Year of Faith
Metaphysical Annealing: Empirical Science, Suffering, and God
If you're wondering why we're using scientific analogies to explore religious concepts, "blame" Leah Libresco. Leah writes a blog here at Patheos called Unequally Yoked. She wrote in 2010—and I read, last week—"Instead of a utopia, we require a crucible."
This immediately pulled together my knowledge of annealing and simulated annealing and processed it into "like gold that's tested in fire."
And thus was born full-formed, like Pallas Athena, the notion of Metaphysical Annealing.
Here comes the suffering and God part.
Consider, first, that we are all on a metaphysical search for purpose. Since we are on a search, and that search is for an optimum, the mechanisms of empirical science and optimization I've explained above apply in full.
What space are we searching? The infinite possibilities of experience. Not just the universe, but the entire chain of experience that has created the moment where I'm typing this, and all the universes that can possible lead from this moment into eternity.
What is our search mechanism? Our lives. Each of our lives is an experiment to find God. Note that this immediately implies that no two searches can be the same, and that in most cases, the search space is not even the same.
Given my background, I realized that in this view of reality suffering can very well be the metaphysical equivalent of annealing: it shakes us loose from local optima and leaves us free to pursue the Global Optimum—God.
Metallurgical annealing implies the breaking down of internal barriers to change. Is this not what suffering does to us? It certainly breaks us down, and in doing so, it also breaks our grip on the idols that are the actual barriers to obtaining the God-Optimum.
Suffering is God applying annealing to us so that we can find Him. He is the global optimum of the metaphysical search space we traverse in our lives—more difficult to find today, perhaps, than a hundred years ago (although Chesterton might disagree) because of relativism, the new and myriad idols of our distractions, and of metaphysical techniques that give false impressions; all of which fool us. They keep us stuck on local optima, thinking we have the global—the superlative of God.
If the analogy holds, then consider a definition of God as the optimum that can manipulate an experiment, so that the experimenter can find it (in this case, Him). Clearly, such an optimum draws everything to itself.
It also perfectly fulfills Saint Augustine's understanding that our hearts are restless until we rest in Him.
Simulated annealing, and the Optimization process in general, tells us that we cannot progress towards the Optimum until we define it.
That is a huge problem in our society: we are currently in a definitional war over ideas that were once commonly understood across all cultures. Modern false equivalencies affect empiricism, which must have a comparable measure of optimality. Recall that I mentioned the need for a search mechanism, in this case, time. The fact that the journey through time is one-way is, actually, not a problem. Any good search mechanism limits the search space of acceptable possibilities at each step. We should count ourselves lucky that our search mechanism eliminates an infinity of possibilities, since the search space is infinite. One issue, though, at least for Christians, is that our optimum is not passive, waiting to be discovered. He wants to be discovered. He constantly tugs us towards Himself, and thus the annealing technique.
God's love in the Bible is very often associated with heat. Particularly in the New Testament, Our Lord reserves the worst scorn for those whose hearts have grown cold and distant. Consider this under the concept of metaphysical annealing: These are the people who cannot move out of their current state, who have "settled" for something less than what they are called to be; they are trapped. Those who fight with heated ardor against our Lord are easier to reach because they are still willing to search. Those who will not search, however, require a lot more energy simply because they must be unblocked. Like cold iron, they are in need of a crucible—an annealing that melts them and removes their barriers.
All of us will suffer at some point in our lives. Seen in this light, however, might our sufferings be borne with an element of consolation and a constructive mindset? And perhaps even a sense of gratitude—that we are being reached out for and reclaimed, reshaped and remade in such moments by the Optimum One, who loves us too much to allow us to remain cold, unfinished and unclaimed, and instead means to make of us something beautiful?
Scott Hebert is a cradle Catholic currently cradling his Catholicism. He has degrees in industrial engineering and Japanese language and culture, works as a Simulation Consultant, and has been known to teach college students about empirical subjects.