Friday, February 09, 2007

THE COMPLEXITY OF LIFE: Living in an Increasingly Interesting World

More often than not, “complexity” is thought of as something negative. People often lament the complexity of the modern world. Many say that they long to return to a simpler time, when life was less demanding and when things seemed easier to understand.

Individually we may look back longingly to some past chapter in our lives: our childhood, the first time we were in love, or those days when our children were young and our relationships with them seemed so simple. As a society we might think of some past time period as a more simple age in which right and wrong were more clearly defined, in which roles and expectations seemed universal and less open to change or debate. Human beings in general often look to some mythic past and dispensation as a time in which human nature was innocent, untainted and pure. The Garden of Eden story is an example of one such myth.

It’s completely understandable that we often wish we could return to a simpler time. Life increasingly puts greater demands on all of us. Our relationships with parents, spouses, lovers, children and friends seem to be in an eternal state of flux and change. With each passing year of life, standards and ideas that we previously considered eternal and unchanging are often challenged; in response, we make subtle alterations to our cherished notions of right and wrong until the day finally comes when we realize our notions have changed completely.

This process can leave us feeling exhausted—intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes we find ourselves wishing and praying to be “restored” to an earlier, simpler, innocent and less complex life.

But if we could go back to a more simple state of mind, would we be any happier? What bit of hard-earned knowledge or wisdom would we be willing to give up?

A clue might be found in the often expressed sentiment, “If only I could go be young again, but know what I know now….”

We might long for restored youth and energy, for that sense of “anything being possible,” but few of us want the ignorance that is part and parcel of being young. As complex (and frustrating) as our current existence may seem, when the day is done most of us may be more content with this complexity than we imagine.

The Book of Mormon teaches that “there needs be opposition in all things.” Opposition is inherent in existence, in nature itself. Opposition was not created by God or any other power. The universe is a composite of millions of contrasting entities, each with its own nature. Opposition is simply a fact of life. It can never be completely overcome; it cannot be obliterated. Indeed, one of the outstanding concepts in early Mormon theology was the radical notion that if there was no opposition, there would be no existence; that the purpose of human existence—human joy—would be impossible without experiencing opposition in all things.

We are, each of us, an eternal intelligent being with a will of our own. We are, each of us, a free agent living in a universe that brims with opposition. This is not a bad thing; it is not a state from which we should pray for deliverance. It is only through embracing the opposition and complexity of existence that we can function as human being beings, thus growing and progressing in accordance with our eternal and uncreated nature.

Joseph Smith—the first Mormon—taught that the individual has a mind capable of understanding the universe in which he/she lives, moves and has his/her being. Joseph taught that the human mind was capable growing in knowledge, that “the day will come when you will comprehend even God.”

“Complexity” is not something to be lamented, but embraced and celebrated.

Mormon theologian John A. Widtsoe in his 1915classic book Rational Theology wrote:

“….in our universe, as we conceive it to be constituted, increasing complexity would seem to be the great resultant law of the operation of universal forces. This is the great law of nature, to which every living thing must conform, if it is to be in harmony with all other things…The law of increasing complexity is fundamental. Since man is constantly being acted upon and acting upon matter and energy, he must himself be brought under the subjection of the great law. That is, under normal conditions, he will increase in complexity. As man observes phenomena and reasons upon them and applies them he grows in knowledge. Where he formerly had one fact to use, he now has many. This is the essence of his complexity….the great law becomes a law of increasing power, of progressive mastery over the universe. For that reason, the law expressing the resultant of the activities of universal forces is often called the law of progression.

“The degree of a man’s growth or progression will depend upon the degree his will is exercised intelligently upon the things about him…the operation of the will, under normal conditions, adds power to man….the increasingly complex man grows in power and strength toward perfection, in an increasingly interesting world…

“Nature is inexhaustible in the possible number of inner-relations among matter, energy and intelligence. It follows, therefore, that man will forever be able to add knowledge unto knowledge, power unto power, or progress unto progress. This law of progression is the great law of the universe, without beginning and without end, to which all other laws contribute.”

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