Thoughts for today Jan. 20th, 2017

Many of my friends have had great things to say today. I have felt fairly empty lately.  Empty of creativity, or anything wise to say.  A lot of intellectual energy has been focused on keeping down a background of feeling of worry and dread for what’s to come in this country I have made my home.

Watching this video gave me pause for thought. They are old words, which have relevance today. But what it made me think of is that there is much in this universe that is bigger than I am. The events that led to Trump being elected, and the events that follow…may well beyond my control. There are maybe only a handful of causes that I can be active in, and I will fight and stand up for those who may fall under oppression and to those who people in power are denying them their humanity. I will always try to be more than I am, but I’ve realized that what I am today is also important.

I am a scientist.  The scientific method is simply the best tool we have for knowing, and well humans utilizing it may make mistakes, it is more reliable than anything I know.  I will continue to re-evaluate my views, and defend my views through the vehicle of science.  Introspection and advocating effecting methods for discovering our universe is a way out of the darkness.

I am an educator.  The reason I became one is because I love learning, and I love thinking about things.  I need to make sure to continue to pass that on through my job.  Curiosity and learning are wonderful and fundamental human qualities.  It is a way out of the darkness.

I am a husband.  I have this amazing wife who is strong, capable, and compassionate.  She doesn’t let herself be guided by convention or rules placed on her by society.  I am simply better because of her.  She reminds me that whether we are different by gender, or by race, we are better together.  Humans survive through cooperation.  It is a way out of the darkness.

I am a father.  As I watch my son grow, I know exactly what humanity is.  We are affectionate, we are kind, we play, we learn, and we love.  As a species we have propagated over countless generations.  Everybody is part of a family.  And we are all the same species, thus we all share so much and spend too much time focusing on the differences.  Children are the future, and if I falter as a father, I am also not doing what I can to make the world a better place.   The beauty and innocence of children is a way out of the darkness.

The history of humanity is long.  The Earth much longer.  I live in a small point in time and space, and even in the context of human history there is only so much I can do.  And most important is that I do it well.  Throughout history there has been great suffering, there has been great inequality and those places of suffering and joys have moved around to different parts of the globe and it’s still happening.  It could simply be our turn.  But there have always been good people in the worst of places, because most people are good.  It is their nature to be so.  If a social species evolved any other way, we simply would not be here today.

Alone I would not be the person I am today.  If I am proud of who I am, and if I am considered a good person, it is the people along the way that have made me so, and I am grateful to you all.  Stay vigilant and strong and I shall do the same.

The Grand Illusion

It’s difficult to organize thoughts this morning after the election, but I have been getting some thoughtful words on Facebook and from friends that I think are important to express right now.   In discussion with a friend I was saying how Trump was never really successful at anything in life and his success is built solely on the illusion of his brand.  My friend responded “well isn’t that a sign of success?”  As much as it hurt to admit I think he’s right.   He has sold America an illusion, and America bought it.  He isn’t going to build a wall, he can’t bring coal jobs back, he isn’t going to magically fix inner cities, he isn’t going to make America great again.  Especially consider nobody really knows what that means, and how we define greatness is highly subjective.  We went on to discuss this illusion and how Trump’s illusion is really America’s.  Once again I couldn’t help but agree.  I’ve been mulling this thought over for a few hours and really makes sense.

America has branded itself over the years.  The country that can’t fail.  The country that does it right, and that other countries should look to as a model of freedom and democracy.  We sell the American Dream, and people believe in it, even though we have been struggling to deliver that for some time.  And when I say we’ve bought into it, I am talking about all of us to varying degrees.  We’ve even convinced many people outside the U.S. that this is the case. But it is an illusion as grand as the Trump brand.  We aren’t perfect and we’ve got a lot of problems.  There are other countries out there who are doing things better than we are.  We spend more time convincing other countries that we are the strongest and the best, and less time giving our own people something substantive to believe this is the case.  Obama called us the greatest nation on Earth.  Where is the humility?  Hillary referred to half of the voting population as deplorables.  How extreme is that righteousness?  Those of us who see behind the veil of Trump’s brand to what he really is, convinced ourselves that there would be no way Trump could be elected.  I included.  As a nation we have made some great progress at social justice and equality, but we’ve also let far too many people fall into poverty, we had some poorly executed and designed policy, even if well-intentioned.  We’ve made some terrible foreign policy decisions that has cost us money and lives.  And all these things are excusable, but we also refuse to admit it.  Why?  Because we are the greatest nation on Earth.

I believe that to earn that title, we need to have empathy, we need to have courage, and we need to have humility.  We also need to have honest introspection.  We have to create our sense of self-worth over substantive matters.  We have to demonstrate that we are as capable of celebrating our successes as well as admitting and learning from our failures.  These are the values that make for great people, and great nations.  I’m not sure any nation can be said to be there, but some are closer than others.  We have further to go than we’d like to believe, and I hope that in these next 4 years we can break through this illusion and find a way to heal a divided nation.   Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans for not reaching across the aisle.  That’s the beginning of the humility we all need to have.  All of us regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation are human.  That’s the love we need to have.  And then we have to ask “How can I live my life so that it helps raise all humans up?”  That’s the courage we need to have.  And we need to keep at these qualities, everyday of our life, because hate, self-righteousness, and fear are always with us, waiting to shake us fragile humans to our core.

It All Hangs in the Balance

One of the problems I revisit regularly in my mind is the one of individualism versus collectivism.  It has been brought back to my mind as I finally concluded reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. His final two books in the series look at the idea of having individual consciousness or a more global consciousness which is inspired by the Gaia hypothesis, in which humans participate in self-regulating consciousness cooperatively with each other and all other life to create a state of perfect balance.  Asimov too struggles with the loss of individuality in favor of the common good.  Asimov seemed to be in favor of the latter, although I believe he tried to argue that a global consciousness doesn’t mean there is no individuality only that at times we must put that aside for the greater good.

The United States is a highly individualistic nation and it’s no surprise why so many nations with throngs of people forced to conform into a faceless, impoverished mass would envy the American way of life and freedom.  It occurred to me that many of the debates I seem to have about politics and ways of life are often have, at the heart, the issue of the greater good (collectivism) vs. individual freedom.  I guess it seems that I also side with the collectivist philosophy, but I also recognize the value of individuality to make that collective dynamic and adaptive to a changing understanding of our universe.  Whether it’s capitalism versus socialism, gun rights, globalism vs nationalism, justice and law, these debates often rest on arguments on what benefits the greater good and how much freedom we should have as individuals.  There is a balance to be had, and most critically thinking people I know agree on this, even if we disagree where that balance should be.

Freedom in itself is a strange concept because it doesn’t seem possible in the absolute as a social species.  How free am I to make any of my decisions? I should be free to buy my own clothes, but what if those clothes are made in a sweatshop?  But what if, even that meager wage allows people to live instead of starve, or at least a few more are able to break from that impoverished life.  When I simply provide for my family I make a thousand decisions that can impact positively and negatively others in the world, and though it may seem like I am living a quiet life causing no harm this may not be necessarily true, even if that harm is indirect.  How much does my lack of struggle in life come at the expense of someone who must struggle more?  It’s easy to ignore that which is not in front of your face and that which does not feel like part of your community.

Our species is a social one, and there is no getting around it.  Regardless of whether we are shaped as a hunter-gatherer society or “civilization” everybody has a role and can play a part.  And even if age or some accident in life, or a random birth defect we even have the ability to carry that small fragment of population along with us, and even find a way to find a use for them, even if that use is only to increase our capacity to have compassion.  As a result whatever values we hold will shape who we are as a species.  Too strong of a value on individualism over the greater good could leave us with vast degrees of inequality, decreased value on cooperation, and dysfunction in the ecosystem.  Too much emphasis on the collective can lead to greater conformity, loss of diversity of thought and ideas, and thus stagnation from individual growth and growth as a society.  The question becomes how can we promote individuality while at the same time convince people to work together and be in harmony with their environment?

If we remove humans from the Earth we would find a very self-sustaining organism.  Barring some large collision with an asteroid, life would persist until the sun went nova.  However it would be a mistake to think that there was a global consciousness such as described by the Gaia hypothesis.  I think it’s always a bit of a myth that other organisms live in balance with nature, whereas humans do not.  If you studied population dynamics in school you perhaps learned about cycles of rabbit and wolf populations.  The wolf is not conscious of the fact that it must conserve how many rabbits it eats or that it should hold off on having babies this year because if all the wolves in an area increase in population there will suddenly be a rabbit population in starve.  It thrives according to the food it can gets, and if can no longer get food, it starves, and there are less wolves, allowing the rabbit population to rebound.  Rabbits that evolve better evasion skills pass on their genes, and wolves with better hunting skills pass on theirs. And the population of both rabbits and wolves oscillates about an equilibrium, an average value that both populations of rabbits and wolves do not know they are maintaining.  One of the values of our intelligence should be that we can discover these equilibriums and we are best adapted at maintaining it.  We always haven’t been conscious of our place in the ecosystem, but we are now, and understanding more all the time.  It’s not surprising we could be so destructive, but as we learn more we also have the ability to extremely great stewards.

Annotation of the PREDATORS-PREY Relationship

Of course Asimov’s Gaia world, just as proposed by Lovelock, is likely a pipe dream in reality, because in his idea there was a collective consciousness that made decisions only in proportion to maintaining balance.  Such a reality for humans would mean that we would have all make sensible decisions about how many children to have, what to eat, and how to live peaceably in our environment.  But what’s interesting to me is that we also see examples of this in our human histories.  Many groups that ended up on islands learned how to conserve rather well.  Spacing out how often and how many children we had, techniques at preserving and storing food, techniques for domesticating plants and animals were all attempts to have ample food supplies for harsh seasons and changes in the environment.  But like any form of life, when abundance is presence, there is no thought to be conservative in terms of population.  We became masters of farming and population exploded as we began to be able to seemingly provide ourselves with food at will.  As it turns out we were only fooling ourselves, because our powers were still not limitless, although it made sense how it might seem so in the short term.

What I do see when I look at humanity is a potential for a march towards that ideal of global consciousness.  We may never truly have a global consciousness with each other and all life on the planet, but what we do have is empathy.  We have the ability to be conscious of the damage we do to our environment and other life, and what the long term impacts of that damage will be.   We have the ability to recognize that we might all be different pieces in a puzzle, but that we have equal value to the whole.  Just like each piece has uniqueness and is still integral to the puzzle, we can maintain our individuality while also recognizing what we are all a part of.  In this sense there would be no difference to an actual global consciousness and all acting in a way as if there was one.  We have a long way to go, but I believe it all begins with humility and compassion, and acceptance of the idea that all humans are part of the same tribe, the same community, the same species, and that we all have value.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It is today my 42nd birthday and I decided this would be a good year to reflect.  Why 42, why not 40 like any other normal person with a penchant for round numbers?  According Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series a supercomputer was asked to come up with the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything and 42 was that answer.  So I am at the age which is the answer, but of course if you read the series you know that while the answer was determined a more powerful supercomputer had to be created to determine the question (which turned out to be the planet Earth).  So 42 seems like a great age to think about answers and questions.

This is also the year that I often joked would be when I started my own cult.  This was supposed to be easy as I was going to have a good portion of Twitter followers, find myself a good compound with fertile soil and enjoy the good life.  Extra wives would have been optional.  It’s weird how as I get older there seems to be more of a drive to keep life simple and surround yourself by like minded people.  Anyway, Twitter really doesn’t suit me, for as you can see, I don’t say many things in 140 words or less so my followers are few, and I think life is better that way, and also I’m not a very proficient gardener, so I’m probably better off living close to the farmer’s market.  So here I am, nobody famous and nobody to follow, and a mini essay of reflection is probably more suited to greater personalities, but hey, it’s the age of information and I have a blog, so why not write? 🙂

Life

I think what makes being a teenager so difficult is that this is the time in your life when you start to self-actualize a lot more and really think about the future.  It’s a terrible thing really, because you are also still young enough where you really don’t know shit.  I remember thinking a lot about the type of person I wanted to be.  My dad was (and still is) an alcoholic and as a teenager I knew that I didn’t want to be like my dad.  Kids respond to those who are consistently there for them, and my mom was that person.  Of course I’ve come to realize many positives about my dad as well, but as a kid I knew that whatever way my dad was, wasn’t working.  My mom was loving, supporting, nurturing, and always there.  At the time I never really looked at my mom and dad’s personalities as related gender, but more as what are the behaviors that lead to increased happiness and that bring increased happiness to others.  I am sure it did in many ways shape why I’ve always felt more free to be myself more in front of women than men, and why I look beyond arbitrary categorizations of people and simply try to stick to values that bring happiness.

I also remember thinking that I was not the person I wanted to be.  I felt like I was this amazing person who was trapped inside myself. Inside a shell that I needed to break out of.  I know now that there is a certain element of being a child of an alcoholic that makes us more fearful of self-expression because of how we internalize our parents’ addiction, but I think teenagers can simply be apprehensive about inserting themselves in the world no matter how much they want to.  I know I am a person who leans toward safety over risk, and that was one of the things I wanted to get better at as I got older which was to be bold.  It’s still the quality I struggle with the most, but I’m proud to say that the vision I had for myself at around the age of 16 isn’t far off the mark.  The compliment that I have received several times and means the most to me is when people tell me that they can tell immediately the type of person that I am because I am so open and.  It is the part I like about myself the most especially because I think life is too short to pretend with people.   I am proud that I have reached a point in life where I am comfortable in my own skin, and it is something that has always seemed like a necessary way to be, but I in no way want to imply that I have go there solely on my own.

Another thing I worried about when I was young was that I wasn’t original.  I felt like everything I was, was copied from somebody else.  I didn’t have any original ideas, I wasn’t creative.  As I was thinking about what to write in this post yesterday I was wondering if I should say that the meaning of life is “theft”.  We are born as absolutely blanks and while genetics may texture our canvas to a certain respect we are painted on by the many people we come to know in life, our culture and society also paints broad brushes over us too.  Of course theft isn’t really the right word.  People and society paint things upon us and we have little say in that.  And in most other cases it is people who in my life who have given, and I have taken, and I would like to believe that with time I have been better about showing my gratitude.  It would not be until a certain Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode that I felt better about my lack of originality.  Here Captain Picard comments on the emotionless android Data’s violin playing.

PICARD: The good doctor was kind enough to provide me with a recording of your concert. Your performance shows feeling.
DATA: As I have recently reminded others, sir, I have no feeling.
PICARD: It’s hard to believe. Your playing is quite beautiful.
DATA: Strictly speaking, sir, it is not my playing. It is a precise imitation of the techniques of Jascha Heifetz and Trenka Bronken.
PICARD: Is there nothing of Data in what I’m hearing? You see, you chose the violinists. Heifetz and Bronken have radically different styles, different techniques, yet you combined them successfully.
DATA: I suppose I have learned to be creative, sir, when necessary.
PICARD: Mister Data, I look forward to your next concert.

So yes, I now feel original, thanks to lines written by somebody else.  Star Trek has actually taught me quite a bit now that I think about it. 🙂 Life is also full of irony and paradoxes enough to make you scratch your head for a lifetime.  In the end though, isn’t this what we really are…a product of others, both biologically and environmentally with a unique level of proportions such that we are originals? What I really mean to say about all this is that I feel really grateful to all those who have given and for what I have taken.  I have taken the best of you to the very heart of me and a result carry you everywhere.  Some I’ve not seen or talked to in some time, some it may have only been a brief time in which we knew each other, or perhaps were not even very close friends, but I saw what was good in you, I smiled at it, and celebrated it and let it course through my arteries.  I am thankful for all the love, the friendship, the inspiration, the memories, the lessons taught, and yes even the criticism and in some cases hurt.  I am unique and original because of all of you and there is no other way I’d rather be.

The Universe

Growing older also means growing more aware as you continue to experience and learn in life.  As someone who is strongly committed to learning as awareness grows so does the burden of that knowledge.  It is only in the most recent years that I have truly understood the expression ignorance is bliss.  However, it is also important to remember that your own bliss is of little value to anybody else but yourself, and we are a social species.  As I’ve learned I continued to have more awe for this amazing universe we live in, uncovering the darkness that shrouds knowledge also means discovering the horrors, the malice, the pain, and the suffering.  It is all the worse when you are one of the lucky ones to have things far better than so many.  It makes you question the very right to feel happy.  And when it comes down to it, it makes me feel bad just complain about how heavy the thoughts are sometimes, because I am so fortunate to just have to think about it and not actually experience the hardships so many bear.  I am fortunate that I can put those thoughts to the side at times. However, I also know there is no denying it either.  And I know that just feeling sad and depressed all the time would be debilitating so there is nothing for it but to do something about it. I am not helpless under this weight although sometimes it can feel that way.  So I try, and I let myself feel happiness for all the beauty that exists as well.  There is much to fight against in this world, but I feel if we forget what we’re fighting for, it’s easy to get lost in the darkness.

The cosmic glow of the Carina Nebula as seen in a stunning 3D reconstruction in Hidden Universe, released in IMAX® theatres and giant-screen cinemas around the globe and produced by the Australian production company December Media in association with Film Victoria, Swinburne University of Technology, MacGillivray Freeman Films and ESO. The Carina Nebula contains two of the most massive and luminous stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. The original image was taken by ESO's Very Large Telescope.

I believe that it is this mixture of awe-inspiring beauty and soul-draining horror that drives us.  I think we can’t help but feel small in the face of it.  Some try to conquer it by building belief systems that explain it all, some try to chip away at the answer slowly through careful investigation, and some just turn to vices to distract themselves and to numb themselves.  However, from what I’ve seen, the true winners in this world are always the ones who accept how small they are in the face of it all.  It’s bigger than any one individual and it’s the one thing we all have in common.  It is enough to make you just sit there and think “Why can’t we just all get along? It really does seem so simple to just be nice to each other.  Nobody has to get nailed to anything.

As I look forward the things on the horizon are amazing.  Just as there are things in my young life I never thought possible but exist now, I know there are many unknown wonders that await me for the rest of my life.  I like being this age and knowing all the things that I know.  Wisdom comes to you without even knowing it, and I like it. I admit that I am not a big fan of leaving this existence.  I see us getting closer to things like unlocking the mysteries of aging, replacing organs, interfacing the computer to the brain and I wonder if in the not too distant future we might have a choice to live far longer than we do to do.  I am jealous quite frankly.  As someone who embraces change and has seen how changes occur over time spans far greater than our human lives I would like to experience it.  I want to choose when I want to leave this existence and have a shot at deepening that well of wisdom beyond this short time on Earth.  When I think of all the change that has occurred over 1000 years, 10,000 years and so on…I wonder what it would be like to see it…what perspective that would give you…how you would look at the universe differently.  I suppose such a chance will not happen, but I keep the dream alive only because it is at times helpful to remember that we are not only small in terms of the vastness of space, but also the vastness of time.  I can’t be expected to figure it all out, and that’s okay.

And Everything

Mommy_DhyanThere isn’t much more to say here.  Of course there is more to life I suppose, but it’s amazing how important some people become so that even the other things seem to tendril out from it.   I know that there are no guarantees in life, but that’s why living in the moment is so important. I am lucky that I have a life where I can take care of them just as much as they take care of me. The fact that our love can put some things at the center of our life, at the center of our universe, is amazing  What more could I want?  I do have everything.

What Makes A Good Human?: Final Thoughts

I will try not to make this too lengthy, but this series has been a journey writing it and I felt a more holistic summation was in order.

One of the things that occurred to me that I was writing it was that was I sounding too much of a person of privilege in my posts.  I certainly felt like that at times.  If I could say one more thing about what makes a good human might also be luck.  The country I was born in, the parents I got, the extended family, that were very loving, and of course my wife and friends all played a role in making me what I am, and for giving me the time and freedom to ruminate, contemplate, learn the right lessons from my experiences for me to even be able to write this.  Of course luck isn’t really in our control, and perhaps it is who we are that draw at least some of the people into our life and keep them there.  But there are those who are born to parents who stifle their curiosity. When does the parent or parents who work long hours to provide for their children find the time for curiosity themselves or get a chance to play?  There are those who spoil their children rotten and make them prideful and without humility.  What of those who struggle about even what to put their faith in, fearing a repetition of past mistakes?  I was thinking about how would a person who lived in the inner city slums of Mumbai, or Rio find solitude?  And then of course what about those who have clinical psychological conditions like narcissism and thus are excessively self-centered?  How does the psychopath learn empathy when physically incapable of it?  While there may be some solutions to this, early recognition and special nurturing techniques are often necessary and so my words in this series may be nothing more than the words of someone who has, overall, had it pretty good.

One positive thing I have noticed in my life is that none of these qualities however belong to any one specific class, race, culture or region.  I have seen the poorest with the least reason to be generous and compassionate be more so than those with the means to bring more good into this world than they do.  And I have seen the busiest parents with little time for play themselves, make those sacrifices simply so that their children have that advantage.  Life is dynamic, and always changing.  Some qualities we may have to put to the side to move past a certain point where we can bring them back.  It would be idealistic to say we can have these qualities at all times, and in all places.  And while it would be nice if it were so, such utopian fantasies should never occupy our thoughts for too long.

If asked who I wrote this all for, I would say firstly for me.  That in itself may sound self-centered, but I desire to become more than I am always, and this journey has helped me greatly in recognize the areas in my life where I might know how I should be in theory, but haven’t been in practice.  It has helped me look at areas where I want to grow also.  But I think that I also wrote this series for those of you who do such a wonderful job exemplifying these qualities as well.  It is those who have been the fortunate in this world who, like rocks striking the surface of the pond can send ripples into the world to try and make it a better place.  And when I say fortunate I don’t mean that your life has all been a “walk in the park” (and certainly mine hasn’t always been either) but have overcome great adversity to be where you are now.  I also don’t list these qualities to emphasize that we should all be the same. As I have tried to make clear along the way we all exemplify different levels of these qualities, and as I mentioned above, sometimes we may suppress these qualities in ourselves to be able to foster it others, like our children.  I think a good human exemplifies these qualities, but our individuality is what decides which of these qualities drives us most strongly.  Some people may strive for more balance, others may selflessly always give their time to others, some may love learning and sharing that knowledge, others display great acts of courage that inspire.  I do think that all these qualities, should always exist as sparks within ourselves, and we should never let them go out.

I was talking to a friend yesterday and she asked me why I even blog.  And I guess central to who I am is that I believe that we are a lot more similar than we are different, and I want to always try to look at things that bring us together rather than those things that drive us apart.  So I guess in looking at things that make a good human, I wanted to try to see if I could come up with what I felt was a comprehensive but simple list of things that I’ve seen in my life that make the world a better place for all.  I am sure there are other things that might be added, and as I continue to grow and learn perhaps I would add things to this series.  But if we can all agree on at least 8 things, that then I think that is a good start. 🙂

Peace.

Swarn

What Makes A Good Human?: Humility

It is with pride that I introduce the next important quality to being a good human.  Well not too much pride.  I mean I could be wrong.  This is all just my opinion after all.  Anyway it’s humility.  Out of all the seven deadly sins, the one considered the worst and the one in which all others can stem from, it is pride.  It was pride that caused Lucifer’s fall into Hell in the Bible.  Pride, ego, conceit, whichever turn you prefer to use all of these are ultimately harmful to an individual and society.  When the self, or when a group puts themselves above others, saying they are better, failing to notice the achievements of others, and excessively admires themselves this is a recipe for disaster.  A lack of empathy, narcissism, bullying, oppression all stem from conceit.  Humility is the cure for this disease.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

Humility in practice can be difficult to achieve, however.  For instance, we know that having a positive self-esteem can be beneficial for increased happiness and confidence.  So isn’t having some pride important?  Should I not be proud of my accomplishments?  And what about the other end of the spectrum?  Should I go around saying “I’m not worthy, I’m but a speck of dust at the bottom of your shoe, I shall default to your wisdom, intelligence, and might?”  This is not humility either.  It’s either not genuine, or simply fear.  Humility is not submission.  Humility does not ask us to put ourselves beneath others, only to consider the possibility.  Anyone we meet regardless of age, status, race, gender, etc., may have something to teach us. They may be doing something in a better way that we are not.  They may have a piece of wisdom about something that we do not have.  It asks to consider the possibility that we may enjoy a privilege that they do not and to understand that should that privilege be taken away, we may be no better than anybody else. Humility asks to accept the fact that we may be different but no better or worse and thus is a seed for equality.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

Humility is challenging to master because of its subtlety.  It does not eliminate pride, but it tempers pride.  There’s a difference between telling someone you are a good teacher, and that you are the best teacher.  This is why “excessive” admiration of self is included in the definition of pride.  So you may become an expert in something, but you can admit that someone might know more.  You can admit that you might not know everything.  You can admit that you might have been wrong about something.  Humility doesn’t prevent us from being confident and proud of our accomplishments but it simply reminds us that we are far from perfect, that we can still grow and learn.  Humility feeds into curiosity in this way, and then curiosity can feed back into humility.  As we continue to learn new things we may realize we didn’t know as much as we thought we did, thus humbling us.

The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say words of peace. – Surah Al-Furqan 25:63

Humility is probably one of the central tenets of every major religion; speaking to the dangers of pride and the importance of being humble before others and before God.  I feel that one of positive aspects of God is to be a constant reminder that there are forces more powerful than yourself in the universe.  As an atheist we can get our feelings of humility through science itself.  One cannot help but feel small in the context of a universe that science has shown to be quite large and magnificent.  We know we are mostly helpless against major disasters like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes.  We know we are the product of evolution, one of many animals and plants on this planet and that we must share it.  Evolution teaches us that we are specially adapted to our environment, but so is every other species and thus we have no more right to life than any other. Our actions impact others and ourselves, and we must be careful not to have too much conceit as a species lest we bring about the end to our own existence or the existence of other species.  Science by its very nature is humble, because it is constantly skeptical, constantly asking questions, constantly self-corrects as it moves forward.  It can never be too big for its britches because it usually isn’t long before someone comes along and improves, refines, or disproves an idea already established.  And this is why those who have fundamental religious views can never truly be humble, because if you are in position that you are so certain that you are correct that no other well-evidenced idea has the ability to change your mind then humility is not one of your strong suits.  Humility is also accepting the possibility that you might be wrong, perhaps even about some very important things you believe in.

Be humble, be harmless,
Have no pretension,
Be upright, forbearing;
Serve your teacher in true obedience,
Keeping the mind and body in cleanness,
Tranquil, steadfast, master of ego,
Standing apart from the things of the senses,
Free from self;
Aware of the weakness in mortal nature. 

-Bhagavad Gita

Another important aspect of humility comes about in the aspect of love.  For most of us we have our strengths and weakness, but when entering into a relationship it is easy to put our defenses up, to make positive impressions, and to be our best self.  This is a difficult illusion to keep up, and some are better than others.  We can fearful of exposing our weaknesses and faults.  However, if we really want someone to love us for who we are, we must be genuine.  Humility tears down the walls of conceit and gives way to revealing our vulnerability.  This is often the scariest part of any relationship because when someone sees your vulnerability they can exploit it and really hurt you.  Humility is there to remind you that neither you or the person you love is perfect. And for someone to truly love you for who you are, such humble exposure to each other is, I believe, a necessary part of a long lasting, loving relationship.

It is humility that exalts one and favors him against his friends. – Kipsigis Proverb (Kenya)

Can one be too humble? Yes.  There are times when at least the appearance of confidence, and/or decisiveness is important.  There are times when you may have to take charge.  There are times when you are the smartest or most capable person in the room.  Being humble to the point where your self-esteem is so negatively impacted that you fail to recognize your own accomplishments is harmful.  Humility to the extreme can often just seem self-deprecating and is not a strong quality to have. Humility’s role is to always be there, hovering, and keeping us from getting too complacent.  Humility keeps us vigilant.  Humility reminds us we may have more to learn.  Humility helps us love better.  Humility helps us recognize that we are finite and have limits.  The most wonderful thing about humility is that while it erodes pride, ego, conceit, whatever you want to call it, it is at the same time very empowering.  I believe it draws good people to you, and surrounds you with love and friendship; people you can trust. It also empowers by giving you a sense of gratitude for all the blessings, good fortune, and love that you have in your life.  When you are genuinely humble you know that life isn’t always in your hands and that one must take time to be thankful for what you have.  This is something we all need to do more often.

How Our Will Is Not So Free – Part I

For any of you who are foolish enough to read my blog you are used to a lot of rambling.  I can’t promise this will be too different, but I would like to be a little formal and have an actual thesis for this post.  I have posted my thoughts about free will in respect to religion, but even if one is not religious the idea

From http://www.brandonragle.com

that we have free will is extremely pervasive and I think it is ultimately a not necessarily helpful concept to believe in.  The choices that we think people have are an illusion and we tend to instead judge others because people do not make choices that we would make.  It prevents us from really helping those who are violent, disturbed, hurting, depressed, etc.  It has us believe that there are people who are inherently evil allowing us to dehumanize them and cast them aside, when instead they might simply have brain abnormalities, be traumatized, influenced by people as messed up as they are, or simply lost and confused in a world that is beyond them and behave desperately.  I think it also acts to separate us from nature and is a great source of human conceit.  Free will is not something we ascribe to plants or animals and thus also gives us the illusion that we lie in a place above all else.  Whether you believe that the supernatural has imparted us this blessing of greatness or you think that evolution is a pyramid in which humans rest on top, both these notions are ultimately dangerous because they allow us to justify great atrocities against nature as we continue to satisfy our own self-importance.

In the first 8 months of watching my son grow it is clear that free will is not something he was born with.  He started out simply crying when he was hurting, uncomfortable or hungry, and sleeping when he was sleepy.  Not a lot of free will going on there.  As I watch him change, I see him simply become aware of more things.  When he first could see our cats, not surprisingly he was curious and wanted to touch them.  Now that he’s been outside he asks to go outside (well not in words).  Now that he realizes the comfort of being held he asks to be held.  He also mimics.  He sees us eating something and he wants to eat it.  He sees us using a remote, our phones, computers, and he desperately wants to use those too (or rather put them in his mouth).

Before I formally begin my argument for the absence of free will I want to put an excellent quote from an article I read some time ago from the New Yorker which has had a large influence on my thoughts in trying to understand why we are the way we are and where this sense of self comes from that I blogged about some time ago.

I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.”

From http://www.eugenecascadescoast.org

The reason I want you to keep this in mind, because not only does it support the argument I am going to make (doesn’t of course make the statement true), but most importantly I want to reveal to you that just because I don’t think we have free will, doesn’t mean that I don’t find life absolutely amazing.  The idea expressed in this passage speaks to me in a way I cannot fully express, but I find this idea beautiful.  It tells me that we are product of processes that function over many different scales of time.  From what we learn each day, to what nature has molded us into over millions of years.  We can extend even further and look at the billions of years of evolution which has produced us , and we can go back further to old stars dying and being the seeds for our own sun and solar system which allowed one fortunate planet to even allow life to evolve.  So the fact I may not be quite as in control of the process is hardly depressing.  In fact it removes a lot of the pressure if anything.  I can simply marvel at all that has taken place for me to sit here and write these thoughts out today back to the beginning of time.  It is humbling, inspiring, and magnificent.

I shall now let you pause a bit before going on to the next blog post, because going back to the beginning of time is something that requires some deep reflection. 🙂