Caricatures of Religious Sentiment: 6

The continuation of my autobiographical narration about my inner quest during my formative years. (Use index at left for specific chapters; here is the previous episode.)

Fragment 6 — Coming Of Age

If I had to encapsulate the underlying intuition which was propelling my spiritual exploring around age 19, it would be something like as follows. There is something systematically amiss about the conventional view of and approach to reality which characterizes the contemporary modern world. Something critical is missing, and this error is preventing, individually as well as socially, a proper and practical engagement with life. Not that I was so clear and articulate about the diagnosis in those days, but it subconsciously informed much of what I did. Also, I would add, I was in general greatly excited about life, stimulated by nearly everything, and constantly looking at new kinds of activities and places. But that enthusiasm was all ‘outer’. What I am trying to focus upon here is the ‘inner’.

One interesting development in my life during what should have been my sophomore university year was that I felt a complete collapse of any academic energy. The classroom metaphor for obtaining knowledge and experience seemed to lose its appeal overnight, replaced by a kind of yearning for experiences which were more actual, worldly, and self-steered. I began dropping out of things, taking on odd sorts of jobs, doing amateur theater stuff with a friend, and cultivating a burning wish to walk the world in places where the prevailing culture would blow my mind. I ended up plotting a trip to Europe with a good friend — backpacker style as was de rigeur in those days — and leaving school and doing more reading than ever about esoterica. The concept of a livelihood or career was absolutely alien to me. About a month before the Europe trip while prepping to buy airline tickets, my friend, who was considerably more goal-oriented in terms of his education than I, announced he wouldn’t be able to come after all. Needed to take summer classes, fast-track to graduate school and so on. I was devastated for 24 hours until the obvious solution welled up inside my breast with unshakeable resolve: I would simply go alone. And so I did. With a floating return date from Zurich, Switzerland. All I needed to do was alert the airline a week ahead of time from somewhere in Europe. (Travel was effortlessly simple in those days.) I estimated from my budget that I would be carrying enough funds for about a two month gadabout. And though my mother in particular was driven crazy by the looseness of this itinerary, off I went.

About a month in on a sunny but cool day, somewhere along the southwest coast of Norway, I happened to gaze into a mirror in a shop while trying on a sweater. I was stunned by what regarded me. I’d not seen myself for weeks, and had completely forgotten about my face and in a way dissociated my identity from it. Who glanced back at me had an unexpected maturity, a serious face with an individualized character. It was a young man instead of a boy or teenager. There was a short beard and soft moustache which had formed. My dark hair had grown enough so as to exhibit reddish highlights. I did not recognize me and yet I did. Some added wisdom shining out of the hazel eyes had me believing I was seeing the future. Who was this intriguing being who seemed capable of wielding so much inner power compared to the self I was accustomed to? I kept looking for a very long moment. I bought the rust-colored sweater. It seemed to compliment my complexion.

Moving about a new continent, often walking solo, for a month or more creates very good conditions for lengthy reflections. And the question which now occupied me, for days on and off, was ‘Who Am I?’. The moment in the mirror brought a sudden objectivity into my self-perception. I could consider myself from the same vantage point as I would a stranger, more or less. I saw some aspects about my being which seemed to reside with me a priori, long before any outer or social experiences could have come along to ‘develop’ them. And yet they seemed defiantly not genetically determined either; it was utterly unconvincing and preposterous that these core elements of my innermost being could have any roots whatsoever within heredity. It is not easy to describe the aspects I was thinking of; they are difficult to articulate. But I experienced a certainty about them. A particular style of aesthetic predisposition, an inclination and strong ability to seek and determine patterns between things, an openness and curiosity towards the world, nature, and the planet. Even the colorations of my romantic posture and behavior. These things were close to a definition of me and they arose from nowhere. Later in life I would more rigorously study evolutionary theory and hereditary science to confirm and deepen my intuitions, but I knew. During that time, I first began seriously giving credence to the idea that I had previously existed. The traits which constituted me had to have been sculpted somewhere, and this ‘previous lives’ theory suggested itself purely out of the principle of Occam’s Razor. If the conventional explanations about something were unpersuasive one had to think about the unconventional ones!

In no way did I consider myself unique in this. Perhaps I was drawn to notice it more easily than some others, but if I had the capability of reincarnating then it would have to be so for everybody. Similarly, if my deepest individuality admitted to no present earth life explanation, then all others must similarly carry this ‘divine’ core about within them, no matter how concealed by outer circumstances. This then was the first jolting idea that rooted itself within me during that year, and I let it percolate in my soul for several years, subjecting it to investigations from various angles. A second transformative large idea took shape within me around this same period of life, and it had to do with my views about what has come to be called science.

In my earlier years, as I’ve written, I was a big fan of science, modernity, technological advances and so on. I thought it quite plausible I would end up working in some related field. But the tone of it within culture had begun to bother me in a vague way. For one thing I had taken notice of an increasing religion-like quality evident among its adherents and enthusiasts. Many had a kind of automatic faith in scientific pronouncements without doing the mental legwork to comprehend the ideas, processes or theories to own their conclusions. Acceptance of new results across many fields popularized for laymen was pat and unthinking. Darwinism seemed a good example of this. The educated, and not so educated masses bought into the narrative about the purely randomly generated tree of all living organisms without any serious questioning. For me, having had a math background, it seemed instantly suspicious that nowhere in academia was there any sort of rigorous probabilistic analysis about how likely or not a seemingly infinite series of random particle mutations had managed to produce our global biosphere, us included, over the allotted number of eons. I used to assume that I simply had not come across such an analysis due to my youthful inexperience — but surely it existed and was algebraically kosher. (More than twenty years later I learned that two talented quantitative researchers* had actually approached this very question and concluded, to their surprise, and also to the absolute destruction of their reputations, that the odds were quite impossible.) Physics was starting to get strange also. Many of the newer ideas in the field seemed like fantastic sci-fi imaginations removed from a convincing coherent depiction of reality.

These two concepts, the possibility of previous lives and the increasingly dubious character of scientific theorizing propelled me into a deeper and more studious skepticism towards academic orthodoxy during my early twenties. And when I got back home from Europe I had a rejuvenated hunger to return to university life to try and resolve these questions.

_______RS

This tale is to be Continued… The next installment will be linked right here.

[ Image : the pleasingly egg-shaped Chinese xun is one of the oldest wind instruments in the world, known to be around for at least 5000 years, while some sources claim 7000 years. It has a winsome haunting sound, and can require significant breath control to play well. The blow-hole is transverse, across the sharpened edge of the top, and the instrument has as may as nine separate finger holes. Traditionally made of extremely hardened clay. ]

[ Notes: I’ve tried my hand at writing a couple of short stories based upon escapades during my European galavanting period. Somewhat fictionalized of course. If interested, look either here or here. *The two highly regarded thinkers who cast doubt upon the purely mathematical likelihood of the Neo-Darwinian narrative were David Berlinski and David Gelerntner. ]

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8 Comments

  1. I like your introspection. Although I disagree about Darwin. Most people don’t understand the theory, really… plus current science includes the idea that what happens during an organism’s life, not just death, can also be passed on.

    Reply

    1. Hi & thanks! I’m not sure what aspect of what I wrote about Darwin you disagree with, but I sure agree that most people do not understand the ideas, and this is even truer of the later developments, what might be called Neo-Darwinism. Also, I am not getting what you mean in the last bit about “not just death”, but it might be that I’m too sleepy.

      Reply

  2. most folks are too busy trying to survive to dwell deeply about profound possibilities within the universe and our personal beginnings. — I have to agree that most of us agree with the latest scientific discovery because we assume that theories have been tested & peer-reviewed. The pandemic that we are undergoing has opened my eyes much about the differences in knowledge or lack thereof amongst scientists. That they openly debate is now more helpful. — I too am a believer in reincarnation and believe that our souls tend to take us to spaces where we wouldnt be inclined …to explore, rediscover aspects of ourselves and follow the spirits of our previous selves/ancestors. — sometimes when semi-miraculous events are placed in my path, i wonder if its deja vu, coincidence, karma, fate…or is it just my previous spirit rejoining me to lead me in the right direction.

    Reply

    1. let’s see… I think it is true that many do not devote much energy to existential questions due to the pressures of daily living, although I doubt that it is “most of us”. More unfortunately, there are many who simply do not care or have no interest, even if they have relatively stress-free lives. Of course, I am not really writing for these sorts of people 🙂

      and yes, people definitely do submit to authority regarding scientific pronouncements in large numbers, assuming that objectivity reigns and ideas have been well checked out… this is an assumption however and I have found that when you look into it instead of assuming, the story becomes very different and more complicated, is entangled with personal ambition, career protections, and money distributions. I have found that the field of medicine in particular is messed up in this way…

      question: how would people’s live change if many of them ‘knew’, not just ‘believed’ or suspected, that reincarnation is a fact?

      Reply

      1. medical people’s abilities range from poor to excellent and like everyone else, their egos are often entrenched in their delivery of care. — 2. why should people care to pontificate on the purpose of life? why not accept that we are here cuz our mom had sex with someone and now we just get a job and enjoy chocolate cake or whatever brings us pleasure, within the guidelines of society’s laws. — 3. How do others get affected by their awareness of reincarnation? I dont know about others but I choose to love those reincarnated souls more — for example, i just noticed that my aunt’s great granchild (her photo on fb) is the spitting image of my aunt. I need to seek that child and bestow gifts upon her. And having this awareness, allows me to find death not too disturbing, knowing that i will reconnect somehow with my dearest ones.

      2. Was not discussing the range and variety of medical people’s abilities, Steph. Was talking about how the scientific worldview has fucked up medicine, as a discipline, in particular, and the reason is plain to someone who has spent time with the problem: medicine starts out with a model of the human being as purely physical, a mechanism. Which by force leaves out 90% of the causation of sickness and also a great deal of wisdom about how to do something real about illnesses as opposed to bandaiding symptoms.

        Who is talking about pontificating??? As for ‘should care’… it is a question of how deeply one wishes to penetrate human and worldly reality. As already said, many do not want to exert the energy. Some prefer to see life as getting jobs, pursuing pleasure, and eating cake. 🙂 I do not think that is what life is about. But I think that a small amount of people with ‘power’ would certainly love it if more and more millions and billions come to perceive the value of life in that direction… it would make controlling them very easy, without them even knowing it.

        It does not seem you understood the intent of my last question, about knowing instead of believing. (repeated lives) But that is ok, it is not that important to me to unravel it further.

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