Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Something beyond this life that brings good feeling to this life

Life is very short and assuming one enjoys living an afterlife would be desirable. The period of time toward the end of one's life, especially, seems like it would be depressing if one didn't think they had a future to look forward to. It's sort of like contemplating the last meal that someone on death row gets before being executed. Could they enjoy that last meal knowing what's coming next? Life is kind of like that last meal.

Belief in an afterlife serves a practical function. It provides something to look forward to, or a sense of future during this life. If nothing else, this belief enhances our feelings while we are still alive. Even if atheists and others who tend to believe in no afterlife are correct, you wouldn't be in for a disappointment upon death. If consciousness ends, you wouldn't know the difference. So believing in something can provide comfort in life and once you're dead, you need to have consciousness to be disappointed anyway.

Some atheists find comfort in the concept of no afterlife. At least there's no hell. There's no pain, no gain, no sorrow, but no joy either. Just nothing. I've never really believed in a hell anyway.

At least while I'm alive, contemplating an ending in nothing is not enough. Maybe I'm just selfish.

A lot of people have this need for more than just this life. No wonder religions are so popular. This is a big problem in society because many of the religions that people are drawn to are quite destructive. People are a bit crazy anyway, and many religious practices verify that.

There can be a lot of good that comes out of religion also. Tasty food at church potlucks; for instance. Churches can be community centers where one meets others. Religions offer charity and of course that comforting sense of something beyond this short life.

I think the biggest problem with faith is when people become dogmatic and start arguing over the specifics of what to believe. Fundamentalism and being too self assured about what one thinks they know can be destructive.

Just coming together to ask cosmic questions is good, however. I feel lucky that I was brought up in a very liberal church. A church that encourages differing ideas and even offers a good dose of skepticism. The church I grew up in is called United Church of Christ.

This is not necessarily an ad for that denomination. There are many other groups which offer similar experience.

I don't actually attend church these days. Working night shift and sleeping mornings means "I don't do Sunday mornings." Some places have services at other times, but I haven't been motivated to look around that much. It doesn't really matter if one goes regularly, or not. I always feel welcome and at home in the brand of worship that UCC offers.

An open minded practice doesn't try to provide foolproof evidence that there is something more than our short lives, but it does ponder many possibilities. Admitting that one doesn't have to know everything is a dose of humbleness as well as honesty.

As time goes on, science is becoming a preferred tool for finding truth. Some folks feel science automatically rules out any kind of realm beyond this "here and now" reality. A lot of things that ancient peoples attributed to magical spirits have been more recently explained as mechanical processes in our natural world. For instance, the seasons are not really that magical. They're caused by the tilt in earth axis as it revolves around the sun.

Still, when science to explains something, it also tends to discover a larger world to explain. For every question we answer, we find several more questions that don't yet have answers. Questions that didn't even occur to us before. Our perception of the universe keeps getting larger.

Back in the days when most of our religions were founded, we thought the Earth was the center of the universe. More recently, science has explained away some of the stuff that was believed in the past, but it has also opened up whole new worlds we didn't even know existed back then. The mystery keeps getting larger. Back then, we didn't know about other solar systems, galaxies, other dimensions and even the possibility of parallel universes.

As if our universe wasn't large enough already, there are serious physicists talking about parallel universes. The concept of a multi-verse.

Looking inward, we are also starting to learn about realms inside the atom. It's the strange world of quantum mechanics.

I like to say that the universe, or multi-universe, is so large that there is still plenty of room for mysteries to hide. Possibly even more room for mysteries than existed in ancient times.

Then there is the question of how we perceive the world. This is especially true when we contemplate things like quantum mechanics where logic and even time behave differently than in the day to day world we've always perceived. How complete is our mental ability to comprehend this reality? That's an intriguing question to me. I'm often thinking, "wrap your mind around this?"

Wrapping the mind around quantum and cosmic realities is a tall order. It kind of grates against the way our minds have evolved to view the world. For millions of years, our brains have evolved to comprehend a 3 dimensional world. Our thinking has developed to perceive a world where time marches steadily forward, rather than moving forward at differing rates as in relativity theory. Our minds comprehend cause and effect as well as logic in certain ways. We are basically the product of millions, if not billions, of years of evolution in our 3 dimensional world. A world that's governed with the laws of classical physics. It's basically our "billiard table" kind of world.

Just in the last hundred, or so, years, we've been probing into other types of worlds and logic. This is a very short period of time given how long the natural process of evolution takes.

In the last brief moments of our history, we've been looking into realities that weren't visible to us before. Things like the variable speed in the passage of time that become more evident when traveling closer to the speed of light. This as described in relativity theory. It's all fairly new to us.

The strength of a gravitational field can also alter the passage of time as well, but we've only had atomic clocks that are accurate enough to notice this in fairly recent history. That's part of relativity theory.

Inside the atom, it gets even weirder. That's the world of quantum mechanics. I wouldn't pretend to try and comprehend quantum theory. Basically, our minds are being bent and twisted in ways that they are not used to when we try to learn about such things. Due to that, even the ways of the natural world don't seem as logical and mechanical as before.

There's a lot more to be learned for sure.

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