The Human Multiverse

When my daughter was small, she would make pronouncements about what was the case. If questioned about how that could be, she would sometimes reply “that’s just how it is in MY world.” I have heard adults do much the same thing when faced with facts that conflict with what they want. “That’s YOUR truth, I have MY truth” they might say. I understand that is the way they see the world. The question then becomes whether there as many “worlds” as there are people.

Others, who would not claim to have their own personal “world,” resist the life they experience because it is not the way things “ought” to be. Their vision of the ideal world is insisted on before action can be taken. By refusing to come to terms with what must actually be dealt with, they cannot step into a larger life.

Both of these groups deny themselves access to the full range of reality. The first does it by denying any one way the world is and refusing to acknowledge those unpleasant skinned knees that unyielding reality can deal.  The second group is no freer because they turn inward and reject a life that fails to meet their expectations. Where then does freedom lie?

In modern cosmology, the Multiverse is a popular theory that seeks to avoid having to explain the apparent design and fitness of our universe for life.  It does this by theorizing an infinite number of universes such that one like ours was bound to exist.  The lack of observable evidence and other problems that count against this idea are ignored or minimized. Likewise, a human mulitverse, where we all are deities of our own kosmos and write comfortable laws that govern there, is a theory that seems to be avoiding something.

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Every now and then you get a look at yourself and wonder why you never noticed a thing that’s kinda obvious.  I thought I was afraid of heights. Nope. I ride in airplanes and I go up in tall structures. No problem. Just don’t ask me to walk out on a cliff or an observation deck of a tall building. It turns out that I am deathly afraid of edges. Perhaps some of you will understand.  I can close my eyes and imagine myself on a rock overhang of the Grand Canyon and create chemical changes in my body. Fear. Take me to an edge of anything tall and some primal thing in my brain will begin to scream about how gravity becomes unpredictable and a 60 mph wind could come out of nowhere in this place. Irrational. Fear.

It’s like I heard a guy say one time “you can’t fall off the floor.”  I’ll admit that he was slightly intoxicated, but truer words had never been spoken. Back here away from the edge I can tell myself comforting things like how walking out to the rim would be pointless. I could explain how the return-on-investment just doesn’t add up. I have 99% of my life to explore…why does that dangerous 1% matter? If only it wouldn’t call to me I might be safe and content.

For a Christian there are popular books, regular Sunday sermons and the odd thrill of transcendence at a sunrise. The adventuresome may even take weekend getaways that promise spiritual experiences and insights. These may be done in the 99% arena without that dreadful feeling of losing control or performing “without a net.” But at what cost do I play it safe?

There have been a few sacred adventures where I followed a trail of thought from one possibility to the next without looking down. Like moth to flame my goal seemed almost within reach when I found myself at the boundary of my understanding. As I searched the  ground for the path, I saw that it ended in at a sharp precipice and left me exposed.  At my feet was a chasm. What came next has made all the difference. I took a deep breath, reached one hand back for the anchor of saints gone on, and leaned out over the empty space and found… altar.

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head on

I have always believed the old saying “Don’t worry about what people think of you.  You’d be surprised by how little they think about you at all.”  Much unnecessary stress is brought into our lives by failing to understand this little gem of a truth.  We assign motives to people’s actions that have nothing at all to do with why they actually behave the way they do.  People, by and large, are not out to “get” us.

I am a runner (recreationally speaking) and I live just off of a busy four-lane highway.  I have a two mile loop that goes up the highway for a ways and then comes back to my street.  I run on the side that faces the oncoming traffic.  I like to see the potential squashing coming before it squashes me.  Also, I run on the very edge of the road where a car would not even have to leave their lane to not commit vehicular assault upon my poorly-dressed person.  Because of the monotony of the activity, I don’t have anything else to look at but my potential oncoming demise.

As I considered the oncoming traffic I realized that most cars would begin to veer towards me and then move over at about 200 feet away.  “What a lousy bunch of bullies,” I always thought, until one day I remembered hearing that we tend to move towards what we focus on.  Automatic programming was causing the partially asleep morning drivers to drift towards me without any ill-will on their part.  When their brains finally engaged they’d give me a bit of room and even sometimes wave.

There are several lessons in this, but the one that has impacted me is that paranoia about the bad will of others is not justified.  My own wounds and experiences give an interpretation to events that simply don’t reflect the truth.  They are ghosts and shadows that I must meet “head on” if I am to be whole.

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democracy of the dead

In honor of our nation’s birthday and the principles on which it is built I thought we might consider why democracy is so highly prized. It seems that there is no one reason.  One pundit wrote:

“The core of democracy is choice, and not something chosen.”                     – Ernest Barker

In his famous 19th century work Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville teases out some advantages of a democracy.  He writes:

Democratic laws generally tend to promote the welfare of the greatest possible number; for they emanate from the majority of the citizens, who are subject to error, but who cannot have an interest opposed to their own advantage.

So it seems that de Tocqueville’s point was that human self-interest was, over time, the best insurance of good governance. Many voices have echoed this idea and there is clearly a wisdom in it. I do wonder about what the value of each generation’s collective wisdom is if it can be cast aside when the next generation’s desire arises. It seems that only the living get a vote. It may be that there are no universal truths that apply to all people at all times, but the tiresome repetition of war, cruelty, oppression and such that have been a consistent feature of human history suggest otherwise.

If the principle of democracy provides the advantages mentioned, why not extend it to the thoughts, opinions, and successes of all men in all periods of history. It was such an idea as this that our nation was founded upon.  While trying to learn from past mistakes, the crafters of our political system took the things that had been shown to promote flourishing among people and forged them into a document called the constitution. This great work was a tour-de-force of philosophical thought and axiom. There was also, within its pages, the humility of admitting the need for amendment as conditions (not basic human nature) changed and the provision for doing so.

An ever increasing portion of our population has begun to chafe under a system that defines limits to the expression of individual desire. Dallas Willard has written “Modernity has come to stand for a rejection of the past as a guide to the present.” So it seems. The “dead hand” of the founders has its fingers in too many lives to suit many of our enlightened citizens.

We don’t like acknowledging a debt to those who can no longer vote in an election, contribute to a political campaign, or stand and deliver at a press conference.  Maybe the point of our current democracy is not to pool our wisdom and come to better terms with truth, but for the living to negotiate with each other about what we’ll let each other get away with. Those that came before are an embarrassment and an unnecessary consideration. We are like the young child who was placed, by his father, out on the third base of a baseball field who then began to yell “I hit a triple!”  Yeah, right.

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Facing the Kobayashi Maru

  Known to Star Trek geeks everywhere, “The Kobayashi Maru” is the name of a civilian space vessel (or “wessel” as Chekov would have said).  In Trekkie lore, this simulated ship was the focus of a test by the military for it’s prospective commanders.  In the simulation the tested officer would face a “no-win” situation in which his or her leadership decisions would be scrutinized.  The intent was to see what the candidate for captain was made of – whether they had the “right stuff” to see it through till the end, if that time ever came.

Of course, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, of sci-fi fame, ‘beat’ the test by cheating and so became a legend among those characters of the fiction series.  Those of us who have watched and longed to merely be able to make a Vulcan “V” with our fingers cheered his every conquest.  There is, in many of us, a little bit of Kirk.  Often, we don’t believe in “no-win” scenarios where circumstances won’t budge.  Life suggests that we are clearly in denial.

So, what’s a puny mortal to do?  The opening stanzas of the “Serenity Prayer” intone:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference….

–Reinhold Niebuhr

There is wisdom and a certain contentment in acceptance, but the temptation to be fatalistic is always with us.  Surely, for the Christian at least, trusting that God will make it all right in the end is a significant source of comfort.  It is the traditional view and carries the endorsement of the scriptures.  However, if a “fix” is not always within reach, what then constitutes a “win” in the here and now?

This life isn’t science fiction and we are not Kirk.  Even if we manage to avoid all other tests, it seems reasonable that we all will face growing older and the wearing out of these bodies we occupy.  We exercise, we moisturize, we tan our thighs, but in the end….. we realize.  If moving the immovable is what we are all about, then all is indeed vanity.

These days we live in are often difficult and discouraging, but I have come to see that it is just “life.” In my time of testing I have been cast into a meditation on being an adult.  It is remarkable how slowly the romantic notions that we entertained in childhood are replaced by the cold, hard realities of responsibility and duty.  Yet, in the midst of struggle,  there is a secret life that is offered by Jesus that is a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  That life, defined in the Bible as “knowing the Father” ennobles our existence, not by a cheat, but by fulfilling the end for which we were made.  The pointless, from the human point-of-view, suddenly brims with meaning as we see Eternity all around.  That, James T., is winning.

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Working at the Museum

Writing.  It can be a real time of soul-searching.  An idea occurs to you and you begin to put it down on paper only to think….  “I’ve heard this before.”  You can’t remember where you got it from but you know that it’s not really original.  Now it seems that you have a dilemma.  Do you go ahead and publish it without attributing it to someone?  What if I can’t remember the original wording?  There is a thin chance that you had this as a semi-original thought.  The problem is: It just sounds so familiar that you are sure you’ve heard it somewhere before.  Sigh.

This is the problem with knowledge.  We humans must store it up and pass it on.  If we had to start from scratch, we would get nowhere.  We stand on someone’s shoulders. Those peeps are standing on older shoulders ad infinitum.  It turns out that we are curators of knowledge.  Just like those folks who work at museums and come up with displays for the different exhibits, we re-present chunks of knowledge that we have accumulated.  Not just any old chunks, but the good stuff…the prime cuts off the daily bull that is presented to our minds.

Somehow these pieces of life, these distillations of thought become blessed/tainted with our distinctives.  Those of us who aspire to be creative, hold sacrosanct those times when we can take a thought and reformulate it with a semi-important difference.  This is what we hope to give.  We were here and tasted the world and “this” is what it reminded us of.

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a stack of opprobrium

you ignore, yet eyes follow me

across the vacant room

how your height chides and

your lovers lobby for you

impatient patience taunts me with

promise of winged thought and

safe adventure taught through

narrative shot with truth

your bindings fast and loose but

handled before with caress and then

rough laid away and thought

understood. laughing you scorn

you have not forgotten my

promises made in the sunlight

“when there’s time” I lied

and left you waiting. unread

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