Adam Blatner

January 31, 2007     (For other essays addressing related topics, consider seeing:
   Implications of Process Philosophy   Image-ing God    Myths for Today   and others!)                 

This essay was stimulated by a book I’ve just found and am reading, a book titled The Many Faces of God, by Jeremy Campbell (2006, W.W. Norton). It begins with a quote by Harold Bloom:
        Theology necessarily is a system of metaphors, and doctrine represents its literalization.
        I am inclined to believe that the best poetry, whatever its intentions, is a kind of theology,
        while theology generally is bad poetry.

So, then, the following should be taken more as poetry. As a disclaimer: I make no claims to knowing about the Greater Wholeness of Things, also known as God by those who contemplate such things. In process philosophy, with which I find a good deal of affinity, the idea of panentheism is used: God is Everything and even more than just the “thing-ness” of the known Universe. I am inclined to think that human consciousness is not capable of really encompassing, knowing or understanding this Vast Enterprise. (Process philosophy is primarily associated with the writings of Alfred North Whitehead [1861 - 1947] and Charles Hartshorne [1898 - 2000]).

(Perhaps I should note that while process philosophy does include a concept of God, this concept is clearly not the same God that is described in the Judaeo-Christian Bible or any other locally written historical scripture. There are process theologians who give this philosophical approach a distinctly Christian tone, and others who operate from a symbol system that is more Buddhist or Jewish or from some other tradition.)

I suspect that our Universe is multi-dimensional, that, in addition to matter, energy, space and time, there is also mind, and dimensions not readily accessible to human mind. We glimpse, at best, of the great potentials of music and mathematics, of dream worlds, shamanic worlds, archetypes and other “levels” of being.

I find within the operations of my own consciousness an unending depth and elusive mystery, and I discern similar degrees of complexity in others. I also find a kind of ongoing creativity in all operations of mind—along with patterns that stifle creativity, alas. Of these two observations I am certain, though not of any implications that derive from them. So I speculate.

I do find that both consciousness and its creativity to be sources of wonder, and the more I contemplate of what I know of the world, the more I am filled with wonder. In addition, the sense I get of what it is I contemplate is that it is all Glorious, amazingly energetic, on the whole, aimed at evolutionary progress, though this process is innately laced with gropings, false starts, blind alleys, self-defeating efforts, and what humans tend to label as evil.

I find it useful to contemplate that Greater Wholeness. I guess it’s my form of worship. So here is a bit of poetic theology:  

I imagine God as an expanding sphere. (I realize that this is a slightly abstract, geometrical diagram-like image. In other contexts, I use the Kabbalistic Tree of Life diagram as a useful map, and the idea of using a mental map as a tool seems fair, as long as I recognize that, as Korzybski, the inventor of General Semantics, said, “the map is not the territory.”

On the “surface” of this figurative Divine sphere I picture areas that are differentiating. Each area is a general type of endeavor, such as farming or mathematics, and each area may then be recognized as involving scores of sub-areas, sub-specialties. Within each sub-specialty, there may be sub-sub-specialties and areas of research or production. Often there are regional newsletters, national professional or trade journals, and possibly international associations, occasional conferences. “Niche” books are written for each sub-specialty, often revealing new directions, finer discriminations.

The sphere of the Divine Creative Advance should be intuitively recognized as being more than three-dimensional, then, because not only are there many inter-connections “under the surface,” (i.e., the international relations of co-workers of people who share the same interest), but there is also dimensions that address: historical roots, and efforts to honor certain trends and innovators; critiques of traditions that some feel to be misleading or outmoded; inter-disciplinary influences with other areas of endeavor, including ways to make use of other tools or ideas from other fields, or efforts to apply the findings in one’s own field in other ways beyond one’s own defined field. There are dimensions of personal relations and gossip; hierarchies of status and recognition, often for different criteria; awards and ceremonies; humor—and sometimes specialty in-group jokes in the newsletters or at “roasts” and ceremonies; visions of the further future implications of the field’s efforts, or one’s own contributions; associations of one’s work to deeper meanings, mystery, wonder, spirituality, and/or the sacred; concerns about local, national, and international politics and economics and how those issues affect one’s work; the ethics of certain practices; unintended consequences; and so forth.

Finally, there are within each sector of effort, reflecting the Divine Urge towards Creativity and Development in many directions, the experiences of the individuals (rather than the concerns of the aforementioned collectives and sub-groupings): Each person with an interest or effort in one of these sub-sectors also has other interests, connections often to other hobbies, careers, support for a variety of movements, trends, popular fashions, “retro” or old-fashioned enjoyments, and so forth. They have family who sometimes support or compete with these interests, and there are stories about how did each individual find him- or herself becoming involved with this interest or endeavor.

The point here is to savor the sheer “dimensionality” or multiple frames of reference, and the un-ending “eventful-ness” of each event—its history, hoped-for results, and various interrelations and types of relations with other events, people, trends, and so forth. There is something Divine in the spirit that says “yes” to these efforts, the lure of value that draws them forward. The motivations involved are innumerable, including such elements as the enjoyment of the process to the sense of achievement in its fruition, the rewards to be gained and the sense of having given something meaningful to the world.

I imagine this kind of thing, and it seems glorious to me, that all these efforts are trying to grow, explore, become, create, invent, enjoy, and all other verbs in the world. That these events, striving toward increasing value and intensities of value, are happening everywhere, and I imagine being able to feel the yearning and excitement of doing in all this, and rejoicing at the sheer variety of the enterprise. It’s a dance of billions of dancers, a circus and spectacle for those who might open their minds and hearts.

In this great drama there are innumerable stories also of excesses of ambition and tragic patterns that are self-defeating, there are episodes in which some players are villains, and often the irony that the villains are in their own minds possibly heroes! Ethical ambiguities abound, and these clashes of what different people might think of as “good” or “evil” adds to the creative ferment. (Even history is unclear, and after centuries, some heroes are re-viewed as being at least partly villains, while some people who were previously viewed as wicked heretics are redeemed in the eyes of at least a segment of the population as having had some valid insights!)

Now expand your vision to consider also a similar dramatic, multi-dimensional eventfulness at levels that make up the efforts of a person in relation to an activity.

Consider the life of a cell within that personal organism, and all the interactions within a living complex body, the many different kinds of influences from not only the surrounding tissues, but also what we have been learning about nerve impulses, neuro-transmitters in the bloodstream, hormones, nutrients, antibodies and other immunologic interactions, and the increasing complexity of what happens in the cell membrane that allows certain chemicals in and blocks others. Consider the history, how this cell or its predecessors evolved during the early, embryonic phases of life, and how it multiplies even now—the genetic dynamics. The mysteries of life emerge, as every answer spawns several new and as-yet-unanswered new questions.

Consider even the “life” (such as it is) of the atoms and molecules in the cell, and how much we still don’t know about the most fundamental forces. Though we can measure them, we still don’t know “why” what seems to be “positively” charged attracts that which is “negatively” charged, yet repels what seems to have a similar charge. Again, the mysteries abound, yet science continues to come up with answers that complexify even as in certain ways they may simplify.

Consider that every small animal, though less complex and reflectively conscious than a person, still has its own set of motivations, adapted to its own needs, and its struggles in an environment that doesn’t make it all that easy to find food, avoid being eaten by others, find a mate, succeed in actually mating, raise the young, and other functions. This thick biomass further expresses the Divine Urge to (as Whitehead put it) live, live well, and live better.

Considering how many stay alive under rigorously daunting circumstances, again the emotion of wonder is evoked, and the perception that this vast dance of becoming is glorious.

The perception of wonder is an important variable—it is not to be dismissed as a meaningless addendum to the presence of reflective beings. We are the audience for the show, perhaps, but the audience makes the show more meaningful. To deny the significance of this performance - and perception is to deny the significance of mind. (Of course, many in the modern world did just this, and it was an expression of reductive materialism, which is an interesting dynamic of neurotic denial, of pretending something incredibly obvious and pervasive is of no consequence. It feeds the proud illusion that if something cannot be easily explained within the boundaries of a theory, it must not exist. In other words, it’s a subtle form of stupidity, which I define as the illusion that what one knows is sufficient.)

Finally, although with my own mind I can only barely imagine the idea of other dimensions, I do note that this idea has become more pervasive. There were some books in the last century or so that wrote about the idea that just as our three-dimensional world might seem mysterious to those who were imagined to live on a two-dimensional plane (i.e., “Flatland”–a book with that title), so too there might be life forms in four our more dimensions who could only be perceived dimly and in a distorted fashion by those whose sensory apparatus was oriented to only three-dimensions of reality (e.g., “Sphereland–another book). Then mainstream scientists started talking seriously about more than three-dimensions in reality, in, for example, “String Theory.” So what seemed only a literary figure of imagination has become part of what might be a new worldview.

To me, there certainly is a need to recognize at least mind as a dimension equal in relevance and interpenetrating with all the other dimensions, and once this idea is deeply considered, it opens our philosophy up to innumerable possibilities. The recognition of what in process philosophy is called the dipolar nature of existence (with matter at one pole, mind at another, and the two functioning as a syzygy, like two sides of a coin) leads of course to a contemplation of the nature of the field of mind (nirvana? the Tao?) beyond the specific memories, concepts, or even patterns of thinking that characterize human thought.

In summary, the purpose of this contemplation has been to stimulate a mixture of wonder, gratitude, enjoyment of the cosmos of which we are an integral and meaningful part (however minute in size). For me, it is glorious to participate in such a Great Becoming, a process that I can imagine relinquishing the narrow boundaries of my ego and personal identity as I die. That I was privileged to participate in this has been wonderful. It’s a similar sentiment to that articulated by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963 book, Cat’s Cradle (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut )

       Your comments are welcome. Email me at adam@blatner.com