A bit of Philosophy


Traveling makes one think.  There is plenty of time to think, long journeys staring out the window at the passing countryside, waiting at the station for that inevitably delayed train,  or lying in a bed staring at the pealing paint on ceiling of a basic budget priced room.  I’ve always be partial to the questions asked by religions and philosophy but being stubborn and logical I liked to come up with ideas of my own, perhaps drawing on the ideas of others, but I never liked being told what to think, especially if I didn’t think it made sense.  The old standard “adult” answer, “because I said so,” never carried much weight with me.  What follows are just some ideas that I have slowly developed not just over the last three years but since I began traveling on that first trip to India back in 1994.  A bit of religion, eastern philosophy, and science mixed together I don’t post it here to make converts but rather hopefully to stimulate thought.  Feel free to refute, ignore, or embrace these ideas.  What ever the action I hope it at least invokes some thought and exploration.

A short treatise on the nature of reality

If you look at any religion, at the core it is about compassion and encouraging selflessness over selfishness.  Across all religions and societies there appears to be a fundamental value on selflessness.  I say value since clearly innate within humanity are selfish tendencies, but if we ask anyone, no matter what there culture background, to define acts that are “good” I think we would find that universally “goodness” is identified with acts of compassion and selflessness.  The scientist in me comes up with two plausible explanations for why cultures all over the world have arrived independently at this core value.  The first, is the rather uninspiring Darwinistic view that religion merely developed as a means to suppress selfish desires and allow people to live together in a society.  Thus, the commonality is explained by the common purpose for which each society developed its religion.  The second equally plausible alternative is that there is some universal truth that leads people inevitably to value selflessness and compassion.  With the former offering only a rather meaningless life, and the latter offering a positive uplifting world view, and the chance for meaning, I choose to believe the latter, not because I know it to be the truth, but because I prefer it over the alternative.  Furthermore, while if the true nature of reality is the first, while I believe the second, it doesn’t matter in the end.  I have given myself a more pleasant life even if it was founded on an illusion of meaning.  But if one believes the first living accordingly to that belief with its amoral implications when the true nature of reality is in fact the second, then they have missed out on meaning that might have resulted from their life.

So if we accept the second premises that there is some universal truth that leads us to value compassion and selflessness, the question is why are we moved to value selflessness?  Our capacity for compassion is measured by the connection and similarity to ourselves that we feel towards the object of compassion.  We find it fairly easy to have compassion and empathize with a close family member since we can identify easily with that person, who is observably most like our self, sharing many of the same experiences.  The connection and similarity is easy to see.  If we look at the physical universe everything is composed of the same elementary building blocks it is only the arrangements that make the differences perceived.  Einstein showed us that even matter and energy are interchangeable and so from a certain perspective fundamentally the same.   On a fundamental level we along with the entire physical world are one and the same.  But this connection within the physical world exhibits itself on many levels throughout the vast and complicated arrangement we call the universe.  Any biologist will tell you that all life on earth is interconnected and furthermore is connected with the nonliving environment.  The balance of gasses in the atmosphere and nutrients in the soil determines the ability of life to survive.  It is quite clear through measurements and observations that the physical world is interconnected and built upon a common fundamental nature.  In a sense, the differences we perceive are due to the arrangements of these fundamental particles are illusions distracting us from seeing the true nature of the object, and the commonality of the entire physical universe.  It is these perceived differences that inhibit our compassion by disguising the connection and similarities, making us think of me and him, me and that dog, or even me and that rock as different entities.  Thus we feel what happens to the separate entity as no bearing on us or on our own experience.  We therefore lack any sense of compassion for the seemingly separate entity.  But as we have stated this separateness is only an illusion an outward appearance which disguises its fundamental nature.  Of course it is one thing to know intellectually that all things are fundamentally the same and everything is connected but it is another to generate true compassion based on this nature of reality.  Compassion, empathy, selflessness these are not physical quantities we can measure or observe.  While the actions they cause within a person may be observable the motivation is not.  These unobservable entities we group into the realm of the mind we call consciousness

While we can measure and observe the physical universe, we have yet to define a way to quantify or observe what we call consciousness.  Techniques of meditation have been developed in several cultures which endeavor to probe the consciousness.  While I do not claim to be a master or even practitioner of such techniques, those that are suggest evidence for a common consciousness.  The symmetry of a common consciousness mirroring the common nature of reality is certainly appealing.  Like the physical world an individual consciousness only appears separate based on its arrangement.  Thinking of a consciousness as having an arrangement is certainly more difficult than thinking of protons, neutrons, and electrons arranged into atoms which are arranged in to physical objects.  Nevertheless a consciousness appears to have some physical and temporal locality associated with a body.  Like a wave on the ocean this temporal and physical locality makes it appear to be separate entities.  Just as we can track two separate waves each having differing identifiable traits such as amplitude and propagation velocity across the ocean through time, so to can we observe differing consciousness associated with different people over a life span.  But just as when the waves breaks on to the shore sliding back into the vast sea it is no longer distinguishable as a separate entity, so to on death does the consciousness cease to exist as a identifiable entity.   While the physical arrangement of the atoms which makes up the body can be observed long after death (DNA testing can be done hundreds of years after death in the case of a well preserved sample), I have yet to see any evidence (ghost stories aside) that the consciousness remains intact perceived as a separate entity after death.  So what happens to the consciousness?  If we draw parallels from the physical universe we know that nothing ever truly ceases to exist, matter and energy are always conserved and therefore it only changes form, outward appearance, the arrangement is changed.  So when we no longer observe a consciousness as we previously had observed it, then it two must have changed form.  If an entity has the capacity to change how we observe it then we have not observed its fundamental nature, merely its arrangement.   Therefore the consciousness we observe in others and in ourselves is not the true nature of that consciousness.   In a sense it’s an illusion of self.   So what happens to the arrangement of consciousness after death?  Some say it is reincarnated into another similar but different entity, others say it is rearranged in to a more perfect state they call heaven.  Whatever the case if each consciousness has the capability of being arranged into the same state of another consciousness (whether or not it actually does is irrelevant only the possibility is necessary for the proof, just as it is possible if unlikely to the point of impossibility that two not related people may be born with the exact same DNA) then it must have the same fundamental nature.

Thus both the physical aspects and consciousness we perceive are connected and all is one.  Returning to our original question, why are we moved to value selflessness?   That universal truth that leads towards the value of compassion and selflessness is simply a manifestation of the unity of all things.  What is that unity?  Some call it God, some mother nature, and some nirvana, but the name is irrelevant.

I do not claim this as an absolute proof, by any means; there are a number of jumps in this outline made simply by assuming consistent behavior in all things.  In fact I detest absolute certainty and am suspicious of those who claim it.  I can only ever deduce the most plausible explanation given the information available to me.  As I have said at the outset it is equally likely that we are the result of nothing more than a complex pattern of arrangement through evolution with consciousness a mere process of electrical and energetic signals passing through our brains.  Of course this does not change the fundamental nature of unity in all reality, merely the interpretation.  And even if one accepts such a cynical nature of the arrangement, the underling physical fact of the unity and connection of all things and the implications that follow are undeniable.  Can I rule out a universal view in which a “super-parent-like” God sits apart from us and the world we perceive, a separate entity intervening without leaving us an observable trace and constructing around us the reality we see? No, but I find it considerably less likely and simplistic based on the information I have available to me.  However, in the end does it really matter what view of the world we have, what religion we follow, if the value of compassion and selflessness is at its core.  Whether one’s acts of compassion are based on a desire to go to heaven and avoid hell, a yearning for liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, or an understating of the interconnection between all things, the result is the same. The motivation is irrelevant.  Of course this assumes the adherent to whatever religious philosophy heads the main point.  Unfortunately too many people get caught up in the details of there own specific religious tradition and miss the main point of compassion in the process, and this is what causes all the problems created in the name of religion.  The details which make up any religious tradition are merely constructs of the human consciousness designed to aid understanding and further the greater goal of selflessness; the details themselves are not an ends bur rather a means.  Sure most successful religious traditions assert the infallibility of there particular method.  But this is simply a mechanism by which the traditions survive to be passed on to others rather than any inherent truth.  Traditions which say what you believe is fine this is what I believe don’t tend to survive the passage of time, thus we are left primarily with traditions that actively sought new members through advocating the superiority of their particular method at least in the past if not presently.

-Micah Hanson, 2009

5 comments to A bit of Philosophy

  • suman

    Amazing Micah – truly inspiring site for the ones who want to explore the world

  • Tamara

    Exactly what I was thinking! Hahaha, just kidding… I think I would need some more seriously long train rides or nights watching the paint peel off the ceiling. Seriously great thoughts Micah. Perhaps I caught glimpses of these ideas when we traveled together, but as I read them altogether in such a cohesive way I am inspired. I will keep pointing people to your website as it is the most dense photographic memoir of an epic journey I am aware of. This is the work of a life time.

  • Rishi Soni

    Well said micah, well said.
    Nature is busy creating very unique individuals and human kind is trying to color them in some kind of religion, tradition etc. A religion is made for the Man so that he can find his life easy in terms of pursuing the absolute reality but the greedy nature of human did not let the real meaning of religion survive. The greed for wealth, money, power and supremacy didn’t allow the Man to keep the noble meaning of religion pure. Its better not to follow any religion because each individual is unique, hence they cannot flower in some other religion but their own. Look at the colors of rainbow, each and every color of rainbow is different but still they all are important. You can only count the number of colors as far as your vision support, but in reality there are infinite colors having different frequencies of operation which is the manifestation of the same energy from which our true consciousness is formed. Each and every color is important for the nature, everybody is different but not inequal and they are equally required by the existence.

  • sam

    amazing, sheer determination, enthusiasm witnessed here. the way you have witnessed India , its culture and capturing its visual splendor in your blog have left a lot of people thinking what they are missing in their monotonous life. people like you inspire others. good bless!!!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>