So when I say that we are bodies and nothing but, as I did in my last post, there is a lot of room for me to be misunderstood. The cultural context in which I speak does little to help make my ideas clearer, due to the idea that we are more than bodies being so thoroughly ingrained.
Because of this, I have decided to write a little essay explaining my own particular cosmology in relation to the shape of the cosmos, the way that the physical and the extraphysical can interplay with one another, the way that we can be nothing but bodies who can speak with gods, and the fact that there even can be a place for gods in a thoroughly physical universe.
I would like to preface this essay by stating that I am throwing out some ideas I’ve been having, but that this is by no means my personal manifesto of the shape of the cosmos. But, as I’m arguing, discussing ideas is important, so I want to discuss them with you. I would appreciate any comments you guys might have in relation to what I say. It will help me to flesh out my ideas a little more, and to see where they have weaknesses.
The first thing that I think is important to do when exploring the place for the non-physical things in a physical world is to clarify and bring out how important ideas themselves are. When most people start to think of non-physical things with power in the universe, they jump straight to things like gods or spirits or ghosts or souls. But I think that the most important of these things is one we so take for granted that we forget that it is an extraphysical power: ideas themselves. The power of the human imagination. Entire civilizations have grown and collapsed simply because of ideas. Ideas like socialism, communism, and capitalism build societies. Ideas make inventions—everything that we have and interact with on a day-to-day basis, including the foods we eat, the parks we sit in, the clothes we wear, has been shaped by ideas.
The important thing to note about ideas is that they have a sort of power of their own. This power grows and changes completely outside of the purposes of the philosophers or scientists or inventors who originally thought them up. Each person who hears an idea adds or takes away his or her own little bits, and, like the game of telephone, the idea becomes something else. But the game of telephone is reductionist in terms of the power of ideas. The idea itself gains strength from more and more people hearing about it, pondering it. I read somewhere that some psychologists believe it is impossible to understand an argument unless, at least for a moment, you believe that argument. So we hear ideas and we briefly believe them. And then those ideas, these beings with no physical component whatsoever, worm their ways into people minds, their brains, their bodies. And then, all of a sudden, a small idea has become an entire social revolution.
Take convenience for example. Sure, people have always liked convenience. But it hasn’t always been the major seller that it is now. In World War II, people thought it was more important to help the country than to have conveniences, so they grew gardens and knit socks for soldiers and rationed their sugar intake. But after the war, in the fifties, all of this manufacturing no longer had a purpose, so advertisers had the idea to start selling conveniences, to sell disposables that could have an endless demand, all while suggesting that convenience will lead to a better life. People heard it, and they liked the idea. They wanted more time to spend with their families. They wanted to be able to throw away the dinner mess instead of spending time scraping plates. And so they started buying disposables and conveniences, and now look where we are. Nearly everything we consume is disposable. We use disposable dishes, silverware, shopping bags, contact lenses, cameras, cell phones, clothing, packaging. And all of the pollution that has come out of this came out of an idea—the idea that convenience would improve people’s lives.
Or take the Enlightenment. Or the Protestant Reformation. Or the Industrial Revolution. Or the Renaissance. Or the American Revolutionary War. Or the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, feminism, the fight for gay marriage, the fight against abortion, the fights between the New Atheists and the New Evangelicals. Even the War on Terror and the War on Drugs.
Yes, I did just made a big list of some of the most eventful moments in history. And each of these was a revolution caused by an idea that grew outside of the individual people who thought about it. The idea became a power in an of itself. And then that idea gave people the courage to fight. Or it killed them. Or it made them invent or paint or dance or learn to read or create jobs or oppress the poor or save the poor. All of them gave people an entirely new life—a life with new and different powers and opportunities that simply did not exist before.
Nothing is more important to history than ideas.
I see the cosmos as a massive version of the way that ideas have such an immense power over our lives. The gods and spirits come out of the land, the planets, the stars, and lay over top of the physical world and hold power over it in ways that cannot necessarily be measured the way that an idea cannot necessarily be measured. But they are there, infusing existence with their presence that grows with each being who meets them and ponders them.
Hugin and Munin fly over the Earth every day. I fear for Hugin lest he not return, but I fear even more for Munin.
Thought and Memory fly over the Earth every day. I fear for Thought lest he not return, but I fear even more for Memory.
Our thoughts and memories are spirits that fly over the Earth. What would we do if we lost them? Our entire civilizations would collapse. If we no longer had our ideas, we would no longer know what to live for because we wouldn’t have those ideas to tell us. If we forgot all that we knew, we would have nothing. That is why we fear more for Munin.
To me, the gods, like Odin’s beautiful ravens,are like ideas. And here is where I most fear that I will be misunderstood, for I was once before, and there is a fine line between the imaginary and the idea. When I was in 9th grade, I was required to write an essay on imagination, and I chose to write my essay on the way that imagination is instrumental in religion. What I didn’t know at the time was that my teacher was an evangelical Christian who had written a book on using the Gospels in your own life. So I got a bad grade because my teacher was offended, feeling as if I had said that his religion was imaginary. But that wasn’t what I meant at all. I do not believe that religion, religious expression, or religious experiences are imaginary. Let me explain.
I do not mean to say that the gods are imaginary. The gods are as real as the idea of Religion or of Meaning. They have immense power beyond the imagination of a single devotee or detractor. And yet, the experience of each devotee adds to the power of that god the way that the experience of each devotee of consumerism adds to the power of Consumerism. Ideas and gods fill in the negative space around our physicality, pressing against us with every movement we make.
The gods and goddesses are shaped by the relationships they have with their devotees the same way we are shaped by the relationships we have with our friends and lovers, all mixed up in the web of Wyrd tying everything in the cosmos together in a giant web of ideas, binding together the physical and the extraphysical.
In this world, where ideas create and destroy lives, where gods live and die and dance and love and learn and protect, there is the space for humans who are nothing but bodies. Bodies with neurons that shape their experiences. Bodies whose particular abilities and disabilities create and destory opportunities. These bodies, whose brains and minds can ponder the ideas of the cosmos, live in a solely physical cosmos filled entirely by Wyrd and the unavoidable power of ideas.