I Didn't Say That #3
Senseless waves of anxiety were the norm for me this week. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Thankfully, I have a few tools and remedies at my disposal. Breathing, meditation, and exercise are the big three. During one pronounced bout of disquiet at the start of the week, I tried to meditate but couldn’t. So I instead searched “anxiety” in the Waking Up app. The first result to come up was a conversation between Joseph Goldstein and Sam Harris, conveniently titled “Anxiety.” I listened to it while breathing and doing arm movements in a horse stance. It was effective. I typed up the part of the conversation that stood out to me most. It’s a very clear expression of a very useful idea, and I’ve been returning to it all week.
Identification with thought is very much like being asleep and dreaming. And when you break that spell, there is an analogous, wholesale change in one's state of being. All the apparent problems that were contained in the frame of the thought are gone in the moment of waking from it. In the same way that, if you dream that you're about to be bitten by a dog, when you wake up, there really is not a problem with a dog anymore, right? The dog is gone. You don't have to go back into the dream and figure out how to get a leash on that dog. That binary switch from being asleep and dreaming and not knowing it to being awake and safely restored to your bed—there is that same experience to be had every time you simply recognize a thought as a thought, as a mere appearance in consciousness.
Sam Harris, Waking Up
Speaking of consciousness, the thought experiment below is a fun and interesting one. It also reminds me of a Henry Rollins quote that burned a slow hole in my brain during the years I was aching to get out of the US and see more of the world: “Knowledge without mileage equals bullsh*t.”
I eventually made it out of Dodge. The irony is that the mileage I accrued in the years that followed wore me down. I still travel. But not like I used to. I live in Thailand. But mostly I just stay home. And like the color scientist Mary described below, I spend much of my time acquiring knowledge rather than mileage. The big difference for me now, though, is that the mileage is still there. It hasn’t gone anywhere. I attended to that ache for long enough that I can now just enjoy sitting in a room and learning.
What creates our private, inner universes is still a mystery.
Consider Mary the color scientist. Mary specializes in the neurophysiology of color vision, and thus knows everything there is to know about color perception. She knows precisely how different wavelengths of light impinge on the retina and stimulate photo-receptors. She knows how they convert light into signals that are sent up the optic nerve to the primary visual cortex in the brain. And she knows all the cellular and molecular details of how the visual system eventually produces the experience of blue, green, red and so on.
But Mary has spent her entire life in a black and white room. She has never actually seen any colors; she has learnt about them and the world through black and white books and television programs. One day, Mary escapes her monochrome prison and sees a brilliant blue sky for the first time. What changes? Does Mary learn something new upon seeing blue for the first time? Or is she unsurprised, since she already knows everything there is to know about how the brain processes blue in advance? If you think Mary learns something fundamentally new about the color blue, you may consequently believe that physical facts about the world are not all there is to know.
Joseph Jebelli, Big Think
For me, the two main takeaways in this video, from its subject, Megan Phelps-Roper, are as follows: (1) "Even people who seem to be horrible are humans who will be better reached by kindness and generosity and compassion," and (2) "But the other part of the equation is, maybe they see something that you don't. Maybe there's something in their perspective that should be changing yours." I also think the illustrated ketchup-and-mustard-themed headlines are funny.
If we allow ourselves to become so convinced that our own way of thinking is right, it can lead us to demonize other people. We all seem to be living in some version of Westboro now.
This is a very short piece, and I can’t help but wonder if an editor or someone tried to push its author, Mike Kerrigan, to make it longer and clickier and more about something divisive. But if they tried, they failed, and that’s good. Because it’s so much better and bigger as it is.
My daughter’s love of pie reminded me that I have the power to change my mind.
Too often facts around me change, but my mind doesn’t. Impervious to new information, I function like a navigation system that has missed a turn but won’t reroute. Since that summer day, when I sense myself behaving this way, I try to recall the “favorite pie” conversation with my daughter and correct my course.
Mike Kerrigan, The Wall Street Journal
I started with the words of an atheist. Now I will end with the words of a believer. One who says there’s no such thing as a non-believer. In my mind, both men are right. Either that or they’re both wrong. You make the call. I don’t have much of a desire to know. I just like the thinking part. The wondering.
Belief is not just about God or ghosts.
Even if you are a vocal atheist, you still believe in your creed that there is no god. Given that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, to say that the lack of evidence for a supernatural being is enough to rule out its existence in some definitive sense is, well, an act of faith. It is belief in non-belief.
Marcelo Gleiser, Big Think