Thursday, July 21, 2011

The nature of "respect" for others beliefs.

A lot of people tout the idea that we should be respectful of each others beliefs. If you’re an atheist, and your neighbor is a christian, you should respect that, and treat that person with the same kindness and compassion that you would another atheist.
But there’s a fundamental problem with the notion of respecting others beliefs, because it requires on your part that you grant their beliefs credibility. Nobody unconditionally respects someone else’s belief. They say “well, I agree that your belief has enough credibility, that I will respect your having adopted it, even though I don’t agree with it.”
You can respect your neighbors belief in UFOs for example, because you can say “well, I don’t believe they exist, but I don’t know for sure. My neighbor could be right, but at this point in time I disagree.”
Would you respect your neighbor if they believed that you were ten years younger than you actually are? You might be flattered, but you’d think they were crazy if they honestly stuck to that belief in the face of your birth certificate. You would not be able to respect their belief, at all. Likewise, you wouldn’t be able to respect their belief if they believed that cars can fly, or that Star Wars was filmed in 1950. You wouldn’t be able to respect their belief if they believed that cats have three stomachs.
In other words, no human has any place within themselves to find respect for a belief that they know cannot be true. And this is the thorn in the side of the notion of unconditional respect for each others beliefs. We can behave kindly towards those who believe things that we know cannot be true, but we cannot respect their beliefs. You would have to delude yourself greatly in order to convince yourself that you’re feeling true respect for their belief. You cannot respect it because you know it cannot be.
When you feel that you cannot know for sure one way or another, then you can respect opposing viewpoints, because you agree that there is a possibility of their authenticity. And of course, in all areas where it’s a matter of taste, such as which movie is good, which car is most comfortable, etc, in those cases it is easy to respect others beliefs, because it’s a matter of taste. There is no empirical reality about it out there.
This is how mixed religion marriages can work. If an atheist marries a christian, and feels “well, I don’t believe what my partner does, but there’s always the slim possibility that it’s true,” then that’s great. The atheist is granting credibility and possibility to the christian’s beliefs, even though they don’t agree. But if an atheist enters a relationship with the knowledge that the christian stories cannot be true, they will not be able to respect the beliefs of their partner.
So, nobody is really respectful of others beliefs. They are only respectful of what they themselves have agreed to grant credibility to. When a person feels that something simply cannot be true, there is no respect for it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Credibility comes from majority vote.

Imagine that one day you meet a person who believes that there are monsters living under his or her bed. They tell you all about them, and explain all their theories. Also, they claim that if one eats apples, the monsters under the bed grow larger. And furthermore, they tell you that there are monsters under your bed too, as well as everybody else’s.
I don’t need to ask you how you would view this person, and what your internal reaction to their claims would be. But before we run off with the assumption that people are willing to say “you’re insane and childish” if someone is, there’s an important fact we have to realize about recognizing insanity in other people.
The reality is, a lot of people wouldn’t be finding that person’s story crazy because it’s crazy, but they’d be finding it crazy because that person is in a tiny minority, if not alone, with their crazy story. See, imagine that that person’s best friend begins to subscribe to the monster story, and then a few more friends, and it begins to spread out in a small community. Imagine then that within a few years, one billion people on earth believe that there are monsters under our beds, and that they grow larger when we eat apples.
Suddenly, the idea would have credibility, regardless of how insane it is. It would be rude to say “you’re an insane child” to someone who believes in the monsters. There would be intelligent scientists and philosophers discussing the possibility of the monsters, and coming up with stories of evidence for it.
What people consider normal, weird, crazy, sane, etc, just has to do with how many people believe it. One of the first defenses a person will have when you point out how crazy something they think is, is that “lots of people feel this way!” They feel that that gives them credibility, because, if so many others feel the same way, there must be something to it.
The monster example was taking an idea that we all agree is crazy, and showing how it could gain credibility if enough people believed it. The reverse example would be taking something like religion, which is currently accepted as a valid belief system, and reducing the number of believers down until the majority of people would feel that it is insane. If there were only five christians on earth, or even fifty, or five hundred, they would be laughed and scoffed at, and be labeled insane children.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We are creatures of habit.

Everybody has heard this phrase before, but today I’d like to point to a much more elusive aspect of this reality, one that clouds our vision and distorts our perception of life every second of every day.
Everything that we feel is normal, as humans, we feel is normal because it’s a habit. This includes eating, walking, talking, breathing, and even being shaped the way we’re shaped.
Look at your legs. Look at your arms. Feel your face. How would you feel if you didn’t have a deep-set habit that your form is somehow normal? And I’m talking philosophically here, I’m not talking about whether you’re skinny or fat or whatever. I’m talking about your form as a monkey. Having two hands, two feet, a nose, two eyes, etc. It could be considered a very strange form and a very odd body to be in, but we feel completely at home in it and never even think about it. We think of ourselves as “people,” a kind of “gold standard” among creatures on earth. We hold ourselves as gods among the animals in a way.
When you walk, you don’t feel strange or amazed doing so. You just walk. One long leg moving in front of the other, and then the other one coming up to move in front of that one.... if you didn’t have a deeply ingrained habit of walking and perceiving it as a normal thing, you’d be much, much more in touch with your animal nature.
And putting on clothes especially! We feel so normal doing that. We get up in the morning and slip on a shirt, pants, whatever, and it’s like “yeah, I’m a person. I’m getting dressed.” The habit of seeing ourselves as people instead of animals greatly clouds our vision. Look at your hands. Look at your arms. Look at yourself sitting there. Why do you feel normal and comfortable? Like this is a normal way of being, of doing things, of perceiving? What do you think this is, really? Outside of “I need to go to college, I need to get a job, I want to have a family.” What is this Really about?
What do you think life might be about, outside of all the things that everyone’s always told you you need to do? School and work are just things we get programmed into doing, like a machine. There’s nothing personal about that. Having a family happens because the species wants to reproduce. So what’s going on here?
We likely will never know. But for now, it is a good thing to try and break free of the habit of perceiving all this as something normal. People are born, and they’re told “You’re so and so, you have to go to school, get a job, and have a family,” and the baby later repeats “I am so and so, I have to go to school, get a job, and have a family,” and that’s it. That’s how deep the level of thought is with a lot of people. It’s literally no different than when I program my computer to do something and then it executes it.
Break free of the habit of perceiving those steps as a kind of “center” of reality. I’ll say that again. Break free of the habit of perceiving those steps (school, college, work, family) as a kind of “center” of reality. The earth to the universe is like a femtometer to the earth, but in many people’s perception, all these earthly things are stretched way out of proportion, to fill nearly the entire universe. They know there’s other universe out there, but they experience this planet and our doings as a sort of staple or pillar in the universe. It’s not. Perceiving our form, our actions, our aspirations and systems and philosophies, as a kind of “norm” is a habit. A habit that constantly takes us away from the bizarre and mystifying question of existence.
Begin to perceive life and think about what this Really might be, at its true nature. In the presence of that mysterious question, life becomes much more alive.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The difference between projection and perception.

Most people are familiar with the idea that what one sees around themselves in the world is to a certain degree a projection of their mind. That if you see someone as angry, it could be that you’re angry and “projecting” it on them, or if you feel certain that a certain outcome is going to happen for another person, it could be that that’s the outcome you had in a similar situation, and you’re projecting your experience on them, etc.
Certainly, people do project. A lot. The average person hardly ever perceives anything clearly, always projecting their own insecurities, memories, beliefs and prejudices onto people around them. For example, a person might be completely certain that if their friend has sex with a certain person, that they’re going to get hurt and end up really sad and lonely. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this prediction is coming from a person who had that experience themselves, and simply doesn’t know that things can be different for other people, and that not everything in the world is exactly like them.
If “not knowing that things can be different for other people” seems like something not suited to be preceded by “simply” to you, let me explain. You’re right, not knowing that things can be different for others is a big deal, I would venture to say bordering on some form of pseudo-autism, but the psychological mechanism that results in this blindness is actually quite simple, hence the use of that word. They “simply” don’t know. It’s a huge problem and mental defect, yes, but also a simple one. People are simply projecting their entire reality onto everything around them, with no awareness to the fact that other people could perceive things differently than them, or feel differently about things than they do.
So that’s projection, in it’s most basic, blinding form. It takes the projector clear away from reality, by cutting off all awareness of things around them. All they see is their own mind and their own stories, plastered everywhere in the world and onto everybody they meet.
Now, before I go into how clear perception works and why it is possible, let me first confirm that it is 100% true that you can never see anything in the world that isn’t also within you. When they say “you could not see that person as angry, unless there was anger within you,” that is true. And in this sense, the basic understanding of how human projection works is true, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that this law does not prevent a wise, intelligent person from perceiving completely clearly, as opposed to projecting. I will explain how this works.
Basically, the fundamental truth at the center of the concept of humans projecting things onto others, is that you cannot see something that you don’t believe or understand yourself. If you have no notion of fear, you won’t be able to detect if someone else is afraid. If you have no notion of anger, you won’t be able to detect when someone else is angry. You’ll see their actions, hear the volume of their voice, etc, but you won’t be able to make any sense of it if you don’t know what anger is.
The common misunderstanding surrounding this truth is this: If you see something in someone else, it is within you, only within you, and has an emotional hold on you. In the anger example, this would mean, if you see someone as angry, it’s because you have anger issues yourself, and the person you’re perceiving may or may not be angry at all, and it has no relation to your perception. This is of course ridiculous. If you were seeing anger in that person only because there is anger within you, then you would see every single person as angry, because your anger would be projected in the same way everywhere.
All that the concept “you can’t see what you don’t have within yourself” says is that in order to recognize something in someone else, you have to have an awareness and understanding of it yourself. It’s like radio channels. If you have the frequency “anger” within you, then you can pick up the signal when someone else is angry. It doesn’t mean that anger has a hold of you at that moment, and it doesn’t mean that the other person isn’t angry. It just means that in order for you to perceive anger, you did need to have it within yourself, in one way or another, otherwise it would not exist in your reality.
So, as you can see, projection and perception are two completely different things, and both are possible. Projection is a blind superimposition of your own mind onto things around you. Perception is being able to recognize the nature of things around you, using your own understanding and experience with those things, in order to be able to recognize them. The statement “it must be within you if you see it outside of yourself” holds completely true, but as I’ve shown, it does not negate the possibility of clear perception.
Imagine a giant board filled with numbers. Random numbers spread across a giant checkered board. And every person has certain numbers within their mind, and they can only see on the board those numbers that they also have in their mind. For example, if a person had only the numbers 19, 37 and 102 in their mind, then they’d only see those numbers on the board, wherever they show up, and everything else would look blank. The more numbers you have in your mind, the more you can see. It doesn’t mean you’re “projecting” those numbers. It means you’re able to perceive them, because you understand them yourself. It’s more of a resonation than a projection.
This is how projection and perception can both exist. And it is quite irritating when a clear-headed person makes an accurate observation, and is told “well, if that’s what you’re seeing, that must be what’s within you. It has nothing to do with what’s out there.” That is utter bull shit.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What science is.

As a kind of follow up to my last post, I’d like to clarify what exactly science is, and therefore explain why it can be appropriate to put “science” or “scientists” in quotes sometimes.
Science is simply the process of figuring out whether or not something is true, based on sound, testable methods. If I eat a bowl of beans, and then get in a car accident two hours later, one could hypothesize that the beans caused that. So we feed bowls of beans to a thousand people lets say, and if none, or very few of them get in car accidents later, then we know that it wasn’t the beans that caused it. That’s it. That’s science.
I have the deepest respect for science and the scientific method. The scientific method is the most perfected system we have thus far conceived as humans, for deducing what is true and what is not.
The problem is, because of the immense credibility of the scientific method, people often call what they do scientific, because it sounds really good. Scientists and “scientists” are sometimes two separate things.
And a good example of cases where even good intentioned, knowledgable scientists engage in pseudo-science, is when they test “alternative” medicines in the same way they test conventional medicines. Homeopathy, herbal medicine and chiropractic have all been called scams by the scientific community, but none of these things were ever claimed to operate the same way prescription drugs do. So when “scientists” take them into a test lab and expect them to kill symptoms instantaneously the way the drugs do, their conclusion is that they don’t work.
It’s like testing a car next to a boat in the water, and saying “my gosh, this boat is terrible. It can’t float at all.” It’s not a boat.
Most alternative medical practices focus more on building up the big picture of the bodies health, so that it can fight off whatever it’s trying to fight off. They do not target individual symptoms and attempt to eliminate them without addressing the underlying cause, the way most conventional medicine does. And in the case of homeopathy, if anybody ever advertises a remedy that claims to eliminate a certain symptom, that likely is a scam, because it’s against the principle of how homeopathy works and what it does.
Anyways, this post is not about alternative medicine or conventional medicine. Those will be discussed later in more detail. The point is that science, and the scientific method, are practically infallible. The scientific method is a system of testing whether something is true or not, and it’s a system that is flawless, because of it’s brilliant simplicity and tight relationship with reality.
It’s people that are not infallible. People who are not flawless, brilliant, simple, or in tight relationship with reality. And this is why many “scientists” and “scientific experiments” belong in quotes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Looking at the vaccine controversy.

The vaccine debates and controversies are well known throughout the world. There are the fanatic “scientists” who say they’re completely safe and effective and the greatest thing since sliced bread, there are the fanatic “alternative” people who say that they’re 100% poison and have never worked at all, and then there are a wide variety of people in the middle.
I put “scientists” in quotes, because a lot of these people are simply reciting what they’re told by the FDA and other such organizations, which is not science driven, but profit driven. The scientific method is amazing, and it is one of the crowning inventions of the human pre-frontal cortex, but unfortunately the mainstream medical establishment is not really doing science. They’re doing business. There are often good-intentioned scientists working within the system, but what ends up being pushed and marketed and endorsed is what will make the most money, not what will make the most health. It’s as simple as that.
In the case of vaccines, the classic argument of the “scientists” is that the disease rates dropped dramatically after the vaccines were introduced. The classic argument of the anti-vaxers is that the disease rates were already dropping rapidly before the vaccines were introduced. This argument can be settled by facts and numbers. The disease rates were not dropping rapidly before the vaccines were introduced. When the vaccines were introduced, reported cases dropped dramatically. So, the scientists are right here. There were up and down trends in the reported cases prior to vaccines, but vaccines dramatically reduced the reported cases when they were introduced. Vaccines do “work.” Some better than others, as you can see in the charts below.
But this isn’t the end of the story. When the anti-vaxers say that the disease rates were already dropping rapidly before the vaccines we’re introduced, they’re wrong of course, but there’s a truth that is similar to what they’re claiming that should not be ignored.
The death rates were dropping rapidly before the vaccines were introduced.
Most of the statistical charts and data talk only about the number of cases reported. There is no mention of how many of those cases died. By the 1960s, when the vaccine for measles was introduced for example, there were only a tiny fraction of the amount of deaths from it than there were in the late 19th century or early 20th century. A lot of children were still getting measles, but hardly anybody was dying anymore, because of improved nutrition and hygiene practices.
So, if improved living conditions resulted in a massive decrease in deaths from measles between 1900 and 1960, how much more would that death rate have been reduced, with or without the vaccine, between 1960 and 2011? In first world countries, if we ceased measles vaccinations right now, how many people would actually die? Is it more or less than the occasional death or crippling adverse reaction from the vaccines? We don’t know. And we don’t know what the vaccines do to people long term. Auto-immune diseases run completely rampant throughout America now, in absurdly high amounts of the adult population, unheard of in previous centuries or even before the 1960s. Vaccines mess with the immune system in an artificial way. I think there is a logical reason to suspect a possible correlation there.
And could it be healthy for children to go through the childhood diseases and build natural immunity to them? If our modern hygiene and nutrition eliminate the possibility of death from any of these diseases, is it better to let children get them and naturally build immunity? This is a valid question, especially considering that vaccines do cause crippling and death sometimes (rarely), as well as their unknown long-term effects.

Below are some snapshots from the 1978 edition of "Health, United States." The full document can be found here, though it's a large file and may be difficult to load:

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Universe has no size.

This might seem like a blatant contradiction to my previous post “The Universe is really, really big,” and it is actually. My previous post should have been called “The Universe is really, really big compared to us.”
In reality, nothing can have a size until it is compared to something else. An ant is small next to my shoe, my shoe is small next to me, I’m small next to an elephant, an elephant is small next to a jumbo jet, a jumbo jet is small next to a space shuttle, etc. Are all these items small then? The elephant is huge next to the ant, the jumbo jet is huge next to the elephant, and so on.
I know this sounds incredibly basic, and it is. What’s not basic though, is when we start thinking about the entire universe. How big is the universe? What are we supposed to measure it next to? There is nothing we can measure it next to because we have no perception of anything outside of it. And even if there is a space in which the universe is held, what would you measure the size of that space next to?
The fact is, no matter what exists, nothing has any definite size, ever. If the universe is in a space that stretches in all directions forever, then that’s not a size either. Forever is both everything and nothing. Forever is actually something the human mind can’t fully grasp, but in theory we can see that an endless universe would be both the smallest thing that can possibly exist, and the largest thing that can possibly exist, at the same time. It has no size. It just is.
Another possibility is that the observable universe is all the “space” that exists right now, and that “outside” of it there is just energy, not manifested as anything. No space, no time, no forms, etc. So our universe in that case would be kind of floating in nothing, and therefore still have no size, because there’s nothing to measure it against.
And if nothing has an actual size, it doesn’t really exist in the way we usually think of things existing. Our concepts of objects existing is very rooted in a notion that they “are” whatever size they are relative to us. 
What are the things in your life, if they don’t have a size? What are you? What is this?
The whole universe is right here, in your awareness, as it moves over these words.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The two kinds of beliefs.

Ultimately, nothing we believe can ever be true, because the entire idea of things being true or not true is a fabrication of our mind. But regardless, within the typical dualistic human paradigm, there are things that “seem” to be true, even though our expression of their truth is just another story. For example, when you say “I am twenty-five years old,” it very likely is true that this planet did circle around our sun twenty-five times since you were born, and each circle is what we call a year, so there is some reality that is in alignment with your story. So, even though nothing we believe can be true in a concrete way, some beliefs are “provable” and are “true” within the typical human paradigm.
Now, within this standard dualistic paradigm of humanity, there are two kinds of beliefs that one can hold in their mind.
The first kind is a belief that is neutrally, emotionlessly, almost reluctantly held by the thinker, in response to a logically convincing amount of evidence. The person holds this belief not because they care if it’s true or not, but because they’ve seen a convincing amount of evidence, and so they say “This seems to be true, so unless a lot of contradictory evidence suddenly shows up, I’ll hold this to be true. I believe it.”
For example, if it’s clearly proven that broccoli is incredibly healthy to eat, and there isn’t any contradictory evidence, I will eat broccoli. And if suddenly it’s discovered that there’s actually something really unhealthy about it, I’ll stop eating broccoli. There are plenty of other foods. Not a problem. I had no attachment to broccoli being healthy or unhealthy. I simply wanted to find out as best I could which it is, so I’m informed about what I should eat.
The second kind of belief is very different. The second kind of belief is something someone needs to believe. Something they have a very strong bias towards, on which their peace of mind is dependent. They don’t care about evidence or logic, they only care about doing whatever they can to prove that belief true, because without it, they can’t find peace, or their identity falls apart, or whatever.
For example, a belief in heaven. People like to believe in heaven, because they wish they could go to such a place after they die. They want to believe that it’s there waiting for them. There isn’t any evidence for it, but nonetheless people firmly believe they’re going to heaven, because it makes them feel good.
So, in summary, the two kinds of beliefs are:
1. A belief held by a person because they have seen substantial convincing evidence for it and have concluded, for now (they are open to any new evidence that may come along), that the claim appears to be true.
2. A belief held by a person, toward which they have a strong bias because their ego wants or needs it to be true for various reasons, usually involving fear or conformity.
Most people hold many beliefs in the second category. Way too many. I myself have a few I’m sure. But I think we all should strive to only believe things in the manner of the first kind of belief. The second kind of belief is useless, and usually hinders our ability to be powerful and productive in life, because it takes us away from reality, and distorts our perception of things. One should never care if their belief is proven false. Beliefs should not be intertwined with ego. A belief should simply be a neutral observation: “That appears to be true, based on the evidence we have so far.”