Pragmatic Pluralism By Robert Wheeler
Studies of history and anthropology indicate that as far back as humans can be traced, they have had beliefs in supernatural powers. These beliefs grew out of the built-in need for meaning, manageability, and explanation for their lives. And these beliefs formed religions and were important in the development of civilization. Furthermore, studies of psychology, sociology, and neuroscience indicate that belief in supernatural power or deity helps meet many important human needs such as meaning, purpose, social support, coherence, structure, acceptance, moral authority, and immortality. Such beliefs could have developed through adaptive evolution or could have been implanted by design. Probably more important, though, are recent findings from the physical sciences indicating that explanations of our universe and existence support theories such as many-worlds, cyclic-universe, multiverses, cosmic-consciousness, and supernatural-design that involve alternate realities. This implies scientific support and natural explanation for many mystical phenomena that had been attributed to a supernatural realm in the past.
The popular theory of quantum mechanics developed in physics nicely explains observations of subatomic activity where particles are also waves and that seem to consist of some form of energy. Quantum mechanics opened the door for many interesting studies involving such things as consciousness and information being basic constituents of nature. Astrophysicist Bernard Haisch uses discoveries in physics to support an information system that is an intelligence underlying the universe, a form of consciousness or “great thought” that created reality. Physicist Evan Walker proposed that our material universe results from the development of potentialities by a prehuman “quantum mind.” He writes, “In the beginning was the Quantum Mind, a first cause, itself time independent and nonlocal, which created space-time and matter-energy.” This could be called Supermind or even God as a Great Architect that started things. It could be a Great Observer that not only started things but can intercede now at a quantum level. Thus, God could affect matter without violating physical laws.
The word atom comes from a Greek word meaning indivisible. Less than a hundred years ago the atom was considered the smallest object in nature. It could not be further reduced. However, as researchers peered into the nature of atoms and developed techniques for looking closer into their structure, more was observed. Eventually atoms were found to be made up of sophisticated classes of particles and forces such as quarks, leptons, photons, and gluons. Furthermore, it seems that these basic particles and forces consist of energy that in turn consist of something more basic such as relationships, information, or intelligence. As research continues other particles and forces are being found indicating that there is more to be found. The variety of subatomic constituents are limited only by the ability to observe them or their effects.
Similar results occur for the researchers that study outer space, in that the limits of space are a function of the distance that can be observed. Albert Einstein explained the observed limits of space as the result of space curving back onto itself. These limits have now been expanded to include dark matter, dark energy, and black holes with the possibility of multiple universes. We exist in the one that happens to have conditions that support our form of life. In other universes there may be different forms of life and different laws of nature—alternate realities.
Since the known limits of the universe expand with the expansion of observational capabilities, a logical conclusion can be made that space and time go on and on, maybe even to infinity. The concept of infinity is difficult to grasp, because within the realm of infinity not only could anything exist, but somewhere everything would exist. This would include unknown forces, spirits, souls, and deities that may exist in alternate realities as well as in unknown aspects of our natural reality. This implies a pluralism of realities beyond our known physical world, beyond the popular dualism of physical-mental. Such pluralism implies that unknown things may exist in our natural reality as well as in other possible realities. Anything is therefore possible, even the Gods of our forefathers.
But in the meantime, we exist in a physical world whose nature we can know best through our sensory perceptions that are influenced by expectations, wishes, and beliefs that many times distort our view. Our uniquely human emotions produce feelings both good and bad that sometimes provide experiences with fleeting glimpses of an unknown realm, a realm indicating existence of a possible alternate reality with an environment different (metaphysical) or beyond (supernatural) our own. Unfortunately, these experiences are too fleeting for practical use and reliable benefit. Greatest well-being seems to result from attempts to harness and use our known physical environment while pursuing metaphysical possibilities—striving to know the unknown while effectively using what is known.
This is where pragmatism enters. Even though anything is possible, we must live with what is happening here and now and with our view of what will probably occur in the future. What is useful and practical comes best by being respectful of and searching for the unknown while living effectively with what is known. Such efforts have the probability of providing an uplifting sense of meaning and purpose that energizes our daily struggles for existence. It is important that we recognize useful reliable information about our situation and use it to live effectively in the “here and now“without suppression from unyielding ideology, the sacrifice of personal belief, or of being diverted by speculative possibilities and fear of uncertainty.
The term, pragmatic pluralism, has been used loosely over the years by philosophers attempting to apply the metaphysical approach to the varied human perspectives on value, ethics, and religion. It is used here, though, to represent possible realities beyond current knowledge. Pragmatic pluralism admits that the “if and what” of a deity is currently inconclusive, but a belief in some form of supernatural deity is needed, and with further development the unknown and uncertainty will decrease. If societies were oriented toward a pursuit of such development instead of competing for ideologically based dominance, much violence and terrorism would be replaced with cooperation and tolerance.
Pragmatic pluralism is a philosophy of life or worldview recognizing that anything is possible creating a mysterious unknown realm, but that not everything is probable, and that it is best to live in the “here and now” as the world presents itself while pursuing knowledge of this mysterious realm. It supports a belief in something bigger and higher than our personal self that provides meaning and purpose for our existence, and that since we are uncertain of its nature, we are destined to search for knowledge of it and tolerate alternate approaches. Because of varied make-up and experience, we all have varied ideas about this worldview and live with interpretations most useful and sensible to us individually. The resulting belief would then fit in with science, experience, and religion, and be a believable belief. Much dissatisfaction, anxiety, and depression would be reduced if people were more aware of this worldview, and if society emphasized it along with the current emphasis on physical resources and entertainment.