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.

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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.