An atom is a weird assemblage of leptons and strangeness. There are 100 trillion atoms in each of our cells. Current Cosmology outlines the astonishing path required to create each of the 118 elements in the universe, and the distribution, accretion, explosion, and implosion to get them all here now. Geology and Biology add more layers of ineffable wonder with tales of molecules, force, erosion, decay, and evolution. Properly understood, a shell on a beach is an impossible object.
There are about the same number of cells in our body. Some are symbiotes or parasites, most are parts of complex systems. Each of these cells is undergoing incalculable chemical and electrical internal interactions at each moment. A breath or heartbeat is incomprehensively complicated. Digestion, disease control, all our basic functionality, let alone consciousness and memory, are infinitely convoluted and intertwined. We happily assume that such “natural” conditions continue as we enjoy holistic health.
Understanding environment and social structure can be frustrating. How is oxygen level maintained, where does water come from, why can humans build and maintain cities _all the “simple” questions of children _ are really only partially answered, no matter how much we think we know. Yet at this level, at least, we have always claimed a certain amount of understanding and control. Hunting, farming, tribalism are part of our nature. We try to figure things out and then use tools as necessary to make them better or at least keep them from getting worse.
A primary mental tool is belief in cause and effect. It did not require Newton to grasp that when an object hits another object, there are consequences. Since we can manipulate the “cause” in many cases, it is natural to assume that something else controls what we cannot _ such as making lightning and thunder and rain. This idea of agency requires a guiding principle or intelligence for everything we do not understand. Usefully, it allows us to ignore deep and often irrelevant underlying issues so we can deal with how to move that rock from here to there.
People conflict when seeking to control that agent. Praying to a spirit which brings rain is inconsequential to society unless a tribe decides such prayers require human sacrifice. Which brings us to current civilization. Science has discovered too much cold complexity; we dream of comforting simplicity. Cults fill that need with slogans and beliefs _ for example, “my job and life are bad because of immigrants.” Even if we can do nothing about it, it is a solid backstop in our confusing existence.
Little of that is new or necessarily bad, everybody needs illusions. Unfortunately, we are also at a point where slogans have taken on the varnish of unquestionable writ, at which point those who oppose it are seen as blasphemers who must be silenced. As frequently noted, this is the opposite attitude to that of science, which questions everything. But surrender in the face of complexity is not only intoxicating, but also paradoxically allows us to sleep peacefully at night, happy in knowing the simple truth.