On the interconnectedness of things

Throughout the past year interconnectedness has been a recurring concept in many pieces of film and literature which I have come across. In its simplest form interconnectedness breaks down into the idea that everything is connected together.

Why God Won’t Go Away states that every religion relies on a form of interconnectedness. Andrew Newberg, et al, claims that there are two forms of interconnectedness found in different religions. There is either a union of mankind with the rest of the world or a union of the individual with a greater individual.

The former is found in religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism explains the interconnectedness of self or Atman with others through Brahman. The latter form of interconnectedness is more complicated. This form is found in religions such as Christianity. Through intense prayer individuals feel a profound connection with Christ. Through this connection with Christ individuals realize a connection with all of humanity.

In I ♥ Huckabees we find a form of existential interconnectedness which is very similar to that of Buddhism. Bernard Jaffe presents us with a blanket which he says represents the universe.

Say this blanket represents all the matter and energy in the universe, okay? This is me, this is you, and over here, this is the Eiffel Tower, right, it’s Paris!

Bernard’s blanket is eerily familiar to the Buddhist analogy of Indra’s Net. Indra’s Net is an infinitely long net. Within each knot of the net is a multifaceted jewel which reflects each other jewel. This analogy is made in order to show that everything in the universe exists in a complex relationship with all other beings. Like Jaffe’s blanket, we are all connected to each other and while we may feel like individuals in reality we can’t tell where my nose stops and space begins.

Interconnectedness is not only found in religions. Atheists also believe in the interconnectedness of everything, this time it comes in the form of energy. One of the foundations of modern physics is that energy cannot be created or destroyed. The first law of thermodynamics says that the total inflow of energy into a system must equal the total outflow of energy from the system, plus the change in the energy contained within the system.

When I cease to exist, whether I go to Heaven or Hell or back to Earth in the form of another being, my energy must go somewhere. Like the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, my actions as a living being will have an effect on the future. Whether my karma results in a reincarnation or I have a reincarnation through scientific means (i.e. my carcass turns to soil from which a tree sprouts), my energy will have an effect on future life.

The atheistic concept of interconnectedness is summed up well through a scene in Waking Life. A purely scientific outlook upon the world leaves us with a problem of free will. If we are all physical systems then we all rely on the rules which govern these systems. We are all part of a system of cause and effect. This system of cause and effect leaves us with the question of how we make decisions, how we can truly choose to do anything.

This is a problem which has faced humanity since we have been philosophizing. Freedom of will versus determinism first took shape in the form of God making decisions for us, but even without an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being deciding our fate, we have this casual relationship between all beings which can remove our true freedom.

This causal relationship is the basis for human interconnectedness. An atheist may not believe that there is a soul or Atman at the root of our essence. Even without this belief we run into the concept of energy which has always existed and cannot be destroyed, we also are presented with a form of Buddhist conditioned genesis through causal relationships between all beings.

Interconnectedness is a concept which seems to reoccur in all social sciences. Sociology, archeology, religions, (and anti-religions) all come back to this concept of cause and effect. This link between all of us may not be psychic but it definitely seems to exist, whether through energy or some greater being.

182 thoughts on “On the interconnectedness of things

  1. etan,

    I am unsure as to how you wanted us to respond to your post, but for some reason it reminds me of something that Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science, once said:

    “Science, like great music, is a clear indicator that we’re more than grubby little primates.”

    As such, that’s what I’m going to talk about in my comment. 

    I tend to agree with Ruse’s assessment.  Science, in my opinion, rather than being contrary to the sense of awe and worship, as the religious right makes it out to be, is a door to a sense that the universe is divine (in some sense at least). 

    To me at least the order that one finds in the universe when one studies it through the lens of the scientific method is more miraculous (in the sense of being awe inspiring) than any story about floods, resurrection, or ascention into the sky.

    Indeed, appeal to those kinds of miracles led me to doubt the existence of God.  If some deity needed to break its own laws of nature, then it seems to me that it isn’t all that perfect.  If that deity did have to in fact bend its own rules then it seems that it didn’t design the universe correctly initially and was forced to make later amendments. 

    That digression aside, I found your post to be fairly interesting.

  2. A purely scientific outlook upon the world leaves us with a problem of free will.

    Yes and no.  Without a scientific outlook on free will, we can only continue playing intellectual tennis without a net, which is pretty much what philosophers have been doing up till now.  We need to consider how free will could have come about, how it evolved, before we can consider what it is, or if it exists at all.  A good discussion of the issues is in “Freedom Evolves” by, you guessed it, Daniel Dennett.

    And BTW, we are still waiting eagerly for your response to our comments on the BIV.

  3. Actually, first we have define what free will is. My gut feeling is that what we perceive as free will (if any) is nothing but an emergent phenomenon in a deterministic world.

    An unstated assumption is that free will is a good thing. For the purposes of Christian theology the concept is indispensible, because otherwise people are god’s puppets and the problem of evil becomes intractable.

  4. And BTW, we are still waiting eagerly for your response to our comments on the BIV.

    On my way to doing that right now.

  5. The universe tends towards entropy, but as elements of the universe we can use the energy available in the system to do stuff. Some of that stuff is what we call free will. The eventual result is nothing, but for the here and now our decisions change the patterns of energy around us and within us (I’m not talking about ‘auras’ here, purely in a physics sense). We get short term gains from the way we use energy and we try not to worry about the fact that everything turns to crap in the end.

  6. Originally posted by Socialist Swine:
    Indeed, appeal to those kinds of miracles led me to doubt the existence of God.  If some deity needed to break its own laws of nature, then it seems to me that it isn’t all that perfect.  If that deity did have to in fact bend its own rules then it seems that it didn’t design the universe correctly initially and was forced to make later amendments.

    How could we be convinced there was a God if he wasn’t allowed to exhibit control over what he created?  If God has to play by the natural laws he set forth on Earth.  Then he is not allowed to do miracles to prove he is God.  Everything He would do would be things we could replicate under our own power.  What’s the point in being omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent if you aren’t allowed to prove it in anyway shape or form?

  7. My gut feeling is that what we perceive as free will (if any) is nothing but an emergent phenomenon in a deterministic world.

    elwed, that’s basically the conclusion Dennett comes to in “Freedom Evolves”.  He uses as an example the toy world of Conway’s Life (a fascinating topic in its own right- lots of stuff about it on the net, f.i. http://www.bitstorm.org/gameoflife/ ), which is absolutely deterministic, and shows how the denizens of the Life world, as they become more complex (glider guns, puffer trains, etc.) have emergent properties best described and understood in terms of higher orders than the “physical” level- survival, growth, assimilation, etc.  This is too complex to go into in detail (and my son has to be allowed to sleep), but is a convincing demonstration of the possibility of the evolution of what seems to be free will- and in this case, the way it seems to us is the way it is, unless God is watching over our shoulders.

    What’s the point in being omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent if you aren’t allowed to prove it in anyway shape or form?

    theocrat- I have to agree with you there.  What good is it being God, if you can’t have a little fun from time to time?  And a real miracle is the only thing that would convince me of the existence of Her Invisible Pinkness.

  8. theo,

    It’s not that I think that a deity must follow the rules of nature.  Indeed, an omnipotent being can do whatever they want, if not they wouldn’t be very omnipotent.  It just strikes me that if something was perfect anything they design should function without amendment.  The perfect designer, in my opinion, would build the perfect machine.  If a designer had to monkey around with the machine after it started running, then it seems that the designer must have made an error, changed their mind, or somehow missed something in their original design.  That would suggest to me that the designer isn’t perfect.

    Now to tie this in with miracles.  It seems that by definition a miracle, in the sense that we’re discussing it, is a breaking of the physical laws that were supposedly set by God when it built the universe.  If God breaks the rules that it sets then it seems that those rules are somehow inadequate.  That’s why I think if the universe had a perfect designer then there would be no miracles.  Not as a result of God not being allowed to perform them, but there not being a need to perform them if God is in fact perfect. 

    It strikes me that reports of miracles or interpretations of natural events as miracles are simply our way of trying to capture the sense of awe that most of us feel from time to time in some concrete manner.

    As for being convinced of God, why do we need to be convinced?  I would assume that God isn’t particularly egotistical, why would it feel the need or desire to prove to us that it made the universe?  Indeed, if you do believe in God, I don’t know why you need magic tricks to justify that belief.  As I noted in my earlier comment in this thread, I think Michael Ruse got it right when he noted that if there is any reason to believe in some form of divinity it is through science and the understanding of the order and the beauty that is inherent in natural phenomena.  Not that I think science requires or commits one to such belief, but I think if one justifiably comes to such a belief in divinity it is through science.

  9. Socialst Swine wrote:
    “If a designer had to monkey around with the machine after it started running, then it seems that the designer must have made an error, changed their mind, or somehow missed something in their original design.  That would suggest to me that the designer isn’t perfect.”

    Based on the assumption you make, your conclusion is correct.  However, you are assuming that God would desire to create a machine that he does not need to interact with.  Isn’t it equally viable to assume that God may have intended to create a machine in such a way that his interaction with it was required?

    For example, if I were creating a game like the Sims, it would be far more interesting to me if I could interact with it – or even that I needed to interact with it.  So much so that, even though I could theoretically create a Sim-like simulation that I could just watch, I might create inconsistencies on purpose that would require my attention because it’s more fun.

    Of course that’s assuming that God created everything for his personal amusement, which is itself a strong assumption, but I mean this example only as one possible explanation of why God might have created an “imperfect” machine on purpose.  And why God’s potential intervention in this machine does not necessarily prove that he is imperfect or does not exist.

  10. Originally posted by Socialist Swine:
    The perfect designer, in my opinion, would build the perfect machine.

    He did, but the machine chose to destroy itself.  Adam and Eve were perfect beings until they ate from the tree of knowledge according to the Bible.

    Originally posted by Socialist Swine:
    I would assume that God isn’t particularly egotistical, why would it feel the need or desire to prove to us that it made the universe?

    God doesn’t desire to prove he made the universe.  He desires to prove that He loves us.  The Bible is the story of how he has tried time and again to prove his love.  It comes to the point that we have an ultimatum (also given to us in love) about what to do with the sacrifice of His son Jesus.  This answer isn’t provided to proselytize you as you may be thinking only to provide a semi adequate answer to the question posed.

    Originally posted by Socialist Swine:
    I think Michael Ruse got it right when he noted that if there is any reason to believe in some form of divinity it is through science and the understanding of the order and the beauty that is inherent in natural phenomena.

    I would entirely agree with Michale Ruse.  My personal belief is that the building didn’t exist without a builder, the painting without the painter, or the universe without a creator.

  11. Theo,

    He did, but the machine chose to destroy itself.  Adam and Eve were perfect beings until they ate from the tree of knowledge according to the Bible.

    But wouldn’t the apple tree be a fault in the system open to abuse?

  12. Adam,

    The problem is according to the Christian concept of God, God is also an omnibenevolent being.  If creation is merely here for its entertainment, it doesn’t seem all that such a deity would be all that benevolent.  Indeed, it would be like a kid that shakes an ant farm for amusement….

  13. The tree had to be there to try their free will.  God does not want robots to love him.  He wants people to choose to love him.  I would not say the test to see if the creation worked was a fault in the system.  God’s test for their love is not a bad thing.  The tree was abused this is true.  But to give them the decision to reject Him is the only way to test their true love for Him.

  14. Soc Swine, you’re absolutely right.  The Sims example was meant as only one possibility of how God might purposely create an inconsistency in the system.  If we assume a “good” God, then creation for entertainment doesn’t really work (at least not for the definition of “entertainment” that my example assumed), but there may be other reasons for God to purposely create an “imperfect” system.

    One such possibility is related to Theo’s argument about the system breaking itself.  Assuming the Christian concept of God, there is a fundamental assumption that he purposely created free will, and this free will had the potential of creating an imperfection in the system.

    According to this possibility, there would be a good God who created a perfect system and, for reasons of his own, created beings with the reason and ability to break or improve that system.  In those places where the system was broken, God might choose to intervene.

    So the question from this is why he would have allowed that free will in the first place.  But again I think that there are valid reasons for allowing this that do not prove the imperfection or non-existence of God.

    Just to stay focused, this is all I’m trying to say here: that imperfections in a created system do not necessarily imply either an imperfect creator or no creator at all.

  15. It seems to me that if God had to test our love for him, then he is pretty darn insecure and needs to grow up.  We get enough evidence down here on Earth the damage such mind games can do to a relationship and playing such games shows a lack of trust, the very foundation that healthy relationships are supposedly built on.

    Add on to that the extreme either-or ultimatum presented by most Christian interpretations.  Can you really picture God saying, “Honey, please, if you really love me, you will do all that I ask unquestioningly.  But, Bitch, if you don’t do what I say or you’ll be sorry!”

    Now to clarify that a bit.  In the garden God told Adam (Eve isn’t around at this point) not to eat of the tree of knowledge or the tree of life.  It took convincing by the “serpent” to get Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge.  The only reason they got kicked out of the Garden was so they wouldn’t also eat of the tree of life and be immortal.  It is important to note that hell is not mentioned as any sort of punishment for the “first” couple’s transgression.  In fact if you include the lost books of Adam and Eve, they were only banished for the duration of 9 days (I think, I’ll have to go back and look it up.), which were not equal to the days of men.

    In the end I don’t believe that the Garden, serpent, or tree were any sort of test, but rather a catalyst to get us where we are today. (from a creationists point of view anyway.)

  16. Originally posted by James:
    We get enough evidence down here on Earth the damage such mind games can do to a relationship and playing such games shows a lack of trust, the very foundation that healthy relationships are supposedly built on.

    What kind of relationship can you have with your wife if you aren’t ever given the opportunity to prove your love to her?

    Originally posted by James:
    Can you really picture God saying, “Honey, please, if you really love me, you will do all that I ask unquestioningly.  But, Bitch, if you don’t do what I say or you’ll be sorry!

  17. Adam,

    On reflection, I agree you’re correct.  An imperfect system doesn’t necessarily imply a flawed designer.  However, it seems that I can still justifiably hold a modified position that a faulty system suggests an imperfect designer.  As for whether there are clear reasons to doubt a designer.  I don’t think there is independent of providing the simplest ontology (pace Ockham’s razor) though I will grant that simplicity isn’t necessarily indicative of truth.  Then again, I’m not sure truth is always what’s most important to our understanding of the universe.

  18. theocrat: What’s the point in being omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent if you aren’t allowed to prove it in anyway shape or form?

    If you are an omnimax being, what’s the point of anything?

    He did, but the machine chose to destroy itself.  Adam and Eve were perfect beings until they ate from the tree of knowledge

    Can a perfect machine destroy itself, unless we’re talking built-in obsolence?

  19. Originally posted by elwedriddsche:
    If you are an omnimax being, what’s the point of anything?

    How can you make yourself feel truly appreciated without anything to show appreciation?

    Can you define obsolence?  I couldn’t find it in any online dictionary I looked at and I’m not familiar with the word.  I’m not sure if your last question is in need of deeper clarification of some point not taken care of earlier or if it is to define or point out some flaw in my logic.  I think Adam adequately addressed the flawed machine concept of the problem though.

  20. How can you make yourself feel truly appreciated without anything to show appreciation?

    Why does the need for appreciation exist in a omnimax being.  Why does an omnimax being need anything?

    Why create all these things that you need appreciation from and damn some 95% of them to hell?

    Of course we have to make a prior leap an assume that this omnimax being exists without any evidence.

  21. Thanks for closing that for me Stink…er…Swine wink  I believe [lowercase b] that the conversion for wink smileys on this site is ; – )

    Are far onmimax is concerned, I’m just going to start calling her Max.  Kinda sexy, an all powerful woman.

  22. How can you make yourself feel truly appreciated without anything to show appreciation?

    Why would an omnimax being need to feel appreciated?

    Can you define obsolence?

    Typo: s/obsolence/obsolescence/

    To repeat my question to you: Can a perfect machine chose to destroy itself?

    If self-destruction is considered an imperfection, then it would appear that the machine was not perfect to begin with.

    If a perfect machine’s design allows for self-destruction, then the self-destruction cannot be considered as an expression of imperfection (hence planned obsolescence).

    If a perfect machine was led to self-destruction by a change of its operating environment that the design didn’t anticipate, then it would appear that the machine was not perfect to begin with.

  23. Originally posted by elwedriddsche:
    Why would an omnimax being need to feel appreciated?

    Honestly I don’t know.  Gimme some time and I’ll ask some friends that might.  I am certain I’ve heard that question asked before and have probably asked it myself at some point in time, but I can’t remember the answer if there was one.  For now I’ll offer a cop out and say he certainly wouldn’t be an omnimax being if my finite mind could fully understand him.

    Originally posted by elwedriddsche:
    Can a perfect machine chose to destroy itself?

    I would say the free will of the machine to do as it pleases is not an inherent imperfection.  I’m not sure what I would categorize it as actually.  I also know I’ve had this conversation before on other bulletin boards.  I’ll try and dig up the old conversation if possible to see where it went but I think it ended up being a circular argument where both sides arguments seemed to simultaneously prove their view while disproving the other persons’ if that makes any sense.

    Originally posted by elwedriddsche:
    If a perfect machine was led to self-destruction by a change of its operating environment that the design didn’t anticipate, then it would appear that the machine was not perfect to begin with.

    What if the design did anticipate the change?  God being omniscient knew they would sin, which might suggest as James pointed out that maybe it wasn’t a test so much as the catalyst.

  24. theo- there are a few teensy problems with the conception of a Creator who is omniscent, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, at least for those who also believe in free will and certain kinds of goodness.

    Suppose the Creator to be omniscent and omnipotent.  Being omniscent, He thus knew that Adam and Eve would choose to sin; and being omnipotent, He thus created the world deliberately so this would happen.  Thus, free will is an illusion- what kind of choice is it, if you are created in such a way that your choice is already decided?  Moreover, God created sin (and death of babies, torture, etc.) and deliberately consigned most of us to hellfire, our “choice” in the matter being illusory.  This of course is the doctrine of predestination, and it’s truly a bitter pill to swallow. The silver lining: it makes proselytizing useless, and we hellbound ones can relax and do whatever we want.

    You can’t logically have it both ways- either God is not both omniscent and omnipotent, or we have no free will.

  25. Hanging Chads!  Talk about serious lack of omniscience! I just noticed that “omniscent” needs another i!  I surely didn’t mean to imply that God’s all-knowingness is restricted to odors, or that He smells like anything, or anything…

  26. Oh no! Not the scorpions again! Can’t you take a joke, Big Guy?  I guess you had it in for me- from the Beginning!  Darwin save me!  AAAAAAAA…..

  27. OK, this thread is getting into areas that I like to cover on a regular basis and so far Elwed and DeadScot are largely asking the same questions I would. I don’t have time at the moment to phrase my own, but I’ll be back.

    Zilch, is that you in that photo and what the hell kind of bong are you’re trying to smoke if it is you?

  28. (theocrat) I would say the free will of the machine to do as it pleases is not an inherent imperfection.

    That would imply that eating the apple was not a bad thing.

    God being omniscient knew they would sin

    Where does that leave original sin? An omnimax creator must have both known about the apple and had the powers to prevent it… In other words, if the world has an omnimax creator, absolutely nothing can happen without the advance knowledge and toleration by said creator.

    It is as zilch said. I have always felt that Christian theology painted itself in a corner by holding to an impossibly powerful god.

  29. Les and elwed- yup, that’s me, last summer visiting my uncle in Crescent City, far in the north of California.  I have a ritual at the Pacific of making a horn of bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana).  Never tried using one as a bong- the problem I forsee is that the first couple of puffs would just be air, and you’d likely hyperventilate before getting your hit.

  30. Hubba, hubba!  zilch, the only problem with that photo is it’s too damn blurry and tiny …

  31. GM- I could upload the original for you, but it’s 1.4 MB, which goes pretty slowly through my weensy modem… You look great in your pic!

  32. Predstination vs. Free Will is definitely a hard subject to tackle.  There are many places in the Bible where God has “chosen” things to happen and there are also many places where men were given the “choice.”  THis is typically a debate fought between the Armenians and Calvinists.  My personal belief is that truth does not lay entirely with one side but is somewhere in the middle.

    I am not entirely sure I can present an argument in such a way so that you all may be able to understand my beliefs on this topic.  I will leave my argument to an illustration that generally works with those that believe similar to me.  Picture yourself as a donkey.  God is riding on the saddle on your back with the best looking and likely the best tasting carrot you will ever see hanging in front of your nose on a string.  Being a donkey you want to get the carrot so you walk towards it and keep walkign because it is always just a little out of you reach.  The carrot always points in the same direction, toward donkey heaven.  Often though we get tired of chasing the carrot and the thorny bushes at the side of the rode catch our eye.  The thorny bushes provide an immediate satisfaction to our hunger, but it is also damaging us internally.  While we have given up chasing the carrot, God is still in the saddle and the carrot is still there pointing in the same direction.  We have chosen to go eat something else that isn’t in accordance to God’s will.  Because it is in accordance to God’s will does not mean he did not see it coming because all things are accounted for in his plan.  Notice God’s will and plan are to very different things.  God’s will is rarely accomplished, but his plan is always accomplished.  If we get tired of the thorny bushes we may regain site of the carrot and decide to give it another try.  This time we make it to our destination.  When we make it to our destination we say God chose to lead us there.

  33. Picture yourself as a donkey.

    So, in other words, believer’s view themselves as dumb asses that have to be bribed to do the right thing. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  34. I find it interesting that the original topic of interconectedness has been glossed over in favor of predetermination and free will.

  35. You know what I think is the best resolution to the foreknowledge/freewill problem?  It’s Ockham’s answer.  When Ockham recognizes the problem he just obfusticates for a while and acts like the problem is resolved.  I think that’s the best that one who endorses an omnimax being and believes in freewill can do. 

    Duns Scotus makes an attempt at it as well talking about natural priority versus temporal priority (though his notion of natural priority is undefined).  He argues something like: that while God’s foreknowledge is temporally prior to our actions, it isn’t naturally (perhaps one can read it as causally) prior to our actions.  This is because as Scotus sees it at the temporal moment of our choice there are multiple “natural” moments in which all of our possible choices are instantiated (as such preserving contingency).  In his view it isn’t until we have in fact acted that the natural moments collapse into the single temporal moment which becomes fixed. 

    The only problem with that solution is that it makes no sense.

  36. Indeed, appeal to those kinds of miracles led me to doubt the existence of God.  If some deity needed to break its own laws of nature, then it seems to me that it isn’t all that perfect.  If that deity did have to in fact bend its own rules then it seems that it didn’t design the universe correctly initially and was forced to make later amendments.

    I know this is really late, but I like that, & I agree with it.  An old testament class I had used a textbook that was in conjunction with scientists who explained how certain miracles could have occured not if you bend the laws of nature, but extend them…I guess.  I know, I know, it only goes back to me REALLY REALLY wanting it to be true, but I suppose I just want to explain how I agree.  That’s why I commented earlier about natural consequences.  I have trouble not seeing hypocracy where people claim there is no God or He isn’t good, because if there was & He is, He would have bent the laws of nature in *their* favor.

  37. ellie,

    I’m neutral about whether a deity should do the things I want (mostly because I don’t think much about it).  However, I do think that a being that doesn’t follow its own rules isn’t all that perfect.  As for the miracles being compatible with natural laws, well if there were miracles and they were compatible with natural laws then I don’t have much to say.

  38. If God has to play by the natural laws he set forth on Earth.  Then he is not allowed to do miracles to prove he is God.  Everything He would do would be things we could replicate under our own power.

    But I agree with Theocrat too…I just like to wonder why we don’t *see* God doing the same anymore…

  39. God may have intended to create a machine in such a way that his interaction with it was required

    Aha, Adam pegged it! (for me)

  40. Umm, I’d have to agree with Les, I don’t particularly feel inclined to become a donkey….

    I’ve understood God’s motivations for interaction w/ a perfect creation that has been granted free will lie in the nature/understanding of the Trinity.  Presumably God existed before, had everything s/he needs, & was Love, not needy or “lonely.”  So in some way, we are created as a love gift of the Trinity for each other…

    (sniffle, sniffle, stick out lower lip…) where’s DOF?

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