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The Search For Truth

May 14, 2010

This entry is for Tim, though you all can read it as well.  🙂

The other day I promised to make some comments related to truth, after reading a discussion you had on a forum.  Instead of discussing that nature of truth however, I want to talk about the search for truth.

If you set out to find the truth be aware of one thing — you’re not going to like what you find.  In fact, I think it will make you very depressed.  Mark Twain was considered a genius, and when he began to sum up his findings in quotations what did he have to say?

“Be good and you will be lonesome.”

“Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”

“No sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a fearful thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those.”

“Both marriage and death ought to be welcome: the one promises happiness, doubtless the other assures it.”

— Various quotations of Mark Twain

I know you’re a big fan of H.G. Wells.  He has many quotes along the same lines:

“Heresies are experiments in man’s unsatisfied search for truth.”

“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”

“Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him.”

“Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.”

“Nothing leads so straight to futility as literary ambitions without systematic knowledge.”

“The path of least resistance is the path of the loser.”

“The path of social advancement is, and must be, strewn with broken friendships.”

— Various quotations of H.G. Wells

I could go on and on quoting various great thinkers, and you’ll be amazed to find common threads of thought among them all.  Most of them share a common pessimism.

But to me, the search for truth embodies something vary noble, even with all the suffering you have to face.   I went on that quest some years ago.  What have I found out so far?   Where to even start…

I was raised in a Christian home and taught all kinds of warm fuzzy things.  God loved me and was watching over me.  This wonderful Father in heaven had built me a mansion made of gold and diamonds and when I died I’d reunite with all my past loved ones there for eternity.  The wicked will all be judged and punished for all their evil doings on Earth.

God himself, the creator of everything, had his attention almost solely focused around the affairs of mankind.  Everything we did mattered.  Our history was a set of trials and tests to determine who God would appoint and reward governance of the entire universe.

Little Jason had a mission to combat the devil and the evil enemies that went against mankind.  I could cure diseases if I only had faith and believed God.  I could perform miracles even greater than those done by Jesus in the Bible.

My head was in the clouds and I admit I was a much happier and nicer person than I am today.   But I began to have all sorts of questions — questions that weren’t being answered.

If the Earth was only a few thousand years old, then what were the dinosaur bones, and how could they be millions of years old?  Why would God create mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers?   If mankind all came from Adam and Eve, and say they were both white, how did we ever end up with different races?  Not to be racist or anything, but I’ve never seen two white parents have a black baby.

What could possibly be God’s purpose in earthquakes, tornadoes, and tsunamis?  Why did the wicked in the world seem to prosper?  Why would Jesus being nailed to a cross forgive sins?  Why was God so bent up against certain sins which seemed to do no harm to anyone?  How could the God of the Old Testament advocate war and violence, then Jesus, the physical embodiment of the same deity, advocate pacifism and love?

Many years later studying science, philosophy, and just in general thinking about life led me to realize that I had believed nonsense my entire life.  Just complete and utter bullshit.   My mind had to do a complete 360.  I was very pissed off.  I was mad at my parents and everyone I knew who told me all that crap.

I was mad thinking about a conversation I had with one of my friends many many years ago.  I remember going on and on about the devil, and God, and how Jesus would save our souls… My friend, who knew it was all garbage even then must’ve thought to himself, “Jason, how can you believe all that?”  But he was too nice to say that to me.  To be honest, thinking about it is really embarrassing.

The truth you find is kind of like what Neo found out when Morpheus gave him that little pill in the movie The Matrix.  Morpheus only offered the truth, nothing more.  Neo took the pill and we all saw what happened.  The world he lived in was a complete illusion and reality was nothing like what he thought it was.

When Neo became self-aware, woke up in that weird vat of liquid, tubes all over his body, and then found himself flushing down some sort of drain like structure, only to wake up in poverty and misery onboard Morpheus’ ship, cold, eating slimy slop, that about explains my experience as well.

There was that one character, I forget his name, who talked about going back to the Matrix.  He wanted the agents to plug him back in and erase his memory.  “The matrix is more real than this place!”  But somehow, once you learn the truths of this world, you really can’t go back, even if they make you miserable knowing them.

So what have I learned?  Well, I can’t quickly go over such a huge list of things I’ve learned, but I’ll try to make some highlights:

First off the economic system.  Business and money were my first things to study as I’ve been living as an entrepreneur ever since I graduated high school, and you pretty much have to understand money in order to make it out there.  What did I learn?

The system is rigged.  A lot of people guess that it’s rigged but don’t know the mechanisms.  I spent years and years pillaging through huge economics texts, reading and reading.  Then I applied that knowledge and man oh man.  I still can’t believe what I see.

One Christmas eve I was with my cousin and we were talking at the kitchen table.  He said, “I bet there’s so much corruption in Washington we wouldn’t believe it if we saw it.”  He’s exactly right, and the more you learn the more horrified you become.  It’s WORSE than you thought.  Worse than you ever could have thought.  It takes brilliant criminal minds to come up with these schemes.

And the propaganda they use is so good that even when people think they’re fighting against the system, enacting reforms, most of the time they’re just putting on more and more chains.

To make matters worse, if you DO start to criticize it, and DO try to tell people about it, you look like the BAD GUY.  Their propaganda is that good.   That’s part of what Mark Twain meant when he said, “Be good and you will be lonesome.”  You speak out against what’s going on and you’re just thought to be a psycho, imbalanced and not knowing what you’re talking about.

Just to give a common example in economics.  Say a politician gets on the TV and says, “We need to start special programs to help subsidize homes for the poor.  Everyone in America should own a home.”  I’m the guy who stands up yelling, “No.  NOOOOOO.  Nooooo.  He lies.  This doesn’t work.  It’s never worked.  Nooooo.”  Then security drags me out of the town hall.

All the cute girls there say, “Man look at that sick human being.  All he thinks about is himself.  He doesn’t care about the poor.  I hate people like him.”  So guys like me go for walks alone through the park, and the free-love hipsters wearing their t-shirts and sandals hold their girl’s hand, smile at one another, and think they’re saving the world.  Then they volunteer at the homeless shelter not even knowing that the main reason there’s so many homeless is because of the economic policies they just helped get passed.

But when you examine economic policies, every time such things have been enacted you vastly INCREASE homeless rates and end up with ghettos everywhere you imposed price controls.

Homes are a rare commodity, and anything that is scarce is governed by prices.   Once prices are artificially set low by price controls imposed by the government, you’ve screwed up demand.  In the beginning you get a group of college students moving into a large apartment together, sharing space and splitting the rent.  But afterward some of them graduate and move off leaving a single tenant in the huge apartment.   Normally the high prices would send the student off to find a cheaper, smaller place he can more easily afford. But since prices are so low he decides he’ll just stay.

The end result?  You get under-utilized apartments and homes.  Normally homes are reserved for full families who have graduated from college, have secure jobs, and have kids.  Now you have single college students living in an entire home by themselves.  This leads to homelessness in the area, and people struggling to find a place to live.  Families can’t find homes to live in.

And besides this, landlords also lose their incentives.  This is how the ghettos appear.  If the government simply pays outright for poor people’s rents, you always get ghettos.  That’s because the landlord gets paid no matter what happens, and like he cares.  They’re just a paycheck to him, and he gets paid the same no matter what he does.   Price controls also have the same effect.  With the profit motive gone, landlords quit putting effort into their properties.  They don’t even bother competing for business, because they’re always full — remember, they’re underutilized.

So everything goes to hell, and the person who warns against the upcoming fiasco is branded a greedy, selfish bastard with no sympathy for the poor.  That’s just one of thousands of lessons you learn.  When bad things happen they’re all taken by surprise and because they have no clue what’s going on they blame all the wrong things, and make it out to be a moral issue.  “Those greedy businessmen.  Landlords exploiting their renters.  God look at them.  They won’t even put anything into their properties.  Too greedy.”

But the ones who are greedy are THEM.  They’re the ones hijacking personal property and telling others to house the poor in them for cheap.  They’re the ones imposing price controls, telling others what to do with their property.  And THEY’RE the reason why things have went south, because businessmen can’t even earn enough money off the properties to buy new things to put in them.  So then they want businessmen to invest MORE money into them, sinking the investment further into the red.

Ideas have consequences and most ideas have bad consequences.  Unless they’re very well thought out, and scientifically qualified, they almost always end badly.  Things that sound good are often terrible when more closely scrutinized.

Another example would be the government getting involved in student loans.  Any time money is made cheap and more abundant, in any industry, prices immediately get distorted.  The problem is the colleges don’t just continue along their same trajectory, even though they have more money.  No, they begin to add more and more services to provide a better “experience” for students.  So they start building ice skating rinks, new gymnasiums, and expensive computer labs.

I’m not against any of those things, but these universities have a tendency to increase costs to match their revenues.  In other words, as long as they can get students to pay for the bills they impose, regardless of how they’re paying for it, their costs continue to increase to match.  As long as the money is there, those costs keep going up.  It’s an economic law.  The more abundant money is the more inefficiency and waste come into the picture.

So government programs intended to help kids afford college by giving them discounted loans and other programs have the exact opposite effect.  But when you come against government involvement in such things people think, “What?  Are you against helping kids go through college?  Are you that selfish?  Don’t you realize that everyone these days needs a college degree to get a decent job?  We should be helping these kids.”

Socialist programs always have this problem.  Under socialism there is no way to negotiate price.  Once the government intervenes in areas, immediately you get price distortions and misallocation of economic resources.  If the free market isn’t in operation, there is no way to determine a price, as Ludwig von Mises points out.

But once the prices get distorted and shoot through the roof, the people begin to say, “Look at these corporations!  They’re gouging the government for money.  We need regulations to impose price controls so they quit ripping the tax payer raw.”

So they impose price controls and regulations and we continue on a downward spiral of inefficiency and waste.  It’s well intentioned most of the time, but it all ends badly because people don’t get how these economic principles work.

You have to implement policies correctly or you get disaster, and many policies which people think help society really hurt it.  I heard a song the other day and the lyrics went something like, “There’s so many ways to move yet go nowhere.”  That about sums up this life.  There’s very few paths which take you forward.  And even when you walk those paths, you’ll be ridiculed the entire way.

Are there other instances of this?  You bet!

If you tell the world they’re destroying the environment, and that we need to learn how to respect the Earth more, you get ridiculed.  You may even get death threats.  My own grandpa one Sunday looked right at me and said, “I have nothing but contempt for environmentalists.  They’re destroying this nation.  Tree huggers and all of them.”   Obviously he intended to let me know what he thought of me.  Most of the time I don’t even talk with my family.  They’re so closed minded you can’t even discuss anything with them.

Warn them about CO2 emissions, pollution, deforestation… you get reactions like what I receive from my own family.  People who never touch books and haven’t read anything for 20 years will tell you how stupid you are to think such things.  It doesn’t even matter if it’s backed by top scientists and it’s almost uncontested.  It’s a big conspiracy and just another ploy of the government.

Many scientists say global warming could literally trash the planet and make it uninhabitable.  Hurricanes and floods will increase in ferocity.  Ice caps will melt causing sea levels to rise putting coastal cities underwater.  New York, New Orleans, and London may end up completely submerged.  The tropical rainforests may turn to desert.

You stare at all these things and think, “This isn’t something to play around with.”  And literally mobs of idiots are chasing you with pitchforks having “nothing but contempt” for you.

You’d think my family would be proud of me for learning all these things, but it’s the exact opposite.  I’m treated terribly, and made an outsider.  My grandpa loves to tell me every Sunday how I’m going to go to hell when I die because I don’t go to church.  He wonders why I never visit him.

If you speak against religion you’re viewed as an immoral, terrible person.  Even if terrible things go on everyday in the name of religion.  It’s only just recently that you can speak about evolution.  Past generations would practically stone you to death for bringing up the topic.

Tell them about the sexual dimorphism of the brain, its development during early growth, and how sexuality isn’t a choice, and they hate you.  They hate gays, and they hate people like you who defend their rights.  Why?  Gays are different, and people who are different need to go away.

These sorts of things are why the world gets worse and worse day by day.  People fight against one another for causes which won’t change anything, no matter which side wins.  They throw big celebrations every time a new politician is elected.  “So and so will change everything.”  But nothing changes.  The people in power sit back laughing, manipulating puppets on one side or the other.  But don’t look at the man behind the curtain!  Most people don’t know the curtain even exists.

The search for truth leads to a horrid alienation from everyone around you.  You learn things and try to tell others about it but they want no part of you.

Speak against problems with outsourcing all our jobs overseas?  You’re a racist!  When really you’re just telling how the big corporations are exploiting foreigners for cheap wages because they don’t want to pay benefits and the high wage rates to American workers.  But once again, you’re the bad guy.

People don’t want the truth — they want their paradigm of lies.  It comforts them and tells them everything will be ok, when it won’t.

You tell them to disarm the nuclear weapons and the Sarah Palins come out of the crowds screaming, “You wussy.  What do you want to do, sing kum-bay-yah with the enemy?  These missiles are the only thing keeping us safe.”  No they’re not.  They’re putting us all in danger.  Some false alarm and a bit of fear and the world is disintegrated.  We have nuclear bombs aimed at every square inch of civilization.  All it would take is a few button presses and the world is destroyed.

Where does the search for truth lead you?  You find out the sun is compressed hydrogen and helium.  These atoms gets crunched together by gravity and begin to fuse together into denser elements and give up radiation in the process, which we see as sunlight.

Our planet is a rock, and its material originated in ancient star supernovas which exploded billions of years ago.

Life evolved from simple compounds on our surface and over billions of years formed beings of varying complexity.  What do these lifeforms do?  Well, their activity patterns vary greatly but David Attenborough summed up all their behavior as follows:

“If you watch animals objectively for any length of time you’re driven to the conclusion that their main aim in life is to pass on their genes to the next generation.  Most do so directly by breeding.  In the few examples which don’t do so by design they do it indirectly by helping a relative with whom they share a great number of their genes.  And inasmuch as the legacy that human beings pass onto the next generation is not only genetic but to a unique degree cultural, we do the same.  So animals and ourselves to continue the line will endure all kinds of hardship, overcome all kinds of difficulties, and eventually the next generation appears.”
– David Attenborough, The Trials Of Life

That comes from a man who has studied animals his entire life.  That’s the conclusion I too have drawn from all life on this planet, including ourselves.

Most all this life on the planet will be killed off soon enough as we make room for our “civilization”.  There’s no room for anyone or anything but us.

Our civilization is at odds with our nature, which comes from our development as apes in the African forests over millions of years.  Six to seven million years to be exact.  That’s why wars will continue on for some time, if we don’t kill ourselves off first with our weapons.  It’s our evolutionary baggage.

As Immanuel Kant said, we’re forced to construct our society with the crooked timbers of human nature.  Trying to impose neat and orderly societies with such crooked material immediately poses problems.

Men care primarily about eating, securing a home, having sex, hatching out kids, and securing a modest livelihood.  They care little about the big picture of life, what’s going on, the universe, the economy, politics, human society, large scale implications of their actions, or anything of the sort.  I don’t blame them either.  There’s nothing but misery thinking on all these problems and I don’t think half of them are intelligent enough to understand the problems anyway.  They’re too busy working jobs and wouldn’t have enough time to devote to the studies.

Most people live lives in a bubble reality of sort, believing in a reality which doesn’t exist.  Such bubbles include religion and political views.  If a person believes something that hasn’t been discovered through science, and verified through science, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be wrong.

Most everything man has believed in the past has been wrong.  Mostly likely everything we now believe to be true is also wrong, or at the very least, very primitive.  I’m sure future generations, if the human species lives on long enough, will view us as witch doctors as well, just as we do the ancients.

The vast percentage of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels, which is destroying our environment with global warming.  It’s very possible that if we don’t come up with new technology and change our ways, our entire planet may become uninhabitable in a few hundred years.

As mentioned earlier, our money system is rigged by the bankers to bury people in debts they can’t possibly pay off.  They print money out of thin air and bury us in these debts.  Just like the stock market which can supposedly drop 1000 points, people losing vast sums of their retirements, just from a “fat finger”.  Who believes that?

As for the questions bigger than life, such as the universe, I’d say I’m not yet qualified to answer.  The universe seems to have originated in a big bang of sorts, where energy flowed in from a point and spread out into space, “cooling” and forming the first atoms, which are hydrogen and helium.   Space is a complicated multi-dimensional thing which I still don’t fully understand.  It’s not three dimensional.  Time also doesn’t flow from moment to moment as we think.  It’s much more complicated.

All the stars originate from these hydrogen and helium atoms being pulled together by gravity and starting the fusion process.  Let there be light!

The atoms of which we’re made follow crazy quantum mechanical laws which are almost incomprehensible.  I shouldn’t say almost – they ARE incomprehensible.  But strange puzzles intrigue people like us, who need something to do with our lives.

I read books by eminent physicists talking about black holes and how we can travel forward and backward in time, and even move into parallel universes.  The stuff becomes so sci-fi’ish that it doesn’t seem real.

Apparently if we start to move at speeds close to the speed of light stuff starts to bend and behave strangely.  Time slows down, space bends, and colors of things begin to change.

Gravity is not fully understood.  It’s a sort of rogue force evading our understanding.  It doesn’t tie into the other forces.

Only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of 1% of humanity has an appreciation for this sort of science, or sees its implications.  They think NASA is a waste of money and that space research is a hinderance to mankind.  In reality it’s nothing compared to the Federal Reserve and the bankers, but understanding that requires economics.  Really it’s one of the few things moving our species forward.

I spend most of my days studying mathematics and physics, though I read a lot of other books as well.  It’s something that takes years to even begin to understand it.  Advanced physics takes a lifetime of research.  I’m already getting to a place where the things I study are so complicated, and require such a background in mathematics, that I don’t even bother talking about it to anyone.   I wrote a simple entry on the basics of quantum electro-dynamics, and talked about light, but that was very basic.  You can find that entry in the ‘Physics’ section.

Whenever I talk to people about these things they just find me strange, and don’t seem to care anyway.  They get to talking about the sports game, or the weather, or something else which I have no interest in.

As for the Earth itself, it’s a rock with an iron metal core.  It originates in a bunch of rocks slamming into one another in space over quite a long period of time.  This all took place at the same time the sun was forming.  Our planet’s surface is constantly shifting around, being pulled under and new rock coming to the surface.  It’s really not so much a solid as it is a very viscous fluid.  Even the continents move around centimeters a years.  Over millions of years the surface changes dramatically.

The plates of the Earth’s surface move all about, continents slamming together forming mountain ranges.  Then the rain erodes them over millions of years, tearing them all back down.  This movement causes Earthquakes.  Similar sorts of processes give rise to islands and new land masses.

The Earth will eventually be incinerated when the sun becomes a red giant.  It seems to be a temporary stage of life to exist.

Consciousness, which seems to exist in higher life forms, originates in certain neural structures which are called Brodmann areas.  The neurons take on certain characteristics, and somehow they radiate energy at some frequency which responds to our consciousness.  Or something.  I don’t really know.

Our bodies aren’t really a solid “thing”.  They’re mostly empty space, and even so, it’s not like we’re a single living entity.  Our skin is covered in mites.  Our stomach and digestion system is filled with bacteria.  We’re moreso a swarm of micro-organisms.  A huge portion of “us” isn’t “us”.  Or maybe those little critters can be considered “us” as well?  There’s no sharp line to be drawn where we begin and where we end.

The more science you study the more things become one.  The self sort of disappears, or at least its role becomes less and less dominant.  Mankind’s place in the universe shifts farther and farther from the center of things, becoming insignificant in the big scheme of things.

Even so, consciousness brings us back to the center, and in four-dimensional space all of us share a common center.  So whee, there is no center.  Then again, no absolute up, down, left or right either.  So no absolute space!  We instead get a shifting bending craziness which I’ll hopefully grasp years from now.  Woohoo!

Reality is stranger than fiction.  That’s where the search for truth takes you.  I think it was Einstein who said he’d have nothing to live for if it wasn’t for physics.  For me, I’d have to say the same.

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