Home is where the heart is, but where is my heart?

Home is where the heart is, but where is my heart?
Not here, but far, far away.
Somehow a large part of me seems convinced that you are home.
Have you not given me back my heart yet?

Sometimes that feeling comes back still– that confident, reassured feeling. That I have faith feeling. When I’m sure that we’ll get back together, I know you’ll come back to me. Just because. Because there’s no other possible possibility, because I can’t imagine it being any other way.

It doesn’t matter how desperately i try to tell myself how delusional I’m being, I don’t buy it. It’s not even an antagonistic feeling, like Ha! Call me delusional, I’ll show you! It’s completely calm and detached. It truly does not care that you think it’s delusional, it truly does is not affected by what you say or think, because what you say or think  has no consequence on its truth value. It knows. It has faith.

No wonder religions still exist; nothing you say or do has effect. My faith is unshakable. I believe, because. If even I cannot convince myself, what more other people?

Somehow a significant part of me is (still) convinced that you are home. Are you my home?
Somehow a significant part of me is (still) convinced that you will come back. Will you?

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
If that part is wrong, I’m not sure what I’d have to do to hammer that truth home to myself. Emotion speaks louder than intellect.

Oranges are not the only fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a novel by Jeanette Winterson published in 1985, which she subsequently adapted into a three-part BBC television drama. It is a bildungsroman about a lesbian girl who grows up in an English Pentecostal community.

I plan to read the book, but in the meantime, I found the TV series on youtube, so I watched that first. It’s a great show, give it a watch if you have the time. On youtube it’s uploaded as 6 parts of about 7 minutes for each of the 3 episode. There’s a part missing though, so if you can access the video via other means, maybe you could try that too. For example, I’ve just realized that the esplanade library carries the video cassettes! …not sure how I would watch video cassettes though haha, maybe the esplanade has a multimedia room you can use. Nonetheless, the missing part didn’t make the show any less enjoyable to watch.

Some thoughts:

It made me think, once again, about how flexible the human mind is.
I mean, how easily we can twist words to mean what we want them to mean. How words can mean anything.  How easily we can delude ourselves, how easily we can truly believe what is not true. How easily we can think, with all our heart, that we’re doing the right thing.

Can you blame the mother in the show, as unpleasant as she is? Can you fault her for treating the main character, Jess, in that way? It may not be your idea of love (it may be, in fact, your idea of hate) but I do think she does love Jess, and every horrible thing she did, she thought it was for the best. No, she knew it was for the best.

This is how humans are. We can operate separate from the ‘truth’. It doesn’t matter so much what is out there as what we think is out there, how we perceive what is out there.

And that’s the problem I have with ‘faith’. Knowing how susceptible we are to such thinking, to being able to have unwavering belief in your own thoughts, positions and actions, shouldn’t we be guarding against such thinking rather than encouraging it? Guarding against ‘having faith’?

Because isn’t such type of thinking the essence of faith?

To have complete trust in something. To believe in god without evidence. To… just believe. Just have faith. With all your heart.

People are capable of being blind enough as it is. Don’t tie blindfolds over your eyes and tell me that’s a GOOD thing. The more blindfolds you tie, the more you trust without EVIDENCE or PROOF, the better and more PREFERABLE that is? Seriously?
The show had me crying. Because the worst thing was… knowing that this isn’t merely fiction. Knowing that this isn’t merely history. Knowing that this isn’t merely abstract ideas, or something happening far away.

This is real. This is now. This is here. This is me, and those are my friends.

Please don’t pretend that the church’s position has ‘progressed’, that your position has progressed and is better and more reasonable than historical positions. Does it really matter what words you use? Whether you call it a ‘demon in you’ or an ‘illness’ or a  ‘disorder’ or a ‘result of the fallen world’ or an ‘abomination’ or even just simply a ‘sin’?

You change the words, but the final meaning is the same. The church’s idea of ‘progress’ is ‘accepting’ new evidence but without letting it change the bottom line. So you have to change your interpretation a little. That’s not a problem. As long as you keep the bottom line the same.

I don’t remember if I’ve said it out loud on this blog yet, but… my girlfriend of three years broke up with me–yes, you guessed it– for religious reasons. You could say this blog is born from that incident.

During that break-up period, she showed me two different cases from two different Christian books she was reading– about homosexuals having had demons successfully cast out of them.

…how do you think that makes me feel? To know that the person you love thinks that the only reason why you love her and why she loves you is because of a demon?

…so when we enjoyed each others’ company, simply sitting on a bench enjoying the breeze and talking; a demon at work?
…so when we celebrated anniversaries or valentine’s days, exchanging heartfelt gifts; a demon pulling the strings?
…when we went out for dinner; a demon ordering dessert?
…when we said ‘I love you’ countless times, cheered each other on through tests, exams and school work, listened to each others’ problems and worries… all through a demon’s mouth and ears?

I understand a little more now why people can be so cruel, why the mother in the show can behave so hard-heartedly towards her daughter. That’s not her daughter, it’s a demon. The devil’s limb, as she says.

How people could have burnt women at the stake: they’re not women, they’re witches. The cries you hear aren’t the cries of a women in pain, they are the cries of evil knowing it has lost the battle. When someone cries and screams while having a demon cast out, that’s the sound of the demon, in pain.

What does ‘demon’ even mean, anyway? The idea of ‘ALL GOOD’ and ‘ALL BAD’ is really an incoherent one to me. It can’t exist in more than the abstract. If this thing you call a ‘demon’ can feel pain, shouldn’t we have compassion for it too?

I can’t wait to read the book.

Richard Dawkins and Archbishop Rowan Williams

So I watched this today:


I felt that Richard Dawkins did most of the talking and that the archbishop didn’t really go in depth into his own views nor really explained or pushed any point. He mostly posed questions, clarified what his views are not, and gave very vague diplomatic sounding answers. At least, vague to me, someone who is not familiar with his positions.

In summary, I have to agree with the top comment on the video: Richard Dawkins made some clear points, the archbishop made some vague points, and they both come across as very nice and altogether too civilized and polite people. Sorry, no locking horns or bloodshed at all.

Some ideas that were discussed and my two cents:

The part I liked was the exploration of the idea of the first human, or rather, the lack of a first human. Highlighting the point that there may not be a distinctive point where are new species emerges. Exactly! Taxonomy, the classification of biodiversity, is an arbitary, human-created system. It’s a classification system created by us to allow us to conveniently describe the world we see. The world, more often that not, tends not to fall obediently into the nice distinct categories we draw up, at least not without plenty of exceptions to every rule.

The part about language was interesting too– whether it was a sudden change in those particular genes, something that arose gradually or arose as a side-effect result of some other ability.

I wish they had gone more into the issue of consciousness though, and I wish the archbishop had elaborated more on his view (I assume?) that science may not be able to explain consciousness. Personally, I don’t see a problem with a gradual consciousness arising from brains. It seems completely plausible and even likely to me that the gaining of consciousness and self awareness (and ‘god awareness’?) could have been a gradual evolutionary process as well.

I mean, we can see all sorts of different ‘levels’ of consciousness and self awareness in the living things around us; From plants (completely unconscious, unintelligent and unaware) to simple organisms to insects (are insects conscious?) to birds and mammals like cats and dogs which have discernible personalities even but probably don’t self reflect too much, to elephants, apes and dolphins that are definitely conscious and probably self aware to some extent at least, even if we can’t tell if they ever reflect on the meaning of life or question why they do things.

I also agree with Dawkins that self-awareness would probably be gained way before we would call it human, and I’d add on that I think any ‘god awareness’ would probably come quite a bit after what we would likely call human.

The archbishop wondered about the problem of getting something non-physical (ie consciousness) from something physical, and coincidentally I had recently discussed some similar ideas with a friend. Again, I don’t see a problem, but maybe I’m missing something, making a mistake somewhere.

I don’t see why what we know about how the physical brain relates to non-physical processes doesn’t solve this problem. When certain physical parts of the brain are damaged, there is a resulting damage to memory, or speech. When you stimulate parts of the brain, there is a resulting sensation. Specific chemicals (neurotransmitters) result in certain feelings or emotions. Doesn’t this close the gap between the purely physical and the non-physical?

Then the question of whether computers can have consciousness and free will.

Dawkins imagines if you were able to programme a computer so well that it could behave as though it were conscious well enough to fool people, and while he hesitate to call that consciousness, it seems like he has to committed to that view.

The response to that was that it’s pretty ridiculous to commit to such a view, since computers are mere tools; they can’t even add 2 and 2 or tell the time, they can only do what you tell them to.

I think an answer such a question depends fully on your underlying assumptions about what consciousness is and how it comes about.

If we were really able to, one day, programme a computer to be so human and life-like, like in science fiction (I, Robot? A.I.?) where computers for all purposes appear exactly like they have a unique personality and free will, then how could you say they weren’t conscious? If we were really able to reach that point, you wouldn’t find it so ludicrous an idea. Of course, if you think they couldn’t possibly be conscious, that would also mean you think it’s impossible for computers to ever reach that stage, that it’s impossible for something programmed by humans to cross that line, to truly have consciousness or free will.

Free will is indeed a tricky one; I think most people would disagree about determinism? and Richard Dawkins is understandably hesitant about his position too. But in recent months, I’ve found myself tending very much towards that sort of thinking: everything that we do or feel happens as a result of millions of factors that we have no control over; from my innate personality or temperament to the weather on a particular day affecting my mood to my education and upbringing that affect the way I think and see the world… is there still room for free will?

It seems incredibly counter-intuitive to think that I do not have free will, and yet maybe that’s just due to… reactionary prejudice to the idea? I mean, saying you have no free will… seems to eliminate self (that we cherish so much) altogether: you’re nothing but a robot or simple animal merely reacting to (external) stimulus in accordance to the abilities and tendencies of  your hardware (ie your brain and body).

Yet, even if I did believe that I don’t truly have free will… the ‘no free will’ universe and the ‘free will’ universe would be indistinguishable– I’d have no way of telling because in practice there are so many billions of factors involved that go into causing any emotion or decision-making in me that the illusion of free will would still remain.

The experiment Dawkins mentions about your brain ‘deciding’ to make a decision before ‘you’ do is interesting, but I think it’s difficult to draw any real conclusions from it. Couldn’t it just mean that there is a time lag between when you actually decided and when you’ve realize you’ve decided? or between when you actually decided and when you’ve managed to convey to the experimenters that you’ve decided. On it’s own i don’t think it really shows determinism, or whether souls exist or not. On it’s own it’s just… interesting.

I don’t think investigating only “small scale, short term and uninteresting decisions” is a problem though, as the archbishop thought it was, unless you mean to draw a distinction that in picking up a glass of water you exercise less free will than when deciding whom to marry, which I don’t think is coherent.

I like the idea Dawkins put forward about the human brain going beyond what one would expect for mere survival, that in order to build a brain to survive in a mundane world, it is difficult to build a brain that is not also capable of doing more advance things like mathematics and philosophy. I’m not sure I agree fully because I think all the complicated bits of our brain could have evolved just like the simple bits: because they DID give us an advantage.

What advantage could the tendency to philosophize about metaphysical issues possibly give to animals whose main concern is to find food, shelter and mates? Well, wouldn’t an inquisitive mind capable of seeking explanations have benefited those that did manage to come up with answers that could improve their hunting abilities or survival? And of course there the social aspect: we’ve evolved to live in groups.  Surely that way of living could results in the selection of much more complicated mental states.

Things the archbishop said that I found surprising

1. Immortality is a matter of faith and not something that can be proven by reason. He even seems to discount near death experiences.

2. I’m not sure if I’m understanding what he said in reply to the question “was the universe designed” but this is what I got:

The fact that there is a universe that is intelligible, that hangs together, that has processes that converge to certain ends is part of what he means when he says that god created the universe and that god is an intelligent god.

Involving god in the micromanagement of the processes is problematic because of the moral question, ‘if god can do that (stop suffering), then why doesn’t he do it more often?’

Is that what he’s saying?

3. There is no first human and no adman and eve.

I suppose I haven’t read up much on views that assume parts of the bible as myths or allegory, so I don’t understand it much.

But the inevitable question is: once you give up the claim of the inerrancy of the bible, once you decide some parts aren’t properly true, then how do you decide which parts are and which parts aren’t? If you can give up the story of adman and eve, what’s stopping you from giving up the story of Jesus’ resurrection? Doesn’t the bible give a genealogy all the way from Adam to Noah? Abraham? Jesus? So if Adam isn’t real, how do you know where ‘real’ starts?

… argh, this post is altogether too long. Xp

Double-Edged Sword of Intelligence and Knowledge

One thing that has always bugged me about religion is the fact that many of the religious people I know are highly intelligent (much smarter than me), well read and well educated (more well read than me), really nice and generally very awesome people who seem to have their lives completely figured out. In other words, many of them were people I really admired and looked up to. Why and how did they believe? They’re intelligent, logical people. Plain ignorance or misguided thinking can’t be the reason. It seems much more likely that I’m the one missing something rather than them. What is it that they can see, that they can understand, that I can’t?

For that same reasons, on the flip side it’s comforting to me to read or hear of people– scientist, pastors, friends-who-are-awesome — deconverting; It’s an even stronger ‘case’ this way round: The religious whom I admire have maybe only ever been on that side of the fence. But people who deconvert- especially pastors, for example- would know the religious side really well! It couldn’t be that they are ‘missing something’, because they obviously knew it before. They must know something that those still religious are don’t.

It’s really tempting and intuitive to do that, pointing to authority figures to support your point. But it’s also lazy, and isn’t really proof of anything. It’s basically saying something akin to, “Look, even Albert Einstein thought so; are you so arrogant as to think you’re smart and know better than Albert Einstein?” Er, no, definitely not. But are you suggesting that Albert Einstein is correct about everything just because he’s smarter than you or me?

Just because someone smarter than you thinks so, doesn’t mean you accept his opinion uncritically; Don’t piggy-back on other people’s conclusions, do your own thinking and make your own conclusions.

That’s not to say we discredit or ignore all other conclusions, though. Obviously, we still do have to take other people’s more authoritative, expert views into account, because it’s undeniable that they know more than us. Considering their deeper understanding will undoubtedly give us insight. But don’t equate knowledge or experience with infallibility; They may know more than you, but they are as human, and as fallible, as you and I are.

I keep learning that… being incredibly smart doesn’t really mean anything. Being incredibly smart doesn’t mean you’re always right or always come to the best conclusions. It doesn’t mean you never make logic leaps or fallacies, doesn’t mean you can see all sides of the issue. Being incredibly smart in one way doesn’t mean you’re incredibly smart in all ways.

Similarly, being an incredibly loving and caring person doesn’t really mean anything either; It doesn’t mean you’ll never hurt another person.

People, all people, are only human. They do what they can, they do what they think is right.  No matter how incredibly smart, well-educated, earnest and serious they are, they don’t have any magic answers.

This article, The Ugly Delusions of the Educated Conservative, builds on this idea that knowledge doesn’t always equate to credibility, and brings it a step further: contrary to what we might think, more eduction, more intelligence and more knowledge can actually make it more likely for you to hold inaccurate beliefs.

Why? because the smarter, more well educated and more knowledgable you are, the more confidence you tend to have in your own position. Confidence is fine, but it has a nasty habit of stepping over the line into arrogance, if you’re not careful. And arrogance loathes to admit that it’s wrong, which means, if you were wrong to begin with, you’ll probably stay that way.

Education systems all over the world tend to focus on intelligence of the students, and the knowledge they’re being fed. But intelligence and knowledge are a double-edged sword; They can bring you far, but they can bring you far in any direction.

Perhaps what the emphasis should be on instead is Open-mindedness and Critical Thinking; the ability to listen to consider other positions and to evaluate them. Only then can you be sure that knowledge and intelligence are constantly being checked and put back on track rather than veering off on one mistaken tangent, never to return.

While the article refers specifically to conservative republicans and climate change, I feel that it fits the religious as well, or maybe even more so. Wouldn’t the religious commit this crime more readily, for is that not the foundation of faith? You always operate within the faith, the possibility that your faith may be wrong is not an option. If belief in god is held as the foundation, the unquestionable, infallible truth, then all other knowledge that comes in will be twisted to fit that. As with the Republicans in the article, it’s not the supporting reasons that hold up the belief, it’s the belief that shapes the supporting reasons. And that’s the reverse of what it should be.

That said, the crime of being a ‘smart idiot’ (as the author terms it) is one ANYONE can easily make, once they forget to remember that their own opinions may just be incorrect, once they close their minds to all other positions but their own.

Here’s to helping each other make sure we don’t fall into the trap of being smart idiots.

We have nothing to lose

If my views are wrong, I have nothing to lose in everything to gain in further searching for the truth.

If my views are right, I have nothing to lose and much to gain in further refining, strengthening and deepening my understanding of my views and the reason why people think otherwise.

If your belief is wrong, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain in searching and finding out more.
If your belief is right, you have nothing to lose and much to gain in clarifying the details, confirming your position and understanding why people hold different views.

Perhaps you could say, the devil is a master deceiver; what if one strong in faith starts to question, and ends up deceived? …what’s to convince you you AREN’T being deceived right now?

Don’t assume what you think or know is necessarily the truth. Don’t be afraid to discard old ideas if new (and valid) information becomes available. Be open and always searching. What do you have to lose?

All easier said than done, so don’t stop trying.