Nothing Definitive

Category: Belief

Who am I?

For months, I was suspicious of something on the edge of awareness. Then in the strangest moment a rush of connecting dots. A cascade of realizations shedding new light on a portrait inside my mind. I stood there staring. Seeing for the first time a new reflection of myself. An angle that seemed so obvious yet never occurred to me before.

We are born oblivious and deceived. Living in a dreamlike state with manufactured realities as the actors and stage. The raw data of life filtered out in real-time by our ego, upbringing, fear, and biases. We move towards pleasure and simplicity and away from challenges and pain. All these factors contribute to the difficulty of answering what seems like a simple question: who am I?

I didn’t originally set out to answer this question. It came from practicing meditation, and specifically, “being in the moment”. This heightened situational awareness led to the realization that I was ignoring information around me. It started with simple exercises like noticing how hard I closed doors or consciously announcing what actions I was taking. From there it expanded into a regular practice until it became more automated and started to reveal new observations about my behavior and how I really felt inside. Looking back, it’s shocking to realize how imperceptive I used to be by comparison. How had I not noticed these things before and if I hadn’t noticed them, what else was I missing? What role was I really playing in life? How did people perceive me and did it compare to how I saw myself? The bridge inward was inevitable.

As I started to investigate these questions I came across the first important aspect of my identity: that I am impressionable and rely on mimicry to define myself. By mimicking others, or even fictional characters, I would temporarily satisfy these questions and my insatiable need to “be someone”. But there are problems with this strategy. The first is that other people and fictional characters are shallow. You see only a convenient fraction of their lives and so mapping them onto you is purely aesthetic. Humans are far too complex for this to be a satisfactory solution to the problem. The second issue is that different people and characters directly contradict one another. So even if there was a way to adequately mimic another entity, you could never reconcile the differences between multiple targets and, in my case, I could never commit to a singular persona. There was always another person or character I wanted to absorb.

Side Note: mimicry is not a bad strategy. It is incredibly useful for bestowing new perspective and understanding about the world. It is especially useful when you mimic others without predicting the consequences or knowing where it leads. I call this “blind mimicry” and it can ensure that you don’t accidentally place your own beliefs and assumptions in the way of exploring new data.

I found it additionally confusing that the “best people” in life seemed to have strong personalities. Since I didn’t consider myself to fall under this category the inverse meant I must be weak, insecure, and confused. This led to a desperate desire to embrace a character while ignoring another obvious flaw in the plan: that you have to believe in that character and uphold their convictions. This perspective directly conflicts with what I’m trying to accomplish. Characters are predictable and must obey their programming. I saw this as a weakness because belief is a weakness and adaptability is strength. This conflict left me feeling “undefined” and I always fell short of the standard I set for myself. I needed to both be “someone” and “no one”. I kept expecting to solve the riddle until I realized an emerging truth: defining yourself does not come from hand-selecting traits or mimicking others, it comes from slowly cultivating experiences and knowledge over a long period of time. You are already someone, you just don’t know who it is.

My eventual conclusion was that as you explore yourself and the world you must first destroy what exists. It is an inevitability that you must become “no one” to eventually become “someone”. How we are structured in our youth is simply a template to get us started, but the final form is crafted by our decision-making and how willing we are to explore uncertainty. Without that conscious effort you risk building your character on a poorly crafted foundation. The result of this effort over the past four years has allowed me to reassess my beliefs and the world more clearly. I have consciously selected my convictions and principles and rebuilt a foundation that feels stable and purposeful. I no longer feel as if I’m in a dream, unconsciously maneuvering this world, confused by its complexity, and frustrated by my misunderstandings. A strong character it seems is born out of an abolition of childhood beliefs, an abolition of a false self, and the fearlessness to let the world reshape them.

Despite my best efforts I still see myself in fundamentally different ways. By reflecting on my memories, I have gained further insights into who I was and who I might be today. Each year providing new realizations that reshape my foundation, but that further strengthens my overall character. Originally I thought this would be a temporary problem resolved after some deliberate effort, but it was naive of me to think I could expedite the process. This practice results in a new mind with new understanding that can shed different light on our memories. This is why regular reflection is so important because you have a limited amount of time to explore different aspects of your past with a unique perspective. You also become increasingly intelligent over time and by returning to the same memories you are able to provide never-before considered insight. These sessions can also be aided by drugs like marijuana. Drugs seem to force your mind into new territory which reveals stark differences between how you see the world in that moment and how you see it normally. This “stereo vision” tends to make me significantly more aware of my surroundings and thoughts, as if I have two minds operating instead of one. I have answered a great many abstract questions under the influence, but it’s important to apply additional skepticism as well. I have found some stoned thoughts to be false and others to be skewed and misleading. It seems as if the mind isn’t well suited at interpreting reality whether we’re sober or high, but that having both perspectives can be useful. I personally recommend exploring both worlds over a long period of time before jumping to any conclusions. I would also be cautious about being too consistent in life because great insight can happen in strange, unexpected moments. By exploring new ideas, new experiences, new medias and mediums you can trigger profound and surprising changes in your self-image.

My last piece of advice is to be a good listener. If you stop talking and ignore your opinionated thoughts you can learn a tremendous amount of new information. In fact, the further I’ve walked down this path of self-exploration the quieter I’ve become. To some this may be a negative consequence, and sometimes it is, but the benefits have been worth the trade-off. Listening has allowed me to realize how many incorrect things I’ve been told throughout my life and how often I was parroting them. It’s also allowed me to truly hear what other’s are saying and explore ideas previously closed off due to social pressure. This collapse of mental barriers grew exponentially after I realized just how little those around me knew of the world. Listening can also help confirm suspicions about yourself and reveal hidden opportunities in society. Statements from others have also helped solidify parts of my foundation so I could free up mental energy to focus on other challenges. The result has been a sharper mind that is less prone to external influence, more compassionate towards the struggles of others, and more aware of how I use the information entering my mind.

“Know thyself”. There’s a reason this statement has persisted more than two thousand years. Taken seriously, it leads you down a bizarre path that transcends the fleeting endeavors of our daily lives. The process can be painful, arduous, and temporarily upset our lives and isn’t helped by the fact that we are constantly changing. However, what’s gained through the struggle is immensely rewarding and the underlying insights can help you accurately decode reality. This knowledge will assist you in everything you do, build confidence in who you really are, and protect you from a world full of dangers.

More Nonsense About Belief

Belief is persistent. Over the past few years I’ve worked to consciously recognize and challenge my beliefs about the world. As a result, I’ve experienced, what I assume to be, almost constant cognitive dissonance that pushed me down a path of severe depression. I had to let go of everything foundational (foundational to me, not necessarily reality or fact) and live in a world I scarcely recognized. Even with the successes I’ve faced in redesigning my mind, I still find myself “wanting to believe”. For instance, I found myself watching a lecture by Richard Dawkins about some theory I cannot remember and I noticed that my mind “wanted” to accept his theory as fact. Even though I knew it was nothing more than conjecture, I felt compelled to believe in it, as if the world definitively ran that way. This is a dangerous game and a red flag worth recognizing because building your world off uncertain information does little to help you in the end. However, it brought up a few questions I’ve been pondering: “is it natural for the mind to believe in everything it absorbs, as fact? And if so, then why do we have cognitive dissonance in the first place? Or is this desire to believe nothing more than indoctrination of bad rationality early in our childhoods?” Any answers I find will be published in future series.

In regards to the abandonment of beliefs, you need to approach life like no one has ever taught you anything. You could illustrate it as an alien visiting Earth to document and observe our species. I often feel this way, as if I’m here more to learn than participate, asking sometimes basic questions in different ways to reveal insight I had never considered before. But this is a difficult path because there are no guides or teachers you can turn too. I had this realization early on when I grew frustrated and confused at why I was felt so lost. I was doing something rare and undocumented, something most people can’t fathom or even recognize. I should also clarify that the abandonment of beliefs does NOT need to happen all at once. I approached it systematically, attacking one belief after the other as I encountered them. Don’t overwhelm yourself, just start with what you already are questioning and branch out. Also be aware of the complexity of your mind. Competing or connected beliefs, you haven’t targeted yet, may interfere with how you interpret other things. It’s not a clean process where each belief is isolated and easy to root out. You will destroy a belief and yet find it rooted partially in another aspect of your mind. You will find fundamentally incorrect rationality embedded in many places even though you’ve eliminated them in others. Imagine the process of destroying beliefs like untangling a rubber band ball, sometimes the bands come off easily, but often they are buried under others that require you to remove them first to completely get at it.

The life you are leading, and the person you define yourself as, is both relevant and irrelevant when considering belief. Irrelevant in the sense that you cannot change past events so you are forced to accept the current variables of the system and deal with it. There is no alternative here. But relevant in that any minor change along the way could have drastically altered your perception of reality. It is this recognition that should both humble and scare you. By altering a single variable, regardless of size, you could become an entirely different person with different thoughts and beliefs. The point being that your choice to believe in something hinges on 1. something you may have no control over (look up modern developments on free will) and 2. something that is fragile and impermanent. Your beliefs don’t define you, they define one potential you. Realizing that weakness allows you to let go and rediscover the world.

Related to the last point, actively challenging your emotions is helpful in rooting out subconscious beliefs. For instance, you may not consider yourself fearful of the world, yet you are constantly engaging your mind. Distractions like work, exercise, eating, and socializing all pull your attention away from the present moment. It is when we stop these stimuli that we begin to sense subtle cracks in our foundation. I personally felt more confident, and in control, than ever before a few months ago only to realize, more recently, that underneath it all is this lingering and deep seeded fear. I would not be able to detect or challenge this by believing rigidly that I have made progress, conquered myself, gained confidence, etc. Belief [almost] always stands in your way.

Another important recognition to make is that everything you process is programming your mind is some way. Whether that be “sitting on the couch and watching TV” or “stressing out over new projects at work”, you are restructuring your mind to think that’s how the world operates. You are actually gaining skill and building neurons for those activities. That’s why it’s so important to target bad behavior quickly and eliminate it before it becomes too ingrained. Once those neurons are weakened (if you attack it) you can more easily override them with productive behavior. Belief is in essence “prolonged exposure to a stimuli” and does not necessarily have anything to do with truth. Additionally, this means we can justify any behavior, simply by programming our minds to think a certain way. Sit on the couch long enough and that will begin to alter how you view the world. You’ll set upper and lower bounds on how much TV watching is appropriate, where half a week is fine for you, while another thinks “no TV” is the only appropriate level. You’ll begin to believe the messages on TV and think that cable news is accurate. Your reality will change to fit with your environment. This also means that justification is useless in determining right and wrong or good and bad.

Finally, and this is just for fun, but what if our beliefs in how we perceive the universe is wrong entirely? Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmers have struggled for decades with how to create A.I., and have stated that it may be impossible or, at best, very long before we have anything considered true A.I. But I often wonder if we’re considering problems like this entirely wrong at a more fundamental level. Perhaps the design for A.I. needs to be approached from outside-the-box, a realm that seems discouraged by many within science fields. In fact, I have often heard that minds like Einstein and Feynman were not just brilliant but creative. We often degrade creative elements in science because they seem inherently unscientific, but yet also seem to yield truly innovative and alien results. And this avoidance is compounded by educational institutions and companies that train individuals how to think within their framework, as opposed to exposing people to new subjects and letting them come to their own conclusions. I believe this may account for a vast decrease in creative innovation right now.

Admitting When You’re Wrong

Today’s video talks about why you should admit when you’re wrong and why doing it often is a source of strength. It allows your mind to become malleable and fights the belief structures you’ve built up. It allows you to move from thought to thought without forcing new observations and information to conform to existing world views. It allows you to see clearly. But this task is difficult because you must challenge fundamental beliefs about the world to make it work. You must learn to walk through doors that are closed and appear very solid, because what you’ll realize is that the doors never existed in the first place, they only existed in your mind. Tear them down and free yourself from the restrictions and obstacles you’ve built up around you.

Principles and Morality, an update regarding belief

Today I present a short followup article to two previous articles mentioning my lack of beliefs (Challenging Your Beliefs and Belief, or a lack thereof). I’m writing this because I wanted to clarify that a lack of belief doesn’t mean a lack of principle, morality, or ethics. In fact, it means quite the opposite. It serves to strengthen your fundamental convictions by drawing attention to them.

I preach a lack of belief because belief can be a dangerous tool. Throughout history we’ve seen all sorts of atrocities done in the name of religions, institutions, governments, ideologies, and more. All based around an individual or group of people that share at least one powerful and alienating belief. Often formed during a time of struggle or hardship. The belief explains all sorts of things, not through logic or rational, but through emotion. It appeals to what we want to believe rather than what really is. And we see in our daily lives how it affects people. People form strong opinions and argue with those that disagree. They judge others harshly and criticize their appearance, behavior, and attitude without fully understanding their situation. They discriminate and profile and will spread their prejudice. All these things are futile acts done in the name of some belief the person has never honestly assessed. It is because they are not awake. They do not see reality as it really is and thus cannot grasp the concept of a life different from their own. I so often see this in ordinary people and it saddens me to know that they do not know what they speak or think. They will do these things whether or not they want to, and whether or not they will admit to it. They are the sum of their programming and having never questioned it and cannot see passed it. Belief must be deconstructed before you can ever hope to reach enlightenment.

There is a counter argument I’ve heard before to this line of thinking: “if we believe nothing, then we cannot be held responsible for our actions, and thus people will do whatever they want.” They argue that religion provides a framework of morality and helps people determine what is good and bad. There are numerous problems with this, although funnily enough, the core argument is probably accurate. Unaware, robotic minds probably do need institutions to instruct them. It provides a basic framework for society to lay consistent morality among a nation. This isn’t a bad idea, it’s statistics. The problem is that people use this argument to discourage people from thinking for themselves. They say, or at least imply, that leaving the Church will result in a society that will become immoral and unpredictable heathens. They ask, “where does it end? how can we have society without belief? Won’t it all come crashing down?” Well it is true that much of our system is based on belief and as a consequence, would weaken because of a society questioning it. Our money would lose value, our economy would falter, and our government and leaders would lose power. But it would not crumble because to use that argument exposes a flaw in your thinking. You live in a happy equilibrium between belief and an appropriate level of upholding those beliefs. You do not uphold your beliefs to the maximum attainable level, just as non-religious people don’t fall into chaos. We find an equilibrium that is most content and peaceful because that is what we want. The only difference between the two is that the individual holding a lack of belief is free to question and understand the world. They do not form opinions shaped by their preexisting beliefs and thus purely experience reality. They are free of the afflictions I mentioned above and accept others openly and warmly. This is why a lack of belief is so powerful, because it doesn’t destroy your fundamental convictions, it frees your mind and allows you to strengthen them.

And that’s what I want to share today. That it is not religion or Atheism that gives you power or direction. It is yourself and your ability to understand what it is you believe in. Do not be religious, do not be Atheist, do not uphold opinions or beliefs, let it go and free your mind from these obstructions. Go out and formally acknowledge what it is you believe in. Do not ask others. Do not remember what others told you. Choose for yourself and what you’ll find is that this recognition will make you happier, more confident, and prepared for whatever comes your way.

Don’t forget the lessons I’ve taught earlier in the previously mentioned articles. We’re talking about fundamental beliefs, not societal opinions. Those are still completely useless and create a framework that warps your view of reality. A person who properly holds beliefs is able to constantly shape and mold their framework.

Lastly, I want to stress that until you formally recognize your principles, you cannot be trusted to make good decisions. The Stanford Prison experiment and others over the past decades, have found that a surprisingly high rate of people will comply with authority, regardless of whether the task is unethical. This, I believe, could be mitigated simply by choosing what you believe is right and wrong. In fact, there’s an opportunity for an experiment here by doing a similar task and telling people to update their convictions by writing them down before hand. If they had written, “it’s NEVER OK to physically harm people”, they may not have pressed the electrical shock button. Just a thought.

Mimicry Can Make You Smarter

Today’s video talks about how mimicking intelligent people can reveal hidden behavior and nuances. This can be an incredibly useful tool for waking up to reality, gaining new perspective, and understanding the world. I also talk about how desensitization can lead to an awakening by forcing people to reassess their opinions of certain matters. I specifically speak of 4chan and how consistent use can allow a person to relax to the sort of content found of their image board and ask questions like, “why did I find this so offensive in the first place, when now I find it funny? Was I overreacting? What other beliefs and opinions do I hold that might be wrong?”

Lastly, I talk about how ordinary anonymity offers the most freedom and potential in life. By being born into riches or nobility, a fate many would probably wish for, you may actually have stifled growth because your future and behavior is controlled. By being a “no one” in life (at least at first), you’re allowed to define your reality and find whatever purpose and direction you want (especially if you experience an awakening).

Challenging Your Beliefs

Today I am going to share the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in life: challenging your beliefs. Something that has provided me deep insight into how the world works and why it works the way it does. It is both powerful and dangerous and necessary for one to achieve enlightenment.

When you’re presented information, you are given something that has passed through another person. And since language is very powerful, something like history can change through the way it’s presented. Or texts and emails can be interpreted differently depending who reads it. Thus it is imperative to realize that any piece of information you possess could be incorrect.

And this doesn’t end with information you’ve read from books or heard from friends. Even those close to you, like parents and trusted educators, may present information that isn’t well researched. Think for a moment about the political atmosphere in the United States. We have two parties that vehemently oppose each other due to conflicting ideals. If you’re on one side of the coin, it appears to you that your opponents are clearly and unambiguously wrong. However, if you stop and think about it, you should ask yourself an important question. How can they believe in something that is so obviously incorrect? If your parents are distinctly liberal or conservative, that is an indication that information they have told to you may in fact be misguided. This is an important realization as a child gets older and realizes that their parents are fallible humans like everyone else and should be scrutinized.

The important lesson here is that if someone tells you one thing and you believe it without question, you are discounting any valid information that may exist elsewhere in the universe. And because of that, you may live a less-than-average quality lifestyle because you aren’t exposed to truth. Information is almost always your best path to success and happiness. “Ignorance is bliss” only works when you’re young and unattached from the system, as you get older it simply becomes a gamble that you will inevitably lose.

There is a concept in neuroscience called “cognitive dissonance”, the discomfort of holding conflicting thoughts or opinions. This is a problem because belief actively filters your perception of reality. Your experiences will literally be altered to make sense to how you perceive the world. Normally this would be a good thing because otherwise everything would be incredibly confusing. But the problem with belief is that if you encounter conflicting data or reflect on something new, you’ll design it to fit within your reality. This is as opposed to understanding the truth behind it. For instance, if you are a devout Christian, you may believe the Earth was created by God very recently. If you are presented with fossils of dinosaurs tens of millions of years prior to the creation event, you’ll alter that data to fit your beliefs rather than accepting the reality of what’s presented. You cannot both believe the Earth is 4.5 billion years old AND that it was created less than 10,000 years ago. It wouldn’t make sense. Thus we begin to realize that holding beliefs may alter what information you’re willing or even able to interpret. And this doesn’t apply solely to large institutions like religion. It applies equally to subtle aspects of language, social norms, dating, etc.

And this continues with a secondary problem. If a person believes that the Earth was created by God some 10,000 years prior, than he or she may never even consider digging into the ground to understand what dirt, rock, and clay is. They may never stumble on dinosaur fossils in the first place. And this presents the next big problem: belief gives you answers, not truth. And when you have answers, you will rarely seek understanding. Think of the myriad of scientific discoveries that would never have been reached had humanity been content with their belief-based answers. Or simply look at the Dark Ages, a period of extremely slow advancement due to the persecution of thought outside of the Church.

What you should recognize here is that belief is only valuable to you, if determined personally. It’s something that should not be passed on to your children or friends. It is a personal journey to help us understand the world. And it begins with assessing which opinions are belief and which are observations. Be warned though, it is not always obvious and it is not always pleasant. You may be surprised to discover how different the world can look once you begin to recognize and challenge your beliefs. To succeed at this, you simply need to spend time learning or trying to understand why people hold conflicting values to you. Ask yourself difficult questions. If you recognize that someone dislikes something, don’t simply brush it off as a difference between you, try and understand why. If you dislike something, try and enjoy it. This is how you challenge your beliefs and begin to break free. Tear down the wall brick by brick.

Besides seeking truth, why else would someone expend this effort to see the world more clearly? For one, it makes your opposition to different ideals less intense. You become more humble and at peace with the world. You begin to realize that there is reason and purpose behind all things. You’ll also become less attached to material possessions as you realize product consumption is a belief. Judgement will feel less important and thus your confidence will increase. You’ll realize the world is complex and interesting. You’ll shed the idea that answers are important and rather it’s about observation. That there are no answers. And this will all lead to your freedom. Because ultimately belief is slavery and until you taste freedom for the first time, you have no idea what you’re missing.

Before closing this article I’d like to mention that belief and tradition are not inherently evil. I am fascinated by theology and would never wish upon humanity that it disappear. I also appreciate the traditions and how religion can connect people. What I fear is that people who believe strongly in these fictions are easily manipulated. There are theories that modern religions began as philosophies, presented by brilliant men many ages ago, and that the resulting institutions we have today formed over time. That their messages were lost as powerful men took over the reigns and manipulated vast peoples’ for their own achievements. Strict, naive belief is what I fear, not the concept of religion.

We Need Everyone

Through my observations, I’ve realized that the vast majority of people prefer simplistic explanations. Even in a world of gray, we only focus on the light and dark edges because they’re easier to see. Our entertainment reflects this, our politics has been boiled down to party lines, and our economic problems are strictly the Presidents fault. Simplicity is what we desire.

But there’s a number of problems with this line of thinking. Here are three I want to mention:

  1. Complexity is interesting and the world becomes more colorful and meaningful when you begin to understand it.
  2. Simplified explanations rarely explain the truth behind complex scenarios. By applying them we are only providing a reason that fits our expectations and viewpoint (i.e. not the truth).
  3. And because of this, we can never address the real issues and fix what is really wrong.

Let us start with complexity. When I was young the world was fascinating because it was all new. I rarely was exposed to the raw, hateful side so I imagined a more friendly and exciting place. When I was finally exposed to reality, I was disenfranchised with the concept and lost interest. I feel that many, if not most people, run this course and simply pursue a simplistic lifestyle because they feel overwhelmed with trying to understand it. Unfortunately this means they will miss out on the most interesting parts of life. For after I realized how complex everything was and began to decode it on my own, the sharp decline in intrigue turned around and spiked exponentially. I now perceive the world to be even more interesting than when I was a child. Complexity is the reason I live on and the reason I look forward to each day.

The second point brings up the problem of perspective. We argue vehemently among each other about religion, politics, sex, education, guns, whatever, because we all have different data. Our experiences are different, our opinions have been manipulated by different people, and we rarely just look up the facts. It’s like a gigantic pissing match with the winner being who could yell the loudest. The alternative of course is a dignified debate in which we present information, argue the logic, and possibly deliver a mutual outcome. But of course this is work and the average American is too lazy to bother. Rather they apply their simplified views to complex issues and are presented with their highly inaccurate “truth”.

And finally, because we rarely, if ever, hold factual information, our solutions to serious problems will only be guesswork. For instance, our economic situation will only improve because politicians are babysitting us. They’re trying to understand it, making stressful decisions, and meanwhile exploiting us as well. I don’t blame them, considering how much work they do. If we really wanted to stop them from gouging us and becoming rich we’d learn how they’re doing it and stop them. Or let’s take social problems like gun control. Instead of banning weapons, let’s realize that people who really want to get their hands on them WILL, and instead come up with ways to intercept their motives. Stop them from wanting to get a weapon in the first place. I realize this is harder and more expensive in the short run, but considering how much we spend on prisons, court cases, lawyers, police officers, etc. we’ll end up saving money and lives in the long run.

And this brings me to the point of this article. While everything else I mentioned is important, I wanted to focus on how our simple views hurt people as well. Racism, profiling, discrimination, and xenophobia exist because we apply expected behavior to people of one classification. We believe that all people can be categorized as good or evil, productive or lazy, popular or geeky, dangerous or safe, etc. And with these classifications we assume they have certain positives and negatives. That they offer the same things to society. Often times close-minded people wish only to be left alone, that their world was perfect before “those people” showed up. But they fail to realize the one crucial truth, that diversity is our species greatest asset. That our vast variety of cultures, interests, and motivations move us forward. They present us with problems we can learn from and open our minds to new ways of thinking. And this is where my realization about humanity sank in: we need everyone. We need politicians, police officers, geeks, jocks, heroes and villains, criminals, hackers, scientists, explorers, terrorists, leaders, followers, lazy people, naive people, educated people, geniuses, and everyone in between. I realized it was foolish to ever wish away even a single category because everyone brings something to the table. Diversity is our strength.

But what about criminals and generally evil people? Surely we don’t need them? But of course we do! In fact I’d argue that productive criminals are more useful to humanity than lazy, normal people because they present us with novel problems we can learn from. Hackers improve our security, corrupt politicians expose holes in our law, foiled terror plots prepare us for even worse attacks, it all moves us forward. These evil doers present some of the most complex problems we face: social issues. If we are to prevent future instances of mass violence, we must avoid simply making laws, and address the real issues.

Another reason we need everyone and their crazy ideas is because they counterbalance our opinions of the world. I have a feeling that if only select groups of people existed and they all held similar views, it might spiral out of control. We need loud, vocal extremists and people we disagree with because it offers the full spectrum of thought. If we only ever heard just conservatives, just liberals, just anti-whatever groups, just pro-whatever groups, etc., we might actually adopt their views and become mindless lemmings. Diversity of opinion allows many sides to compete which keeps things balanced overall.

UPDATE 2016-02-07: After 3 years I still hold that this argument is valid although I concede that it’s probably not accurate to say, “we need EVERYONE.” Perhaps a better title would be, “we need ALMOST everyone.” I’d also like to point out that one of the primary goals of this article is that it should force you to ask some important questions regarding your own beliefs: Why do I disagree with other people so frequently? Why do I focus on how they differ from me rather than considering their opinions as truthful possibilities? What new perspectives have I blocked out because I didn’t give them a chance? If you allow belief to influence your understanding of the world than most people will always remain an enigma. They will always seem less intelligent than yourself, less wise and open-minded, but this is a grand illusion put on by your own ego. The truth is that you’ve constructed barriers to protect yourself from seeing the reality in which you actually exist because it is painful to realize who you really are. We are all so much more damaged, broken, and weak than we’d like to admit, and when you face those demons head-on it is a painful and destructive process. A process our minds will avoid at all costs unless we take the wheel and drive there ourselves. So consider it. Consider that everyone is necessary, that everyone offers perspective that is useful for decoding reality (especially when it runs contrary to your beliefs), and watch as the barriers begin to crumble and your true self is finally exposed.

Belief, or a lack thereof

I grew up in a Christian household that went to church, prayed, and said grace. I accepted this reality without question and truly believed in God when I was young. He definitely existed and so did the narrative that existed around him. This is important because narrative and structure provide footing for belief to stand on.

Fortunately Church is boring and so is Christianity. Couple that with an inability to answer even basic questions and its flaws eventually became apparent. This didn’t immediately eject me from its control however. At first I resisted and found excuses to maintain the fantasy. This idea was gifted to me by others who emphasized its importance and so destroying it, in a sense, was a betrayal to them, but this force only lasts so long and the roots of dissent were in place. This is important because as the structure crumbles away, the naked belief is eventually revealed for what it truly is. It is only at this time when you can accurately reassess what it is you’ve believed in all along.

None of this is helped by the fact that during our formative years, those around us are heavily influencing our perception of the world. They are intentionally or accidentally planting ideas and beliefs in our mind on a regular basis. Those who have fallen victim to narratives like Christianity are especially dangerous in that they encourage those around them to believe, discourage open discourse, and forbid exploration of unknown or conflicting territory.

However, what disturbs me most about belief is that within its confines the problem isn’t obvious. It wasn’t until I was outside looking in that I found perspective. But even that statement is not entirely accurate. I have not traveled to some new location. I am still the same person with those ideas and memories locked up inside my mind. It would be more accurate to say that those ideas are still there but that they are now connected to a vast network of other ideas which challenge their hypotheses. I did not vanquish belief or Christianity, I proved it wrong inside my mind. All of that information must live there together, it’s up to you to restructure it.

What I gained through this experience is a lesson that has appeared elsewhere in my life. By experiencing mistakes first-hand I better understand what they’re capable of and witness myself slowly transition through stages of realization, rejection, and resolution. This journey provides clarity to the scope of each issue and I’ve found that experiencing the breadth of some spectrum provides the greatest insight in understanding it. More importantly however, I asked myself: what other fallacious ideas have I unwittingly accepted as truth?

This dilemma has bothered me since and has resulted in a lack of belief. A vacancy of opinion regarding important topics. It has required me to reevaluate my principles, destroy sacred beliefs, abandon comfort and familiarity, in exchange for clarity and understanding. I am calmer, smarter, and freer to explore the world. It has also increased my ability to absorb new information because I no longer require excuses to shape observation. I can listen without arguing. I can travel through the medium of belief without attaching myself to it. I do understand that it’s comforting to lean against something that defies death and bestows purpose, but it’s dangerous and naive. The reality of our situation IS a hard pill to swallow, but a necessity for growth into a responsible modern adult.

Magic and Monsters

The evolution of religion: we started with fantastical stories of magic and monsters because people knew so little about the world. As we learned more the old religions were forced to update. Eventually entirely new renditions were born with names like Christianity and Judaism. In modern times we have the latest revisions which are still being updated and tweaked, but seem to be failing at captivating their audience. To blame? Education is most likely teaching us too much about the world for them to appear real anymore. But religions will persist because people will demand purpose and meaning and instead a new batch of religions will be born and the cycle will continue.

This also raises an interesting question: has this happened before? When established religions begin to die, there must be people too attached that are willing to resort to extreme measures to try and protect them. We should be cautious of this. But ultimately new generations, more open to fresh ideas, will adopt new religions and beliefs, eventually allowing the old religions to die with their last supporters. It also might mean that institutions like Mormonism and Scientology, despite the absurdity of their teachings, may someday be far reaching religions. Although we cannot forget that modern times are different. With our ability to store information and share ideas, religions may have lost much of their power permanently.

Lastly, I wonder if people who have strong religious beliefs can’t actually comprehend what it’s like to not have beliefs? Fundamental concepts are very abstract and belief vs non-belief may actually be impossible for some minds to grasp if they’ve been indoctrinated.

Update 6/28/2013: it seems that most people need some sort of belief in their life, whether that be concretely religious, loosely spiritual, or simply a strong belief in something like business or government. They tend to hone in on some specific thing that defines their existence which makes sense since most people can’t dedicate years of their life actually determining what’s going on around them. Distracting yourself is easier and cheaper.

Religions formed for very obvious reasons and in turn can be easily broken down with minimal research. Man created religion and it evolved as an institution over time, gradually making changes as society progressed. Their mystical claims are clearly false and severely flawed, but what’s interesting is that religions may not function without at least one absurd element (ex. God, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Joseph Smith, aliens, etc). People need a symbol to gather around otherwise you’ve just developed a normal community which will eventually disintegrate without focus on a common enemy or purpose. This answers the question, “why can’t we have the good parts of religion (community, donations, etc.) without the weird religious part?” We do have these, they are governments, businesses, clubs, organizations, communities, etc. Adding an absurd element you can convince people of only serves to make it stronger.

It would also be very saddening if Christianity, or one of the others, turned out to be true because it’s so obviously flawed and weak. There are so many elements to it that are non-intelligent, non-wise, and non-enlightened. It would also be depressing to think that roughly 2000 years ago we basically “figured it out”. If Christianity and God are the end game, then what’s the point of the rest of the universe? How could our more primitive brethren, who knew less about the world than we do, have solved all our great problems? The answer is: they didn’t. Religions merely exist to maintain order, help build society, and give you peace of mind. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing mystical. Another way to think about it is: during the early ages there were many pagan religions because people didn’t know how else to explain things. Whatever fantastic idea popped into their head could explain lightning, volcanoes, and the seasons. As societies formed, governments, businesses, and business-like organizations (we call them religions) formed. It would be foolish to think that smart, pioneering individuals didn’t see the power, wealth, and influence behind these religions and wanted that for themselves. In fact, governments most likely requested these organization because they wanted to unify the people. Trying to run a civilization with competing religions probably didn’t work well, especially if they’re violent and sacrificial. It is reasonable to assume they designed and implemented Christianity and other religions for this reason. You may say, “but people claimed Jesus cured them and performed miracles!” Of course he did because rich and powerful folk paid or ordered people to say those things (if they even needed to go that far). For example, a man who’s always had sight receives payment simply by claiming he used to be blind, and a religion is born through successful marketing. This is a far more realistic and simple explanation for the rise of religions than magic. If Jesus were real and could use special powers than we have to explain an entirely new branch of magic science which is by far a more convoluted answer and thus far less likely.

Lastly, religious belief exists among intelligent and/or wealthy people for 1 of 2 reasons: 1. they were indoctrinated early and either believe it or have always “believed in their belief” of it and aren’t going to change or, 2. they utilize their beliefs as an image to inspire common people to follow or support them, generally for power-related reasons. There is also those who pursue religion entirely out of power or financial reasons, enticing followers to donate or give their allegiance. It is probably rare, and an exception to the rule, for actual intelligent people to actually believe in religions.

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