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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Nicolette Sowder: May we raise children who love the unloved things

May we raise children who love the unloved things

May we raise children who love the unloved things-the dandelion, the worms and spiderlings.

Children who sense the rose needs the thorn

& run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards sun…

And when they’re grown & someone has to speak for those who have no voice

may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things

and be the ones.

– Nicolette Sowder, May we raise children who love the unloved things

Nicolette Sowder is the creator of Wilder Child and Wildschooling.

And yes, I love this poem.

I love anyone who loves the unloved things.

I love finding love for the unloved things in nature, in people, and in myself.

FINDING LOVE FOR MY OWN EXPERIENCE

For instance, it seems that any part of me that experiences stress, unease, discomfort, and so on, and goes into reactivity, does so because it’s unseen, unfelt, and unloved. Meeting it with love makes all the difference. I can meet it as I would like to be met when I feel that way. (When I identify with those parts of me.)

And to really meet it with love, I can do a bit more. I can dialog with it, listen to it, hear what it has to say, and see how I can shift my relationship with it to be more helpful. I can also find what’s more true than its familiar stressful stories, and help it find it for itself. And we can both notice that my nature is the same as its nature. We share nature. (AKA consciousness, we are both consciousness, we are the same, it happens within an as what I am.)

FINDING LOVE FOR THE UNLOVED

Finding love for the unloved – in people, nature, and ourselves – is crucial for our own well-being.

It’s crucial for creating a society that works better for everyone and especially those less fortunate.

And it’s crucial for the survival of our species and civilization. We are now facing the consequences of not doing this, and not speaking up for those without a voice, and life is showing us that our own survival depends on it.

Life is giving us a masterclass in finding love for the unloved and giving a voice to the voiceless.

It’s up to us if we realize what this class is about, and whether we learn and change and transform as needed.

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.

John Seed: I am part of the rainforest protecting myself

I am part of the rainforest protecting itself

– John Seed

It may seem altruistic to protect nature. For me, it’s self-preservation.

ASSUMPTION OF A DIVIDE

If I see a strong divide between me and nature, then nature can easily be seen primarily as a source of resources, a place to put waste, and a place to occasionally enjoy. If I do something to protect nature, it’s altruistic and often a bit peripheral. It’s a nice thing to do but not terribly important.

INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF ALL LIFE

If I realize the interconnectedness of all life, then I recognize – in a more visceral way – that my own well-being and my own life is utterly and intrinsically dependent on the health and existence of the larger ecosystems and this living planet I am part of. Here, protecting nature becomes self-preservation. I am dependent on the health and vibrancy of nature locally, regionally, and globally.

I AM NATURE PROTECTING ITSELF

I can also go one step further and recognize that I am nature protecting itself. I am a part of this living evolving system protecting itself. I am a separate self, and more fundamentally I am a temporary and local expression of this larger living and evolving system. I am a temporary and local expression of the living and evolving Earth. I am a temporary and local expression of the evolving universe and all of existence.

GETTING IT MORE VISCERALLY

Getting this more viscerally is a big and important shift. It brings us more in alignment with reality. It gives grounding. It’s nourishing. It makes us less dependent on the more temporary surface experiences and situations.

SYSTEM CHANGE

And, of course, it doesn’t mean I am or need to be “perfect” in terms of my own life. I am also a child of my culture. I am also embedded in our social and cultural systems.

As all of us, I live in an economic and social system that rests on the assumption that humans are somehow separate from nature, that the resources of nature are limitless, and that the ability of nature to absorb waste is equally limitless. We live in a human-created social system where what’s easy and attractive to do is also, in most cases, destructive to nature.

And we have another option. We can create an economic and social system that take our ecological realities into account, and where what’s easy and attractive to do – for individuals and businesses – supports life and our ecosystems. It’s possible. We can do it. We even know quite a bit about how to do it.

And yet, it does require a profound transformation of our whole civilization – our worldview, philosophy, economics, energy sources, production, transportation, education, and everything else. And that requires a deep collective motivation. Will we find it? Perhaps. But likely not until we are much further into our current ecological crisis. (Which is a socal crisis since all of our human systems are embedded within our ecological systems.)

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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Priorities & our ecological crisis

We all have priorities, whether we are aware of them or not.

And our life and actions show us our priorities, whether they match what we think they are or not.

OUR COLLECTIVE BEHAVIOR IN THE FACE OF OUR CURRENT ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

At a collective level, it’s clear that our priority is business as usual. We collectively behave as if nothing unusual is happening. We collectively behave as if we are not in the middle of a human-created ecological crisis of enormous consequences. We collectively behave as if the messages from scientists have little to no weight or importance.

Why is that? It may be for many reasons. Most people prioritize day-to-day activities and tasks. Most have a political identity and are reluctant to switch their vote to politicians that take ecological crisis more seriously. We see that others don’t prioritize it, so we assume the situation is not very serious and follow their example. Politicians typically operate within a timeframe of just a few years, not decades and centuries. Many people don’t take things very seriously unless they feel it in their own lives. Some may think we still have enough time, that we are adaptable and will manage. Some also go into denial, dismiss the collective warnings from scientists, and rationalize their dismissal.

WHAT MOTIVATES US TO CHANGE OUR PRIORITIES?

At both individual and collective levels, we continually clarify our priorities, reprioritize, and reorganize our life to align with these new priorities. It happens all the time and mostly in small and almost unnoticeable ways.

Major reprioritizing usually happens first when we viscerally get it as absolutely necessary. It may happen when faced with a serious crisis. When life shows us our situation has dramatically changed, or that we need to face a reality we previously ignored or downplayed.

It happens when life shakes us out of our habitual patterns and priorities.

A MORE REALISTIC SET OF COLLECTIVE PRIORITIES

If we would take our ecological situation seriously, how would that change our priorities? What would a more realistic set of collective priorities look like?

Here is just one example, as it comes to me:

Take a long view on our situation and in politics. Plan for decades and centuries ahead. Make policies where we take into account the interests of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and their children.

Include the interests of all beings when we make decisions. Our fate is intimately connected, so this is in our own interest. Implement policies that take the interest of all life into account.

Future generations and non-human life are voiceless, so we need to speak for them. Not only for their sake, but for our own. Their fate is intertwined with our own.

If these giving voice to the voiceless was our real priority, it would in itself change a lot and put us on our path to a more sustainable civilization. Taking the big picture in terms of time and ecosystems does a lot. It would ripple into all areas of society, including the economy, philosophy, education, production, transportation, and everything else.

For instance, it would likely lead to assigning advocates for those without a voice – future generations, non-human beings, and ecosystems. To give them real power in political and business decisions. To make the rights of future generations, non-human beings, and ecosystems law.

It would transform our economic system to take ecological realities into account. Our current economic thinking is a fantasyland where nature is seen as only a resource for humans and a place to put waste, and it assumes an unlimited capacity for both. That fantasy is reflected in our current economic system. These new priorities, if taken seriously, would transform our thinking about the economy and our economic systems to be more grounded in reality, which is something we all would benefit from.

WHAT I AM DOING IN MY LIFE

What I am doing in my own life about this?

I look at my life to see my actual priorities. How do I spend my time? What does that say about my priorities? I take a sober look at this and try to be kind with myself. Being realistic about my real priorities, as reflected in my life and how I spend my time, is the first step and can in itself lead to changes and reprioritization.

I am also in a fortunate situation. I was able to buy a sizeable piece of land in the Andes mountains, and. we are now exploring how to use a small part of it for buildings and food production, and support the rest to rewild and return to a more vibrant and diverse state benefitting innumerable beings.

We are also exploring ways to be a little more self-reliant with the essentials. We are looking into solar energy. We are taking steps to collect and store rainwater and use this for our own use and food production. We may gradually expand food production over time. (In a social crisis, which will likely come as a consequence of the ecological crisis, being more self-reliant will alleviate the burden on the local government and it may also be that they won’t be able to reliably provide basic services to everyone.)

Our local community is our greatest resource, so we are also connecting and creating ties with neighbors. And especially those who are like-minded and those who grow food and know how to make and fix things. Self-reliance and resilience mainly happen at a local and regional community level.

We are preparing for a future where our ecological crisis, and all the social consequences of it, is far more acute and severe. And we are learning and plan on sharing what we learn with anyone interested.

We are also considering creating a small eco-community on the land. We’ll see. We need to get to know the land better first.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to take these kinds of steps, so we are also keeping in mind supporting those less fortunate, in whatever small ways we can.

And this is not because we are very noble. We are very flawed human beings.

This is because we are aware that this is in our own self-interest. It’s in our self-interest to live in a more sustainable way and create ties with our neighbors. It’s in our own interest to support those less fortunate, in the small ways we can, since we all live in the same society.

And in terms of ecology, we all – all beings – share the same collective fate. We are all impacted by the thriving or deterioration of our local, regional, and global ecosystems.

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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

Jonathan Louis Dent: Imagine if we measured success by the amount of safety that people feel in our presence

I want to live in a society that values helping people feel safe. That’s how we all can flourish.

And this is not only about our personal interactions or what happens in groups. It’s also how we structure and set up our society. Do we have social safety nets so people can feel safe from a life in poverty? Do we support people to get the education they want? Do we encourage people to follow their deepest fascinations even if it doesn’t make personal sense to us?

FINDING IT FOR MYSELF

When I notice that wish in me, I know it’s advice for myself.

It’s an invitation to find ways to bring it into my own life.

I can find and choose to be with people who help me feel more safe.

I can help others feel more safe, as best I can.

And, perhaps most importantly, I can support my own inner community in feeling more safe.

HELPING MY INNER COMMUNITY FEEL SAFE

Growing up, I didn’t learn to consistently make my inner community feel safe. I didn’t learn to consistently support and be there for myself and all the different parts of me and my experience.

Why? Because I didn’t receive it from those around me when I was little. They didn’t know how to do it for themselves so they couldn’t do it for me.

So how do I learn to help my inner community feel safe and supported?

The first step is recognizing when parts of me feel unsafe and unsupported. How does it feel?

How do I habitually respond to it? Do I react? Perhaps with some form of avoidance? An avoidance that takes the form of fear, anger, compulsions, blame, shame, guilt, or something else?

What is my conscious inner dialog? How can I change it so it helps my inner community feel safe and supported? How can I do it in a way that feels honest? (Tricking myself doesn’t work.)

What happens if I do heart-centered practices on my images of others, myself, and different parts of me? If I do tonglen, ho’oponopno, or metta? Does something shift?

What are the stressful stories creating a feeling of lack of safety and support? What do I find when I examine these and explore what’s genuinely more true for me? What are my stressful stories about not feeling safe and supported? What am I most afraid can happen?

What do I find when I dialog with the parts of me that feel unsafe and unsupported? How do they experience the world? How do they experience me? What advice do they have for me? How can I best be a friend and ally to these parts of me?

How is it to notice that these parts and experiences have the same nature as I do? That I am fundamentally capacity for it all? That they are happening within and as what I am? How is it to rest in and as that noticing?

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

As mentioned, I did not grow up around people who knew how to consistently do this for themselves. So I didn’t feel all that safe and supported, and I didn’t learn to do it for myself. And that means doing it for others is also lacking, in spite of my best intentions. So this requires a lot of work and attention from my side. It takes time. I still feel I am just a beginner when it comes to this.

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My experience with “the hum”

About ten years ago, I started hearing a low-frequency hum in the evening and at night. It was very noticeable and uncomfortable and often made it difficult for me to sleep. Earplugs didn’t work, so I started to listen to music or voice (audiobooks, interviews) to block it out to make it easier to sleep. 

I started noticing patterns. The hum started late afternoons on weekdays and lasted until around 7 am, and it was on 24/7 on weekends and school holidays. I walked around the neighborhood to see if I could figure out where it came from. After a while, I honed in on a school about 300 meters away, especially as I noticed that their ventilation system was turned to a maximum at the same time I heard the hum at my house. 

I contacted the principal of the school, explained the situation, and asked if they would consider turning down the ventilation system during off hours. She was kind and understanding and the hum went away for a couple of years. 

Then it came back. I again contacted the principal, who now turned out to be someone different. This one outright dismissed any possibility of the ventilation system creating a sound that could be heard in the neighborhood, especially 300 meters away. I guess this person was not very familiar with the hum phenomenon and that large-building fans are one known culprit. So the hum continued and again made sleep difficult.

This went on until the school was shut down and demolished some time later. 

The hum has been known for several decades, and people hear in different locations around the world. Often, people are stymied in trying to find the source. And sometimes, through some detective work, we can find the source and do something about it. (Or not, as was the case with the second principal.) 

I thought I would share my story in case it can help someone, and it may be a piece in the bigger puzzle of the hum phenomenon.

Note: This was in Ski, Norway.

Historic shifts

We are always living history, any moment is a shift in history, and some shifts are more historical and significant than others.

I have written about the topics of this article in several other posts, mainly under the “Reflections on society, politics, and nature” collections. But I’ll repeat the essence here.

TRUMP ERA

I wasn’t really surprised when Trump was elected, mainly because I had followed 538 closely before the 2016 election and they gave Trump a 1 to 4 chance of winning. (Out of four times the polls looked the way they did, Trump would win one time.)

The main risk of the Trump presidency is and was an erosion of democracy. Even before the election, it was clear that this was a man who did not respect democracy, democratic values, civil and grounded discourse, or a wish to create a society that works for everyone. His words and behavior legitimized bigotry, lies, polarization, anti-democratic views and actions, and much more. And that’s going to change the culture around politics. It’s going to legitimize this type of behavior on a larger scale, and that’s going to have direct and indirect ripple effects around the world. And that’s exactly what happened, and is still happening.

When Trump lost to Biden, I saw it as likely that the next election would be between Trump and Harris. Biden may be too old to continue, and Trump is like a pitbull who will never give up or admit defeat. He would love to come back and undo whatever any sane president over the last several decades put in place before him. Right now, he certainly has enough support in the US to do just that.

CURRENT MIDTERM ELECTIONS

Today is the midterm elections in the US, and Trumpists are likely to win several of the seats, and this will further change the political culture and erode democracy. (Including through gerrymandering, court appointments, and so on.)

It seems that these midterm elections, which usually bring only minor changes, may have larger and more lasting consequences this time. This may very well be a significant historical change in US history, and one that will have ripple effects in the world. (For instance, Ukraine may lose much of its current support from the US.)

US CIVIL WAR

There has been a lot of talk about a coming civil war in the US, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that will happen. (The seeds of it are already there and some, in their insanity, actively want a civil war.)

It obviously won’t be like the last US civil war. It will be a far less formalized civil war. It looks like it may be a kind of civil war between far-right militia groups and the rest of society, and they will target the ones they see as their enemy – progressive politicians, judges and courts that actually uphold the law, police that won’t allow renegades and violence, liberal community activists, and so on.

And who knows where it will go from there. It may be that mainstream society cracks down on it, although that’s not likely if Trumpists are in charge locally and/or federally. (I say “Trumpist” instead of Republicans since there are still some Republican politicians who favor democracy, although these have increasingly been squeezed out of the party.) This kind of low-grade but terrible civil war may continue for years or even decades.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Although Trump does influence politics and society, he is mostly a symptom. He is a symptom of white folks in the US feeling threatened because their privileged position may be lost. After all, the demography is against them, and many educated folks in the US actively promote a deeper and more real equality between this traditionally privileged group and the rest of the population.

And he is also a reflection of a much larger global trend away from democracy and towards authoritarian regime systems. The world is increasingly becoming less democratic. For me, as a Northern European steeped in democratic values, this is a strange and disturbing trend. I cannot see how this is going to help the majority of people, the world, and future generations. At least not in any obvious or immediate way.

And yet, it seems that many around the world actively hold anti-democratic values. They support authoritarian leaders. Perhaps it’s because they offer simplistic (unrealistic) solutions? Or because they share conservative values, often based on religion? Or because they offer someone to blame, whether it’s a minority in their own country, the west, or someone else?

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

For me, conspiracy theories are a part of this shift into a more uninformed anti-science and anti-democratic mindset and culture. That’s obviously the case when it comes to far-right conspiracy theories, and it’s the case with conspiracy theories in general no matter what flavor they have.

What conspiracy theories have in common is that distract from far more serious issues that we all face and can see are happening. The obvious one is that we live in the middle of a major ecological crisis that will impact all of us and may end civilization as we know it. (That is the case independent of the climate crisis, due to all the other kinds of damage to our ecosystems.) And we have a wide range of other and related crises including hunger, lack of clean water, preventable diseases, huge disparity between wealthy and poor, and political and social systems that holds all of this in place.

OUR ECOLOGICAL CRISIS IS OUR MAIN PRIORITY

Anyone who does not put our ecological crisis as their main priority in their personal life and in their politics has not understood what’s happening.

If you listen to the scientists and use a minimum of common sense (we collectively use far more resources than the Earth can produce), you can see the huge ecological crisis we are in the middle of. You can see where we are headed. And you’ll put that as the main priority in your life and in your political and social life.

Personally, I keep this at the forefront of the main decisions I make in my life these days. (As outlined in other articles.) It’s my main priority when I vote and support political parties and policies. (How can it be anything else?) And a large part of my working life has been focused on this. (I was the paid coordinator of a local sustainability group that focused on cooperation and solutions to the problems we all face together.)

Our ecological crisis is our main priority whether we notice or not, and whether we consciously have it as our main priority or not. Life is not giving us an option.

WE NEED REALITY ORIENTATION TO DEAL WITH OUR CURRENT CRISIS

Trumpists politics is obviously very dangerous just for its anti-democratic orientation and effect.

And something is even more dangerous there, and that is that its anti-reality. They don’t care about what’s actually happening. They don’t care about science. They don’t care about experts. They don’t care about the numbers. (If they don’t like them.)

And that’s the case with conspiracy theories in general. The vast majority of them are inherently anti-reality. They are founded on bad logic and bad data.

People mostly go into conspiracy theories for emotional reasons and then rationalize to make bad logic appear like good logic. For whatever reason, it feels emotionally satisfying to them to go into conspiracy theories. They generally don’t care about science, experts, real logic, history, or whatever else we as a society need to base our decisions on.

And that’s very dangerous. Especially in a time of collective crisis, we need to base our collective decisions on solid science and data. It’s the only sane approach. It’s the only approach that has any chance of working.

THE NEED FOR PROFOUND SYSTEMS CHANGE

I have written about all of this in several other articles, including our need for systems change. (I wrote about this in my teens as well, long before blogs.)

The cause of our ecological crisis, and a large number of other problems, is the way our social and economic system is set up.

It was created at a time when we didn’t need to take ecological dynamics and limits into consideration. For all practical purposes, the resources of nature were unlimited, and the capacity of nature to absorb waste was unlimited. It made sense, at the time, to ignore it. We ignored it because We could.

We still live within these outdated systems.

And now, we can’t ignore ecological realities anymore. We are well past the time when we had that luxury.

We need a profound change in our systems of economy, production, food, water, education, and so on.

We need to create systems in all areas of human life that deeply and thoroughly take ecological realities into account.

We can definitely do it. There is no lack of solutions and grounded visions.

And it’s very possible to find attractive solutions that help us thrive as individuals and society, even more than now.

What we lack is a collective will. Are we going to find that collective will in time?

We are already past the time when we could prevent major ongoing ecological crises. We’ll have to live and deal with them no matter what. The question is how serious it will be, not whether it will happen.

Will we find it at all? I am not sure. It’s possible, and we’ll have to live and make decisions as if it’s possible.

NOTE: Just to mention it – Biden is currently president of the US, the democrats have the house and senate, we are just out of a regularly scheduled pandemic and there will be more to come, there is a war in Ukraine impacting the whole world, scientists and the UN say that it’s the end of civilization unless we engage in major rapid and collective changes, and most people continue with business as usual as if we are not in a disastrous ecological crisis.

Here are a couple of recent mainstream media articles on these topics:

World is on ‘highway to climate hell’, UN chief warns at Cop27 summit

‘These are conditions ripe for political violence’: how close is the US to civil war?

UPDATE: It’s now a few days after the mid-term election in the US and it seems the Trumpists didn’t do as well as expected. That’s good news for democracy. Maybe it shows that many people in the US still are sane enough to choose a more democratic and inclusive approach. Nothing is linear, and politics and society would move away from Trump at some point. Perhaps that’s now?

I lived in the US for twenty years which is partly why I am interested in what’s happening there.

Pretending to be apolitical

Some people like to pretend they are apolitical.

And it is a pretense. It’s impossible to be apolitical. Saying you are is often strategy way to avoid conflict or avoiding to get involved in social matters that impact you.

EVERYTHING IS POLITCS

Everything is politics. Politics is about what we value.

Everything in society reflects our collective values. Everything we individually chose and do reflects what we value.

Everything happening in society impacts us one way or another.

And when something happens in society that more directly impacts our personal life and goes against what we value, the pretense of being apolitical falls apart.

BEING “APOLITICAL” IN RUSSIA

We can see this in Russia these days. According to some sources, about a quarter actively support Putin and the war, about a quarter oppose Putin and the war, and about half are indifferent. As long as it doesn’t impact them, it’s fine. (We can see examples of this in some of the street interviews done about the war in Russia, for instance on the 1420 YT channel.)

That’s not how the world works. The war and the other Putin policies will and do impact you. You live in that society. You live in an authoritarian system. You live in a system based partly on corruption. You live in a system where people are not allowed to publicly speak their minds. You live in a system where political opponents to Putin are imprisoned or killed. You live in a society that goes to war against a democratic and sovereign neighbor. You live in a society where people are randomly drafted to be cannon fodder on the front. This impacts you. And it either matches or goes against what you value.

WHAT HAPPENS IS OUR BUSINESS

That’s the same for all of us. What happens in our society is our business whether we want it to be or not, and whether we pretend it to be or not.

These days, the one major issue is the ecological crisis we are all in the middle of. It’s already impacting most or all of us, and it will impact all of us in a much more obvious and direct way in the (near) future.

We all know this. And yet, most keep voting for politicians who don’t seem to know, pretend it’s not happening, or prioritize a large number of other (important and clearly less significant) issues above it.

Most people live as if it’s not the one major issue we are all faced with today. Most people chose to get caught up in peripheral issues.

This is not the fault of politicians or even corporations. It’s the fault of every single person who says they are apolitical or down-prioritize this issue.

Most people are like the fifty percent in Russia on this topic. And reality is going to bite – hard.

Note: This article was originally from one of the “Reflections on society, politics, and nature” collections of articles.

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The more you know, the more you know how little you know

The Dunning-Kruger effect has been floating around on social media for a while so I assume many are familiar with it. Knowing a little can make you think you know a lot because you don’t know how little you know. Novices can become over-confident.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

This especially came to the forefront during the recent pandemic. Many conspiracy theorists thought they knew a lot about vaccines and epidemiology. (Topics that take decades of study to become proficient in.) While they, in reality, based their views on random pieces of information from dubious sources, internet echo chambers, generally bad data and bad logic, and a lack of familiarity with the field.

Many also seemed unaware that they were repeating predictable patterns from history. During pandemics, these types of conspiracy theories flourish, likely because people are scared and try to find a sense of certainty. (Often through blame and assigning the cause to a group of people rather than the systems or the unpredictability and randomness of nature, and/or by denying what’s happening.)

AWAKENING, HEALING, AND SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

This also applies to healing, awakening, and spiritual practices.

I often see people who have been into it for a few years presenting themselves as if they have certain knowledge, while they in reality are just scratching the surface and approaching it in a relatively immature way.

Of course, some get a lot in a relatively short period of time. (I was probably among them.)

And their knowledge may be more than sufficient to help others along the way. We often just need to be one or two steps ahead of someone for our guidance and input to be helpful, especially if we approach it with some groundedness and a sense of our limits.

AS WE GET MORE EXPERIENCE

There is also something that happens as we mature into it.

In a conventional sense, we may know quite a bit and perhaps more than most. And we also learn and discover how much we don’t know.

We may be among the ones who have the most experience with something. And at the same time, we realize that our own experience and knowledge is a drop in the ocean compared to how much there is to discover and learn.

We tend to realize that we don’t know anything for certain.

We tend to be more aware of our biases and how our evolutionary history, our biology and psychology, our place in time and culture, and more all strongly color our perception.

We tend to know, from experience, that our view may be turned upside down and inside out at any time.

We tend to realize there is no finishing line and that there is always further to go.

This helps us hold it all more lightly, and that is often a sign of maturity.

WHY THIS EFFECT?

The peak of “mount stupid” is often marked by a sense of certainty.

We start to feel a sense of mastery of something and we tell ourselves we know and that we are experts.

There may be several reasons for this.

We may not yet have enough experience in that particular area to realize how little we know.

We may not be good enough in any area to have learned that there is always more to learn and that we are always, in a sense, just scratching the surface. We may not have this experience to generalize from.

And we may be motivated by wanting to compensate for a sense of lack. If we have a sense of lack and feel we are not good enough, it’s tempting to jump on a little skill or knowledge and use it to feel better about ourselves, and then overdo it.

WHEN WE AVOID THIS PITFALL

As suggested above, we can avoid or reduce the DK effect in different ways.

As we get more experience, we know how little we know, we know we don’t know anything for certain, and we hold it all more lightly.

If we have expertise in one field, we tend to know how little we know and that there is always further to go. So we find some humility grounded in reality, and can generalize this to other areas of life. If this is how it is in the field I happen to know about, it’s probably the same in other fields.

We may have this more naturally with us. Perhaps because of our upbringing and what we see from others, from our own experiences and insights, or because we don’t have much of a sense of lack or don’t use the DK strategy to compensate for it. We may naturally hold it all more lightly with an inherent knowing that we cannot know for certain.

LEARNING ABOUT THESE DYNAMICS

Another way to prevent or reduce the DK effect in our own life is to learn about it.

We learn about the effect, examine some typical expressions of it, and look at some specific examples. And that makes it easier to recognize when it happens to us.

We can also use our common sense. There is always more to learn and further to go. We don’t know anything for certain. It makes sense to hold it all more lightly. And it makes sense to have some respect for those who have spent decades in full-time study of something and hear what they have to say and learn from them.

Also, if we don’t know much about something, and our view is different from professionals in the field, then maybe it’s most likely that we are off on a wild goose chase?

A REVERSE DUNNING-KRUGER

A kind of reverse Dunning-Kruger effect can also happen.

We can be painfully aware of how little we know, to the point of not sharing it with the world.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is often rooted in a sense of lack. People compensate for a sense of lack by pretending – to themselves and others – they know and understand more than they do.

And the reverse Dunning-Kruger effect is also rooted in a sense of lack. It just plays itself out differently. We tell ourselves that what we know is not much, or that what we know is not worth much because we are not worth much, so we don’t share it or make much use of it.

This is something that’s familiar to me. And it’s one reason why I am mostly just sharing these things on an anonymous blog that just a few people look at.

Illustration: From Wikimedia Commons

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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Voting on behalf of non-human species

There was just a presidential election where I am. Fortunately, the candidate who won seems to genuinely work on behalf of the less fortunate, nature, and society as a whole.

When I vote, I vote on behalf of the less privileged and those without a voice in our current political system. I vote for the less privileged in our society. And I vote for non-human species and future generations since they themselves don’t have a vote.

I don’t just do it for their sake. I do it for all of us since I know that a society where as many as possible live a good life is better for all of us. It creates a more safe, vibrant, and healthy society. And I do it because I know that our health and well-being, collectively and individually, is dependent on the health and well-being of our ecosystems and the planet as a whole.

I am very happy for the collective to use some of “my” money (which comes from society and nature anyway) to create a society that works better for everyone since I want to live in that kind of society.

Of course, I cannot know for certain what’s best for all of us. Sometimes, we do something with the best intentions and it goes south. If we get things to where we think they should be, life will take it in another direction. What we see as “best” depends on who and where we are and what we value. And we never know the bigger picture. But I do my best as we all do.

Note: I notice something worth examining in myself on this topic.

I sometimes see the less privileged as voting against their own interests, perhaps because of identity. (They agree with certain values, and are hurt by the actual policies.) And I also know I cannot know what’s best for them. I cannot really know in a conventional sense, and I certainly cannot know in terms of the bigger picture. And that doesn’t prevent me from doing for what I consider best for the ones who needs it the most, society as a whole, non-human species, and future generations.

I also know that when I vote on behalf of the less privileged and those without a voice, some will see me as voting against my own (narrow) self interest. In that sense, I do what I see in them.

And as someone relatively privileged, I don’t see it as the job of politicians to protect my privilege at the cost of those who have far less.

Note 2: This touches on the old win-win vs win-lose mindset difference. Do you see others well-being as benefiting you and all of us? Then you likely wish a better society for everyone. Do you assume that you will lose if others win? Then you’ll likely try to make them lose first so you can win. The win-lose group tends to see the win-win mindset as naive, and the win-win group tends to see the win-lose mindset as cruel and short-sighted.

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Keeping our life in perspective

I remember a conversation with a friend in high school. He said: My family isn’t very wealthy. I understood what he meant, but was also baffled. They had a beautiful house in a beautiful area of Norway. They had a car. They had all the food they needed. They didn’t lack anything of the basics and none of what makes life comfortable.

In a Norwegian context, they were perhaps quite average. (Very similar to my family and most of the others in my school.) But from a global and historic perspective, they lived in the lap of comfort and luxury.

For me, it’s always been important to keep this in perspective. Most of us in the western world’s middle class live in luxury. We have comfortable houses. We have cars to get around in. We have access to public transportation and planes. We can travel around the world in a day or two. We have clean running water. We have indoor smell-free and sanitary toilets. We have showers with warm water. We can cook our food by turning a switch. We can go to the grocery store and get fresh food from around the world at any season. We have more clothes than we need. We have the internet which connects us with people around the world. We have mobile phones.

We live in a society that values sanitation. We live in a mostly peaceful society. We have access to amazing modern healthcare. We have good education for everyone.

All of this would seem wildly utopian even just a few generations back.

In most respects, we live far beyond how even royalty lived in the past.

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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The different types of validity in different stories

Each story has validity. The question is how and what the specific validity is for each story.

And whatever seems to make the most sense to us is always provisional and up for revision.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF VALIDITY

There are some general ways stories can be valid.

We can use any story as a mirror for ourselves. We can turn any story towards ourselves and find genuine examples – from the past and now – of how it’s valid.

A story can be more or less valid in a conventional sense. It can fit the data more or less well. It can be supported by more or less solid data and different amounts of solid data. It can work more or less well as a map and guide for our life in the world or for a specific area of life.

And a story is valid in the most basic sense that it is a story. We can recognize it as happening in our mental field, as mental images and words. It’s a mental construct. It’s meant as a provisional guide, at most, and not a full or final reflection of something in the world.

OUR ORIENTATION

What helps us discern the particular validity of any one story? 

Sincerity and intellectual honesty help us stay grounded and receptive.

Familiarity with the topic helps us with discernment and nuances. Experts generally understand a topic far better than laypeople. (And as all of us, they too have blind spots and biases and their views are provisional.)

Familiarity with valid arguments, soundness, logical fallacies, biases, media literacy, and so on, helps us avoid some common pitfalls.

It’s easy to go into lazy thinking and adopt the view of those around us or our favored subculture. It’s easy to get caught up in wishful or fearful thinking. It’s easy to deceive ourselves. 

EXAMPLES

Fairy tales have a metaphorical validity and are a mirror for psychological processes. They help us learn something about the world, society, universal human dynamics, and parts of ourselves and how they may relate to each other. This applies to any story – whether it’s in the form of a movie, book, news, a dream, a daydream, and so on. 

Science has a methodology that’s relatively universal. It mirrors how we go about learning about the world and ourselves if we are systematic about it and sincere and intellectually honest.

The content of science is more or less accurate in a conventional sense. It’s supported by more or less solid data, different amounts of data, is provisional, and is always up for revision. It will also always, to some extent, reflect our culture, worldviews, biases, what society sees as important, and so on. 

That we are a human being in the world is valid in a conventional sense. To others, that’s how it looks. It’s a story that works relatively well in our daily life. It helps us function in the world.

That we more fundamentally, and in our own first-person experience, is something else is also valid. Here, we may find we are capacity for the world as it appears to us. We are what the world, to us, happens within and as. This is something we can check and find for ourselves.

When I have stories about someone else, they may be more or less accurate when applied to that person. And even if a story seems accurate, we are always much more than and different from any story about us, and we can always receive more information that shifts how we see the situation or puts it in a different context. 

I can also turn these stories to myself and find genuine and specific examples of how they apply now and in the past. For instance, I can find examples of when I was angry, cruel, deceptive, brilliant, beautiful, and so on, and perhaps also how it applies right now in this situation. 

Does life continue after death? This is a question for science and there is some research on this topic. Also, when it comes to the different stories about what happens after death, we can turn them around and see if we can find the essence of what they point to here and now. 

For instance, what about near-death experiences? They often describe not being the body, a sense of bliss, life review, and so on. When I look for myself, I find the body is in me. In my own first-person experience, I am not most fundamentally this body. I can find a quiet bliss that seems inherent in what I am. And if I examine my mental representations of my past, I can review my life in different ways. 

When it comes to rebirth, can I find that too here and now? At this moment, my mind recreates its story and its mental representations of me. In that sense, I am reborn each moment. Also, this moment is always new, different, and fresh, and any past and sense of continuity are only found within mental representations. I can find rebirth in that sense too. 

If I have a specific story about a past life, it’s difficult to know how accurate it is in terms of something that actually happened. But it does say something about me now. I can relate to it as I would anything in a dream, find it in myself, and explore it in myself here and now. 

The conventional validity in these stories is a matter of science, and it’s an open question so far for lack of solid data and because of the small amount of data we currently have. (This can change, and probably will with more research.) And all of these after-life stories have validity in the sense that I can find what they point to in myself, here and now. 

Astrology is similar to much else. In a conventional sense, it may have more or less validity and that’s a question for science. (Although there is very little to no serious research into it, as far as I know.) And it definitely has validity as a mirror for ourselves – for psychological dynamics, archetypes, and so on. Everything described in astrology, no matter if it happens to explicitly be about our particular configuration or not, mirrors us and describes something in us.

Conspiracy theories tend to have a grain of truth in them, and what that grain is will depend on the story. In most cases, the rest tends to not be supported by very good and verifiable data so it’s best to put it on the “maybe” or “unlikely” shelf until there is more information. 

For instance, there are a couple of grains of truth in several vaccine conspiracy theories. Some people die from their body’s reaction to vaccines, just as some die from their body’s reaction to medications that are widely in use. (This is not a reason to reject vaccines since they overall do a lot more good than harm.) And the pharmaceutical companies developing and selling vaccines are in it for the money. They are not philanthropists. There are dirty dealings, and not everything around the medical or business sides is as transparent as what would be in the public interest. (Again, that’s not a reason to automatically reject vaccines and it doesn’t mean that they overall haven’t benefited humanity enormously.) 

Also, as mentioned before, I can turn these conspiracy theory stories about the pharmaceutical companies etc. back to myself and find how they are valid. I can find genuine and specific examples from my past, and – if there is any charge on them for me – here and now. 

The vaccine will kill people -> I will kill people. If I believe that story, I’ll likely get very angry and a part of me will want to kill the people behind the (supposed) conspiracy. I kill them in my mind.

The people behind the vaccine want to hide something –> I want to hide something. In this situation, if I strongly believe the conspiracy theories about vaccines, I hide from myself that I cannot know. And perhaps that, somewhere in me, I know just that. I know there isn’t any solid data.

[to be expanded]

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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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Dream: Russian man

I participate in a workshop led by my father. It’s about restoring something old. The group is varied and international, and I like the other people and the group atmosphere. I am working with a young man and ask him where he is from. He seems unhappy about the question and gives the name of what I assume is his village. I ask: Where is that. He responds, even more unhappily: near Minsk. He seems unhappy about being revealed as Russian in this international group, and I feel compassion for him and see that my apparently innocent question created discomfort for him.

We are now one week into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and I imagine this type of interaction happens in many places in the world. Many Russians abroad don’t share Putin’s views and politics, and it’s uncomfortable for them to be associated with him just because they are Russian.

I feel a lot of compassion for the ones directly impacted by the horrors of the war, and also for the Russians who never wanted it.

And, if I dig a bit deeper, I can also find compassion for the ones agreeing with Putin. (The ones who support an illegal and completely unnecessary invasion of a democratic country in spite of the tremendous and ongoing suffering it will bring.) And even for Putin himself. (He is clearly tormented, otherwise, he wouldn’t do what he does.)

And, as I have written about before, this compassion doesn’t make the invasion any less unjust, wrong, profoundly misguided, and something I strongly oppose in my own small way.

Why is my father in the dream? Perhaps because I, by accident, called him when I woke up in the middle of the night and wanted to start a podcast. This dream happened after that. Also, more importantly, although he is trained as an architect and artist, he has a side-interest in restoring antique furniture and clocks. (And does it very well.)

Why restoring something old? I am not exactly sure what we are restoring in the dream, it may be an old mill. Perhaps it’s about repairing old conflicts, and restoring and remembering the peaceful and friendly elements in our past? This is important collectively, and it’s important for me to do within myself.

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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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.

Do people really believe the more extreme conspiracy theories?

Of course, we never really believe any story. Somewhere in us is more sanity. We know we cannot know anything for certain. We know what’s happening when we hold a story as true. We latch onto the story and pretend – to ourselves and others – it’s true in order to find a sense of safety.

That aside, and in a more conventional sense, do people really believe conspiracy theories? And especially the more extreme ones?

I am sure there are individual differences. And I suspect many don’t actually really, honestly, believe them.

They hold onto them more as a form of reactivity. It may be more an expression of pain and a kind of tantrum.

To test this, I have offered some who hold more extreme conspiracy theory views a bet. For instance, you say that the vaccine is intended to kill off people. Within how many years? And how many? Would you be willing to take a bet, where you set the conditions for whether it goes one way or the other? If this does happen, I give you $10,000 (and put it in my testament in case I die before). If it doesn’t, you give me $10,000.

So far, nobody has taken me up on it. And that tells me they may not really believe it.

Somewhere, they know they cannot know. Somewhere, they know it’s likely nonsense.

Somewhere, they know it’s more an expression of reactivity.

Somewhere, they may even know it’s a bit immature.

And all of this mirrors me, of course. I do all of this too. Not with conspiracy theories, but anytime I hold a story as the final, or full, or absolute truth. Or any time a part of me holds a story as true, which happens more often and sometimes without me consciously noticing.

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Correlation is not causation and the pandemic

I sometimes see or hear statements that I take as a joke, and then realize is meant seriously.

For instance, a friend has an uncle with cancer, he received the Covid vaccine, and at the next check it turned out that his cancer was worse. My friend was certain the vaccine somehow, as if through a miracle, caused the cancer to worsen, so she decided to not get the vaccine.

Another friend got the vaccine, later got a frozen shoulder, and is now convinced the vaccine caused the frozen shoulder and said he will never get another vaccine again.

My response is…

Correlation is not causation. Just because something happens close in time doesn’t mean that one thing caused the other. Innumerable things happen close together in time and have no causal relationship at all.

It’s the nature of cancers to get worse. It’s what cancers do. It’s their job. It doesn’t need any vaccine to get worse. And there is no known connection between vaccines or cancer, and no known mechanism for how there could be a connection.

A lot of people get frozen shoulders. Again, no vaccine is required. It’s what bodies do. Innumerable people get frozen shoulders without having taken any vaccine. Innumerable people take the vaccine and have no frozen shoulder or any other symptoms.

To find causality between the vaccine and anything at all, we need several large-scale studies. We need to look at the large-scale patterns using solid data and good statistics.

It’s very easy to find a large number of stories apparently “proving” anything if we assume correlation equals causation. We can collect thousands of stories of people eating strawberries, and then shortly after being diagnosed with cancer or something else. Or people going for a swim, and one of their relatives dying the following day. That doesn’t prove anything. It just shows that life is immensely rich and varied and anything can follow anything, and often does. It says nothing about causality.

For me, the correlation = causality thinking is lazy logic, intellectual dishonesty, superstitious thinking, and also unnecessarily fearful thinking.

Yes, there is a very small possibility there is a connection. It’s far more likely there isn’t. These patterns inevitably happen in life, and it’s all about what we look for and how we interpret it. And to find actual causality, we need science and several large-scale solid studies.

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Maturity and the pandemic

Sometimes, I see the pandemic as a maturity test. 

Do we take it as all about us and our individual rights and freedom?

Or do we recognize that we live in a society and that others matter as much as we do? (And especially the more vulnerable.)

Do we act from reactivity and focus on ourselves?

Or do we act from compassion and a desire to do our part to get us through the pandemic in the best way possible, and protect others including those more vulnerable than us? 

Do we assume we know that masks and vaccines don’t work? (And how can we, if we are honest with ourselves? Especially considering that history, common sense, and vast amounts of research showing otherwise.)

Or do we act with some humility and use masks and take the vaccine because there is a chance it will protect others and help us get through the pandemic faster? (If we look at history, epidemiology, and research, we see that the chance is pretty high.) 

This is about maturity. It’s about compassion and the ability to imagine how it is for someone else, especially the more vulnerable, and act in a way that has a chance of protecting them. It’s about placing the safety and well-being of others equal to our own freedom and rights. It’s about receptivity and intellectual honesty. It’s about acting from kindness and wisdom and not just reactivity. And it has to do with taking the responsibility to learn about epidemiology and the long history of pandemics, and what history tells us works and doesn’t work in terms of limiting the impact of pandemics on individuals and society as a whole.

WHY DO I WEAR A MASK AND TAKE THE VACCINE?

It’s not because I am unfamiliar with the views of vaccine skeptics and conspiracy theorists. I have looked into these and find they are almost exclusively founded on poor logic and poor data.

It’s not because of fear. (Although, sometimes, it’s wise to listen to and respond to fear.)

It’s because I am familiar with the history of epidemics and what history shows us is most effective in limiting their impact.

It’s because I want to do my part in protecting the more vulnerable in society.

It’s because I want to do my part in helping us move through this pandemic in a way that limits the impact on individuals and society as a whole.

It’s because of the following and similar stories. I want to minimize my chances of infecting others, so I won’t be part of this happening.

Within 24 hours, 18-year-old Myles Daniel and 15-year-old Marina Daniel lost their parents to COVID-19. Martin Daniel was 53 when he died and Trina Daniel was 49….

Martin and Trina Daniel were not vaccinated at the time of their deaths. The couple was hesitant about the vaccine but had finally scheduled their first doses when they got sick.

An overlooked consequence of COVID-19: The hundreds of thousands of orphans left behind

The newness factor and the pandemic

Why do some react to common sense pandemic measures? Why do they react to them when we, from epidemiology and history, long have known they work in terms of limiting the individual and collective impact of the pandemic?

I am not sure, but I suspect a big reason why some react to pandemic measures is that it’s new to them.

WE ALREADY ACCEPT A LOT OF RESTRICITONS

One aspect is that we already accept a lot of restrictions and regulations. It’s part of society and what makes it work. It’s an essential aspect of civilization. We accept all this because we know it makes sense and because we are used to and familiar with it.

So why react so strongly to a few temporary ones that, for most of us, is just a mild inconvenience?

Perhaps new restrictions seem scary to some just because they are new? Perhaps they are unable to see it in perspective?

THE HISTORY OF PANDEMICS

Also, perhaps they are not familiar with the history and regularity of pandemics? Or epidemiology and what we know works to limit the individual and collective impact of pandemics? Or what can happen if we collectively don’t organize ourselves in certain ways to limit its impact?

If they were, I assume they would see that the measures make sense and that none of it is made up now. It may seem new to us because we haven’t experienced it before as individuals. But it’s not at all new from the perspective of history.

REACTIVITY IS NOT RATIONAL

It is a bit baffling to me.

Why react so strongly to a few temporary measures that, for most of us, is just a mild inconvenience?

And why react to the pandemic measures as if it’s what someone made up now? Don’t you know that these have been tested out for decades and centuries? As humanity, we have gone through it many times and we know what works.

I suspect it’s baffling because the reactivity is not all that rational, just like any reactivity.

The body reacts to the vaccine as it does to the virus

There are many arguments from vaccine skeptics and anti-vaccine folks that are baffling to me.

Among these is the possible side effects of the vaccine.

We know serious reactions to a vaccine happen, although it’s rare. Just about everyone already accepts far greater risks in daily life, like getting into a car. So why not also accept this very small risk when our individual and collective benefits are so great?

Equally important is that the serious side effects of vaccines typically reflect what can happen when we have the real infection. It comes from the body’s reaction to the vaccine and the virus.

The vaccine mimics the virus. The body’s reaction to the vaccine mimics its reaction to the virus. And in rare cases, for whatever reason, that reaction can be severe.

So if you are afraid of the body’s reaction to the vaccine, shouldn’t you be as or more scared of how the body may react to the actual virus?

Human rights and human responsibilities

Some cite human rights when they refuse to take the vaccine or wear a mask.

For me, human responsibility is equally important.

I chose to take the vaccine and wear a mask because I want to protect others. I want us all to move through the pandemic as fast as possible. I want to be part of our collective solution and not contribute to the problem.

That’s my human responsibility.

Also, human rights are not just for me. Other people have their own human rights. They have the right to expect me to do my part. They have the right to expect me to take the vaccine, wear a mask, and do whatever else I can to protect them.

The question is: Do I value the human rights of others as much as my own? Do I value my human responsibilities as much as I value my human rights?