“Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature because in the last analysis we are part of the mystery we are trying to solve.”
One of the great disparities that separates my objective and subjective experience of, say, the natural world, lies in my inability to bridge the two, at least effectively, into clear-cut terms. I may, for instance, see the color red and, objectively speaking, go on to explain how color perception works, how the brain processes light, and even what patterns of neural firings this provokes, and yet, subjectively speaking, I still may utterly fail to explain the quality of my experience of redness.
Religious experience is no less frustrating.
The mystery of the experienced, sacred inner life is a hard problem because whatever I mean to say, like when trying to articulate God, I just can’t seem to make myself clear enough. It’s like the classic problem of consciousness—to speak of consciousness other than a pattern of neural firings in the brain with an estimated average of one thousand connections between each neuron is to wander off into a mystical realm beyond any hope of verification.
To the logical positivists, the only things worth talking about are direct sensory experiences, and the logical inferences and theorems we can deduce from them. Everything else, said Wittgenstein, “we must pass over in silence.”
But surely such a view undercuts the grand warehouse of human experience, matters of the soul, and the wondrous yet invisible things that you and I ultimately live for. Richard Dawkins might tell us that love is nothing more than a “misfiring” in the occipital lobe, but his failure to explain his subjective experience of love indicates how complicated the problem is.
Could it be that what we cannot speak about are the only real phenomena worth reflecting upon?
For me, the “God Delusion,” as some have called it, is more complicated than mere detection of psychosomatic frequencies, and we still do not fully understand it. Yet even if we had a fully satisfactory theory of what occurs inside the minds of the religiously faithful, it would still fail to convey the subjective experience of what is called, “knowing God.”
In this respect, Kierkegaard was right—life is absurd because language fails to communicate our experience of it. Sure, I can muster up poetic reflections about it, but unless others have had the same encounter, especially in religious matters, it is not really possible for me to share my experience.
Now does this discredit my experience as something fraudulent or imaginary or delusional? Something that somehow minimizes my value or intelligence as a reputable member of society? Some would think so. In fact, many have; and yet, the problem lies at the heart of every intelligent being.
You think long enough about life’s perplexities and paradoxes and you come to realize that no one comes equipped with all of the answers, everyone has been shortchanged a few crayons, a few marbles. We’re all in this together trying to lead meaningful lives, find patterns, subdue sarcasm, make friends, discipline chaos, and leave the world a little better than how we found it.