My mother likes to tell me that “God put me on this earth for a reason,” or liked to. There are a lot of things like that she used to say to me that she tries not to anymore, after my last few sorties into our conversational DMZ. I want it to feel welcome, like a level of acceptance I never expected to get, but that’s not what it feels like. She reflexively reaches to place an affectionate sign of the cross on my forehead at night and instead pulls back, eyes full of pain, and I can tell she doesn’t see the situation at all like I do.
It’s a common refrain, in its numerous forms. “God put you on this earth for a reason.” “You have to find what you’re here to do.” “Seek your destiny.” “God has a purpose for you.” Purpose. Purpose. Purpose.
Continue reading “The Why and the How”
I recently encountered a philosophical movement that calls itself “Possibilianism,” after a term used by neuroscientist and novelist David Eagleman. After hearing my thesis supervisor sing the idea’s praises (he’s an “apatheist” atheist), I had to look it up.
“Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story.”
Burkhard Bilger, interviewing Eagleman, for The New Yorker, had this to say about the concept:
“Science had taught him to be skeptical of cosmic certainties, [Eagleman] told me. From the unfathomed complexity of brain tissue—‘essentially an alien computational material’—to the mystery of dark matter, we know too little about our own minds and the universe around us to insist on strict atheism, he said. ‘And we know far too much to commit to a particular religious story.’ Why not revel in the alternatives? Why not imagine ourselves, as he did in Sum, as bits of networked hardware in a cosmic program, or as particles of some celestial organism, or any of a thousand other possibilities, and then test those ideas against the available evidence? ‘Part of the scientific temperament is this tolerance for holding multiple hypotheses in mind at the same time,’ he said. ‘As Voltaire said, uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.’”
The false dichotomies are strong with this one!
Continue reading “Possibilianism, or How I Learned to Not Think about Hard Questions”