Autopiloting, Bonsai minds and a Yodaism

“Boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon? ”

We like the comfort of our beliefs and positions. They are our old friends. We have spent a lot of time coochi-cooing with them, ironing out every annoying crease of disformity. Using the chisel of cognitive dissonance, we have sculpted our mind for maximum fit with the undulations of our container beliefs, like a bonsai plant.

No wonder then, new beliefs and new ways of thought appear unpleasant, and rightly so, need to be extensively studied and checked for contaminants under the torchlight of logic, before sweet, happy uptake. Yet, like John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”, we do not step outside life, the universe* and everything, while we happily evaluate options.

We continue to make choices, execute decisions based on our current philosophies – considered, happened upon, underevaluated et. al.- the only thing common to them is we have grown comfortable to them – and reap the benefits/pay the price for the consequences.

Waiting to commit to a (any) school of thought is in consequence, an endorsement of our subscribed (by default) school of thought (which may not have been subjected to the same rigour to which the new school is subjected). (This is different from the argument by verbal skullduggery that starts with “Atheism is also a religion because it is the belief in non-existence of …” and so on.) There is safety in (default) loyalty to our beloved beliefs, but this safety comes at a price.

The fence is illusory. Do or not do. There is no fence.

* Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth”. Change “earth” to “universe”, and ‘Houston, we have a problem!’

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31 comments
  1. pseudopseudointellectual said:

    unawoken, this is a masterpiece. loved every line, every quote!

  2. Unawoken said:

    ehehe Thanks pseudopseudointellectual! you are too kind 🙂 I am glad you enjoyed it

  3. Anonymous said:

    Wise words, and enjoyably so! While you regard this an interesting observation, I consider it a sad realization. It is my belief that unraveling the mysteries of our own mind will lead to more and more bitter truths. Kant believed that human reason is flawed, and that it gives the ‘illusion’ of making sense. If we are to trust science, then we must begin to understand the essence of evolution. Every little functional unit in the human body, including our much valued and supposedly superior MIND, was designed for a specific purpose: the propagation of genes. This has implications which are yet to be even understood. Even our limbic system, which controls our emotions, is specifically and intricately designed to achieve that goal. We weren’t made to be happy or live in orgasmic heavenly bliss. We were made to compete with each other to propagate our genes. And with competition comes winning, losing, fighting, power, killing, suffering. We all know that the world sucks. Yet, 99/100 people when asked the question ‘Are you happy in life?’ will answer “yes”. Does our mind make us believe lies in order for the ‘greater purpose’, which is nothing but fighting and killing each other? Ah yes, fighting and killing each other is indeed very natural. Every species does it. We are still to prove we’re any different.

  4. Unawoken said:

    anonymous,
    Thank you for your comments. You are the first “anonymous” commentor here that I really do not know the identity of 🙂

    I agree with you completely on the evolutionary basis for human behaviour. However, we had to get here some way, by design, by accident, or howsoever else. Pinning it down to one of the answers (by evolution), still leaves open the question what we do now that we are here.

    The observation as you rightly noted, is interesting to me. It is neither sad not happy. Yes we are flawed (in a manner of speaking, for what standards are we holding up to?), however I think it is of primary importance to realise in what way we are flawed, and we do with this.

    As you point out, yes, evolution has given rise to cutthroatism, violence et. al. But at the same time, it gives rise to the observable phenomenoa of cooperation (see Axelrod’s evolution of cooperation in a selfish agent assumption), the capacity for empathy, altruism and so on. Not that I am automatically concluding that some of these are superior and others inferior.

    Whether there is a higher purpose, or there isn’t, it is ultimately up to us to make one up or not, or follow something written on stone or not.

  5. Chi-Ling said:

    fence or no fence, life is better with premises. perception often trumps reality.

  6. Unawoken said:

    chi-ling,
    Thank you for your comment.

    ” life is better with premises. perception often trumps reality.”

    These statements could be true. But there is a whole lot of background that is hidden in them.
    The word “better” for example.

    For example, let us consider seeing (visual perception). A rock doesn’t let visible light through. Since we only visually perceive through a narrow slit of visible light in the light spectrum, we see the rock as a solid object. But, the rock is actually made up of mostly empty space (if an atom is like a stadium, the nucleus is like a fly in the middle of the stadium). If we could see with the x-ray part of the spectrum, we would see the rock as much less solid. An argument on if the rock is “really solid” or “really empty” is not really meaningful. It depends on the level of resolution. But we cannot walk through the rock even after realising that the rock is empty space from a certain perspective that is available to us. Yes, choosing the perception of solidity of the rock is preferable for a person who harbours intentions of walking through it (unless if unnecessary pain is his/her thing).

    Similarly an optimistic perspective for example, i.e. seeing reality through a rose-coloured filter, makes people happier (based on my reading on this subject), and maybe take more initiative, etc. But at the same time it is clearly a departure from seeing the world through no such rose-coloured filters. If I am seeing the world through X-coloured filters, I would like to know that factoid.

    If perception trumps reality in a particularly set up subsystem, I would like to know in what ways. For example, in a human subsystem, developing a behavioural preference to see reality through optimistic glasses may get selected, since that fulfills some specific purposes.

  7. Chi-Ling said:

    with the rose colored glasses business, a hint of color is most probably helpful. opaque lens of any color, however, are likely to detrimentally limit perception.

    it might be prudent to note that it is possible to be an optimistic realist. after all, the guy with half a cup of water, he doesn’t lie to himself. the cup is half full or half empty; it just depends on which way you choose to look at it.

    but then again, we’re straying further and further away from your original post.

  8. Unawoken said:

    “with the rose colored glasses business, a hint of color is most probably helpful. “

    Helpful for what?

    “opaque lens of any color, however, are likely to detrimentally limit perception.”

    Yeah true, but I think there is no real argument for opaque glasses. That is a slamdunk. But how about colourless glasses? How about glasses that help see beyond the visible range?

    “it might be prudent to note that it is possible to be an optimistic realist. after all, the guy with half a cup of water, he doesn’t lie to himself. the cup is half full or half empty; it just depends on which way you choose to look at it.”

    Sure, but I am not sure what an optimistic realist is. For example, first, even with this constructed example, there are other solutions to the phrasing. For example, “half the capacity of the glass is occupied by water”. Secondly, I’d add that in 100 trials of half-glass situations, in about 50 of them we could term them half-full and in about 50 of them half-empty.

    “but then again, we’re straying further and further away from your original post.”

    right

  9. Unawoken said:

    Upon mulling a bit further about your point, I’d say that the opaque comment actually supports my take. An opaque filter is on the other end of the scale on the tinted side, not on the clear side! In other words, an opaque filter is an inifinitely severe tinting of the glasses. (i.e. tinting == bad, look what happens when taken to extreme argument)

    Secondly, even with the glass example, the glass is half occupied by water and half by air. So the unresolved language is expressing a preference to “talk water” than “talk air”.

  10. Unawoken said:

    carpe diem,
    Thanks, I will check it out.

  11. Chi-Ling said:

    here’s the thing. if there is a fence, the potential of one’s information set approaches this asymptotic boundary until the end of life/time. that being said, there is prudence in implementing flexible boundaries for the sake of pragmatism. that’s what i meant by the premises comment.

    my argument with the pink is that a hint of it often improves the overall perspective of the person. as i conceded, it is the case that you can have too much of anything.

    as for your “occupied” observation, it illustrates my point about premises. applying your usage, every space is occupied. differentiating the various substances would be rather cumbersome. this is why i presume the air occupation to be inconsequential and hence classify the space as “unoccupied.”

    the floor is yours.

  12. Unawoken said:

    chi-ling,
    From your comments, I am not really sure what we are debating here anymore. The fence in my post refers to the proverbial fence you sit on before commiting to something. I think you seem to understand it as a limit on knowability..

    Regarding the empty, occupied etc. observations, my point wasn’t about every space being occupied. It was that the cup-parable hides some details of language rather than hope.

    For an overview of optimism bias, please take a look at the wikipedia entry on “optimism bias”. It makes it clearer the way in which rose-coloured outlooks are out of step with reality.

  13. Chi-Ling said:

    *laugh*

    i thought you meant something entirely different with the fence usage. i assumed you were talking about open mindedness instead of decision making.

    it’s quite interesting philosophizing a misunderstanding. until next time. 🙂

  14. Unawoken said:

    Hi chi-ling,
    I was basically concerned with the decision-process that involves uptake of beliefs and ideas. New beliefs that challenge our current positions have to jump through a lot of hoops before we uptake them. But while we are subjecting new beliefs to elaborate scrutiny, we may think we are fence-sitting, while in fact we are by default endorsing our current beliefs/ideas and living accordingly. Secondly, research (see the link on attitude polarization from the post, for example) suggests that we do not subject our held beliefs/ideas to the same scrutinous tests that the challengers must pass for our acceptance.

  15. Trice said:

    I love it !!! it’s great 🙂

  16. Chi-Ling said:

    what i meant by my initial comment was that establishing givens (premises) improves one’s quality of life. a willingness to new and different ideas is essentially good. but, pondering things like the presupposition of existence can be rather discombobulating. this is going to sound trite, but life is about balance. that was the point i was trying to make.

    as for your post, i agree that most people have difficulty with processing life experiences that are incongruent with their belief systems. furthermore, i concur with the stance that people are quick to discount those experiences in lieu of their own beliefs. 🙂

  17. Unawoken said:

    trice, thank you! welcome back after a long time 🙂

    chi-ling, thanks, my intention was to understand your take better..

  18. Jyo said:

    Nice topic and you stated the reality.
    Its a constant debate for younger generation to either follow what they believe verses stick to old successful beliefs passed on by parents/society.

    This debate goes from small tiny things to life making decisions …

    “Do or Not Do” is easy to say but not easy to implement.

    Lets take few easy topics :
    1)Because everyone studied engineering or medicine and proof that jobs fetch more money, parents push/advise to take that path and society values that professions more.

    2)Marriages – Arranged Marriages still favoured in countries like India and Love marriages are looked down.
    Younger generation care less for this factor now-a-days but its still major impacted decision

    Career and Marriage are big decisions in life but most people go with old beliefs since its safe.
    Yeh, for sure they will miss the freedom of choosing what they like.
    But its more risky.(Majority)

    Its upto the individual if he wants to take risks in life and face success/failure or JUST play safe and accept what he got.
    He can still explore and realise the truth but sometimes it maybe late to uptake them but keeping the mind open for new options is always better.

    Anyways ..bottom line. Do or Not Do philosophy is a constant debate.
    Its up to the individual how he explores,realises and implements.

  19. Unawoken said:

    jyo, thanks for your comment!

  20. “If you follow the ways in which you were trained, which you may have inherited, for no other reason than this, you are illogical.”

    –Jalaluddin Rumi

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