Friday, December 28, 2012

Religion doesn't really help dealing with the real world

I just finished watching the movie, "The Tree of Life."  While the movie lasts a long time and some parts of it tend to get slow and tedious, I did gain one new observation from it; probably not the one which was intended, however.  While watching and listening to all of the pleas for God to help, to explain 'why', to give comfort, it occurred to me that religion really doesn't prepare a person to deal with the real world.  Many people say that religion gives comfort in times of need, but I'm not really sure that's the case.

The movie dealt with a mother losing her young son (about 15 years old).  It never says how the son died, probably because that doesn't really matter to the story.  The mother undergoes extreme grief, of course, and turns to her religion, and thus to God, for explanation of "why my son?", and "why now?" Of course God never answers, which leaves the mother to wonder, "do you even care about us?" and "do you even know what happens down here?"  Of course, God never answers those questions either.  Eventually, at the end of the film, the mother gives in and tries to find some solace in "giving my son to you, as you want."

When we're young, religion gives us the feeling that someone is looking over us, which can be very comforting to some while being very threatening to others.  We eventually come to find solace, and even companionship, in a God who "watches over us" and who also seems to "know what's best" for us.  I maintain, however, that this is an erroneous view of the world and thus leads to trouble later.

When we're young, and first learning about life and religion, we're told that we should care about our fellow mankind, we should always do what's right, we should not lie, we should not cheat, we should not fight, etc.  However, just a little later in life, we are told that we should learn to look out for ourself, we should do what's in our best interest, we should not tell the whole truth in all cases, we should do whatever we can to get ahead, and we should take up for ourself and fight back.  It seems as if the "real world" is diametrically opposed to what we're taught via religion!  This creates uncertainly, doubt, fear, and generally gives rise to the whole idea of "sin" in which we continuously view ourself as "not perfect."  Religions have, of course, learned to make a huge amount of money off of these problems!

I see no reason to teach children to "be good" based upon some unrealistic, religiously based, ideas, which will only lead them to struggle with the conflict between the world "as religion would have it", and the real world "as it really exists."  Why can't we teach our children to live in the real world, as it really exists, and still to be good citizens?  Why can't we teach our children that treating others in "good" and "helpful" and "kind" fashion will only serve to help create the type of world in which they, themselves, would like to live?  If you treat those around you in a kind and helpful way, then they will treat you in a kind and helpful way in return; at least most of the time.  As Buddhism would say, "you create your world, every minute of every day."

We should teach children that, yes, they should be kind to their fellow mankind when that person is not being mean to them, they should always do what's right in the larger scheme of things, they should not lie unless lying will help the situation, they should generally not cheat unless they are being cheated in return or if it's for a good cause, and they should not seek a fight however they should be willing to defend themselves.  We should teach children that there is no one out their looking out for them, so they should be careful and look out for themselves.  We should teach children that, no, their loves one will not go to a magical place in the sky and they will never see them again after death, so they should appreciate their loves ones today, let them know they are loved, and learn well the lessons they can teach, because once they're gone, those lessons will be forever lost unless someone remembers them.  (This is why I refuse to remove birthdays, anniversaries, and other information about deceased friends.  They were a part of my life and I don't want to forget them and the lessons they taught.  This is their only lasting legacy.)

By learning how to understand and deal with the real world, we will be better prepared to deal with exceptional circumstances in this world.  Doing so is much better than the empty, non-existent, and thus unresponsive, God of religion, who offers only empty promises and who only "delivers" answers via the questioner's reinterpretation of whatever random events happen.  Don't depend upon religion to give you any real answers at all.  Learn more about how the world really works, understand more about your own emotional reactions to it, and there will be all of the answers you could want.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chaos Theory says that "Free Will" is a moot issue.

"Free Will!"  Sounds so good, doesn't it?  Everyone wants to think that they have complete control over their thoughts and actions.  Sorry, no.

Scientists have found that using an fMRI, they can actually see a decision being made long before the person making that decision recognizes that they have made it.  Ok, maybe that doesn't mean you don't have Free Will.  maybe it simply means your thoughts are being made at a level below where you realize it and only later do they arrive at a conscious level.

How about the argument which says:
You are the sum total of all of your genes plus all of your experiences.  If you could start again with the same genes and have the exact same events happen to you, you would end up in the same place and make the same decisions.
Interesting argument, but can this ever really happen?  Is this even a realistic scenario?  Certainly not.  We know that the exact same series of events can never happen exactly the same way, especially if they are complex events.

This ties into Quantum Physics and Indeterminacy.  If you haven't learned much about Quantum Physics, then watch this entertaining video about the famous "Double Slit experiment.  This talks about particles appearing as both waves and particles.  Related to this is also the topic of "Super Position", where a particle or wave can be in multiple states at once.  As if this isn't enough, let's also look at the issues brought up by "Delayed Choice".

So, with multiple possibilities existing simultaneously, can we ever really know the complete state of a system, enough to really predict the outcome, especially a system, such as the brain, made up of billions and billions of neurons?  Well, this actually should make you think of "Chaos Theory".  Here's a video showing how even a very simple system of two pendulums will produce what appears to be "random motion".  Notice that even a small change in the initial position of 1 degree will produce a wildly different result!  Here's a video of a real world example of the same experiment.

So, what have we learned?

  1. The brain is performing actions, creating thoughts, and reacting to both itself and the outside world in ways about which you can not have any knowledge.
  2. At the most basic level, all of nature is made of probabilities, not particles.  These probabilities can interact with each other in unpredictable ways.
  3. Chaos theory shows us that even the smallest change in initial conditions can make even simple, Newtonian, systems perform in unpredictable ways.  If this is true of even simple systems, then we are incapable of imagining the complexity of any "real world" system.  (This is, incidentally, why even today, with very powerful super-computers, we still can not predict weather very reliably.)
So, when you take all of this into account, do we really even need to discuss the topic of "Free Will" any more?  No, you don't really have "Free Will".  Everything you think or do is completely a result of the starting conditions of your brain, followed by all of the events and thoughts which came before the action.  But, does it matter?  NO!  It doesn't matter at all, because there is no way that you or anyone else could ever reliably predict any outcome, even if the entire series of events were known and all of the connections inside your brain were known.  The organ which is contemplating "Free Will" is such a complex system, based upon other incredibly complex systems, and ultimately fabricated out of probability functions, such that for all practical purposes, it may as well be "Free Will".

The "Free Will" discussion is ultimately seen as a senseless discussion by those who understand more of the ways in which the world actually works.  To even have such a discussion, is to admit that you have no idea of the complexity of the world.  Now we understand more about Quantum Physics and Chaos Theory, we can clearly see that the "Free Will" discussion is entire moot.