September 2010

Monday, the 13th

science and religion

if you think about it, some forms of religion are a scientific undertaking. these people believe that the life we observe is just a first level of understanding, and that there are things outside of our perception. gods, that watch us, and judge us. there is no way to prove or disprove this assumption, so we can't call them stupid for believing this. their gods are just as possible, scientifically, as the true god (which we all know is the Flying Spaghetti Monster).

once you start from the assumption that life, as we observe it, is an illusion, and we are part of a bigger something, than you have to start wondering how you may prove or disprove it. at first, the tendency is to say that this is impossible to prove. but then, we have death. when one of us dies, something does change in the world. here was a system that received information and reacted to it in a unique (as far as we can tell) way. if there are gods in an underlying reality, they might be interested in keeping that mind functioning, even if the body we could perceive is gone. so there might be life after death.

so the first experiment we can make is to see if there are ghosts. but that doesn't really work, because if we can perceive and measure ghosts (even though there is no systematic proof that we can at least do this), than they are no longer outside our world. so... I don't know, maybe these people with religions split the world into ``the obvious world'' and the ``hidden world'', which is in fact not hidden, but it's just not obvious. anyway... ghosts would be manifestations of people that are dead. modern science teaches us that there are many explanations for the many forms of ghosts that have been observed throughout human history. the biggest problem is obviously the fact that scientists are generally busy with other problems, and there is no world-wide systematic study of ghosts.

another experiment is related to dreams. most of us have experienced dreams. more or less, depends on the individual. any child, when first realizing that dreams are related to ``real life'' in a different (and much weaker) way than today and tomorrow, will most likely think that they are still some form of reality. you know. just like when you take the car to get it fixed, someone goes inside it, moving things around, changing a few things and such, and then you still get the car, and it works, and it's generally the same car. how hard would it be to imagine that's what's happening to the mind when we're dreaming? in fact, that's most likely a very close explanation of what's happening, but, as far as I know, we don't need an underlying reality to explain it. the problem is that the science of a working brain is still far from being complete, so it's difficult to give reasonable explanation for every form of dream that can be experienced. so, dreams are still considered by some as a life in another world.

and there are also visions. these are only a form of dream, substance induced or not, so I won't be treating them any different.

there are two possible connections with the supposed ``supernatural'' (reality that is not obvious): speak to gods or ghosts while you're awake, or interpret dreams. obviously, once you believe that there is an underlying reality, then there's absolutely no reason to suppose that ``wake life'' is any more real than dreams. so there are consistency problems...

anyway, back to the science. people assume there is something more. they have access to this information that seems unrelated to everyday life, and they assume that it is meaningful, and can give hints about gods and such. and then you have people systematically interpreting dreams, and systematically trying to contact the dead. and you have systematic retelling of dreams, and schools of thought, and so on.

it's still an attempt at understanding the world. and society is paying for it. there should be no problem about it.

but there are problems. in today's world, there are plenty of people trying to understand the universe, and going about it the wrong way. our experience has taught us that if we want to understand something, we need to follow the scientific method. however, in organized religion, because of the intimate nature of experiments (dreams), people tend to be very biased. and you get things like prophets, who pretend that their visions are ``truer'' than those of common people. and these prophets write books, and proclaim that these books and only these books contain the truth. obviously, if a manufacturer pretends that he knows everything and sells you something that doesn't work, you go to take your money back, and afterwards you go to someone else. so manufacturers are forced to use the scientific method, and they generate the scientific movement because they need objectives rules of reality. in religion, there is no easy proof or disproof for the claims of a prophet, so everybody buys the books of the most charismatic prophet. it also helps a lot if the prophet has a few friends who pretend to be healed by him or similar.

whenever there is the possibility of great riches involved, thieves will try to steal. just like in science, where people fake results so that they can get funding, in religion people will fake. but in science other people can make experiments and prove fakes, whereas it's a lot easier in religion, because we can't truly understand dreams yet.

ideally, any rational being should be aware that if a statement is not falsifiable, than both possibilities are just as likely to be true. just like in quantum physics, where the truth is that the notion of ``position of a particle'' is improper: we say that the particle can be in one place or another, with some probability. it is just as improper to state ``there is no god'' as ``there is/are god/gods''. personally, I find it silly to assume that someone else's dreams are worth more than my own when it comes to measuring reality, but that's my choice.

any rational being, when faced with a question that can't have a reasonable answer, should not concern themselves with this answer. however, when dealing with the idea of ``life after death'', it's hard to convince yourself not to think about it. hell, I call myself a scientist and a rational being, and here I am thinking about it. history is full of strange phenomena. there are many things that we can't explain, pure and simple. and yes, I think it's worth looking into. but before that, we should solve the hunger problem. and world peace. because we know we can do these two, and we shouldn't waste resources. people like to rely on religion because they escape responsibility. god did it, I couldn't help it. god made me the way I am. and so on.

and yes, I have just presented my ideas, and I would benefit if people took them seriously, just like prophets and priests benefit because people take them seriously.