Political Tribalism, Hatred & The Value of Understanding

“Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.” – Mahatma Gandhi

 “Making an indictment may be easier and more emotionally satisfying than following the ancient admonition, ‘With all your getting, get understanding.’” – Thomas Sowell, History versus Visions

 Living with Disagreement

We talking apes have always been a contentious bunch. From squabbles about food and fashion to momentous disputes about politics and religion, we never hurt for issues on which to disagree. In the face of unreckonable disagreements, though, we cope with each other surprisingly well. But this has not always been the case. For millennia, violence was a fashionable means to settle civil disputes, and has only recently fallen out of style. Now, instead of violence, we rely on words, so as to better understand disagreements before taking action. This remarkable cultural shift – from violence to diplomacy – is not an entirely natural state of affairs and, as such, we regularly struggle with it. Continue reading “Political Tribalism, Hatred & The Value of Understanding”

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Political Tribalism, Hatred & The Value of Understanding

Are We Rational or Emotional?

“… no sharp line divides thinking from feeling, nor does thinking inevitably precede feeling or vice versa (notwithstanding the century of debate within psychology over which comes first).” – Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works

“I’m hooked on a feeling; I’m high on believing.” – Blue Swede

Deceptive Dichotomies

As we puzzle out the world, we are often slow to grasp how the pieces fit together. Our mental landscapes are peppered with dichotomies that obscure underlying relationships, meaning that that we regularly think of interrelated phenomena as entirely separate. We dichotomize concepts like inside and outside, up and down, and left and right, rarely noticing how such mutually exclusive ideas are, in fact, interdependent: the existence of an outside entails an inside, up only exists relative to down, and left indicates right. Continue reading “Are We Rational or Emotional?”

Are We Rational or Emotional?

Rethinking Death

“Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it – you’ve got to go sometime.” – Pink Floyd, The Great Gig in the Sky

 Morbid Metaphors

Life is often compared to a burning candle whose luminosity is bookended, past and future, by eternal darkness. At first blush, this metaphor seems apt: consciousness comes into existence, illuminates a lifetime of experience, then dissolves, replaced by the abyss whence it came. But such a comparison is wrongheaded, emblematic of prevailing attitudes towards death which are unimaginative and unduly negative. Continue reading “Rethinking Death”

Rethinking Death

Why Bother Meditating?

“Most of our world is mind-spin.” – Stephen Levine

“But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options.” – David Foster Wallace

 An Unsatisfying Present

We are conflicted about the present moment. As children we want the freedom enjoyed by adults. After growing up, we come to envy the carefree nature of childhood. Thinking of generations past, we envision a world unblighted by modern technology and capitalistic greed. Projecting to the future, we see glimmers of our salvation in green technology made by conscionable business. Whether romanticizing the past or exalting the future, we often wish to be someplace other than the here and now.

Continue reading “Why Bother Meditating?”

Why Bother Meditating?

Don’t Fear Determinism

[NOTE: I wrote this essay for people who do not believe in free will. If you believe in free will this essay won’t do much for you, except maybe frustrate you because of the certainty with which I put forth a determinist worldview.]

“When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, and that’s my religion.” – old Indianan man named Glenn, as recounted by Abraham Lincoln

“I think something innate in us understands that seeking the good of society is usually best for the individual as well.” – Jasnah, from Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings

Introduction

Our culture owes much of its success to heresy. The unique strengths of modernity lie in the rejection of dogma and superstition in favour of more skeptical attitudes. We aspire to adopt truths not by revelation, but through rigorous inquiry. Informed by careful reasoning and empirical testing, we – when at our best – repeatedly update our beliefs and intuitions to better reflect what is true. When knowledge mirrors reality, we can interact more skilfully with the world. But to profit from knowledge, we must be willing to forsake traditional views when shown to be in error. Continue reading “Don’t Fear Determinism”

Don’t Fear Determinism

The Importance of Awareness

“And yet I think also that if even we today could acquire the knack of maintaining undistracted consciousness between coffee breaks, we too might find that we possessed angelic talents, powers, and skills.” – Joseph Campbell

“The truth about us is sobering: We have been playing with our smart phones while hurtling toward the abyss…” – Sam Harris

Introduction

The flourishing of humanity depends on many mental and physical attributes, such as dexterous hands, abstract thought, communication ability and kin relations. If any of these characteristics vanished on a widespread scale, our quality of life would almost certainly regress. Although most traits foundational to human achievement are intact, a mental faculty indispensable to human progress is being catastrophically degraded.

Continue reading “The Importance of Awareness”

The Importance of Awareness

Who’s in Control?

“The inner man has been created in the image of the outer.” – BF Skinner

“We live our lives, as it were, ‘inside out’, projecting the existence of an ‘I’ as separate from an external world which we try to manipulate to gain satisfaction.” – Namkhai Norbu

Introduction

Until better explanations became available, humans personified nature to explain its workings: gods with human looks and emotions have been invoked across cultures as causes behind natural processes, it was once believed that sperm housed little humans, and the mental faculty of foresight is often attributed to blind evolutionary processes that cannot anticipate future states. Fortunately, the scientific method has usurped much of the personified description of nature. Though we’ve realized personification’s inadequacy at explaining natural processes, the common understanding of our inner mental lives – themselves natural processes – hinges upon personification. We wrongly invoke personae (aka “selves”) as the causes behind human behaviour.[1] This oversimplification neglects the formative role of the environment on actions and mental states. Continue reading “Who’s in Control?”

Who’s in Control?