After getting a haircut a few days ago I reached into the pocket of my jacket where I'd put my checkbook. Problem was, no checkbook.
"I'll have to give you cash," I told Kim, my haircutter. "Cash is good," she said. "I like cash."
"Me too. But I also like my checkbook, and I'm pretty sure I stuck it in my jacket pocket before I left home."
The next stop of the day in my retired life was my Tai Chi class in downtown Salem (Oregon). After I'd gotten in my car, post-haircut, I looked through my backpack and the floor of the car for the missing checkbook.
So where the heck is my checkbook? was very much on my mind as the Tai Chi class started. I was going through the motions of the movements, but my mind was absorbed in thinking about the missing checkbook.
I recollected taking it out of a drawer before I left for my haircut appointment, since I always pay Kim with a check, not cash. I was pretty sure that I'd put it in the pocket of my jacket. I wasn't as sure that I'd zipped up the pocket.
"I threw my jacket on a chair before Kim started cutting my hair," I mused inwardly while doing a Tai Chi form. "Maybe the checkbook slipped out and fell behind the chair. If so, hopefully either Kim or a cleaning person will notice it. But what if it gets picked up by someone else, or maybe the checkbook fell out after I parked my car and walked to Kim's salon."
These sorts of thoughts consumed my mind for about the first 20 minutes of my Tai Chi class.
I couldn't stop thinking about the hassle it would be if I'd lost the checkbook, especially since it was time to balance our bank's monthly statement, and I'm obsessive about reconciling it perfectly, to the penny.
Eventually, though, my philosophical side started gaining some power over my worrying side.
I remembered reading in Daniel Dennett's new book, "From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds," about the distinction between manifest and scientific reality. Here's a passage that will give you a feel for how Dennett uses these terms.
Here are a few other folk convictions that need Hume's strange inversion: sweetness is an "intrinsic" property 0f sugar and honey, which causes us to like them; observed intrinsic sexiness is what causes our lust; it was the funniness out there in the joke that caused us to laugh.
Oversimplifying somewhat, in these instances the causes and effects in the manifest image have become inverted in the scientific image. You can't find intrinsic sweetness by studying the molecular structure of glucose; look instead in the details of sweetness seekers.
It is how our brains respond that causes "us" (in the manifest image) to "project" an illusory property into the (manifest) world.
...Our brains have tricked us into having the conviction, making the judgment, that there seems to be an intrinsically wonderful but otherwise undescribable property in some edible things: sweetness.
So even though my way of looking at manifest and scientific was rather different from Dennett's meaning of the words, I had this intuition after I began to grow tired of thinking about my checkbook when I should have been focused on Tai Chi:
All of the worries, thoughts, concerns, and such I was having about the checkbook were manifesting in my own mind, not anywhere else. The checkbook itself -- the scientific objective reality of the checkbook -- was a different thing entirely. My checkbook was somewhere; I just didn't know where. There was a good chance it was sitting on a counter in my house, even thought my mind was almost certain that I'd put it in a pocket of the jacket that I wore to my haircut.
Once I started thinking along these lines, I relaxed.
I realized that the checkbook was either lost, or it wasn't lost. I wouldn't know which was true until my Tai Chi class was over and I could return home. I could talk myself into believing in either possibility -- lost or not lost -- but only one of those possibilities was true, and I wouldn't know which until I walked through my front door and looked at the counter.
Where, after my Tai Chi class was over, I immediately saw my checkbook. Really Real Reality had made itself known, replacing the Might Be Reality my mind had spent considerable time pondering after my haircut.
Now, I realize that it isn't as easy to confirm the existence, or lack thereof, of God as it was to confirm that my checkbook was on the counter and hadn't been lost.
My point is just that beliefs can lead us anywhere. Religions ask us to fill our heads with possibilities about God, heaven, life after death, and such -- just as my mind had been filled with possibilities about what might have happened to my checkbook. I came to realize that no matter what I believed about where my checkbook was, the reality of where it was wasn't up to me.
And that was a big relief. Almost as big as returning home and finding my checkbook on the counter.
One of my favorite sayings comes from Philip K. Dick: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
This applies to lost checkbooks as much as it does to God.
We can believe whatever we want, but this doesn't change the reality outside of our believing mind. In my case reality confirmed that my checkbook wasn't lost. I'm not aware of any demonstrable evidence that God is real, so I continue to not believe in God's existence.