The Pinnacle

The air is cool and clear with the dew of 6am. A dazzling sun rising in the east with a bright yellow and orange dampened by the moisture of the air will be a fiery contender before long. I look heavenward to measure up my coming challenge. “The Incline” they affectionately and respectfully call it around here. A solid mile of distance coupled with 2,000ft. of elevation. In layman’s terms, over 500 stairs without repose climbing the side of a mountain. If ever one could hope for an elevator. And yet why? The struggle is real, and it is good. One foot, steps in front of the other. Everything has a beginning. Let’s climb this thing.

I am a finely evolved biological system. Of the mammalian species, I am blessed with the next step of evolution. A pattern-seeking, neurobiological construct that has generated a primitive sense of self-awareness that we call consciousness.  A brief strut through our known history will show that since the time of the big bang order struggles against disorder in a universe where forces known and unknown are always walking a delicate balance. Matter, anti-matter, gravity, distance, space, time, supernovas, and black holes. All of it at war in a sense in the largely unseen expanse of the material world that we know. Our little universe.

In those endeavors, stars formed, and were destroyed. Planets the same. And for all we know, other writing, thinking, playing, frivolous species’ like ourselves grew from other primordial soups light years away and have since breathed their last breath. But here we are. Made of the stuff that stars created in fusion and during their explosive, cataclysmic deaths. Primed, ripe and ready for a chorus.

Earth with all its water and goldilocks anthropomorphism hatched lipid bilayers, RNA, organelles, DNA, then multicellular organisms. In a burst of extraneous activity, life wrung itself from the unfeeling mixture of physical and chemical components dancing the beautiful, unappreciated dance of material world. And it was off.

Invertebrates begot vertebrates which begot a plethora of fish, then amphibian, then reptile, then mammal, then primate. As a stone when given momentum rolls down a mountain picking up speed, so did life. More variety, more complicated outcomes. Taking advantage of all the uncompeted-for resources that had built up on such a fertile planet, life boomed and order prevailed for a time. Giving birth to us the only possible outcome of such a competitive system: Intelligent, conscious life.

One foot in front of the other. Breathing is labored up this hill. The sun is beginning to grow hot in my struggle and I can feel my lungs burning with it. Where is God in all this?

A divine orchestrator is necessary, though not for the reasons we now seem to struggle with. Look around, everything seems to have been planned, right? Bees pollenate to keep the flowers reproducing. Thanks God. Gravity continues the orbits of heavenly bodies in order to allow for the existence of life. Thanks again God. Bad things happen when someone does bad things to others. Karma exists. Thanks again God.

But these things do not require a creator for themselves. We close gaps every day understanding how to climb up mount improbable to find that the only problem solving skills and creativity inherent in reality is that of trial and error, randomness, and meaninglessness. The universe is simply. Not for any reason in particular, but because it is. Ultimate beauty. Existing without purpose, but bothering to exist anyway.

We require a creator because of the inherent pattern-seeking mechanism evolved within us. The very thing that gives us the advantages we need to morph the world around us with tools, create and improve languages, set to rationally solving a problem, build complex social structures, and know what others are thinking without them saying a word, OUR BRAIN.

The neocortex, limbic system, and all accompanying parts are “pattern-seeking” mechanisms evolved to allow us the advantage of anticipating, learning, and adapting through competition and cooperation with other biological and inorganic entities. This mechanism served us well and now we are at the top of the food chain with no other contenders beside ourselves. Struggling to find a higher meaning to our existence much of our population has exited the squalling and brutish fight for survival that is biology. What do we seek a higher meaning with? The same pattern seeking tool that we use for everything else.

A pattern-seeking system finds meaning in everything. God is necessary for us not because the universe, its content, its meaning, and our place in it require him, but because we look through predisposed lenses. A pattern-seeking system will grind and grind and grind on every detail until it arrives at a conclusion. Have you ever pondered something, mind racing away such that you can’t even sleep though you are exhausted? That is your brain at its best…a side-affect of its function. Racing until it wears out or finds a solution that meets the pattern’s needs.

It would be like climbing these stairs on this incline but never making progress. The brain works and works tirelessly (much more tirelessly than my legs) to explain a pattern, solve a problem, generate a meaningful explanation of the world around it. Unfortunately for my legs and lungs, there is no God shortcut to this climb and so I march on.

God evolved with our brain. The ultimate cause. The explanation for everything when there is no explanation. God exists because we could not be adaptive with our often-malfunctioning, but awesome system. God had to be there in order for us to explain a pattern that we did not have the evidence or experience to comprehend fully. A shortcut to an inherent bug in the system, religion’s settlement on God’s existence in his many forms is the necessary result of our evolving a pattern-seeking, conscious, and productive mind. Possibly, it was precisely this adaptation that allowed homo-sapien to rise above other homonids because we spent less time explaining the unexplainable with buggy, pattern-seeking minds (attributing it all to a higher being or beings) and more time on things we could control.

Why do I keep climbing? What is the point? I’m halfway up and it hurts simply to stand. Sweating and tired, I want to go down. I want to go back to the safe start where everything is as I know it, the air is experienced by all, and everyone is comfortable. But still I press on.

Why does He persist then? In many ways, God’s purpose has not changed. He still fills the gaps, they are just narrowing. The most untenable though is that of meaning. Why are we here? In those four simple words is the greatest void and most unanswerable question. Probably deepest and most central to those who are self-actualizable since WHY is the belief center, affecting everything you do.

And there is no answer. No neon sign near the crab nebulae to be discovered with the “meaning of life” etched on it. Nothing higher math or artificial intelligence can tell us. And so God rests heavily in that unbridgeable gap until our consciousness collectively evolves to accept that there is no meaning and we must make that for ourselves if we need one to exist.

And need one we do. Without a purpose, the pattern-seeking system could not survive, but being conscious allows us to choose whether or not to use our gifts. So if our species would press on, it must have a purpose. No matter how learned, sophisticated, or primal. To spread our genes. To seek pleasure. To find joy. To be there for family. To create something wonderful. To serve God. To do whatever our culture says is important. To fly…etc…

So here I am, almost near the top, in awe of all that has been “created”. Not mostly because it is awe-striking, I am struck that it exists despite its implicit meaninglessness. That the mountains roll on snow-capped in majesty, that the trees spring up in the sunlight with such a deep green, and that the sky extends forever in my eyes…the birds chirp, and in the numinous of the top, my heart sings the worship song of creation. Even aside from the whole creator bug…and it is all even more amazing.

And yet we are the pinnacle. A biological system evolved against chaos and disorder to the point of intelligent self-awareness. And we are privileged to drink in this life knowingly even if only for a short time which in itself is beautiful. And God says to us “Blessed are you, oh man, who, though you are merely a shadow and a vapor, feel the kiss of the wind, shake in the awe of mountains, delight in the love of another, and looking upward, behold the ethereal and ambivalent eternity of the stars.” Is there another in the expanse of these billion billion billion twinkles so favored as to be charged fervently: “Find meaning in it all.”

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One thought on “The Pinnacle

  1. This is very relevant to me, since I was able to climb this incline in december this year. And yes, deceptively long. Lungs and legs burning, which turned out to be a blessing since we(myself and sabrina) we’re ill prepared for the difference in climate at the summit.
    This reflection reminded me of Camus’ commentary of The Myth of Sisyphus, where he explains humans are meaningful beings that encounter a meaningless universe and when those two things hit, we experience “absurdity”. So what do you do?
    He says to embrace it fully.

    “Camus identifies three characteristics of the absurd life: revolt (we must not accept any answer or reconciliation in our struggle), freedom (we are absolutely free to think and behave as we choose), and passion (we must pursue a life of rich and diverse experiences).”

    *Just a few thoughts on your experience. Thanks for posting!!

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