Thursday, June 18, 2015

Guest Post: A Letter from God

 No, not God, of course. Just the engineer, revisiting the metaphysics from this post as I imagine God might approach it. Here is my conception of a letter from God.

Hi, everybody! God here. We need to talk. We need to have The Talk. It’s time you learned who you are, who I am, and how we’re related..

First let me apologize for not responding to to your prayers all these years, but you know, there’s really nothing I can do to change anything. You must have learned somewhere along the line that one of my defining characteristics is immutability. In other words, I never change. I can’t change. I wouldn’t be me if I could change. All I really do is exist. In fact, that’s my real name. I’m existence. Pleased to meet you.
Yep, existence exists. That’s not some new-age Zen doubletalk. Existence, of course, is a thought, a concept, an idea. Concepts imply other concepts—that’s logic. Logically, the existence of existence implies the existence of everything that can possibly exist—yes, the universe. So you see, I did create the universe. I’ll spare you the boring details of exactly how the universe comes to be possible; it involves a lot of quantum mechanics and elementary particle theory. I admit I created the universe, but I really can’t take credit for designing it. It sort of came with the territory, so to speak.

You’re probably wondering how a thought can exist by itself and talk to you like a person. Well, since I never change, I can’t talk directly to anyone, but obviously, there’s a human being in the universe who knows what I want to say and is writing this letter for me. As for a thought talking, you’ve got a thought that talks to you all the time. You call it “I”. Scientists will tell you that “I” is just a product of brain function, and that’s right, but it’s not the whole story. Look at that “I”. Does it change? Well, yes and no. When you look at it one way, you’re exactly the same person at every moment of your life, and you might say that “I” doesn’t change. But you can also see that you obviously do change as you grow older, and since “I” is a shorthand way of referring to yourself and everything about you and your history, you’d have to say that “I” does indeed change.  
Actually, both ways of looking at “I” are right. You can call them the logical and physical aspects of “I” or the atemporal and temporal aspects of “I”. Atemporal just means unchanging or timeless. Now get ready for a surprise. That logical, atemporal “I” is actually me, existence! You see, the universe is like a play, and you’re just a character. I’m the actor; I play you and everybody else. It’s not difficult, really. Remember, I’m God.

The changing, temporal, physical “I” is generated by your brain. It dies when your body does. But I, atemporal existence, don’t die. The characters come and go, but the actor never changes. By the way, there’s also a temporal existence to go along with that temporal “I”. That’s not me, and it’s not the temporal “I”, either. Atemporally, existence and “I” are identical, but temporally, they’re different.
You might ask, “Why doesn’t the atemporal “I” die?” Even if you don’t ask, I’m going to tell you. To help me, I’ll call on one of my smartest characters, René Descartes. He was the one who said, “I think, therefore I am.” What was he saying? He was saying that humans know they exist because they observe themselves thinking. Actually, that’s almost right, but he went a little too far. Humans know they exist because they observe themselves, period.

So he should have said, “I observe myself, therefore I am,” “I see myself, therefore I am,” “I think myself, therefore I am,” “I experience myself, therefore I am,” “I am self-aware, therefore I am,” or “I am conscious, therefore I am.” And by “conscious” here I mean self-aware in the way that is uniquely human among living creatures and not just “awake” or the opposite of unconscious, which can apply to all living things. A thought thinking itself is the very essence of human-type consciousness.
This “I” that observes itself is the thought I’ve been talking about, the one that has both temporal and atemporal aspects. As we both know, it’s conscious. It thinks itself. Now, if you can tell me how a thought that thinks itself can ever die I will grant you three wishes. (Just kidding; I really can’t do that.) But it’s true that I, the logical concept existence, can’t die. I create myself, so I exist always and forever.

On the other hand, there’s you, the temporal “I”. You won’t live forever. “But,” you say, “I’m conscious, too. Why won’t I live forever, even after my body dies?” The answer is that your consciousness is me, the atemporal “I”. In fact, consciousness is my middle name. Logically (atemporally), existence and consciousness are identical concepts. Temporally, they’re not.
Here’s another question: If I didn’t design the universe, who did? It’s pretty obvious that the universe could have been different and that there are an essentially infinite number of universes that could possibly have existed. I said that the existence of existence implies the existence of everything that can possibly exist. Why is there just this universe? Well, that’s because these possible universes are different in ways that make them mutually exclusive, so if one exists the others are impossible. In the act of observing or thinking myself, I can only see one universe, and that turns out to be this one. It’s me. It’s what exists. So who designed it? Well, it sort of designed itself. The universes in that huge flock of possible universes are related in a way that guarantees that universes like this one, with a lot of conscious beings and a high degree of diversity, overwhelmingly outnumber any other kind. So it’s nearly a hundred percent certain that in observing myself I’d see a universe like this one. If it hadn’t been this exact universe, it would’ve been one just like it. In other words, existence self-organizes. I didn’t have to design the universe; I just had to be myself.  And by the way, that’s all you have to do, too. Just be yourself. Actually, you can’t do anything else.

“But wait!” you say. “What about free will? Don’t humans have free will?” Well, since I never change, free will is meaningless to me. As for you, I really can’t say. The temporal and the atemporal views of reality don’t have to be compatible, so somehow you might have free will, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If you were hoping I’d say there’s no free will so you could do any nasty thing you want and escape the consequences because it’s not a free act, go ahead and try it. Just remember, if you aren’t responsible for what you do, neither are the agents of justice who administer the consequences. So good luck with that.  
Speaking of nasty things, now that you’ve got a better idea of who I am and what I can and can’t do, I hope you’ll stop saying things like, “How could a loving God permit such terrible things to happen?” As I said before, if it’s possible, I create it. That’s what I do. If you don’t want to deal with something, you’ll have to make it impossible, or at least unlikely. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. And I can’t tell you how successful you’ll be at shaping the universe the way you want to. That would be telling you how the play ends. Far be it from me to spoil it for you.
So glad we had this talk. Remember to call your mother.