The Best World Possible??


This essay is not about Voltaire's ideas nor the strawman he erected to lampoon in Candide. I hadn't read about any of those things when I read Candide, so my reactions are just my own and they came years after I'd read the book. The connection is only in my coming to realize that there might in fact be something very deeply right and good about how the cosmos is unfolding. When I realized it might just be the best way I could imagine making a universe, I recalled this phrase from Candide and went from there.

This essay introduces some ideas that I've distilled into a few newer posts: The microcosmic GapTheory and the macrocosmic GoodInConflict, as well as the relational LoveInGapTheory. Another important extension is SeeingEvilInProgress, which was written in response to a comment referencing the piece in the APDG forums.
Voltaireís Candide contains a character named Pangloss, who throughout the story insists that ďWe live in the best of all possible worlds.Ē He supports this belief by pointing out that everything in the world is neatly made to work with everything else; for example, he'd say that we have noses shaped the way we do because it allows us to have eyeglasses. So, to him the wonderful help which eyeglasses represent shows how very good a thing it is that we have the noses we have. By this kind of reasoning he sees the whole world as most benevolently and intricately assembled for the good of human experience. Yet the entire story of Candide is written to prove Pangloss to be a fool. For as he espouses and proclaims his theoretical and naively optimistic philosophy, he and his friends experience every kind of torture and misfortune that human lives can encounter. Apparently, life is hell for them, and itís even suggested that the reason their lives are so hellish is because they are propelled on their way in life by Panglossís theory. Had they not believed life to be so benevolent, they would not have set themselves up for such catastrophe at every turn.

Thus Voltaire seemed to be out to suggest that realism and pragmatism, and perhaps even some cynicism, are all necessary ingredients in the philosophy of the happy human. With this suggestion I tend to concur. Yet I have also come to learn on my own that thereís something right about Panglossís theory, more than it seems Voltaire would give him credit for. Itís a semantically tricky assertion, ďWe live in the best of all possible worlds,Ē so I think itís easily confused. With some recent consideration, it finally came to me how to tease out the true value of the idea which Iíve suspected for some time.

It seems pretty clear that the reason Voltaire felt the need to shoot holes in the idea is that almost no one in all of human history has looked at the world, with its rampant suffering, chosen evils, errors, accidents, injustices, inequities, and general chaotic character, and been able to see it as good, much less "best". This is understandable, and Iíll say right here at the beginning that to support the assertion does not mean to condone suffering, encourage evil, or in any other way to overlook or contribute to those things that we know as evil. Instead, what Iím sharing here has to do with lining up the sources of all these ideas that fly around this assertion in a way that makes it possible to embrace simultaneously an aversion to evil, a genuine and rationally supportable sense of optimism, and a deep love and respect for the life that exists here and now. It seems to me that all these are necessary philosophical building blocks for living an empowered life as a sentient being.

There are simplistic ways to support the assertion which for me donít do the trick, and I want to mention them only to get them out of the way. One might note, "Certainly if one believes that this is the only world, then of course it must be the best one." Or if one looks at the word "possible" and sees it as the demonstration of whatís real while believing that reality is objective, then "all possible worlds" is logically reduced to be the one we actually live in presently; so again in this way, we must by default and lack of alternatives live in the best of all possible worlds. But believing this way does not empower and does not respect what free will contributes to the progress of existence. I also think this line of thought is founded on a flaw, specifically the belief that whatís possible could ever be demonstrated in whatís real.

To get some value out of the assertion, one must really get straight just what that word "possible" is all about, and how it relates to human perception, and from there how it relates to evil and what is to be done about it.

The most important thing to recognize is that whatís possible is only what sentient beings can imagine. In other words, the realm of possibility is entirely imaginary by definition; it is never what actually is. If whatís possible were what already is, then we would immediately call it reality and we would imagine something else that isnít real yet and call that possible instead! And Iíd like to point out that the word "yet" there is extremely pivotal, even magical, for it strongly suggests a right relationship to the whole concept of time and how it relates to purpose and meaning. What weíre looking at here is the very nature of sentience and its consequent dispositions, which I find exciting. To imagine is the amazing and unique capacity of the sentient being. We dream, we hope, we envision the possible. These visions then guide our actions, a most holy and incredibly powerful process which we label free will or choice.

Yet something about our culture seems to cause us to embrace the fallacy that the possible is possible now rather than not yet. For example, one might say that itís possible for things to be different than they are if only this or that were different. It should be clear that using the word possible in this way is simply contradictory. Possibility is a projection, sourced in a mind, and based on a hypothesized alteration of the variables and facts that make up, not even reality, but the subjective image of reality thatís in the mind doing the projecting. Itís the most basic and common of errors for any sentient being to confuse the image of reality which exists in his own mind (microcosm) for the posited shared reality (macrocosm) in which things actually happen. Whenever we think of possibility as being possible here and now we are expressing this confusion. Itís as if we believe that to imagine a thing is for it to be real now. Yet itís easy to see that this is not true.

Why then do we take on a sort of angst about possibilities not being reality, complaining about "if only"s and "should be"s? There are many reasonable answers, and I'll describe one just as an example: Punishment with impatience. We are taught to feel terrible about the separation between what others see as possible about us, and then to despise it, and in most cases to wage war on it. Other people say to us when we are young and impressionable, ďYou are not living up to my image of whatís possible for you. Fix it, or no love for you.Ē So that's just one way in which we get the wrong idea about possibility, but I think it's safe to say that all of them come from pressures on the psyche which come from socialization. The point is that we are taught to assume that whatever flaw we might consider can be or should have been fixed, i.e. that possibility should somehow be reality in the here and now, even though everything we know about the actual universe continually proves us wrong about that at every turn.

Itís worth taking a look at just what being at war with that gap between possibility and reality means. Most of us donít just feel it as a directing impulse, the gradual closure and re-expansion of which is to be pursued gently over time. No, for most of us in this culture itís truly warfare. The enemy (sometimes ourselves) fires at us with guilt and failure and weakness and debt and insufficiency and shame. We fire back with brutal attempts at control, violent struggles to exert power, attempting to beat the world into submission to our imagined possibilities, to close down all possibilities and bring things to a static conclusion. And since the gap only ever exists within our own minds, the war is ultimately always with ourselves. Itís a desperate fight at the closest range, a struggle to the death in the intimate nasty realm of feelings and thoughts and esteem.

With the hating eyes that are born from that perspective, we look out at the world imagining all the time the possibility of a better life for ourselves and for everyone, and we feel the deepest insult, the most complete sense of failure, the pain of guilt and sin which cannot be washed away. In other words, we see evil everywhere and we feel a part of it, identified deeply with it. Indeed, evil is in the eye of the beholder exactly because possibility is in the imagination of the beholder. Evil is how the hating mind interprets the gap between possibility and reality. Evil is all that stuff out there that keeps the possibility from becoming true. We see "evil people" doing always the wrong things, ever failing to make imagined possibilities come to pass, so we wage war on the people. And nature itself seems too slow and cumbersome and messy for what we imagine. Its very being doesnít measure up to the urgency we feel, and so we wage war on it to control it and shape it into something different. Yet no matter what we do, the gap never goes away. We make a change for the better and our imaginings only shift away again to something still further off. The more we try to defeat the enemy, the larger it gets, accusing us, taunting us. Itís the monster that wonít die, the pursuing demon of nightmares from which one can never run fast enough. Living at war with the gap is hell, plain and simple.

But most important of all, being at war with that gap, all embassy with it being severed, we are not able to see it as the all-important pathway of hope which it truly is. That very gap, the awareness of possibility in light of reality, is the single most powerful, and in fact the only force for good that there is in all the universe. To apply that holy force all we must do is bravely walk the path that it presents to us in reality and in time, allowing for what is not yet to gradually become what is now, according to the laws of the unfolding universe and guided by the directed imaginings of brilliant sentient beings. We should not attack the gap; instead we must cherish it with respect and then humbly and persistently pursue its closure. We must become comfortable with the gap, because for the gap to be gone is to be dead as a sentient being. Sentience necessarily implies experiencing that gap. Sentience consists of desire and the ability to predict based on knowledge of the past. It has direction and it has the power of projection. Itís not possible to turn these off and still exist as a soul. The directed projections which we necessarily create at all times, these define the gap that we feel. They can be the source of guilt, pain, and hate, or they can be the source of individuality, hope and beauty.

We must learn how to stop the war and to be at peace, that is, to appreciate the gap. The gap very really is just the highest expression of ourselves, for the gap represents what we each uniquely see as possible and so it represents exactly what makes us each special and vital to the advancement of good in the world. We must unlearn the lie at the foundation of the warfare model and instead learn to embrace ourselves (as automatic gap-imaginers) in order to coax ourselves down those paths of possibility with the faith and resolution it takes to see it through.

We can play around with imaginings and guesses in the software of our private universes, but when we move and have our being in the real world, weíre moving in a cosmos which is different than the one we experience. This is a profound truth. As sentient beings, we experience the microcosm, a private representational image of the universe, and never the actual universe. The microcosm is a model of the macrocosm, and they are never quite the same thing. So while every move we make in reality occurs in the actual universe, it thus causes results which follow its character and not the character we might have predicted based on the construction of the microcosm in which the act was imagined and sourced. One of the most basic and important of sentient pursuits is to strive to ever more truly represent the macrocosm within the personal microcosm, thus minimizing that difference and bringing a sense of true connectedness to the lonely soul within. This pursuit can have no ending; there is no way in which it will ever be complete. Accept this truth and the war can stop. It can sound like a sad ending. But thatís only if the soul remains lonely.

Question: Would the best world that you can imagine include this gap in the minds of all sentient beings? That is, is sentience a ďgood ideaĒ, something youíd include in the ideal universe youíd create? The whole idea of good and evil only exists because of the gap. "Good" is the gapís closure being incrementally achieved though the process can never be completed. Evil is the warlike interpretation of the gapís galling persistence. Good and evil arenít ďout thereĒ in the actual universe. They are interpretations of the gap, a wholly microcosmic construction. So letís rephrase the question: Are good and evil a good idea? How about just good? If we can stop the war, we can perhaps let go of the evil, but can we, would we, keep the idea of the good? Is it worth having in the universe? Could you design a better universe in which good never came into being through the emergence of sentience?

I donít think so. I think the very best universe I can imagine would have sentient beings in it. And thus it would have good in it, and at least for a while, evil too. Actually letís be clear: it would have good and evil, but not in the actual universe; rather it would be rampant in the minds of the sentient beings who live in it and interpret what they see of it. If the overall design didnít have these things, it would be nothing more than a wind-up toy, following laws with no purpose or direction. Purpose and direction come from the imagination of possibility. And what they add to a universe is meaning. Iíd create a universe with meaning, one that is emerging always. Emergence is dynamic and itís directed. It is the expression of purpose. An emerging universe is the best universe imaginable because itís the only kind of universe imaginable which has meaning.

Hey wait a minute! This universe is emerging. It does include sentience. The creatures it has brought forth do experience gaps, and those creatures mind the gap. They accept the calling, eschew evil, and strive for good. Some do it in a warlike fashion, others are more peaceful about it, but all of them imagine possibilities which are directed by their desires and then attempt to bring those possibilities into reality. They build connections, invent things, solve problems. And they even solve simpler problems to facilitate the more expedient solution of other problems. My goodness, this force for good is rampant and even accelerating in its strength and scope! Itís being expressed everywhere that sentient imaginings can be found. And as itís ever more expressed it encourages still greater imaginings of still greater possibilities which lay down the paths to even greater... on and on and on! I canít think of a way to design a more good-directed universe. Could this already actually be the best of all possible worlds?

No, you say. Oh, but you only say no because you see gaps... but I assert that your seeing these gaps really only expresses your deep goodness rather than demonstrating that evil somehow exists in the world independent of subjective interpretation. Remember, any such gap is not a feature of the actual universe. Seeing that gap requires imagination and projection, a function of your sentient mind. In the actual universe there is no good or evil. You see the gap, and all that means is that you are a central part of the goodness-directed miracle which is the sentient mind, and a key feature of this universe which we inhabit.

Your seeing the gap, your experience of good and evil, while it means a lot to you, means nothing in the actual universe until you express your interpretation of that gap, your sense of imagined possibility, by taking action in the actual universe. Now when you take those actions, the actions themselves will be neither good nor evil. Theyíll just be in the actual universe, where there is never any good or evil. But to the extent that you are successful and effective, what you will have done is moved the universe in a small and vitally important way toward your imagined possibility. You will have truly shared your goodness, not as goodness, but as reality. This will feel very good to you, because as that reality is expressed, being sourced from a realistic image and loosed upon the world with skill, it will make your private image seem more accurate representing the actual universe. You will feel connected in the most profound way. You will feel that the universe loves (reflects) you and you it. You will feel alive and you will feel that life has meaning and purpose and that it is getting better. You will take comfort in this and you will be energized by it. Then you will look around and notice that there are new things you can imagine as possible relative to the new state that you helped create. And so the gap will expand again, and you will feel compelled to pursue its closure again. Donít worry, there is an eternal progression of these wonderful feelings of reunion in store for you.

And these are only half of the joy. The other half of the joy is that of finding greater connection with the universe through purified perception, the passive aspect of being sentient. This second half is the one tied to keeping an open and humble mind, ready for your conceptions to be changed to better match the actual universe based on new experiences.

People, we are the most beautiful, intricate, and powerful creatures for good imaginable. One day we will outdo even todayís imaginations with still greater ones. But think about what I just wrote there. I am asserting that we are currently the most beautiful and good creatures we can imagine. That is, we already are in reality all that we imagine of ourselves. If we could imagine ourselves as better, we would naturally be it. ďBut I can imagine angels and I am not like them,Ē you might say. But do you really believe angels are more beautiful or more good?

What Iím getting at now is that the one gap that always tends toward zero width is the gap that separates ourselves from what we imagine ourselves to be. This is because our selves are our imaginings. The moment our imaginings about ourselves change, thatís the moment we change to meet them. This means that the one gap that requires the most subtle discernment and sensitivity to pursue is the one that leads us to change who we are, and thereby what we are capable of imagining. For example, itís easy to say that fewer people should be starving in this world. Gaps like that are large, external, and commonly perceived and take a lot of concerted doing to fix. A lot of people spend a lot of time trying to make headway with their solutions to such problems with some degree of success. But to be able to create even a tiny gap between what I believe myself to be now and what I can imagine I can be is a trick most people find completely elusive. But if it can be done, its power is to human ability as cold fusion is to energy physics.

Luckily we already know what it takes to trigger such an explosion. Itís love, folks. Itís the kind of love that can see through to the core of another person without seeing evil and then can reflect that person back to themselves with the slightest twist that the unique character of the lover brings to the image. That slight twist is the wedge that miraculously separates the self from what it imagines itself to be. It is the unique tool that creates the almighty gap for intrapersonal change. It is the cold fusion reactor at the center of the greatest power for good in this universe. We need to learn how to turn that thing up.

I know. You still look out there and see people doing terrible things to each other. So in effect you are saying ďI see a gap and the gap pains me.Ē I know. Itís OK. Itís OK exactly because you feel that gap. What you are seeing, strange as it may seem at first, is just everyone else reacting to feeling their own gaps. Even a suicide bomber is minding the gap. Remember, every sentient being, whether at war or at peace with the gap, is still minding the gap, and that means they are moving according to the directions presented by their desire and their imaginations of possibility. Some people have very inaccurate internal representations of the world and some are very confused about what will help close the gaps. But you can rest assured that they are motivated very strongly to close them. ďBut if even the suicide bomber is minding the gap, then how can the gap be good?Ē There is no objective good. The gapís goodness is subject to the interpretation of a person who feels a gap. But in the overall perspective, what matters most is that the sentient beings are minding a gap. This means they will make their best effort, confused or not, warlike or not, to move toward their best imagining of goodness. Donít worry. This is just how it necessarily is in a universe as ideal as this one.

Sentience implies having a sense of time and the development of things. Things are revealed in time and we know this because we recall a past and project a complex set of possible futures. Itís that very sense of time that we must come to grips with. We must learn to see that " gaps + time = goodness unfolding ". Remember, goodness is a direction defined by the existence of gaps; itís neither a destination nor a reality. We will never arrive. Our emergence is a state of eternal being. Gaps in time will continue to be unfolding forever. This is beautiful and meaningful, the only ultimate source of beauty and meaning any of us can imagine. Love it. Itís truly lovable.

So what is the meaning of happiness? Happiness is being at peace with the gap while moving as it guides you. Hell is being at war with the gap and thereby creating evil. If youíre at peace with the gap you can move according to good and be completely without evil. Thatís because good and evil are only a matter of how you choose to view the gap. And this is entirely within your control, because the gap is a microcosmic structure; itís entirely yours. The gap is just you. Learn to love yourself, thatís what this means. Embrace the fact that you see good, that is, you see a better version of reality than currently exists and you have means to pursue it. Recognize that the good you see is unique in all the universe.

If you find it difficult to see good instead of evil, the exercise required is that of ďmoving the bar to the zero pointĒ. Essentially this is a matter of accepting the world as it is without judgment. Remember that judgment of good and evil is not actually appropriate to apply to the world at large. It is only appropriate against the microcosm of your experience, and more specifically, your imaginings within that microcosm, because that is the only world you know and it is the only world against which gaps exist. So you look at this microcosm which is your private version of the world, and you say, ďThis microcosm is best informed by the actual universe.Ē So you remain humble and open to have that microcosm adjusted continually to better reflect the actual world. Then you look at this microcosm and say ďThis is the world I know. I can imagine ways that it can be improved. But the world I know now, without my imaginings projected on it, is the only one I have. It is the zero-point.Ē You must learn that the world you know is not deficient. For the world you know to be deficient (negative, sinful, shameful, wrong, broken, evil), you would be required to set the zero point somewhere better than the world is. Well thatís a silly thing to do because where you set the zero point is arbitrary and based on nothing but imagination. Instead, set the zero-point at what you know today, and then your imagined possibilities become positive vectors toward a positive future which is well worth pursuing. In other words, and it really is quite simple and within your power, donít measure the world you know starting from the world you donít know; measure the world you donít know starting from the world you know and you will quickly see that you are a beautiful and amazingly powerful good-pursuing machine, imagining always wonderful and ingenious possibilities toward which many people would be glad to move with you.

By the way, among the best ideas youíre imagining is stemming from the desire to love someone. Do it. See them to their core without seeing evil and you will be a catalyst of the greatest power there is. Thereís another good idea youíre imagining stemming from the desire to be loved. Being loved is more difficult than loving because it means letting someone else see you. I know youíre afraid that they will see evil and youíre afraid that will start up the war on the gap. If you can find resolve about your own vision of your own gap, then the evil they see canít touch you, no matter how deep they are able to see into you. You donít need to tolerate someone seeing evil in you. But you donít need to be scared of it either. Your gaps are your own. You decide what they mean. You make them good and not evil. Fear not. You have the power that matters.

You are beautiful and good right to the core. Whether you conceive of yourself as evil and at war, or good and at peace is arbitrary and a matter of your own choice and ability to imagine. Hopefully Iíve helped you out some with the imagining partÖ.

Namaste!


14 August 2013 - Because the essay above has become a discussion topic at APDG, I wanted to capture just the themes, so I captured the themes of Gap Theory here.

Those themes all pretty much deal with the microcosmic interpretations. But there's a lot more implied in the essay about how we perceive the world itself as good. That is, I still haven't covered how I can assert that this whole universe is brilliant and to be admired as the best imaginable way for existence to manifest.

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