Monday, October 4, 2010

The Game

Its goes by many names including: “politics”, “promotions”, “public relations”, “punditry”, “preaching” and "Pin the Tail on the Stupid". But among players it is simply called “The Game”. The objective is to get ignorant people to believe falsehoods for fun and/or profit (if you’re profiting by telling the truth you’re not playing the Game). The key to success in the Game is the ability to get people to turn off their objective reasoning skills (i.e., to be stupid).

In the Game you get points whenever you profit from someone else accepting your baseless propositions as facts. In the same way that most drug dealers know not to “get high on their own supply”; true players know not to internalize anything they say in the context of the Game. Points are awarded in the Game based on a combination of the blatancy of the proposition’s falsity (i.e., the stupidity required to believe it), the number of people who believe it and the depth to which they believe it. The accumulation of points manifests as increases in the player’s worldly influence and wealth.

Thanks to the Internet no idea is too stupid (i.e., too egregious a violation of the fundamental laws of logic) to gain traction with some group of marginalized tinfoil hatters. Skilled players try to broaden the distribution of their most preposterous propositions by connecting different groups of believers together using conspiracy theories and then encouraging them to ideologically cross-pollinate. To maximize the depth of penetration of more improbable ideas players typically shape them to be consistent with the personal narratives of their marks. The best players are actually able to convince their marks that believing pure drivel makes them more knowledgeable than everyone who doesn't. Such tactics increase the persistence of an unlikely belief, which in turn increases the chance of it being passed on to other like-minded individuals. As a result, these absurd propositions can provide a solid foundation for building multilevel monuments of idiocy that accumulate huge points in the Game thanks to a multiplier effect.

At the periphery of the Game are lurkers who watch it as a harmless, if sometimes mean-spirited, pastime. Lurkers are able to appreciate the subtleties of the Game but are saddled with too much conscience to play it. The less sympathetic lurkers get a perverse enjoyment out of seeing marks proudly brandishing, as signs of their “superior” intelligence, the stupid ideas that active players have pinned on them. Anyone who wonders why more sympathetic lurkers don’t intervene to warn those being played has obviously never tried to separate people from beliefs that are important to them. As bad as the inaction of lurkers may seem to outsiders, it is the professionals who you really should watch out for. The high-end pros in the Game are wielding immense power in society and often pulling down seven and eight figure (USD) annual salaries. This can incentivize them to play a merciless game that is indifferent to any harm they might cause. These players are generally willing to ruin careers, destroy lives, bring down political systems and if necessary wreck economies in their single-minded pursuit of points in an ultimately meaningless game.

The Game has been played in one form or another since time immemorial. In its earliest versions it was often synonymous with we now think of as product advertising. While much of the action today is still driven by the movement of goods and services, some truly innovative moves have come out of the news media in their efforts to attract viewers and be regarded as relevant (the media equivalents of wealth and power). Their success in combining news, opinion and entertainment into an addictive concoction that is completely lacking in substance has opened the door to a whole new level of play. And through that door has marched the two major American political parties. The Democratic and Republican Parties have revolutionized the Game in terms of the generation and mass distribution of completely idiotic ideas that a significant percentage of the country believe with all their hearts. As such, the lurker-organized fantasy leagues invariably heat up during the run-up to elections. But be aware that the members of these political parties are by no means the top of the Game hierarchy.

In the Game if you are not a player you are probably a mark. The key to avoiding being played is a willingness to question your beliefs. Any belief you have that is based more on your self-image than on empirical evidence from the world around you is, at best, suspect. If you can think of anyone who might be benefiting more from your belief than you are, you have definitely been played. Unfortunately, if you’ve been played by a high-end player, suspecting as much will not provide enough of an incentive to abandon the belief, unless you are also a player. In other words, faced with the choice, a mark will always take the blue pill.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Socialism versus Capitalism

Britannica defines socialism as "a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control". It is based on the idea that in the world beyond subsistence farming many people contribute to the production of goods and services, and on the theory that everyone who contributes to the production of something should profit from the revenue it generates, in proportion to the value of their contribution.

Socialism goes off the rails when those who determine what represents an "appropriate" distribution of profits allot themselves a disproportionate share simply because they can. This tends to create a bureaucratic class that sustains itself by feeding off the efforts of both the executives and the workers.

Capitalism is a system in which "most of the means of production are privately owned and production is guided and income distributed largely through the operation of markets". When everything is in balance it is market forces that determine the appropriate distribution of revenue in a given enterprise.

Capitalism begins to run amok as certain private enterprises become powerful enough to be largely immune to market forces in the context of determining compensation. At this point the executives in these enterprises will often overvalue the worth of their contributions, thus depriving their workers.

Socialism was a reaction to the excesses of capitalism that in the 19th century produced fabulously wealthy industrialists (the so-called robber barons) supported by impoverished workers. As is often the case the cure for this situation proved to be worse than the disease as socialism in places like the Soviet Union and China produced parasitic bureaucracies that fed voraciously on their entire citizenry.

Capitalism tends to promote a greater separation between the top and bottom of a society while socialism tends to promote a smaller separation. This means that in essence capitalism is the more hierarchical system while socialism is the more egalitarian one.

From a socialistic perspective capitalism is a system that encourages a tendency for a select few to profit disproportionately from the work of many. From a capitalistic perspective socialism is a system that encourages a tendency for negligible contributors to profit disproportionately from the unique skills of a select few. Both systems persist because both systems have a point.

For the foreseeable future most modern societies will cycle back and forth between their capitalistic and socialistic tendencies as the weaknesses of the currently dominant system lead to a public backlash that will push it to the margins for a time as the other system is embraced until its weaknesses become intolerable to the citizens and they bring the first system back. This cycle will only be broken when either the entire system collapses or a new system emerges that encompasses the strengths of socialism and capitalism while addressing their weaknesses. Fasten your seat belts it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Knowledge Allergic Information Addiction: Symptoms and Treatments

There are at least two significant negative effects of being a knowledge allergic information addict. First it is a self-marginalizing condition since the more its victims emphasize the differences between things the less like anything else they will see themselves as being. In the case of politically extreme knowledge allergic information addicts, this progression works along these lines: “First I used information to marginalize the liberals/conservatives (since I am not one of them and believe they are not good people). Then I used information to marginalize the moderates. Then I used information to marginalize those on my side of the political spectrum who disagree with me on any political issue. Then I used information to marginalize those who agree with me politically but not on other areas. And so on until I was the only right-thinking person left.” Rest assured this progression works beyond the political domain. As this symptom progresses victims increasingly see the world as being populated by opponents united in complex conspiracies against them.

A second major debilitating symptom of being a knowledge allergic information addict is that regardless of how much information you amass the world seems, if anything, less comprehensible. In the epistemology described here, complexity reflects the ratio of information to knowledge in the given person’s perspective. This means that the more you focus on the differences between things rather than their similarities, the greater the complexity you will experience around you. For knowledge allergic information addicts this complexity can defy comprehension. This is because complexity is reduced through understanding, which is the conversion of information into knowledge. The basis of understanding is the realization that things are connected by what separates them. For instance, the bricks in a wall are connected by the mortar that separates them. However those who are allergic to knowledge resist their allergen through a symptomatic tendency to not see the connections between things their information separates. As long as this inclination persists understanding of the world around them will continue to elude them.

These symptoms incline knowledge allergic information addicts to perceive the world around them as an incomprehensible place full of people who are not like them and so could easily be conspiring against all they hold dear. Needless to say it is difficult to reason with those suffering from this condition about the validity of knowledge that they see as contradicting their interpretation of the world. The longer these informed yet biased perspectives persist, the more deeply they are integrated into their owners’ self-image. This means that the longer a knowledge allergy goes untreated the more its victim will perceive external attempts to help as personal attacks. As such, it is unlikely that a cure could be facilitated through a straightforward rational intervention.

There is hope for those afflicted with this disease. Though their minds tend to be closed through self-justifying interpretations of what they already believe, they remain mentally active in their quest for new information to feed their addiction. Their willingness to expose themselves to new data keeps open the possibility that they will eventually encounter mind-expanding insights that lead them to question the foundation of the informational world view that emerged from their condition. Without knowledge to provide cohesion these informational perspectives are generally houses of cards that become flimsier the larger they grow. As a result, the product of this disease eventually becomes the best path to a cure.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Addicted to Information Yet Allergic to Knowledge

The easy availability of huge volumes of data via the internet has led to an epidemic of information addiction. A growing number of people cannot go an entire day without an information update. In a rational society the desire for more information would normally not be interpreted as a bad thing. Unfortunately this condition is increasingly accompanied by an allergic reaction to relevant knowledge thus undermining the potential value of the information addiction.

To understand this condition it is important to first understand what information and knowledge are. Information describes how things are different from each other. For example, information is how we establish that the color orange is redder than the color blue. Knowledge characterizes how things are alike. For instance knowledge establishes that orange, red and blue are colors. Our tendency to use the terms interchangeably is based on the fact that things are connected by that which separates them (e.g., the spectrum that distinguishes colors also connects them). As a result, whether something represents information or knowledge is based on how deeply we interpret it. Since we can only experience contrast, information comes from interpreting our experiences. Knowledge generally comes from interpreting information. Understanding is the conversion of information into knowledge.

These days an increasing number of people are obsessed with information. These individuals typically focus on how things are different from them and each other. For instance, in politics when someone offers information that “proves” a sweeping generalization such as, “all liberals are evil” or “all conservatives are stupid” I hear the sniffles of a knowledge allergy. Where such a person does not self identify as evil in the former case or stupid in the latter, this information primarily serves to differentiate and marginalize the subject. It is the inclination of people to deny the knowledge that connects them to the groups they seek to marginalize (e.g., that there are good liberals and intelligent conservatives) that is symptomatic of their knowledge allergies. Chronic sufferers of this condition tend to exhibit symptoms in all areas of discourse, not just the political arena.

In the Internet Age knowledge allergic information addicts are typically out scouring the Web to amass stashes of information that supports their beliefs while studiously avoiding knowledge that contradicts them. Unlike victims of the class-based or divinely mandated knowledge prohibitions, today’s knowledge allergic information addicts are in a position to appreciate the utility of information but often lack the capacity to fully process everything that interests them. The sheer volume of information that is literally at their fingertips these days overwhelms their capacity to understand it all.

As they accumulate unprocessed information, some people develop a tendency to regard the differences between things as more important than their similarities. This inclination can be exacerbated by the fact that our uniqueness is only meaningful in the context of our informational orientation. As such where we value our uniqueness, we tend to embrace information that casts it in a positive light. But there is a threshold of infatuation with our uniqueness beyond which we interpret knowledge of our similarities to others as a threat to our self-esteem (“I have NOTHING in common with those evil liberals / stupid conservatives”). When zealously informed people cannot remain rational when confronted with such knowledge their addiction to information has triggered a knowledge allergy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Washington Prescription

People often complain that the artistic quality of Hollywood feature films has gone down over the years. Those who make this observation typically blame Hollywood for this phenomenon. However, like any free enterprise system, Hollywood produces products that ultimately reflect the demands of its market. Note that in the face of the general perception that its products' artistic quality is sinking, Hollywood's revenues are setting new records each year. Think about this in the context of the current political mess in Washington DC.

At the risk of being accused of blaming the victim I maintain that the electorate is responsible for the toxic political environment in Washington DC. The politicians there are well aware of the fact that we have the power to vote them out of office. As such, they act the way they do because it continues to provoke a positive electoral response from us. Arguably, most Washington politicians today are directing more of their efforts towards triggering that response than to actually doing their jobs.

Others have argued that the growing influence of deep-pocketed lobbyists is responsible for the current culture in Washington. However, such lobbyists have power in Washington DC primarily because it is still possible to sway enough voters to decide an election through the use of paid political ads. Our relative ignorance of the issues leaves us susceptible to such ads. This means that our political ignorance transfers some of our political power to those who pay for those ads. But we remain the source of that power. The same is true of the growing power of pundits and political entertainers. Being the ultimate power in Washington DC means we are responsible for its current condition.

In order for the electorate to have a direct hand in improving the political atmosphere in Washington DC, we must first accept responsibility for its current state. As long as we deny being responsible for this situation, we distance ourselves from the power to fix it. Expecting that things will get better simply by sending different people into the same noxious environment is analogous to that switching from regular to menthol cigarettes to treat your emphysema.

To improve the political environment in Washington DC we must each take it upon ourselves raise our level of political discourse. In order to do this, we must allow our personal ideologies to be primarily shaped by our life experiences rather than the talking points of people we like or even admire. We must develop our positions on political issues by analyzing them through the filter of our life experiences, rather than simply accepting or rejecting them based on how they are labeled (typically by people with a vested interest in how we react to them). When we present our political opinions to others we must do so in a manner that demonstrates our intelligence and respects theirs. We must give respectful consideration to divergent political opinions presented to us in this manner (rather than disparagingly dismissing them as partisan crackpottery).

As more of us begin to interact in such a manner I maintain that our elected officials will react to the spread of this new reasonable discourse by emulating it, if for no other reason than to avoid losing their jobs. In other words, by becoming a sensible, respectable electorate we can shape sensible, respectable representatives.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Existence and God

Existence is the capacity to be. Obviously everything that exists has the capacity to be. This means that everything that exists is contingent upon this capacity including the capacity itself. Any entity lacking this capacity is impossible. The impossible is that which cannot exist. Anything that cannot exist represents an analytic contradiction. A trivial example of such an entity would be a married bachelor.

One of the most profound analytic contradictions is an entity that exists and is both distinguishable from and more fundamental than existence. Such an entity is impossible because for anything to be both more fundamental than and contingent upon existence would be inconsistent with the meanings of the terms fundamental and contingent. The impossibility of all such entities means that the most fundamental thing in existence is existence itself.

Those who believe in a certain characterization of the one true God will generally take issue with this conclusion. This is because these believers regard God as the most fundamental entity that exists. This belief is based on their wholehearted embrace of the following propositions:

1. God exists
2. God is the Supreme Being
3. God is the source of every being that is distinguishable from it

For the sake of this argument let me define a being as any entity that exists and the Supreme Being as that which exists and is not contingent upon any other being. In other words, the Supreme Being is the most fundamental entity that exists.

If God is distinguishable from existence then the Third God Proposition requires God to be the source of existence. However, in the most elementary sense a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for one entity to be the source of another is that the former must be able to exist in the absence of the latter. But it is impossible for anything to exist in the absence of existence. As a result, a God that exists and is distinguishable from existence cannot be the source of existence. This means that for such a God the Third God Proposition false.

If we abandon the Third God Proposition and posit that God exists, is distinguishable from existence but is not the source of existence, then God is contingent upon something distinct from it that is not contingent upon it. This would mean that God is not the Supreme Being, which cannot be contingent upon anything other than itself. In other words, if God exists and is distinguishable from existence, then both the Second and Third God Propositions are false. But without these propositions what we are discussing no longer represents the one true God, thus falsifying the First God Proposition. This means that if the God of these propositions is distinguishable from existence, it cannot exist.

This does not mean there is no entity for which these God Propositions are true. Note that existence exists, is not contingent upon any other being and all other beings are contingent upon it. In other words, though none of the God Propositions are true of any entity that exists and is distinguishable from existence, they are all true of existence itself. This means that God can exist, be the Supreme Being and be the source of all beings if God is existence.

Certain of the theistically inclined contend that God is greater than existence. They typically characterize God as absolute Divinity, Love, Wisdom, Power and Presence. But these properties must exist in order to confer greatness upon God. Yet the premise that they exist means these absolute properties are contingent upon existence, and thus so is any greatness that God would acquire from them. In other words, existence is the source of God’s greatness. This argument is supported by the fact that one of the premises of the original Ontological Argument for the existence of God essentially states that without existence God cannot be the Supreme Being, regardless of its divine properties.

The proposition that if God exists, it is contingent upon existence is a logical tautology. This contingent being is at best a demigod unless this contingency is mutual. However, where God and existence are regarded as distinct beings, the proposition that existence is also contingent upon God is a matter of rationally indefensible faith. This faith-based proposition can only be logically supported if God is existence. In other words, from a rational theistic perspective either existence is God or God is not the Supreme Being.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Abusing Rationalism

Recall that in the broadest sense a rationalist is anyone who is predisposed to believe that all important knowledge is attainable. In this context note that one of the fundamental principles of rational dynamics is that the accumulation of knowledge brings with it greater power. This notion motivates self-centered individuals to seek knowledge for the purpose of increasing their power. In the long run, pursuing such an immature rationalist agenda will cause more problems than it solves. The great threat posed by rationalism is evident in the fact that the scientific and technological breakthroughs it continues to produce are providing increasingly efficient mechanisms for bringing about the end of humanity.

In the face of this danger we continue to eagerly embrace rationality. To understand why this is, first note that in more mundane circumstances it can be difficult to differentiate a rationalist from a mystic. But as situations become more challenging it becomes easier to distinguish those responding rationally from those reacting mystically. The rationalist contends that with sufficient time we can accumulate the knowledge to solve any problematic situation, regardless of its complexity. The mystic believes that for problems exceeding a certain scope, the knowledge to solve them either does not exist or resides forever beyond our rational grasp. It is this viewpoint that inclines mystics to appeal to external, often supernatural, agents for assistance with such challenges. This means that given the spectrum of perspectives extending from total rationality at one end to pure mysticism at the other, those adopting the more rationalist outlooks are more self-determined and personally empowered than those embracing more mystical points of view.

It is through the application of rationality that we increase our objective understanding of and control over our world. The subjectivity that manifests in the absence of rationality limits the precision with which we can share knowledge and experiences with others. This means that rationality is the most efficient mechanism for building an empirically confirmed consensus of knowledge that is immune to subjective uncertainty. Such a rationally-derived structure reflects the accumulated power of our intellect in that it is the foundation of our most consistent capacity to influence our surroundings. The story of the Tower of Babel is essentially the tale of a mystical God opposing such a program.

Appropriate resistance to such a rationalist agenda is based on understanding that increasing rationality does not necessarily correspond to increasing wisdom. As such, there is no guarantee that even the most brilliant rationalist has the maturity to pursue knowledge and accumulate the accompanying power, without also laying the groundwork for our extinction. This is because as long as knowing better does not automatically equate to doing better, we will always be able to think better than we can be.

This is the dynamic underlying the fact that, left to their own devices, immature rationalists have a tendency to be indifferent to the negative impact of their pursuits on others. These self-centered rationalists are often inclined to use the power they gain from amassing knowledge, to enrich themselves by exploiting others in ways that limit their victims’ growth. Such oppression represents the essence of evil.

To limit the spread of this condition throughout our society we must transition from a quest for the knowledge to subjugate our world, to an altruistic program to discover and fulfill a logical, unifying purpose that is not based on separating ourselves from everything else. The specific nature of this purpose will become evident as we find rational answers to our most important existential questions. These discoveries are the events that will facilitate the cultural transformation that will prevent our rational self-destruction. If we abandon the search for rational existential answers, this crucial social paradigm shift will most likely not occur.

In that eventuality, knowledge will become our ultimate weapon of mass destruction. The more we wield its accompanying power to further our own self interests, the more this knowledge will consume that which we should be encouraging to grow. Such ill-conceived choices are typically justified by our sense of self-importance, which expands with our power from a self-centered perspective.

In making the fundamental choice to always favor ourselves over others, we become susceptible to the principle of sentient dynamics that is characterized by the adage: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In this context, the power we gain from a self-centered pursuit of a rationalist agenda will lead to an increasingly brutal world in which people increasingly prey on each other until we completely devour ourselves.

It is important to realize that if this is to be our fate it will be the result of an abuse of the rationalist program. Our rational self-destruction would not be due to the fact that we went in search of rational answers; it will be because along the way we became lost in our own self-importance and failed to develop wisdom required to safely handle what we discovered.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tolerating Mysticism

Recall that in the broadest sense a mystic is anyone who is predisposed to believe there are mysteries that can never be rationally solved. To many rationally-inclined individuals, mysticism represents one of the great ills of our society. They point out that mystics were responsible for many of the greatest atrocities in human history (whether or not Adolph Hitler was a theist he was undeniably a mystic). But the fact that we can appreciate the wrongs done in the name of mysticism does not mean we no longer need it.

Early in the evolution of a society its awareness of the existential threats facing it exceeds its knowledge of their basic nature and how to eliminate them. During this period, the society is at risk of being undermined by fear of the unknown. The most common solution to this problem is for sages to develop a belief system that allows the people to push forward through this fear and uncertainty. This mythos provides the culture with certainty based on a belief that its people can influence the unknown to their advantage without ever fully understanding it. This situation often leads to the personification and worship of the Primal Mystery underlying all unknowns. And thus a new religion is born.

At about this point in a mystic culture’s history it transfers a portion of its fear of the unknown to the Primal Mystery, which represents the fundamental unknowable. As a result, most of those who worship the Primal Mystery also fear it. This mystical fear serves to keep its subjects from completely giving in to their most selfish instincts. This is why the Primal Mystery, which is the ultimate object of mystical fear, is the basis of morality for most mystics.

The mystics’ fear of the Primal Mystery also serves to inhibit their pursuit of knowledge. In the story of the Garden of Eden this fear kept Adam and Eve from initially eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Mystical restrictions on the quest of knowledge often lead to a situation in which a culture’s worshipful fear of the Primal Mystery limits the growth of its people. Such repression represents the essence of evil. To avoid this circumstance a culture must transition from a reverential fear of the Primal Mystery to a purposeful search for the complete connection to the Fundamental Absolute. This Fundamental Absolute is what will survive the solution of the Primal Mystery (i.e., the so-called ‘Death of God’), which is the event that usually facilitates this transition.

Has our society reached the point at which mysticism, the customs that sustain our relationship with the Primal Mystery, is doing more harm than good? This question is essentially asking if we are mature enough to resist our self-centered tendencies in the face of the temptations of the fruits of the unbridled pursuit of knowledge, without the influence of a real or imagined supernatural agent. Even if you believe that as an individual, you have the requisite maturity, would you trust the average person around you with the knowledge to reshape the planet?

If your answer is ‘no’, then while it may be okay for you to doff your mystic robes, you probably do not want to live in a world where no one who needs to believe in a Primal Mystery is inhibited by fear of it. Even with this fear consider the carnage mystics have caused under the influence of their misinterpretations and misrepresentations of its will. This indicates that at your core you believe it is still necessary for some people to remain mystics, even if you aren’t one of them. This is because most mystics are not mature enough to be freed from their self-limiting viewpoint. As such, even if you no longer share the characteristic beliefs of mystics you still believe the world needs mysticism.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are You a Secret Mystic?

Many of us would like to believe we are rational individuals living in an increasingly rational world in which mysticism is being correspondingly marginalized. Even though you may regard yourself as a fundamentally rational person, you could in fact be a mystic with a predisposition to hinder the advancement of rationality.

To understand how this could be, let me first provide some background. Mystics are essentially people inclined to believe there are mysteries that can never be solved. Whether the mystery is religious (“why did God create evil?”), philosophical (“why is there something instead of nothing?”) scientific (“how did life originally emerge from non-living matter?”) or personal (“why can’t I catch a break?”), if you accept that it can never be rationally explained you are a mystic. It is a disposition towards harboring such beliefs that fundamentally defines mystics, not the supernatural powers, arcane knowledge, meditative trances and various magical artifacts that are typically attributed to them.

If that is all there is to being a mystic you may wonder what is the harm in it? It might be kind of cool to be able to walk up to strangers at a party and introduce yourself as a mystic; thus implicitly claiming membership in a club that is often characterized as a exclusive, mysterious, powerful and perhaps even a little dangerous.

The problem with being a mystic is that it is an inherently self-limiting perspective. The critical factor in being a mystic is a fundamental belief that there are unyielding constraints on what we can rationally comprehend. This means that to be a mystic is to believe there is an absolute limit on the power of rational thought.

In accepting this premise mystics typically assert the existence of entities that transcend the boundary of rationality. These mystics recognize that they can never rationally understand these great, yet inherently mysterious beings. This situation eventually leads them to personify and worship, the Primal Mystery underlying everything that resides beyond what they perceive to be the absolute limit of rationality. This perspective characterizes virtually all of today’s religions. The fact that they are founded on the Primal Mystery is why all of our major religions are fundamentally mystical.

Ironically, there are people who think that religions have outlived their usefulness and at the same time accept that there are limits to the power of rational thought. Some of these individuals are not merely irreligious, they express open hostility towards religions, yet their mystical disposition is sympathetic to the idea underlying those ‘intolerable’ institutions. This situation is analogous to gay people who speak out against homosexuality.

No matter how rationally antireligious you claim to be, if you are inclined to believe we can never objectively explain what triggered the Big Bang, how consciousness manifests in the brain, why the uncertainty principle works or any other important mystery, then at your core you are a rationality-limiting, religion-sympathizing mystic.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mind, Consciousness and Self-awareness

If you are reading this you have a mind. But a consensus has yet to emerge regarding what exactly a mind is. We tend to define the mind in terms of things like consciousness and self-awareness though there is little agreement as to what those phenomena are either. I maintain that in the simplest sense your mind is the convergence of your self-awareness and consciousness. Self-awareness is your perception of what you are and your consciousness is your perception of what you are not.

To be conscious an entity must also be self-aware. For example, the computer monitor displaying these words is not conscious of them because it has no sense of itself in the context containing them. In other words, there is no intrinsic component of the monitor can be interpreted by the monitor as representing the monitor displaying the words. By contrast, you are conscious of these words because in addition to interacting with them, you are also aware of yourself interacting with them. This is because there is an intrinsic component of you that is interpreted by you as you reading these words.

Self-awareness is the component of your mind that interprets the relationship between the entity reading these words and the being recognizing itself as that entity as a connection. As such, you are both the subject and object of your self-awareness. Consciousness is the component of your mind that interprets the relationship between the object of your self-awareness and these words (and everything else that you are interacting with in some manner) as a separation.

Elsewhere I have defined time as the separation between instances of the same being (e.g., the person who started reading this parenthetical and the person who is now finishing it) and space as the separation between instances of different beings (e.g., the opening and closing parentheses surrounding this example). In this context, self-awareness spans time while consciousness spans space.

Consciousness represents the boundary of our self-awareness in that it essentially delineates what we are not. Since we are shaped by what we are not, for many of us consciousness is the primary vehicle by which we can understand what we are.

In general the mind is a self-aware phenomenon that is self-limited by its consciousness, through which it acquires knowledge of the world around it. In this sense it is evident that though consciousness seems to be ignited in the brain it is not necessarily limited to it anymore than the illumination produced by a neon light is limited to the bulb.

Self-awareness is essentially our capacity to see ourselves in beings that influence us (typically our predecessor instances). The more self-aware we are the less of a separation we will perceive from others. Complete self-awareness would allow us to see ourselves as being connected to everything, thus invalidating the concept of "other".

Since consciousness is what limits our self-awareness, the less of it we have the more complete our self-awareness will be. Our consciousness keeps our self-awareness from being complete by allowing us to perceive certain entities that shape us as being distinct from us. In other words, our consciousness is the basis of our uniqueness. As a result, one of our primary goals as conscious beings is to transcend our consciousness and become completely self-aware minds that can see ourselves in everything and everything in us.
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