16 September 2017: The usual problem in reconciling the bitter trail of human experience with the existence of a compassionate God is in how we envisage divinity. If we think of God as magically all-powerful there can be no reconciliation. However, as that idea of God cannot be reconciled with the world of Science either, it is no great loss.
An idea of God acceptable to Science would have to fit into the concept of causality, the fundamental element of the scientific method. In short, it cannot be magical. That is a perspective conveyed to children in an Indian fable about the inviolability of Karma (causality).
Shiva and Parvati are looking down from Kailas at a poor old man trudging along a desert road, hungry, thirsty and wretched.
“Why don’t you help him?” Parvati asks.
“I can’t” says Shiva. “It’s his karma.”
“You are almighty God. Surely, you can bend the laws of karma to give him some food and water and money.”
“Watch this,” says Shiva waving his hand.
On the road directly in front of the man a table appears with a pot of gold and a feast.
Just then the old man thinks to himself, ‘All my life I’ve walked with my eyes open. Here I am on this straight desert road with nothing to see. Let me walk with my eyes closed.’ He closes his eyes and walks past the table.
God in that perspective can only work through karma, as the essence of beneficial causality in a universe of laws.
Does History Make Sense?
The first step in reconciling the diverse evils of human history with the concept of a compassionate God is to see how the negative can be part of a positive narrative. Fortunately, this is not difficult to do at a time when the terrible experience of industrialization has resulted in a growing awareness of the need for people to engage in reversing the damage done to the Earth. The harsh experiences of our history are clearly meant to teach us.
If we look with that perspective at humanity’s progress from its African exodus to the world of the Internet and the Worldwide Web we find that it has been a purposeful evolutionary process. Little in it is without meaning and much that seems irreconcilable with the idea of a compassionate God can be seen as the Life Force negotiating its karmic passage away from our savage animal ancestry.
The Divine Spur
Ideas of divinity have been a major spur to history. They have driven pacific, cohesive and violently disruptive conceptualizations of reality that have rippled down the millennia with unexpected results. Some examples:
A World Economy
The emergence of a world economy in the wake of the ocean crossings of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama at the end of the 15th Century was a brutal, soul-killing affair of enslavement, genocide and colonization that a Christian Europe could not have engaged in but for the new economic mechanism of the joint-stock company and the stock market. The first joint-stock corporation, the East India Company, was formed in 1600; as such organizations multiplied, stock markets developed as the go-to place for raising and managing capital.
That arrangement distanced investors and corporate managers alike from the murderous activities necessary for profit. The man-made famines of the East India Company killed hundreds of millions of Indians, the Africa Company was established for the sole purpose of capturing and transporting slaves across the Atlantic to the Americas, and Britain's two “Opium Wars” spread drug addiction to a quarter of the Chinese population.
When Christian pressure in the United States eventually ended the slave trade, some 14 million had been taken from Africa to the Americas and an equal number killed in their capture and transportation. The flow of slaves was then replaced by that of indentured labor from China and India, a process that killed as many or more. The workers supplied by Africa and Asia replaced many uncounted millions of Native Americans wiped out by settler colonists. In Australia and New Zealand, the indigenous peoples gave way to Europeans.
Bloody and greed-driven as these processes were, they served an epochal purpose: for the first time, all segments of the dispersed and differentiated human family were brought into contact, intermixed, and engaged in one economic system. All the great variety of human genes flowed into one pool.
Shaping the Modern World
The industrialization into which Europe led the world was also a grim and oppressive process that produced great wealth on the backs of exploited workers, including millions of children. Mines and factories poisoned earth, water and air across the planet, sullying everything natural. While that was happening the greedy competition for resources and markets also engaged the leading Powers of the world in continuous war, their weapons growing exponentially in destructive scale and horror.
Under such depredations the human race should have dwindled in numbers, but instead it multiplied at an explosive rate. The five centuries over which the world economy expanded and industrialized saw the human race grow from a few hundred million to over seven billion. That growth is projected to continue for another century, raising the world population to over 10 billion by the end of the 21st Century, unless we reduce the pace of growth by rapid economic development.
Learning to Behave
What is the meaning of those five centuries of ravening greed and gore? What is the significance of industrialization?
The answers are obvious. The bloodiest, most tumultuous and oppressive period of human history unified the species and focused its attention on stark evolutionary choices. Three World Wars (I, II and Cold), a spiking extinction rate of species and the prospect of climate change have shown the need for self-control.
Unlike a century ago, it is now widely recognized that all-out war among major Powers is no longer an option of statecraft, for it can send humanity the way of the dinosaurs in a few minutes. The continued utility of armed conflict is now restricted only against and among the poor. Industrialization has provided a complex instruction in human planetary responsibility. As with war, it has been an abject lesson in good behavior.
Setting the Rules
Setting the specific rules of human behavior has been taken up through international organizations. The first organizations were responses to the need for cooperation imposed by the trans-border use of standardized technologies like the telegraph, railways and shipping. In the face of the problems described above they evolved into an effort to prevent war and deal with a range of global security, developmental and environmental issues.
The League of Nations and the United Nations represent that broadening scope of cooperation. Although stymied in their primary tasks by elite international power struggles the two organizations have laid the legal foundations for a peaceful world and established the framework of values necessary to sustain it. The global connectivity of the Information Age now offers international organizations the opportunity to network around the elite quarrels that block the path to peace.
End of the Industrial Age
Two trends that have picked up speed in the last decade will accelerate the demise of the industrial age.
One is 3D printing, a layering technology that can produce any shape of product in a growing number of materials; those now in use include plastics, polymers, resins, titanium, concrete, food and human tissue. Since the first 3D printer debuted in 1992, there has been astonishingly rapid progress.
The second trend is the increase in the use of renewable energy at historically unprecedented rates despite a dramatic decline in global fossil fuel prices. Renewable sources are now a mainstream source of energy, accounting in 2014 (excluding hydropower) for 48 per cent of newly added electricity generating capacity. By 2030, the use of clean energy will probably be double the level of 2014, with solar energy accounting for the largest share.
Other Radical Changes
The plummeting price of off-grid renewable energy and increasingly sophisticated 3-D printing portend the capacity to produce the highest quality of industrial product off grid and in the remotest locations. Coinciding with the decreasing economic viability of mega-corporations, it will quicken the end of centralized factory-scale production and cause a range of other radical changes:
Without mass production, there will be no need to concentrate labor, energy and other commodities at particular locations. That means the trade and industry-driven urbanization of the last four centuries will cease and large cities will experience major changes in real estate use and valuation.
As decentralized small scale production replaces centralized factories the need for long distance movement of goods and commodities will fall dramatically, transforming the economics of the entire transportation infrastructure from railroads and roads to airlines and pipelines.
The predominance of small and medium manufacturing will revive the historical dependence on locally available raw materials; global commodities trade will be reoriented into regional patterns.
These broad changes will reduce all forms of industrial environmental damage, especially emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Meanwhile, small and medium enterprises rooted in their own communities are likely to be far more sensitive to pollution issues than mega-corporations. In sum, not only will industrial scale activity end, the legacy damage of the last century will be able to heal.
The Information Age
Towards the end of the 20th Century, swift advances in computerized information processing and satellite communications enabled revolutionary changes in economic and social interactions. The most stunning progress has been in global connectivity: by 2016, basic mobile telephone service was accessible to almost the entire world population. Over 3.5 billion people – half the world population – now have broadband access to the Internet. The world’s largest data processor, Google, was dealing in 2016 with 3.5 billion search requests per day and storing 10 exabytes (10 billion gigabytes) of data.
Total Internet traffic grew from approximately 100 GB of traffic per day in 1992 to 100 gigabytes per second (GBps) in 2002 and to more than 20,000 GBps in 2015. Global IP traffic in 2015 was an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (2.5 followed by 18 zeros); by 2020, that is projected to increase to 2.3 Zetabytes (add another three zeros) per year. To put those figures in more comprehensible terms, by 2020, the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will cross the global Internet every two minutes and it would take more than 5 million years to watch all the video shared in a month.
To deal with the enormous flow of information governments have made a rapidly accelerating effort in the last six years to create a system for global geospatial information management (GGIM). They envisage a global geodetic frame of reference to manage data through a network of location-specific centers integrating all available economic, social, environmental and cultural information (see article at top right of page).
It will give the planet a skin of information accessible to any smart phone in perspectives ranging from Big Data visuals to weather forecasts and local entertainment listings. Smart phones could also be programed to report automatically to the nearest database on a variety of variables, including environmental conditions; that would make the analogy to “skin” exact.
A New Capitalism
The rapid onset of global connectivity, the age of Big Data brought in by the Information and Communications Revolutions, and the decentralized world economy point to the need for a new system to govern the use of capital. The joint-stock company and the stock market, the core of the free market system since the mercantile era, face unprecedented challenges in a period of global connectivity.
As growing numbers of small and medium enterprises locate and cater to niche clusters of demand, they will disaggregate markets shaped by advertising to sustain mass production of branded goods. That will deprive mega-corporations of the economies of scale and make their own size a factor of inefficiency in adjusting to changes in market conditions. Stock markets will also face a secular challenge from new mechanisms that enable Web-based crowd-funding.
These developments do not signify an end to the need to raise and manage massive amounts of capital. On the contrary, the infrastructural changes that will be necessary in the scenario outlined above and the multi-trillion dollar cost of erasing poverty under the United Nations Agenda 2030 plan will require both functions to be efficiently performed; but it will require new instruments.
Globalization as Evolution
Globalization is a phenomenon as old as the temperature gradients that circled the cooling planet and created its atmosphere and oceans. It has been driven by a great diversity of forces, from unicellular life to plants and animals. If the entire history of life on earth were reduced to a single 24 hour day, humanity would enter the stage a few seconds before midnight. In those few second, Homo sapiens left Africa driven by changing climate, spread around the world impelled by every kind of trouble and tribulation, yet managed to share its advances towards civilization across continents and oceans. Traders, missionaries of every cause, adventurers, writers, teachers, imperial monarchs, all played their part.
Now, as we face a world increasingly frenzied in its interactions, with the stakes of nuclear war and environmental devastation higher than ever but also with the promise of the future brighter than at any time, we must ask about the meaning of it all. It is time to ask who we are as a species and what we have learned in our global passages. We must raise again the question that has haunted us from the earliest days, the issue of God.
The Nature of Life
The Upanishads of ancient India set out the world’s most comprehensive explanation of universal reality. Scientists have provided factual statements paralleling parts of it, especially the Big Bang that sets the universe on its multi-billion-year life. In Sanskrit the Big Bang is Hiranyagharba, the Golden Egg that bursts from the utter darkness of Brahma’s night and in a flash manifests Creation.
Scientists have not touched parts of the Hindu schema closer to humanity stating the identity of the human soul and the Universal Self; it is that sameness of substance that allows the individual to be reborn in an endless succession of bodies.
Two scientific advances of the 20th Century allow that phenomenon to be presented in factual terms. One is the discovery that matter and energy exist in an unbreakable continuum of particle and wave, that neither can be destroyed, only transformed into the other.
The second discovery is that the genetic code embedded in the human cell determines at the moment of conception every aspect of the body that will grow from it.
In combination, those concepts can be read as scientific endorsement of the idea that when the material human body dies its genetic code will float free in its energy form. As a radio wave can carry the human voice and replicate it exactly on meeting an antenna tuned to receive it, so the code/soul of an individual will come to life upon contact with a cell at the moment of conception that is perfectly in karmic tune.
Looking back at history and keeping in mind that the force we call God must work through causality, every human trial and tragedy can be chalked down to karma. Violence, greed, rage and every ill-considered emotion we feel are the price we pay to separate from our animal ancestors. The vast difference among individuals in how they handle emotions points to the nature of their own karma.
What about war? No animal fights wars.
War can be seen as a means to discipline our monkey brains, the most fecund source of technological innovation, and now the only way violent tribal societies learn the need for peace. If they do not learn, if the tribal instincts of the Middle East or North Korea should unleash nuclear war, the world economy will collapse, nuclear winter will set in, and the current phase of the human experiment will come to an abrupt end.
On the bright side, what can we expect from a firm sense that God exists, that each individual soul is divine and immortal? I would expect the following:
A fourth-generation international organization (see UN/Globenet) will be able to wind up the world drug trade, end terrorism, promote disarmament and negotiate an end to all the tribal conflicts now plaguing the planet.
And Then What?
The consonance between the universal and individual souls suggests an answer to the question by physicist Erwin Schrodinger: is human thought individually generated or do we get it preformatted?
If thought is individually generated it would be virtually impossible to envisage broad movements like the Industrial and Technological Revolutions or the Information and Communications Revolutions.
If our thoughts are preformatted, such movements would be easy to explain.
The latter would also firm up the scientific expectation that at some point the density of digital activity surrounding the planet will generate an autonomous awareness in much the same way that the development of a baby’s neural network in the womb makes it conscious.
The global brain humanity is growing will be supported by an enormous ancillary presence of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. God alone knows what altogether new chapter of human evolution we will embark upon.
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Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger.
Reading of the teachings of the Upanishads in the trenches of the First World War led him to ask about the implications of a Universal Soul.
The Vedas (literally, The Seen) are the oldest religious texts in the world. They existed as the oral legacy of tribal India for millennia before being compiled and editd by Veda Vyasa under the direction of seven great sages, the Saptarishi (commemorated now as the stars that point to Polaris).