Intellect and Beliefs

A recent experience got me down and I thought maybe I’d write about it.  I am not sure what to conclude, but sometimes it feels good to just write things out.  A person who I considered somewhat of a friend or at least a good acquaintance from grad school reconnected with me at a conference last year.  He was a Ph.D. student while I was doing my Masters and he was very friendly and seemed to me very smart.  So when he friended me on Facebook I was a bit excited since he seemed like he would be a good person to get into discussions with and that he would post interesting things.   But as I started to see him pop up on my news feed he would often post things that seemed to me that he already believed an answer, but claimed he wanted to know what other people thought, but if you didn’t think what he thought he would still think he was right even if he wouldn’t explicitly say it.  He would comment on statuses that I posted if I criticized A then he would say, how can you criticize A when you don’t criticize B.  The simple answer being that sometimes I did complain about B but he didn’t see it, or I would complain about B if I knew about it, but also that I have a limited amount of things that I have the passion for fighting against and this is simply what I’ve chosen.  Over time I came to realize that he was pretty religious, was against gay marriage, and although more compassionate that perhaps some evangelicals, he certainly had no tolerance for a pro-choice point of view, though planned parenthood was evil, and that men are much more oppressed in our society than women.  And while I agree that inequality towards men is often overlooked in favor to women’s issues, for him the balance seemed to swing the other way and that we lived in a society that favored women.  We ended up arguing about most things and while he would complain about how everybody always argues using ad hominem attacks instead of discussing the issue he would frequently use language to me like “You really believe that?”, “Are you serious?” and other phrases that were clearly mocking what I felt to be true as so ridiculous that he couldn’t believe an educated person would think that way.  And to be honest I felt the same way, but would never debate like that (although I did finally get a bit snippy in retort after enough of those kinds of statements).  The final straw that led to me just unfriending him was over the Syria situation when I posted a status and talked about how we and the west have benefited so much from the cheap oil to run our economies from that region of the world and how, especially the UK and the US have actively tried to keep that area unstable to maintain control of the oil that to not help the refugees was hypocritical.  He responded by saying we didn’t cause fundamentalism, we didn’t cause ISIS, and a bunch of other things.  I thought about responding, because there is a lot of evidence that we did cause ISIS, and that by keeping the area impoverished and without a stable governments, without the ability to nationalize their own oil reserves we have kept those countries in a state of poverty and fundamentalism tends to flourish in such regions.

But what I really want to talk about is how such a person really made me doubt myself.  I have experienced it before where someone whose intellect you admire (and maybe this guy simply changed over the years) and then all of a sudden starts making you feel like an idiot and you really believe them.  It makes you doubt yourself down to the very core and its troubling, and it hurts when someone you respected as a person belittles you.  But then I had to start questioning that feeling of doubt and hurt.  Knowing that we rationalize our beliefs and that if someone tries to challenge them in a very serious way we can often react defensively to not have such beliefs destroyed.  This person has, like me, a Ph.D. in meteorology and it’s applied math and physics and is no cake walk.  Was he the objective scientist and I was biased and belief based?  I don’t think that I am, but what if I simply believe that I am the type of person who is willing to change their mind about things given evidence, but really I’m not.  Ultimately it seems that the type of person I see myself as, might also be a belief.
Then I started to worry more that I was insulating myself intellectually.  Over the past 5 years I have had less tolerance to engage with people who didn’t to at least some degree share my worldview or who had a worldview that I respected even if it wasn’t my own.  It seems to me that such engagements had little value but to drain my energy.  Either the debate was one I have had many times before and was simply repetitive, or the possibility exists that I do not have the language skills to effectively get my points across because the exchange seems to go nowhere.  My intellect however would recognize common logical fallacies that they would use and there was only so much I could take before I just decided that this person wasn’t someone I should continue engaging with.  And I’ve started to feel as I age that life is too short now to surround myself with people who only anger and frustrate me and simply surround myself with those who give me positive energy.  But as a person who wants to grow intellectually and not hide from perspectives different from my own, how do I do that and still maintain my sanity in a world that seems fraught with so many people who don’t seem to think critically?  And is my desire to think critically fading as I age where my focus seems to be shifting to seek comfort and joy over the type of adversity that helps the intellect grow?

Had this former fellow student of mine been someone I did not know I probably would have shut them out awhile ago as I recognized their arguments were never steeped in evidence, but simply asserted with strong language.  Followed by an expectation for you to give evidence if you disagreed even though none was offered to you in the first place.  Such tactics are the hallmark of belief based thinking.  When we have attachments to people and when we respect their intellect it’s hard not to take them seriously.  The words sink deeper into you and shake you up regardless of their truth.  And I do have friends that disagree with me on big issues, but when we discuss them the language feels much more like mutual respect for each other, and so maybe in the this guy was just a giant asshole, and only my admiration of him from the past blinded me from seeing it for too long.  I’d like to believe that I stuck it out longer than I normally would have and gave him the benefit of the doubt.  I guess though, part of me still stuck on the idea that perhaps I’m protecting my worldview because I don’t want to change it.

Of course when I analyze my worldview I don’t see it as a bad one.  But I’m sure all people feel that way.  I do continue to read and learn, even if it is something that I don’t agree with.  In the end I guess I’ve decided that however I decide to keep my social circle, I am at the very least a person who looks to reduce the harm and suffering of my fellow humans in this world and I only hope that this drive continues to help me be the person I want to be.  And maybe it’s most important to recognize that the intellect does not always dictate beliefs and that these come from more of an emotional place.  And so maybe doing things that keep me emotionally healthy is just as important as that which keeps my intellect healthy.

At Play

Waiting for the sound,

A light to blink,

Fidgeting and sighing,

Distracting myself from time,

It’s so much fun right now,

I have a talent for it,

It might only last a week

A stupid word here ,

A poor performance there,

And then it’s *poof*

The show was over.

Peeking under the curtains


But we were actors,

Acting as our real selves,

Just with a few costumes,

And a couple ripped stitches,

And we all got better,

And didn’t get any worse,

We behaved a little younger,

And talked a little older,

Taking a small chance here,

Being a little cautious there

But I think we can relax,

Because it’s going to be okay.

If it’s not too late

I see you fold and stretch, darting in and out of shadows,

An invitation, a visitation, never staying for too long,

What drives you? What scares you?


Such a swirl of talent, a whirl under fingers

I watch you spin, and I am hypnotized,

By just the essence of your grace and beauty,

Your strategies are practiced, stepping in time with music,

Looking back and forth, weary of space around you,

If I brought you to the light, would I lose you in the sun?

If I opened the cage, how far would you run?

If the levee came down, what would pour out?


Is it too late for rescue?


I wade into the water, and we laugh and splash

And then we dance in time with the ebb and flow

Floating as friends playing like children,

Then you’d close your eyes and drift softly to sleep

Only the Lonely

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Alone by Edgar Allen Poe

I wanted to preface this post with one of my favorite poems.  I spend a lot of time thinking about how we interact with people because I love company, I love talking to other people, trying to understand them as I try to also understand myself.  I have a wonderful wife, great friends, and am surrounded by bright and energetic students and colleagues, but an incident recently made me feel alone, and I started contemplating what it means to be lonely, to feel alone.  I’ll understand if this isn’t a fun read during the holiday season! 🙂

Being alone can have two different meanings and I’d like to focus mostly on only one of them.  One can of course be literally alone with nobody else around.  I equate this more as solitude and solitude can be a


good thing.  It can be a time of reflection, possibly getting in touch with nature, and can be a very rejuvenating experience.  Being alone however can mean lonely and this is quite different.  Certainly you can be literally alone and feel lonely, but I find that loneliness comes in many shapes and forms and is most strongly felt when one is not literally alone.

When I moved away from home to go to graduate school I didn’t know a soul, and since I didn’t have the money to come down and look for housing I unfortunately lived in the dorms for the first couple of months (a horrendous experience I might add!).  I ate my meals in the cafeteria and University of Oklahoma is a big school.  There were probably about 500 people eating their meal and I would of course find a spot that wasn’t next to anybody and eat my meal.  Now there are some people who might have just sat down next to somebody and started talking, but I’m not that way.  It really hits you that you don’t know anybody and yet you are surrounded by people.  It is a very intense feeling of loneliness.  I would have felt less lonely if the cafeteria was empty.  This of course was compounded by the fact that I had just moved away from home and so when you are feeling very lonely it is easy to think more about the friends and family you’ve left behind.

Of course this feeling of loneliness is something you get used to, to a certain degree.  Being in new social


situations where you don’t know anyone, can feel awkward especially if you are like me and seek genuine conversation over the normal small talk.  It’s a skill you have to learn to get good at the small talk to get to the better stuff.  I think a lot of introverts are like that, but they just refuse to play the game.  A lot of people think I’m an extrovert, but I just think I’m an introvert who has learned to be more brave with time. 🙂

One of the more intense feelings of loneliness I think occurs when we don’t have someone to be intimate with.  I am not just talking about physical intimacy, although we certainly crave and miss that as well, but just the intimacy of even a close friend; somebody that you can share thoughts and feelings with, and most importantly be yourself around.  This type of loneliness is compounded by the presences of others, especially those we wish to be closer to but are not.  When you’re shy or lack confidence in approaching someone I think we all start to even get down on ourselves thus worsening the situation instead of making changes to improve our situation to feel less lonely.

Loneliness of this kind can lead to all sorts of behavior that can be unhealthy to you and others.  In a desire to get intimacy we may turn to sex as a substitute which gives momentary pleasure but not the intimacy we crave that is longer lasting and ultimately more fulfilling.  We may turn to a group of friends that become “drinking buddies”.  This may feel like fun temporarily, but often those friends aren’t confidants are even people that you can really be yourself around, and at the end of the evening you still come back alone and feel empty again.  We may seek out chat rooms on the internet, and sometimes you can even get to know someone really well, but it’s just no substitute for being in someone’s physical presence.

I have also noticed a type of loneliness that I could best describe as intellectual or behavioral loneliness. A sort of loneliness you feel when it feels like you are the only one who thinks a certain way.  Like being surrounded by a bunch of pro-gun people and after the umpteenth school shooting you are thinking


maybe we should pass some gun laws, and they say make the teachers wear guns!  Or wondering if you are the only one who thinks that Julia Roberts isn’t that great of an actress!  I know many people who often feel lonely when raised in a certain religion and feel doubts about their beliefs, but feel alone because nobody else seems to be asking the same questions.  I would imagine realizing you’re homosexual and not knowing anybody else who is, has to feel very lonely too in this sense of loneliness I am talking about.  When you feel like you are different from everybody else.  Poe was a pretty depressed guy, but I think this is the type of loneliness he speaks of in his poem and what inspired this post.  This loneliness is both unsettling yet necessary.  I am not sure if I can explain why I think that.  I just do.  Perhaps this is why the poem has captured me.

The most painful feeling of loneliness however comes from the people we love the most when we fight, or a relationship is ending.  When I was having marriage troubles and it seemed like divorce was imminent, since we both live far from our families we had no place to go so we had to live in the same house, sleep in separate rooms.  It was horrible.  I never felt so alone in my life.  Here was somebody I was so close to emotionally, and so close in proximity, but all of a sudden I felt there was a great distance between us.  Someone I loved so much and yet I felt like touching her was inappropriate and maybe even talking to her intimately was inappropriate, it was terrible.   I am sure many have experienced this before, but it’s not something that I would want people to go through.  Because for all the ways of feeling lonely I’ve talked of already this is the only one that I didn’t feel like I learned anything from.  Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.  It just sucked.

My goal in  exploring this topic is the recognition that loneliness is a very shared experience.  We’ve all felt it in its various forms and so what seems sort of cool and interesting to me is that even through loneliness are we together and I take some comfort in that.  I wish you the least amount of loneliness possible, but loneliness is something all people have to bear throughout their lives and I have found it to be an extremely good source of self-esteem to have battled through lonely days towards better days.  It makes you appreciate good company even more. 🙂