If I Had A Time Machine

If you had a time machine, could travel far into the past, and go talk with your younger self, say when you were twenty years old or so, what would you tell him or her?

I’m nearing forty years old, so I’m getting old enough, and possibly wise enough, to have something worthwhile to say.  Thing is, I have my doubts as to whether my younger self would  be interested in hearing a middle-aged man share his insights.  I don’t think I would “get” it yet.  The same is true for just about any twenty year old asking me for advice.

There are probably two things I would tell much younger self.  The first and foremost thing would be that accomplishments, accolades, success, great wealth, even romantic relationships, are not all that important to one’s happiness.  Developing a deep spiritual life is far more important if you really want to be happy.  Find inner peace and contentment.  The second would be that I should start eating right and taking care of my physical fitness as soon and as early as possible.  Developing good eating habits, staying active, hitting the weights, etc, even when I’m young and don’t “need” to, is very important.

I don’t think my younger self would be all that impressed with what I had to say.  My twenty year old self would be thinking, “You’ve lived all these years and that’s all you have to tell me?  I already know all about that!  Can’t you give me investment advice that would make me rich?  What about romantic relationship advice?  What about deep secrets of the universe.  I’m pursuing finding out all I can now.  Isn’t there something more… interesting you could tell me?”  Then I’d reply, “I’ve just shared with you the deepest truths I’ve found.  Business, money, romance, these things are relatively unimportant in the grander scheme of things.  I’m trying to direct you to a place where your happiness and peace comes from within, not from without.  I can’t tell you how much energy I’ve wasted chasing things that even when I finally attained them were ultimately underwhelming in the end.  Most of my life story is accomplishing things and when I finally achieve the end goal, I felt cheated.  I hope to save you a lot of time and energy.  I’m trying to direct you to the only thing that’s real.”

Maybe the bigger problem is that this sort of advice isn’t exciting.   Here I am, stepping out of the time machine, and my younger self is looking up to me in awe, and I tell him, “I have a great message for you, listen closely!”  As he sits there dumbstruck, I proclaim, “I’ve traveled through time itself to tell you the deepest truths I’ve found!  If one can quiet the mind, find peace, and deeply understand the deep spiritual teachings of say Jesus in the Gospel of John, or Buddah, or great Yogi masters like Paramhansa Yogananda, you can have peace right here, right now, that is not dependent on external circumstances.  You don’t need all that you think you need to be happy with your life.  Your mind will be your biggest obstacle.  You must rid yourself of false conceptions of who and what you are, and what you believe you need to be happy.  Find happiness right here, right now, that isn’t dependent on what the world around you is doing, what other people think of you, or what anyone or anything in this world can give you.  It is possible to be happy and content in practically any job, or situation in life if you master and deeply understand these sorts of teachings and principles.  The world doesn’t give you happiness.  Happiness wells up within you, if you open yourself to the Holy Spirit.  Peace dwells deep within you.  You need to connect with that source.  Study these deep spiritual texts, spend far more time on them than business, economics, or even science.”

Thing is, young people want adventure.  They want exciting experiences that titillate the emotions.  However, I’ve found that sort of thing to be a huge waste of energy, possibly even a form of slavery.  The deeper I get into my own spiritual journey, the more simple my life becomes.  I need less and less “experience” to feel happy and content.  I don’t have to be looking into the eyes of a beautiful woman, enamored with me, to feel that emotion of, “There’s no place I’d rather be.”  When you live in communion with the Holy Spirit, you can have that same emotional experience while eating a gas-station hotdog alone, in one of those little uncomfortable booths, watching other people pump gas into their cars.  When the mind is silent, without all the “fake” narration, commenting and comparing everything to all the other experiences you’ve had, you’re just fine, wherever you are.

Then I can see my younger self toward me saying, “I don’t get it.”  And I’d have to say, “I know you don’t.  Right now, at this young age, you already have all you need.  You are so blessed.  You’re earning enough money to have your independence and freedom, but you’re not satisfied.  You think you need more.  More money, more excitement, more of everything.  So you’re going to give up your current job, and you’re going to go off chasing an adventure.  First you’re going to get involved in all these business plans, and work and work and work, twelve hours a day, all because you believe that great thing you’re working for is coming, it’s coming, any day now.  The sad thing is, this universe reflects back to you whatever’s in your heart, and that greed in your heart right now is going to draw some nasty people in your life, so much so that you’ll become very cynical of humans and human nature.  Those people will be reflections of yourself. It’ll be your own doing, and the pain you’re going to experience will be entirely your own fault. ”

“As for ‘success’, you’ll find some degree of success, but you’re going to wear yourself out, and the accomplishments won’t mean anything to you by the time you get there.  You’ll feel you’re surrounded by filth, untrustworthy, disgusting people, who don’t care about you at all, and that pretty much will be true, though they’re not quite as bad as you’ll come to think.  The second those people can screw you over, they will, and you’ll experience that several times.  It’ll be for your own good though.  I say this looking back from it all at a distance.  God will be doing you a big favor.”

“You’re going to spend so much energy thinking about people you don’t need to be thinking about, whether it be some girl you wish you did things differently with, or some person who did you wrong, or daydreaming about things that don’t matter, and it will all be because of an erroneous belief that these people, these things, these outward circumstances hold various aspects of your happiness; they don’t hold anything.  It’s all illusions.  A big dream.  A crazy firework display, bright, colorful and intense, all of which is here today and gone tomorrow.”

“Oh, but you have a big ‘plan’ for it all.  You’re going to try to direct the firework show like you’re the Steven Spielberg of your own life or something.  You’re wasting your time and energy.  This universe couldn’t care less about your plans.  You’ll set off this way, and this world will have you running in circles, this way and that, and before it’s over you’ll end up who knows where.  You’ll worry about things you don’t need to worry about, and that anxiety will zap you of all your joy and peace.  Then you’re going to get fed up with it all, and go chase something else, thinking that’s the answer.  Once again, you’re wasting time and energy.”

“You’ll end up going to college, waste a ton of money there, and work your tail end off studying for exams, memorizing things you’ll quickly forget, and exhaust yourself.  Why?  Just like before, that great thing is coming, it’s coming, any day now!  But is it?  Nope.  You’ll invest great sums of energy, then go to collect your reward and poof, nothing’s there.  I’m telling you that you don’t need to suffer through all that, if you just find the peace and contentment I’m telling you about right now.”

“I’m not telling you to just sit on the couch and do nothing.  I’m telling you that none of it matters, but even when I say that, I don’t think you get what I mean.  You can go out and do things in this world, but even if things don’t go as planned, you can be happy regardless, if you understand the deep spiritual teachings and principles I’m hoping, HOPING, you’ll take time to look into and think about.  Life is far simpler than you currently think it is.  It’s your mind that’s currently draining you of life, making everything complicated, and this mind isn’t even your own.  It too is another illusion.  Illusions aren’t inherently bad though.  It’s all no different than the fictions you experience in say a video game, with fictional characters, their fictional thoughts, and the fictional events that happen to them.  ‘Jason’ is such a character, and you’re far too immersed in him.  In actuality you’re a much greater being that you need to learn about!  This place is a sort of matrix, a grand illusion, and much of it doesn’t seem well thought out in my opinion.  Poorly designed and implemented.  A lot of the people in here are crazy, and those who run this place are even crazier.  Don’t let it control you.  Disconnect from it and stand beyond it.”

By this point, I know my younger self would be totally lost.  I was once having dinner with an old friend of mine, and we got to talking about how when you’ve gone down a road long enough, eventually you’ve traveled so far, there is no easy way to replace “you”.  That journey itself has molded you into something that cannot be summarized, or even taught in lessons.  Someone may tell you these same truths, but to me, they’re living truths that I experience and feel deep within.  I’ve went down these crazy roads, have saw what they have to offer, tasted it and felt it for myself, and I can say, with certainty, “I don’t want this.”  But to someone else, that may be a real temptation for them.  For many of us, those illusions have to be shattered firsthand.  It’s different for everyone, but eventually people grow tired of going back to their own vomit, tired of chasing things that aren’t real, tired of staying in situations that don’t work.

Of course it’s not like all I have to teach my younger self is ways to suffer or avoid this suffering.  I’ve found amazing things in these spiritual teachings, things that transform my entire life, mind, and emotions, and I want to go around and scream it from the rooftops, but like many commentators on this blog have written to me, “Why are you obsessed with this spirituality stuff?”  Then they leave and quit reading this blog.  I find the greatest truths I’ve ever found, that totally transform me in ways I can’t even describe, but when I go to share it, I’m so far down the road that other people have no idea what I’m even excited about.  They’re not interested.

Sometimes I don’t even know how to describe it.  Everywhere I look, people are just caught up in useless things.  Others are just caught up in chasing things, always busy.  Busy, busy, busy.  Just so busy, and not present at all to enjoy what’s there around them.  The true joy is always, ALWAYS, somewhere off, someplace else, or in the future.  The joy will come when they travel the world.  The real experience worth having will happen when they finish their education, or land some new career, or will come from a new relationship, or a big new home, or whatever it may be.  And off they go, chasing some alternate configuration of forms in their perception.  This will save me!

And the thing is, in this crazy matrix we’re in, one must expend huge sums of energy to even chase this or that.  Things have to, to some extent, be earned, but more realistically, there’s no rhyme or reason to who ends up getting what.  There’s certainly little justice or sense to it all.  It may take you years and years of hard work to change your career, or save up for that new home, or save up for those lavish vacations.  In the end, it’ll all be for some fleeting experience, some alternative firework display of color and emotion that you won’t be able to hold onto.  These forms will drift into view as opposed to some other forms that would’ve been there before.

It’s like watching a slideshow, and instead of just enjoying the slides that are going to pass by in your life, you have to jump up out of your seat, start digging in some big box, and dig and dig and dig, finding a new set of slides which match your desires; by jove, you’re going to reload the projector with an experience of your own design!  Take control of your fate! But in this matrix we’re in, many of the slides in the big “free” box are boring, and all the “good” slides are locked away in special drawers, requiring a great deal of toil and sacrifice to earn the right to certain experiences in this illusory realm; if you slave away for the projection company, sometimes, though often not, you’ll earn the right to load a few slides of your own into the projector and have an experience you “want”.  That payment is made in suffering.  Hopefully it was worth the all the work you put in.

Maybe that’s too abstract.  I’ll make it concrete.  You want an amazing body.  Well you can have that, but you’ll need to spend two hours a day, five days a week in the gym, doing repetitive, sometimes even painful, exercises, over and over and over.  Then you’ll need to eat a diet of food that you don’t really want to eat, each and every meal.  Chug down those protein shakes!  Mmm mmm, chalky nastiness!

Then it’s like, crap, look at those guys in the movies.  They’re so muscular and the girls are going crazy over them.  But no matter how hard I train in the gym, I can never look like that.  I’ve been lifting for years, hours everyday, and I still don’t look anything like these guy.  Why is that?  How do they get so big and muscular, over 200 lbs totally ripped?  Well, now we get into steroids!  Are you willing take it to the next level?  You want another 40-50 lbs of muscle in six months?  Well here’s the devil’s offer!  You can sacrifice your health and life expectancy for a temporary experience of that body you’ve always dreamed of!  So, do you take the deal?  Just think of that body put into your imagination from photoshopped super-hunks on magazine covers and highly edited, fake, Hollywood movies!  What if you had that!  Think of the happiness you’d experience!  The glorious attention you’d get!  All kinds of women commenting on your shirtless pics on Instagram and Facebook.  Think how jealous your ex-girlfriend would be, and how much she’d regret dumping you for that other guy!  Yeah babeh, time for some juice!

Even if you make this sacrifice, your health is going to fail you.  And who can forget, you’ll eventually get old.  Getting old!  Hunk today, a wrinkly grandpa tomorrow.  And it all goes by so fast.  So you can suffer and suffer and suffer, lifting those weights, juicing up, all for those handful of moments where you get the attention of the pretty girl, some respect from the meatheads, or whatever it is you’re after.  Then ten years later you’ll start having heart trouble, you’ll be in and out of the hospital, the doctor will tell you to get off the juice, your testosterone levels are shot, can’t even produce it on your own anymore, so you shrivel down to a tiny, skinny nothing.  So much for the muscles.  Medical bills stacking up from the shoulder injuries, the knee surgeries from those heavy squats, the torn pecs from those crazy bench presses.  Oh and those big deadlifts you were pulling?  Yeah, your lower-back is shot.  All kinds of pain everyday, too bad.  But man, for five to ten years, you were really jacked man.  The guys in the gym kinda noticed, and maybe a few girls.  Hope it was worth it.

And the strangest thing?  The peace, joy, and contentment they’re after is hiding right there in the present, right there with them, but their mind is so busy, constantly chattering away, judging everything and everyone, locked in some past misery, plotting how to get revenge on somebody, chasing things, being angry, bitter, fuming over this, thinking about nonsense, daydreaming, and they just can’t experience the things around them, right here, right now.  Almost everyone I meet is busy in this way.  You wake up, and you clearly see all this self-imposed misery everyone is putting on themselves.

It’s frustrating because people are not interested in spiritual truths.  As one graduate student I was with the the other day told me, “That stuff is for the weak.”  Meanwhile, when we went out to lunch together, he spent the entire time talking about how depressed he is, how unmotivated he is to do his research, and how angry he is about his girlfriend who left him two years ago.  He just kept going on and on about his ex-girlfriend.  He was so angry with her.  Was jealous of the guy she’s now with.  Was talking about how they’ll be at some campus event, and how he couldn’t stomach going, seeing them together.  It’s so strange, watching this poor guy’s mind beat him to a pulp, and then watch him call those who have learned how to avoid this “weak”.   These kinds of people act as if they’ve found some deep enlightenment or something, when clearly they haven’t.  But in their minds, somehow it’s a virtue.  Only those as strong and capable as them have the inner fortitude to look at reality as it is, not as you wish it to be!  It’s like, what are you even going on about?

I saw a video of Oprah talking about this.  Eventually she grew tired of salacious interviews, celebrity gossip, and relationship advice, and went further and further down her own spiritual journey.  It totally transformed her own life, and then she wanted to share it with everyone.  So she left her super popular talk-show and goes to start an entire TV network, hoping to focus it all on spirituality and how these great teachings can transform your life.  What happens?  The network bombs.  A total failure.  Nobody’s interested.   Her audience is like, “No Oprah, go back to talking about celebrity gossip.”

You can’t take people there.  I can’t take any of you there.  I can’t take my family there.  I can’t even take my younger self there.  Whatever you choose to do with your life, that’ll take you down some road.  And whatever you learn and gain from that experience, good or bad, you can’t give it to anyone else.  You’ll reap what you sow, and the things you reap, they’re yours.  You can try to talk about these things with others, but they’ll only understand to the degree that they’ve experienced it themselves.  But if they haven’t experienced what you’re talking about, they’ll never get it.

There’s no greater reward than mastering the principles and teachings of the greatest masters, like Jesus.  Not that I’ve ever found.  When I reflect on my life, if I’d only learned all this sooner, I can’t help but think how my life could’ve been different.  It’s what I would love to share with my younger self, and save myself so much headache.  But if I could do that, maybe I’d never have learned these great mysteries?  I don’t know.   I’ve even come to a place where I see that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, the pain and suffering we go through can awaken us to great truths.

Technical Issues

I’d like to apologize for all the technical problems that have been happening with the blog.   The website became infected with a virus and it took me months to figure out how to get rid of it.   Viagra ads were appearing on my front page, some bit-coin farmer was inserting weird code into my site, and other things.  It was a mess. I’m not exactly an expert on web programming, which is part of why it took so long.  I ended up having to remove the entire site, a friend of mine restored all of my posts from a backup, and everything has been reinstalled from scratch.  It was a real pain, but I think things are sorted out now.

“I” Can’t…

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.

Meditation And The Illusory “I”

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.

Why I Stay Out Of Internet Debates

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.