False dichotomies: religion

You know those atheists who assume that anyone who disagrees with them is a Christian? The guys who automatically respond to any legitimate criticism of their ideas with some stupid bullshit that makes no sense whatsoever unless it is aimed at someone who believes in Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark, and they don’t actually bother to make sure that the person they are talking to even belongs to that group, nor do they change their rhetoric when they find out that it’s not the case?

Yeah. It’s as if their brain has a “case” statement with only two options and unhandled exceptions. If you agree with him, he assumes you’re an atheist. If you disagree with him, he assumes you’re a Christian. If you tell him you’re not, his brain crashes due to an unhandled exception, but he never stops talking, it’s just that nothing that comes out of his mouth makes any sense whatsoever.

So, those people assume some kind of a dichotomy between science and Christianity, where you need to choose one and are not allowed to even touch the other. I see it differently.

First of all, opposition to atheism isn’t Christianity. Opposition to atheism is any form of transcendentalist thought. Atheism is a fringe belief, espoused by fanatics who arbitrarily reject any evidence they don’t like, in a way quite similar to that of the “Moon landing hoax” or “flat Earth” believers. I know that to be true, because I once was an atheist, but unlike them, I was honest enough not to reject the evidence I couldn’t shoehorn into my favorite model. Instead, I was tortured by the evidence I couldn’t explain and this drove my thinking further. I didn’t choose the easy way of cherry-picking evidence so that my pet theories look great. I had to deal with the stuff that broke my models. This hurts, but it’s a healthy kind of pain. The fact that I chose to suffer the pain of knowing that my theory doesn’t explain the real world well makes me despise people who opt to stone themselves into oblivion by simply dismissing everything they don’t like, choosing the euphoria of imagined omniscience and omnipotence in the face of all intellectual competition, obtained merely by dismissing every piece of evidence that brings them out of their euphoric state.

The false dichotomies we have here are creationism vs. evolution, science vs. transcendentalism, chaos and chance vs. the will of God.

Honestly, if the atheists who kidnap science and hold it hostage weren’t the crazy cult that they are, those issues would never arise. I don’t actually see the reason why those viewpoints would even be contrasted in the first place. It would be normal for science to be aware of the limitations of its scope and not to extend its conclusions beyond that, and it would also be normal for religion to listen to what science has to report on the world, this being a form of insight into both their scripture and their understanding of reality. For instance, the fact that we now know that there were ice ages not that long ago, and that this ice melted away for the most part, should be taken as a confirmation of the general concept of the story about Noah. Mankind was almost swept away by the meltwater, but managed to survive, albeit with losses, and rebuild its civilizations. Of course the story itself is a myth; it was probably told, retold, changed and adapted for thousands of years and throughout dozens of successive civilizations, until only traces of the actual story remained, but something remained, and it’s our only semi-historic recollection of the onset of the current glacial minimum. It’s probably the oldest memory of mankind. And why is it a false dichotomy, because “science” for the most part argued against the story by pointing out that it would be unlikely for the situation on Earth to change radically and it’s more likely to assume that things just were this way forever. Also, the scientists pointed out that it would be impossible for all that water just to appear “out of nowhere”. Really? Are you fucking kidding me? But yes, the science up until recently didn’t know shit about the ice ages and the Bible was actually the better version of history, for all its flaws. At least it remembered there being a big flood. That’s what I meant by saying that religion should listen carefully at what science has to say and how it casts new light onto their scripture, because science can tell them what that flood was: the ice age ended and the ice melted. It happened suddenly and violently, according to newest findings, and if we use our imagination to visualize what must have happened to the humans who lived at that time, it becomes obvious that it was a memorable event for the survivors, and a mystery that required some explanation. People tried to make sense of it – oh, God got angry at humans because they grew wicked and corrupt, and he regretted ever creating them and decided to drown them all in water, save few who for some reason were more acceptable to him. Will that happen again? No, God decided not to repeat that. So, no fear.

So, obviously, I can appreciate that the Bible got the main concept right, but that science is the way of gradually getting the more complete version of the story. Why is that so difficult for some people to accept? The atheists hate the Bible so much they refuse to accept that it could have a better version of the story than the early science, and the religious Christians refuse to interpret their scripture as anything but the literal truth. From my perspective, that marginalizes both groups and makes them unfit to accept the truth.

The next issue is the age of the Universe. Science dates the Earth to some 4.5 BY, and the Universe to around 14 BY. The fundamentalist Christians who derive their ideas from the Bible put those numbers between 6 and 10 KY.

The thing is, science can’t actually tell us jack shit about the actual age of the Universe, because it simply assumes that the Universe is real (as I would say, reality level 0), and that by observing the physical phenomena such as the Doppler effect on the increasingly distant cosmic objects and the radioactive decay of isotopes, we can find out how long it took for the rocks on Earth to reach their current isotope composition, how long it took for the stars of high metallicity to form and evolve, and basically we can turn the mental clock backwards and calculate a point in time where all the matter in the Universe must have originated from one point. The problem with this logic is that if this entire Universe is a simulation, similar in kind but more sophisticated in implementation than our best videogames, we can’t really know for how long the thing existed before we plugged in. For all we know, it could have really been turned on a few kiloyears ago when the first souls accepted Satan’s offer and entered the simulation. The simulation could have appeared exactly like a Universe that was 13 BY old, with population 1 stars, isotope composition typical for a 4.5 BY old planet, and with fossil remnants of extinct plants and animals, but we have that in modern video games. In fact, I recently finished playing Witcher 3, and in the game I actually traveled between several parallel worlds with different histories and lifeforms. Tell me, how old are those worlds? They appear to have at least thousands of years of history embedded in them, ancient ruins, all kinds of life that appears to have naturally evolved, artifacts of erosion, some life that plane-shifted during the conjunction of the spheres, but really, how old is the world in Witcher 3? Thousands of years, millions or billions of years? Or did it just come into existence in 2015 and it’s a completely “young Earth”?

“Young Earth” is not a stupid theory at all. It’s only stupid if you assume that this world is the reality, and this assumption has less evidence for it than against it, since people who are reanimated from near-death consistently report waking up in a higher-reality world. If that is a higher-reality world, and this is a lower-reality world, there’s another word for “lower reality”. It’s “illusion”. And if it’s an illusion, it’s obvious that it can be as old as the memories of the first observer who joined with it. Before that point, its entire “history” could have been just something that some computer was left to iterate until it came up with a law-set that produces the desired conditions for the simulation, which explains the incredibly tightly fine-tuned fundamental constants. The explanation that someone let the computer run the simulation and tweaked the parameters until it got the desired results is actually the most parsimonic one, because everything else requires such crazy leaps of imagination it all becomes ridiculous. There are some aspects of this Universe and Earth in particular that look so incredibly unlikely, and their absence would result in us not be here to talk about it, the simulation theory actually became my favorite a few years ago, because the probabilities within the alternative explanations are utterly insane. I talked about this a bit in other articles, but mostly in Croatian so I’ll probably go through it again in English at some point, but I digress.

The craziest thing is, science can’t disprove any of it. Science can tell you a great deal about the ratio of isotopes of Potassium and Argon in rocks, but it can’t tell you whether the Universe itself is real or simulated. Paradoxically, the only way to tell is to see if one can plug in and out, and if so, ask them what happened. That’s exactly what happens in case of saints who had mystical experiences of unplugging from the simulation and into reality of higher order, and in case of dead people who were medically resurrected. None of what they tell us makes any sense if we assume that this world is the reality, level zero. However, if we accept the possibility of it all being an artifact that runs on some super-advanced computer, such as we ourselves could conceivably make in a few decades or centuries, it all makes perfect sense. It’s not weird, nor contradictory, nor impossible. In fact, it’s what you would expect to happen. The miracles, too, start making sense, because if it’s a simulation, and someone can get in touch with the higher reality, it’s conceivable that he could tweak the simulation, or ask someone in the higher reality, with the adequate level of access, to tweak the simulation. Pause gameplay. Lookup character Lazarus, timestamp t–6 hours. Delete current state of the character, insert snapshot in its place, re-interface soul with the playable character. Resume gameplay. Voila, raising the dead. Walking on water, even simpler. Detect water surface position, modify substance behavior to allow playable character to walk on it. Voila, miracle, walking on water. And the trick is, Jesus actually said that’s how he did it. He didn’t say he’s doing it, he said he asked God to do it for him.

If we look at it this way, some religions suddenly make much more sense than all the science in the world, because science can explain how the simulation works, and that’s not very useful. It’s much more useful to know the purpose of the simulation, the purpose of our presence within it, and the conditions under which we can leave. And about those things science can’t tell us jack shit. The only way to learn those things is to ask someone who is in the position to know them. And that’s not called science, it’s called revelation.

And yeah, talking snake. Stupid story, eh? But if you combine that with another narrative from the same place and from the similar historical period, that of the Yazidi sect, and it’s very likely that they are both surviving fragments of something, and you realize that the “Peacock angel” who is basically the person in charge of this world, but is a very questionable individual, might very well be the “talking snake” from the garden of Eden. The story then might sound like this: the “garden of Eden” isn’t really in this world, it’s in the world nearly-dead people wake up to when they pass through a “tunnel” between realities, basically unplugging from the simulation. The “snake”, a disreputable dodgy character, tempted the souls and offered them a better way of spiritually evolving, to “be like Gods”, to know the difference between good and evil. There was no “apple”, the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is some kind of a metaphor for some kind of an experience, and let me guess what that might be: plugging into some kind of a virtual reality, very immersive, with very strange rules. This place. And then God saw what happened, and declared that we are oh so fucked now. God didn’t throw us out of Eden – we opted out of it by listening to the “Peacock angel”, the “snake”. And the role of Jesus makes sense from that perspective, too – God figured out a way to redeem those who were trapped here, because the ruleset is such that you apparently can’t live here without breaking some rule or another that puts you more deeply into “Peacock angel’s” power. What Jesus might have done is bought a deep level of privilege on the system with his sacrifice, and this allows him to reset all obligations to the system-owner, of all souls who accept his authority over themselves. Basically, yes, you can say that you accept salvation by the sacrifice of Christ, and the otherwise untouchable infinite loop of obligations to the world and its owner ends.

So none of it is even remotely stupid if you look at it this way. In fact, looking at it this way science seems kinda silly, like those geeks who study lightsaber combat forms from Star Wars, and can tell you all about the differences between Ataru and Djem-So, or people who can tell you the entire genealogy of Numenorean kings from Ar-Pharazôn to Aragorn II Elessar. Yes, it can all be studied, and scientific methodology can be consistently applied to all of it, but that doesn’t mean any of it is real, in the ultimate meaning of it not existing only in some book, movie, someone’s head or a computer.

False dichotomies: global warming

I dislike the fact that the public intellectual space and discourse is defined by the false dichotomies.

You are either for global warming (they call it climate change now because there was no warming) or against it. You are either pro choice or pro life. You are either an antifascist or a fascist. You are either an atheist or you believe in one of the middle-Eastern bronze-age theologies. You either believe that all people are the same or you are a racist.

I think the cause of this is the fact that people are not very good at thinking and having coherent opinions, but they are far better at forming groups around simplistic concepts. If you can reduce an issue to being for or against something, then you can politically exploit idiots who are unable to think in more complex terms.

Let me explain what I think, using issues of global warming, abortion, fascism and religion as an example. Let’s start with global warming in this article, and go on from there.

I see Earth as a complex thermodynamic system; it seems to be the only place in the Solar system other than the Sun, that derives a significant portion of its warmth from nuclear energy. I shit you not – more than 80% of the energy that keeps the Earth’s core in a molten state is derived from either nuclear fission or radioactive decay. This is the reason why we have such a powerful electromagnetic field, unlike Venus and Mars. Earth has a magnetic field on par with the gas giants. This is because the Theia impact, some 4.31 BY ago, gave Earth enough heavy elements for two planets, while expelling the light elements into what later became the Moon. As a result, Earth has its own nuclear furnace that keeps the inner core spinning within the outer core and the mantle, producing a strong magnetic field. This heat emanates from the core and eventually into space.

The second source of Earth’s energy is the Sun, which, obviously, heats up the atmosphere, the oceans and the crust during the day, and this energy radiates into space during the night. The speed of this release of energy can be moderated by the buffers, also called the glasshouse gasses. Also, since the equatorial areas absorb more solar energy than the poles, there is a thermal gradient between those. Depending on the amount of buffers in the atmosphere and the layout of the continents and the oceans, there is a certain variability to this thermal gradient between the equator and the poles; if the oceans can’t bring the energy from the equator to the poles quickly enough, the Earth starts warming up.

As it warms up, the oceans release carbon dioxide, one of the important buffers, into the atmosphere, because it is more easily soluble in cold water (which is easy to demonstrate by warming up carbonated soda). This then contributes to the moderation of the equatorial-polar thermal gradient, essentially smoothing the seasonal transitions and increasing the habitable area of the Earth’s crust. If it goes too far, it can make the equatorial areas very hot, but habitability of those areas is already questionable today, because they aren’t actually a pleasant place for humans. On the other hand, thawing of the polar regions would more than make up for the loss of equatorial habitability by opening up the currently inaccessible areas for human habitation. Another issue are the coastal areas, that would be flooded by the melt-water resulting from the polar ice. This would result in the gradual loss of the very densely populated coastal areas, but I see no cause for panic, since the gradual increase of the water levels would force people to simply migrate to a safer area. Of course, you can never eliminate the possibility of a sudden event, something of a Dansgaard-Oeschger variety, that would seriously threaten mankind, but those occur with some regularity in any case.

So, what is my long-term prognosis? First of all, I take my data from a vastly longer time-span than is the case with most climatologists; I work with the last billion years of climate. This includes several pre-Cambrian global glaciations, the Cambrian melt, warm period that started subsiding some 65 MY ago, entering a drier, cooler climate, increasing the thermal gradient between the equator and the poles, starting the formation of polar ice, and gradually absorbing the carbon dioxide gas in increasingly colder water, reducing the amount of atmospheric buffers. The polar ice on the other hand increased the Earth’s albedo, thus contributing to the situation by reflecting more sunlight into space. Eventually, this reached extremes somewhere in the late Pliocene, early Pleistocene, some 2.6MY ago, when the amount of atmospheric buffers declined to dangerous levels, where even the minor orbital and axial variations started throwing the climate out of whack. These are called the Milankovitch cycles, and the interesting thing about them is that they exist only in the Pleistocene; I heard about that once and it made me wonder so I looked into it and now I know why that happens. Basically, if the CO2 levels fall below the Pliocene levels, the Earth starts to balance on a very precarious edge of a runaway glaciation, where due to the lack of buffers in the atmosphere it becomes possible for more ice to accumulate on the polar areas than can be removed in the summer. Due to the albedo effect of the ice, this increases the problem in the next season, and so on. If left unhindered, this process will eventually and quite certainly result in a full global glaciation, poetically known as the snowball Earth, and that is game over for most forms of life on land, including humans. That’s the tricky part – the thermal curve of the last 65 MY has a clear downwards-pointing trend, and it’s because of the ring of seawater that formed around Antarctica, enabling the Coriolis force powered sea currents to quickly dissipate energy, de facto working like an air conditioner or a fridge, powered by Earth’s rotation and convection.

What humans did here with their industrial revolution and combustion of fossil fuels is to raise the atmospheric CO2 concentration to either early Pleistocene or even early Pliocene levels; the data isn’t clear enough. But what does that mean, exactly? Is it a bad thing, in a sense that the climate will undergo a dramatic change, destructive to human civilization, before it re-establishes itself on the Pliocene levels? Is it a good thing, in a sense that it either delayed or completely prevented the onset of the next glacial maximum, and possibly even brought us out of Pleistocene ice age altogether? I don’t know. Earth is such a complex thermodynamic system, I’m simply unable to make a precise enough simulation in my head to account for all the factors and variables. What I do know, with absolute certainty that comes from looking at the last billion years of climate data, is that without this increase of CO2 levels this glacial minimum that we call Holocene would ultimately come to an end, and we would sink into a glacial maximum, colloquially known as the ice age. Also, since the circumantarctic air conditioner keeps on pumping heat out into space, one glacial maximum will eventually cross the threshold of runaway glaciation where even the equator would freeze over, and that will last until the continental drift eventually breaks the heat pump of sea currents, some hundreds of millions or even billions of years in the future. Basically, this means it’s game over for life on Earth as we know it, and since the Pleistocene itself with its climatic instability means the process has already started, it is unlikely to take more than a few millions of years before the Earth cools down so much that Milankovitch cycles will no longer be able to bring it into a glacial minimum. So, without that evil beast of global warming, we are not safe in the bosom of Mother Earth with its perfect balance of climate and whatever bullshit the tree-huggers want you to believe. On the contrary, we live in a climate that is so viciously unstable, it forced animals to evolve hibernation and seasonal migration in order to survive the seasonal extremes. Earth is in its death throes, and it’s called Pleistocene. It’s only because our lifespan is so insignificant that we don’t perceive it as a terrible train wreck that it is. The only event in the last 65 MY that went contrary to the trend of gradual cooling and the eventual death in ice is our industrial carbon dioxide release.

But if you expect my prognosis to be bright, you’re wrong. I actually think our CO2 release is merely a “blip”. The circumantarctic current is a vast, unstoppable global force. With our pumping CO2 into the atmosphere we might actually trigger a Dansgaard-Oeschger event by melting too much polar ice at once, breaking the thermohaline circulation and resulting in some violent climatic extreme that might cool the planet down in one instant to simply sink all our CO2 into the oceans and resume the cooling trend, maybe even accelerating it. That’s what you have when you work with complex thermodynamic systems – it’s always chaos, and in chaos the scale can tip both ways in unpredictable ways. So yes, our CO2 release is the best news that life on Earth got since the extinction of the dinosaurs. It’s the only thing that could possibly delay or even prevent the runaway glaciation. It could also wreck the climate enough to wipe us out. But our prognosis was never bright, to begin with. We have our extinction event sometime in the future, in a runaway glaciation. It’s a certainty. What we did with our industrial civilization might delay it or prevent it altogether. It could also kill us more quickly. The thing is, I don’t know what will happen, because the thermodynamics of it all is too complex for me to simulate, and from what you’ve read so far you can see that I’m actually quite a bit ahead of the general trends in climate science.

And now we come to the conclusion: why the question “do you believe in global warming” makes me facepalm and despair to the point of tears. It’s because I know the level of superficiality and ignorance that lies beneath that question. It’s because I know I’d have to write this article in order to explain what I really think about it, and because I rarely think in yes/no dichotomies, that so rarely function beyond the level of elementary mathematics, where you have simple questions such as “is n, an element of N, an odd or an even number”, and all elements of the set result in unequivocal Boolean answers. The real world is more like the R set, in which such a question would apply only to an insignificantly small subset, making no sense whatsoever outside that range.

About spirituality and sausages

There’s one great sentence in Harry Potter books, saying something along the lines of “never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain”. This sentence came to my mind when I was thinking about why all the spiritual schools and disciplines, abundant in late 19th and throughout the 20th century, seem to have failed.

If you don’t see the connection, I’ll cite another example, of some tech pundit whose article I read on the web somewhere, who said that the reason why Steve Jobs opposed the idea of making a bigger iPhone was that he misunderstood the reason why iPhone was popular in the first place: it was the phone with the biggest screen. Essentially, he got it right, but didn’t understand what exactly made it right. Then he got it right again with the iPad, and still didn’t understand what it means: that people love well made touch devices with big screens. When Apple decided to act independently after his death and made bigger iPhones, they sold the biggest quantities ever. So basically, you can have a very smart and innovative person who got things right twice in the same device group, and still managed not to see what was it exactly that made those devices great. He also didn’t see what made the first GUI devices he made such failures, because he was in love with the concept, and he was right, the GUI concept was great and all our current computers use it. The problem is, this concept doesn’t work well on a machine with 128 K RAM and a 400K floppy drive. It starts working well on a machine with a 100 MB hard drive, 4 MB RAM and a 80386 processor, which is Windows 3.11 generation of hardware. Before that, the GUI machines were technological demonstrators at best, too weak to be actually useful. The problem with Steve Jobs was that he stubbornly insisted on his vision because he saw that those machines were the future, and tried to force the future into existence by force, before its time. Bill Gates, on the other hand, was much smarter. He, too, knew that the GUI machines were the future, but he also knew that the contemporary hardware was too weak to make the system work properly, and he knew that because his team wrote all the software for the first Macintosh, and he knew what tricks they had to pull off in order to create the pretense of a functional machine. It’s not that he had a choice between MS-DOS command-line interface and a Mac-like GUI and he chose MS-DOS; he chose the Mac-like GUI. It’s just that he was smart enough to know that the contemporary hardware can’t pull this off, and he chose to implement the thing that ran efficiently at the moment. Basically, the difference between Steve Jobs and him was that was in touch with the reality of the situation, while Jobs was so blinded by his vision that he decided to yell the facts into submission, and, as a result, was fired from his own company because he simply refused to see reason.

The analogy with spiritual teachers and teachings is clear. When something works for them and they attain results, they seldom understand why it worked. They usually try to reproduce the process they themselves went through, with students, and it sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. As with Steve Jobs, they sometimes fail spectacularly, and sometimes they succeed spectacularly, and in both cases it’s quite possible that they don’t understand the process enough to be able to tell why. Their charisma can lead others into great things: great failure, or great success.

I don’t exempt myself from that. Sometimes it took me a while to stumble around until I figured out why something works, and why something else doesn’t. The problem is, you can’t always wait to have all the answers in order to start doing things. Sometimes you need to sail across the Atlantic with a shitty sail boat, little or no navigation, and stumbling into America by accident, thinking it’s India. Sometimes you domesticate a wolf and it turns out to be a great idea when he kills someone who tries to kill you while you sleep. Sometimes your wolf kills someone’s child and domesticating it appears to have been a terrible idea. However, when you move in uncharted territory every mistake you make is better than staying safe and doing nothing, because it improves the situation for those who will eventually follow in your footsteps. We don’t remember Columbus as the idiot who hit America while trying to reach India. We remember him as the great explorer who discovered America.

It would be all to easy to criticize the mistakes and failures of all kinds of spiritual researchers, explorers and teachers, but realistically, physics didn’t exactly start with getting things right, either. It started with all sorts of bullshit and getting things completely wrong, but improving with each iteration, and it’s now all to easy to forget impetus and phlogiston and alchemy and Ptolemaic geocentrism and all kinds of failures.

In the 1990s, I was on a mailing list that contained a mishmash of all kinds of spiritual practitioners, loosely described as experiencing Kundalini phenomena. What was striking in this group was that you had people with completely different and opposing ideas about what’s going on, what is good and what is bad, and they looked quite similar, going through very similar experiences and experiencing similar forms of mental and emotional instability. Essentially, you had pagans, shamans, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists and Christians experiencing weird shit, which for the most part went against their beliefs about what’s supposed to be going on, with very loose consensus about the proper way to approach it, and with 90% of the participants being quite mad at least part time. The weirdest part is that sometimes people with craziest ideas and weirdest spiritual practice had great spiritual power, and some people with intellectually coherent and sensible world view were spiritually sterile or actually quite fucked up. Things didn’t fit neatly into an orderly pattern. I certainly don’t fit into an orderly pattern about what spiritual people are supposed to look like, or how they are supposed to do things. I am too much of a scientist to be liked by spiritual people, too much of a spiritual person to be liked by the scientists, I don’t seem to conform to any typical pattern, and I don’t even have the ordinary frame of reference for evaluating success and failure of spiritual efforts. I don’t even have the ordinary understanding of truth and reality; I basically couldn’t care less if you believed in talking unicorns that fart rainbows, as long as your inner spiritual concepts associated with that are something I see as useful and uplifting. I also don’t care if you have all the right answers and can name all the right Gods and gurus, if you’re an asshole.

When I say that the problem is that people seldom understand what works and what’s shit, I mean it quite literally. It isn’t about knowing the right God and surrendering to the right guru and practicing the right technique. Sometimes, it’s about having the right attitude, even if it looks all fucked up. Being a fanboy of a comic book superhero can sometimes be spiritually more useful than all the Jesus bullshit that most Christians do. It’s about the actual quality of the spiritual vector, not about what you think it is. What matters is the direction and magnitude. What imagery you use in your head is secondary; you can pray to Batman, for all the fuck I give about it. Sure, it makes sense to clear your head and organize things in a sensible manner, and I guess I’m the prime example of success in that area, but the thing is, people who like the end-result of my thinking would probably lose their shit if they knew how I got there. It’s like sausages: you wouldn’t like eating them if you knew how they are made. One of the main reasons why I managed to figure out so much about how things work is because I experimented with shit so weird you wouldn’t believe. One of the techniques that I did was to go through the entire emotional spectrum, shade by shade, and explore the inner workings of my energy system with each shade. And I mean it quite literally when I say entire emotional spectrum. Die as a slave under a whip. Kill a slave for fun. Be impaled by the Turks. Disembowel prisoners. Be disemboweled and cut to pieces. Torture people. Be tortured. Rape, be raped. Be a pregnant slave girl who is routinely raped by some warlord’s gang and who falls in love with her captors. Be the warlord who beats his henchmen into submission. Be the submissive henchman of a warlord. Be a clerk doing a boring job in his boring life because he always made all the safe choices. Have a wonderful life that’s a fulfilment of all fantasies. Have an average life full of bad things with occasional good things. Have a terrible life that’s agony and failure. Be immensely wealthy. Die in squalor. Deepest depression, slight depression, melancholy, indifference, slight pleasure, profound joy, bliss when touched by spiritual beauty. Be that spiritual beauty that invokes blissful love in others. Explode as the whirlpool of light that grants liberation and knowledge. Be God.

It’s not a linear thing, it’s not about some predictable, stuck-up pattern. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing and you succeed, because your heart was in the right place. Sometimes you do all the right things and you end up in flames, because your heart was in a very wrong place. Sometimes Satan seems to be all about love and forgiveness and sometimes God seems to be distant and insensitive, but the surest way to know you fucked something up is when you’re not regularly surprised by the shit that keeps popping up.

Laughter and ridicule

There is a common prejudice that laughter and ridicule are a positive thing, in that laughter makes one feel better and helps one overcome situations that would otherwise overwhelm him, and ridicule exposes that which is worthy of contempt and thus serves a positive purpose.

I disagree. I think both laughter and ridicule are neutral, in that they can both be good or evil, depending on the circumstances.

Laughter might help people to overcome difficult situations, but personally, I can’t remember ever having such experiences. What did help me overcome difficult situations was either faith, or trust, or someone’s helping hand. I actually find it more helpful to endure difficult situations by admitting their gravity, crying and asking Gods to help me. Laughing in the face of a difficult situation looks more like denial and madness, an attempt to portray a lion as a sheep in order not to fear him, but a lion remains impervious to such mental fuckery and will eat you regardless. I find it more useful to cry for help and beg for a gun, than to pretend that I’m not facing a real lion. Laughing might help you not feel afraid, but it will not help you survive. It’s the opposite of helpful. The Jews in Hitler’s Germany had two options: optimism or pessimism. Those who chose optimism imagined Hitler as a silly character who can’t really hurt them, and those who chose pessimism fled Germany and Europe in general, and made a new life for themselves in America. We know how that turned out for each group. As I said, optimism and laughter can indeed make you feel better and safer, but it doesn’t actually help you solve any problems. It’s a form of putting your head into sand and hiding from reality, and is not all that far from madness, at least the way I see it. What does help you is to acknowledge the gravity of your situation and seriousness of your problem early on, to invest all your powers into solving the problem and asking for all kinds of help in order to increase your chances of overcoming the problem. If you still fail, at least you didn’t die in denial.

Ridicule is similar, but different in that it isn’t directed at oneself, but others. The role of ridicule is to present the object of ridicule as small, unworthy and contemptible in the eyes of the audience; essentially, it’s a form of social manipulation. When used in order to put emotional accent on the conclusion of an argument, essentially by applying tar and feathers to someone whose arguments were soundly defeated, it can be legitimately used in the context of a debate, but when it is used as a substitute for arguments, in order to manipulate emotional responses of the audience when arguments themselves fail to convince, it is a grave logical fallacy and a form of demagogy.

Let’s see some examples of proper and improper use of ridicule.

Let’s say someone is stating that the Earth is flat. Proper use of ridicule is to state that this person obviously didn’t travel much, because if he did, he would notice how the constellations in the southern hemisphere differ from those in the northern hemisphere, which, combined with the evidence of daily rotation of the sky proves we are on a sphere. This form of ridicule uses a strong argument to disprove a fallacious thesis, and then uses the obviousness of the argument as evidence that the person making the fallacious statement is stupid. Essentially, ridicule is corollary to the conclusion, and not an argument in itself, which is why it cannot be considered a form of ad hominem fallacy. Ad hominem would be “this person is an idiot, which is why his argument is false”. A corollary of the proper conclusion is “the argument against the thesis is x, and since x is rather obvious and straightforward, this person is an idiot”. Such argumentation serves the useful purpose of encouraging one to perform thorough examination of one’s arguments for obvious errors before expressing potentially idiotic theses in public.

Improper use of ridicule is to use one’s own ignorance and ignorance of the audience as an emotionally charged argument against a valid thesis. Examples of this are unfortunately abundant throughout history; Kepler was mocked by Galileo for stating that Moon’s gravitational influence causes the tides. People who produced meteorites as evidence of extraterrestrial origin of meteors were mocked by Lavoisier. Tesla was mocked by Edison who tried to suppress Tesla’s invention of highly efficient alternating current in favor of his direct current. Jewish physicists were mocked by Hitler and his propagandists for inventing relativity and quantum theory, which didn’t sound “right” to the Nazis. Everybody who expresses support for eugenics or racial differences is immediately labelled as “Hitler” without any kind of argument provided. Essentially, it is used to dismiss an argument by emotionally labelling it as either ridiculous or evil, by association. The problem is, everything can be portrayed as ridiculous. To an ignorant person, Al Gore can be portrayed as over-the-top silly for stating that he took initiative in creating the Internet; an informed person would know that before his “information superhighway initiative”, Internet was an academic curiosity at best, without commercial value to the broader public. He saw the potential and knew what infrastructure needed to be built, and he saw to it; essentially, he deserves more praise for the existence of Internet as we know it than any other person, but he is ridiculed for it because people can’t believe that a single person could be so far-sighted and important. To use an even more shocking example, Jesus was mocked and ridiculed in his suffering and death, because “he called himself the son of God” and “because if he was God, why doesn’t he come down from the cross”. It is very important that we never forget those arguments, because they sounded valid to those who said them, and probably to the audience as well, and we now see them as cringe-worthy, in hindsight. Mockery is a terrible thing, because combined with ignorance, it is a terrible weapon against truth, courage and independent thought, and I am therefore highly skeptical of it. Mockery is like an idiot with a hammer, breaking priceless porcelain and bragging how it was trash to begin with, or he wouldn’t be able to break it. It is the favorite weapon of stupidity against challenging and difficult ideas, and the fact that it can occasionally be used against idiots and stupid ideas doesn’t fully redeem it. I don’t see it as a weapon of mass destruction that must never be used, but more as candy, that can be served after a proper meal of rational arguments and evidence, but never as a substitute. It’s sweet when used in moderation and properly, but misuse it and the consequences can be grave.

Empiricism vs. rationalism

I learned one important thing a few years ago.

It doesn’t matter if something sounds convincing, or if it makes sense.

It doesn’t matter whether something sounds weird, improbable or tenuous.

It doesn’t matter whether something dovetails nicely with the currently held beliefs.

It doesn’t matter whether there is sufficient reasoning behind something.

The only thing that matters is whether it’s actually true.

Let’s take an example of a platypus and a unicorn. Platypus is a monotremate mammal that lays eggs like a snake and has a duck-like beak. However unlikely or improbable it sounds, it’s real because it actually exists. Unicorn, however, sounds quite reasonable and plausible – a horse with one horn. There’s no reason why it couldn’t exist, but it doesn’t. It’s completely fictional. A platypus exists because it exists, and unicorn doesn’t exist because it doesn’t exist. There’s nothing else to it, no Platonic or Aristotelian issues, and reason doesn’t even play a role. The only thing that plays a role is existence of an actual being and evidence of that existence.

I don’t believe in things because they are reasonable or they make sense. I believe in things because I am presented with evidence of their existence. Reason and sense are something I use in order to arrange evidence of things that exist in some order that doesn’t drive me crazy, but the part where I use reason in order to make sense of things is actually most likely to be false and revised. That’s because reason is mostly glue that fills the parts of the puzzle of reality from which the actual parts of the puzzle are missing, and I need something to hold it all together and present it in a meaningful way.

That’s the main problem of rationalism vs. empiricism; rationalism assumes that things that are true will make more sense than the things that are false, but empiricism is primarily interested in evidence, and only when the evidence is there can it afford to ask about meaning.

It makes sense for me to speculate why a platypus exists, because it exists. I don’t give a single fuck about unicorns. Yes, weird and apparently improbable things sometimes exist, and sensible and probable things sometimes don’t. That tells you more about poor applicability of mind for establishing reality, than anything else.