Dust in the wind


The Black Cat analogy

Philosophy is like being in a dark room looking for a black cat.

Metaphysics is like being in a dark room looking for a black cat, which isn't there.

Theology is like being in a dark room looking for a black cat, which isn't there and exclaim: "I found it!"

Science is like being in a dark room looking for a black cat with a flashlight.

Science comes up with all kinds of explanations and theories about the nature and origin of reality. Facts are observed, hypotheses are formulated to explain the facts. The hypotheses are tested and subjected to falsification and verification. If the hypotheses pass the tests, a theory is established, which can best explain the facts and possibly make predictions.

And the research always continues. Science is an ongoing process. Perhaps new facts come to light, requiring theories to be revised or expanded. There is a lot of knowledge out there. Some things we are pretty sure of. There are scientific theories that are unimaginably accurate, such as the Standard Model of particle physics, while at the same time we also know that this model is incomplete.

How does science view what we call 'reality'?

Most scientists assume that there is some kind of 'outside world', some properties of which we can measure. Via certain signals from that outside world, such as light particles, odor molecules and air pressure differences, an image of the world is created in the brain. That image reveals laws that enable us to make predictions. The stone of a certain weight that I throw up with a certain speed, falls down again with a certain speed and a certain impact. If I do the same throw again in the same way, then the measured speeds, weights, etc., will also be practically the same.

But something as seemingly simple as the falling of a stone is in fact a completely misunderstood phenomenon. "Gravity does that, doesn't it?" Yes, but what is that? A lot of intelligent people have been racking their brains about that. We have theories and formulas. The formulas are extremely accurate, but of course they don't explain anything. There are even serious scientists who believe that gravity is nothing more than an illusion. 1)

stuff! In fact, we don't know what a 'stone' is either, or an 'apple', or anything else. We give names to things and processes and that seems like we also know WHAT something is. Names only refer to other names, but never say anything about the named.

That said, the methodology of science produces great results. We all live reasonably comfortable lives thanks to that same science. But it is unable to provide answers to ultimate questions. And that is not the fault of science, but of the nature of reality and the human condition. And even though the process of science makes sense, is useful, and above all is plausible, even the people who work in it are 'only' human beings and thus have biases and prejudices, just like everyone else.

At any rate, as a child I want to be a scientist. Or 'inventor'. Making discoveries in mysterious, strangely smelling laboratories, full of glassware, people in white coats and instruments. My idea of romance at the time :-)

But all those facts, factoids and formulas can no longer fascinate me after a while. I want to know what lies at the basis of everything we observe and think we know in this immeasurable universe.

It quickly becomes clear to me then that there are limits to what we and science can know at all. Where did the universe come from? Why is there a universe at all? What are space, time, matter or energy anyway? What is life? What is perception? What are thoughts? What happens when we die? These are questions that science cannot definitively answer.

But surely there must be answers to these questions somewhere? Surely you can think and look for those answers? You can, for example, consult religions, philosophers and teachers from the past and present. Perhaps they have the answers that science cannot give.

Religions do indeed have (ready-made) answers. And there are millions of people who are firmly convinced of the truth of those answers. The stories from the books of those religions are practically all outdated by science and sound like complete and even insane nonsense to my ear. In addition to the stories, there are the prescriptions about how best to live and often these only serve to manipulate some supernatural being so that you may have a better experience in this life or at least after this life. Or they serve to make and keep a society somewhat liveable, but also controllable.

The underlying philosophy of many religions' (and also of much so-called 'spirituality') of an eternal Principle (God, Allah, Brahman, 'Existence', Nature, Universal Consciousness, whatever) that would underlie the world can only be accepted on authority: a high priest, guru or some book claims it. Proving that such a thing exists has not really succeeded so far, and it is logically impossible to prove that something does not exist. But it could exist. The variants of faith which give this Principle human traits (envy, murderous lust, pity, you name it - the gods are clearly created in our image) strike me as rather ridiculous, but that is of course only my personal opinion.

Many religions and spiritual movements also claim that there is such a thing as an eternal, divine principle that is said to be present in us or in everything. And whether you call it 'soul', 'Atman' or 'Consciousness' doesn't matter. It would survive the death of the body, so it is claimed, and continue to exist in another 'sphere' or 'dimension', or (having spent some time in the other dimension) reincarnate in a new body. There is no evidence for this either, but again, it could be. By the way, there are also very common and natural explanations for so-called 'near-death experiences'.

Then you have the western and eastern philosophy. They have been coming up with countless so-called answers since 2500 years. And besides quibbling and hair-splitting, there are also quite fascinating and entertaining thoughts among them for sure, but again, not a single proof. And that's especially true of that special department of philosophy called "metaphysics," which means "beside physics". Ah well yes, it "has been laid beside it", as my mother would say of a piece of jewelry not made of real gold.

We cannot see outside of ourselves, or the universe, and therefore we cannot answer questions pertaining to the nature and origin of mind/world.

"Conjectures about the original source of all we see, think, and feel, what it all means, where it's all headed, who and what "I" am, and other such questions defy knowing, I say, and can only be believed, disbelieved, or, as in my case, allowed to blow in the wind like dust." 2)

Answers to life's ultimate questions, then, are simply not the answer. With this insight, with the answers, the questions also disappear (for they no longer do matter).

Scientific, religious, and philosophical beliefs are only a part of the total complex of opinions, and things we unconsciously think, that take away, distort, and obscure our view of reality. Most of these beliefs are unconscious too and therefore all the more influential.

1) Gravity as an illusion
2) Robert Saltzman, The Ten Thousand Things, Chapter 22