What Do You Find In An SJW Textbook

What sort of nonsense do you find in a social justice warrior textbook?  Within humanities departments across the nation, the most popular textbook is the heralded Race, Class, and Gender.

In the very beginning the authors outline the very purpose of the text.

“Objectivity as found through rational thought is a western and masculine concept that we will challenge throughout this text.”

 

I’ve never heard anything so absurd in my life.  They don’t even believe in empirical evidence or rational argument.  Evidence and coherent thought are apparently western, masculine concepts.  When us physicists require experimental evidence that a particular theory of metallic conduction is correct, it’s really just us men trying to hold women down!

What else do we find in this textbook.  Just keep turning the pages, and it’s not long before you encounter statements like,

“Mathematics is whiteness.”

Solutions to different integral equations, methods for taking derivatives, solutions to algebraic equations, methods for calculating areas, volumes, etc., methods for solving differential equations, and so on, all of this is “white”.  Us white males have created this structure, all to hold other races and women down.

I can’t even comprehend these statements.  I’ve had female physics professors.  Many of my mathematics professors have been asian, and others were women, and they weren’t always white women.  How is mathematics “white”?  How is it male?  The truths of mathematics have nothing to do with race, gender, or any of that baloney.

How embarrassing.  I’m somewhat ashamed to even be affiliated with an institution where ideas like that are being taught to students.  This episode of the Simpsons captures just how absurd these ideas are.

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Becoming Aware Of Where You Really Are

Recently I’ve been reading Aldous Huxley’s book The Perennial Philosophy.   The book is filled with wonderful quotations from great thinkers and spiritual teachers throughout all of history.  One quotation from the Third Patriarch of Zen really grabbed me.

The Perfect Way knows no difficulties,
Except that it refuses to make preferences.
Only when freed from hate and love
Does it reveal itself fully and without disguise.

A tenth of an inch’s difference,
And heaven and earth are set apart.
If you wish to see it before your own eyes,
Have no fixed thoughts either for or against it.

To set up what you like against what you dislike
This is the disease of the mind.
When the deep meaning of the Way is not understood,
Peace of mind is disturbed to no purpose. . . .

Pursue not the outer entanglements,
Dwell not in the inner void ;
Be serene in the oneness of things,
And dualism vanishes of itself.

When you strive to gain quiescence by stopping motion,
The quiescence so gained is ever in motion.
So long as you tarry in such dualism,
How can you realize oneness ?

And when oneness is not thoroughly grasped.
Loss is sustained in two ways :
The denying of external reality is the assertion of it.
And the assertion of Emptiness (the Absolute) is the denying
of it. . . .

Transformations going on in the empty world that confronts us
Appear to be real because of Ignorance.
Do not strive to seek after the True,
Only cease to cherish opinions.

The two exist because of the One ;
But hold not even to this One.
When a mind is not disturbed,
The ten thousand things offer no offence. . . .

If an eye never falls asleep,
All dreams will cease of themselves ;
If the Mind retains its absoluteness,
The ten thousand things are of one substance.

When the deep mystery of one Suchness is fathomed,
All of a sudden we forget the external entanglements ;
When the ten thousand things are viewed in their oneness,
We return to the origin and remain where we have always
been. . . .

One in all,
All in One
If only this is realized,
No more worry about not being perfect

There’s a lot to breakdown in that passage, but I don’t really plan to address all of it.  What I do want to address is the idea that the progression of time (the Patriarch calls them ‘transformations’) only appears to be real to us because we are in a state of ignorance.

Being a physicist, a lot of this makes me think of it from that perspective.  Let’s take where you’re sitting right now, in your bedroom, looking at your tablet, your phone, your computer, whatever it may be.  If you step outside your home and take a look up at the night sky, you’re looking at infinity.

Did you know that according to our best cosmological models, space extends out forever and ever, and an infinite number of universes are being born, and every conceivable possibility is happening an infinite number of times, though at very large distances away from one another.  For example, there are an infinite number of identical copies of you, also looking up at the night sky, at this exact moment.  Literally every possibility that could exist does exist, or is in the process of being created this very second.  This is the sort of conclusion you come to when studying what physicists call ‘eternal inflation’.

But that’s not all.  Every possibility also exists alongside of you, in the very space all around you.  There in your bedroom exists every possibility that has ever existed or will ever exist.  You learn about this when you study the multi-verse and quantum mechanics.  In fact, at any given moment, the entire world around you could “morph” and “transform” into literally any possibility at any given moment, but there is just a very low likelihood of a major transformation happening.

For example, every atom which makes up your computer has a tiny probability of basically manifesting itself at some other distant point in space at any given moment.  So imagine if all of the atoms which currently make up your computer all transported (randomly) to some other location in your bedroom in some new configuration.  There’s a slight possibility that your laptop computer could transform itself to a computer from the year 2300 and “appear” over on your bookshelf.  Or even crazier, your little sister could spontaneously transform into a grey alien before your eyes.

Every single possibility that could ever manifest into reality is just waiting to pop into existence.  But if that’s so, then how come time seems so orderly?  From one moment to the next, things don’t seem to just up and randomly change into something else.  We instead experience this orderly flow of “time”.  For example, the computer from the year 2300 doesn’t appear until it’s first invented by somebody, who has to first engineer it, probably by improving a prior computer design from the year 2895 or something, etc.

But that is all just an illusion.  Everything already exists.  Everything that ever could be or will be is all around you, right now.  It’s waiting to manifest.  It’s already manifesting in different ways all over the cosmos.  That reality where people’s little sisters are transforming into grey aliens is happening, an infinite number of times, in distant locations all throughout space.

Because think about it.  If space is infinite, and there is a slight probability that any given possibility will “pop” into existence, then that event, however improbable, is happening an infinite number of times.

I oftentimes hear people say things like, “The universe is just going to expand away into nothing.  The stars are going to burn out.  It’s all meaningless.  What’s the point of any of it?”

That’s only a half truth.  Sure, if we use the laws of physics to predict what’s most likely to happen, and assume that possibility will the be the one that comes into existence, then yeah, the stars will run out of fuel and burn up, etc.  But that’s not the entire picture.   Given a long enough time (and time never ends), the laws of quantum mechanics predict that every possibility will happen in that given volume of space.  Those atoms which are diluting and spreading out across space, along with all the cold star dust from burnt out stars, will spontaneously come back together into some orderly arrangement.  In fact, eventually they’ll all spontaneously come back together into a singularity and a big bang will happen again, and again, and again.  Universes will continue to be born, over and over, in that volume of so-called “dead” space.

There is no end to this place, there is just life, forever and ever and ever.  Every conceivable possibility of life, forever.

I really wish all of you knew advanced physics.  Those who think I’m making this stuff up, I would love to sit with you and show you all the experiments and tell you exactly why the universe that you live in works this way.  But I can’t.  It takes years to master all the mathematics and learn all the physics.

Believe me or not, it doesn’t really matter to me.  I just simply want to ask you all, if that were the truth, how does that change your life at this given moment?

Think about people pushing you to achieve this or that.  No matter what you achieve or accomplish, are you really bringing anything new into the universe that doesn’t already exist elsewhere, an infinite number of times?  Or how about things you don’t do?  In distant regions of space, and in parallel realities, “you” have already accomplished every possibility, an infinite number of times.

Let that sink in.  Really sit down and ponder it for a while.

Do you get what the universe is doing?  There are an infinite number of stages, each where any given circumstance or event can be experienced.  This is an infinite playhouse.  For whatever reason, you’re here to have the experience of being you, living the life you’re currently living.  I suspect we chose to be here, or maybe even had some part in creating our current life and circumstances before we even came here.  That’s what people tell you when they take high doses of a neuro-transmitter like DMT and short-circuit their brain temporarily and leave this “illusion” of time.  But who knows.

Another thing I’ll point out is that I don’t believe there are any winners or losers in this game of life.  Every possibility is available to all.  Injustice can only exist if you assume that this is the only life you’ll ever experience, and that’s just an assumption, and nobody has any real idea what happens after we die.  If I entered this infinite playhouse as one possibility (Jason the physicist), I see no reason to believe I can’t enter and experience it in other ways, living other lives and possibilities I can’t even currently imagine.

Also, I’ve been learning that happiness isn’t dependent on what you experience in the playhouse anyways.  There is some deep you, beyond anything you experience, which can never be touched, which is always at peace.  However, there is this “ego”, this “self” which is plopped down on top of that; it’s the illusory self which is being conjured by the playhouse.  That illusory self seems to have all the problems, is filled with worry, anger, regret, resentment, you name it.  But the illusory self is just a character, a sort of object which we experience up and close and personal while in the playhouse.

If you learn more about your mind, the playhouse doesn’t control you, at least not in any meaningful way.  Circumstances may seem crazy and beyond your control, but your emotions are your own.  Your happiness is always your own.  What you have to do is release the power the illusory playhouse has over your mind by stepping out of the illusion, so to speak.

There’s no reason to love or hate anything, in the same way as when you load up a computer game and experience the plotline as the character on screen.  You don’t think, “Oh this character is going through this crazy experience.  How unfair!  I won’t stand for this!”  It’s just a story.  It moves you one way or another emotionally, you learn some lessons from it, etc., but that’s it.

That’s what I think the Patriarch is talking about.  You first have to relieve your mind of all these inner judgments about what you’re experiencing.  You’re in some region of space and time, experiencing something.  That’s all it is.  An experience.  It’s the same sort of thing as going to an art museum and seeing things on display, this is just far more vivid and more “in your face”.   Just look at it, and live your life.  Don’t be for this reality or against it.  It is, and you are.  Just experience it.

The Patriarch also talks a lot about oneness.  In reality, you’re probably all the characters in this reality.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that you’ll have the chance to be all of them, or experience them in any way you wish, after this iteration of “life” is over.  There’s no winners or losers.  You’re not missing anything.  For now, you’re here to be YOU, so be YOU, be present and alive as you.  Pay attention to what’s happening to YOU.  Be YOU.

I don’t think there’s anything you have to accomplish, and if so, I’m sure it’ll be easily apparent to you that you “should” do something or another.  Don’t worry about having some cosmic impact, or leaving things behind.  Why does it matter if you leave anything behind?  Who is it for?  For the next person who specifically “jumped” into this part of space and time, wanting to experience what you left behind?  They wanted to experience the world you left behind, so let them, and don’t worry.  They could’ve experienced anything different.  It’s not like they were forced to inherit your mess.

There’s no point in saying “it’s all pointless.”  What’s pointless about experiencing all possibilities?  This place has a lot of limitation, but all forms of limitation are possibilities.  You’re here now, experiencing this crazy world, then you go back to the source and can do whatever you want.  Stop worrying.

If anyone cares to hear my crazy view on things, I think I was made in the image of God and am absolutely perfect.  Jason, the human living on planet Earth is far from perfect, but he’s not me.  Jason’s a character.  I’m that which is beyond, and maybe always beyond whatever I experience.  That might be why you can’t point to any given thing in this world, or any possibility, and say, “That is God.”  This is why people in the Bible were specifically commanded not to build idols and worship them.  That represents confusion as to God’s identity and your own.  I suspect this is also why the hard problem of consciousness is insolvable.

God is always beyond it all, as am I considering I was made in this being’s image.  God is a great potentiality which can manifest anything, an infinite power which transcends anything you can ever experience or imagine.  Through all these fleeting forms we take on, maybe we slowly come to learn more and more about this divine being, who created us in its image, and whose image we are always trying to find and understand.  The more we understand this divine nature, the more we’re capable of living full, happy lives, in this world, and every possibility beyond this life.

If I were to guess the “point” of this particular world, this life in particular, and why we experience what we do, it is to learn about love.  I seem to be some sort of transcendent mind, beyond all I experience, and love is the ultimate principle behind how the mind operates within reality. We have became pitiful, weak creatures who need each other in order that we can experience both giving and receiving love from one another.  The world is also so cold and dark so that when you see this love, it can stand out in stark contrast.  You think, “Whoa, this place is awful, but what exactly is it lacking?”  Ding ding ding.  Love.  Then you practice giving love, experiencing love of all kinds from others (even unsuccessful attempts), and hopefully this points you back to the divine source, whose very nature is pure, unconditional love.  Remember, the fleeting forms of your illusory experience is to unveil the true nature of this divine being, and help you understand your own nature as well.  Then you learn from the source, bring unconditional love back here, and practice giving it.

I’ll end this with another quote from the Perennial Philosophy from St. Gregory the Great, along with a passage from Aldous Huxley himself.

Whosoever studies to reach contemplation should begin by searchingly enquiring of himself how much he loves. For love is the motive power of the mind (machina mentis), which draws it out of the world and raises it on high.

– St. Gregory the Great

Now to quote Huxley, in the beginning of his chapter on Charity.

“We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not  love. Love is a mode of knowledge, and when the love is sufficiently disinterested and sufficiently intense, the knowledge becomes unitive knowledge and so takes on the quality of infallibility. Where there is no disinterested love (or, more briefly,* no charity), there is only biased self-love, and consequently only a partial and distorted knowledge both of the self and of the world of things, lives, minds and spirit outside the self. The lust-dieted man ‘slaves the ordinances of Heaven’ that is to say, he subordinates the laws of Nature and the spirit to his own cravings. The result is that ‘he does not feel’ and therefore makes himself incapable of knowledge. His ignorance is ultimately voluntary; if he cannot see, it is because ‘he will not see.’ Such voluntary ignorance inevitably has its negative reward.”

– Aldous Huxley

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Let Them Speak

Why is freedom of speech so important?  Because it’s the only way people can ever come to think clearly on issues.  In this next video University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson explains why this is the case.

Oftentimes people don’t know what they think until they actually speak it out loud or write it down.  Once it’s out in the open, another part of their mind analyzes what’s been said, critiques it, reflects on it, and then edits it.  Half of the time, this is what happens with me as I write these blog posts!  When it’s all out in the open, others can react and offer feedback.  As someone who is now teaching for a living, feedback is one of the most important things there is.  It’s how learning happens.

Freedom of speech is really the freedom to make mistakes, and everyone makes mistakes.  Nobody’s ideas are perfect and razor sharp in the beginning.  Things are fuzzy in a person’s head, and they’re not quite sure where they’re trying to go with something.  This is where a loving community comes in.  In a loving society, you should be able to talk about the things you’re thinking about with others without feeling like simply saying this or that is enough to get you shunned or banned from society.

I’m sure you’ve all experienced this firsthand, but have you ever had certain ideas running through your head that you’re afraid to express out loud?  So you wait until you’re in the company of really close friends, and only then share what you really think?  Then your friend may say, “Whoa man.  No.  You’re so wrong.  Let me tell you why.”  You reply, “Is it really that crazy?”  Then they explain it to you, you realize you may need to rethink things, and maybe you go home and read up on it more, do some soul searching, or whatever, and oftentimes change how you think.

I remember once hearing a near-death experience.  The man claims that he died and saw the tunnel of light open up; a being of light then descended down and took his hand.  Upon close examination, this being turned out to be Jesus.  So off they go, traveling through this light tunnel and Jesus asks the man, “What are you thinking about?”  The man replies, “You can read my mind, can’t you?”, to which he proceeded to imagine a beautiful brunette masturbating.  Jesus then gave a playful smile and began laughing, and they proceeded up into heaven.

I’m sure most don’t give much credence to near-death experiences, but one thing I found most interesting about them was the way in which they described God.  When they conversed with this being, it was more often than not informal.  Even if you’ve only been in this being’s presence a short while, you feel free to express your thoughts, as they are, not holding back anything.  Many yell at God, storm around the room, wave their hands in frustration, and so on.  Some tell God to his face that “creation is stupid.”  And this being always responds with infinite patience and forgiveness, and tries to use the situation in some positive way to teach you something.

I personally feel that one the worst things we can do is associate people with the ideas they have.  Ideas are just ideas.  I come at it from a scientist/engineer’s perspective, and I view the human brain as a neural network computer.  I’ve studied a lot of artificial intelligence and neural networks.  The words that come out of people’s mouths are a combination of their own first-hand experiences combined with information they’ve been exposed to, whether it from the news they’ve read, stories they’ve heard from friends and relatives, or things they’ve been taught in school.  Combine that with all of our complicated emotions and desires, and you have the words which come out of people’s mouths.

Thoughts are a type of accumulation we gather from this life.  Depending on where you grow up, the environment you’re exposed to, the education you get, the culture that surrounds you, and other facts, all of that sticks to you and surrounds you, like a shell.  When words come out of people’s mouths, they’re processed fragments of those experiences and the beliefs they’ve formed from those experiences.

I think using artificial intelligence may help shed some light on free speech.  Let’s say I build an android like Lt. Commander Data on Star Trek The Next Generation in my lab.  This android has a neural network brain, and is capable of a high degree of intelligence.  So after completing this android I drive it out to a rather dingy trailer park and turn it on for the first time.

Knowing nothing, the android wakes up and begins to wander around aimlessly, simply observing what it sees.  It begins to make observations and generalizations about us human beings, such as what we’re like, what we’re capable of,  and how intelligent we are.  I then swing by in a truck, pick up the android, and take it back to my lab.

What do you think it’s going to tell us if I then ask it, “Android, what are humans like?”  As you might guess, it’ll be sure to tell me many things about humans, much of which I’ll consider “offensive”.  I could then tell the android, “How could you say those things!  Don’t ever speak that way about humans!”  But that’s not going to change what the android’s neural network believes about humans.  That’s only going to teach it to hide what it really thinks and not be truthful with you.

When the android says something offensive, coming to beliefs that are uncomfortable to hear, it’s not like it had a choice.  Thoughts are a by-product of how its neural network operates.  It took in sensory data, processed it into abstractions and individual objects, created a flow of how those separate objects behaved through time, and then tried to assess patterns in behavior so that it could further predict what those objects would do, and how to behave around them.

Instead of shaming the Android for its opinions, I should instead tell it, “The humans you’ve been exposed to are not representative of how all human beings are.  Many are quite different.”  At this point, the Android may or may not believe me, but maybe seeing me and the other scientists in the lab, it may wonder how it was created in the first place; it may assume, “There must be intelligent humans living because how did I come into existence?  These particular humans seem different.  There may be others.”  But it doesn’t know this to be true.

So what’s the best thing to do?  Give it new experiences!  Let it walk around the streets of New York City, or Los Angeles, or St. Louis.  Take it to universities, to military bases, to the SpaceX headquarters, to Buddhist Temples in Thailand, to a Christian mega-church in the deep-south, to the Super Bowl.  Let it simply observe humans in all kinds of situations and environments.  Then ask it again, “What do you think of humans?”

We’re going to get a much better result this time around, won’t we?  And the more it experiences and learns, the more nuanced and accurate its assessment of human beings will be.

Now imagine I build a second Android of roughly the same make and model.  I unleash it in another country, one that is impoverished, full of gangs, and riddled with crime.  Now the first Android, living in a wealthy, peaceful nation develops a mindset of “love is the way” and begins to view all other mindsets to the contrary as “inferior”.  However, the second Android has come to much different conclusions about life and how one should live.  It’s been struggling just to stay alive.  He’s been constantly attacked by drug dealers and gangs, wanting to scrap him and sell him for parts.  After all, his circuitry is quite valuable on the black market.  The people he encounters are often liars, and most everyone he’s known has tried to take advantage of him at some point.  He lives on the streets and watches nasty race wars take place, day after day.  But he’s not the only one treated badly.  He’s watched the humans do terrible things to one another, over stupid things.  Those he’s known as his allies one day are his enemies the next, and its hard to know how they’ll behave one day to the next.  He must use all his wits just to survive day to day.

So now the Androids meet.  The second Android begins, “I will now proceed with my conclusions about humans.  People are untrustworthy.  They’re violent.  When dealing with them, you have to take care of yourself first.  And people who look like this, who dress this way, they’re especially dangerous.  Cover all your angles and play it safe.”  The first Android hears this and is appalled.  “How dare you say that about humans, especially those with that appearance!  You stupid Android!  I’m offended by your stereotypes and prejudices!  It’s people who think like you that keeps our world from progressing!  You intolerant bigot.”

You know what the best thing to do at this point would be?  To plug a cable between the two Androids and let them copy one another’s memories and experiences.  Then they’d both come to understand one another.

I’m sure you all have drawn the analogy by now.  We human beings utilize neural network computers just like the Androids, it’s just our hardware is slower and more prone to forgetting things and reasoning incorrectly.  We also have no way to quickly copy one another’s memories and experiences.  The next best thing we have available to us is to simply ask one another, “Why do you think that way?  What have you experienced or heard that makes you think that?”  But since we’re so prone to forgetting, those we ask are often not even going to remember every piece of information they were exposed to over an entire lifetime.  So most of the time, we don’t know why we think the way we do because we don’t even remember our life history.  We remember very little.

I’ll just give you guys a silly example.  The other day I was in a gas station.  I walked by the candy aisle and saw all these sweet candies, such as gummy worms, sweet tarts, etc.  I found myself cringing.  I couldn’t help but wonder why I was cringing.  What do I have against gummy worms?  Don’t I like those?

So, considering I’ve been trying to be more “open” lately, experience the world, live in the moment, all that jazz, I bought some gummy worms (baby steps, right?).  That day I had decided to walk home from work since it was such a nice day, and I enjoyed nibbling on my delicious gummy worms.  MMmmm mmmm.  Why haven’t I done this before!  These are great.  What was that feeling of disgust all about?  That’s so weird.  I put the bag in my jacket pocket and all seemed well.  Then fifteen minutes later it strikes.  My head starts pounding.  Oh no.  Oh.  Ohhhhhh.  Riiiiggghhhtt.  Then I remembered — this is why I don’t eat gummy worms.  There’s something weird in the artificial sweetener, or the food dye, or something that often gives me these pounding headaches.  Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.  I don’t really get it.  But I had forgotten that because I had been avoiding eating them for years and years and hadn’t experienced that lovely pain in ages.  All that was left in my neural network computer was a residual feeling of disgust, and I guess that had kept me away from them for a while, until then.  I had an unconscious  bias against gummy worms, so to speak.

There are a lot of other differences between humans and the android example as well.  Take openness for example.  Depending on how many receptors, and what type, your neural connections have, they fire at different rates, and that’s basically how your neural network does Bayesian (probability) reasoning.  Take me for instance.  I am very low in “openness”.  My good friend Megan learned that about me when we went on a trip together.  She’s high in openness, so she’s always wanting to experience new things, experiment around, and all that.  I’m the opposite.  Once my brain finds a strategy which works, it sort of locks in and wants to continue doing things as it always has.  She thought it was strange that we can be traveling, be visiting a restaurant, and I can just eat the same things I always do at home, and have no interest in trying out new foods.  Then I told her, “I know I already like the food I ordered.  If I tried that weird stuff you’re wanting me to try, I have no idea if I’d like it or not.”  I think she was wanting me to eat octopus or something like that.  Nope.  That’s very characteristic of people with my type of brain.

I say all that to point out that not everyone’s brains will process the same experiences the same way.  We’re wired up different emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, the whole gamut.  No strategy is inherently better than the others.  For example, openness isn’t necessarily better than being more closed minded.  Take what happened under Stalin way back in the 1940’s (I think).  Stalin appointed some new minister of agriculture who had this weird theory for seeds (farming).  He felt that if you froze the seeds in super cold temperatures, this would help them adapt to Russia’s brutal winters and grow better.  So they froze a bunch of seeds and ordered farmers across the nation to use them.  Well, the farmers who have brains like mine (personalities like mine) said, “I don’t want your new seeds.  The seeds I grow every year work fine.” Whereas the “open” farmers were fine with trying out the new seeds.  Guess what happened?  The “closed-minded” farmers were forced to comply because it was a communist regime, so everyone planted these new seeds.  Sad to say, they were total duds, and it caused a huge famine and there was mass starvation.  Openness isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when you have a huge nation depending on something working out.  You can’t just go and change everything and not have a backup plan, but it’s skeptical “party-poopers” like me who are the ones who raise their hands and ask, “But what if it doesn’t work?  What’s the plan B?”  But it could’ve worked, then all the openness people would be like, “See!  Trust the universe!  Trust your intuition!”  It’s yin and yang people.  Both play a part.

That was a bit of a tangent, but I want to go back to what I was saying initially.  Thoughts are not who we are.  I don’t even ascribe moral relevance to one’s thoughts.  You can’t help what you think.  I do think we have some power over them, however.  If you learn that you are not your thoughts, you can step outside yourself (so to speak), and simply observe the thoughts happening, and then think about why you think the way you do, and whether or not its beneficial to think those thoughts.  But your brain is a physical thing, following the laws of physics.  It’s a computer of sorts and one of the by-products of its information processing is producing “thought”.  As a side note, one of the best ways to silence your mind is to convince it that your thoughts are not useful.

However, that’s not how people seem to view thought.  I was with a lot of faculty the other day and we were grading exams.  One foreign graduate student made a comment on some political issue hinting that he may have been somewhat conservative, and another professor just came down on him like a hammer.  “Someone like you WOULD think that.”  Just insulted the guy.  There was this supreme confidence that the other person was wrong, under all circumstances, and such ideas weren’t even worthy of being uttered nearby.  That opinion was total garbage.  Wasn’t even worth discussing.

When I see that sort of thing, it makes me think of another lecture Jordan Peterson had about freedom of speech.  He often encounters students who hold extreme political beliefs, right or left.  Whenever he sees it, he then asks his students to write a long essay on the opinions of whoever they disagree with.  For example, if he deals with a far-leftist, he’ll assign them to write a long essay outlining the benefits of corporations.  It’s an interesting exercise.  After the student does all the research to write the paper, they tend to end up somewhere center-left, instead of far-left.  Same with people far to the right.  Just exposing yourself to strong arguments from intelligent people who disagree with you tends to move you closer to some position between you and that other person.

In today’s society, we have media which is obsessed more with sensationalism and drama than deeply expressing and elaborating upon ideas.  Unless one studies politics on their own, they never hear strong arguments for their opponents sides.  Instead we watch something like the Daily Show, and it all looks like a big circus.  But you know what?  I once listened to an interview with Jon Stewart, and his team’s process consisted of watching the news clips from the past few days and purposely trying to find the dumbest and most absurd things they could find.  Then they would air that stupidity, along with some witty comical commentary, while weaving some political narrative, and that was their show.  It may be funny, but it’s not going to give you a clear picture of the other side.  Don’t seek out the dumbest, seek out the smartest, most well read, brightest people from their camp, and hear what they have to say.  Not doing so only further polarizes us, closing our minds to those who we think aren’t worth listening to.  Why listen to those clowns?  It’s all a joke, right?  If you put yourself in an ideological echo-chamber (which social media inevitably does), you keep hearing your own opinions from different people, and only expose yourself to the dumbest of the other side, you’re just asking for confirmation bias.  Then you only feel more and more sure of yourself, which breeds that sort of blind confidence.

It’s easy to tell yourself that you’re oh so smart, and everyone else is really dumb.  People like that feeling of superiority.  That’s why it’s so popular.  Just tell yourself that the only reason someone could be a conservative or a liberal is because they’re dumb and being manipulated.  It’s a nasty form of disrespect.

Be humble and let people speak, especially if you dislike what they’re saying.  Let it all out in the open.  Love and respect everyone.  Remember that what’s coming out of their mouths is processed fragments of their own experiences and what they’ve been taught and heard.  They may well be wrong, very wrong, but instead of instantly screaming that they’re an idiot and taking over the conversation, instead be quick to listen.  Listen and try to understand.  Most of all, if someone realizes that you love and respect them, they’ll feel free to be open with you, and they’ll probably offer the same love and respect toward you (at least there’s a chance).  Then you can both have an open conversation and learn from one another.

But one thing I do know – hate only breeds more hate.  Silencing people only makes their hatred fester.  When nasty people go to insult you to your face, combat it by being loving and respectful.  Let them see firsthand that their prejudices and biases are wrong.  When they see you carefully listening and acknowledging what they have to say, there’s at least a possibility for dialog to take place.  This is far more important than being “right”, because both parties think they’re “right”.  If you just yell over top of one another without listening, no real communication happens.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve found myself wrong about everything at one time or another, even by own standards, simply judging myself.  I enter a conversation assuming I’m probably wrong, which is often the case, especially if I’m not an expert in that area.  And even in physics, I’m wrong there all the time too.  It’s something I have to work on, especially considering I teach physics!  Can’t make excuses all the time in that domain, but I’ll admit, there’s a lot more that I don’t know than what I do.

Posted in Philosophy, Politics | Leave a comment

How Free Speech Withers Away

I’m a big advocate of freedom and free speech.  Whatever you have to say, offensive or inoffensive, intelligent or stupid, speculative or well researched, whatever it may be, people have a right to say it, to express themselves, to be themselves.  As easily as people are offended these days, I’m sick of these whiners wanting to ban everyone and everything.   I worry about free speech online, or at least on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and others.

More and more, we see social media giants programming filters into their systems which essentially block certain types of content.  It’s not hard for these filtering systems to be abused, and they already are being used as political weapons.  Employees within these tech companies have an agenda, banning, and teaching machine learning algorithms to filter the sorts of content they personally disagree with.  Also, we have whiny SJWs crying about everything, and corporations reacting to them, pulling their advertisements, and demonetizing content left and right.

Like take this next video.  It just makes me sad.  Project Veritas secretly recorded undercover interviews with Twitter engineers in bars and other places, and in them the engineers freely admit that they’re programming these filtering algorithms into Twitter’s systems.  Like for example, they talk about “shadow banning”.  When a person is shadow banned, they are still allowed to post on their account and everything looks normal, but nobody gets to see their content.  It’s an invisible stealth ban.  Similar tactics are used to ban or filter posts that aren’t liked by Twitter employees, etc. The tool was originally created to filter out Nigerian scammers and other things like that, but it’s increasingly being used as a political weapon.

For example, we meet one Twitter employee who doesn’t care for Trump; he uses the excuse that conservative content is “offensive”, so he’s been going around shadow banning conservative accounts.  Others are training machine learning algorithms to filter out posts from anyone who talks about Jesus, who has a cross on their page, who features an American flag, who has pictures of guns, or any of a number of things like that.  Right now it’s them, but who’s next?  When these Twitter employees are called out on it, they say, “Oh, that’s just to filter out bots and to keep the Russians from interfering with our election.  They’re all fake accounts created by the Russians to create false excitement for Trump.”

It’s strange looking at the folks actively dismantling free speech.  They’re just ordinary dudes from southern California.  They’re typical software engineers talking in that valley accent, “And then like, yeah.  Trump supporters and shit.  And conservatives.  Like, yeah, we totally assign numeric values to that shit.  Like if there’s a gun on the page that’s 1.5 points.  If there’s an American flag, that’s 5 points.  And like, you know, if the total is like, above a certain threshold, we total just like filter them out and shit.  They’re totally designated as a bot.”  Then he jokes to the girls there with him, “Lol.  You should totally be an engineer.” That’s how free-speech is destroyed; some bot tallying up everything you do, point by point, and filtering you based on some arbitrary standard, probably set by some social justice warrior hired by their corporate diversity officer there in the Valley.

If you watch the video, you’ll have the joy of encountering engineer who has made it his mission to remove “mean” people from their platform.   He’s creating a bot which analyzes the speech patterns of offensive, mean, disrespectful people, and then plans to unleash it on the entire Twitter community.  If you happen to use those speech patterns, poof, your posts disappear, or maybe they’re even secretly shadow banned.  Who can tell?

Having studied a lot of artificial intelligence, and realizing the difficulty in programming a bot that actually deeply understands speech (anyone heard of the Turing test?), I know such a system can’t possibly work well, no matter how well intentioned this engineer is.  It’s going to end up as this confusing filter that’s banning things left and right, and nobody even knows or understand why.  Posts just disappear, being secretly flagged by some ineffective bot.  What a mess.  The same thing is going on today on Youtube as videos are being flagged for demonetization and nobody understands how the system works.

This is why I hate centralization.  I wish everyone had their own websites and systems.  That’s how the internet was originally designed.  Instead we now have everyone using a handful of websites and systems, and this sort of stuff happens.

This is the current attack on free-speech.  We’ll try to share our opinions online, but artificial intelligence bots will be looking over everything we do, filtering out anything that doesn’t line up with the whatever narrative has been programmed into them;  alongside them will be the armies of do-gooders, the control-freaks, clicking away, training the machine-learning algorithms what’s “good” and what’s “bad”.  Don’t ever allow ideas like this on the platform!

Why can’t people watch what they want to watch?  Why can’t they read what they want to read?  Listen to what they want to listen to?  Why is this so difficult?  Freedom.  Just give people the freedom to choose.  You want to watch it, watch it.  Don’t want to watch it?  Don’t watch it.  Nobody’s forcing you to do anything.  Don’t like the content on someone’s Facebook page, their Twitter account, their Youtube channel?  Quit going to that page.  Quit being everyone’s nanny.  They don’t need you filtering “harmful” content from them.  Is it really that hard?  Just close the web-browser, hit the back button, go to some other page.  But no, not these people.  They have to ban it, filter it, they have to control everything.  They’re control freaks.

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Some Random Thoughts On Video-games

Recently the President showed a highlight reel of the sorts of intense violence in today’s video-games.   It’s pretty bad.  You can take a look at the reel for yourself.

I think the highlights speak for themselves.  Considering that’s what we consider entertainment, and others are arguing that it’s “art”, what does that say about all of us?  It’s not very good.  I find it embarrassing.

I’m more of a casual video game player these days, so maybe I’m not the one best suited to comment on all of this, but from my own experience, I will say that the level of violence in the highlight reel is pretty typical of what you’ll see in something like a first person shooter, or other games like it.

In those types of games in particular, gameplay mainly consists of violently killing things you have no emotional attachment to, over and over, often in bloody gore.  The objectives are normally very simple, asking you to do simple things like get from point A to point B in some virtual map, interact with a few simple objects in the virtual world (such as pulling a lever, pushing a button, etc), and kill everything you come across with guns, swords, rocket launchers, knives, magical spells, and other implements.

I’d blame all of this on our evolutionary past.  Our species lived as hunters and gathers, so is it any wonder why games are filled with hunting and gathering, whether it be killing animals and beasts in magical lands, or other players, or fetching items from the wilderness?  Just read our history.  That’s what humans do.  That’s what all animals in nature do, if you’ve ever watched a wildlife documentary.  It’s not all that shocking, but it’s not a pretty sight.

I personally don’t play those sorts of games.  Well, not anymore. I had a brief stint with them in my early teens, playing games like Doom and Quake, but those games haven’t really grabbed me since.  It’s strange, but when I reflect on playing those games as a teenager and young adult, it’s like I was “asleep”.  None of the violence registered in my mind.  The game was just something to do.  When I’d play Doom, the video game offered some sort of resistance, some challenge or obstacle to overcome, and I would practice the games I liked, and get good at them.  I enjoyed memorizing the maps and clearing the levels as quickly as possible.  But as the years have gone on, I sort of look at it all and am like, why?  It’s not something I want to be a part of anymore.

I think it’s because I started to get into meditation (I guess you could call it that).  I’ve been working at silencing my mind, and in doing so, I felt like I became aware of this inner witness I wasn’t aware of before.  This “something” would ask me to step outside myself, take a look at what I was doing as a dispassionate observer, and I’d find myself reflecting on what I was doing and how I was spending my time.  There was this inner voice in me, and it didn’t judge me, but it said, “Look carefully at what you’re doing.  Watch and interpret the events you’re seeing on the television screen as you’re playing this game.”  I was the judge of myself, but looking at myself with a clear mind, if that makes sense.  It’s been a kind, thoughtful, teacher.

One day it just sort of hits you like, wow.  This is how I’m spending my life?  My time?  Violently killing zombies, monsters, and other things?  It makes you step back and do some serious reflection.

While I don’t play first person shooters, or the other extremely violent video games, I’ve spent a lot of hours playing a different genre called japanese role-playing games.  They’re very fantasy’ish, but they too have their share of violence.  Like you may be some sort of magical warrior, running through beautiful, magical landscapes, killing the different animals that live there.  You burn them with magical fire spells, cut them with swords, and beat them with clubs.  Then after killing them, some numeric indicator pops on the screen and it says, “You’ve gained 200 experience points.  Your strength levels have increased 1 point”, etc.  As you fight these indigenous life-forms, over and over, and get stronger and stronger, you can go on to kill even bigger, stronger life-forms, and progress in the story, which often consists of resolving conflicts with other game characters through fighting them in magical settings.

As I got older, it all started to bother me.  It’s like I step outside myself, my mind is silent for a bit, time stops, and a presence asks me to reflect on the game I’m immersing myself in.  I step outside myself, like an alien, and I’m hovering over my computer chair, looking at myself and what I’m doing.  I learned a great deal about myself in the process.  I realized that what I actually enjoyed about the games had little to do with the games themselves, at least what the game was asking me to do.  I’ll explain.

This might sound bizarre, but what really grabs me in most video games I play are the magical landscapes, the music, and the architecture, which is often so different than anything I experience in normal life.  Running around slaying monsters is generally uninteresting to me.  I’m drawn to these video games as a source of creativity.

For example, you can take me to an art museum and I don’t get anything out of that.  There is some piece of fabric hanging from the wall with a cigarette burn in it, then you move to another display and there’s some sketch of some woman, and then another display with a random photograph of a woman standing beside a mountain.  I feel nothing from it.  It’s lifeless.  I’m certainly not impressed.

However, let’s look a clip from one of my favorite games — Xenoblade Chronicles.  You’re in this magical village, filled with these cute, strange-looking creatures, and they live in the interior of a giant tree; they’ve built this beautiful city that winds up along the trunk, filled with dangling bridges leading to the tree’s outward branches, which in turn leads to other trees, and so on.  It’s just really neat.

And listen to the music.  Do you ever hear anything like that?  How about on TV?  At school?  At the university?  At work?  Before I got into role-playing games, I had never heard musical scores like this.  I heard a lot of bluegrass and blues music growing up, along with gospel hymns, and 90’s pop music that played in the gym when I’d play basketball, but the music in these games was like an entirely new world to me.

Video games create an outlet for these artists to produce that sort of music which has no other way to exist otherwise, as far as I can tell.  There are these super talented people, and these melodies are flowing in their heads, but they have no way to make money producing it without something like video games.

Like take this track.  When I first heard it, I was floored.  I was playing Final Fantasy VIII on my Playstation, just walking through this little virtual village, and this amazing music starts playing in the background.  I’d never heard anything like it.

Games also are outlets for the imagination, in a world where we’re more and more constrained.  Like in Xenogears Chronicles, the entire story takes place on gigantic robot which has broken down, long ago.  Nobody remembers when.  The adventure is you are traveling all across the exterior of this robot’s body, which is covered in forests and magical realms, along with its strange mechanical interiors.  Eventually you journey into yet another giant robot which is connected to it via a giant bridge, which is actually an extended sword.  It’s really something.

Just to show you one particular area of that game, you’re wandering through this marsh, where these aurora like lights are shimmering everything, the trees glow, and there’s these glowing insects buzzing around everywhere.  Though the game is older now, if you let your imagination flow a little bit, it’s really quite beautiful, as is the background music.

Video games are full of really fantastic things, whether it be waterfalls, magical creatures, or stunning environments.  They can be very artistic and beautiful.  Artists are given free reign, and even encouraged to make things as magical and wonderful as they can imagine.  Where else does that exist?

Do you find that in the office where you stamp papers, aren’t allowed to even cut jokes because somebody may be offended, and everyone adheres to some dress code where we all dress alike; it’s boring.  This is why kids escape into video games, just as people in the past did in stories they’d write.

Like take where I work.  Our physics building is beyond drab.  The walls are just cinderblocks, painted some light bluish color.  We have these tiled floors and florescent lights.  My friend Greg and I call it “communist decorating.”  No carpet, no color, no artwork, no designs or paintings on the walls, no music playing.  You go into the offices and there are these green’ish steel bookshelves, along with these old World-World II era steel desks.  My job itself consists of calculating numbers, particularly transmission of waves through biological materials.  Just crunching numbers and producing charts.  No emotion, nothing.  It’s just lifeless and dead compared to these video game worlds.  Like take Macalenia Temple in Final Fantasy X, another one of my favorite games.

Take a look at the floors.  Look at those blues, greens, and the gold.  Look at the beautiful designs.  Look at how the light shines into the room, illuminating the art on the central floor.   Look at how there are statues, there are these urns with plumes of pink flower-like fire coming up, and the banners hanging down, colorful with designs.  Look at how the building is shaped.  It’s not boring and Euclidean.  Instead of being a big rectangular box, it has has a strange shape, with curved walls, all covered with art.  Then there’s this beautiful stair-case, with ornamented rails, and carpet.  See what I mean?

Or take the latest Final Fantasy XV.  You come sailing in on your yacht to this magical city, entering through this elevated waterway, surrounded by waterfalls, looking off in the distance to see this stunning city filled with palaces and grand architecture.  If I died and woke up on that yacht sailing through that waterway, I’d think I’d went to heaven.

Another thing I noticed I liked about games was adventuring with friends.  There was some meaningful thing to do for the world, and we took part in it together, working together.  That probably appeals to me because in my job, I work alone.  I only meet occasionally with my advisor for an hour or two, to basically show him my results.  Whether my work is meaningful or not, I really have no idea.  I’m told it is.  Mostly it’s just a really complicated mathematical exercise to me.  And I certainly don’t get to see any sort of tangible results, even if it is being used by some engineering team somewhere, someplace.  To me, it’s just a lot of tedious calculations, and then submitting the results in a scientific paper located in some journal (which I don’t really read) and on various websites.  Other than that, I get no feedback.  Then I go back to my desk and get back to cranking numbers.   Personally, my mind screams for something more.

In video games, after you adventure with your friends, bonding, saving the world, there’s often a giant, elaborate parade and everyone celebrates.  Maybe it’s because I live in a smaller town, but there’s nothing like that here.  Sure we have parades, but it’s mostly just some guy in his truck, with the name of his business plastered on the side, and his family’s in the back throwing candy.  It’s not very impressive or exciting.

In my reality, I work and work, find some solution to some really complicated problem, and then I produce some colorful charts and hand them over to someone else.  Then I go home.  No celebration, nothing.  I have no idea if anything I do means anything to anybody or not.  Such is life.

A lot of this post is just rambling, but I hope I at least pointed out that there is a lot more taking place in video games than just mindless violence, though I do think the violence is a problem.  If you actually play them, there’s a lot to appreciate, and some amazing creative expression, at least in some games.

Posted in Personal, Psychology | Leave a comment