Yesterday I commented on how the mind is untrustworthy, often lying to you about who you are. It likes to barge into your awareness, often while yelling out “I” this, and “I” that, making bold claims about who and what you are. A common example would be to hear, “I can’t do this…” while attempting to do something that is difficult.
I’d like to challenge all of you to try something. When you hear that thought inside your mind, immediately pause, then stare back “inwardly” and say, “Who is this ‘I’ that can’t understand? How do you know whether this ‘I’ can or cannot accomplish this?” Call it out. Make it show itself. Drag it out of the shadows and put the light on it. Who are you? Where do you come from? Why are you saying this? How do you know this?
In life we have these thoughts in our minds, going all over the place, and half of the time they don’t know what they’re talking about. This is what I’ve been learning in meditation. I hear this chatter inside my skull and I observe it in awe. Every time I hear some sort of “I” statement floating around in my mind, I drag it out into the open, in self-awareness, and I shine a giant spot-light on it, then I grill it like a police interrogator. Put it up on the witness stand and make it accountable. Nine times out of ten, this phantom imposter will vanish into dust after the first few questions.
If you go to understand something difficult, say some complicated physics concept, and you hear that thought, “I can’t understand this…”, who is this “I”? It doesn’t exist. How do I know this? I can pretty much guarantee you, within a few weeks, you’ll keep studying it, and keep at it, and eventually something will give way and you’ll get “it”, whatever it was. I hear this from a student, I know they can get it. Why? Because I was able to get it, and there’s nothing inherently special about me. I just spent some time with it, that’s all. So I will ask all of you, who was this “I” that couldn’t understand? Did it exist? Was it real? Obviously not. So what was it?
It’s a belief that comes from who knows where. Maybe you took some exam way back when and didn’t do so well, and from then on you told yourself you weren’t good at physics. Maybe it was some comment a teacher, your parents, or someone you respect made to you years ago. Maybe a friend cracked some joke and it destroyed your confidence in this area. I have no idea where it came from, but it sunk deep into you, and it’s nothing but poison. Become self-aware of it, call it out, and then let it go. Don’t let it keep you under its bondage any longer.
I meditate a lot these days, most of the time simply observing my own thoughts, emotions, and mind from the “outside”, without judgement. It’s been a profound experience for me. I’ve been learning the human mind is very crafty and deceptive, weaving tale after tale, building up this illusory “I”, which upon “outside” inspection is not real at all.
For example, I oftentimes experience these thoughts and feelings which spring up within me on their own. One goes something like this. I’ll be lying in bed after waking up in the morning, or eating breakfast, or in the shower, or whatever, and then all of the sudden this thought pattern will arise, spontaneously, “I miss so and so.” For years and years it really puzzled me why I was even thinking of this person. I haven’t spoken to them in a long long time, and while I cared about this person, there really was no reason for me to be thinking about them at the time.
I’m sure most of you reading this will say that that is one of the most common, natural things in the world. I agree and I’m not denying that. However, I feel quite strongly that the thought’s message is a lie. Doing a great deal of meditation, I’ve realized that the “real” me does not miss this person, however, there is a strange thought pattern that seems to.
Why do I say it’s a lie? Because if I simply remain present and do not follow that thread of thought, and instead let it just pass by me, it goes away quickly and I do not miss anyone or anything. I’m simply content, at peace, enjoying my bowl of oatmeal, or spending way too much time in a hot shower (I’m guilty of this), or playing my video game, or whatever it is I’m doing.
This isn’t the only instance of this either. Generally speaking, if I remain in the present moment, engaged and focused on the moment I’m currently living, whether it be teaching some class, grading their homework, lifting weights at the gym, or whatever it is, I’m at peace. I’m calm. Nothing is wrong. I’m not depressed. I’m not angry. I’m just there, and it’s ok.
Stranger still, if I remain in the present moment without brooding over all kinds of thoughts from the mind, I’ve noticed that I even become joyful, playful, and silly acting. Not mentally childlike, but playful like a child. Take the other morning. My mind was just at peace, no thoughts at all. I was lecturing on some physics problem regarding a dragon dropping its egg and the students were supposed to compute the egg’s trajectory. I started breaking the problem down and made some comments, “Well this would be a bit more complicated if we took into account drag from the air. But wait… *stares at the problem for a moment, then back at the class* How is this dragon even flying if there’s no air?” Students start smiling at me, a few start laughing, others just shrug at me, “Aren’t you the professor?” Then I got back to working the problem on the board while singing, “Puff, the magic dragon, lived at height H, it frolicked its wings in the etheric mist, poor guy drops his little eeeeeeggggggggg! -makes falling sound- Splat! -doodles splat on the ground level on the chalkboard- Flight, life, death, these are the true mysteries of Physics 1135.”
My real nature, when my attention is not diverted by the mind, is playful, silly, joyful, at peace, loving, kind, patient, and quite pleasant to be around. However, if I get lost in the mind, brooding, focusing on all kinds of negativity, etc., my real nature is somehow masked over, covered up, like a clear stream of water being muddied up by stirring up dirt from the bottom.
My mind can be a giant maze. I think of it as this elaborate holographic museum, filled with all my memories, experiences, and emotions, all linked together in some elaborate web. It likes to spontaneously create these distractions and throw them to my conscious attention, hoping they’ll grab be, all being attempts to pull me out of the present.
Say I would’ve dove down into my mind that morning, focusing my attention “into” that thought of “I miss so and so”. I would’ve thought of this person and it would’ve brought up a lot of memories. That would’ve created some background emotion of depression and sadness. Then that would’ve lead to other thoughts of, “Everything in this world eventually disintegrates. Everything is temporary. Why are things this way?” Then I would’ve gotten aground and began pondering change in general, and before long I’m thinking of my grandmother dying, my weight-lifting buddy Steve dying, I think of seeing everyone get older, and before long I’m in this gloom, doom, and despair, thinking, “This world of pain and so much suffering. Why am I even here?” Then if I’d continued down this rabbit hole, I would’ve eventually thought of that quote from Bertrand Russell, in his book In Praise Of Idleness, where he’s talking about how all we do on this Earth is move dirt around from one place to another, and what do we humans think we’re even accomplishing with our actions? It’s all futile. Then I’m going into work to give lectures to students with some background emotion of depression and a underlying thought of, “We’re just wasting time. Let me teach you guys sophisticated ways to move dirt around.” Do you think I would’ve been cutting jokes? Making anyone laugh? Had any fun?
And throughout this entire mental “dive” into the holographic memory database, this entire process is continually narrated by this false “I”. When you’re reliving these memories, there are these thoughts infused with “I”. “I can’t believe that happened…”, “I hate this…”, “I wonder if I could’ve done this differently…”, “I’ll never forgive so and so….”, and on and on it goes. If you meditate, and self-reflect, you quickly realize that this “I” is just a word, a sound, a weird, fake thought-stream attached to the sense impressions and emotional memories, weaving some interpretation of the events that happened and commenting incessantly, and most of this commentary is either outright false, or just stupid. Or maybe this is just my mind, I don’t know. But what I do know is that this false “I” has no reality, nor does it represent what “you” really are in any way.
My mind was telling me that I missed an old friend, implying that happiness and contentment were dependent on that person being present. Somehow the present was lacking something because that person was not there. But in reality was there anything missing? No. When I refused to give any conscious attention to that thought stream, with its lies, its false belief of “I need this other person…”, I’m perfectly content. My day giving lectures went just fine, no depression or discontent of any kind. I felt just fine, a quiet joy and peace. As I was saying earlier, my true nature, the real me, I’m always content, fulfilled, happy, and have all I need. This becomes self-evident when you calm the mind. However, this is easily forgotten though when the mind’s turmoil masks over this simple truth.
Each and everyday I’ve been dismantling this false “I”, and trying to remove as many of these false thought streams as possible. Diffuse them. Suck away their energy. Reprogram them. When I self-reflect on them, they seem to be rooted in confusion, based upon erroneous views of what I am, and my true nature.
What am I in reality? No-thing any of you can perceive, completely invisible, but can and will spontaneously manifest itself, quite beautifully and effortlessly, if I don’t let its energies be diverted in confusion and nonsense.
I’m sure most of you have noticed, but if you ever get into any sort of debate or online conversation, you’re going to come across loads of overconfident “know-it-alls”. For example, it can be unbearable watching a Youtube video online and then reading through the comments below. If you actually do deeply understand the subject matter being discussed, such as me when it comes to physics and science, you’ll realize that most of these commenters have no idea what they’re talking about. Yet that doesn’t seem to stop them from screaming their erroneous ideas and beliefs at everyone else, causing fights, name calling, and being nasty to one another. Why is this?
To understand what’s going on, the key psychological dynamic to understand is what’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s summed up in this chart.
Human nature is strange in that the less a person knows about something, the more confident they are about the subject matter. In the beginning, they may not know anything about the subject, and that’s about the only time you can trust a typical person. You’ll ask them about the Affordable Care Act and they’ll say, “Huh? What is that?” Great, an honest, reliable response.
But then something interesting happens. The person reads one or two news articles, probably from an extremely biased source, and then all of the sudden they are an expert. At least that’s how they fell. They have a false confidence that they know and understand all that there is to know and feel compelled to broadcast this expertise to everyone. If you disagree, they call you stupid, a moron, an idiot. They’re combative and full of this amazing confidence. Psychologists tell us that nobody is as confident as a person who dabbles a little in some subject area, not even true experts with PhDs in the subject.
This is what you are encountering in almost all internet discussions. People know just enough to have an opinion, but not enough to actually deeply understand anything. Essentially you have a bunch of blind know-it-alls, who don’t even realize how little they actually know, all fighting with one another about things they haven’t a clue about.
But then something happens. If a person has enough drive, they’ll dig into this issue even deeper. Say they’re really interested in politics and start digging into the Affordable Care Act. That’s when they realize, uh oh, there’s more to this than I initially thought! Their infallible confidence begins to wane.
Then they continue to dig, more and more, and that’s when they realize, wow, I had no idea what I was talking about! I don’t understand this at all. Horray, they’ve became self-aware! Now their confidence is where it should be, at an all time low.
So now the person continues to research this area. Maybe they even go to college and work to earn a degree in economics. After maybe earning their bachelor’s degree, they start to think to themselves, you know, this is starting to make sense. However, their confidence is still pretty low because now they’ve learned how complicated it all is. They now know what they don’t know, and are aware of what they actually do know. The confidence that they have is justified.
If they now decided to master in healthcare economics and earn their PhD, after six to eight years of dedicated research into this one area alone, then their knowledge is at an all time high, however, even then, their confidence is still lower than that of the dabbler who has only read one small biased news article.
So here’s what happens in practice. Those who don’t know anything are also the most vocal. These are the majority of commenters on the internet. Those who actually do know what they’re talking about are few and far between, and because they understand all the difficulties and subtleties involved, they are very careful to make definite statements one way or the other. They know what they know, but they also know what they don’t know, so they are careful with what they say. So the end result? The internet is flooded with the opinions and discussions of people who don’t have a clue.
This isn’t to criticize anyone. When I was younger, just getting out of high school, that’s when I began blogging and writing a journal. I felt compelled to blog and broadcast my opinions all over the internet. I was so sure of myself and everything I wrote. I would read different books, or read articles, and then I would comment on anything and everything. I had these bizarrely confident viewpoints on things I had barely researched at all. I look back on it all with utter embarrassment.
Now having earned graduate degrees in physics, even now, I’m extremely cautious when discussing topics. I know how hard it is to know something. It takes years, sometimes up to a decade. Knowledge is not cheap. You have to work for it, and make huge sacrifices for it.
We live in an age where people feel the internet has all this great information. You can learn anything with a quick google search, so why do I have to go to college or a university to learn things? To that I’ll say this. The internet does contain a lot of information, but it also contains a lot of garbage. Do you know enough to sift through it? How does one go about doing that? You have to learn how to think critically. You can’t believe the first thing you hear. You have to learn the importance of doubting things. You have to learn to question things. You have to become self-aware enough to say to yourself, “How much time I have I spent studying this subject area? Do I really know what I’m talking about?” You dig and dig and keep digging. It’s hard work. You have to really be interested in that question to have the dedication to really learn about it.
For these reasons I find I learn more by self-study than I do getting involved in debates online. I get online and research books on the topic, go on Amazon.com, order a big pile of books, and then sit and read them all. Then those books tend to lead to other books, which I further buy, and I keep reading, and keep studying. And typically, the more I learn, the more I question all the things I thought I once knew.
I’ll say this. When I was a young teenager, I was a devout, super religious Christian. Then I went through my twenties, and I was this agnostic rationalist, all about science and reason. And I kept studying and studying. Learning more and more, and as I said, I even earned my degrees in physics. Then I sort of got to the end of that road, to the cutting edge, and was like, wow, this is strange. Looking at cutting edge cosmology, the fundamentals of quantum theory, and the rest of it. It was just all bizarre. And then I even got to studying even stranger books. Near death experiences, hypnotic regression, the nature of consciousness, and other things. Then around the age of thirty-five or so, I’m thinking to myself, materialist views of nature seem to be lacking, and there seems to be some bizarre evidence that consciousness may operate even outside of brain processes, such as these near death experiences and other phenomenon, but heck if I deeply understand any of this! Then I’m thinking, you know what, those religious folks talking about spirits, and God, and the rest of it, there could be something to all that.
You have to be open-minded, but also critical, and just keep investigating everything. Keep digging. Keep learning. It’s a long process, and before long you’ll be on a road all by yourself. That’s because few people venture off the main road, the already beaten paths. In doing so you may receive ridicule from peers, friends, or family members. But go where the information takes you. Go where the facts take you. If you’ve been spending years deeply investigating something, chances are nobody else has investigated the subject as deeply as you have, so go where the information is taking you. You may be led to unorthodox, bizarre conclusions as well. Don’t be afraid to go there. Keep going.
Did any of you guys see that episode of Black Mirror where every person has a social media score, and every time you interact with someone you’re rated on a scale of 0-5? Well, that’s now becoming a reality. Facebook has created a ‘trustworthiness’ score, supposedly to combat ‘fake news’.
This is the pinnacle of herd conformity. Just espouse a viewpoint on religion, politics, or anything else that is outside of the normal purview, and BAM, your trustworthiness score tanks, and you become invisible on the platform. Who knows, maybe this kind of “score” will one day dictate what jobs, products, and services are available to you. Think of the pressure that would create to conform.
As for ‘fake news’, do we really think that the masses are the best arbiters of what is and isn’t true? What should and shouldn’t be seen? It’s obvious how this will play out in practice. The average person barely has any free time; they’re tied up with their job, children, and other things. They will judge the reliability of an information source based on how it “feels” to them, or even worse, flag information as unreliable simply because they disagree with it. Even the article I linked to points this out.
It’s “not uncommon for people to tell us something is false simply because they disagree with the premise of a story or they’re intentionally trying to target a particular publisher,” Lyons said.
The end result is obvious — any information that goes outside of the mainstream is censored. Well, that’s been Facebook’s goal all along. If you haven’t heard, Facebook actually recently formed a multi-million dollar deal with CNN, ABC News, Fox News, and other mainstream outlets when forming their Facebook Watch group to combat “fake news”. Ever since that time, smaller media outlets have been finding themselves heavily censored on the platform.
It’s not just Facebook though. All the big tech companies are doing it. I used to think these platforms were just targeting aspects of the right, but as I’ve learned more about it, I’ve come to realize they target all non-mainstream media sources that become popular. They only want the corporately authorized, mainstream content to be popular, and the rest of us are all to be relegated to obscurity.
Take Jimmy Dore of the Young Turks for instance. He was banned for having an opinion that went against mainstream news. His content was taken down for calling out the recent events involving RussiaGate, saying it was without substance.
For another example, take a young Youtuber who’s been popular with religious, conservative women, Brittany Pettibone. She simply expressed a degree of support for the Generation Identity movement, a socialist, Catholic, democratic movement in Europe, and for that alone she was banned from Patreon. Patreon told her that unless she removed those videos and deleted photos from Instagram which expressed support for Generation Identity, she would be banned from their platform.
Google and Youtube are engaged in the same censorship practices. The Amazing Atheist (also known as TJ Kirk) has had most of his videos demonetized these days, and for what reason? They don’t like him. He was told that just having the word “atheist” in his channel’s name had him breaching “community guidelines.” Freedom of religious beliefs? Not anymore, at least not on the big tech platforms. He’s been banned entirely from Tumblr as well. Youtube demonitized his channel, as well as all the channels he finds interesting and engaging. They’re all being strangled off the platform. He has been supporting himself through Pateron, as far as I know (I’m by no means an expert on his channel), but who knows how long that will last. They want cookie-cutter, boring, family-friendly drivel on their platform, and are trying to run everyone else off.
I find that sad because I grew up in a deeply religious household and was exposed to very few ideas. When Youtube first started getting big, I used to see the Amazing Atheist’s channel being promoted and thought, huh, what is an atheist like? What do they believe? What kind of people are they? And watching his channel, I came to understand them, and I really like the guy. But those days are now over. Actually expressing yourself, your viewpoints, sharing what matters to you — that’s against the guidelines. Talk more about your cat and how cute it is.
I can see it now. All of the television ads and celebrities will be telling you, “be an individual”, “empower yourself”, “be one of a kind”, and other drivel, but in reality, the second you actually do express some aspect of your individuality, or an original opinion that goes outside of some box dictated to you by the herd, you instantly become a social pariah, or possibly banned completely. The end result? Everyone becomes fake and nobody will want to rock the boat. Everything will become insipid, shallow and ridiculous. Everyone’s kissing up for social brownie points.
At the start of each year, most people make new years resolutions. I suppose this would be my goals for 2019.
I wish to find/create a place within myself where I am in a state of far greater contentment and in deeper harmony with God, for lack of a better expression. I’m wanting to rise above dualistic thinking, purging myself of inconsistent thought and restlessness. I’m seeking greater peace within and to live in a state of joy that is independent of circumstances around me. That’s my primary goal.
Possibly another goal would be to further develop a detached, yet unconditional love toward all beings I come across. I wish to always treat others well, and do good, but not let all the stupidity, violence, and insanity going on around me affect my inner world. That’s what I mean by “detached”. I’ll help you when and if I can, but if you’re intent on going down a dark road that’s sure to bring you all kinds of suffering, I’m not going to let it bring me down in any way.
The last thing I want to focus on this year is what I would call “reconnecting with life.” Over the last decade or so, my life has mainly consisted of me sitting in a room, studying for exams, writing papers, working on physics research, and reading books. Besides that, there has been way too many hours just staring at this computer screen. I’ve noticed that the more time I spend staring at this glowing monitor, the more disconnected I am from life. I’ve noticed this in others as well and the changes I’ve seen are not good. Our online digital world is a sort of matrix of death. Let me explain.
One example of this death matrix is all the time I’ve spent just sitting here reading news articles, most of which are filled with lies, partisan BS intended to stir me up against others on the “left” or “right”, or extreme fear-mongering and negativity. Besides that, I don’t want to even get into all the fake news and strange ideas the internet has brought into our world. We live in a digital sea of nonsense, both from the mainstream and most alternative sources. It can lead some folks down a rabbit-hole of complete fiction, and sadly, when all is said and done, it seems that those who end up fighting with one another the most are the very ones who need to be coming together. But I can understand getting confused by it all. I believe that’s half of what it’s intended to do. I’ve invested far too much effort trying to figure out what’s “really” going on, what the real agenda is, and who the major players are, feeling like I have to be some sort of stalwart defender of truth. I know just enough to know that most of what we’re hearing is lies, but I also know that having the time and energy to decipher the sea of nonsense is a privilege only those with too much time on their hands have. This confusion creates all kinds of tension, and in my life, there is this constant struggle to diffuse all the animosity these “news” organizations cause within my family and friends. It’s exhausting and I wonder if it’s worthy of all the energy I put into it; is it worth paying attention to?
The digital death matrix extends into entertainment as well. I’ve sat on Netflix and Hulu watching television and movies that are filled with moral degeneracy on display, senseless violence, and stupidity. Ask yourself how many characters portrayed on television are role models, or examples of who you should strive to be? How many of them inspire you to be more than who you are? How many of them create an urge in you that this life has more to offer and that you can get out there and do new and amazing things? How many of them challenge you to be better? I rarely if ever see anything like that. Almost everything on there is mental junk food, filled with violence and other things to emotionally titillate the lowest aspects of ourselves. It’s even now come to a point where half of it is laden with political agendas. But possibly the biggest one for me is mindless video games. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve spent far too many hours engaged in these computer games where there is no emotional connection to anything, just killing people and random monsters for sport, over and over and watching some experience bar go up. This monotony is only occasionally broken up by the storylines, almost all of which are extremely shallow. All of this stuff is just death, death, death. Kill, kill, kill. Sex, sex, sex. Stupidity, degeneracy, fighting.
But this death matrix is now extending into our social lives. Everyone is carrying around these cell phones and are locked into Instagram, Facebook, and other forms of social media, caught up in this fake, socially competitive, reality. Most people present false images of themselves and their lives, caught up in some weird game where they all try to one-up each other, portray an image of “my life is amazing”, and are seeking everyone else’s approval with “likes”. They have to keep up with the Kardashians as they keep up with their neighbors and friends. It is the quintessential essence of conformity and herd mentality, not to mention the fact that past executives from social media companies are warning us that these platforms are destroying civil discourse. Facebook is running studies and has learned they can control your emotions and mood by controlling what is displayed in your feeds! They have literally hijacked people’s emotions as they spy on every aspect of their users’ lives and sell their information to greedy corporations. It’s unreal. But yet, this is one of the main activities going on in the digital world.
So yeah, for these sorts of reasons, I’m coming to a point where I’m almost completely unplugging from the digital world. This has been an ongoing process with me, but I have to reconnect with real life and stay out of this digital death matrix. The problem is, I’ve been locked into these patterns of behavior for so long, to break out of them it’s like, uh, now what do I do with myself? Ok, so I don’t spend my days locked away in a room trying to understand some aspect of the universe, reading books, or preparing for exams, or reading stuff on the computer (mostly the news), or watching Youtube, or Netflix, or playing computer games. What do I now do with my time? To find out what’s next for me is requiring a lot of meditation and soul seeking.
I’ve been spending less and less time on the computer, and have been exploring new activities. I’m currently learning how to fly hot air balloons and have been considering getting into flying paramotors. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym. I plan on hopping on the motorcycle and going for a big road trip this summer, exploring the country. I’m getting back into playing basketball again. I’ve even been considering drawing and trying to express certain feelings/ideas I’ve had in pictures. I’ve also mentioned that I spend a lot of time meditating these days. That’s probably the greatest change I’ve made. I’m not sure where all this will go, but the I don’t want to spend the remainder of my life in the digital death matrix. Surely there’s better things to do with myself.