Don’t Fear Determinism

“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 epistemological 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?

Four Paradigms of Time

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” – Saint Augustine

“In the underlying microscopic world you can run forward and backward in time just as easily one way as the other…If you want to know why notions of cause and effect work in the macroscopic world even though they’re absent in the microscopic world, no one completely understands that.” – Sean Carroll

We tend to become more conservative as we age, resisting new ideas that may be necessary for societies to flourish in a changing world. Numerous techniques and substances exist that can encourage neuroplasticity and creativity. Many of these methods – yoga, meditation, cold exposure etc. – seem to work by moving our attention out of conceptual thought so that our awareness bypasses our frontal lobes to affect deeper brain structures associated with regulating stress, proprioreception, and even our sense of self. Continue reading “Four Paradigms of Time”

Four Paradigms of Time

Concentration Practices

Humans’ use of technology fractures our attention spans. And because attention is critical to accessing sustainable sources of happiness, our use of technology has the potential to negatively impact everything that we do. Although I don’t think that there are any methods as reliable as a disciplined meditation practice for improving our faculties of attention (other than Ritalin and smoking), I’ve come up with a few techniques that can be used on the fly. Even though they range from only a few seconds to a few minutes, they invoke large amounts of concentration in small amounts of time. In an arbitrarily numbered list, here they are: Continue reading “Concentration Practices”

Concentration Practices

Why We Might be in a Simulation, and Why this Isn’t Completely & Totally Useless to Think About

“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

The Simulation Argument

In 2003 the philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper called the Simulation Argument, in which he puts forth some sound logic that reaches a pretty wacky conclusion. But as I thought more about it, his conclusion seemed progressively less wacky…

Continue reading “Why We Might be in a Simulation, and Why this Isn’t Completely & Totally Useless to Think About”

Why We Might be in a Simulation, and Why this Isn’t Completely & Totally Useless to Think About

Moral Problems with Free Will

Knowledge can only be gained by first admitting ignorance. The human race has been reluctant to acknowledge uncertainty, opting instead for shallow answers that preclude serious investigation about our lives and the world around us. Such stubborn certitude blinds us to fundamental truths while allowing firm conviction in judgments of how the world is or ought to be. This trend is evident in our historical views toward most natural phenomena – such as diseases, crop death, and weather – which were explained as being caused by a deity as judgment for poor behaviour. Secular society now recognizes the epistemological problems associated with attributing causation to an omnipotent God. We also realize that effective inquiry requires a suspension of bias-inducing judgments. However, because a belief in free will pervades society we fail to apply this rational attitude to our dealings with members of our own species. Assigning causality to God, feeling justified in our judgments, and washing our hands of understanding is no longer fashionable. A belief in free will grants humans God-like powers of causation, allows us to justify (im)moral judgments against individuals, and impacts our understanding of the true causes behind people’s actions. Continue reading “Moral Problems with Free Will”

Moral Problems with Free Will