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Dreams of completion and an ancient solution.

All my life I have had an intellectual dream--that all knowledge could be unified into one complete whole. Why could it be unified? Because our lives have underlying patterns, and we can come to know them to some extent. The patterns of our lives are nested within the patterns of others' lives, and within larger social and natural patterns. I dream that we can put this all into our symbols. I call this a dream of completion. It is a dream about unifying knowledge so we can understand the larger, invisible flow of our lives.

Where do such dreams come from? I don't know. Everybody does not have this dream of completion. Many people actively oppose it, particularly those in academe.

But to me, it has always seemed that reality fits together If our symbols do not describe this well, or tell us how and why reality fits together, we need new symbols.

Or maybe we need to put together our symbols in a new way.

This dream of completion has kept me occupied, in various forms, for some time. It has provided rewarding insights and frustrating dead ends. It has also posed a problem I want to discuss in this article.

It has become clear to me that this world we live in is very messy. This world is incomplete. I mean this in a fundamental way. As a physicist friend told me, even if you take deterministic math equations to describe phenomena, when these equations interact, the resulting equations are not deterministic. This means the events of the future cannot be completely determined from the events of the past.

So this portion of the universe has a fundamental incompleteness to it. We get this message from the randomness and incoherence of events in our lives and on the world stage. But we also get this message of incompleteness from a famous theorem in mathematics. Godel's theorem says any mathematical system cannot be both logically consistent and complete (thanks to Robert Logan for reminding me of this).

In other words, even the most rigorous symbol systems we know, with their clear assumptions, formal rules, and logical operations--are incomplete. They need to rest upon some outside elements.

If the purity of abstract mathematics is incomplete, what hope is there for completion in any messy physical process? I'm afraid, very little.

* * * *

So what am I to do with my dreams of completeness? On the one hand I believe everything hangs together, on the other hand I believe things are unpredictable and incomplete.

I wonder--are my dreams of completeness merely a metaphor for some inner needs I might have? Are my dreams of completeness metaphors doomed to crack apart on the rocky shores of reality?

Of course, you don't have this problem if you don't think that things go together. If you just accept that one thing comes after another, sometimes this way, sometimes that way, you go along with it and don't look beyond. You accept that the mind can create beautiful metaphors, such as completeness and pattern to life, but you don't really put any faith in these metaphors.

But to those of us who do feel that there is a pattern and completeness to existence, we find that we must work out some explanation. We must reconcile the obvious incompleteness of much of life, with our sense that there is a deep, underlying completion.

* * * *

This is where the ancient theory of karma becomes important to me. This theory says yes, life is open, and yes, we have the ability to choose our actions. However, when we act, particularly when we have a goal, we set up some forces in the world that we must deal with. And, as we sow, we shall reap.

This is a very old understanding of life and existence. It was accepted by many ancient thinkers, especially in India where it plays a key role in both Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. In the modern, Western world, we occasionally hear about karma, but mainstream science and philosophy do not take it seriously.

However, I have found this philosophy to be deeply satisfying, in its ability to answer the dilemma posed by my dreams of completion. It says that our messy, open, incomplete lives are subject to an underlying pattern. And we can know that pattern and work within it.

Along with the notion of karma comes the idea of reincarnation. This, too, is an ancient understanding of life, which is out of favor in our scientific mainstream. But if we reap what we sow, clearly we do not always receive the fruits of our actions--good and bad--before we die. So we come back, in another body, to go through the strange drama we call life, yet again. And the karma of our past plays a role in our lives in the present.

Thus my dream of completion takes me back into ancient thought. One of the aspects of this that I like is summed up in the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because karma is created by what you do, and what goes around comes around.

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Author:Gozzi, Raymond
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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