Monday, February 10, 2014

On the Annoying Gap Between God and Man

If I am not mistaken -- it's been awhile since Brain Anatomy 101 -- our neurons don't actually touch. Despite the fact that our skull is packed with some 100 billion of them, there is still enough space for a tiny space between each one, called the synaptic gap (or cleft). Neurons actually communicate with each other by spitting a chemical into the synapse -- called a neurotransmitter -- while the neuron on the other end sucks it up.

Now, aren't you glad human beings don't communicate that way?

I suppose we sometimes do, as with pheromones. For example, they say that baby pheromones have a powerful effect on maternal behavior.

Ants apparently do something similar. I don't imagine there is much information in the signal -- maybe "picnic over there" or "check out the asshole with the garden hose." (About eight years ago I wrote a long-forgotten post on the similarities between ant and liberal communication.)

But then, neurons don't pass along much information either. There aren't all that many neurotransmitters, and besides, like digital code, they only have two possible messages: excite or inhibit, i.e., fire or don't fire.

How this results in consciousness is anyone's guess. Mine is that it doesn't. That is to say, brain activity -- and even brains -- is ultimately an effect of intelligence, not its cause. Similarly, a computer can't program itself, and if we leave it alone, it's not as if it will eventually grow hands and blunder itself into self-consciousness.

This is all by way of prelude, waiting for the coffee to squeeze some adrenaline into my synaptic gaps. While we listen for that sucking sound in my axons, let's reflect upon a famous image, and see if it has anything to do with this post:

As you can see, despite the fact that God is by definition "everywhere," there is nevertheless a visible synaptic gap between God and man. What goes on within that gap?

Well, religion, for starters. There is also a gap between the world and the senses, and science is what takes place within this gap. For that matter, there is a gap between persons, and this gap is filled with anything from love to knowledge to touch to whatever.

So, gaps are everywhere. For example, history fills the gap between past and present. Likewise, one of my primary hobbies is filling the gap between ear and atmosphere with arresting sound vibrations, AKA music.

Back to the religious gap. That this gap exists is beyond dispute. One doesn't necessarily have to fill it with religion per se, but one must fill it with something. By way of analogy, it needn't necessarily be truth, but everyone has something in his head, even if it is unalloyed BS.

Viewed in a purely abstract manner, the religious gap is a result of the distinction between relative and Absolute. Therefore, the gap is essentially necessary, in that we know we are relative, i.e., contingent, and relative implies Absolute just as contingency implies necessity.

Now that I think about it, this same gap accounts for our free will -- it is the space in which freedom occurs -- which is why the question of freedom is intrinsically bound up with the question of God. At Grandma's birthday party this weekend, I attempted to explain this principle to a couple of relatives, to no avail. Indeed, despite the fact that they are Jewish, they could not appreciate the remarkable parallel between Exodus and the Gap. For what is wandering in the bewilderness but life in the divine-human gap?

In this little book of flaming homilies on the subject of creation, Ratzinger writes of how the biblical account of cosmogenesis makes it impossible to think of the world as a closed and self-sufficient system. Rather, it has a source beyond itself. As a result, the Most Important Things can't be understood without reference to this Source.

This is, of course, a binary question: either the cosmos is created or it is not created, and therefore dependent or independent, closed or open, static or evolving. There is no "in between." (Come to think of it, I also tried to explain to the same two individuals why evolution, i.e., to higher states, is impossible in a materialistic cosmos, but no luck.)

The following passage by Ratzinger is relevant: "The Bible is thus the story of God's struggle with human beings to make himself understandable to them over the course of time."

This implies that the gap cannot be filled -- or at least was not filled -- in an all-at-once manner. Indeed, if it could be so filled, then it wouldn't be a gap at all. The existence of the gap implies the need for both space and time -- an evolutionary space, as it were -- to fill it.

On a macro level, God can't very well make himself understood by pre-human animals. And once human beings are here, he can't very well make himself known by, say, a book, since they first have to learn how to read. And write.

So there is God's side of the gap; there is also the human side, for which reason the Bible "is also the story of their struggle to seize hold of God over the course of time."

The most abstract possible way to depict this gap is like so: (⇅). If Michelangelo had had access to the ancient Raccoon wisdom, he would have painted little arrows between the index fingers of God and Adam. Oh well, nobody's perfect.

Therefore, the story of creation is not just a once-upon-a-time deal, but rather, is ongoing. You might say that man is the creature that carries on the creation. Thus, human existence is a gift that keeps giving. But only if we open God's presence in the gap.

The Hebrew Bible tracks the journey of God's people through time and history: "indeed, the whole Old Testament is a journeying with the word of God." It is a step-by-step process, at first quite concretely so, e.g., "go to the land I will show you."

Where we depart from our Jewish friends is in seeing a continuation of this journey toward a Person. As Ratzinger describes it, scripture reveals, "in its totality, an advance toward Christ."

Thus, like any narrative, the meaning of everything that has come before is only revealed at the end: "every individual part derives its meaning from the whole, and the whole derives its meaning from the end -- from Christ."

The preliminary bottom line this morning is that by definition, the Gap cannot be filled from our side, no matter how much (↑) we pour into it -- or how much (k) we flood the zone with.

But it seems that the same goes for God. No matter how much (↓) he pours in, it is never enough, especially if we are to retain our free will. This is why no amount of knowledge, no matter how sublime, turns us into God (i.e., the Gnostic temptation), for we are always limited by our relativity.

"Perhaps there's another way," said God to himselves. "One of us ought to go down there and actually embody the Gap."

"It's crazy," said the Holy Spirit, "but it might just work."

"Any volunteers?"

16 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Ah, the gaps. "That without which...", yet at the same time as they make everything possible, they make everything mysterious.

How this results in consciousness is anyone's guess. Mine is that it doesn't.

I like to think of the analogy of Legos, and how people use them to build just about anything. The basic form of a Lego brick lends itself to a type of binary connection, and as a result with enough Legos and imagination virtually anything is possible. But the Legos are just bricks; it's the imagination of the builder that turns them into something meaningful.

Likewise, one of my primary hobbies is filling the gap between ear and atmosphere with arresting sound vibrations, AKA music.

I remember a conversation I once had, about the spaces between the notes. The gaps are architecture.

This is, of course, a binary question: either the cosmos is created or it is not created, and therefore dependent or independent, closed or open, static or evolving. There is no "in between."

Yes, I was thinking about that last night. You can't have it both ways; it's either one or the other, and whichever is true, the most important question one can devote one's life to answering is, what are the implications? Or at least, that's what finally dawned on me way back when, just prior to stumbling across this blog...

2/10/2014 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Now that I think about it, this same gap accounts for our free will -- it is the space in which freedom occurs -- which is why the question of freedom is intrinsically bound up with the question of God.

The gap is where it's at. Religion, civilization, the whole she-bang.

Regarding the brain, I'm not even sure it is much more than a post-processor or pre-processor on the incoming side.

Look at that newsman that got half his head blown off in Iraq. I'm not going to make a journalist joke. I'm not. It was a sad thing. He was functioning quite well. I'm sure he has trouble with abstraction and learning new things.

He would have been perfect to take over when Larry King retired.

2/10/2014 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger Magister said...

Love the image. The overall shape of God and the angels in that panel does resemble the cross section of a brain.

2/10/2014 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I hadn't thought about that. God's feet are at the brainstem, and his hand is appropriately coming out the neocortex.

2/10/2014 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

The frontal cortex, that is. And his navel is right where the corpus callosum might be, i.e., where the left and right hemispheres are connected.

2/10/2014 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Oh, I had forgotten about the resemblance. I think someone actually did a comparison between that image and a brain section some years ago, and found they were quite closely matched.

2/10/2014 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

This has been a good post for thought; here's a bit of what's been rambling through my grey matter this afternoon.

Therefore, the story of creation is not just a once-upon-a-time deal, but rather, is ongoing. You might say that man is the creature that carries on the creation. Thus, human existence is a gift that keeps giving. But only if we open God's presence in the gap.

Speaking of all the gaps, I was thinking today about the (or a, anyway) corollary to (⇅), which would be (⇆). And more to the point, it struck me that there are very few (if any) people who manage to get very far with the former if they don't have the ladder. Then of course there's, "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."

If there ever came a time when every soul on earth chose to orient themselves to O at the same time, I suspect that's as close as it would be possible for humanity to come to creating heaven on earth.

Puts a new perspective on the idea of individuals, as part of the universal church, forming the body of Christ: it's as though one tried to be born fully formed, by requesting (requiring? hoping?) that each and every cell in the body choose to act as a part of the body...

2/10/2014 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Or more to the point:

Speaking for myself, even with the hand up that comes from above, I don't know that I ever would have tried to reach back, were it not for the boosting I've gotten from the sides.

2/10/2014 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Wow, whatta post and comments!
Sure does fill in some gaps for me. :^)

2/11/2014 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Now I think of the Gap with a capitol G.

2/11/2014 12:37:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

When we were talking about simpleness the other day it brought to mind this song, which sounds very Raccoonish:
http://youtu.be/fQk41QF-m_c

2/11/2014 12:43:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Bob, wondering where do you see non-dual realization in the gap between God and man?

2/11/2014 07:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It seems to me that nondualism takes the easy way out by negating the gap. Much more challenging to live happily within its tensions.

2/11/2014 08:13:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Well said!

2/11/2014 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I see you also like to live dangerously.

2/11/2014 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

lol - now there's a movie I haven't seen in a while...

2/11/2014 08:44:00 AM  

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