Come On People: Let’s Cut the Crap!

This is a plea against humanity and its deeply ingrained narrow-mindedness.

For as long as we can remember it has been the same old story: people have different beliefs –> people believe that only their beliefs are true –> people feel endangered by other people’s beliefs –> people find it okay to attack those who have different beliefs. This is the ever repeating cycle of human ignorance: a cycle we – apparently – cannot escape. Just when we think we’ve figured it all out, just when we believe peace is within reach, a new group of people takes over control and yells: ‘Listen guys: this is what we’re going to do.’ This is how far we have come as a species, and it pretty much seems like we have reached the limits of our capabilities: we simply cannot do better than this.

Instead of focusing ourselves on the real issues we earthlings could be dealing with, we are too busy feeling insecure and in need of protecting ourselves against other insecure and vulnerable people. While we could be treating each other as part of the same big earthly family, which could help us in protecting ourselves against the vast and unknown universe out there, our perspectives are so limited that we cannot even come to peace with the only ‘intelligent’ creatures we know: ourselves.

When will the time arrive that we will come to comprehend our ignorance and, which is one step further, accept it? Because only by accepting our ignorance will we be able to move on. Only by admitting that we are all the same in our journey through the absurd situation we call ‘life’, can we can shed of our cloaks of pretentiousness and appropriated authority, and come to treat the earth as our own little cosmic garden.

On a cosmic scale, we are nothing more than a group of particle-sized monkeys, fighting each other over whose banana tastes better. And although none of us has any idea of what ‘the best’ banana would taste like, we keep on acting as if we do. I am not going to beg you to throw away your banana, or to acknowledge that ‘taste is just in the tongue of the taster,’ but it would be so much better for all of us if we could just cut the crap and start making some progress. Let’s go people.

Religion and The Absurd

There are times at which I envy religious people. Their sense of determination, of knowing where all of this is about and what to do with it, can seem very alluring at times. Like it can really put your mind at ease. And why wouldn’t it? After all, religious people always know that, no matter what they are faced with in life, they will always be able to come up with an explanation that is 100 percent bulletproof. An explanation that always points to the one single source of everything. Down to God himself. That truly must be a peaceful mindset, right?

Wrong. Reality contradicts this assumption. For it seems fair to say that religions, or differences in religion, are an important – if not the most important – cause of war in this world of ours. And since war is – by definition – not peaceful, it is fair to say that not all theists experience peaceful consequences through adhering to their religion.

But this article is not an attempt to criticize religion. This article zooms in at the different positions regarding religion, and the reasonableness – or unreasonableness – of each.

Teapot
First of all atheism. I have established that I am not an atheist. For to be an atheist, one must reject to believe in the existence of deities. And I most certainly do not reject believing in deities. At least: not as long as it is someone else who does the believing; not me, for I don’t believe in any deity.

Neither do I consider myself to be an agnostic. An agnostic claims that one will never be able to prove or disprove the existence of deities. Therefore one should postpone judgement (possibly indefinitely) about the existence of any deity. Agnosticism as thus defined doesn’t seem to be unreasonable. However, it leaves one with an unwanted consequence, being: one can reflect only on those entities that definitely do or definitely do not exist.

Let me clarify this. Suppose I say that – somewhere in space – there is a teapot floating around. The existence of this teapot can neither be proved nor disproved. Should we hence be agnostic about its existence? This seems unreasonable, for we might have reasons to suppose that the existence of such a teapot is extremely improbable. But notions such as probability do not make any sense from an agnostic point of view. For how can something be more or less probable, given the fundamental assumption that one cannot make any reasonable judgement about the existence of entities that cannot be proved or disproved? If the latter would be true, one cannot talk about probability; for probability – or at least everything between 0 and 100 percent – is not absolute like a proof or disproof. If one cannot accept this consequence, one should not be an agnostic.

But then the unavoidable question pops up: what then am I? Is there a group of like-minded people I belong to? Is there a religion or a philosophy that suits my particular ideas and intuitions? Or am I forever doomed to wander around lonely on this earth of ours, searching for my very own, not yet formulated, views on life?

Baby Jesus
The answer is no. Because recently something special happened: my very own baby Jesus was born. My lord and saviour. While surfing on the internet, I stumbled upon the philosophical position called ‘absurdism’, and I was hooked right away. What is absurdism? The best way to explain it, is to zoom in at its fundamental notion: the Absurd. The ‘Absurd’ refers to ‘the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any’. Note that absurdism does not consider it to be ‘logically impossible’ to find meaning in life; it just considers it ‘humanly impossible’ to do so. That is a subtle but very important distinction. It is this distinction that implies that, even though there might be an absolute meaning of life floating around somewhere in this universe of ours, we – simple human beings of flesh and blood – will never be able to find it.

And that’s it, right? We simply cannot come to know how things ‘truly’ are, including the ‘true meaning’ of life. We are doomed to live within the boundaries of our own little worlds. We are unable to trade our points of view for any other humanly conceivable point of view. The latter implies that we can never come to an absolute grasp of ‘the truth’; supposing that such a thing would exist. Surely: if everyone would develop the same beliefs about what is true and what is not, about what is right and what is not, seemingly universal ideas tend to emerge. But the question we must then ask ourselves is: were these ideas universal before people considered them to be so? Or did they become universal because everyone believed them?

Meaning
A note of caution is in place. For an absurdist does not always lead a happy life. There is always one major danger hiding in the corner. Absurdism implies the absolute freedom of humanity, the non-existence of any shackles besides the ones we have created ourselves. But sometimes this destined freedom of ours conflicts with what is the human longing for certainty. A longing to know how things truly are; a need to know who or what is behind all this craziness we call life. Absurdism claims that we cannot come to know these certainties. And when this observation strikes, it strikes hard: a feeling of powerlessness tends to take control over our minds and bodies. That’s an inevitable consequence of appreciating the Absurd.

But then, a little later, when you get yourself together, and taste again of the juices of total meaninglessness, of total freedom, you realize that you have found true love after all. You will realize that it is the only path leading to something that at times comes close to meaning. For even though the absurdist knows that he will not find any absolute meaning of life, it is in the very act of trying to find it, that he finds fulfilment. The fulfilment he is longing for. The fulfilment he proudly calls life.

Have you ever thought about what your most fundamental beliefs are? Upon what beliefs you have built your life? And have you ever asked yourself why those are the beliefs that have the authority to determine the remainder of your framework of beliefs?

But what do you think?

What to Do if Absolute Truth Doesn’t Exist?

As I’ve written about many times on this blog, we cannot step outside of our own perspective to look at “the naked world as it really is”. That is, we are fundamentally subjective in any judgments we make, moral other otherwise. We simply have no possibility for holding on to anything “absolute” in the world, in which absolute should be interpreted as “something” the existence of which cannot be doubted, is unalterable or permanent. And although we can agree upon something being a “permanent” fact – and thereby making it a permanent fact, if we keep on holding on to it for long enough – a fact remains a subjective construct, having no absolute connection, or at least not one detectable by us, with the world outside of us (given that such a world would exist). While this might sound radical, it might be true from a philosophical point of view – or at least: from my philosophical point of view.

From a scientific point of view, the notion of “absolute” truth can be discarded in an other way: by saying that there can merely be evidence for or against the existence of a phenomenon – but no definite (read: absolute) conclusions. And it is therefore – one could say – that we cannot claim to be certain regarding the (absolute) truth of any of our scientific theories.

Philosophy, however, can go one step further by claiming that the notion of “truth” is in itself no empirical issue at all. Because, one could say, empirical data are about the outside world and the phenomena this world imprints upon the subject, while having no clue whether the connection between this world and the subject is absolutely (read: 100%) as we believe it to be. We assume it is, we assume there to be such a connection, but we don’t know. And we’ll likely never know. That’s a fundamental consequence of being human.

Does this imply that we cannot know anything for certain about the world around us? Does this mean that solipsism (the philosophical position that the only claims we can be sure about are claims about our minds and what exists in it) is the only “truly true” position? Yes, maybe it does. But it’s important to see the difference between the notion of certainty and the notion of truth. While certainty refers to us having a “certain” degree of faith in having an accurate set of beliefs about the world around us, truth – as being the “absolute” value striven for in all of our knowledge – implies 100% certainty regarding the accuracy of our beliefs/claims. And while the former can be reasonably applied to the external world – and our claims about it – the latter should be reserved only for those claims we cannot deny without stumbling into philosophical paradoxes. And although it might be counter-intuitive to deny the existence of the outside world, it isn’t impossible. On the other hand, as Descartes showed, denying the existence of the mind is much harder – even impossible.

I shortly touched upon the notion of “certainty” as representing the degree of certainty in the accuracy of a claim (60%, 45%, etc.). But, given that we’ve seen that there is no “absolute” link (at least no one we can be sure of) between the external world and our inner world (mind, gut feelings etc.), how then can we come to judge the certainty of a claim. How’s that possible if certainty is interpreted as being the degree of belief in the truth of a claim? We don’t know the (absolute) truth of a claim, so how can we come to certainty regarding the truth of our claims?

I believe we can only do so by dropping the notion of certainty as something that stands in some sort of relation to the “truth”, as being an absolute entity only attainable through Cartesian Skepticism. When we drop the notion of truth, while engaged in our scientific efforts and daily lives, we can come to a construct of “certainty” that is based upon intersubjectivity, the degree in which claims are accepted by members of society. And intersubjectivity is founded on many subjectivities, which are ultimately founded on – if not the external world – intuitions about the way the world works. And it is in these intuitions that we find the “absolute truths” that we believe we come closer to by means of science. When a new scientific theory is accepted that changes the way we think about the world around us, it’s not because the new theory corresponds better to reality – the world outside of us, the world which “true colors” never shine through – but because the new theory corresponds better to our intuition. And since all human beings share the same sense of “primal” intuition (evolutionary developed or otherwise), we can come to intersubjectively “certain” (read: useful, “natural”) beliefs.

But what do you think?

The Ego and The Id: Beauty and The Beast

There it is again: that feeling of purposelessness. What to do about it? I might go on with whatever it is that I’m doing right now, hoping that the feeling will eventually fade away. But I know that that won’t help: it never does. Or I might try to grab some sleep and possibly feel fresh and productive again when I’ll wake up. But I don’t want to waste my precious little time on this planet sleeping just to get through the day. I might go read something, and possibly become inspired by some great stories. But there’s not that much interesting stuff around to read, at least not much that really gets down to the core of where it’s all about. So, what choices do I have left? Not many. So I guess I just have to face the feeling head on. Get my head straight, figure out why it is that I have this feeling, and possibly – as in a therapeutic Freudian manner – calm down my unconscious drives by ‘channeling’ them through my Ego. The drives won’t leave by themselves, so it’s better to find a way to use them in a constructive fashion, than to suppress them and let them linger on in my life. So that’s what I’m trying to do by writing this article.

In a sense my entire blog is a quest to do just that: channel my uncontrollable and inexplicable drives by promising to give them what they want: answers. And even though my Ego knows that there are no answers, or at least no definite ones, my unconscious Id doesn’t know. My Id is retarded in the sense that I can’t think properly, given that it would be able to think at all. The Id is an iPhone you carry around all day and that starts beeping when a new message is received. And although you don’t want to listen to it, because you just want to go on with your life, you just can’t ignore whatever it might have to say. Because, although it might be smart, the Ego can’t set any goals. The Ego is like a calculator, calculating the most efficient route to whatever goal you might have. And this ‘whatever goal you might have’ is determined by the Id, the part of you that bases its decisions on evolutionary induced impulses, pushing you to the refrigerator and to the internet (if you know what I mean).

But what if they could work together? What if they could live happily ever after in harmony, dividing the mental labor as if Adam Smith was there to delegate it? That would be great: Beauty and The Beast working together. Beauty being so consciously aware of its environment, and the Beast just taking her wherever he wants to. Great, let’s do that!

What do you think?

We’ve Got You God!

Life is a joke. And a damn good one. If you were a God, and you would want to have a laugh, and you could create anything you’d want to, what would you do? What would you create? I know what I would do: I would create a world with little ‘things’ on it, give these things a limited capacity to think, and then just see what happens, just see what they will come up with. Just watch them running around. Each morning and evening I would take a look at them, look at how they deal with the situation I’d put them in. Watching them form alliances, working their asses off, fighting each other and thinking: thinking about why it actually is that they are there.

Think about it: if you would have to create an absolute absurd situation, and you would have unlimited powers to do so, what would you come up with? Probably not a series like Family Guy, right? No, you would strive for the best: for the most absurd thing you could come up with. After all, why would you create Family Guy, if you could create a world, put creatures on it, program these creatures so that they think they are able to discover the world’s secrets but – without most of them realising it – make them incapable of doing so. Maybe you would put a few ‘natural laws’ in order: the law of gravity, electromagnetism etc., or come up with a few ‘elements’ (protons, neutrons, electrons etc.) that make up everything in the creatures’ world, including themselves.

But you would never reveal everything: you would never explain the purpose behind all of it, because you don’t want the creatures to unravel the mystery you have created. There has to be a point at which their limited abilities fail. Them knowing about electrons and other irrelevant entities is okay, but having them know anything of real value would just spoil the fun. They shouldn’t get the feeling that they get it. Just enough for them to believe that they’re the most intelligent things that have ever walked ‘their’ earth. And just enough for them not to kill themselves in total despair.

But what if the creator has underestimated the little creatures? What if the creatures would be able to see through the facade? What if they would come to see that they’re part of one big joke? And what if they would even enjoy the the fact that they are part of a joke? That would spoil the fun for the omnipotent and ever joy-seeking creator, wouldn’t i? So he must make sure that they don’t come to believe that their lives are nothing but a joke: he must create enough misery in their lives to remind them that their pain is real. He must make sure that the minds of the creatures are occupied with impulses to stay alive, impulses telling the creatures what to do with their lives and how to run their societies. Everything to keep their thoughts away from the joke.

But we have got you God. You can quit playing now. Just take some rest and come back to us when you’ve a better one, okay?

But what do you think?

Why Are We?

Before you embark on reading this article, I have to warn you upfront that this article might appear to be depressing. And if it does, it might be because it is in fact a depressive article. Having said that, here we go.

Do you ever ask yourself where all of this is about? Not only why we are here on this planet of ours, but why we really are: why we are capable of experiencing; why we are capable of tasting; why we are capable of complaining. We are ‘just’ living our lives, and going with the flow, but do we ever think about what this ‘living’ might actually consist of? Let’s take a look at that.

‘Purpose’ is an inherently unstable concept. The reason for this is that the Purpose of everything – from which all other purposes (which a small ‘p’) can be derived – will always lie outside of our reach. Whenever we embark on the journey of trying to grasp this Purpose, we’ll inevitably end up in an infinite regress. It’s like a diver trying to reach the bottom of the sea, but each time he thinks the bottom is near is forced to return to the surface to grasp fresh air. Our human limits will deter us from reaching the limits – either of our Purpose or of the sea.

We only have a (very) limited framework of beliefs within which we can claim to ‘know’ things: within which we can claim to ‘know’ that the world consists of particles; in which we can claim to ‘know’ that we descend from the fish; in which we can claim to ‘know’ that we are alive. But how big is this limited framework of beliefs in the scope of which we believe to know? That’s an unanswerable question, since we don’t know what we don’t know, and therefore we cannot have a benchmark to measure our sense of ignorance (or omnipotence) against. We believe we know a lot, but we can never know how much we actually know.

Don’t you find it – at times at least – frustrating that we cannot deny the fact that we’ve got no clue about all of the things we don’t know? That we can try all we want to unravel the mysteries of the universe, but that we don’t know if we’re getting any closer to ‘the truth’? Closer to the way the world really is? Closer to the true Purpose of all of this? It’s like we’re forced to always look into one direction, and that even within that direction our line of sight is inherently limited by the horizon set by our human limits.

A depressing thought? Maybe or maybe not. Since there are two ways to deal with this thought: either (1) by drowning in it and feeling the total absurdity and seemingly insignificance of our existence, or (2) by shutting of the part of our minds this thought resides in, and keep on ‘shooting for another perfect day.’ But, irrespective of the option we choose, we’ve got to remember that closing our eyes doesn’t hide the truth; it only makes us (temporarily) incapable of seeing it.

Are you happy? Are you content with the way you’re living your life? And if so, why are you happy? Are you ‘just’ happy because you don’t allow yourself to see the only absolute truth in our existence – the meaningless of life? Or are you happy for other reasons? If you are happy because of the former, then that’s a noble – or at least understandable – sense of ‘constructive’ happiness. But have you ever thought to yourself: why should I even be happy in life? Just because it’s a nice feeling – or at least nicer than unhappiness? And aren’t we making it a little too easy for ourselves by striving for nothing more than a feeling of ‘just being happy’?

What if it’s just one big joke whatever it is that we’re doing here? What if there are just a couple of aliens that have put our ancestors (the monkeys) on this planet just so that they – the aliens – could have some fun? Just to be ‘happy’ for themselves? Maybe. All we know is that we are.

But what do you think?

Addiction: A Purpose in a Purposeless World

Addiction is “the continued use of a mood altering substance or behavior despite adverse dependency consequences”. In this article I want to zoom into the meaning of the word “adverse” as it appears in this definition of addiction. Because what is “adverse”? Is it adverse when you are ruining your liver? As what people are allegedly doing by drinking. Or is it adverse when you are ruining your lungs? As what people are allegedly doing by smoking. Is it adverse to be a pervert? As is allegedly the case for those who are “sex addicts”. What is “adversity”? Let’s take a look at that.

Before being able to know what adversity implies, we need to know relative to what an an act will be adverse. After all, the same action can be benficial or adverse, depending upon the purpose one had with the action. So let’s take the most absract purpose one could have, and apply it to you: what’s the purpose of your life? Do you want to become an astronaut? If so, then you know what to do: study the universe, apply to NASA and hope for the best. Do you want to become a professional football player? If so, then you know what to do: train like hell and hope you will get through the selection process. So far so good. But what if you don’t know what to do? What if not every cell in your body pulls you into the direction of your dreams? What if your mind isn’t occupied all day by thoughts of you playing in a full stadium, with supporters chanting your name for the entire match? Then you’ve got a problem, right? Because your mind isn’t going to rest; it will keep on pulling and pulling without knowing where to pull to. So how are you going to to stop this? How are you – if you don’t have a clear purpose in life – make sure your mind doesn’t keep on reminding you of the purposeless of your existence?

Well, maybe you could just decide to find out what’s your purpose in life? Figure out what you want to do, where you heart lies etc. etc. But let’s be fair: that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? I don’t know if you ever sat down one afternoon and through deeply about what is “your purpose in life”; if you did, you might have experienced that finding your life’s purpose isn’t like a Sudoku-puzzle: the answer is not written on the backside of the paper. So what to do now? How to keep your mind and body occupied without having that all-encompassing purpose leading the way?

You could start smoking, or drinking, or even better: you could start using cocaine or heroine. Because one thing is for sure: although these goods might not be “healthy” – in the sense of being beneficial to your body – they sure as hell provide you with a purpose in life. A purpose to make money in order to buy cigarettes, a purpose to run to the liquor store in order to grab that booze, and a purpose to rob the old lady on the street in order to get some cash so that you can buy your drugs. It’s just another way to keep your mind occupied, right?

Let’s be fair people: the is no “Purpose” (with a capital “p”) in life, right? There is no single goal each one of use should strive for. There is no single benchmark along which to measure your degree of success in life. So we should be damn happy if we find something that we find worthwhile to do, right? Because we have to do something. We cannot do nothing. Everyone needs a purpose. But some of us have been more “lucky” in finding our purpose than others. Some of us might know by heart what they’re “destined to do”, while others are just wandering around, answering their need for a purpose by laying their hands on drugs and booze; all to silence the mind and have – consciously or not – a purpose in life.

So let’s be mild, shall we? Let’s not condemn the addicts of this world for the “purposeless” lives they’re seeming to live. It’s bad enough for them that they don’t have a purpose; that they’re trying to fill the gap of purposelessness with other – “lesser” – means. Let’s just be happy for our purposes in life and fulfill them with flair.

Don’t you think so?

The Recurrence of Difficult Decisions

Most of the people that are in their early twenties – and that I know of – seem to have no clue about what to do with their lives. And I am not talking about the “I don’t know what kind of shirt to wear” kind of don’t having a clue. No, I am talking about a fundamental – almost existential – sense of doubt. A sense of doubt that – at times – seems to come awfully close to a desperate confession of the inherent meaninglessness of life; a confession of the lack an innate purpose in life. But why is that so? And could there be something wrong with this view?

We all know that feeling of “standing on a crossroads in life”. In some sense you could say that every new situation we’re faced with in life is such a crossroads. Shall I go to the grocery store, or not? Shall I sleep a little longer, or not? Shall I go left, or shall I go right? These are choices we’ve got to make on a daily basis. And having to make choices is an inescapable part of life. It’s just as true as that other truism of life: the fact that we are all going to die. But why then are “the students” so hesitant in cutting the cord and making a choice? Well, frankly, “we” believe that – compared to all the decisions we’ve made before – this time a truly big decision has to be made that is truly going to influence our lives for now and forever.

Some decisions are likely to have a bigger impact upon your life than others. Deciding who to marry is likely to influence the course of your life more than the decision to buy that cheap peanut-butter in the grocery store. And it is this realization of “influencing the course of our lives” that seems to paralyze many of us in the student community, and leave us with a sense of despair. And that’s understandable, right? There’s reason to be afraid. Choosing – for example – what to specialize in within your field of study is, from all the decisions you have made up to that point in your life, likely to have the biggest impact upon the type of job you’ll get, and therefore upon the way you’ll spend a big time of – the remainder of – your life (both financially and time-wise).

But, when you dig a little deeper into the caverns of your mind, and really start to question the nature of life, aren’t you then forced to jump to the conclusion that there is always that next big thing to worry about? That there will always be that next issue you need to get out of your system before you can “finally” move on with your life? But, and here’s the catch, what if that is life? What if life is nothing more than a string of decisions? Then we are about to live a rather anxious live, aren’t we? If we are constantly being worried about the choices we have made, and those we are about to make, we’ll pretty much have no time to do anything else at all. We would have to quit our jobs, and feel down all day. And that isn’t a very compelling foresight, is it? So maybe we (the students) just have to stop being such pussies. Maybe we just have to accept that we cannot predict the future, and that we have nothing to guide us in our life journeys besides our very own compass: faith or intuition or how you call it. Because having faith is the only manner by which we can prevent the train of decisions from killing us, and thereby enable us to “finally” go on with the rest of our lives.

But what do you think?

The Nonsense of Feeling Regrets

Have you ever done something at a particular point in time that you didn’t consider to be the best thing to do at that particular point in time? I am not talking about looking back on something you did and, while you are looking back, you come to realize that it might not have been the most reasonable thing to do. No, I am talking about deciding at a particular point in time to do some something: something you believe to be the best thing to do at that particular point in time. Now, let me ask you: given that you always do what you consider to be the best thing to do at a particular point in time, how then can you – at a later point in time – decide that what you choose to do was not the best decision after all? How can you regret having made a decision that you considered to be reasonable at the point in time when you actually had to make the decision? Is it even reasonable to have regrets? And if so, when? Let’s take a look at that.

You choose to go study Business after you finished high school. After a year or two, you come to realize that this is not where you heart lies: you are not as enthusiastic anymore as you were when you started the study. You decide to switch studies: you go study philosophy. Now, two years after you’ve started studying, you finally have found the area where you heart lies. You start thinking about how nice it might have been if you would have started studying philosophy right away. And then you ask yourself the ultimate question: do I regret my choice for studying Business? And although you might be inclined to say that you did, you cannot speak the words out load. And the reason you can’t do so is the following: you have chosen to do what you considered to be best at that particular point in time. You have consciously thought about the options you had and you decided – given the information and feelings you had at that particular point in time – to go study Business. Now, looking back on those two years, you have come to realize that this study doesn’t fit who you really are. But this looking back experience isn’t something you had when you started your academic journey. You feel relieved: you have come to understand that you simply cannot regret the decision you have made.

The thing that is at work here is time and its ever forward flowing motion. And a consequence of this unstoppable and uni-directional movement of time is that you cannot escape it; you always are positioned somewhere within time. And since time – like a moving train – is always in motion, you cannot escape the fact that the world you live in keeps on changing. Today is different from tomorrow, just like the landscape a train moved through two hours ago is different from the one it is driving through right now. And it is because of this inherent change of the world we live in, that you constantly have to make decisions. After all, why would you have to keep on making decisions if nothing in you world would have changed? You would only have to decide once, right? Once; at the start of your journey. And this is where the analogy with the train breaks down; because where the train has to follow the track as it is layed down in front of it, we are free (or doomed) to choose where we want to go. The only thing we cannot choose, is not to chose. Because even if we decide not to choose, we are in fact making a choice.

But what has this to do with having regrets? Well, given that you are at a certain point on your very own track called life, and you are forced to make a decision where to go next, how then can you ever regret the choice you make at this particular point in time? Not based on the “unintended consequences” that came about, right? Because you didn’t know the unintended consequences and you didn’t choose for these unintended consequences, right? You didn’t choose for Business turning out not to be your kind of study. That simply was an unintended consequence of your decision to start studying Business. But even in case of more severe (negative) unintended consequences, this line of reasoning holds; even if you were driving in your car, taking a side-turn and suddenly hit a drunk woman that recklessly crossed the street and she would die, you cannot regret your decision to have taken this side-turn. You were forced to make a decision in time and you chose to take the turn. Why? Because that was the direction you had to go to in order for you to reach your destination. But what about the girl? She died, right? That seems something that could make you regret your decision? Well, you didn’t choose to hit the girl, right? It was an unintended consequence of your decision. A consequence that you didn’t choose for at the point in time you had to make the decision. It was not a consequence you could have reasonably taken into consideration.

The moral of this story? Don’t regret what you did not choose for. Shit happens. As long as you were not choosing the shit that happened, you cannot blame yourself.

But what do you think?

An Application of Freud’s Theory of Mind

Everyone must have heard of the name ‘Sigmund Freud‘ at some point in their lives. Thinking about the name, there might be all kinds of images popping up in your mind: things like the mind being like an iceberg, notions like ‘The Id’ and ‘The Ego’, and Freud’s ideas about sex as the explanation for pretty much everything we do. But you might not fully remember all of it. You could say that the ideas might be floating around somewhere between your consciousness and your unconsciousness – to speak in Freudian terminology. But what was it exactly that Freud claimed? And why do many philosophers of science condemn his theories to the realm of ‘pseudo-science’? And what’s the value of Freud’s ideas? Let’s apply Freud’s ideas to an everyday situation and find it for ourselves.

Let’s imagine that you are a guy that goes out with some friends. You guys are ‘chilling in the club’, while suddenly an absolutely gorgeous woman enters the room. You notice a certain feeling taking control over your body: attraction, the feeling of you wanting – in whatever sense defined – that woman. This is not a feeling for which you might necessarily have arguments. No, the feeling is just there. This feeling comes down from the part of your personality that Freud calls ‘The Id. The only thing that The Id cares about is receiving pleasure, loads of it. It has an inextinguishable urge to grab on to everything within its reach, just for it to calm down its perpetual longing for pleasure; no matter how briefly the satisfaction might last.

You can imagine that society would be a rather chaotic institution if every one of us would just give into his animalistic urges at all times. The notion of rape would become little different from our custom of shacking hands. Therefore some basic rules of conduct need to be ingrained in each member of society: ‘Be gentle to others,’ ‘Help an old lady cross the street’ and ‘Don’t have sex with someone else unless that someone wants to’. It is within this domain of ‘The Superego‘ that all kinds of religious and political beliefs nestle. Beliefs that will guide you in living your life like a caged monkey.

Surely: it’s all nice that we are trying to control our animalistic urges by coming up with a set of reasonable rules. But who makes sure that the needs of The Id and the rules of The Superego are properly matched? After all, as we have just seen, they might contradict each other. So we can’t always satisfy both at the same time: we can’t just rape everyone and be a gentleman at the same time. And that’s where ‘The Ego comes in. The Ego is the controlling power, the power that tries to satisfy the needs of The Id while taking account of the rules of The Superego. The Ego is the house of reason, of the economically thinking part of you; the part that decides to fulfill the most pressing urges first – like the urge to still our hunger – and postpone not so pressing urges – like the urge to have sex – to a point in time at which satisfying this urge might be more ‘appropriate’.

Now you can understand why Freud sees our sexual drives as the prime reason for all our psychological problems, right? After all, it isn’t easy to suppress our animalistic needs, put forward by The Id. That can only be done by repressing the beast that lives inside of us. Or, to put it more boldly, the beast that we simply are. But taming the beast does not make it fall asleep. The beast is still there, waiting for his opportunity to come. And when it comes, he unleashes his true nature. So we have to do everything within our power to shackle the beast, everything in order for us to live a ‘reasonable’ life.

There are – and have been – many criticisms about the scientific status of Freud’s ideas, and you might see why. It’s after all quite difficult to capture something as intangible as ‘The Id in terms of empirical data. Nonetheless, Freud’s ideas have found to be very influential within the domain of psychiatry, even though the current generation of psychology students hardly learns anything about them.

Ah well, scientific or not, it’s still a pretty fascinating point of view, right? Oh, and for the guy at the bar: he took the girl home.

But what do you think?

Why Are We Here?

It’s time to take a look at what might be the most mysterious question we human beings have to face: why are we here? When you start thinking about it, you immediately seem to stumble upon a wide variety of different – yet equally unsatisfying – answers. It doesn’t matter from what angle you approach the issue: you won’t be able to crack it. However, despite this seemingly discouraging answer, it doesn’t harm to give a go, right? Nah, probably not.

There are many different views about why we are here on this earth of ours. One “branch” of human thinking considers religion to be the foundation upon which the answer to this fundamental question is built. And although I am not a religious person, I cannot call it inconceivable to feel the urge to base your faith upon a higher power. I even dare to say that it is a natural human inclination to try to grasp the world we are living in to the fullest extent possible. And for that matter, religion seems to be a great tool for avoiding the madness of feeling powerless; for avoiding the feeling that we will never come to understand what we are doing here on this earth of ours. But more about religion in another article.

Since religion is not the only “option” available. There also is a completely different branch of human thinking that – through the centuries – has gathered many adherents. A branch to which the “enlightened” Western civilization adheres; a branch of human reasoning that says farewell to each and every inch of uncertainty; the branch that encompasses true reason and intelligence. I am talking of course about science. And if you caught me talking in a slightly cynical manner about the nobleness of our scientific enterprise, you are right. I don’t necessarily agree with the mindset of “let’s take a look at the facts” in order to end an argument. That is, a mindset of giving science the monopoly on the production of facts. Since how true are the facts if we do not call them facts anymore? If we just consider them to be products of human thinking and creativity?

But let’s take a closer look at the endeavors of religion on the one hand and science on the other. In what way do the two fundamentally differ from each other? Do they even differ from each other? Isn’t it true that both of them proclaim to know what is true and what is not? Isn’t it true that both parties believe that the manner in which they believe – whether it is adhering to the word of God or Allah, or gathering data and coming to conclusions – is not only the only way in which the truth will come to us, but is also the only morally right way to do it? “How can people ignore the word of God? Don’t they see that this is the way to act?” Or, “Why believe in the word of God when it is so obvious that the only truth there is can be obtained through the scientific enterprise? Science is after all the paragon of human reason.”

It seems to be – as it is with a lot of matters in life – very much dependent upon the paradigm you live in what your notion of truth or right and wrong might be. What is the neighborhood you grew up in? What are the ideas you have been taught at school? What do your friends and family belief? All these components determine the way you look at the world and the way you interpret the information you obtain from your external environment.

But what if you aren’t satisfied with the solutions brought forth by religion or science? What is you do not feel at ease about both of these proclaimed approximations of the way the world works?

Let me tell you a story. A few months ago, I was visiting a guest lecture from a Stanford University Professor at the university I am studying. The professor seemed to be a very knowledgeable man who spoke about topics like dark matter, very small particles, general relativity and other notions I hardly knew – and know – anything about. Although I did not fully understand everything he said, I could see that he was very passionate about – as he said – “coming closer and closer to discovering the true origins of our solar system”. His team at the University of Stanford had – by making use of satellites – been able to measure the activities in our solar system as they happened “within seconds after The Big Bang”.

At the end of the lecture, there was an opportunity for asking the professor some questions. When no-one seemed to make an effort to ask the professor a question, I decided to give it a go. Although I did not know anything about neutrinos or matters of those sorts, I knew what I wanted to ask:

“Sir, can you please tell me what happened before The Big Bang?”

Of course the professor didn’t know. After all, how could he? No-one knows. But it seemed to be the appropriate question to put everything into perspective. To show that there will always be a step further. That there will always be another cause for what we consider to be the beginning. But don’t get me wrong. I certainly do not believe that we should stop our quests in search for the ultimate foundations of knowledge. Both science and religion are great goods for our society. Besides all the economies being propelled by scientific discoveries and consequently the wealth we live in, science and religion provide us with food for thought. They allow us to dream about what might be. They give us purpose. What more could we wish for?

I am curious about what you guys think: can we know why we are here?

There is No Life without Death

What would life be like without death? Would there even be such a thing as ‘life’ without death? And why do we die? What’s the purpose of it? Is there even a purpose of it? Is there some kind of masochistic creator who likes to hurt us? And if so, wouldn’t making people die contradict its notion of creating? Or maybe even the creator became confused about the notions of life and death, and in the end decided just to go with it? Whatever the explanation is, death remains a mysterious, yet inescapable, destination we all share.

Let’s see: what causes us to die? Well, death might just come about because of a flaw in our biological make-up; an unintended by-product of the designer of humanity. It might only be due to physical decay that our bodies will – eventually – perish. Death is just another obstacle to overcome in our human struggle with nature, a struggle that we will inevitably come to win. Within a couple of decades from now, people will be able to change their cancerous limbs for platinum replicas. Plastic surgery will be outdated; instead of getting a face-lift at the age of 55, people will get an entirely new face. That’s how we will fight nature. We know after all from history that humans are prepared to do anything in order for them to stay alive; even if their opponent is Mother Nature herself.

Thoughts of death scare us. We long for certainty, for beliefs upon which we can build the rest of our lives. However, all of our intellectual powers fall short of explaining what will happen after we have exhaled our final breath. But although we will never be able to know it, we simply cannot live with the idea that we are destined to enter an unknown world for an unknown amount of time (given that there even would be such a thing as ‘time’ in ‘the afterlife’). And there are many stories we came up with to lighten our sense of despair about death. The issue of death is the prime reason so many religions have come into existence. After all, the idea of a cozy afterlife doesn’t really seem something to worry about, right? But even non-religious people have tried to come up with ‘reasonable’ positions within this debate. Atheists proclaim that no deity exists, which is just claiming the opposite of what religious people do. And even agnostics, although their position might seem more ‘humble’ than the atheists’, find themselves to be justified in making a judgement about the afterlife by saying that ‘we cannot decide whether or not a deity exists’; thereby assuming that, although none of the others are capable of doing so, they can close this debate in a reasonable manner.

Yeah right….Well, let’s look at the counterpart of death: life. Because what would life be like without death? The obvious answer would be: there would be nothing left to call ‘life’, since life can only exist in conjunction with death. But let’s approach this issue from another angle; an experiential angle. Given that we would be immortal, which might be something different than being either dead or alive, how would we then come to value our ‘lives’? Would we still be able to appreciate the beauty of things? Would we even be capable of experiencing emotions in any sense? After all: how happy or sad would we feel if we would come to experience an event that we had experienced an infinite number of times already? Wouldn’t that downgrade the relative value of each moment of – let’s say – sadness? How sad would it for example be to experience your son dying, given that you are destined to experience countless instances of this ‘drama’ again? Or how joyful would it be to experience your son attending his first day of school, given that you’ve experienced this a thousand times already?

There is no life without death; and that not only goes for life in the biological sense of the word, but just as much in the emotional or experiential sense. The notion of value would be non-existent if we wouldn’t face death. Hence we can say that death is a beautiful invention of life. So let’s be grateful for its existence.

But what do you think?

Note: this article has been published at Shaun Rosenberg’s self improvement and motivation blog.