Saturday, August 29, 2009

Evolving Utopia Part 24

Part 24: An Alternative Way

A lot of what passes for science is done in fancy laboratory buildings with expensive equipment, and the average person is in no position to challenge it. But we don't have to take it as seriously as the so-called scientists do. What ordinary people can do is use common sense. If some kind of study promises a golden age of technology, then just be patient and that golden age will either come or it won't.
If it just fades away because nobody else gets excited about it, the odds are that it was simply a mistake rather than that the establishment is suppressing it.

The science that seems radical in this essay is not unfamiliar because it was suppressed, it is because it is running against the tide. No scientist wants to oppose Spencerian evolution because the noisy opposition comes from religious fundamentalists, and most scientists would rather not be noticed than be tagged with that lable. Most scientists earn their living in big institutions and they have to go along with the mainstream for fear of losing their jobs. Even tenured academics are reluctant to be unconventional.

I'm retired, so I won't lose my job for what I say. I'll just be ignored. And I do have a Ph. D. in Nuclear Physics from a prestigious institution, so I can use mathematical arguments that are fairly exotic; but that doesn't help much because those who are likely to know enough to be critical aren't interested and those who make their living at evolution don't understand the argument.

Religion is a different matter. It seems strange to me, for instance, that religious experts feel free to tell God what God can and cannot do. But the profession of theological expert is 10,- 12,000 years old, and the tradition is that the professionals can boss God around. Science is a more modern profession so, for all its faults, scientists seldom try to boss nature around. The tradition is that you are supposed to observe things and figure out an explanation that fits the facts.

And the facts that religion has to fit are those of ordinary life, so anybody has the right to play that game. If your religion makes you feel comfortable with life, and there isn't anything about it that contradicts your experiences of ordinary life, then it works for you and you might as well stick with it. It probably wouldn't work for me, but there's no point in your bothering about that.

Now if your religion makes you go around bowed down with guilt, or if you aren't comfortable in its rituals or dogmata, you might as well either change it or become autonomous. The odds are that if the experts in your brand of theology haven't convinced everyone in the world to go along with them (and I mean everyone, not just 80%) then their idea of God isn't God's idea of God. Don't take their expertise seriously.

If my ideas about God make you uncomfortable, then don't take them seriously either.

Now it may well be that unless you are autonomous, deliberately or by accident, you can't consider my ideas about God (or the universe, for that matter) without being uncomfortable. If so you may want to consider becoming autonomous.

The last page described Steve Job's experience. Robert Graves was nearly killed in WW1. Shaw was secretive about his first "death and transfiguration" experience, but more public about the one just before writing Ceasar. Jesus was crucified and Gautama nearly starved to death.

But there may have been lots of people who didn't "almost" die, but actually died, and there may have been lots more who weren't ready to take advantage of the experience. So we have no idea how effective the "death and transfiguration" process is. A handful of examples in 10,000 years doesn't sound encouraging to me.

Also, as far as we know, none of these people deliberately had a "death and transfiguration" experience for the purpose of becoming autonomous. For all we know that may not even work. The superego may have to be surprised or it will defend against the experience. It would be embarrassing to go to the trouble of nearly dying and have it be a waste of time.

But there is another approach.

What the superego does to keep us conformist is to use the Oedipal Trauma to let us experience a sense of fear when it thinks we are going to be nonconformist. That kind of fear is often called "free floating anxiety" or, more poetically, "existential dread". It is quite unpleasant and, if you don't understand what it is about, your normal reaction is to avoid it at all costs.

The superego is very ingenious, so it doesn't only use free floating anxiety. If you have any fear, practical or neurotic, the superego will amplify the fear so that it makes your ego easier to control.

The trick, and it is pretty simple, is to simply experience the specific fear, free floating anxiety or existential dread until you get used to it and learn that there aren't any practical consequences of not doing what the fear is directing you to do. Eventually you get so that you can experience the fear without reacting to it, and then the fear doesn't control you.

One thing to watch out for: the superego will amplify real fears with real consequences. You ignore them at your peril. Just because you are no longer paralyzed by the idea of crossing the street doesn't mean you should walk out into heavy traffic. Becoming inured to experienced fear should give you the opportunity to use common sense, not ignore it.

Another thing to watch out for is to avoid building your own barriers that will alienate you from reality and yourself. Try to make all of your interactions Ethical and try to avoid being in an elite or non-elite position. Being "one up" or "one down" makes it easier for the superego to create an ideology that will provide a basis for anxiety.

Once you have reduced your sensitivity to existential dread you can learn about its sources. If you sense a twinge of fear associated with a thought or action you can push on it until it becomes clear what the superego wants you to avoid.

This is a very useful technique in research on behavior. Most of the radical ideas in this essay, although they may look like common sense the way I explain them, involved a considerable amount of anxiety before they were clarified. They may even allow you the opportunity of experiencing existential dread just by reading them!

Once you have reached the point where you can use your existential dread, rather than having it use you, you can feel free to explore aspects of these ideas that haven't occurred to me. You certainly won't need me to tell you whether you are autonomous or not.

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