Theory of Everything

Theories of everything seem highly fashionable nowadays. I myself think its a beautiful goal to aim for, but I don't think its actually achievable. So en-route to a theory of everthing, I'll be content with a handful of theories of something. What theories of something am I considering ?

Science is the paradigm I've been brought up in - I focussed on sciences at school, and studied engineering at university. Its mostly scientists that talk about theories of everything. However, I also have come from a religious background - for many years I called myself a Christian ( evangelically flavoured ). So my aim is to create a theory which embraces both science and religion, and then some. Since I'm an engineer by training, simply creating a theory isn't sufficient, the theory must work in practice and actually be useful in people's everyday lives. I don't ( unlike Richard Dawkins ) see science and religion as enemies, rather they are both attempts to make sense of the world in which we find ourselves, and they both approach this world from a different perspective. Religion starts with people's subjective experiences of God, science begins with objective observations of the world. So is there any common ground between them ?

One way of finding common ground is to have God indistinguishable from the world. A way of doing this is to be a pantheist - that's a belief that 'God is the world'. I rather prefer a slightly more sophisticated view - panentheism - which states that God is the world, but there's a lot more to God than just the observable world. Panentheism is a view which allows us to resolve and transcend one of the dualisms noticeably prevalent in theology - the immanent/transcendent God. God is omnipresent - everywhere - but is also beyond and above everything. Thinking in terms of dimensions, the 3D world we're aware of could be merely the surface of an N-dimensional God for example (N being a number bigger than 3 - God might have fractal dimensionality so its not necessary to have an integer).

The second way of finding common ground is to pay attention to what science has tended to ignore for hundreds of years - the scientist himself (and yes, it normally is a he). Science as we know it today proceeds on the basis of a myth - that myth is the myth of objectivity. Non-objective scientists are actually the reality but scientists do like to pretend they've got non-objectivity under control in their science. For example they'll often point to peer-reviewing and the like if you raise this issue with them. If you raise the problem of falsified data (such as happened in the recent case of Hwang Woo-Suk in Korea) then probably most will admit he was just one 'bad apple' but that doesn't really tarnish science as a whole. However, from my background in Christianity, I know there's a problem when it comes to people, and that problem is called 'sin'. In Buddhism, its called 'attachment'. Science as a whole doesn't have a theory for how science is actually done, at least not one that acknowledges 'sin' or 'attachment' in scientists. 'Sin' is one way of attempting to characterise non-objectivity in scientists. I think one reason why scientists don't talk about 'sin' is because in Christianity its associated with guilt, and guilt isn't where anyone really wants to go. However, its quite possible to understand 'sin' as separate from guilt - more akin to the way that Buddhists understand it. In short, scientists develop attachment to ideas (usually their own) and irrationally don't want to give up those ideas.

Having acknowledged the reality of non-objective science as a result of science being done by 'sinful' scientists, we have opened up an alternative way to do science. We can do a science of scientists, and that's been my approach for the past few years. We can see what ways scientists are 'sinful' and understand where their science isn't likely to be helpful. Spotting 'sin' in a scientist is a fun way to do science, a science of scientists themselves, the neglected aspect of science as it is currently practiced.

 A theory of sin minus guilt, shame and damnation

In order to spot sin (I'm dropping the quote marks since its much easier to type without) we need to know what we're looking for. In the context of writing, sin isn't about behaviour - its not like 'living in sin' something you can see directly. Rather sin shows up as a distortion in the way a person perceives the world - sin is associated with blind spots - black holes in our minds. Just as a black hole bends light that travels near to it, so sin bends a person's perception. Another way of describing the effect of sin is 'ego distortion'. When I was a Christian, one of the things I was taught was that sin was about making <<me>> the centre of everything that happens. Someone wrote sin as s I n - because its putting 'I' at the centre. So another way to understand sin is as 'selfishness'. How is it possible to see a person's selfishness in what they write ?

Here's an example from my own experience. I once had a long email exchange with a woman who was a part-time journalist and photographer. She was erudite and humorous and had taken some cool pictures. She'd even met and I think interviewed the author Jostein Gaarder, famous for his philosophy book 'Sophie's World'. During this challenging exchange we'd got onto the subject of the book 'Mutant Message down under'. The writer of this book, Marlo Morgan hadn't come clean that it was a work of fiction, and my correspondent pointed me to an article by someone who had written something condemnatory about her for this. (I've just looked it up - the author was a Chris Sitka). Up until then it hadn't dawned on me that this book was fiction, so I followed the arguments carefully. I became convinced that it was indeed fictional but didn't agree with the condemnations.  When I pointed out the inconsistency in Sitka's condemnation, my correspondent took the criticism in part as criticism of her, by virtue of the fact that they both were journalists. Now, I wasn't extending my criticism of Sitka to all journalists, but that's how my words were interpreted by the woman I was corresponding with.

So my criticism of Sitka became criticism of my online friend, and this resulted in her severing of what was otherwise a promising friendship, owing to what she claimed was my 'arrogance'. What was going on here ? I interpret this as an example of how sin bends a person's perceptions. Firstly, a person develops an 'ego attachment' to a particular notion. This is an identification of oneself with a label - it could be 'Christian' for a religious person or simply 'journalist' for someone for whom that role is a source of personal pride. I think it probably also requires elevating the job title as being more important than or superior to some other roles. Another way of understanding this is as a 'boundary distortion' - the person's metaphysical self is in part made up of the self-image 'I'm a journalist'. Then if anyone who is also a journalist is criticized, the association of 'self' with a category or group results in pain for the person hearing the criticism.

Sin then is closely associated with this 'metaphysical self' - a notion of a self-within-one's-head. Carl Rogers called this self the 'self image' its in essence who we think we are. However we conceive of ourself, it affects the way we perceive the world. Paranoia is one extreme kind of distortion - the notion that everyone's out to get me - which arises from extreme self-delusion and denied hatred towards others. Most people's sense of self is in part a self-image, an idea of who they are ('who do you think you are?') this entails some kind of distortion of a person's perceived world, since it means that to the extent they associate who-they-are with an image, they perceive images as reality. Once an image is perceived as reality, the image can be 'hurt', and thus the person can be 'hurt' too - as Morpheus says 'your mind makes it real'.

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