Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The modern view is that the universe, including life, is the product of random, mechanical forces. Most 'religious' people, if they believe in God at all, believe in some kind of force that perhaps initiated the physical universe and initiated life but aside from some rare miraculous interventions, this force is not involved in any way with the moment to moment daily functioning of our existence. Yet the ancient holy books of the Hindus refers to an ocean of divine intelligence in which we are all swimming; and according to the Old Testament, God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Is the existence of this God, the God that is 'closer than your breath' been made obsolete by the findings of modern science? There is no polite way to bridge the gap between these two views. Either people with this transcendent, mystical view of the universe are completely deluded or people with a mechanistic view are completely obtuse. The purpose of this post is to prove the existence of a transcendent intelligence that functions at every moment of our lives and without which we could not possibly exist.

Before we get any further it is probably a good idea to define intelligence in some way, just so we are in agreement about what it is that I am proving the existence of. To test for animal intelligence, an animal is usually presented with some food or water and some sort of obstacle to obtaining that food or water. Usually, the test animal can see or smell or in some other way sense the presence of this food or water, but cannot actually access it until the obstacle is overcome. The assumption, of course, in these experiments is that the animal wants the food, that it would prefer having the food to not having the food, and is ready to expend some sort of effort to get to it. If the subject animal has already eaten and is indifferent to the food, the experimenter will have to wait until the animal is hungry. If hypothetically the animal were never hungry or thirsty, or had any desires whatsoever, never wanted to lie down, get warmer or colder, or eat or drink, then we would have no way of testing for this animal's intelligence. And this should not be too big a problem for experimenters because all life forms have basic desires, which are an essential part of what it means to be alive as opposed to being an inanimate object.

So intelligence, at least in animals, is connected to desire, and the ability to overcome obstacles to get one's desires met. Let's distinguish intelligence from intellect which may be the sole province of human beings. Intellect is the ability to read and understand environments, either real or imaginary, other than the environment that one is immediately confronted with. Intelligence is the ability to read the environment that one is confronted with now, in present time, in a way that results in behavior that leads to the satisfaction of desires. By the way, for any materialists that are reading this post, if I make a mistake in any way, if I left the cold hard world of 'fact' as you see it, if I am slipping into the realm of 'delusion' please let me know and I will try to correct my errors.

We conceive of things in relation to their opposites. We have a concept of day as opposed to night; of light as opposed to dark; of warlike as opposed to peaceful. What is hard to conceive of is an absolute; something beyond opposition. In an earlier post I gave an example of a fish in water. A fish has no concept of water, because water is the context of every moment of its existence. The fish has never had an experience of 'no water.' But if the fish is lifted out of the water and experiences the absence of it, then when it returns to the water it suddenly understands what 'water' is. So perhaps it is not so much that the materialist, mechanistic group is obtuse, it is perhaps that they are so used to this ocean of intelligence that surrounds and permeates us, and so used to the results of this intelligence that they can no longer see or appreciate it.

This intelligence permeates our existence from within and without. It is 'closer than our breath.' So this entire discussion will focus not on research or on anyone's theory, either biologist, physicist or mystic, but on you; on your actual moment to moment experience. So please compare what I am writing to your experience (not what you once read about your experience, but what you actually experience) and if you discover some errors in this presentation, something that does not jive with your actual experience, not something that does not jive with something you read somewhere, please let me know.

Let's divide the activities of your body/brain for the purpose of this post into two categories: biological processes that are automatic, that are done without your conscious control, and behavior, the things that you consciously do. You consciously do things because you want to do them. Now I don't mean, by that, that you are enthusiastic about everything you do. This has nothing to do with enthusiasm. Much of what you do may be drudgery, but you still want to do that as opposed to facing the consequences of not doing it. This also has nothing to do with the notion of free will, which is a completely different conversation. Some of the things that you want to do you may feel compelled to do from cultural, social or biological forces. Yet you still, in the moment, choose or decide to do that thing as opposed to another. My question is, when you want to do something, and it can be something as simple as getting up to get a glass of water, how do you do it? If you know something about biology, you may tell me that certain neurons fire and these will begin a whole path of firings that will lead to a quite complex combination of muscle contractions and expansions in your hips, legs, feet, arms, hands and eye muscles. Yet the process began, was initiated, by your desire for a glass of water; a desire which may be related to a biological condition, but which is a non-physical experience. Your desire for a glass of water must be translated into the precise pattern of neurons among the one hundred billion neurons in your brain, that will give you the desired result. And it is true, that at every moment of your waking existence, you are desiring to do things and somehow your brain is firing the exact combinations of thousands and millions of neurons that will make that desired behavior possible. Now please think about this. This is one of those things that is so integral to our existence that we take it for granted; but imagine a piano with one hundred billion keys, one key for each of the neurons in your brain . If each key were a half inch wide, that would be a piano that is about eight million miles long. Now at every moment the precise combination of thousands or millions of these one hundred billion neuron keys must be played in order to allow you to do what ever it is that you want to do. A highly skillled pianist can look at a sheet of music and hit the right keys a small fraction of a second after reading the score; these, in the most complicated music, may be four or five or even six simultaneous keys out of the 88 keys of a piano. But where could we find a pianist that could hit a precise million neuron keys out of a hundred billion, and do that instantaneously at the same time as reading the 'score' of our desires? and do that continuously, at every moment of our waking existence?  Where indeed?  We can find such a Transcendent Pianist at the core of every living being on this planet.

One of the reasons this process eludes us is that it does not take place in time. God permeates the universe, but does not take up any space or time. So we are not aware of it and it is instanteneous. I know that for us humans, it takes a while for us to make a calculation. We want to do something and we pause for a moment to decide the best way to go about it. But when we decide to do it, whatever it is, then we instantly begin. I don't mean that when we decide to sell our house or get married or train to be a doctor that it instantly gets done. Huge decisions take many steps. But whatever the plan of action that we decide on, if the thing we want to do requires a plan of action, then whenever we decide to begin that first step, then we begin without hesitation. So when we decide that our first step to getting into medical school is to Google medical schools on the internet to begin to choose where we would like to go, then we boot up the computer and click on 'Google' and type in 'medical schools' without hesitation. Once we decide what it is that we want to do, we just do it. The process that must exist between deciding that we are going to do a thing at this moment and doing it is instantaneous. And yet it must require the selection of all those neurons to be fired among the one hundred billion possibilities. Yet, certainly, the process of selecting the exact right hundreds of thousands of neurons required for you to bring yourself to your computer and boot it up, among the one hundred billion neuron possibilities, only one of which combination will deliver the right result, is infinitely more complicated than the job of selecting the right medical school from a few hundred, all of which would give you at least the basic thing that you are looking for, a medical degree. Yet the internal selection from non-physical desire to firing neurons is instantaneous while the external choice of medical schools may take weeks or months.

Also, you cannot see it, the process, that is. But suppose you could see, not the process, but the results of the process. Suppose there was a highly advanced piece of brain scanning equipment that allowed you to view the entire operative brain of a living human being in such microscopic detail that you could see where individual neurons were firing; you could see where they were lighting up. In this way you would see large groups of neurons firing all over the surface of the brain in perfect, complex patterns. The purpose of all these patterns is two fold. First there are the patterns that provide the electrical stimulation for the biological processes of the body, the physical and chemical processes that are needed to keep a being alive in this body. And second, there are the conscious processes, those that provide the person whose brain that is with the ability to do what it is that he or she consciously wants to do. Viewed in this way, our body/brain is more of an Aladin's lamp than a machine. Aladin's lamp granted its owner three wishes, but your brain and body grant you a life time of wishes; they are the servant at every moment of your non-physical desires; translating them into physical behavior that leads to the satisfaction, and sometimes the frustration, of those desires. But your body/brain allows you, a non-physical being, to be a participant, a player in this game of life in the physical universe; with desires that draw you toward the physical universe and keep you in the game and a body/brain that allows the great majority of those desires to be realized. ( I am not being pollyanna-ish here. If you look at all the things, large and small, that you want to do in the course of a day, there are very few of them that are in any way competitive, where you may not get what you want because someone else is not cooperative, or will out compete you. I am talking about all those little things that are not little at all, but seem little because we do them all the time and take them for granted. In other words, when we want to look at something, we get to look at it. When we want to stand up, we stand up. When we want to walk we walk. When we want to touch something we touch it, etc.)

From this perspective, the usual processes that we associate with life: the processes of digestion, elimination, metabolism, reproduction, growth, and the genetic processes of translation and transcription,(in other words all the unconscious biological processes that I referred to above) are not there in and of themselves, just to continue and reproduce because they happen, by chance, to continue and reproduce. They are support mechanisms. They are there to provide the equipment that allows you to have a body and a brain so that you can participate in this physical universe;so that you can have desires and be able to translate those desires into behavior that gives you or others pleasure and satisfaction.

If you are getting the impression that this is part of some kind of hedonistic philosophy, that is not accurate. For the purpose of this conversation I am not distinguishing between one desire and another. There are desires whose fulfillment brings one happiness and well-being and desires that bring others happiness and well-being. There are also desires that bring one and bring others suffering. Are these desires morally equivalent? Absolutely not. But I am not making a moral argument now. For the purposes of this post I am talking about all desires without distinction.

Getting back to intelligence: remember that we can never observe intelligence directly. Intelligence is always deduced from behavior. We know Einstein was intelligent not because we could peer into his skull, but because of the things he said and wrote. And the same thing, of course, is true of Galileo, Shakespeare, Marie Curie and the guinea pig that manages to find a way through the lab maze so that she can enjoy her dinner. Evidence of intelligence is not made by direct observation but by the observation of behavior, of the results of intelligence. And if you could observe the firing neurons of the brain and the complexity and speed with which they respond to your desires, what better proof could there be of transcendental intelligence? Just as our intelligence allows us to manipulate our environment to get our desires met; divine intelligence fires up the exact parts of our brain and musculature that we need so that we can behave in the way that we have chosen to behave.

So I just want to be clear on what it is that I am talking about. I am not talking about everything that happens from the time that the neurons fire through muscular contractions and expansions, glandular secretions, and all the chemical and electrical changes in the body that are engendered by that particular pattern of firing neurons. That amazingly complex pattern of reactions is the realm of science, of biology, of neurology, of brain science, of endocrinology; of all the research that has been going on and that now continues in the life sciences. I am not talking about that. I am talking about the movement from desire to the initiating pattern of firing neurons. This is not something that you already know about. You know nothing about it and neither do I. I am only pointing out that this process, which does not take place in time or space, and requires transcendent and omnipresent intelligence, must be occurring at every moment of our existence. You say, how can you imagine such an omnipresent and overarching intelligence? I say, yes, you cannot imagine it. That is precisely what ALL the ancient holy books say: that God is beyond our imagining.

Part of our inability to fathom such an intelligence is that we associate intelligence with bodies, specifically human bodies, and human brains. But from this perspective, our human intelligence is minuscule. Our intelligence is limited and bound by time and space; whereas the universe's intelligence is not. Perhaps you have another, more 'rational' explanation for how we manage at every moment to do the things that we 'want' to do. If so, please let me know how else you can move from non-physical desire to the awesome precision of selecting exactly the right neurons to get our desires met, and doing that at every moment.


Now I would like to talk about the desires themselves. I will be confining this discussion to biological desires. Are there other kinds of desires? Of course there are. The character of a person is most clearly defined by these other, non-biological desires; not necessarily the person's stated desires but their real ones; toward what pursuits did a person really put their time and energy into in the course of their existence here. But there are certainly biological desires. With lower life forms there is probably a biological bases to most if not all of their desires. But what I want to distinguish between are desires, even biologically based desires, from needs. A need is something that can be discovered by a biologist or a nutritionist. Based on biological observations and measurements of your body, scientists can deduce that you need such and such nutrition and so much water, that you may have too little or too much of a whole range of chemicals; that you need a certain amount of sleep, and that you function best within a certain range of temperatures. The things that a doctor or 'specialist' would prescribe are things that you need, or things that they think you need or things that, in the case of unscrupulous doctors and specialists, that they would like to convince you that you need even though they realize that you don't actually need them. And it is important to note that the body, by itself, needs nothing. A body has no needs. You have a need for the body to be maintained in a certain way. But the body, as a body, could care less. The body has no interests; has no concern as to whether it is a fully functioning body or a rotting corpse. The same is true with your car. When you say "My car needs gas," you really mean that you need to have more gas in your car so that it can continue to help you get where you want to go. Your actual car, just like your actual body, has no interest in whether you get there or not; whether it continues to serve your needs or is abandoned in a junk yard.

Desires, as opposed to needs, are what you want to do. Sometimes it's confusing because in a natural state what a being wants to do is precisely what will best satisfy that being's biological needs and the result will be physical and mental health. In our present condition we are being advertised at much of our waking day. The purpose of these advertisements is to create desires in us (to make us 'want') things, the great majority of which do not enhance our body's health or our well being, but merely enhance the financial health and well being of the advertiser. In fact, often these desires that we 'ingest' through advertising are for products that run counter to our needs and are detrimental to our health and well being. Even our education and much of scientific writing is, perhaps unwittingly, an advertisement or a re-inforcement of a materialist view of the universe and of ourselves that is detrimental to our mental health and destabilizes and diminishes our sense of self.

I used to think that we ate and drank and rested and sought shelter from extreme cold and extreme heat and had sex because we wanted to survive and we wanted to create progeny so that our race or our particular gene pool could survive. I received this kind of thinking not from my actual experience, but from certain books and teachers that I had been exposed to. By actually thinking about my experience I realized that this is entirely false. We do not eat because our body needs food. We eat because we are hungry, and when we are hungry we desire food. We do not drink water because our body needs water. We drink water because we are thirsty and when we are thirsty we desire water. We do not sleep because our body needs time to undergo restorative processes. We sleep because we are tired and when we are tired we desire sleep. We do not seek warmth or coolness because our body needs to operate within a certain range of temperatures. We seek warmth because we experience being cold and when we experience being cold we desire warmth; and we seek coolness because we experience being hot and when we experience being hot we desire coolness. And we do not have sex to propagate the species. We have sex because we are horny, and when we are horny we desire sex.

This is not just hair splitting. Although each of these experiences is RELATED to a biological condition, the experiences of hunger, thirst, tiredness, being hot, being cold and being horny are not IDENTICAL with these biological conditions. This crucial separation between a certain chemical/electrical condition and a non-physical experience is at the very essence of what it means to be alive. Let me explain it another way. Living beings are beings committed to or attached to a physical body. The physical bodies of living beings are metabolic systems. Metabolic systems are systems which, much like a man made machine, gather energy in some way and then focus that energy to overcome (not violate, but overcome) the forces of nature in order to accomplish a goal. In living beings there are both biological activity and behavior. The goal of biological activity is the survival of the physical body in a way that continues to support the existence of that being. The goal of behavior is to satisfy the desires of that being.

If there is no being within the body, then there is no life; in other words the body is no longer the ground through which the being's world is experienced and the medium through which the being's desires are satisfied and/or expressed. As I said above, in a natural state a being's desires are aligned with the body's needs; so that as the being continues to do what the being wants to do, she naturally, through this process, guarantees the maximum health and survival of her system. Yet there are cases, especially where humans have tampered with the environment in some ways, that plants and animals desires are no longer aligned with their needs; or the environment has changed so that what living beings most want from their environment is no longer available. Also, humans, as opposed to other living beings, are advertised at. The purpose of this advertising is to create desires; desires that may not best support the health and well-being of the recipient of these messages, and in many if not most cases, diminishes the health and well-being of the recipient. Let me give you some extreme cases to highlight the difference between desires and needs:

Methamphetamine addicts desire continuous activity when their body desperately needs rest.

Anorexics do not desire food when their body desperately needs food.

Hypothermia sufferers do not seek warmth when their body desperately needs warmth.

Obese fast food junkies continue to desire high fat, overly salted, over chemicalized food when their bodies need less food, and food with much less fat, much less salt, much less sugar with few are no added chemicals to artificially enhance the flavor and extend the shelf life.

My point here is not to draw a distinction between good and bad desires, but to distinguish between desires, which are experienced but not physical or directly measurable, and needs, which are biological, physical and measurable.

Again, desires and needs are both so close to us that they have been conflated in our minds, so that we think desires are needs and needs are desires. Living beings are drawn to the food they need. How is this done? What is the force that allows a living being to overcome natural forces (usually gravity and inertia) to move toward whatever nutrition their body needs? According to physicists there are only four forces: gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong force and the weak force. So, is it gravity that moves living beings to their food? Obviously not. We do not fall into a plate of food and we do not go hungry if our food happens to be uphill from us rather than downhill. In fact, in our quest for food we most always have to use metabolized energy to overcome gravity. Is it electro-magnetism? Are we attracted to food in the same way that iron filings are attracted to a magnet? Again, obviously not. We have sensory systems that allow us to detect the presence of food so that we can begin to overcome inertia and gravity to metabolize energy to move toward the food we have detected. If it were electro-magnetic energy, we would just be passively pulled toward our food and would need no metabolized energy to get there. The strong force and the weak force are the enormous forces that bind the nucleus of the atom together. These gigantic, and mercifully bound, forces are not in any way involved with our eating activities which insure our survival in the same way that any direct involvement with the altering of an atomic nucleus and the unleashing of either of these forces would insure our death. No. The force that moves living beings toward the nutrients they need is none of the four enumerated by physicists. It is a fifth force and that force is desire. And just as gravity, electro-magnetism, the strong force and the weak force cannot be observed directly, but can only be deduced by their effects on matter; desire can only be deduced by its effects on the behavior of living beings. The difference betweeen desire and the other four is that desire is experienced and does not exist outside the experience of a living being. So whenever you see a living being summon metabolized energy to overcome gravity and inertia and the laws of diffusion and whatever other natural forces they need to overcome to arrive at a morsel of food, the force that summoned and directed that energy is desire. What else could it be?

If all desires are experienced and all living organisms have desires, then, am I saying that all living beings are conscious? Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. But please don't confuse consciousness with any intellectual ideas of having a 'sense of oneself' or having the ability to think or use symbolic language, or the ability to fantasize or dream. None of that. All I am saying is that if an organism metabolizes energy to overcome natural forces to get to its food; the force that is motivating and focussing that energy is desire and that desire is experienced. Desire does not require thought. In fact, thinking often dulls the impact of desire. Desire does not require symbolism. It does not require the ability to fantasize or dream. With most living beings desire is a force that drives them toward an object that is right there in their present environment. They don't have to fantasize, strategize, make plans or dream about it. They just have to move toward it; and they move toward it because they 'want' to move toward it.

If a living being metabolizes energy to move toward food, then that living being is hungry and that hunger is experienced. Does that mean that it is experienced in the same way that humans experience hunger? I have no idea. Certainly the objects of hunger are very different depending on what being is experiencing hunger. When an anteater gets hungry it craves ants; koalas crave eucalyptus leaves, pandas crave bamboo and dung beetles crave dung. Each of these foods happens also to be the best possible food to biologically support these organisms, but, of course, these animals do not know that. Just as we did not know that breast milk was the best food for us when we were infants. We just got hungry and when we got hungry we craved breast milk.

So there is this amazing system whereby living beings, including humans, do not 'know' what they need, but living beings desire things and the things they desire, in a state that has been untampered with by human industrialization or human advertising, just happen to be the things that they need. Please understand that I am not talking about the biological pre-condition of desire. I know that biologists can pinpoint the chemical conditions of certain cells that will send an electronic signal to the brain that will result in hunger. My question is why does that particular signal result in the experience of hunger and the experience of hunger for the foods that are most needed? When one wonders about the origin of any biological system, the typical modern answer is that it 'evolved' that way. This is taken to mean that by the accidental mutation of genes, those that were better able to survive outlasted those that weren't. In this way, gradually, a biological system improves. But how does that make any sense in this instance? First of all we are talking about a system whereby an organisms basic needs are met. How could any organism, no matter how 'simple,' survive if it didn't have a method of getting its needs met? Could we imagine generations of any organism that had no way of getting the food or water or warmth or method of reproduction it needed? An entire system would have to be in place from the very inception of life. And we are not just talking about a biological system. We are talking about an experiential system of desires in perfect coordination with a biological system of needs. If the only way that an organism has to overcome the forces of nature in order to get its needs met is through desire and desire for the specific things that it needs in order to insure its survival, then this system with all its biological and spiritual complexity has to be as old as life itself.

So not just the system whereby, when we desire something the exact set of neurons fires to enable us to satisfy that desire; but the actual desires themselves, the system whereby what we desire is perfectly aligned with what we biologically need, are both equally and unfathomably brilliant; not gradually evolving to become something that we now consider brilliant, but, of necessity, transcendentally brilliant from the very beginning.

We live our lives trying to fulfill our desires. Many of these desires may be selfish or altruistic, visionary or petty. But among them and central to all the rest are biological desires: those desires whose fulfillment guarantees our basic biological survival. Certainly we expend effort and ingenuity toward the realization of these desires. But the fact that we are driven toward the fulfillment of this particular set of desires whose fulfillment insures our health and survival, and the fact that we are able just by choosing to do so, to mobilize those exact parts of our brains and bodies that we need in this pursuit, are wondrous things that ordinarily escape our notice, simply because these wonders are an inherent part of the mechanics of every life form that surrounds us. Yet when we do notice we have to conclude that both the system that makes each life form desirous of the objects that its organism needs for its survival, and the system that allows it to mobilize its organism in the exact right way the moment it decides to do something, are clear evidence of the omnipresence and enormity of universal intelligence.

Your comments are always welcome. Thanks.

1 comment:

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