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Heinlein in his famous novel, Stranger in a Strange Land coined the term 'grok'. In a recent series of posts concerning the religious/atheist viewpoints I was amazed at the eloquence of our entanglement in these divisive issues. The issue of liberty and tolerance seem to be at the heart of the problem/solution. I agree that the idea of a little more 'grokking' could help. By 'grok' Heinlein means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

What's interesting is that Heinlein is using the scientific idea espoused within the 'uncertainty principle': the idea that there is no archimedian point outside of the system from which we might all judge the system in question, therefore the Observer as observer must always be a part of the equation, and that there is always a physical (mental?) limit to our knowledge of any system.

Of course Heinlein in his book used the Martian as metaphor. According to the book, drinking is a central focus on Mars where water is scarce. Martians use the merging of their bodies with water as a simple example or symbol of how two entities can combine to create a new reality greater than the sum of its parts. The water becomes part of the drinker, and the drinker part of the water. Both grok each other. Things that once had separate realities become entangled in the same experiences, goals, history, and purpose.

Entanglement is the key in the above passage. In quantum theory, certain physical systems can become “entangled,” meaning that their states are directly related to the state of another object somewhere else. In ethical terms rather than scientific terms we can grok each others religious or atheistic stance, become entangled with each other for a time without collapsing our distinct viewpoints into some amorphous soup. Instead we become acquainted with the other's viewpoint, measuring it against our own, seeing both the agreements/disagreements, and forming some middle ground of judgment and respect, tolerance, for our shared paths without impinging upon the rights and liberties of each others life choice.

The entanglement comes from our need of each other. For atheism and religious perspectives define themselves against each other. Without difference, without opposing viewpoints how would humans ever define themselves? Wouldn't we always be embedded in a mindless sea of sameness if we didn't have these binary rules of entanglement? Even our language is built up from this oppositional binary code. Linguists have argued for a hundred years about this, now we have the great battles between evolutionists/creationists battling it out over grand scenarios. Will it ever end? I doubt it... that is what makes us human. Conflict seems to be at the heart of our creativity and our freedom. Freedom is freedom for and against... something. We need oppositional thinking to grow... that's criticism, thinking-for-oneself.

As for my own personal choice: I am neither atheist, nor religious; yet, I affirm another way, that of the Romantic poet, John Keats: NEGATIVE CAPABILITY, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason...

Reason seems to be the bugaboo in all this: once we try to prove or disprove something that is beyond reason using 'Reason's' tools we, as humans, always seem to fall into the traps of irrationality. Isn't this at the heart of the atheist/religious debates? The idea that one could prove an impossible thought using the tools of reasoning is about as absurd as using a simple, slippery word such as 'grok' to explain the mystery of existence to an idiot. Let as all grok that mystery. :)


S.C. Hickman
S.C. Hickman

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