Belief - October 2002
Belief - October 2002
Belief - December 2002
The Blackbird
Christmas 2002
Funny old Day
Golden Wedding
Local Ministry
Once in Royal...
Railway Engineering



Some comments on “Belief”


A characteristic of the human race which distinguishes it from other forms of life on this planet is that of consciousness and particularly of self-consciousness. This consciousness is defined as ‘intellect’ which, in turn is defined as “The faculty of the mind by which one knows, understands, or reasons as distinct from that by which one feels or wills”. Intellect, or intelligence, coupled with the ability to make rational communication with others of the species, means that man can think about himself(1) , compare himself and his experiences with his fellows and participate in shared experiences which were he alone and incommunicado, he would be unable to do.

At the same time, this ability makes the individual aware that he is in himself a distinct ‘unit’. He is enclosed in a body which is not, and cannot be, shared by others, neither those of his own kind, nor of any other. This enclosure cannot be exchanged . All experience of ‘life’ must be experienced from within an enclosure which, compared with the size of the planet, much less the universe, is microscopically small.

By the application of intellect during the process of his evolution, man has become increasingly aware, not only of his abilities and his potential, but also of his deficiencies. Whereas the human brain is a marvellous organ, capable of storing memories and experiences and applying them to the multitude of situations in which it may find itself, it is not infinite in these capabilities. The fact that it can be described as a ‘marvellous organ’ is a comment on the limitation of one’s own brain(2). It is limited in size, and therefore in capacity, by the dimensions of its host body; and it is limited in range by the same. Some human brains have accompanied their host-bodies as far as the moon, but that is all – so far.

Most of the individual’s ‘knowledge’ is obtained, not from direct experience, but is derived from communication with others. Communication with other brains is limited by the methods of communication. Speech, language, gesture, writing, art, sound effects….one could go on listing the means of communication which man has invented and developed over the years. However astonishing these may be, it remains that they are all limited, if only because they need the operation of brains of limited size and ability to be invented and used. We can only share what others choose to communicate to us. We cannot plumb the depths of each others’ thought , however closely bonded we are – perhaps just as well! The intelligent man will accept that whereas communication enables experience to be shared, it is the complementary nature of individuals’ knowledge and experience which makes up the corpus of human knowledge and wisdom. I do not need to be fully aware of the metallurgy of piano wire before I can play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, nor do I need to be able to play it before I can appreciate its beauty, but someone else has had to master and apply knowledge and technique in order that I may have the experience.

The intelligent awareness both of capacity and inadequacy leads man to deduce from his own observation and experience that whereas many sensory experiences can be rationalised with an observable connection between cause and effect, there are many which cannot . There are many phenomena and many experiences which an individual cannot understand, either from inability or lack of opportunity. For many of these we are able to take another individual’s word and reported experience to build up as part of our brain’s memory, a corpus of empirical axioms by which our behaviour is regulated. This process, combined with direct sensual experience comprises our ‘education’.

It follows, nevertheless, that limited as it is by the restrictions set out previously, that the brain is not adequate for omniscience. There will always be observable phenomena which cannot be completely analysed and logically related to sense and experience. The history of the development of human intellect has been long in terms of the human life-span, but very short in geological terms and even shorter in cosmological ones. The evidence shown by this history demonstrates how human intellect has been able to absorb an ever increasing amount of knowledge and to apply this to explain and rationalise external phenomena. At the sane time, the acquisition of knowledge has not reduced the quantity of incomprehensible phenomena, but has produced more.


1. Throughout this article, “man”, “mankind”, “himself” etc. are used to distinguish the species, not one of its contained sexes.

2. To describe something as “marvellous” implies lack of full understanding.

7th October 2002 23:08

© The Estate of William John Green, 2004