Eyes on the Overworld

There are the two views of looking at the cosmos I mentioned earlier. There is the view of Aristotle, that the physical world is all there is. Anything more complex or divine than what we can see and touch and hurl around is nothing more than an emergent property, and with enough study may be described and understood.

The view of Plato, Aristotle’s tutor, is that there is an underlying reality and the physical world is no more than an expression of this.

I’ll deal with Plato later, but for now, let us pretend that the universe we can see and touch and experience and interact with is all that there is and ever will be. If we move a rock from one point to another, perhaps by throwing it at someone with a different view, then we are altering reality.

Hurl enough rocks, kill everyone with a divergent opinion – or at least convince them to change their minds – then the different world-view likewise disappears. Problem solved.

Now, I have two problems with this entirely rational and attractive view of Aristotle. Yes, it all hangs together by logic and evidence and proof. We can – and do! – write books on how everything works, where everything is located, what it looks like etc.

So. First problem. Where does consciousness live? Science has not yet been able to puzzle this out, beyond running electrical scans over brains and saying, “Well, this bit lights up when we think about chocolate cake”. Ask them hard enough and scientists will throw up their hands and say that consciousness is an emergent property.

That’s all very nice, but consciousness is something we all experience, it’s very real, it’s something with which we are intimately familiar. If science cannot tell us what it is and how it works, then it’s like they can’t tell us what the sun is beyond being a big ball of light and heat that disappears at night, perhaps carried along by heat-resistant horses or something.

Entertaining, but useless.

On that point, my second problem is where are all the gods and divine realms? Human history and culture is full of supernatural beings residing in magical places. Demons live in the underworld, gods and angels live in lofty places, and they all have amazing powers which they use to alter the life trajectories of we mortals.

Pick up any religious text and there they are. Poseidon sinks the ship, Christopher looks after the traveller, someone else is destroying Sodor and Gomorrah, making the right lottery numbers come out, sending the cancer cells to the appropriate people and so on. Thor the god of thunder is the reason churches have lightning conductors. Or something along those lines.

So we have this vast and glorious array of powerful beings, apparently interacting with us in the real physical world, but science is unable to find them. The cathedral burns down and science is able to show us surveillance of the lightning hitting the spire, but the lightning god remains hidden, no matter how many observation devices are patrolling the clouds and weather satellites looking down from above.

We cannot discern the horses pulling the sun across the sky, but science has provided us with plausible explanations, and we can test and examine those answers until we are reasonably sure that they are accurate descriptions.

Those who believe in gods and divine creatures can say, well, we just haven’t found them yet; we haven’t looked everywhere, have we? Well, no, but assuming that these beings live in places we haven’t looked, they must still be subject to the same limitations that govern the physical world. Nothing moves faster than light, for example, so although we may cheerfully posit pantheons of divine beings living in the far reaches of the cosmos, we come up short when we ponder how they interact with us.

Is Thor sending down his thunderbolts from a distant star, maybe? If so, he has bloody good aim, and how come we can’t spot them coming and get out of the way, given that it’s going to take them at least four years to get here?

And all the rest of it. No matter how hard we look, we just cannot find these creatures, nor detect their magical interventions. If aliens and their advanced technologies came along, surely we would be able to see their spaceships, and note the effects of their advanced weapons and systems? Of course we would. We’d set teams of scientists to the task of understanding how we can survive their blasts and maybe steal a little technology so we could strike back.

And yet, all the governments on earth – except those at the very lowest levels: town councils and so on – and all the well-funded international organisations we can think of, not one of them is devoting any serious effort or spending their money on understanding or stealing the impressive powers of the gods themselves.

If a government wants to sink an enemy ship, they aren’t puzzling out how Neptune does the deed. No, they are wasting their money on missiles and mines and suchlike, a more expensive and chancey exercise than merely waving a divine finger in the offices of the Ministry of War.

Occam’s Razor tells me that the reason governments aren’t seriously investigating the immense powers of supernatural beings is because there’s no possible return on the investment. It would be nice to have the information, production, and transportation technology of Santa Claus – now wouldn’t that solve a lot of governmental problems! – but Santa Claus doesn’t operate in a realm where we can find him. No matter how many recording devices you set, it’s just your Dad stumbling around in the dark. And after a certain point in life, it’s not your father, it’s you.

Aristotle is responsible for a lot of knowledge and understanding. We may thank him for the weather satellites over our heads, telling us about cyclones and thunderbolts heading our way. But if we want to believe in the supernatural and any or all of the various gods we are told – at vast expense – stride amongst us and interfere with our lives, then we must seek elsewhere. They are not found in Aristotle’s model of the cosmos.


Photo by Vikas Sawant from Pexels

life, philosophy , , , , ,

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