Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What is humanity?

Words are powerful.

We have this idea that things that are good should not be picked apart for the sake of it, as we no longer accept the practice of killing healthy human beings for the sake of getting a better understanding of humanity.

Dehumanization had always been necessary as a past practice in order to over come the mental barriers that naturally kept us from over coming those barriers, just as military are trained to dehumanize any enemy in the name of the greater good. That which is 'bad' can be justifiably destroyed.

But Kali (for lack of a better term) is about rebirth, not destroying ourselves just to see how much we can tolerate, or loosing the present in the name of the future. "We must be the change we want to see in the world", or we only loose ourselves, because the present we create IS the future.

So what of words? Words are powerful, but powerful as tools of communication. Words themselves are not sacred, but without a clear commutable understanding of what the words mean between two people, then the words have no value in communication as only rough shadows of ideas will be expressed in vague terms.

So while I have disagreed from a young time what some have said about 'God', I was generally for the happy thought of 'God' is good, 'God' is truth and love and all that stuff. What could be the harm in that? The thing is that while those terms are used to 'describe' God to help people understand 'His' nature have many 'theories'.

A great and inspirational book, "Pragmatic Thinking and Learning" by Andy Hunt, has a lot to say about the human brain and mind; we have the power to analyze it and retool it through concerted effort, but that moves a bit off the point. The thing that really struck me is that he opens with an introduction to The Dryfus Model of Skill Acquisition. Both that paper and Andy Hunt's book talk about the fallacies of the Scientific Method. In short, the Scientific Method can be used to prove Event Theories; theories that say "When you do this or this happens, then this other thing will happen". By contrast, a Construct Theory is a kind of guide or model. Construct Theories can be used by people with strong understanding of a subject to guide them towards better understanding, but they are NOT rigid sets of rules that help predict events. Construct Theories can not be proved by Scientific Method because there is no measurable level of success that results in hard fact. In a way, I have thought that the "Theory of the Scientific Method" is a Construct Theory for discovering facts. The Scientific method doesn't show you how to find new facts in the world, or build new technology, but a guide for hopefully acquiring a level of certainly in the discovery of facts through observation in the world.

So what definitive meaning is generally understood by people in when you use the word God, what typical assumptions are made in using the term about the person when referring to God, or a God or Gods, and what are the overall implications of the possibly variations between people, or most importantly, myself.

Short version of that, I agree with Dawkins. It is either a meaningless that conveys no knowledge, or has dangerous implications about our general perceptions and understanding of the world around us. I have also discussed this in great detail in previous articles. I do believe in free will, as much as it is obviously observable, but I do not claim to understand how it works within what seems to be a very controlled macro universe. Is there some relationship between the apparent randomness going on at the quantum level in matter, and the guts of the brain tha make up free will? Great question that I think we are very far from being able to answer. Whatever it is, I have no concerns about it being boring.

As far an an eternal soul? I don't get it. I can see why people might like to believe there is something eternal about all our experiences, thoughts, memories, and individuality, but beyond such a 'nice' idea, I see nothing to support such a conjecture. I do believe in the whole of humanity. I believe community is what immortalizes us, and makes our flesh and individuality steps in a greater experience that is all of us. Our individuality are like raindrops towards an ocean. Each rain drop is important as a member of the whole. By contrast, what is one rain drop that does not fall or become part of the ocean?

People wonder what happens to our 'unique spirit' after we die. Well, what would happen of your individual spirit if all the people in the world were dead or gone in some way such that you were all alone on the planet? What of your life if the planet was completely without life but yourself?

From what we know of the development and evolution of the planet, life is simply dependent life. Everything and all relationships within life are because of life. But even between life and death, we see a symbiotic relationship between living and non-living. It is all one big experience to understand, or just be what it is.

Drawing from Religulous, by Bill Mahr, what an irony it would be for mankind to have the power to end such a relationship through the use of nuclear weapons, but that is another topic.

God is a theistic belief for which I full heartedly reject as immature and closed minded. It implies many limits for which can not be proven, and rejects the idea of an emergent truth. I find such an idea to be so empty and sad, so very much not what I feel people had intended when this idea of a great creator with magical powers from an alternate dimension or sitting on a cloud is the reason why there are things in this world for which we do not yet understand.

I just don't need it, and it is hardly even a worthy philosophical supposition. I am ready for a philosophical debate that doesn't keep returning to this silly 'God' idea.

In the past, I have attempted begin from a direction of 'God is...', but as mentioned before, what I was attempting to convey was so far beyond the theistic understanding of a 'personal God', I came to the conclusion that for me to take that term and use it in such a different way should be mutually offensive. If there are true theists out there (I hate to say I know there are, I just can't quite wrap my head round it), for me to say that we believe in nearly the same thing but in a different way... is a joke. Also, to use the word I feel sets a certain tone, a predisposition in peoples mind that they understand what I am taking about. While I would hope that there is a general understanding, I would be most interested in really being able to discuss finer details with people rather than just sharing immeasurable context-free thoughts. How would you ever go about taking such things and assimilating what they have said into wisdom. Simply too much room for cognitive bias.

I have found ways of explaining my beliefs and understand of the world that isn't just God++, and really gets into details. Yay! It took some work, but I feel that taking the time to describe things in a way avoiding that G word has helped so much.

So now the problem. A word that keeps wanting to come into my mind to use in a way I think people will misconstrue is Spirituality.

Am I being too picky? Is this a meaningless word we throw around that has some general meaning that applies to all faiths, or is it a word that people will hear and know that it might be something specific and not necessarily what it means to them. Do most people understand it in Descartes terms; the mind that is not the brain?

I think the mind does exist completely within the brains physical world, but that our understanding of the physical world is still limited in that some respect. This idea of a soul I find to be the result of some kind of closure bias, a necessity to have an answer without respect for the validity. I feel there is plenty of 'evidence' to support a fundamental physical world. I think if Solipsism, or even some kind of collective Solipsism were truth, the world would not operate in the way that it does, but more like a dream. The 'reality' of dreams feels much more inline with solipsism. I find it hard to believe that all frustration with learning is a self inflicted part of the experience. While that frustration CAN be self inflicted, I don't think that is the ULTIMATE barrier to truth.

More simply, Science does work, and it is used to discover all kinds of new things all the time. Truth is NOT a democracy... not matter how much congress might think it is, but not to get off topic...

I don't want to say that I am not spiritual, but what does it really mean to be spiritual? If everyone is spiritual, or everyone sees themselves as spiritual, but not always others, than it is less than meaningless, that can really be harmful towards actually getting a better understanding of ones self, or others.

The thing is, I do believe that if for no other reason than to be negative, all people believe that they are spiritual, but not that everyone else is. I think this my strongest argument to 'reject' it.

But the word does have certain implications. Maybe the word spiritual holds special meaning like mathematics? that word has certain implications. I think many people think of being frustrated at school, but there is a bigger picture. Math isn't real in a physical sense, it is jusy a language for discussing things. Is spirituality the same kind of platform? A direction to take people in? Or does it always mean you believe in dualism, or some kind of spiritual realm that exists differently but over laps with our reality. I am not offended by the thought, just that if I am trying to explain something different, or in particular, that I don't believe in such a thing. I think there is an under estimated relationship between what is believed to be known and that which is not known, but not to imply that there is some alternate spiritual plane where specifically our consciousness goes or continues to exist when we die.

And yet I feel like an elitist to feel the need to make some kind of new word for my belief. Atheist seems to work pretty well, and other people that have identified to me as atheist tend to have similar beliefs, but it is a word theists are very uncomfortable with. I think there are still those that are non-theists that just really dislike the word atheist because all thei can think of is Godlessness, a lack of faith rather than faith in something else. (No, I don't think that makes atheism a religion)

I believe in ubuntu, a unique quality that comes about from people working together; I believe there is something to be embraced within the opportunity for people to work together and a community that is more than just many individuals. There is something special when people work together and what they create or contribute to the world community has benefits to people the creator never knew existed.

So is that Humanism? Rather than saying 'my spirituality says' , but say I believe it is pragmatic to assume value of human life before other judgments are made, and that such a believe or understanding will lead us to a better future? Then the details come after that, such as 'just war' theory, or 'should I punch this asshole in the face cause he pisses me off and I think it would make me feel better' theory.

Well, so far I have tried not to use the word spirituality or spiritual (stopped using the word spirit a LONG time ago to describe ANYTHING). It still catches me every one in awhile, but I fid the challenge encourages me to articulate myself better. However, for the same reason, I certaintly not going to go around saying I am not spiritual. Same implication.

Anyway, found a bunch of quotes on what I am much more interested in than all this God or spirituality talk. First a negative one.

Lawrence Lessig, someone I have repeatedly mentioned as an inspiration of mine, says this:
"Americans have been selling this view around the world: that progress comes from perfect protection of intellectual property."

Do they sell the idea? yes, but it is snake oil / TOTAL BULLSHIT!! I think we have tricked people into putting a false value on the scarcity of knowledge. Also, I think the artificial scarcity created when we hide information from people crates an illusion of progress, when in reality it is relative progress.

When we cripple other industries and countries from developing when we impose trade sanctions on those that "steal" our ideas, that doesn't mean we are suddenly progressing faster than we were before, just faster than everyone else.

Is that all Americans see as progress? Is the only measure of rogress how much better our progress is than anyone else? Sure, on a competitive level, but we actually go to great lengths to cripple world progress in order to sustain the illusion of progress s we can feel better about ourselves.

That is going too far.

I think the US Constitution is VERY clear about copyright, that it can and should only exist so far as "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts". Our congress today just doesn't "get it" as far as what that means. It is talking about ubuntu (not the OS, but the word). We need to find ways to get as much information to all people as best as possible for human kind to process it and assimilate it into wisdom to yet be shared again. Those that prioritize information and the progress of humanity over some convoluted rules regarding the monetary system are called Pirates and Thieves.

But people still do it when it is illegal. People go to prison for trying to share ideas with the rest of human kind because of some belief that some how the individual that made the contribution exists outside of the system and needs some kind of special recognition for their 'accomplishment'.

Thee just has to be something better that can be acknowledged in our law and taught to our children that can end this cultural war.

Here are some other quotes I love:

Collecting information is only the first step toward knowledge, but sharing information is the first step toward civilization.
~Nelson Mendala (I think. If anyone actually knows the root of this quote with some kind of source to show, I would be very happy. The quote is in the linked video in the title. I am not sure who the guy saying this is supposed to be. Maybe Cesar Chavez?)

It is largely because civilization enables us constantly to profit from knowledge which we individually do not possess and because each individual's use of his particular knowledge may serve to assist others unknown to him in achieving their ends that men as members of civilized society can pursue their individual ends so much more successfully than they could alone.
~F. A. Hayek

“In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of a defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress towards a victory.”

“The major advances in civilization are processes which all but wreck the societies in which they occur.”

~Alfred Whitehead

The two operations of our understanding, intuition and deduction, on which alone we have said we must rely in the acquisition of knowledge.
~Rene Descartes

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