Terms of Two

Not that I am any great writer or am treating any of my subject matter with a great deal of academic rigor I would nevertheless like to add the final chapter to my blog posts on self and individualism, and collectivism.  There is another facet of the human mind and human behavior that fascinates me and that is our ability to be dual-minded.  I’m not positive if my definition meets any particular psychological definition, but let me describe what I mean.

I often have trouble reconciling how many Republicans can be anti-abortion but pro

From http://www.elfwood.com

war or pro capital punishment.  Growing up with an alcoholic father I found myself always wondering who my father was.  Was he the neglectful alcoholic who passed out and missed spending time with me, or was he the jovial affectionate sober dad?  Is he the bold man whose not afraid to go up to anybody and strike up a conversation or ask a question, or is he the coward unable to handle even is own inner demons and needing the escape that drugs can give just to get through the day?  The somewhat recent passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman reminded me of this paradox as I saw people debate.  As one side would simply praise his genius while the other side condemned him as selfish and stupid for abandoning his wife and children for heroin.  What about those who believe that God wanted us to have free will, but who also believe that everything is part of God’s plan for us?  How do we reconcile those who are scientists whose work depends on forming conclusions based on evidence, but at the same time are people of faith subscribing to a set of beliefs which have no such evidence?  We hate those people who might bud into our private business, but then have no trouble doing it to other people.  Is it a contradiction to want to be part of group, but within that group you try hard to stand out as individual?

It is clear that we are all walking contradictions to a certain extent.  What makes it all so remarkable is that we simply don’t see it.  It seems we are unable to recognize these contradictions within ourselves and our behavior seems perfectly natural and sensible.  Of course we are not dealing with simple opposites like hot and cold, black and white, left or right, but complex behaviors.  So while they may seem contradictory, perhaps if we analyzed them at a deeper psychological level they would not seem so contradictory.  Since we rationalize our beliefs and behaviors rather than base our beliefs and behaviors on reason, if we try hard enough we can bend any two contradictions complex enough to our will.

Of course our brains are complex and contain different systems that have different functions.  Perhaps these contradictions are simply feeding off a different set of neural pathways and there is no communication between the two such that there is no cross-check for incompatibility.  Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion postulates that we may have conceived of the notion of God simply because when we are young we don’t understand that the voice in our head is us.  We are dual-minded from the beginning because we aren’t really aware that the voice in our head is our own.  I, as I am sure all of you have as well, have had many a debate in my mind.  It is clear that our mind can simultaneous take different sides of an argument with sincerity in order to weigh our options in order to make the best decision.  So it seems at least possible that we might have these different sides of our self that remain separate, for which there is no debate or where we can’t resolve the debate.  It could be that a dual sided nature appeals to our sense of self as adding complexity and uniqueness to who we are.

It seems likely to me that this duality, like our sense of self, is quite possibly an illusion.  Perhaps it is part of our need to categorize and separate things; labeling people and actions.  But Freud seemed to think that our minds are always in conflict.   For instance I came up with this scenario in which parents tell their child not to cheat, that it’s wrong.  At the same time they get very happy when their child gets good grades.  So let’s say they aren’t prepared for an exam and they are now caught between perhaps cheating off the person next to them so they can please their parents (because what child doesn’t want to make them happy) or listening to their parents advice about not cheating and do poorly thus disappointing them.  Such conflicts are perhaps simply a series of battles we fight.  Sometimes winning sometimes losing.  Perhaps my father is simply fighting his addiction everyday.  Some days he wins and is able to the be the man I love, and other days he loses and becomes the man that I feel distanced from.  Perhaps for some people the struggle ends in compromise, unable to resolve what is truly right and wrong they allow one answer to pervade one type of behavior and another answer to govern the other.

In the end I think it’s all you.  Our brain can quickly consider many possible solutions to any problem, and not all of them are right, but what does right have to do with it?  Perhaps any solution that helps you survive as well as possible is all that matters.


The human mind is amazing.  Think of things you can imagine.  Some are real.  Some are fantastical.  Some are not possible.  Some may be possible.  The range of what we are minds are capable of coming up with is astounding.

From http://www.daviddisalvo.org

Now humans are also curious.  Part of our imagination may be to visualize something and then ask ourselves.  How can I make this dream, this fantasy I have, real?  The fact that we can make any of these dreams real is impressive.  Any inventor though will probably have more failures than successes.

You may be questioning where am I going with this, and you’d be right to question me.  The truth is I don’t exactly know and luckily this is part of the point.

Given what are minds are capable of, and given that only a handful of our dreams ever can become reality, is it possible that we can dream up questions which have no answer?  I can ask a lot of questions that have no answer.  For instance I might ask “When we build a ship capable of traveling across the galaxy how many planets can one visit in a lifetime?”  Of course there are answers that you can give, but how much accuracy or value would such an answer have?  It is first contingent on a device we don’t have, asks us to know the number of planets in the galaxy which is something we don’t know, and we also are uncertain what our lifetimes might be at some future date when this device is available.  Such a question might have value.  If I cared enough about the answer I may devote my life to trying to see out into our galaxy more clearly, or build a faster than light speed spaceship, or perhaps try to increase our life expectancy, so that one day people can see lots of planets potentially.

The question is a loaded one because of all the uncertainties in the question, and it has no precise answer.  There are however grander questions we can ask.  What does God want from us?  There is uncertainty as to God’s existence so the answer becomes difficult.  And even if there was one, most cultures disagree on God’s nature, so trying to determine what God wants becomes rather challenging.

From library.sasaustin.org

But we can get even grander.  What is the meaning of life?   I would respond back with “whose life?” or “how do you define life?”  But let’s go a step further to a related question: Why are we here?  The simplest of all questions.  Not much ambiguity to it all.  Those who might have an answer have no evidence to back it up.  Many would simply say they don’t know.  And answers of course vary from person to person.  Of all the many questions we can ask, perhaps we can answer them all;  partly by answering some smaller questions first before getting to the bigger parent question.  But what if there are some questions like “Why are we here?”  that have no answer?  What if this question is a simply a product of our wonderful minds.  Nevertheless one of our inventions.  We invent machines, concepts, why not questions? And while the question “Why are we here?” seems a natural question to ask,  must every question have an answer?  Maybe our answers are inventions as well. What if the only answer to that question is “We just are”.  That seems quite unsatisfying because “Why” has not been addressed.  Making it not really the answer at all.  Just a truth which we might have to accept.

And if “Why are we here?” really has no answer, can’t existence still be wonderful? Does there have to be some grand plan in order for you to be happy?  Is there no value in a satisfying career, making the world a better place, raising your child to be happy and strong, bringing smiles to the faces of friends and family, giving to those who have less than you?  Maybe it is these smaller questions we should be trying to answer with our lives.  The bigger question has almost no value to the countless millions who live in abject poverty. If you are reading (or writing this blog) you have the privilege in life to ponder this big question more deeply.  Would the answer really change you all that much?  Is the answer preventing you from being a good person?  Do you need an answer to see that love is better than hate?  That peace is better than violence?  That generosity is better than greed?  Would an answer make learning physics, chemistry, or biology meaningless?  Would an answer make creating art, writing, or making music any less enjoyable or meaningful?

The only seems clear is that there are many questions to be asked, many questions that are important, and that we should never stop asking questions. 🙂