January 7, 2011

truly more better

Things that are Relevant…

Generosity

Kindness

Warmth

Laughter

Gratitude

Graciousness/Grace

Balance

Beauty

Six years ago, I scribbled that list. Then, from the word Beauty I drew a squiggly line down the page to the title of a second list, Things that are more Complex…

Honesty

Health

Freedom

Truth!!

Not one, but two exclamation points. Truth is always a tricky business, and a fraught one for those of us who have turned away from the religions of our families and tribes in search of something seemingly “more” true. Religious fans of the pronoun “the” attached to “truth” seem to either pity us more-ians as hopeless floaters in a bardo of spiritual relativity or denigrate us as somehow less spiritual because we are apparently less “sure” of our beliefs. What about seeing and sensing divinity IN ultimate unknowability? What about something that is not a “The,” but a forever unfolding, being the belief?

Happy New Year, and ‘tis time here in Practiced Accident Land to face the one book that gave me faith in an ever-unfolding bloom of More Truth… but a book that is dauntingly difficult, that took much grad school handholding to help me get anything out of it, and whose author likely didn’t intend any offering of profound spiritual optimism anyway. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions may be “a landmark in intellectual history” according to critic Nicholas Wade, and it’s why we all bandy about the term paradigm shift, but it’s also a brain-bender and no picnic. You have been warned. Many have found many more poetic and mystical ways to the realizations that have provided me such peace. But, with one summation followed by a splash of the spiritual ramifications of quantum physics, I think I can make you smile with this. Really

In his conclusion, Thomas Kuhn explains his thesis by explaining why his thesis annoys so many people. “Notice that until the last very few pages the term ‘truth’ had entered this essay only in a quotation from Francis Bacon.” “The developmental process [of scientific progress] has been a process of evolution from primitive beginnings… . But nothing that has been or will be said makes it a process of evolution toward anything.”

Before the next quote, a quick definition of teleological. Basically, that means the assumption of design, of purpose, of a Creator God as the Ultimate and final Truth in the universe. “For many men the abolition of that teleological kind of evolution was the most significant and least palatable of Darwin’s suggestions.” And for Kuhn’s suggestions as well! Still, Kuhn then fought for years the irritated outcry and assumption that he meant any truth at all is only relative, nothing but a cultural construct, a delusion. Yes, he didn’t see knowledge and human comprehension as evolving toward a fixed and final “the” truth, but he did see knowledge as evolving nonetheless and becoming progressively “more” true in the continual expansion of the mind’s aspirations that he so deeply describes.

Ever. More. My spiritual dingdingding bells blew fuses, and I saw God not as discrete or final or The Truth for all eternity, but in the, and as the, eternal process of unfolding Truth, ever more. And then, I went dingdongdingdong joyfuljoyful, remembering the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. (I know, I’m spiritually weird.) Foundational to the new physics, it basically explains the scientific reality that as we peer into the deepest subatomic levels and try to ascertain “the” truth about the most elemental particles of existence, our very presence as observers begins to bend the very truth before our eyes, and as we begin to “know” with certainty one physical fact (its location) about a particle, we literally cannot know – we “unknow” – another physical fact about it (its momentum).

Translation? The closer we get to the heart of the universe, truth begins to dance around us, and inextricably with us. “The” truth becomes elementally unknowable, because we are inseparable from it and forever interacting with it. We continually change it by seeking it. And, it seems intuitively irresistible to me that the heart of the universe—this is God for me—is forever seeking us, and changing us, as well.

Psalm 105:4 – “Seek his face evermore.” For me, a continual and eternal expansion of Truth, if and because we aspire to it, is the most generous divinity I can comprehend. We are invited to spiritually grow, without end. And, truth that is forever expanding disavows any crystallization of dogma, any declaration of ever possessing The Truth. A huge ancillary benefit!

These revelations anchored for me an existential optimism, grounded in the hardest sciences, that both profoundly sustains me and blessedly eradicates years of existential fear. Not perfectly, of course! And not that I think such big thoughts often. I still probably consciously think about everything from my daughters to my shoes more than God on any given day. But, a sense of Divinity suffuses even the most prosaic little things now. Having thought God and sought God this much, and having not stopped until I could finally comprehend a groundless ground of ever more truth beneath my own small feet and all around, I finally feel a way to just be in most moments without so much self-consciousness and its unconscious enabler, fear. Thinking about more than myself so much, I can now give relevant things like generosity, kindness, warmth, gratitude, grace, and balance a real shot… and life feels more beautiful, truly.

Categories: Books, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

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