“It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. It’s a crazy world out there. Be curious.” – Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist, 1942-2018)
When I started writing in college, my thoughts were mostly about my engineering classes, and my ideas arose from an interest in the physics of living systems. I wanted to understand how nature, seemingly chaotic, could produce such seeming harmony. Having just left my childhood faith, I often wondered about the absurdity of my existence, but I had no expectation of figuring anything out. Nonetheless, I felt that life was something to be cherished—that human existence was not as meaningless as my atheist friends had claimed. So, driven by angst and an unrelenting curiosity, I began to observe the world more broadly, looking for patterns in everything from physics to economics, from religion to politics. And as I connected the dots, I glimpsed a picture that has fully captivated my imagination. What began as a scientific curiosity has expanded into a perspective that I find wholly satisfying.
The following is an excerpt from an article published in The Atlantic by Nancy Andreasen, MD-PhD, a neuropsychiatrist and neuroscientist who studies creativity:
Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see. …Of course, having too many ideas can be dangerous. One subject, a scientist, described to me “a willingness to take an enormous risk with your whole heart and soul and mind on something where you know the impact—if it worked—would be utterly transformative.” The if here is significant. Part of what comes with seeing connections no one else sees is that not all of these connections actually exist. “Everybody has crazy things they want to try,” that same subject told me. “Part of creativity is picking the little bubbles that come up to your conscious mind, and picking which one to let grow and which one to give access to more of your mind, and then have that translate into action.”
I’ve always had a lot of ideas, and most of them are pretty bad. But I find this one to be quite compelling, and you might agree that this philosophy is difficult to dismiss, or that this reality is worth entertaining. But what exactly is this “philosophy”? At first glance, my ideas might seem to describe some utopian fantasy based on a pseudoscientific theory. Or perhaps some sort of religion informed by reason, a vision of the future given some truth about our nature. These are fair descriptions, but I see this more as an ideological experiment with tangible implications, namely the self-organization of a sentient species. This is an existential and psychosocial theory based on my observations and speculations about the human mind and its deepest ontological* impressions. If there exists some unifying reality, some overlap between scientific reason and spiritual intuition, then this may be the leading candidate.
*Ontology: “the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being” (Oxford). Below is an excerpt from an article titled, “A New Role for Experimental Work in Metaphysics” (2010) by L. A. Paul, Ph.D, a professor of philosophy and cognitive science at Yale University, in the Review of Philosophy and Psychology:
“Once we have a range of ontological models of how the world might be, …we choose between them using a priori reasoning based on theoretical desiderata such as overall simplicity, explanatory power, fertility, elegance, etc. In most cases, an acceptable theory must maximize theoretical virtues while being empirically adequate. What does empirical adequacy amount to here? It amounts to presenting a theory of what exists in the world that can make sense—even in a revisionary sense—of what we take to be our ordinary and scientific understanding about the world. Thus, as I’ve described the ontological method here, there is a significant and well-understood role for claims drawn from ordinary knowledge in many ontological theories.”
But more than just an ontological theory, this philosophy is a personal attempt to justify my belief in the inherent value of life and the worth that we attribute to our experiences, especially those moments that define our common humanity. In particular, this is an effort to make rational sense of the moral intuitions that persist from my religious past. “[As] a child, worship often inspired a boundless love, a feeling of connectedness marked by an overwhelming euphoria—an indescribable joy. As evangelist Charles Finney said about his conversion experience, ‘I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.’ This experience is what draws crowds to the altar and masses to tears. And now I’ve rediscovered this phenomenon, this captivating sense of communion, but this time in a rational context” (From my post: Reason and Religion).
“A phenomenon like self-transcending love does entitle us to make claims about the human mind. And this particular experience is so well attested and so readily achieved by those who devote themselves to specific [spiritual] practices… or who even take the right drug (MDMA) that there is very little controversy that it exists. Facts of this kind must now be understood in a rational context.” – From Waking Up by Sam Harris, Ph.D, neuroscientist and philosopher
“Growing up religious, I recognize that some ideas can be extraordinarily powerful, and that some concepts can indeed change the world. And if I have learned anything from the Christian faith, it is this: there is no phenomenon more powerful than love. Through its effect on the sentient mind, love is the single most potent sustainer of life” (From my post: Reason and Religion). And this philosophy presents a compelling reason “to think that we are part of something worth loving—that our existence is something worth preserving… Here’s an idea that might inspire, from our seeming brokenness, a compassion that is global and a vision that brings us to the stars” (From my post: Home).
Of course I may be wrong, and this philosophy may fail, but it’s certainly a perspective worth considering, not only because it’s plausible (so far as I can tell), but also because it’s practical. If we hope to survive, together as a species, then this may be the safest assumption that we can make about our existence. Here is a set of first principles on which we might agree, and on which we can build a shared reality. With regards to human progress, the utility of this idea is undeniable. I have no doubt that its impact—if it’s true—will be “utterly transformative.” And the if here is significant.
“I believe in intuition and inspiration. At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason… Knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.” – Albert Einstein (1879-1955), theoretical physicist, “Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms”
“Human nature is a given. If it’s not something we can change, then it’s something we must use… The following logic is meant to motivate an emotional and behavioral response that might effectively advance the ethical and intellectual progress of humanity. The axioms of this philosophy are assumed based on both their logical plausibility and their practical utility for the survival and flourishing of our species” (from my post, The Sentient Mind).
Thanks for checking out this site, and please feel free to share it with anyone who might be interested. Should my ideas fail to inspire some good in this world, then they will, at the very least, make for some fantastic science fiction. And thank you to everyone who has offered encouragement, suggestions for improvement, or ideas of your own; our discussions have inspired many of my thoughts. In fact, when examining my philosophy, you might find that it’s not really made of many new ideas. Rather, it’s a new way of putting old ideas together. This perspective was conceived from many others, and its growth will require integrating broad and diverse areas of knowledge. In any case, feedback and evolution are both necessary for survival, including the survival of ideas. And what is the truth, if not an idea that survives?
“Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science—by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans—teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth—never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities.” – Carl Sagan
My name is Nick Ma, and I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, IL. I attended college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and medical school at the University of Illinois in Chicago. I’m currently in my first year of residency training in psychiatry at University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill, NC.
“Three passions have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” – Bertrand Russell (mathematician and philosopher, 1872-1970)