Saturday, October 11, 2014

Certainty or Self-Deception

Everybody wants proof for their beliefs.  They want it so much that consciously and unconsciously they fabricate all the proof they need.  Needless to say, this sort of self-deception does not lead anywhere good.

People with religious beliefs which they are unable to distinguish from objective fact become a real pain in the ass for the rest of humanity.  They see non-believers not as people who simply see things differently, but as people who maliciously deny self-evident facts for nefarious ends.  They see non-believers as the enemy in a war; and not always just an ideological war - all too often it is a real shooting, stabbing, kicking, punching, biting, hurting and killing kind of war.

"Oh, I would never do that," you say.  Really?

Many religious people see it as self-evident that humans have souls and are quite apart from the rest of Animalia or even Mammalia on this planet - this planet that is increasingly recognized as not unique at all in the galaxy.

Consciously or unconsciously, they accept as proof of their deistic beliefs a supernatural explanation for human existence, behavior, consciousness, emotions, and perceptions.  As long as there is currently no natural explanation for these things, then religion is unquestioned and unassailable.  And everyone has to do as they, the keepers of the religion, say.

Proof of the existence of Clouds.
However, this is exactly like saying, "there is certainly a God, because  - clouds!  How could there be clouds if not for God?"  And that very argument used to carry weight, before we figured out atmospheric thermo-hydrodynamics.  Today, the recipe for clouds, curiously, includes no supernatural forces at all.

So it is with human consciousness - the recipe no longer calls for anything beyond the reach of empirical science, experiment or observation.  Consciousness, self-awareness, the ability to solve complex logic problems (i.e. to reason), the ability to imagine, to create, to count, to be self-aware and to feel emotions are increasingly recognized as neither unique to humans nor in any way supernatural.

To continue to defend one's deistic beliefs by appealing to human uniqueness is a losing battle, and was never necessary to begin with.  Beliefs, unless they are to be misused for control, power, or economic advantage, do not ever have to be defended.  If you are not seeking any earthly advantage over your fellow Man, then you do not ever have to defend, justify or prove your personal beliefs.

However, many deists will fiercely defend beliefs about human uniqueness even in the face of mounting empirical evidence to the contrary.  The well-known refusal to even acknowledge the oceans of proof that exist for the principle of Evolution has its roots in people simply trying to hold onto their belief that the existence of humans is proof of the existence of God.  What other objection to it can they possibly have?

While some deists who style themselves as Enlightened will smugly accept a form of "guided evolution," they can still be heard issuing opinions on the uniqueness of humans.  "What separates us from the animals is ___;"  (fill in the blank with anything whatsoever - politics, penmanship, pornography, peritonitis, petroleum, or possibly even things not beginning with 'p'.)

And every time they do that, science comes along and wipes out the statement with an empirical result showing that in fact, no, humans are not unique in that particular respect.  Better at it, perhaps, than other organisms, but not fundamentally unique.

-          -           -

Love is an interesting example which I personally have had occasion to contemplate from time to time.  (Though no one has ever accused me of being a romantic.)

What exactly is it?  Is it uniquely human?  Is it God?  Is it my "soul" doing something detectable in the physical realm?  Probably not.  Do other animals love?  In all respects except for being able to tap into another organism's internal experience, the external markers have all been confirmed observationally.  If we say that a dog does not love simply because we cannot know what it is thinking or feeling internally, we must also conclude that other humans do not love.

But what is love?  We know that to experience anything outside of ourselves, the mind has to model that object in order to project it onto the "screen" of our consciousness.  Sensory awareness alone is not sufficient - even a computer can do that much.  The mind collects sensory information about the object in order to build that model, which is essentially a simulation of the object held in the mind.  The mind draws on all past experience (indicative or not, relevant or not), beliefs, assumptions and desires in order to fill in whatever the senses are unable to provide.  It then associates that model with emotions that are the basis of all behavior.

A human is one object that the mind has evolved to model particularly well.  And this is no small feat - humans are particularly complex objects. Creating an internal simulation of another human in the mind - necessary in order to have any conscious awareness of the human - requires most of the brain's structures, and the same structures it requires to be aware of itself.

My hypothesis is that when the mind attempts to model a particular human which matches that mind's own, shall we say, patterns or parameters, then something unexpected happens.  These patterns or parameters, for lack of better language, may be in the form of unconscious values, beliefs, ideals, positive associations, positive recollections, or experiences.  And also the genetically-mandated urgent imperative need to propagate one's genes.  One cannot forget that.

The unexpected thing that happens when the mind models another human under those conditions is the following according to my hypothesis:  the mind experiences a pleasure response to the very act of modeling, i.e. thinking about or being aware of, that person.  In my experience at least, and that of others who have shared their experiences, even being aware of certain people causes a pleasure response within the brain (transmitted no doubt by various neurotransmitters and hormones, e.g. dopamine and endorphines) that I have usually interpreted, according to the cultural conditioning and language conditioning of my mind, as Love.

There are certain people that give me pleasure by doing absolutely nothing other than existing!

At the risk of rambling, I can't leave the topic without warning of the dark side of love: pathological love, upon which I hope to elaborate in the future.  The mind can sometimes fall in love with not a real person, but with the mind's own creation based loosely on a real person, much to the suffering of everyone involved.  Also, the ill-conditioned mind often connects love too closely with what I call its disreputable siblings, Need and Desire.

Many people mistakenly assume that the pleasure of love emanates from the person they love, and not from within their own brains as is actually the case.  This causes them to feel compelled to own, control, possess, and manipulate the person they love in a misguided attempt to secure the source of their pleasurable internal experience.  This is what I call Need, and it leads to all sorts of behavioral pathology and misery.

The other disreputable sibling of Love I call Desire.  But it's not all bad, really.  As long as one recognizes that it is not necessary to attempt to sexually reproduce with every human or object for whom one feels any sort of Love.  A well-conditioned mind can separate the two and be the master of desire.  It wasn't for naught that the Buddha declared Desire to be the author of Suffering.

In fact it is the mind that is the creator of both.  Fix the mind, and you fix everything.  Control the mind and you control your entire experience in this existence.

As for proof of the existence of God or a supernatural world:  stop looking.  It's both bad religion and bad science.

Friday, July 4, 2014

More Reasons Why Politics Is Stupid and Other Disconnected Ramblings

I am less often attacked by self-righteous liberals who see me as a conservative than by scared ignorant conservatives who think I am a liberal, or by libertarians who brand me a monarchist.  Monarchists of course assume I am an anarchist, because that's how their particular little world is divided.  I have never met a true anarchist, so I don't know what they think of me.  Anyway, the weather cares little for the opinions of people, so why should I?

The cost of being original and thinking for one's self is that you never have any allies.

Being an egalitarian, I am equally critical of conservatives and liberals, and for that matter of all politicals.  They all make the same stupid mistakes.  They attack each other for being what they are, merely for the labels they carry, and not for anything of substance.  They see only what they wish to see in order to confirm their own limited fantasies.  Politicals try hard to make sure there is only ever one side (their side) to every question; while workable solutions to problems require that all aspects be acknowledged and addressed.  Therefore politicals are incapable of solving anything and they never produce anything of value.

The major flaw in Conservatism (the thing, not the people) is that it fails to acknowledge new facts, new realities, and is incapable of responding to changes intelligently.  It only knows what USED to be true.  Example: Man-made global warming is a verified, proven fact and by far the most dangerous thing happening in the world now.  Conservatives refuse to open their eyes to empirical truth and will therefore fail to act until it is too late.  And then they will blame someone else for their xenocidal intransigence.

The major flaw in Liberalism is that it fails to acknowledge what has always been true that continues to be.  It thinks it is more clever than a thousand generations of humans; and its strange theories, when tested, fail again and again.  Example: Wealth is the only thing that has ever prevailed against poverty, suffering, injustice, and environmental degradation.  The natural facts of how wealth comes about (i.e. through individuals acting with individual freedom) and the natural human right to retain one's own property and direct one's own labor are fundamental to life itself, and not merely a fungible "system" that can be re-engineered to suit some arrogant, self-righteous academic theory.

The major flaw in Libertarianism is that government and community actually do have legitimate roles in the world.  Generally speaking those roles are in concentrating capital for purposes that benefit the broadest categories of people rather than those narrower needs best served by for-profit enterprises.  There are certain things we will always do better as a city, as a nation or as a planet than we do as individuals or as self-selected corporate entities with a necessarily limited focus.

The major flaw in Totalitarianism is that the State rarely innovates and quickly stagnates without risk-taking individuals creating wealth to begin with.  It collapses in on itself leaving mass suffering in its wake, or like any purported perpetual-motion machine, it runs down and stops unless there is a continuous artificial outside subsidy.  The State can never hope to successfully provide all things to all people, nor should it ever be thought of as having that responsibility.

This flaw is only slightly ahead of the equally fatal flaw of being a complete violation of basic human rights, particularly the right to ownership over one's own labor or stored-labor (wealth). In other words the state that controls everything is essentially mass-slavery. Unfortunately there are many forms of Totalitarianism, and it lies at the valley of every slippery slope upon which both liberals and conservatives vigorously dance.  All politicals, right, left or center, crave power and any quantity of it is never enough for them.

The key to a balanced, prosperous and healthy world is keeping the politicals strictly in check; limiting their power and insisting instead that power reside within a necessarily small, efficient set of equitable laws.  It lies in actively resisting the impulse which assumes that more and stricter laws are always the answer to every question, the solution to every problem.   It lies in not valuing security over liberty and human rights; in accepting risk in the world and not fearfully clinging to notions of control over "the other people."  It lies in abandoning the futility of subduing enemies with force while avoiding any meaningful engagement, but instead engaging with them as peers and relinquishing control to at least the extent that they have some kind of recourse other than death (yours or theirs).  It means allowing individuals to retain and exercise meaningful power, and accepting the consequences of that necessity - being that people will not always act as you would wish, and sometimes your rights may be encroached upon.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Everyone needs freedom, though a few may experience some inconvenience to themselves as a result. Only slaves are 100% secure; free people must accept and bear the risks of freedom. That means that the people you are afraid of will not be under your control.

One consequence of freedom as a basic human right is that those who mentally cannot endure racial, gender, cultural or religious integration are free to separate themselves and form enclaves in which they can fantasize about the world without interruption and without inconvenient facts being laid before them.  I do not recommend this at all since it damns them to a state of stagnation, intellectual in-breeding, idiocy and poverty.  But they remain free to do so, and we, rather than make enemies of them, must be mature enough to treat with them as peers, understand what they want and why, and be open to exchanges in our mutual best-interests.  Exporting ideology is nobody's legitimate business.

And that's why politics today is stupid: it is an overt attempt to export ideology and impose it upon others rather than seeking to understand others and treat with them.  The constant vilification of "the other guys" is the main reason that I loudly denounce Conservatives as stupid, Liberals as stupid, Libertarians as stupid, Socialists as stupid, Greens as stupid, Communists as stupid, Islamists as stupid, Christian Fundamentalists as stupid, Monarchists, Oligarchists, Militarists, Separatists, Aryans, Racists, Gays, Homophobes, Feminists or any of these smug artificial identities as stupid.  Any such identity is fundamentally based on a false assumption that "the other people" unlike you are your main problem.

And that just isn't so.  Your main problem is always you.  My main problem is always me.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

So It's Religion You Want?

In spite of the dire predictions of doomsayers about the inevitable effects of allowing things like Science, Democracy, Teaching Women to Read and Racial Integration to carry on, religion today seems more popular than ever.

Religion's greatest strength is the fact that notions about god and an existence outside the knowable physical universe (e.g. life after death) are unprovable, and therefore un-disprovable.  Many religious people don't seem to grasp the importance of that, and go around trying to generate proof for these notions by all sorts of means, some honest and some, hypocritically, less so.  Being unable to be proven and unable to be disproven are two sides of the same coin, and so making your god-hypothesis a provable concept also risks making it a disprovable concept.  Being disproven and discredited is what normally happens to it next.

The hypothesis of the existence of a transcendent being or beings not bound by ordinary natural constraints is in its essence an unfalsifiable hypothesis.  I prefer the word "untestable" since it provides a clue about what you're supposed to do with hypotheses generally.  When your proposition is untestable, then you do not have to listen to anyone who claims to know that your proposition is not strictly true.  You are free to believe in it implicitly, because for all practical purposes it is true, being indistinguishable from the truth by any means available.  Like Russell's Teapot, it is untestable.

If it's religion you want, then you really want your religious propositions to all be of the untestable sort.  That way you do not ever have to surrender them to the force of evidence, reason, proof, or fact.

A strict Empiricist such as myself might question the utility of even having such beliefs; but I am well aware that no human activity, science included, is possible without an irrational, unempirical, intuitive belief in the value of creative actions taken before evidence of their benefit can possibly be known.  Therefore we do not dismiss untestable religious beliefs out of sheer arrogance, but choose instead to "live and let live."

However (and you knew this was coming, didn't you) . . . religion is too frequently not content with untestable beliefs about their god.  They foolishly begin inventing doctrine, creeds, and stories with which to adorn their god and which are often quite readily testable.  It is these adulterations that I adjure you to accept only conditionally.

Many religious movements want you to accept god as Omnipotent, that is, possessing all power.  At the same time, they want you to feel obligated to certain performances, which this "omnipotent" god somehow "needs" you to perform.  Your skepticism of these requests is well-founded.

The only sort of god that needs you to fight, give money, vote a certain way, hate someone, commit crimes or generally make a nuisance of yourself is either a non-existent god invented by cynical humans to manipulate weaker-minded humans, or is not an all-powerful god at all.

For instance, politics is all about the acquisition of power.  An omnipotent god already has all power, and therefore has no use for politics.  Therefore anyone trying to get you to be political on behalf of an omnipotent god is obviously full of shit.

Any real god would not be in the least bit inconvenienced by the existence of infidels, their expressions of blasphemy or heresy, or by people not wearing the right clothes on the right day of the week.  The agenda of any real god, if he even has an agenda at all (being eternal, why would he need one?) would be impossible for any mere human to subvert by anything whatsoever that we could possibly do or not do.

But if religion is still what you are after, then consider this.  Wodan, Master of the Wild Hunt, God of the Saxons, God of Poetry, God of Wednesday (and god knows Wednesday needs one), God of Beards and the God of Men (meaning males specifically), does not care who you vote for or what you wear.  While he may not be omnipotent, omniscient or omni-anything (OK - we'll leave the door open for Omnivorous), Wodan is comfortable enough with his godhood to be rather amused by blasphemy, if he takes any notice of it at all.  Just a suggestion - do with it what you will.

A voice in my head objects, saying "It is a worthless religion that does not require something of you."  Fine - we'll address that.  Since Wodan or any other god will get on perfectly well with or without you, the question is not how you can help or serve god.  The real question is what you can do yourself.  The size of your vision limits the size of your actions, which limit the size of your life.  Your life is to be your religion, serving the vision that you create.  It isn't going to live itself; it needs you.  You are fully empowered and fully authorized by the consciousness with which the universe has endowed you, specifically, and you are the only means in existence through which the matter of this universe can experience what it would be like to live your life.

So get out there and start livin' it.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Genetic Defect

I have a genetic defect which renders me incapable of seeing dirt. Scientists call this gene mutation the "Y-chromosome."

This is usually not a problem.  However, each year when it is time to vacuum the floors and carpets, I can't tell which parts of the floor or carpet have already been vacuumed and which haven't.  This can lead to misunderstandings of a domestic character. But I have solved this problem, and am willing to share the solution with others who may be suffering from a similar genetic deformity.

Step 1.  Get everyone who is not you out of the house for one hour. If the internet is working, make that an hour and twenty minutes.

Step 2.  Access the hole puncher and take out all the holes that have been punched over the last 12 months.  If there are not enough holes, punch some more.

Step 3.  Spread the hole-punch holes uniformly over the carpet to be vacuumed.

Step 4.  Vacuum up all the hole-punch holes.

Voila!  Every individual carpet fiber has now been vacuumed and the other humans in your domestic situation will have no grounds for their complaints and accusations.  Moral superiority is now yours for the next forty-three seconds.  Revel in it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Secret of Hovering

No, I said HOVERING.
As in "Levitating."

Not to be confused with the secret of Hoovering, which pretty much any idiot can figure out.

This is THE secret that has eluded humankind for thousands of years.  Transcendental meditationists, yogic flyers (aka butt-hoppers), ninja masters, medieval alchemists, druidic high elders, and Harry Potter fans have all searched in vain for this ONE THING you need to know about hovering.

This one essential truth is the finish-line in your life-long quest to float free of this planet's relentless downward pull.

This knowledge is the final cumulative result of mankind's thirst for hovering awareness and our ten-thousand year journey towards levitation enlightenment.

This fundamental fact has been painstakingly distilled from the fabric of the Cosmos, groped after between the cushions of Reality and plucked from the very sofa-crack of Existence.

Yet, here it is, free of charge, and your reward for doing nothing more than stumbling upon this humble blog from the far remote wastelands of Australia.

However, if this astonishing insight is going to be too much for you and cause you to have some kind of a spiritual break-down, embarrassing fit, or maybe a bladder control issue, then please read no further.

But for those of you who are worthy and have truly prepared yourselves:

Here is the ONE THING that tells you ALL THERE IS TO KNOW about levitating in the air without any technological assistance:

. . .

You can't.

Friday, January 10, 2014

If It Isn't Baroque, Don't Fix It.

File:Statue of J.S. Bach in Leipzig.jpg

The Shed as a retreat is extremely versatile.  For example, it has recently enabled me to run away to Leipzig in the first half of the 18th century.  That's the time and place to which JS Bach belonged.

I did not accomplish this through anything fantastical like time travel nor by anything too mundane like downloading some tracks to my mobile phone.  My escape was not mere passive consumption.  It was achieved through attempting to re-create some of Bach's music in a manner that I consider fit and proper.

Yes, I could have simply listened to the CDs again.  But to be honest, some of the re-interpretations and so-called performances of Bach's preludes and fugues make me want to - well, not quite burn my ears off with acid.  Certainly, at least, they make me want to listen to something else.

That's why I take it upon myself to arrange and produce my own recordings of Bach's most astonishing works.  In not just the history of keyboard instruments, but in all human history, the Preludes and Fugues are among Mankind's greatest achievements.

Yes, Baroque music may be considered quaint and primitive in comparison to mind-blowing experiences like Rachmaninoff or Jimi Hendrix.  But closer inspection of these pieces reveals a depth and complexity that would make any century proud to claim them.

True, Baroque music is extremely simple rhythmically.  Four evenly-spaced beats repeated, then divided equally in half, then divided equally again and again.  Nothing can be simpler, and our entire system of music notation is based on the temporal simplicity of that age.  But that simplicity is more than made up for in its harmonic complexity.  There are harmonies of harmonies, or meta-harmonies.  Bach's harmonic systems exhibit almost fractal divisibility.

But, there's no use talking about it.  Enjoy the fruits of my efforts:  the D-Major Prelude and Fugue, BWV 532.  Being in a major key, it's relatively up-beat and cheerful.  But not so much as to forget one's dignity.

So sit back, put on headphones, and leave the 21st Century for the next 10 minutes and 34 seconds.