Written by the cartoonist of Dilbert, God’s Debris thoughtfully brings up far more questions than answers. The short book gets your mind thinking about religion, science, morality, and epistemology, all written in a gentle vignette thats easy to palate. A quick read (I started and finished it on a flight from Boston to Slovenia). Makes you think twice about the nature of belief and the things that you believe in.
“Indeed. And being omnipotent, God must be able to peer into his own future, to view it in all its perfect detail.” “Yeah, I know. You’re going to say that if he sees his own future, then his choices are predetermined. Or, if he can’t see the future, then he’s not omnipotent.” “Omnipotence is trickier than it seems,” he said.
I liked science. It was my favorite subject in school. Religion made me uncomfortable. It’s better not to think too much about religion, but science was made for thinking. It was based on facts.
“Scientists often invent words to fill the holes in their understanding. These words are meant as conveniences until real understanding can be found. Sometimes understanding comes and the temporary words can be replaced with words that have more meaning. More often, however, the patch words will take on a life of their own and no one will remember that they were only intended to be placeholders.
“String theory says that all of physical reality—from gravity to magnetism to light—can be explained in one grand theory that involves tiny, string-shaped, vibrating objects. String theory has produced no useful results. It has never been proven by experiment, yet thousands of physicists are dedicating their careers to it on the faith that it smells right.”
“Every generation of humans believed it had all the answers it needed, except for a few mysteries they assumed would be solved at any moment. And they all believed their ancestors were simplistic and deluded. What are the odds that you are the first generation of humans who will understand reality?”
“Four billion people say they believe in God, but few genuinely believe. If people believed in God, they would live every minute of their lives in support of that belief. Rich people would give their wealth to the needy. Everyone would be frantic to determine which religion was the true one. No one could be comfortable in the thought that they might have picked the wrong religion and blundered into eternal damnation, or bad reincarnation, or some other unthinkable consequence. People would dedicate their lives to converting others to their religions.
When belief does not control your most important decisions, it is not belief in the underlying reality, it is belief in the usefulness of believing.”
“The best any human can do is to pick a delusion that helps him get through the day. This is why people of different religions can generally live in peace. At some level, we all suspect that other people don’t believe their own religion any more than we believe ours.”
“The maps were made by the people who went first and didn’t die. The maps that survive are the ones that work,”
“Our language and our minds are too limited to deal with anything but a fixed reality, regardless of whether such a thing exists. The best we can do is to update our delusions to fit the times. We live in an increasingly rational, science-based society. The religious metaphors of the past are no longer comforting. Science is whittling at them from every side. Humanity needs a metaphor that allows God and science to coexist, at least in our minds, for the next thousand years.”
“How’s that bad?” I asked. “If you are proven to be right a hundred times in a row, no amount of evidence will convince you that you are mistaken in the hundred-and-first case. You will be seduced by your own apparent infallibility.
The human mind is a delusion generator, not a window to truth.
“While we speak, nations are arming themselves to fight for control of lands they consider holy. They are trapped in the delusion that locations are real things, not just fictions of the mind. Many will die.”
“God will become conscious whether you as an individual are in harmony with probability or not. God controls the averages, not the individuals. Your short-term payoff for contributing to God’s consciousness is fewer problems in your daily life, less stress, and more happiness.
“There are two types of people in the world, my young friend. One type is people-oriented. When they make conversation, it is about people—what people are doing, what someone said, how someone feels. The other group is idea-oriented. When they make conversation, they talk about ideas and concepts and objects.”
“Actually, the popular people only seem to be babbling,” he countered. “In fact, they talk about a topic that everyone cares about; they talk about people. When a person talks about people, it is personal to everyone who listens. You will automatically relate the story to yourself, thinking how you would react in that person’s situation, how your life has parallels. On the other hand, if you tell a story about a new type of tool you found at the hardware store, no one can relate to the tool on a personal level. It is just an object, no matter how useful or novel.”
“People think they follow advice but they don’t. Humans are only capable of receiving information. They create their own advice. If you seek to influence someone, don’t waste time giving advice. You can change only what people know, not what they do.”
“Women believe that men are, in a sense, defective versions of women,” he began. “Men believe that women are defective versions of men. Both genders are trapped in a delusion that their personal viewpoints are universal. That viewpoint—that each gender is a defective version of the other—is the root of all misunderstandings.”
“Women define themselves by their relationships and men define themselves by whom they are helping. Women believe value is created by sacrifice. If you are willing to give up your favorite activities to be with her, she will trust you. If being with her is too easy for you, she will not trust you. You can accomplish your sacrifices symbolically at first, by leaving work early to buy flowers, canceling your softball game to make a date, that sort of thing.”
“A woman needs to be told that you would sacrifice anything for her. A man needs to be told he is being useful. When the man or woman strays from that formula, the other loses trust. When trust is lost, communication falls apart.”
For the next few hours the old man revealed more of his ingredients for successful social living. Express gratitude. Give more than is expected. Speak optimistically. Touch people. Remember names. Don’t confuse flexibility with weakness. Don’t judge people by their mistakes; rather, judge them by how they respond to their mistakes. Remember that your physical appearance is for the benefit of others. Attend to your own basic needs first; otherwise you will not be useful to anyone else.
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Body photo © wikimedia.com