Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I Don't Understand the World

But neither do you, so let's be friends.

I just finished reading Michael Crichton's travelogue Travels.  During the first hundred pages or so, I loved it.  He talked about the trials and tribulations of medical school and his own issues with being a doctor.  These are not dissimilar to the qualms I've experienced about being a lawyer.  And I could also relate to his feelings of isolation for appreciating a broader spectrum of life than did his classmates.  Not "better"---just broader.

The next hundred pages or so were equally interesting: they dealt with his experiences traveling throughout the world.  Climbing Kilimanjaro, visiting Shangri-La, smoking pot in Thailand.  I found it fascinating and thrilling, inspiring even.  I wanted to go out and experience this city, my temporary home.  Just find some random place to stick my head in and taste the life blood of Federal City.

Then I got bogged down in the last hundred pages or so.  He shifted from talking about his physical travels to talking about his metaphysical travels.  He learned how to see auras, travel on the astral plane, and channel some higher level of himself.  He even experienced an exorcism.  These are phenomena with which I am distinctly uncomfortable, and so the reading was very slow and difficult.  But I slogged through it, and I'm glad I did.

The last chapter of the book is called "Postscript: Skeptics at Cal Tech."  In it, he defends his belief in and experience with the paranormal.  He essentially argues that Science and Faith are not opposed in some epistemological battle for explanation and power;  rather, Science and Faith are opposed in much the same way that Christianity and Roman Paganism were opposed in the first century C.E.  It's not a difference in a way of thinking; it's a difference in what you think.  He notes:

Science offers a picture of the world, but its picture is not to be confused with the underlying reality itself.

And later:

This, in essence, is the problem with the scientific view of reality.  Science is a kind of glorified tailoring enterprise, a method for taking measurements that describe something---reality---that may not be understood at all.

Science is very good as far as it goes.  It has certainly produced powerful benefits.  It would be crazy to abandon science or to deny its validity.

But it would be equally crazy to think that reality is a forty-four long.

Before you start thinking that Dr. Crichton, a Harvard-trained physician, has gone all crazy Left Coast on you, he concludes the essay:

The fact is that we need the insights of the mystic [or theologian or philosopher or psychologist] every bit as much as we need the insights of the scientist.  Mankind is diminished when either is missing.

Many scientists and "rational" thinkers deny the value of religion except as a safety blanket.  "Where is the evidence?!" they demand, often adamantly.  But the uncomfortable truth is that we only need as much evidence as we think we need.  We accept the Pythagorean theorem because our eighth grade math teacher told us about it.  Sure, there's evidence out there to prove it, but have you looked it up?  Have you read Pythagoras's notes?  How do you know there isn't some vast conspiracy of math teachers with some strange goal?  Because you've decided---consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously---that your eighth grade teacher's word is enough.

And non-religious thinkers decide---consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously---that their Sunday school teacher's word is not.

The merits of your position and mine may never be "known" while we're living on earth.  But that's OK.  I'll try to convince you that I'm right and you try to convince me that you're right.  Why can't we still be friends?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

mayoroni here,

good one. well put. Why can't we all just get along? That would be nice. I think I have observed that people have a need to feel like their way is right, somehow better than other people's. We have a parochial view of the world, the old "Us/Them" dichotomoy. It drives us. Anyway. I like your post.

by the way, Pythagoras was a gay cowboy.