Mapping the Universe

My father once said to me that (his) religion is like a map to the universe. I thought of this while some friends were discussing free will and fate and other light dinner conversation. If you believe that our thoughts and memories exist physically in our brains (it’s hard to imagine anywhere else they’d be), then it follows logically that our understanding of the universe is always, necessarily, deficient in some way. At least it seems obvious to me, given the difference in scale between the number of neurons in our brains and the bits of information in the universe.

I see religion as a useful approximation of the universe, in the way that a street map is a useful approximation of a city I may visit. (An aside: Mistaking the map for the city… When I see buildings exploding on TV these days, I think of people trying to change the world to make it match the map they carry around in their heads.) We (humans) seem to be very good at managing abstractions of this type (See my earlier post on approximation and schemas…). This trait, being “wired to believe”, appears to be very useful for survival: if we couldn’t use maps to get us around, we’d get lost a lot more often, or maybe stay a lot closer to home.

At least, that’s approximately what I think. 😉

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