Faith – Take 2

It has always been difficult for me to have faith, in almost anything. The disillusionments of childhood, starting with my unreachable older brother, may have had a lot to do with it. Mike is autistic, profoundly retarded and nonverbal. It would have been so much easier to abandon myself to a strong belief, dismissing evidence that does not fit. But I couldn’t seem do that. I just could not accept the basic tenets that give comfort to some; for example some people say everything that happens is ‘god’s will’.

Science and math

I do have faith in the logic and rules of mathematics. But even in this realm faith rears its head. I refer to the work of Kurt Gödel who proved that at the core of any mathematical system, there is an axiom that cannot be proven. My personal paradox in this case is my faith that he is correct. I have not made the effort to understand his proof.

Personal evidence

I realize that my need for proof makes me a skeptic by definition. Would I know proof if I saw it? I have a feeling that somehow I have given and continue to give short shrift to my experiences, not fully taking into account their significance, or blinded to what they mean. I wish I could build a scenario with which I am completely comfortable. My good friend M has done this. I wish I understood how.

Scientific evidence

I just started reading Spook – Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach. Most of the book is an exploration of the history of scientific (and not so scientific) efforts to understand mysteries of such concepts as reincarnation, near death experiences, the soul, ectoplasm, and so on. Like me, Roach describes having a hard time with faith. In her introduction she mentions that her mother tried to instill faith in her through bible readings and other means. Referring to parables and miracles depicted in the bible she said, “I could not believe that these things had happened because another god, the god who wore lab glasses and knew how to use a slide rule, wanted to know how, scientifically speaking, these things could be possible. Faith did not take, because science kept putting it on the spot.” [1]

The factor that tipped the balance in favor of purchasing this book was the page that I thumbed to in the bookstore. It was the concept of free-floating consciousness, that is, the concept that a brain is not a prerequisite for consciousness. Although this goes against all that I believe, the scientific explanation for consciousness is not completely satisfactory either. One of the scientific hypotheses is that consciousness is an emergent property of the complexity of the brain, with its 100 billion neurons, and astronomically high number of potential connections. Sounds plausible, if not a little hocus pokusy.

When push comes to shove

Perhaps my faith is in the weird world of quantum mechanics, where anything seems possible. To me, it seems a catch all for what I don’t understand. And besides, it is math and science! On the final page of Spook, Roach quotes an e-mail she received from Len Finegold, a physicist at Drexel University in response to her questions about quantum physics in relation to theories of consciousness. He said: “Please beware, there are a lot of people who believe that just because we don’t have an explanation for something, it’s quantum mechanics.”

Guilty as charged.

Which brings me back to square one, I don’t have faith except for the logic of mathematics and science, but when that fails me, I look to Gödel’s proof and quantum mechanics both of which I only have a nodding acquaintance with, not a thorough understanding.

So I suppose I do have faith of a sort. However it is ungrounded; based on proofs and conjectures that I accept as possible, without going through the meticulous process of understanding them fully.

I find this very unsettling.

[1] Roach, M. Spook – Science Tackles the Afterlife New York: W.W. Norton & Company 2006

One thought on “Faith – Take 2

  1. I guess my main motivation for finding my own science if you like, is that I was never accepted into the ‘normal ‘scientific’ fold because I was female and thus not seen as clever enough to understand such complex theories and equation. Mostly it was because it didn’t interest me in the way that it clearly fascinated my brother, also there was much of it that just didn’t feel right to me. There was a lot it seemed that science and mathematics could not explain, and that’s what I wanted to explore, so I did in the best way I knew how, I read every book I could get my hands on a very broad range of subjects. I wrote a lot, experimented a lot with new concepts, in fact until I was blue in the face in some cases, travelled a lot, met many people, experienced life with my analytical filter always on. Sooner or later you begin to connect the dots and a picture emerges that consolidates all of that learning, but it has already taken a lifetime for me. All this knowledge has somehow congealed into the form that I now currently inhabit, so that in some ways I do exhibit faith in myself. That’s become a very tricky word of late has it not?
    Great post Jack. I must read the preceding posts!

    Warmest regards, your friend

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: