Modern physics has a big problem in which the theory of the big (the theory of general relativity) and the theory of the small (quantum physics) have certain conflicting points. As far as we know they are both very accurate and very good as theories (they have lots of evidence, great predictive power, etc.) and yet they conflict.
I’m not an expert in this area, but the conflict appears to be along a few lines:
- Smooth vs. chunky. General relativity needs space to be “smooth” (there’s no minimum unit of distance) whereas quantum mechanics specifies planck length as the minimum possible distance between two points.
- The information paradox: general relativity specifies that when matter falls into a black hole the information about it is lost forever, whereas quantum mechanics can’t “live” with that idea as it requires time-reversal. (I’m not 100% clear on the specifics of this, but I understand #1 better 🙂 )
OK, so now what? We have two very good theories, very very good indeed, but they don’t agree. What do we do? How do we resolve this conflict intellectually?
It seems quite simple really:
- We establish a mental workaround so we can keep living life (renormalisation) by drawing boundaries around the theories (specifying when and where they break down). This can be done in the “short term” to keep “the world spinning” so to say.
- We continue to seek out the elusive “theory of everything” (yes, the one the movie about Stephen Hawking is about) which would resolve the conflict, unify the theories and explain a whole lot. This is a “long term” solution.
This conflict shares some similarities with my own internal conflict, and perhaps all conflicts we face. Some mental or intellectual conflicts can be resolved in a short timeframe, but others we have to prepare to live with for a longer time, perhaps even our entire lives.
While physicists may be disturbed somewhat by the conflict between the big and the small, at least they are very unlikely to think that this conflict has any bearing on their “salvation”. That is to say, although the conflict must bother them, even immensely, by nature I don’t think it can bother a person as much as a religious or spiritual conflict can.
My conflict is quite simple really: I have become aware of enough information / arguments / reasoning “to the contrary” of my personal beliefs so as to merit proper introspection and re-evaluation. I won’t belabour the specifics of this conflict in this article (this entire blog is focused on them, they are extensive), but the main points are illustrated in my recent article the three pillars of doubt wherein I explain the categories of doubt that are faced.
With this in mind we turn to the simple question: “so now what?”, “what are you going to do about it?” – or in other words, putting on your pragmatic hat, “where do we go from here?” And it’s that very question that I’ve given a great deal of thought to.
I highly doubt there will be absolute certainty one way or the other at any point in my life. If there were, then there would be no need for faith. I’m pretty certain that if there is a God, He intends us to “walk by faith and not by sight” – though I am still unclear as to the reasons. Why not give us clarity AND agency? It is Mormon doctrine that sooner or later everyone will have the opportunity to hear the fullness of the Gospel, (which, by the way, pretty much means that most people who’ve ever lived will have to hear it in the next life; what was the point of the mortal test if a vast majority of the people engaged in the test have no idea about Christ, the premortal life, postmortal salvation, etc.? Why not just make it clearer for everyone? Anyway, enough about that.)
Given that there will never be absolute certainty (at the very least not in this life), it seems quite clear I need a type of solution that is not a “cop out” (not just “well, who knows anyway, eat drink and be merry! We’ll find out in the next life who was right all along!”). And that specific solution needs to be a very good idea and solid option.
And here it is, the “re-normalisation” to precede the “spiritual theory of everything” (which I assume we will only be privy to in the next life, though we can work on it in this life — and I fully intend to do so):
(Gospel) Principle centred life.
As I hope I’ve demonstrated sufficiently several times in my blog, the tenets of theism, Christianity and Mormonism are all vulnerable to intellectual and rational attack. What this means is not that they are unreasonable; but that the “truth” is anything but unequivocally clear to mankind at large. If it were, then there would be far more of us “believers” and Mormons in particular. I think by now this should be obvious to anyone who’s aware of the increasing atheist / secular movement around the world. There is a lot of “anti-stuff” out there, and it’s increasing in both quantity and quality, that criticises religion and religious convictions.
Now, this wouldn’t be a problem for me if I thought all of those attacks were just stupid (which is honestly what a lot of members of the church do to avoid confronting the problem – let’s just turn around and brand everyone else as idiots, or “they’re being deceived by the Devil” — by the way, almost everyone of every religion does this, in no way is this unique to us). But the problem is that I don’t think they are stupid. In many instances they have made me pause, reflect, and reconsider my position on things.
So now I’m faced with a question: what thing is solid enough to form the centre of my life? And I think the answer is very clear to me at this time: True principles.
The 7 habits and principle centred life
About a year ago I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In this book Steven Covey (who is a Mormon) spends quite some time discussing the so-called “centre” of our lives. What is it that our lives revolve around? He discusses various centres like “friend-centred” or “pleasure centred” or “possession centred” or “church centred” or “spouse centred”, etc. He discusses at length the weaknesses of each of those centres of life. He then suggests something which I believe is deeply profound and have thought about it frequently since reading;
“A Principle Centre
By centering our lives on correct principles, we create a solid foundation for development of the four life-support factors. Our security comes from knowing that, unlike other centers based on people or things which are subject to frequent and immediate change, correct principles do not change. We can depend on them. Principles don’t react to anything. They won’t divorce us or run away with our best friend. They aren’t out to get us. They can’t pave our way with shortcuts and quick fixes. They don’t depend on the behavior of others, the environment, or the current fad for their validity. Principles don’t die. They aren’t here one day and gone the next. They can’t be destroyed by fire, earthquake, or theft. Principles are deep, fundamental truths, classic truths, generic common denominators. They are tightly interwoven threads running with exactness, consistency, beauty, and strength through the fabric of life.”
Earlier on in the book he explains:
“The principles I am referring to are not esoteric, mysterious, or “religious” ideas. There is not one principle taught in this book that is unique to any specific faith or religion, including my own. These principles are a part of every major enduring religion, as well as enduring social philosophies and ethical systems. They are self-evident and can easily be validated by any individual. It’s almost as if these principles or natural laws are part of the human condition, part of the human consciousness, part of the human conscience. They seem to exist in all human beings, regardless of social conditioning and loyalty to them, even though they might be submerged or numbed by conditions or disloyalty.”
Correct principles are a type of truth that we can always turn to. Correct principles are, indeed, immutable. Believe it or not, even the doctrines of the church can and do change. I’m not just talking about policies, but doctrines. Just today a major “policy” changed wherein women are now included in the highest level major church councils (great move guys!) but doctrines taught by old prophets of our church have subsequently been disavowed (examples here). The principles of the Gospel however, have and do not change.
Quick interlude: The Divine Centre
I am currently reading the Divine Centre by Stephen Covey and want to briefly note an interesting difference. In the 7 Habits he suggests a “principle centred” life (the 7 habits is addressed to a general audience, written 7 years after the Divine Centre), whereas in the Divine Centre he suggests a Christ centred life (the Divine Centre is addressed to a Mormon audience).
I have thought long and hard about what the difference between those two things is. But before we jump up and down and say that “AHA — the real centre is in the Divine Centre book because that was addressed to members with whom he shares the ‘true stuff'”, let me share a deeply significant quote (at least for me) in the Divine Centre:
“I might have suggested the gospel as the true centre of our lives. In theory, this would be acceptable. But this is a behaviour book, intended to be practical. In the minds of many (too many) the term gospel is too abstract for our purpose“
In this statement he suggests that the Gospel as a true centre of our lives would be acceptable, but in order to make it more personal he suggests Christ instead.
Christ preached the Gospel. The Gospel is a set of teachings meant to assist us in living our lives in a certain way.
I find it interesting that the second book suggests these true principles are found in all major religions. Principles are the independently discoverable truths, and the principles that Christ taught are also independently discoverable truths, repackaged and repurposed with various doctrines and beliefs throughout the ages, but still in tact.
(Gospel) in parenthesis
I wish to centre my life on true principles. I feel very deeply that this is the direction I want to go. Frankly true principles seem to be much more universal, applicable, solid and general than doctrines. Doctrines give the why (I have another article on the why coming), principles give the how. I choose the how, I choose the pragmatic divine centre.
I’ve included the word “Gospel” in parenthesis very intentionally. I did not want to make my life a “Gospel Principle centred life” but a “(Gospel) Principle centred life”…
By this distinction I am recognising that the Gospel has been one of the major sources of true principles in my life (which to the religious / believing side of me is hopefully conspicuous; why is it that it makes me so happy? (The Spirit)),
… but not the only source.
The church, or even the Gospel, cannot lay claim to all true principles. There are just too many, they are just too broad.
Principles not in parenthesis
And that is why “Principles” is not in parenthesis. Honestly, I have found books that explain certain true principles in better and clearer language than the scriptures or teachings of the Gospel. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one great example; the explanations are much clearer than say, Isaiah. (Sorry old man) Another book I’ve read and which has been fundamental to me is who will do what by when, a book about the principle of integrity, and in my opinion it is a superior work on the idea of integrity than I have ever run into in all of my church experience. (Mormon standard time may not even exist if we would just absorb this book into a general conference or something).
The other reason is that there are principles that lie outside of the scope of the Gospel which are still valuable, useful and important. I have found understanding the idea of principles extremely effective in my work as a digital marketer. Instead of understanding the short-term tricks and techniques, how can I master the fundamental principles of online marketing? This way of thinking; seeking out solid, long term and independently discoverable principles has benefited me not only spiritually but professionally and in every area of my life. Indeed I feel I will spend a lifetime seeking out for, discovering, and applying true principles into my life.
In the introduction of the latest edition of the 7 Habits, one of my other favourite authors Jim Collins writes of his meeting Stephen Covey and reading his book (boy was I excited to read this, two of my favourite authors meet, written in July 2013):
“The ideas embedded in the framework are timeless. They are principles. This is why they work, and why they speak to people in all age groups around the globe. In a world of change, disruption, chaos, and relentless uncertainty, people crave an anchor point, a set of constructs to give them guidance in the face of turbulence. Covey believed that timeless principles do indeed exist, and that the search for them is not folly, but wisdom…
… no enterprise can become or remain truly great without a core set of principles to preserve, to build upon, to serve as an anchor, to provide guidance in the face of an ever-changing world…
… I do not mean to imply that the 7 Habits map one-for-one to building a great company. The principles in Good to Great and Built to Last, for example, and the principles in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are complementary, but distinct.”
In this introduction Collins gives the idea that his work in Good to Great and other fantastic books (and I’ve read almost all of his books) ALSO has the same quest: the search for timeless principles as a conceptual framework upon which to build your life, your “divine centre”.
Thus it is. Principles lie at the heart of my life. I will seek out for, embrace and attempt to apply true principles in my life as long as I life. This is my “divine centre”, the heart and soul of my conviction and spirituality. The quest for true principles.
Conclusion and afterthoughts
Perhaps this quest will lead me back to God in the end. At the end of the 7 Habits Stephen Covey shares:
“As I conclude this book, I would like to share my own personal conviction concerning what I believe to be the source of correct principles. I believe that correct principles are natural laws, and that God, the Creator and Father of us all, is the source of them, and also the source of our conscience.”
And there is that scripture: John 7:16-17 “Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
In a prior conversation with my missionary trainer, we discussed the possibility that this scripture has eternal implications. It may be that we only truly discover the genesis of these doctrines / principles in the afterlife.
And indeed, what is faith, if not belief strong enough to motivate action?
And so I choose a principle centred life.