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At Mind Matters News: Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God. Who is that God?

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In a discussion at Theology Unleashed, neuropsychologist Mark Solms admits that life is “miraculous” and sees Baruch Spinoza’s God, embedded in nature, as the ultimate explanation:

So the funny thing is that [you were] motivated, as I was, by puzzling about these profound questions. The particular one at issue being, how come I am a body? What is the relationship between me, this subjective being, and this object. I puzzled about it, pondering it, looking at the question in relation to neuroscientific observations and so on. I was eventually led in the mid 1990s — in fact I wrote a paper about it in ‘97 — to this view that I sketched in a very rough and ready way some minutes ago, which is that there are two appearances. [01:02:30]

The actual thing called “Mark Solms” is neither his subjective experience nor his body. He’s something that unites the two and lies behind both surfaces. And he is not just the appearance, he’s something deeper than that. I was then sort of surprised and disappointed to discover this was not some great insight that I had forged. It was an ancient philosophy that belongs to Spinoza or was articulated most clearly initially by Spinoza. And you will know better than anyone, Michael, Spinoza’s view on these theistic questions that you are touching on. I mean he was a deeply spiritual man. And he saw all of this as that this… We are of God, we are… All of us, the whole universe is the expression of God…

Michael Egnor: Sure. One of the things I really love about Thomism is that it rather nicely combines [that with] the profundity of Spinoza insights. And I have a lot of respect for Spinoza… he’s been the inspiration for a lot of scientists. I mean Einstein commented that the God he believed in was Spinoza’s God so Spinoza fits very nicely into natural science. Spinoza had a lot of very deep insights, the Thomistic view fits in with that, I think, in many very nice ways.

News, “Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God. Who is that God?” at Mind Matters News (December 5, 2021)

Takehome: In a discussion with Solms, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor argues that it makes more sense to see God as a Person than as a personification of nature.

So, double bill: Egnor and Solms: What does it mean to say God is a Person?

Mark Solms and Michael Egnor discuss and largely agree on what we can rationally know about God, using the tools of reason:

Michael Egnor: St. Thomas and Boethius said that there were some things that we could know about God, that God is not totally unknowable. The first thing we can know about God is what he is not. That is, God is not a piece of matter, he’s not finite, he’s not evil. He’s not mortal.

We can know about God by his effects, by what’s created in the world — with the assumption that whatever is created in the world is in some way an aspect of God that is reflected in his creation. And we can know about God by analogy that is that we can say for example, that God is infinitely powerful. Although the term “power” really can’t describe something that is transcendent, power is something that we understand in our universe. It’s like something infinitely powerful. [01:12:00]

When you look at the effects of God in the world, I think the most remarkable effect is our personhood, our subjectivity. The fact that we are persons leads me — and I think has led a lot of theologians — to say, “That’s because God is a Person.” That’s where our personhood comes from. We’re the small case I am and he is the big case I AM.

So I think Spinoza had a lot of things very right, and there’s a lot of consilience between his view of God as sort of being-in-everything and St. Augustine’s view that we are in God. But I think that the fact that we are persons means that God is a Person and that we are created in his image as persons.

News, “What does it mean to say God is a Person?” at Mind Matters News (December 5, 2021)

Takehome: Egnor argues that, if the most remarkable thing about us is our personhood (I am), it Makes sense to think of God as a Person (I AM).

Bonus: A neuropsychologist takes a crack at defining consciousness. Frustrated by reprimands for discussing Big Questions in neuroscience, Mark Solms decided to train as a psychoanalyst as well. As a neuropsychologist, he sees consciousness, in part, as the capacity to feel things, what philosophers call “qualia” — the redness of red.

7 Replies to “At Mind Matters News: Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God. Who is that God?

  1. 1
    chuckdarwin says:

    The article says that Solms sees life as “miraculous.” The irony probably escapes Solms that one of the fundamental things about Spinoza’s thought is that he rejects miracles. The bedrock of both Spinoza’s pantheism and deism is rejection of (1) a personal God, (2) revealed truth or knowledge and (3) miracles.
    There has been extensive debate for decades whether Spinoza was deist or pantheist. Part of the difficulty is historical; in Spinoza’s time, the universe was viewed as eternal, thus pantheism was perfectly consistent with that view of the universe, i.e., a “creator” was not necessary. It is argued that since acceptance of the Big Bang, pantheism has become less tenable in favor of deism. Either way, it is clear that Spinoza (and Einstein, if you look at his writings, some of which I believe I’ve posted at UD before) rejected the Judeo-Christian God (the ironic merger of Judaism and Christianity is not lost on me) and revealed biblical truth.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    Spinoza was a very sensible person. I’m surprised more people here are not drawn to his thinking on these matters.

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    Meyer discusses pantheism in his book on the God Hypothesis.

  4. 4
    chuckdarwin says:

    Seversky
    There actually has been a resurgence of interest in the last decade. One great book is:
    The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World
    by Matthew Stewart (2006)
    It looks at the contrast between Leibniz who was a courtier of the House of Hanover (Germany) and advisor to Duke John Frederick of Brunswick. Leibniz had degrees out the wazoo and was the ultimate insider in the courts of Europe. He and Newton fought for years over who had actually invented calculus first.
    Spinoza, was a Spanish Jew who grew up in Amsterdam, where he was issued a herem (excommunication) by the local Jewish leadership in his early 20s. Although the herem does not say, it is generally agreed that it resulted from his heretical views of the Hebrew God and Bible. He made his living as a lens maker and never had a formal education or position as a philosopher. After his death, his writings were banned by the Vatican.
    Who he influenced reads like a who’s who of philosophers, scientists and intellectuals into the twentieth century. He had a huge influence on Thomas Jefferson who had most of Spinoza’s works in his library. Jefferson’s reference to “Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence is thought, by some, to be a hat-tip to Spinoza.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    I hold that Einstein’s very own theories of relativity, especially his theory of Special Relativity, contradict Einstein’s non-belief about a personal God, and especially contradicts his non-belief about life after death.

    But first a little background,

    First off, “According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Einstein was more inclined to denigrate atheists than religious people.”

    Religious and philosophical views of Albert Einstein
    Excerpt: According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Einstein was more inclined to denigrate atheists than religious people.[28] Einstein said in correspondence, “[T]he fanatical atheists…are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against the traditional ‘opium of the people’—cannot hear the music of the spheres.”[28][29]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_philosophical_views_of_Albert_Einstein#Agnosticism_and_atheism

    Secondly, although Einstein believed in Spinoza’s ‘abstract god’, who was ‘less than a person’,

    The God of the Mathematicians – Goldman – 2010
    The religious beliefs that guided Kurt Gödel’s revolutionary ideas
    Excerpt: As Gödel told Hao Wang, “Einstein’s religion [was] more abstract, like Spinoza and Indian philosophy. Spinoza’s god is less than a person; mine is more than a person; because God can play the role of a person.”
    http://www.firstthings.com/art.....ematicians

    Kurt Gödel
    Religious views
    Gödel was a convinced theist, in the Christian tradition.[28] He held the notion that God was personal.
    He believed firmly in an afterlife, stating: “Of course this supposes that there are many relationships which today’s science and received wisdom haven’t any inkling of. But I am convinced of this [the afterlife], independently of any theology.” It is “possible today to perceive, by pure reasoning” that it “is entirely consistent with known facts.” “If the world is rationally constructed and has meaning, then there must be such a thing [as an afterlife].”[29]
    In an unmailed answer to a questionnaire, Gödel described his religion as “baptized Lutheran (but not member of any religious congregation). My belief is theistic, not pantheistic, following Leibniz rather than Spinoza.”[30],,,
    According to his wife Adele, “Gödel, although he did not go to church, was religious and read the Bible in bed every Sunday morning”,[32]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_G%C3%B6del#Religious_views

    And although Einstein also said that he “did not believe in life after death,,,, “one life is enough for me.””

    Religious and philosophical views of Albert Einstein
    Excerpt: Albert Einstein’s religious views have been widely studied and often misunderstood.[1] Albert Einstein stated that he believed in the pantheistic God of Baruch Spinoza.[2] He did not believe in a personal God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings, a view which he described as naïve.[3] He clarified however that, “I am not an atheist”,[4] preferring to call himself an agnostic,[5] or a “religious nonbeliever.”[3] Einstein also stated he did not believe in life after death, adding “one life is enough for me.”[6],,,
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_philosophical_views_of_Albert_Einstein

    … Although Einstein may not have personally believed in a personal God, nor believed in life after death, I hold that, besides the falsification of ‘realism’ in Quantum Mechanics contradicting Einstein’s non-belief in a personal God Who sustains this universe in its continual existence,,,

    Einstein: An Exchange – 2007
    Excerpt: In fact, a quantum mechanician like Bohr would say that, in the absence of an experiment to determine them, these quantities have no existence at all. This is what Einstein objected to. He once walked back from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton with the late Abraham Pais. The moon was out and Einstein asked Pais, “Do you really believe the moon is not there when you are not looking at it?”
    http://www.nybooks.com/article.....-exchange/

    Reality doesn’t exist until we measure it, (Delayed Choice with atoms) quantum experiment confirms – Mind = blown. – FIONA MACDONALD – 1 JUN 2015
    Excerpt: “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” lead researcher and physicist Andrew Truscott said in a press release.
    http://www.sciencealert.com/re.....t-confirms

    “Look, we all have fun ridiculing the creationists who think the world sprang into existence on October 23, 4004 BC at 9AM (presumably Babylonian time), with the fossils already in the ground, light from distant stars heading toward us, etc. But if we accept the usual picture of quantum mechanics, then in a certain sense the situation is far worse: the world (as you experience it) might as well not have existed 10^-43 seconds ago!”
    – Scott Aaronson – MIT associate Professor quantum computation – Lecture 11: Decoherence and Hidden Variables

    ,,, besides the falsification of ‘realism’ in Quantum Mechanics contradicting Einstein’s non-belief in a personal God Who sustains this universe in its continual existence, I also hold that Einstein’s very own theories of relativity, especially his theory of Special Relativity, contradict Einstein’s non-belief about a personal God, and especially contradicts his non-belief about life after death.

    Specifically, special relativity is based on a single four-dimensional continuum now known as Minkowski space. In fact, the higher dimensional nature of special relativity was a discovery that was made by one of Einstein math professors in 1908 prior to Einstein’s elucidation of General Relativity in 1915. (In fact, in 1916 Einstein fully acknowledged his indebtedness to Minkowski)

    Spacetime
    Excerpt: In 1908, Hermann Minkowski—once one of the math professors of a young Einstein in Zurich—presented a geometric interpretation of special relativity that fused time and the three spatial dimensions of space into a single four-dimensional continuum now known as Minkowski space. A key feature of this interpretation is the definition of a spacetime interval that combines distance and time. Although measurements of distance and time between events differ for measurements made in different reference frames, the spacetime interval is independent of the inertial frame of reference in which they are recorded.
    Minkowski’s geometric interpretation of relativity was to prove vital to Einstein’s development of his 1915 general theory of relativity, wherein he showed that spacetime becomes curved in the presence of mass or energy.,,,
    Einstein, for his part, was initially dismissive of Minkowski’s geometric interpretation of special relativity, regarding it as überflüssige Gelehrsamkeit (superfluous learnedness). However, in order to complete his search for general relativity that started in 1907, the geometric interpretation of relativity proved to be vital, and in 1916, Einstein fully acknowledged his indebtedness to Minkowski, whose interpretation greatly facilitated the transition to general relativity.[10]:151–152 Since there are other types of spacetime, such as the curved spacetime of general relativity, the spacetime of special relativity is today known as Minkowski spacetime.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacetime

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Moreover, these four dimensional spacetimes that undergird both special relativity and general relativity are also comforting to overall Christian concerns in that they reveal two very different eternities to us. One eternity is found for a hypothetical observer who is going the speed of light, and another eternity is found for a hypothetical observer falling to the event horizon of a black hole.

    Time dilation
    Excerpt: Time dilation: special vs. general theories of relativity:
    In Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity, time dilation in these two circumstances can be summarized:
    1. –In special relativity (or, hypothetically far from all gravitational mass), clocks that are moving with respect to an inertial system of observation are measured to be running slower. (i.e. For any observer accelerating, hypothetically, to the speed of light, time, as we understand it, will come to a complete stop.)
    2.–In general relativity, clocks at lower potentials in a gravitational field—such as in closer proximity to a planet—are found to be running slower. (i.e. For any observer falling to the event horizon of a black-hole, time, as we understand it, will come to a complete stop.)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_dilation

    Specifically, in Einstein’s special relativity we find that time passes differently for different ‘observers’ depending on how fast the observers are moving through space, “with time slowing to a stop as one, (an observer), approaches the speed of light .”

    Time dilation caused by a relative velocity
    Excerpt: Special relativity indicates that, for an observer in an inertial frame of reference, a clock that is moving relative to them will be measured to tick slower than a clock that is at rest in their frame of reference. This case is sometimes called special relativistic time dilation. The faster the relative velocity, the greater the time dilation between one another, with time slowing to a stop as one approaches the speed of light (299,792,458 m/s).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_dilation#Time_dilation_caused_by_a_relative_velocity

    To grasp the whole ‘time slowing to a stop as one, (an observer), approaches the speed of light’ concept a little more easily, imagine moving away from the face of a clock at the speed of light. Would not the hands on the clock stay stationary as you moved away from the face of the clock at the speed of light? Moving away from the face of a clock at the speed of light happens to be the same ‘thought experiment’ that gave Einstein his breakthrough insight into e=mc2.

    “In the spring of 1905, Einstein was riding on a bus and he looked back at the famous clock tower that dominates Bern Switzerland. And then he imagined, “What happens if that bus were racing near the speed of light?”, (narrator: “In his imagination, Einstein looks back at the clock tower and what he sees is astonishing. As he reaches the speed of light, the hands of the clock appear frozen in time”), “Einstein would later write, “A storm broke in my mind. All of the sudden everything, everything, kept gushing forward.”, (narrator: “Einstein knows that, back at the clock tower, time is passing normally, but on Einstein’s light speed bus, as he reaches the speed of light, the light from the clock can no longer catch up to him. The faster he races through space, the slower he moves through time. This insight sparks the birth of Einstein’s Special Theory of relativity, which says that space and time are deeply connected. In fact, they are one and the same. A flexible fabric called spacetime.”)
    – Michio Kaku
    Einstein: Einstein’s Miracle Year (‘Insight into Eternity’ – Thought Experiment – 6:29 minute mark) – video
    https://youtu.be/QQ35opgrhNA?t=389

    Moreover, the finding that time, as we understand it, comes to a complete stop at the speed of light is very friendly to Theistic presuppositions about ‘eternity’ and/or ‘eternal life’.

    As Dr. Richard Swenson noted in his book “More Than Meets The Eye”, “The laws of relativity have changed timeless existence from a theological claim to a physical reality. Light, you see, is outside of time, a fact of nature proven in thousands of experiments at hundreds of universities. I don’t pretend to know how tomorrow can exist simultaneously with today and yesterday. But at the speed of light they actually and rigorously do. Time does not pass.”

    “The laws of relativity have changed timeless existence from a theological claim to a physical reality. Light, you see, is outside of time, a fact of nature proven in thousands of experiments at hundreds of universities. I don’t pretend to know how tomorrow can exist simultaneously with today and yesterday. But at the speed of light they actually and rigorously do. Time does not pass.”
    – Richard Swenson – More Than Meets The Eye, Chpt. 11

    Even Einstein himself indirectly alluded to the Theological significance of special relativity when he, upon the death of his close friend Michele Besso, stated, “For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

    Einstein and Michele Besso
    Upon Besso’s death in 1955, Einstein wrote a letter of condolence to the Besso family—less than a month before his own death—which contained the following quote “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That signifies nothing. For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
    http://quotingeinstein.blogspo.....besso.html

    That time, as we understand it, comes to a complete stop at the speed of light, and yet light moves from point A to point B in our universe, and thus light is obviously not ‘frozen within time’, has some fairly profound implications for us.

    The only way it is possible for time not to pass for light, and yet for light to move from point A to point B in our universe, is if light is of a ‘higher dimensional’ value of time than the temporal time we are currently living in. Otherwise light would simply be ‘frozen within time’ from our temporal frame of reference.

    One way for us to more easily understand this higher dimensional framework for time that light must necessarily exist in is to visualize what would happen if a hypothetical observer approached the speed of light.

    In the first part of the following video clip, entitled ‘Optical Effects of Special Relativity”, a video which was made by two Australian University Physics Professors, we find that the 3-Dimensional world ‘folds and collapses’ into a tunnel shape as a ‘hypothetical’ observer approaches the ‘higher dimension’ of the speed of light.

    Optical Effects of Special Relativity – video (full relativistic effects shown at 2:40 minute mark)
    https://youtu.be/JQnHTKZBTI4?t=160

    To give us a better understanding as to what it would be like to exist in a higher dimension, this following video, Dr. Quantum in Flatland, also gives us a (very) small insight as to what it would be like for us to exist in a higher dimension:

    Dr. Quantum in Flatland – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5yxZ5I-zsE

    Moreover, to further validate the Christian claim that the ‘higher eternal dimension’ of heaven is real, we don’t have to rely solely on our scientific evidence from special relativity. We can also reference the many testimonies of people who have died for a short while and come back. These testimonies are commonly referred to as Near Death Experiences (NDEs).

    In the following video clip, Mickey Robinson gives his Near Death testimony of what it felt like for him to experience a ‘timeless eternity’.

    ‘In the ‘spirit world,,, instantly, there was no sense of time. See, everything on earth is related to time. You got up this morning, you are going to go to bed tonight. Something is new, it will get old. Something is born, it’s going to die. Everything on the physical plane is relative to time, but everything in the spiritual plane is relative to eternity. Instantly I was in total consciousness and awareness of eternity, and you and I as we live in this earth cannot even comprehend it, because everything that we have here is filled within the veil of the temporal life. In the spirit life that is more real than anything else and it is awesome. Eternity as a concept is awesome. There is no such thing as time. I knew that whatever happened was going to go on and on.’
    In The Presence Of Almighty God – The NDE of Mickey Robinson – video (testimony starts at 27:45 minute mark)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voak1RM-pXo

    And here are a few more quotes from people who have experienced Near Death, that speak of how their perception of time was radically altered as they were outside of their material body.

    ‘Earthly time has no meaning in the spirit realm. There is no concept of before or after. Everything – past, present, future – exists simultaneously.’
    – Kimberly Clark Sharp – Near Death Experiencer

    ‘There is no way to tell whether minutes, hours or years go by. Existence is the only reality and it is inseparable from the eternal now.’
    – John Star – NDE Experiencer

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    As well, Near Death Experiencers also frequently mention going through a tunnel to a higher heavenly dimension:

    Ask the Experts: What Is a Near-Death Experience (NDE)? – article with video
    Excerpt: “Very often as they’re moving through the tunnel, there’s a very bright mystical light … not like a light we’re used to in our earthly lives. People call this mystical light, brilliant like a million times a million suns…”
    – Jeffrey Long M.D. – has studied NDE’s extensively
    – abcnews nightline

    The Tunnel and the Near-Death Experience
    Excerpt: One of the nine elements that generally occur during NDEs is the tunnel experience. This involves being drawn into darkness through a tunnel, at an extremely high speed, until reaching a realm of radiant golden-white light.
    – near death research

    In the following video, Barbara Springer gives her testimony as to what it felt like for her to go through the tunnel:

    “I started to move toward the light. The way I moved, the physics, was completely different than it is here on Earth. It was something I had never felt before and never felt since. It was a whole different sensation of motion. I obviously wasn’t walking or skipping or crawling. I was not floating. I was flowing. I was flowing toward the light. I was accelerating and I knew I was accelerating, but then again, I didn’t really feel the acceleration. I just knew I was accelerating toward the light. Again, the physics was different – the physics of motion of time, space, travel. It was completely different in that tunnel, than it is here on Earth. I came out into the light and when I came out into the light, I realized that I was in heaven.”
    Barbara Springer – Near Death Experience – The Tunnel – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv2jLeoAcMI

    And in the following audio clip, (Vicki Noratuk, who has been blind from birth, and besides being able to see for the very first time during in her life during her Near Death Experience), also gives testimony of going through a tunnel to a higher heaven dimension:

    “I was in a body, and the only way that I can describe it was a body of energy, or of light. And this body had a form. It had a head, it had arms and it had legs. And it was like it was made out of light. And it was everything that was me. All of my memories, my consciousness, everything.”,,, “And then this vehicle formed itself around me. Vehicle is the only thing, or tube, or something, but it was a mode of transportation that’s for sure! And it formed around me. And there was no one in it with me. I was in it alone. But I knew there were other people ahead of me and behind me. What they were doing I don’t know, but there were people ahead of me and people behind me, but I was alone in my particular conveyance. And I could see out of it. And it went at a tremendously, horrifically, rapid rate of speed. But it wasn’t unpleasant. It was beautiful in fact.,, I was reclining in this thing, I wasn’t sitting straight up, but I wasn’t lying down either. I was sitting back. And it was just so fast. I can’t even begin to tell you where it went or whatever it was just fast!” –
    Vicki’s NDE – Blind since birth –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e65KhcCS5-Y

    And the following people who had a NDE both testify that they firmly believed that they were in a higher dimension that exists above this temporal realm and that the primary reason that they have a very difficult time explaining exactly what their Near Death Experiences felt like is because we simply don’t currently have the words to properly describe that higher dimension:

    “Regardless, it is impossible for me to adequately describe what I saw and felt. When I try to recount my experiences now, the description feels very pale. I feel as though I’m trying to describe a three-dimensional experience while living in a two-dimensional world. The appropriate words, descriptions and concepts don’t even exist in our current language. I have subsequently read the accounts of other people’s near-death experiences and their portrayals of heaven and I able to see the same limitations in their descriptions and vocabulary that I see in my own.”
    Mary C. Neal, MD – To Heaven And Back pg. 71

    “Well, when I was taking geometry, they always told me there were only three dimensions, and I always just accepted that. But they were wrong. There are more… And that is why so hard for me to tell you this. I have to describe with words that are three-dimensional. That’s as close as I can get to it, but it’s really not adequate.”
    John Burke – Imagine Heaven pg. 51 – quoting a Near Death Experiencer

    That what we now know to be true from special relativity, (namely that it outlines a ‘timeless’, i.e. eternal, dimension that exists above this temporal dimension), would fit hand and glove with the personal testimonies of people who have had a deep heavenly NDEs is, needless to say, powerful evidence that their testimonies are, in fact, true and that they are accurately describing the ‘reality’ of a higher heavenly dimension, that they experienced first hand, and that they say exists above this temporal dimension.

    I would even go so far as to say that such corroboration from ‘non-physicists’, who, in all likelihood, know nothing about the intricacies of special relativity, is a complete scientific verification of the overall validity of their personal NDE testimonies.

    Thus in conclusion Einstein himself may not have personally believed in life after death, (nor in a personal God), but Special Relativity itself contradicts Einstein and offers stunning confirmation that Near Death Testimonies are accurate ‘physical’ descriptions of what happens after death, i.e. going to a ‘higher timeless/eternal dimension’, i.e. heavenly dimension, that exists above this temporal realm.

    Verse:

    Matthew 6:33
    But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

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