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vol 8: Many in one
page 3: Vision

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1: About
2: Synopsis
3: Development

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4: Glossary
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a personal journey to natural theology

This site is part of the natural religion project The natural religion project     A new theology    A commentary on the Summa    The theology company


Lecture 3:Vision


1 Last week was a turning point in this lecture series. I discovered this when I spent a week trying to write the lecture and finding that there was nothing to say.

2 So this week we are off on a new task. I wish to outline my contributions to the foundation of a planetary religion which will enable us to live in peace. This step requires a certain commitment on my part. I have got to say what I really think and practise what I preach.

3 In simple terms, religion plays the role in politics that making love plays in human relationships. It is a touchstone that can only be reached through total commitment.

4 I have totally committed myself (as well as I could) a number of times in my life and faced the collapse of that commitment. This time, I feel, will be different. I think I have found a firm foundation for faith in myself, and with faith in myself I can commit myself without fear.

5 What I am committed to is a vision of love. The starting point for any religion is a particular way of looking at life and the world. The way to make a religion is to express that point of view. This expression may be in words, ritual or music. Ultimately our religion is expressed by the way we live.


6 I want to build on the foundations laid by all the religions of the world. The one I know best is Christianity, so it is my starting point. If the theory of peace is on the right track, however, it should be able to encompass all the religious insights of humanity since we evolved.

7 Jesus expressed part of his vision of love with the tale of the Samaritan that I recounted in the last lecture. The Samaritan showed his love by giving appropriate care to the injured stranger.

8 By appropriate care I mean that the Samaritan did just what was necessary. He did not ignore the injured man entirely, crossing over to the other side of the road as the Priest and the Levite has done; nor did he overdo the job by hanging around when he was no longer needed. He gave the innkeeper some money to cover expenses and went on his way, promising to call in on his way back to pay any further bills.

9 But how are we to decide what is appropriate care? The Priest and the Levite, both highly educated men in their day, thought the appropriate thing was to cross the road. Through the parable, Jesus told his listeners that their care was not good enough. Although the Jews probably cared for their own people, Jesus taught that everyone must care for everyone else.

10 Over the last two thousand years, much Christian love has been institutionalised in the modern welfare state. There are not many brigands on the roads these days, but thousands of people are injured every year in motor accidents. We have an extensive rescue and health care system to take care of them.

11 Social security takes care of those with insufficient money, and numerous other government departments do what they can to give us a good life in return for our tax.

12 The system is not yet perfect. I want to take the line of development further. My understanding of love says that it is not sufficient for us to care for ourselves and all the people on the planet.

13 We must care for the whole planet. We must take care of the whole to take care of the parts. We must care for the parts to take care of the whole. This idea is expressed in the well known slogan 'think globally, act locally'. These lectures, which are a local action, are aimed at how we think about the globe.

14 I understand that global here refers not just to the globe of the earth, but to the whole universe of being. I will begin to express my vision of love by outlining my vision of the universe.

The theory

15 In the last twelve lectures (ten last year and two this year), I have argued to my satisfaction that we are gods and live in a divine universe. We are all those things we say god is, and we can have all the happiness that we say heaven is, if we just look at everything in the right way and act accordingly.

16 Theoretically the hardship can be reduced as small as we like - we just have to get our heads together enough to see and do this. This is what I want to go on talking about in the next few lectures.

17 I have argued it to my satisfaction. In the next few paragraphs I want to draw together all that I have said in the last twelve lectures and present an outline of this argument. From one point of view it is easy because it does not have many steps.

18 On the other hand, it is rather subtle, because the argument is essentially probabilistic, and probability has (at least to me) a kind of unreality that is hard to grasp.

19 We start with the assumption that the universe is god, that is everything that could possibly be. We know, from thousands of years of experience that we cannot say what god is, only what god is not. As the Chinese tradition has it, the Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao.

20 So we cannot say what the universe is. But we can say what it is not. This is valuable information. If you go to sea you take a map. The map shows you where there is sea and where there is no sea. Where there is no sea, ships cannot go. The ones that try to go there are destroyed.

21 The universe is like the sea. What the universe is not are the reefs and shores and dangerous rocks. These rocks come in different sizes ranging from global nuclear war down to the slightest personal discomfort.

22 If we can chart these rocks we can avoid them, and so avoid discomfort. To live in peace is to live in comfort, and that seems to be what a lot of people would like to do, including me.

23 I have been using phrases like 'what the universe is' and 'what the universe is not', but why are we talking about these things in the first place? I think I am talking to try to answer a question. The question is: am I safe?

24 Building means putting up a structure big enough to climb on. Every builder must be on a constant lookout for his own safety as he puts up scaffolding, pumps concrete, slews heavy girders around hundreds of feet above the pavement or straps on a safety harness to go up a high pole. The structure itself must be sound, able to take its own weight, the weight of the builders, and the weight of whatever it was designed for.

25 I build myself, because I am a point in a creative universe, and I have responsibility for what I build. I want to build myself well, and I have over the years taken much advice on the matter and found it wanting. Hence my current state of insecurity. That is why I ask: am I safe?

26 The answer I want to hear is yes. Now the evidence seems to indicate that the universe itself is good, and so I can suppose that I, as part of it, am good. What we are, what we see and what we experience are the result of a 20 billion year period of universal creativity.

27 We know that the universe began as a very simple being, incredibly energetic, but with very little structure. As time goes by, the universe expands and its energy density drops. In the right conditions, incredibly complex structures like the planet earth develop.

28 We can see that this process has happened. What we want to know is how it works, and how we can live with it safely. How does creation work? This seems to be the first and most important question. You probably know the story of creation in the Book of Genesis quite well. Here is another explanation of the same phenomenon, part of the Pelasgian Creation Myth retold by Robert Graves:

In the beginning, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos, but found nothing substantial for here feet to rest upon, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing lonely upon its waves.

She danced toward the south, and the wind set in motion behind her seemed something new and apart with which to begin the work of creation. Wheeling around, she caught hold of this north wind, rubbed it between her hands, and behold! the great serpent Ophion.

Eurynome danced to warm herself, wildly and more wildly, until Ophion, grown lustful, coiled about those divine limbs and was moved to couple with her. Now the North Wind, who is also called Boreas, fertilises, which is why mares often turn their hindquarters to the wind and breed foals without the aid of a stallion. So Eurynome was likewise got with child.

Next she assumed the form of a dove, brooding on the waves and, in due process of time, laid the Universal Egg. At her bidding, Ophion coiled seven times around this egg, until it hatched and split in two. Out tumbled all things that exist, her children sun, moon, planets, stars, the earth with all its mountains and rivers, its trees, herbs and living creatures.

29 The most obvious form of creation is our own reproduction and the reproduction of all other living things. What we want to know is, why do things reproduce themselves?

30 Genetic love is the foundation of our humanity, and it is the task of religion to build society on the basis of genetic love. We recognise this in our culture by our emphasis on the primacy of the family. The force of these lectures is that I think we can take the ideas of family and love much further. This is how I hope to get the recipe for planetary domestic harmony.

31 What the theory does is encompass genetic building with all other building in the same mathematical framework. Once we have got a common mathematical framework, we can begin to use all the things we have learnt about engineering safety in our design of society.

32 This sounds like a recipe for fascism and totalitarianism if ever there was one. We are playing with fire. The answer, simply, is that it is not. The only way I can express this answer is through the medium of the transfinite numbers.

33 The transfinite numbers reproduce themselves ad infinitum. They do so because because not to do so would be inconsistent. This, to me, is the fundamental insight of the theory of peace, that a consistent universe must be creative.

34 Unfortunately these mathematical symbols lack the immediate appeal of gods mating and giving birth to the world, but I believe that the human understanding involved is identical.

35 We cannot know the transfinite numbers. All that we know is that they must exist in a symbolic system that makes sense. Like god and the universe, we do now know what they are, but what they are not.

36 The theory of transfinite numbers tells us three things. One is that no two transfinite numbers are the same. One is not the other. In other words, they are all distinct entities.

37 The second is that there is no limit to them. The series of transfinite numbers goes on without end.

38 The third is that they grow as fast as possible while still making sense. Thus they are a model for the most creative and fertile universe possible, giving rise to an infinite succession of beings all distinct, each infinitely greater than its predecessor.

39 We use numbers to count, one, two, three. Easy enough. The whole world knows how to count. But what are these numbers? They are an ordered collection of symbols. When one counts one takes each of the objects to be counted and puts it into one-to-one correspondence with the next number. We often do this by pointing a finger at each thing as we count it. A good counter counts every item once and only once.

40 How many things can you count with the numbers? The answer is an infinite number. Infinite means unending, and we know that the numbers are unending. After one comes two, then three, four five and so on. After every number there comes the next number, and there is no last number. The last number would be a boundary on the numbers. They would no longer be infinite, but finite, that is finished, completed, bounded, definite.

41 Now, says Georg Cantor, imagine the first number beyond all the counting numbers. The number on the far side of infinity. This number is greater than all the counting numbers and the first of a new series of numbers, the transfinite numbers.

42 Can you understand this idea. It doesn't matter of you do or you don't. When it is put down in mathematical symbols, it is possible to show that the idea involves no inconsistency. Having thought of the idea of transfinite numbers, Cantor was able to prove that beyond every infinity there is a new structure of an even greater level of infinity.

43 Beyond the infinity of human being and human reproduction there is the infinity of the tribe, the society, the planet, the solar system, the galaxy and so on to the universe. The transfinite numbers seem to show is how the universe can be composed of an infinite number of infinite beings all distinct from one another.

44 We cannot comprehend the transfinite numbers. All we know is that if a symbolic system (which we assume the universe to be) is consistent, then it will have this never ending structure and will continue to grow forever.

45 The universe will grow forever if it is consistent, but what if it is not consistent? This question has already been faced in mathematics. At the turn of the century, the structure of mathematics seemed to be developing inconsistencies.

46 David Hilbert studied the problem, and found that the problem could be expressed in three questions. He wrote about mathematics, but I have taken the liberty of phrasing the questions in terms of the universe.

47 The questions are:

1 is the universe consistent?

2 is the universe complete?

3 Is the universe decidable?

48 Hilbert expected the answers to all three questions to be yes, but life is not so simple. Indeed, we find that of the universe is consistent, it is neither complete nor decidable.

49 The transfinite numbers have already told is that a consistent universe is not complete. It cannot be complete if it is continuously creating new symbols. It must continuously create new symbols if it is consistent.

50 Is the universe decidable? Not if it is consistent. In other words, in a consistent universe there are questions which it would take an infinite time to answer. This incompleteness and undecidability are not the results of human ignorance, they are built into the nature of reality.

51 These three questions and their answers form the heart of all I want to tell you. They are the foundations of the vision of love which I find necessary and sufficient to show us the way to peace.

52 What do they mean in practical terms? I will tell you a few things.

53 First, the gods, that is us and all the other particles in the universe, must be a little bit crazy. If you try to be logical, that is consistent, you will be faced with an incomplete and undecidable universe.

54 Every question you ask and answer generates a whole host of new questions, and there can never be an end to this process.

55 If, on the other hand, you wish to build a complete and decidable structure which answers all questions, it will be inconsistent. In administrative terms, if we try to build a perfect administration it must be corrupt. In a consistent system, thee are questions that cannot be answered.

56 Secondly, uncertainty is built into the roots of the universe. Even a system of reasoning as perfect as arithmetic can lead to a situation where the same question can have infinitely many answers.

57 Third, the theory of transfinite numbers tells us that a consistent universe will grow ad infinitum. We will associate such infinite growth with the reduction of the amount of energy and violence in a situation. In other words, insofar as the universe is consistent it will grow toward peace.

58 An inconsistent universe, on the other hand, can be complete. Looking at this the other way around, if we try to make something complete so that it will grow no more, it will become inconsistent and corrupt.

59 There are many more things we could deduce from these questions and answers, but I will stop here and ask another question: what does this mean in practical terms?

60 I think the practical content of Hilbert's questions can be expressed as the theory of communication. Communication means getting information from one place to another. I am trying to communicate now.

61 To communicate we need a common language or code and a channel to carry the information from you to me. In ordinary conversation the common language might be english and the channel is all the equipment between your mind and my mind - the biological structures that enable us to talk and listen and the air and the radio system that carries sound waves between us.

62 It is communication that binds us together. If we cannot communicate, we cannot be together except in the simple spatial sense of sharing the same room or the same bus shelter. Yet even this involves communication. We can see and hear one another. Two particles that do not communicate in any way are totally unaware of one another's existence.

63 We assume that all particles in the universe communicate in some way or another. In physical theory, everything is believed to be connected by gravitation.

64 In life we are one if we share a common religion. A religion is the common language that binds us together. The communication channel is all our interactions with one another and the environment.

65 We can express the properties of communication in terms of Hilbert's questions. Communication is good when we can make sense of one another. We will say that communication that makes sense is consistent.

66 Now if what I say to you makes sense and what you say to me makes sense, the conversation will flow freely and potentially go on for ever. I interpret this as an expression of the theory of transfinite numbers. Consistent communication leads to infinite creativity.

67 It leads to infinite creativity because there is no reason why you should understand what I say in that same way as I said it. The universe is incomplete, which means there are an infinite number of ways to interpret a consistent communication.

68 You understand what I say differently from how I understand it. You base your next remark on you interpretation, but I hear something different, and so on. Conversation flows on in this way, like a game of dice, arriving at places that neither speaker had ever dreamt of.

69 On the other hand, what I say may not make sense. You cannot arrive at a consistent interpretation of my words. There is an error somewhere in the communication link. This may be the end of the conversation, especially in a one way situation like this. Inconsistency is compatible with completeness.

70 Or you may ask for clarification. I can check that what I am saying does make sense and vary the way I put ideas into words until you understand. You might never understand. It may happen that we simply cannot communicate with one another. This is not surprising. There are undecidable questions in a consistent universe, and they can manifest themselves as a lifelong inability to understand something.

71 I could go on multiplying examples infinitely, but time is running out. Much must go unsaid, leaving you in a state of uncertainty. Uncertainty is normal in a consistent universe. Of course you might think you completely understand me, but be wrong. Inconsistency and completeness are consistent with one another.

72 I am trying to communicate a vision of the universe, but the vision itself shows me that such communication will be infinitely creative both of understanding and misunderstanding.

73 Is there any bottom line? I believe there is. We are gods. We are crazy. We are obscure and difficult to understand. We are moody and changeable. All these qualities and more are consistent with our divine nature. Either we can fight it, and suffer, or we can accept it and relax. The theory says that nothing we can do will change the universe. All we can do is change the way we look at it. The beginning and end of religion is the vision of god. Next week I want to talk about crime.

Originally broadcast on 2BOB Radio, Taree, NSW on 28 June 1988


Bailey, Raymond, Thomas Merton on Mysticism, Doubleday and Company 1987 Jacket: '"I have only one desire ... to disappear into God, to be submerged in his peace..." Thomas Merton. The author [RB] carefully traces the evolution of Merton's faith: from his conversion to Catholicism to his ordination as a Trappist monk ... . In addition, there are here included conversations between Merton and his contemporaries, excerpts from his letters and journals, and other material never before published.'  Amazon  back
Capra, Fritjof, The Tao of Physics: An exploration of the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism, Shambala 1991 'First published in 1975, The Tao of Physics ... still stands up to scrutiny, explicating not only Eastern philosophies but also how modern physics forces us into conceptions that have remarkable parallels. Covering over 3,000 years of widely divergent traditions across Asia, Capra can't help but blur lines in his generalizations. But the big picture is enough to see the value in them of experiential knowledge, the limits of objectivity, the absence of foundational matter, the interrelation of all things and events, and the fact that process is primary, not things. Capra finds the same notions in modern physics. ...' Brian Bruya   Amazon  back
Macy, Joanna Rogers, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, New Society Publishers 1983 Introduction: 'This book is a guide to despair and empowerment work. The term refers to the psychological and spiritual work of dealing with our knowledge and feelings about the present planetary crisis in ways that release energy and vision for creative response. ... The work overcomes patterns of avoidance and psychic numbing; it builds compassion, community and commitment to act.' (xiii)  Amazon  back
O'Sullivan, Tim, Key Concepts in Communication and Cultural Studies, 1994 Jacket: '... a book to help you come to terms with the terms. It is a multi-disciplinary glossary of the concepts you are most likely to encounter throughout the study of communications and culture. ... Each entry consists of a brief introductory definition, followed by a more detailed discussion which covers origins, usage and controversies. All are cross referenced and supported by a full bibliography.'  Amazon  back
Schilp, Paul Arthur, Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Open Court Publishing Company 1949 Contains Einstein's autobiographical notes in German and English, 25 descriptive and critical essays on the Work of Albert Einstein, Einstein's reply to these essays, and a bibliogrphy of Einstein's writings to May 1951,  Amazon  back
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist, George Allen and Unwin 1976 Jacket: 'In this clear account of the essentials of mysticism, Mr. Suzuki has taken as examples the Zen Buddhism of the East and the reflections of Meister Eckhart. With a wealth of illustration and explanation, he shows how the Chinese sage and the German philosopher meet on common ground.'   Amazon  back
Tillich, Paul, The Courage to Be, Collins Fontana 1967 Jacket: 'The problem of anxiety has dominated much of contemporary literature and philosophy. ... Paul Tillich ... tries to point the way toward its conquest. ... In his analysis the courage to take this inescapable anxiety upon oneself assumes three forms: the courage to be as part of a larger whole, the courage to stand alone, and the courage to accept the fact that we are carried by the creative power of being in which every creature participates.'  Amazon  back


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