“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”—Douglas Adams
In 2003 the philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper called “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?”, in which he uses solid logic to reach a fairly wacky conclusion. Bostrom argues that a highly sophisticated civilization might choose to run simulations of its evolutionary history, so detailed as to capture conscious experience. If this happens, the number of simulated worlds could vastly outnumber the single, original reality. Therefore, unless such simulations are impossible, there’s a reasonable chance that we live in one. Continue reading “Is There Any Evidence that we Live in a Simulation?”
“Humans may be vulnerable to bias and error, but clearly not all of us all the time, or no one would ever be entitled to say that humans are vulnerable to bias and error.” — Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now
On occasion, big ideas escape scholarly circles and take hold in the popular consciousness. Freed from the constraints of academic rigour, such ideas quickly find themselves where they don’t belong. For instance, confused people have taken the Big Bang as proof of Genesis 1:3 (“Let there be light”), used quantum mechanics to peddle half-baked science and spirituality, and enlisted natural selection to justify all manner of abuse. Lately, a similar sense of confusion has emerged around the idea of cognitive biases. Continue reading “Can Reason and Bias Coexist?”
“What can you gain from only expecting good experiences?” — Steve Armstrong, Meditation Teacher
I. The Downside of Comfort
Most people know, at some level, that their lives are limited by the size of their comfort zones. Life rarely offers reward without first subjecting us to discomfort, so if we can’t tolerate discomfort we can’t lead rewarding lives. Unfortunately, by relentlessly shaping modern life to suit our desires, we’ve lost much of our ability to withstand discomfort. Because we seldom need to forego food, shelter, entertainment, or social contact, we’ve become accustomed to overly comfortable lives. Though this might not sound like such a bad thing—after all, who doesn’t want to be comfortable?—our attachment to comfort causes much misery. Continue reading “The Mindful Case for Cold Showers”
“There is simply constant change, continuous adjustment, and random selection in an eternal present.” — Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Soul
Few things in life are as revered as the human imagination, and for good reason. All of our great stories, works of art, systems of cooperation, and technologies were birthed and nurtured in the imaginings of human minds. Without imagination we would be an impoverished species, vastly limited in our possibilities. For many people, this connection—between imagination and human possibility—has made imagination a kind of synonym for limitless freedom; imagination can set a person free, whether they’re a student daydreaming in class, a single mother dreaming of a better life, or a prisoner of war dreaming of life back home.
However, because we idolize imagination we rarely appreciate how, more often than not, it leaves us feeling trapped. Continue reading “Time as Change in the Present”
“People with a lot of talent and an inclination to work hard are extremely fortunate.” – Robert H. Frank, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy
The Myth of Cosmic Justice
Life is challenging. Without exception, it involves hard work, difficult choices, and painful losses, spread against a backdrop of insecurity and uncertainty. We deal with life’s challenges as best we can, establishing islands of certainty and security to hold its turbulence at bay. Through work, friends, and family, we insure our basic material and social needs. Through art, entertainment, and personal pursuits, we search for spiritual satisfaction. But no matter how carefully we structure our lives, we live under the light of an unsettling fact, which is that life is fundamentally unfair. Continue reading “Luck and the Meaning of Life”
“The only reason, for example, that you are not a rattlesnake is that your mother and father weren’t rattlesnakes. You deserve very little credit for being what you are – and remember, the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, unreasoning, deserve very little discredit for being what they are.” — Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
Knowledge comes through many channels. It can be acquired by conscious effort, per academic ways of learning. It can accumulate unconsciously, seeping in through exposure to various cultures and contexts. It can arise suddenly, via flashes of insight produced by the veiled churnings of the subconscious mind. Or it can develop over aeons of natural trial and error, resulting in dispositions suited for survival in an oft-unforgiving world. But for all its different modes and forms, every bit of knowledge shares one crucial requisite: a dependence on intuition. Continue reading “Four Arguments for the Nonexistence of Free Will”
I’ve taken this post down for editing. When I get around to it, I’ll put it back up.