Monday, February 11, 2008

Words Words Words and Dreams

I hope you aren't waiting for that post I was working on about Alan Watts. Consider it on the back burner. I just have to make a short post on the meanings of words because it came up in a comment I just replied to which I found buried in an old post.

I've written before about how before I can claim I am an atheist or agnostic I have to say I am an ignostic. I see Firefox 2 doesn't think that word exists, but it does. You can look it up. It's a shorter way of saying "non-cognitivist with respect to god-talk."

If you think I am lost and that I am searching for God then you are both right and wrong. If we mean "God" as in the great unknown Truth out there, then the answer is yes, but if you mean something else, well first tell me what that is. I really have no idea what "God" means to most people. I think definitions like "supreme being" or "creator of the universe" are not very helpful. "Supreme" in what sense? What kind of "being"? Is it made of atoms? If not, then what? How do you know? (etc.)

It isn't just the word "God" though. It's words like "soul", "spirit", and even "ghost". I kind of know what these words mean in fictional stories, but not in our reality. In the movies a soul or ghost is a glowing gas in the form of some dead person. This gas seems to move and think like the body did. The gas can even pass through solid objects! What kind of gas is that? Words like "soul" can't be defined in our reality.

I'm not saying I know everything or current scientific theories explain the universe completely. However, useful words must be defined using things we can sense. I know what a tree is because I can see and touch it. When I was a baby my parents pointed at some objects and said "trees". Useful words point to things we can experience, even non-physical things like dreams. Yet even non-physical things correspond exactly to physical events in the brain.

Some people do have some kind of mystical experiences which they choose to label with words like "spiritual" or "god". They could be right for all I know. But I haven't experienced anything like that. I have had dreams, but so have almost everyone I have met. Scientists can scan the brains of people who are dreaming, so words like "dream" are useful and point to something real. I haven't seen the same consistency with so called "spiritual" experiences among different people as I have seen with experiences like "trees" and "dreams".