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Understanding the The God Paradigm

by on May.08, 2015, under - Show All Posts, Abstract Philosophical Musings

From A Buddhist/Vedantic Reading of the Brothers Karamazov, an essay I wrote on The Brothers Karamazov for Harvard’s Slavic 155. The cited book Religiousness in Yoga by Desikachar is especially worth reading.

Goal:  Explain my understanding of how all computers and thinking/living things are channeling the vast computational power of the universe, how intention and motivation arise from this sunlike source of energy, and how finding a way of existence that flows with this source of energy is what is meant by being inspired by “the holy spirit.”          

The God Paradigm

How do we come to personally understand what is meant by the idea of Christian God short of having transcendent experiences? Below I propose a model of doing so that is fundamentally Buddhist or Vedic, though it was derived from modern scientific thinking (which is, in a way, Buddhist). To explain, I will trace you along the steps of my own realization.

This journey began when I was in high school, hiking during a thunderstorm. I was pondering, with some trepidation, how the path of lightning bolts are determined. Suddenly I was struck (by an idea) – if the lightning bolts somehow took some sort of shortest path, could you use them – a natural phenomenon — to solve the computational shortest path problem? As it turns out, this insight didn’t pan out, but the idea stuck with me: to what extent can nature itself actually solve computational problems? It turned out, this was the entrance this was the beginning of a complete revolution in thought for me. Soon, I came to realize that all computers do is follow the laws of physics, and that, as it seems, the universe itself — nature — is what is performing the “computing” that they do. Each instant of time, the universe computes its next state from the previous, in the process moving the processing elements of computers to their next states. All our computers do is channel a small portion of the greater universal computational capacity and use it to process some information we can perceive! This was profound.

But the profounder connection still came when I realized that brains themselves, which do things as fantastic as produce our personal feelings and motivations — our consciousness — if they follow the laws of physics too (as we believe they do), aren’t actually producing our motivations “themselves,” but instead, each tick of time are just having their the next state computed from their previous state by the physics engine of the universe. We, and computers, and all objects moving in the physical world, are animated by this incredible causal “force” that causes time to move forward. So that made me ask: what is this great computational force that gives rise to the movement of all things moment by moment — to inanimate objects, to computers, to brains? What is this great computational capacity that my mind, and your mind, and my computer, are merely channeling? And why does it compute anyway?

This suddenly gave me a glimmer of understanding of what God was for the first time, and I suddenly glimpsed what the religious mean when they say that we are figments in the imagination of the “mind of God.” In my model, I could construe the “mind of God” to mean the whole universe — all things, including us personally, even our minds and our bodies — are but small processing elements being shuttled around by the animus of physics in a much larger system. The notion that God transcends and includes me enabled me to see how even a deist (noninterventionist) God would be a truly conscious entity — in the same way you or I are, because it is the very thing from which our consciousness flows! We are just a piece of its consciousness. Suddenly I understood the God paradigm, its elegance, and its explanatory usefulness. This was my second profound revelation.

Naturally, then I started to try to apply this new philosophical understanding and appreciation for the basis of religious thought to all the texts and ideas I could find, with some success, The Brothers Karamazov among them.  I started to reinterpret old passages. For instance, in one scene, Zosima comforts Ivan, who is filled with angst about his conclusion that the nonexistence of God would remove morality, by telling him: “You yourself know that that is the peculiarity of your heart; and all its torment is due to it. But thank the Creator who gave you a lofty heart, capable of such suffering,’of thinking and seeing higher things, for our dwelling is in the heavens.’ God grant that your heart will attain the answer on earth, and may God bless your path!” (Dostoevsky 66)

What Zosima refers to as God the Creator, He who gives you the mind capable of pondering existence of Creator, I represent as the great computational power causing all minds to tick. Thus William Blake writes “I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.”  Because it is a fundamental property of the human linguistic apparatus to look for an actor when we see an action, when we observe the condition of existence, it is our nature to infer the existence of a God or a computational force as an actor.

In a similar vein, I suddenly understood how the parable of Job is the basis for this thinking, Zosima’s philosophy:

“And Job rent his mantle and fell down upon the ground and cried aloud, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return into the earth; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord forever and ever.” (Dostoevsky 252)

It is truly just tapping into same cosmic perspective, which is the same perspective that Beginner’s Mind approach to preventing individual suffering uses as well. It is bringing attention to the mysterious and wonderful source from which we come, and into which we will eventually dissolve. It’s referring to the notion that, as Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said,

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”

As I continued to read, I continued to see increasing meaning in the passage. Job attains happiness by reverting to the state of unconditional appreciation for life that every child has. This explains why Ivan, a character desperately seeking to return to that untroubled state — a lost paradise for him — sees so much beauty in children, and is troubled by his own distance from it. Again consider the passage:

“Dear God. I’m not talking about the suffering of grown-ups, they ate the apple and can go to the devil, and let the devil take them all, but these little ones, these little ones! I’m tormenting you… I’ll stop if you like.”  (Dostoevsky  209)

In this passage, his own fear and self-loathing — abhinivesa — reveal the avidya embedded within them. He projects his own tortured psyche into all other adults. He assumes they too have gone through the same process of loss as he, that paradise has slipped from their fingers as well. He doesn’t realize the truth Job does — that all the torment he builds within his small mind through his philosophy of heaven and earth is just a tiny ripple, a single computation in the much larger and intrinsically wondrous ocean.

And that brings me to begin the final chapter of my story.

Entropy and God’s Continual Sacrifice

The final and most potent realization I had blossomed out of a conversation with an extremely philosophically well-versed Christian friend who every day, with every thought, sees reality through his direct perception of the Christian worldview. He said, probing the structure of his own deeply-actualized paradigm, that he believes that Jesus died so that true happiness and meaning may exist. “What does this mean?” I asked. He continued to explain. For him, on one level, the fact that God loves us so much that he was willing to die to save us touches him, gives him faith and trust in the caring of God for His children. As he continued to probe his rigorous mental model, he clarified that the way he thinks about it, as God is outside time, God is continuously dying to save us.  That is the act of His love. This confused me for a moment.  But then I reflected that he was genuinely describing a deep and real subjective perception of reality, that there was almost certainly a hidden truth in his words, and that through our differing philosophies what we were actually doing was speaking a different language to try to describe that same truth. I had to understand this language.

As he said this, I made a sudden connection with the Christian viewpoint. Life, MIT quantum computing professor Seth Lloyd posits, is a set of machines designed to reduce their own entropy and maintain their integrity in the face of the forces of decay. In order to do this, by the second law of thermodynamics, they must increase the entropy of the overall universe. For our clocks to be wound up, “clocks” in the external universe need to wind down, and there is loss on every exchange. After infinite time, when entropy is at its greatest, all the tension systems in the world will have unwound, reached equilibrium. Therefore, if God is the sentience implicit within the larger universe’s computing power, every moment He is sacrificing a piece of himself, His computational capacity, for our computational capacity, as computational capacity only exists as long as there are tension systems, as long as entropy does not reign supreme. He is “dying” for the sake of us individually.

Understanding this, I began to look for the language of entropy in characters whose actions were rife with avidya, those lost from God, and for the opposite — the language of order — in those with vidya, those working with cognizance that the greater work in the universe is done without their control, but simply channels the computing power of God.  As it turns out, this relation between entropy and avidya is directly implied in the language Dostoevsky uses to describe characters’ behavior. For instance, Dmitry, perhaps the most mentally unstable, avidya-plagued character in the story, is repeatedly said to live a “dissolute” life.  It is now understood that matter in a dissolute state — dissolved in a solution — from a purely chemical standpoint, has high entropy! Years before the concept of entropy was even pervasive, Dostoevsky’s perceptive mind somehow recognized this word to be an apt metaphor for the ardent but lost brother’s mental state. It is only now that we see its full significance.

Simply pondering that these psycholinguistic hints to the nature of the universe have been there all along in the words we use every day is awe-inspiring, and indeed makes one see higher order in the universe itself.  They were there in Dostoevsky’s time, in his writing, penned before any of these cosmological or scientific ideas were pervasive. People just didn’t see them because they didn’t know to look for them.  It inspires one to reflect on Zosima’s statement:

“But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it—at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.“ (Dostoevsky 56)

It is particularly profound that Zosima’s statement itself reflects on the very phenomenon of which it is a part! Zosima, the paragon of vidya, saw deep order where others did not see order. The language of anti-entropy is apparent within his thinking. At the same time, the passage itself refers to the notion that hidden meaning is everywhere, that looking back you can see beautiful patterns you overlooked at the beginning, that they’ve been staring you in the face all along. The trick of measuring a character’s connection with God by looking for the language of entropy in the words used to describe them/the words they use is one such pattern! And at the same time, the entire task of reinterpreting the Brothers Karamazov through the lens of Eastern philosophy is itself a project of finding these sorts of hidden orders.

Finally, attempting to express what it is like to subjectively perceive this “force of God” strains the limits of denotative speech. Sometimes more poetic language is needed. Consider this last reflection on the model.

There is a pulsating sun in the psyche, in the universe, that is the source of all human motivation. Occasionally, flares burst through the surface of this sun, reaching out from the sky within, through people’s heads, and coming out their hands or their mouths…all of us are motivated by this sun. The metaphor between this sun and the actual sun is very deep — the sun’s physical energy is, fundamentally, what animates us, and the sun is also a disk in an infinite void, like a single-circle Venn diagram containing in the center the sets of positive  neurological patterns, ways to channel positive energy, to enter positive feedback loops.

And even in the wildest moments of chaos, fear, and despair, a chance thought can cause us to awake to find it pulsating deep within, witnessed in every breath. Like needlepoint, the meticulous art, our memories pass through and through, reflecting off one another and spiraling outward in expanding intricate, almost floral, patterns to adorn the walls of the heart.

Come to your senses! Come up from the underground and stare the sun in the face and be shocked and blinded when you see your hideous reflection in the light of day!  Have the evil seared from you, and become beautiful — fear not, because beauty comes from within, as it always has. Beauty comes from union with truth, and union comes from prolonged contact. So begin to make contact with truth now by perceiving yourself clearly.

This is what Father Zosima meant when he told the mysterious philanthropist to confess his sin of murder publically. He was attempting to save the tortured man from the trap of denial of truth, which dulled his ability to perceive all good in the world. He was attempting to sear away the film of avidya, the underground psychology, in which the man was mired.

Conclusion

By reading the brothers Karamazov through the lens of Eastern ideology, we can come to personally relate to and understand what is actually meant by the metaphysical Christian philosophies of the characters. Even more importantly, by using the concept of avidya to understand what is driving these characters, perhaps more deeply than they understand themselves, we can see how they could have “fast-forwarded” their spiritual journeys and lived better lives. As we see Karamazovian characters in the world today, we can apply this to help them. We live in a time in which atheism is growing faster than ever, but also a time of incredible globalization. It is a tipping point — will we lose the deep though sometimes obscure wisdom of the ancient traditions in the melting pot, or experience a renaissance of interfaith and atheist dialogue that leads to great worldwide unity and understanding? This depends on us, the individuals, each of whose actions produce an undying stream of ripples. Thus coming to a personal understanding of what is actually meant by these philosophies is more important than ever. It might, it just might, help a critical mass of humanity learn how to act wise-selfishly rather than foolish-selfishly, and open their minds so that they may be ignited with inspiration.

 


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