Tag Archives: religion

Further Ruminations

Several years ago I wrote a poem titled “Rumination.” In some manner, I sense that I am returning to that earlier poem. Pretty clearly the underlying theme of that poem was a quandary about purpose and meaning in the universe and therefore in human life. The key question is, does the universe have a purpose? If so, then life has meaning to the extent that it contributes to that purpose. If not, how could life have meaning? One attempt to answer the last question is the proposal that our meaning derives from context. In other words, we create meaning from our social context, which narrowly includes family and friends. More broadly it includes work and engagement with social networks. In short, meaning is contextual and the context is the world created by culture — the web of the world. Contextual meaning is a distraction from the larger issue. A distraction that some can lose themselves in but others find unsatisfying.

For those who find contextual meaning unsatisfying there are two basic paths that can be followed in the quest for meaning. One path is that of contemporary science. While there are scientific strays loose in the world, mainstream science declares that the universe arose out of randomness and has no purpose. Further, that the life that evolved in this random universe also arose out of randomness and has no purpose beyond perpetuating itself. Life that is intelligent and self-reflective is devoid of underlying purpose and meaning and therefore pointless. Why should such a being care whether or not a life without purpose or meaning is perpetuated? Its only possible justification is contextual, and if that is sufficient to sustain it for a few decades, then its biological programs will do their best to drive it into reproducing. Regardless, it will shortly unwind as a living community of cells and slide back into the oblivion that it arose from.

Oblivion is a fate that most such beings fear, for they recognize it as a permanent loss of awareness. Once recognized, a common antidote is denial coupled with immersion in the distraction of context. Those for whom this proves not sufficient are often observed to suffer from existential angst. Symptoms of existential angst often manifest as despair and depression or rage and violence. The former may attempt to find solace in addictions and the latter may seek release through acting-out. So, if you follow the path offered by mainstream science, you can lose yourself in the temporary world of the mind, suffer despair or embrace rage.

The second path open to the quest for meaning is spiritual in nature. One branch along this path is exoteric religion. The exoteric form of religion is the public face of the religion and is directed at the masses, e.g., Islam or Judaism. Most, if not all, exoteric religions address the issue of purpose and meaning. Unfortunately, religions tend to become social institutions, and while they may provide some support for purpose and meaning, they usually end up simply becoming an option in the contextual search for meaning. All too often, they become a toxic option as evidenced by religious authoritarianism and religious terrorism. There are, however, other branches along the spiritual path. The esoteric form of religion is private, individual and typically pursued by a small minority, e.g., Sufism or Kabbalism. Often, this is a minority oppressed by the exoteric institution. In other cases, a private, individual path is pursued independently of any religion. It is primarily this latter case that holds some promise..

For those people who are on the independent, esoteric path, lineages of teachers often become more prominent than religious institutions, especially in the east, e.g., India. Transmission moves from teacher to student, where the student often becomes a teacher to other students and so on. These lineages have their roots in mystical experiences in which the experiencer comes to a direct knowing that is purely a private, personal experience. It is not something that can be given to another but it can be pointed at as a form of guidance. The delusion that anyone on this path must be careful to avoid is that of mistaking the pointing with the thing in itself.

What mystics frequently offer when willing to talk about their experiential knowing is that the universe arises from a creative, intelligent Source that serves as the ground state from which everything arises. The fundamental characteristics of this ground state are awareness and unconditional acceptance of all that is. Some of these mystics suggest that we and the physical universe exist as specialized manifestations of this Source. The purpose for the universe is to support life and the purpose of life is to support individuated states of awareness. Individuated awareness exists to interact with other states of individuated awareness within the context of physicality. The purpose of these interactions is for Source to explore its potential and to evolve in understanding of that potential. Thus, the universe has a purpose and we have a role in that purpose and therein lies our grasp on true meaning.

Following the spiritual path in search of meaning requires that one seek to directly know, through merging one’s own awareness with Source. This is a phenomenological knowing of the truth of the underlying reality that the above description is merely pointing at with words and concepts. Belief in the description and holding it to be true out of faith is falling into the delusion warned against. Such an act is how religions come to be and devolve into a mere source of contextual meaning.

A Personal Odyssey

This is an account based on one aspect of my life. The theme employed encompasses those events that are religious or spiritual in nature.

      My earliest recollection of religion was during the time when my father was overseas in the U.S. Army and my mother and I were living with her parents in Nashville, Tennessee. My grandparents, my mother and I attended a local Baptist church that was within walking distance of my grandparents’ home. I recall standing on the bench beside my mother so that I could see over the heads of those seated in front of us. What I most remember from that church experience was hymn singing. My maternal grandfather (Papa Spann), according to his eulogy, was an active supporter of the local Negro (black) church and helped raise funds to support the church. Probably not unrelated to this support was his practice of reverse integrating the city buses when he rode them. Most trips were by city bus and whenever I went with him on a bus trip we always sat in the back with the black passengers.

I also have early recollections of being admonished to avoid swearing and using the “Lord’s name in vain” at the risk of being struck by lightning. I don’t recall specifically who did this admonishing but the most likely sources were my paternal grandmother and aunt who both lived in the same general area. I should for the sake of accuracy point out that none of my paternal relatives are actually biologically related to me. My father was abandoned as a very young child and was reared by the Smith family whose members I had a familial relationship with all of my life. After my father’s return, we lived on campus, in married student housing, at Vanderbilt University. I am told that my father did a double undergraduate major in English and chemistry and then went on to do a masters degree in English, all of which was done in 39 months.

As my father was completing school, we moved into a house that was owned by the Smiths and my father taught high school English for one year. During this time I recall running in an empty field not far from the house and taking a fall. I remember “taking the Lord’s name in vain” in the course of this event. With some anxiety I awaited the promised lightening strike, which of course never came. After several minutes without retribution and being an experimentalist even at that young age I repeatedly challenged the heavens to do their best. Nothing. I walked out of that field a confirmed doubter in the “wraith of God.”

Following my completion of the second grade my father took a position teaching English at Meridian Junior College and we moved to Mississippi. My father, in my recollection up to this point, had not attended church, nor had my mother since leaving her parents home. Once we settled in Meridian, my mother took up religion again and with me in tow she began attending a nearby Baptist church. My father did not attend nor did my only sibling at the time who was too young. During my attendance, I “joined” the church and was baptized.

In the summer, I would ride either the train or bus from Meridian to Nashville and spend a few weeks with my paternal grandmother and grandfather. I saw little of the latter since he worked as a night watchman and slept in the daytime. Mama Smith belonged to the Church of the Nazarene and she frequently took me with her on Sunday. Papa Smith never attended church as far as I can recall. The most vivid recollection I have about this church was the singing which was accompanied by a lot of movement and activity.

Mama Smith often told me that movies were the work of the devil but had apparently struck a compromise with him. She gave me admission fare to the nearby local movie theater on Saturdays so that I could go and watch the serial and double feature (usually westerns). She also purchased a TV to give me an additional reason to come and visit her since we did not have a TV at home and the only station in the state of Mississippi at that time was located some distance from us in the Capitol of Jackson. We would not have a TV until after we moved to Madison, TN.

After a few years at Meridian Junior College, my father decided that there was no future in teaching English. We moved back to Nashville and lived for a few months with Mama and Papa Smith, until my father acquired a house in Madison, Tennessee. My father enrolled in a graduate program at Vanderbilt in audio-speech pathology and took a full-time, night job as a chemist with Avco Manufacturing Corporation.

After getting settled in Madison, my mother found a local church she liked and began trying to drag me along with her. I balked. First, I was now old enough and big enough that I could successfully assert myself with her. In particular, I recall an incident where she was trying to get me to put on some dress slacks and a white shirt to wear to church and I said I would only go if I could wear my jeans. I knew that this was entirely unacceptable to her. An extended argument ensued about proper attire to wear to church. My position was that if God cared what I wore to church I didn’t have any use for him. She refused to let me wear jeans and I did not attend church with her while we lived in Madison.

After my father completed his graduate program, he accepted a position as head of the Fairhaven School for retarded children in Atlanta and we moved to Decatur, Georgia. My mother went back on her “crusade” and wanted to “turn a new leaf” now that my father was no longer occupied all the time with school and work. She wanted the entire family to attend a local Baptist church. My father relented and agreed that we would all go and continue going until the first time they showed up at the house soliciting money. I went since my father had agreed that we would all attend. It was only one week before a representative of the church’s building fund committee showed up at the door. Thereafter, only my mother and siblings attended. Sometime after we moved to Decatur I became acquainted with the word atheist and decided it fit with my outlook. Thereafter, I described myself as an atheist.

Just after I began my senior year in high school, I was out with a group of friends one Sunday driving around the metro Atlanta area. One of the guys in the car kept saying, “We’re going to have a wreck. Take me home.” There was nothing about how we were driving that would cause him any alarm and he was hardly the type that got alarmed about much anyway. He definitely had never in our experience been known to voice premonitions. Of course, we all scoffed at his declaration and ignored him. He continued to request to be taken home. Eventually, we did drop him off and a couple of others as well. Finally, there was just the driver and I left in the car and we headed for my house. It had begun to rain and had gotten dark. We came around a curve and entered a long straight stretch of highway that was close to the turn off for my house. A car was coming toward us and another car was in the process of passing it. The car that was passing spun out and ran the other car off the road. The car began spinning round and round and drifting from one side of the road to the other. It finally went off the road on our side and then came back on the road just in time to hit us head on while it was broadside in the road forming a letter T with the two vehicles.

I went partially through the windshield and back into the car. When everything came to a stop I sat there briefly and then asked the driver how he was. He had hit the steering wheel with his face and made a total mess of his mouth. He managed to get out of the car and come around and help me get the door open on the passenger side so I could get out. We were just standing there in the rain trying take in what had happened when the guy that had been run off the road appeared. He looked at me and said something to the effect that I was bleeding to death. He grabbed me by the arm and rushed me to his car and we took off down the highway. I had felt wetness on my face but thought it was water from the rain. As we drove down the highway I became aware of a gritty feeling in my eyes and realized it was probably glass from the windshield. I recall trying to keep my eyes very still so as not to do any more damage than had already been done.

We soon arrived at the emergency room in a university hospital where I went into shock. While I was lying on the table violently shaking, I overheard two physicians talking. They were basically saying that I had lost a lot of blood and needed a transfusion of whole blood and that they didn’t have enough of the right type. I later learned that a student from the theology school on campus who had my somewhat rare (5%) blood type responded to a call and came in to donate some additional blood. I remember seriously praying for the first time in my life while lying on that table. There is some truth to the old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. I was looking for help from any quarter that might be available. In this prayer I proposed a deal. Let me live and I would acquiesce to serving in the military. This was in the days of military conscription and the draft rubbed my libertarian sensibilities the wrong way but it was about all I could think of to put on the table, so to speak.

I spent several hours in surgery having glass picked out of my face and initial repair work done that resulted in about 350 stitches in my face. I spent nearly a week in the hospital with my face completely covered by bandages, including my eyes. When I asked about my eye sight I kept getting evasive answers. It was a great relief when the bandages were removed and I found that I still had my eyesight though I was missing an eyelid and couldn’t close that eye. Needless to say, my face was a mess and once my injuries had healed I began a series of plastic surgery procedures to reconfigure my face.

About a year after the accident, I was sitting looking at the contrast provided by two photos. One was my senior picture for the school annual that had been taken a couple of weeks prior to the accident and the other was a “before” picture taken in the plastic surgeon’s office before he began the operations on my face. Spontaneously, a strong wave of emotion swept through me. I had the distinct feeling that the person pictured from before the accident no longer existed. At first, I interpreted the feelings that I was experiencing as sadness but this gave way to something akin of a sense of an exuberant Aha! I realized that a transformation was taking place. The “self” in the school picture was free of all personal history that had defined that self-hood. At the time this was simply an intuitive sense but today I would say that what I realized was the fictive nature of the self. Our sense of who we are, our ego, is an act of creative self-expression. Unfortunately, we tend to view this creation as “writ in stone” and surrender ourselves to the dictates of this fiction as if we are its puppets. This realization set me free of the past and what had been constructed from it. This sense of freedom was liberating and marked the beginning of a redefinition of myself and one that had a degree of fluidity inherent in it. This was what today I would call a noetic* experience.

*The word noetic refers to “inner understanding,” a kind of intuitive consciousness—direct and immediate access to knowledge beyond what’s obtainable to our normal senses.

One result of this noetic experience was a question that began to creep into my thoughts. That question was simply if “ego” or “self” is a fiction, created from the way we pick from among our memories of our experiences and then spin them into a narrative, who is making these choices and creating the interpretation of them? This led me to an interest in psychology and philosophy and especially religious philosophies from India, China and Japan. In the course of searching out such books in local bookstores I ran across a biography titled There is a River. This was a biography by Thomas Sugrue of the psychic Edgar Cayce. In this biography there was a section based on Cayce readings about reincarnation and the eternal nature of the soul or consciousness that cyclically inhabited our physical bodies. This resonated strongly with me and seemed to be pointing toward an answer to my question. Also, about this time I had a friend who kept trying to get me to read the Christian Bible. Given that I had begun a trip “down the rabbit hole,” I agreed to take a look and let him know what I thought.

About this time, I was in the process of moving to Knoxville, Tennessee to live with my family and take my father up on his offer to put me through college. Prior to this I had been attending night school taking what today would be called “developmental courses” to compensate for some of the many deficits I had from high school. Before I could make the arrangements to move to Knoxville, I was called up for a draft physical where I was told to expect induction into the Army within 90 days. I was determined to go to college and looked for a way to get around the potential draft call.

I was employed in a Georgia DOT lab on the Georgia Tech campus and one day at lunch time walked over to the Naval ROTC and Naval Reserve building on campus. I was informed that if I joined the USNR that I could get a deferment from active duty until I completed college and would have a two year active duty obligation, which was no longer than I would have to spend in the U.S. Army, if I were drafted. I decided to join the USNR. The USNR application form had a box in which one was asked to write in their religion. I entered “None” and was told this was unacceptable. I said this was the truth and that I wasn’t going to lie just to satisfy the Navy. The recruiter and I were at logger heads until I mentioned that my mother was a Baptist. He said, “fine put that in the blank.” Thus, I met the requirement by writing, “my mother is a Baptist.”

That summer I went to Great Lakes naval training center for “boot camp” and then returned to Atlanta, settled my affairs and moved to Knoxville in August. While waiting to hear about my application for admission to the University of Tennessee and for school to start, I went to the Knoxville library to look for some reading material. There I ran across a book by Frank Barron about his research on creativity. It was in his book that I first encountered a discussion of religious agnosticism. This discussion was in the context of his finding that the psychological profiles of “true believers” and atheist were almost identical. Barron pointed out that at root both were making an assertion for which they could offer no empirical proof. On the other hand, agnostics simply take the position that they don’t know if such an entity as God exists or not and are content to wait for some evidence that bears on the question. I decided that this was closer to how I saw my own position than atheism and I began describing myself as an agnostic.

After a year or so at UT, I recalled my promise to my friend and decided to take a look at the bible. The first thing that I decided was that the Old Testament was not Christian but Jewish. Further, the New Testament superseded the Old Testament in any event. That bit of logic dispensed with a lot of material. Next, I asked myself what was important in the New Testament. The answer for me was only those portions that purported to convey directly the teachings of Jesus upon which Christianity was supposed to have been built. I had now narrowed the task down to the four gospels. I looked those over and decided on Matthew for two reasons. First, at the time there was some opinion that it was the oldest. Second, it seemed to offer a fairly coherent account. Thus, I put my emphasis on Matthew and then wrote a didactic play titled, A Dialogue with Jesus.

During the period that I was reading Matthew and writing on this play, I was also giving a lot of thought to the morality of the Vietnam war that was hotly in progress. I had just missed getting embroiled in this conflict, which may have been another intuitive event. When I was looking at alternatives to being drafted, I had almost enlisted in the U.S. Army’s warrant officer program to be trained as a helicopter pilot. At the last minute, I backed out determined to find a way to go on to college, which I did through the USNR program. After completing the play, I sent a copy to my friend and told him that this was what I took from the bible. He took the play to his Baptist minister who after reading it told him that it could only have been written by an atheist.

During my junior year at UT, Shirley and I decided to get married. We wanted to plan our own ceremony and did not want it to be religious in nature. On the other hand, we didn’t want to have a civil ceremony over which we would have little control. My now lifelong friend and philosophy instructor at UT suggested that we get married in his church, which was the Unitarian Church on Kingston Pike in Knoxville. He spoke with his minister who agreed to perform the ceremony and to let us design it. Thus, we had a small private “church” wedding.

During my time at UT, I had read a lot of the Edgar Cayce material and had become quite interested in it and the implications it held about spiritual matters. I learned that there was an organization called the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in Virginia Beach, Virginia. that was dedicated to preserving and distributing the materials delivered through Cayce. I wrote to the A.R.E. and said that I anticipated being in the Virginia Beach area in the near future and wanted to know if their archive of materials was open to the public. Why I felt I would soon be in the area I couldn’t say. I just felt that I would and strongly enough to contact them about possibly getting access to their archives.

After graduating from UT, Shirley and I moved to Decatur, GA and lived with a friend and his wife for a short period until Shirley could find a job. I was waiting on orders that would begin my active duty in the USN. Writing the Dialogue had if nothing else helped me clarify my thinking about the Vietnam war, which was simply that there was no justification for it either ethically or legally. While waiting on my orders, I spent a lot of time struggling with my commitment to serve in the USN. In a way, I felt bound to my commitment both by the prayer mentioned earlier and by the fact that I had voluntarily joined the USNR albeit in the face of what qualified as coercion. But, I had made something of a pact with the Navy. They would keep me from being drafted, allow me to attend college now and in return I would owe them no more of my time than being drafted would have taken.

After struggling with this dilemma for a month or so, what appeared to be a workable solution came to me. I drafted a letter to the Commandant of the Sixth Naval District to which my USNR unit belonged. In that letter, I said that I had resolved that ethically I could not allow someone else to determine when I would or would not engage in an act of violence. Thus, I planned to honor my commitment to serve in the USN but reserved to myself the right to decide whether or not to engage in aggressive behavior. In short, I would not blindly follow an order to commit violence. Further, I would accept no pay from the Navy while on active duty and thereby I viewed my service as wholly voluntary and in no way subordinate to their intentions because I was not accepting pay to serve.

I received a reply that offered me the opportunity to apply for a conscientious objectors discharge. I wrote them back and rejected the offer on the grounds that I was not a C.O. because I could conceive of circumstance in which I might engage in aggressive behavior but only I could make that determination. Shortly thereafter I received orders to report to the naval base in Charleston, South Carolina for processing.

The first thing that happened in Charleston was an attempt to transfer me from the USN to the Marine Corp. I fought this transfer largely through the office of Senator Al Gore, Sr. of Tennessee. After that effort was foiled, I went through a number of “pay days” and refused to accept the checks. This apparently created some disruption of the financial operations because the disbursing office became very insistent that I had to clear the checks out of their accounts. Eventually, I took the checks, put them in an envelope with a letter and sent them to Senator Gore. In that letter, I told him basically what was taking place and that the checks represented money that belonged to the taxpaying citizens of the U.S. Further, since he was a representative of those citizens I suggested that he should distribute the money in any way that he saw fit.

Once I accepted the checks, I received orders to report to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt an aircraft carrier in dry dock in Portsmouth, VA. Interestingly, Portsmouth is not very many miles from Virginia Beach where the A.R.E. is located and this assignment put me right where earlier I had told the A.R.E. I expected to be; i.e. in the Virginia Beach area. Upon arriving on board, I was asked to report to a conference room where I met with several officers. They told me that they had been informed by the Department of the Navy that I did not have to accept my pay checks and that if I had any further issues that I should talk with them before getting Senator Gore’s office involved. They then assigned me to work in the chaplains office on board the ship.

I was soon designated the office manager for the chaplains of which there were two. One was a Protestant minister and the other a Catholic priest. This office consisted of the two chaplains and four enlisted personnel. The office performed or coordinated all religious services on board, ran the ship’s library, maintained the crew’s lounge and handled all personnel matters of a personal nature such as deaths in the family and similar emergencies. The Protestant minister was only on board a few months before being transferred but during that time he recommended me for Annapolis, which recommendation I declined and asked that it be removed from my personnel file. I became friends with the Catholic priest and spent a good bit of time off the ship at his apartment. The replacement for the Protestant minister was a Southern Baptist and the youngest captain in the history of the USN Chaplains Corp. I let him read my play, Dialogue with Jesus, after he’d been on board a little while. After reading it, he declared that he was the only chaplain in the U.S. Navy whose office was run by an atheist.

In my role as Chaplain’s Yeoman, I learned to set-up and assist with Catholic mass. I also was involved in working with the Jewish personnel, the Mormon personnel and the Black Muslim personnel on board. I assisted them in scheduling their services and finding locations for their services when necessary. I also helped with obtaining any supplies that were needed. In fact, we maintained a locker of supplies specifically provided by the Navy for Jewish religious observances and services. In the course of carrying out these duties, I became familiar with the diversity of religious practice on board the ship.

After being separated from the U.S. Navy at the end of my two years, I returned to Decatur, GA. During the initial months back in Decatur, I did not do much of anything but relax. We lived in an apartment next to an old cemetery. One day I sat quietly, for an extended period of time, just gazing out the window at the cemetery, which because of all of the trees and landscaping was pleasant to the eye. I suppose one might say I was in a meditative or contemplative state. Suddenly, I found myself in what I can only describe as a profound state of awareness in which all contact with the physical world was lost. It was as if, to borrow a concept from the TV program Star Trek, I had a Vulcan mind meld with a universal state of consciousness. The only other description of a similar experience I’ve come across is in The Biology of Transcendence (p. 11 ). This is the second experience in my life that I would now describe as noetic in nature.

About a year or so later, I was walking in the yard of a small apartment complex where we lived and that was owned by my brother-in-law. It was a cold winter day and no one was outside so it was quiet and I was very much alone. As I walked about immersed in the solitude, I was suddenly seized by an intuitive realization. What I came to know in that moment was that reality as we know it is a social construct. Just as several years earlier I had realized that the ego or self is a fictional narrative that we spin for ourselves so too is social reality. In short, these were parallel intuitions but one was on a personal level and the other was on a societal level. This I would classify as my third noetic experience. While the previous two experiences had eluded any attempt to capture them with language, I made a passable effort to do so with this third experience through a poem. The poem is titled “Outlaw” and can be found on my web site.

The cumulative effect of the three noetic experiences described above was that I achieved a private, intuitive and direct understanding that there is a spiritual dimension to life that is superordinate to materialism. An understanding that encompasses a phenomenological* understanding of both personal and social reality.

*Phenomenological understanding is based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness.

I subsequently did a good bit of reading looking for material that I found compatible with my understanding. Two sources that I read during this time that resonated with me were the writings of the American mystic Franklin Merrell-Wolff and the Seth channeling by Jane Roberts. During this same period, a friend told me about a woman he’d met through his brother who did psychic readings. The friend, a university professor, was pretty impressed with this woman’s abilities. He offered to see if the psychic could do a reading on me without my being present since she was a considerable distance away. She agreed and I too found her impressive for among other things she told me some personal things that no one other than myself was aware of and would have been extraordinarily unlikely guesses. Between the earlier premonition about the auto accident, my own intuitive sense that I would be located close to Virginia Beach and this woman’s readings, I was convinced that there were information flows taking place in the universe that could not be accounted for by current scientific theories about what was possible.

My next experience with religion was to become a minister in the Universal Life Church, which was entered with the idea of using institutional religion as a vehicle for tax purposes. While this did not work out as a “tax dodge” for reasons I won’t go into here, it did require that a “church” be formed and services conducted. Thus, I prepared a set of founding principles for a religion that I called Trinitarianism, not realizing at the time that there was already a religion using the name Trinitarian that had been around for 800 years or so. The principles for my version of Trinitarianism can be found on my web site. The Trinitarian congregation was small and met monthly in my home’s large family room in which I performed one marriage.

For a number of years following this time, I was too involved with my family and career to be actively involved in spiritual matters other than a little reading here and there when the opportunity presented itself. Upon retiring from my university position, I began to devote more time to thinking about spiritual matters. One effect of this was to, for the first time in my life, voluntarily associate myself with a church. My wife and I joined a small lay led Unitarian, Universalist Fellowship. This was probably influenced in part by having been married in such a church and in part because I didn’t really consider it a religion; i.e., no theology and no dogma. After serving in several administrative capacities in this church, it became clear to me that this was not a spiritual community but merely a social organization and a quite contentious one at that. Further, the funding practices of the UUA appeared designed to exploit small congregations to the benefit of large congregations. Finally, I was not entirely comfortable with the idea of being a member of an organization that called itself a religion. Thus, we left this church and are not now affiliated with any religious organization. However, my interest in spiritual matters remains and I continue to pursue that interest in whatever suitable ways that presents themselves, including opportunities through religious organizations.

Note: The above is a personal narrative constructed from events in my life. I could choose different events or make alternative interpretations of them and create a different narrative. In large part, we define who we are and this personal narrative is a self-definition of at least one thread that weaves through the recollection and interpretation of events in my life. I cannot say that it is a true narrative in some absolute sense, but it is meaningful to me.

Spirituality and Religion

Adapted in part from the Introduction to: The End of Materialism by Charles Tart, PhD

          Noted science writer Sharon Begley reported how His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the highest-ranking lama in Tibetan Buddhism and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, watched a brain operation while on a visit to an American medical school. He recalled scientists explaining with great conviction that consciousness is nothing more than a manifestation of brain activity. When the brain stops functioning, from injury or death, our mind vanishes—period, end of story.

But Begley reports, the Dalai Lama had always been bothered by the seeming certainty of this kind of “explaining away” of consciousness. Even if you accept the theory that our minds are what our brains do, that our emotions and thoughts are expressions of brain activity, isn’t there more? Isn’t some kind of two-way causation possible?

Could it be, as common sense seems to tell us, that mind might have an active reality of its own rather than just being a by-product of brain activity? His Holiness voiced this question to the chief surgeon.

Begley reports that the brain surgeon hardly paused before authoritatively answering no—period. What we call consciousness or mind is nothing but a product of the physical operation of the brain. The Dalai Lama is a very polite person, and he let the matter drop. He was used to hearing such absolute statements from people who consider themselves scientists.

But, as Begley quotes from the Dalai Lama’s 2005 book, The Universe in a Single Atom, “I thought then and still think that there is yet no scientific basis for such a categorical claim…The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact”

On Seeking the Spiritual as a Scientist

“Seeking” is a word commonly associated with spiritual pursuits, but “science” and “scientist” are usually associated with a materialistic view of the universe in which there’s nothing real to the “spiritual,” so how could a scientist seek the spiritual? Wouldn’t such seeking lead to intellectual and emotional conflicts that could be confusing and invalidating, as well as a waste of time?

Indeed, that’s how it is for a lot of people today. Something in them seeks, often desperately, something “spiritual” to make their lives authentic and worthwhile, yet no intelligent person can disregard modern science and its understandings without mentally harming themselves in various ways. But modern science, which has given us so much materially, tells “spiritual seekers” that they’re, at best, soft headed folks unwilling to be completely scientific and, at worst, superstitious fools, perhaps having a serious psychopathology that drives them to seek the “spiritual.”

It was probably simpler in the old days: you believed or disbelieved the one religion given you in your village, and that was it. There wasn’t much in the way of competing views. Now we have so much information! Tart says, here I am, for example, a constantly fluctuating mixture of scientist; father; husband; psychologist; parapsychologist; teacher; writer; carpenter; bulldozer operator; liberal; conservative; skeptic; and serious off-and-on student of Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism, Yoga, the Fourth Way, and Aikido, believing we have the potential of gods, believing we’re usually practically mindless robots, and so on. That’s a lot of information and roles to balance! And besides offering ideas, many of these spiritual paths say it’s not enough to just think about and believe or disbelieve their ideas—you can and should live your life so that you can have direct personal experience of them.

On Spirituality and Religion

There is an important distinction to make about science and spirituality, not about science and religion. Although they can’t be totally separated in reality since the distinction oversimplifies a complex human situation. Tart and many other writers use the term spirituality to refer to life-changing, primary experiences that happen to individuals, while religion refers to social organizations and beliefs that develop and become relatively fixed and institutionalized. Such organizations and belief systems are usually initiated by spiritual experiences of the religion’s founder, and these organizations and belief systems incorporate and develop (with more or less fidelity) those basic experiences into ongoing social structures, relationships, beliefs, needs, and customs.

Tart’s focus then is on the degree to which you can be scientifically oriented and yet seek and value personal spiritual experience and growth without the doubt and conflict generated by regarding yourself as “irrational,” “unscientific,” or “crazy.” Because there are many psychological and social factors that enter in, once spirituality becomes religion, the distinction isn’t quite as clear-cut as we might like it to be. We humans are social creatures, and this can affect, to some degree, the very spiritual experiences we have in the first place, as well as our ongoing interpretation and understanding of them afterward. Most of us need some ongoing social support in our spiritual lives, so I doubt we’ll ever have a “pure” spirituality unaffected by religion. It must also be the case that even religions that have changed considerably from the spiritual experiences that underlie them must still satisfy at least some people’s spiritual longings if the religions are to survive.

That’s the rational part of the distinction between spirituality and religion. Now, let’s move on to the more difficult emotional level. For Tart, the word “religion” connotes the particular church he was raised in (Lutheran), its doctrines, and the effects on his personality or self that he can now recognize from a wiser (he hopes), adult perspective. On the one hand, there were many good effects: a concern for the welfare of others; a basic belief in some kind of wise, loving, and caring intelligence in the universe; and numerous instances of experiencing kindness and care from adults in the church that helped shape him.

Tart also thinks a lot of his neurotic shortcomings stem from or were reinforced by church doctrines, such as feelings of being inherently sinful, a nagging feeling that no matter how good he is it’ll never be enough, and a pervasive shame about his body and sexuality that has taken many years to largely overcome. In many ways, he thinks he was forcibly brainwashed in being taught his religion when he was too young to really understand and make choices. So “religion,” for him, is a complicated category with conscious, semiconscious, and undoubtedly unconscious strong feelings, positive and negative, that can create conflicts and tension. Perhaps, you recognize yourself in this description!

“Spirituality” Tart says has been a matter of a relatively conscious choice on his part as an adult, and the aspects of it he’s chosen to make central in his life have given him goals and guidance that have added much meaning and satisfaction.

So the rational distinction between spirituality and religion — primary, life-changing experiences of the spiritual versus institutionalized, socialized doctrines and practices — is important to make. But lurking in the background are all these emotional elements, tending to make spirituality a “good” word and religion a “bad” word for many of us. At bodily and emotional levels, Tart says when I hear “religion,” I tend to get a little tense and defensive, and when I hear “spirituality,” I relax and open up. To the degree that I recognize these complexities and work on healing the emotional angles, I can be more rational and effective in what I write about and do.

Tart doesn’t generalize further, because there are so many varieties of religion, and aside from their formal beliefs and structures, there are enormous variations in the way different individuals absorb and react to particular religions. By the time some of us reach adulthood, our childhood religions are a useful, and perhaps the best, vehicle for promoting and integrating our individual spiritual experiences, which in turn would further enliven our religions. For others of us, our childhood religions are the enemy of our spiritual growth. How it is for you is a matter for you to discover and work with.

 The End of Materialism

The balance of Tart’s book provides an overview of the foundations for and the status of research in each of several different research areas of psi (shorthand for the phenomena studied by parapsychologists). In each area Tart offers his opinion, as an experimental psychologist, on how convincing the evidence is for each phenomenon. Based on the evidence, he divides psi phenomena into two groups. Group One contains what he calls the “big five” and includes telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis and psychic healing. Tart concludes that each of these phenomena is supported by hundreds of rigorous scientific experiments. Group Two contains post-cognition, out-of-body experiences, near death experiences, after death communication and reincarnation. These phenomena Tart concludes don’t have the level of support found for phenomena in Group One. However, he thinks the amount of evidence is such that they can’t be dismissed out-of-hand and warrant continued investigation.

In an earlier review of the evidence for psi done by Dean Radin in his 1995 book, The Conscious Universe, Radin came to a similar conclusion. Radin indicates that the evidence spans 130 years of experiments, involves hundreds of experimenters, thousands of experiments and hundreds of replications. Radin goes into considerably more detail about the types of experimental evidence, including the methodologies used and the types of data analyses applied. One cannot read Radin’s book with an open mind and not be convinced that the body of experimental evidence for psi phenomena clearly indicates that something worthy of serious consideration is going on. You can see the evidence for yourself by clicking here.

Least you dismiss Tart and Radin as mere advocates for their personal views, let me offer you a quote from Carl Sagan who examined a lot of the evidence for paranormal claims while writing his 1995 book The Demon Haunted World.

“At the time of this writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers, (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation.”

Science is first and foremost a methodology for examining hypotheses derived from theory. Scientific theory is an explanation that attempts to account for demonstrated facts. Western science is grounded in a theoretical paradigm generally known as scientific materialism. The core assumption of scientific materialism is that matter is primary and all phenomena can be understood by reducing them to their material elements and understanding how those elements interact. The world according to scientific materialism is built from the bottom up.

Scientific materialism has been the basic paradigm of science since the 17th century and is rooted in a Newtonian worldview. Scientific materialism has, in fact, been highly successful over a long period of time. Unfortunately, this has resulted in it becoming scientific dogma and science for many has become scientism or science that ultimately rests upon faith in dogma.

The evidence for psi poses a significant threat to scientific materialism because if the evidence is accepted as factual then scientific theory must account for it but the very nature of the phenomena suggests that it is not and cannot be explained as a product of matter. In short, acceptance of psi phenomena is to accept the real possibility that the core assumptions of scientific materialism are not valid. Thus, the greater one’s faith in the core assumptions of scientific materialism the greater one’s motivation to be blind to the evidence for and to deny the reality of psi phenomena. In short, to expose oneself as an adherent of scientism.

There are scientists willing to question the validity of the core assumptions of scientific materialism but they are in a minority and are often treated as heretics. Tart, Radin and Sagan clearly belong to that minority. There are other scientists who challenge scientific materialism on grounds other than psi. Physicist Bernard d’Espagnat writing in Scientific American stated, “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiments.”

Another physicist, Victor Mansfield, suggests that mind and matter may be part of “…a radically interconnected and interdependent world, one so essentially connected at a deep level that the interconnections are more fundamental, more real than the independent existence of the parts.”

The esteemed Sir James Jean, after pondering the implications of quantum physics, said as long ago as 1948, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.”

Within the physics community there is a recognition of what is often referred to as “the problem of consciousness” raised by experimental tests of quantum physics. The majority of physicists prefer to ignore the implications of this “problem” and dismiss it as either an “artifact of measurement” or not a scientific problem but a problem better left to philosophers. The minority who treat the problem as a scientific problem find that the evidence suggests that consciousness not matter may be primary. If consciousness is required to collapse a wave into a particle (i.e. to produce matter) then consciousness is an antecedent of matter and matter therefore cannot be primary. If consciousness is primary, the world is constructed from the top down. This reasoning is a significant challenge to the core assumptions of scientific materialism because this conception can potentially explain psi phenomena whereas they are inexplicable in a primacy of matter model.

One physicist who instead of denying that there is a problem has taken the challenge seriously. David Deutsch is an advocate for the multiverse or many worlds theory as a way of explaining away the apparent role of consciousness in quantum wave collapses. The multiverse theory would seem to provide continued support for the primacy of matter. Deutsch suggests that consciousness only appears to collapse a wave when observing it. He argues that when a wave of possibilities collapses ALL the possibilities manifest but each one in a different universe. The apparent single outcome observed is not the product of the observation but a random collapse associated with many outcomes of which only one is manifest in this universe. Thus, the apparent role of consciousness in wave collapse is an illusion.

It would appear that the primacy of consciousness is a simpler explanation than an infinite number of universes. Could there really be a universe where my wife decided, a few months ago, to buy a blue Hyundai and another where she decided to buy a red Hyundai? Perhaps, but the infinite possibilities this implies is mind boggling. Finally, as clever as Deutsch’s hypothesis is it seems to me that one could argue that the so called “random” collapse into multiple outcomes in multiple universes can still be attributed to observation since I know of no reported instances when observation isn’t associated with collapse. If the collapse was truly random, wouldn’t there be times when observation wasn’t accompanied by collapse? In any event, Deutsch’s explanation doesn’t seem to provide an accounting for psi phenomena.

There is another conception offered by the late David Bohm who proposed a reformulation of quantum theory. Bohm’s reformulation subsumes both top down causation and bottom up causation. To keep it simple, Bohm proposes an implicate order existing in the quantum field and an explicate order existing in the material world, which is an extension of the quantum field. The implicate order provides formative causation or top down causation by unfolding its forms into the explicate order. The explicate order provides feedback by enfolding information back into the implicate order potentially modifying the form or bottom up causation. Consciousness and matter form an interacting unit or loop. I suppose consciousness is still primary over matter in this model but it offers a causative role for both. It seems clear that under this model an explanation for psi is also a possibility.

Regardless of the view taken, we are left with the mystery of mysteries — the origination of matter or consciousness, which remains unanswered and perhaps is unanswerable. A question before which the human mind stands in awe. To quote the late Albert Einstein, “The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical…without it [one] is as good as dead.”

I invite you to take an open-minded look at the evidence for psi for yourself and consider the implications of these phenomena for the assumption of the primacy of matter or of consciousness. I can think of no better places to start than with than:

The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together by Charles Tart, PhD

Why I Am an Agnostic

           To begin I want to distinguish between three terms: agnostic, atheist and true believer. True believers are simply people who uncritically embrace on faith any belief or system of beliefs for which there is no empirical validation. For example, true believers make a categorical assertion that a being called God exists. An atheist on the other hand denies the validity of any belief or system of beliefs for which there is no empirical validation. In counterpoint to true believers, an atheist categorically asserts that a being called God does not exist. In the cases of true believers and atheists, the psychological processes underlying their apparent contradictory positions is very similar. Both make absolute assertions about something that they can’t prove. An agnostic, on the other hand, takes a middle road between these two extremes and simply pleads ignorance.

While not limited to religious beliefs, it is within such a context that one most frequently encounters the use of the terms just described. Agnostics recognize that it is unlikely that either claim can be put to an empirical test and publicly validated. Therefore, agnostics stand aside and take no position. The existence or non-existence of a being called God appears to be a question of belief rather than one of fact. The one requires blind faith and the other empirical evidence. Clearly, a very large contingent of the world’s population have historically been true believers of one sort or another.

To further elucidate the assertions above that “The existence or non-existence of a being called God is a question of belief…[that]…requires blind faith…,” I will draw on points made in other essays, specifically The Natural Mind and Discernment, both of which can be found in posts on this site. In The Natural Mind it was suggested that what drives the vast majority of individuals is a fictive-self. This fiction is a complex narrative that is created and maintained to explain to ourselves the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that arise from our automatic programs (APs) [see sub-section in Part I]. These APs are acquired through conditioning over the course of our lives and remain, for most of us, largely beneath conscious awareness. In short, who we think we are is a product of the mind. In Discernment a similar case was made that what we call the world (human culture), as distinct from the earth (matter and natural processes), is likewise a product of the mind and is therefore at root purely conceptual. Imagine the earth without any humans and see how much of what I’ve called the world remains. A few material artifacts of human culture may persist for a time but the earth will soon enough consume them.

Most people mistakenly believe that their narrative about themselves represents objective reality. The basic narrative normally begins developing in early childhood and there are both personal and cultural components. Various components of the world are included that lead to belief in institutionalized paradigms representing such things as social structures, political institutions, economic systems, religion and so on. Thus, one finds that many people have a personal narrative that includes, among other conceptual paradigms, belief in a religion. Belief in a religion in turn supports belief in a God. The operative word in the case of religion and God is belief, which makes both merely an idea, a product of the mind.

There are, historically and currently, people whom many would call mystics. Mystics describe what is often referred to as Unity Consciousness, The Divine or The Absolute. The claims of such individuals are said to rest upon personal experience with a direct knowing of (as opposed to belief in) Unity Consciousness, The Divine or The Absolute. However, such assertions about personal experience cannot be objectively evaluated or publicly validated. The difference between a mystic and a religious person is that a mystic does not ask you to believe anything but instead invites you to seek personal confirmation through your own experience of what he or she reports. To put this another way, a mystic invites you to engage in a single-subject experiment that often comes with a methodology for implementing the experiment. A religious person asks you to take on faith his or her beliefs.

As an imperfect illustration, suppose I returned from a trip to a country that included a exotic fruit in its diet. I had eaten the fruit many times while visiting but you have never heard of it. I can tell you a lot of things about the fruit but you then only have some limited knowledge or information that in no way duplicates the actual experience of eating the fruit. Unless you repeat my direct experience by eating some of the fruit you will never know what I’ve tried to relate to you. The taste of the fruit is just an idea in your mind, not an actual experience. You may believe from the description that the fruit would be tasty, but you can’t know if that is true without direct experience.

Thus, if I recommend that you obtain some of the exotic fruit and try it for yourself this is analogous to the approach of a mystic. If I tell you about how tasty the fruit is and you believe what I say and begin telling everyone you know how great this fruit is that is analogous to the approach of a religious person. As is said in Zen, “Don’t confuse knowledge with knowing.” Thus, personal experience is subjective and can’t be transmitted to anyone else, except as an idea. Mere ideas are always subject to misunderstand-ing and distortion and often are corrupted in their transmission. One should never invest belief in the truth of an idea.

Individuals who have mystical experiences that reveal to them what they experience as “God” almost universally invite others to personally test their reports and to experientially verify them for themselves. Thus, I’m personally inclined to at least give mystics the benefit of doubt, since they do not ask anyone to believe their reports based on faith. Interestingly, many religious narratives grow up around such individuals after their death. These narratives often appear to significantly distort and elaborate what the mystic actually said or taught. These religious narratives, in my opinion, almost always serve some personal, social or political purpose. I’m reminded of my favorite religious joke that can be found on the Poetry and Related Items page on this site.

Thus, I am an agnostic because I can see no way to give belief in the existence or non-existence of a being called God a factual basis. Related to the question of whether or not a Supreme Being exists, there is also the issue of religious belief. Because I am aware of strong human tendencies to invest faith in beliefs arising from mere ideas, which are often the product of irrational thinking, I cannot embrace any religion. Religious beliefs can have a strong emotional appeal and may moderate existential anxiety, but like all beliefs they are just ideas and have no reality outside of the mind. I recognize and accept that there are awesome mysteries about the nature and origin of the universe that I cannot fathom, but religious dogmas about these mysteries are not satisfying, and ultimately explain nothing. I am open to experimenting with methods suggested by mystics as ways one might gain a direct, intuitive and personal understanding (gnosis) of these mysteries. However, belief in institutionalized religious dogma articulated through a formal organizational structure is the antithesis of such methods. Even should I have success with methods recommended by mystics, I recognize that the experience would be personal and would not and could not extend to anyone else. The Truth known by mystics is subjective and only available on an individual basis.

In conclusion, I suggest that agnosticism should be one’s ground state. I think that taking an agnostic attitude toward any and everything that one has no experiential basis for accepting should be one’s goal.

 

A Libertarian’s Perspective on Abortion

          A lot of arguments over the abortion issue are tied to religion. I think religions can best be characterized as popularizations of insights gained by exceptional individuals. As popularizations they substitute dogma and ritual for spiritual insight. Thus, I consider religions to be aspects of popular culture that are at best a means of social influence and at worst a method of exploitation. The abortion issue is just the type of emotional issue that religious “leaders” can and historically have used to accrue political and social power to themselves. Up until a few decades ago the hot emotional issue used by many religious “leaders” to garner political and social power was racial segregation. In the future, it will no doubt be something else. I reject any argument marshaled by individuals whose primary motive is probably social manipulation for undisclosed purposes or that rests upon arguments based on religious dogma.

The next line of argument I’d call a “natural law” argument for lack of a better term. This position argues that any living being capable of self-agency owns his or her life (I’d prefer body) and ethically speaking no one has a right to take that life (I’d prefer appropriate that body). The self-agency definition certainly subsumes humans but is not necessarily limited to humans. Thus, the debate comes down to one about property rights, which are defended by libertarians, among others. The sticky point in this argument comes in determining when one has achieved the status of a human being and hence acquired property rights to one’s body.

I do not consider a dividing cell mass a human being. It may have the potential to be a human being but so does a skin flake in your bedding, given the development of cloning technology. Until a developing fetus is capable of sustaining itself outside of a parasitic relationship, it is not a realized human being and has no property rights over its developing body. (Note: Mere birth does not convey the status of human being under the definition used, though there is a high probability that the two will coincide, which in no way implies that one causes the other.) In fact, to give such a cell mass property rights is to put its property rights in direct conflict with the property rights of the host of whose body it is an integral part. As long as the cell mass is in a parasitic relationship with the host’s body, it is for all practical purposes a part of the body over which the host, a realized human being, exercises sole property rights.

The only way to prevent abortion is by the appropriation of a person’s body (property) by threat or physical force. A role usually assumed by the state, but certainly not limited to the state. Usurpation of property rights is not limited to the state and can be done by other types of organizations or even by individuals. Those who wish, for whatever reason, to involve themselves in the property decisions of another have only one acceptable means. They may attempt to affect the decisions of another through rational persuasion, if the person is willing to entertain their arguments. They never have a moral or ethical right to impose by force or coercion their belief or preference on another sovereign individual.

Choice

There are advocates for simple determinism who would assert that everything we do is predetermined and therefore our apparent choices are really an illusion. From that point of view, we don’t have any choices and all the outcomes that appear to follow from such imaginary choices are predetermined and beyond our ability to influence. In short, the chain of causality that began in the distant past, perhaps with the origin of the universe, set in motion a chain of cause and effects that still continues and will continue into the future. That chain of causality passes through us and determines what we think and do. I think this view takes all meaning from existence and makes life largely pointless, which doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. However, I reject it on existential grounds and advocate for a view based on complex determinism.

Before going into complex determinism, let me say something about free will. The free will counterpart to simple determinism is absolute free will (a.k.a. indeterminism), which means one can by choice affect an outcome that is not predictable from its antecedents. In short, one can do things that violate the principle of causality (a.k.a. magic). For example, I used to challenge advocates of this position to go to the roof of the building and walk across the open space over the street to the roof of the building on the other side. To do this would both violate the principle of causality and demonstrate affecting an outcome by choice that is not predictable from its antecedents. I’ve never had an advocate for absolute free will take me up on this opportunity to demonstrate the validity of their position. However, just as there is an alternate form of determinism there is an alternate conception of free will, which I’ll come to shortly.

The libertarian philosopher Richard Taylor proposed that the way out of the dilemma posed by simple determinism is to recognize human-agency as a primary factor in causation. That is human-agency can alter a chain of causality passing through one and initiate a new branch in an unfolding sequence. This brings us back to free will. In this view, free will is no longer absolute but rather is probabilistic. Complexity theory suggests that in any given situation there are usually multiple possible outcomes, none of which require magic to be effected. Each of these possible outcomes is more or less probable than another. The most common outcome is the one with the highest probability. This is what is sometimes described by the phrase “the path of least resistance.”

However, human-agency through intention and deliberate choice, based on forethought and anticipation of consequences, can influence and change the probability functions of potential outcomes. When I was a professor, I often talked about behavior in terms of what I refer to as the three-legged stool (biological causes, environmental causes and self-agency). It is this latter concept that lies at the root of the notion of the “cooperative alliance” in behavioral intervention that I discuss in a paper on behavior and quantum physics. In short, it is unlikely that one will affect a significant and lasting change in behavior without the active cooperation and collaboration of the subject with the change agent.

As a side bar, I would add that most, if not all, human religions presuppose that the underlying nature of reality is indeterminate and magical (e.g., witness the use of prayer in an effort to produce and outcome that cannot be predicted from the antecedents, i.e., appeals for divine intervention are in effect based on a belief in indeterminism or magic). Herein lies the source of my skepticism about religious claims. As for the existence of God, I can only say that depends on how one defines the nature of God. I see absolutely no basis for an anthropomorphic God and view such depictions as the artifact of a paucity of imagination. If one wants to define God as the ground state from which our universe arose then I can accept that as a possibility whether called God, Quantum Field or by some other name. What the characteristics of such a ground state might be is an open question and might include some of the claims of mystics and other spiritual explorers.

In my view, we do have the ability to make real choices. We can make choices, at least, from among those potential outcomes that are possible given the antecedents. Our choices, reflected in our intention and actions, influence (but do not control) the probable outcomes available in situations in which we are actors. I also think that most of us, most of the time fail to exercise self-agency and simply follow the path of least resistance.