Occasionally "cc," a regular commenter on this blog, sends me email messages. They're as cogent, interesting, and well-written as his comments.
Below is a recently-received message that deserves sharing. One of the things I like most about cc's style is the open-endedness of his thoughts. Usually what he says leaves me with more questions, rather than answers.
Or questions about answers.
Reading the following message, I was struck by the words numinous and numinosity. "Numinous" usually is considered to belong in the realm of religion, referring to some sort of divine experience.
But the Wikipedia article notes that numinous can be separated from religion and the supernatural.
For example, when one experiences awe and fascination with natural phenomenon such as majestic landscapes, night sky or deep appreciation of fellow human creations such as art and engineering marvels. At times like these a feeling of the numinous can overwhelm the mind and body, yet in no way is this interpreted to be supernatural or of divine origin. The very fact that one feels inspired by such encounters extends the depth of feeling of the numinous and makes accessible a real sense of humane solidarity with ourselves and with our natural world.
A You Tube video is referenced that consists of a discussion between Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. I'll embed it after cc's message. Well worth watching. We can have a non-supernatural sense of the "divine," for sure.
Here's what "cc" had to say:
The more you know about mistakes, the less likely you are to make them. Sometimes it's reasonable to assume that someone knows better than you, and sometimes it's foolish.
It's best to find out what someone claims to know before believing them, and if what they know is too abstruse or recondite for you to verify or deny, it's best to be skeptical.
Some people know a lot about some things and a lot of people just think they know things, and this is because most people can't really think. If they could, they would see the error of accepting anything that can't be tested for veracity or be logically explained without allowing for the numinous.
Pascal's wager was that it's better to assume the existence of God than to doubt or deny it because, should it turn out that God does exist, the doubter/disbeliever is worse off. But what about the self? Do I, me, you, as persons really exist, or are we as fictitious as God?
If you found out that you are no more than an improvised character constantly adapting or constantly justifying its intransigence, would that have a liberating and innoculating effect, or would it compel you to launch a new religion?
You might do the latter if you'd lived a hundred years ago when the realization of what self is/isn't was big news to people who hadn't made a religion of it yet.
The truth is that most people are dreadfully confused about the self because, as much as they want themselves to be found non-existent, they don't want to lose the numinous. They want it both ways, and they go about having it by using magic words - words for which the meanings can't be pinned down.
The words "love" and "self" are so uncertain in their meanings that they can mean what you want them to mean. Religion is built on what can't be grasped, and science, on what can.
The scientist looks down on the religionist because all he really does is play with words, and the religionist looks down on the scientist because he views the numinous skeptically.
How can we talk meaningfully about love if we can't live lovingly on this planet? How can we talk meaningfully about the self if we can't acknowledge its appointed numinosity?