Dark Consciousness

I have decided to come clean. I am not an atheist.

People who note the Abrahamic and Gothic mythologies behind my novel might be a little surprised to hear I ever thought I was an atheist. Thing is, they’re my mythologies too. I’m as entitled to use them to tell my difficult tales as the wonky Athenians were when they took up PTSD through the lens of oracles and furies.

But I thought I was an atheist. I evolved (I mean, a priori). I’m embarrassed by human religions, all illogically animist, perniciously tribal and desperately placatory. The bit in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, where the school choir sings “Oh Lord, please don’t burn us / Don’t grill or toast your flock”? Nutshell. I’ll give Christ points for trying but he got disillusioned hard — I suspect more by the carnival of Palm Sunday than the crucifixion that followed. Building your church on the guy who thrice denied you to the cops, and calling him your rock? That’s one bitter parable.

But I digress.

I just can’t in good conscience call myself an atheist anymore. It’s not even conscience. I recoil in my gut. It’s not merely how self-satisfied they are, from their eloquently brutal public advocates to the know-it-all kids in so many blog comments. It’s that they think they’re just as cosmically right as theists, and they’re not. There is more to heaven and earth, as Hamlet says. I know it in my bones, and to tell me I am wrong to trust this knowledge is as much a con as what the religious try to sell me.

I’ve been checking out agnosticism, which is slowly developing its muscles (and thanks to the wonderful Aldous, I’m open to any idea that comes from a Huxley). Again, the terms of debate all seem to rest on God’s presence or absence. Why must it be so reductive? Why begin with a God, a monolithic spiritual source — or its absence? Even matter changes rules from the very small to the very big, and “matter” itself seems to be a subset of things-that-are-not-energy. Such fecundity and contradiction in things we can see and touch, yet the immaterial is or isn’t in just one way?

I am declaring my own path, and maybe I’ll find fellow travelers. Here’s the map:

I know there is something beyond the physical. I don’t know if it moves mountains but I believe it moves crowds. I believe one day we will have words for it and a form of evidence-based science to explain it — at least as much as our little primate brains can hold. One day maybe our robots will intercede with it for us, as they do with planets now.

I suspect it is, or is found through, an emergent property of humanity or consciousness, just as consciousness is an emergent property of the systems that regulate the disparate organs of single living things. Or not, or also: maybe a kind of life encompasses our own, as we encompass E. coli; maybe it inspires us to write holy books and seek oracles so we treat each other nicely and don’t poison it.

And, sometimes, inevitably and probably usefully, it gets nasty and horrible in the worst ways, echoing and expanding the damage of our own puny venal selves. As all our burning hydrocarbons make tornadoes and hurricanes, as supernovas kill their own worlds and make new ones.

Something is there. What it is, I don’t know. I am OK with that; I even think it a strength. I can contemplate it without preconceptions. I can break bread with the religious, in its generous spirit, learning the peripheral truths of their myths, without being bound by miserly dogma — and without the burden of contempt.

Something is there. We have only known about dark matter for a couple of decades, and all we know for sure is that without it, the universe doesn’t hold together.

Call this, dark consciousness. I believe in it. I have faith.






7 responses to “Dark Consciousness”

  1. Cynthia McGean Avatar

    This is a wonderful and thought-provoking post. There is something incredibly powerful about allowing yourself to sit in the awareness of the limitations of human consciousness to grasp something that by definition has to be beyond grasping, and to accept the something more while also accepting its elusive nature. My favorite analogy, and the reason I’m glad I took calculus, is the notion in calculus of “approaching the asymptote” (I think I’ve got that right) – the idea of getting closer and closer to a point while never actually reaching it.

  2. Anthony Dobranski Avatar

    “Asymptote” – I like that very much! My work computer screensaver draws fractals, simple equations that when repeated over and over give rise to endlessly complicated yet similar (and eerily naturalistic) shapes. However fine the scale – ones, tenths, hundredths, thousandths, quintillionths – the patterns in their outlines keep repeating. There is no end! Thanks for joining in.

  3. […] the way my three-year-old accepts Zeus in Aesop’s fables or Jehovah in Noah’s Ark. (I may not be an atheist but I’m more a mystic than a […]

  4. […] endearing and woolly, a plea for magic in our contemplative moments. Some time ago I began having issues with my atheism, a matter of personal feeling about this great universe. I’m not sure even now if I […]

  5. […] sin of the apple is such a tortured and anhedonic reading of the story that I (nominally atheist, though also not) had to wonder how it has taken hold. Perhaps because we learn it as children, when banishment […]

  6. Steve Avatar

    They say there are no Atheists in fox holes. Our numbers also seems to drop off as we reproduce. Parents so desperately want a greater reality for their children that they’re willing to compromise logic and rationality.

    Why does the debate start with god? Because that’s the definition of atheism, one who believes in a god. And do you? There’s a big leap from, “there’s something greater than the heaven and the stars”, to a personal god who cares about you and listens to prayers. So, do you believe in a god?

    You don’t have to exclude yourself from our ranks to believe in “something more”. In fact, I’d prefer you didn’t.

    Why not look to theoretical physics instead? You’re among the few people I know with an IQ that precludes the excuse, “It’s too hard, I can’t understand it.” Quantum theorists, string theorists and so many in the periphery posit grand visions of reality (e.g. many worlds, non-linear time) based on math, science and real world observation. Yes, there’s quite a bit more to the world than we understand, but that’s no reason to bitch out and accept the supernatural.

    Th older I get, the more disappointed I am to find an absence of magic in the world. No bigfoot, no monster of Loch Ness, no UFOs, no hidden city of Atlantis, no ESP, no telekinesis. My experience is similar to Fermi’s Paradox, if there is so much wonder in the universe, how come we haven’t found any in so long?

    I don’t really care what you believe. If you can talk yourself into believing some in some religion, some god, or any other happy horseshit, I’d say the kindest thing I can do is stand back and let you enjoy it. In this case though, I’m inclined to think you’re just being a bit of a hipster contrarian.

    For myself, I feel better equipped to face reality believing in the best current hypothesis. There is no god. There is no objective morality. When you die, it’s the eternal dirt nap, so you better fucking make the most of the limited existence you’re granted. And if I’m wrong, I feel completely confident that a beneficent God will be waiting at the pearly gates with an avuncular grin, all to quick to forgive me for doubting him based on the limited information I had on earth.

    We now return you to Human Life Simulation v4.31276us-ca a service of The Church of Latter Day Saints.

    1. Anthony Dobranski Avatar

      Wow! Lots to think about! Thanks for reading and discussing!

      I wrote this some years back, so the writer responding today might not write it the same way. I am more of a mystic today than when I wrote this essay — or maybe, more comfortable with it. Writing my novel The Demon in Business Class, in particular the character of Walt, led to my finding better words for my own beliefs (un/certainties) than I had before.

      If you specify an atheist is one who believes there’s no creator entity between one and cosmos that one owes allegiance to, or who will judge one at death with a checklist — then in that sense I am still an atheist.

      I also do feel there is a magic in the world, and in humanity, a great and powerful connection between humans that has a presence in the world, like a spiritual or psychic surface tension. Maybe there’s creatures which can ride it like bugs on a pond.

      Maybe human connection is part of this planet’s connection. I’d like to think so. Maybe it’s the better part of what humanity’s religions sought to express. I’d like to think so, and if I wind up in a house of worship, that’s how I connect to it.

      Do I expect this will have an explanation one day? I do. Will it be something we can use and shape our world with, like magic? Maybe. We can use both heat and gravity, but we can only make the first. Our use of the second is pretty limited — but we powered the Voyager probes with it.

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