The Upside Down Religious World

Today I tried to read a fascinating article by Max Tegmark (MIT physicist) called “The Mathematical Universe (HT: Shane).  Below I reproduced one of Tegmark’s diagrams of how “theories can be crudely organized into a family tree where each might, at least in principle, be derived from more fundamental ones above it.”  T.O.E. (by the way) stands for “Theory of Everything”.

Tegmark’s sketch made me think of “religion” where the flow is the opposite direction.  I quickly threw together the diagram below to illustrate the comparison that came to mind for me.  In the religious mind, the basic units of our reality are our real experiences, and then humans create layers above it to support their world.  The religious person’s world is not derived from the top down, though they would strongly disagree.

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion

13 responses to “The Upside Down Religious World

  1. Ian

    Nice idea. Yes, I wonder how one could go about reseaching the links in this diagram – where they should be and how strong they are.

    On the other hand, I think a large proportion of this is top down for a particular believer (i.e. individual rather than historic), because a particular religious belief starts with a story. “This is how God is, this is Jesus, these are the rituals you must do, these are the things God prohibits.”

  2. Thanx Ian. Maybe my reflection best matches those who create religion instead of those what are inoculated with a religion. Like language: learning as an adult (or, in your case, desiring to create a language) is very different from learning as a child.

  3. ian

    Oh yes, that’s how I read it. For me, it represents the psychological motivations which make the higher level units compelling.

  4. Ed

    Hey Sabio… (Hi Ian)… I would like to see you develop your diagram further, in more detail. Such as, “Awe of the Unknown” can also lead to research and universities. And “Control of the Unknown” can also lead to helpful inventions… All this would further the mainstreaming of religions into society. Just a thought….

  5. ian

    Hi Ed,

    Something about your comment just brought to mind Technology Trees in computer games such as Civilization!

    First develop “Control of the Unknown”, then you can develop all sorts of useful inventions, and/or go on to develop “Magic”🙂

  6. @ Ed
    That is good, but that diagram is of the Religious Mind. But, as you are hinting, using the same baseline experiences, we can go the other way and create the secular mind. I think I can capture that! I may work on it.

  7. Ed

    @ Sabio… I understand your point… What I was thinking is that the same mind that thinks there is a divine being pulling the strings of existence is also the mind that person uses to create new technologies or medicines. So, to me the mind is one and is used simultaneously and or sequentially for the ridiculous and the useful… Therefore the religious mind and the daily work-a-day mind are the same and could be included in the same diagram. My best example of this is the seat belt. I will often ask a christian why they are wearing a seat belt and they will reply something like for safety. I then ask if they believe god is all powerful and in charge of everything. They will say yes… to which I reply, “OK so if god is all powerful and is in charge of everything, including your life, then the seat belt wont save you if god wants you dead. And if god wants you alive the seatbelt is not needed.”
    This person used the same mind to believe god is in charge as well as to buckle up for safety.

  8. in my mind, i would put religion in the other model under the headings of psychology and sociology. but that’s my persuasion. the second chart really doesn’t speak to me at all. but i see where the critique would come from.

  9. Yeah, that’s why Christianity, for instance, is said to be perfect and inerrant. How could be errant if the spiritual explanations are after-the-fact stories based on real life? If the explanation comes after the fact, you can always make your current argument fit all your previous ones, just like a lawyer in a courtroom can come up with a coherent theory to explain just about any crime.

  10. @ Lorena: Love the analogy

    @ Zero: Ed has given me ideas on how to elaborate the second chart — stay tuned. But I doubt it will still speak to you. Yet, I am hoping to be surprised.

    @ Ed: Yep, I agree with your points.

  11. Great diagram — I’ve seen the Tegmark one before but never thought about a reverse before. It reminds me of Dennett’s quotation of a critic of Darwin which he said is perceptively correct even though it actually supports evolutionary theory:

    “In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that, IN ORDER TO MAKE A PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL MACHINE, IT IS NOT REQUISITE TO KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express, in condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory, and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin’s meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all of the achievements of creative skill.”

    I would guess that the 2nd diagram’s flow of knowledge is how our brain actually tends to classify the world if left to its own devices — and religion is just one example of people using this faculty normally.

    The 1st diagram would then be a perfect showcase of how the whole science-and-reason enterprise requires us to undergo this strange inversion of reasoning and to literally turn our naive faculties upside down.

  12. @ Michael
    Thank you. Yes, you understood the flow I intended corrected. Loved the Darwin polemic. It does show that sad fact that science does not come naturally but requires collective disciplining in triangulating truth.

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