On believing in things.

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Why would I deliberately choose a topic so open-ended, so mammoth in essence, so incalculable and sensitive for my third blog ever written in my entire life? Doesn’t that seem like a stupid, stupid, very stupid idea? That’s probably because it is! There is literally an unfathomable amount of topics to discuss IN EXISTENCE that I could poorly gloss over in this shitty post, why try to tackle something of this magnitude? Why provide such inadequate conjecture about something I’m nowhere near intelligent enough to wrap my below-average sized brain around and expose myself to intense scrutiny, endless torment and not to mention inevitable heaps of visceral internet hate?

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Well, thankfully for me, I can rest my gorgeous, chestnut-brown eyes easy tonight knowing not a soul will ever read this.

So, who does everybody likeeeeee?

Who or what are we believing in, hoping for and rallying around these days? Man, have you seen our options? There’s just so much to choose from now, I mean, I know for a guy like me it would be hard to choose. I still can’t even decide whether or not I like waffles or pancakes more (if you’ve made a decision on this send me tips!), let alone who to invest my undying love and trust in for all of eternity.

Like you’ve got your old classics in God, Jesus or the Prophet Muhammad. Simple, basic and low risk. I’m a betting man, so if I’m putting money down, it’s probably on one of these guys right here. If we looked up the Vegas odds at this very moment, I highly doubt you’d find greater than 2/1 odds that any one of these lovely deities would be the one walking with you, hand-in-hand, down a long stretch of beach into utopian afterlife.

But maybe you’re looking for something a little more high-risk/high-reward, right? Maybe you skip right over those three and find yourself fixated on a couple of guys like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who together form the Trinity of the supreme God in Hinduism. A three-for-one deal on a supreme God of the third-largest religious following on the planet? You kidding me? At 5/1 odds I’d have to think long and hard of several reasons NOT to ride those three weirdos all the way to the bitter end.

Or perhaps you’re feeling a bit adventurous, bold even. Maybe you’ve got some spiritual capital to throw around now and so you now think “hey, I’ve got no problem putting something down on a dark horse of sorts, let’s see who’s available.” You continue to scan down the board until you get to the likes of Ahura Mazda at 120/1, a little further down and there’s Cao Đài at 200/1, followed closely be the fun and popular Odin at 220/1 and all-powerful Cronus at 250/1.

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If this is me in this ridiculously-idiotic hypothetical scenario — and it is— you can bet I’m laying some cheddar down on the guy who promised to eradicate all ice giants on earth, along with a dude that chopped off his own dad’s dick and balls and chucked them into the ocean. If that’s the kind of action available for mere pennies, I’ll take out a second mortgage on my entire fucking spiritual estate. I want in.

Anyway, so here we are, looking up and down this huge board of odds, filled with gods who come in all kinds of different shapes, sizes and abilities. And you might take a moment to think to yourself, “gee, we sure do believe in whole lot of different shit, eh?”  Well, you’d be correct in thinking that. In fact, a quick Google search in 2016 shows estimates there are currently around 4,300 active religions worldwide, according to Adherents.com. Now, how credible is that source? I’m not sure, but I do know the answer has gotta be somewhere around A FUCK TON. Plus, if you compound the current collective of beliefs with those that have either evolved or died out throughout the course of human history, you’re left with a truly staggering amount of different things humanity has chosen to put its faith behind.

But this is your lucky day, because right now I’m going to reveal to you exactly what you should be believing in. That’s right, I have the answer, and I am willing to impart this rare piece of wisdom to you, totally free of charge, so here it is. What you should believe in is…

Just, whatever you feel like.

That’s it. Believe in whatever you want. Believe in a funny, cool and sexy horse god named Clyde in a tailored suit. Believe in an almighty, iridium-based, furniture god with the power to Feng shui a room in mere seconds. Fuck, you can even believe in a gargantuan, salty, angry, mashed potatoes god who incinerates all non-devout heathens in boiling pots of delicious creamy gravy. I don’t care and neither should anyone else. And that’s because what we’re beginning to learn about the human brain reveals that what we believe in matters far less than our ability to demonstrate belief in anything at all.

Take for example the work of Bruce Hood, an experimental psychologist at the University of Bristol. Hood has written extensively on the human brain and the almost intrinsic nature of its belief in superstition and supernatural forces, even going as far as to say that these things are hardwired into our brains from birth:

Our research shows children have a natural, intuitive way of reasoning that leads them to all kinds of supernatural beliefs about how the world works.

 

As they grow up they overlay these beliefs with more rational approaches but the tendency to illogical supernatural beliefs remains as religion.

Courtesy the UK Daily Mail

That actually makes a lot of sense though. Kids really do believe in the DUMBEST SHIT. Oh, a magical fairy that, while you sleep, replaces your rotten, decaying canine with valuable currency? Like does that actually sound like a plausible transaction to you? Of course not. But we were all kids once, with kid brains. And believe it or not, we’re actually still those same people, just many trips around the sun later. Would it be so naive to think that not a single part of our minds would still be capable of producing a thought of similar value? Like maybe, I don’t know, something about an omnipotent, old, white, bearded creator that lives in the clouds with his half-human son. Oh, but billions of fully-developed adult human beings believe that’s real? My mistake.

Hood is hardly the first to make a claim like this though. There’s a bulk of other psychological research that supports this fact, stating, basically, that the need to believe in something is actually a mechanism of evolution directly linked to survival of our species. Martin D. Jaffe, author of the book Primal Instinct, elaborates on this theory:

Evolutionary psychology’s answer is straightforward: Religions have lasted for millenniums because humans’ most basic instinct is for security, and God promises security.

Courtesy The New York Times

Simple and to the point. Believe in God, live forever. Don’t believe and spend eternal damnation rotting in the depths of fiery hell. Here, the choice on whether to believe or not seems pretty clear.

Another, more-philosophical, approach to our need to believe was crafted by seventeenth-century French mathematician and physicist, Blaise Pascal. Pascal authored a probabilistic argument entitled Pascal’s Wager, summarized as the following:

Pascal’s argument is a simple one: reason and intellect cannot decide the question of whether God exists or not; therefore, it makes sense to choose the option that would benefit us most should we be right. Accordingly, the options would be as follows:

1. You may live a religious and moral life and be rewarded by eternal happiness.

 

2. You may live a pleasure-seeking life and be denied eternal happiness.

 

3. You may live a holy life but there is actually no God or eternal life.

 

4. You may live a pleasure-seeking life but it makes no difference because there is no God.

 

For Pascal, the first of these options is the most important one because it represents the maximum gain and loss. Even if it should turn out that there is no God, the sheer risk of deciding against such a possibility warrants that we should take that option.

Courtesy the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

That Pascal has a point. Even if there’s literally no feasible way to scientifically prove the existence of a god, you’re likely better off believing in one anyway. Fuck, maybe in some weirdly-twisted, probability-based way, we really are just programmed to fake-believe from the get-go.

But, you could dive EVEN FURTHER into the rabbit hole about why we believe, because in order to even express the need to believe in something, you would theoretically have to be able to ask the question about why it is you came into existence in the first place. This is perfectly encapsulated by philosopher Rene Descartes‘ famous statement, “I think, therefore I am.” Could it be possible that, in order to even exist, the primary function of a being must be its ability to think about and question its very own existence?

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And so now, we’re approaching what I like to call, THE PUKE ZONE, that area of fundamental thought that makes you so uncomfortable to even discuss, you want to vomit all over your brand new Macbook Air. So, I will leave you with this. Perhaps the need to believe is innately hardwired in us from birth. Maybe it’s a product from years of evolutionary progress focused totally on survival. Or, it could be, that given the circumstances, it’s in our greatest intentions to just believe in something and hope for the best.

Regardless, there’s one thing I’m absolutely certain of when it comes to believing in something and I’m not making any jokes here because this is serious sentiment. You CANNOT kill other human beings over what they believe OR because of what you believe. You cannot. Every human being expresses the need to believe in something, even as an atheist — which I am — you’re expressing a belief. To kill someone over something they are most likely fundamentally programmed to do, just like breathing, because they do it in a different way? That’s unacceptable in my opinion.

But don’t take my word for it, because what the fuck do I know really? I’m just a guy with a pair of hands typing shit into a computer. Take the word of the most intelligent, unbelievable, creative and mind-numbingly-insane doctor who ever existed. And that my friends, is the unimpeachable Dr. Seuss.

I remember watching that as a kid growing up and, to this day, I haven’t forgotten it. Probably because it’s absolute fucking madness and has haunted me in my sleep over the past two decades, but I’ll always remember the meaning behind it.

And that’s it. Just believe in whatever you want, but don’t kill folks. It’s as simple as that.

Not such a difficult topic after all.

In my research for this post, I came across a great op-ed piece from 2012 in the New York Times entitled The Moral Animal, written by a chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth named Jonathan Sacks. Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s an easy, great and interesting read.

On hating ever single fucking word you write down.

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Is it normal to hate every single fucking word you write down? I know I do.

It’s been two days since I started this project and all that keeps rattling around in my brain is: why on earth am I writing this blog? I must sound so dumb. Why am I sitting here, staring at my computer screen like some sort of unstoppable moron, typing nonsense into this content box. I really have no clue, honestly.

It’d probably have something to do with the fact that growing up, I thought I was going to be a sports writer. Actually I was more convinced I was going to be a sports writer, like it was some pre-ordained fact that from ages 20 – 75, I’d be pumping out the juiciest long-form, tear-jerking, PANTS-POOPING journalism manifestos for Sports Illustrated every single week until my untimely death on the sidelines of the 2065 Robot Slam Ball World Series. Alas, although I did complete J-School and become a fully-licensed journalist, I just ended up losing interest in reporting (and writing altogether for that matter) and began to pursue different interests.

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You know what though? After a few years, I missed writing. I actually enjoyed writing. I find it stimulating recording all of the idiotic thoughts in my head, if, for no other reason, just so I can remember some of thoughts I thought that one time. And so, that’s what this space is for me. A place on the internet where I can say what I want and hopefully share some really interesting and captivating thoughts of people who actually DO know what they’re talking about.

I have some advice. It’s rather new advice considering I only discovered it like a day ago (does this still count?), but nonetheless, still advice. If you’re one of the three people that end up reading this and you’ve been thinking about starting something yourself, anything, you know what? Just fucking do it. Just fucking do it and who cares what anyone else thinks. The internet is full of savages REGARDLESS. No matter what you do, people will find a way to belittle your efforts, so might as well invite them right up into your personal space so that they can make fun of your awful writing and shitty ideas.

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Because the funny thing about the internet is, it’s also an amazing, amazing tool. Quite simply, it’s the live collective of all humanity’s thoughts, ideas, history, misery and genius, constantly growing and changing, easily accessible and searchable. Just think about that. THAT IS FUCKING WILD. TBL done us a huge solid with the internet. Plus, for every negative person out there — and there’s a shit ton — there’s also an equally massive community of FANTASTIC people that exist, willing to support whatever you do, provide constructive feedback and let you know you’re doing a great job. And that makes it all worth it.

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So take advantage, it’s fucking 2016. Everyone has thoughts and ideas. Sure, not all of them are brilliant. Sure, some are straight up caca in your Old Navy jeans. But that’s what the internet is for. Is it normal to hate every single fucking word you write down? Probably. But odds are — and they may be slim — but odds are someone else out there on the internet might not.

Fuck, they may even actually like it.

If you’re looking for inspiration from an absolute genius writer (and have some time because it’s a long read), please make sure you check out: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think over at Wait But Why.

 

 

 

 

On the pale blue dot.

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I remember first seeing the image below in 2013, taken of Earth by the Cassini spacecraft as it orbited Saturn. I remember sitting there and staring at it for a good ten minutes, contemplating the unbelievable distance between the two objects. If you can’t quite make Earth out, it’s that small shining dot just below the centre of the photo, hence, why this photo is sometimes referred to as the pale blue dot. Now, I happened to find it almost instantly because I have the eyes of a HAWK, what with all those years of practice scanning for Waldo and all kinds of weird shit in I Spy, but, to the untrained eye, our planet almost fades quietly away into the background of cosmic abyss.

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

What’s outrageous though, is that this image, the Cassini photograph, isn’t even the real and true pale blue dot, or furthest picture we’ve taken of our planet. Thanks to the GOAT, Carl Sagan, it’s actually this one, taken by NASA’s Voyageur 1 spacecraft as it was leaving the solar system in 1989, four billion miles from earth.

Leaving the fucking solar system.

That’s something humans made. Now that shit is awesome.

Anyway, I chose to go with something a little more aesthetically appealing for this blog and when I say a little, I clearly mean a lot more appealing. A lot, lot, lot. Actually, so much so, that it could be borderline fake. Like NASA could have just made up the idea that they were launching Cassini in 1997, waited 20 years and then photoshopped this stunning image and said: “Look! This is what Earth looks like from Saturn, isn’t it cooooooool?” And nobody would have said nothing.

I do, in fact, know that the Cassini image is real and that Saturn actually looks like that. That’s literally what it looks like. If you took your shitty iPhone into space and travelled 900 million miles to Saturn, you too would be able to take a similar photo. To me, that’s BANANAS. I think about how amazed I get by the simplest, most nonsensical garbage here on earth, meanwhile there’s a gargantuan, kinda tan-yellowish ball of hydrogen and helium, 227,349 miles in circumference (!) with these crazy rings and shit, just out there floating around in space in all its breathtaking glory. And I’m here still in awe I can order a half-chicken dinner to my door using my phone while I’m taking a dump.

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But that’s actually what this blog is all about! And what I mean by that, is understanding everything in terms of relativity. Relativity. Not exactly like what legendary science man, Albert Einstein, was talking about in his theory of relativity, but yeah, kind of – sort of – like that. This relativity, though, focuses more on our approach, that is to say humans’ approach, as to what we are and how we tend to think of ourselves. This is an exercise that’s probably not new to anyone reading this, but it’s a simple way to gain perspective on what’s really going on around you.

For example, you don’t normally wake up in the morning, swear at your alarm, piss in the shower and then think to yourself “gee, it’s pretty fucked up that we’re all on a giant, round, rotating rock, whizzing through the vacuum of space, in orbit around a massive flaming ball,” and then just go eat your shitty bran flake cereal and head out to your soul-sucking job at the Condom Shack. Or most don’t anyway. Most people wake up and think about all the stuff they have to do that day, all the things that are relative to them. Not normally the things that they are relative to.

It’s as sobering an exercise as there is. My boy, Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous/infamous French philosopher from the mid-twentieth century, touched on this while discussing some of his many thoughts about existentialism. Here is Sartre on the absurdity of things:

One: Things are weirder than we think

Sartre is acutely attentive to moments when the world reveals itself as far stranger and more uncanny than we normally admit; moments when the logic we ascribe to it day-to-day becomes unavailable, showing things to be highly contingent and even absurd and frightening.

Sartre’s first novel – Nausea, published in 1938 – is full of evocations of such moments. At one point, the hero, Roquentin, a 30-year-old writer living in a fictional French seaside town, is on a tram. He puts his hand on the seat, but then pulls it back rapidly. Instead of being the most basic and obvious piece of design, scarcely worth a moment’s notice, the seat promptly strikes him as deeply strange; the word ‘seat’ comes loose from its moorings, the object it refers to shines forth in all its primordial oddity, as if he’s never seen one before – and its material and slight swell makes him think of the repulsive bloated belly of a dead donkey. Roquentin has to force himself to remember that this thing beside him is something for people to sit on. For a terrifying moment, Roquentin has peered into what Sartre calls the ‘absurdity of the world.’

Courtesy the philosophersmail.com 

I guess my thought on relativity lies somewhere in between what Sartre is saying and where most of us are now. Like you don’t have to be a fucking weirdo about everything, freaking out on trams in fake French towns, while walking around constantly contemplating your very existence. I mean, that’s really a monumental task to ask of a junior sales associate at the Condom Shack. However, I do believe that most of us have the capacity to demonstrate the brevity and awareness of a civilization that is beginning to grasp our place within the universe.

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These shots of awe — which is a fantastic term I’m stealing from the great Jason Silva — that prompt people to stop and wonder about their place in the universe, are all around us. Just like the Cassini photograph, they serve as a reminder that we are but a pale blue dot in the super-massive cosmic ocean. And that’s not something I’m saying to try and scare people, because, I wouldn’t want you to view it as a scary or threatening thing. Really, I would hope that most people reading this would take a quick moment to sit back, look at the Cassini photograph, close their eyes and feel amazed about what it is that they are a part of.

So I guess that’s my ridiculous, roundabout way of explaining why I chose that particular image. Every time I start writing words in a blog post (keep in mind this is my first!) I think about all this other information I want to touch on or include. I have to force myself to stop being an idiot, or else we’d end up with a fucking ridiculous mishmash of words and quotes and all kinds of shit. So, I’m going to stop here for now, but know that I’ll have a lot more to share from a variety of incredibly knowledgable sources who think in ways I could only ever imagine.

Anyways, keep reading if you’re interested or go back to jerking off to Instagram or pictures of cats or whatever people do on the fucking internet these days.

What a world!

Just to be transparent, should I be impressed with myself that the word count has me over 1,000? I haven’t written anywhere close to that amount since I was semi-plagiarizing night-before essays in my university days. Actually whatever, fuck you if you’re not impressed. I’m impressed with myself. Thanks for reading.