“I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing sacred about myself or about any human being, that we were all machines….I no more harbored sacredness than did a Pontiac, a mousetrap, or a South Bend Lathe.” -- Spoken by the narrator of Kurt Vonnegut’s, Breakfast of Champions.
“Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.” -- Spoken by Rabo Karabekian, a character in Breakfast of Champions.
“…it is Rabo Karabekian who made me the serene Earthling which I am this day.” -- Spoken by the narrator of Breakfast of Champions.
These lines are rather interesting from the point of view of naturalistic spirituality. In a sense, the conclusion reached by the narrator in the first quote is the natural conclusion of naturalism, regardless of how hard we squeeze to push out warmer sentiments. (Karabekian may be incorrect, though, to say that “everything else about us is dead machinery.” Our bodies are living machines by definition, our brains are exceedingly complex living machines -- but it is machinery none-the-less.)
There is, however, something about being aware that simply defies any attempt at being reduced to a mechanical function. Machinery simply isn’t aware. But if this one aspect of our being is not machinery, how does it fit into the mechanistic paradigm of science? Further, how does it effect, or even infect, the remaining machinery?
There are some writers out there, notably Daniel Dennett, who claim to understand awareness, and who think it can be reduced to the common machinery of the world. I have read these efforts and am not at all convinced that Dennett and his ilk have the final answer. (Actually, I don’t think they fully understand the question.)
I would suggest that before “awareness” can be incorporated into a scientific understanding of the world, that understanding has a least one more significant paradigm shift to move through, or maybe many, or maybe awareness cannot be captured within any paradigm. Time will tell (but I’ll be long dead before that telling). From where we stand today, “awareness” is a mystery, and that which allows the universe to bring forth such awareness is also a mystery.
If we want to talk about the sacred, or the sacred depths of Nature, the only justification comes from awareness. That nature brings forth awareness is the sole bases for seeing anything sacred in it. That which brings forth awareness becomes aware of itself through that which it brings forth. Every awareness is a great intersection of the Creating and the created. To be that intersection completely is a spiritual accomplishment; to see that intersection completely is to see the sacred.
One of the goals of this blog is to raise questions and put forth suggestions about how naturalistic spirituality can gain depth. I hadn't expected Kurt Vonnegut to have such a pointed insight on this topic.
* (The notion spoken by Karabekian may seem a fairly modern idea, but virtually the same idea was put forth by the Sankhya philosophy of ancient India, which is borrowed by Pantanjali as the metaphysical underpinning of his Yoga Sutras. There it forms a dualistic philosophy, where the awareness is called purusha and the machinery is called prakriti.)