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What is Faith?
For me, faith is nothing more (or less) than having a belief in something without any physical, tangible, experimentally reproducible evidence. Just to be up front about the matter, there are large swaths of science, particularly physics, where a substantial amount of faith is used. Even the act of designing an experiment requires an act of faith. Since you expect to see (or not see, since good experiments are designed as falsifiable) some effect, you have to choose certain equipment to make the observation. Unless you are replicating an experiment (in which case, you have to have faith that the guy who did the original experiment is telling you everything that went into it) you can’t know that it is even going to work, so you have to have faith in yourself to design the experiment in such a way that you are not going to waste your time and get a useless result (though, to be brutally honest, there are a huge number of people who call themselves scientists who can’t tell the difference between an observed event that is scientifically valid and one that isn’t due to poor design). Faith is everywhere, and probably not recognized as such. Most people have faith that the sun will rise each morning and even though it fails to do so at exactly the same time each day, there are complex elements of faith that lead most to accept the deviations as expected. Even when you get a room full of astrophysicists to debate orbital mechanics, etc. there exists a very real (though quite small) possibility that an event can occur that will cause the sun to stop shining or the earth to stop spinning. Such unlikely events are almost certainly to be so violent that we would all be dead anyway, so there wouldn’t be anyone cornfused about the sun not rising the next non-day, but my point here is to get you to see that faith is nearly everywhere and is in no way limited to the narrow confines of religion.
Observations About Human Observation
There is what you see and there is what was seen. Huh? Well, vision goes like this… A wavelength of light (say 650 nano meters) interacts with a special molecule in a cell in the surface of the eye triggering a chemical reaction that leads to a cascade of electro-chemical changes that sends a signal to the brain’s image processing center which is interpreted as ‘red’. Why red? Well, most of us agree that if we experience this physiochemical effect of light with a wavelength of 650 nanometers we see the color designated (in the English speaking world) as red. Why ‘red’ as opposed to ‘wysiwyg’? Perhaps because it is easier to say, who the heck knows? Now that hope I have demonstrated that the simple act of passively receiving a visual signal is fraught with cultural interpretation issues, let me now point out that your conscious brain doesn’t even know that the physiochemical signal has even been sent, let alone received. There is simply too much stimuli for a human brain to process at any given moment and as a consequence the brain has extensive filtering in place. Through the combination of nature and nurture (i.e., our genes as evolved over hundreds of million years coupled with the slow process of growing from a single cell fertilized in the womb) our brain has evolved a reasonably accurate method of throwing out probably 90-99% of all signals received and providing the conscious part of the intellect with a somewhat two dimensional snapshot of the word that is updated with changes as deemed relevant. So while you are sitting there contemplating the image that most of us agree is ‘red’ actually your conscious mind is looking at a reproduction of the image with a substantial amount of detail stripped out of it. If you train your brain to scan the internal image for certain classes of information then perhaps you can learn that the red color is associated with an apple, as opposed to a stop sign. Since your lower processing centers fill in what it things ought to be present in any given image, based on a life-time’s experience heavily modified by the most recent occurrences (unless you have had some particularly intense past experiences in which case you may find it very difficult to shed those filters), your consciousness can’t really trust what is being ‘displayed’ for it. However, since most people trust their brains implicitly, very few people are even aware of the fact that their own brain can lie to them. So called ‘trained observers’ are generally trained to place less trust on their brain’s display and ask for more corroborating evidence before making conclusions (though, humans being human and all, there are plenty of ‘trained observers’ who think their training makes them more reliable when in fact they are equally unreliable).
Now that I hope I have cast some doubt about seeing what you think you are seeing, now I want to talk a bit about how the conscious brain takes the distorted image it has received from the lower brain cobbled together from the bits of information NOT thrown away as ‘noise’. Humans are meaning making machines and as such strive to come up with explanations for whatever they are experiencing. If you (think) you see something you don’t understand, you immediately start throwing out interpretations until you find one you feel is acceptable (which may be no more (or no less, depending on you outlook) than ‘it is God’s will’, or less flattering, ‘shit happens’). This tendency is so strong that it actually feeds back to the lower brain such that the internal image constructed from memories (which contain only a tiny fraction of the tiny fraction of actual data at the time of occurrence) morphs to meet the interpretation set for it. The more you believe you an interpretation of something, the more your memory of it solidifies to match your interpretation. As a consequence, human memory of an event is so unreliable as to amount to close to random noise. Yet humans extend a great deal of weight to ‘eye witnesses’, so much so that people are convicted of crimes based solely on the testimony of people who claim (and likely even believe) they saw something happen. This is something that has been demonstrated under scientific experimental conditions and verified by many other experimenters and while any thing that is called ‘fact’ is nothing more than educated opinion and can be wrong, it is something you can hang your hat on. People see things that aren’t there, don’t see things that are there, have memories that are fluid and can even recall themselves being in places they have never visited. This is ordinary people interpreting ordinary experiences. Next I will chat about extra- ordinary experiences.
Thoughts About Human Thoughts
Now that I have offered some evidence that you can’t trust your own experiences that actually happened, now I am going to suggest that experiences you feel have happened may never have occurred. Take, for instance, these people convinced they have been abducted by aliens. I am quite sure they are, for the most part, totally sincere in their reports of their recollections and interpretations. However, as I hope I have successfully argued above, seeing ain’t believing and believing ain’t nuthin. There is well known period when falling asleep that the body has paralyzed itself as part of a safety mechanism to keep you from walking in your sleep, but your conscious brain is not completely submerged in dream land. As such, you can open your eyes and see the room around you, yet can’t move at all. Add to this the fact that as your conscious brain starts to relax into sleep your brain’s sub systems starts to throw out some weird stuff it happens to have lying around (no one really knows why the heck we need sleep, perhaps it is to clean out the detritus collected over the day’s events) and the meaning making machine starts to tag on interpretations. If you are predisposed to believe in alien abduction, you might easily think that you are experiencing such as you lie there in bed, paralyzed and having random weird crap overlaid on the room image displayed in your brain (recall that you really never actually ‘see’ anything). Perhaps you are predisposed to visits by angels; your interpretations will lend that direction. Perhaps you are not predisposed to attach any meaning, so your brain makes one up on the spot (that is what it does, after all), perhaps leading to terrifying nightmares, erotic encounters (I would like to have more of those!) or adventures (where I tend to spend my time asleep). So even thinking about things is fraught with hazards. You can’t believe what you see because you are not seeing anything, just a constructed image with most of the information discarded; now you can’t believe what you think because your brain is busy making up meaning irrespective of relevance because that is just what it does (and does well).
If you are feeling lost and wondering if you are really reading this (as opposed to swinging from a vine in a frost covered jungle of icicles as you scratch your third noggin with your fifth arm), then I have accomplished my goal. If you think I am full of crap, but are still reading, then at least you are giving me enough mana to justify my efforts. If you have thrown away this in disgust, then I am typing into a vacuum and all my words will vanish because no one sees them (if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does anyone care?).
Because humans are such effective meaning making machines, they are excellent at imbuing random events with patterns that don’t exist. Take a television that is displaying ‘snow’ and stare at it for a bit. ‘Patterns’ start to emerge from time to time, occasionally there are flashes of even larger things sometimes looking exactly like something you have floating around in your memory. This is not a coincidence as your brain’s image centers are desperately trying to assign some sort of structure to the noise so that it can stop sending so much information. If you look at larger events, particularly events that are stretched over long periods, then you have your memory overlaying additional structure on the random events. Humans are so excellent at forming patterns in their minds that no mater what kind of random data they care to examine, they will find patterns. Many people are so enamored with their patterns that they are convinced that they can use these past patterns to project events into the future. Statistically speaking, given enough people with enough interpretations of the past, a few of them will accurately ‘predict’ the future by simple lucky guess. While the probability is quite low, some of these people will continue on accurately ‘predicting’ events. Are they geniuses who can see the future or just lucky? It is impossible to know in the short term and while the odds are vanishingly small, some people can accurately ‘predict’ the future for long periods of time and still be just guessing. There was an experiment was done to test the abilities of stock analysts to pick winners. A group of monkeys were given darts to throw at a dart board (I presume it was Velcro darts and board) and the locations on the dart board indicated which stocks to pick. The monkeys outdid the majority of the very highly paid analysts on Wall Street! Would anyone care to argue that these are genius monkeys that have an instinctive understanding of the underpinnings of the stock market? Since there are a great deal of stock analysts it is to be expected that a small number of them would choose the right combination of stocks to have large returns and it is to be expected that an even smaller number would continue to pick stocks that have large returns. It is a well-known phenomenon in Wall Street that a successful stock fund attracts investors just as its returns start to dip, often dipping lower than a simple indexed stock fund (one that is simply a combination of stocks on, say, the Dow Jones Industrials). Is this the result of the fund simply running out of ‘luck’? I expect the statements above to anger the majority of stock analysts, but I expect to offend a lot of people with my maunderings.
I define ‘good’ luck as being in the right place at the right time and being capable (intellectually, physically and emotionally) of taking advantage of the opportunity. Sounds kind of boring, eh? Where is the little man in green at the end of the rainbow? Where are the smiling Fates? I believe people are lucky all the time. Some people are convinced they have ‘bad’ luck all the time, but since these ‘lucky’ opportunities are random I would expect that some of the events and opportunities would seem unfortunate. Some people with deep religious convictions cheerfully (at least on the outside) greet ‘bad’ events convinced that God (or whomsoever) is sending them some sort of lesson that will pay off in the future. There are people with the interesting belief that bad things happen for no reason, but good things happen because they are somehow imbued with special-ness to make it so. Since things happen all the time (would be a very boring universe if nothing ever happened!) and some of those things can be interpreted as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’ people are inclined to make patterns out of this randomness. Just as there are a small group that will continue to experience ‘good’ luck there are a small group of people that continue to experience ‘bad’ luck. Perhaps if one is disposed to believe in their pattern of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ luck they put blinders on and only see future opportunities in the same light. Life is a long series of random events; interpretation is up to you. Did you have a bad day yesterday? What made it bad? Only your interpretation. It may have been that thousands of other people experiencing the exact same series of events would have had a great day. Naturally the converse is true as is the middle ground where nothing particularly memorable happened. Tomorrow, get up and decide today is going to be a great day and see what happens. Perhaps you will be offered all sorts of new opportunities. Perhaps you will just notice what a fine day it is or will really notice and enjoy some piece of art or a bit of nature. Perhaps your upbeat attitude will attract the notice of someone that may lead to a long loving relationship. Perhaps you will get home at the end of the day convinced I am full of crap because nothing ‘good’ happened, but consider that you are at home and not laid up in a hospital’s burn unit suffering through that privation.
So What the Heck Does This Have to do with Faith?
What I am hoping to achieve is that the simple act of observing our environment and interpreting the observations is all built on faith. You have faith that what the image created from the physical events that surround you is an accurate representation. You have faith that your interpretation of the image is correct. You have faith that if others are put in your identical situation they will have identical images and interpretations. There are no reasonable experiments we can design to show this is true or false, so we all have to have this faith or we all just sit around mumbling and twitching until we starve to death (or are eaten by bears). Since even the most simple events we take for granted are based on faith, it is easy to extrapolate to state that essentially all human thoughts, events, activities, interpretations, etc. are all made in faith. Because I say it is so, naturally, means that it has no meaning other than what you choose to make it. Since taking this to the fullest extend inevitably leads to anarchy and the destruction of all civilization, how is this reasonable when we have (apparently) created a thriving global society so powerful that it is actually destroying the ecosystem on an entire planet? Faith is very strong in humans and most people have faith in their system. Quite a few grumble about certain elements of whatever system they are in, fewer still attempt to alter the system (from the inside or without; via passive means or direct) and only a handful actually cause enough of a change that people will alter their faith to change their beliefs. Sometimes it takes a long time for faith to change; sometimes it happens in an instant. Sometimes a person’s personality is so strong they can impress others enough to shift their faith into alignment. This faith is all throughout science, government, business, law and politics. Obviously faith and religion go hand in hand; most other areas of faith have bamboozled themselves into thinking that they are basing their beliefs in fact and can’t see that the facts are nothing more than images we all think we are agreeing on. Of course religion attempts to get people to base their faith on common feelings (got to all agree on which god we are offering mana toward else our efforts are diffused) so it appears to be as solid and as ‘real’ as the astrophysical interpretation of, say, a massive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
Since everyone has their own constructed image of what they experience that is further distorted by their recollection of that experience, it might be remarkable that anyone can agree on anything. I think that humans as a species like to be agreeable (obviously there are plenty of individuals that choose not to be) and as such, they tend to morph their interpretations of events into alignment with one another. Enough morphing and everyone starts to agree that 650 nanometer light wavelengths are to be designated as ‘red’ and we can move on to more complex subjects like who is going to throw a rock at that bear before he is upon us.
My Faith In god
The basis of my faith is that I feel the energy associated with a living being does not have to dissipate upon death. While I feel that in most cases the energy will diffuse into the background, there exists the possibility that the previously living being had such a strong will at the time of physical death that it is able to maintain organization of its energy for some period. What energy? Well, for that I point to things like Kirlian Aura photography. Since my belief is based on faith, I don’t really need any tangible evidence (by my own definition), but since I am a scientist-type I generally seek evidence for my beliefs even if that evidence is dubious. So, if you accept the idea that a living organism can have energy associated with it that can be distinct from its physical being, then that leads to lots of interesting possibilities, some of which I will discuss below. As an extension of this belief in the energy of a living organism, I also believe that it is possible for an energy being to come into existence and be maintained if enough organisms contribute their belief in it. Since I expect that the majority (if not the entire extent) of organisms contributing this energy are humans, I will dispense with the cumbersome bit about organisms. People believing in an idea give some energy to that idea. If a substantial number of people give energy to an idea for a long enough time, I believe that energy takes on a life and awareness of its own. I term this energy ‘mana’ and people are imbued with it and are capable of giving or receiving it.
This leads to a discussion on ghosts. If you accept that a living being has extrinsic energy that can exists in an organized way after the dissolution of its physical self, then ghosts become an inevitable byproduct. I have had several personal experiences that I interpret as ghosts or ghostly manifestations, two of which I will briefly describe. As a youngster I had parakeets. I didn’t take very good care of them and eventually they died. Before they shuffled off to never-never land, I had let them out of their cage a number of times. The house we lived in had these wooden boxes over the windows and the birds liked to land up there and walk around. The pitter patter of their little feet had a very characteristic sound and for a few days after they passed on, at night I would occasionally hear that very clear, very characteristic sound. Much later as a young adult I had a cat. If I recall correctly his name was Jack, but I often called him flag pole because his tail would stand strait up. In this house we had floor to ceiling windows directly next to the front door and Jack would often sit there waiting to be let in for some milk. When I let him in I would often tweak his tail as he went by. Well, as a full male cat, Jack was wont to wander the neighborhood and get into fights. Very expensive fights to me as I had to take him to the vet several times to have wounds cleaned and stitched. That apparently made him some enemies, as I found him one day in a favorite place to sleep between the house and the air conditioner. He was stone cold dead and had vomited some foamy green stuff, so I felt sure he had been poisoned. Shortly after the sad day that I had put him in the ground I was bounding down the stairs past the front door in my normal head-long fashion and without thinking about anything saw a cat that looked like Jack at the window, opened the door to let him in, tweaked his tail as he went by, and finished my bounding down to the basement. Very shortly thereafter I recalled that Jack was dead and thus had just let in some strange cat into our house. However, I was unable to find any cat.
Now if we can accept that energy can exist without physical substance as a remnant of a once living being, it is a small step to consider that energy may organize itself if enough people believe in it. In this case I am talking about God, gods, demigods, deities, fates, Mother Nature, etc. If enough people believe in something then they can create a vessel for their energy that will take on an awareness of itself. If you allow this organized energy to impact the physical world (like my parakeets and cat) then why not have the energy act in such a way to reinforce belief in itself, thus giving it more energy. While not quite the same as a self-fulfilling prophecy, you can see how a well organized and thoughtful energy being could diligently work to increase awareness of itself. Perhaps the Jewish/Christian/Islamic God is ‘just’ an energy being that has a very successful marketing campaign. This handily explains why bad things happen to good people (and vice versa); this God is not in fact all knowing and all powerful and is just trying to get by. Viewed as a marketing campaign, the idea that you are the one and only God helps to rob mana from the elder gods since the typical reaction of people rejecting the J/C/I God would be to believe nothing. If one is to further extend this logic and consider that God and the Devil may in fact be the same being (they are so closely intertwined, after all), a very large proportion of the mana offered by the people on our planet goes to a single energy entity.
I also believe non-religious ideas can get enough energy to start a feedback mechanism as well. Flat Earth and later the Earth centered universe were powerful ideas (they are very acceptable explanations for a majority of daily events, after all), but why would there be so much resistance to the idea of change? Why should anyone even care that there are competing ideas? Perhaps the ideas worked to maintain their existence. Science sees all sorts of ideas that take hold strongly and release their grip painfully slowly. Scientists will naturally argue that their ‘faith’ is based on tangible evidence, but as an insider, I know that very few scientists have a solid grasp of the theoretical underpinnings of any idea outside their specialty (depressingly, there are quite a few that lack a solid grasp of their own specialty) and are basically having faith in scientists who are presumed to have that solid grasp. Let’s take a currently highly controversial topic: global warming. About the only thing that can be stated with a large degree of certainty is that the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased somewhat since we started to record such information. With a bit less degree of certainty (but still enough to hang your hat on) we can state that the contents of our atmosphere (at least insofar as CO2 is concerned) are altering, likely due to human activity. Now for the fun part! Let’s predict what the consequences for these observations are. Well, it could be that the planet will continue to heat up in an accelerating fashion (due to various posited tipping points); the ice at the poles will all melt and you can sell ocean front property in the foot hills of the Appalachian Mountains. It could be that a homeostatic feedback mechanism un-observed by humans in historical records will extract enough green house gasses to result in the planet’s average temperature settling down back to historical levels (Gaia hypothesis). It is also quite possible that something in between will happen. However, without being able to make changes, dash to the future to find out what happened, and then report back the consequences, knowing what to do to minimize catastrophic future events is essentially impossible. We are therefore left with educated guess work and hopefully I have impressed upon you that educated guess work in the case of the stock market (where there are lots of educated people trying to make lots of money) is no better than monkeys throwing darts. Since geo-engineering is not even an area of scientific study (unlike, say, biochemistry) we don’t even have a basic theoretical underpinning for specialists to be expert in. Since the people doing research are not capable of being experts in the manifold number of areas required to understand the basics to even understand the theory (which I am convinced doesn’t yet even exist) we have a lot of faith feeding back from one scientist to another. I feel that it has become an article of faith amongst the vast majority of scientists that a) global warming will lead to catastrophe and b) if it weren’t for humans there would be no global warming. These two conclusions lead to the idea that ‘we gotta do something’ about global warming, we can’t just sit around. I suggest that this is an idea that has the energy necessary to maintain itself and ensure that it continues. It is now considered heresy (a distinctly religious term) to even attempt to rationally discuss the idea that maybe the potential cost to humanity to eliminate global warming is so high to be equally as grave as the cost to humanity of doing nothing. One can claim that it is not the scientists that are making the subject hysterical, that it is just the media trying to collect eyeballs, but that ignores how many scientists have lent their names directly or implicitly. If you have been persuaded that even the supposed experts are not qualified to have educated opinions, who are these scientists who are so adamant? They are ordinary people who have faith in an idea that has little or no experimentally reproducible evidence behind it (computer simulations based on historical data do not count; if they don’t work for the stock market why should anyone believe they work for something a million times more complex?). Not so different from Jews and Buddhists, eh? I would like to propose that we have rational discussions about such topics, but I believe that the energy associated with the topic would diligently work against any such efforts. Call it group think or call it herd instinct, I call it ideas with energy focused on self preservation. If people stopped feeding it with energy (no longer gave their mana by thinking about it) then the energy being would probably dissipate and wouldn’t be in a position to influence events. Of course, if people stopped thinking about it one could easily explain why the topic fell out of favor without resorting to energy beings, but they I would be discussing a different topic.
Just a bit more on global warming… What if entrepreneurs find a way to profitably extract CO2 from the atmosphere, what will happen? If we lend any credence to the hysterical worst-case scenarios of the pro-disaster global warming adherents, one would have to assume the opposite would occur, to wit the globe would enter into another ice age! Since, naturally, any group of people that are making money from something are going to be extremely resistant to the idea of giving that money up (think about all the conspiratorial complaints about the oil companies), it will be equally as difficult to stop the removal of CO2 once it has become firmly entrenched. Geo-engineering is geo-engineering no matter if it is pumping CO2 in the atmosphere, extracting it, planting trees (I read an article recently that showed computer simulations (like we can trust those!) indicating that planting trees in many regions would actually exacerbate global warming), paving rain forests, etc. We lack a solid theoretical basis, we lack experts in those theories that don’t exist and we have exactly one planet to ‘experiment’ with. The consequences of failure are huge, yet all we have to make decisions are guesses that are likely to be purely random. Many people therefore conclude that we must do something and are convinced anything we do will have fewer consequences than nothing. I suggest that doing nothing (letting status quo continue) is just as reasonable an ‘action’ as anything and equally likely to have (or ameliorate) consequences. It is all based on faith (which, hopefully by this point you can at least intellectually agree with me that faith is just an interpretation on events we choose to make with absolutely no reason); where do you choose to place your faith (and thus mana)?
Copyright 2007 by Keith Oxenrider