Instinct vs. Choices

Homo sapiens have been provided some instincts such as self preservation and species preservation, but we seem to be different than all the other animals on this planet in that we also make choices, unrelated to obtaining food, shelter, or sex.  As an example, we may make decisions based on whether we consider the act as being right or wrong.  This seems to separate us from the others in our animal kingdom.

This gift of a decision-making process does not come without consequences, though.  Even if you do not believe in consequences in an afterlife, there are consequences within our lives.  If you choose the door with the tiger behind it, you will, more than likely, be eaten.

Biological psychologists wrestle with some very difficult questions.  (1) Can our minds work independently of our brains?  (2) Why do humans have an ethical basis for their decisions?  (3) How does heredity influence behavior?  We will discuss these questions later to see how they impact our choices.

But let’s start with instinct.  Instinct is a label for a category of behaviors that are found in different species.  When we say that female elephants take care of their babies based on a maternal instinct, this is only a label that does not explain how the behavior developed in elephants.  But these labels are important and seem fairly consistent throughout the animal kingdom.  Many species have a maternal instinct, which helps preserve the species.  Some biological psychologists avoid the term instinct as being offensive to their studies, but it is very beneficial when talking in general terms.

There is a strong maternal instinct in our species.  Our brains are hard-wired to protect our young since this allowed humans to survive predators in the wild.  Many mammals have young that are not strong enough to run away from a hungry predator, so an instinct to preserve our species is deep within us.  Humans don’t wonder whether there will be consequences to us.  We react instinctively when we protect our young.

Now, let’s examine choices.  When our species makes a decision, is it because biological factors forced a behavior or did they enable the behavior to occur?  For example, there are areas of your brain that increase the likelihood of you being pushed into aggressive behavior.  But you will make choices on your response to that force.  Your past experiences, the current social setting, the legal consequences, and current motivations will all come into play when you make a decision.  When murderers were asked if they chose to commit the murders, they answered in the affirmative.  You make choices every day and there are always consequences, which temper your decisions.

So, let’s examine the first question above:  can our minds work independently of our brains?  There are two theories:  (1) the dualists believe that our brains interact with our minds, while (2) the monists believe that the brain is a machine and consciousness is irrelevant to its functioning.  Most religions follow dualism since when our brains die, we arguably continue thinking with our minds.  And our ethical and moral values play a significant role in making choices.  Descartes, a French philosopher, was a dualist who believed that there was something other than the brain that recognized that “I think, therefore I am.”

If you believe that we respond like machines, then we really don’t have any choices.  We are predestined to do everything that we do.  We would be hard wired to make decisions.  If this were true, wouldn’t we all be making the same basic decisions?  For example if we found a lost wallet with $100,000 inside it, would everybody make the same decision on what to do with the money?  You would have some people who would return the wallet and money and others who would return only the wallet and pretend that they found it without the cash inside.  The final choice will be based on many complex factors and should not be a typical mechanical decision.

This is a transition to the second question: why do humans have an ethical basis for their decisions?  Is there a part of our brain that has a conscience?  There may be parts of the brain that may be stimulated to provide relief from pain or depression.  But it is not known if the brain can be manipulated to provide a conscious in the decision-making process.  In other words, can a portion of the brain be stimulated to make a person make better choices based on something other than personal gains?

The answer why our species seems to be unique when it struggles with ethical decisions is based on many factors.  Certainly, how we are perceived by others, our religious beliefs, and how penal systems will respond to our actions may forge a conscious.  Man struggles mightily with ethics, so there must be some reason that is lodged somewhere in our thoughts, different than in our brains.

Then the final question is: how does heredity influence behavior?  An ontogenetic explanation of our behavior starts with our genes and traces how the genes combine with the influence of the environment and our experiences to produce the final outcome.  The genes that were more successful were passed on to future generations as the genetic makeup that had weaknesses were phased out over the years.  For example Homo sapiens probably had a conservative gene that made our species more cautious and patient in our responses.  Those of our early species who were too impatient were eaten by predators, so natural selection preserved those genetic propensities to take our time and think things through before jumping into harm’s way.

As we discussed, birds do not need to be taught how to build nests since that behavior is largely instinctual.  However, humans need to be taught nearly everything we do.  We have a survival instinct for ourselves and our species, but we make most of our decisions with our minds in gear, not our brains.  We make many conscious choices every day based on our individual moral fiber.  So it may come as a shock to many people that genetic differences are also an important determinant of variation in a wide range of human behaviors.  A growing list of behaviors— including major measurable aspects of personality, political conservatism, religiosity, occupational attitudes, social attitudes, marital status, and even television watching—have all been shown to be inherited traits.

In conclusion, our decisions frame who we are and who we want to be during our lives.  But our decisions also play a significant role in the afterlife.  In other words if you are still thinking when you die, then your brain will decompose leaving your mind to continue into the afterlife.  The choices that you made during your lifetime will follow your thoughts after death.

Reasoning with SO-SO Loops

Is it better to reason with subjective (a priori) logic or objective (a posteriori) logic?  Many philosophers have picked either the Descartes subjective side or the Bacon objective position.  Why not use both?

SO-SO is the acronym for Subjective Objective – Subjective Objective.  Please examine the SO-SO Loops included below.  You start with the “Instinct” or Deductive Reasoning on the right-hand side of the circle with the top-right Subjective “I Feel” and work clockwise around the circle.

This cyclical movement ensures that many inputs and sources are considered before making a decision.  And it is important to run through this reasoning process at least twice, thus earning the name SO-SO Loops.  If you just utilize this cycle once, your decision would be just “SO-SO.”  This thought process is designed to lead you to making enlightened and more moderate decisions.

 As I said, the Loops are “SO-SO” if just utilized once, but your decisions will improve exponentially if you repeat the process at least twice.  After you have worked through the loop once, do a “gut” check and run it through the cycle again.  This is the circular path that can assist you in making moderate choices.

Have you ever looked for a book on moderation?  There aren’t many.  Have you ever wondered why?  My guess is because the extremists are the squeaky wheels who are always getting the grease.  Extremists have better sound bites for television interviews.  Extremists make for better headlines and will sell more newspapers.  Extremists excite you, energize you, and win you over to their powerful magnetic force. 

Moderates are boring because all they want to do is stay in the middle of every argument.  They are the weak force.  But have you ever thought about how difficult remaining neutral really is?  When you have two extreme forces tugging at you, it is actually extremely hard not picking a side.  As the magnetic field strengthens, you generally are drawn to either the north or south poles.  No wonder the world is becoming more polarized with moderates becoming an endangered species.

When we make decisions, we are generally influenced by extreme positions.  Our two-party political system is an example of how two opposite sides polarize America.  Moderate parties generally do not win elections.  However, I am suggesting that you utilize moderation in making choices in life.  The “Golden Mean” of Aristotle, the “Middle Way” of Buddha, and the “Balanced Order” of Confucius are the “ABCs” of virtue ethics.

We all make difficult decisions every day.  That is our job at work and at home.  Don’t shy away from it.  Embrace it.  Come to work excited to be challenged by these choices. 

And when you run into a really tough decision when it looks like the scales are balanced equally… when it looks like you can argue the case either way, then go to your gut and ask yourself, “What is the right thing to do?” Not what is the easiest thing to do… not what is best thing for my career, but what is the right thing to do?  The right thing is usually the hardest thing to do and not for the faint of heart.

Reasoning

Subjective                   Objective

Deductive (a priori)              Inductive (a posteriori)

(self-evident propositions)             (observed facts)

Instinct                                     Logic

Start

1. Subjective “I Feel” – My conscience, intuition, or “gut” feeling

2. Objective “They Feel” – Reasonable person’s laws, mores, society

3. Subjective “I Think” – My logical conclusion

4. Objective “They Think” – Reasonable person’s logical conclusion

Then loop back around and go through the process again.

 

Moderation in All We Do

Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) taught the Middle Way[1] about the same time that Confucius spoke of the “Balanced Order”[2] over 100 years before Aristotle started discussing a “Golden Mean.”[3]  Even though, the philosophers of East Asia and of the western world were separated by time, distance, and cultures, there were interesting similarities that seemed to meet in the middle.

Buddah and eastern religions had a somewhat different perspective, examining the world externally as if everything were connected, more circular.  Buddah said, “Nirvana remains incomprehensible in the vulgar whose minds are beclouded with worldly interests.”[4]  Buddha worked hard to find the middle path between the extremes of sensual indulgence and dangerous denial of his physical needs.[5]  Confucius instructed, “To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.”[6]  But the eastern philosophers saw this moderate path as a connecting force in a circular pattern.

Buddha hoped that man could find a right view or perspective so that he could take the right action.[7]  Again, Buddha was trying to do the right thing.  Moral conduct was a prerequisite for nirvana.[8]  And the moderate approach was the preferred way for both Buddha and Confucius.

Ethics derived from the Greek word for customs.  Plato wrote in the Republic that ethics is nothing more than manners or conventions.[9]  Plato believed that if you knew the Good, you would do it.[10]  He believed that people would lead a moral life whether or not it made them happy.[11]  Plato also held that “excess” violated proportion and made bad ethics.[12]

Aristotle, a student of Plato, believed in morality and virtue following the “golden mean.”  Temperance and moderation was a moral virtue that could be learned.  Virtue must have the quality of aiming at the golden mean.[13]

Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics stated that “… excess and defect are characteristic of vice, and the mean of virtue.”[14]  This famous Greek philosopher, born in 384 BC near Athens, Greece, branded ethics with moderation and temperance.[15]  Aristotle shared Plato’s conviction that there was an objectively determinable answer to moral questions.[16]

Mean was defined to be a middle point between extremes.  Aristotle explained that virtue, which he claimed should be an end goal for man, is like the mean since virtue also “aims at what is intermediate.”[17]  The western philosophers saw life as a linear path with the golden center lines in the highway as the moderate guideposts for leading a righteous life.

Aristotle spoke of the power of reason in man to reach a virtue or excellence through “clear judgment, self-control, symmetry of desire…”[18]  Aristotle envisioned a road to excellence, saving many detours and delays:  “it is the middle way, the golden mean.”[19]

Aristotle taught that doing the right thing, “making us better men,” was following the man of prudence.[20]  For example, if there are two extreme behaviors like being aggressive and passive, then the median approach should be selected, which would be being assertive.  Thus, doing the right thing involves assertive, not aggressive behavior.[21] 

Christianity also pursued temperance.  “Let your moderation be known unto all men.”[22]  Christ blessed the peacemakers, who followed a moderate path.[23]  St. Augustine studied the Greeks, but substituted “God” for Plato’s “Good.”[24]  Augustine battled the two extremes of good and evil, saying in the City of God that these two traits of man are coexistent.[25]  In order to be righteous and do the right thing, Augustine recommended following the path of God.  St. Thomas Aquinas bridged the worlds of Athens and Jerusalem by saying that God gave us reason to discern from right and wrong.[26]  In other words, we can do the right thing through both intuitive and logical reasoning.  Even though this involves our conscience, we also have objective tests provided by the Bible available to utilize in conjunction with subjective ethics.

Many philosophers believed that man, making subjective decisions, would not be perfect.  However, there also was an objective basis for ethics.[27]  These objective approaches for determining what was right or wrong could be applied universally.[28]  Thus, the reasonable person test could be applied anywhere. 

Rene Descartes, the father of subjective philosophy, declared, “I think, therefore I am.”[29]  Descartes also could have said, “I feel, therefore I am.”  This would have embraced the full force of subjective reasoning, utilizing both logic and instinct.  Some subjective philosophers, such as David Hume, said, “Just because everyone else does it, does not make it right.”[30]  To which, Aristotle might have responded, “Everyone is not following the golden mean.  Unfortunately, it is only a handful of us.”  Christ also said that the middle path to righteousness was narrow and few would find it.[31] 

Sir Francis Bacon, the father of objective philosophy,[32] believed that customs, religion, and laws “reigned in men’s morals.”[33]  Since people have free will, they will be constantly bombarded with choices.  People can make decisions based on subjective desires, objective demands of society, or a combination of both.  “The subjective rights of conscience could still be countered in public by the claimed objective claims for truth.”[34] 

Moral virtue should have a quality of aiming for the middle between two extremes, between the vices of excess and dearth.[35]  For example, even if you enjoy wine, you probably should avoid drinking ten glasses of wine, but there should be no problem with drinking a glass of wine at a party.  If you like wine, you would be missing the mark if you abstained from all wine.  However, if you were an alcoholic, drinking even one glass of wine might be a bad decision. 

The moderate path, which is determined on a case-by-case basis and may vary because of individual differences, leads to pleasure and righteousness.  You should moderate your behavior based on both self-control and outside pressures, including laws and religions, imposed by society.  Aristotle, leader of western philosophy, primarily emphasized the individual and self-control focused on a straight-and-narrow line.  But the eastern world focused more on the social organism in the cycle of life.[36]  It is interesting when we combine the two primary world philosophies, incorporating the linear western philosophy in daily life, but utilizing the eastern philosophies as a lifetime goal. 

Good decisions are made after weighing all the circumstances.  If you are the designated driver, then you probably should not have any glasses of wine as your duty to the group.  If you are driving home after the party, you probably should limit yourself to one glass of wine early in the evening.  If you are already home, then you may consume several glasses of wine.  But you will know your limitations, and you need to impose them on yourself based on both your self-discipline and on what a reasonable person should or should not do under the same circumstances.   Earlier when we were determining whether or not to bomb a statue of Hussein, we found that utilizing both subjective and objective ethics could be beneficial in the decision-making process.   

Sometimes, it is referred to as “doing the right thing.”  We should constantly improve ourselves so that we make better choices.  We should seek moderation and balance in all that we do.  Society offers laws, religions, customs, mores, and peer & family pressure, but we also have our own sense of balance within our conscience.  We must use all the tools (nature and nurture) to find peace and harmony in the righteousness of ethics.  You have arrived when you follow the moderate path.  You do the right thing when nobody is looking because it is the right thing to do. 

Moderation is included in Homo sapiens genetic makeup.  Otherwise, our species would have gone extinct centuries ago.  Extreme approaches to life would have placed mankind in jeopardy, exposing us to larger and stronger predators.  Man had no hard shell or claws or speed or dagger teeth.  All we had was our ability to reason and a propensity to follow a moderate path.  Both of these qualities saved us from extinction.

We learned temperance from bad experiences that established better habits.  Since a lion ate our friend yesterday who jumped down from a tree without looking around, we learned to survey the area around the tree before climbing down.  We also adopted moderate habits from societal pressures, mores, and laws which imposed consequences.  Thus, our moderate innate and instinctive nature works together with all our experiences, leading to logical reasoning that makes us a better person overall.

So, why do we make bad decisions?  Well, we have free will.  We can do anything that we want, and most people want to satisfy themselves.  Sometimes, we hear people admit, “It’s not about you; it’s about me.”  Extremes occur more often in today’s world because we do not have the leveling effect of large predators outside our doors waiting for us.  In fact, the predators of today’s society are our own species who will take whatever you have if they want it.  And these predators come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are Chief Executive Officers of corporations, some are politicians, some are religious leaders, and some are criminals locked up in jails.  It is difficult maintaining a moderate existence around these people.    

But there is hope.  As long as you are making an effort to follow the moderate path and live a righteous life every minute of every day, then you are making progress and should continue that course.  We hope to do our best. 

Philosophers typically emphasized either subjective or objective ethics.  There were some subjective philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed that individuals should not regret prior acts in their will to power.[37]  But Nietzsche’s philosophy was adopted by Adolph Hitler, and we know where that went.  There were other philosophers who employed subjective and objective simultaneously.  Immanuel Kant argued that objective experiences should be processed by subjective reason. He also argued that using reason without applying it to experience only leads to theoretical illusions.  Kant believed not only in an innate moral sense, but also in a logical morality developed as a code of conduct for group survival.[38]

The most interesting philosopher to me was Soren Kierkegaard, the Father of Existentialism.  Kierkegaard emphasized subjective ethics,[39] but also believed in a God, who was capable of all things, while we were capable of none.[40]  So, according to Kierkegaard, even though he emphasized the individual, needing God and objective ethics would be the highest perfection for man.[41]

Kierkegaard did not accept the objective reasoning found in traditional church doctrine.[42]  Instead, he relied on his “highly personal, subjective, passionate and freely chosen commitment to believe.”[43]  In other words, he didn’t allow the church bureaucracy to dictate his beliefs.  He came to God on his own terms, as an individual face-to-face with eternity and God.[44]  By isolating man from the crowd, this forced self-examination.  Only when man was alone could he face eternity and God.[45]  I consider the individuality of Kierkegaard as being similar to lightening, which when combined with objective ethics, creates the thunder.  Even though they are entirely different, one being light and the other sound, they actually do go together. 

In a trial, the burden of persuasion belongs to the party attempting to convince the trier of fact.[46]  One might argue that our individuality remains intact since we are both the party with the burden of persuasion and the trier of fact.  We, in effect, are trying to convince ourselves that the action being reviewed is a good thing.  There is no reason for us to be distracted by outside forces in this process unless we allow this to happen.  Thus, we subjectively apply the objective burden of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Many philosophers and religious teachers have pointed us in the direction of organizing society in a harmonious way with philosophy, religion, laws, and mores that follow objective ethics.  Whether you call it the Middle Way, the Balanced Order, the Golden Mean, Christianity, or the reasonable person test, they are all focused on providing guidelines for mankind to know the right things to do throughout life.



[1] Deepak Chopra, Buddha – A Story of Enlightenment (New York: Harper One, 2008), 269.

[2] Lou Marinoff, The Middle Way (New York: Sterling, 2007), xii.

[3] Gordon Marino, ed., Ethics – The Essential Writings (New York: Modern Library, 2010), 73.

[4] William Corlett and John Moore, The Buddah Way (Scarsdale, NY: Bradbury Press, 1979), 66.

[5] The Everything Buddhism Book, Arnie Kozak (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2003), 23.

[6] Marinoff, 105.

[7] Chopra, 268.

[8] Michael D. Coogan, World Religions (New York: Metro Books, 2012), 185.

[9] Marino, xi.

[10] Marino, 5.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, ed., The Collected Dialogues of Plato (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973), xxii.

[13] Marino, 73.

[14] Marino, 74.

[15] Renford Bambrough, ed., The Philosophy of Aristotle (New York: Signet Classics, 2011), 312.

[16] Bambrough, xxxii.

[17] Marino, 73.

[18] Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1927), 86.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Bambrough, 306, 312.

[21] Lt. Col. Hinds, The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 9, 2011, Guest Column in Opinions.

[22] King James Version The Holy Bible (Nashville, TN: Kedeka Publishers, 1976), Philippians 4:5.

[23] Bible, Matthew 5:9.

[24] Marino, 109.

[25] Marino, 118.

[26] Marino, 121.

[27] Mel Thompson, Understand Ethics (London, UK: Hodder Education, 2010), 47.

[28] Thompson, 49.

[29] Durant, 166.

[30] Thompson, 51.

[31] Bible, Matthew 7:14.

[32] Durant, 166.

[33] Durant, 135.

[34] John A. Coleman, ed., Christian Political Ethics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008), 30.

[35] Marinoff, 117

[36] Marinoff, 119.

[37] Gary Cox, The Existentialist’s Guide to Death, the Universe, and Nothingness (New York: Continuum, 2012), 75-76.

[38] Durant, 313-314.

[39] Cox, 153.

[40] Howard V. Hong, ed., The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 87.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Cox, 152-153.

[43] Cox, 153.

[44] Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing (New York: Harper One, 2008), 15.

[45] Kierkegaard, 16.

[46] Roger C. Park, David P. Leonard, and Steven H. Goldberg, Evidence Law, A Student’s Guide to the Law of Evidence as Applied in American Trials, 2nd Ed. (St. Paul, MN: Thomson West, 2004), 92.

I Am

Rene Descartes, the father of subjective philosophy, wrote, “I think, therefore I am.”  Descartes believed that our mind knew itself more directly than what the senses perceived of the outside world.  He argued that philosophy should start with your thoughts, perhaps emphasizing individualism, and then we should doubt everything else.

Subjective philosophy is based on deductive thinking or on knowing something a priori.  You may infer knowledge with this gift without examination or analysis.  Whether it is through instinct or presumption, your thinking is the “I am” in Descartes’ statement.

Let’s start by defining “I am.”  Does it simply mean that “I am thinking”?  If we insert this definition into Descartes statement it becomes:  “I think, therefore I am thinking.”  Of course, this is true, but Descartes must have considered “I am” to be more than just thoughts.  The thinking may lead to “I am,” but what is “I am”?

Grammatically, “I am” is the present first person singular of the verb to be.  The conjugation of the verb is:  I am; you are; he, she, or it is; we are; you are; and they are.  Is “I am” a form of being?   Does it mean “I exist”?  Does it mean “I am aware”?  Or does it mean all these things and more?

The famous soliloquy by Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play of the same name should be included in our analysis of “I am” because of “am’s” connection to the infinitive verb “to be.”   

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause
: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveler returns
, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action…”

Hamlet’s question “to be or not to be” may be similar to my question of “I am or I am not?”  Could Hamlet have been asking when he dies, would he “be” or would he “not be”?  Some interpret the question as Hamlet pondering whether to commit suicide or not.  Even though Hamlet mentions “by opposing, end them…” and “he himself might with his quietus make with a bare bodkin” as potential terminations to his life, he appears to be more concerned with the afterlife or “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”  Hamlet may have worried that suicide actually would not have been a termination. 

If death were as simple as falling asleep, then why would we go through the torture of living our lives?  But Hamlet recognizes a potential problem.  “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause…”  What if we had nightmares in this sleep of death?  It is the fear of what comes after death in that “undiscovered country” that prevents us from embracing death.

Hamlet may not have been as concerned with the act of suicide during his lifetime, as he was with what might follow after the suicide.  He stated that he might fall asleep in death, but that was “the rub,” because anything could happen in that sleep of death.  We might have horrible dreams for infinity.  That would give you pause before taking your life and you might “lose the name of action” to commit suicide.

So is “to be” similar to “I am”?  And is “not to be” like “I am not”?  There certainly are similarities.  We can argue that Shakespeare’s “to be” was the predecessor to the “I am” of Descartes.  Descartes could have been inspired by “Hamlet.”  Certainly, the two thoughts were close in time and may have been close in meaning.      

What happens if we define “to be” and “I am” as existing?  Then “not to be” and “I am not” could be interpreted as not existing.  In other words, while we are living, we are “I am,” but when we die, we become “I am not.”  Thus Descartes statement becomes, “I think, therefore I exist” during our lives.  But is this simple definition sufficient to define “I am”? 

Perceived existence is based on what we see in our universe.  We are either living or not in our temporal stay in this universe.  But how does the invisible part of our universe factor into the equation?  How would you define “to be” or “I am” as it relates to the invisible part of our universe?   

Scientists know that we can only see about 5% of our universe.  The great majority is dark matter and dark energy.  We not only cannot see it, but we are still learning about dark matter and don’t even know what dark energy is.  So how do we know something exits if we can’t see it and can’t define it?  Well, the scientists use a mathematical calculation, telling them that about 68% of the universe exists, but we don’t know what it is.  So, we call it dark energy.  The remaining 27% is called dark matter, which also is invisible.  That means a total of 95% of our universe is out of sight.  So, relying on what we can observe, a posteriori, does not appear to be a good option for us.

The law of conservation states that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed in our closed universe.  If the Big Bang created our universe, this creation had to occur outside the boundary of our universe.  The creator’s universe is invisible to us.  And the mystery of dark energy pales in comparison to the mystery of God’s universe.

The law of conservation of matter and energy is important for another reason.  If you are “I am” during your brief lifetime, what will you be after death?  If you are a nonbeliever and you say that you will be “I am not” after death, then how does that comport with the law of conservation?  In other words, if the “I am” cannot be destroyed in our universe, it must remain infinitely “I am” in a recycling universe.  In our universe, if you believe you are “I am not” in death, you must also argue that you are “I am not” in life, which runs into many practical and scientific problems. 

The inference is that we are “I am” during life or we wouldn’t even be thinking about it.  Like Sherlock Holmes, we deduce that since we are aware of our surroundings, we are “I am” in life.  And if we are “I am” during life, then we will be “I am” during the afterlife because nothing can be destroyed in our universe.  However, it will be a naked “I am” in a perilous world without time and a humane end for “I am.”  

We deduced that dark energy existed without any observations or dark energy sightings.  We also cannot see any evidence of God in our universe other than the existence of our universe itself and the Big Bang theory.  Without any physical proof, Christians believe, a priori, in God.  Just like the missing piece called dark energy, believers supply the missing piece of the one who created our universe.

So, how does “I am” fit into God’s kingdom?  I’m not certain, but it is very interesting to note that there would be no consequences for our misdeeds on earth if we went from “I am” in life to “I am not” in death.  But if the law of conservation is to be believed, then there will be consequences when your “I am” crosses into the afterlife.  That’s what Hamlet was agonizing about, because there could be ugly consequences waiting in that undiscovered country if you are still “I am” or as Hamlet states “to be.”  Hamlet might have wondered if he would still be thinking, existing, or being in the afterlife.  

In a closed universe, creation of that universe occurs outside the edges of that universe.  God’s kingdom is outside the boundary.  The magic and mystery of God’s universe could never be explained applying what we know in our universe.  The laws of physics probably are completely different in God’s world.  Your “I am” may have to pass tests in order to leave the universe of perpetual nightmares to enter into the kingdom of God.  I have no idea what these tests might be, but the Bible refers to a judgment numerous times with at least three levels of judgments. 

Paul, who talked to Jesus after His resurrection, refers to three levels of heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2.  Paul, who may be the most reliable source in the Bible with his first-hand accounts, admitted that he did not know whether he met Jesus in the body or out of the body, but Jesus reached the third heaven.    

In order to be prepared for this journey through the dark side to reach any of these heavens, your “I am” must prepare properly during your lifetime.  You must consider facing the consequences in the afterlife for what you have done during your life.  So, let’s think about that preparation.  The first step may be to think and have faith, therefore “I am.”  The second step may be in being like Jesus… being like the great “I am.”  Jesus referred to Himself as “I am.”  The preparation comes from studying the actions and teachings of Jesus, so you can be more like Him in both life and the afterlife.  The third step is beyond our comprehension.  However if I unify with God, He is “I am.”  When Moses was talking to God in Chapter 3 of Exodus, God told Moses to know him as ‘I am.’ 

What does all this mean?  It is difficult to say, but it may mean that if you are aware of God and He exists in your thoughts, then He is ‘I am.’  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”  Jesus also was focused on what we think as much as what we do in the Beatitudes.  There are many sections in the Bible which tell us that we will not be initially judged by our works, but by our faith and thoughts. 

Why was Jesus so concerned about our thoughts?  Is it possible that He knew that the first test in the afterlife was entirely based on our thoughts?  Jesus offers two primary benefits over other religions: (1) erasing all your sins, so you will not carry guilt into your thoughts after death and (2) providing a human face and personality for God, so that your imagination will not create an angry ogre.

Jesus can be thought of in human form, but it is difficult for us to envision God.  If we tried to imagine God, who knows what He would look like.  We might conjure up an angry giant in our thoughts.  But Jesus is the way to God because He has a human face and a pleasant disposition.  We would not fear Jesus, but we might fear God.  It may be best that Jesus is in our thoughts, not God, when we die.  But there is probably much more required than just having Jesus in your thoughts.

What other preparation is necessary?  When you die, your senses may disappear, leaving you deep in subjective thought just like Descartes taught.  Sensory deprivation may initially be relaxing, allowing you to reach a deeper state of meditation; however, longer terms of sensory deprivation may have the opposite effect, leading to anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, nightmares, and depression.

Sensory deprivation has been used by the military as a method of questioning prisoners with some degree of success.  But it is a form of torture.  The European Court of Human Rights held that the British soldiers were employing inhuman and degrading treatment when they used sensory deprivation to interrogate Northern Irish prisoners. 

If you are not thinking after you die, then this will be great news for both nonbelievers and believers.  Why is it good news for believers?  If you are thinking after death whether you are a nonbeliever or believer, you will suffer consequences for your wretched life.  What can you do to avoid the torture that is ahead from sensory deprivation for infinity?  This is where the believer has an advantage over the nonbeliever.

If you are conscious and Jesus is in your thoughts when you die, then He exists.  Your thoughts connect.  Jesus can also say, “I am.”  If you are thinking of Jesus when you die, then your thoughts make Him exist.  You are unified with Him.  He is the great ‘I am.’  You think about God and Jesus, therefore ‘I am.’  And ‘I am,’ therefore I am aware.  But it may be much more than just awareness.

Have you ever looked into the mirror and wondered who was staring back at you?  Is it the “I am” who is looking into the mirror or is “I am” staring back at you?  In effect, you and the person in the mirror are on opposite sides from each other, yet look very much alike.  How do you know which, if either, is the real “I am”?  One of you may be “I am” and the other one may be “I am not.”  But this is an objective perspective, which really does not matter in subjective thinking.  The only “I am” that is important is the one that is doing the thinking.

Is the reverse statement also true: I am, therefore I think?  The reverse may be a more accurate statement than “I think, therefore I am.”  “I am” may include thinking and existing and being and believing and self-controlling and many more attributes.   “I think” is not the same as “I am.”  “I am” is much more than thinking.  

Does existence require thinking?  If we did not think, then we probably would not exist or at least would not exist as we do now.  It is like the tree that falls in the woods, making no sound if nobody is standing nearby.  In other words, existence may occur without us being aware of it, but it is our being conscious of this existence that requires a thinking that appears to be unique in our species.   Without our existence, there may be nobody thinking like humans.  Animal existence does not require thinking like we humans think.  We still might exist like an animal reacting instinctively to stimuli without independent thinking.  But we are given “free will” so that we decide what to do, making choices every day.  So, “I am” must be more than simple thought and existence.

Thus, “I am” is more than thinking and it is more than existence.  So what is it?  “I am” must be a primal consciousness or awareness of your surroundings.  When you look into the mirror and see the person staring back, you, as the being aware of your surroundings, are the “I am.”  Even if the person staring back at you is also aware of his surroundings, it does not detract from your awareness.  In fact, the person staring back at you is irrelevant to your “I am.”  It could even be the opposite, “I am not,” but it does not matter because of the individual basis for subjective thinking. 

In effect, it only matters about your “I am” and what that means to you not only in life, but more importantly in the afterlife.  And this is true for the over seven billion people walking the earth.  They also are irrelevant to your “I am.”  Only your individual consciousness is judged for meeting the definition of “I am.”  But is this individual awareness enough?

We are distracted throughout most of our lives and our awareness is desensitized by our everyday pattern of existence: getting ready for work, going to work, eating meals, going to the bathroom, taking care of family, and sleeping.  It is hard to focus on what is really important.  But if you set aside 15 minutes of each day to meditate, then more than likely you will reach a level of controlled awareness.  You may start to discover a sense of “I am.”   But what amount of controlled, individual awareness might be sufficient to be considered “I am”?

If we are not thinking when we die, then there can be no Descartes’ “I am.”  Thinking is a basic ingredient for “I am,” but, as we said earlier, it is more than thinking.  And it is more than existence.  Existence can be without any purpose or direction.  And it is more than awareness.  Being aware without focus can lead to chaos.  So what is “I am”?  Well, it is a generous amount of controlled, individual consciousness.  The recipe for “I am” calls for thinking, existence, and awareness, but they have to be mixed together in an extreme, controlled environment following the directions.  A cook not following the precise directions will soon be out of control.  What will satisfy this generous amount of control that is needed?  

It is a Godly control.  We must turn over the steering wheel to God and Jesus and let them drive you through the unknown territory of deep thought, avoiding the pitch black of chaos.  For without your senses, you will have no road map or compass to guide you.  Individualism is important in the preparation for control employing discipline and self-control.  But you cannot control your awareness by yourself, so you have to reach out for the creator’s help.

God and Jesus certainly exist in their universe no matter what we do, but it is likely they cannot exist in our universe unless we are thinking of them.  God’s kingdom where creation occurred is outside our closed universe.  But God and Jesus can connect with us through our thoughts.  Our thoughts are all we will have after we die.  Our senses will be gone; but we will think, therefore we will be aware.  But we need a powerful, controlled awareness through God.    

Your primary thought when you die should be to exist with ‘I am.’  You should immediately become one with Jesus in your thoughts.  The unification with Jesus in death will be easier if you had communicated with Him while you were alive.  If you are thinking and existing and are aware at death in a controlled environment, then you are ‘I am’ and you will meld with Jesus ‘I am’ and later with God ‘I am.’  Your faith in Jesus and God will give you the control that you need so that you will not be drawn into chaos.  Thinking, existence, and awareness without God’s control could lead to infinite nightmares.

Your religion should be, “I think, therefore I am.”  And the ‘I am’ is within you united with Jesus and God as one.