Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Archive for October 2008

Thank you, Alter Ego.

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One evening, I was with my friends to have a drink with them in an open-air eating place. Then, I saw a rainbow and spontaneously, I was drew to it. Noticing my deep observation, one of my friends joined in my observation and promptly said ..

“Isn’t that beautiful? God’s creation is really marvelous…”

By an instant, my immediate reaction was –> (o_O)”!! > ALERT! Hot button engaged!!

I quickly turned on my idle mind and activated my logical reasoning mode and went – If the rainbow, a natural process where sunlight deflects off water droplets thereby creating a spectrum of light, is God’s creation, then by logical consistency, even our feces, a waste matter from our digestive system, should also be God’s creation.

But why is there no Christians or Muslims after defecating, look on their toilet bowl and proclaim emphatically:

‘Praise The Shit’ or ‘Shit is the Greatest’ or ‘Shit is Beautiful, God is a Genius’?

If you think that I was mocking or degrading religion, I can tell you I’m not. I was only talking about some logical consistency. Crediting God with only beautiful things but ignoring the ugly things is not rational thinking. It’s called as Selection Bias. If God indeed created shit, as His obedient followers, we should appreciate how nice shit smells as a sign of acknowledgement to God’s creation. Hence, ‘Praise The Shit’.

Just when I was about to open my mouth to reason out with my dear friend, suddenly something interrupted me – It was my alter ego…

Alter Ego : That’s rude, Ronn. I hereby refuse you to voice out your thoughts.

Ronn : Ah!! Damn you alter ego! How is this rude?

Alter Ego : Because you will sound very offensive, especially to devoted religious people. You will hurt their feelings and they might think you are not respecting them.

Ronn : Hey, I’m merely reasoning out and NOT spreading false beliefs, OK! Can’t you see how he is practicing Selection Bias in crediting God? Truth hurts, no? Being Truthful is not the same as being Rude!

Alter Ego : But it will hurt you more if your friends, including the neutral ones, do not understand your points and then perceive you as rude. Remember, everyone thinks that they are right and everyone also has ‘Ego’ too. There’s a reason why people avoid discussing anything about religion and politics while socializing, because it has the most chances to hurt the self-image.

Ronn : Is my image more important than Truth?

Alter Ego : Then tell me, are you going to commit your whole life championing this cause?

Ronn : No.

Alter Ego : Then either you go on a mission and do something to change the world or else you better shut up. Nobody will take you seriously unless you are being serious. So, in the mean time, act like you’re a well-mannered boy for now.

Ronn : Sheesh, what a superficial world. Again, Being Truthful ≠ Rude!! No wonder the world is getting dumber and dumber because everyone is hiding behind their alter ego all the time.

Alter Ego : You should had expected this since people think with their cached thoughts.

Ronn : You have a good point. So, can I blog about this thought, then?

Alter Ego : I think that’s fine because nobody reads your blog.

Ronn : Truth hurts. *sob*

And so, my alter ego just smiled to my friend and then we continue with our light conversation.

Few months later, which is now, I’m glad that my alter ego has vetoed to stop me from speaking my mind out, thus saving me from unnecessary embarrassment. Along the way, I achieved several realization ..

1. Seeking gratification by reasoning or debating with other people is part of my cached thought. Being agitated by my hot button is also part of my cached thought. Acting as if I’m an Intellectual giant is also a product of my cached thought. It’s only meant to boost my ego – And it’s an illusion. Like a storm cloud, it may look to be powerful and fierce, but if you go near enough to grab it, it is just all mist. It’s an illusion.

2. Before critiquing other people of thinking with cached thought, I must first break free from it or else I’m just being hypocritical.

3. Atheism is meant to be kept to myself, not to be preached. I almost forgot that my ultimate personal goal is to study the way how Life and the World work, not sticking to a belief system (of atheism). To me the Truth is clear – there is no God. So why should I need to seek immediate personal gratification of spreading atheism to a mere few people around me? And I know the most effective way for people to discover the Truth is not through my preaches and persuasion. It is only through self-effort that people can understand it.

4. It’s always in human’s blood to correct injustice, banishing evilness and enlightening the ignorant. The idea of goodness has always been an eternal idealism for human being. However, at the same time, injustice, evilness and ignorance have always been and will always Exist. So, how do you create harmony between idealism and the reality? It is to strike the balance between the two – The Middle Way.

If you want the Truth to stand clear before you, never be ‘for’ or ‘against’. The struggle between ‘for’ and ‘against’ is mind’s worst disease. – Jianzhi Sengcan, the third patriarch of Zen Buddhism in China.

Therefore, this will be my last piece of writing on Atheism.

And Thank you, Alter Ego.

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Written by elan85

October 27, 2008 at 7:35 am

Posted in Atheism, Philosophy

Zen Buddhism

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I like reading Chinese/Japanese Zen Buddhism short stories or Koans because they are simple yet deeply profound and very meaningful. They are so challenging to read because sometimes when read literally, they bear no meaning at all. Therefore, the only way to understand the moral of the story is to grasp the essence behind it. These stories typically often bring mini-enlightenment to me and brings a little Buddhism wisdom too.

Very nice.

A Cup of Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

The professor kept interrupted and argued with Nan-in on several ideas about Zen when Nan-in was speaking.

Nan-in then stopped speaking and served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "The cup is full. No more will go in!"

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

More Is Not Enough

There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life. One day he walked pass a wealthy merchant’s house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. "How powerful that merchant must be!" thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. "How powerful that official is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a high official!"

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. "How powerful the sun is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be the sun!"

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. "How powerful that storm cloud is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a cloud!"

Then he became the storm cloud, flooding the fields and villages, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering rock. "How powerful that rock is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a rock!"

Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. "What could be more powerful than I, the rock?" he thought.

He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.

Going with the Flow

A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive.

"I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived."


Not Dead Yet

The Emperor asked Master Gudo,

"What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?"

"How should I know?" replied Gudo.

"Because you are a master," answered the Emperor.

"Yes sir," said Gudo, "but not a dead one."

Obsessed

Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.

As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.

"Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!"

"Brother," the second monk replied,
"I already set her down on the other side, but you are still carrying her."

Trading Dialogue for Lodging

In a temple in the northern part of Japan two brother monks were dwelling together. The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had but one eye.

A wandering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about the sublime teachings. The elder brother, tired that day from much studying, told the younger one to take his place. "Go and request the dialogue in silence," he cautioned.

So the young monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down.

Shortly afterwards the traveler rose and went in to the elder brother and said: "Your young brother is a wonderful fellow. He defeated me."

"Relate the dialogue to me," said the elder one.

"Well," explained the traveler, "first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. So he held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teaching, and his followers, living the harmonious life. Then he shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here." With this, the traveler left.

"Where is that fellow?" asked the younger one, running in to his elder brother.

"I understand you won the debate."

"Won nothing. I’m going to beat him up."

"Tell me the subject of the debate," asked the elder one.

"Why, the minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me by insinuating that I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger I thought I would be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then the impolite wretch held up three fingers, suggesting that between us we only have three eyes. So I got mad and started to punch him, but he ran out and that ended it!"

Obedience

The master Bankei’s talks were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. He never quoted sutras nor indulged in scholastic dissertations. Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners.

His large audiences angered a priest of the Nichiren sect because the adherents had left to hear about Zen. The self-centered Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to debate with Bankei.

"Hey, Zen teacher!" he called out. "Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?"

"Come up beside me and I will show you," said Bankei.

Proudly the priest pushed his way through the crowd to the teacher.

Bankei smiled. "Come over to my left side."

The priest obeyed.

"No," said Bankei, "we may talk better if you are on the right side. Step over here."

The priest proudly stepped over to the right

"You see," observed Bankei, "you are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down and listen."

A Parable

Buddha told a parable in a sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

No Attachment to Dust

Zengetsu, a Chinese master of the T’ang dynasty, wrote the following advice for his pupils:

Living in the world yet not forming attachments to the dust of the world is the way of a true Zen student.

When witnessing the good action of another encourage yourself to follow his example. Hearing of the mistaken action of another, advise yourself not to emulate it.

To a sincere student, every day is a fortunate day. Time passes but he never lags behind. Neither glory nor shame can move him.

Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.

Some things, though right, were considered wrong for generations. Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries, there is no need to crave an immediate appreciation.

Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe. Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.

Nothing Exists

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."

Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made Yamaoka quite angry.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"

The Stone Mind

Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.

While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: "There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?"

One of the monks replied: "From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind."

"Your head must feel very heavy," observed Hogen, "if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind."

Learning To Be Silent

The pupils of the Tendai school used to study meditation before Zen entered Japan. Four of them who were intimate friends promised one another to observe seven days of silence.

On the first day all were silent. Their meditation had begun auspiciously, but when night came and the oil lamps were growing dim one of the pupils could not help exclaiming to a servant: "Fix those lamps."

The second pupil was surprised to hear the first one talk. "We are not supposed to say a word," he remarked.

"You two are stupid. Why did you talk?" asked the third.

"I am the only one who has not talked," concluded the fourth pupil.

Written by elan85

October 23, 2008 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Philosophy

Your Own Little Destiny Part 2 : The Origin of Destiny

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"I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this." – Emo Phillips, comedian.

We all now that all kind of dogs can be trained to be obedient and faithful to their owners. You can teach specific instructions to dogs and also shaping their behaviour. Nevertheless, we should never forget that although we can teach and train dogs, each of every different breed of dog has a different core instinct.

For instance, if I walk on the street and meet a stray Pit Bull Terrier, I know there’s a chance that it may attack me, even if it’s just a small chance (pit bull is the most common breed of dog to attack human). But instead, if I encounter a stray Chihuahua, I know for sure, with 99.999% certainty, that it will never attack me.

Although both Pit Bull and Chihuahua are dogs, their core behaviour and personality are wired differently from the beginning – Basically, different origin of Instinct (powered by Evolution). If between dogs’ behaviour already have such disparity, what more if compared with other species of animal?

The Brain

Animals have different core instincts, unique to every species, or even maybe to sub-species or perhaps up to individual species. But If someone ever ask the question – what’s the one major difference between human being and animals, the answer is clear – Consciousness.

Eliezer has written a very nice short essay about about how the brain thinks, titled – Cached Thoughts. I will briefly summarize what the essay is about (The essay is worth a read, really).

  • A typical human brain is only as powerful as a 200Hz computer processor, which is ridiculously weak.
  • The trick of how our brain manage to execute and run complicated task with this ‘weak processor’ is through a mechanism called ‘caching’.
  • In computing, that’s when you store the results of previous operations and look them up next time, instead of recomputing them from scratch. It works similarly in the human brain too.
  • This caching method is extremely useful, as we could analyze and solve problems using past experience or some presuppose knowledge as reference.
  • But looking from a conscious mind point of view, cached thoughts have a significant downside too – acting without questioning.

The Instinct

Animals live their lives purely following on their instinct. When they are hungry, they look for food. When they feel threaten, they attack. When they are sleepy, they sleep. All these programmed instincts are already well stored in their cached thoughts and basically, animals act up according to what their brain instruct them depending on circumstances. In other words, animals let the brain to complete the pattern and they will just repeat their routine over and over again.

When a tiger is provoked, its emotion of anger lights up, courtesy of cached thoughts, and the tiger will react and fight back to defend itself. A tiger will not ask questions like “Is this fellow a joke? Bah, I don’t wanna waste my time dealing with this moron”.

They will just bite.

Well, if you think that human being is unique because we do not have such ‘automatic instinct’ because we seems ‘consciously’ able to choose our actions, then you’re wrong – We also do have the same ‘programmed instinct’. And this is the same reason why racism and sexism exist, inferiority complex behaviour is common, tendency to be biased when making argument, office politics, first impression matters, cultural taboos, believing in God and many other things which once rationally thought out, seems pointless or obsolete. Most people simply absorb information from external world and then allow the brain to complete the pattern.

Don’t let your mind complete the pattern!  Think! – Eliezer

Nevertheless, due to our higher consciousness, we could actually realize and question our instinct, and this is what separates human and animal. Human has the capacity to ask the question – “Why did I lost my temper just now? Should I not lost my cool so easily? OK, I will be nice next time.” With this, the next time I’m provoked again, I will suppress my anger and thoughts and restrict my emotions from bursting away. This suppression, over long of period of time will turn to repression. There are also times when people are aware of the shortcoming of their instinct but choose to avoid doing anything about it or helpless about it. eg. depression problems.

(Buddhism called this as ‘animal instinct’ and Buddha said, the only way to get rid or unattached ourselves with this instinct is through vigorous meditation. Only then, we will attain enlightenment, the highest order of consciousness)

When a frog is hopping around to chase a grasshopper, which is also hopping away to escape from the frog, human being will find it amusing to watch this hopping battle on ‘who-can-hop-better’. But it’s kinda sadistic because thinking from the frog and grasshopper point of view it must be an intense experience. One is a hungry beast looking for its first meal of the day and another hopping away from the monster to save itself.

The instinct involved is a matter of life and death for the frog and grasshopper, but for human it’s an amusement simply because we have a higher level of consciousness and could see the humour side of it. However, if this same person get chased by a tiger, his consciousness will revert back to the basic instinct and the first thing he will do is to run away and escape from the monster, just like what the grasshopper did.

Written by elan85

October 20, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Psychological Glitch

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There was a bird, a Common Myna (picture), which used to sleep on the awning outside my room window. Common_MynaEvery morning, the bird punctually wakes up around 6.45 AM and then will start ‘singing’… very loudly. Well I suppose it’s pretty nice to have a morning call by the little bird before going to classes but when it comes to weekends, its pretty nightmarish and downright annoying. 

Common Myna are pretty smart and aggressive. It’s the only breed of birds in the urban areas which dare to stand up and fight against the ‘big bully’ crows. There was once I witnessed a little battle between a crow and common myna over a piece of food on the dustbin (while I was in the bus-stop waiting for bus) and the myna won. Even crows are not comfortable with human but this myna have the guts to sleep just outside my room (on the awning of my window). But these days, I rarely see it around my house anymore.

(BTW, I actually like reading a Singaporean bird-watching blog).

I noticed that Common Myna always make a high pitched noise and fly away every time I chased it away, something which goes like “Prvvvee-eeeet”. And I wondered why do they make such a habit of making this ‘Prvvee-eeet’ noise while flying away?

The more I think of it, the more I realized it must have something to do with alerting danger to other birds around it. Just like when crows hear the sound of gunfire, they will immediately caw and make the ‘ahhkkk ahhkkk’ noise and fly away in groups. I suppose many breeds of birds have this same habit of alerting danger to their own brethren.

But I just can’t get this out of my mind – The bird was always alone every time I chased it away, so who was there for it to alert to? I didn’t had any answer. And so, I pended my curiosity.

Few weeks ago, while sitting comfortably in front of my computer and doing some reading, I heard a loud and sharp shriek from my neighbour. And I right away speculated the reason – “Haha, she must have been frightened by a flying cockroach!”. Then the next question came to my mind – “ Why do girls usually shriek whenever they are frightened?  Guys usually do not usually shriek but nevertheless make some noise when frightened too.

Few seconds later, it’s as if someone magically knocked some answers to my head and I went “Aha! Psychological Glitch!”. And then I thought of the Myna bird and repeated “Aha! Psychological Glitch!”.

Understanding Evolutionary Psychology.

Before I can go on to explain Psychological Glitch, we first need to know some basic about Evolutionary Psychology first. Genes are responsible of playing the Evolution game in creating who we are today. Similarly, the genes play a major role in constructing our brain so that we, the human and the animals, will have a sense of coherency between our psychology and our body ability. For instance, the bull will know how to use its horn to attack foes and enemies. If the bull has horn but do not have the motivation to use it, then what’s the purpose of the horn then? Something needs to tell the bull to utilize its horn when fighting – And the psychology will basically play the major role in triggering such actions.

One of the false presupposed view we have regarding the nature is that survival of life is pretty straight forward. Well, this delusion is not surprising as most of us do not get our hands dirty to hunt or search for food anymore. Thanks to our intelligence and advanced civilization, many of us have the luxury to just sit around and get our food by literally, without lifting a finger. All we need is money – I pay, I eat, and I’m satisfied.

Similarly, we often apply this similar presuppose view to the animal kingdom – that survival is something very straight forward. The spider eats the ant, the frog eats the spider, the snake eats the frog and the mongoose eats the snake and then the cycle repeats again. Well in some sense, this view is correct but nevertheless pretty one dimensional. We often overlook the idea of ‘Struggle’ when it comes to the survival in the animal kingdom. It’s a struggle which not many of us could perceive with clarity.

Eliezer made a very interesting point over here:

Foxes seem well-designed to catch rabbits.  Rabbits seem well-designed to evade foxes.  Was the Creator having trouble making up Its mind? ….

… By now we all know the punchline:  You just say "evolution". -  Eliezer Yudkowsky from the article The Alien God.

 

Rehearse the quote over and over again and you will see the idea of struggling in a much better view. I will give you an example of a struggle in the animal kingdom.

The Asian Giant Hornet (Vespa Mandarinia) has extremely strong resistant to bee stings. This creature is beyond Rambo when it comes to killing bees – A single Giant Hornet alone is capable of wiping out an entire European Honeybee’s colony (which consist of around 10,000-30,000 bees).. And not many other animals could withstand the strength of this bug and it is as if Vespa Mandarinia is the king of the insect world. However, there’s only one species in the animal kingdom which could subdue Vespa Mandarinia, obviously besides human being – The Japanese Honeybees. Watch this fascinating 3 minutes video below.

 

I really do felt awe after watching this. So, I was thinking, if the Giant Hornet could evolved and gain a little ability to withstand higher temperature, then the Japanese Honeybees are pretty much screwed. But maybe the honeybee would have also evolved to counter the counter-evolved ability. A beautiful struggle.

Both European Honeybees and Japanese Honeybees shared the same ancestors. But why does one whole colony get slaughtered by a Rambo-bug and another have such sophisticated idea to take the giant warrior? To be honest, I do not know in detail how the Japanese Honeybees could gain such unique ability or idea. But I think its a safe assumption that both European and Japanese Honeybees started out being defenseless against hornets until one day, the Japanese Honeybee discovered that they could deploy such tactic to take down the hornet, just like how the first human being initially discovering on how to write.

The ultimate point of me talking about birds, foxes, rabbits, and bees is that Evolution and Psychology works hand in hand. Our brain, together with animals’ brain is NOT something which was born empty and its up to us to fill things in it. Rather, our brain and our psychology is entirely evolved and built up by our genes. There is a structure that determine the psychology of every species. This is what divides the psychology of, for example, a lizard which will leave the eggs alone once laying them and a bird which will remain taking care of the young after hatching.

The Imperfectness Of Human’s Psyche.

Human being lived in a hunter-gatherer society, presumably around 10,000 years ago in which human lived within a social group and inherently, placed certain priority towards ensuring the prosperity of the social group. Therefore, when certain situation arise which might bring danger or threat to the group, these people will make loud noise to alert everyone within the social group so that they would take notice and prepare to defend themselves. Human mind has already been programmed to instinctively react accordingly depending on situations, just like the Japanese honeybees moving their wings and body for coordination to take down the Giant Hornet.

So, how did the hunter-gatherer people judge when or not to make loud noise and alert the social group? Actually, they do not have a rational judgment at all on making the decision to make loud noise – it’s all instinctive reactions triggered by the emotion of fright and fear.

Fast forward to 10,000 years later, human being no longer lives in a hunter-gatherer society but in a little more complicated civilization. Nevertheless, we still do carry our basic instinct with us – same instincts, different environment. Therefore girls who have Blattodephobia (phobia of cockroach), will shriek and scream when seeing a cockroach flying around as triggered by the emotion of freight and fear. But its not like the cockroach will kill anyone physically (in an immediate sense), so why do some human, even some men scream when seeing them? Not only that, perhaps the intention of screaming is to alert the family members (to help getting rid of the cockroach) but don’t forget, we also do scream while being alone when nobody could help us.

Therefore, all these already prove that there’s certain glitch in our psyche. If you think screaming when being frightened and fearful is something universal which applies to all living creature, try chasing down a cat and tell me whether will they go shriek and go ‘”Miaaaaaaaaaowwwwwwwwwwww !!~” or not. I’ve personally experiment frightening cats when I was a kid and they don’t make any noise at all … it’s obvious since cats are solitary animal who do not live socially – there’s no purpose of making noise while running away, unlike human being and birds which live in groups.

Shrieking due to phobia of cockroaches is just one of the many psychological glitches that we have.

In my post Subconscious Survival, I’ve already highlighted 2 everyday psychological glitches that we frequently experienced but do not really pay much attention to – girls beautify themselves with cosmetic and our obsession with food which delights our taste bud such as chocolate, ice-cream and candy.

Another good example would be sex. I wanted to put it in my own words, but I thought R. Dawkins put it really well, so I will just quote him here –

An intelligent couple can read their Darwin and know that the ultimate reason for their sexual urges is procreation. They know that the woman cannot conceive because she is on the pill. Yet they find that their sexual desire is in no way diminished by the knowledge. Sexual desire is sexual desire and its force, in an individual’s psychology, is independent of the ultimate Darwinian pressure that drove it. It is a strong urge which exists independently of its ultimate rationale. Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion.

Several posts ago, I’ve written how human being are so altruistic towards animals. The reason is simple – we have a soft spot for innocence and helplessness. The root of this emotion is purposely to make human being to like and take care of children and the young ones within the social group. Imagine if a husband and wife thinking rationally rather than emotionally when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of having a baby – how can they justify their time and resources on a baby that they could be spent on other more constructive things? Heck, they wouldn’t even have gone into a marriage in the first place as having a spouse is kind of a ‘burden’ too. Therefore, with this programmed emotion of having altruism towards innocence and helplessness, human being inherently love and care for the young ones. Only with emotional-thinking, human being will have the motivation to spend more than 20 years of dedication to raise up and parenting the children and doing it without expecting any reward or return.

When it comes to animals especially domestic animals, we also do view them as ‘innocent’ and ‘helpless’ because subconsciously we know that these are submissive animals which will not hurt us human being. Hence, when it comes to a situation when we encounter helplessness for example hungry puppies or an injured bird or a pack of dogs chasing down a cat, then this emotion is triggered and we will have the urge to save or protect them.

The word glitch may sound as if all these are critical issues and needed to be ‘fixed’. But actually I’m only interested in finding the origin of human emotions and behaviors and not at all critiquing the scenarios above. I’m not ever going to hold on to the belief that we should live a literal life, for instance, believing girls should not beautify themselves with cosmetic because its a delusion. That’s equivalent of saying music is just a wave of sound with different frequency – in some sense its true, but life would be void of any artistic purpose if we choose to live that way. And the word glitch may sound as if it’s something bad, but actually it’s not. The word glitch merely implies a lack of consistency between the purposes and functions of certain cognitive area within our psyche.

(Out of topic : I just saw a documentary of Koko the gorilla which was trained to learn human sign language many years ago. But several years later, the project was defunded and then they placed Koko in a habitat at California. 14 years later, one of Koko’s former trainers visited the habitat for some project, and Koko went over to the trainer and in sign language asked – ‘Where did you go’?

Another ape with similar intelligence is the Orangutan Chantek – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chantek (worth reading)

The Great Apes – Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Gorillas, Orangutans and Human Being.)

Written by elan85

October 14, 2008 at 6:16 am

Posted in Evolution, Psychology

Applying Multi-Dimensional Thinking To Atheism

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01022-01

On one fine day, I got a mini-Eureka while playing with my Rubik’s cube (which is my daily toy). I realized when I twist one block away, it doesn’t just affect the front face but even the top face, left face, right face and bottom face will all be affected. For instance, based on the diagram on the right, if I turn the white face clockwise, the blue and red face will be messed up along with the other 2 faces on the other side. And this is just a single move. If I move random blocks 4-5 times, the entire cube will be pretty scrambled. In other words, to solve Rubik’s cube you can’t fix it by just looking at one face but you also have to take into consideration of all the other sides/faces. You got to think in 3-Dimensional.

Well, that seems pretty obvious at first. Duh. However, my way of thinking do not stop there. I always look for the ‘Essence’ or ‘Gist’ of whatever that I’ve discovered and then asked myself – ‘How do I apply this Essence to my philosophy?’. I understand that Detail tells you the small picture, but Essence show you the big picture.

So, from the Rubik’s cube, I learned that when solving a complex problem, I can’t just do one-dimensional thinking, but I also have to look from the 2nd and 3rd dimensions point of view to grasp the full picture, hence, multi-dimensional thinking.

“Hit the tree but missed the forest.”

“Hit the tree but missed the forest.” – Unknown.

This is actually not an official proverb but something I came across around 3-4 years ago in a Malaysian blog. And this quote, has then changed the way of how I construct my thought ever since. The idea of this quote is simple yet profound – sometimes, when we try to solve a problem, we might get the small details right but in a bigger picture, it doesn’t apply to the essence of the problem. (For example – the delusion that creationist can dismiss Evolution by attacking macro-evolution). And to solve the big picture problem, we will need multi-dimensional thinking due to its complexity.

Imagine you are going for an adventure to search for the mystical ancient forest – Gugukaka forest, which the location is not known to any man. All you know is that the Gugukaka forest contains Popululu trees, and so you start searching for the forest. One day, after many years of searching, you finally found the Popululu tree, but are you sure that’s Gugukaka forest? You hit tree, but are you sure that’s the right forest? If you claim without any hesitancy that this is the right ancient forest by mere recognizing the one tree, then you are just applying one dimensional thinking.  Perhaps, other forest also do have this Popululu trees, you never know.

To understand whether it is indeed the Gugukaka forest or not, you need to grasp the essence of ‘mystical’ and ‘ancient’. If this is a mystical forest, there should not be many common inhabitants or else it wouldn’t be mystical anymore. If this is an ancient forest, it should be tricky or difficult to find or else everybody would have found this forest and it would not be ancient anymore. Or if I walk along the forest and get roasted by a phoenix or impaled by an unicorn or BBQ’ed by ogres, then I will know right away that this is a mystical forest.

You get the idea.

Atheism

There was a time when I heard someone said ‘I don’t see anything that disprove the existence of God’. Immediately, I told myself silently ‘But I, on the other hand, do not find any evidence which support God’s existence!’. Clearly, a major contradiction happens here. Looking from a simplistic point of view, since these two statements are mutually exclusive, we are basically sharing 50%-50% chances to be correct with our views. In other words, one of us has to be right, and another is downright ignorant.  At the same time I know that when tackling such question, it is not something I can solve by flipping the coin and say I Win! Or stick to my own biased beliefs and say “I’m Right and You’re Wrong!”.. By default, there’s a faith system within our psyche which trigger us to consistently believe that we are right and anyone against our beliefs are wrong. That’s why more often than not, our unconscious priority when getting into argument or debate is to ‘Win’ the argument rather than finding the truth. I’m perfectly aware of that.

Not only that, I also can’t just go and say ‘people who believe in God are idiots and totally wrong in their beliefs’ because not only this is a logical fallacy, but also very one-dimensional thinking. Therefore, I need to argue this case looking from my different dimensions point of view. I will present my argument now, so, read carefully.

In the modern world justice system, we commonly adopt the famous stance – Innocent until proven Guilty. This is not a perfect system because not every criminal who deserve punishment are in jail, but nevertheless, this is the best justice system that we could have. Something equivalent to capitalism in economics – not perfect but the best.

So, basically – You are innocent by default until there are evidences which prove you guilty. In other words, you are ‘nothing’ until evidence prove you to have/be ‘something’. Nothing until proven something.

Therefore, when it comes to arguing God’s existence, the burden of proof is not with the non-believers but with the believers. Because by default, we have to assume that there’s nothing in the sky until proven to have something. Again, this is not the perfect system to argue against mysteries but surely the best we have. ANd it appears that we have zero concrete evidence for God’s existence – Absolutely zero, or else many theologians will rush and hold this evidence to prove to everyone that God exist. But so far, theologians only argue from philosophical point of view or by interpreting doctrines. Therefore, we have to assume that God do not exist, until concretely proven to be so.

OK, hold that thought of ‘Nothing until proven Something’, because I’m now entering to another dimension. Hold tight.

Here I will want to pose a simple question – Assuming that God do exist (Abrahamic’s religion), will it be his intention to want us, all of us the human beings to recognize his existence, accept him, worship him and submit to him? I can safely assume the answer is yes and sending Jesus Christ to earth was one of his intention to do so. Now, here’s my another argument:

A God who created such massive universe and a complex thing called Life must have a great massive amount of intelligence. Let’s call it uber-intelligence. But wouldn’t a God who have uber-intelligence do not have simple common sense (that even me a mere mortal could think off) that if He reveal himself even for just a few seconds to all of us right now, JUST A FEW SECONDS, then once and for all, ONCE AND FOR ALL, there will no longer be any debates of His existence, atheist will cease to exist and you will see myself praying everyday – once and for all. He could also choose to perhaps show us some miracles as evidence, like sending down angels … or healing a lost limb … or splitting the oceans or creating 3 new moons. Whatever. Any form of evidence that even scientists and Richard Dawkins will bow down and have no choice but to say – EVIDENCE!

But we see zero miracles or evidence from God throughout the history. Zero. Now, it appears to me that it’s either there’s no God available to perform miracle or God want to keep people playing the guessing and contemplating game. I have a funny thought that if it is the latter one, then it is as if God is playing a game of Poker with me.

god

God : Hey mortal, do you believe me if I am to tell you that I have an Ace underneath my card? That will give me triple Aces. I can easily beat your pair 5 and pair Kings.

Man : Yo, I’m not convinced.

God : Oh yeah? All IN! $1000!

Man : *Gasp*

God : Do you believe me now? I advice you to fold. It is foolish to follow and go all-in with me, because you will only end up losing like HELL.

 

Man : Are you playing psychological games with me? Are you bluffing me?

God : You can try me, young one. You think you have nicer cards? Let me tell you what, my card is better than yours, any time because I’m superior. Now, either you fold and call me the God of Gambler or you can try to go all-in with me which you will certainly lose like HELL.

Man : Oh dear. *dilemma dilemma* But wouldn’t it be much easier if you have just revealed your card, show me your triple Aces and I, once and for all, will fold my cards and call you God of Gambler from today onwards? Or are you really bluffing me?

God : Reveal my cards? No way! I love to play mind games with ya. I like to keep you guessing without giving you any clarity in hints. It’s up to you to judge and interpret my words… bwahahaha~ So if you think I’m, bluffing, why not go all-in with me?

It will take plenty of writings to make this a full blown essay by incorporating topics from psychology, biology, historical and perhaps astronomy to really see the combined big picture of why God’s existence is improbable. But I will leave it short and sweet.

Conclusion: Nothing until proven something. God did not show proofs, therefore there’s nothing.

Certainly, to rebut my argument above using counter-argument like “You never know God’s intention” or “God has no reason to reveal himself” or “God has no reason to comply with your demand” will not help at all because my argument is constructed purely based on logic, step by step, piece by piece, while the rebuttals are faith-based and also, one dimensional.

You can’t compare goldfish with koi-fish .. they are 2 different class breeds.   

Written by elan85

October 9, 2008 at 9:03 am

Posted in Atheism, Philosophy

Your Own Little Destiny (updated)

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(Updated content in brown) 

We can do as we will, but cannot will as we will – Schopenhauer, philosopher.

I have written before that our intelligence is inborn. I have written recently that our moral values, to some extent, is also inborn. Now, how about our personality, behaviour and our beliefs? Are they also inborn? It’s controversial, but my personal answer is yes.

But a mere yes means nothing. I will put fourth various arguments to support why my view is correct. So, digest the essence of my arguments properly. Here we go..

Studies of identical twins who were separated at birth and then tested in adulthood, showed that they have astonishing similarities. And this happened in every pair of identical twins separated at birth in every study, much less so with paternal twins separated at birth. My favourite example is a pair of twins, one of whom was brought up as a Catholic in a Nazi family in Germany, the other was brought up in a Jewish family in Trinidad. When they walked in to the lab in Minnesota, they were wearing identical navy blue shirt with <?> , both of them like to dip butter toast in coffee, both of them kept rubber-band around their wrist, both of them flush the toilet before using it as well as after, and both of them like to surprise people by sneezing in crowded elevator to watch them jump.Steven Pinker, Cognitive Scientist. (from TED)

[I recommend you to click on the link and watch the video, if you are interested to learn of the delusion of being politically-correct]

This is indeed significant because it implies that if I could be 100% perfectly cloned, thus creating Ronn-B, and this Ronn-B is placed in some tribal village in Africa, chances are that the original Ronn, who lives in Malaysia and Ronn-B  in Africa, will have a very similar personality. I think this is a significant hint that our personality is not really affected by environment but rather, it is somehow fixed.

Influenced by family and friends?

Just observe any family which have 2 or more sons (or 2 daughters) and you will notice many times, the 2 brothers (or 2 sisters) do not share similar personality and behaviour despite being raised by the same parent.  Perhaps, one of them is more ambitious while the another is more laid-back. Or maybe one is more reserved and introverted and another is more outgoing and extroverted.

They were raised in the same home by the same parents for years but why such difference exist? My answer is clear – contrary to popular beliefs, personality and behaviour is not largely learnt from the environment, (though it still play some role) but rather is an inborn one, largely influenced by our genetics.

And you may ask – Isn’t it obvious that the brothers or sisters have different group of friends, hence, different lifestyle? Maybe the older brother’s group of friends are party-goer and outgoing people, and that’s why he too became outgoing  while the younger brother is a geeky guy because he was surrounded by geeky people, therefore creating disparity in personality between the two.

Yes, it is very easy to think what you are today is the product of the environment around you. But what if it is not the environment who chose you but rather you chose the environment? In other words, your close friends are NOT a group of people who you just ‘fatedly encounter during the course of your life’ but it was YOU who, consciously or unconsciously, chose people who you can get along  with your personality or lifestyle comfortably well, mix with them and then label them as ‘close/great/best friends’. While for people you are not really interested with, they will just remain a normal or a hi-bye friend.

Examine your thoughts. Reflect back the earlier chapter of your life and think back on how you chose your close friends and you will realize my words have some essence of truth. You and your best friends must have many things in common, or else, it will be extremely difficult to even become a friend.

If so, what you are today is not really influenced by the environment around you. You are what you are supposed to be, largely determined by your genes, since the day you were born.

The Structure of the Mind

Many months ago, I read an article of a guy who sustained brain damage in an accident. Before the accident, this guy is a typical nice guy – a gentleman, polite and well-mannered. However, after that unfortunate accident, his personality changed due to the damage to his frontal lobe which deals with emotions. He became hot-tempered, impatient (short attention span) and impulsive. He is now an entirely different person.

In other words, this man did not choose to have such personality … it was the brain damage which altered the structure of his brain which had affected his normal emotions and he is now powerless to revert back to his former self.

In another instance,  Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist, related a story of hers when she got a stroke several years ago on the left side of her brain. Her entire left hemisphere was totally shut down and guess what happened? She couldn’t recognize alphabets and numbers although she was sure she knows about it. All she saw was some ‘alien symbols’. When on the phone calling for doctor, she only hear gibberish voices like “uh oh uh ah”. As the left hemisphere of her brain was shut down, so as the brain region which deals with language. There’s absolutely nothing she can do about it.

Try to imagine how it is like if you were in her shoes. That will be a really strange experience, isn’t it?

These are the extreme examples of ‘you-can’t-do-anything-with-your-brain’ scenario. But this is true even in lesser extent in the sense of our personality.

Puberty is perhaps the best example to illustrate my point here. First, we have to know that our brain does not stop developing until around mid-20s. Basically, that’s the age where our maturity and intelligence will peak. However, puberty during teenage years is a condition which tell the body that we are now already in adult phase, hence creating a conflict – The body tells the brain that it is already an adult body and fully matured but the brain is still half-way developing! And this is the ultimate reason why teenagers are rebellious by nature and parenting is the most difficult at this period – it’s like an adult trapped in a teenagers’ mind.

Parents will usually teach and give advice to their teenage kids, telling them what is the right thing to do and what is not right to do. But often, many words and advices given went to the left ear and gone out at the right ear. This is because, a typical teenagers brain’s structure is not developed enough to understand the essence of their parent’s message. For instance, they can’t understand why their parents keep insisting that smoking is bad for health when many adults are doing it, therefore in these teenage kids’ mind, smoking can’t be wrong. By letting the brain completing the pattern, they came to the conclusion that they’re right and their parents are wrong because of being old-fashioned and stubborn. This is the result of lacking in ability to see the big pictures – just like the ancient people thought the flat world was the truth until disproven later by sophisticated astronomical techniques and mathematics.

So, this gives a very clear view to us that many times, the experience and wisdom of parents is totally rejected by teenage kids for one ultimate reason – the structure of the developing mind in teenagers do not have such capacity to allow them to see from their parents point of view, hence the rebellious nature.

And for the same reason, I will say religious people couldn’t see atheist’s rational point of view of a world without God because their mind do not allow them to view a world void of divine being. Similarly, you can’t call a crazy guy to calm down, because his mind’s structure will not understand the necessity or purpose of calming down.

In the book God’s Debris by Scott Adams, he said this:

“People think they follow advice but they don’t. Humans are only capable of receiving information. They create their own advice. If you seek to influence someone, don’t waste time giving advice. You can change only what people know, not what they do.” – Scott Adams.

I find this pretty meaningful because it means that every input we received is subjected to individual interpretation and bias. When your father tells you that “You should study hard and get good results!”, you may heed his advice because you understand the value of education. Or maybe not, because you don’t see any purpose of scoring well in the exam papers. Everyone has an unique internal structure to interpret this ‘information’.

Or perhaps, you study hard because your father threaten to cut down your pocket money if you don’t score well. In this case, this is not a teaching which brings ‘enlightenment’ in your mind but only a form of repression in forcing yourself to study.

What Is The Environment’s Role?

There are people who were raised up in a religious family but doubted religion and became a non-believer in their later life. There are people who were raised up in a non-believing family but chose to become a believer in their later life. There are people who remain a non-believer. There are people who remain a believer.

Why so? In this age of information, isn’t it that we are exposed to the same amount of information on religion and atheism? But why does one group chose this path and another group chose the other one?

Actually, they did not choose. They just went back to the path which their mind wants to belong to -The path which their mind are structured to fit in, the beliefs that they are comfortable with.

From what I can see, the role of the environment is merely playing the Repressing and Boosting game to individuals. I will give you an instance.

Sarah is a typical shy and reserved girl. One day, her friend Jenny decided to introduce some friends who are outgoing to Sarah. After a period of socializing, Sarah seem to became more outgoing and befriend these people.

Here, there are two possibilities of Sarah’s origin of personality.

1. Sarah grown up in a repressed environment (eg. super conservative family) where she didn’t have much opportunity to go socializing with people. Despite Sarah seemingly ‘learnt’ socializing skills, the fact is, she didn’t. She just discovered that her true-self is an outgoing social animal and she completely enjoys the experience. She has now break free from repression.

2. Whatever the environment Sarah grown up at, she is actually a true introverted girl. When she first befriended the people, Sarah boosted her personality just for that occasion, got out of the comfort zone, and went on to socialize with them. However, the fact remains that she is a true introvert, which means in the future, she will feel the same awkwardness feeling when getting to know new friends. 

The word repression may sound like quite an intense emotion. Well, if you think of a killer who is holding a knife and stuck in a dilemma whether or not to murder his victim, then yes, I suppose this degree of repression will be pretty intense. But that’s only the extreme level because we still have to consider the everyday repression which we all experience (but without much questioning).

For example, consider sexual repression. Thousand years ago, pre-marital sex was considered a major taboo and anyone caught engaging such activity will be dealt with heavy punishments (because the country law was fully controlled by religion). However, today as we live in a more secular society, except for certain Islamic country, nobody will get hurt by having pre-marital sex. In some people’s eye, the shift in such culture left a bad impact because it encourages over-openness. But I choose to see it differently – the shift of culture didn’t changed our behaviour, It merely loosen the level of repression in us.

Ethics and Fairness?

One major argument against non-freewill is the so called ‘scary’ thought that if indeed human being do not have free will, therefore people will not take responsible for their actions.

We need to understand that there are two different ways of perceiving the world. One is an idealistic world and another is the reality. Sure, everyone dreams of an utopian world where immorality and injustice are non-existence. Sure, everyone hopes this world will remain peaceful without war. Sure, everyone wants humanity to live on and keep progressing. But all these will remain just an idealism. It is something that we want and hope for, not to be confused with the actual state of the world.

Therefore, to say something which involves the element of deterministic, like for instance, you cannot learn to be more intelligent, it will bound to be controversial because it goes against the idealism of typical human being (most of us will feel insulted if we are labeled stupid). But again, idealism is idealism, reality is reality. If the idea of non-freewill scares you, that’s because it contradicts your ideals and beliefs. The nature or the reality, is always neutral.

Conclusion

When you are lining up in a long queue, it is not right to say – ‘I’m stuck in a long queue’ because, you need to understand that the world do not revolves around you, although it seems like it. Rather, YOU ARE the QUEUE because you, along with many other people, played a part to create the long line of queue. Similarly, we need to throw away the idea that everyone has a rational explanation why they have certain personality, talent, intelligence, beliefs, etc. Free will is an illusion and we have to accept the fact that there are some people who were born luckier and some people born less lucky than the rest. Remember, your genes have more say than your will, hence, we cannot will as we will.

It may seem insignificant at first, but when you shift your perspective from ‘I have thoughts’ to ‘I am the thought’, your whole mind-set of perceiving the reality will change along with it and naturally, you will start to have a better understand of how human being really works.

 

Written by elan85

October 3, 2008 at 9:04 am

Posted in Philosophy, Psychology

Japanese/Korean Electronic Pop Music Makes Me Happy

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(Humming Urban Stereo – Baby Love)

7.30 AM in the morning.

I’ve been writing an essay for 20 hours+ over the last 3 days. Plenty of editing as it is a pretty difficult topic to dissect and tackle. Already scraped out 2 drafts, and hopefully this will be the final one.

Back with the music, I hope I’m not being biased to repeat again that the Japanese and Korean are the most creatively consistent when it comes to producing good non-mainstream music.

So, for the mean time .. let me enjoy these good moments first.

 

(Humming Urban Stereo – Hawaiian Couple)

Written by elan85

October 3, 2008 at 7:27 am

Posted in Personal