Why do most scientists and psychologists ignore our nature?

To me, there is something that seems clear, both from direct noticing and logic.

And that is what we are to ourselves, and what the world is to us. It’s our own nature, and the nature of the world as it appears to us.

WHAT I AM IN MY OWN NOTICING

In one sense, I am a human being in the world. That’s not wrong, and it’s an assumption that helps this human self orient and function in the world.

And yet, in my own direct noticing, it is what I most fundamentally am?

When I look, I find I am something else.

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all experience. I am what allows and takes the form of any and all of my experiences. I am what allows and takes the form of what happens in all of my sense fields, in sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, and the mental field. (And any other sense fields we can differentiate out through our mental overlays.)

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

I am the oneness the world, to me happens within and as.

We can call this different things. For instance, consciousness.

And that brings us to the logic side of this.

WHAT I AM LOGICALLY

In our culture, most say that “we have consciousness” as if it’s a kind of appendix we happen to have. There is an assumption here that we are primarily a physical object and this physical object somehow has consciousness as it happens to have arms, legs, and physical organs.

This is a third-person view, and it doesn’t really matter in this context how accurate it is.

The more interesting question for me is: What are we to ourselves, in our own immediate experience?

Logically, if we “have” consciousness, we have to BE consciousness. There is nothing outside of consciousness somehow experiencing consciousness. What experiences and has the idea of consciousness is consciousness itself. Not anything outside of it.

Any experience happens within and as consciousness. It’s consciousness taking the form of that experience.

So to us, the world happens within and as consciousness.

The world, and any experience, happens within and as what we are.

We ARE consciousness and the world and any content of experience happens within and as consciousness, within and as what we are.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WHAT WE ARE

Both direct noticing and (this particular) logic arrives at the same answer for what we are to ourselves, and it also arrives at the same answer for the characteristics of what we are.

What are some of the characteristics of what we are to ourselves?

What are some of the characteristics of consciousness?

To me, what I am has no beginning or end in space. It also has no beginning or end in time. Any experience of space and time happens within and as what I am.

To me, I am one. I am the oneness the world happens within and as. I am what my field of experience, which my mental field differentiates in many different ways, happens within and as.

To me, I am the world and the world is me. The world happens within and as what I am.

To me, the world happens within and as consciousness. It’s like a dream in that way.

To me, any and all content of experience comes and goes. And this includes any ideas of what I may be within the content of experience (this human self) and what these ideas refer to. In some cases, I may not take myself to be this particular human self, for instance in a dream, and what I more fundamentally am is still here. What any and all experiences happens within and as is still here. (Including shifting ideas of what I am as an object in the world.)

When what I am notices itself, I find that my nature is what can be called love. It’s a love that’s not dependent on shifting states or emotions. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. And this love is often obscured by separation consciousness, by dynamics and patterns created from when I took myself most fundamentally as a separate object in the world.

IS THIS WHAT I “REALLY” AM?

So is this what I really am?

Yes, it is. It’s what I am in my own direct noticing.

Outside of that, I don’t know. I don’t know what my nature more fundamentally happens to be from some kind of outside third-person view. And that’s also less important, at least in my daily life.

WHY DON’T WE ALWAYS NOTICE?

If this is so obvious both in terms of noticing and logic, why don’t we always notice or take this into account?

Most likely, because we live in a culture and world where most don’t. When we grow up, we do as others do. We learn to take on and operate from separation consciousness. And that can be very convincing, at least until we start examining our assumptions – about what we are and what the world is to us – a little more closely.

IS IT IMPORTANT?

Yes and no. We humans obviously get by without noticing or examining our nature.

And yet, when the oneness we are notices itself, keeps noticing itself, and explores how to live from this noticing, it can be profoundly transforming.

It can be profoundly transforming for our perception, sense of fundamental identity, life in the world, and our human psychology.

WHY DO MANY OVERLOOK OR DENY THIS?

If this is so obvious, both in terms of noticing and logic, why do so many ignore or deny this?

Most people are not so interested in the question of what they more fundamentally are in their own immediate experience. That’s fine. They get by anyway. They have more immediate concerns to focus on and take care of.

And yet, for some people, this is their job. For scientists and especially psychologists, this is essential to their job and (I assume) interests.

So why don’t more of them explore this? Why don’t more of them take it seriously?

I am not sure.

The essential answer may be the same as above: We live in a world where we are trained in separation consciousness from we are born. It becomes the norm, so we don’t even consider questioning it. And if we do, we feel we are somehow transgressing and entering dangerous waters so we don’t take it very far or speak about it.

To elaborate a bit:

Exploring these things is a kind of taboo in our culture, especially in academic circles. It goes against our shared worldview. It goes against standard norms. (Although all of that is changing.)

Our western culture, and especially our scientific culture, value the more “objective” third-person view over first-person explorations. Again, this has been different in the past and will very likely be different in the future.

If you work as a scientist in academia or as a psychologist, you typically cannot stray too far from the mainstream. As a scientist, you risk losing (or not getting) funding. You even risk losing your job if you get too weird. And as a psychologist, you risk losing your license. (In Norway, psychologists have lost their license for exploring the possibility of past lives in therapy sessions, even if these explorations obviously deal with projections and don’t say whether or not the past lives were real or not.)

In short, cultures are systems and systems want to stay mostly stable. There are many mechanisms operating to preserve some kind of stability. There are many incentives to not explore this, and not so many opportunities or invitations to do so. (Which, again, is fortunately changing.)

At a more personal level, many people may not have the curiosity or passion for exploring this. They are happy exploring other things, and that’s fine. Not everyone needs to explore these things.

WILL THIS CHANGE?

Will this change?

It is already changing. More and more people, including in science and psychology, are interested in a more transpersonal approach and understanding.

I envision a future where the third-person and first-person approaches exist side-by-side and even hand-in-hand, including in science and psychology.

It will be a far more rich exploration of our human experience, and one that reflects a little more of the bigger picture.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE VALIDITY OF WHAT MYSTICS DESCRIBE

If or when this shift happens, something else will happen as well.

And that is an acknowledgment – in science and our culture – of the validity in what mystics across times and cultures have described.

If we look at the essence of what mystics describe, it’s exactly this.

We are consciousness, and the world to us is consciousness.

We are the oneness the world, to us, happens within and as.

Image: Created by me and Midjourney (AI image)

Why do I love animals? Why do I love nature?

I recently watched the last season of His Dark Materials, and find I have as much and often more empathy with the dæmons as I do with their human counterpart. (The dæmons are animals representing an aspect of the people, their inner self, anima/animus, or something similar.)

Why do I love animals? Why do I love nature? Why is it sometimes easier to find love for a non-human being than for some fellow humans?

There are many answers and they all (literally) come out of one.

Here are some that come to mind:

MISTREATED

Non-human beings are often mistreated by humans. I tend to side with the underdogs, and in this relationship, non-human beings are almost always the underdogs. I have a natural empathy with non-human beings for that reason. (I know this particular dynamic is rooted in my own history and experiences.)

INNOCENCE & DIFFERENT HISTORY

The natural world has everything from cooperation and care to fights and mercilessness.

At the same time, we see an innocence there. For all their savvy and specific skills, knowledge, and experience, many of them generally function cognitively at the level of human children or babies.

Most non-human species must have mental representations and use them as we do, to orient and function in the world. And yet, it seems they are much less likely to elaborate on and believe these imaginations. They use them in a more simple and direct way.

For many of us, it’s easier to find love for animals. They are simpler. In some ways, they are innocent like children. For that reason, we don’t experience the same friction with them as we do with humans. We don’t experience the clashes of hangups and worldviews we experience with humans. And most of us have been more hurt by humans than non-human beings, we have a different history with them.

For all of these reasons, it’s often easier to find love for non-human beings. And especially the ones we know personally and live with.

MIRROR

Animals mirror me in several different ways. I see myself in them.

They mirror my animal nature. They mirror how I am with a simpler mental field. They mirror how I am minus my more complicated – and complicating – human mental field with elaborate ideas, beliefs, identifications, etc.

And the different animals mirror different parts of me as well. Whatever story I have about any type of animal, I can turn it to myself and find specific and genuine examples of how, where, and when it’s true.

And since I wish to have – and have – some love and care for these parts of me, I have the same towards the beings mirroring these sides of me.

WE ARE CLOSELY RELATED

All Earth life is closely related. We are all, literally, part of the same family. We share ancestors. We are cousins. We are far more similar than we are different. We share far more than what’s unique and different.

We are “we” far more than we are “us” and “them”. And we all know this in our cells and bones and our mind when we subtract our complicated human mental field. Any ideas of separation come from our ideas, not from reality.

PART OF THE SAME SYSTEM

We are all part of the same living and evolving system we call Earth or Gaia.

We are subsystems in larger living systems.

We are subsystems in the larger systems we call the Earth and the universe and all of existence.

We are all expressions of the same larger living wholes.

We are part of the same metaphorical body we call life, Earth, the universe, and existence.

And that’s not just metaphorical or poetry or wishful thinking. It’s what current science tells us.

As Carl Sagan said, we are all the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are existence bringing itself into consciousness.

We are all the Earth, the universe, and existence expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself temporarily and locally as us.

EXPRESSIONS OF THE DIVINE

We can call existence and reality God, Spirit, or the divine.

Here, we can say that we are all expressions of God, Spirit, or the divine.

We are all the divine expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself temporarily and locally as us.

We are all the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the divine.

We are the divine bringing itself into consciousness through and as us.

PART OF THE ONENESS I AM

There is also another oneness here, and one that’s far more immediate.

In one sense, I am this human being in the world.

Ehen I look in my own first-person experience, I find I am more fundamentally something else. I find I am capacity for the world as it appears to me. I find that the world, to me, happens within and as what I am.

I am the oneness the world, to me, happens within and as.

To me, everything – including any being – is part of the oneness I am.

And to the extent I allow this to sink and infuse and transform my human self, this gives birth to a natural love that’s not dependent on feelings or states. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right.

WORDS AND LANGUAGE

I use the word “animal” here since that’s the terminology most people use these days.

In reality, we are all animals. We are all living beings.

There is no reason to create a hard and imagined boundary between us and the rest of Earth life.

We are all closely related. We are all in the same boat. We are all embedded in the same larger living systems. We are all expressions of the evolution of the universe. We are all expressions of existence. We are all the Earth, the universe, and existence expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself through and as us.

When I hear the word “animal” I am reminded of the old Greeks who used a similar mind-created division. They called any non-Greeks barbarians. I assume future generations may see our current human-animal distinction as equally quaint and old-fashioned.

Today, there is a growing awareness of all the many ways racism and sexism is expressed in society and our language. In the future, I assume there will be a similar awareness of how our anthropocentrism is expressed in our language and society, and a movement to change it.

CULTURE & OUR ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

How we see humans versus the rest of life is obviously dependent on our culture.

In some traditional cultures, all life is seen as related and part of the same whole.

The irony is that in our culture, that’s the view of science. Science tells us all life is closely related and part of the same living evolving systems. And yet, most people operate on an outdated and misguided idea of the basic separation of humans from all other life. We operate on misconceptions while we know better.

Why? I assume it’s not just because of tradition and habit. It’s also convenient. It allows us to keep using and abusing non-human beings and nature in general.

And that brings us to saw over the branch we are sitting on. It’s out of alignment with reality, and operating on ideas out of alignment with reality has consequences. In this case, the consequence is the destruction of the living systems we are fully embedded in and dependent on.

NOISE

I’ll add one topic that’s been on my mind since my early teens.

I have personally never liked noise or loud music. I love silence and natural sounds, and less human-created sounds (apart from some music).

And, as far as I can tell from research and personal observations, it seems I share that with most non-human beings.

So why do some humans apparently love noise and loud sounds and music?

I don’t know but I assume it has to do with our noisy and complex mental field and what happens when we take certain (painful) ideas as reality. (Taking any idea as reality is painful in itself, no matter what the idea tells us.) Perhaps the outer noise masks the inner noise, at least for a while? Perhaps it’s a strategy to distract ourselves from our own discomfort and pain?

Perhaps it’s a sign we haven’t found peace with our own experience, as it is? A sign of war with our experience?

In our culture, we act as if we are at war with nature, and we act as if we are at war with our own experience. The two are closely related. They depend on each other. And they may break down together.

FINDING PEACE WITH OURSELVES & PEACE WITH NATURE

In most cases, if we find peace with our experience, we tend to find a deeper love for nature. And finding a deeper love for nature tends to be reflected in finding more peace with our experience.

Of course, both take work. And even if we find this peace, and wish to live in a more peaceful relationship with life in general, we are still living within a social and economic system that is inherently destructive. It was created at a time when we didn’t need to take the limits of nature into account. And now – with increasing human numbers and more efficient technology – it’s obviously destructive to life.

We can personally experience peace with life, but our life is not peaceful to life as long our collective human system is as it is.

It takes personal intention, skill, and work to find peace with our experience.

It will take a similar collective intention, skill, and work to find real peace in our relationship with nature – and transform our collective life so it takes ecological realities into account.

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AI-generated images: some misconceptions

A water person dreamt up by me and Midjourney

There are several misconceptions about AI image generation as it looks to me right now. And that may and will likely change, and what I write obviously reflects my own biases.

One of my biases is that I currently love AI-generated images. I have a decades-long background in both art and programming, and I love anything to do with the future, so I naturally love AI-generated images.

AI IMAGE GENERATION FUN

Some judge it as they would fine art. For me, it’s different.

I don’t see or present it as fine art. I see it more as fun, with a few specific applications.

Personally, I am exploring it because I am drawn to it. It’s fun. It helps me get in touch with different sides of myself and I explore my AI-generated images as I would a dream. (The image above is an example – it’s a water person, someone completely at home in the water which for me mirrors a wish in me to be more at home with my emotions which are watery like an ocean.)

Exploring it also helps me get in touch with my fire and passion, and image creation which I haven’t done much of for several years. It helps me get back into it again.

THE APPLICATIONS OF AI-GENERATED IMAGES

As far as I can tell, AI-generated images have a few specific applications, and I am sure this will become more clear over time and we’ll probably discover applications most of us – including me – are not yet aware of.

What are these applications?

An obvious one is illustrations, especially for blogs and smaller organizations and businesses. Many wouldn’t hire an illustrator for hand-made illustrations since it’s too expensive and not worth it for what it’s for. But we may use AI-generated images instead of public-domain images or nothing at all.

Many use AI-generated images for inspiration and ideas for illustrations, graphic design, and even handmade art. It can give us different ideas and angles than we would come up with on our own. It can expand our horizons.

And, as I wrote in another article, AI-generated images can be a blessing for people with disabilities. Many of us don’t have the energy or possibility to engage in handmade art to any real extent, so this is a good way to spark our interest in or passion for image creation. It’s far more easy to create AI images than spend hours and hours and days and weeks and months on handmade art. It’s far better than nothing, which is often the alternative. (For me, because of the limitations of my disability, the two realistic options are AI art versus nothing, and I make several of the images while horizontal.)

NOT AS GOOD AS WE HOPE, NOT AS BAD AS WE FEAR

Most things turn out not being as good as we (or some of us) hope, and not as bad as we (or some of us) fear. I suspect AI-generated images are like that too.

When photography came on the scene, some feared it would be the end of fine art. After all, why would anyone be interested in a portrait or landscape painting if we could just do a photograph? In reality, the existence of photography sparked an artistic revolution. Artists were free to move in a more abstract direction and it led to the modern art we have seen from impressionism to today.

I suspect something similar may happen through the existence of AI-generated images. At the very least, it will co-exist and inspire handmade art. And it will likely lead to a revolution few if any of us can envision right now.

PROTECTIVE ABOUT PROMPTS

Some folks into AI image generation seem protective about their prompts. One guy wanted to copyright his prompts (!) and I see folks in social media groups for AI images say “don’t even think about asking for prompts, nobody will tell you”.

First, it’s not entirely true that people won’t share them. Many seem more than happy to share their prompts, me included.

Second, the individual element in AI-generated images plays a relatively small role. Yes, I come up with prompts and often spend some time refining them to get an interesting result. But I often get my prompt ideas from others or the general culture and what I know about art history (which happens to be quite a bit since I studied it for years). And the AI that generates the image draws metaphorical inspiration from millions of images created by millions of people from many cultures and times. The AI reflects image creation from the whole of human culture.

Our individual role in AI image creation is quite limited and minuscule compared with the role of human culture as a whole. And for me, that’s one of the beautiful things about AI-generated images. It’s a reminder that culture is collective. What individuals create, whether through handmade art or AI images, reflects our culture as a whole and is colored by our (small) individual contributions.

One thing I love about Midjourney is that we can see the prompts others use. It’s a way for all of us to learn from each other and collectively learn and progress.

This is not exactly a misconception about AI art, just an oddity I find interesting. And I feel the prompt protectivity is a bit misguided for the reasons mentions above.

ONLY AVERAGE DRUMMERS ARE ANGRY AT DRUM MACHINES

In summary, I feel there are several misconceptions about AI-generated images in our culture.

The presence of AI-generated images likely won’t be as bad as some fear, nor as good as others hope.

It will take its place along with handmade art, photography, and other forms of digital image generation.

I see it more as illustrations than fine art, and that’s not at all a problem.

For myself, I use it to explore my inner life and images and I often explore them as I would a dream. I imagine many others do the same whether they are consciously aware of it or not.

AI-generated images are a blessing for many of us with disabilities. It allows us to give form to our imagination in ways we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. (And that goes for many without a disability too.)

And, to end, a quote from a social media group for AI-generated images: Only average drummers are angry at drum machines.

Good artists are not threatened by AI image generation since they can do things far beyond what an AI can do and there will always be a demand for their work.

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AI art and disability

Why am I fascinated by AI art? Isn’t it artificial? Cold? Impersonal? Doesn’t it steal from artists? Make artists superfluous?

I have some general answers and a few more personal ones.

GENERAL ANSWERS

The general answer is that it has come to stay, and there are many ways to use it that make sense.

For instance, many use it to inspire and get ideas for hand-made art and design.

People who normally wouldn’t hire human artists use it to spiff up advertisements, websites, and more.

Many like to explore it just for fun, just like it’s fun to explore a lot of different things in our culture. (And it’s more engaging and involving than some other common activities, including passively watching movies or series.)

And there is no reason to assume it will replace old-fashioned design and art. The two will likely co-exist, just like photography and hand-made art co-exists. I also suspect that the existence of AI art may make human-made art more prestigious and sought after.

PERSONAL ANSWERS

For me, it’s also fun. I find myself fascinated by it. Even if very few see what comes out of it, the process of exploring different styles and scenes is inherently rewarding to me, at least for now. It sparks my imagination.

There are also some other reasons I am fascinated by it.

It ties in with my background in programming (I started programming in the early ’80s and have worked with it in periods since). It ties in with my art background. (I did art full-time in my late teens and early twenties, and was a student of Odd Nerdrum.) It ties in with my formal and informal studies of European and international art history. It ties in with my architecture training and occasional work with graphic design. And it ties in with my fascination for the future, including technology and AI.

AI AND DISABILITY

More to the point, it ties in with my disability. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), and that makes it difficult for me to engage in traditional forms of art like drawing and painting. It takes time and energy to engage in it to the point where it’s meaningful for me and I get results I enjoy. And my life is full enough so there are few resources left over for painting and drawing. It has fallen by the wayside, to my regret.

With AI-generated images, I get to explore and bring to life images similar to what I likely would have explored if I had continued with more conventional forms of art, and I also get to be surprised and explore things far outside of my what I imagined I would do by hand. It’s fun. It’s fascinating. And it doesn’t take that much time or energy to do it. Similar to photography, the results come quickly.

And similar to photography, the results are not quite as personal or human or full of character as we find in hand-made art. That’s OK. It’s much better than nothing.

I assume I am not the only one. I assume many people with different forms of disability have found making AI images fun and rewarding. It opens up possibilities for us that we otherwise may not have since our disability makes traditional art more difficult to engage in.

ABLEISM

I haven’t seen any mainstream articles on AI art including the perspective of the disabled. And I understand why: disabled people make up a minority and often don’t have the resources or platform to have their voice heard. Still, when the public discourse on AI art leaves out the perspective of the disabled, it is one of many examples of how disabled people are ignored by the mainstream.

The pandemic shifted many things to benefit people with disabilities: Many office jobs were now done from a home office. Many doctor appointments were done online. A lot of events were streamed. Classes and workshops were taught online.

All of these are things disabled people have requested for a long time.

I have personally asked for it more than once, and the answer in each case was: No, it’s not possible. (In each case, there was no curiosity about the situation, no further discussion about it, no acknowledgment that it would make it easier for me and for others with a disability, and a dismissal of the suggestion.)

When the pandemic impacted healthy people and society as a whole, then it was suddenly possible. It wasn’t just possible, it happened quickly. Funny how that works.

This is an example of ableism. If something is requested mainly by disabled people, it’s ignored or not possible. And when it’s of interest to healthy people, it’s suddenly relevant and possible.

The mainstream discussion on AI-generated images is another example of how the perspective of disabled people is left out.

Of course, the mainstream tends to focus on the mainstream, and most people don’t have disabilities. But many do, and it’s important to acknowledge the situation for those with disabilities.

We are people too. We are also part of society.

And for many of us, AI art is a small blessing.

Why rewilding?

Why am I embarking on a rewilding project for our land in the Andes mountains?

There are many answers to that question.

WHAT DO I MEAN BY REWILDING?

First, what do I mean by rewilding?

I am perhaps using a more loose definition than some others. For me, and in this case, rewilding means supporting the land in becoming more diverse and vibrant and a good habitat for a range of life from microbes to insects to birds to reptiles and mammals.

It won’t be the way it was before humans came here, or before Europeans came. That’s not possible. But we can use native plants to help the ecosystem recover and become more vibrant and thriving.

Rewilding for me means what the word implies. It means helping the ecosystem become more wild again, even if it will by necessity look different from how it has ever been before. It won’t be a copy of how it was, but it may rhyme.

WHY REWILDING?

And then, why rewilding? What’s the reason for it? Isn’t it better to make use of the land for food production or housing? Doesn’t it make more sense to sell parts of the land to make money on it?

Here are some of the answers that come up for me.

MOVED TO DO IT

The most honest answer is that I find myself moved to do it. Life moves to do it through and as me.

Beyond that, I don’t really know. I can have reasons and elaborate on those reasons, but I don’t really know.

MEANINGFUL

At a more personal level, I can say it feels meaningful. If this is a project for the rest of my life – and hopefully far beyond, continued by others – then that would make me happy and I would feel my life had meaning in a very specific way.

On a day-to-day basis, it gives my attention and energy direction. It’s a project I can put energy and time into as things move in that direction, and I can give it a breather when that feels more right. It’s a project with its own pulse and life and without a particular timeline.

EXPRESSION OF MY NATURE AND REALITY

It’s an expression of my nature and reality.

I am an expression of this living evolving system we call Earth, just like anything else here is. I am this global and local living system supporting itself.

INTERCONNECTIONS AND SHARED FATE

From a more conventional perspective, I also know that my life as a human being is intimately connected with the rest of this living system.

Although Earth will continue without me and humans in general, we also share fate to some extent.

My health and well-being and the health and well-being of society and our civilization is intimately connected with the health and well-being of our local, regional, and global ecosystems.

It’s in my own interest, and the interest of all of humanity, to take care of our ecosystems and do what we can to help them recover and become more diverse and thriving.

LOVE FOR NATURE AND HUMANS

I love nature, and I have loved nature since very early childhood. I do it because I love nature. I love to see nature in a more healthy and vibrant state. It makes me happy.

I do it because I care about humans and the future of humanity. I love our amazing – and sometimes terrible – civilization and it would be a shame if it ends now. (Although if that happens, that’s OK too. Earth or the Universe doesn’t need humans, although we do bring something unique and beautiful to it.)

THE MANY BEINGS HERE

There are millions of beings on this land. This is their home. Many of them are born, live their lives, and die here. This is all they will know. This place is their life.

If I, as one person, can help millions of current and future beings have a good life here, I would love to do it. I cannot imagine anything more beautiful and amazing.

Each of these beings are their own world. They are their own cosmos. From the smallest microbes and up to the mammals here. What a privilege to support these worlds to have a life here.

I do it for their sake. It’s easy to imagine myself in their situation, and how much I would want someone like me to protect them and their habitat.

NEEDED IN THE WORLD TODAY

Biodiversity loss is one of the major issues in the world today. It’s one of the massive crises we are in the middle of, and one that’s tied in with the more popular climate change and equally if not more important.

If I can play a (very) small part in this global effort to protect our diversity, then what I am doing here is more than worth it.

Just by living in our current economic system, my life inevitably has a harmful effect on life. So this is my small part in making up for it.

LEARNING

I love learning and especially about sustainability and nature, and this is an amazing opportunity to learn.

We will hire two local experts to guide and help us with our rewilding project, and I am looking forward to learning as much as I can as we move forward with this project.

I also look forward to sharing it here and perhaps on social media and/or a dedicated website.

A MODEL

If what I am doing here can be a small local model, then that’s icing on the cake.

If it only inspires one person to do something else, that makes it more than worth it.

We sorely need these models today, in all aspects of society.

MULTIPLE REASONS

So although I most honestly don’t know the answer to this “why”, I can also find a lot of reasons.

Each one of these alone would make it worth it.

I am not doing this because I am especially noble. I certainly am not. I do it because I love it.

And I know there will be times I’ll be frustrated, fed up, tired, and want to give it all a break. I have already experienced that. (For instance, when workers cut down large areas of pioneer species allowing invasive grass to take over and did so after we explicitly told them not to.)

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Loss of biodiversity – Norway & the Andes

Many talk about climate change these days, although the global biodiversity loss we are experiencing is as – and likely more – serious.

NORWAY

I grew up in Ski, a village outside of Oslo, Norway. Growing up in the 80s, I remember that the garden was full of life. There were butterflies everywhere, grasshoppers, beetles, and all sorts of insects. A badger family lived next door. There were frequent hedgehog visits. We saw swallows flying around and eating insects. At night, there were bats. If we kept doors or windows open at night, the house would get lots of moths and moths inside.

In the last decade or so, these are all gone. I don’t see butterflies. There are no grasshoppers. I don’t see beetles. The swallows are gone. There are no bats at night. If we keep the windows or doors open, nothing comes inside.

It’s easy to think that this is because this village is more built up and the general area is more built up. That’s true to some extent, but it still has the same mix of rural and suburban. And the same has happened at the cabin which is in the woods outside of Oslo. This is an area that’s scheduled to become a national park, and here too, there is a noticeable loss of biodiversity and life.

A few decades ago, we have several swallow families nesting at the cabin each year. Last year, there were none. I don’t see bats anymore. I see some butterflies, but fewer than before. I don’t see all the insects that used to come inside when we kept the windows and doors open at night.

THE ANDES

I am now in Cañon del Chicamocha in the Andes mountains. The insect and animal life here reminds me of how it was in Norway two or three decades ago. And that makes me worried. Will the same happen here? The loss of biodiversity has been going on here too for centuries, and will most of what’s left be gone too in a while?

CAUSES

Why is it happening? The simple answer is that we – our culture and civilization – don’t prioritize biodiversity and life. We don’t value it quite enough. We have created a system that treats ecosystems as an unlimited resource for us and as having an unlimited capacity to absorb our waste and toxins. We see ourselves as somehow separate from the natural world and the Earth.

The more immediate answer may be a combination of many things: Loss of nature. Use of toxins in agriculture and homes. More manicured gardens and fewer flowers. Loss of key species. And I am sure much that doesn’t come to mind right now or I don’t know about.

We are currently in the middle of a mostly quiet and very serious ecological crisis, and we will all be impacted by it – likely far more than we imagine.

SOLUTIONS & WOLDVIEWS

What’s the solution? We can all do our small part in terms of not using toxins, replacing a manicured garden and lawn with a more natural and wild one, encouraging plants and flowers that support a diversity of insects and wildlife, raising awareness on this crucial topic, and voting for politicians who take it seriously (only a few politicians and political parties do).

Collectively, we need to change our economic and social systems. We need a deep transformation so our human systems take ecological realities into account. In our current public discourse, the vast majority of solutions are piecemeal and far from sufficient. ‘

CULTURE CHANGE

And we need to realize, in a more profound and visceral way, that our ecosystems are fragile when impacted by our civilization, and that our health, well-being, and civilization are dependent on the health and well-being of our local, regional, and global ecosystems. It’s all one living system. It’s all us.

“Us” is not only our family or local community or nation or humanity. It’s all of life. It’s Earth as a whole.

It’s existence as a whole.

That’s the mindset that will support a more sustainable civilization.

And the more viscerally we get it, the more it will naturally color our individual and collective life.

THE SHIFT

This shift in worldview and culture is crucial, and it’s not something that will happen through wishful thinking or shoulds.

We can explore it in our own life and deepen into it. We can make it available to others. We can help others explore it. We can also include it in the education of children.

And, most likely, it’s a shift that will happen because it has to happen. Life and nature will show us that we cannot continue as before, that a major shift is needed, and that’s how many will find it and perhaps how we’ll collectively find it.

The upside is that this ecological mindset is more aligned with reality so what’s needed is to shift our views to be more aligned with how it already is. The downside is that a worldview of separation has been ingrained in our culture and individual mindsets for centuries and millennia. Systems typically don’t change dramatically unless there is a big disturbance. And the upside is that life will show us when we operate on worldviews out of alignment with reality, even if the wake-up call can be harsh and difficult.

How I have learned to talk about an invisible and less-understood chronic illness

I have had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS, ME) since my teens, although I had a period in my twenties and thirties where I functioned better.

Through experience, I have learned a bit about how to talk about it. If I say I have CFS/ME, it won’t mean much to most people. They think it means I am a bit tired, or – in the worst case, which I have experienced during my education – they will dismiss it or even see it as an excuse for laziness. (In my studies and work, I was anything but lazy.)

So I learned to talk about it in a different way. Now, I say I have a chronic illness, and I add whatever makes sense in the situation. I may say it causes me to need to rest a lot. Or it makes it difficult for me to think and it takes time for me to think through things. Or that it makes it difficult for me to talk coherently. (When I am extra exhausted.)

That makes more sense to people. Most people have a rough understanding of what a chronic illness means, even if there are many types of them. Most take it seriously, respect it, and don’t feel they need to question it. (Or give uninformed advice.) And that makes my life much easier.

As with so much, the way we frame it – to ourselves and others – makes a big difference.

Note: I don’t often call it a disability, even if that’s what it is. In some situations, I would probably use that term as well to bring home a point.

Rewilding: Nature protecting itself

On the land in the Andes we are stewards of, there are many different ecological systems, all of them impacted by centuries of grazing and food production. (Although on a relatively small scale.)

Having visited this land for a while, and now living here, several things that come up for me daily.

RESILIENCE AND VULNERABILITY

One is how amazingly resilient nature is when undisturbed by civilization. Ecosystems have evolved to adapt to just about anything that happens in nature with some regularity.

And, on the other hand, how amazingly vulnerable nature is. Ecosystems can be wiped out in a day with the help of machines.

Ecosystems are amazingly resilient when it comes to what occurs naturally, and amazingly vulnerable to civilization and machines.

ECOSYSTEMS PROTECTING THEMSELVES

Another is a feature of the natural regeneration process. On this land, many of the pioneer species have thorns and form dense thickets it’s difficult or impossible to enter.

It’s as if the ecosystem is protecting itself.

It’s as if it’s saying: You damaged me before. Now, as I am recovering, I don’t want any interference. Stay out.

And, of course, machines and technology (including people with machetes and saws) are no match for this natural defense.

CULTURE AND EDUCATION

I keep reminding myself of how important it is to educate the ones we are working with.

The traditional view here is that the pioneer species are “weeds” and should be gotten rid of. Clear everything so you can see the land and decide what to do with it. Clear it all and lay it barren because it’s not a loss.

And, in reality, if you wish to support a healthy ecosystem, it’s a great loss to remove these pioneer species.

IT’S ALL NATURE

Of course, all of this is nature. All of this is the doings of this living and evolving planet.

Civilization is as much a part of this evolving planet as anything yet.

In that sense, it’s all nature. It’s all really the same. It’s all part of the same seamless system.

This view helps us recognize our interdependence with all life. It helps us ground in something more real than the mind-created distinctions between ourselves and the rest of Earth, life, and existence.

And, in another sense, there is a big difference between nature and civilization. Our technology and machines, combined with our numbers, can easily destroy local, regional, and global ecosystems, and that’s what’s already happening.

We are in the middle of an ecological crisis of massive proportions, and one that will impact all of us and humanity as a whole. And, for whatever reason, it seems that only a few take this seriously.

This distinction is important as well. Ecosystems have evolved to deal with what happens naturally. They cannot defend themselves against machines and technology. (Apart from unraveling, taking us with it, and then – slowly – bouncing back.)

We have to defend them, and in that process, we are defending ourselves.

WE ARE NATURE PROTECTING ITSELF

I started out by talking about how this local ecosystem is protecting itself while recovering from damage. Pioneer species often have thorns and form impenetrable thickets.

And I ended with another way nature is protecting itself. We are nature protecting itself. We are part of the living seamless system of this evolving planet, and when we do anything to protect life, we are nature protecting itself.

When I defend this land and take steps to help it recover, I am nature protecting itself.

A chess drama: Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann

For a few months now, controversy has taken over parts of the chess world.

Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion, has indirectly accused his rival Hans Niemann of cheating.

He didn’t do it openly. But he did leave a game with Niemann shortly after sitting down at the table, and he posted cryptic messages on social media saying he can’t say more because it would give him legal troubles. And everyone in the chess world, and the mainstream media, understands that he is accusing Niemann of cheating. (There is a lot more to this story, see the link above.)

Everyone has to be considered innocent until proven guilty. That’s an important principle in our legal system and in society in general, and it’s one I apply in my own life. Unless I have solid data, I consider people innocent. I don’t take rumors and what people say about others very seriously because I know it’s always filtered and biased and often wrong. (And when I notice I don’t follow this, I explore what’s going on.)

In my view, Carlsen has acted in an immature way here. It may be that it’s a deliberate strategy. He may have strong suspicions that Niemann is cheating, he wants to bring attention to it, and he chose to do it that way. And it has certainly put Niemann in the spotlight.

At the same time, it sets a dangerous precedent. It’s not a good idea to publicly accuse others of something we don’t have proof of, whether we do it directly or indirectly.

Why? Because it may be wrong. And because most of us don’t want to live in that kind of society. We may think it’s fine as long as others are targeted, but we or someone close to us may be the next target.

So what could Carlsen have done instead? He could have gathered solid proof and given it to the correct chess authorities. If he didn’t have solid proof, not saying anything would be more honest.

And he could also have done what I would likely have done in his situation. He could have worked with others to gather and analyze statistics of Niemann’s games to look for anomalies, publish the findings without any comment, and allow others to investigate further and make up their own mind. That would, at least, be based on data.

CONVENTIONAL AND BORING OFTEN HAS SOME WISDOM IN IT

It may feel good for Carlsen to go about it this way. He is sneaky and gets what he wants, which is putting the spotlight on Niemann. It may feel good for others to engage in this drama and the speculations around it.

And yet, is it what’s best for everyone involved? Is it what sets the best example for others? Is it what’s best for society? Is this the kind of society we want?

On social issues, my views are often conventional and boring.

Why? Because I am a child of my time and culture, and because conventional and boring views often have some wisdom in them.

In this case, the old-fashioned “innocent until proven guilty” principle seems very useful. And it’s not something we can take for granted. It’s easy to imagine a society where this principle is not followed, and we have many examples from history of just that. We even have many examples in our own society, and this situation is just one of many.

It’s a principle that needs to be renewed and applied over and over again by each of us.

A FEW THINGS ABOUT THE CARLSON / NIEMANN SITUATION

A few more things about the Carlson / Niemann situation:

Niemann is obviously a very good chess player even without needing to cheat. (That doesn’t mean he hasn’t cheated, of course.)

He himself admitted that he cheated once, which is admirable, and he has – as far as I know – not been caught cheating by anyone.

He has filed a lawsuit against Carlsen, which is very understandable. He has lost reputation and income due to the Carlsen accusations, and these are accusations without any evidence, so it makes sense that he is taking that step.

People who have analyzed his games have found patterns that they interpret as signs of cheating.

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Digital nomads displacing the locals, and neo-colonialism

I am a kind of digital nomad these days, and I have been exploring living in areas of the world where my small income goes further. For me, that resulted in buying land in the Andes that for people from my country (Norway) is inexpensive, and for most locals whose families have lived here for generations is way beyond what they can afford.

I am not the only one. There are many digital nomads from the wealthy parts of the world, and more now after the pandemic and shifting work situations. And if you have the luxury of being a digital nomad, why not live in parts of the world where the climate is warmer and more stable and where the money goes further? Eventually, that can mean buying property in these places. And that means pushing many of the locals out of the market.

It’s a kind of neo-colonialism. It’s an extension and continuation of traditional colonialism. It comes out of and is made possible by traditional colonialism. (Digital nomads tend to be from wealthy countries, and that wealth is often built on extracting resources from colonies – whether they are former literal colonies or countries that in practice function as colonies.)

Of course, this is not the intention. Like me, many love the country and culture where they settle, and they have the best intention. But it is the result.

It’s good to notice.

A few more reflections on AI art

I have explored AI art for about ten days, mainly using Midjourney. (AI art is, in short, software that creates images from text based on having analyzed perhaps millions of images.)

I am not all that familiar with the discussion around this, although I have picked up a few things here and there.

Here are some additional thoughts from my side.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

There is obviously a discussion about intellectual property related to AI-generated images.

Personally, and so far, I am just exploring it for fun and I share a few images on social media. It’s perhaps a bit similar to creating collages using other people’s works, which is what people did before AI art.

If someone makes AI art in the style of a specific artist and sells it for money, that’s more questionable.

But what if the style is a more generic one or one that cannot be pinned on any one particular artist? Is that too a problem? Some will say yes since the AI is trained on the art of many artists who unwillingly contribute to the AI result.

It also seems clear that to many, AI art is an exciting new frontier. It brings professional-grade image-making within reach to more people. And AI art may inspire human artists, just like human art informs AI art. It’s likely not possible to put the genie back into the bottle, and would we want to if we could?

For me, what it comes down to is: (a) It’s good to have these conversations. (b) This is a kind of wild west where the law has not yet caught up with the technology.

CULTURAL BIAS

AI art is informed by images in our western and global culture, and obviously reflects biases from the material it’s trained on.

For instance… Jesus and his human parents are depicted as white Europeans, not Middle Eastern. A secretary is assumed to be female. Unless something else is specified, people come out young, white, fit, and beautiful according to western conventional standards. The default man comes out very muscular. And so on.

Some are concerned that this will reinforce existing stereotypes, and that will probably happen in some cases.

The upside is that the inherent – and quite obvious – AI bias leads to conversations among people and in the public. It makes more people more aware of these biases – the standards, norms, and expectations – in our culture.

EXOTICISM

When I was little, I loved stories about the exotic – other parts of the world, other people and cultures than my own, other landscapes than I was familiar with, science fiction, and so on.

I wonder if this is a natural fascination. We may be drawn to what we don’t know, partly because it helped our ancestors be familiar with more of the world and this aided their survival. The unfamiliar and exotic are also good projection objects, which tend to create fascination.

When I make AI art, I often find I follow my childhood draw to the exotic and unknown: Shamans, different ethnicities, fairy tales and mythology, UFOs, and so on.

Is this problematic? If we exoticize certain ethnic groups and people and think that’s how they are, then yes, to some extent. It’s out of alignment with reality and whether we idolize or vilify, it does these groups and people a disservice.

Is it inherently problematic? Perhaps not always, at least not in the sense that it harms certain groups.

For instance, I have a series of images of neo-druid shamans in the future and make sure to include a wide range of ethnicities and ages. This is a form of exoticism, and I aim at making the exoticism universal and include all types of people.

AI-generated images – blessing or doom?

I have wanted to explore AI image generation for a while and finally got around to it tonight in front of the fireplace and with the neighboring café playing live jazz.

Here is one of my first experiments with Midjourney. A neo-shaman in Tokyo in the rain with dramatic backlighting. I love that he or she is covered in plants and flowers.

I have seen some discussions about AI-generated images.

CONCERNS ABOUT NEW TECHNOLOGY

Will it replace human artists? Will it make it possible for people to make their own illustrations instead of commissioning photographers and artists? Will it ruin creativity?

Yes, some of that will probably happen.

And it’s also important the remember that these are the type of concerns that predictably come up when new technology comes onto the scene. And each time, the new technology finds its place among everything that has existed before and continues to exist.

When photography came, people said it was the end of painting. What happened was that it caused painting to change. Much of it became more free, imaginative, and abstract, and photography and painting not only co-exist but inspire each other. When CGI became viable, people said it would replace practical effects and even actors. In reality, CGI co-exists with practical effects, and it has even led to new types of jobs for actors in the form of motion capture.

I assume something similar will happen now. Some will use AI for illustrations. Some will continue to hire artists and photographers. AI art will inspire human-created art. Human-created art will continue to inform AI art.

It’s not either-or, it’s both-and. And it may well be that the interplay between AI and human visuals will create a kind of artistic and creative mini-revolution.

It’s also very likely that human-created art will be valued even more. AI art will make it more prestigious.

CULTURE MEANS LEARNING FROM OTHERS

Some say that AI steals people’s work to create new work and make money on it.

I understand that argument and concern.

And I also know that that’s culture. That’s what people have done from the beginning. We learn and take good ideas from each other and do something different with it. That’s how we have a culture in the first place.

The AI is just a bit more comprehensive and effective than any human can be, and also a little less creative.

WHO DO THE IMAGES BELONG TO?

Another question is: who owns the images?

In a practical sense, it’s determined by the AI companies and the law.

And in a larger sense, they come from the collective experience and creativity of humanity and really from the whole of existence. It’s always that way, no matter which particular human or technology it comes through. It’s just a little more obvious with AI images.

CULTURAL BIASES

Some also criticize AI-generated images because they reflect cultural biases. They learn from our culture so they will inevitably reflect biases in our culture.

For instance, if I don’t specify ethnicity for a portrait, I get a European person. If I ask for a god, even a traditional Hindu god, I get someone absurdly muscular. If I ask for Jesus or his parents, I get Europeans and not middle eastern people. If I ask for a general person, I get someone unusually good-looking in a conventional sense

I would say that’s equally much an upside since it brings cultural biases – picked up by and reflected back to us by the AI – more to the foreground. This leads to awareness and discussions – in the media and among those exploring AI art and the ones they share these reflections and observations with.

A lot of people are more aware of these kinds of cultural biases now because of these AI images.

MY OWN BIAS

I have a background in programming and in art, so I naturally love AI-generated visuals. I see it as a way for people without too much experience to still create amazing images. It’s a way to generate ideas. And it has its place and will co-exist with old-fashioned human skills and creativity.

UPDATE AFTER ONE WEEK

I have explored Midjourney and AI image generation for a week now, and find it seems to fit me well. It’s fun to see images created that I have had in my mind for a while but haven’t created in pencil or oil. It’s also fun to get to know the AI and sometimes be surprised by results better and more interesting than I imagined.

I also find I cannot really take ownership of the images, apart from in the most limited sense. They are generated by the AI, the AI is trained on perhaps millions of images created by others, and it’s really all the local products of the whole of existence – going back to the beginning of the universe and stretching out to the widest extent of the universe (if there is any beginning or edge). It’s always that way, and it’s even more obvious with AI-generated images.

The images are very much co-created by me, Midjourney, innumerable artists whose works have informed the AI, and all of existence.

I have also started an Instagram account for my AI image experiments.

Note: Specific prompt for the image above -> Neo-druid shaman in Tokyo 2300 rain dramatic colorful backlighting semi-realistic

When we don’t know how little we know

If we are familiar with a topic, it’s often easy to recognize how little novices know or understand about it, and it’s easy to recognize their misconceptions and limitations.

And the more we are familiar with any topic, the more we tend to realize how little we know. And we tend to realize that this goes for any area of life or knowledge. We tend to find intellectual humility. (Of course, there are exceptions.)

None of us know what we don’t know. But we can know generally how little we know. We can find some intellectual humility and curiosity and even appreciation for the beauty of knowing little, no matter how much we know about something in a conventional sense.

The more mature and experienced we are, the more we tend to viscerally know how little we know.

As usual, there is a lot more to say about this.

For instance, what do I mean by knowing little? Don’t some know a lot about certain things? Yes, of course. We can have a lot of experience in certain fields and areas of life. And even then, what we think we know may not be entirely accurate. There is always more to be familiar with and learn. Our understanding will change with new insights and experiences, sometimes incrementally and sometimes dramatically. There may be other contexts to understand it within that makes as much or more sense, that will put everything in a new light, and may even turn everything upside-down and inside-out. In the bigger picture, what we are familiar with and think we know – as individuals and collectively – is a drop in the ocean compared to what there is to experience and understand. And we always think we know, we don’t actually know.

Where do I think I know a lot? Perhaps about this particular topic since it’s been of interest to me since my early teens. (Philosophy and methods of science.) Also, perhaps about the essence of awakening. (Although I am very aware that here, there is infinitely further to go and my sense of who and what I am can and likely will change dramatically as life continues to explore this through and as me.) And certainly any time I stress myself by holding any thought as true. (Stress is a sign my system holds certain thoughts and assumptions as true, and that these may not be consciously identified and certainly are not thoroughly investigated so I can find what’s already more true for me.)

What are some examples of where I tend to notice how little folks know about a topic, even if they may assume they know a lot? I sometimes notice it in news stories on topics I am relatively familiar with. I sometimes notice it in articles summarizing a field I am more familiar with than the author. I sometimes notice it in people who are exploring spirituality and awakening and have simplistic notions that betray a lack of experience or go into wishful or fearful thinking that reflects unexamined projections. I see it in some who reject the insights and expertise of professionals in a field and think they know more than them based on having read a few articles on the internet or listened to some podcasts.

Why is this important? It’s of vital importance since we need to be well informed to make good choices, both at an individual and collective level. If we are to deal with the huge challenges we are faced with these days – ecological crisis, mass migrations, pandemics, hunger, poverty – we need to be well informed and make good collective decisions. And we cannot do that if we are misled and assume we know more than people who have spent their life studying certain fields, or if a significant portion of the population misleads themselves in that way.

How do we balance knowing and knowing we don’t know? It’s not necessarily that difficult since they are two different things. We know more or less about certain topics and areas of life in a conventional sense, and this is based on data and logic that’s more or less solid and our assumptions work more or less well when tested out in practice. And no matter what, there is always more to know, our context for understanding may and probably will change, and we always think we know even when our assumptions are based on solid data and logic and work well in practice.

Are there not cases where experts are mistaken? Or intentionally mislead people? Yes, of course. Experts are human and make mistakes. Whole fields change over time and what’s taken as gospel truth today will be seen as old misconceptions a decade or century from now. And that doesn’t mean we need to wholesale reject the current content of science or mainstream views or assume we know more than experts just because we read or heard something. We need to know how little we know. In most cases, mainstream science is the best we have right now, even as we know the content of science changes with time.

Why do we sometimes like to think we know more than we do? It’s partly from a lack of experience and maturity. And there are likely also psychological dynamics at play. For instance, we may go into those ideas to compensate for a sense of lack or inferiority. The more at peace we are with ourselves, and the more psychologically healthy we are, the easier is for us to find peace with, genuinely appreciate, and live from the receptivity of not-knowing and knowing how little we know.

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Would it hold up in a court of law?

This is the question I ask myself when I am faced with a piece of information.

Would it hold up in a court of law?

If yes, I assign it a little more weight in a practical sense. It’s a bit more likely to be somewhat accurate.

If not, I put it on the “likely nonsense” shelf. Or, if I feel generous, the “maybe” shelf.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND UFO STORIES

Nearly all conspiracy theories fall short of this test. They are typically founded on bad logic and bad data, and would not hold up in any court of law.

The same goes for most UFO stories and similar. A few are supported by multiple sources of apparently solid data. (For instance, the Ariel school phenomenon and the US Navy UFO sightings in recent years.) And most would not hold up in a court of law.

WHAT ABOUT AWAKENING?

So what about awakening? Would it hold up in a court of law?

Maybe. And, in reality, no. And that’s not a bad thing.

Maybe, because it’s been reported by many people across times and cultures. If described logically and without relying on too much jargon, it makes sense to a receptive mind. And it’s something we all can check out for ourselves with some guidance. (Sometimes even relatively quickly, for instance using the Big Mind process or Headless experiments.)

And likely not. It’s not something that can be “proven” outside of logic and our own immediate noticing. It’s not something widely accepted in our culture, which also plays a role. And it hasn’t been thoroughly explored and described by science yet, although that can and maybe will happen in time.

In many ways, it’s a blessing that it likely wouldn’t hold up in court. It means we have to rely on our own explorations and check it out for ourselves. We cannot take anyone’s word for it.

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Adyashanti: Recognizing our imperfection takes a lot of humility

Recognizing our imperfection takes a lot of humility. Spiritual people, for all their desire to be humble, are often not humble. They’re kind of horrified at their own imperfection.

– Adyashanti, Commitment to Truth and Love

This quote touches on many topics. 

SECRET IDEALS OF PERFECTION

These days, many who are into spirituality are a little more sophisticated than this. We know it’s better to embrace ourselves as we are. We know it’s better for us psychologically. We know that if our spirituality is about truth and love, then we need to be honest with ourselves and find love for ourselves as we are. 

We know that ideas of perfection are human-made and often used to control people. And in our modern culture, ideals of perfection are used to encourage us to be good consumers and buy products that will help us appear more perfect.

And yet, many of us are also caught up in some ideas and shoulds around perfection. Secretly, somewhere in us, we wish to live up to certain ideas of perfection. Often because ideas and shoulds are common in our culture and we have absorbed them almost without noticing from early childhood, and we are now applying these secret shoulds to our approach to spirituality.

What are these images? What are the images of perfection I wish to live up to? How does it influence how I see myself and how I present myself to others and the world? What happens when I try to live up to these images? What’s the cost? What am I trying to achieve? What am I afraid would happen if I don’t live up to these images of perfection? Do I assume others will judge me? That God will judge me? That I won’t get what I want? 

SPIRITUALITY AND PERFECTION

Why is spirituality sometimes associated with perfection?

Is it because God or the divine, almost by definition, is perfect, so if we aim to connect with the divine we too should be perfect? Or because we assume we need to be perfect to be saved, whatever saved is for us? Or is it as simple as wanting to be accepted by others? Or ourselves?

Or by an image of our parents from when we were little and needed and wanted their acceptance, love, and protection?

What form does this drive to perfection take for us? And for the spiritual tradition we are in? Or the culture we grew up in?

And more generally, what form does this tend to take in the different spiritual traditions? Are there traditions where we find less of this? Or do some here too try to live up to certain ideas of perfection even if they, on the surface, may appear not to?

EXPLORING IT FOR OURSELVES

As usual, this is a fertile ground for exploration.

What beliefs, assumptions, and identities do I have about this? What do I find when I investigate these? How would it be to find love for the parts of me scared of imperfection? How would it be to find peace with what I fear the most would happen if I am imperfect or seen to be imperfect? 

What are the genuine upsides of embracing my imperfection? The general answer for me is that it’s a relief to not have to try to live up to images of perfection. It helps me find and embrace more of my wholeness. It gives me a wider repertoire. It helps me more genuinely connect with others. It helps me recognize we are all in the same boat.

More importantly, when I look at specific situations and specific ways I try to live up to perfection, what genuine benefits do I find in embracing my imperfections?

Can I find safe spaces for exploring embracing my imperfections? Perhaps in a journal? With a good therapist? With accepting and relatively mature friends? Can I find ways to talk about it that make it easier for me to embrace it?

And maybe most directly, how is it to meet and get to know my fear of what may happen if I don’t try to live up to perfection? How is it to feel it in my body? Allow it? Notice it’s already allowed? See what it really wants (love? acceptance? safety? support?) and give that to it? Notice its nature? Notice how its nature is my nature? Rest in that noticing?

FINDING WHAT I AM

If I find what I am, my nature, does this change these dynamics? Does it create a different context for exploring all of this? 

I may find myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me. I may find myself as that which the world to me – this human self, the wider world, and any other content of consciousness – happens within and as. Here, there is a kind of perfection. Nothing is missing. It’s all there is. And yet, it also includes and embraces and IS all the apparent imperfections in me and the world. 

This can help me shift my relationship with imperfections in a few different ways. The perfection inherent in what I am makes it easier for me to embrace the many apparent imperfections as who I am. I can recognize my nature even in the imperfections, they too happen within and as what I am. Noticing my nature helps me explore my old beliefs and assumptions and find what’s more true for me. And finding myself as oneness and love helps me find love for these parts of me. 

THE MESSINESS OF ALL OF IT

When it’s written out like this, it can seem like a relatively simple and clean process. And that’s one of the ways we can try to live up to some ideal of perfection. We may try to live up to how someone else has described something.

In reality, the process is typically far from simple, clean, and perfect. When it’s lived, this process, as so much else, is flawed, messy, and imperfect. And It’s an ongoing process without a finishing line.

And that’s OK. That’s life. That’s how it is for all of us. 

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How do we know what’s true? (part one)

There is no single simple answer. 

THE LIMITS OF THOUGHTS

In a more absolute sense, no thought can reflect any final, full, or absolute truth.

Thoughts are questions about the world.

They are mental representations meant to help us orient and function in the world.

They are different in kind from what they refer to. And they simplify.

Reality is always more than and different from any thought. And it’s also inherently simpler than any thought.

For all of these reasons, thoughts are unable to capture any final, full, or absolute truth. 

NAVIGATING IN THE WORLD

When it comes to our life in the world, we need to use our discernment and methods to discern what’s more or less accurate in a conventional sense. 

If possible, we can try something out for ourselves. Someone said something, and we check it out. Most of what I write about in these articles is something we can check out for ourselves and see what we find. And sometimes it requires some guidance and persistence over time. 

If we are told something we cannot, or cannot yet, check out for ourselves, we can put it on the “this person said it and I don’t know” shelf AKA the “maybe” shelf. Depending on the solidity of the data and the logic, and how well it fits the majority of the data, we can hold it as more or less reliable.

We can be aware of biases. We all have biases from our biology and evolution, from our culture and society, from whatever subcultures we are familiar with and resonate with, and our personal experiences, inclinations, preferences, and hangups. What may the biases of the source be? What are my biases, and how do they color how I relate to what this source said? 

Do I have an emotional attachment to a certain view? Do I feel I need to defend it? Does it bring up reactivity in me? If so, it’s a clear sign that I may be caught up in an emotional issue and not be so clearheaded in how I relate to it. 

Another side of this is the weight of the source. Does it align with how experts in the field generally see it? Does it fit the highest quality data and the majority of the data we have? Does it come from someone who has the credentials in the field? That gives it more weight, although these views are also provisional and up for revision in the face of better knowledge. 

Some like to say that our views and opinions on a range of issues are equivalent. “You say that and I say this, and they are equal in value.” That’s obviously not accurate. Some have far more experience and insights into a particular issue. And some views are supported by far more and higher quality data than other views. And that gives it more weight. (It may still be wrong, although it’s less likely to be grossly wrong.) 

In addition, I like to examine the practical effects of certain views. Does it help me live with kindness, receptivity, and curiosity? If so, I’ll give it more weight. 

Ultimately, solid data is what determines what’s true. For instance, Putin says the war against Ukraine is to “denazify” the country. The numbers show that only about 2% of the population vote for right-wing parties, and they elected a Jewish president. This alone shows that Putin’s argument is out of alignment with reality. Similarly, when it comes to the question about the risk of taking the covid vaccine, we can look at the numbers. Hospitals were full of patients with covid, not people who were there because of how their bodies responded to the vaccine. Simple numbers show us something about reality. And there is, of course, a need for nuance and discernment here too.

DISCERNMENT

Yes, it’s true that we cannot know anything for certain, and even our most cherished assumptions are up for revision. Much of what people assumed about the world one or five hundred years ago is different from how we see the world today. 

And it’s also true that views are more or less accurate in a conventional sense, and we can learn discernment to arrive at the views that have the best chance of being accurate. 

This is about learning methods for evaluating views and data, examining sources, knowing a bit about the history of ideas and science, being aware of one’s own biases, and being honest with oneself.

In part two of this article, I’ll write about what we may discover if we take a closer look at this topic.

TRUTH VS VALIDITY

Why do I write about validity and not truth?

It’s mainly because the word “truth” often comes with some unfortunate associations. It can make it sound as if thoughts can hold a full, final, and absolute truth, and that’s obviously not true (!).

Validity is a bit more gentle and open-ended. A thought can have validity, in one way or another, without holding any final, full, or absolute truth.

Using the word “validity” instead of “truth” can help us hold it a bit more lightly and with more curiosity.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that validity in a conventional sense can be more or less supported by solid data, it can be supported by varying amounts of data, it can be more or less logically coherent, and so on.

Note: All of this seems obvious and what many of us learn early in life. So why do I bother writing about it? Because some seem to – against better knowledge? – take a view that “my opinion is as good as yours” when that’s clearly not the case. On many topics, some have a far more informed view, and some views are far more grounded in experience, good data, and good logic. That doesn’t mean we should automatically accept the conclusions or advice of others (I have received terrible advice from doctors). But it does mean that a measure of intellectual honesty and humility is appropriate and useful.

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Discrediting a view by calling it mainstream

I see a trend in social media where some (often conspiracy theorists?) not only criticize others for taking a mainstream view. They take it a step further and try to discredit a view by calling it mainstream.

I am not particularly a fan of everything mainstream. Many of the major problems in our society are almost by definition mainstream. This includes an economic and other social systems that don’t take ecological realities into account, and where an ordinary life within this system inevitably is part of the problem and damages the natural systems we depend on for literally everything.

And yet, there are many problems inherent in disqualifying a view just because you see it as mainstream.

IT MUDDLES THE WATER

By doing so, you chose to focus on a label or characteristic of a view rather than the content. You bring attention away from the content of the argument. You resort to name-calling instead of presenting your case with solid logic and data.

YOU MAY HAVE YOUR OWN MAINSTREAM

Most of us have our own mainstream. We often take on the mainstream views in the subculture or subcultures we resonate and identify with.

If we criticize others for mainstream views, we may overlook that we have our own subculture that we get our information and views from. This is our own mainstream.

We are doing what we criticize others for.

In this case, when people try to discredit a view by calling it mainstream, they have adopted a rhetoric that’s mainstream in their own subculture.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE “MAINSTREAM”?

To me, it seems a fuzzy concept and it obviously depends on culture, time, and subculture.

What do you consider mainstream?

Is it anything you or your favorite subculture happen to disagree with?

What within the mainstream do you embrace? What do you reject? Why?

Do you consider Noam Chomsky mainstream? University professors and researchers who are deeply knowledgable of and critical of how society works, and yet reach different conclusions from you? Your friend who is a doctor and has a different and more informed view on vaccines than you?

THE DIVERSITY WITHIN THE MAINSTREAM

What some call “mainstream” is, in reality, wildly diverse.

It’s not at all one set of opinions and views that everyone takes on board. 

Within our culture – and within media, politics, and science – we find a range of different views and opinions. You typically don’t have to look far to find something that’s quite different from what may appear mainstream at first glance.

You may even find a different set of data than what most use. The question here is: How solid is this data? Would it hold up in court? Would it be the type of data a reputable reporter would rely on? Even in science, it’s often easy to find data that seems to go against the typical findings in the field. In 99.9% of the cases, it’s one of the inevitable occasional statistical outliers that cannot be replicated because there is nothing there. Or the result came from weak or bad methodology and cannot be replicated with better methodology.

WHAT YOU DISMISS AS MAINSTREAM MAY BE AN INFORMED VIEW

Many within the mainstream are good critical thinkers, have a solid knowledge of their field, have no illusions about how society works, may be well aware of the views and information you rely on, and still reach a different conclusion from you. 

What looks mainstream may well be founded on critical thinking, deep knowledge about a topic, and a long journey to arrive at that particular view. What looks mainstream is often not adopted wholesale or without discernment. 

HABITUAL REJECTION?

Do you habitually reject something just because you consider it mainstream?

If we habitually react to certain views by attaching to an opposing or contrarian view, there isn’t much discernment there. We are just reacting.

WHEN I DO THE SAME

When do I disqualify a view just because I consider I assume it fits a certain category?

I sometimes do it with conspiracy theories. 

If I disqualify a view just because it’s a conspiracy theory, I do the same. Although I have to admit many of these are recycled and familiar and I am aware of the flawed logic and flawed data it’s founded on. 

ADULT VS REBELLIOUS TEENAGER DYNAMIC

When people dismiss a view by referring to it as mainstream, it’s an obvious logical fallacy. 

For me, it feels a bit embarrassing to even write about this topic, although it does transfer to other areas that are more interesting. (For instance, where do I do the same?) 

Often, when people address these topics, it can sound like an annoying adult admonishing rebellious teenagers. And that’s perhaps not a coincidence. Some of the ones who habitually criticize something because it’s mainstream behave like rebellious teenagers. They seem to have recently discovered some of the many problems inherent in how our society works and react to them by rejecting whatever is mainstream without much discernment.

They act on reactivity. They lack a more nuanced understanding and approach. They often throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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Let’s be scared together!

In a recent Star Trek Discovery episode (S04E08), Stamets and Culber have a dialog.

Culber is experiencing guilt and anxiety, and instead of trying to make it go away, Stamets lists the reasons he too experiences anxiety and says: Let’s be scared together! (Paraphrased.)

It’s beautiful to see this type of mature interaction in a TV series or movie and shows that at least one of the writers on the series has some good psychological insight. It does reflect a fashionable approach within psychology, especially on the US west coast, and it also reflects timeless human wisdom.

When we are experiencing something difficult, what we often most need is just to be with someone. We don’t necessarily need to fix it. We may not need solutions. At least not right away. And we definitely don’t need someone to minimize it, pretend it’s not valid, or “fix” it with an overly sunny look at the situation. We need company.

And that’s how it is with our inner community as well. When we have anxiety, distress, anger, or something else coming up, what these parts of us most need – at first – is for us to be with them. To allow. Witness. Know that it’s OK to experience these things. And so on.

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Putin as a mirror

Anything in the world is a mirror for ourselves.

What stories do I have about Putin? If I turn these stories around, can I find specific examples of how these stories are true about me? Now and in the past?

HE IS UNHINGED

I see him as unhinged from reality.

When I am unhinged from reality? When I go into reactivity in how I see him and the war, my views inevitably get more one-sided and polarized. They may not be wrong, but I may miss out on the bigger picture. For instance, I may miss out on remembering that many or most Russians may not want this war, and many or most of the Russian soldiers may not want it.

HE IS HEARTLESS

I see him as heartless and prioritizing his own ambitions over the suffering of others.

How do I do that now? When I go into reactivity in how I see Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, I tend to lose my compassion and empathy. I may indulge in my own anger and reactivity, and forget about the suffering of the many impacted by this war – the Ukrainians and also the Russian soldiers and their families. I distance myself from this suffering. I don’t allow my empathy for their suffering to work on me and transform me. (To open my heart and mind.)

HE IS REACTIVE

I see him as reacting to his own pain in ways that creates pain for others.

When do I do the same? Again, when I go into reactivity in how I see the Ukrainian invasion, I get more rigid in my views and more heartless. My mind and heart close. And that inevitably creates some pain and suffering for me and those around me. It may just be that I am a bit more cold, distant, and distracted in my interactions, and that impacts me and others.

Whenever I react to my own pain instead of meeting it and examining it, I tend to create more pain for myself and others. My views get more rigid. I act from that rigidity. I am less receptive. I have less empathy and compassion for myself and others. I am less wise. I am less kind.

WHAT THIS EXAMINATION DOES AND DOESN’T DO

Finding in me what I see in Putin does not in any way make what he does any more right. It’s still a crime. It’s still deeply immoral. It’s still deeply unnecessary. It’s still profoundly reckless and puts the whole world at risk. It’s something I will act to prevent or change, to the small extent I can.

Also, finding in myself what I see in him doesn’t mean it’s not also there in him, and sometimes expressed in a more extreme way. In a conventional sense, he does seem unhinged from reality. (Judging from his justifications for invading Ukraine, and as most authoritarian leaders after years in power.) He does seem heartless. (Prioritizing his personal pet plans over the suffering of millions.) And he does seem reactive. (Looking at how he describes a world opposing his actions, and footage showing how he treats his subordinates.)

And this examination may help me respond and act a bit more from clarity and kindness, and less from reactivity. And that’s more than worth it.

Note: This is a very simplified version of The Work of Byron Katie, and doing it more thoroughly – with the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet and the four questions and turnarounds, allows the process to work on us far more deeply.

Why did I choose this picture of Putin? Because Putin seems to – for whatever reason – hate what he sees as weakness which for him includes feminine men and gays. So why not depict him as a drag queen? It’s a reminder that he has those sides too, as we all do. If he felt freer and embraced more of himself, perhaps that’s what he would do instead of waging war?

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 55

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

OPINIONS AND WHAT THEY ARE ROOTED IN

Some people like to pretend that their opinions about something are equal to the views of others.

One person’s opinion is equally valid as someone else’s, right?

Wrong. This is obviously wrong even on the surface.

Yes, we have views, orientations, and opinions. Yes, none of us can know for certain our view is absolutely true. Yes, our views are always provisional and up for revision.

And no, they are not equal.

They are more or less rooted in solid data and theory.

The more it’s rooted in solid data and theory, and the more it has been examined and tested and found to hold up, the more weight a view holds.

For instance, one outlier academic study that goes against what innumerable solid studies have found does not hold much weight. It can be interesting. It may be worth looking into it further and doing more research. And, in itself, it’s not worth much.

We also know this from daily life. If a group of people see and touch a tree, and one insists that the tree is not there, it’s pretty safe to assume we can disregard the outlier view. There is always a very small chance the person is right, one way or another, but for practical purposes, we can set it aside.

This is basic common sense that some seem to disregard these days.

QUESTIONING THE MAINSTREAM VIEW?

Someone on social media wrote: I love Joe Rogan because the dares to question the mainstream view.

My response is: Anyone can – and often do – question the mainstream view. And if it’s rooted in bad logic and bad data, as is the case of Joe Rogan, then it’s not worth much. It’s just more noise and distraction.

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Why are we fascinated by stories of crime and mystery?

Why is the crime and mystery genre so popular?

I don’t have any original suggestions, but I guess it’s because…

We are fascinated by mysteries. This may be built into us through evolution since it gives us a survival advantage to find answers to mysteries. Knowing something gives us an advantage over not knowing it.

Stories tell us something about life. Being drawn to and fascinated by stories helps us learn something about our culture, about people, about life, and ourselves. This too gives us a survival advantage and may well be built into us through evolution.

Stories can help us get in touch with different sides of ourselves. Just like a dream, all the different characters, settings, and dynamics in a story reflect something in us and our life. This is inherently fascinating, even if we are unaware of this aspect of it.

It’s part of our current western culture. We may have childhood memories of watching, reading, or listening to mysteries and it feels familiar and comfortable.

It’s comforting to see fiction crime solved. It gives us a temporary sense that everything, or at least something, is right with the world. (There is a reason there is a resolution to nearly 100% of crime and mystery stories. It feels more satisfying to most people.)

If it’s part of a series with recurrent characters, the setting can feel comfortable and familiar.

If we experience our life as generally safe and predictable, it can give us a temporary sense of suspense and mystery. It balances out our daily life.

It’s a distraction from our own life. It’s fascinating. It’s not our life. So it helps us temporarily “forget” about our own life with our all-too-familiar challenges, boredom, or whatever it may be.

Image: From NRK’s radio drama Jernvognen.

The seed for this article: During a recent illness, I got back into listening to old classic Norwegian radio drama from NRK.

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 54

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

WHY DO PEOPLE IN THE WELLNESS WORLD SO EASILY MISLEAD THEMSELVES?

Quite a few people in the wellness world buy into anti-pandemic measures views and conspiracy theories in general.

Why? Why do they seem so gullible?

I suspect it may be connected with several things.

They may not have a very solid education. They may not be trained in the history of science, logical fallacies, media literacy, and so on.

They may be a bit naive about the world. They may not previously have known about the many flaws inherent in just about anything humans do. And they don’t have a more nuanced and mature view which leads to discernment and knowing that we don’t always have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

They may have an outsider identity and they may be suspicious of the mainstream. So they automatically gravitate to any view opposed to the mainstream medical views.

They have found their own “alternative mainstream” and absorb the views held in that subculture. They want to belong. They want to assume they got it.

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Trauma & being against pandemic measures & conspiracy theories

The results showed that the more trauma people had experienced in childhood, the more likely they were to mistrust NHS Covid-19 information, to feel unfairly restricted by the government and to support the end of mandatory face masks.

– Covid vaccine hesitancy could be linked to childhood trauma, research finds, The Guardian, February 1, 2022

I have long suspected this connection, and have written about it in previous articles.

ANTI-PANDEMIC MEASURES AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Not everyone who criticises the pandemic measures is into conspiracy theories. Some rely on good data, take a reasonable and informed approach, and chose to not get vaccinated and so on, for whatever reason.

And from what I have seen, it does seem that many who are against the pandemic measures do it out of reactivity and their reasoning is rooted in bad logic and bad data and in some form of unsupported conspiracy theory. This is the group I’ll focus on below.

INDIVIDUALS VS GROUPS

It doesn’t mean that every single person opposed to the measures has a lot of trauma in their system. And it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone with trauma goes into these views.

At a group level, research suggests this tendency. And at an individual level, there is a lot of variation.

TRAUMA AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Several studies have found connections between trauma and conspiracy theories. (Here is one of several.)

We all deal with trauma, emotional pain, and discomfort in different ways. We can face it head-on and work on it. We can try to make it go away. Or, most commonly, we distract ourselves from it.

And one way we can distract ourselves from it is by going into ideologies. And one type of ideology is conspiracy theories.

For some people, conspiracy theories is the perfect distraction. The pandemic has given more people time to go down rabbit holes on the internet and getting into echo chambers. Conspiracy theories can be exciting since we uncover hidden information. It has good guys and bad guys. It’s global and epic. We know something others don’t. It has a lot of drama. And we can create more drama by going into conflicts with friends and family about it.

In short, it has everything for us to get completely absorbed into it and the drama in it, which creates the perfect distraction from our own pain.

HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE

When we look at history, we see that conspiracy theories tend to flourish during pandemics and other collectively challenging times. People are scared and react to that fear by distrusting authorities and trying to find someone to blame.

The conspiracy theories we see today follow the pattern we see from history. History repeats itself, which seems to be missed by many who are into conspiracy theories these days.

We also know that conspiracy theorists from history tend to see themselves as outsiders, ignored, and relatively powerless. It’s not a stretch to imagine that many of these were traumatized from a challenging life and conditions created by an unjust social system. Their reaction is understandable and misguided, and distracts from the real changes needed to change a system that only works for some.

TRAUMA BEHAVIOR & CONSPIRACY THEORIES

What is trauma behavior?

When we experience strong emotional pain or discomfort, we find ways to deal with it.

In general, we have two options. We may meet it, befriend it, find peace with it, heal our relationship with it, invite in healing for the issue, and so on. We may try to distract ourselves from it or make it go away. Or we shift between both.

If we try to distract ourselves from it, we tend to do it in a slightly obsessive way, whether we chose food, sex, entertainment, work, exercise, drugs, nature, spirituality, ideologies, or something else.

And if we try to make it go away, that too can take on a slightly obsessive flavor, whether we try to make it go away through healing, spirituality, or something else.

It seems that for some, conspiracy theories is the perfect distraction from emotional pain.

They may have an outsider identity, and conspiracy theories fits their outsider identity. They may have a victim identity, and conspiracy theories feed into their victim identity. They may get caught up in the entertainment and excitement of discovering new and previously hidden things. They may get to fuel their image of themselves as people on the side of the good and against some evil conspiracy. They may get to feel smart. They get caught up in the drama of the conspiracy theories, and the drama between those into conspiracy theories and those who are not into them. And so on. And all of this serves as a perfect distraction.

PERSONAL OBSERVATION

As mentioned, I have long suspected the trauma-conspiracy theory connection.

Why?

One reason is what I mentioned above. We all deal with our pain, trauma, and discomfort in different ways. And one way is to get into ideologies and things like conspiracy theories.

I also see typical trauma behavior among many who are into conspiracy theories. They seem reactive. Defensive. Procetylizing. Wanting others to understand and agree. Feel like and outsider. Go into a victim position. Become obsessive about it. Use bad logic and bad data to support their views. Resort to name calling. Act like a somewhat immature or even damaged child or teenager. And so on.

What do I base this on?

Partly, it comes from working on my own trauma and emotional pain, and seeing the many ways I have dealt with it. I have done, and sometimes do, what I see in them.

Partly, it’s from history and historical patterns repeating themselves.

Partly, it’s from current research on trauma and conspiracy theories.

And partly, it’s from having worked as a trauma therapists and seeing a lot of the many ways people deal with trauma.

BEING DISCERNING IN HOW TO USE THIS INFORMATION

It’s important to do solid research on these connections, and that research is still in its infancy.

It’s also important to know how to use, and how NOT to use, this information.

We can use it when we discuss anti-pandemic views and conspiracy theories at a group level. We can use it as yet another argument for trauma-informed schools and institutions in general, and working to prevent and heal trauma.

And when it comes to discussing specifics – around vaccines, masks, and so on – it’s better to stay on topic and avoid using it against someone. (In that context, it’s an ad hominem argument).

ADDITIONAL REFLECTIONS….

This is more related to the bigger picture of conspiracy theories.

THE SEED OF TRUTH IN CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There is a seed of truth in many conspiracy theories. Some have a strong reaction to vaccines and get seriously ill or even die. (This is their own body’s reaction to the vaccine, and some react to the virus in a similar way.) The medical industry is in it for the money, not primarily to help people. The multinational corporations have a way too strong influence on policies and some media.

Most conspiracy theories take these seeds of truth to the extreme without supporting it in good data and without too much nuance and maturity.

In rare cases, conspiracy theories are true. When these have been revealed through history, it’s typically because of the work of journalists, historians, or even government agencies. Not because of some people on YouTube or a podcast.

And, in general, the problems we see in the world today are systemic. They are a natural consequence of the system we have. They don’t require or depend on some secret and sinister conspiracy of certain people or groups. (Although, of course, it is in the short-term interest of some groups that the current systemic problems continue.)

“I AM NOT A CONSPIRACY THEORIST, YOU ARE IDIOTS”

I saw someone posting this on social media, apparently in all seriousness.

Of course, from the perspective of conspiracy theorists, what I write here is nonsense.

They are not conspiracy theorists. They have just uncovered the truth.

It’s the rest of us who have bought into the mainstream narrative.

In fairness, from their own perspective, their reactions make sense. They get frustrated, angry, defensive, and reactive. Not because they are caught up in trauma but because they have uncovered a terrible truth that most are oblivious to.

THE PEACE IN TRUTH

When we are very honest with ourselves, we tend to find peace.

What would that look like for me?

Of course, I cannot know anything for certain. For all I know, what these people are saying is true.

And yet, it’s not very likely.

The mRNA vaccine seems relatively safe based on twenty years of testing and research, what we see in the world so far, and knowing how it works. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection, which in term reduces the rate of transmission. And vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. And, of course, it’s possible we’ll see more problems with the vaccine down the road. That’s always possible with any medication.

Masks definitely work in reducing the risk of transmission from droplets. They often reduce the viral load when someone gets infected, and that makes a big difference. And research show they are effective in reducing transmission.

Some folks refer to single studies showing something different from the mainstream view. There will always be outliers. That’s statistics. For the results to have any value, it needs to be replicated several times – by reputable researchers using solid methodology. A single outlier, in itself, means nothing.

And when it comes to the more grand conspiracy theories, is it really likely that a large and very diverse group of people around the world – with widely different political views and orientations –would be in on it?

I cannot know for certain. And that doesn’t mean that I cannot know with a relatively high degree of certainty in a conventional sense, especially when it’s based on history, science, and logic.

For me, this is the most accurate and honest.

What would be more honest for them? I cannot know, of course. But I assume it may be that they too cannot know for certain. And perhaps, somewhere, they know their data and logic doesn’t always hold up.

When I come from reactivity and defensiveness, it’s because I am holding onto a story that I know is not true the way I pretend it is. I assume it’s the same for them. They know they cannot know, and they may suspect their logic and data are flimsy, so they get reactive and defensive when they see their views as threatened.

MATURING OUT OF IT?

To me, conspiracy theorists often appear without too much nuance and maturity, especially when they have the zeal of the newly converted.

So will they mature out of it?

I am not sure.

Some will if they are open to it feel they have the space to do.

And some may not. They may have built an identity and community around conspiracy theoris. They may have burnt intellectual and social bridges. They may feel too much backed into a corner by the reaction of family and friends. And if they have specific predictions that don’t come true, they may go into explanations that fit their existing worldview.

SUMMARY

This is a topic that’s both relatively simple and complex.

The pandemic-related conspiracy theories we see today follow what we have seen in other pandemics. They follow a historic pattern and were predictable even before the pandemic happened.

The people who get into these conspiracy theories tend to have an outsider identity, sometimes a victim identity, and may have more-than-average trauma in their system.

There are often seeds of truth in conspiracy theories, and these seeds are typically more connected to systemic problems than any intentional or coordinated conspiracy.

Knowing about the trauma connection is important at a social level, and it reinforces the need for a more trauma-informed society and institutions, and a better system for helping people with their pain and trauma. Mainly, it reminds us of the need for deep systemic changes.

When discussing these issues, it’s most helpful to stay on the topic and avoid ad hominem arguments.

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Perceiving from within our biases and what’s familiar to us

One of the reasons I enjoy watching old movies is to see how our culture changes over time.

I watched an episode of MASH earlier today, and the change from then to now was pretty obvious. The episode was from the last season, so it was more heartfelt and touched on more serious issues, but it was still a child of its time.

With a few exceptions, MASH is written and seen from the white male perspective. Women, Koreans, and others all play more peripheral supporting roles.

If it was made today, it would likely focus a lot more on the lives and perspectives of women and Koreans, and that would make it far more rich, textured, and nuanced. It would open up story possibilities far beyond what they were able to do with their original and more narrow perspective.

It’s always this way. We are a child of our culture and times. We don’t see what we don’t see. We have our biases and expectations and what we are familiar with, and we are not familiar with what’s outside of that. In ten and twenty and a hundred years, we are the ones who are obviously stuck within too narrow views.

It’s not a bad thing. It’s natural and ultimately innocent. (Although it does have consequences for ourselves and others.) It’s inevitable. It creates a container for exploring life in a certain way. It sets the stage of explorations at the boundaries of what’s familiar to us. And it gives something new to each generation.

It’s an example of the universe, life, and existence expressing, exploring, and experiencing itself in always new ways.

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 53

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

THE TRUTH IN THE SEEDS OF CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There are several relatively obvious truths in the seed of many conspiracy theories.

The medical industry is in it for profit. (Obviously, since we live in a capitalist world and generating profit for the shareholders is the main aim of any business.) The medical industry is corrupt. (Of course, since they are powerful and in it for the profit.) Multinational corporations influence and partly control politicians and media. (Again, obviously, since they can and it helps them in generating profit.) When power is removed from people, and the bottom-up vs top-down balance is too far in the latter direction, it’s obviously not good. (And it happens because there is always a shift between the two.) The current system is rigged to benefit the already powerful. (It was set up that way, so it obviously works that way.)

All of this is obvious. It’s what any moderately informed young teenager knows.

I easily agree with all of this and more. I have known about it for almost my whole life, apart from the very first years.

And yet, I don’t agree with the conclusions of conspiracy theorists.

I know all of this and more, and I still agree with the pandemic measures. They are common-sense measures that history shows works. They are what epidemiologists have studied and found works for decades. They are not something anyone made up now.

I know this and more, and see it as systemic and not something that requires sinister scheming from any one group of people.

WILLING TO SACRIFICE OTHERS TO BE A REBELLIOUS TEENAGER

When I see people who have anti-mask and anti-vaccination views, I often see people willing to sacrifice others in order to make a point. They are willing to sacrifice others so they can be rebellious teenagers.

Yes, I agree with a lot of their reasons. (The ones grounded in reality, not the conspiracy theories). And I don’t agree at all with their conclusion.

I know the medical industry is corrupt. Media is owned by multinational corporations. Politicians are influenced by the interests of big money. Even a moderately well-informed teenager knows that.

At the same time, I know the history of pandemics. I know what history shows us is working and not working in terms of limiting the impact of pandemics. I know something about epidemiology. I know that the pandemic measures we see today are not at all invented now. They are well tested, make sense, and are aimed at limiting the impact of the pandemics. I know that in a time of crisis, the government – which is not “other” but us collectively – needs to take stronger control.

So even knowing all the things I know about the system we live within, I chose to wear a mask and take the vaccine and do the other things. I do it because it’s the responsible thing to do. I do it to protect the most vulnerable among us. I do it because not doing it is not going to help the situation in any way at all.

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Awakening doesn’t have anything to do with spirituality or religion

This is true in one sense, and not another.

AWAKENING DOESN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH SPIRITUALITY OR RELIGION

Awakening doesn’t depend on spirituality or religion. It’s what we already are noticing itself.

It’s about noticing what we are to ourselves in our own first-person experience, and then see how it is to live from this noticing.

For me, I find my nature more fundamentally is capacity for the world as it appears to me, for all the content of my experience. My nature, or “I”, am what all my experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happen within and as.

Noticing this doesn’t require or depend on any spirituality or religion. It’s something that will, in some cases, happen naturally. It’s already here. It’s about noticing what’s here.

AWAKENING DOES HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH SPIRITUALITY OR RELIGION

At the same time, awakening does obviously have something to do with spirituality and religion.

Some aspects of spirituality and religion reflect insights from awakening and the life that happens naturally within awakening. Although most or nearly all of it is partially obscured by culture and tradition, and the assumptions and misconceptions of people who were more focused on philosophy than immediate noticing.

Some aspects of spirituality and religion are aimed at helping us mimic living from noticing what we are. This can include guidelines for living, and it often includes heart-centered practices.

Some aspects of spirituality and religion are pointers and practices inviting us to notice for ourselves what we are and our more fundamental nature.

HELPFUL DISTINCTION

For me, this is a helpful – although perhaps very obvious – distinction.

Awakening itself doesn’t have anything to do with spirituality, religion, or anything within culture. It’s more fundamental than that.

Also, the pointers and practices within spirituality and religion are not awakening. At most, they only invite us to discover it for ourselves. In this context, they don’t have more value than a sign pointing us in a certain direction.

And certain aspects of spirituality and religion do reflect awakening and point to awakening.

WHAT IF WE WISH TO NOTICE FOR OURSELVES?

What’s the practical side of this? What if we want to explore what we are in our own first-person experience?

Does that require spirituality or religion?

The answer may be yes and no.

Sometimes, what we are spontaneously notices itself without any previous conscious interest or guidance. (That’s what happened in my case as an atheist teenager with no interest in these things.)

Sometimes, we may find helpful practical pointers that work well in themselves. For instance, Headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and Living Inquiries. These may rest on or be inspired by certain spiritual traditions or religions, but as an explorer, we don’t need to even know about that for it to work.

And sometimes, we may choose to get involved in a spiritual or religious group and tradition for the additional support this gives us. If we do, it can be especially helpful to remember that awakening – in itself – doesn’t depend on spirituality or religion. It’s simpler and more immediate than that.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 52

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

THE BIGGER PICTURE ON CONSPIRACY THEORIES

There is a relatively obvious (?) bigger picture on conspiracy theories.

And that is the life, the universe, existence, the divine seems to wish to express, explore, and experience itself in always new ways and in as many ways possible.

All beings live in their own world, and often these worlds intersect to some degree. Especially within the same species and community, beings tend to experience the world in similar ways.

In our age of online echo chambers, a huge amount of smaller global communities are formed. Some of these are formed around a shared passion for something within culture or nature. Some are learning communities. And some are conspiracy communities.

Conspiracy theories are one of many ways life or the divine explores, expresses, and experiences itself.

It’s part of the diversity of perception and mental guidelines for life within humanity right now.

It doesn’t mean the views are grounded in reality. It doesn’t mean they are logically very sound. And it doesn’t mean these folks are not sometimes a danger to democracy.

But it does mean it’s all happening within a bigger picture.

PUBLISHED SCIENCE ARTICLES – ON VACCINES, MASKS, THE PANDEMIC ETC.

A friend on social media referred to very weak articles published in less than reputable journals online.

Here is my response:

In any area of science, there are published articles that don’t fit the mainstream view. In most cases, the findings are not grounded in reality. This is just part of science, and – as I said – you’ll find this in any science and on just about any topic. Just because something is published doesn’t make it valid or something that reflects reality.

Especially these days, there are lots of online journals that, at first glance, look serious and scientific. They use the language and format of reputable publications. But the content is very weak and would likely never be published in serious and respected journals.

Personally, I have seen several articles on pandemic-related topics, published in these types of journals, that are almost laughably bad in terms of data and logic. And, often, the articles are written by people with some sort of credentials, just not in the area they are writing about. Which means they have no credentials at all. They have close to zero credibility.

For the findings and views to be taken seriously, it has to be published in reputable journals, the findings have to be replicated several times, there has to be a sound theory behind it, and competing theories and approaches have to be thoroughly disproven.

This is science 101 and I assume just about anyone learns about this in school.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 51

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

FREEDOM & RESPONSIBILITY

Some countries require proof of vaccine for entering public spaces like restaurants and movie theaters. In response, some vaccine skeptics say: “I am in control over my own body. Nobody can tell me I can’t do certain things just because I chose to be unvaccinated. It’s a violation of human rights.”

To me, it’s a weak and partly nonsensical argument.

We live in a society, and in a society, we have certain freedoms and responsibilities. That’s required for society to work reasonably well for as many as possible.

We already accept a lot of restrictions to our freedom. We accept that we shouldn’t drive drunk. Kill people. Steal. Damage other people’s property. And so on.

Requiring a proof of vaccine is just one of many restrictions. It’s temporary. And it clearly helps society as a whole, including us as individuals.

We know that those vaccinated are less likely to be infected and seriously ill. That means they are less likely to pass it on to others, and they are less likely to end up in a hospital, take up valuable spaces there, and cost society money. The more people are vaccinated, the sooner we can get through the pandemic, and the less risk there is of new and more transmittable mutations.

For me, requiring proof of vaccine for travel, entry to restaurants, and so on, is among the least we can do to limit the impact of the pandemic.

Personally, I am very happy to accept a limited (very small) personal risk by taking the vaccine, if this can help society as a whole. It’s the least I can do.

Note: It’s almost not worth mentioning, but it’s not a “human right” to enter restaurants and movie theaters. And it’s not a “violation of my body” if someone requires me to be vaccinated to enter those places.

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Brandon Bradford: It’s easy to make everything into a conspiracy when you don’t know how anything works

Yes, and for some, it’s easier to blame some evil people rather than acknowledge that the problems we are facing today are systemic and we are all part of these systems so our daily life is part of the problem.

When I look at popular conspiracy theories, I typically see a fundamental misunderstanding of science and how society works. I see paranoia. I see a wish to find someone to blame. I see people being misled by trolls. I see people reacting to their own discomfort and unhappiness by going into entertaining, intriguing, scary, simplistic, and unsubstantiated stories about how the world works.

Unless they are actively trolling, which some conspiracy theorists are, they have a good heart and think they have discovered something of importance to humans. They see themselves as on the side of the good, some evil people on the side of evil, and the rest of us as sheep accepting what we are told.

I see a lot of projections that make a grounded conversation difficult. They project what’s happening in them to others. That tends to create an equal and opposite reaction from others towards them. And all of that tends to kick up a lot of dust which makes a real dialog challenging.

Sustainability and the changes we knew we had to make

For several decades, we have known that our basic systems – economic, production, water, energy, transportation, and so on – were unsustainable. They did not take ecological realities into account, and just by living normal lives within these systems, we are destroying ecosystems and what we depend on for our own lives.

This is not controversial. It’s obvious. Even without climate change, we would have to make profound and thorough changes to these systems.

So why didn’t we? Why didn’t we in the 50s? Or 70s? Or 90s?

Why has it taken so long for people to wake up to the self-made ecological crisis we are in?

The main answer is probably that most people, and especially those in wealthier countries, didn’t notice it in their own life. (Along with thoughts that we have time and can wait, automatic dismissal of this information because it was uncomfortable and didn’t fit people’s identity, and so on.)

Now, people are starting to notice it in their own life. So now, there is at least some mainstream discussion of this, although many still pretend the answers lie in what others need to do, or in making smaller changes within the existing systems.

That’s obviously not going to work. Our systems are what created this situation, so it’s our systems that need to change.

How much worse does it need to get before more people start to acknowledge this? And much worse, beyond that, does it need to be before enough people find the will to make the necessary changes?

We don’t lack technology. We don’t lack knowledge. We don’t lack practical solutions. What we currently lack is (a) mainstream acknowledgment of the real problem, and (b) collective willingness to make the actual changes.

Existing in alternate realities

Yes, these days with internet echo chambers, conspiracy theories, more radical politicizing of science, and so on, it’s very obvious that we exist in different realities.

It’s always that way. We filter and experience reality based on our assumptions, which are more or less strong, more or less conscious, and more or less examined. And this creates a reality that is more or less similar to those around us.

Before the internet, we typically had to spend time with people in our physical world to create a very different reality from mainstream society, and that limited how often that happened and to what extent it deviated from the mainstream. These days, it’s easy to find online subgroups of people with any type of view on just about anything, sometimes created by trolls, and that makes radicalization and polarization of views far easier and it can happen faster and to a more extreme extent than before.

I suspect this is also happening because the internet is relatively new, and the current scale of trolling and intentionally created and promoted conspiracy theories are equally new, so our collective immune system for these types of viruses hasn’t been developed yet. It may be that in some years, more people are more conscious of the dynamics, signs, and red flags, and they are a little more resistant to manipulation.

There are some possible upsides to this.

As mentioned, more people may over time be more conscious of these social dynamics and a little more mature in how they relate to echo chambers, conspiracy theories, and so on.

More of us may be more conscious, in general, of how our worldviews and assumptions are formed by our culture and different subcultures, and how they sometimes tie into – and are fueled by – our own hangups and wounding.

And some of us may use this as an opportunity to explore this in even more detail, through different forms of inquiry.

What does my worldview consist of? What are the assumptions I am operating from? And, especially, what are my less conscious assumptions – about myself, others, and the world? What do I find when I look at where these come from? How do these assumptions color my perception, choices, and life?

How do these assumptions show up in my sense fields? How do my sense fields combine to create these assumptions and filters?

In general, what do I find when I examine these assumptions more thoroughly? How would it be to recognize these assumptions in daily life, and recognize them as assumptions and questions about the world?

Why I typically don’t refer to the vagus nerve, quantum physics, or other popular topics from science

I rarely refer to the vagus nerve, quantum physics, or other popular topics from science in these articles.

Why? If I love science and have spent a good amount of time exploring these and other topics, why don’t I refer more to it when I write here? (For instance, in my teens and twenties, I read everything I could find about the connection between quantum physics and spirituality/philosophy.)

One reason is that our understanding of these topics is very specific to our time and place.

The content of science always changes. The way we think about the vagus nerve and quantum physics today will likely be outdated in a few years or decades, and even more so in a few centuries.

Similarly, our understanding of these topics is very incomplete. We are only seeing fragments of a bigger picture.

Some current views on quantum physics may tie in with some insights from perennial spirituality, and that may quickly change as we understand quantum physics differently in the years ahead. And the vagus nerve is probably important for regulating our nervous system and our system in general, and it’s only one small piece of a much larger dynamic whole.

It doesn’t mean that these topics are not important. I love that people are studying and thinking about it, and share their findings and reflections with the rest of us. That’s the beauty of science, and it benefits me and society as a whole.

When I write here, I do reference what I have picked up from science in my mind. I check if what I write fits or not. (Just as a mentally reference and check with what I have heard people say about healing, awakening, and so on.) But I won’t refer to it explicitly for the reasons mentioned here.

I prefer to focus on what seems a bit more timeless.

And I am very aware that the way I see and talk about this too inevitably reflects my own time and culture.

Thinking for oneself?

In our teens, thinking for ourselves often becomes an important theme, and for good reasons. It’s one of the things life – and to some extent society – asks of us as we enter adulthood.

CONVENTIONAL SENSE

What does it mean to think for ourselves?

Often, it means to exchange one set of views with another set of views. We may abandon some of the views we grew up with, and adopt the views of a subculture we resonate more with. This is more about resonance than “thinking for ourselves”.

Also, it means to learn about social issues and more at a story level, become familiar with a range of different ways of looking at these, and find an approach that makes more sense to us. Here, it’s more about digesting different views rather than “thinking for ourselves”.

EXAMINED MORE THOROUGHLY IN A CONVENTIONAL SENSE

If we want to examine this more in-depth, we can become familiar with valid and invalid arguments. Logic and logical fallacies. Media literacy. Various forms of social criticism. The many biases we inevitably operate from. (From culture, subculture, personal experiences, species, the nature of this universe.). And so on. This is where “thinking for ourselves” takes on a little more meaning.

GOING BEYOND THE CONVENTIONAL: HEALING & INQUIRY

We can also go beyond the conventional approaches.

We can invite in healing for our emotional issues and traumas that inevitably color our perception, views, choices, and life. In the places we are caught up in an issue, our view tends to be reactive and rigid. And the more healed we are, the more we tend to have a more fluid relationship to views and orientations and hold it all more lightly.

We can explore thoughts and the gifts and limitations of thoughts. We may find that thoughts are really questions about the world. They are guides to help us navigate the world. They are different in nature from what they point to. They have practical value only, and cannot give us any final or absolute answer.

We can learn how to systematically inquire into any thought we hold as true and find what’s more true for us. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can explore how our mind combines sense fields – including thought – to create an experience of the world.

We can explore our more fundamental nature, and find ourselves as that which our experiences – the world as it appears to us – happens within and as.

A MORE MATURE (?) VIEW

For me, a more mature view combines all of this and more.

We “think for ourselves” in a conventional sense and find views and orientations that resonate with us and makes more sense to us.

We learn about valid arguments, logical fallacies, media literacy, various forms of social criticism, and so on.

We explore and become more aware of our many inevitable biases and the sources of these biases.

We invite in healing for the wounded parts of us, allowing for a more fluid and light relationship to views and orientations.

We learn about the nature of thoughts, see them as questions about the world, recognize they have practical value only, and that they cannot hold any final or absolute truth.

We learn to inquire into any thought we hold as true, and find what’s more true for us. (Which includes that the thoughts don’t hold any final truth.)

We explore and become more familiar with how our sense fields, including the overlay of mental images and words, creates our experience of the world.

We explore our more fundamental nature, and find ourselves as what our experiences happen within and as.

THE LIMITS OF “THINKING FOR OURSELVES”

As part of this, we may see that “thinking for ourselves” is a term that only makes sense in a limited sense.

We never really “think for ourselves”. We often adopt views of a certain subculture. We operate from inumerable inevitable biases.

We may also find that, in the words of Carl Sagan, we are the eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the whole locally perceiving, thinking, and living as us.

That’s all perfectly fine. And it helps to recognize it and take it into account.

A NOTE

My brain fog is especially strong these days, particularly when it comes to writing. It means that these articles are more rudimentary and less well formed than they perhaps could be.

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Sustainability and hypocrisy?

People are sometimes called hypocrites because they advocate for sustainability while they travel with airplanes and do other things we know are not good for the planet.

I don’t see it that way.

We all live and function within systems unintentionally rigged to destroy Earth and our civilizations. These systems do not take ecological realities into account because they didn’t need to when they were developed in the early modern era. Now, with more advanced technology and far more people, they are unintentionally destructive and need to be thoroughly revised to take ecological realities into account.

They need to be redesigned so what’s easy and attractive to do, for us individually and collectively, is what’s beneficial for the Earth and future generations. And that’s very possible to do, if there is the will to do it.

So I wouldn’t call anyone a hypocrite for advocating sustainability while flying in jet planes or doing other obviously destructive things. It’s inevitable since we live within the systems we do.

For nearly all of us, living a normal life is inherently ecologically destructive because of the systems we live within. And these systems were created by us and can be changed by us.

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 50

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

ART HISTORY

In the early ’90s, I studied art history for a year (full time) at the University of Oslo. Since they called it “art history”, and since I was young and naive, I was looking forward to WORLD art history. The history of art from the earliest times and across all cultures. That was what I expected, hoped for, and wanted.

To my surprise and disappointment, the course turned out to be the history of WESTERN art, and really just the art of Western Europe and the European culture in North America.

I was left with several puzzling questions:

Why didn’t they have a course for WORLD art?

Why did they call a course that had such a limited scope “art history” without any qualifiers?

Why didn’t they address or acknowledge this obvious discrepancy?

The answer is probably a kind of ethnocentrism. They – consciously or not – may have seen “real” art as the art of western Europe and the European culture in North America.

I imagine that now, 30 years later, they are a little less provincial and more conscious of this. Hopefully, they include the art of the world and not just a small section of the world. Or, at the very least, they label the course accurately.

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Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXXIX

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

AN ATTITUDE AMONG THE PRIVILEGED TOWARDS THE MARGINALIZED

One attitude among the privileged towards the marginalized is that they are lazy, could work and make more money if they wanted, and so on. If they don’t have more money, it’s their fault.

This is obviously wrong in most cases. The privileged are mostly privileged they are because they were born into that situation. They had role models. Money. Resources. A good education. A network. And so on. All creating and supporting their privilege. And the marginalized typically have none of that.

So why do some among the privileged maintain this attitude?

There may be several reasons.

They are parroting what they have heard from others.

In their own privileged life, it holds true. If they themselves – with all their privileges – don’t have a relatively carefree financial life, it would be because they were lazy and didn’t want to work, and they could work and make good money.

They want to justify the current social situation, their own privilege, and that they are not doing more to improve the lives of the marginalized. Assuming the marginalized are lazy etc. is an easy (and lazy!) way of doing just that.

They don’t know anyone marginalized. They don’t have the inside view or information. Or they know some and see them as the exception.

They are not motivated to seek out contradictory and more accurate information. They have a good life. They see the current social structure as justified. They may feel they can’t do anything about it anyway. They don’t want the distress of learning more about how others live.

Any system seeks to maintain itself, and this is one of the ways our social system – with wast inequality between people and nations – is maintained.

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Thomas Berry: A culture is functional when it enables us to be virtuous easily

A culture is functional when it enables us to be virtuous easily.

– Thomas Berry, Chapel Hill, NC (June 24, 1997)

Yes. One example is a culture and society that is structured so what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals and corporations – is also what’s good for society as a whole, the least fortunate, and Earth and future generations.

Every being is a world

How do we see other beings?

Do we see them as subjects – as living beings like ourselves with their own experiences, wishes, and so on? Do we see them as having the same basic wishes as ourselves? Do we see that they are a world, just as we are?

Do we see them as objects – as a thing that influences our life in a certain way? That helps or hinders us or is neutral? Do we choose to not pay attention to their inner life? Do we assume they have little or no inherent value?

In our daily life, it’s often a combination. We see other beings both as a subject with their own inner life and an object influencing (or not) our own life. And where we put them on the subject-object scale depends on several factors, including how familiar we are with their inner life and how similar we imagine they are to us.

WE PLACE BEINGS ON AN IMAGINED SUBJECT-OBJECT SPECTRUM

Where one the imagined subject-object scale do we put different beings?

We naturally tend to put ourselves at the extreme of the subject end of the scale since we are familiar with and always reminded of our own experiences. We are familiar with our own wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings.

The same goes for our loved ones, our partner, family, friends, and friends from other species. We put these reasonably far out on the subject end since we are somewhat familiar with, and daily reminded of, their interior life.

We tend to put the ones in “our” group over on the subjective side. We relate to their interior life since they are similar to us.

And we place many other beings over on the object side of the scale. These tend to be the ones we are less familiar with and where we are not so frequently reminded of their interior life. Among humans, it may include people we see as other, or people who live in another culture or far away. We also tend to put ecosystems and non-human species on this side of the scale. And, among non-human species, it seems that smaller ones tend to go further over on the object side.

It includes the beings living in ecosystems we eradicate, the spiders we squash, and animals we cage to eat. We are less familiar with and less frequently reminded of their interior life, so we see them more as objects.

WHY THIS SUBJECT-OBJECT SPECTRUM?

Why do we, at least in our western culture, tend to operate from this imagined subject-object scale?

There is an obvious evolutionary and practical reason. It allows us to care for those close to us, and use other beings for our own survival. It has had a survival advantage for our ancestors, and it’s convenient for us today.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF PLACING BEINGS ON THE OBJECT SIDE

What are some of the consequences of placing beings on the object end of the scale?

It obviously has dramatic consequences for the welfare of the beings we place there. It allows us to cage them, keep them in inhumane conditions, eat them, eradicate their habitats, eradicate whole species and ecosystems, and so on.

It also has dramatic consequences for ourselves, in several different ways.

It’s an important factor in our current massive ecological crisis which impacts us all. It’s what allows the systems and actions which has led to this ecological crisis. And it has already led to a loss of human lives, it will impact the quality of life for all of us, and it even threatens our survival.

We treat others as we treat ourselves. If we see and treat other beings as objects, it means we do the same – to some extent – with ourselves and parts of ourselves.

HOW WOULD IT BE IF WE REMINDED OURSELVES OF THE INNER LIFE OF ALL BEINGS?

How would it be to remind ourselves of the subjectivity of all beings? That all beings have an inner world? That they are a world to themselves, just as we are? That they too want a good life free of suffering? That they too want to survive?

How would my life have to change? How would I live my life, reminding myself of the interiority of other beings?

Does even contemplating this feel overwhelming? Scary? Does it feel like too much?

How would it be if we do this, and find peace with it?

How would this be for my own life?

How would it be for us collectively? It wouldn’t mean that we would completely stop modifying parts of nature to suit ourselves (all beings do that). It wouldn’t mean we would stop having non-human species as our companions. And it wouldn’t necessarily mean we would completely stop eating other animals.

But it would mean that we would take their needs and wants, and their interior life, more into consideration. It would mean treating them with more respect. It would mean realizing that we are in debt to nature and do more to pay back that debt.

This is primarily for each of us to explore for ourselves. And it is also interesting to imagine how a culture where this is common practice would look. We don’t have to look too far, since many traditional cultures around the world did and still do this, at least to some extent.

THE IMPULSE TO WRITE THIS ARTICLE

I listened to a podcast I typically enjoy (Judge John Hodgman), and was surprised when it turned out that most of the creators of the podcast were happy to kill spiders in their homes. How can you, when you know that they serve an important function and are no harm at all to humans? How can you, when you know they want to have a good life and survive, just as we do? How can you, when you know they are a world to themselves? How can you, when it’s so easy to allow them to have their life parallel to ours? Personally, I am honored to share a house with spiders.

Of course, the answer is likely just the topic of this article. If you see them as subjects, it’s natural to allow them to have their life. And seeing them as objects, even if that’s not aligned with reality, allows us to squash them without a second thought.

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Wanting to know how fiction ends

Why do we have an impulse to know how compelling fiction ends?

FICTION CAN GO IN ANY NUMBER OF DIRECTIONS

I have often thought it’s a bit silly.

The story is made up anyway. It can go in a number of widely different directions.

It’s easy to imagine alternate endings that the author plausibly could have chosen. The reason the author landed on a particular ending may be because ofpersonal fascination, wanting to subvert expectations, wanting to draw in an audience, wanting to highlight a particular feature of human life, setting it up for the next part, practical or resource reasons, or something else.

Sometimes, the ending we looked forward to can even be disappointing, as we have seen in a recent TV series (GoT) and final movie trilogy (SW).

If this was the whole picture, there would be little or no reason to want to know how a story ends. So there must be something more going on.

EVOLUTIONARY IMPULSE TO TAKE IN STORIES

One answer may be in evolution. We have likely evolved to be fascinated by stories since these told our ancestors something important about themselves, their community, and their world. Stories gave them a survival advantage.

It’s easy to see how this is the case with stories from real life. The way the story is told reflects community values and orientations, so the listener gets to absorb these. And the content can offer practical information about social interactions, interactions with nature and wildlife, how to deal with unusual events that may return, and so on.

To some extent, fiction – mythology, fairy tales, tall tales – did the same. Fiction also conveyed cultural values and orientations. It gave people insights into interactions within the community and with outsiders and the natural world, and so on.

And it’s easy to see that the ending is an important part of the value of all of these stories.

Taking in compelling stories, from beginning to end, gave our ancestors a survival advantage.

GOOD FICTION REFLECTS DEEPER TRUTHS

There is an obvious value in stories from real life. We learn through the experience of others and how they chose to tell the stories.

And compelling fiction does the same, in a heightened form. Good fiction distills the essence out of real-life stories and reflects universal human truths. They are a way for us to learn something essential about ourselves, others, and the world.

NO CLEAR LINE BETWEEN STORIES FROM REAL LIFE AND FICTION

There is a fuzzy boundary between stories from real life and fiction.

When we tell stories from real life, we inevitably interpret, filter, highlight, leave out, and get things wrong. The story reflects us and what we find important, our worldview and values, our hangups and limitations, and so on. As we know, these stories are often told quite differently by others.

And compelling fiction reflects universal human dynamics and insights and has a deeper truth.

There is always an element of fiction in stories from real life, and elements of real life in fiction.

WHY DO WE WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING?

So why do we want to know the ending of fiction? Even if it’s obviously silly since the story is made up anyway?

One answer may be evolution. It gave our ancestors a survival advantage to take in stories, told by others in their community, from beginning to end.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of simplicity and clarity here. I have had a quite strong brain fog for a few weeks, and it makes it difficult to write with flow and clarity. Hopefully, I can return and clean this up a bit.

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