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Thursday, November 5, 2009


 Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Nov 29, 2009 7:30 AM PST

This chapter is dedicated to Aldous Huxley, who credited the experiencing of nearly total blindness in his youth with opening the doors of his perception. He perfected the art of seeing and gave us the terrifying vision of our possible futures in 1984 and Brave New World.

As I drifted toward consciousness this morning, I visualized myself at a crossroads. This image seemed to represent a choice I had to make that would determine the path my life would take from that point. It came to me that this did not have to represent some critical decision, but any of the choices that I make every day that together determine my personal future. With every decision that I make, my individual destiny changes.

The same can be said of our collective future. Every day we make the decisions that shape the future of Mankind and each day we awaken to a new world. The nightmare of an inexorable march to self-destruction is not possible if we awaken to the fact that our interdependence requires of us that we consciously choose to love life itself enough to show in every choice our love for ourselves and each other. We need only choose this path to free ourselves and choose the high road toward cooperation and ultimate peace.

There are an infinite number of futures that we might inhabit. Our choices are but one force among many that determine our individual and shared fates. The decisions of others play largely in our destiny, as do apparently random events that may have unpredictable consequences.

At times, small and seemingly insignificant occurrences may change the future in ways impossible for us to recognize. This is termed the butterfly effect, which may be the basis of karma, if such a thing exists. The theory of karma postulates that our fortunes depend on our actions not only in this life but in past lives. In Buddhist and earlier Hindu traditions, it is accepted as a given that all of our actions are punished or rewarded in the fullness of time.

There is a vast gulf between various schools of religious thought as to whether there is a God who can intervene in our individual and thus collective fates. At one extreme, it is believed that there is no God and that our individual choices determine our ultimate fate. Obviously, this is only true if reincarnation is a fact of existence, since there would be no other way to explain why some are so disadvantaged a birth or by later life circumstances, regardless of their conduct in this life.

It strikes me as extremely illogical to begin shaping my personal reality by making the a priori assumption that life itself has no inherent purpose. If the answer to the question of God's existence is unanswerable with certainty, then I choose to believe that God exists and is perfect love.

At the other extreme of religious belief are those religions that argue that God determines all things, thus presupposing that free will is an illusion. It is clear that many of those subscribing to this notion of blind faith in the unseen have abrogated their responsibility to act upon the world with care and the sense that there are consequences to their actions that are under their control. They blithely choose to follow the path of least resistance toward perceived rewards that they convince themselves they have earned or have been granted by their special relationship to a God who exists only in their imaginations.

Thus in America we find religious fundamentalists hastening what they see as the inevitable destruction of the world, and throughout the world jihadists kill in the name of a perverted version of Allah that they believe wills their craven acts of destruction and will reward them in the next world.

Physicists engaged in constructing models of physical reality concluded long ago that God does indeed “play dice with the Universe,” to use Einstein’s evocative phrase. At a subatomic level, the physical location of a particle such as a photon cannot be predicted if it interacts with another particle or object. This is the basis of both the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the wave model of light and other “particles.” It is easily demonstrated by passing photons or electrons through a diffraction grating. The result is a diffraction pattern showing the characteristics of a wave.

The easiest way to explain this is to postulate that the position and direction of a given particle passing through a diffraction grating is determined by the probability that the particle exists at a certain location in space with a particular velocity at any given moment. This uncertainty is expressed mathematically as quantum fluctuations in these variables.

Thus, if there is a God acting on the world, it may well be through altering these probabilities. If there are miracles occurring that help us to shape the destiny of ourselves and mankind, then it may be that we can only detect them by recognizing the extraordinarily improbable nature of some of our experiences. In other words, if Schr√∂dinger’s cat suddenly appeared to be outside the box in which he had placed it, he would have to conclude that a miracle has occurred.

We cannot know whether God is acting in the world, but if we accept our responsibility to act with love and compassion toward our fellow man then we may have faith that we are doing the right thing, whether or not we believe that we are acting in accordance with the will of God. We can then sleep easily at night, knowing that whatever dreams may come, we will awaken to a new world of our own making that will be better than the one we last saw.

Rick Staggenborg, MD

Coos Bay, OR

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