papo   The third hypothesis
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Mystical metaphors

"You are That"
(Adi Shankara)

It seems impossible to me that down the whole history of philosophy and religion no one has seen it as an inevitable thing to reach the third hypothesis, especially if you take right to its extreme consequences the intuition of being "one with God", which is not only explicit in Hinduism and the Vedanta but also makes its appearance in western religious doctrines, if only in the form of an individual "mystical experience". Averroes was the first to formulate the thesis of "monopsychism", which distinguishes between an "individual soul", which is mortal in the same way as the body is, and "material intellect", which is immortal and unique, and which corresponds to the deity. However, he does not infer from that the fundamental identity of all men (and all living beings). If we start out from the third hypothesis, according to which the "io" is a unique, absolute being, you arrive directly to the conclusion that, if God exists, he must be another form of experience of that same "io" which is also our own "io". Fundamentally, I am a not-mystical atheist; but I would like to convince even the believers that the "Copernican revolution" that involves considering our "io" as something shared is such a far reaching idea that it is no longer necessary to experience among other lives "a superior God-like entity" so as to establish the ethical principles that should give us guidance.

One of the most commonly shared metaphors giving an idea of God is to consider him a sea, from which the clouds are formed by evaporation before condensing to rain and then returning in its way to the one single sea. Thinking in this way, our individuality is a single "drop" that can be dissolved in God’s oceanic individuality, towards which we all converge and from which we detach ourselves as parts which have acquired a momentarily separated individuality. Some people think that this cycle could continue indefinitely, and that we can free ourselves of it only if we follow an impeccable or an ascetic lifestyle. The problem that no one investigates, even if it is as simple as mathematics, is this: if I converge towards the soul of God and you converge towards the soul of God, we will not meet there like two excursionists that have come together at the top of a mountain: we will be more like people that have recovered from amnesia and suddenly remember that they have had experience not only of "their own" lives but also that of all the others. The third hypothesis is the necessary logical inference that should be immediately evinced from the idea of us all being "part of the one same God". If we take three people, A, B and C, who become part of God, D, then we will get A = D, B = D and C = D. From that, however, we should easily be able to deduce that A = B = C. once we have reached this state of illumination, we then become aware that the term D is no longer necessary, and that we can simplify our formula by eliminating it entirely, as happens when you use complex numbers in the various parts of a calculation to find the real solution to an equation.

In this way, it is not possible to deceive ourselves into thinking that an ascetic life could save us from the necessity of future reincarnations, deluding ourselves in this way that we can liberate ourselves of the tiring fatigue of having to live and converging on God before other people: once we have become "part of God", we immediately realize that also all the others are "part of God", i.e., of the "cosmic io" that we have become, in exactly the same way as was that "individual io" that we had deceived ourselves we were. In other words: if I am a "dream of God", there is no point in hoping that, by waking up, I can find a bit of peace that will last longer than a moment. At that point, I would become aware – or I would remember – that I am the same God that is also dreaming the lives of all the others. Otherwise who is dreaming the others? This idea that there is "no way out" that guarantees us an "eternal holiday" leaving the world and its problems to all the others is something very strong and above all very useful. Asceticism will continue to be important as a way of learning how to live, as a way of understanding yourself and arriving at a balance: but this only becomes effective when it is capable of offering its practical results all other people – in the form of exemplary behaviour or as a contribution to peace or justice, more useful ways of acting, innovative ideas or advice that is simply more sensible.

The idea that we are all expressions of the one same shared "io" is of such effect that it will reduce all discussion about the existence of God to the possibility of experiencing a "divine state" if such a thing exists. Even if we do not wish to resign ourselves to considering the idea of God as "an unnecessary hypothesis", we still need to be able to come up with a new interpretation of it, in the same way as we have already done with the idea of the soul. It is clear that, just as our lives take place in times that are partially overlapping, so "God’s life" could be contemporaneous with all the others. Yet, seeing as our "io" is always the same, we need moments of discontinuity in order to experience each single "normal" life. The difference between our "human" state and the one that is "divine" should resolve itself into a difference of quantity and awareness and power. A good example could be found in thinking what we were like as little children or even as new born babies with respect to what we have become as adults: the experience of a "divine state" might consist in a sort of awareness developed to its maximum extent. From this point of view, we can see that there is no longer any necessity for God’s role as judge of our actions: there is no sinner if not our own "io", just as there is no one that has undergone injustice, if not, again, our own unique "io". From that superior point of view, we might feel sorry for not having always behaved ourselves in the right way, and for having inflicted unnecessary suffering on ourselves with our own hands – something we might have spared ourselves. But there is absolutely no one else to punish or to console.

Along with our awareness, we can imagine that our ability to influence the world might grow as well, even if it is not strictly necessary for the two to develop together. Nevertheless, this means that it is at least possible for us to influence human affairs in some way. Those who do not let themselves get carried away by the mysticism that involves finding a hidden key which can turn every negative even upside down and change it into something positive, can see clearly that God, even if He exists, does not manifest himself in daily life, where chance governs things with all its bizarre forms, and man with his imperfections as well as his unfortunate capacity for evil. The only logical conclusion is that God, even if he exists, just can’t see to our affairs, or that, at least, in the best possible hypothesis, he is not able to intervene every time our common sense of justice would make that seem irrevocable to us. If God is there, he just does not reply to all our calls, and the mountains of innocent human victims that human history continues to heap up testify to that with a force that the rare cases of "miracles" scattered here and there just make more evident.

Historically speaking, these are the arguments brought to bear by atheists against those who believe, but the third hypothesis allows us to add another consideration: if God exists, we should all consider ourselves as His incarnations, some more and some less illuminated, we can’t think that we are here to pass a trial and that we will be judged on the basis of its result. If God – that is us, in our divine state – had the power to influence the world without having to incarnate himself in each one of us, he would have no reason to want to experience this state of limited awareness and limited ability. He would at least pay more attention to making sure that the least possible unnecessary pain would be created, which as it turns out, He has to undergo Himself. To sum up, it is my opinion that, if an experience of divine life really exists, it cannot be different from the physical laws that keep our universe together: and if it can influence things, it must do so within certain limits that do not allow for statistical verification. This means that its impact cannot be calculated and so our belief about whether it exists or not becomes a question of personal taste.

We can imagine a way out if we envisage that during our experience of "divine life" it is possible to influence the thoughts and wills of people that are willing to listen to their inner voice. This allows us to save the laws of physics because this influence would take place on the same level with which or conscious will becomes evident: for instance, if our will is not merely an illusion, it must make use of some uncertainty mechanism in order to express itself and effectively modify the course of reality, as suggested by many important studies of the mind. Yet, even if we can suppose that "God’s mind" is able to interfere with ours in this way, and because, as far as the third hypothesis is concerned, we are always dealing with the same "io", in the end we are only affirming a different version of a concept that is generally known and agreed on – that our mind has more resources than those of which we are aware. Once again it all comes down to a question of our stylistic preferences and the difficulty disappears in this way into what we have already defined as "unproposable problems".

We could give to this "divine type of existence" the role as "guarantor of the consistency of the world", which is part of the scenery common to all the single individual existences, in the same way set out by Descartes. As we have already said above, an interpretation of this type would allow us to get beyond the dualism between the "io" and the "outside world". However, that does not necessarily imply that such a type of existence admits of its own awareness and its own "will". From my point of view, the chance of experiencing a state of "divine awareness" is quite irrelevant, and it can only deceive us into thinking that if we have good reasons we might be favoured in some way "because we deserve it". I am willing to leave the hope of this kind of possibility to whoever needs it: it is something I entrust myself to whenever I am in a situation in which I can only hope and wait. Yet, my personal conviction is that, with or without the inspiration of God, the task of creating a better world here on this earth is something that has only to do with our abilities.

Continued on the next page: "Conclusions".


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