Saturday, 10 December 2016

Certainty and Faith


I've slightly changed my mind on certainty. Descartes' conclusion was "I think therefore I am": the *only* certainty is "I Am". 

So that is certain, but beyond that we must abandon certainty as the basis of knowledge and our interaction with the world. We must be willing to live with uncertainty. Interestingly, modern physics teaches that uncertainty (and chaos) are fundamental properties of the universe. 

When certainty has gone, what you're left with is something like "degree of confidence". This is very like the scientific method, developing models of how the world works knowing that they are incomplete and at least partially wrong (you probably can't be right, but you can aspire to be less wrong). Always be willing to be wrong and evaluate new experiences and ideas in the light of what you already know. 

A phrase I prefer to "degree of confidence", but which some people find problematic, is "the measure of your faith". Faith is capacity to trust, not certainty. How able (in practise not in theory) are you to trust your worldview. 

As a slight conceptual alternative, Buddhism and particularly Zen Buddhism, teaches abandoning all worldviews (transcending the ego). This is the Zen concept of "no mind". Approach reality with no preconceptions and experience reality directly rather than interpreting and filtering sense perception. 

So, if you have faith in your understanding of the world you should be free to interact with the world without having to "believe" anything. If your understanding is correct then the results of your interaction will accord with your understanding and if you are incorrect they won't. How strongly you believe in your worldview has no relevance to this. The stronger your faith (confidence) the more able to test your worldview (try it out) you are. No matter how strong your faith you still might be (and probably are) wrong. 

This is why I find rational scepticism a useful approach to spirituality (if you're at least willing to believe). An evidence based approach. Contrary to popular understanding this is taught in scripture: Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Along these lines I love Daniel Kahneman's work in empirical psychology. He demonstrates that the scientific method can be applied to the "soft sciences" of sociology and psychology. (The soft sciences are harder than the hard sciences, because people are complex.) Daniel Kahneman's approach is to make hypotheses about the subjective aspects of the operation of the human soul (psyche). He then devised experiments that could validate those hypotheses, making them "objective" by applying them to lots of people and seeing if the hypothesis holds. 

Fundamentally this means to me that all the mysteries of the universe, including the nature and substance of consciousness, are "solved problems". There are just the details to work out...


Aleisteir Crowley, an English occultist who cultivated a dark reputation that is mostly undeserved, taught that these methods could be applied to spirituality; something he called the "science of magick". For him the essence of magick was effecting change through will. Without comment on the validity or moral probity of his conclusions and methods, I like the approach. His most emphatic conclusion was that "Love is the law, love under will", which is something I hold to be a universal truth and very much like teachings of Jesus and John. John is the gospel and letter writer - who, in my opinion, best interprets and explains the teachings of Christ. Paul I find impressive but problematic (authoritarian and therefore partly wrong - especially evidenced in his attitude towards women - the only authority is truth).

It is hard, although probably not impossible, to formalise a scientific method for spirituality. What I'm mainly suggesting is the approach to life, in all aspects of life which is the fundamental essence of spirituality anyway. 


It is hard to formalise because the teaching of Jesus is that all the interesting aspects of spirituality happen only with extraordinary love. 

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