Excerpt from Chapter 1: Throwing Rocks at God
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other in silence for some time; at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
Who are you? said the Caterpillar.
Alice replied rather shyly, II hardly know, sir, just at presentat least I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.
By the time I was twenty-one, my quest for knowledge of God had taken several unexpected turns. In this time, I had searched the worlds myriad religions only to find myself frustrated by a gamut of flaws and inconsistencies in all their logic. I had investigated the various paranormal phenomena only to encounter a trail of false claims and chicanery. I had experimented with the mind-altering effects of psychedelic drugs as well as transcendental meditation, only to undergo a series of distorted sense-experiences, none of which had brought me any closer to acquiring verifiable knowledge of any spiritual reality or God. As a matter of fact, if anything, they had only served to draw me farther away. This was due to the fact that while exploring the effects of LSD, I had a bad trip that led to a severe clinical depression compounded by a dissociative, depersonalization, and anxiety disorder. For a year and a half, I suffered this unfortunate state until, finally, with the aid of pharmacological drugs, I was restored to my previous, relatively healthy self.
Though it may have come at a very high price, I nevertheless managed to garner some extremely valuable information from this otherwise wretched experience, information regarding the nature of my allegedly immortal human soul.
According to the various belief systems (religions) I had thus far encountered, the human soul was supposed to be spiritual in nature, a fixed and permanent agent, unalterable and everlasting. Again and again, I was told that when I died, though my physical body would perish, Ithe sum of my conscious experience, the essence of my thoughts and feelings, what was perceived as constituting my soul or spiritwould persist for all eternity. The fact, however, that my conscious self had been so drastically altered convinced me that there was no fixed or eternal essence in me.
Twice in a year and a half, I had undergone two complete transformations of my so-called eternal self. First, my conscious self was transformed into something other than it previously had been by psychedelic drugs. Then, a year and a half later, my original self was restored, this time by a drug known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). But I thought consciousness was supposed to be conceived in spiritfixed, eternal, immune to the influences of physical nature. If this were true, how was it that the core of my conscious experience had been altered, twice now, by ingesting physical substances? How was it that a combination of moleculesraw mattercould affect something as allegedly ethereal as consciousness, that which was supposed to represent my immutable, transcendental soul? To believe that matter could affect ones spirit, that it could impact upon the soul, would be the equivalence, it seemed, to believing that one could throw rocks at God. If spirits or souls truly existed, it would seem they should be impervious to material influence.
The fact that my conscious selfmy allegedly immortal soulwas susceptible to the effects of chemical (physical) substances convinced me that human consciousness must be a physical entity governed by strictly physical processes. If this was true, then in order to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of consciousnesswhat I previously believed might constitute a soulI would need to conduct an investigation into the nature of the physical sciences.
Up until this point, I always had the greatest respect for the physical/natural sciences. I was always impressed by their ability to rationally explain most any phenomena as well as to lead to the creation of tools and technologies that worked to make our lives easier. Whereas in the past, however, in which I had admired the sciences, I now revered them. Science had saved my life. I was indebted to it. God didnt save me. I didnt save me. Science, the tool of reason, had saved me. I was my own living proof that science worked. And so, the same faith that many placed in a god or religion, I now placed in science. Simply, it was a paradigm which brought verifiable results. Not that I didnt have faith in science before this. Every time, for instance, I flipped a light switch, one could say I had faith the lights would go on. The difference was that, whereas in the past I had taken my faith for granted, I was now a staunch believer.
As I saw it, science had resolved the riddle of the human soul. Science had proven it could come up with chemical formulas that could manipulate the contents of ones cognitions, emotions, and perceptions in almost whatever way it saw fit. It could electrically or chemically stimulate parts of ones brain in such a way that it could make one passive or aggressive, tranquil or manic, happy or sad. In essence, science could alter and manipulate ones cognitive and emotional states as if pulling the strings on a marionette.
As a result, I was now convinced that the mind, which I previously believed to constitute my transcendental soul, instead represented the workings of my physical organ, the brain. There was no soul. There was no ghost in the machine. My thoughtshuman consciousnesswere not the manifestation of some ethereal force or will but rather the consequence of synaptic transmissions, electrical and chemical signals being registered throughout my brain, generating a host of sensations, perceptions, emotions, and cognitions in mepure neuromechanics. Consequently, as far as I was now concerned, the riddle of the human soul had been solved. From hereon, I would interpret the origin of all perception, sensation, emotion, and cognition from a strictly neurophysiologicalthat is, scientificperspective.
As secure as I now was that there was no such thing as a transcendental soul, I still found myself plagued by that more essential problem of Gods existence. As God supposedly constituted the embodiment of all things spiritual, not until I possessed some rational explanation through which I could resolve the problem of His existence could I be absolutely certain there was no such thing as a transcendental/spiritual reality. And as long as it was possible that God might exist, it was therefore also possible that I possessed a transcendental soul. Consequently, before I could commit to anything, I needed to resolve the greater and all-encompassing problem of God.
As the physical sciences had helped me to rationally interpret the underlying nature of consciousness, I now wondered if it would be possible to apply this same tool of reason to resolve that ever-persistent problem of God. Could the physical sciences crack that
nut as well? Up until now, it hadnt come close. From biologists to astro- and quantum physicists, no one had ever advanced anything resembling a scientific interpretation of God. But why was this? Did God truly exist only beyond our grasp, beyond the range of human comprehension? Or was there a physical solution, only no one had discovered it yet?