My beliefs are a mere detail in this human life

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I was sent a brilliant article in The Spectator about the nature of consciousness. It basically summed up the whole debate between the motley crew of materialists, idealists, panpsychists, quantum physicists with a non-physical approach and other pundits who engage in this subject. The article concluded that the materialist idea that consciousness arises in the wet tissue of the brain comes across as the most ludicrous idea of them all.

The thought crossed my mind that I should send the piece to a science journalist I know who has written about these things from a purely materialist standpoint. But then I realized it might appear a bit smug. I tried to look at it from the opposite angle. How would I react if a materialist sent me an article that concluded that the airy-fairy non-physical hypotheses were ridiculous? Probably not that enthusiastically.

And then my mind began reflecting over something that is obvious when you ponder it but which nevertheless surprised me: The difference in the way we perceive life and reality is arguably minuscule regardless of what we believe to be the true nature of that very same life and that very same reality. It felt like a little epiphany. Isn’t this surprisingly overlooked?

The difference in the way we perceive life and reality is arguably minuscule regardless of what we believe

The more one thinks of it, the more evident it is, but I must admit this was the first time I truly took it in. I consider myself to be an open-minded person who is liberated from many (most?) of the prevalent prejudices about ethnicity, culture, traditional religion, gender, social background and political inclination. But now it struck me that I may have had a blind spot. Have I overstated the human significance of spiritual orientation and esoteric views?

In my particular example above — two humans, whereof one believes matter is primary and the other believes matter is secondary — nothing can be more important than the fact that both experience the same kind of sense perceptions that come with inhabiting a body and that both doubtlessly have experienced love, joy, awe, wonderment, doubt, frustration, fear and pain. Again, this is ridiculously self-evident, but I say it just to drive my point as clearly as possible.

A neutral, nonhuman observer would not be able to detect any difference whatsoever. But humans love to sniff out contrasts. If we want to, we can emphasize differences that are purely academic. It happens all the time (see prejudices listed above).

The different points of view I and my fellow journalist would have if we engaged in a discussion about the nature of reality and consciousness would be one such example. But exactly how significant an ingredient in the totality of our existence would that be?

It is no news that spiritually oriented people are not necessarily happier than materialists

If I stretched it, I could purport, say, that my science journalist colleague probably experiences a slightly larger amount of suffering than I do because he believes that his consciousness only exists in the form of neural signals inside his skull, whereas I believe my consciousness is connected to the universe. But it might as well be that his default life view provides him with what he perceives as some kind of inner peace, whereas I get torn inside because I can’t stand the idea that my “I” might be that lump of flesh between my ears after all.

It is no news that spiritually oriented people are not necessarily happier than materialists (I believe, however, that when happiness, or blissful equanimity, does arrive, it becomes more of a natural state of mind in the former group than in the latter).

Anyway, no matter how much we delve into the meaning of life, neither of us can stay very long in deep pondering before we need to go about our lives. And regardless of which one of us is correct (if any), we are still made of the same stuff and are going through the same kind of experience, called human life on planet Earth.

What do I want to say with this? I am not sure, but I think it is something about what is truly important, and that ideas, even ideas about the nature of reality, cannot qualify as particularly important when it comes to pursuing a fulfilling and happy life.

And also, how surprisingly persistent and collectively coherent and consistent this physical reality is for all of us, no matter what beliefs we have. We are here together. That is the gist of it.

I know only one thing; that I know nothing

Socrates

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Recovering news journalist with deep interest in society, science, spirituality & how they merge. Communicate and bridge. Podcast, text, talk. andersbolling.com

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Anders Bolling

Anders Bolling

Recovering news journalist with deep interest in society, science, spirituality & how they merge. Communicate and bridge. Podcast, text, talk. andersbolling.com

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