Doubt and Faith: Sides of a coin

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.       

-Khalil Gibran 
 
A fever or pain is itself not a disease but an immune response in a form of an indication that a struggle is started within the body; something went wrong whether an outsider intrusion or internal imbalance which needs immediate attention and some remedial action. The same is true with the feeling of doubt. Doubt is an indication of somewhat disturbed belief system which needs immediate attention and some remedial action. In the words of William Shakespeare, “Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.”  
 
I heard a story about Gautam Buddha who once was taking rest outside a village. A passerby recognized him and greeted. He, despite being theist, asked Buddha “Do God exist?” Buddha replied “No.” He passed with a state of despair on his face. Another passerby asked the same question to Buddha but he was an atheist; the reply came “Yes.” He also walked with desperate face. Third one came and said “It doesn’t matter for me whether God exists or not, but, since I met you it is not unwise to ask you so I am asking do god exist?” Buddha said “May be may not be.” Buddha’s disciple sat beside him and was listening all questions and answers and finally asked “All of them asked the same question but you replied differently I don’t understand why? Which one is correct?” Buddha replied sheepishly “All of them were correct for those whom given and none of them for you. The thirst of truth could not be quenched by firm belief in prejudice but through curiosity i.e. asking smart questions and meeting their answers. I was just breaking prejudices of the first two and the third one was already in that state.”
 
It is not that we don’t know answers but we don’t know how to ask questions. The moments of doubt could be used to learn asking question. Most people thought being a part of question as failure and want to be a part of solution. It is okay but when the same principle is applied to doubts then the opposite happens. Doubt doesn’t teach answers but questions. It is the question that meets answer. Dennis Palumbo, a former Hollywood screenwriter and now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, said “The plain fact is, the more willing you are to mine the landscape of your own doubts, the truer and more recognizably human your characters will be.”
 
Quantum physics reveals nature as a realm of knowledge. The physical theory has become converted from a theory about `physically reality’, as it had formerly been understood, into a theory about human knowledge. Freedom is granted to each experimenter to choose freely which experiment he will perform, i.e., which aspect of nature he will probe; which question he will put to nature. Then nature is allowed to pick an outcome of the experiment, i.e., to answer to the question. These elements of `freedom of choice’, on the part of both the human participant and nature herself, lead to a picture of a reality that gradually unfolds in response to choices that are not necessarily fixed by the prior physical part of reality alone. The basic building blocks of the new conception of nature are not objective tiny bits of matter, but choices of questions and answers.
 
Doubt is like a situation where one stands at an intersection of roads and does not know which one is correct for his destiny; which one to choose. Doubt is a state of mind in which one is struggling between opposite propositions and unable to stick either of them. Doubt is not the situation of multiple choice options but doubt against each option in terms of its validity whether it is true or not. On the basis of logic, doubt could be understood in two ways: one in which logic could be applied equally by both side, i.e. for the proposition or against the proposition and second in which logic could not be applied by any side due to lack of evidence. In either case logic could not be of much help but faith. Logic needs axioms to spin arguments. Mark Twain said “when in doubt tell the truth.” Truth could not be an interpretation of brainstorming but a direct message. Truth is something that sprouts from within and requires faith to act upon it. William James said “faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.”
 
A child was born in the year 570 and raised from the milk of nomad, vicarious mothers in the desert of Arabia. He tended sheep and soon hired out to a rich widow as leader of her caravans. In 595, the widow aged 40 and was 15 years older than he, looked upon him with favor and married him. He continued his living as a rich and respected trader. Each year during Ramdan, the ninth month of lunar calendar, he wandered in mountains surrounding Mecca to refresh himself with solitude and prayer. In the year 610, at the age of 40, the humble trader took himself on one of these retreats in the cave of Mount Hira and suddenly found someone calling him to proclaim. He terrified and ran out of the cave. At first, he thought, it had to have been a hallucination; a trick of the eye or of the year or his own mind working against him. He even thought worst about being possessed by an evil spirit to deceive him and to crush life out of him. He was deeply distressed and resolved to commit suicide. The man who fled down the mountain that night was in a state of stark, primordial fear and overwhelmed not with conviction but by doubt. Slowly and gradually he learned to have faith along with confusion and struggling. He continued his prayer and fast. After three years, once again, he heard from the same source “By morning brightness and by the stillness of the night, Your Lord has not forsaken you, nor has He become displeased, and surely what comes after is better for you than that which has gone before.  And soon will your Lord give you so that you shall be well pleased.” He was Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam and this was the beginning of holy Quran and faith in one “Allah” which started with a terrifying doubt. Lesley Hazleton, author of ‘The First Muslim’ said “It was precisely Muhammad’s doubt that brought him alive for me, that allowed me to begin to see him in full, to accord him the integrity of reality. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that he doubted, because doubt is essential to faith.” In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.”  
 
As it is said that excess of anything is bad, so is with doubt. Excess of doubt creates fear which ultimately leads to frustration and misery. One should make a stand and act accordingly with faith. On the other extreme, if all doubts are abolished, then what remains is not faith but absolute heartless conviction which leads to self-righteous arrogance.
 
All innovations whether scientific or spiritual are results of doubt: doubt over existing system. They are the answers put forward by nature as a result of the questions raised in doubts and nurtured by faith. All religious system did not origin at the same time but gradually doubting over the previous system as Buddhism from Hinduism and Islam and Christianity from Judaism. But the followers stop asking questions and show their blind faith which resulted in decline of religions because the questions have changed and they are still giving the same old answers. If they do not assimilate current questions then they are preparing grounds for new religions. The existence of many religions is the outcome of fundamentalist thinking prevailing in the religion which is not ready to accommodate new questions.
 
Faith has no easy answers. It involves an ongoing struggle, a continual questioning of what we think we know a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt in a never ending conversation with it and sometimes in conscious defiance of it. What drives us is that, despite our doubts and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair and insist on faith. Consider the ambivalence as put by Frederick Buechner, “If you don’t have any doubts you’re either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”
 
Faith and doubt both are needed not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve.
-Lillian Smith  

Belief-A tool to mend reality

Belief creates the actual fact.      -William James 
 
Reality! What is reality? Right now, you are reading this on a computer or somewhat related devices such as laptop, smart phones, tablets etc. You see letters and pictures on the screen of the device but are they real? My answer is ‘yes’ as well as ‘no’. ‘Yes,’ because you are seeing it and ‘no,’ because what appear as letters and pictures on the screen is actually projection of pixels on screen which are controlled by ‘on’ and ‘off’ of logic switches in processor. To render something on screen, such as a letter, the processor has to tell each pixel to be light or dark, or in case of color displays, what color to be. 
 
Do you know how you see color? Ganglion cells in the retina receive input from many color sensitive photoreceptors and produce sequences of electrical spikes that go to the brain. The sequence of spikes is a code that represents the image that falls on the retina and is transformed into the experience of color and shapes. The concept of ‘qualia’ may be interpreted as an interface which converts these electrical spikes into experience. It is the brain that registers a specific frequency of light and the experience associated with it we name as specific color. In the words of Sir John Atkins, a noted neurobiologist, “I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world or sound, nothing of this kind, no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent; the only reason a rose is red that you have a nervous system that registers a specific frequency of electromagnetic radiation or light as certain experience that we called red.”
 
In light of science, as revealed by quantum physics, the Universe is a field of zero-point energies where reality emerges from it and merges in it as reality pops in field of pixels in bitmapped display screens. Thus physical theory became converted from a theory about ‘physically reality’, as it had formerly been understood, into a theory about human knowledge. This view is encapsulated in Heisenberg’s famous statement: “The conception of the objective reality of the elementary particles has thus evaporated not into the cloud of some obscure new reality concept, but into the transparent clarity of mathematics that represents no longer the behavior of the particle but rather our knowledge of this behavior.” The observed physical world is described rather by a mathematical structure that can best be characterized as representing information and propensities: some information about all the possible choices is simultaneously present in the quantum state, and the possibility that any one of the mutually exclusive alternatives might be pertinent. Whichever choice the experimenter eventually makes, the associated set of predictions is assumed to hold.
 
Quantum theory of the general nature and rules of behavior of the reality in which our human knowledge is imbedded opens door for belief as a powerful tool to mend reality. Quantum theory often entails that an act of acquiring knowledge in one place instantly changes the theoretical representation of some faraway system. The quantum non locality of nature suggests the way to the development of a rationally coherent theory of nature that integrates the subjective knowledge into an objectively existing and evolving physical reality.
 
The reality making effects of belief could be seen in the cases of mental disorder. In schizophrenia, a patient could see persons in real 3D view as we normally see but these persons do not exist for others. Schizophrenic see as well as talk with them as real but the passing by would see schizophrenic talking himself. A schizophrenic could hallucinate in any sensory modality:  visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, etc.
 
Multiple Personality disorder or now called Dissociative Identity disorder is a bizarre syndrome in which two or more distinct personalities inhabit a single body. In people with multiple personalities, there is a strong psychological separation between each sub-personality; each will have his own name and age, and often some specific memories and abilities. Frequently, for example, personalities will differ in handwriting, artistic talent or even in knowledge of foreign languages. Clinicians reported isolated cases of dramatic biological changes in people with multiple personalities as they switched from one to another. These include the abrupt appearance and disappearance of rashes, welts, scars and other tissue wounds; switches in handwriting and handedness; epilepsy, allergies and color blindness that strike only when a given personality is in control of the body. Some multiples have to carry two or three different pairs of eyeglasses to accommodate their alternating personalities. One multiple, admitted to a hospital for diabetes, baffled her doctors by showing no symptoms when one of her non diabetic personalities was in control. There are cases of women who have two or three menstrual periods each month because each of their sub-personalities has its own cycle.
 
Dr. Bennet Braun, a psychiatrist at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago documented a case in which all of a patient’s sub-personalities were allergic to orange juice, except Timmy. When Timmy drinks orange juice he has no problem but if other sub-personalities drink orange juice, the result is a case of hives. The hives will occur even if Timmy drinks orange juice and another personality appears while the juice is still being digested. What’s more, if Timmy comes back while the allergic reaction is present, the itching of the hives will cease immediately, and the water-filled blisters will begin to subside. 
 
Such remarkable cases of mental disorder are leading scientists to assess how much psychological states can affect the body’s biology, for better or worse. The researches and discoveries of such patients offer a unique window on how the belief could mend reality. Anything less than reality is hope not belief. Hope needs faith to transform itself into belief which is equivalent to reality.
 
Let me tell you about a paranormalist, Uri Geller, who is well known for his trademark performances of spoon bending. He gained notice for demonstrating psychokinesis, dowsing, and telepathy. His performance included bending spoons, describing hidden drawings, and making watches stop or run faster. Geller said he performs these feats through will power and the strength of his mind. Magicians have said that his performances can be duplicated using stage magic tricks. A number of scientific experiments was conducted on him with varying results but could not confine him into the boundary of psychic or magic.
 
The power of belief is also reflected in numerous achievements. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former professional bodybuilder, actor, producer, director, businessman, investor, and politician who won the Mr. Universe title at age 20 and went on to win the Mr. Olympia contest seven times. He served two terms as the 38th Governor of California from 2003 until 2011. Schwarzenegger believed in power of ‘belief.’ He once said “I envision myself being there already – having achieved the goal already. It’s mind over matter.”
 
Morris E. Goodman had air crash in March, 1981 and ended in a hospital completely paralyzed, couldn’t drink or even breathe. The doctor told that there were no hopes and the only thing he could do was blinking his eyes rest of his life. He believed he would walk by Christmas that year. He practiced visualizing himself walking out of hospital on his two feet. First, he had hope then he added faith to it to transform hope into belief which eventually turned out into reality. He did walk by that Christmas.   
 
It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.
-Muhammad Ali