Blind Spots

4 02 2009

You’re driving down the road at cruising speed, with something nice in the CD player.  You’re in your happy place, thinking about what’s for dinner when you get home.  Then, suddenly, the idiot in the lane next to you tries to change lanes right into you, forcing you to slam on the brakes to get out of his way.  He didn’t look.  He didn’t signal.  He just went for it.

Mr. Idiot, as we know him, did not deliberately try to run into another vehicle.  In fact, he did not know that there was anyone next to him.  He did a quick glance in the mirror, and when he didn’t see anyone he concluded that no one was there.  What he failed to account for was the area near his rear fender where his mirrors did not reveal.  He failed to account for his blind spot.  It’s a weakness that all of humanity falls for, every single day.  It would be one thing if we were aware of our own ignorance, but we’re often blind to it.  Unconsciously, we assume that everything before us is visible to us.  Yet, there are many things that we can not see, and we can not even see that we have a blind spot.

In fact, everyone has a literal blind spot.  In each eye, just outside the center of vision, just to the right of it in the right eye, and just to the left of it in the left eye, there is a small spot that can not see anything.  No one notices it, because the brain has grown used to not seeing anything there.  It isn’t very easy to find, even if you look for it.  If you hold your finger about a foot from your face, the blind spot is about as wide as your finger.  If you held it in just the right place, your finger would disappear.  In reality, this visual gap should seem like an enormous loss, but we fail even to see the blind spot.  We have an area of blindness, and we are blind even to the blindness, itself.

You’re driving down the road, with a large pair of fuzzy dice dangling from the rearview mirror.  You don’t notice the dice, because your attention is on your driving.  Nevertheless, you can not see a large field of view that is blocked by the dice.  You have a blindness, and you can not even see the blindness, much less the dog on a leash that the blindness prevents you from seeing.  You begin to make a turn.  You notice the dice and smile at the clever decoration.  You feel a hard thud and hear the yelp of a dog and the wild screams of an old man.  Now you begin to seriously look for what it was that you could not see.  Let’s look a little more closely at what happened:

Stage Three: Your blindness was created by the dice, but you were unaware of it.  You were mostly unconscious of the obstruction, and you largely assumed that anything worth seeing was already in your view.  You were blind to the blindness.

Stage Two: You saw the dice and became aware of them.  You are now conscious of the obstruction, but you still fail to make any guess at what might be hiding behind them.

Stage One: You realize that your life has been impacted by something unforeseen.  Your vision is still obscured, but you begin to make a serious effort to learn of what it was that you could not see.

Blind spots can be found in every aspect of life, really.  They are the assumptions we make against our own ignorance.  It is these blind spots that make two people with the same information come to two different conclusions and fight with each other about it.  Take Christianity, for example.  One religion has so many different denominations, with differing tenets, yet they all originate from the same Bible, and they’re all based on the same Messiah.  What happens is, simply, that people come to the most natural conclusions based on what they’ve heard and read.  Granted, there are questions left ambiguous at first, but with time, these fade away.  They get used to the conclusions they’ve made, but they forget about how they arrived at those conclusions, or the possibility that they might be wrong.  Great vacuous gaps in understanding get bridged by a house of cards, one premise based upon another, until we’ve built an impressive little theology upon the foundation of what we do know, forgetting how much we do not know.  The areas of ignorance are forgotten, obscured by the things we know.  We are unaware of our own ignorance, and we are unprepared for anything that might arise from it.  Is speaking in tongues still valid for our time?  Some say yes.  Others say no.  Some speak unintelligibly to only God, while others say that speaking in tongues only is for witnessing to people of other languages.  People quote their favorite proof text to make their point, and the division is driven home.

Humans are extreme, to be sure.  We often say that we know something, and we sometimes say that we do not know something, but we seldom say that we are forty-five percent certain of something.

Stage Three: I feel confident that I can see everything that is relevant to me.

Stage Two: I am aware that there is an area that I know nothing about, but I have not begun to cope with it.

Stage One: I am aware of my limitations, and I am making decisions that take my shortfall into account.

blindspot1

In this image, we first see the black rays.  Then, we see the big white box that seems to be hovering over the center.  In one sense, the big white box does not even really exist.  There are two ways of looking at it: either there is no white box and I see the whole picture, or I am not really seeing the whole picture, because the box is in the way.  In this case, progressing to stage two is easy.  We see the obstruction.  Stage three, however, involves wondering about what is behind that box.  Most people would not get that far.

So, what is behind that box?  If we take what we do know and follow the trend, then we conclude that those rays continue inward and terminate at a point, like this:

blindspot2

Now the box is gone.  Our sense of understanding feels complete.  This is what we think the whole picture looks like, because this is what we infer from what we know.

Geologists look at the natural processes of the Earth and extrapolate back to a time millions of years ago.  They follow the lines.  They assume that the processes currently at work are as constant now as they’ve always been.  They assume an endpoint.  They never consider the effect of a global catastrophe.  They do not anticipate the unknown.  They only deal with what they see.

Atheists look at the physical world around them.  They make conclusions based on what they see, and they believe only in answers that are as physical as the world they know.  They do not anticipate the unknown.  They do not deal with the possibility of a spiritual realm or a God.

See, there’s a problem with basing one’s worldview only on the known.  Besides the fact that the known things are often wrong, when we overlook the things that we do not know, then we make sweeping generalizations.  There might be a dog behind those fuzzy dice.  There might be another car in that blind spot.  My theology might not be exactly correct, and even the appearance of a self-contradiction might not really be a contradiction at all.  Somewhere in that gap of understanding, things may actually come together in ways that we did not expect:

blindspot3

Always remember that the first step to true wisdom is understanding the limits of one’s own ignorance.  Until you know your limits, you never really can be sure of anything.  What you don’t know can hurt you.

psychedelicsig





Heaven’s Hell

2 02 2009

that-thing-in-my-attic

Made in the image of God.

As sinful as Satan, himself.

You handsome devil, you.

Imagine if God had sent Jesus to Hell, to be ripped apart and destroyed, for no other purpose than to open the gates of Hell and unleash the dead and the devils upon the Earth.  It would seem senseless.  Rather, it would seem worse than senseless.  We would be left in shock and dismay, wondering why God would do such a thing.  Yet, Jesus did go to Hell to set the captives free.  That was after he came to Earth to set us free.  No doubt, the angels in Heaven did not know what to think of it.  Setting people free seems reasonable to the human mind, because we are people.  We see ourselves as entirely normal.  Devils are another matter, entirely.  However, what we must consider is that people aren’t in Hell because they’re good any more than the devils are.

An ordinary human is a devil relative to a holy angel.  Earth, likewise, is Hell, relative to Heaven.

line

Zero is an interesting number.  It is neither positive, nor negative, yet it is, conceivably, both.  It is the exact midpoint between positive and negative infinity.  Relative to infinity, all finite numbers are the same as zero, as every number is zero percent of infinity.  Everything in our world is finite, which means that this place is, effectively, the land of Zero.  Perfection, however, is an infinite thing that can be approached but never reached in our world, but perfection is exactly what one needs to reach the perfect world of Heaven.

That life in Heaven is grand and lasts forever is a thing that people can easily accept.  That life in Hell is horrible and also lasts forever is a thing that people have a very hard time accepting.  The only difference between the two, though, is that we like one and hate the other.  If Heaven can last forever, then so can Hell.  We say that people don’t deserve Hell, but we overlook that people also don’t deserve Heaven.  On a mathematical line, there are three points that matter most.  These are positive and negative infinity and zero.  If we see negative infinity as death, and positive infinity as life, then where we are is a world of life and death.  Our world has both good and bad, baby showers and funerals, fortune and misfortune.  The easier direction, though, is toward death.  Therefore, a simple line graph (above) may not do our plight justice, for it places both positive and negative infinity as equal opposites, whereas good and evil are not.

approach-1

From a human perspective, perfection seems not too difficult.  Human (h) approaches a mathematical point of perfection (X).  The word, “approaches” is a good choice, because that’s all it is doing.  We have nothing to measure the distance with, and no scale to base it on.  Our only frame of reference is other humans.  From the diagram above, the human would appear to be on a direct collision course with X.  However, what may actually be the case is that we’re standing too far back to tell.  Let’s zoom in a bit to see what really happens.

approach-2

Because X (perfection) is an infinitely small mathematical point, no matter how far in we zoom, it never appears any bigger.  The distance between X and the line of travel for h appears to get bigger as we look more closely at it.  Look closely enough, and h appears to miss it by a mile.  The reason that X is an infinitely small point, is because perfection is, by nature, an exact thing.  Therefore, only one exact path of travel can lead to perfection.  All others lead away.  Some religions teach that all paths lead to the same Heaven from all different directions, but this is misleading.  While it is true that different people may be coming from different backgrounds, giving a different direction of travel for each person, the precise endpoint can only be one thing, and the way to get there is an absolutely unique path of travel.  All others eventually lead away, no matter how close they come to the true course.  To get to a perfect point, one must follow a perfect path.

To put it on a more practical level, one might attempt to clean a very messy room.  Eventually, with enough work, one might even stand back and admire one’s own handiwork and call it perfect.  Then, bring out the magnifying glass, or, better yet, the microscope, and examine the surfaces of the place.  The immaculate room becomes a pig’s sty.  The closer one gets to perfection, the harder it is to get any closer, and the harder it is to see the difference.  In the earlier diagram, above, where h appears to be on a collision course with X, eventually, he arrives at a point where he thinks he’s perfect.

approach-3

Upon closer inspection, he realizes that X sits at coordinates 12.45235:34.97867, and that he’s at 12.45234:34.97870.  It looks the same from a distance, but it isn’t really the same.

approach-4

So he must refine his direction of travel and head straight toward X again.  Once again, he appears to be on a collision course with perfection, and the story repeats itself.  Like a fractal image, a person can zoom in forever.  In a sense, there really is no such thing as “close” when it comes to perfection.

Say you’re an angel in Heaven, and you’re already sitting at X, the point of perfection.  Looking at the human race, you see a pathetic exercise in futility.  Those who try to reach perfection never get there, and most aren’t even trying.  For the angels, the entire Heavenly realm is contained within that mathematical point.  Take the timeline and fast-forward all the way to the very end.  In fact, dispense with the finite thing altogether.  At one time a person dies and can no longer attempt to reach perfection.  The opportunity to refine or adjust his direction of travel ceases altogether.  He leaves the world of time and space, for time is a finite thing for finite people.  H runs its course, and will have ultimately accomplished one of two things.  Either it will have finally reached X, or it will have traveled forever away from it.  Either his direction of travel leads to X, exactly, or it leads away, infinitely.

A key component of this life is time.  The most definitive characteristic of time is the capacity for change.  All events are matters of change, and the pace of those events is relative to other events.  But most important is the opportunity for change.  In this life, we can change our course.  In the next life, we can not.  When h can no longer change direction, it will, unless by a miracle, point infinitely away from X.  Hell, therefore, is that destination, which is infinitely far from X.

Relative to Heaven, this is Hell.  Relative to the angels, we are devils.  To anyone standing exactly at X, all other points could be a few inches or a few light-years away; there is no practical difference.  One point is just as much not X as any other, except for X, itself.  Atheists ask why a loving God would allow so much evil in the world.  One might just as well wonder why there is so much evil in Hell.  Likewise, one might wonder why a God of justice would allow so much good in this world, for people who have not deserved it.  Relative to Hell, this is Heaven.  Relative to the devils, we are angels.  The miracle of Christ is that we have a point of reference and a divine way to Heaven, which we, otherwise, would never find on our own.  Left to our own efforts, we fail.  This finite life is a point somewhere between the perfect world of Heaven and an infinite distance away from it.  Because of this, there must necessarily be a mix of good and bad in life, and the propensity is toward bad.  Unguided, all things tend toward bad.  Random behavior makes a mess.  Beyond this life is the second birth…or the second death.  Either we become like the angels, or we become like the devils.

oldsig