Philosophy: Crisis of Faith — Reality vs Truth

Yashica TLR, Fuji Provia 400X (I think)

Imagine, for a moment, that you suddenly woke up to this world with no memory of your life up to this point. What would be your first impression? If you need help, refer to the one-season-wonder of a show “John Doe”. The main character wakes up naked in the center of a small wooded island off the coast of a major city. The only difference between him and the hypothetical amnesiac version of you is that he knows the answer to every question that will ever be asked. But let’s say you don’t. Count the number of things you “know” now, that would not be apparently true in our imaginary experience.

Pentax 645N, Kodak Portra 400

For one thing, you would might see something like this picture here. What would you think of it? You may understand the concept of a live tree as opposed to a dead tree. You would see that a live tree is mounted in the ground and that there are varying sizes of these trees, indicating that they grow then die. Where would you assume that the tree goes when it dies? …Wait a minute!

What do you mean “where does it go”? Who put that concept into your head? Why would you assume that the tree goes anywhere? From observation of the physical world, you would only be able to deduce that the tree is an animated, biological machine. It lives its life, then it simply ceases to function and is eaten by microbes and termites.

Drawing by me, don’t copy

But what of your own biological machine? Look in the mirror, or into the eyes of another human, and you see something more than what you see in a tree. You see consciousness. You are conscious, self aware, possess free will, and are able to choose virtue or the lack thereof. What happens to this consciousness when it goes the way of the tree? Supposedly, humans share 70% of their DNA with an Oak tree. So shouldn’t the same rules of death apply?

Not so fast. But we have this pesky thing called consciousness. The trouble is we can’t imagine what it will be like to not exist. We can’t wrap our minds around that concept — at least, I can’t seem to. How can intelligence just — poof! — disappear? Good question. I believe that is the question that has plagued humanity for its entire existence.


Light bulb

We think of ourselves like a light bulb. When it is on, we are alive, the soul shining through the eyes. Dead, the bulb is off. When the bulb goes off, where does the light go? Technically, the light emitted turns to heat, eventually, but I think we are talking about the energy that makes the light. Electricity is the soul.

That’s all fine, but it’s not like the same electrons are flowing through the filament for the entire life of the bulb. In contrast, our soul dwells in the body for the entirety of our lives. Or does it? The literal translation of Chi is basically “Oxygen” (if you go by the description). Oxygen, like electricity to the bulb, gives life to our bodies. Without it, we are just dead-eyed corpses, and the microbes begin to eat us very quickly. What if we are just biological machines with oxygen flowing in and out of us for 75 years until we die and our consciousness ceases to exist? That sounds depressing. What’s even more depressing is the scientific prophecy for the fate of the universe. They say the universe will run out of hydrogen (ensuring that no more stars will form), the stars will all burn out, then the dark universe will grow cold and perhaps collapse on itself one day. If that’s the case, then there seems to be little reason to give a s@*# about anything.

Many people, disheartened by this description of the ultimate fate of everything that is, probably adopt a nihilistic approach to life and end up just living out their hedonistic fantasies until they die. One problem with that is the wake of destruction they leave on humanity. I’m not here to discuss choices yet, but don’t be a horrible human being… please. I would like the Western world to stay in-tact, but that is another discussion.

In the end, are we really like John Doe or the dog in the first picture? Are we born into a world free to come to our own conclusions, or are we dropped down into a prison of cultural and religious ancestry? What do we actually know vs what are we told to believe? You choose your reality that you want to believe, but you don’t choose the truth. Seems important to think about.

Yashica TLR, Fuji Provia 400X (I think)
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