The Other I

December 28, 2014

My suggestion for heaven

Filed under: Intriguing Science,Just Stuff,Questions beyond Science — theotheri @ 9:37 pm
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My musician sister sent me the Colbert farewell YouTube video.  It was removed from the internet by Viacom who owns the copyright, so attached here in Vera Lynn’s rendition that gave hope to so many during WWII.

I have heard the Vera Lynn version many times and understood why it meant so much to so many.  But this post is about my unexpected response to the Colbert version.

First of all, let me assure any doubters that I personally do not believe in heaven as most people understand the term.  And if I did, I would not be motivated to try to get there.  Sitting around in a perfect world, with no problems ever to solve, with no one in need of an extra act of thoughtfulness, with no creativity because everything is already perfect sounds excruciatingly boring.

But as I watched the Colbert video, I suspended my unknowing, and began to wonder if, in some mysterious way that I cannot fathom, we will, indeed “meet again” in a next life.  What would that be like?

I imagined sitting around a fire, when our two dogs burst into the room, barking in wild enthusiasm as they recognized us.  And then Mom and Dad and my sister Mary who died almost twenty years ago joined us.  We each had a glass of wine and began to exchange stories.  And I asked them all the questions about what they thought about this and that, questions I couldn’t ask after they’d died.  And then four more dear friends came, and we continued to talk late into the night.

Of course, I would want them all eventually to leave.  Except the dogs.  I mean, sitting around the fire with a glass of wine forever would get to be pretty boring too.  I need sleep.  And besides, I don’t have a very high tolerance for alcohol.

So I don’t think I’ve figured out the great mystery of life and the universe in which it is evolving after all.  The scenarios offered by various religions are inadequate metaphors at best.  Some super-mathematical scientists suggest that there are an infinite number of universes in which life repeats itself in every possible version.  And another scientist has just seriously suggested that when the Big Bang happened, Time began to run both forward and backward in two different parallel universes.  Maybe we are in the universe where time is running backward and will eventually run into the universe where time is running forward.  I confess it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

The best I can hope for is that when we die we become part of some kind of transcendent consciousness.  And I say that only because I haven’t the faintest idea of what that means either.

I think I’ll just listen to the Vera Lynn YouTube again and be grateful for the mystery of life that has been given to me right now.

 

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September 13, 2012

The Han and the here-and-now

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:37 pm
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We went to see a fascinating exhibit about the Han Dynasty at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (England) today.

First, a little bit of background, in case your Chinese history is as woeful as mine.  The Han Dynasty ruled in China for four hundred years from about 200 BC to 200 AD.  It was a period of economic prosperity and significant technological and scientific advances.   These included paper-making, the wheelbarrow, ship rudders, suspension bridges and pipeline to fuel natural gas furnaces.  In mathematics, the square root and negative numbers were discovered.  The Han Dynasty was roughly contemporaneous with the early Roman Empire, and it was during this time when the Silk Route between China and the West opened up trade between the East and the West.

  The exhibit features newly discovered tombs of great Han rulers,comparable in some way with the Egyptian pyramids.  The Chinese rulers were buried with everything they needed to continue life as they knew it, with the very best of everything they might need.  That included cooking and eating utensils, pots for making drinks, musical instruments,medicines, fighting armour, potions for fighting off evil spirits, even a state-of-the-art toilet.  The tomb itself was secured by a lock that could be opened only from the inside once it was finally closed.

The comparisons between the Han’s view of life after death the traditional Christian view fascinate me.  Both are elaborations of life as we know it here on planet earth  – with eating and drinking, entertainment and illness, enemies and war.  Both include the existence of both good and evil spirits.  And both include the survival of the individual.   Neither includes a self-less merging into a transcendence in which the ego disappears.

My first thoughts as I wandered through the exhibit was to wonder how someone who still believes in the traditional idea of a Christian heaven would evaluate this tomb.  Here are all the paraphernalia laid out,  unused for  some two thousand years.  Even the royal toilet, with its luxury seat located conveniently located over a deep trench remained in pristine condition.  How does Christian belief in an after-life have any more credibility?

As I pondered this question, I thought perhaps that on a more profound level, what both belief systems have in common is an intuition that life doesn’t end with death.  I live in a different time with a modern scientific view of the universe.  I myself do not intuit that  my own individual ego will survive beyond my life here on earth.  Personally I don’t believe it does.  But life will go on, and my participation in this great universal process will not go unmarked.  The life each one of us lives makes a difference in the way the future unfolds.

One of the other striking characteristics of the Han Dynasty – indeed of Chinese philosophy going back to Confucius – is the concept of divine rule.  The Chinese believed that their rulers had a mandate from heaven.  It is similar to the divine right of kings developed in the West, but with a critical difference.  The mandate was not hereditary.  If the Chinese ruler failed his people through arrogance or misuse of power or even through ignorance or as the result of unforseen circumstances such as drought or flood, the mandate of heaven would be withdrawn and given to someone else.  Power was not class-based, but based on merit – an idea we Americans tend to think was born with the U.S. Constitution.

This idea that rulers will be replaced if they do not rule for the good of the people is still a part of Chinese culture.  Although there is no time limit to how long rulers can remain in power, even the Communists today are aware that if the majority of people come to believe that they are not serving them, they believe that their authority is no longer legitimate.

It feels more like some Western democracies today than I would have thought possible before my visit to the Fitzwilliam.

June 7, 2008

Sunglasses make a reappearance

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:43 pm
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Maybe I shouldn’t bother to post this trivial bit of information.  It won’t even make any sense to anyone who hasn’t read my post for yesterday.  For anyone who has read it, however, you will understand why it’s significant that I found my rather expensive sunglasses today.

But do I think it’s evidence that Mary, my sister who died 13 years ago and to whom I often ask for help when I’m looking for something I’ve lost, is in some way responsible for my finding the sunglasses?  Well, let’s put it this way:  if instead of sunglasses, I’d received advice to put a thousand dollars into the stock market, I wouldn’t do it.

I’m willing to concede that there are a lot of things that happen in this universe that seem mysterious or strangely coincidental, but they don’t seem to me to approach anything like prove of life beyond the grave.  Finding my sunglasses isn’t nearly as improbable as someone winning the lottery and although it’s a ten-million-to-one chance that a person might win, it happens regularly. 

So my sunglasses remind me of Mary.  But I don’t give her credit for my finding them in the crevice of the car seat where they’d slipped.  Faith, by definition, doesn’t come with proof, though unfortunately it can sometimes be buttressed with superstition.  Which is what I would call giving Mary credit for my finding my lost sunglasses.  If I believe that death is not the absolute end of everything, it is not because I have received any kind of sign from beyond.

Besides, it wasn’t even on the anniversary of her death.  It was the day after.

June 1, 2008

Male and female: Thinking about what we can’t prove

After my post yesterday about dying, I began to think about the fact that on average men are better scientific thinkers than women, and that women are better intuitives, being able to assess what others might be thinking or feeling, for example, or sensing an outcome that can’t be solved through scientific analysis.  I think that is why women are often more religious than men.  It may also be why more women seem to believe in life after death then men.

Women often get a bad press for this, being labelled as superstitious, sentimental, contradictory, fearful and soft.  Sometimes this is so, and the purely intuitive type needs the hard-headed logic and realism of the scientific type.  But the opposite is also true.  Men are often reductionists, believing only what can be proved, dismissing conclusions that aren’t provable.  They benefit as much from the counter-balance of the intuitive as they benefit intuitives.

I think how much we need answers to questions that aren’t subject to scientific or logical analysis is greatly underestimated, and the sheer number and importance of questions that can only be answered intuitively or not at all is greatly under-valued by almost everybody.  Here is a small sample of questions which we can’t answer scientifically, and yet which most of us consider fairly important:

  • Should I marry him/her?
  • Does my husband (wife, partner, friend) really love me?
  • Would this be a good gift to give to my mother (father, brother, sister, daughter, son, friend) for her/his birthday?
  • What should I say when someone tells me that – fill in
  • Is there anything after death?
  • What career path should I pursue?  should I take that job?
  • Why did he/she say that?
  • How should I tell the children that – fill in
  • Is this a good idea?

I think there is life after death.  My husband thinks that the life we have before us today is enough.  As I see it, the risk of my approach is that it could devalue the present, and I benefit from being reminded that today is the challenge that has been given to me, not yesterday, and not tomorrow.  In this regard, one of the problems I have long had with the idea of heaven and hell as reward and punishment for our present lives is that so many people seem to conclude that the only reason for living a moral life is to get to heaven and avoid hell.  But I think goodness is intrinsically rewarding.  I don’t tell the truth or act with honesty and respect for others out of fear of hell, but because it makes me feel better and happier today, not tomorrow.

So I think we’re both right.  But both only partly right. 

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