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March 2nd, 2014 | Posted by Dick in 12 Steps | Critique | Papers - Things of Understanding | PTSD

The 17th century philosopher, Baruch de Spinoza said: “Truth is god itself.” 1 Recent discoveries and speculations by physists and philosophers encourage me to re-examine the writings of Spinoza and his mentor, Euclid, asking the question; “By the word, ‘god,’ do we mean the primordal soup of truth?”
Whenever I eat soup, I cannot keep some of it from spilling on my shirt. The word, ‘god,’ is like that. No matter how you approach the word, it spills over on someone’s sensibilities. Avoid the word when you can, it will still leave a historical stain on your intellect.
It is a fact that the word, ‘god,’ (and its equivalent in other than the English language), has been used by many people to describe the thing in which they believe.
Spinoza said most errors occur becaue we use the wrong word to describe a thing. 2
Have we misused the word, ‘god,’ in this way? Anyone who answers yes or no to this question has misunderstood the complexity of what is being asked. Atheists have spilled the whole question on their laps.
Spinoza used the word, ‘god,’ partly because he didn’t wish to be murdered and his flesh displayed on a gate as the Calvinists did to his friend, Jan De Witt. But he recognized the word, ‘god’s significance in many people’s lives. My wife whose father and grandfather were prospectors, always calls the solid matter in soup, ‘pay.’ It is a term prospectors use when they pan for gold. Water and debris are shaken out until gold nuggests are discovered.
This is what Spinoza did to religion in his, Short Treatise on Theology.3 He shook out the ambiguities and false statements in theology to find the nuggets of truth that we call, ‘god.’
Finally, Spinoza looked at the pristine nuggest of ‘god,’ and said: ‘Truth is god itself.” I have explored how and why Spinoza went through this process in my essay: Spinoza: The Man Who Changed The God Game. 4
As Spinoza panned for truth, he saw that this nuggest was not to be found in myths and dogma but in nature. He discovered what Euclid said: “The laws of nature are the mathematical thoughts of God.” 5 Logic and mathematics are the pans we use to shake out these nuggets of god but beauty is expressed in all arts, including religion.
Logic and mathematics are like the music notes in Mozart’s Et Incarnatus Est: “…ravished music in ectasy before God made man.” 6 The history of humankind’s search for this nugget of god are the symphonic playing of these notes. Sometimes the renditions have been off key but that’s no reason to throw away the score. This search has been made
with small, finite steps in the infinite soup of eternity.
Spinoza described the soup in this way:
“We conceive things as actual in two ways: either insofar as we conceive them to exist in relation to a certain time and place or insofar as we conceive them to be contained in God and to follow from the necessity of the divine nature. But the things we conceive in this second way as true or real, we conceive under a species of eternity and their ideas involve the eternal and infinite essence of God.” 7 Eternity is the very essence of God…” 8
Meditating on Spinoza’s description and coordinating it with discoveries and speculations of modern physics, this is how I conceive the phrase: ‘Contained in God: Truth (God) is an eternal soup of energy-heated bubbles, things that pop in and out of this containment in what we perceive as time and place or the actual. Some scientists call this container the ‘vacuum’ or ‘nothing,’ but as Spinoza said, this kind of thinking is absurd. Something does not come out of nothing.
These bubbles can be the smallest piece of matter possible or as large as a universe. Human beings are also just small things that bubble up and out in this soup. The meaning of life is that energy recycles.
Reality is Truth brough into existence by energy. God does not exist until Truth is brought into existence in a thing that expresses truth as actual. Truth is sentient because the things that express it are sentient, i.e. send and receive information. Truth is eternal (now) and things express eternity in time and place.
Now that I have done the abstract, let us get some ‘pay’ out of the soup. In a recent review in the National Post, David Berry puts forth the best description of this process I have ever read: “Philosophy is the home of our most unadorned truths, the way the world looks when we strip it of as much extra information as we can while still having
a place to look from.” 9
First let’s begin stripping from our discussion of the soup, any metaphysical adornments in order to undertand what the soup is and why it is there. Even though Spinoza did not know the scientific term, he described these questions as what we call, ‘The Halting Problem.’ We are finite creatures in a reality of infinite knowledge. We do not know the ‘what’ or the ‘why’ but we do know, ‘how it works.’
The thing, ‘Truth,’ tells us that it is actual as does any other thing, because it hits us in the face with its actuality as ‘how we think at all.’ While many people today deny the existence of god, nobody questions the actuality of truth. To do so would deny our ability to think.
Thinking is a tool Truth gave us. The brilliant mathematican, Descartes, discovered we can strip away all metaphysical adornments and only one fact will remain: “We think, we exist.” What does that mean? Let’s examine a group of people who are stripped of almost all abstract adornment. We used to call these people, ‘retarded.’ Now they are known as ‘special.’
They are indeed special. Many years ago I worked with such children at an institution in Seattle. At the same time I was taking a psychology course at the University of Washington. These were the days of the fad of Behaviorism in this discipline. I wrote a programmed learning paper on how these children thought. My grade was knocked down from an A to a B because I used the word, ‘love’ twice in the paper.
These special children knew love existed though the psychology prof did not. I discovered they knew all the great truths of humanity that are caught in the word, ‘equal.’ They knew it as direct experience and did not adorn it with irrational speculations.
Euclid said the concepts of ‘equal’ and ‘the whole is greater than the part,’ are the foundations of human thinking. 10 The concept of equal is the glue that holds all mathematics, logic and ethics together. ‘The whole is greater than the part,’ reminds us we are finite creatures with finite knowledge. Truth is greater than all our speculations. We will never have a TOE hold (Theory of Everything) on existence, as some scientists believe. But we have something better: energy continually bringing the things that exist, directly to us so we can experience them as actual. As the philosopher, Charles Sanders Peirce understood, (like my special children), all truth enters and leaves through the gate of experience.
Spinoza said all things tell us they exist and have a unique, individual existence (essence). He said we know these things directly in our experience and then build our ideas of them as a being of reason. The former is nature demonstrating its actuality and the latter is only our knowledge which is always relative.
After writing these things, I was catching up in the August issue of Scientific American, 2013 and found an article, ‘What Is Real?’ by Meinard Kuhlmann. He introduced me to a new term for talking about things; the term, ‘tropes.’ As Kuhlmann says;
“You can regard properties as having an existence independently of objects that posssess them. Properties may be what philsophers call ‘particles’ – concrete, individual entities. What we commonly call a thing may be just a bundle of properties: color, shape, consistency and so on. Because this conception of properties as particulars rather than universals, differs from the traditional view, philosophers have introduced a new term to descibe them: ‘tropes.’ 12
After using an example of an infant seeing a ball for the first time, Kuhlmann says: “In trope ontology, we return to the direct perception of infancy. Out there in the world, things are nothing but bundles of properties, that we first have a ball and then attach properties to it. Rather we have properties and call them a ball. There is nothing to a ball but its properties.
Applying this idea to quantum field theory, what we call an electron is in fact, a bundle of various properties or tropes; three fixed essential properties (mass, charge and spin), as well as numerous changing, nonessential properties (position and velocity). This trope conception helps to make sense of the theory. For instance, the theory predicts that elementary particles can pop in and out of existence quickly. 13
Kuhlmann then goes on to explain how tropes make sense of a vacuum. I believe his explanation contradicts itself. He says: “The vacuum, though empty of particles, contains properties. A particle is what you get when these properties bundle themselves together in a certain way.” 14
Properties are something, not nothing. So how can you call the primordial coup, a vacuum? Kuhlmann says: “…the vacuum seethes with activity.” 15 We have to make sense of this ‘seething.’
Let us return to David Berry’s description of philosophy as “…unadorned truths, the way the world looks when we strip as much information as we can…” 16 Kuhlmann has stripped the seething of its particles and fields and all that is left are properties like, ‘color, shape, consistency, mass, change and spin,’ or tropes. These remain very complex entities so we still have not stripped far enough.
When you strip everything of all its information, what is left is information itself. A trope is a way station to a ‘bit ‘ – the smallest piece of information possible. So this seething is full of bits of information. We can call their container, (as it is outside our description of time and place) – ‘god, primordial soup,’ or any abstract word we want. ‘Vacuum’ seems misleading.
What we call the container is not important. What is important is that it contains bits of information. But what is a bit? George Boole said it is 1 or 0. Quantum theory ays it can be both. 17
As we know, computer science tells us all information can be contained in 1 and 0 and soon will be contained in both 1 and 0. So the ‘seething’ is bits of information which we call logic/mathematics. We do not know what the seething is or why it is there but we do know how it works, logically and mathematically. This is unadorned truth and Spinoza says truth is god itself.
However, this truth or god is very unsatisfactory to the generation of humans who seek a cuddly god, an anthropomorphic being or a father figure since such inception in Zoroastrianism. It is hard to imagine being loved or hugged by a digit. How can I be contained in its ‘everlasting arms?’ How can I know it has a ‘plan for my life?’
Here Kuhlmann’s description of a trope and our earlier discussion of special children, along with Euclid’s common notions of equal and the whole is greater than the part, can lead us to belief in a higher power of love and purpose for our lives. We experience truth directly as an infant. Later on we find words (abstract entities) to somewhat describe what we have experienced.
We use arts (including religion), to explore the beauty of these experiences. Like an infant, humans described their primary experience of god as trees, animals maybe even a ball but later on this description evolved to the first primary experience of an infant; its mother and father.
The Zoroastrians exhibiting their stern belief in morality and chauvinism, (which still flourishes in the middle east), decided this entity had to be male. Other cultures often made this entity a mother.
Unfortunately, reducing truth to anthropomorphisms included the worst behavior of humans such as anger, in their descriptions of god, as well as the best, such as love. Truth got lost in the description of god as a male.Strife and hatred have been the result. Describing god as a male strips truth of its essential operation: ‘equal.’ This simple, often overlooked operation is the glue that holds human thinking together and makes it human. The simple symbol, =, is the most powerful operation in human thinking.
Where would logic and mathematics be without =? Although philosophers have sometimes tried to con us with a relative description of ethics, this discipline is still best expressed as all religions have understood, as: ‘love your neighbor = to yourself.’
Out of the operation, =, has come all the great ideas of humankind, such as love, truth and fairness. We know these ideas directly as tropes in our experience because they are contained in the primordal soup of truth as the information we call mathematics/logic. We know love, truth and fairness as infants and then spend the rest of our lives using reason to confuse what we know in complexity.18
This is why Spinoza said reason is only a stepping stone to understanding. 19 Understanding brings us back to its behavior experience in = and the whole is greater than the part. This occurs in our right brain. When the right brain carries out its proper function of policing the left brain (reason) and the primitive brain, it brings us to the tropeness of truth or understanding.
As Aristotle and Spinoza understood, truth is inside us and not outside. It demonstrates truth to us. 20 All human feelings, especially empathy, came from this source. Spinoza’s whole project in his writing was to cure the intellect (all we think) 21 and return it to the freedom of truth. 22
Spinoza wanted to cure himself of the harmful effects of emotions which come from the primitive brain and from the self seeking left brain which wants to make itself the whole rather than what it actually is – a part. 23 Humanism is the best example of this kind of thinking.
What Kuhlmann has identified as ‘tropes,’ Spinoza said we call ‘god,’ because their properties stare us in the face. But the primordial soup of truth underlies this impulse. 24 We think anthropomorphic concepts not because god is human but rather because the primordial soup of truth has taught us what it means to be human.
Spinoza says we live in this soup eternally. Eternity is not time or duration but our position in the primordal soup of truth or ‘now.’ Or as the followers of AA say, ‘One day at a time.’ One moment as a time. 25 Because Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA, was influenced by William James and James in turn was influenced by Spinoza, this understanding entered into Bill’s consciousness and then into that of the addicts who seek a 12 step solution.
In my opinion, AA’s 12 steps are a practical demonstration of what Spinoza meant by ‘curing the intellect.’ The book, Alcoholic’s Anonymous29 and Joe McQ’s, The Steps We Took30, are a good place to read AA’s message.
This paper is my attempt to explain the words of Step 3: “God as I understand [it].” (I substitute ‘it’ for ‘Him’ so as to avoid any anthropomorphism and male chauvinism.

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