Monday, February 4, 2013

(My) Reality

Upon originally writing this page in my little scrapbook, I felt pretty comfortable with the term "Ignostic". It's a term that doesn't have such strong preconceptual connotations to it as does "atheist", so it gets people curious. They look it up on Wikipedia and only the truly interested read further than the first few sentences.

But after watching this video with Sam Harris, I changed the name of this blog from "Amateur Insights of an Ignostic Mammal" to "Amateur Insights of a Reasoning Mammal" because... Well, watch the video =) (Essentially, my "theological position" may be ignostic/atheist/non-cognitivist, just like my "racial position" is non-racist, but I don't go around calling myself a non-racist, do I?). So I'm simply going to ignore all these terms now and try to express my views in as simple terms as I can manage.

'Thing is, we humans are special. Not "divinely" special in any "God's favourite creation" kind of way, or any such nonsense, but special because we're the only species on earth to have evolved a brain complex enough to develop self-awareness and self-study. It may be that we are the only beings in existence to have done this. Amazing, right? And that's just it. Amazing, but only appreciable as amazing by us because of the very fact. It's this sense of self-consciousness that I imagine first fooled our ancestors into imagining gods. Many lonely nights staring into the tribal fire, and some particularly inspired and existentially anxious old tribal medicine man suddenly came up with the idea. All the mysterious forces of nature that seemed to come from somewhere  or be caused by someone, which ruled every aspect of their lives, combined with this new sense of "We are here... so, where did we come from?" ... One cannot really blame them for the birth of the idea of gods.

Eras later, we are here still, and how! We've taken over the planet. We're the irrefutable masters of the Earth. But the question remains, where did we come from? And finally we're starting to admit to ourselves that we've never really known, nor really know for sure even now. Gloriously, we're beginning to find real answers to the question, as much as so many don't like them. "Stardust". Elements. We're made up of the same stuff as trees and worms, diamonds and polar bears. To me, now, evolution just seems so obvious. But okay, wait... I'll write more about evolution and our origins elsewhere. 

Essentially, to me, all the things people "believe in", from the oddest small-town cult to the world's most common religions of Islam and Christianity, are fantasy. It's actually becoming harder and harder for me to remember how I ever made sense of the world in that way. Now, I see all religions and associated Gods as psychological crutches needed by most in order to feel safe in a universe they don't understand and in an indifferent world that they perceive as unjust or even cruel. And their minds cannot accept, because they cannot conceive of, the idea of non-existence.

Then, there is this wave of "new-age" ideas concerning universal energy, "love" as some kind of physical force, etc, and the beliefs developed through such thinking; like karma and reincarnation, auras and "ki", "The Secret" (as though thought alone influences anything besides the thinker), homeopathy, etc

Whatever combinations of these form one's new view of life, they're still not much better than religion. Well, alright, they are much better than religion, practically speaking... They're so much less dogmatically demanding.

Yet still, when it comes to it, these are still beliefs people adopt for almost no better reason than the desire to believe them. They simply need to have some worked out order in the universe in their minds, that they can make "sense" of, for their own peace of mind.

I'm not questioning the advantages of living these "ways of life". The psychological benefits of the studying and living the way of Zen Buddhism are plenty, I'm sure, and most new-age nature-worshiper types probably do feel more content in life than, say, your average over-worked secularist.

I'm questioning the irrational beliefs themselves, that people find necessary to believe in order to be so content. Let's take even the mildest, mostly harmless pantheist statement "God is Love" or "God is Nature". What do these even mean?? (Please know that I was very new-agey once and explanations like "God is love, nature, your divine self. Look within you, and you'll understand" are tricks I myself used to employ. They make as much sense to me now as they should have back then: None at all.)

Why not "Nature is nature!" or even "Nature is a complex system of various living organisms working interconnectedly, in seeming harmony, and so fragile in that if only one small link in any given ecosystem is removed, the whole thing could be destroyed." ... Why not just that? Why not wonder at and revere something's true nature, without superfluous (and often meaningless) embellishments?

That's my stance. No superfluous embellishments! I'm all for playing with ideas... And even running with them for awhile if you've thought about them long and hard and found them to be good. But always be prepared to change them. Convictions should be treated with wariness (because absolute truth is a rare and precious thing). They will inevitably develop as one goes along in life so then they need to be soundly defendable. Be meticulously vigilant with your thoughts, and as honest with yourself as possible. (See my "Confirmation Bias" post).

This has all lead me to being much more critical and cynical than I used to be but as I tend to be overly idealistic, I see the change as a good thing. Thinking scientifically may "take the magic out of things" but this is not necessarily true. I still love letting my imagination go wild, and getting lost in fantasy... I've just learnt how to not mix it up with reality. And besides, the more I discover about the nature of reality, the more magical it seems to me than anything merely made-up. And that in a purely scientific sense, the bounds of magic and beauty are limitless if one goes further and expresses/explains reality artistically/metaphorically, as only the human mind can. The generation and appreciation of the sort of atmospheric emulsion of science and art that is possible because of our evolved brains has got to be evolution's ultimate masterpiece, and it's a great pity how many of these brains use so little of their potential.