I’ve been thinking about the religion discussion I wrote about last week. The beginnings of most religions throughout history were to provide an overall explanation for how the universe worked. A creation myth explained how the world and universe were made, an explanation of how they worked that involved some sort of divine intervention, and stories were created to enhance the legitimacy that these were the correct interpretations that everyone else should follow. Almost everywhere people saw the natural world and provided higher explanation for how it must operate. This goes completely against my way of thinking, where I see things as just a combination of smaller things.
We’ve been studying pointillist painters in art class. All of their paintings are just a collection of small dots if you look close enough, but form a more coherent picture when you step back. Most people would think that the image you see when you step back is the most important part of the painting, but really the meaning is just a pattern of small dots of paint. I’m not saying that the end result isn’t important; I’m saying that it is vital that people be aware that it is just a combination of smaller parts. It isn’t just pointillism, every painting is a series of brushstrokes that add up to something more, every sculpture is a combination of carvings reducing a block of stone into something different. Music is a combination of notes in different pitches, rhythms, tempos, timbres, and textures, but it’s still made up of notes. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony can have a profound effect on you, but it’s just an orchestra playing a whole lot of notes. We can even see what the notes are because Beethoven wrote them down, including how fast you should be playing them when you start each movement. And we are merely made up of millions of tiny cells, which are in turn made up of tiny atoms just like everything else in the universe.
Again, I’m not trying to take away meaning from things. Objects made out of the same building blocks can still be completely different. What I am saying is that, whether it’s religion, philosophy, history, or any other discipline there is a tendency to only look at the larger picture. But like pointillist paintings, the bigger picture is made up of a lot of smaller pieces. Regardless of what you think of them or how they affect you, paintings are merely patterns of paint, pieces of music are merely patterns of notes, people are merely patterns of cells, society is merely individual people, religions are merely a set of individual beliefs, and nearly everything from the laptop I’m typing on to the food we eat to the houses we live in to the entire seven seas to whole planets and solar system and galaxies are made up of atoms that are themselves patterns of protons, electrons, and usually neutrons. In the end, the world doesn’t seem to me like there’s less meaning. It feels like there’s so much, sometimes too much, more.