3 Mar


Reality, someone writes somewhere, is not made of atoms, it is made of stories. This is a double edged idea.

It can be a very terrible thing, a reality made of human words, where only the Word is real and anything incompatible with it is branded heretical, cause for the death of whomsoever casts doubts. But the doubts must be cast into words and so, for this terrible reality of words to manifest, such words must be restricted to something canonical and narrow. Some prescripted orthodoxy must be enforced by authority: these words here hold the sole key to reality but those words there, adversaries for a counter view, are the enemy of the one true righteous orthodoxy.

An enemy of righteous orthodoxy must use words. And those words can only come by reference to the world of atoms.

On the other hand, a world made of atoms, only atoms, is also a terrible thing. We are all reduced to nakedness. We are deprived of meaning; our thoughts, our actions, our ways of going about things – all will be regarded as the activities of a natural machine programmed to its destiny along certain fixed lines.

A dog, the scientists appraise us, does not feel love. We read love into its behaviour actually surfeit of no more than its instinct to run with the pack. Furthermore our lofty notions of this thing love are likewise pernicious superstition. Not only do we mistake animal behaviour for love because we assume that the dog is like us; we also harbour illusions about our real natures by sugarcoating them with notions like love. We assume we are not like the dog.

But naturally one needs words to cast such a view. We need them to organize the activities that lead to such discoveries of science. We require them when formulating and expressing the resultant ideology. The truth is the world is made both of atoms and words. Matter and spirit. And between them energy.

What has become of the human species two-hundred thousand years along the rope from ape to superman? Here we are at the dawn of a brave new world that is hollow at the centre. We lurk on a dangerous precipice tho’ we argue about what precipice that actually is. For some it’s the impending complete loss of freedom. Amongst those for whom that’s true there an ongoing bar-room brawl as to what freedom is, and what actually guarantees it. Others think the Earth is in danger of dying or killing us. No-one mentions war.

There’s other themes that weave thru this narrative. Cracked families, weird, predatory sex, drunkeness, drugs – the usual apocalypse-friendly material of streetside preachers quoting random scary bits of the Old Testament. At the heart of this is a desperate search for meaning in the endeavor to take part in an imagined struggle between good and evil, however conceived. To be good might compel some to move to the country and form communities autonomous of the modern economy. For others virtue requires a staunch adherence to traditional principles and so socialism, atheism and hedonism are rejected and stern attempts are made to re-assert the values of family, hard work and national pride. Many more, I’d wager, ignore the big questions but struggle for virtue as a family attempting to live in marital harmony as wise parents amidst a swamp of constant and unbelievable distractive temptation.

Some combine all the above and seek to reimpose on the world a culture which adheres strictly to the Word. In aid of this they wage a propaganda war on the theory and fact of evolution. They live in restricted communities and forbid their children Hollywood movies and sexual exploration. They take the Bible literally and violate the Golden Rule unconsciously. They have seen the great abyss implied by modern human knowledge of the cosmos and, in fear, back away instinctively.

Most of us don’t. Many of us reject traditional religion simply because it fails to cushion our souls the way myths have always done. Traditional religious mythology – mythology in the sense of ideas that hold us together, that form a belief system – doesn’t work for modern people. At the dawn of monotheism, I suspect many people saw the old pagan cults and their stories in the same way. They no longer made sense. Discovery in the world of atoms had rendered old stories obsolete.

Our hunter/collector ancestors knew by long empirical observation where certain animals were headed, what plain inedible-looking plants cured illness. Their religion did not give them that information. Instead said information and the consequent results became the foundation of a mythology that cushioned their souls. And underneath all this was the feeling; the instinct for the Infinite universal in the human animal.

Consider, what insights into the spirit world obtained when we first began to use fire regularly? At night under the intense starlight of the pre-urban landscape around a fire. How did it change the view of the Dark which had shrouded everything before? What changes in dreams manifested? A campfire illuminates your surrounds but blots out the night sky as well. Their stories changed. And beliefs. How long did it take?

To cast dreams into words is to make up the stories that make up the world. To create the Myth. To look at the world wide awake, ask questions and submit whatever answers that occur to you subject to the rigours of relentless doubt, that is science. When writing stories you explain the whole. When obtaining reliable knowledge about the way things are, you assume your own ignorance.

In one you must be careful not to let your imagination run wild. In the other you must be careful when running wild with your imagination. Religion does not replace science, it is born of dreams. Science is born in experience of the waking world. But only, here’s the rub, only as experienced after dreams have shown you something that isn’t real. To consider the material causes and effects you must be aware of alternative possibilities. Dreams make this possible.

Science is the light that the campfire casts into the night illuminating a circle. Now our light’s a bit stronger, that’s all. It penetrates a little further up into outer space. And even more of the night sky is invisible to us. We’ve hardly noticed, distracted in our towering electronica. Materially, it’s a brave new world. But spiritually, we are back in the days when fire was new and like then we have no real idea how this will affect our dreams and what stories will come of it.


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