Sunday, November 13, 2005

How We Believe by Michael Shermer

I loved this book. There is a spooky similarity between my story and Michael's account of his personal journey from conventional belief. His book lays out just about everything you can say about why people believe in God. But I think I have one more for you.

He talks about "frontal lobe seisures" as explanation for other-worldly experiences. I think there is an experience that's more down to Earth. It underlies the main reason people believe in God (the impressive order and beauty of the Universe).

As Michael points out, we have an illlusion that we're sitting in a "theator of the mind", watching the world roll by on the big screen. We are completely unaware of the fact that everything on the screen is alive. It is constructed by a dynamic mental process that cannot work properly if it doesn't hide its nature. We need to see the world as world, not as mental construct.

But sometimes, the mental nature of what we're seeing is not so well hidden. Drugs can do it (LSD), but ordinary experience can also do it. When we're looking at the Milky Way on a clear night or a spectacular moonlit winter scene, it seems like the world is looking back at you. It's what the theologians call the "I / Thou" experience. You feel certain there's a mind behind all that beauty. There is. It's you.

To put it in somewhat drier terms, the affective content of what we perceive is naturally projected onto the thing perceived. I do not feel beauty -- i see beautiful things. I do not feel awe when I see the night sky -- the universe is awesome.

I've experienced this a few times myself and I know of people whose lives were changed by this. I expect that it's pretty common. Once you put a name to it, you might find that it's a very important motivation behind religious belief, especially for those who claim to see God in all the complexity of the Universe. This isn't just a logical argument. It's an observation


At April 11, 2009 8:38 AM, Blogger raymond said...

"There is. It's you."

Very nice. And I like Plotinus: "I know I am; but I don't know what I am."



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