Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hubris, aka We Humans Really Do Give Ourselves Too Much Credit

I worry that my faith is changing, and that my main ideas are just becoming a diatribe against religions in general and Christianity in particular.  I really don't know why I hate them so much; this must be what they feel.  So actually, and sort of ironically, I pretty much know exactly where they are coming from.  But I cling to the fact that I came to my faith of my own volition; I wasn't born into it or raised in its presence, and I started forming my ideas when I was still quite young and didn't have this mysterious animosity toward Christians.

I remember when I was four or five and in kindergarten, I had this friend, Erica, who was a Christian.  Nothing special; most of my friends were probably Christians in the sense that their parents had said "you are Christian."♦  Even then I realized the sanctity of the earth and nature, and I did not relish the idea of humans as the masters of the world.  One day (or over the course of a few days) we had a discussion involving the Christian god♥, my Mother earth (reminiscent of Native American religions), and the creation of the earth and humankind.  I was still willing to "play nice" with Christians at that point, as she was willing to with me; also important to note is that I had not defined myself as anything other than Christian at that point, although I did not see myself as one of that religion and did not follow its tenets (church, prayer, etc).  Erica and I eventually decided that my Mother had made the earth, including the land, the oceans, and all the animals and plants, and that her god had made the humans.  I would have to say I got the better deal.  My personal feelings aside, I find it interesting that we would compromise so, and I am extremely curious as to how we would deal with it now.  Perhaps that is the mindset that I seek to return to.

I don't want to hate people just because of what they believe; that in itself is sort of against my ideas.  I don't want to have a double standard and think myself and my faith above criticism.  But that is the direction that I find myself moving in; I think that conservative Christians are so idiotic for believing such ridiculous fairytales as the bible, but I believe things that could be described as "fanciful" and "ludicrous."

The key for me is to be humble; nothing and no one is above the scrutiny of the living, and so I should be used to being tossed aside like so much ridiculous trash.  As long as I can think they're morons; but then I am in danger of falling into that trap of the double standard… I do hate the double standard, and Christians (and really most recognized religions, especially the monotheistic ones) are shameless perpetrators of this hubris.♣

♦ I also remember asking my mother, and my friends asking their mothers, "What are we?"  As in, what religion are we?  This in itself is utter folly, because any faith or religion must be reached by yourself, in my opinion.  Religion is totally your own, so children having religion is ridiculous.

♥ You will never see me call the Judeo-Christian deity "God" because I am insulted by the inference that he is the only god.  Being a polytheist of a sort I recognize the existence of many divine forces, though I may not recognize their sovereignty.  Hence my use of "JCgod."

♣ Hubris is commonly used to describe a mortal who thinks he is equal to a god, but I propose that it also describes religions/faiths and followers of religions/faiths that consider themselves above other religions/faiths, or, more importantly, consider themselves above scrutiny.  No thing in the universe is above scrutiny.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Smile or Die: The Real Secret

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hey Look, It's Thanksgiving

I like thanksgiving.  I like hanging out with family, I like the time off from school, I like the food...  Yeah, it's pretty cool.  Well, except for the whole "giving thanks" thing.  If you haven't noticed, I get pretty hung up on the whole "higher power" thing, and the idea of thanking this invisible pink unicorn for stuff when really we all deserve the credit just burns me.  But this is not a rant (notice how it's not under "rants") and I want it to be positive.  So here goes...

I would like to thank my mother.  For basically everything.  You really want a list?  Okay, here's a list: she feeds me, she clothes me, she gives me a place to sleep, she sends me to school, she buys me random presents, she bakes yummy stuff for me and my roommates, she gives me hugs, I can call her in the middle of the school day to bitch about some random classmate that bugs me, I can call her in the middle of the night if I wake up in a panic, she tries to understand all of my oddities, she listens to me when I go off on rants, she listens to me when I talk about science even though her eyes glaze over a bit, she trusts me enough to talk to me about how she's feeling, she trusts me enough to leave me the house when she's traveling the world, she respects that my world revolves around horses and dogs even though hers doesn't, she doesn't yell at me when I come home covered in mud, she would kiss my boo-boos if I needed it, she lets me tell her if her outfit is heinous, she tells me if my outfit is heinous, I could call her fifty times a day and she'd only screen my calls if she knew I was panicking and digging myself in deeper, she would know if I was panicking and digging myself in deeper, she does most anything to see me smile, she puts up with my high-strung terrier because she knows I love him, she only nags me about getting a summer job occasionally, she'll eat lunch at Panera bread three days in a row because I want to, she'll drive me endlessly back and forth from the stables, she lets me borrow her socks, she raises and eyebrow at chocolate cream pie that I snuck into the grocery cart but doesn't take it out, I can send her my unfinished essay and she'll read it and give me pointers over the phone, she gets me tshirts with owls on them whenever she sees them, she doesn't freak out when I curse (usually), she helps me run around in a panic to get everything ready for a ceremony, she puts up with my perfectionism, she calls me on my perfectionism, she helps me organize things when I'm  freaking out about schoolwork at midnight, she doesn't pretend I was a perfect child... let's see; what else?  Oh: she loves me unconditionally and she will always love me and I'm pretty sure she has loved me forever despite the fact that she only learned of my existence twenty-odd years ago (it has to do with the multiverse).

I would like to thank my grandparents; all of them, but one set in particular.  The list is basically the same, though the specifics are different, but you get the gist.  Most of all, I would like to thank my grandparents for being my second parents.  They have given me a foundation to stand on, and I know that I can always come back and they'll be waiting with open arms.  And they love me.  Not "they love me, too" because "too" implies that it follows something, and their love does not follow; it deserves its own continent.  They each deserve their own continent.  Grandmasia and Grampalia.

I would like to thank my cousin.  He is like my brother, and we've had our differences but we've never been closer than we are now.  I want to thank him for his success; I am so proud of him and all he's accomplished, and how he's turned out to be a really great person despite all the adversity in his life.  I want to thank him for being cool with the fact that I'm crazy, and being okay with me thinking he' s crazy too.  I mean, everyone's crazy, but we're special.

The rest of the thanks are pretty general; there were just some outstanding ones.  You know how it is.  I would like to thank everyone I've known for making me who I am today.  I'm still here so it can't be all bad...  I would like to thank everyone in my family for everything they are.  I would like to thank all of my classmates for everything they are (yes all of them).  I would like to thank the academy.  I would like to thank all of my teachers, especially some really great kindergarten and high school teachers.

So there you have it; not a complete list but I don't think I'd actually be able to put the real list down in time for thanksgiving in ten years.  This guy sorta sums it up pretty well.  So that's my challenge to you: this thanksgiving, seek out the real people in your life and let them know that they have the credit.  And enjoy the time you have with the people you love; that's the most important thing in the world.

Happy Thanksgiving! ~argent wolfwing

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'Tis the Season, 'Cuz The Darkness Won't Let Up For A While

This season always seems dark to me.  Yes, it's literally dark, but I mean metaphorically, like everyone's hiding something.  It feels forced, like the people are gilded.

Maybe it is as simple as the literal darkness; most of our days are spent in darkness this season.  And you know how if you're in a room with windows no amount of light inside can make you forget the dark.  In fact it seems to emphasize the darkness, and the light seems like a facade.

I don't know if there was a time that I didn't feel the creeping darkness of the season.  In high school I did learn to associate Xmas with my parents' divorce and the forced cheer everyone put on, but I don't think that's the root of it.  I seem to remember this feeling before that time, like some insidious darkness-creature was trying to gnaw its way out of our bones, hiding behind the ruddy glow of cheerful faces.

Strange thing, but I always remember Christmas songs about love, and [yes, even] the Biblical Christmas story filling me with sorrow, like something was supposed to happen, but didn't.

I like the Roman answer to the season (which not-so-incidentally is why Christmas is on Dec 25th and not when scholars place Jesus' birthday) which is the Feast of Mithras.  Mithras was sort of a bestial god (pure, in a primal sense), probably a Roman god of war (who wasn't?) and therefore pretty popular with soldiers.  Mithraism (a Roman mystery religion) may have been a semi-serious competitor with early Christianity, so early Christians kind of took over Mithras day. which is the 25th. (Look at the 3rd and 4th paragraph of "Relationship with Christianity")

Actually, now that I think about it, I like this Roman feast day for the same reason I like all of them: it recognizes the humanity of humans.  We are all just cultured animals and honoring the warriors is a good way to acknowledge the beast (obviously no offense to any soldiers, but you've got to admit that fighting is not very human in origin).

And beyond the fact that I feel a mysterious sort of visceral sorrow at this season, maybe this season is when we all "get back to basics," in a way.  The days are shortening, the weather's getting colder, it's time for the wild things to really get serious about the whole surviving thing.  Winter is the ultimate make-or-break scenario: unlike some other life-threat situations, no one can escape winter.  Whatever you do, it'll always be there, ready to threaten.  So maybe our primal bits recognize the threat (even though that threat is sort of irrelevant for humans now) and make us feel stressed, anxious, and sorrowful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mind Control: Who's Really in Charge?

I often wonder: who's running the show?  Is it me, or my mind?  Or are we the same?

I don't think we are.  I mean, if we were, there would be no issue of control.  If my thoughts were intrinsic in myself, I wouldn't have to school them.  This lends to my thoughts on the separation of the mind and body; our bodies do stuff we don't want them to do, so our bodies must not be intrinsic, in a sense.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when I think of a person (or really of any living thing) I think of the cooperation (or not) of three separate entities: body, mind, and (*grimace*) spirit.  Soul.  Whatever you want to call it.  It's the fifth element (fire, air, water, earth, spirit).  All five elements (and no, I'm not one of those wackjobs that denies the existence of things like calcium and helium) are in varying amounts in every living thing, so yes, every living thing has a soul.  My soul is me.  I am my soul.  The body is a shell, and to an extent the mind is, too.  We tack a possessive adjective in front of these things: my body, my mind, my thoughts and feelings and ideas.  I know the possessive thing doesn't always work, because we say things like my soul, but my point is that I can have/own/possess a body and a mind, but I am a soul.  (Incidentally, next time someone tells you you're soulless, you can agree with them.  Just a thought.)  Think of old sailors talking about seafaring; you know how when a ship sinks they talk about how many souls were lost?

Enough semantics; semantics and arguing about words is so much fun I often get carried away. (sarcastic: "Really?")  This is important to me, so much so that I've spent many an hour lost in my head, thinking about the separation of mind, body, and soul.  Theoretically, if something (like spirit) was me, it would be completely under my control.  (Better:) I wouldn't have to tell it what to do.  There are a lot of things going on in my body and my mind that I don't know about or at least aren't consciously controlling; if you think about it that way, it's extremely fortunate for us that our bodies and minds aren't us.  For instance, I'm a biology major and so I have to learn about all the millions of molecular and cellular processes going on in our various tissues at any given time.  On many occasions I've thought to myself: "Isn't it a good thing that I don't need to know how my body works in order to live?"  Essentially, I'd have to understand every single cellular process and remember everything perfectly if I was going to go about consciously controlling my body.  Think of it like a construction site; if I was the foreman, I wouldn't want to have to know everything, and I probably wouldn't.  I'd have a few electrical engineers, some lumber specialists, and some guys who know all about building the framework and struts, and I wouldn't have to micromanage because they'd be able to operate independently, but in concert with all the other workers.  Read: I'd be totally screwed if my bodies was me.  So try to wrap your mind around the statement that our bodies and our minds are just that: our bodies and our minds, not us.  (I'll wait.)

Ready?  Okay, next question: am I in control of my mind, or is it the other way around?  My answer: both.

What an answer, right?  But psychologists and doctors and the guy down the street acknowledge the existence of two minds: the conscious and the unconscious (okay maybe not the guy down the street, but he also wears tinfoil hats, so...).  And the unconscious mind is defined [in some cases] as the stuff we don't even know about, much less control.  So wouldn't it be reasonable to jump from "I don't control it" to "it controls me?"  I think so.  That of course assumes that there has to be some controller somewhere in the equation, and I think that it's mine (not a part of me, as we already went over).

Well sometimes it is me, I think.  When an issue is under the purview of my conscious mind, it's in my control.  Therefore I--the soul--am controlling it.

Sum it up, you say?  Okay: I don't think anything can be put in a box.  I think that everything falls somewhere on a spectrum.  So any thought, any action is a blend of conscious and unconscious.  Nothing is certain.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What's your favorite color?

I have a theory about how we see colors; I came up with it a while ago, and I've got absolutely no evidence. But it's sort of one of those things that can never really be proven either way. Actually... we'll get to that.

I'm going to start my explanation with an assumption: that you have a favorite color. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to say that my favorite color is green (it's not as simple as just "green" but it would take a lot of space to explain and you'd grumble and say "aw, why are you wasting my time with this?" so we won't go into it). So my question is: why does everyone have a favorite color? As humans we like and dislike the same basic things, or at least as inexperienced children we do; warm is good but hot is bad, bitter is yucky and sweet yummy, and loud sounds hurt our ears but soft music is pretty. As we grow our tastes change and evolve, and we learn to like bitter things like coffee and loud things like rock music, but we all pretty much start off with the same hardwired instincts, bred into us by millions of years of natural selection. So why shouldn't it be the same with colors? What says we don't all like basically the same colors to start with?

The only way this works is if we see different colors when we believe we are seeing the same colors. What I mean is that when I see what we all call green (we'll call this aw_green), you actually see what I would call blue (aw_blue). But you call it green. When we both look at a color and call it red, I see something different than you, but we've both grown up seeing that color and calling it red so we don't realize we're seeing different things.

"Okay, but how do you explain the fact that individual colors are created by measurable wavelengths of light?" Color is, at the root, about neurological perception. Perhaps there is even a psychological element, with experience influencing our perceptions. But the point is, color isn't something our eyes see, it's something our brains create from the signals they're sent. In effect, color is a fabrication of our minds.

The only way I can think of to test this is with some kind of neural scan, maybe an fMRI.  But if different colors don't produce visibly (to an MRI) unique responses in our brains, we're sunk.  If they do, then they could set baselines for a bunch of different people and then show them different colors and watch the magic.  Of course, there's all sorts of other variables too; someone might always think of dear old Grams who died last year when they see that shade of purple, and someone else might remember that time they were almost hit by a car that was that exact navy blue.

Also, studies have shown that certain colors can semi-reliably elicit certain emotional responses, varying even more with your cultural and personal experiences. (See this abstract at The Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology)

Maybe the best way to test this would be with filters.  I mean, you could put a subject in an MRI and show him color blocks (just a square of color, not an object of that color), then put different-colored lenses in front of the image and see if anything on the fMRI matches up.  Maybe it could work.  Somehow, you'd have to influence the wavelength of the light getting to the subject's retina...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Following Time (Also: Time's Following Me)

I'm still puzzling over the nature of time.  I can't help but think of relativity in an Einstein-ian sense, specifically time dilation; the theory of relativity seems to suggest that time is subjective.  I was listening to the Radiolab podcast called "Falling" and in the first section they talk to a neuroscientist named David Eagleman author of several books about life and living and death and dying (I realize that's an accurate description of pretty much anything in the world…).  He talks about that life-or-death moment, when you fall off a roof (as he did) or when you're on an out-of-control horse (like me) and time

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Please Don't Invent Me A History; I'm Good With My Own, Thanks

(The following was prompted by the section "Reconsidering Hutton" in the Nov16th post at The Wild Hunt.)

As I've mentioned before I subscribe to various feeds around the interwebz, many in the Pagan blogosphere.  I like being informed and up-to-date on the many happenings in the Pagan community  I notice a thread of a theme emerging in some posts, that people want a history.  For instance they want to say something like "[insert individual brand of Paganism here] has been around for 500 years" or 50 or 1000 or whatever.  The sense I get from this--and I could be misreading people--is that they need something to be "historical" to have validity.  This is not my understanding of faith.

First, "Paganism" (or "Wicca" or "Druidry") describes not a single faith with an established dogma and hierarchy, but a collection of individual faiths, each developed on a personal level.  Can any such faith have a history?  I'm not saying that a Pagan's faith can't be influenced by the history of another faith, or history in general; where would anyone be if no one had come before us?  Personally, I can name Greek/Roman and Egyptian polytheism as influencing my ideas, as well as physics, chemistry, biology, world politics, and yes, Christianity.  So yes, my faith has a history in the sense that I "stand on the shoulders of giants," as it were, but my faith, as it is today, is of my own creation.  Sure, I borrowed others' ideas, but the way I cobble them together is my own, and I've added a few original ideas, too.

Second, does something need a "history" to be valid?  Is anything new that just came around not real in some sense until it's got some history under its belt?  Furthermore, who decides how much history?  (I know this is a barrage of questions, but just one more...)  If nobody payed attention to anything new (eg an idea) until it had a history, would it end up ever having a history?  I think it would just sort of shrivel up and fade away.

I get the pride and the belonging associated with having a history.  There's magic in calling the elements at Samhain and knowing that hundreds of years ago there were some people doing the same sort of thing.  But that's just it; I feel the magic and the weight of age in the ancient celebrations I take part in, but I don't consider my faith to have a history.

I have thought about what will happen to my ideas when I die.  In all likelihood many of them (ie the original ones) will die with me.  But that's part of the reasoning behind this blog; I can share my ideas and (knowing the internet) they'll be around, somewhere, as long as there are computers, and maybe someone, someday will read them and think "huh, that makes sense to me" and incorporate it into their belief system.  Yeah, I could write a whole religion.  I've thought about it, many times.  But maybe I don't want anyone else to believe exactly what I believe.  I avoid labeling my collection of beliefs as a religion, and instead prefer to call it a faith because the word "faith" has a very personal element to it.  Perhaps it's just the connotation--brought of popular culture and my experiences--and not the annotation of the words that makes me consider religion and faith as different, but even if it is, the connotation is what actually matters in everyday usage.  Hold on a sec, I'll look it up............ yeah, it is sort of the connotation.  Although they do have slightly different definitions (according to Dictionary.com), the difference is mostly in the semantics.

The previous paragraph was [for the first two sentences] about the shelf-life of my ideas.  Because faith is personal to me and shouldn't be a copy/paste of another faith, my personal faith in all its [nonexistent] solemn glory is not something I want sticking around.  So history won't be an issue for me.

Various Pagan traditions (like Roman polytheism and ancient Celtic Druidism) were religions (in my sense of the word); there was a dogma and an established hierarchy of priests and such, and so they have a history as a religion.

I feel like this was a confusing post.  I apologize; I guess I have trouble articulating my ideas on history.  My main idea: my history is actually an amalgamation of the histories of the ideas from which I have drawn insight, and as a history is only about as long as I am old.  I don't claim to be a historical Druid or Roman polytheist or anything, so I can't claim all of their history.  I am just me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The [Enigmatic] Nature Of Time

If this wasn't on the Psychology Today website, I'd think it was fake.  But it is.  On PT that is.  So it got me thinking about my perception and conceptions of time.  Humans perceive time as linear; events have chronology, ie one thing happens, then another, then another and so on.  But is time linear?

I believe the multiverse to be a collection of discrete moments (ie events, the time frame of which is the smallest unit of time imaginable [or more correctly, unimaginable]) that an entity (eg a human consciousness) follows in a random path (like connect the dots).  Because humans perceive time as linear, this path should be roughly linear (straight, zig-zag, wavy, it doesn't really matter as long as no moment is ever visited twice).  Hashing this out with my roommates a few weeks ago I came to the conclusion that time is probably a fourth dimension.  I thought of this when trying to consider where all these moments were.  I mean, they had to be somewhere, right?  Somewhere out of reach of all of us (as in, we can't jump out of our time-bubble moments to view the "big picture"); there must be another dimension, in addition to xyz that contains them all!  Brilliant!  Anyway, in this model time isn't linear, rather it's sort of like an amorphous gel that all the moments are suspended in.  Kind of like the plum pudding model of the atom.  Interesting…

I think this PT article lends credence to my floating moments model.  (I kinda like that name, too; I think I'll keep it.)  What this article is suggesting—that the brain can have some (limited) precognition—suggests that time is not linear but a substance(?) that pervades reality.  Not circular, I think, because then precog would only extend to a certain period of time (like thirty-two nanoseconds or five minutes or ten millennia or something).  Unless time circles were infinite and concurrent…

Just what kind of substance(?) is time?  Hmmmm…

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Empty Room Accepts Your Apologies, But Do I?

Today I read something at The Wild Hunt that got me thinking.  Well, Wild Hunt always makes me think, but today I feel like writing about it.  It's the last section, "Medicine Man Confidentiality" of today's post.  It addresses equal rights for non-Christian religions to have a sort of "confessional confidentiality."  You know how if a murderer confesses his crime to a priest in confession it's considered sacred and the police can't force the priest to tell them?  Yeah, I think it's bullshit too.  And here's why:

I think why Christians are so okay with this is because their central dogma revolves around the spiritual world (the "next world") and the fact that this, physical world is fleeting.  Unimportant.  Basically, they're saying it doesn't matter what happens in "this" world, because it's all gonna come out right in the end.  Hey, the evil will be punished eternally and the virtuous will party in heaven and everyone's happy, right?

Dear gods, NO!  Are they HEARING themselves?  (I'm sorry, this really gets me.)  Oh, it doesn't matter that the murderer confessed to the priest but is still out on the streets to kill more people, and their families will be torn apart by grief and uncertainty for years and years to come, because he confessed his sins and he'll be punished in hell for all eternity when he dies.  Which could be after he kills twenty more people, or whatever.  Or no wait, doesn't confession mean he's absolved?  So you mean to tell me that he's "not guilty" anymore in your estimation because he's "seen the error of his ways" and confessed to the priest?  Oh, so that time he dismembered some random hooker in a dark alley and threw the parts in the East River was just an "oopsie" and didn't really count?  (Why yes, I do get a lot of my material from L&O…)  Oh, yeah, it does count, but kiss a string of beads a few hundred times and apologize to an empty room, or better yet, a manmade symbol, and all will be forgiven.  I'm sorry: WHAT?  What are you on?  And this is written into our LEGAL SYSTEM.

"This" world matters.  I understand that there's a historical precedent for this.  But here's the bottom line: while you have a right to believe in such things as the Invisible Pink Unicorn, you DO NOT have the right to subject me to your beliefs.  This is relevant when the victim and the victim's family are not of the same persuasion as you.  If a Catholic murdered a Hindu, then went to confession and told the priest all the gory details, should the victim's family (not being of the belief that JCgod will judge everyone at the end of days and everyone will be allotted their deserved space in heaven/hell) be content with the priest clamming up?  No, the priest is then complicit in the crime.  The priest should GO TO JAIL (DO NOT pass go, DO NOT collect $200).  The American legal system recognizing the confidentiality of Catholic confession (etc) impinges on MY rights to MY OWN beliefs: that everyone should be held accountable (assuming we are actually pursuing justice) in "this" world because there is no "next" world (what is this "next world" of which you speak of) where some "higher power" is going to do it for us.

And if you think that argument (yeah, that one ^ right up there) is an impingement on separation of church and state, just turn right around and consider that, in this case, our legal system is already taking cues from religious beliefs.

And if you're like Christine O'Donnell, who denies the validity of the interpretation of the second Amendment to the Constitution as "separation of church and state," then you should have no problem with the [slightly] religious nature of my argument.

So the article at Wild Hunt doesn't deal with Catholic confession; it's about equal rights for other faiths, namely native American faiths.  Up in Canada there's a murder trial going on, and as I understand it the suspect (being an adherent to a native American faith) may have said some things to a medicine man and the court is hemming and hawing about the legality of entering confessions to a spiritual leader into evidence.  Can you see where I'm going with this?

Okay, now I've had a few hours to cool down about this, but I still vehemently oppose this unconstitutional practice of the law.  I have two more points to make:

There might be a historical precedent for respecting the confidentiality of confession, but we don't live in the past.  Our society is much larger and communication over long distances and to a lot of people is much easier, so do we really want to send a message (that will be heard by millions, if not billions of people around the country and the world) that we don't punish "good Christians?"

And what's to say that certain unscrupulous elements (as criminals are wont to be) won't take advantage of this loophole in the legal system?  Are we really saying that a priest won't be fooled by a seasoned con artist or a pathological liar?

This chance for criminals to slide by the legal system in our country needs to be addressed.  The article may have been about events in Canada, but it just got me thinking about our own country (and how much confession confidentiality peeves me on L&O).  Sorry for all the vitriol, but I feel that it needs to be said.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Everyday Tests of Fortitude

So my roommate was in a scary situation today.  After my first class I had come back to the house and I was sitting at the kitchen table doing some homework when she came in.  Almost immediately I could tell something was wrong; she was very quiet as she walked in the door and responded to my greeting as if in shock.

"What's up?" I asked.

She proceeded to tell me about the guy in her class who, during their test, had pulled out two knives, stabbed himself in the gut, and cut his hands.  I sat there in shock; stuff like that doesn't happen around here, I thought.  Well, that was my initial reaction, but of course stuff like that happens everywhere.  It's like saying you're going to win at roulette because you deserve the money.  I got up and hugged her, asked her if she was okay, but that was all I could think to do.  What do you say?  "I'm sorry?"  For what?  I didn't do anything.  I didn't not do anything I could have.  But I am sorry.

What's the root of that feeling?  Why should I feel guilt for something I have no control over?  It seems like a human thing to regret things we have no control over.  We feel like we could have—I don't know—wished harder.  Prayed harder, if you want to put it that way.  But in the end, we have as much control as we started out with: none at all.

I continued to watch her as she gradually decompressed.  There were the fragmented statements, said as things came to mind and she filed them away.  She didn't cry, but she was close.  I asked her again if she was okay, and she said yeah, she was fine.  I wouldn't call myself a hypochondriac, but I know more than a lot of people about disease and I'm quite morbid (I also think it has something to do with my non-belief in a "higher power" that'd pull my ass out of the fire), so as I was watching her I looked for signs of PTS.  Post-traumatic stress is unavoidable, but it can be a harbinger of terrible things.

Later, as I walked to class, I looked differently at the people I was passing.  Any one of them could be carrying a knife or even a sharp pencil.  They could have a ball bearing full of ricin for all I know!  Scary thing: the guy with the knife probably wasn't planning on maiming himself this morning in his chemistry test.  Or maybe he was.  In all likelihood I'll never know.

It's worthy of contemplation (ie interesting) how something like this folds ripples into our little ponds.  I didn't see him do it, yet it has me pondering things in a new light.  That kid that just passed me, the one with his head bowed: was stressed about tonight's math homework?  Was he thinking about calling his friends to go out for a beer?  Is he going to come to class tomorrow with a Bowie knife and a death wish?

My other roommate, on hearing about the kid with the knives, mentioned this story she'd heard about a kid who was in a test and didn't know anything.  So he impaled his hand on his pencil.  You know, to get out of the test and maybe take it at another time or something.  I know how they feel.  I've thought about it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ah, The Bitter Disappointment (How Atheism Has Let Me Down)

I used to call myself an atheist.  I thought I didn't believe in any god or magic.  Actually, I've always believed in magic, but I don't begrudge atheists their beliefs.  I respect their rights.

But that's the thing, isn't it?  Atheism is based around belief.  Because not believing in something is believing in its absence, in some capacity.  Not to belittle atheism at all; a lot of them make a lot of sense.  Richard Dawkins, eg.

Some atheists consistently bother me, though.  I like to read RSS feeds, and I have a collection on Google Reader consisting of some pagan websites I like to read (like Wild Hunt and the Juggler [through PNC], etc) and some funny stuff.  Well, I also subscribe to an atheist blog called LOLgod.  I don't mean to trash it because they say some nasty things about witches.  I believe that nothing is sacred, in the sense that anything can be the subject of satire and sarcasm (including anything I believe in, BTW).  But I do have a problem with hypocrites.  I absolutely loathe hypocrisy.  I loathe it so much that in order to avoid hypocrisy myself, I will (a) point out that loathing something doesn't mean you never perpetrate it, and (b) admit that I may occasionally succumb to it.  I really try not to, but this is beside the point; hypocrisy drives me up the wall and I see a lot of it in the atheist community (because they are a community, no matter how much they may protest).

The reason I had to write about this today is because of something I saw on LOLgod.

Wednesday Nov 3

I like this cartoon.  The biggest problem I have with Christianity is the holier-than-thou attitude many Christians have.  So yeah, good post LOLgod.

Only on Oct 24, LOLgod posted a flowchart of alternative medicine with pretentiously labeled paths to many spiritual healing practices (yes, I mean Reiki and Faith Healing) as well as some non-spiritual healing (like homeopathy and herbal medicine).  I'm not going to put it here, because I don't like it and I don't want it associated with this blog, but go see it here and form your own opinions.  Similarly on Oct 21 they posted a spoof of Christine O'Donnell.  Which I am all for.  But in making fun of O'Donnell, they associate witchcraft with Christianity, which with my feelings about Christianity is enough to make me fume.  The spoof completely misrepresents witchcraft, equating the belief of magic (which of course, out of context, couldn't mean they're speaking of the respect for nature and nature's power over us) with a belief in God (don't get me started).  BTW, can I be totally incensed about the whole "raising the undead" comment?  I mean, WTF?  Again, go see it here.

When I think of atheism, I think of a culture of reason above all.  But these latest posts really show a side of atheism (or at least some atheist) that doesn't fit with this interpretation.

It's disappointing, but I see some atheist writers and bloggers that restore my hope.  ContraRarian is a good example.  The humor is much more cerebral, and I never see the blatantly elitist jokes that I see on other blogs.

Still, atheism troubles me.  Yes, reason plays a pivotal role in the formation of the atheistic concept, but I also see a lot of hatred.  There's a lot of hatred everywhere (evangelism, for example, is hatred in pseudo-solid form), but I thought atheism would be--I don't know--better somehow.  That's one of the reasons I came to druidry; our culture is based on the positives of life and love and happiness.  Again, I mention Dawkins when I speak about atheists who create positive space out of belief in the inexistence of divinity, but I think that's not the norm.  From all the atheist blogs I've read, I think atheism is usually just a form of rebellion, and therefore hatred.  I don't want to be a part of that.

What more can I write about this?  That I'm disillusioned about the grand idea of reason and atheism, and I'll never read LOLgod again?  I think that was pretty much taken for granted.  But I do want to thank ContraRarian, Richard Dawkins, and others like them for keeping the dream alive, in a sense.  I want to believe that a culture based on reason is reasonable.

Friday, November 5, 2010

To Do Or Not To Do, Because Is It Really My Decision In the End?

Not really a question, in my opinion.  Today I'm going to talk about: free will!

Hmmm... free will...  That's a tricky one.  No, I'm not a conspiracy theorist; I won't try to convince you that the government is controlling your mind through little chips they put in your feet when you're a newborn and they draw blood.  No Al-foil hats here.  I would venture to suggest that my views on free will are unique, because I base them on my view of the multiverse and multiple realities as discrete time-bubbles, or moments, and as of yet I haven't heard anyone else suggest this (although there is string theory, but I haven't heard anyone link it to free will yet).  Well, here goes nothing...

According to my concept of the multiverse (I really need to come up with a more concise name for "my concept of the multiverse") everything that will exist already does exist (as does everything that has existed and everything that does exist [which may seem redundant, but actually isn't]).  Life (/time/continuity/the path/whatever) is like a game of connect the dots; life draws a line from dot to dot.  If you prefer to think about things having an inherent chronology, you can picture the dots as lining up in the semblance of a straight line (or a wavy line or zig-zaggy, but generally going in one direction).  This is how I usually picture it, although I don't like the idea of organizing things into chronology.

Since each moment already exists, and each one will occur in a reality, at some point, free will is kind of a moot point.  The basic concept of choice is that something won't happen, and if everything is going to happen anyway, choice really doesn't matter so much.

Silver Lining Time! Somewhere, somewhen, somehow, something will always go "right."  Furthermore, something "good" will always happen to you (somewhere)!

Yeah, the silver lining doesn't really work for me, either.  So I thought a bit more, and instead of being totally defeatist, realized this: although free will as a whole does not exist, free will for the individual realities does.  Free will exists in an entity's choices that lead to each moment.  For instance, you may choose to take the right fork in the road, and that will lead you to one reality.  Or, you may choose to take the road less travelled [in a yellow wood], and that will lead you to a different reality.  Yes, both realities exist(ed) but you chose which one to move on to.  It's sort of like the road itself; both forks of the road exist [in a yellow wood] but you only experience one of them based on the choice you make.  Where the analogy fails is when you turn around on the road and backtrack to take the other fork.  NO backtracking! (Since we're still viewing this as a chronological line of dots, there is a "back.")

Since I don't feel like arguing with Augustine tonight, I'm just gonna leave it at that.  But you should definitely shout if you want me 'n Augustine to duke it out!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

i started talking about intelligence, and then my thoughts went on a walk

At dinner, my roommate (J) said this:

Quote: Intelligence does not exist. End quote.

Then she said it again.  Four more times.

J says that everyone possesses the same capacity to learn, and that if, for instance, someone has trouble with algebra it's not because they can't solve algebra problems but because they don't have the time/motivation/perserverence to solve algebra problems.  She mentions a case study in which two classrooms full of kids were each given easy puzzles.  When they completed the puzzles, the teacher in one room congratulated them, saying they must be smart, while the other teacher congratulated the students on how hard they must have worked.  When they moved on to harder puzzles the classroom full of kids who had been told that they worked hard outperformed the kids who had been told they were smart; more, they enjoyed the challenge.  Finally, the kids were given easy puzzles again.  The "hard working" students enjoyed the puzzles, completed them quickly and easily, and even wanted to take some of the puzzles home to work on them.  The "smart" students did badly on the puzzles, even though they were at the same level as the first set of puzzles; furthermore, they did not enjoy these puzzles.  This study shows that everyone can perform equally well, and that even a small turn of phrase has power on a person's "intelligence."

I talked about the power (and its flip, the lack of power) of words earlier, although in a different context.  But really, the context is the same in the end.  I think the confusing part about my assertion that words are not powerful if they are not given power is that in many situations we do not have the power ourselves to deny words power.  Let me try to clarify that.  I said that words don't have power unless the hearer gives them power (eg hurtful words are only hurtful to those who are hurt by them).  But there is (I think) a general consensus that our emotions are not under our control, or perhaps our conscious control.  Whether or not we have the strength to consciously dictate our own emotions, we do affect them.  We are in control of them.

A lot of times it doesn't seem like it.  I have a lot of experience with emotions getting out of control, for better or [mostly] worse.  I have long struggled with severe depression, and while I have never actually attempted to kill myself, I've gotten pretty damn close and used to think about doing it every day.  I will be the first to admit (advertise, shout on the rooftops...) that I do not always have conscious control of my emotions.

The difference in my way of thinking is that "control" is not synonymous with conscious decision.  (Maybe more on control later...)  But because the human is the one "having" the emotions, they [the emotions] are within one being.  They are internal, though they can and often do have external effects.  I think we can all agree (maybe? plz?) that we cannot share emotions, in the sense that even if two people are having similar emotions (because by this logic no one can have the same emotions) they are each having their own separate emotions, not some sort of group emotion.

So, let me try to bring it back to intelligence.  I totally agree with J's interpretation of the case study, but I'm not so sure about her assertion that "intelligence" as a concept does not exist.  A concept?  By definition, a concept exists.  I guess she's talking about the nonexistence of "intelligence" as...  What is intelligence?  Wow.  J says that she is equating "intelligence" with "IQ."  IQ is certainly changeable, and totally bunk as a method of measuring "intelligence."  But in light of that (my immediately proceeding statement) I do not equate "intelligence" with "IQ."  (see Beyond IQ and IQ Paradox @ SciAm)  Hmmm.  I guess I believe that intelligence exists, but I define it differently.  As with everything, I believe that intelligence is relative.

I shall revisit these subjects at a later date, but for now... physics...

Monday, November 1, 2010

happy [belated] Samhain!

I didn't end up celebrating yesterday, and now I feel like crap.  So I guess I'll cast a circle this weekend...  gods forgive me.

The other day my housemates (aka "my girls") and I had a conversation on the variable importance of color among ages.  I think color matters more to children.  I notice that children dress and decorate their personal spaces with brighter colors.  Adults seem to gravitate toward the muted, the subtler, and the quieter colors.  When someone chooses brightly colored clothes and decorations they seem childish (not necessarily in a derogatory sense).