LIFE 101
Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life In School -- But Didn't


The Gap: God, Religion, Reincarnation, Atheism, Agnosticism, and All That

Jean-Paul Sartre
(arriving in heaven):
It's not what I expected.

God: What did you expect?

Sartre: Nothing.

I'm going to take a clear, unequivocal, unambiguous position on God, religion, reincarnation, atheism, agnosticism, and all that. My clear, unambiguous, and unequivocal position is this: I am clearly, unambiguously, unequivocally not taking a position.

It's not that I don't have a point of view about each of these; it's just that the information in LIFE 101 works regardless of my or your or anyone's point of view.

There are certain forces--like the pull of gravity, the need for breathing, the desire for Hagen Dazs--that affect all of us regardless of beliefs. LIFE 101 concerns itself with those "belief-proof" issues.

I'd like to introduce a portion of life I call The Gap. The Gap is the area into which I put the many (often conflicting) beliefs people have about What's The Big Force Behind It All And How Does This Big Force Interact With Human Beings?

The Gap can be any size, large or small. For some, it's a hairline crack; for others, it's vast enough to hold universes. I am not here to comment on the contents of anyone's Gap. The contents of your Gap are between you and whoever or whatever is in your Gap.

I love God,
and when you get to know Him,
you find He's a Livin' Doll.


I am not confirming, endorsing, or supporting any point of view. Most people will find this statement liberating. "You mean I don't have to sort out The Gap before I sort out my life?" No. In fact, a sorted, prosperous, joyful life might make Gap exploration all the more fruitful.

Some people have firm convictions on what should and should not be contained in everyone else's Gap. Others have powerful beliefs concerning the lack of the Gap itself. My militant wishy-washyism on this point will probably gather me detractors from both extremes.

One side might say, "I can't possibly read a book by a person who does not categorically and emphatically state that there is a God and believe in my God my way." I might ask these people if they've ever read a cookbook, road atlas, or auto repair manual. These seldom state the theological convictions of the authors, but are nonetheless read by the righteous every day.

The other extreme might say, "I can't even consider a book by a person who is even open to the idea that there is a God." I wonder if these people also investigate the beliefs of their doctors, dentists, and mail carriers and refuse service if any of them happens to feel all right about the Almighty.

What I believe in is giving people the freedom to believe whatever they choose to believe. The techniques contained in LIFE 101 will help believers, unbelievers, and everyone in between, to live a healthier, wealthier, and happier life.

I'll be discussing techniques as direct and mechanical as cooking, car repair, map reading, and mail delivery. Unlike cooking, car repair, map reading, and mail delivery, however, the techniques for living a happier, healthier, more productive life have, in some cases, been linked to specific religious (or nonreligious) beliefs.

What I'm attempting to do in this chapter is to separate these techniques (which work regardless of belief or disbelief) from the claim that organized schools of thought--be they "religious" or "scientific"--have, at times, placed upon them.

The doctor who gives a vaccination and says, "Thank God, this child is safe from smallpox," and the doctor who gives a vaccination and says, "Thank Jenner, this child is safe from smallpox," give the same vaccination. Some may say that the doctor who gives a blessing is a better doctor, and some may say that the doctor who sticks to medicine is a better doctor, but in either case--thank God and/or Jenner--the child is safe.

My religion consists
of a humble admiration of the
illimitable superior spirit
who reveals himself
in the slight details
we are able to perceive with
our frail and feeble mind.


Historically, some religions have been slow to adopt certain "scientific" discoveries, and science has taken quite a while to adopt some "mystical" techniques.

Personally, I think we're all "old enough" to set aside the source, history, and trappings of certain techniques and ask of them a simple question: Do they work? (Do they produce the desired result? Do they get you what you want and need?)

In my thirty years of consciously exploring life (it started when I was fifteen, give or take a summer vacation), that's the question I've asked. (It's interesting that I can ask that question of itself, and it still holds up.)

So, as we go along, if I make a point that sounds like something you heard in Sunday school, that may be because you heard it in Sunday school. If I say something, and you think, "That sounds like the Ten Commandments," that may be because it's one of the Ten Commandments. If you say, "There he goes again, referring to Godless science," that's probably because I am referring, once again, to Godless science.

I care where ideas come from. I enjoy history. But I care even more where they might take me.

There Is More Going On Than Our Senses Perceive

Sooner or later every one
of us breathes an atom that
has been breathed before
by anyone you can think of
who has lived before us--
Michelangelo or
George Washington
or Moses.


Our view of the world is primarily made up of what we have perceived through our five senses. What we personally know of the world we have either seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or heard.

Unfortunately, our senses are limited; therefore our view of the world is limited. This is not a problem unless we start believing that what we perceive is all there is. It's not.

This can be disturbing news to those who believe, "If I can't see it, taste it, smell it, hear it, or feel it, forget it."

If I told you that, right now, there are hundreds of voices, pictures, and songs filling the air around you, but you are unable to see or hear any of them, what would you think?

Would you think I was talking some metaphysical mumbo jumbo? "If there were hundreds of voices, pictures, and songs around me, I'd be able to at least see or hear some of them."

Not necessarily.

"Then your explanation's going to be pretty weird."

Not necessarily.

"Okay, so explain."

Right now you are surrounded by waves of energy "I knew it would be weird."

that are used to transmit radio, television, walkie-talkie, CB, portable telephone, and many other communication devices. The reason you don't know they're there is because your senses are unable to perceive these signals.

If you had, say, a TV, you could "tune in" these waves of energy. The TV would translate what your senses cannot perceive into what they can. The fact that we can't see, hear, or feel these waves without a TV doesn't mean they're not there.

And so it is with all sorts of natural and human-made phenomena: if we have the proper instruments, we can perceive them; if not, we can't.

Dogs smell and hear better than most humans. Cats see better in the dark. Birds are more sensitive to movement. Even houseflies seem to "know" when you're about to swat them.backwards? If you want to swat one, aim slightly behind it. See? This book is just full of things you never learned in school.

The point is simple: there is more to life than meets the eye.

The Great Pretender, or, All Life Is in the Fast Lane

Man is slightly nearer
to the atom than to the star.
From his central position
man can survey
the grandest works of Nature
with the astronomer,
or the minutest works
with the physicist.


Let's--just for the heck of it--break life into its component parts; or, maybe, part. When we decide to "get small," atoms are a good place to start.

To get an idea of how small an atom is, imagine a cherry. Then imagine trillions and trillions of cherries, all in one enormous ball. Imagine a ball the size of the earth, all made up of cherries.

This large ball of cherries the size of the earth would be a fairly accurate model of the atomic structure of an orange. That is, if you enlarged an orange until it was the size of the earth, the atoms in that very big orange would be the size of cherries. And the cherries would be so far apart, you could see right through it.

Another demonstration of an atom's smallness: pure gold can be pounded very thin. When pounded extremely thin, it's known as gold leaf. Gold leaf is about five gold atoms thick. If this book, and three others just as thick, were printed on gold leaf, the total thickness of all four books would be about as thick as a single sheet of paper.

Remember those models of atoms they showed us in school? They looked like little solar systems. (In some schools, they probably used the same model for both atoms and solar systems.) In the middle were the protons and neutrons; this, the teacher explained, formed the nucleus. Then, only slightly smaller than the nucleus, and about twelve inches away, dangling at the end of what looked like a coat hanger wire, was the electron.

A physicist is an atom's way
of knowing about atoms.


In fact, the whole "solar system" model of an atom has been abandoned. Think of the proton and neutron in the center, surrounded by a cloud . That cloud would be the electron (or electrons) of the atom.

In addition, the scale of the high-school model was, to say the least, inaccurate. If the nucleus of the atom were, say, the size of a tennis ball, the electron cloud would be from one to ten miles thick in all directions (depending on the size of the atom). If the nucleus were the size of a tennis ball, the atom would be from two to twenty miles in diameter.

To give you another idea of the size: imagine the dome of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. (If you haven't been to St. Peter's, imagine the biggest dome you have ever seen and make it bigger.) If a hydrogen atom were the size of St. Peter's dome, the nucleus would be the size of a grain of salt.

But an atom with a nucleus the size of a grain of salt only appears to be the size of St. Peter's dome. The nucleus is 99.95 percent of the mass ("solid stuff") of the atom. The rest of the atom is nothing, appearing to be much, much more--a grain of salt pretending to be a dome.

The Encyclopdia Britannica tells us, "An atom (and thus all matter) is mostly empty space."

How does an atom do this? Energy. The protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom move about at 40,000 miles per second . The electron cloud is full of (not surprisingly) electrical energy.

Not only is the empty space within atoms large, but the space between atoms--the space in which there is nothing at all--is enormous.

This doesn't fit our perception of--or even belief about--things at all. As Britannica tells us, "Some daily life concepts are no longer valid on the atomic scale." Indeed.

For example, there is more empty space in the book you're holding than book. The atoms of the book give the illusion of solid ink on solid paper.

The important thing in science is
not so much to obtain new facts
as to discover new ways
of thinking about them.


They're not. It's just an illusion. If the electricity in the electron cloud were switched off, even for an instant, this book would crumble into atomic dust--an amount of dust not even visible to the naked eye. This book would appear to disappear. Poof.

The same is true of whatever you're sitting (or lying) on, everything in the room or vehicle you're currently in, and everything you've ever seen, touched, heard, tasted, or smelled.

It is also, by the way, true of your body.

Welcome to life.

The most incomprehensible thing
about the world is that
it is comprehensible.


What Did That Last Chapter Mean, Anyway?

Any sufficiently
advanced technology
is indistinguishable
from magic.


So what does a chapter on atomic physics have to do with a book on life? A few facts can be gleaned from the study of the atom: 1. Contrary to our perception and belief, there is more nothing than something, even in things that appear to have more something than nothing. 2. Everything is always in motion, even things that don't appear to have moved in millions of years. 3. The perception that things are solid and stationary is an illusion.

Physicist Fritjof Capra, in The Tao of Physics:

As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated "basic building blocks," but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole. These relations always include the observer in an essential way. The human observer constitutes the final link in the chain of the observational processes, and the properties of any atomic object can be understood only in terms of the object's interaction with the observer.

Capra concludes, "In atomic physics, we can never speak of nature without, at the same time, speaking of ourselves."

Life, it turns out, is not a struggle; it's a wiggle.


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