Higher Level of Ignorance

I was planning on posting a really profound passage from Walter Rauschenbusch’s 1917 classic theological/political analysis, Christianity and the Social Crisis. I’ve been reading him over this month while I’ve been on vacation a lot (sort of a dork’s vacation, but there we go).

But I’ve also been reading Terrry Pratchett at the recommendation of Jim Cochrane, my friend and fellow thinker on religious health assets and life. Pratchett is mistaken by many as writing fantasy when he’s actually one of the most insightful social critics since, well, Rauschenbusch. Here’s a bit of his book, Equal Rites, where two wizards at Unseen University are discussing a presentation on the nature of space time:

“No, I remember the bit where he seemed to suggest that if you went far enough in any direction you would see the back of your head,”
“You’re sure he didn’t mean the back of someone else’s head?
Treastle thought for a bit.
“No, I’m pretty sure he said the back of your own head,” he said. “I think he said he could prove it.”
They considered this in silence.
Finally Cutangle spoke, very slowly and carefully.
“I look at it all like this, “he said. “Before I heard him talk, I was like everyone else. You know what I mean? I was confused and uncertain about the little details of life. Now now,” he brightened up, “while I’m still confused and uncertain, it’s on a much higher plane, d’you see, and at least I know Im bewildered about the really fundamental and important facts of the universe.”
Treatle nodded. “I hadn’t looked at it like that,” he said, but you’re absolutely right. He’s really pushed back the boundaries of ignorance. There’s so much about the universe we don’t know.”
They both savored the strange warmth of being much more ignorant than ordinary people who were ignorant of only ordinary things.

Among the things we are nearly all ignorant of is how the brain works. I started thinking about this early today, since we had to get up at 4am to make our flight to Vancouver. During our connection in Denver I read in an article by David Eagleman in the August Discovery Magazine: “The awake state may be essentially the same as the dreaming state, only partially anchored by external stimuli. In this view, your conscious life is an awake dream.” (Especially, if you get up at 4am and then spend two hours in the Denver airport).

One of the five leading causes of life is coherence which we’ve said lies mostly beneath consciousness. Although we are cleverly mapping all the different parts of the brain that specialized in this or that function, we “find ourselves looking at a strange assortment of brain networks involved with smell, hunger, pain, goal setting, temperature, prediction, and hundreds of other tasks. Despite their disparate functions, these systems seem to work together seamlessly. “ (They cohere) “There is almost no good theory about how this occurs.”

It is extraordinary that a brain wired for coherence walking the plains of the Serengeti is able to find coherence at in a thin aluminum tube sliding along 32,000 feet above the Rockies at 491 miles per hour (which is where I am typing this). Maybe it’s just an awareness of a higher level of ignorance, but it gives me a warm feeling.

About garygunderson

Vice President, FaithHealth, Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders, Religion and the Heath of the Public, Speak Life and God and the People. Secretary Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group). Founder, Leading Causes of Life Initiative
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