Reflections On Maturity

July 9, 2014

I came across an article on Arts and Letters Daily which I really enjoyed.  Upon reaching sixty years of age, an older gentleman reflected on the ageing process.  While I’m just a tad over half his age, he made a statement that I myself relate to when I’m around people much younger than myself.

One of the surprising symptoms of getting to be 60 is that I now can’t tell how old anyone under the age of 40 is; you all look 16. And don’t believe the beauty page gush that you are in fact only as old as you feel. It’s a nonsense, based on the assumption that ageing is primarily a physical process. It isn’t, it’s a maturing one. It’s not a feeling, it’s an experience. You are as old as you can remember.

- Life At 60, The Sunday Times 

Ageing is a maturing process.  There are certain lessons life simply teaches people as they get older, though some learn a lot more than others.  I want to write down what it means to be mature.  What sort of processes go on in a person?

The best way to tackle this would be to give a vague overview of the human mind and what motivates a person to do the things they do.  Once we accomplish that, it’s not too hard to give a person the direction and general character of maturation.

We human beings all have these inner compulsions, drives, and desires which compel us to do the things we do.  There is a sort of hierarchy to these drives, and that’s what I want to first discuss.

There are higher and lower drives, and as each lower drive is satisfied, “higher” drives begin to manifest themselves.  Each “higher” drive is more quiet than lower drives beneath it, so unless you satisfy the lower drives, or learn practices that quiet the mind and allow you to experience the higher drives, you simply will not hear them.  Also, higher drives are more complicated than the lower drives beneath them, and they also connect you more to the universe outside and beyond yourself.  Each higher drive is harder to satisfy and even understand, and if you study people, very few people ever go beyond the first tier or two within this hierarchy of inner drives.

The most primary drive is for food, shelter, and safety.  It’s a survival instinct.  It’s by far the strongest inner drive within human beings, but once it’s satiated, it quiets down and weaker drives begin to manifest themselves.  In the modern world we don’t really think much about these things because very few of us struggle to find food, stay warm, or evade predators.  It’s quite an accomplishment for our civilization.  But if you were placed on a deserted island, you’d soon find your thoughts consumed with survival and safety.  Other “higher” desires and thoughts would be pushed aside.

If you manage to secure food, shelter, and safety, your mind will start to seek out relationships and associations with other people.  You will seek out a place where you belong, where you’re accepted, where you’re part of the group.  Desires for love and being loved will start to manifest.  Along with this there will be worries of whether or not you’re worthy of love.  You’ll worry whether you’re able to contribute to this group you belong to (or trying to find), and you’ll want to be as self-reliant as possible.  You’ll desire respect, crave self-esteem, and try to find a place where you believe and trust in yourself.

If you’re able to find some group of people to plug yourself into, you’re going to desire a feeling of ability.  You’re going to want to be competent and even excellent at the thing you do, whatever that is.   You’ll want to be strong, to excel, and maybe even be a leader in your field and area of life.

Very few people ever move beyond this stage.  I may have met a few people who have moved past the stages mentioned, but they are rare.  That’s not to say each “higher” drive is better.  I’m just saying they’re quieter, and also, higher drives are far more capable of satisfying a person.

If you quiet your mind, or you’re able to satisfy the desires to belong, to be loved, to play a part in society, etc., the mind start to undergo various changes.

For one, a new curiosity will develop.  It will start asking questions about the universe itself.  All sorts of things.  What is this universe?  What is time?  Has the universe always been here or will it one day end?  Was there a creator?  It’s part of the mind’s quest for greater connection and understanding.  You’ll also begin to question everyday experience and just feel how weird and strange it all is.  All of this will feel very childlike and interesting.  It’s a fun, pleasant experience.

Along with this new curiosity will arise a sense of beauty, symmetry, and thoughts on perfection.  There’s an increase in your perception of connections between things and events.  A sense of values and ethics becomes very important because you crave beauty and for things to be done “right”.

The more you quiet the mind, the more capable you are of quiet joys, calm serenity, and an enjoyment of small things.  That’s because they’re no longer small or simple to you.  You see and feel more from everyday experience.  And because these things are satisfying you more, you need less from other people.  You can also endure greater hardship and isolation because of this satisfaction.

You become more capable of discovering truth.  Since you’re more satisfied with existence, you’re less prone to project your wishes onto it.  You can see things and people as they really are.  Your thinking becomes clearer.  Your intuition becomes better.  Increasing feelings of connectedness lead to mystical experiences.  A greater appreciation for art, poetry, music, wisdom, and science starts to take place.  You take more pleasure in things that are complex.  Your worldview, personal philosophy, and religion becomes more inclusive, less narrow, and further reaching.

You feel more and more comfortable being you, and irrational fears begin to leave you.  You become more open to new experiences, for the novel, for things that are unfamiliar.   You’re less afraid to fail.

Those feelings of connection make you think about other people a lot.  Empathy is enhanced.  You become more friendly and thoughtful.  You desire democracy and respect for all human beings.  It may go further, even for animals too.  You think about children and future generations, and desire to leave a better world behind for them.

You become the opposite of being petty.  You have a sort of “bigness”.   As they say, you don’t sweat the small stuff.  There’s an increased tolerance of people who are different than you, who have different beliefs than you hold.  Old prejudices leave you.  There’s an increased feeling of brotherhood and a realization and knowledge that you’re all in it together.  That’s not to say you don’t stand for things.  You just are “bigger”.  Black and white thinking is replaced with complex, nuanced thinking.

There’s a sympathy and passion for the rights of minorities and those who are oppressed.  You become a better citizen, a better neighbor, a better parent.   There is a hopefulness toward the future.

You become more relaxed.  More honest.  More genuine and straightforward.  You’re not fake or putting airs anymore.  You express yourself as you are.   There are less feelings of shame and you are more welcoming of other people’s love.  You’re less prone to self-destructive behavior and instead have strength within you to serve, protect, and help others.

I guess that will serve to give a general idea of higher and lower drives.  So how does this relate to maturity?  Let’s begin by discussing younger people.  For concrete examples, I’ll simply discuss the young women I met at my university who I went out on dates with.

They had no idea who they were, what they stood for, what they were about, or what they wanted to do with themselves.  I saw very little indication that there was direction or purpose.  They had superficial relationships with all sorts of people, but no true bonds with anyone.  They were very fake, hiding their real feelings, putting on a sort of show.  “I’m interesting, I’m fun.  Look at me.”  They were caught up in a lot of self-destructive behaviors, such as their drinking games.  I would sit and talk with them for hours and got no sense that they were aware of the those quieter, subtler, higher drives within their mind.  They were almost entirely consumed with petty things, such as their phones and other things that don’t really matter.  They were completely self-absorbed.  As I mentioned, many of them never even thought to ask about the man sitting across from them.  They were so preoccupied with random noise within their own mind, they couldn’t even see anything around them.

Those are some of the things you see in immature people.  It’s hard to pin down precisely what that means, but in general, they have a very low awareness of this hierarchy within the mind, and they live on the bottom-most rungs. They have a long way to go before actualizing their full human potential.

Don’t think I’m looking down on these women.  I’m not.  These are difficult problems.  It’s difficult to find a place in the world, to feel fulfilled, to find a real purpose for your life.  It can be difficult to find people you relate to and to understand yourself.  To really believe in something is the hardest, especially when you think about this world and our place in it.  All of this is a long process.  Since older folks have had more time, they’re normally further along.

In my own life, I know how to bring peace to my mind, and I’ve tasted the joys of the higher drives.  There’s nothing like them.  But in many ways, I’ve never fully finished with the earlier rung of finding a place I belong, and I get strong feelings of being lonely.  It’s sort of like hunger or thirst.  If it’s not continually satisfied in some way, it pops its head back up, and if you entertain it and let it continue in your mind, it’ll just consume you.  That happens to me.  They’re very strong feelings and they’re in us because we humans are weak creatures.  Our only strength lies in working together with others.  Those feelings are there to impel you to join up with others and work together.  I’ve never done that, and because I haven’t, that part of my mind can be very loud and drown out everything else.

I remember reading about mystics long ago who tasted the joys of these higher drives, and as they’d sit to meditate, they’d have this moment of serenity, but soon afterwards they’d have strong recurrent desires and thoughts surface which they could never shake off.  Their minds would just wander and they’d find themselves daydreaming about squeezing a young woman’s breast, and other sexual fantasies.  It’s not like you can ever shut off any of the lower drives.  If you don’t eat, your brain will be screaming at you, “Eat something!”  It’s painful for anyone to be rejected by society or live in isolation.  We’re social animals.

I know who I am, but honestly, I’m not really in an environment where I could really thrive.  I belong elsewhere, but I get conflicts because I’d miss my family, who I love.  One of the biggest factors leading to neurosis is when you have different deeply seated inner drives conflicting with one another, and there’s nothing you can do to satisfy them both.  You choose one at the expense of the other, but the other never goes away.

In me, I have all kinds of skills.  I’m competent in many different areas.  I have drives saying, “Use those skills and do things for the world.”  But that conflicts with other parts of me which doesn’t want to leave my family behind.  I’d miss them so much.  Every time I research where all the projects I’d want to be involved in are located, I’d have to go off to Tennessee, or California, or someplace else.  But the longer I’ve stayed here where I am, the more life seems to be prodding me saying, “It’s time to go.”

Realistically, I know myself too well.  I’d love my work and probably the people I work with on the project.  That’s fine and good.  A home life is going to be my problem.  If I work a research job, I’ll probably be alone a lot.  Then I’d come home and be alone even more.  I have a vivid imagination and can see it.  I pull up, it’s dark, I come inside, flip on the lights then move around in total silence, hearing each footstep and the hum of the refrigerator.  Eck.  Then I think, “What now?  I’ve been reading, studying and working all day.  Now what?  Read more?”  Then I sit down somewhere.  I don’t know what I’d think about.  Maybe work.  Would I que up Netflix and watch documentaries or some television series?  Play video games?

That’s not a good picture.  It lacks any connection to community or a love life.  I like beautiful things, not diversions.  I really need to get married or something.  She doesn’t have to be like me at all.  There just has to be a genuine interest, love, and respect for one another.  There has to also be a real connection.  Someone you can really talk to, discuss things and understand one another.  The rest would work itself out.  If I had that, I think I could relocate somewhere else in the world and be alright.  Maybe I could without it.  Hard to say.  I really don’t know.  I’ve sought that out, but as I’ve mentioned, so far it hasn’t worked out.  But most people will tell you that dating is a trying experience.

I have some sense of purpose.  I want to work with a team of scientists on some important technology or area of research which moves our technology and understanding forward in some interesting way.  My interests are really wide, and there are a lot of different things I’d love to work on.  I’d best like to do that with computer modeling and theoretical mathematics, but just to be involved in something I really believe in is what matters.  I still have some formal schooling left though, so I have to attend to that first.  I’m nearing the end of that tunnel though.

Before ending this, I should say that this maturity and growth process never ends.  As I said, all the higher drives only get more complicated to satisfy and understand.  Most people find a lover.  That can be quite an accomplishment.  But then you move on to finding some meaningful purpose within society, finding a place within a large social structure.  Think of all the ways people can work together and be together.  That’s really messy.  But, then you move on to understanding the universe and your place in it with all other life-forms.  The tree of life.  You understand that, and then think of the entirety of space and time, the evolution of the cosmos, and all that’s out there.

You’re never done.  It never ends.  There’s always more and that’s a good thing.

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Topics: Personal | 2 Comments »

Disillusionment and Loneliness

July 7, 2014

Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve found myself thinking that it’d be a good thing to let people into my life more, so, you’ve probably seen me writing about relationships with people a lot.  In a small way, I’ve sort of stepped out to connect, talk, and just get to know the people I’ve been meeting.  For a long time, I showed no interest in getting to know anybody, so maybe it’s a small improvement.  Some are students I’ve met at the university, others are women I’ve met by various means.  I’d like to share a little about the loneliness I experience, and my attempts to overcome it and have more of a social life.

It’s extremely difficult for me.  Surprisingly, I make friends easily.  I’m on good terms with pretty much everyone I meet.  Nobody dislikes me.  If I’d rate where I think I stand in their eyes, most would either be neutral toward me, or slightly positive.  That’s not really my problem.  The thing is, I don’t connect and relate to the people I meet.  None of it ever feels right.  When I reach out, that feeling of “this isn’t it” becomes even more apparent than it used to, and I can see why I sort of burrowed into my own world years ago.  I sort of just gave up on relating or enjoying other people’s company.  I’ll try to paint a picture of the sort of loneliness I experience.

I’ll go to get my haircut and there will be all these men in the barber shop.  Sometimes they’ll all get to talking politics and I won’t agree with anything they’re saying.  They’ll discuss their right to pack guns everywhere they go, how the poor and immigrants are responsible for the U.S.’s current fiscal mess, their disdain for universal healthcare, and those sorts of things.  The worst part of it is, their “opinions” are just regurgitated talking points from political pundits and television news.

I’ll visit with my family and they’ll tell me, “Jason, you need to get out more.  Come to our church picnic.”  After a lot of hesitation, I decided to go to one.  So I made it to the park, pulled up to their pavillion, and right as I got there, a man came up to me and said, “Can I ask you a few things?”  “Sure.”  Then he pulls me aside and asked me if I believed in the devil.  I said, “No.  I don’t think the devil exists.”  Then he looked at me with pity, “You know, the greatest lie ever told was that the devil doesn’t exist.  He’s out there and he’s deceiving you.”  That’s the basic gist of how I was treated and the general tone of the conversation with people there.  It’s not, “Hey Jason, it’s so good to see you!  How you been?”  I’m just the heathen, backslidden child who has lost God, and they all just look at me with pity.  Not much of a good time.

It’s painful for me to endure that.  A lot of the church members were people I grew up with.  I can remember being with all of them when they were younger, playing football and basketball together.  We played video games together.  We were all family then.  My entire childhood revolved around those people and that church, considering I was the pastor’s son.  Now it’s like I have this mark on my head, almost like a contagious disease.  Many of them are so steeped in religion that they fail to realize that I’m the exact same person I was then, and that the same love I had for all of them as a child is still there.  I have so many memories. I can remember crashing the arcade, rollerblading, paintballing together, and everything else.  Considering the memories and good times we had all shared together, it’s painful to think that now, just because my beliefs are a little different than they were, it’s all gone.  I’m just sort of cut-off and forgotten.

At the end of my late teens, the whole social world I had been a part of as a teenager, with the church and all that, all that came to an end.  I couldn’t believe in any of it anymore, so I stopped going.  Then I graduated high school and all my friends moved off.  So what did I do?  Like most lonely people, I was totally absorbed in my work, and it wasn’t work I was particularly enjoying.

I was hoping to become very wealthy so I could pursue things I was much more interested in, but I saw that in order to achieve the success I was after, it would consume my entire life.  My whole life would be business meetings discussing software projects, and I’d have a lot of long hours, alone, writing all the code for these large projects.  And for years, that’s exactly what I did.  Twelve hours a day, sitting in front of a glowing screen, writing all kinds of code for different companies.

I was making good money and I could have easily gone on like that.  But one day I was sitting there in front of this glowing screen, and I started thinking about my goals at the time.  I had them all written down in this notebook, and it was all so lonely and empty.  My biggest dream was to buy a log cabin out in the middle of nowhere, next to a lake, and own all the land for as far as I could see.  I didn’t want anyone around me.  I wanted total isolation and no contact with anyone.

Then I got to thinking to myself, “When did I become this way?”  Even if I achieved that kind of goal, what kind of life was that?  I just went for long walks by myself thinking, “What am I even doing?”

After that realization, I just sort of quit it all, cold turkey.  I very quickly cut off all my relations to that world, and I took what money I had saved up and spent years reading books.  I went back to the roots of what I was interested in as a teenager.  Philosophy, science, history, and all sorts of things.  I wasn’t going to wait until I was old and tired before I pursued the things I’d always wanted to do.

And while I learned a great deal, this new life wasn’t really a very social either.  Most of it was once again, me alone in a room, but instead of staring at a glowing screen, I was staring at these books.  I read a lot of books.  All I did was think.  Think think think.  Study this.  Read this.  Think about this.  Long walks, thinking, thinking, thinking.

Then I thought, “I should do this sort of thing for a living.  I should research the nature of space and time.  Physics would probably be best.  I’ll be around other smart people, we’ll talk, discuss ideas, and it won’t be so lonely.”  So, I enrolled to attend a university.

I had a very romanticized view of the university.  There were going to be these groups of students, sitting in open grassy knolls, discussing politics, science, and philosophy.  I was going to meet these other intelligent minds and we were all going to go for long walks and discuss our ideas, help each other grow, and become lifelong friends.  There would be intelligent women, and we’d also go for walks, and we’d discuss our lives, our interests, and our research.  We’d recommend books to one another, fall in love, and have all kinds of sex.  We’d save up money and travel together.  She’d hop on the back of my motorcycle and we’d go visit beautiful places.  And on and on.  I had some beautiful plans.

Reality quickly set in though.  I don’t want to be spiteful or mean, but I became disillusioned very quickly.  I was surrounded by immature kids, ten years younger than me, and none of them wanted to be there.  Most of them just wanted to play Xbox and Playstation and barely put any work into their studies.  As for the women, they were immature, boring, and even worse, had no life in them at all.

I figured I’d make the most of it, so I went on some dates.  On one date, we were sitting there talking, for hours.  Five or six hours – a rather long time to sit and talk with someone.  And we talked, a lot.  Within that time, I got to know all kinds of things about her.  I learned all about her career aspirations, things she’s into, food, music, and everything else.  And you want to know something else?  She never asked a single thing about me.  It was totally one-sided.

University aged women I’ve met tend to talk about drinking games, movies, random things that happen which they find amusing, funny Youtube videos, Facebook, and their phone.  They love their phones.

I was sitting with this attractive woman as she talked about her phone for an hour and a half.  Suffice to say, it’s difficult to feign interest for that long.  She had one phone that she had left in a taxi cab.  Another phone she dropped in her toilet while fixing her hair.  Her father bought her first phone but wasn’t going to buy her another one, so she had to get a job.  So she saved her money and bought her new iPhone and wasn’t going to make that same mistake again.  She got an insurance policy on it.  Then she informed me about each and every policy available, in detail.  Blah blah blah.  Every ten minutes or so, she’d get a text from someone and she’d say, “Oh, one sec.”  Then you’d see her working her thumbs, mashing on this little screen.  We were interrupted probably ten times within that hour and a half.

I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to experience any of the things I had wanted.  Very few of the students had enough interest in their studies to even do their homework, much less spend their free time further discussing it.

In fact, I sometimes tutored girls who would ask me to help them.  Never guys, but I’d tutor cute girls  :)  I can remember tutoring one girl in the library.  She was so pretty.  I was sitting right next to her and she’d look up from the paper, asking me if she did it right, and for a brief moment we’d be making eye contact.  She was probably 20?  21?  The physics was so easy to me, but I was easily distracted.  I tend to space out, and as these girls would work problems, I’d just glance over at them and think, “My gosh.  So beautiful.”  Then they’d start talking.  “I hated Calculus.  I can’t stand it.  I can never remember any of it.”  Then I’d gently smile, “That’s ok.  I’ll help you through it.”  Then we were doing a physics problem involving work and the conservation of energy.  She was so frustrated.  “I hate all of this.” Strange thing is, I was having a great time.  It’s a bit painful hearing someone say how much they hate the things you’re most passionate about.

I had always imagined sitting with a beautiful woman like that, she’s new to physics, and I spend an hour or two talking about how I became interested in the nature of truth, what can be known, the nature of space, time, and reality, and how interesting it’s all became, especially the further I’ve explored the topic.   In reality, I sit beside the beautiful woman, she hates math and physics, has no interest in it whatsoever, and as she tells me how much she hates it, it feels like a strange time to tell her about how passionate I am about it, how I got interested in it all, and what it all means to me.  It’s a very lonely experience.

I’ve had that experience happen in my life too many times to mention.  I can remember in high school, I was a jock on the basketball team, and I was with this beautiful woman in the hallway.  She asked me what I was going to do once I got out of school and I told her I was interested in computer programming.  I thought computers were neat and would like to learn even more about them.  She gave me this what-in-the-world look I’ll never forget and said, “Why would you want to do that?”  I was too embarrassed to even reply.

Another woman I met at the university treated me strangely.  She would randomly throw numbers at me and ask me to add them, multiply them, divide them, and so on, all in my head.  I would and she’d just laugh and laugh.  I didn’t know if she was just being playful at first, but she was actually mocking me.  She told me I was a machine and then laughed.  You know, she was the liberal, artistic type.  She danced, and sung, and was in touch with her emotions, unlike us mechanical, droll physicists.  I’d never felt angry toward anyone on campus before, but her, I was rather furious.  I was going to say some mean things back to her, but I kept my cool and said nothing.

I realized that the sort of magic I was wanting, the group of friends which discussed important ideas, the fun, all of that, it was never going to happen.  Like many things, it was all a fantasy in my mind.

The only good part of the university experience for me has been meeting and talking with the professors, who are great people, smart, knowledgeable, and very thoughtful.  My experience with them has been that they’re very busy and not really in the mood to spend hours discussing difficult things with students.  They’ll help you with your homework, and if you ask deep questions beyond homework problems, they’re glad to contribute, but you can’t just come into their office and say, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this or that.  What do you think?”  They’ll avoid you.

I’m starting to hit that age where I no longer care.  I feel myself getting older.  Time is passing and there are things that truly interest me.  I wonder why the stars shine, what the world is made of, how the mind works, what space and time are, the economy, how to build a better world, social and political issues, and a whole slew of other things.  I have things I want to do and things I want to understand.

The sorts of people I’ve been describing are not really worth my time.  I’m not going to try to get the pretty girl to appreciate physics.  The artistic dancer can keep her narrow world-view and tell herself that her dancing and art is the only thing in life worth having, not unlike a religious fundamentalist.  The religious folks can shun me if they want to.  People can say I’m a machine.  They can run me down for thinking it’s possible to infuse intelligence into our machines and build beautiful technology like Google and smart-phones.  Whatever, I really don’t care anymore.

It’s coming a point to where if my relationship with you doesn’t bring me closer to the universe, if it doesn’t draw out curiosity, wonder, and awe for this existence, if it doesn’t help me grow, develop, or become a better person, I need to be spending my time elsewhere.

When I was recently employed to work in this lab to do research, I had this picture of meeting with this group of fellow scientists, all of us focused on solving important problems, sharing ideas, hanging out, and working together.  I found myself in a place I’ve been before.  I look around me and I’m alone in this basement, tediously calibrating equipment, mixing chemicals, and writing computer programs to analyze and take data.  I was down there, listening to the hum of vacuum pumps and thought, “I’ve been here before.  I know this place.”   I stepped outside into the July heat, leaned against the physics building, and stared off at the clouds.  “It’s not here either.  I wonder if it even exists?”

I’m probably a very lonely person.  Whether I’d know what it’s like not to be lonely, I don’t know.

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Topics: Personal, Psychology | 18 Comments »

John Oliver Explains Net Neutrality

June 2, 2014

Pay close attention to what Comcast did to Netflix and how internet service providers within the United States operate just like drug cartels.

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Topics: Politics | 1 Comment »

Young Woman Murdered By Religious Fundamentalists

May 29, 2014

I’m really tired of religious fundamentalism.  Whether it’s here in the United States, over in the Middle East, or wherever.  I was just watching the Young Turks cover a story of a young woman in Pakistan being stoned to death in broad daylight in front of a courthouse.  And what was her crime?  She didn’t want to marry the man her father selected for her, so she went with the one she loved to the courthouse and they got a marriage license.  When they exited the building, she was stoned the death by her own father and family members.  The father then stood proudly over the young woman’s dead body and told onlookers that he had no regret.

Other than religion, what else can warp a person’s mind like that?  He was so demented by his faith, he lost all natural affection for his own daughter.  If that’s not evil, I don’t know what is.

This isn’t rare in the Middle East.  Just last year there were almost a thousand instances of this.  We don’t hear about it, but if you lived over there you’d hear about it happening three or four times a day.  Every now and then you’d go to town and see it happening in the streets.  Can you imagine going to get groceries and a man is pounding his daughter’s bloody face with a big rock because she loved someone he didn’t approve of?

Religious folks may tell you that their religion isn’t violent, but history tells otherwise.  Just read about torture methods used during the Catholic Inquisition throughout the Middle Ages.  Anyone who proposed new ideas or challenged their teachings was burned alive, boiled in oil, impaled, crushed, or maimed.  I was actually watching a documentary about the torture devices and just the illustrations were so graphic, I had to stop watching it half-way. I couldn’t take it.  I almost vomited all over my keyboard.

For example, one common way to torture a religious heretic was to place a heated box over a person’s mid-section.  Hot coals were placed on top of the box and a rat was placed inside.  Feeling the box heat up, the rat would desperately want out.  It’d begin by clawing at the box walls, but realizing it can’t escape, it would begin to slowly knaw through the person’s intestines, eating its way out through the person’s body.  This would take several hours.  Can you imagine?

Other people were tied to wheels and each joint in the arms and legs were broken.  They were then hung there in the middle of the street, spinning on this wheel out in the heat and people would come by and pelt them with rocks, spit on them, and kick them in the nose.

That’s what it was like just a few hundred years ago all over the world.  You question the government or the state religion and you’d end up like that.  So this treatment is not unique or new.  There are still countless people living with beliefs from the dark ages and it’s scary.

I’ve always wondered what degree religion plays in the hatred of gays.  Is it our ingrained fear of people who are different, or is it religion? I live in the heart of the Bible belt and one day I went for a walk with my older brother.  A bunch of rednecks in a big truck pulled up beside us and started yelling slurs and spitting at us before driving off.  “Fucking queers!”  “Fags!”  “Dick sucking faggots!”  We’re not even gay, but that sort of stuff goes on.  Thankfully nothing else happened.

In the end, what you believe in, what you worship, and what you do in your spare time is your business.  I couldn’t care less about any of it.  My problem is with all the hatred, the violence, the intolerance, the anti-science, the breaking up of homes and families, and on and on.

I saw a struggling Youtuber vlogging about how her religious parents kicked her out of her home because they found out she’s a lesbian.  She bums around from house to house, trying to survive.  Her parents want nothing to do with her.  Whenever she shares the story, she starts crying in front of the camera and I don’t believe she’s faking any of it.

I saw a similar story of a young man who refused to go to church because he didn’t believe in religion. At first they cut off his internet access.  That’s because his son created a vlog arguing for a woman’s right to choose.  It bothered the father’s conscience that the internet he was paying for was being used to promote views like that.   Later on the young man got older and he was kicked out.

Children who grow up in religious homes have very little freedom of thought.  They have to hide books they’re reading and keep their thoughts to themselves.  If they blog or have a Youtube channel, it’s important that their parents not see the content.  Many religious parents can’t handle the idea that their son or daughter is gay, or that they’re an atheist, or even that they hold liberal political views.  There are scriptures such as the the passage from Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”, and strict religious parents use that to enforce conformity on their children.  If they’re really strict, you’re likely to be beaten with a belt if you even question the beliefs. More likely, you’ll have to endure being preached to about God and the Bible, and that is unbearable.  Who wants to live in a home where that kind of drama takes place day after day? I’ve went through that and believe me, you learn to keep quiet.

As I got older, I only once shared a little of my views at the dinner table.  I got awful looks and my grandpa started preaching at me for an hour, telling me I was going to hell.  “How could you look at this universe and not believe in God?  You’re a fool!”  I just sat there and had to endure it.  I couldn’t get a word in.  It was a non-stop barrage of scriptures and, “How can you think that?”  Needless to say, I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere where you could have discussions or debate ideas.

Enough religion for tonight.  I’m going back to my physics studies.  This stuff depresses me too much.

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Having Faith In Things

May 28, 2014

In my last post, I mentioned that it’s important to have faith.  What sort of faith was I talking about?  I probably should explain.

There’s a lot of different ways I use the word “faith”.  The word has negative connotations these days due to its use by religious fanatics.  They use it to mean a blind commitment to things even when there’s no evidence or reasons to believe in those things.  That sort of faith is bad and it’s not what I mean.  I’m moreso thinking of a faith in yourself, a faith in others, and a certain type of confidence in the world.

I got to thinking about all of this as I was watching the video below on Youtube.  In it, Bertrand Russell explains what a philosopher is.  He points out that there’s many important questions which interest, and should interest mankind, but many are not yet amenable to scientific methods and inquiry.

To Bertrand Russell as well as myself, philosophy is informed speculation about matters which science hasn’t yet figured out.  Ideally, you go to the cutting edge of what’s known, study and become aware of all the facts, and then do your best to formulate questions which may or may not be answerable at the present time.

For example, the Greeks speculated that the world may be made of atoms.  They had no way of confirming this, but they went ahead and thought about the problem anyway.  Nowadays we have the means to confirm that the world is indeed made of atoms, but back then it was all speculation.  It’s important to speculate like that.  We must form questions, search for answers, and think, “If this is true, what would that mean?”  You clarify the question and think of ways in which it might be tested and confirmed.

I often speculate about consciousness and its relationship to the brain.  There are many confirmed facts which we know from neuroscience, but there are also many other questions which we don’t even know how to approach at present.  I’m willing to step out, speculate, and try to clarify the questions even if I have no idea how they might be answered.

I also like to speculate about the nature of space and time.  There are many areas of physics, especially cosmology, at the cutting edge which introduce mathematical theories to explain the universe but are not yet able to be confirmed.  For example, we may not be able to build particle accelerators with high enough energies to actually test the theories we’re working on, but it’s still important to think about and explore these areas.

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It’s important to have faith that other people, and even animals, are conscious.  It’s possible to believe that all other people around you are just automatons, zombies, just mindless machines with no inner subjective feelings of pain, joy, or other emotions.  There’s no way of knowing whether other people are conscious or not, but you become a rather nasty, self-centered person when you think everything revolves you and you only.  Morality and a civil society involves empathy, love, and concern for one another.  But if everyone around you is just a machine, similar to NPCs in a video game, then what does it matter what you do to them, say to them, or think of them?

Russell makes a very important point in this video.  It’s important to have vigor and passion for things, even if there’s no way to obtain absolute certainty in anything.  This isn’t the same dogmatic vigor of a religious fundamentalist.  It’s quite different.  You have to passionately pursue things even when you’re filled with doubt and uncertainty.  It requires courage because you’re not certain what the result will be.  This is best illustrated with examples.

Take love and relationships.  It’s important to love people.  To love others requires faith and trust in them.  If you’ve been hurt in past relationships, you can’t let that stop you from trying again.  That doesn’t mean you give up everything that you’ve learned from past experiences, but you’ll never know for sure how well things are going to turn out in the future.  There’s always uncertainty.  You have to be willing to get out there and do it again.

If possible, a person should be passionate about their work, even if you’re uncertain how things may turn out in the end.  With someone like me, there’s always a worry that your scientific research may end up being used in weapon systems.  For example, your research in genetics could end up being used to further bio-weapons.  That sort of thing happens.  But just because there’s a possibility the technology may be used in the wrong way, should all scientists quit their work and research, halting human progress?

Maybe you’re working on artificial intelligence and worry that the military is going to use it to create terminator robots which will eventually wipe out humanity.  Do we stop working on making smart phones and other forms of artificial intelligence?  You have to have faith that people will do the right thing with the technology.

Too much doubt will paralyze you.  You may lack confidence in yourself, or as is just as often the case, other people.  Don’t let cynicism cripple and enslave you.  It will leave you in a cage that you were never meant to live in.  Fear starts getting inside, and before you know it your life is boring and empty.

Faith doesn’t know the answer.  You don’t know how you’ll get there but you just somehow, deep down, believe that you’re going to find a way to make it.  It’s not a straight-line process.  There’s lots of dead-ends, failures, and wrong-headed approaches, but you keep at it.

path-to-success

A lack of faith is to try something a few times, fail, and then just throw your hands in the air and make excuses, complain, and give up.  Once that inner spark goes out, that inner belief that the world has new things for you, that confidence that you can achieve something new, once that flame goes out in you, you’re dead inside.  The world around you will slowly rot, and unless you get up and move, you’ll die with it.

That’s my main complaint against our school system.  Kids get this idea that they have to do everything right the first time.  All homework and test grades are based on doing everything correctly on the first go.  There is no re-takes, re-dos, and everything is recorded on a permanent transcript.  It’s a TERRIBLE thing to do to people.  It makes them afraid to deviate from the established path or try anything on their own.  And since they never gain any experience going through this process, they live their whole life thinking they have to do everything right on the first go.  You don’t.  That’s not how it works.  It’s perfectly normal to feel lost, to feel in over your head, and to have no idea what you’re doing.  That’s part of any creative process.

If you study the history of all scientific advances, there were people going in every which direction, trying all sorts of things, and then finally someone stumbles onto the right path.  They share their research, and then people start this process anew.

That’s why it’s important to have faith when it comes to knowledge as well.  You can never be completely certain if you’re right or wrong, but don’t let that stop you from sharing what you’ve learned.  If you have a blog, write about things which are on your mind.  You’re sure to write some very stupid posts, but the only people who are going to judge you are those who have never went through any sort of creative learning process of their own.  By necessity, any time you think about something which is new to you, you’re going to have lots of wrong ideas.  You’ll be confused and wrong about many things.  However, writing your ideas down either on paper or on the computer screen will clarify your thoughts and leave a record of your development.  That will also help you teach other people in the future.

Many of us also come from varied backgrounds.  I came from a very religious household and I have had to spend a lot of time sifting through what I do and do not believe in anymore.  In the past, I was always too busy working to think much about it all.  But as I had more free time to read books and just think about it all, I’ve changed a lot.  You’re sure to change as well.

Growing older, you learn a lot of things.  You come to learn that you don’t know as much as you once thought you knew and that knowledge is difficult to obtain.  Wiser people tend to lose confidence over time because they realize the complexity of all the issues.  Black and white thinking tends to turn gray and very few people are motivated to get on the soap box and preach beliefs they are not entirely certain about themselves.  The problem is that stupid people lack this subtle understanding of the issues.  Combine a badly informed person with a lot of confidence and you have a disaster.  Just turn on your television or listen to talk radio.  You may not be 100% certain that you’re right about different political issues, or scientific questions, or the nature of reality, but chances are that if you’ve read books and looked into the issues, you’re way more informed than most people who get their information from hate spewing political pundits, propagandists, and other ilk.  It’s important to share what you think.  I don’t recommend talking about issues you’ve never thought about or studied, but if you’re halfway informed, go out there and discuss the issue with people.  Share your ideas and remember that “success” picture I shared earlier.  Look at that squiggly line.  That’s how your ideas develop as well.

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There’s a balance in everything.  Avoid extremes.  Don’t be dogmatic and close-minded, but on the other hand, don’t be so full of doubt that you’re completely paralyzed and never do anything.  To some extent, you have to always venture out into the unknown, into a world you’re uncomfortable with.  That’s when you’re making progress and growing.  That’s the sort of faith I’m talking about.

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