Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

God, Government, and Magic

Published full of typos and not edited because it took to long to write and I’ll edit it later.

If God is not self evident to you there can be no evidence.  God is god because he is godlike, and not humanesque.  For God to be God it reasonable to expect that God is bound by space and time.  Good proof requires a control group.

Wikipedia (may its servers turn forever) says “A positive control is a procedure that is very similar to the actual experimental test, but which is known from previous experience to give a positive result. A negative control is known to give a negative result. The positive control confirms that the basic conditions of the experiment were able to produce a positive result, even if none of the actual experimental samples produce a positive result. The negative control demonstrates the base-line result obtained when a test does not produce a measurable positive result; often the value of the negative control is treated as a “background” value to be subtracted from the test sample results, or be used as the “100%” value against which the test sample results are weighed.”

If God exists, God’s actions must be quantifiable.  To test these things we need control groups.  If God is everywhere at once, then he cannot be isolated from a group to create a control.  Anything which cannot be isolated cannot be tested.  The universe is beautiful, but beauty is subjective.  Subjective experience does not constitute proof.  So, I say again, if God is not self evident, then God is not evident at all.  (I make note here, nonevident and nonexistent  are not identical.)

I don’t think you can make a world view which involves a personal God that doesn’t fall apart at some critical junction.   A personal God means the “Author of Creation”  When one believes that life is a grand story, then one wants to find one’s part in the story, and one is entitled to a certain place in the story.  This is called magical thinking, a favorite subject of mine on my blogs.  Magical thinking is, in essence, applying order to non-ordered events.  A person engaging in magical thinking takes the random distribution of events in life and weaves them together into a story, replacing statistical likelihood with the divine.

All human beings know basic right and wrong.  They how they feel about people stealing their stuff, thus they know its wrong to steal.  They know they don’t want to die, thus its wrong to kill.  This is why all the disparate tribes of humanity worldwide have more in common that not when it comes to taboos.

Stealing is taking that which we didn’t work for.  We don’t want the things we have worked hard for to be stolen, so we know that stealing is wrong, but other people have such nice things… So how can we steal without feeling like we have does something wrong?  One, apply to the great story.  “Oh, I have suffered so. Surely, it’s my time to have something nice.  I have worked, and worked, but still I don’t have the things I want.  Why that person over there hasn’t suffered at all!  Surely, I could take just a bit of there stuff.”  This is textbook rationalization, but the key here is that the rationalization is taking place in the context of a grand story.  Two, we form groups of people who agree with us, allowing us to reinforce our values by making them (locally) normal.

I think the above is the explanation to organized human suffering.  I am not so naive to believe that if people just quit magical thinking there would be no more violence or suffering.  That, ironically, would be magical thinking.  There will always be individuals who hurt people not for any other gain than the pleasure of hurting people.  Helping those people see the truth of their rationalizations and social groups won’t help at all.

But to really hurt people you need a group.  Serial killers kill their tens, and world leaders their millions.  Existentialism says life is absurd.  My mom put it a little simpler: Life isn’t fair.  I think all the stupid wars, all the religious persecution, all the terrorism boils down to one thing: A group of people who cannot accept the fact that life isn’t fair.  They “should” have gotten more, so they do things they know are wrong to get it.

You look at Hitler.  We like to pretend he could have won if this, that, and the other thing, would have been different. Bullshit.  As soon as the US entered the war it was all over but the crying.  Wars cost money, resources, and men.  We had more of all three.   Hitler didn’t have the managerial talent to run a shoe store, let alone an imperial economy.  But he thought he should win.  His only victories were the one’s that loyal patriots (who thought he was a chode and were fighting for Germany, not the Fuhrer) won.  Once they died, or were purged, he started losing.

But why did the German people tolerate him in the first place?  Oh, sure, he seized power by a conspiracy, burned down the Reichstag, etc.  but other men who tried similar ploys found them less effective.  Julius Caesar, for instance, was stabbed to death by his friends.  Hitler was allowed to keep his illegally seized power because he told people what the wanted to hear:

Their troubles were someone else’s fault and it was OK to take stuff they didn’t work for. They didn’t work to buy northern France, they took it.  They didn’t buy the houses of the Jews, they took them.  For the Nazis the war was giant criminal undertaking encompassing murder, theft, protection rackets, and smuggling.  (Read about the Vichy Regime if you don’t believe me.  The Nazis pealed France like an orange, after promising not to do so.  Beware the promises of armed men who demand you remove your ability to defend yourself.)

Rather than the truth: Life isn’t fair.  We are going to have to work really hard to fix these problems.

This is sort of the “war clause” of morality.  Its wrong to beat people up and take their stuff, or threaten to do so. Unless your at war.  Then it’s cool.  Now, in our enlightened age, its wrong for an individual soldier to mug people, however, if the government at large wants to take the conquered’s stuff, well that’s reparations.

Terrorists?  See life’s just not fair.  They didn’t the country they wanted, they weren’t treated right.  We don’t respect them enough, we don’t respect their God enough.  So it’s OK to kill us.  Drugs violate the Koran’s teachings about self control, but its OK to run them pay for the terror.

Offensive war, terrorism, jihad, holy wars, concentration camps, gangland, all of it.  It’s a bunch of people who can’t accept that LIFE. ISN’T. FAIR.   So they decide that its right to do wrong.

If we really want world peace, the issue isn’t guns and bombs.  People act out what they believe and the belief that leads to organized misery is this grand narrative that there is certain way things SHOULD be and the universe itself favors them being that way.  There is no should be, just the way things are.  The change the world needs is the end of magical thinking.

October 25, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Government, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ruled by madmen


It is not hard for us as human beings to believe everyone is born with different capacities based on the organs which they receive. If you are born with long, strong legs, a slight build, and heart which responds well to aerobic training, you have the capacity to be a marathon runner. This doesn’t mean you will be a marathon runner, merely that if you chose to, you could be. Where as, if you are born squat, broad, stubby, and with skeletal muscle that responds well to resistance training, you have the capacity to be a Navy seal. This “navy seal” guy might really want to be a marathon runner. He might compete in many marathons and work out 6 days a week. He might become the best bulldog shaped marathon runner ever. But despite his drive, he will regularly get trounced by people who are more physiologically ideal for the task. Ditto if the bean pole guy decides to become a special forces member. Training can only improve our innate capacities; it can not create them. This is seen most clearly in women’s versus men’s athletics. Some women are better athletes than men, but in general women are smaller and weaker, so they compete with other women instead of men.

Evolutionary biologists believe consciousness is a meta organ. Consciousness is like man’s freakishly large brain, or upward pelvis. All have unique attributes that helps us to advance ourselves. Consciousness is not as clearly understood as the angle of the pelvis, however. Our understanding is largely gleaned from things which we understand better in other disciplines.

The brain is a very advanced computer. The mind is ALL the software on the brain at a code level. Consciousness is the operating system which allows the different parts of the mind to relate to each other. The mind presents us with an environment which is subjectively real, but objectively false. For example, when the mind is dreaming, one may dream of people who are long dead. This dream is real. The chemicals and electrical activity that the brain is experiencing during the dream are objectively real. The dreamer’s body responds in an identical way as if the experience were truly happening in that moment. But while the dreaming itself is real, the dream has no counter point in reality.

The consciousness is the buffer between the reality outside the mind and the reality within it.

A classical explanation of consciousness in self awareness. This self awareness is seen as the line of demarcation between man and animal. Realistically, however, consciousness exists as a gradient based on mental function. Higher mammals with advanced social structures, such as wolves, elephants, and chimpanzees, all experience symptoms analogous to mourning when a member of their social construct dies. Mourning is indicative of consciousness, because mourning expresses an inability to rectify the object reality (non-existence) with the subjective reality inside the mind where the loved one continues to exist. Memories of interaction with oneself and another imply a concept of self.

Back in the human experience, psychologists define sanity as a continuum of communication with reality. The deeper the communication with reality, the more sane the person is. In other words, the more effectively the consciousness divides the reality within from the reality without, the greater the person’s sanity. Very few people are profoundly mentally ill. The National Institute for Mental Health says that 1 out of 17 people suffer from serious mental illness. Using this left side of a bell curve, it might be reasonable to believe that around 1 out of 17 people populate the right side of the bell curve. These people represent what can be called hyper realists, who have profound and meaningful communication with reality. The remaining 15 people will fall somewhere between.

The most common manner in which consciousness fails to provide a buffer between the inner and outer realities is known as magical thinking. Wikipedia says magical thinking “…is nonscientific causal reasoning that often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world, correlation equaling causation, the law of contagion, the power of symbols, and the meaningfulness of synchronicity …” More simply, magical thinking is the idea that things in the reality of the mind effect things in the reality outside the mind. Most people engage in magical thinking to some degree, despite the fact it is madness. Indeed, studies have proven a direct link between propensity to magical thinking and propensity to psychosis. (Eckblad & Chapman, 1983, and Thalbourne and French, 1995)

Within man’s social groupings there will be some truly mentally ill, some truly mentally healthy, and many retaining enough mental health to function normally in the reality outside the mind, but suffer from grievous disillusions in the inner reality. A simple example, again from Wikipedia: “31% of Americans polled expressed a belief in astrology and 39% considered it scientific according to another study.” So one out of three people believe magic determines reality to some degree.

Recall the example of mourning: the mourning process is a gradual reduction of distress as the inner reality learns to accept the death which the outer reality has already confirmed. However, perhaps a full third of the population does not feel the need to accept the outer reality of death. They choose to believe instead that death is not real. The loved one has not ended, but merely changed state and continues to live in an unseeable, unprovable reality called the afterlife. If pressed, the bereaved might admit why they believe so strongly in an afterlife: to believe something actively argued against by reality brings them less distress than allowing their mind to agree with reality.

The ramifications of this to man’s social groupings are enormous and terrifying. Man is a highly social animal who forms groups whenever he interacts with other members of his species. These groups will always have a leader. The leader will be the person who offers ideas which cause the least distress, and the ideas which cause the least distress will be the ones farthest removed from reality. To be very clear: The leader of most human groups will be the one who has the deepest internal mental illness, while exhibiting the greatest outer mental health.

A hyper realist will rarely be seen as a leader, for his grip on reality denies him the ability to provide simple answers to the complicated and interconnected problems which plague mankind. The truly mentally ill have an obviously insufficient grip on reality and are not sought to be leaders. As far as “the center of the bell curve” is concerned, the best leader is the one who grips as much reality as possible but has the most heartfelt belief in non-reality. He is the one who can provide simple answers. He is the one who can substitute correlation for cause and make trustworthy sounding fictions.

Imagine, a corporation on the verge of bankruptcy. The stockholders meet together to decide whom of the various executives available is the best candidate for the job. One candidate says, “I have analyzed our situation, I have consulted the world’s leading experts on our situation, I have run every number, and my conclusion is this: We can save this company, but it will be risky and difficult. We will have to do many unpleasant things and be very unpopular with certain groups of people, but I think we may be able to save it.” Another says “I believe in this company! I believe in America and the American system! The great people of this company have pulled together against adversity before and they can do it again!” Most often, the executive who states that it is his personal belief, and the personal beliefs of others, that will make the company work, will receive the job over the executive who takes an honest assessment of the risks.

In short, the cynics cry that we are ruled by madmen is not false, but reasonable and likely. People who are a little mentally ill (which statistically most people are) will be most pleased with a leader who appeals to their latent illness without alienating their overt sanity. Remember the opening line of this blog? “It is not hard for us as human beings to believe everyone is born with different capacities based on the organs which they receive.” It is however, hard to accept, that different consciousness will decide the capacities of a human as well. Some people are prone to be realists, some are prone to be mystics. A mystic might discipline his consciousness to accept realism, and realist might grow up in culture that values mysticism. We all have different capacities based on what we inherited. The humanist hope however, of a wise world, undistracted by beautiful fancies and noble lies, is not to be had anytime soon.

The best we can hope for is rule by realists rather than mystics. If history is any indication, this a rare and unlikely state of affairs. Thankfully, realists are up against, not other realists, but against people who think they can change the world by thinking about it. Realists will prevail eventually. Its just too bad the mystics have to take so many good people with them in their orgiastic self destruction.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A recipe for mass murder


( For Wikipedia’s excellent article.

To quote Wikipedia (the compendium of all human knowledge) “Like science, magic is concerned with causal relations, but unlike science, it does not distinguish correlation from causation.” Magical thinking is an import step in the process to having a vibrant and mature mind. Sadly, most people never move on to logical thinking, but continue to add and subtract from magical thinking attempting to make a suitable world view.

A wise man once said to me, “You will have a world view, whether you chose one or not.” It’s true. There is no such thing as person without world view, there are only people with logical and systematic paradigms and people with illogical and asystematic paradigms, but every person operates from some paradigm. Our world view is the product of our method of thinking about our thinking, our meta-thinking, if you will. If one never puts a thought into how one thinks, one will think poorly. Thinking poorly, one will produce an haphazard world view. Owning a inconstant world view produces an inability to perceive others consistently, which in turn, will cause an inability to relate to others consistently. This (finally) is the definition of hypocrisy, so the magical thinker will always fail by the standards of his or her own flawed value system.

Substituting correlation for cause isn’t just bad science, it’s dangerous to the human spirit, and here’s why: When a person consistently substitutes correlation for cause they will come to believe that their thoughts have the power to effect reality. Virtually everyone in the US will be in a car accident at some point in their lives, some will be in many. Use the example to a logical thinker and a magical thinker, both whom have had the statistically unlikely situation of being in 3 accidents in 3 months.

The logical thinker asks why is this phenomenon happening? He gets online and studies accident statistics. He has his tires and brakes checked, he talks to his insurance company. He is unhappy with all these accidents and and investigates the way his actions effect him.

The magical thinker asks himself why this phenomenon happening to me? Instead of searching for cause he searches for correlation. He asks what was he was thinking or doing all 3 times. Finally finding a correlating fact, he then believes that this fact is the cause. He also is unhappy with all these accidents but having reached a false cause, he solves it with a false solution.

Now, the logical thinker has removed himself from the probability of another accident, but the magical thinker, not knowing the true cause, has not. We can see here that magical thinking is endangering his life. When he gets in another accident, however, magical thinking will endanger his spirit. Since, in his own mind, he removed the cause of the accidents, this 4th accident must have a cause not bound by normal cause. In short, the magical thinker now believes that this 4th accident is not a natural act, but a supernatural act. He is now making up his own religion as he goes.

But the magic thinker only thinks about his thinking when he is looking for a correlation in his own mind. He doesn’t think about the nature of this thinking. We know this because the magic thinker is an man of average inteligence and not a imbecile. If you asked him outright “Do you believe that you have the ability to determine the whether an even is natural or supernatural by how you feel about it?” He would say no, but regardless, that is what he is doing.

It is far too simple a step from believing that the things that happen around you happen with a supernatural cause to believe that you ARE the supernatural cause. From there comes the idea that what you believe is more important than what you do, and finally, the last step down the slippery slope: that you can change reality by the belief rather than action.

Further, since he doesn’t realize that he is his own god, he has no problem belonging to an established religion. And thats when the horrors start. Take one man that has been convinced that he has unique insight into the supernatural which outweighs and overpowers logic. Add a large and powerful organization which gives legitimacy to this belief by its size and also uses its organization to provide positive and negative reinforcements to certain key behaviors . Mix vigorously with social instability and suffering. Viola! A recipe for mass murder.

But how do we stop these people? It would seem that building a large and powerful organization with a rigid belief system is not the answer. (How well has Protestantism, originally gathered around protesting the the very real abuses of the Catholic Church faired? It has become that which it hated. The Church had her pogroms, the Protestants their massacres.) If logical thinkers built a church style organization I guarantee church like results: a beautiful teaching hidden inside a holy book which the followers are encouraged to read only when it properly sanitized and commentaried, and decades of apathy interrupted by occasional movements of inspiring love and frequent movements of hate, murder, and suffering.

We can’t reason with them, because they can’t reason. Believing their thoughts to be logical, they perceive logical thinkers to be not magical thinkers, but magical practitioners. Their organization and all of their friends tell them that their thoughts reflect reality. Thus when a logical thinker presents them with reality, they have but two possible paths to take. (1.) Turn their back on their entire world view or (2.) believe that the logical thinker is somehow twisting reality, making it appear to disagree with their organization. Of course, they take the second. The logical thinker is seen as a practitioner of a foul truth magic. As human beings, we have logic hardwired in from the womb. If you show someone the logical path, they can’t help but see it. Since the typical magical thinker/cult member/religious zealot (if you are a zealot and offended by that, perhaps you should examine your zeal) has been told by everyone they know that their path is logical, this sudden attraction to the “wrong” (logical) way can only be seen supernatural influence, ie, evil.

The only way I know out of this mess is by personal example. I be seek to be the very best that I can be and wait for people to notice how much I enjoy life. I hold my beliefs up to public discussion on this blog (and in other places) not for people to notice, for if I had to tell people how happy I am for them to notice, I must not really be that happy, but for constant review and evaluation, so that I can hold on to this little toehold of joy and freedom I have bought with my skepticism and my faith. The natural state of man seems to be to surrender his freedoms to a mob so he can be one of them. I don’t want to surrender the freedom of my mind, and I won’t, so I stand in public and say “Doubt me, please! Question everything I believe! Find the holes and the gaps that I am content with till I’ve nothing less than pure truth.” That is the plan of my life. The only way I know to fight the madness mentioned above is to follow that plan.

February 16, 2008 Posted by | Paranormal, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment