Monday, June 06, 2005

What the World is Not

One thing I miss in my life is my old explorations of sprituality and religious life. It was never a huge part, but of course back in college I read philosophy and lots of stuff about world religions, mostly Buddhism, some mystical Christianity, etc. Somehow I have let that part of me go. I periodically still pull out a good C.S. Lewis book for contemplation, but pretty rarely. I think it is ultimately unwise to not nurture that part of me.

But for now, it just isn't happening. Every once in a while, N and I discuss going to church, probably something Episcopal as a bridge between N's Catholic upbringing and my generally Protestant once. There are also a whole bunch of Japanese Buddhist temples here, hongwanji, and I think sometimes I should take advantage while here. After all, when I end up teaching at Western Mountain Valley State Community College, those resources will be gone. But it never happens.

You may wonder what the point is? I mean how can I equally read C.S. Lewis and the Zen Essays of Dogen? Or go back and forth on attending a Buddhist temple or an Episcopal church? It's a good question. The only explanation I have is that I would not attend a service to hear people tell me things I already think. I would go to learn and to shape my beliefs.

OK. A philosopher story. In the early 20th century, probably around 1910, give or take a few years, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead worked together to publish an enormous work called Principia Mathematica. It was a singularly audacious title for the book, as it echoes Newton's Principia, and one has to guess that the title was Russell's idea, as Russell wasn't known for his humility. The goal of the book was to lay out the logical underpinnings of mathematics. If they succeeded, then they would have delivered proofs that most of the greatest mathematical axioms, an axiom being something that is unproven but "obvious", can be derived from simple logical concepts. They largely succeeded. In fact they succeeded so well that a mathematician named Godel was later able to build his Incompleteness Theorem from it, which destroyed an entire mathematical program (Hilbert's) and changed mathematical theory forever.

Anyway, after the Principia, Whitehead and Russell went their own ways, philosophically and otherwise. Russell continued a successful career doing work in set theory, philosophy of language, and the like. He also became quite well known in the popular press, mostly for his atheism and pacifism. Whitehead also moved away from mathematics and into philosophy of science and nature, and ultimately metaphysics. Whitehead's major move was to try to incorporate the discoveries of Einstein's relativity theories into our basic philosophical view of the world. In fact, Whitehead is one of those people who had something, often thought-provoking, to say about everything. Sort of like a Plato or Wiggenstein. To get to the point, Whitehead is to have said the following: "You think the world is what it looks like in fine weather at noon day; I think it is what it seems like in the early morning when one first wakes from deep sleep."

In the end, I am closer to Whitehead. I have a lot to say about what I think the world is not, what God is not, and the like. But I have little of note to say yet about what the world is, and it would be wise of me to keep searching until that early morning fog wears off.

2 comments:

chases muffins said...

Don't forget that soon the word "why" will be a favorite pushing out "nooo". It's time to start thinking that aspect out. Perhaps we can meander to the beach Saturdays at 5ish as a starting point.

Killer Llama said...

What a delightful post. I love reading stuff like this and am envious of your education, which is considerably larger than mine... and by that I mean your self-education.

Nonetheless, you've put into words my viewpoint exactly. The only difference between us is that you still seem to be curious about at least contemplating the world, while I seem to be just settling down to letting it all wash over me. I feel like I have no way of describing the universe, for those early morning phantoms are very much still present. But somewhere along the way I've given up trying...