk in their minds to be replaced so easily. New words image are not so easily formed. People’s attention is not easily seized, not productively anyway.
I notice that other things I desire and can’t have don’t seem so oppressive. It would be nice to fly like Superman, but I never feel a moment’s frustration about that. Do I understand it better when physics says no? I doubt that’s it. I think the difference is in my desire, not in what limits my desire.
Why do I desire anything? It’s one of those fundamental truths that behavioral scientists rarely bother with. If we didn’t desire safety, food, sex and such things, there wouldn’t be life to live through and study. So there must be such desires in us somewhere. Where? Oh, how about the hypothalamus where at least some thermostats and chemostats reside in us? Maybe it’s some set point like these that pulls us toward it for any desire we feel.
OK, so there’s some set point for freedom of action, I guess. And there’s some set point that as I look around wants everyone I see to be happy, maybe just so I can be happy, maybe something selfless. Only such set points haven’t been as successful as the ones that just kept the species going. They’re not as adapted to reality as my breathing is to the Earth’s atmosphere.
So evolution will take care of it, right? If not biological evolution, there’s cultural evolution. If not cultural evolution, maybe there’s such a thing as spiritual evolution. Of course, that may be a long time to wait, but maybe not at this time. In 2006 cultural evolution has caused there to be a revolution in genetics and biochemistry that can help bypass how slowly biological evolution adapts. It may not happen in my lifetime, but soon there will be treatments that will let people eat whatever they want and not digest it, more acceptably than when Romans threw up their food, or treatments that will reduce our hunger to a healthier level, better than amphetamines do. I think I’d take the latter treatment, if they both work. It would at least save on the cost of food.
The prospects of an exercise pill are not so clear, but I’m sure technology will help something with that, with monitoring how much exercise is enough, with preventing boredom in the process. Cultural evolution hasn’t always complemented biology. Sometimes it has made our biological cruelty and destructiveness worse, but it has promise.
What about the limits of cultural evolution, though? Like biology, culture only adapts as fast as it can. Biology has to wait for useful mutations to happen along and to be selected for through a number of life cycles. Culture has to use ideas and techniques that have found a place in the current culture. It’s been 10,000 years, and we’re still trying to figure out how to live with each other when there’s wealth to be had, first from agricultural surplus, now from all kinds of poorly distributed surpluses. Oh, another 10,000 years, and it will all work out, right?
Remember the movie Back to the Future? When Marty first comes to Doc Brown’s door in 1955, Doc is wearing a mind-reading machine. It fails miserably to help Doc know what Marty wants. So Doc asks Marty, “Do you know what this means?” and answers his own question, “It means that this damn thing doesn’t work at all!” Few elements of culture don’t work at all, but so many don’t do what it’s claimed they do. From traditional religion to atheism to all sorts of liberal religion, I just wanted something that fit my life, and none of them work. I would say they don’t work at all, but that would be typical human exaggeration. They work some for people who need an answer instead of uncertainty, who need fellowship and don’t mind if that fellowship requires lies or other dishonest conformity.
Around the world, many people who fight or threaten to fight do so for nothing. The real Allah does not bless them for trying to retake Jerusalem. The powerful weapons people develop for their governments will benefit no one. So many religious rituals, doctrines and leaders are nothing more than idols. Many of my fellow liberals would be kinder and say it all has meaning, but I believe just the opposite. There is very little meaning in most of religion, just the barest shreds of truth that there is something greater than any one of us, even greater than what we can conceive.
All religion is part of cultural evolution, but almost all of it is a dead end. Seeing that is part of cultural evolution, too, a backlash, one not strong enough to undo the tribal forces that brought about so many religions and cause religions to still be used to further themselves, even in the US, even in post-modern Europe, even among atheists who reassure each other that atheism is the only way that makes sense.
It was pondering how “this damn thing doesn’t work at all” that I found God 17 years ago. There’s no way to advance any wisdom from that effectively. There’s no way to make it easier for someone else. The culture doesn’t allow it any more than biology or culture allow me to do whatever I feel like. I wish God were just the opposite of such limitations, but while I find no barrier between God and me about what we both want, there is a considerable barrier to communication. Maybe it’s just biology. Maybe it’s more than that. I hear from God in words, but not as long narratives or images as in the Bible or the Quran. The process has convinced me that God is nothing like the omnipotence and omniscience of tradition. He is merely God, whoever and whatever God is, a nonphysical helper whom I encountered in praying for God’s help. His is the direction, strength and comfort that I have come to appreciate is available to anyone who asks, but few actually ask. Many believe they already have the help they need from their theology, and never wait for confirmation from God that such theology is true, if they even ask God about that.
I’ve yet to find words to get across the essence of what I would say about the cultures of our world. All religions are false in some respect, including atheism. There is a way that I can’t reproduce with words, because it consists of being led by the one true God, living in the Spirit, allowing the Spirit to live within me. Paul described the same way, but the church that venerates Paul doesn’t teach people to live by those words. The church cannot live in the Spirit, only human beings can, and then they carry the baggage of their culture with them, as Paul did, stuck with a culture that believed everything was either clean or unclean, either redeemed or judged.
There is spiritual evolution. Any one person can feel that changing him or her, but what happens within just one person does nothing to the culture. Must culture be changed or does the Spirit pop up in another person that much stronger for having lived in another? God tells me that not only is it the latter, but that the Spirit grows even beyond Her time in individual humans. Traditionalists don’t believe in spiritual imperfection or change, but there is no way to make sense of this world without them. The limitations aren’t just in us.
There are some things I want to do that I will never do. I make my own routines so I can live as best I can despite that. When I need to try my hardest to keep my weight down, I record the fats, carbs, fiber and proteins of everything I eat, and know what limits I have to stick to, even if my body wants more.
There are only so many hours in a day that I can try to say some different than I already have. It may only be useful for self-expression. Our culture is so much against the real God. Then again so is biology and maybe spirituality, too. It takes determination to pray, “God help me!” and discern a response that doesn’t just come from within me. I gave up on everything else. It may have been like Menelaus holding Proteus by the throat for a while, despite whatever form the god took, until God surrendered.
Numbers in my computer overcome biology well enough for me, but I can’t do that with culture on my own. With culture I can speak with God anytime I turn my attention to Him. No one believes it, but that’s what I do. God has told me for years that anyone can do the same if they wish. It takes a commitment and a willingness to hear Him and not the fantasies that New Agers or evangelicals publish as words coming from God. It wasn’t easy. It meant realizing how much I still wanted God to be like the God of the Bible, when He is not. It’s meant learning to let God be who and what He is, not what would sell books. It’s frustrating, but there’s one part that I know is as trustworthy as the numbers on my computer are for my diet. If I close my eyes, He comes. If I need direction, strength, or comfort, that’s what I get. God loves me, and I love God. If no one else wants to do what I’ve done, if it’s too crazy or time-consuming for someone else, they won’t get past the culture that says God is beyond knowing. They won’t get past the culture or the biology that says that what someone else says can’t be trusted. It can’t, of course, yet we have to trust someone. I trust God. It works for me.
I’m left uncertain what my limitations really are. They are certainly physics, biology, culture, but what else? And how many ways around them are there? For that one can only explore.