Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Can God spell "nostalgic"?

I had a nostalgic dream last night. Not only was I back in medicine. I was all the way back in residency at St. Louis City Hospital, with scores of patients separated by flimsy curtains, patients with limited abilities to talk about their symptoms, something that’s both a positive and a negative.

There was a medicine resident in my dream who never existed in reality. Like so many characters in dreams he was either a composite or an extrapolation from real people. He was annoyed with me because the exam I wrote in the chart of a patient of his differed from his exam. Oh, they always did. There are so many points to an exam that are subjective. Even so, the specialist’s exam trumps the generalist’s ordinarily. If you don’t like that, become a specialist.

Instead I hear this complaint, “Don’t Goldwater me!” What? What language is that? I didn’t figure it out during the dream, but that stuck with me on awakening. Let’s see. The only context I used “Goldwater” recently was about my memory of Barry Goldwater saying about Vietnam, “We could have won that war.” So in my dream “Goldwater” is a synonym for being a revisionist? Yeah, I see that. It’s kind of awkward. Who was this dream character to make that allusion?

Was it me? Was it someone else? Some people have the view that anything going on inside my head, as dreams presumably are, is me. Oh, I don’t think so. There are all kinds of images of women in my head that are definitely not me. The repository for these images, wherever that is, is part of me. The images themselves are not. They are traces of the world in me, processed by me in some way, but still separate, like food that is not absorbed, no matter how long it might get hung up in my gut.

Somehow my dream drew from a lexicon in which Goldwater was a verb meaning to engage in revisionist history. As a neuroscientist I wish I knew where such a lexicon was even more than I do personally. Is it in my head? Was it a potential symbolism that didn’t reach full fruition until my dream character said the word? Was it sitting somewhere waiting to be used by whatever entity floats through my brain? How many entities do live in me anyway, either permanently or passing through, in dreams or otherwise?

It’s become my habit to ask God questions I can’t answer. God says He doesn’t know about these. He assures me He doesn’t make up new words. He assures me He didn’t make up any of them.

This has come up before. How does God speak to me not only in English, but my English? In 18 years, God never has used a word I didn’t know. In 18 years, God never has presented me with a fact I didn’t know. He is amazing at giving me direction. I can be confused about any number of options, and He narrows that down to the one best way very quickly. He gives me strength. He gives me comfort. Yet He’s never given me winning lottery numbers or sports results ahead of time. In fact when I tested Him on the latter, He didn’t do well at all, less then 50% I’d say … hmmm, why not 50%?

So whatever God’s cognitive and precognitive abilities are, it’s clear we’re using my brain a lot in our interactions. We both agree that God can only spell “nostalgic” if I spot Him the “n”, the “o”, the “s”, the “t”, the “a”, the “l”, the “g”, the “i”, and the “c”. What’s wrong with that? I’d do that for anyone. I’ll certainly do that for God.

Spirituality is a cooperative effort. I’d hate to try to sell that either to traditionalists who say God is perfect, and we exist merely on what He drops or to mystics who see themselves as Indiana Jones using their wits to travel their spiritual journey to their own glory. I can’t imagine trying. I only mention it because my dream brings it up today. Somewhere in me or around me there is a machine that makes words out of slightly different words that come in to me. Presumably we all have similar machines like this. So we have languages.

People 3000 years ago did not understand that. I don’t blame them. They had no science. They didn’t understand physical forces. They didn’t understand biology. They didn’t understand neurolinguistics.

So ancient people believed words were something magical. The word “apple” was referring to some perfect apple somewhere. All these real apples fell short of that perfection in shape, color or taste. They were imperfect. Reality was imperfect. Somewhere beyond this reality was a perfect God, who used words to create the world.

No, He didn’t. I suppose it’s still possible God wrote a perfect equation to trigger the Big Bang, but I doubt it. Words definitely aren’t enough. There are no magic words, no matter how many times the witches on Charmed cast spells and people in the TV audience believe that to be real.

Whatever it was that let my dream character say “Goldwater”, I’m sure that process is available to me when I’m awake. I just don’t need any new words beyond what my world has given me. I would like several more pithy phrases, but it seems I have to rely on my brain for that, not the world. The world gets a lot of things wrong.

Then there are my words with God, my words both coming and going, but when they come to me from Him they are ordered in a way I just can’t equal. Some atheists would be apoplectic in their ridicule of that. Those who rely on God being the just-so God of conservative Christianity would be just as dismissive, less agitated, but more vicious in damning me to hell for my weak God. Why? It doesn’t seem out of strength to me.

It’s not that there are understanding people in between. There are a lot of confused people in between. There is an understanding God. He knows love is a cooperative effort. He knows that He changes, that He needs human beings. Needs them for what? Needs them for what they can do that He can’t, like spell, only He doesn’t care about spelling. He cares about ending suffering, whether on a large scale or for an individual. And for that people reject Him or use false images of Him for their own purposes.

Reality is not at all like Indiana Jones.

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