When Nothing Means Something

In the interview with Abby Martin below, physicist Lawrence Krauss, author of A Universe From Nothing, explains how modern experiments in quantum physics prove that the universe may have come from nothing. Krauss seems to see this as support of the atheistic/materialistic point of view. Yet the idea of “nothingness” also has a long tradition in various mystical traditions.

God, Gods and the Unmoved Mover

Orthodox monotheistic religions conceive of “God” as an anthropomorphic entity who has traits similar to those of humans. To a lesser extent, the same is true for polytheistic religions (e.g. the gods of the Greeks, Norse, Celts, etc.) However, the pagan myths are about gods and goddesses who are more like super humans. If you follow these myths back far enough, you will come to some rather mysterious and mystical beginnings. For example, in Greek mythology, the most powerful Olympian god is Zeus. He is not, however, considered to be the Creator of the universe. The Greeks believed in a primordial Chaos that preceded even the gods.

Returning to the monotheistic religions. here we are presented with a God who is the sole Creator and who apparently has no beginning and no end. These religions, for the most part, don’t ask the question “Where did God come from?” as it leads to some tricky and potentially blasphemous territory.

Aristotle, who predated Christianity by several hundred years but was nevertheless a strong influence on Christian theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, tackled this problem with his exploration of the Unmoved Mover.

While Aristotle’s argument in his Metaphysics is quite complex, it comes down to the problem of having an infinite regress of causes. There must, he reasoned, be a first cause, which would be an Unmoved Mover, something that was not created or set into motion by anything else. While Aristotle did suggest that the Unmoved Mover was a kind of god (God?), this is a very impersonal entity compared to the God of the Jews and Christians.

What About Nothing?

While both Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover and the monotheistic God are seen as timeless, always-having-existed entities, other traditions are willing to explore the seemingly paradoxical notion of something coming out of nothing. This idea is expressed in slightly different terms in various traditions. Some of these include:

Chaos -This Greek idea predates Aristotle and the Olympian gods. Out of Chaos came Erebus, an impersonal deity that represents darkness. It is only out of Erebus that qualities such as Love and Light, and eventually the pre-Olympian goddess Gaea was born. Thus, the ancient Greeks indeed believed that Chaos and darkness came before the world as we know it.

Kaballah -In the Hebrew Kaballah (also spelled Caballah or Qabala), the created universe, often depicted as the Tree of Life is preceded by The Absolute, which in turn has three aspects: Ain, Ain Soph and Ain Soph Aur. Ain refers to the Absolute prior to manifestation. Ain is often translated as “nothing.” Ain Soph, which translates into “limitlessness” represents the beginning of the manifested universe, which, according to Kabbalistic teachings, must follow from Ain. Ain Soph Aur, which is translates into “limitless light” is the source of the created world.

Hinduism -The earliest teachings of Hinduism assert that Nothingness or the Void (a term later used widely in Buddhism as well) preceded both darkness and light. The Sanskrit word asat, which translates into non-existence is sometimes used to describe this state. Out of this nothingness came a Triad of entities known as Saguna Brahman, Jivatmas and Prakriti (or Nature). We can see some similarity here to the Kabbalistic teachings.

Taoism -The Tao, which has been attributed to the mysterious Lao Tse, is a complex idea that is more like a force of nature than a god. However, it also contains elements of Nothingness or the Void as well. Consider the first stanza of the Tao as translated by Derek Lin:

The Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

I think the Tao in some ways comes closer than any other doctrine to capturing the idea of how paradox or mystery lies at the heart of existence. The “nameless” is a concept similar to the Void. Yet the Tao is both the nameless and the names, i.e. the nothingness that precedes existence and existence itself.

Nothingness vs The Unmoved Mover

So how does the idea of nothingness, Ain or the Tao relate to the notion of an Unmoved Mover? It’s worth noting that none of these concepts can be understood by the rational mind. We can no more logically conceive of a God or Unmoved Mover who has always existed than we can conceive of nothing. So, to some extent, these are words and concepts that are being used to describe something that is ultimately incomprehensible -except in spiritual or mystical states.

Since there is no way to conceive of an Unmoved Mover, it might be said that there is no real difference between an always-having-existed God/Unmoved Mover and a God that came from nothing. They are two different ways of expressing the inconceivable.

Why a Universe Out of Nothing Doesn’t Equate With Atheism/Materialism

As we can see from these brief summaries of various mythical and mystical traditions, ideas such as Chaos, the Void, Nothingness and the Tao have been around for a very long time. In all of these traditions, “nothing” is the origin of Creation. Yet from the esoteric point of view, creation and the void are two sides to the same coin. In the Kabbalah, this is expressed in the idea that Ain Soph and Ain Soph Aur follow inevitably from Ain (or Nothing). In the Tao, the interdependence of being and nonbeing is seen as more of an eternal paradox or mystery.

Scientists of a materialistic bent may want to reduce the idea of nothing into a random, godless universe devoid of purpose. The monotheist debates this by saying the universe was created by an intelligent God with a divine purpose. The mystic, however, acknowledges that both purpose and randomness are part of the mystery of existence.

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Our Updated and Translated TOS

Our Updated TOS (translated for the ignorant)

We are once again, for the 1,201 time, updating our terms of service and you are responsible for reading every word, no matter how abstruse, contradictory or meaningless. If you want the privilege of using our (sic) services, you must check the box below that indicates that you have read and understood (LOL) all of these terms.

In a nutshell, you are between a rock and a hard place. In this analogy, we are the rock (we like that image) and our virtually indistinguishable competitors are the hard place. Since they’d make you agree to virtually indistinguishable TOS and will pull all the same bullshit as us, why bother to switch?

Since you are forced to use our services, either because they are essential to your livelihood or because we’ve succeeded in keeping you addicted to an endless stream of posts/ads/mindless entertainment, you and I both know you will agree to just about anything we propose.

To sum it up for you ignoramuses who cannot comprehend our incomprehensible legalese and bureaucratic drivel, by agreeing to our TOS, you are essentially forfeiting all rights to privacy, autonomy and, let’s face it, human dignity. We can and will share your personal information with our scumbag partners who will, in turn, share it with their scumbag partners, ad infinitum. So you can expect to receive an endless barrage of spam and targeted ads wherever you go on the internet -and soon, wherever you go, period. We also won’t hesitate to share your personal information with the government, so if you step out of line, don’t be surprised if a SWAT team breaks down your door in the middle of the night. Hey, you agreed to it, haha.

One more thing. We may share your personal information with just about anyone, but you are severely restricted in how you use the content we so generously provide for you. Almost everything you see, such as photos, videos and music, is owned by one of our aforementioned scumbag partners, i.e. multinational corporations. So it’s copyrighted material that you are most certainly not free to use as you wish. Oh, and once you post something on our site, that becomes ours too. Pretty sweet, at least for us!

Are you still reading this? It only gets more depressing from here on. Why not just check the box below and get back to your regularly scheduled entertainment? If you insist on continuing… By signing our latest TOS, you hereby agree that your brain and, if there is such a thing, soul, are affiliates of our conglomerate that you are only borrowing from us for a fee. We reserve the right to insert programmable (by us, of course) chips into your brain that control your thoughts and actions. Ok, let’s just cut to the chase -we own you, bitch.

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact our customer service department at any time. Our sole purpose is To Serve Man…and woman, of course.

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The Strange Symbolism and Numerology of ISIS

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve reached the point where it’s healthy to be skeptical of everything we hear/read/see in the news, on TV and online -including BOTH MSM and conspiracy/alternative media!

Keeping that in mind, several things stand out to me about the latest “ISIS” crisis.

The Need For a New, Even More Evil Enemy

It seems extremely convenient that this almost unbelievably violent group would suddenly appear at this time. Osama Bin Laden was (allegedly) killed several years ago and people have gotten accustomed to the usual news about Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the War on Terror. The Iraq War is supposedly over and the War in Afghanistan is supposedly winding down.

We all know, however, that there is always the need for an Enemy. After Saddam and Osama are gone, who or what is next? Wouldn’t it be convenient to have a group SO evil and extreme that even Al Qaeda doesn’t approve? Enter ISIS.

Predictably, there are all kinds of theories about who is really behind ISIS. I won’t even try to analyze these or weigh in on how credible any of these theories are. I would, however, focus on the convenience and predictability of a new and deadlier than ever enemy suddenly appearing as the old ones die off or lose their aura of evil invincibility.

Why A Pagan Name For an Islamic Group?

Now we get to the esoteric and perhaps off-the-wall stuff, so make sure your tin foil helmets are on securely.

ISIS is an acronym -in English, of course- for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The group is also referred to as ISIL -for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or simply Islamic State. Let’s focus, however on the one most commonly used in the U.S. -ISIS.

As you may already know, Isis is the name of an ancient goddess that was worshipped by the Egyptians, Greeks and other ancient cultures. What is the possible significance of this ancient pagan goddess being used to name a contemporary terrorist group?

Keep in mind that ISIS is used by the Western media, not by the group itself. It would be really strange if a fundamentalist Islamic group were to name itself after a pagan goddess. Fundamentalist religions, Islam included, actually object more strenuously to paganism than to competing monotheistic religions -at least in principle. Since we’ll be getting into numerology in a bit, it’s interesting to note that number -the same as the number of victims on 9/11.

So why is this extremist Islamic group being called ISIS?

I’ve heard a couple of explanations. One is that the Illuminati are themselves (dark) pagans, and they created this group as part of their plan for world domination and/or wholesale destruction of human life. In other words, Isis is being evoked in a kind of black magic ritual, where human sacrificial victims are being dedicated to this goddess.

Another explanation has been put forth by the mysterious figure known as Cobra, who claims to represent the “resistance” (to Illuminati/Cabal/NWO efforts). On his site Portal 2012, he discusses that the real motive for the name Isis in this context is to transform a positive symbol into a negative one. Cobra calls the dark forces “archons,” a term from Gnosticism. As he says,

“The Archons are quite skilled occultists. What they do is to take a symbol of Light and use mass media propaganda to entrain people to associate that symbol with darkness, pain and suffering and to suppress Goddess energy.”

For the entire article, see: 2012 Portal: ISIS

The Numerology of ISIS and 9/11

I do not have extensive knowledge of numerology, so perhaps someone can add or elaborate on this topic, but I have noticed a few interesting things about the word “Isis.”

Regardless of what you think about 9/11, that event was used as the foundation of the War on Terror and many related policies and actions.

There have been various explanations of the significance of the number 911 and why that date was chosen. For example:

9/11 and Numerology

Now let’s look at the word ISIS using the simplest cipher of all, substituting letters for numbers, as in A=1, B=2, etc. This code is actually used in many systems of numerology, including qabalistic gematria

Gematria, of course, is far more complicated than a simple number-letter substitution code. It originally involved Hebrew letters and there are various ways to calculate values. However, modern numerologists generally use the substitution method when applying gematria or other systems using the English language and other languages that use the same alphabet.

Using this code, we have these values:

I = 9
S = 19
I = 9
S = 19

Note that all of the numbers contain a 9 and/or a 1. The sum total of these numbers is 56, which add up to 11.

This admittedly does not prove anything. It’s merely data that links the name ISIS with the numbers 9 and 11. I invite others to develop and expand on what this might mean.

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What Independence?

As Americans get ready to celebrate another “Independence Day,” isn’t it time to reflect on whether or not there’s any independence left to celebrate? This video does an excellent job of explaining why things are no better now (an understatement, really) than they were prior to the American Revolution.

These are also issues that should be able to unite movements such as Occupy, Tea Party, Libertarians and anyone who values freedom. We need to stop arguing over ultimately trivial ideological/political/religious points and wake up to what’s really going on.

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Reclaiming Spiritual Symbols

An important and enlightening article, by Angela Priitchard, published in Waking Times:

Reclaiming the Spiritual Symbols that Have Been Hijacked and Used Against Us

It’s true that many esoteric symbols have been hijacked for dark and manipulative purposes. One outcome of this is that many “truthers,” conspiracy theorists and others have concluded that these symbols are intrinsically dark.

Symbols such as the cross, swastika, all-seeing eye, pentagram and many others have many meanings and uses -both positive and negative. To simply categorize a symbol as negative (or even as positive) is misleading and simplistic.

David Icke, for example, who I think makes some very good points in some of his teachings, tends to go overboard at identifying “Illuminati” symbols such as the Goddess -which, it is often pointed out, is portrayed in The Statue of Liberty, the Starbucks logo and countless other places. Even the sun itself can be considered an Illuminati symbol, as many conspiracy sites are quick to point out.

A more intelligent way to see this is that symbols have a certain power. So it’s natural that anyone seeking power -for whatever purpose- would try to make use of them. To equate the symbol with the intentions of any particular group who uses them, however, is a serious mistake. It would be akin to reading a book full of hatred and propaganda and concluding “books and words are the tools of the dark forces. We must never use words!”

The major drawback to this approach is that it means relinquishing all of these symbols and allowing them to be used for dark and manipulative purposes. Wouldn’t it be better to reclaim them and use them for our own positive and liberating purposes?

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Thom Hartmann’s View of ADHD

I read one of Thom Hartmann’s books on ADD/ADHD and attended one of his lectures and was impressed with his Hunter vs. Farmer view of the issue. It’s true that conventional society, including schools and most workplaces are designed with the “farmer” in mind. This may also relate to the idea that society was freer and healthier prior to the Agricultural Revolution.

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How the Media Fabricates Obsessions

Here’s a story that’s a perfect example of how the mainstream media attempts to fabricate an obsession and then asks why everyone is obsessed with it.

Americans Obsessed With Missing Plane

This is just one example of how our attention is directed at certain events while others are ignored or downplayed. There are also regularly scheduled mass events, such as the ever-longer holiday season, increasingly hyped smaller holidays such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day as well as the Superbowl, Olympics and the endless celebrity gossip.

The corporate media manipulates your consciousness nowadays not so much by pushing a blatant ideology but by focusing your attention on certain hyped up events so you don’t have time to think about anything else.

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Zebras, Lamarck and Teleology

A recent article on Discovery.com reveals the likely reason why zebras developed stripes. It turns out that this type of pattern causes light to reflect in a way that keeps away flies and other pests. What’s really so interesting about such revelations, however, is that they actually undermine the whole conventional understanding of evolution. To understand how this is so, we must go back to the old debate between Lamarck and Darwin regarding evolution.

Lamarck essentially believed that animals developed certain traits in response to their environment and passed these down to their offspring. This sounds straightforward enough, and completely consistent with the above example of zebras and their stripes. There’s only one problem with it -it goes against the Darwinian notion that the needs of animals has nothing to do with evolution. According to the conventional Darwinist view, traits are random. The reason that certain traits are passed on has to do with natural selection.

A common example is the length of giraffes’ necks. The Lamarckian view would be that giraffes developed long necks to reach food in higher places. The Darwinian view is that those giraffes with longer necks were more successful, causing these traits to be passed down.This is an extremely important distinction philosophically speaking. Why? The Lamarckian view, while supporting the idea of evolution, implies a certain intelligence in the natural order -perhaps even that forbidden notion of “intelligent design.” The Darwinian view implies a completely random universe where the most adaptable traits prevail due to their practicality. The Darwinian view does not attempt to explain how such traits came about -we are supposed to believe it’s all random. While certain aspects of Lamarck’s theory have been disproved, it’s very difficult to get away from his basic premise that there is a certain intention to nature.

What’s so interesting is that even trained scientists commonly speak as though the Lamarckian view was correct. Read, for example, the article about zebras. Nowhere is there a mention of natural selection. It seems that the idea of intelligence in the universe is so intuitively appealing that it’s difficult even for diehard Darwinists to escape talking this way.

Just to be clear, the Lamarckian theory does not return us to a simplistic type of Creationism. After all, if God simply created everything in a perfect manner, why is there a need to explain giraffes developing longer necks or zebras acquiring stripes? Everything would simply have been in place from the beginning. The very existence of evolution, even the intelligent design approach, implies a greater complexity than is allowed for in orthodox interpretations of monotheistic religions. The type of intelligent design assumptions that leads us to assume that animals evolve for specific reasons is actually closer to the Aristotelian idea of teleology -the notion that the universe itself contains an impulse to move towards certain ends.

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Is Snowden For Real?

Now that Edwards Snowden is making a new statement, it’s a good time to reassess his credibility. Most of the arguments about whistleblower Edward Snowden are whether he’s a hero exposing the secrets of a corrupt government or a traitor who’s a threat to national security. Others, however, wonder if he isn’t something else altogether.

There are a couple of reasons to doubt him. First of all, there is the question of why, if he’s such a threat to the establishment, he gets so much media attention. The government and mainstream media have a history of ignoring theories and people who represent a true threat rather than keeping them in the headlines.

The other issue, which will resonate more with people who typically follow the alternative/conspiracy media is that Snowden’s revelations are, when all is said and done, rather mild. Is it really surprising that the government is spying on us? So far, all of these earth shattering exposes seem to be on topics that seem controversial but are fairly out in the open. Similar charges could be made about Julian Assange, who, a while back, threatened to reveal information that would take down a major financial institution.

Of course, it’s inevitable that there would be Snowden conspiracy theories, since there are ones about everything else. So far, there’s no conclusive evidence either way. As always, though, it’s safest to question everything!

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The Past, Present and Future of Skepticism

Skepticism is widely believed to be a trait of educated and sophisticated intellectuals. Yet the word is used in a variety of ways, many of them contradictory. Let’s delve into the history of skepticism and how it both helps and limits our thinking.

A Brief History of Skepticism

The ancient Greek philosophers were the first to use the term ”skepticism.” The first acknowledge Skeptic was Pyrrho of Elis (365-275 BC), who asserted that nothing can be known for certain. This was a militant form of skepticism that has little to do with the way the word is used in contemporary parlance.

The Enlightenment period also produced several notable skeptics, such as David Hume (1711-1776), who believed that the notion of cause and effect could not be proven. In other words, just because we witness a pebble being thrown into a pond and then a ripple in the water doesn’t necessarily mean that the pebble is the cause of the ripple.

Another philosopher whose views can be called skeptical was George Berkeley, commonly known as Bishop Berkeley (1685-1753). He was known as an idealist, in the sense that we can only be sure of our ideas of the world, not what the world really is. Hence, we should be skeptical of everything our senses tell us, as we have no way of knowing that this is real in any objective way.

This is only a brief summary of a few well known skeptics in the history of philosophy. We could also bring in countless other individuals and schools, including Buddhism (especially Zen, which dispenses with dogma and encourages us to only pay attention to the present moment), Taoism, and many other Western philosophers of the last few centuries. However, my goal with this article is not to present a thorough history of skepticism, but to explore how our understanding of it has drastically changed in recent years.

The Impracticality of Skepticism

If you consider the history of skepticism, even the extremely abbreviated version of it referred to above, you will note a common feature of classical skeptics. They were skeptical of ”everything” –including the evidence of our senses. A skeptic worth his or her salt traditionally questions absolutely everything and trusts nothing.

This point of view is a difficult one to live with and it presents many obvious difficulties. For one thing, by placing everything in the category of unknowable it arguably renders all inquiries pointless. Why bother to consider the big questions of existence if nothing is knowable?

The field of philosophy that deals with knowledge is epistemology. Skeptics deal with epistemology by being comprehensive agnostics. The word agnosticism literally means absence of knowledge, not just about God but about everything.

A popular anecdote (at least among students of philosophy) concerns an argument between the aforementioned Bishop Berkeley and the writer Samuel Johnson on the issue of whether we can believe the evidence of our senses. Supposedly, Johnson struck a large stone with his foot, claiming “I refute it thus” (referring to Berkeley’s idealistic skepticism of matter).

While it’s arguable if this demonstration truly constitutes a persuasive argument, it does point out a legitimate issue. Namely, that a position of complete skepticism puts us at odds with the entire everyday world. In other words, it’s not very practical.

How Modern Rationalists Turned Skepticism on its Head

We have looked at classical skepticism and how its refusal to take anything at face value can be problematic when living in the so-called real world. However, this is not a problem for modern skeptics, as they are far more selective than their predecessors when it comes to what they question.

There’s probably no better place to look if you want an idea of what modern skeptics are like than Skeptic Magazine and its website. The site’s stated mission is “Examining extraordinary claims & promoting science.”

A typical representative of this point of view is Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, who has give a couple of popular TED Talks on the subject. For example, in his talk, “Why People Believe Weird Things,” he sets out to debunk various “weird” beliefs in things like the paranormal and UFOs.

What’s interesting about Shermer’s brand of skepticism is that it not only differs from the traditional variety but in an important manner outright contradicts it. For Shermer and his fellow believers in what might be called scientism are the very opposite of idealists such as Bishop Berkeley. Rather than doubt the evidence provided by the material world, they ask us to believe it unquestioningly.

It’s also quite telling that Shermer dismisses non-mainstream beliefs with the decidedly unscientific term “weird.” There is a clear attempt at ridiculing and intimidating people into feeling intellectually inferior if they believe in something that doesn’t pass the rigors of the modern scientific establishment. But what exactly does this have to do with skepticism?

Are Modern Skeptics Pseudo Skeptics?

As we have seen, modern skeptics are certainly not skeptics across the board. They believe quite fervently in anything that has been “proven” by “science.” I put these words in quotes because such terms can never be as precise as they pretend to be. The constant evolution of scientific theories, as well as the significant (but often ignored or downplayed) disagreements among scientists on many issues is enough to make one ”skeptical” of the myth of a monolithic Truth that has been established by a demigod known as Science.

The key point here is that modern day skeptics tend to place an almost religious like faith in the information provided by their senses. However, even this faith is dwarfed by their belief in nebulous terms such as logic, rationality and science. In actuality, this turns out to be a faith in currently popular theories. In comparison with skeptics of earlier ages, there are good reasons to consider modern skeptics pseudo-skeptics. This is ironic, given that these modern day would-be skeptics are fond of throwing around terms such as “pseudoscience” to anything that doesn’t meet their narrow criteria of truth.

Let’s take a closer look at why something as apparently rock-solid as science turns out to be anything but when we move beyond superficial definitions.

The Rise and Decline of the Scientific Method

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the scientific method can be defined as:

“A method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

Although many of the principles of modern science date back at least as far as the ancient Greeks -Aristotle in particular- the particular way of looking at the world wasn’t systematized until around the time of the Enlightenment and peaked in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

What devotees of the scientific method usually ignore is that many of their most cherished assumptions began to unravel with the latest discoveries of quantum physics, which has largely disproven the notion of a materialistic, quantifiable, objective universe.

This is not the place to go into detail about the complexities of quantum physics. However, anyone who has even a basic exposure to the theories of physicists such as Niels Bohr or Werner Heisenberg (famous for the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which states that it’s impossible to simultaneously know the position and momentum of a particle) can see that this branch of physics undermines almost everything that scientists had taken for granted for centuries.

One of the most revolutionary theories to come out of quantum physics is Many Worlds Theory, which initially sounds like something out of a science fiction novel. Many-Worlds Theory, which was first proposed by American physicist Hugh Everett, postulates that every time there are multiple possible outcomes for an event, parallel universes are created. In each of these universes, a different outcome occurs. While this is, so far, only a theory, the fact that many trained scientists take Many-Worlds Theory seriously tells us a great deal about where science is heading!

A famous example of how Many Worlds theory can work is illustrated in the well known thought experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat, conceived by Austrian Erwin Schrodinger. In this experiment, an imaginary cat is in danger of being killed by a radioactive gas. Schrodinger claimed that the cat is, in a sense, both dead and alive, depending on a random outcome. While some may object that Schrodinger’s Cat is more of a philosophical question than a scientific experiment, it’s another example of how leading edge physics is moving in the direction of metaphysics. Others have gone even further, equating quantum physics with spirituality and mysticism. Books such as The Dancing Wu Li Masters, by Gary Zukav and The Holographic Universe, by Michael Talbot argue that the latest discoveries in quantum physics have implications that are consistent with mysticism.

We can see how such quantum inquiries undermine the basis for the scientific method as conceived by 18th, 19th and 20th century materialists. The latter, after all, relies on a Newtonian, atomistic universe where there is only one truth, not an infinite number of them.

Quantum Skepticism

From the standpoint of this article, what’s interesting about quantum physics is that it actually brings us full circle –back to the roots of skepticism. One of the implications of quantum physics is that matter and the physical world isn’t actually “real” at all -at least not the way we have traditionally assumed it to be. This returns us not to the materialistic skepticism of Skeptic Magazine, but to the truer skepticism of Hume and Berkeley, as well as their many predecessors.

This isn’t to say that the science of the future will result in a philosophy of skepticism. More likely, there will be more connections made between science, philosophy and spirituality. However, philosophers mystics and spiritual teachers have always taught people to be skeptical of the world as it appears to be. One of the most famous examples of this is the metaphor used by Plato, where he likens the world of our senses to watching shadows on the wall of a cave. A contemporary metaphor that has similar implications is that we are living in the “matrix.”


Postmodernism: Another Manifestation of True Skepticism?

In a very different way, postmodernism is another force that is bringing us back to the skepticism of earlier ages. While postmodernism, almost by definition, is extremely difficult to define, it is characterized by a radical subjectivism and a belief that everything is open to interpretation.

A postmodernist, for example, might argue that a work of literature or even a philosophical doctrine has no objective or universal meaning. Its meaning depends on the conditioning, psychology, state of mind (and countless other variables) of the reader or observer. This brings to mind the Observer Effect in physics, which states that the fact of observing a phenomenon will cause a change.

Postmodernism is naturally skeptical of any single way of explaining or defining anything.

Reconciling Skepticism With Aristotle

Some fear that both postmodernism and interpretations of quantum physics such as Many Worlds Theory essentially turn our reality into a chaotic, unknowable place, perhaps something out of Alice and Wonderland. To those who worship the rational mind, including our modern pseudo-skeptics, it’s an unforgivable sin to declare the world unknowable, irrational and, worst of all, magical.

But this skeptical way of looking at the world doesn’t have to reduce ”everything” to chaos. Even if there are “many worlds,” that doesn’t mean they all exist simultaneously, at the same time and ”in the same respects” (keep that phrase in mind as you read the following passages). In fact, there may actually be a way to reconcile the most farfetched implications of quantum physics with Aristotle’s Law of Non-contradiction.

There are several versions of this law. In different passages in his Metaphysics, Aristotle states:

It is impossible for the same thing to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect.”

Opposite assertions cannot be true at the same time.”

Aristotle’s Metaphysics is extremely complex and can, ironically, be interpreted in many ways. However, this law, along with the Law of Identity, which states, “each thing is the same with itself and different from another” can be seen as forming the bedrock of Western civilization.

How can such apparently logical metaphysical laws be reconciled with outlandish theories of mysticism, multiple worlds or postmodernist relativism? We must go back to Aristotle’s qualification when he says ”…in the same respect.” This is quite vague and, once again, open to interpretation, but it’s also helpful. Although Aristotle was probably not thinking about multiple worlds (though who knows?) when he said this, we can apply it here.

For even if there are infinite truths, worlds and possibilities and no singular, objective reality, each of these is still distinct and valid within certain parameters.
We might use the analogy of a game, whether it be football (European or American), baseball or chess. In a game of chess, for instance, it’s perfectly valid to say that ”a bishop can only move diagonally.” This is not an objective truth, in that it has no meaning outside the rules of chess. However, it ”is” objectively true in every game of chess that conforms to the traditional rules.

So, applying Aristotle’s Law of Non-contradiction, we might say “every piece in a game must move according to the rules agreed upon by the players for the duration of the game.” This does not necessarily imply that there is only one game -only that each game imposes its own reality on the players while its being played.

Some people have created new variations of chess. There are also countless other games that use different pieces and have completely different rules. We might compare each game to a world or dimension. It gets more complicated when you have different worlds interacting with one another. This might account for the apparent chaos of the postmodern age -it’s getting increasingly difficult for people to agree which world or game we’re supposed to be playing.

The Future of Skepticism

Let’s conclude this survey of skepticism by considering what the future is likely to bring. My main focus thus far has been contrasting the traditional, more comprehensive skepticism of philosophers from ancient times to the 18th century with the pseudo-skepticism of contemporary materialists.

Though we can be influenced by the ideas and theories of ages past, we can never return to them. Society and knowledge are constantly evolving and the same is true of philosophical theories. If quantum physics undermines the simplistic materialism of modern skeptics, it also ultimately subverts even the idealism of Plato or the intellectual skepticism of Bishop Berkeley.

Plato, for example, cautioned against taking the material world literally, as he saw it as a mere reflection of the higher world of ideas or forms. Yet such a neat classification cannot survey something like Many-Worlds Theory, where the possibilities are literally limitless. Plato naively believed in things like a perfect, utopian society (which he describes in The Republic). A more quantum approach to politics would probably more closely resemble what the late Robert Nozick described in Anarchy, State and Utopia, where many different types of political and social arrangements co-exist.

Similarly, the skepticism of Berkeley and Hume is a kind of disembodied philosophy that never gets beyond mental conjecture. This is why Samuel Johnson was provoked into introducing something as concrete as a rock to bring Berkeley back down to earth. Today’s quantum physicists, while they enjoy creating thought experiments like Schrodinger’s Cat, are also busy in the laboratory actually proving that their theories have a scientific basis.

The skepticism of the future is likely to morph into something that is distinct from either religious or scientific dogmatism. It is more likely to become a playful form of skepticism that incorporates the postmodern notion that truth can have many interpretations.

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