Some Thoughts On Loneliness

Lately the subject of loneliness has been on my mind.  In one of my past journal entries, I quoted Bertrand Russell saying,

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair. I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined….”

– Bertrand Russell

Quite naively, I’ve thought of loneliness as a special sort of feeling I was supposed to feel when being by myself, as opposed to when I’m in a social setting.  I’ve never felt any different one way or the other, so I didn’t understand loneliness, nor what it meant.

I think my misunderstanding has stemmed from reading articles like this, from Psychology Today,

Friendship  is a lot like food. We need it to survive. What is more, we seem to have a basic drive for it. Psychologists find that human beings have fundamental need for inclusion in group life and for close relationships. We are truly social animals.

The upshot is, we function best when this social need is met. It is easier to stay motivated, to meet the varied challenges of life.

In fact, evidence has been growing that when our need for social relationships is not met, we fall apart mentally and even physically. There are effects on the brain and on the body. Some effects work subtly, through the exposure of multiple body systems to excess amounts of stress hormones. Yet the effects are distinct enough to be measured over time, so that unmet social needs take a serious toll on health, eroding our arteries, creating high blood pressure, and even undermining learning and memory.

A lack of close friends and a dearth of broader social contact generally bring the emotional discomfort or distress known as loneliness. It begins with an awareness of a deficiency of relationships. This cognitive awareness plays through our brain with an emotional soundtrack. It makes us sad. We might feel an emptiness. We may be filled with a longing for contact. We feel isolated, distanced from others, deprived. These feelings tear away at our emotional well-being.

– Psychology Today, The Dangers Of Loneliness

I don’t agree with that article at all.  My stress and blood pressure are more prone to rise when I’m around people, not when I’m alone.  When I’m alone and not bothered, that’s when I’m at peace.  But isn’t it nice how they word things? The “dangers” of loneliness.  Whatever.  How about the “dangers” of mass psychology?  Individuality is a virtue, until you become too different from the herd.  That’s when they diagnose you as neurotic, and have psychologists tell you you’re in all sorts of danger.

When Bertrand Russell mentions loneliness, he makes it sound as if it’s a feeling of being surrounded by a lifeless, cold-hearted abyss.  That’s when I immediately realized that I’m no stranger to loneliness.

I’ve felt that form of loneliness a lot.  I think we all have.  I came to appreciate love and marriage a lot more when I thought of things in that context.  Being married to someone who understands you and loves you must definitely help out with those feelings of loneliness.

It’s unfortunate for me, however, that I have a disposition that most women aren’t particularly attracted to.  I’m probably far too self-absorbed, vain, and show apathy toward things that matter.  By self-absorbed, I wouldn’t say that’s because I think very highly of myself, but because I tend to live within my thoughts, thinking about things, and am generally less concerned about the trivial day to day events of life.

I have to escape the monotonous boredom of everyday existence.  To do so, I study difficult subjects and try to find answers.  I think about the stars, the physical laws which govern their behavior, the origin of the universe, parallel universes, time travel, proofs for difficult mathematical problems, economics, the history of mankind, international relations, depth psychology, philosophical questions such as morality, indepth processes into how the mind works, and other things.

Take the most recent book I purchased “Spatial Cognition, Spatial Perception: Mapping the Self and Space”.  The book covers five main topics:

1. What do animals know and how do they represent external space?
2. Perception and memory of landmarks: implications for spatial cognition and behavior.
3. Evolutionary perspectives on cognitive capacities in spatial perception and object recognition.
4. Does mapping of the body generate understanding of external space?
5. Comparisons of human and non-human primate spatial cognitive abilities.

It’s a fascinating book.  I haven’t been so excited to get a book in a long time.  When it came in the post, I immediately opened the box and my heart raced.  I pumped my fist and was like, “Yeessss!”

The book goes into great detail about how different animals construct a model of space in their brains.  It really is completely remarkable.  It compares different species, how they navigate the world, and their brains.  It talks about their memory capacity.  It talks about how the progression by which each of their brains evolved over time, and shows the development.  It’s exactly what I’ve been wanting to know for a long long time.

I was recently watching a lecture related to wasps, of all things.  I found it completely fascinating.

Wasps really are mindless creatures, and I don’t think they have free will.  They’re biological robots who follow a very simple set of programming instructions.   Let’s explain their behavior, and I think you’ll be able to see clearly how mechanical they are.

There was one type of wasp (I can’t remember the name), that would go out and gather caterpillars.  We could summarize its life and everything it does with the following few points:

1. Dig a hole in the ground.
2. Lay eggs in that hole.
3. Crawl out of the hole
4. Fly up in the air, do one or two loops around the hole, and find a caterpillar.
5. Sting the caterpillar, kill it, and bring it back to the hole.
6. Crawl down in the hole just to make sure nothing had crawled in during the absence.
7. Crawl back out, grab the caterpillar, and stuff it into the hole.
8. Seal off the hole with a small rock nearby.

After this the young egg would hatch and the baby wasp would feed on the dead caterpillar as it developed in that little burrow.

That’s simple enough.  We’ve all seen wasps.  What’s the big deal?

Well, you can totally screw with that wasp’s mind by doing very simple things.  Wasps mechanically follow that procedure, and can do little else.  For example, grab a few pine cones and wait until it crawls in its hole.  Put the pine cones in some arrangement outside its hole.  When it leaves its burrow to go find a caterpillar, it does its loops to memorize that environment.  After it flies off, remove the pine cones and wait for it to come back.  It’ll come back to the general area but have no idea where its hole is.

Even better is when you leave the pine cones there.  It goes and gets its caterpillar and brings it back.  It lays it just outside its hole and then goes in to check if everything’s ok.  You then snatch the caterpillar and move it two inches to the right or left.

The wasp will then come out of its hole and walk to the location where it left the caterpillar.  Then it seems to say to itself, “Uh oh.  My caterpillar’s gone.”  Then it goes airborn to do its two loops to memorize the surroundings.  As it flies in the air it notices the caterpillar, “Oh, there’s a caterpillar.”  It swoops down, grabs it, and then lays it beside the hole.  It goes into its burrow to check if everything’s ok, and then you move the caterpillar, again.  It comes out of the hole, says, “Uh oh, my caterpillar’s gone”,  flies up in the air, does its loops, notices the caterpillar, grabs it, places it outside its hole, goes back in its hole… You can do this same procedure on the wasp until you’re tired of it.  Scientists have repeated this upwards of 40 times consecutively.

Now why is this so fascinating to me?  I wonder to myself all the time what “free will” is, or if it even exists.  If it does, how developed does the brain have to be before we have a degree of freedom?  Wasps have brains that do all kinds of things, but I don’t think they’re free to make decisions.  They seem awfully robotic to me.

Now imagine a book filled with case studies of how different animals perceive space and the neat experiments that have been done.  Fascinating isn’t it?

To use a simple analogy, I entertain the idea that our brain is kind of like a complex form of a Mach-Zehnder interferometer.  In that experiment, the photon can exist in multiple paths at once.  In the same way, I wonder if maybe our brains can exist in multiple potential states, where the state isn’t determined in various areas, based on some sort of complex arrangement, and that we can shift the electric potential in a certain “direction” (a sort of collapse of a neural quantum wave function).  Physical matter isn’t completely deterministic, and maybe our brain tissues can develop in some complex way in which indeterministic free will is possible.

What I like about this idea is that “free will” is confined to making decisions of a certain types, based on what the physical situation warrants – similar to how the Mach-Zehnder interferometer defines the possible paths for the photon.  This is important because people don’t exercise free will at random.  People could do all sorts of things, but they don’t seem to.  For the most part, they almost all behave like normal human beings.  I think their brains limits which decisions they have to choose from.

There’s a lot of problems with this idea though, which I haven’t been able to solve.  If it’s true, then how does your free will only affect your body, while my free will only affect my own body?  Is there some sort of subtle difference between my brain and yours?  I don’t get that.  I still don’t understand what forms the individual and makes them alive, distinguishing one person from another, or any animal for that matter.

I don’t think it’s a property of the physical matter itself, because the matter which composes us (the physical atoms themselves), changes throughout our lives.  It must have to do with the aggregate forms the atoms take on.  It has to be complicated though because our brains are changing all the time as we learn new things.  Dendritic arms grow connecting different brain cells together.

But free will must also depend on a lot of other factors.  A lot of what we think of as free will in species like ourselves really is likely to be just memory and complex brain functions.  This sort of thing is what the book I just bought is about, which is my passion of research.

For example, think about speech.  When we speak, most of us think we’re controlling our mouths and vocal chords using our free will and speech comes out.  This is far from the case.  If you have brain damage in just the right areas (Broca’s area), even if your vocal chords are fine, you won’t be able to speak or form coherent sentences.  It’s really your brain which is doing all that.  It’s the brain that generates the words to say and somehow links it all together and makes it work.

I don’t think that wasps have memory.  Since it has no memory, trying to think how free will would work in it is very difficult.  How can you make a decision if there’s no buffer space for you to lay out your different options in your mind?  How will you weigh the options if you don’t have an imagination to think out the potential effects?

I guess that was a bit of a digression from loneliness.  But you see, when I look at my own life, I’ve developed habits and ways of thought which relinquish any ties to other human beings.  I spend little if any time developing relationships of any sort with people.  I spend my days reading books like this, and thinking about problems most people rarely if ever concern themselves with.  And the thing is, I don’t feel depressed about it, nor do I feel like I’m lacking things that other people with social lives have.

Because there’s so few people who find the things I study interesting, I’m by necessity confined to being a lonely person.  I don’t see any way around this.  Most people bond together through common interests.  There’s few people interested in the things I’m interested in, other than really great scientists, psychologists, and thinkers.

It’d be really nice if I could sit in the pub reading “Spatial Cognition, Spatial Perception: Mapping the Self and Space”, and have cute girls come up to me saying, “Wow!  I’ve read that book.  It’s fantastic.  Don’t you just love the chapter on ants and the detailed research into how they use the sun to get back to their nest?  I love that stuff.”  I’d instantly fall in love, but that won’t happen, ever.

That’s just a fact I’ve chosen to live with.  I don’t really have any choice in that matter, I don’t think.  I’ve tried living the normal life most people live but I find it intolerably boring.  If people find the things I’m fascinated with boring, that’s just how it is.  I’ve seen videos where Richard Dawkins talks about great scientists he admires as his heroes.  Most all of them were/are just like me – taciturn and preferred isolated study to socializing.  They had great problems on their minds which consumed their thoughts, and they were far less concerned with banal everyday experience.

Though I wouldn’t recommend my lifestyle to most people.  Friends really are a valuable thing when you find them.  They’re a rare and priceless thing.  Treat them well.  I’ve made the mistake of treating people dear to me with far too little respect.  I regret that.

I have a problem with speaking my mind far too freely and I hurt people’s feelings.  It reminds me of a quote I heard from a physics professor,

“People will forgive you for darn well anything, but not for being right.”
– Dr. Schmitt

With most people, having a cordial friendly relationship is more valuable than the truth of the subject matters being discussed.  Everything you’re saying might be complete bullshit and make no sense, but if you’re friendly and everyone’s enjoying themselves, it doesn’t seem to matter.

I actually heard this quote during an astronomy course. Dr. Schmitt related the events of a social gathering, where a man there mistakenly assumed that our planet’s distance from the sun brought about the changing seasons.  Dr. Schmitt was very tempted to correct the man, knowing full well that our tilt about our axis of rotation is the real reason for the seasons, but he didn’t want to be an ass.

I’m the guy who IS an ass (to my own detriment), and is unconscious of the fact that he’s being so.  Completely socially unaware, I go on and on about our 23.5 degree tilt, the winter and summer solstices, and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes.   And as everyone’s staring at me, wondering why I won’t shut up, I pull out a pad of paper and pen and say, “Here, let me draw it all out for you.”  Then as I feel I’ve shown a new truth to my friend, they’re all thinking, “What a douchebag.”

When you spend a lot of time alone, like I do, you don’t understand that there’s complex social dynamics at these sorts of events, where people lose face and look stupid.  Since I have no thought of what other people think of me, I’m totally unaware of these things that other people care a great deal about.

I actually took a huge psychological evaluation here recently, and my results were interesting.  They rated your mindset and way of life by several different categories.  When it came to learning for its own sake, I was 98/100.  My value of education and knowledge was 97/100.  My interpersonal skills and prudence was 3/100.

So yeah, that about explains me.  Completely clueless when it comes to people, especially women.

It’s quite funny really.  I was watching the film Pride & Prejudice, based on Jane Austen’s novel, and there was a moment in the film where this awkward priest was asking the main character, Elizabeth, to marry him.  She replied that there’s no way she could make him happy, and basically that they were a terrible match.   That really was profound to someone as dumb as me.

It’s not that I thought they’d make a good couple.  I could tell that he was a terrible person to be around, and that they were completely incompatible.  That man was incompatible with every woman on Earth.  But here’s where I found myself wondering.  The very thought of marrying someone in order to make you happy was something I don’t think I’ve ever thought of.  That had never crossed my mind.  Never.  My mindset is to be self-sufficient and that you need to make yourself happy.  It’s not someone else’s job to make you happy, nor can they do so.  I thought of marriage as a sort of arrangement where life is better with them than without them, and you sort of rationally weigh being single versus having them.  Even if they don’t add all that much, if it’s a positive gain, why not marry? This is coming from someone with a 3/100 in interpersonal skills, so just keep that in mind.

I went out for a walk that evening and thought to myself, “Marrying someone to make you happy.  Trying to make someone else happy.  What in the world could that possibly involve?”  I walked for an hour and during that time couldn’t even conceive, even in my fantasies, the majority of my happiness coming from a relationship with a woman.  I’m just being honest, even if that makes me look terrible to all you reading this.  I thought to myself, “What if you’re ALREADY happy?  What if you ALREADY have a good life?”  It’s so remote, and I’ve never met a woman even remotely that interesting.  Someone through which I could define the majority of my life, just by the relationship with her.  I can’t picture it.  And if she is that amazing (and she’d have to be one hell of a woman), the likelihood that she’s interested in me, of all people, is next to none.  My odds at a relationship of that sort are so low, I’m probably more likely to win the lottery buying a few lotto tickets at the gas station.

Love and relationships throws me for a complete loop, every time.  I don’t understand it.  I don’t get it.  With my 3/100, what can I expect?  I don’t understand these words that lovers say to one another.  I think that means I only understand what’s going on in around 3 out of every 100 social situations.  “You’re everything to me.  It’s all for you.”  What?  Define “all”?  When I try to understand it, I come to a conclusion that it’s something you feel, not something you think about.  The words are just a means to make known the feelings you have within your heart.  That’s why none of it makes sense.  They’re not meant to be logical.  They’re meant to instill and communicate feelings which I don’t think I’ve ever experienced myself.

Of course, going for a walk in isolation, not talking to anyone other than myself, surely isn’t going to find me the answer to this issue.  🙂

If I marry a woman one day, I’d treat her beautifully.  What I’d value most are long walks outdoors together talking about deep subjects.  Even better would be to work together on intellectual pursuits.  When I was watching Dr. Bronowski’s series The Ascent Of Man, I believe he had his wife help him research the material he was presenting in the series.  That’d be an incredible relationship.  That is so amazing actually that I can barely comprehend being in such a marriage.  That would be beyond wonderful.  I’d marry a woman who wasn’t into everything I study, if she had a pleasant personality.  But I guess having an intellectual partner is my ideal.  I think that’s the only thing I could ever truly fall in love with a woman for.  Her intelligence.  95% of what matters is her intelligence.  4% personality.  1% everything else.

When I think about Bertrand Russell’s definition of loneliness, I feel just as lonely around people than being alone.  The thing is, being alone I can read my books and consume myself in interesting material.  When I’m around most people, I’m forced to endure mindless dribble.  It’s no wonder why I choose to stay home with my books every time.

Problems For Creationists – Part II

Yesterday I pointed out that if the universe had been created 6,000 years ago, we should only see stars within a radius of 6,000 light years from our planet.  This of course isn’t the case.  We see stars within our own Milky Way which are almost a hundred thousand light years away, and can see galaxies billions of light years away.

Another major problem creationists have to contend with is the geographic distribution of species.  I’ll let Richard Dawkins handle this one,

It is almost too ridiculous to mention it, but I’m afraid I have to because of the more than 40 per cent of the American population who, as I lamented in Chapter 1, accept the Bible literally: think what the geographical distribution of animals should look like if they’d all dispersed from Noah’s Ark. Shouldn’t there be some sort of law of decreasing species diversity as we move away from an epicentre – perhaps Mount Ararat? I don’t need to tell you that that is not what we see.

Why would all those marsupials – ranging from tiny pouched mice through koalas and bilbys to giant kangaroos and Diprotodonts – why would all those marsupials, but no placentals at all, have migrated en masse from Mount Ararat to Australia? Which route did they take? And why did not a single member of their straggling caravan pause on the way, and settle – in India, perhaps, or China, or some haven along the Great Silk Road? Why did the entire order Edentata (all twenty species of armadillo, including the extinct giant armadillo, all six species of sloth, including extinct giant sloths, and all four species of anteater) troop off unerringly for South America, leaving not a rack behind, leaving no hide nor hair nor armour plate of settlers somewhere along the way? Why were they joined by the entire infraorder of caviomorph rodents, including guinea pigs, agoutis, pacas, maras, capybaras, chinchillas and lots of others, a large group of characteristically South American rodents, found nowhere else? Why did an entire sub-order of monkeys, the platyrrhine monkeys, end up in South America and nowhere else? Shouldn’t at least a few of them have joined the rest of the monkeys, the catarrhines, in Asia or Africa? And shouldn’t at least one species of catarrhine have found itself in the New World, along with the platyrrhines? Why did all the penguins undertake the long waddle south to the Antarctic, not a single one to the equally hospitable Arctic?

An ancestral lemur, again very possibly just a single species, found itself in Madagascar. Now there are thirty-seven species of lemur (plus some extinct ones). They range in size from the pygmy mouse lemur, smaller than a hamster, to a giant lemur, larger than a gorilla and resembling a bear, which went extinct quite recently. And they are all, every last one of them, in Madagascar. There are no lemurs anywhere else in the world, and there are no monkeys in Madagascar. How on Earth do the 40 per cent history-deniers think this state of affairs came about? Did all thirty-seven and more species of lemur troop in a body down Noah’s gangplank and hightail it (literally in the case of the ringtail) for Madagascar, leaving not a single straggler by the wayside, anywhere throughout the length and breadth of Africa?

Once again, I am sorry to take a sledgehammer to so small and fragile a nut, but I have to do so because more than 40 per cent of the American people believe literally in the story of Noah’s Ark. We should be able to ignore them and get on with our science, but we can’t afford to because they control school boards, they home-school their children to deprive them of access to proper science teachers, and they include many members of the United States Congress, some state governors and even presidential and vice-presidential candidates. They have the money and the power to build institutions, universities, even a museum where children ride life-size mechanical models of dinosaurs, which, they are solemnly told, coexisted with humans. And, as recent polls have shown, Britain is not far behind (or should that read ‘ahead’?), along with parts of Europe and most of the Islamic world.

Even if we leave Mount Ararat to one side; even if we refrain from lampooning those who take the Noah’s Ark myth literally, similar problems apply to any theory of the separate creation of species. Why would an all-powerful creator decide to plant his carefully crafted species on islands and continents in exactly the appropriate pattern to suggest, irresistibly, that they had evolved and dispersed from the site of their evolution? Why would he put lemurs in Madagascar and nowhere else? Why put platyrrhine monkeys in South America only, and catarrhine monkeys in Africa and Asia only? Why no mammals in New Zealand, except bats who could fly there? Why do the animals in island chains most closely resemble those on neighbouring islands, and why do they nearly always resemble – less strongly but still unmistakably – those on the nearest continent or large island? Why would the creator put only marsupial mammals in Australia, again except bats who could fly there, and those who could arrive in man-made canoes? The fact is that, if we survey every continent and every island, every lake and every river, every mountaintop and every Alpine valley, every forest and every desert, the only way to make sense of the distribution of animals and plants is, yet again, to follow Darwin’s insight about the Galapagos finches: ‘One might really fancy that from an original paucity . . . one species had been taken and modified for different ends.’

– Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show On Earth

A Problem For Creationists

Take a look at the night sky.  It’s well known that many of the stars are tens of thousands of light years away.  The farthest stars we observe in the Milky Way are around 95,000 light years away from us.  There are innumerable galaxies which are millions or even billions of light years away from us.  Now if this is the case, then when God created all of these galaxies and put them in their positions, did he also create all the light beams already in place?  If He didn’t, then we shouldn’t see anything but those stars within 6,000 or so light years from us.  The rest of the night sky should be black.  New stars should be appearing in the sky each night as their light just reached us for the first time. However, this isn’t what we observe.

If you’re not convinced by the fossil record, the common ancestry found within all of our DNA, or potassium-argon dating, then this alone should be enough to convince you that creationism is wrong.  I’m thinking that over the next few months, each time I come across a piece of evidence like this, I’m going to post it on here for creationists to look at.

The picture we see in our telescopes gives factual evidence for the Big Bang.  When you look out using say the Hubble telescope, you see this,

Looking through a high powered telescope is like looking into a time-machine because the light reaching us is coming from different distances and was emitted at different times.  Quite a profound thing to think about.

There’s so much waiting for you to understand.   Give up your superstitions and learn the truth about our universe.  We’re a part of something truly amazing.  The universe is very big and very very old.  We can’t even begin to comprehend 13.7 billion years.  It’s even harder to comprehend that our universe is likely just one member of a multi-verse.

Imaginary Friends

Just the other day I received an email from my grandfather entitled, “How would you introduce Christ to a room full of people?”

I just find these things silly.  Why does God need someone to introduce Himself?  God is all powerful and all knowing, and they claim He’s longing to have a relationship with me.  Even so, He won’t come down to my bedroom and appear before me. Surely it’d be simple for Him to do so, but no.  Instead He needs his faithful messengers to introduce Himself.  And how are these messengers instructed to do so?  They read cryptic passages out of the Bible on how He committed suicide on a cross in a bloody sacrifice in order to bridge a gap which He himself imposed between us.  I’m also instructed to take part in cannibalistic rituals, symbolically eating his flesh and drinking his blood in remembrance of the event.

“Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.”
– Voltaire, in a letter to Frederick the Great.

“Could a being create the fifty billion galaxies each with two hundred billion stars then rejoice in the smell of burning goat flesh?”
– Ron Patterson

I get tired of talking about religion, but at the same time I have to because it’s so widespread; it’s everywhere you look.  Many years ago I too was caught up in religion.

So many people claim that God talks directly to them.  Whenever you start confronting them with facts, evidence, and inconsistencies in their beliefs, they always fall back on that unquestionable fail-safe, “Well, God talks directly to me.  I know He’s real.  Nobody has to tell me.”  They claim to receive divine revelations through prayer.

Being famous, Richard Dawkins frequently receives letters regarding these issues.  Sometimes they claim to have contact with aliens, or believe wholeheartedly that God speaks directly to them.  He responds by sending them a letter requesting the solution to a difficult mathematical proof which hasn’t yet been solved.  If God (or super-intelligent alien life-forms) really does have contact with them, surely He can tell them the answer.  As expected, they never can answer because it’s all in their heads.  If you think God speaks directly to you, I’d ask you the same question.  Ask God to tell you how to unite Einstein’s general relativity and the equations of quantum mechanics.  If “God” can’t tell you that, you’re talking to your own mind, not God.

“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

As an interesting side note, if Dawkins asks them the answer to a moral dilemma, they always have an answer.  Otherwise, no.

People live their lives with their imaginary friends, and I don’t know about you all, but I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of seeing women wrapped up head to toe in black garb in the middle of the summer heat-wave.  I’m tired of hearing about people stoned to death for petty things.  I’m tired of arguments about some stupid mosque being built near ground zero.  I’m tired of the conflicts in the middle east.  I’m tired of holy wars being fought over irreconcilable doctrines believed in blind faith.  I’m tired of being preached to from my family members.  I’m tired of arguments about whether or not we should have a tablet of the ten commandments in our courtrooms.   I’m tired of debates on whether or not we should have “In God We Trust” on our money.  I’m tired of Christians wanting superstition taught in schools.  I’m tired scientists needing to justify their every action to people who don’t even remotely understand their research.  I’m tired of seeing gays mistreated.  I’m tired of new-age mystics spreading superstitious nonsense.

“All thinking men are atheists.”
– Ernest Hemingway

I’m just tired of religion and mysticism.  Period.  Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism… all of it.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
– Jesus Christ, Matthew 10:34

Just look at what modern biological research is heading toward.  Watch this video of Craig Venter touring Richard Dawkins around his genetics facility.  We’re mapping the DNA patterns of all the different species on this planet using super-computers.  We can clearly see how all life is related.  Even if there wasn’t a single fossil on the planet, and there were no other forms of evidence for evolution, we would still clearly know that evolution is true because we’d see the common threads within the DNA sequencing.  We can see the common ancestry and links between species.

One day we’ll be able to create any life-form we wish just by using the proper DNA sequence like a strip of computer tape.  DNA is an instruction set on how to build a body and we’re coming to a deep understanding on how that process works.  We’re literally on the verge of that right now.  We’re doing it for small simple organisms already.

When I watch that video I’m in absolute awe.  What amazing research!  I look at the flaws within my own body, such as my poor vision, and think about how wonderful it’d be if I’d been born with perfect eyesight.  I think about how nice it’d be if the circulation in my hands and feet wasn’t poor.  I think about the headaches I get from the poorly laid out blood vessels behind my eyes.  Now imagine if prior to being born my DNA was examined and all of those problems were removed during my development in the womb!  It’s incredible!

We as a society can fund this kind of research, or we can continue building tanks and missiles for the power-hungry bastards running our governments.  I think it’s obvious the direction we need to take.

How long are we going to be held back by superstition and stupidity?  Will religious zealots end up burning down Venter’s facility like they did the library of Alexandria?   We have the power to fix this cruel world.  Day by day we’re coming closer and closer to doing so.  It’s likely that within my lifetime we’ll be able to carefully examine each person’s genetic genome and custom tailor medications for their body.  Medications will no longer be generic but will be created by complex computer programs tailoring the medicine to the individual.  Then again, we can turn back to faith-healers and prayer.

Are We Near The End Of The World?

We may well be nearing the end of the world, but not for reasons found in the Book of Revelation or the Mayan calendar.  I share the opinion of Dr. Stephen Hawking:

Here’s is the video’s transcript:

“I see great dangers for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been a question of touch and go. The Cuban missile crisis in 1963 was one of these. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully, but I’m an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe as we spread into space. If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue. But we are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth but to spread out into space. We have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years, but if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space. That is why I’m in favor of manned, or should I say, person-ed, space-flight.”

– Stephen Hawking, Big Think

With aggression, if we do not abolish national armies and our conflicts between nations, we’re likely to destroy ourselves in war.  At heart, wars have always been a form of organized theft.  They came into being when mankind first began settling into small towns, and nomadic raiders came to steal their grain and livestock.  They’ve been with us ever since.

“… unless and until mankind have achieved the security of a single government for the world, everything else of value, of no matter what kind, is precarious, and may at any moment be destroyed by war.”

– Bertrand Russell, Authority and the Individual

Because of our innate inclination toward selfishness, and our tendency to steal the property of another man via aggressive force and legal maneuvers, I’m wary about large concentrations of power of any kind.  When you look at our massive governments, they’re monstrosities full of bribery, theft, and pillaging of the people.  Historically that’s nothing new.  The ambitious and power hungry always seek control of governments because they offer a monopoly on the legal use of force.  Considering the legal use of force is so important, I would like to see most all political power of this kind flushed back to state and local governments.  That way people could feel more involved and in control again.  I’d like to see the democratic process extended into many other aspects of our lives, not just the political arena.

I oftentimes find myself entertaining almost radical libertarian ideas mainly because political change through the normal political process forces people to do things at gunpoint.  I don’t like that.  When a man fights for change in the government, what they’re really fighting for is a law allowing them to force their fellow man to do things at gunpoint.  If people don’t comply with the law, they’re fined, thrown into jail, and face other serious punishments.  I try to advocate freedom as much as possible, so I’m leery of the use of political force to change the way other people live.  I believe in changing people through argument, being a living example, and letting people come to their own conclusions on how to live.  I don’t like to use force on people because you can’t change a person’s opinions by forcing them to do things at gunpoint.  You can only temporarily change their actions, but tensions will build.  Eventually that will explode on you.  We’d be wise to listen to Pascal,

“We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.”

– Blaise Pascal

Powerful political positions represent, at heart, the ability to use force to get your way.  I find this incredibly dangerous, so I personally feel that if the most powerful positions in government were rather petty, local, and offered nothing but the capability to actually serve the people, half of our problems would go away right there.

It’s very difficult to exploit citizens at the local level.  As long as  you have transparency, people would be able to see where the money is going and it would all make sense to them.  Citizens can drive around town and see their tax dollars at work, and know where their money went.  Their leaders would also be far more accessible.  That’s the way I think things should be.

At the local level, your vote would count.  And if you wanted change, you could go around town talking to people and actually make a difference.  You could go to your barber and say, “Can you believe what our mayor just approved of?  He’s wasting our tax dollars.  We need him out of there.”  You could stand outside the grocery store handing out fliers talking about corruption which people relate to and understand.  Then the politicians, who live in that same town, would have to confront the people they’re exploiting everyday.  When they went to get their haircut, they’d have to face that barber who they’re cheating.  That is so much better than our world today.

I like the idea of states having a lot more power than the Federal government.  Take healthcare for instance.  If say the state of California wanted a socialist style healthcare system, whereas Alabama wanted a more market driven healthcare system, both states could have it how they wanted.  Then we the people could see both governments in action and let them compete to prove which is better.

Personally, I feel the state should provide healthcare to all its citizens, as well as provide for all secondary education needs.  I would move to a state which offered this.  It’s certainly not a tax I mind paying.  But other people feel differently, and it’d be nice if they could live in their own state with other like-minded people.

If you allowed citizens to freely move between states and cities, if one state government became corrupt you could move to another state which treated you better.  It offers more diversity and puts states in competition with each other.  People would leave corrupt states, which would force them to get their act together. It would also relieve a lot of the tension which is out there.

There’s a nasty cycle to selfishness and hatred. When mankind became a social animal his instincts developed in such a way to hate those who cheat the system.  Most of us live honestly and don’t exploit those around us, but there’s always those who try to cheat the system.  We’re wired to hate these people.  That’s to give us motivation to change things or boot them out.  This leads to violence, unfortunately.  The exploited seeking revenge operates off the same principle.

There’s always violence when people are wronged and mistreated. Capitalism without a social safety net is filled with wrongs.  People work hard to get an education in a certain trade which then gets cast along the wayside with changing times.  What’s a person to do when their job is no longer valuable, is replaced by machinery, or even worse, when it’s outsourced?  We need systems to help people get back to work.  We also need retirement plans which aren’t reliant on the caprice of the stock market and Wall Street.  And anyone who isn’t appalled by the vast income inequalities is just blind.  I could talk about capitalism and its flaws all day long.

I do know one thing – we’ll never have a peaceful society if we don’t provide security to people.  We all need a degree of security.  The world’s a far too lonely and dangerous place.  We need to look out for one another.  Our economic system is just terrible.

I recently was watching a documentary and they were talking about the Incas.  There were no starving or hungry in their society.  Everyone was provided for.  I don’t see why we can’t have that today.  And you know what?  When you talk to people they all feel the same way.  They say, “Yes, we should all look out for one another.”  But what holds us back?  Why does that never happen?

Well, there’s always someone who believes that helping each other out is going to destroy us all.  I’ll be first to admit that helping others is a subtle business. People abuse the system, no doubt.  The thing is, not having these sorts of social safety nets is a more dangerous than dealing with the few people who take advantage of it all.  If we moved our social programs to the local level, I think we could cut down on a lot of the abuses.

Just last weekend I was visiting my parents, who are very religious.  They were watching John Hagee, a fundamentalist Christian.  He got behind the pulpit and said, “The Bible has a lesson in economics we have forgotten.  If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”  He was talking about entitlement programs.  I just shook my head thinking, “Here’s the rich TV preacher, millions of dollars in the bank, flying around in private jets, himself not doing anything productive for society, just running his mouth spreading superstition, advocating wars and intervention in the Middle East, and calling everyone else lazy and not entitled to unemployment benefits after losing their job in a recession, looking for new employment.”  Then he pretends he’s spreading the love of Christ. Please.  These are the sorts of reasons intelligent people can’t possibly respect these religious zealots.

Here we have a new college graduate, who just spent the last decade studying to prepare for a job, and for whatever reason can’t find work.  Then Hagee walks up to this downtrodden individual and says, “You’re lazy.  You don’t work, you don’t eat.”  Then he waddles off to his jet.  That’s how people are and we wonder why there’s so much bitterness.  That’s the cycle of greed and hatred.  You don’t care about anyone, and because you don’t care about them, they don’t care about you.  With Hagee, there’s no love in that man.  He’s completely devoid of compassion. Jesus teaches to help the struggling man along the wayside, but his so-called followers are Spartan war-mongers.  If the Bible is true and there is a final judgment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see guys like Hagee come before God who then says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”  A shocked expression comes over his big plump face and the demons drag him off to hell as he exclaims, ‘Jeeeessssuuuuusssssss’

Selfishness and violent aggression are not mutually exclusive; they’re inextricably bound together in a cycle.

If we were to have a global government, modeled like our national governments are today, our feelings of insignificance and helplessness are only going to increase.  Here in the U.S. I already feel completely insignificant.  I don’t feel in control at all.  My vote is drown out by the sea of people out there.  Imagine how bad it would be at the global level.

If we do have a global government, we need to make sure it has very little power.  I want most of the power to reside in the individual cities and small states.  Even the big cities are too big for one man to govern.  I would want a big city like St. Louis broken up into 50,000 or at most 100,000 people sectors.  I want people to feel in control over their lives and be free to live or work anywhere in the world.  We should not be subject to exploitative politicians who hide in their distant offices.

I could never imagine my hometown raising an army and attacking some other city.  The people who run local governments are just normal everyday people who actually do care about you.  It’s mainly the scumbags in the federal government who are up to no good.  I want their power taken away from them and national armies abolished.

There are some deep questions to consider as well though.  Take science research.  Institutions like NASA and the NSF need funding at the national level.  So there are some exceptions, but in general, I want most all power and tax dollars collected and spent at the local and state levels.  Other issues include environmental concerns and overpopulation.  Those things will probably have to be enforced from above.  Our current population would require 1.5 Earths to sustain itself.  We have to change.

All in all, I’m very open to different solutions to the problems of aggression and selfishness in society.  I think the central problems though are these massive governments and big corporations.  I would move to a state which forces these corporations to provide full benefits and sound retirement plans to their employees.  There also should be much more profit sharing, and far less profits for Wall Street tycoons.

It’s all very depressing, however.  There’s a very high probability that mankind will exterminate itself within the next few centuries.  That very thought sends me into such a deep despair, I sometimes don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  These issues regarding the environment, corrupt economic systems, superstition, religion, and scientific literacy are not trivial.  I think they literally represent whether or not the human race will survive.  If we don’t solve them, we’re done for.

Blind faith has to be replaced by reason based on empirical observation.  That way our conflicts in beliefs can go away and be rooted in principles which are proven to work.  We have to start taking care of our planet and stop abusing it.  We’re going to have to live in harmony with it, or it’s going to kick us very hard in the rear, and may well boot us off to extinction.  If we can’t come up with an economic system that works, there’s no way we’ll have peace.  We can’t have a world where 95% of all the wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1% of the population.  We also can’t have industrial super-powers living right next door to third-world countries.  These nation-state borders have to go down and humanity has to unite.  It’s obviously a broken system.

The fundamental premise in capitalism basically says, “What can you do for me?  Why should I do something for you?”  and if you don’t have something to offer in return, there’s no “free lunch”, as they like to say.  That whole line of thought has to go.  It causes all the miseries and struggles mankind faces in this world.

I feel strongly that the world needs to live like the scientific community does.  They share all their research, are completely open to critique and change, have a deep respect for truth and empirical observation, and most of them go to great lengths to educate the public and their students teaching them everything they know.  It’s a very open-doors endeavor, where everyone is encouraged to get involved.

Capitalism on the other hand, everything’s about control.  In order to stay on top, you have to keep your technological research a secret, so that your products remain superior to your competitors.  It’s a tooth and nail struggle to stay on top, constantly battling for the almighty dollar.  If you lose that battle, and you don’t have some money saved up, you’re literally cast out onto the street and left to rot.  If there’s no safety net, you’re left to die, literally.  It’s a matter of life and death whether you can compete on the marketplace.  If you lose, you’re cast out into abject poverty.  Or, you have to work for one of the big corporations which exploit you, offer you no benefits, work you until you’re old, and then cast you aside.  With just a matter of changing times, you can end up losing your job, and lose everything you’d worked your whole life to accumulate.  You end up defaulting on your loans (which were cooked up out of thin air), and you lose your home, your car, and your means to provide for yourself.  As for the profits, they go to a few Wall Street fat-cats, who don’t even do the work.  I agree with Einstein that this is the main reason for conflict in this world.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.  We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor — not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules.

– Albert Einstein, Why Socialism?

In this same article Einstein talked about man’s relationship to society,

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

– Albert Einstein, Why Socialism?

I agree with him that our world is much too self-centered.  We live for us and us alone.  Our entire way of life encourages this and we hope the invisible hand is going to guide us to prosperity. We can’t have a world directed primarily by selfish principles. We probably need worldviews which are more collective in origin, but of course, everyone will disagree about what direction we as a society should go.

If I were to identify how we should live, I think a good role model would be Bertrand Russell.  Listen to his own life self-evaluation at the age of 84:

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair. I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found. With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved. Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer. This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

– Bertrand Russell, What I have lived for

If we were to develop those same passions of love, the pursuit of knowledge, and compassion for those less fortunate, I think the world would transform dramatically.  Whatever changes we make to society, I believe strongly that those will have to be the guiding principles.