Tag Archives: Truth

Education

People sometimes use the word education when in fact they mean brainwashing. I’m quite sure that most people who do that are not aware of the fact that they do so because they have been brainwashed themselves.

An example: “We should put more funding in education of African countries so that they can build a democracy from the bottom up”. Great idea, but how would this look in practice? Money would go to certain organizations, monitored by their funders according to Western standards. They would employ people to build education programs, benchmarked along Western thought, then train people to teach the deep truths that stand at the base our beautiful democracy, powered solely by light and guided by the highest ethics. Then, at the end, of course, they are checked for optimal performance.

Such structures provided by nation states are often seen as education. Mandatory programs, packages of concepts, knowledge that is transferred and tested, ranking the students into their overseeable life paths, may lift society to a different standard, but they are only a limited part, a controllable bit, of a collective learning process that could also be tuned to enlivening, respect and curiosity-driven exploration of whatever it is that the human mind is eager to find out. I would say real education starts at the point where teacher and student receive the space and the freedom to show each other their views on reality in all its colours.

Transmission of knowledge is important, but we should honour the pathway through which this occurs. That pathway would in my view be called mutual trust. The possibility that another might see something out there which you don’t, not because he or she is more or less capable or suitable to see it, but merely because that other stands on a different position. Exams and profiles undermine such trust.

To translate this back to the omnipotent West, perhaps indeed, there was a time when our long fought for ideals made sense and empowered society at large. But these ideals are starting to take the form of dogmas, heritage we should protect and keep in place with tighter rules and regulations. Our knowledge is growing old, expiring, starting to fail us and begging for fresh inputs from the same societies we have kept in the enlightened dark for centuries.

And yet more importantly, I think we should all allow our inner wise guys to sometimes shut up and listen to the voice of the weak and silent for a change. The fact that we still understand education in a top-down way, taking all these quality checks for granted, shows us a whole lot about our status quos. If only we could see that in the mirror…

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Marrying words

It just dawned on me that words, in fact, are an experience. Rewind? Okay.

I am adjusting a scientific article on spiritual experiences in nature. One of the central problems is the definition of the word ‘spiritual’. It has so many meanings! It all depends on who describes it. Some authors have the courage to define it as something ‘non dual’. They say that within a spiritual experience, there is no connection between a person and God, because there is no distinction between them.

One can dismiss those words as elitary blah blah, but whoever does that ignores the fact that every word manifests itself as an experience to the one who uses it. He denies the experience of another. It is the same with words such as God or Allah. The user experiences them and they are therefore meaningful.

This is an essential insight for a frequent writer such as myself. It might be one of my core drives. Writing, for me is about letting go, about enjoying the ride. It’s about discovering my relationship to the words, separately and combined. And I invite you as a reader to do the same.

So how did I get entangled in this quest to pin down ‘spirituality’ as a truth seeker? It seems paradoxical to look for objectivity in a place where the topic cannot exist without the lived, personal world. But it’s a beautiful paradox, because the role of the truth seeker brings me to a new experience of the word ‘spiritual’. As a scientist, you have to believe that words have a certain objective meaning in order to create a valid story. Even if only temporary, you have to believe in order to be believed. In that sense, science is not more than a theatrical act, an impersonation of ‘the objective’. And by impersonating the objective, we get into a closer relationship with the word ‘objective’. A word that cannot exist outside of our experience of it.

The relation we ultimately have to our words defines our communication. The more we cling to the word, the more intimately we experience it and the harder we are willing to fight for it. It makes sense, because the way in which we experience our words makes us who we are.

Loving the fear for the lie

There are people in this world who talk about fear and love as if they are each other’s opposites. Some of those people frame it as a choice between two pathways: do you take the path of fear or the path of love? You may have met them. Some people also categorize acts into ‘fearful and loving’ behaviour. This scene from Donnie Darko puts it poignantly. It makes me wonder how it has happened that these two simple words are now so deeply embedded in the human understanding of their lives.

What strikes me most about the way society understands fear and love, is that both are very tightly connected to our will. Ask a person what he or she fears, and many times that person will speak of something he or she likes to avoid, while if they talk about something they love, they’d bring up a situation they would like to attract. There’s a movement of the mind towards or away from some object. If both are indeed movements, aren’t fear and love ultimately very similar things? Or seen from a different angle: how would fear and love look if we imagined ourselves out of the equation?

Perhaps my objection here is not with this immature definition of fear and love, but rather with the omnipresent understanding of all things as having a dualistic nature. I think this whole yin yang thing is a veil over a colourful reality. The reason it is so popular, I think, is that our minds prefer to contrast themselves to the background of their own projections. And how do you better do that than in black and white? Then again, since I am perceiving the world through my mind, I am per definition not the right person to contest a well established truth as dualism. After all, it is possible I am unknowingly objecting against the nature of existence itself. My mind can not know reality without it, but then again, whose mind could? How can we be sure duality exists? Or does not? Isn’t this very question dualistic in nature?

Something you fear can turn into something you love, something you love can turn into something you fear. You can love fear, and you can fear love. You can even fear and love a single thing at once. If you dig into it, you find vast varieties in what people perceive as their fears and their loves. They can be emotional states, but they can also be lingering presences in our conscious or subconscious perceptions with, admitted, influence on our choices. A triggered fear can lead you anywhere, and a triggered event of love could lead you to exactly the same place. They can be directed towards something that actually exists, but they can also confront something imaginary, something that we have made up, yet presents itself to us as lively as anything else.

To talk about fear or love is to talk about two mountains in the own emotional landscape. We don’t usually clarify if we are talking about the peaks or the base, the tree line or the sound of the birds. Are we talking about the act of climbing these mountains, or sliding off from them? Instead, we are tempted to just place one mountain on the opposite side of the other and say: well my experience is either of the two. What is the benefit of doing that?

Perhaps downsizing the richness of the inner world makes it easier to lead your life. Or maybe it is part of an evil plot serving to control our behaviour by fragmenting our inner coherence and scatter our will. Or am I overcomplicating things and are fear and love indeed poles of our mental existence? Poles we can simply pick a direction from. Maybe I’m justifying my incapacity to do so myself. Am I guided by my fear of the lie? My love for the truth? Or maybe I’m just playing around.

A fearful loving fool would know.

Parsimony

One of the basic rules of today’s science is the law of parsimony. It states that when there are two possible explanations for a given observation, the one that requires the smallest amount of assumptions should be selected as the true one. In other words: a good scientist always strives for the most conservative and simple explanations of the facts.

It makes a lot of sense to avoid needless complexity.  Not only does that make it easier to understand things, it also helps in the communication with other scientists, journalists or your grandma. Overcomplicating things is as exhausting as it is boring and it makes it harder to judge where illusion ends and truth starts. But by sticking too closely to this law, scientists become a self-assuring collective that drift away into a meaningless void, possibly leading exactly to the opposite of what a scientist strives for.

The law of parsimony obliges the trained scientific mind to focus on a problem and avoid looking at its surroundings for as long as possible. If, for example, one wants to study the effects of a medicine on lung cancer, one will not include father-son-relationships or religious beliefs in an experimental design, because they are unlikely to be of influence. Fifty years ago, eating habits, air quality and smoking habits would possibly also not have been included in such research. They are very important factors now.

Parsimony goes hand in hand with the reductionist vision of cause and effect. It has resulted in the rising of different disciplines such as economy, medicine or ecology, where they were once one thing. Even within those fields, there are endless specializations. They distinguish from each other not only by the aspect of life they study, but also by the assumptions they take for granted. The ones they no longer see. What seems obvious to a person from discipline A, may be very far-fetched to a person from discipline B. The result here, is that communication between disciplines becomes harder and harder.

By always looking for the fewest amounts of assumptions, the parsimonious scientist creates a mental island for himself. Our society as a whole is stuck in a construct of assumptions that, by the fact that they are repeated in the classroom, feed the part of our minds in which they seem so clear and logical that they are no longer understood as assumptions. In economy for example: growth is the base. Wouldn’t it help the world if we assumed that dispersal and equality are important, even if we seldom observe them? In medicine: diseases have a physical cause. How about the complex role of the mind? In ecology: plant and animal communities behave according to mathematical models. Isn’t that a disrespectful view?

Parsimony invites us to keep building our understanding on the world we know already. I think science could serve life better if it allowed itself to dive into the unknown.

Idols

I’d like to contemplate the human tendency to look up to their examples. I recently read that all people do that. The idea made sense.

Are you susceptible to idolatry? Myself, I used to cling to male figures when I was a kid, because I lived in a house with only my mom and my sister. Then, from my puberty till my twenties, I fell in love with many girls and lifted some of their characteristics into an unreachable space. But I never had idols such as writers or TV personalities or, and especially not, gurus. I do think that many people do.

One can wonder if this tendency is part of our physical code or that it’s a mental thing we acquire as we grow. It would fit the bio-belief to assume that as monkeys we needed to look up to our leaders, or else our communities would have fallen apart, and we’d have lost the struggle for survival to other groups.  I vaguely remember a phase in high school when your identity was defined by whom you looked up to. Even now, the characters you like give shape to who you think you are yourself, and how you present that person to others.

Some religions condemn “worshiping an image of the divine”. In the context of society, I think they’re right. It is probably quite a pragmatic ethical decision to keep some initiative to yourself instead of blindly following whoever you think holds truth or has the X-factor. Still, idolatry exists, and what’s more: masses simply obey strong individuals on many occasions.

I just wonder: how would a society look which is not based on this deep inner urge to follow impressive individuals? Would it be leaderless? Would such a society have brought us to where we are now? Could it even exist?

Hoax

I see well-educated people spread viral messages with deformed, badly reviewed or simply unjust information about a wide variety of topics. Hoaxes. A sense of sensation seems to drive them to copy bad articles, and spread them further over the web. Popular topics are Monsanto, the EU and our privacy. Power and control, basically.

What is true and what is not? This question has held people’s minds for as long as they exist. Through the ages, there have been opportunities for new beliefs, and they have been either undermined by the dominant players or embraced by them.

The emergence of science provided simple methods that help verify certain statements for truth. As time went on, topics became less straight forward and “truth” turned into “validity”. Some scientific branches evolved into constructs of theories and ideas. These constructs became institutions and these are now defended by those who work for them. Like the fortifications in the Medieval age.

Dollars where spotted. Doubt arose. Scientists now contradict each other. Humanity feels this. Outside of the institutions, some people see truth as no more than a belief. Take the climate sceptics. Valid reasonings are understood as stories that can be undermined. After all, some people say, political forces shape what is considered “true”. And hasn’t the past shown that truth is subjected to the altering force of time? It’s under these circumstances that social media appeared.

Conspiracy theories are not new. What is new, is the way they are spread over the net by people who should know better. What is also new is the way each theory can be traced back to its source. Posts can be tested. If we stop believing in the unquestionable authority of scientists, why not take responsibility and research for ourselves?

The fact that scientists are not always right does not prove that truth is purely a negotiable thing. Truth is also something every individual can honestly strive for. I’d like to invite you, reader, to look through to the sources of your on-line information. It can be quite interesting to see how some stories are blown up when rewritten. And if you plan to re-post something, take a moment to consider your own credibility. Your E-identity is at stake.

With the expansion of social media, the entrance of noise on the line will only get worse. I think it is therefore essential that we all check what we and our friends post and re-post. We have the opportunity to reshape science into something we should all take part in. Knowledge to the people.

What will become of information now lies in the hands of the people who are willing to work for it. Join us.

Hiding the truth

Ever unspoken? To unspeak is to magically change the meaning of an action or event by framing it differently. Steven Poole applied this word to politics, but it reaches far, far further. It’s a subtle act, quite vulgar if used it for crowd manipulation.

Why do we speak about job creation and not about job destruction? Someone seems to want credit there. Which of the two is real? Another one: if you copy a file but someone else doesn’t like that, it’s called piracy. Why not multiplication? If anything, this last word is closer to the truth. In this case it is unfortunate for the inventor of the word that Johnny Depp has made the pirate into a hero. Last example: safety. Probably the top argument to rob another from his freedom. It implies a threat. Short comment on that: who implies a threat, creates a threat.

Once detected, cases are easily popped. Unspeaking effectively, however, means choosing your words with such care that it is not easily discovered. An effective choice of words acts like blinders to our vision. It directs your attention, avoiding your mind from going anywhere else than where it was planned to go by somebody who thought it through before you.

So, once again, do you unspeak? Ever told someone that he has to earn money (instead of doing something he doesn’t want to)? Ever advised someone to be considerate of a third person’s feelings (instead of telling the truth)? Ever told someone to go on a holiday (instead of heaving himself checked at a mental hospital)?  I suppose we all unspeak on some level. Perhaps we are trying to avoid anger.

A more interesting question here is perhaps: why do we accept it? Why do we keep ourselves in the dark? Are we really sheep?

A simple question

“What is it that makes you want to wake up in the morning?”. I’ve travelled 1500 km to have this chat, prepared for hours, but of all questions I least expected this one. The question may seem innocent, but to ask this to someone of my generation is below the belt.

The truth is: I do not know the answer. And the fact that I don’t makes me feel extremely insecure. Shouldn’t I know by now? In fact, I can only admit that what I have been doing these past months, maybe the past years even, was to go on and on. Following courses, hopping locations, seeing friends, heaving experiences, writing job applications, all were ways to avoid this question.

I don’t often wake up vivid and inspired. Never did. When I wake up I want to stay in bed. In fact I am sad about that. I’d like to be a person that is constantly driven by something. Like playing piano, or painting, or protecting the environment. I’d like to believe in ideals, but deep inside, I see everything as relative.

But now, I’d better come up with an answer. Quickly! “The connection with nature. And with people.” I’m not able to lay myself bare here now because I try. The rest of the interview will be nice though. Phillip and Vivien are beautiful people and I will manage to get over my instant of panic, which, by the way, came after the first impression. I will not get the job because of my lack of German. I’ll get over that quickly. But this question has been asked. It will weaken me. Block my pen if I don’t deal with it. Gently. Slowly.

Why do we expect ourselves to be so fast?