Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Exploring the heart of things

Posted on August 10, 2013 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 11, 2013 – 12:00am


Illustration by REY RIVERA

What’s inside?”

Every time I see a gadget that thrills me, this is the question I ask myself. While I marvel at cellphones, cameras, printers and the like, I am even more interested to know details about how they work. Knowing about the technology behind things, the processes involved in the making of wondrous toys such as these, can get me really excited.

I also like reading history and knowing about how events and people can affect the trajectory of humankind’s unfolding future.

In short, I am a curious guy who wants to understand how things work and how people’s lives unravel, and how they affect everything. I am not really a techie, nor am I a historian or a psychologist. I just want to know what things are made of and what makes people tick.

There is so much to know. There is so much to understand and appreciate. And while I may fully grasp how a gadget and all its features and functions work, I have no idea how to make one if I had to do it from scratch. That explains why I have the penchant for pushing products to the limit, dismantling them, attempting a fix if I find anything wrong, and putting them back together again.

It’s the same attitude I have towards people. I like to know their backgrounds, their thoughts, their traumas and highpoints and everything else I can possibly know that has contributed to making them who they are.

We were born curious. We were born to ask questions. We were born to seek knowledge and attempt to get answers to almost everything.

This urge to know and understand the world is already evident among very young kids who can barrage us with so many questions. “Why is the sky blue?” “Why is it raining?” “What’s the moon made of?’’ During their “why” years, the questioning never ends. Many lose this curiosity in adulthood for various unfortunate reasons. I am thankful I have not. In fact, I wish to know a lot more stuff than I already know, now even more than ever as I get older.

The quest for answers to questions that have real, clear answers is easy. Science helps us with this all the time. But to seek answers to the imponderables, those questions that have plagued mankind since time immemorial and continue to do so, is difficult. But we all want and need to know the answers to them even if just to be assured that the tenets of our faith are indeed true and right.

Is there a God? Where is heaven? Is there life after death? Where do we go after death? These questions baffle us. Many wish we could turn to science for the answers so that they can feel a real assurance.

But sadly, science is not where we can find answers to these questions. Many scientists are even skeptical about God. They will tell you that the heavens have been explored and there is no “heaven” that has been found “up there.”

Understandably because of this, many religious people have shunned science to keep their faith intact. For them, to keep the faith is to stop asking for worldly proof. I, for one, believe that science is not the right instrument we should use to answer these questions satisfactorily. I know that is another essay altogether but just the same, let me dip into it a bit.

The clash between science and faith seems to come from the lack of understanding of the functions and the limitations of each other’s domain. To put it very simply, science is good at explaining the factual, the literal, the empirical, while the domain of faith lies in the world of symbols and the realm of the holy.

Joseph Campbell differentiates the domains by saying that the literal (science) is denotative while the symbolic (religious) is connotative. The literal will explain in measurable terms the physical world we live in including ourselves. The symbolic will coax and lead us to an experience of deep, open-ended mystery. Both are within the sphere of human experience within a reality we can never completely fathom.

Things become crazy when religion attempts to “prove” that, say, God made the world in seven days, or tries to pinpoint where the Garden of Eden is, or how Noah could have built an ark and collected all the animals, or exactly where heaven is.

“Literalism kills,” Campbell says. Faith is not meant to be appreciated in the literal sense. Holy books must not be looked at like scientific papers, and to treat them as such is to misuse and therefore denigrate them. To deem them as literally “factual” will simply not hold up to scientific scrutiny.

Science also oversteps when it dismisses felt spiritual experiences like enlightenment or being in the presence of the holy, etc. as purely psycho-neurological phenomena. It is in way over its head. Its explanation of consciousness and what it really is has so far been anything but complete. Its sole exclusive “faith” in the verifiable is myopic. Quantum physicists will be the first to tell you that.

But as humans, we feel the need to look into the heart of things and search for answers we can believe in.

After so many decades of living and seeing how the world continues to change, I have come to my own understanding of what the heart of things is all about. Life at its core is intrinsically “empty” or lacking in meaning or even having any permanent attributes. Life is essentially a blank. We put the meaning into it.

It is true that when we are born, we inherit a context of meanings passed on to us by society. This context is the software by which we try and understand everything. However, we all have seen in our own lives that meanings, beliefs, practices can and do change through time. Virtually nothing is written in stone. Everything is in flux.

Life is a field of open space where forms of life arise and die off. When we are awake to it, we can be what we want to be and can experience what we wish. It is eventually our call what we want to make out of our own lives.

While we are essentially free, the only thing we cannot avoid is the penchant to make meaning and sense of everything. This is why one philosopher has cynically described being human as being condemned to creating meaning endlessly.

And yes, we can and do change life’s meaning again and again when it does not serve us anymore. We do this each time we upgrade our science and faith to accommodate new facts and spiritual experiences.

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