Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Trap of Postmodernism

The Trap of Postmodernism

The physicist might contend that Quantum Dynamic Theory is sending us toward postmodernism by its affirmation that an observer must be present for events to occur.

The Story of Schroedinger's cat in quantum Physics and the implications thereto, illustrates why postmodernism and the "Me" generations seem overwhelmingly wrong to many classical thinkers in Theology.

On June 7 of 1935, Erwin Schroedinger wrote to Albert Einstein to congratulate him on what is now known as the EPR paper, a famous problem in the interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Soon thereafter, he published what was to become one of the most celebrated paradoxes in quantum theory:

Schroedinger's Cat
A cat is placed in a box, together with a radioactive atom. If the atom decays, and the geiger-counter detects an alpha particle, the hammer hits a flask of prussic acid (HCN), killing the cat. The paradox lies in the clever coupling of quantum and classical domains. Before the observer opens the box, the cat's fate is tied to the wave function of the atom, which is itself in a superposition of decayed and/or undecayed states. Thus, said Schroedinger, the cat must itself be in a superposition of dead and alive states (dead/alive) before the observer opens the box, ``observes'' the cat, and thereby ``collapses'' it's wave function into the additional possibilities of being either dead or alive. This first state, the dead/alive state requires an observer to resolve the potential conflict.

Feline Wave Functions
                         Before opening the Box
                            Whole= Alive or
                            Decayed=Dead or

                         After opening the Box
                    Whole= Alive = buy Kitty litter
                    Decayed=Dead = R.I.P.
Until we open the box the cat is either alive, dead, or the state of  "Dead/Alive".

Quantum theory may be the chief reason physicists seem either drunk or crazy most of the time.

But the point remains that if we need an observer for things to occur in the world, we push mankind toward the center of the universe because until I, the human, observes the phenomena, the cat is in limbo. And the cat has no other place it can be regardless of how spiritual the cat is. In other words the Quantum Dynamicist is perfectly comfortable with the idea that if the tree falls in the forest with no one to hear it, it makes no sound.

The postmodernist finds this necessity for ME to observe at the center of his core of being. You might hear a postmodernist avow that "the whole of reality can never be perceived and understood by humans, only that some of it can, and the rest isn't worth talking about." In short, that which we cannot deal with through reason and empiric knowledge is of no or little value. If it cannot be "proved" it is worthless.

This position, Postmodernism, Subjectivism, Meism, call it by many names, is rampant in today's thinking. But it flies in the face of what humans can perceive spiritually. That something greater than we exists out there; that it is infinite and not understandable; that it contains something of worth.....what might be called "Spinoza's God", in the sense that Einstein knew God, as the UNIVERSE....very close to the Buddhist concept of the Deity, or lack thereof.

The last several centuries have taken the western world on a ride into an exclusively scientific explanation of the universe as opposed to one where feeling or sense perception, hysteria or mysticism rules the day. While this has many wonderful results such as Darwinism to explain evolution. It also has relegated mysticism/intuition to a closeted position sort of like ESP. The result is that we believe little that cannot be proved "scientifically", whereas for the ancients, many things could not be explained scientifically and had to be relegated to "God", demons, or some other spiritual explanation. This is chiefly the journey from ignorance to enlightenment, but like all journeys, one which often moves away from some valued touchstones. As Hume and Kant assumed, what we call reality is constructed by the mind and all human understanding is therefore interpretation rather than acquisition of accurate objective information. Truth is inherently ambiguous according to the post modernist. Any modern American politician or viewer of Fox News can attest to that fact.

The point being that, as Karen Armstrong tries to define in her book "The Case for God", God can exist in a postmodern world......but with great difficulty. The Italian postmodernist Gianni Vattimo avows that "Freedom no longer lies in the perfect knowledge of, and conformity to the necessary structure of reality, but in an appreciation of multiple discourses and historicity, contingency and finitude of all religious, ethical and political values including our own." He wants to bring down walls that separate theist and atheists/non-theists. One of the great benefits of postmodernism is that it validates so many realities and positions. It should be the ultimate position of integration for ideas among humankind, of diversity, but it has a much darker side as well....the prison of selfhood.

"Religion's task, like that of Art, is to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems we could not solve; mortality, pain, grief, despair and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life." says Karen Armstrong. Many of these "supernal" issues cannot be dealt with empirically no matter how hard the psychiatrist may try. Many traditions have dealt with the sacred and unknowable in different ways, But ALL traditions and cultures acknowledge the sacred and unknowable exists. The aboriginal "Dream Time", The American Indian Sweat Lodge, the drug induced states of many more primitive cultures, are all attempts earlier to get in touch with the "other", perhaps the Dead/Alive state of Schroedinger's Cat..

While post modernism puts an arrow through the heart of any doctrine that claims one must have a set of Beliefs or adherence to a "truth" that claims to be perfect or immutable, it also puts an arrow into the heart of the necessity to rise above ourselves.

The first part of this effect, the abandonment of a set of truth doctrines, Creeds or tenets; an intellectual assent to a set of Beliefs, is a wonderful breath of air into religion, particularly western Christian, which has fallen into that doctrinaire state wherein Faith is believing in a set of tenets. We MUST abandon the reliance on Creeds. To state "I, the human know the ultimate truth and this is it", is false, a priori. But where pre-modern religion humanized the sacred, post-modern religion sanctifies the human.

For a theist, objective truth, God's truth exists. And it exists beyond human ken. It cannot be approached through reason. It is mystical and illusory, but there none the less. If we abandon that "otherness" for doctrines which ONLY value human reason and perception, we lose an enormous part of our heritage.

John P. Middleton

Aug 2010

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