Saturday, July 19, 2014

Relection #8 - So am I done?

After attempting to give a summation of how my belief system has matured and for the most part settled in over 50 years of life, the next question is "where do I go from here?"

It is obviously difficult to really put into a few hundred words all of the events, thoughts and the reflections on those events and thoughts that make up a person's mindset.  I felt the desire to get something down on paper and I did that in these last several posts.

Now, I just continue on reading, thinking, reflecting and learning.  This work will most likely result in a simple refining of my current worldview, but there is always the possibility that I could completely change my views, in time - who knows?  Like I say in my tag line, this Blog is About Me and For Me, so my narcissistic approach to writing it is intentional.

One thing that I have tried to convince myself of is the concept of "good enough".  For some reason or another (poor nurturing, too much nurturing or some mental or emotional defect), sometimes I just can't let things be.  I have very little problem with letting go of things that OTHER people do, but I often can't let go of the imperfect things that I do.

Sometimes these things are material, like the three slabs (out of 144) that drive me nuts on the patio that I built that are not quite right (un-level and awkward) and sometimes these things are emotional, like guilt about how I treated someone wrongly in the past.  While I totally and completely agree with the Buddhist concept that one of the keys to peace is letting go, being able to comprehend something intellectually and being able to actually behave in accordance with what you know is best are often two different things.

So, I think that I need to explore this idea of Attachment v Happiness some more.

Additionally, two things about my belief system that worry other people, but don't bother me at all, are "where do Morality and Ethics fit in?" and "if you think that everything is determined why don't you Give Up?".

I mentioned (briefly) both of these topics in previous posts.  These are fairly interesting and important topics to discuss and while many people have written volumes on them, I am confident that I can express a view of each that doesn't require a 350 page manifesto.

So ........ Am I done?  ...  No chance !!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Intermission #2 - Peas and the Tolerance Spectrum

I have decided to use my hatred for peas as an analog for what I mean when I speak about tolerance and intolerance.
Many things in our Universe appear to be relative and not absolute.  So, just like most things, my hatred for peas is NOT absolute. If it was, I would not likely be able to function in the world, as I encounter peas far more often than I'd like.  So in order to rationally continue on with my life, I occasionally MUST tolerate peas.

This does not mean that I do not hate peas.  I despise their taste, texture, smell, shape and color.  I try my best to avoid peas.  I do not intentionally purchase items with peas in them.  I do not order anything off of a restaurant menu that mentions peas in the description, even if and when I am assured by the wait staff that the peas can be optional (they never are, those little bastards find my plate, they always find my plate).

I have mentioned in other writings that tolerance is not very becoming to a philosophical belief or religious viewpoint, because in the end, most dogma (certainly) and powerful ideas or beliefs (usually) require a large amount of buy-in, in order to be accepted as worthwhile.  Buying into one thing, forces us to exclude others.  That is just the way it is and what logic dictates.

Well then, how much tolerance is too much tolerance?  I don't know.  I only know two things about tolerance: (1) Without Tolerance, existence would be virtually impossible, unless the Universe was in fact only me existing in my mind and (2) With Tolerance our belief systems are diluted, illogical and internally inconsistent.

 Is there something in the way that I manage peas that may help me understand a functioning variety of intolerance?  Maybe I should explore some George-to-pea interaction scenarios to find out.

Avoidance:  To some extent, I find that this strategy takes the most over all energy.  Although the energy spent at any given moment is barely measurable, the total amount of energy that I have spent in my life avoiding peas is quite significant.  I discussed above how I avoid peas, I don't have them in the house, I don't buy them and I am vigilant at restaurants, picnics and other food encounters.  I even risk irritating (at best) and alienating (at worst) those whom I care about the most, in order to employ this strategy effectively.  This strategy seems to work well 99%+ of the time, as it seems now that I reflect on it, I often go weeks on end without encountering peas.

Acknowledge and Separate:  When I run across a pea (and I eventually do), I have to acknowledge it.  I have learned over the years how to quickly separate myself from peas.  Strategies include, plate shielding, mechanical separation (usually with a fork or spoon), napkin hiding and others.  This strategy works when I have let my guard down, but do not have an easy option of running away without losing face.  Although there IS a fine line between separation and avoidance here.  Anyway, I suppose that these seemingly inevitable encounters with peas happen to me a few times per year.  Let's call it less than 1%.

Acknowledge and Ignore:  As much as I hate to admit it, I have been in situations where I am in a weak or compromised state (usually very hungry and tired) and I accidentally allow myself to be exposed to a large, overwhelming horde of peas.  Typically in this state, I first attempt to weigh my avoidance or separation options, only to realize that I either have to go hungry or actually risk eating peas.  Under this scenario, I DO often perform some separation, especially when it is easy and doesn't waste much of the food, but invariably, I end up eating some peas, just out of pure laziness, poor coordination and hunger.  To mask their horrid taste, I make sure to utilize whatever meat or acceptable vegetable items are mixed in with the peas in the best way possible.  Sometimes, I swallow the stew or soup whole to avoid tasting or chewing them altogether.  Now that I am an adult, well fed and financially stable, this scenario RARELY if EVER happens any more.  I find it interesting that a modest amount of wealth, some education, the ability to think clearly and the freedom to act rationally, help me virtually never have an encounter with my most hated food.

Acknowledge and Destroy: I have never actually employed this strategy, but I suppose if I won $100,000,000 in the Lotto, I could waste that money attempting to eradicate peas from the planet.  I am sure that it would take trillions of dollars to make a real dent in the pea population and even then, peas would find their way back.  While this strategy seems ridiculous, irrational and immoral, I find it amazing just how many people, countries, religions and other groups attempt to employ it.  Of all of the strategies, acknowledge and destroy requires the most belief and commitment.  The intensity of feeling, thought and action required to employ this strategy consistently requires an almost brain-washed level of belief in something greater than ourselves or beyond our comprehension.  Those employing this strategy would have to offer up sacred writings and symbols worth dying for*, in order to promote such a high risk - low reward approach to a "problem".  Some people would be compelled to give their own lives for the cause and those people would have to be revered by ALL in order to continue the propagation of the idea that this strategy makes any sense.

Wow, I guess I really don't hate peas that much after all ................

(I wanted to give my readers more credit than this and I apologize to those that find the footnote unnecessary.  I am sorry, but I feared more that the point may be missed by some others)
* ",,,sacred writings and symbols worth dying for." 

    A Book
    An Idea
    A Poem
    A Flag
    An Emblem, Symbol or Relic
    A Person or Vestige
    A Document or Declaration
    A Sacred or Special Piece of Land

Disclaimer:  Any relation that your brain draws between this blog post and recent world events is purely incidental and in fact your damn fault, not mine...... you pea lover!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Reflection #7 - The Process of Elimination - Part C "Free Will to Determinism"

Simultaneously with the Christian to Agnostic to Atheist evolution, I was going through a Free Will to Deterministic evolution.  This one however, was actually far more emotional and bothersome for several reasons.  The first major stumbling block was that many religious teachings more or less reside on the deterministic side of things and while free will creeps in (in Christianity in the choosing to be saved thing and Buddhism and Hinduism with the Karma thing), the mystical side of those religions talk an awful lot about how things are predetermined, prophesied and "known", so the preponderance of the evidence for any/all/most religions seemed to me to be that things ARE determined.  So there was a religious "taint" on determinism for  me and since I hated religion during most of this time, I allowed that emotion to override my use of logic. 

The second unfortunate thing for me was being born in America and fed the American dream the American ideal, American exceptional-ism, from birth all the way through the Golden Age of Ronald Reagan.  All of these concepts, lies, ideas and myths had one clear thing in common.  You made your own way, your own life, your own wealth = Free Will

As I further developed my method for thinking about these things, I started questioning my assumptions that Determinism had to:
(1) be related in some way to religion or mysticism and
(2) clearly defied common sense and everyday experience

For me, these realizations are probably the most proud achievements of my intellectual life.

Going back a few posts, I mentioned the idea that when you take humans out of the equation, the idea of Free Will seems to carry much less clout.  Most (like 99.9999999999999%) of the stuff in the Universe appear to carry on without any care or influence of Free Will.  It is only the self aware beings that seem to care about or create the illusion of Free Will. Comets and stars and planets and the weather all seem to behave according to Predetermined (or at least Determined) laws of the physical Universe.

When I meditate on the origin and purpose of the Universe, it seems clear that the Universe exists for itself and itself alone.  Whether or not there are multiple universes that exist, whether or not they are similar to, but not exactly like ours (slightly differing physical laws projecting their outcomes over billions of years), or we are a one off - all there ever is and ever will be universe, the unfolding of this Universe is tells us much about the nature of universes  in general.

While we don't, probably can't and never will know everything, we know a lot.  The things we don't know, like the exact, "real" origin of our Universe, actually hold less importance if you look at them through the lens of Determinism.  We are just here, we know mostly how we got here and we know that without any intervention from an extra-universal force, the Universe will last another trillion years or more. 

From what we can make out so far about the Universe, its main "purpose" (which is sadly a personification) seems to be quite simple.  The purpose of the Universe is to continually increase its entropy until it no longer exists.  We don't know or probably can't understand the details of the earliest days, but our Universe clearly started in a state of VERY low entropy and since that time the "physical laws" inherent in this Universe require the average entropy of the Universe to be ever increasing and (most likely) at an increasing rate.  These facts, make it easy to predict that in some very distant future, the entropy of the Universe will be such that all things that we understand to "be" (matter and energy) will no longer exist.  There are questions about the "fabric" of space-time and we don't know what dark matter or dark energy are, HOWEVER through inductive observation, we do know that even these conceptual "things" seem to follow the ever increasing entropy model. 

Therefore, simply put ALL things must be predetermined.  The Universe will unfold as it will and your choice of which socks to wear must be part of that process, no matter how ridiculous that sounds on the surface of it.

Some very smart people argue that there may be a "Planck Scale"* where free will is allowed to take place because those decisions are small enough not to impact any general outcomes that would violate the natural laws and the fate of the whole Universe.  To me, this is just another sophisticated way to trick ourselves into believing that we have some control, it attempts to put the human back into the equation, an equation into which we don't belong.  Our role is clearly spelled out as has been since the beginning.  It is ridiculous to think that while the overall fate of the Universe is predetermined some individual acts are not, simply so we can sleep better at night.

In conclusion:  I am convinced that an Atheistic, Deterministic view of our Universe seems to be the most correct explanation for things, based on the process of elimination.  

FIRST NOTE:  Please realize that I realize that being born in America was like a lotto win, in a messed up world, there are few places as awesome, healthy and safe as the US.

SECOND NOTE:  Sadly our history texts only spent 1, exactly 1 page each on the topic of "Manifest Destiny" that was a popular excuse for our behavior back in the early days of colonial America.  Even back then (5th grade History),  I saw the irony of Free Will Politicians who loved to evoke the "Founders", but never really spent time explaining the paradox of Free Will and Economic Choice with the idea that somehow it was "God's plan" that we almost wipe out an entire race of humans (Indigenous Americans) and exploit abundant and cheap natural resources for personal gain.

Final SIDE NOTE:  If our understanding of the Universe changes dramatically I will be dead and my thoughts on the matter will be absorbed along with the worshipers of Sun Gods and the Flat Earth Crowd, but if you trace back the scientific history of mankind, many fundamental truths were hinted at, poked, prodded and "almost known" quite a way back.  It normally took technology to catch up to thought to shed the most proper light on any given subject.  The ancients believed in atoms, that matter was made up of mostly space and that matter and energy were somehow interchangeable, but until the 1800s, we didn't have ways to show that these ideas were correct.

* Planck Scale is a concept used in Quantum Mechanics to "explain" the border line between the Quantum World and the Macro World.  It is a way of saying, we don't understand how quantum uncertainty collapses into a final state of what REALLY is for large objects.  Large in this case being atoms. 

Reflection #6 - The Process of Elimination - Part B "Christianity to Agnostic to Atheist"

For the first 12 or 13 years of my life I just assumed that there was a god and not only "a" god, but God.  The real one, the father of Jesus and the bad ass that destroyed the whole earth in the flood (save Noah) and rained fire on the LGBT community of Sodom and Gomorrah and gave his own son's life for us puny humans to have forgiveness and everlasting life. 

Much like my belief in Santa Claus, I was ready, able and eager to dismiss that particular god as one of many and the stories of his power and awesomeness as some set of parables and mythology given to us by creative writers who were attempting to explain things that we didn't understand, give us some moral guidance and keep large groups of people from getting out of control and turning our well planned and complex civilization into anarchy.

I was NOT however, willing to give up my "innate sense" that there had to be "something", some purpose, some energy turning the wheel, some god or god-like entity the didn't even have to be very active in the details of my life or things in general, but a prime mover, a final answer, a go-to solid hub or anchor in this seemingly chaotic Universe.

I therefore started to categorize myself as Agnostic.   Basically the belief that there is a higher power, but its existence doesn't really matter to a self aware species on a small blue planet in the middle of nowhere, other than to give us comfort that things aren't as arbitrary as they sometimes seem.  

So for 30 or more years, I lived and thought as an Agnostic.  I bothered to spend a lot of time reading and contemplating the origin and purpose of the Universe.  I read and attempted to understand and internalize numerous books, everything from dumbed-down popular descriptions of scientific and philosophical ideas to some slightly more complex books on those subjects.  Science, Philosophy and Theology were the main categories of my reading.  I also read the Bible from cover to cover (not easy), the Qur'an, some of the Torah, several Hindu texts, a couple of books co-authored by the Dalai Lama and several on Buddhism in general.  I even read biographies and autobiographies of famous philosophers, scientists and the great writers and thinkers of the age of cultured man.   In the years between grad school and "fairly recently", I have likely read over 300 complete texts and another 500 articles or short writings.  All the while, assuming that the question of the existence of some prime force was a given.

Then one day I woke up and just said, "this is silly".  Basically, I decided that being agnostic was the wimp's way out.  I realized, like many people, I was trying to have it both ways.  Too smart to believe in that stupid virgin birth story, but too scared to put my eternal soul on the line and fully commit to non-belief.

There was no clear indication in any of the texts that I studied that the Universe has a fundamental NEED for a god, nor was any EVIDENCE of the existence of such a being, energy, entity, etc.. presented.   I realized that only habit and fear kept me from admitting what I had learned over these years - that there is no god, God or anything.  It was as simple as that.  After expending so much effort on trying to answer the most fundamental questions about the Universe,  all I had to do was to accept the answer.  There is no god.

Let's face it.  There is a lot of stuff written in physics books and most of it is testable and true.  I mean we have airplanes, TV, nuclear bombs and cell phones.  There is a lot of stuff written in religious texts, very little of it is testable and true and as far as I know, God, Moses, Muhammad, Jesus or the Buddha have no impact on my cell phone reception, although sun spots do.