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Posts Tagged ‘Earth’

As humankind continues its exploration of earth and the universe it becomes more and more evident that our knowledge is infinitesimal compared to what actually lays before us.  Put in more simple terms, the more knowledge we acquire about the physical universe the more we realize what we do not know.  Our discovers, as wonderful and brilliant as they are, do not bring us any closer to an end of knowledge but only open the doors to other vast horizons of the unknown.

As we look out into space and get a clearer picture of distant galaxies, suns and their planets the more we realize that we really know nothing about what lies out there.  At the same time, the smaller we break down our physical world from atomic to sub-atomic particles the more we realize that we know nothing of what lies beyond our limits of present knowledge.  What lies beyond our human learning and knowledge is all mystery.  It is discoverable but it is still mystery.  It is the mystery of it all that attracts our desire to learn more about it all.

What scientists used to label as “simple cell” life forms is now recognized as highly complex organisms.  Looking inside their inner-working has revealed a whole world of biological machines within biological machines.  What scientists used to label as absolute and universal “laws of the universe” are now suspended in light of discovering places, times and mechanism in which those “laws” do not apply at all.  Science and math in recent years has taken us to places beyond human knowledge and understanding and left us with only theoretical questions marks instead of factual periods or exclamation points.  The more we learn, the more we learn what we do not know.

This becomes a problem for those who depend upon a world view that can be weighed, measured and calculated.  Scientific materialists (those who believe that all that exists – reality – is only physical material and that there is no metaphysical reality – a reality beyond the physical) either have to suspend their belief in an understandable material universe or they have to admit that human discovery will always be a finite enterprise.  As such, they dismiss mystery – the metaphysical – in their world as anomalies and focus, instead, upon what they do know and what they can explain.  There is no “mystery” in their universe, only the unexplained.  If this is the case, then they will always and forever have to live with the realm of the “unexplained.”

I really enjoy learning and reading about all the human discoveries.  I always find it fascinating.  I celebrate the discoveries that humanity has made about the universe and the world in which we live.  The journey of human discovery and the explosion of human knowledge in the last century have truly been mind-boggling.  The flexibility of humans to adjust and learn based upon new discoveries truly is amazing.  We are always learning and relearning.

At the same time, I celebrate the mysteries of the world in which we live and the universe in which it is set.  These mysteries point me to a metaphysical reality that will always be beyond human knowledge and discovery.  The complexity and the order of creation in its vastness and in its minuteness point me to something or a Someone that is larger and far more complex than what our human minds can understand.  I believe that mystery will always be a part of our human existence – however you want to discuss it or label it.

At the beginning of the Renaissance, philosophers then were coming to grips with the advancement of human knowledge and understanding about creation.  Ideas and theories about the make up of the earth, the universe, the human body and the relationship of all these things together were quickly changing.  Even then, some were beginning to realize that human knowledge and discovery would always have its limits.

Olympic National Wilderness Area - Ozette Camp Area

Olympic National Wilderness Area - Ozette Camp Area ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Nicholas of Cusa was one such famous philosopher during his time.  He is largely unknown today except in schools dedicated to his body of work or students of philosophy.  He was born in Kues, Germany (thus his name) in 1401 and died in 1464.  He played an important part in Christian philosophy and was an important historical figure of the church.  He was also well known for his contributions to theology, mathematics, science, and the arts thus making him a true “Renaissance man.”

After all of his astronomical learning, voracious reading and deep thoughts on every then known subject, he came to the conclusion of what he called “learned ignorance” or docta ignorantia.  This is the notion that the purpose of knowledge is to learn how inadequate all learning is when seeking to explain the unexplainable or the mysterious and so, God.  (His writings are still available today and prove to be some pretty thick reading.)  In other words, he came to the conclusion that greater knowledge will only lead to an understanding of how great one’s ignorance really is in face of the vast unknown.

In fact, in his view God was “the coincidence of opposites” or coincidentia oppositorum.  God is the ultimate Maximum and ultimate Minimum all at the same time; He embraces everything all at once.  From the smallest fabric of the physical universe to its utter outer reaches, God is in, over and above it all.  He is the mysteria that places before the human search for knowledge and understanding what is paradox and unexplainable.  Thus, the only way to explain “God” is in ultimate negative terms = in-finite and in-comprehensible and in-effable.  Thus, just as God is an infinite potential, so the universe is an infinite potential too.

Nicholas of Cusa’s philosophy has been picked up and celebrated by a diverse range of world views from Buddhists to Animists to post-modernists.  Nicholas’ rejection of scholasticism as the “end all” for human knowledge and discovery is one reason.  This leads to a rejection of scientific materialism as well.  Another reason for their embracement of Nicholas is the affinity they have with his explanation and allowance for mystery or the divine in creation.  In fact, most of the world would be more in line with Nicholas of Cusa’s thinking than otherwise.

I make no claims to be a “renaissance man.”  However, I do read very widely and follow my studies wherever they lead me at a time. My curiosity has led me on many interesting paths of thinking and questioning.  Likewise, my undergraduate and graduate degrees with a heavy emphasis in theology and philosophy have caused me to focus on the big questions of life and existence.  As such, while I don’t agree with everything Nicholas of Cusa wrote, I cannot but help appreciate his view.  I find that it is not too dissimilar from one of the smartest men who ever lived, King Solomon.  Solomon pretty much came to the same conclusion that Nicholas did several thousand years ahead of time.

As humankind continues its search of knowledge and understanding, I do not believe we will ever come to the end of learning.  It is as infinite as God is infinite.  As such, it is also discoverable in the same way God is discoverable.  There is a place where the rational ends.  What is needed is the supra-rational.  Like Nicholas of Cusa, we may learn more today if we would be willing to move away from the Aristotelian-Scholasticism that has captured academic inquiry and human knowledge for the past 300 years and embrace a more Platonic approach which better allows for and explains the metaphysical realities we seem to struggle with and want to deny.

In all of our human learning and research, it may be time to admit to docta ignorantia – the science of ignorance.  It just may be that until we are ready and willing to admit that what we have learned so far has only highlighted our ignorance that we will not be able to lock the secrets of the universe around us.  Either way, the truth remains that there is so much more “out there” and there is something or Someone out there that defies explanation.  Whether humankind plumbs the depths of the sea and tiniest organisms or reaches to the farthest heavens, one thing remains certain: all we’ll learn is how ignorant we really are.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The recent ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has reawakened in me a conundrum about evolution, the meaning of life and the ultimate end of all things. This often rises up in my mind during these man-made tragic events or other natural catastrophes.  I am left wondering, from a purely evolutionary ideal, “What’s the big deal?  Isn’t this just the natural working out of our evolutionary and natural development?”  As far as I can see, it is humankind’s evolutionary destiny as well as right to attempt to subjugate nature.

Radical environmentalists decry the abuse of nature. They claim that humans are too anthropocentric and need to have greater care for other creatures – right down to the microbial level.  They throw around the word “speciesism” or “specism” to prompt guilt among bipedal humanoids for considering our species as more important or of greater worth than other species.  As a result, they claim, our needs and selfish desires have threatened the existence of other species.  According to them, we should take more care.

This begs the question as to why it matters whether one species lives or dies – exists or ceases to exist. What moral compass guides us in our decision making to even consider the value and worth of another species however big or small?  If one argues that it is because all species are interconnected and that their survival as a species is ultimately linked to our own survival as a species, then this seems to only end in the same selfish anthropocentric concern.  When humans become concerned for other species out of worry for their own survival; it seems to only be a back door return to speciesism.

After all, the evolutionary principle that continual improvement is necessary for the survival of a species seems to me to necessitate that one species is going to survive or thrive at the cost of another. The idea of balance in nature would seem to conflict with evolution since species are ever contending for the same room and resources within a biosphere limited with both.  Not only are species at war with one other for the same resources for survival, but they are all vulnerable to disease and natural disasters.  The survival of the fittest takes on a new level of urgency and importance in such a hostile environment.

So, are not humans simply fulfilling their evolutionary destiny by exploiting to the best of their abilities the natural resources surrounding them? Can we not call the massive struggle to fight against disease and natural disasters just part of our evolutionary duty towards our own species?  Should we not consider when a portion of humanity falls to natural disasters or diseases that these adverse events are simply a part of our own struggle to survive?  And, sometimes we come out the winners and sometimes the losers?  What makes us care or have compassion for others of our own species, let alone the condition of another?

If humanity is evolved from an impersonal mass of biological material, what moral guidance really regulates our care for the rest of creation? There are all sorts of competing philosophies and religions among our species.  However, if we are the result of an ongoing evolutionary cycle, then they are all meaningless.  Humanity only finds its meaning, like the rest of nature, in its own survival and thriving.  It seems that nothing else is really pertinent to the discussion.

As such, evolution does not really satisfactorily answer the question of neither what it means to be human nor how humanity should relate to the rest of creation. Evolution, after all, is an unfeeling and meaningless force moving all species toward the final existence of one specie’s domination over all others.  Humans would be dismayed to wake up some morning to find out that the planet had been taken over by apes (as in the movie “The Planet of the Apes”) or lions, tigers or bears (Oh, my!).  Therefore, according to our evolutionary mandate, we must continue to evolve, dominate other species and, if necessary, eliminate them when necessary; right down to the microbial level.

White Wild Flowers, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010

White Wild Flowers, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Confidence in the evolutionary path of humans, let alone all creatures, may be misplaced if we expect some form of higher-enlightenment to guide us into empathy for all species. Thousands of years of human evolution has shown to us that nature is very brutal and humankind as much or more so.  Not even considering our survival as a particular species, we divide ourselves up according to language and cultural groups and then seek to dominate one another by slavery, war or total annihilation.  We do not seem to be overly concerned with our own survival!  Granted, we do seem to care more about those who have the same skin pigmentation, language sounds and cultural similarities, but even that is no guarantee against our warring amongst ourselves for dominance and survival.

If humankind is a higher evolved animal, then there does not seem to be too much hope for all of creation. We are bent on our own destruction, the demise of all other species and the ultimate destruction of our biosphere.  There must be a greater guiding principle for us to pursue.  There must be, somewhere, a larger purpose for existing and caring for the rest of creation.  Otherwise, we are no better off than the fruit-fly.  We hatch, live, breed and die; albeit longer than the fruit-fly’s seven days.  However, the end result is the same.

If we are only the sum of an evolutionary process, then the conundrum it must answer or deny is, “Why should we care?” The logical conclusion is that we should not care or that the question itself is meaningless.  Then, why do we feel this tension and need to care for our own species as well as other species as part of our human consciousness and being?  What drives us – most of us anyway – to be empathetic towards the vulnerable, whether other humans or other species?  I think the answer must lie somewhere deeper than just bio-chemical evolution.

Is it possible that humans, as well as all of creation, is endowed with something greater than just chemical interaction? Do our existential questions stem from something that lays latent within all of us?  Is it possible that something we cannot see or measure actually is the cause and guidance creation’s existence?  Could our concern, broadly speaking, for the care and well-being of all creatures point to something imparted to us at the nexus of our beginning?  I think that an affirmative answer to these questions guides us to a more reasonable conclusion for humanity’s care and concern for the rest of creation.

Of course, this is a jump into the unknown and unexplained. It is a “leap of faith” of sorts.  However, our faith so far in what we have been able to observe, measure and reduplicate does not seem to be adequate either.  The hard sciences do not help us too much with existential questions.  They require their own “leap of faith” of sorts for us to connect the dots.  So, the question then becomes, do we keep them in two isolated spheres or do we attempt to bring them together to find meaning and answers?

The answer to that depends upon who you listen to in philosophical and scientific circles. The simple answer is that evolution at any level – biological or social – does not adequately address such questions.  To solve such a large conundrum, we must turn to larger answers beyond what we can see, hear and touch.  It may turn out that our very existence lies beyond the physical world.  The evolutionary conundrum answered by what is least expected in a world of physical sciences.  It may just be wrapped in mystery.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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