18 July 2009

The Process of Authenticity Pt. 1/3

An unlikely commonality between some strands of religious thought and some strands of materialist philosophy is the idea that our actions and our fate is in many ways determined. From a religious point of view, if God is omniscient across time and space, than our fate is already known. This has not taken out the responsibility of choice in many religious doctrines, but some have taken this idea to the extreme. One of the main tenants of Calvinism in the 16th century was that of predestination, which asserted that the summation of our actions and the fate of our souls are already determined. This idea was taught mainly to believers already in the fold in order to assure them of their eventual salvation. It drew a lot of criticism as it implied that those who didn't fit the description of salvation were obviously not meant to be saved, not the most encouraging of doctrines.

From a strict materialist’s point of view, every thought we have or decision we make can be reduced to the neurological impulses in our brain, which in turn is a result of a clear string of logical events extending back to the beginning of the universe. Many scientists assert that in principle, if we had perfect information about the physical body and physical world in which they inhabit, than we could predict all of their future behavior. Moreover, if we had perfect information about an individual, we could actually know what it is like to be them.

While determinism is a philosophically challenging idea, its implicit paradigm in society is detrimental to motivation and creativity. Many of us go through life merely responding to the expectations and norms of our surroundings; as a
society we recycle many of the oppressive institutional norms and pathologies
without questioning their legitimacy. By exploring the idea of consciousness we can push past the philosophical and social strictures of determinism. We can move into a place of self awareness and even further into a place of self empowerment and authenticity. In this experiential realm, we are determined by nothing more than our own imagination. In part 2 of this essay I will explore this using some of the writings of Martin Heidegger on the nature of being, and Paulo Freire on the humanization of being. In part 3 I will explore writings of the Baha'i faith on the spiritualization of being, and the methodology that has been developed to manifest it on a collective level.


  1. ..."In this experiential realm, we are determined by nothing more than our own imagination." Perhaps awareness and ability to hold to intention?

  2. that is some deep stuff. Could it be that there is a variety of outcomes that could result from choices or actions in the process of selection interwoven into the fabric of the evolution of life? In that case, the predestiny of fate could have several alternatives depending on selection of choices. God gives us the oportunity to learn and grow. It also brings up the question of how prayer changes things. But as we are learning, and making choices, perhaps the creator is just watching us and already knows how we will choose and ultimatly end up. If God is timeless and eternal, then the entire book has already been written. Hmmmm

  3. In my mind, material determinism lost its viability as a useful philosophy with the emerge of Chaos Theory (e.g., the "butterfly effect" where a flap of a butterfly wing can ultimately change the weather halfway around the world), and the discovery of the fundamental limitation to knowing a particle state because of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle of Quantum Theory, both discoveries of the last century. In principle Chaos can amplify quantum effects we cannot measure to generate gross changes in outcomes (e.g., history) that cannot be determined. Perhaps providing subatomic "tweaks" is one way God works miracles without actually violating any physical laws. Just conjecture on my part. But surely this has implications with regards to predestination and exercise of free will.

  4. Emily,

    I don't think our awareness is determined, although ability probably is. We just don't know what that is.


    I enjoyed your thoughts
    I see the process of the universe as a directional unfoldment towards greater consciousness. While this was probably inevitable, I think our path to get there probably isn't. Evolution could have taken many different physical paths, and we can make many different choices in our life. Prayer, I think, helps lead us to the better choices and heightens our awareness of Gods will.


    Thanks for your comment. I don't know very much about either of these theories, just that they're weird. I wonder if they are relevant to the determinism I am talking about. Newtonian physics might be antiquated, but it still holds up bridges. Likewise in evolution, on the level of random mutation of DNA, does quantum theory really apply? If not, then one could argue that we are determined at least biologically, if not on a universal scale. Also, I understand that while we can't explain the nature of quantum theory, we can use it to make very accurate predictions. I also am not sure about the subatomic tweaks part. It could very well be possible, though I don't think a belief in God is dependent on some kind of interventionist capability

  5. "Newtonian physics might be antiquated, but it still holds up bridges."

    Quote of the Day