Fooling Ourselves to Death
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, in his 1974 Caltech commencement address, “Cargo Cult Science.”
Feyman was right.* But therein lies perhaps mankind’s greatest problem. If we’re predisposed to fooling ourselves, when can we know we have stopped and finally arrived at the truth? Could I be fooling myself when I think I have finally stopped fooling myself?
Like Vizzini trying to deduce which cup held the poisoned wine in The Princess Bride, the back-and-forth is endless. Regardless of “dizzying intellect” we can still drink the wrong cup. And end up in trouble or even dead as a result.
It could well be that the greatest ruin the Fall wrought was and is epistemological: that having fallen away from God, grace and the Divine referent point, we are left squinting into a near infinity of complexity through a mere peephole. Through hard work and availing themselves of others’ peephole perspectives, some are able to widen theirs a bit. But living inside the 1,450 cubic centimeter “home” of our heads and staring through them at an expanding universe (1.3×104 Gpc3 (4.1×105 Gly3 or 3.5×1080 m3; where Gly3 is shorthand for gigaparsec, which equals a billion parsecs where a parsec is roughly equivalent to 19 trillion miles), however big our little peepholes may become, they remain profoundly restricted apertures nonetheless.
But the problem is not just their size, the profound limits on what we can see and comprehend in relation to the expanse and complexity of what can be known. The lens in our peephole is also fogged with the uncertainty that comes from being inside the “system;” from being creatures within the creation. Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg — among other physicists and theoreticians — have clearly demonstrated the observational limits this creatureliness places on us.
Left entirely to ourselves and our peepholes, finding “true truth” becomes a fool’s errand. And as a result, postmodernism actually has it right for once: Truth is a chimera. Everything becomes to some degree relative, personal and situational.
And true peace and progress become impossible.
But–and this is the biggest of buts–what if there is a Classical Eternal Observer who stands outside of the vast quantum event that is creation; who, in fact, is the Creator of it? This “CEO” would have access to Truth; more would be the source of it. And if this Source was to present or reveal His** Truth to us — perhaps through a prophet or, even better, by entering the creation and then teaching and modeling the Truth — Feyman’s epistemological dilemma would be solved. We could know the Truth and that truth would necessarily make us free. We would have a foundation upon which to stand and a long enough lever to move the world. True peace and progress would become possible.
And we could stop fooling ourselves.
Once upon a time, the wisest of men boiled this all down very nicely: “Trust in the (CEO) with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
* Feynman got this and many other things right. Ironically, however, he was unable to remain consistent with this key presupposition and fooled himself into thinking there was no CEO. (Psalm 14:1)
** I used the male pronoun in referring to God, the CEO, only because the Bible does. But the same Bible makes it clear that God is beyond gender; that “male and female” are a temporary — though very important — binary division for humankind created in the image of God. After the Resurrection and in the New Creation, that gender distinction, at least as we presently understand it, will be eliminated or transcended. (Matthew 22:30)
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