Religion, Aesthetics, and Science

Disregarding for a moment the formal institutions, artifacts, and roles of each, religion, aesthetics, and science are just different modalities of thinking that we all possess to greater or lesser degrees according to our needs and desires.

They all have to do with things we wonder about, would like to know more about, or don’t know enough about. Each has its own mode of proper ways to think, how to pose questions, and what constitutes answers. Depending on our current needs or desires we might shift from one modality to another and then shift back.

The religious modality gives us a sense of knowing the answers to questions that probably will never be fully or verifiably answered, like where did we ultimately come from, who made us and everything around us, what will ultimately happen to us, what is our purpose, and what should we do. I can’t think of any more important questions for a person to ask. Unfortunately, there are some people who don’t believe the questions should be left unanswered at any cost.

The aesthetic modality provides us possible explanations that are beautiful or elicit emotional or intellectual responses for things that may or may not exist of which we may or may not be aware. The aesthetic modality has no boundaries, not even that it must be true or verifiable. It is self-defining. Everything one says about it may be true and it may be untrue. It breaks the lock on our existence and ways of interacting with others and the world around us, allowing us to change what we do and what we are. It is creative in that it creates what didn’t exist before. It is irrational in that there is no deductive or inductive reasoning that leads up to it. Externally it looks like a random event. Internally it feels like a eureka moment.

The scientific modality offers us the means to know or at least to be more sure of some of the things we are ignorant about. It dwells less on what we know for sure and more on what we don’t know. It is rational, based on a minimal set of assumptions and an efficient process for drawing conclusions from initial conditions. It is repeatable in that anyone using the same assumptions and applying the same processes under the same initial conditions would come to the same conclusions. This may not sound like much but it is one of the primary foundations of the scientific method. Rather than hiding or running away from our problems and ignorance, we run towards them, attacking them with the tools of our minds (and anything else at hand). If they are too big, we break them into increasingly smaller parts until we are confronted with something we’ve solved before or know or can imagine. In Israel we call this mode looking for the lion in the desert. You are looking for a lion. You know it is roaming around somewhere in the vast desert but you don’t know exactly where, so you divide the desert in half and ask if it is in the right half or the left half. If the lion is in the right half of the desert, you subdivide that half into quarters and ask which quarter it’s in. You get the idea. You keep subdividing until you find the lion.

We are all capable of thinking in all modalities although some people seem to favor one modality over another even when that modality is less appropriate for a given set of circumstances in which they might find themselves.

Truth be told, we need them all. Otherwise they never would have evolved with us (or God would never have bestowed them on us, if that is your current mode).


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