GOD – A PERSONAL SYNTHESIS – PART II

“Both religion and science need for their activities the belief in God, and moreover God stands for the former in the beginning, and for the latter at the end of the whole thinking. For the former, God represents the basis, for the latter – the crown of any reasoning concerning the world-view.”- Max Planck,  physicist and Nobel laureate

At the end of the day, we must decide which alternative seems most likely:

1.  An eternal but unexplained quantum flux led to a multiplicity of universes out of nothingness – at least one of which by chance permits the existence of life in general and ourselves specifically.

2.  The universe itself is eternal, notwithstanding scientific evidence of an origin in the big bang.

3.  There is an eternal agent, unexplained and unverifiable, which created or originated the universe.

Alternatively stated, if we define God as the origin of the universe, then God is either (1) the quantum flux or its cause, (2) the universe (or multiverse) itself, or (3) an eternal, unexplained, and unverifiable creator. For now, each reader will have to come to terms with these choices. It seems to me that each is reasonable and for the near future at least unprovable.

Up till now we have been talking about the origin of the material universe. Of course reality has a non-material nature as well, for example: mathematics, physical laws, ideas, imagination, abstract qualities such as beauty and justice, musical and literary composition, and perhaps consciousness. Traditionally God is not just the cause of the material universe, but also the source of the immaterial – via a property called by some in the West, logos  and some in the East, TaoOne of the weaknesses of scientific conceptions of the origin of the universe is that the immaterial remains unexplained or merely a fabrication of the human mind. But it seems a stretch to argue that the number π which does not exist in nature can be attributed solely to the human mind.

If we then revert back to the original question, “Why is there anything at all?”; for whichever cause we choose- the operative concept is necessary existence – a philosophical term that means a thing must exist by virtue of its own essence.  As Kant taught us, the word necessary is a category used by the human mind contrasted with possible and impossible. So to solidify this argument I would add that we should understand necessity uniquely in this instance, that is, any eternal being contains is in its essence the quality of necessary existence. Or in other words, an eternal being is by definition necessarily existent.

This leads us to a final conclusion – God does exist as the eternal and necessary ‘being’ that explains the universe, either the universe or multiverse itself or a creator impenetrable by current scientific means.

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GOD – A PERSONAL SYNTHESIS – PART I

“Why is there something rather than nothing?” – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

We now reach the difficult point of choosing a personal understanding of God’s existence, nature, and relationship to man.

It seems best to me to  transpose the question from a proof of God’s existence to a choice of the answer to the perplexing question of why there is something rather than nothing. Here are all the possible answers as I see it:

1.  The question is nonsensical.

2.  I don’t know.

3.  There just is.

4.  It cannot be known.

5.  Something may come from nothing.

6.  Something has always existed.

Each person will have to choose one of these answers, and since none is certain, it may be best to challenge each. First, is the question nonsensical? Logical positivists like A. J. Ayer certainly felt so but if this version of the question is the problem, we can change it to the simpler version,  “What caused there to be anything?” Most of us understand the words in the question with no difficulty, so the only conflict I can see is that the word “anything” implies a multitude in which case the cause of each may be different. On the other hand it seems unreasonable or disingenuous to argue that the search for the origin of all of the subatomic particles and energy that make up the universe is nonsensical when cosmology and physics continue to do exactly that.

Answers 2, 3 and 4 are essentially corollaries of each other, and may justify a need for more study or reflection, but also appear to be inconsistent with  modern scientific efforts as well.

Answers 5 and 6 seem to be the best choices for consideration by the earnest philosopher. That something can come from nothing appears to be illogical, but modern quantum science suggests that in a quantum flux, from time to time there will appear particles of matter and antimatter – hence something can come from “nothing.” This solution  leads to three problems:

(1) Where did the quantum flux come from?  (Isn’t the quantum flux something?)

(2) How can matter be created “from time to time” when time is a part of the fabric of space that would not yet exist?

(3) Statistically, the quantum flux would require an unimaginably large number of episodes of formation of matter before creating the singularity that led to our universe, thus requiring a massive if not infinite number of quantum events and resultant structures – which seems far more complex and less credible than an act of intentional creation .

Of course the possibility of an eternal creator has difficulties as well – there is the issue of explaining the nature or basis of the creator (presumably God) . There is no scientific justification for such an entity, and it defies investigation or scrutiny. The advantage of this choice is its simplicity as an explanation and the lack of requirement for the multitude of unknown universes.

The last possibility that the universe itself is eternal reality appears inconsistent with the fairly well-accepted theory of its origin in the big bang.

 

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ALTERNATIVE BELIEF REGARDING GOD (CONTINUED)

Pantheism is the belief that everything that exists constitutes a unity and that this all-inclusive unity is divine. It appears to be the position of some ancient Greek philosophers (the Eleatic school), the Vedas of India, several 18th century German idealists including Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, but was perhaps developed most impressively by Baruch Spinoza. He argues that the structure of the universe involves only one substance (not a multiplicity) – which is ‘God’ and ‘Nature.’ God is the immanent cause of the world and divine by virtue of being the source of the infinite, uncaused and eternal. Opponents note that there does not appear to be a unity of things except in the predicate of existing, but existence is not a genus. Also the traditional concepts of divinity cannot be demonstrated by virtue of simple causality or duration.3

Finally there is the naturalistic reformulation of religion where one believes there is no supernatural reality, but one can substitute it with worship of nature meaning either (1) man’s prior achievements and ability – known as religious humanism, or (2) nonhuman nature. August Comte, the famous 19th century Positivist, following the former approach developed a religion modeled on Roman Catholicism, but based on service to humanity as the noblest ideal and universal love as the highest happiness. John Dewey embraced a less structured religious humanism where God can be seen as “the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and action.”

Alternatively, Julian Huxley proposed ‘Evolutionary Naturalism’ where the universe is seen as an indefinitely extending creative process and man serves as the chief agent in this process on Earth. Opponents including atheists such as Russell and Sartre counter that these views of religion makes no factual judgments at all, that man is a pallid substitute for God, and that they reflect a lingering attachment to traditional religion.4

This completes our brief review of the arguments and positions considered by most philosophers on the question of God. As in many philosophical areas, there is no certainty, but the importance of religious experience and the need for an ethical approach to ultimate reality will require a choice or even a decision not to choose. Personal reflection may incline you to one or another choice, but if not, the next three posts offer my formulation based on years of cogitation.

 

1Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, p.26.

2Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 1, pages 56-59.

3Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 6, page 31-35.

4Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 7, page  145-147.

 

 

 

 

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ALTERNATIVE BELIEF REGARDING GOD

“Reason does not prove to us that God exists, but neither does it prove that he cannot exist.” – Miguel de Unamuno

Many people on reflection do not come to a traditional belief in God. There are a variety of alternatives which we will now discuss.

The first is Atheism, which actually has two meanings: (1) the belief that there is no God, and (2) the belief there is no personal God.1 The historical use of the term is the second meaning while modern proponents typically are using the literal (first) meaning.  Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Jean Paul Sartre are among the most famous atheist philosophers. Buddha also appeared to deny the existence of God.

Atheism does not rest on proof, but rather the assumption that it is unnecessary or irrational to postulate the existence of God when there is no direct evidence or proof of God’s existence; and the universe can be explained without resorting to the supernatural. This creates a logical inconsistency as it requires a different faith – that overall reality requires no explanation if each part or event can be explained and that the spontaneous appearance of the universe or an infinite regress in cause is possible.

Agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible for man to attain knowledge of God or that we do not know whether there is a God or not. It dates back to the skeptics of antiquity, was implied by Confucius in The Analects, and was argued vigorously by David Hume, but the term was coined by T.H. Huxley in the 19th century who based it on the theory that the human mind is too limited to know God.

Theoretically this leaves space for faith without knowledge of God, though this is not usual with Agnostics. However here two is an inconsistency:  since the Agnostic grants the existence of two types of reality – the knowable reality of human experience; and an unknowable reality beyond the human mind – the proposition of a deity is in fact a reasonable consequence of the latter (that is a divine mind that apprehends what is unknowable to the human mind).

Nonetheless, the inability of philosophy or theology to develop a generally accepted demonstration of the existence of God is a powerful argument in favor the agnostic position.

(continued next post)

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RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD – PART III

“[In the highest degree of contemplation] the Soul not only becomes happy by the gift of philosophy, but since, so to speak, it becomes God, it becomes happiness itself.” – Marsilio Ficino

Beyond common prayer and incidental spiritual experience is the highest level of relationship to God or ultimate reality through meditation and contemplation. These forms of mystical undertaking are one of the reasons some believe in God, but are also methods proposed by great spiritualists to connect with the divine.

Meditation is the term used in Eastern philosophy for the process of “concentrating to the utmost degree our latent mental power… training the mind, especially attention and the will, so that we can set forth from the surface level of consciousness and journey into the very depths.” Therein we discover that we are not the body or the mind, and find through a “transcendental mode of knowing.” that we are a consciousness with an unbounded connection to the universe.1 For Hindus and Buddhists, the goal is enlightenment and Moksha or release from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). However this form of meditation is not aimed specifically at interacting with God.

For Christians and other religions, meditation can progress to contemplation.  Thomas Merton, a twentieth century Trappist monk,  defines it as “the union of our mind and will with God in an act of pure love that brings us into obscure contact with Him as He really is.”It is  “an awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God’s creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life.”3

Preliminary steps according to Merton are self-discipline and asceticism, detachment from exterior matters and goods, escape from the ‘false self,’ humility, and selfless love for others. The process is one of multiple steps including solitude, silence, emptying of the mind, and prayer for your own discovery. There is a darkness, unknowing, or wilderness before the light of God’s infusion. A spiritual guide may help one avoid the many pitfalls and confusion that results during the ascent.

Paul Tillich is perhaps less mystical when he refers to “contemplating the mystery of the divine ground, considering the infinity of the divine life, intuiting the marvel of the divine creativity, adoring the inexhaustible meaning of the divine self-manifestation – all these experiences are related to God without involving an explicit ego-thou relation.”4

You may wonder whether a philosophy site should discuss a specific religious act like contemplation of the divine which defies scientific or philosophical validation. My justification is the vital place of meditation and contemplation in the history of philosophy. Virtually every Eastern tradition identifies meditation as the means to peace, enlightenment or nirvana. The contemplative life is Aristotle’s ideal of eudaimonia, that is, human flourishing. Pythagoras, Plotinus, Spinoza, and other Western philosophers seem to practice a form of meditation, and the great works of Marcus Aurelius and Descartes are known as Meditations. Christian philosophers like St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, and Merton, and Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila, experienced an indescribable union with the divine. Sufis, such as Mawlana Jalal-al Din Rumi, also describe such a union as breathtaking and life-changing. This supreme of human experiences, if real, must be a consideration in any program of a meaningful life, at least for those who believe in God.

 1Easwaran, Eknath, Meditation.Nilgiri Press, 1991. ISBN 0-915132-66-4, pgs. 8-28.

2Merton, Thomas, New Seeds of Contemplation. New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8112-1724-8, pg. 214.

3Ibid. pg. 4.

4Tillich, Systematic Theology Vol 1 pg. 289.

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RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD – PART II

“Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.” – Immanuel Kant,

Spiritual experiences (also called ‘peak experiences’) are another putative interaction with the God and the religious. A spiritual experience is an intense feeling of being uplifted, moved, or inspired often by a calm appreciation of beauty, nature, ideas, or the divine. About one third of the population admits to such experiences which typically include awareness of something larger than oneself, oneness, connection, awe, bliss, love, peace, or insight. Researchers have identified positive impacts from spiritual experiences that can be life changing and give a sense of meaning and purpose.1

These experiences are traditionally elicited by sacred places such as churches, holy relics, or absorption in natural beauty. One has an unmediated and impartial apprehension like that of a young child, but more intense. One is left speechless, and time seems to stand still. Religious experts claim they are facilitated in those who make themselves loving, pure in heart, humble, detached, and connect to the interior self.

If you have ever traveled to a peak in the Rockies, scuba-dived in the Caribbean, peered at the Milky Way in an unlit rural area, sat alone quietly in a large Gothic Church, listened intently to a truly beautiful piece of music, or beheld one of many similar sensations, you likely know the speechless wonder and transcendence that results. From personal experience, I can only say it is difficult to explain, but it feels like a fusing of reality, self, and time into a unit and a meaning which is unforgettable.

And spiritual experience is not antithetical to science – consider the following from Albert Einstein:

“…whoever has undergone the intense experience of successful advances in this domain [science], is moved by profound reverence for the rationality made manifest in existence. By way of the understanding he achieves a far-reaching emancipation from the shackles of personal hopes and desires, and thereby attains that humble attitude of mind toward the grandeur or reason incarnate in existence, and which, in its profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man. This attitude, however, appears to me to be religious, in the highest sense of the word. And so it seems to me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understating of life.”5

Therefore even in the absence of religion or church participation, we can increase our spirituality and spiritual experiences through communion with nature, study of the universe, reflection on existence, detachment from our everyday concerns, and opening a door to our inner self through love, humility, and virtue. Unexpected benefits of discovered meaning and purpose may follow.

1Henry, Jane, Quieting the Mind and Low Arousal Routes to Happiness in The Oxford Handbook of Happiness, edited by Susan David, Ilona Boniwell, and Amanda Conley Ayers. Oxford University Press, 2015. Chapter 32; pages 411-421.

2Einstein, Albert, Out of My Later Years. Philosophical Library, New York, 1950, page 29.

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RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD – PART I

“In rational prayer, the soul may be said to accomplish three things important to its welfare: it withdraws within itself, it accommodates itself to destiny, and it grows like the ideal which it conceives.” – Santayana, Life of Reason

Should you conclude there is sufficient evidence or reason for belief in God and that He is a personal deity, you will next likely decide whether to practice an established religion. Either way there will be a critical subsequent step – relationship to or experience of the divine. There are three basic methods of this interaction – prayer, spiritual experience, and meditation or contemplation.

Prayer is of course direct conversation with or appeal to the divine. This can take the form of thankfulness, reverence (worship), remorse (seeking forgiveness), or intercession (help for oneself or another). According to Aquinas, Socrates thought we should pray only for ‘good things’ as God knows best what is good for us (Aquinas’ source is Valerius Maximus). But Aquinas thinks “our motive in praying is not that we may change the divine disposition, but that, by our prayers, we may obtain what God has appointed.,” He also says, “prayer …directs man’s intellect to God,” while inspiring us with holy desires;, and praying for our salvation conforms our will to God’s will.1

Paul Tillich expresses a more existential meaning of prayer as a self-transcendence which serves to “reunite the creature with its creative ground” and is “an actualization or our ultimate concern.”  But like Aquinas, he denies that in prayer, one expects God to interfere with existential conditions, rather one hopes to direct the given situation toward fulfilment. The faith the person has in God is the power which transforms the existential situation.2

Meister Eckhart expresses this more ethereally, “Not for the first time tomorrow will God grant thy supplication and thy prayer: he has granted it already in his eternity ere ever thou becamest man. Suppose they prayer is foolish or lacking in earnestness, God will deny it thee not then, he has denied it thee already in his eternity.”3

If you have ever been in a crisis, particularly one which threatens your life or that of a loved one, you probably appealed to the divine to intervene. In a sense, this can be interpreted as an instinctual ‘belief’ in God – i.e. by default in circumstance of helplessness. It may be worth mentioning that clinical studies of intercessory prayer for the sick give mostly negative results, although a 2009 review article of ten studies on 7446 patients concluded the evidence did not support a recommendation for or against prayer for aiding the sick.4

Non-crisis prayer however requires more conscience belief and is experienced as calming and rewarding in itself to its practitioners. It can lead to a spiritual experience – the topic of the next section.

 

1Brody, Baruch A. Readings in the Philosophy of Religion. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 1974. ISBN 0-13-759340-6, pages. 546-547.

2Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology, The University of Chicago Press, 1967. ISBN 0-226-80336-8. Volume 1 p. 267.

3Perry, Whiteall N., A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom. Fons Vitae Edition, 2000. ISBN 1-887752-33-1, p.524.

4Roberts, Leanne, et. al. Intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill  health. 2009. https://www.cochranelibrary.com

 

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RELIGION

“True religion is rather the power to contemplate nature with a mind set at peace.” – Lucretius.

A subject close to the issue of the existence of God is that of religion. This is another word that is difficult to define because of its many nuances. Webster’s first meaning (of nine) is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”1

The Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists nine features of religion: (1) belief in supernatural beings, (2) distinction between sacred and profane objects, (3) ritual acts focused on sacred objects, (4) a moral code believed to be sanctioned by the gods, (5) religious feelings aroused by sacred objects and ritual practice, (6) prayer and other communication with the gods, (7) a world view with a place for the individual, (8) a more or less total organization of one’s life based on the world view, and (9) social group bound by the above.2

Professor Robert Oden in his lectures on comparative religions uses a more modern sounding definition by H.H. Penner: “…a communication system that is constituted by supernatural beings and is related to specific patterns of behavior” (his italics).3

Traditionally there are 11 recognized major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, and Sikhism (several have major branches). Most of us have first-hand experience of one or more of these religions and have practiced a religion at least part of our life. One of the great enigmas of humanity is the fact that each religion believes itself to be true and the others untrue.

In his book, Truth in Religion, Mortimer Adler notes that pluralism is desirable in matters of taste or ‘poetic truth’ (which includes religion), but not in matters of factual or logical truth as in science which he classifies as ‘transcultural.’ His principle of the ‘unity of truth’ requires that parts of the whole truth be compatible with one another. The truth of science and the truth of religion are either (1) truths of different kinds (Averroes position), (2) truths of the same kind and therefore compatible (Aquinas’ position), or (3) separate logic-tight compartments. Religious beliefs cannot be proven, but can be disproved or discredited by science or philosophy. Since philosophy more readily becomes transcultural than religion, it is a useful criterion for religious truth. As an example, he claims philosophy demonstrates the existence of a ‘single supreme being as the indispensable, creative, or exnihilating cause of the cosmos,’ which challenges the truth of most eastern religions.4

I view religion from the opposite vantage point as essentially instant philosophy, that is, following a specific religion’s teachings means accepting its answers to the most important questions philosophy poses: Is there a God? How do I related to Him? What is good and evil? How should I conduct myself in the world? What is happiness? And even what is the meaning of life? However, this appears too easy, even dangerous, until perhaps there is an example of Voltaire’s ideal religion – one that teaches “nothing but the worship of God, justice, tolerance, and humanity”.5

 

1Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Barnes & Noble, Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-7607-4975-2, p.  1628 – definition 1.

2Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 7, pages 142-143.

3God and Mankind: Comparative Religions, Robert Oden. The Teaching Company, 1998.

4Adler, Mortimer, Truth in Religion. MacMillan Publishing Company, New York. 1990. ISBN 0-02-500225-2, Chapter 5, pages 101-110.

5Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary. Basic Books, Inc. New York. 1962. Page 445.

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CURRENT READING – BEFORE THE BIG BANG (cont’d)

Sternglass, a physicist, takes a different approach in this book. He develops Georges LeMaitre’s original theory of the ‘primeval atom’ as an extremely heavy and rapidly rotating electron-positron pair within which the mass of the universe is contained by virtue of its energy (think E=mc2). The origin of the this pair is hypothesized as coming from a ‘vortex ring’ or superstring that vibrates so violently that it pinches itself in half with the two ends rotating at 180 degrees relative to each other creating the first pair of charges.

Subsequently 270 divisions of this original pair over about 15 trillion years led to the Big Bang and the mass and structure of the universe with all parts still rotating and including some ‘seed pairs’ – clusters of more massive electron-proton pairs that divided later to become galaxies and stars.

One advantage of the theory is its explanation of the stability of the universe as the balance of the centrifugal force of the rotating universe (Einstein’s “cosmologic constant”) to the gravitational attraction of its parts. It also relies on simpler factors than the standard theory – just the mass and charge of the electron, the speed of light, and Planck’s constant. It may also explain Guth’s inflation, quasars, continued star formation, dark matter, and the relative small size of distant galaxies detected by the Hubble telescope.

However Sternglass’ theory has not been readily accepted by cosmologists who see it as inconsistent with the body of astronomical knowledge. It counters the prevailing opinion that the universe began as a singularity. It depends on the vortex occurring with an ether like one proposed by the ancient Greeks, but dismissed by modern science. There is little evidence the universe is actually rotating. And it does not predict the more recently identified Higgs particle as foreseen with the standard model.4

It is not the purpose of this post to attempt to resolve the issue of what preceded the Big Bang, rather to reconcile scientific thinking with the concept of a divine creator. Perhaps not surprisingly Flam does not use the word God in her article, but God as creator appears five times in Sternglass’ book. Once when speaking of Robert Millikan who tried to reconcile science and religion by saying matter is still being formed as evidence that “The Creator is still on the job.” A second when referring to rotation as having meaning only relative to a pre-existing ether that Isaac Newton regarded as ‘the body of God.’ The third appears when he is thinking about the specificity of Newton’s gravitational constant as unlikely to have come about by chance and the design of the universe as both elegant and understandable by humans – mentioning Albert Einstein’s famous quotes: “I cannot believe God plays with dice with the universe,” and “God is clever, but he is not malicious.”

The other two times he alludes to God are in the first and last chapters when he tries to come to terms with his own theory. His closing paragraph starts, “The architect of this design and the energy required to bring this about remain a source of mystery, awe, and wonder beyond the ken of science.” He gives the philosopher and the scientist a lot to contemplate.

1 Sternglass, Ernest J., Before the Big Bang. Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1997. ISBN 1-56858-087-8.

2Hoyle, Fred, The Nature of the Universe.  Harper & Brothers, New York, 1950, p. 124. Fred Hoyle argued in the 1940s for a cosmology based on the Steady State theory in a series of BBC radio broadcasts in which he gave the moniker “Big Bang” to the competing theory held by Georges Lemaitre.

3Flam, Faye, Sky and Telescope. F+W Media. Volume 137, No. 2, pages 16-21.

4 www.news.pitt.edu/news/pitt-scientists-unified-theory-origin

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