The Paradox of Everchanging Truths – Why I’m Not Ashamed of My Beliefs

I was reading a Harry Potter fan fiction where Harry is a “rationalist” – in all implications of the word’s present day definition – and tries to justify every new thing he learns in the magic world from the point of his existing knowledge and beliefs. When something doesn’t fit, he upgrades/modifies his beliefs and theories (note to wannabe rationalists who “blindly” follow certain schools of thought). This one quote suddenly hit me hard, and i just had to write *something* about it. I haven’t written in a while so excuse my jumbled thoughts.

Professor McGonagall’s eyes were alight. “After you graduate, or possibly even before, you really must teach some of these Muggle theories at Hogwarts, Mr. Potter. They sound quite fascinating, even if they’re all wrong.”

So here McGonagall casually says that Harry’s muggle theories (i.e years of human acquired knowledge) are obviously wrong. He had been talking about some good stuff, like causality and temporal order (a cause having to occur *before* its effect, in the observable timeline), and Turing Computations (going back into a defined moment of the past and computing a different future from there) and things like that. He couldn’t explain the Time Turner based on his existing knowledge of how cause and effect works. So he accepted that it could work backwards too – something that happens *later* in time might control something that happened *before* it.

See, whenever we read or hear about something that doesn’t make sense according to our established scientific theories, we immediately dismiss the phenomenon as “impossible” or just fantasies made up by humans or superstitions. Or religion. While that is true in many cases, it doesn’t always have to be. There could be – and quite definitely are – laws that are beyond our understanding yet. For all we know, all the basic scientific theories we know now could be false in some way, or at least *incomplete* – which is why they fail to explain many things.

The mind projection fallacy, as described by physicist and Bayesian philosopher E. T. Jaynes, says that that if you are ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about your own state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself; your uncertainty is a fact about you, not a fact about whatever you are uncertain about; gnorance exists in the mind, not in reality; a blank map does not correspond to a blank territory.

In this particular book the people of the magic world know for a fact that most muggle theories are wrong, and hence they have no problem accepting the reality of magic. Meanwhile Harry Potter, a sort of child prodigy back in the muggle world, just CANNOT come to terms with the apparent unbelievable-ness of magic world laws – which allow things like time turning, mind control, trapping a “large space” inside a “small space”, etc.

The lesson to take from this is, just because we don’t find something believable, doesn’t always mean it is false. We are a species that’s SO arrogant that we are never ready to believe anything that the currently most-credible institution in human society hasn’t declared believable. In the present world this institution is Western rationalist science. For a long time this institution was the Church (which followed different interpretations at different times, based on what suited the current emperor). During Moses’s time (ancient Egypt) it was the Pharaoh. Sometimes it was aristocrats, sometimes philosophers. Keeps changing, is the point.

The only constant throughout history is that we were always too arrogant to think outside the box. Pre-Copernicus scientists were too arrogant to believe that the earth wasn’t at the center of everything. 18th century biologists were too arrogant to believe that plants have life. Descartes was too arrogant to believe that atoms couldn’t be broken down. Hume was too arrogant to believe in the existence of anything we can not see. Non-Darwinians are too arrogant to believe in evolution. Darwinians are too arrogant to disbelieve in evolution. Present day rationalists are too arrogant to believe in the existence of a soul, or an intelligent designer of everything in the universe. Present day scientists are too arrogant to believe in anything that doesn’t show up in existing man-made measurement devices. And on and on and on.

The point is, we think we know. At every point in history, we thought we knew. And this, the present, is also a point in our history. That’s the part we always forgot.

And that is why when someone asks me how I believe in such “backdated, flawed” theories i.e Islamic beliefs (and that too, as a conscious decision) – I can’t expect them to understand what they’re too arrogant to understand. Yes, I believe in divine entities, higher dimensions, eternal consequences, an intelligent designer, and much more. I believe in a bigger reality. And I’m not ashamed of it.

.

.

[Reference: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudkowsky]

Advertisements

Surah Jathiyah 45:24

It’s Now Or Never

Two more years. Two more years of devouring painful loads of mostly-useless knowledge, of draining my precious time following a deeply-flawed system and trying to please teachers for grades that would never really matter. Two more years of high school.

Two years may not sound like much to many people, but from where I stand, it is like a long – freakishly long – tunnel that seems almost endless. But whatever is on the other side seems too damn attractive right now. The other side has things I’ve been yearning for too long, things I crave like a diabetic craving for sugar despite knowing about its cons. The other side, has life.

“Just two more years, and then you’ll be able to do all that you dream of doing,” says the delusional optimist in me, hoping that the end of school will bring with it opportunities to use my time the way I want to; opportunities to do something for Allah’s Deen, to learn all I want from the depths of Islam and share that with others, to become the dynamic Muslim that I long to become. It gives me distant hopes saying, “All this pressure of studies will be over one day and then you can learn Arabic, you can memorize as many Juz of the Quran as you want to. You can even teach people, but all that’s for later. Come on now, you have a test next week!” It is funny that I think that way, because the rationalist in me knows quite well that two years later, it might only get worse. There will be college. Then work. Then additional people in my life. Then maybe even more people – until my moments become too clogged up to keep track of; until I find myself saying, “I wish I was back in high school.”

What if it is just a trick by Shaitan – making me be in the delusion that life hasn’t really started yet – to stop me from turning all my aspirations to reality? Because, from what I see around me, I can tell that when I’ve reached the supposed end of the tunnel, I’ll probably be squished from all sides by an overdose of the ‘life’ that I wasted these precious years waiting for. Yes, that does sound like Shaitan in action. And how can I let him win?

So what about turning the picture around – broadening my scope of optimism and putting it this way: These two long years might be the biggest opportunity I’ll ever get. The hundreds of hours of free time I’ll have during this time might actually be more than all the free time I’ll ever have later in my life combined. And if I AM going to do something (something for Islam is what I mean), isn’t now the best time to start?

So what I’m just a teenager? In the view of Islam, you’re an adult the moment you hit puberty. Having considered that, I’ve already wasted too much of my adulthood. And then of course, I could die any day. I could die even before school is over. Just because my country has an average life expectancy of 67.8 years, that does not guarantee ME six decades of life. In fact, no one can guarantee me even twenty years of life! Dying a plain ol’ Muslim who didn’t even try to do something for the Deen, despite having the knowledge and ability, is the worst thing that can happen to a believer. On Judgment day, I can’t put up excuses like “Umm yeah I had the resources, the knowledge, the health and the energy to do something for Islam, but I was only in High school!”

I was in high school! I was the same age when many Sahabah had fought through battles – like real, actual battles! If I even start researching about the Sahabah who braced Islam at an early age and all the awesome things they accomplished even before they had grown up, I would feel like the most useless piece of flesh on earth.

Maybe I won’t be able to build Masjids or found Islamic institutions now. Maybe I won’t be able to arrange big Halaqats or create Arabic learning platforms all by myself now. But there sure are things I can do – and the first thing that comes to mind is learning more. Learning the Quran; its language, its intricacies, all the miracles it bears, all the magic it hides. Learning about the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم, his awe-striking life, actions and ahadeeth. Learning about the Sahabah. And so much more. And of course there are other things to do, all I have to do is to start looking out.

Two years. Two long, unrestrained years. How can I just waste this huge blessing of Allah? The fact is, I can’t. Do I know what exactly to do? Nope. Do I have close friends who share these same aspirations? I wish. But problems are there to be dealt with. So I’ll keep praying to Allah that He makes me of the Saliheen – the righteous – and gives me the ability to use my youth. Because, your youth wasted is your life wasted.

Five-before-Five

%d bloggers like this: