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Personal beliefs

Disclaimer

I just reread this whole page and it doesn't do much for me now. It's way too patchy. (I.e. I made an edit here and an edit there over a couple of months and it really shows..) Take this all with a grain of pepper..

Philosophy and Religion

Well, the enlightenment brought good and evil into the world. In my opinion, mostly good I suppose, with 'truth' and 'goodness' being on the same side of the fence. (Jury still out on that one, though.) But really, in this day and age you have to accept science as the new religion. This has broad moral implications we'll be confronted with some great problems in the times ahead. Or maybe I should make that "legal implications" now that the concept of morality seems to be all but dead.

The gap between science and religion is widening and religion will lose — make no mistake about that — leaving a 'moral void' of sorts. Science will continue enticing us with clean water, food, comfortable shelter, sights and sounds, medical technology, a 90-year life expectancy, microwave ovens, microwave burgers, microwave coffee, microwaveable instant water ("just add water"), computer games, and the stuff of the next millennium which I can't even begin to imagine. "Hey, where do I sign!"

Well, consider me signed up. As for myself, usually, I am an atheist on odd days and an agnostic on even days. This would mean that today I am an agnostic because today's date is the 26th (well, in New York it is, anyway!) Especially growing up in the latter part of this century, when there has been a bit of time to reflect and analyze the most modern atrocities (and even analyses of the analyses in the "postmodern spirit"), I think I'm justified in being a bit of a nihilist.. how can you do anything but laugh tiredly at the concerted effort of a bunch of sentient cell clumps* to eradicate a bunch of other sentient cell clumps? And it keeps happening...

But I don't detest people that are religious, not anymore at least. When I was young I was a rabid atheist, never hesitating to throw myself headlong into an argument or trying to "prove" that there's no support for religious beliefs in all of reality. Nowadays I'm older, more experienced and wiser. (Read: more tired and less apt to waste time on complete idiots that I by now know never change their mind anyway). Anyway, my absolute grand prize for cheesiest religion, all categories, all time periods, goes to Scientology. Right up there together with hallucinogenic drugs. My favorite religion would probably be Buddhism. I loved the concept of a 'secular humanist church' that Zappa talked about in his autobiography.

The problem to me with most religions: The questions they ask (if any) are frequently the wrong ones. And the answers are wrong. They ask questions that can be easily answered by "bullshitting": refering to dogma, a book, a few hours (or years) of idle speculation. ("How did the Universe cause to be? Santa Claus created it out of a ball of dung.") They sometimes ask questions that are not fundamental enough or irrelevant — questions that center around some minor point in a previously established belief system ("how many angels on the head of a pin").

Here are some questions that I'd like to see adressed, for you to scoff at (again, I have a Judeo-Christian bias here, I hope I'm not offending any other religions by not including them):

Where have all the aliens gone?

That is: if there is extraterrestrial intelligent life forms, why don't we ever see any visitors? (And when I say "we ever see" I mean, in the manner that "we see" kangaroos, Unicorns or Eskimoes — everybody agrees that they exist, you see pictures of them in dictionaries, etc — you just KNOW kangaroos exist even if you never saw one with your own eyes. I hope you follow my drift here.. just trying to exclude the observations of the lunatic UFO fringe as data points... but I digress..)

Well, I have three particularly hilarious theories:

  1. The universe evolves up to the point where a sufficiently sophisticated civilisation (somewhere) performs an experiment powerful enough to annihilate it. Then you have a new 'big bang' and the process can start anew. (Or maybe not, maybe the Universe is a one-shot deal.) Thus, it's improbable for any civilisation to evolve to the point where it makes contact with any other one. (Some demented alien in a lab coat 300 trillion galaxies to the west of you might this very moment be flicking the switch. Have a drink before it's too late! )
  2. The Universe is just "someone else's experiment", a "simulation run on some unimaginably large piece of hardware," to coach it in computer terms. "They" could pull the plug at any moment, like 10 minutes from now. Another powerful argument to go have a beer, this very instant. (At least it will be painless, because you won't even know it happens! You'd go from existence to non-existence in zero time, together with the rest of the Universe and any beer it contains. Not in one nanosecond. Not in one trillionth of a nanosecond. Instantaneously, because time itself would of course cease to exist.) In other words, you won't have time to pack. It might happen! Especially if "they" find out there are some "growths" in the simulation that might try to "hack it" by messing with space-time fundamentals, or somehow access the variables that underly quantum mechanics. (What? You didn't think I believed in the Copenhagen interpretation, did you? Naah. Too boring!) If you had an aquarium, and some of the pond scum was trying to make a hammer to break the glass from the inside, what would you do? I rest my case!!
  3. Any race of sentient beings in the Universe evolves up until the point where its science is sophisticated enough to deduce that the Universe itself is completely deterministic. Imagine there is no free will — everything that will happen in what we call "the future" is already determined. What you think of as "now" is in no way unique. All the decisions you ever made, and will make, are completely inevitable. Also imagine there is incontroverible proof, such as the ability to to see into the past — and into the future. To see what an inexorable fate has in store for you personally — and for Humankind. How would you feel about going to work next Monday? Like a bug trapped in amber? Needless to say, at that point in its development, the race of sentient beings declines and disappears in a puff of nihilism, never to be heard from again by any other race. If you think of the decline of religion (the Enlightenment, belief in objective Scientific method, the death of the anthrocentric Universe, and the subsequent rise of secularism) as a disaster of popular life philosophy, this would be a catastrophy many, many orders of magnitudes worse for the self-image of Humanity..
Now, there's presently no way to prove any of these theories. That's right, sort of like that old bullshit about Jesus walking on the water and rising from the dead. You just have to accept them on faith! Pick the one you like worst! I especially like the first two! Brilliant excuse to have a beer and tell everyone how much you love them. Number three is just too gloomy, even for me! But some of modern physics seems to perhaps point in that direction, if you're crazy enough to believe some of the loopier theories. Remember, there are no guarantees, just because the Universe has been here for 18 billion years, there's nothing to guarantee that this ludicrous state of affairs will go on. It could be gone any second, without any warning! Life Is Short, which is another way of writing The End Is Near. And The End doesn't have to be anything as exciting as the above scenarios (one could easily imagine a giant black hole approaching our solar system). Or you could be hit by a bus. From a person's point of view, whether this is different from "the Universe ceases to exist" is up to the philosophers to argue about..

So, please, go ahead.. have a brew and a few laughs!

Science

I fear that the concept of indepentently verifiable observations is woefully underrated these days. "Reality" is but a soup of haphazard quantum events, poorly interpreted by a mishmash of misfiring synapses. And as if that wasn't bad enough, there's five billion versions of "reality" and speculation is rampant. Soberly evaluating someone else's observations can save the day.

a: "what if you're all just my hallucinations?"
b: "come on."
a: "no really. maybe I'm just imagining you?"
b: "well, or what if I'M just imagining YOU? In either case, you could safely loan me $100."
a: "never mind."

Symbolic communication between members of the species is the thin line that separates us from the monkeys. I say let's make good use of it. Belief in science and religious or occult beliefs need not be mutually exclusive, by the way. That's just my interpretation. But whenever you hear a belief system used in a "description of truth or reality", such as astrology, quantum electrodynamics, Catholicism, Buddhism, or Scientology, be sure to ask:

1a) WHO's telling you, (or who's the original source of the information)
1b) Now who the heck IS this actually?
1c) Can you see any ulterior motives for trying to win you over to this point of view?
2a) HOW could you verify if it's true?
2b) if you're too lazy for this, WHO ELSE has bothered to verify it?
2c) Who the heck is THAT?

Repeat 2b and 2c for fun.

Politics

In a way I choose not to choose, in this case as well.* Some people call this cowardice. But exactly why do I have to confess colors and declare myself as belonging to a particular team? Ideas like this smack of preprogrammed primate group behavior. And we all know how much "fun" that has gotten us into in the past.

Some days I feel like a fascist, some days like a communist. (Some days you're the pigeon, some days you're the statue...)

Politics is in my opinion not even a real "science" anyway. Which leads us to...

Laughing at alchemists

People (a term I use loosely, usually including myself in the set) have this innate propensity to make fun of other people because they held on to beliefs that we now know were "wrong". Some examples are: Once they thought the Earth was flat. Idiots! Once they thought snot was produced by the brain. Idiots! Once they thought that you could transform earth into gold using 14th century technology. Idiots! Once they thought thunder was created by some guy riding the skies and banging it with a hammer. Idiots! Herewith a list of ..

Current "science" most likely to be ridiculed in the future.

Most importantly in this day and age, there's no shame in having flexible and vaguely formulated political beliefs. (The "Johansson version of the Epimenides paradox": Anyone who generalizes wildly is bound to be wrong a lot.)

Ask yourself: Am I a fucking politician? No. Should I venture to theorize about, and adapt a rigid opinion on, complex systems of large masses of completely unpredictable thinking (well, mostly thinking) mammals? No. What's the point. The science simply isn't there yet. It's analogous to a stone age person theorizing about chemistry. He may get some things right, but mostly by accident. I envision current political/ economical theories being on the "me make fire, turn wood into coal" level. "Me lower taxes, turn interest rates into pumpkin."

The less flimsy parts of Politics blend into National Economics, which itself is not a hard science — pretty flimsy stuff, all of this. Like the joke goes:

An economist is back in his old college town many years after graduation and decides to drop in on one of his old professors. He happens to see a copy of an exam sitting on the desk, so he picks it up to look at it. Upon deciding that it looks familiar, he comments to the professor that it is the same exam that he had taken 10 years ago. The professor assures him that this is correct, but adds that this time the answers are different.

I suppose the answer to most really deep and difficult political/economical questions can be reduced into "there's just too many people". We definitely need some more planets to fuck up!

Law

I do have some views, but not really the time to expound quite yet! But in brief: I suppose you first have to make a distinction between the US system of justice, and that of other countries. In the US there's: Of course a lot of these concepts have co-evolved with all-American stuff like "druglords", "carjackings", "drivebyes", and people going "postal". (And of course, nowadays, kids going *"Elemental".*) Regarding the death penalty, my personal opinion is that I think it's barbaric, and in particaular it doesn't befit a great Western nation like the US. (If the death penalty is so good, why don't they televise the executions?) The death penalty befits countries such as China, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. All I have time to say right now is that my views probably tie in to my Judeo-Christian-Scandinavian upbringing. I see this development of Law from barbarism to civilisation: Of course criminal justice is a very difficult problem, and if I had all the answers I would share. But state-sanctioned homicide is as obscene as any other homicide. I just know that frying or gassing some particular cell clumps isn't going to be particularly helpful. And with a justice system comprised of other (fallible) cell clumps, chances are that the wrong cell clumps are being put out of commission, sometimes. And that sucks... and besides, I heard life prison sentences are cheaper for society due to all the appeals in death penalty cases (although this may be an urban legend, I don't know).

Drugs

Have some views on them as well. I will summarize them here.

I love drugs! Drugs are good. Think of antibiotics and how many lives have been spared! You could argue that air is like a drug — you get hooked on the active ingredient, Oxygen, from birth. Or water.

Oh, you mean illegal drugs? Well, the distinction is a bit artificial... why couldn't all chemical compounds just be legal? Why couldn't each individual decide what to do with his/her own body? Usually some determination is made (by Society) that a particular chemical has no medical value and that letting people use it freely would create "problems".

The cynic in me wants to think that Society doesn't like losing tax revenue.. but the non-cynic in me thinks of family and friends of drug addicts... and crack babies, and drug-related accidents.. let's face it, most people don't always know what's best for them, even if you and I do!

Anyway, I've tried some (not nearly all, I'm afraid), but I have to say that the only ones I've found that are worth the hassle are alcohol, and caffeine. And the superior delivery systems for these wonderful chemicals are beer, and coffee. And they're not even illegal.. oh dear, I must be getting old.


Page updated Oct 23, 1999 at 15:56 Email: jens@panix.com

All content copyright © Jens Johansson 2014. No unathorized duplication, copying, mirroring, pilfering, pilllaging, archival, or redistribution/retransmission allowed! Any offensively categorical statements passed off as facts herein should only be construed as my very opinionated opinions.