How I Became an Atheist

Note: I was going through my old computer files when I found something I wrote in 2003, describing how I became an atheist in 1980. Here it is.


What brought me to atheism was a growing unease with what I was being told about the Bible.  I'd left Jehovah's Witnesses several years earlier but continued studying diligently.  I had just finished reading the last of the C.S. Lewis commentaries.  But something was wrong.  I studied and studied scripture, but it just felt less and less right.

Then, one evening, I was lying in bed and an odd thought popped into my head.  I asked myself, “Have you ever personally seen anything happen that was incontrovertibly the Hand of God?”  I gave it some thought, then answered my question, “NO."

I then asked myself, “Do you think there's even the remotest chance that an angel might appear before you in this, your moment of doubt?”  I knew the answer that was welling up in my heart: “NO.”  Such things don't really happen now.  “Did they ever?” I wondered. “How could I know?”  This was an strange and novel perspective. I toyed with it for a while.

I continued, “If there was, in fact, no God, would things be different from the way they are, right here, right now, at this precise moment?”  In a blinding flash, the answer crashed into my skull, “NO!"

Suddenly (and this might sound odd), I noticed that the walls looked “solid” to me. Before that rude awakening I'd always imagined — without realizing it — that the world was suffused with spirit creatures coming and going.  But now they were gone.

I've been an atheist ever since.

So now I don't believe in God; I don't think the idea of God explains anything in a way that is more compelling than other points of view, such as Science or Buddhism.  As a result, I chose sides by picking the one that exhibits the greatest ability to admit error — Science.  Followed by Buddhism, which seeks to eliminate the error-making processes (though it is, unfortunately, not an inherently self-correcting system of thought).  Theism, while comforting, comes in dead last when one requires this kind of honesty, because it demands faith, which is the eternal enemy of frank appraisal.


Note: My current opinions about faith, Science, and Buddhism are more nuanced than they were in 2003. But I still don't believe in gods.



Chasing, chasing, ever chasing, 
seeking how to end the chase.
Fearing, fearing, ever fearing. 
Fear is gone? Then where are you?
Dragging, dragging, ever dragging, 
still encumbered by the past.
When we're gone, what will come after? 
Joy perhaps; there can be joy.
Something's blocking, we don't get there. 
What is blocking? You 'n' me.


The War on Drugs and Wombats

Have you ever heard of something called “The War On Drugs”? It's the ongoing battle against the evils of ... well, you know.

By the way, today I learned that former Playboy model and all-around famous person Anne Nicole Smith had died. She was only 39! How did it happen? According to Wikipedia:

“... her death was ruled an accidental drug overdose of the sedative chloral hydrate ... combined with other prescription drugs in her system ...  Klonopin ... Ativan ... Serax ... Valium ... Benadryl ...and Topamax ...”

That does sound accidental, but she really must have been super tense to have loaded up with all that stuff.

The Wikipedia article also reported:

“No illegal drugs were found in her system.”

That's good, right? Imagine the scandal if she'd decided to relax with some cannabis instead of taking all that government-approved stuff.

Oh, wait, it's impossible to overdose on cannabis. Well ... umm ... just say no to drugs, kids. Even the legal ones, apparently.

Y'know what strikes me as weird? This country (USA) has a lot of people shouting that the government needs to get out of our lives. They'd prefer that the government go bomb people overseas or something — anything to keep Big Government off the back of the little guy at home. So, for example, they'll protest publicly against socialized medicine. After all, that sort of thing simply encourages people to get sick, which means that everybody eventually becomes lazy and catches Communism.

Oddly enough, the same people are quick to beg the government to intervene in our lives — to save us from ourselves — when it comes to drugs, abortions, gay marriage and launching wombats with catapults. Actually, I'm against that last one, too. Save the wombats!


What Question Should I Ask?

While making dinner tonight, I reflected that I eat a lot of rice — about 300 pounds per year. I really like rice!

It suddenly occurred to me to type the following search term into Google:

how many pounds of rice does an american eat each year

I used to carefully type in search strings, using quotes and OR's and all the other Google goodies, but I've seen that my wife gets results quite quickly by just typing in her question. I did so in this case and almost immediately discovered that the average American eats around 25 pounds of rice per year.

It's amazing how much the Internet knows! (Science fiction fans will note that it's getting to be like the fictional computer Shalmaneser in John Brunner's novel Stand on Zanzibar.) How did we get by in the days when a simple question about rice required a week's research at the library?

The internet sure is smart! Much, much smarter than me. But ... is it in any sense aware of anything? Not in a human sense. Not even in an insect sense. Is it aware in any sense?

Once I started musing along these lines I tried this query on Google:

qualia "what is it like to be the internet" OR "does the internet have qualia"

To my utter astonishment, Google returned only two hits. One of the appearances was an apparently dead link and the other was an article that mentioned that the question was asked at a “Rationally Speaking” seminar. I get the distinct impression that the question wasn't taken very seriously.

What stuns me is that the question is asked so rarely. We don't know what qualia is, exactly, but apparently we're so certain about what it is (or isn't) that we can scarcely imagine that the internet might have it in some way.

Okay, so maybe I'm just wacky, asking stupid questions. If that's the case then the lack of results simply demonstrates how nutty I am. However, my next search really puzzled me:

"does an insect have qualia"

No hits. Not even one.

This isn't the first time I've written an article about questions that aren't being asked. But now that I've come to this point, I have to wonder which questions I haven't been asking that I need to ask!

How on earth does someone find the answer to the question, “Which questions do I need to ask?”

I suppose I could just ask the internet. But it seems to be a bit biased.


Opinions, Beliefs & Doggies

Nobody can attack an idea, which is merely a memetic pattern. They can, however, attack somebody's potential to retain the idea.

If the idea surrenders, it was merely an opinion. If it fights back, though, it is what some people call “a belief.” In such case, the idea has evolved into a conditioned behavior bolstered by basic conditioning mechanisms (e.g. pleasure or pain).

If you seriously threaten a person's ability to retain a cherished idea they will feel pain. If they manage to hold on to the idea anyway they will feel pleasure. This is how the patterns survive from one generation to the next. It's evolution, pure and simple.

Since the creation of language, and especially since the dawn of civilization, people have confused their authentic selves with memetic patterns. This is why there are religions. This is why there are wars. This is why ... well, you get the idea.

Pavlov's dog was conditioned to drool  from its mouth. We humans, it seems, can be conditioned to drool from the brain.

The observations above strike me as trite and obvious. How's that for an opinion?


The High Price of Quinine

Note: This is a non-philosophical post, this time. If you're not interested in a rant, feel free to skip this one!

My doctor recommended that I take quinine to help with the side-effects of the cancer treatment. If I lived in Canada that would cost less than  $20  per month. But this isn't Canada. Here in the USA it costs  $160  per month.

Why? Apparently the American Food and Drug Administration got all excited because:

Up to 53 people per year die from misuse of quinine. 

So they restricted it. Now only a few drug companies can sell it in the USA. Which means that they can (and do) charge more than 8 times the price that it would be in Canada.

How nice for them! They managed to take a drug that is as old, well-known and easy to make as aspirin ... and they had it declared dangerous so they could control it.

But hey, 53 deaths per year in the USA — that's a good reason to control it, right? No.

Those 53 deaths are tragic, but in a population of 300 million it's a negligible risk. It's comparable to the number of Americans killed each year by lightning (around 30). More to the point, though:

Did you know that good old aspirin causes over 50,000 deaths per year in the USA (due to gastric bleeding)? Yeah, nearly 1000 times as many deaths, but it's not controlled like quinine.

Even the pharmaceutical companies can't figure out a way to get a near-monopoly on aspirin.

I can't afford to pay $160 per month for relief from something that isn't actually killing me. I guess I'll just have to live with the muscle cramps and diarrhea. Or move to Canada.

My doctor has, in the past, arranged for me to get certain very expensive meds free from the pharmaceutical companies. I don't want to sound completely hostile to them. The American system does have loopholes for people in dire straits. Sometimes it all works and everything's great. But not this time.


Open Letter to The Pandora Music Service

Subject:   Voice of the (English-Speaking) World — Suggestion for Service Enhancement


Dear Pandora Customer Service,

I was shuffling through the various genres on Pandora when it suddenly dawned on me that here we have pre-rolled “radio” stations WITHOUT disk jockeys. Yes, that might seem obvious, since that's what Pandora is, basically, but ... you could inject ONE world-class disk jockey, who speaks in the gaps of many stations at once (with appropriate time delays). He or she, being a live human rather than a computer program, would speak to the listeners from the point of view of somebody who is alive TODAY and can talk about TODAY.

That's how radio stations used to work. Sure, there were lots and lots of ads, but from time to time there was an honest-to-goodness human being telling you that you're not just listening to a machine. It gives you a sense of connection and even loyalty to the station/service.

Could Pandora have an all-stations host, broadcasting from (say) Greenwich, England, where GMT is “now”? I can imagine caring who's hosting if the right hosts were selected. The best hosts will fully take into account that their comments (which would be considered fresh for up to 5 minutes before expiring) will be broadcast on stations with wildly different content.

It would take skill on the part of the DJ, but it could work. Pandora could be  THE radio station of the world, starting with English hosts.

— — —

If Pandora has already thought of this idea, or cannot do it for genuinely insurmountable legal barriers, then I apologize for taking up your time with this idea.

Timothy Campbell


Postscript: As I expected, Pandora rejected this idea. I received an email that said, “Unfortunately, that's not currently a feature of Pandora. [It] would be difficult to implement given people's listening habits as well as listeners who have upgraded to Pandora One in order to forego interruptions.”

Wow, talk about utterly missing the point in precisely the manner I figured they would. The DJ wouldn't be an “interruption;” it would be part of the service.

Well, somebody else will eventually do it. Anybody want a billion-dollar idea? It'll only cost you a few million to get up to speed (plus my inventor's fee, of course).


The Secret, Interpreted

As I see it, there's nothing mystical about the principle described in the movie The Secret. Basically, it works like this:

— — —

You are tied to negative ideas about yourself as long as you hold on to them. If you cannot let go of those negative ideas you will be chained to that dismal starting point. You will usually be slightly better than your dour self-image but you can't stray far from it because you keep telling yourself that's the way you are.

That's stories, for you. Stories tell us, “This is how it happens.” The Story of Me says, “This is how you became what you are therefore this is what might happen next.” If the Story of Me tells me that I'm a criminal, I'll tend to behave like one.

So much for negative ideas. If I have positive ideas about myself, I will achieve more. I won't be my own worst enemy; I won't be nay-saying myself; I will proceed with confidence, making good use of creativity, not being sidetracked by emotional baggage etc.

— — —

If that's the message of The Secret then it sounds good to me.

A question occurs to me. Why should I have any thought at all about what I am? Even a “good” assessment of the self is still a self-centered assessment. How often need I be reminded what I am?

If I'm right about The Secret, then I might understand why (to the perplexity of many critics) the movie spent so much time talking about wealth. If the mind is seeking for things to be “good” then wealth is an obvious attraction.

Come to think of it, the movie did call its main principle “The Law of Attraction.” Maybe people's thoughts really can attract money, but only if money attracts the people back. To put it another way:

People who really like wealth
are more likely to get it than
people who don't care about wealth.

In this sense at least, it really does seem like there's a “Law of Attraction.” Personally, I'm attracted to writing blog articles like this one, so that's what happens.



A cell is a way for a gene to create more copies
A chicken is a way for an egg to create more copies
A human is a way for an idea to create more copies
A culture is a way for a set of ideas to create more copies

P.S. This postscript grants you permission to post a copy of this brief article anywhere you want. You can even change bits of it and then claim to be the original author. Just don't expect it to stop there.


Self-Policing Memes

(This article was adapted from something I wrote on the Facebook Consciousness group.)

I currently live in the USA. In alphabetic order, here are some things we're often taught here:

— Advertising merely imparts information
— Anybody can become wealthy if they just try
— Drugs are bad unless sold by certain corporations
— Eating cows is good; eating dogs is bad
— Happiness is something we must “pursue”
— If you're unhappy it's entirely your fault
— Money is one of the primary keys to life
— News organizations report all issues that matter
— People will judge you by your clothing/car/spouse
— Politics isn't really as corrupt as it may seem
— Reality shows on TV depict reality
— Sadness is weakness
— Some countries are evil because they're evil
— Women should cover their breasts
— You're free if you believe it earnestly enough
— You can eat your way to happiness

If that list seems to lack a consistent theme it's because we're taught to self-police our thoughts and feelings by processes that are competing for mind-share:

Religion versus science vs politics vs money vs entrepreneurship vs philosophy vs fear vs patriotism vs parents vs grandparents vs teachers vs media vs corporations versus ...

As the internet repeatedly demonstrates, many people find it far easier, and more comforting, to imagine that the world is guided by a secret cabal of super-villains, rather than the randomness that actually directs us.

Conspiracy theorists please take note. (Who am I kidding?)


Nice Doggy Dog Food

A recent post by a fellow who calls himself See Light caused me to recall a cartoon I made back in the 1970's. It made me laugh and laugh and laugh — but nobody else thought it was funny.

In any case, I made a new version using 21st century tools instead of pen and paper. I don't know if it'll do to your mind what it did to mine, but here it is:

——  C L I C K   T O   E N L A R G E  ——

To the best of my knowledge there is
no dog food named “Nice Doggy.”

You are invited to copy and share this image
as long as you do not change it in any way.

Tags: Dog,  Doggy, Dog Food, Impute, Nice, Psychology, Theory of Mind


The Speed of Non-Thought

The previous article (The Bounded Infinite and Free Will) took me over an hour to type in. I will now spend another hour proof-reading it. That's the speed at which I work — the speed of thought.

What I find intriguing, though, is that the entire idea for the article (complete with references to Free Will, cigarettes, alcohol, addiction, the original Siamese Twins, and Pi) came to me within the span of a minute or two. That's the speed of creativity — the speed of non-thought.

It's amazing how slow we are compared to how fast we can be.

We see the speed of non-thought also in cases of crisis. I've encountered it during motorcycle accidents (and near-accidents), where the speed of non-thought saved me from injury or death, and once during an attempted home invasion, when the speed of non-thought may have saved my life.

From what I've heard, it seems that athletes and martial artists also use non-thought when they excel at what they do, though I cannot claim to have direct personal experience in this matter.

It is my impression that thought evolved to serve non-thought — preparing the organism to react at lightning-quick speed to complex situations. The side-effect is creativity.

Anyway, that's what non-thought just told me. Perhaps it's wrong.

Addendum: Total time to type in and edit the previous article: 4½ hours. Number of new ideas for the article during that time: One (specifically: the final sentence).

The Bounded Infinite and Free Will

Please bear with me for the next 20 seconds or so while I recite the numerical value Pi as well as I can.


Okay, that's Pi to 55 digits. I memorized that about 40 years ago and on a good day I can still remember it. I'm pretty sure that with so many digits I could calculate the circumference of the galaxy and be accurate to less than the width of an atom. So it seems like a pretty useless thing to remember.


I'm not the only person to have memorized Pi to absurd levels of accuracy. According to a list I have from 2007, a Chinese guy named Lu Chao memorized it to over 67,000 digits! The list mentions 54 more people who have memorized 1000 or more digits.

What is it about Pi that is so fascinating? I can't speak for Lu Chao or the others, but to me it's the fact that a seemingly random infinite number is right under my nose every time I look at a circle. Because if you remember your high school math class, Pi is the number you get when you divide a circle's length around the outside edge by its width across. That is to say, you're dividing its circumference by its diameter. And you end up with a weird series of digits that go on forever without repeating.

You might think that surely the numbers repeat at some point. I can't personally prove to you that that's wrong, but I've read several proofs, by actual mathematicians, that clearly showed me that the digits never, ever repeat. So I'm convinced that the digits continue forever and ever, always presenting something new.


So what does Pi have to do with the sort of things I usually talk about? Well, when I look at the number Pi I am reminded of the apparent unpredictability of my own life.

Now, I say that there is no Free Will — that everything I do could, in theory, be predicted if there was enough information about what makes me choose one action over another. I also say that, under everyday circumstances, nobody will ever be able to predict what I'll do next because it's impossible for any human to get enough information.

Please note that qualification I used: “under everyday circumstances.” If I'm wired up to a bunch of machines that are monitoring my brain it is possible to predict what I will do if the prediction is about something trivial, like whether or not I'll push a button. In such cases my actions can be predicted, but in a standard day, when I'm not hooked up to machines, and my decisions involve things like what to have for lunch, there is usually no way to predict what I'll do next.


Think about what I'm saying for a moment. Think about it skeptically and suspiciously. Suspect that I've made a mistake, or that I might be lying to myself. Do you see something wrong in what I've been saying?

Well, doesn't it sound like I've come up with the idea that there's no Free Will, then came up with a reason (“You can't get enough information!”) why you can't prove me wrong?

That's the kind of convenient cop-out you usually hear from religions, who say that God exists, but here are two dozen reasons why nobody can prove that. How convenient!

Nonetheless, I think that Pi demonstrates that my hypothesis about Free Will is at least reasonable. Because even though I know the first 55 digits — far more than anybody actually needs — having only that knowledge in no way helps me predict the 56th digit. I simply don't have enough information to figure it out. And this, to me, is exactly what my life is like: I seem to know everything that has happened up until this moment, but I can't predict what I'll do next.

That lack of predictability sure seems like Free Will, doesn't it? But nobody claims that Pi has Free Will, even though it seems to act as unpredictably as I do.


Let me tell you a story that might at first seem unrelated to what I've written above.

Once upon a time there was a pair of conjoined twins. They were what people sometimes call “Siamese Twins.” In fact, these two people were the original Siamese Twins. Their names were Chang and Eng, and they were originally from Siam (now known as Thailand).

Most of us are fascinated by their story: how they made a life for themselves, married two sisters, and sired 21 children. These are all impressive accomplishments for people in difficult circumstances. But what fascinates me just as much is the fact that Chang was a heavy drinker, while Eng was not.

You might think that this disproves my entire hypothesis about Free Will. After all, Chang and Eng had identical DNA and nearly identical life experiences. So if my hypothesis is correct, you'd expect them to behave exactly alike, wouldn't you? Either they'd both drink heavily or neither would. Right?

Well, no. There were some significant differences that would affect their lives and subsequent actions. In my mind, one of the most obvious differences is that Chang was on the left-hand side, while Eng was on the right-hand side. Thus, Eng had convenient use of a right hand, which makes a big difference in this right-hand-oriented world.

There must have been other major differences, too. But even small differences can make a huge difference in how we develop. For example, imagine you're at a party and somebody looks at you in a strange way. This might affect your enjoyment for the rest of the evening. If, on the other hand, you hadn't noticed that odd look, your experience of the party would be completely different. That's two possible versions of the same party, and the only thing that distinguishes one from the other is a momentary difference in what you were paying attention to.

It takes very little difference to make a big difference in the long run. In mathematics and elsewhere this sensitivity to small differences has been called “The Butterfly Effect.” And since it affects our imaginings about Free Will, I'm tempted to also call it “The Free Will Effect.”


If you really think you've got Free Will, I'm guessing you've never been addicted to anything. I stopped smoking 2 years ago and I still want a cigarette. (Young readers, if any, take note! You really don't want this kind of problem. You won't become addicted if you don't start.)

Also, like Chang, there was a time when I was a heavy drinker. I don't know why that happened. Well, I can list some reasons but that would just be rationalization. The fact is, I can't possibly know all the reasons that go into why I do something. I cannot get enough information. To know for sure why somebody does something I'd need to know the trajectory of every atom going back to the time of the Big Bang.

Science Note: More accurately, to predict something N seconds into the future all I probably need to know is the states of all particles within N times 299,792,458 meters. It that all? Gee, how hard could that be?

Mind you, people can (and do) make generalizations, many of which are accurate, using incomplete information. So I'm not utterly unpredictable. My wife, for example, could predict that I'd tend to turn down a ham sandwich because for the past 6 years I've declared myself a strict vegetarian.

Let's get back to the drinking example, though. It took me several attempts to quit drinking. I thought it would simply be an informed choice. It seemed clear that drinking was a poor solution to whatever problems it was supposed to address. Since I'm a reasonably intelligent person it should have been easy to stop. But it wasn't.

No matter how much one part of my brain would scream that having another drink was stupid, I'd see myself — no, watch myself — marching to the liquor store to buy another bottle. I daresay that anybody who has ever experienced that sort of thing will be pretty sure that there's no such thing as Free Will.

How did I stop drinking? Well, it took me several tries, and I had help from a lot of fine people, both on the internet and off. Eventually the right circumstances arose and the right choices were made. But it would be silly for me to say that I “chose” to stop. It makes more sense to say stopping happened for some reason I do not have sufficient information to explain.


If you think you have Free Will and are afraid to consider that perhaps you don't, I heartily recommend that you either get addicted to something and then try to stop, or memorize Pi to a few dozen digits. Of those two options, the second one is far, far less damaging to your health. To the extent that you can choose, I'd recommend the second choice.

Of course, you may choose neither option. But nobody has enough information to know far in advance which choice you'll make or not make. Not even you can know that.

One thing I will predict, though: when you finally make your choice it will feel like Free Will.


The Death of the Intuitive User Interface

It seemed like a simple enough question: “How do I Un-follow a Blogger Blog?”

While reviewing my Blogger (a.k.a. BlogSpot) profile, I noticed a  blog that I wanted to remove from my list of followed blogs. A simple enough request, right? Yet I could not find an easy way to drop it from the list.


Optional Information Section

If you came to this article looking for a solution to the “Remove Blog” question, try clicking this link:
That might put you in a good place to solve your problem. 
If possible, click the “Settings” link next to the blog you want to un-follow. You may then be asked to sign in again to prove you're really you. If you succeed with that existential challenge you will then see another page that features a link that seemingly permits you to remove that blog.
Does it work? Well, it seems to have worked for me. But who knows? I don't remember how that blog got added to the list. I don't even remember visiting that blog. Perhaps I did it in my sleep.


I don't know about the rest of you, but I find this strange:  These days many online user interfaces seem to have been designed by a kid in the fourth grade.

I am frequently perplexed by newbie-level “How To” issues, even on world-standard, ground-breaking services like Facebook and Google. And even though I've been using computers since 1972 I find myself looking up a walk-through for simple functions, like adding a contact to an email group.

Why is this? Why do online user interfaces suck so much?

In my opinion, it's part of capitalism's reaction to the lightning-fast speed of today's electronically-connected world. These days every product is produced with “Triple-Threat Ultra-Crash Priority.” In other words, the pressure of competition results in sloppy user interfaces and faulty software. Get the product out the door! Work the developers nearly unto death! Ship, ship, ship that sucker before the competition does! Forget quality — we can patch the problems afterwards!

I've seen this problem arise in video games, too. Consider the game “Fallout: New Vegas.” The game itself was marvelous, but it kept crashing. Over and over and over again. How did this ship? How did so many show-stopping bugs get out the door?

Well, that's Ultra-Crash-Mode Triple-Threat Sudden-Death Code-Ultra-Violet Super-Duper Priority for you.

I am now going to carefully proof-read this article, because it would be really ironic if it contained some stupid errorz.


Free Will Does Not Make Sense

Many people will react strongly if you tell them that there is no Free Will. Now why would that be? Well, what is the opposite of “Free?”

People who believe in Free Will have the impression that if it's not true they will be forced to do something against their Will. They'll want to do one thing but something will force them to do something else. As they see it, their Will would no longer be free; it would be under compulsion.

Such people do not believe that their actions are caused merely by the actions of the laws of physics. They do not accept that they are simply expressions of the universe. They want to be, in some sense, separate from all that.

It is because of this line of reasoning that I've said (in another article) that “Free Will is a red herring.” The idea that the universe, while obeying the laws of physics, will force you to do something is somewhat of a misconception.

Yes, at times the universe does act against your desires. For example, if you are standing on top of a hill during a lightning storm and the laws of physics cause you to be hit by a million volts of electricity, this will almost certainly not be what you wanted. But what did you want?

You want what you want. Why do you want that? Why, because it strikes you as the best choice of all the ones you can choose from. You might like apple pie and cherry pie, but there's only cherry pie in the fridge. So you “choose” the cherry pie and don't feel bad about that. You don't complain that the universe “forced” you to choose the cherry pie. In fact, you enjoy it.


No matter what you do, you always attempt to improve your situation. That's what we sentient beings do. You will never choose the second-best choice. Not ever. If you seem to be doing that, there will be turn out to be some extenuating circumstance that caused you to pick something that seemed second-best in one way, but overall was best (as far as you knew).

In everyday life all choices are made this way. All those choices are in accord with the laws of physics, based upon what you know, what you are capable of, what your resources are, and so on. So when the time comes to choose, you choose. And every time it feels like you have Free Will, because the choice came from you. For example, you weren't being forced into the choice by some other sentient being.

There are, of course, many times when we are, in fact, forced to do things by other people. Nobody claims to have entirely Free Will in such cases. But in this article I am speaking only of those cases when it seems our will is entirely free, as with the example of the cherry pie.

You are so accustomed to choosing from within the realm of the possible that you do not notice that you choose within constraints. For example, if you are going to visit a friend you cannot “choose” to get there by flying like a bird. You don't even notice that that option isn't available; it simply doesn't occur to you (unless, perhaps, you think a lot about airplanes or birds). So when you choose to not fly, you don't feel you've had your eventual decision (car, bus, walk, whatever) forced upon you.


It is my impression that many of the sages of the past realized that everything we do comes about as the end result of a sequence of causes. They couldn't say, “Your choices are caused by the laws of physics,” because they didn't know about those laws. So some of them spoke of “The Way” (a.k.a. Tao) while a lot more of them spoke of “The Will of God.”

What is the Will of God? Is it at odds with your Free Will? “Why, no,” they might tell you, “everything that happens occurs because God willed it so.” Or to put it another way: everything happens because the laws of physics — God's most stringent commandments, one might say! — made it so.

Can you resist the Will of God? Technically, no. Even if you choose to defy God, it will be because He allowed you to do so. Or to put it in the language of science, you can attempt to break the laws of physics, but you won't succeed.

In addition, there's no physical law that prevents you from believing in erroneous ideas about the Will of God and attempting to convince others likewise. Some might call that “defying God” but, once again, it happens only because it can happen. The Will of God is not contravened just because people pass around mistaken information. The laws of physics always apply, whether we're passing along truth or falsehood.


You may think that I am abusing the word “God” above. But I am not speaking of the idea of God (which represents a vast array of beliefs). Rather, I am speaking of the Will of God, which most believers would agree means, “The Way Things [Must] Happen.” What else would the Will of God be but “The Way Things  Happen?”

It is true that believers have attached a huge range of notions to that word “God.” As a result, I do not recommend that people speak in terms of “God,” because the idea has become confused to the point of being ludicrous. As I mentioned in my article Theism Does Not Make Sense, the typical conception of God as an invisible person does not stand up to scrutiny.

However, if you envison God merely as the embodiment of the universe, and his Will as “The Way Things Happen,” then perhaps you catch a glimpse of the insight of past sages.


As many sages have said, we have no choice but to follow God's Will. That is to say, we enact the laws of physics. It's not compulsion; it's just the way things work. You can no more disagree with it than you can argue with the existence of light or the force of gravity. That's just the way way things are in this universe we inhabit.

Nonetheless, it is possible for people to imagine that they are separate from all this. Indeed, we have been taught to see ourselves as separate agents. Human civilization evolved this belief as a  means to control us. That is to say, by making us individuals, we can be blamed for individual action. It's a practical, extremely effective set of memes, and it lets society off the hook when it inadvertently creates monsters.

Since we have been taught that we are separate, this induces within us a separation from God. To put it another (far better) way, we have been taught that we are separate from The Way Things Happen. We have been taught that we are, in some strange, undefinable way, immune to the laws of physics and the mundane principles of cause and effect.

We're not.

If it can be seen that we are not separate, we also see that we are one with the universe. You can, if you wish, call this becoming one with God. And indeed, many sages have said just that.

I wouldn't recommend phrasing it that way, though. It's sufficient to say that each of us is an expression of the universe.


Some people are horrified by the idea that they do not have Free Will. They think that the moment they admit that, something horrible will happen. But you know what? Things continue exactly as before.

Why would they change? You didn't have Free Will before, and knowing you don't have it changes very little.You'll still be free to choose the option that seems best from within the existing constraints. By not bewailing the choices you can't make and not obsessing about the reasons you choose as you do, you can still feel like you're choosing freely.

Sometimes this will result in pleasure. Sometimes it will cause you pain. Just as it has always been.

In those moments you can surrender your misconceptions about separation and Will — doesn't this sound like a religious statement? — you find that other people aren't so far away. They are subject to the same rules you are. They make the same types of mistakes you can make. When this is seen, forgiving others is much simpler, and when that is done, love (even for one's enemies) isn't blocked.

If you give up the idea of Free Will you will, in my opinion, see things as they really are. And you don't actually need to use the word “God” to see that.

Theism Does Not Make Sense

Note: A video version of this article is available on YouTube.


If you weren't raised to believe in a god, you'd probably be astonished that anybody does believe in one. In fact, simply being around people who believe makes us accustomed to the odd belief. So let's imagine you're an alien from another star system and a human explains to you about his god.

You'd learn that the human's god is a person, but he's invisible. He is at least a trillion times smarter than the smartest human. He knows everything and can even read minds. He sees everything that happens. He is so powerful he can move galaxies around.

He wants all the humans to have accurate information about him and know that he is real. But somehow he always fails to make this happen.

The alien would probably be puzzled.

There are, of course, lots of reasons given why the god can't simply appear in the skies and say something like, “Hello, I created the universe. Here I am.” Well, of course there are reasons. The believers have to explain why their god doesn't plainly and indisputably show up, even though he supposedly did so many times in the ancient past.

So there are explanations. However, if you examine the explanation of the average believer, you'll find that it isn't very detailed. They simply assume that somebody else must have figured out why their god isn't proving to everybody that he exists.

What the average believer does know for sure is that the gods of other religions aren't real. After all, that wouldn't make sense!

Note: If I am wrong about what I wrote above — if a god-person actually does exist  may he (or she, or it) cause my old computer to crash before I save this note.


You're Too Interesting!

6 AM ... I didn't sleep
Didn't bother counting sheep
Surfed the web until I tired
Didn't work: it got me wired
Brain burned out, so hard to think
Yet I click another link
Internetting planet-wide
Earth's awake so sleep denied
Darkness gone, I see the sun
Guess I've had sufficient fun



If you were sitting in your living room and then a space rock crashed through the roof, through the ceiling, and bonked you on the head, would your heart swell with pride about your skill at attracting meteorites?

Would you be jealous if it happened to someone next door?


The Shaman and the Light

“I have discovered something important about burns,” said the shaman.

“Good!” exclaimed the chieftain. “Since the last full moon, three of our best hunters have been badly burned.”

“This I know,” said the shaman. “In addition, I have discovered that one should never, ever cook meat by holding it in your hand, then holding your hand inside the fire.”

“What?” said the chieftain. “Everybody already knows that!”

“No,” replied the shaman. “Many of us stumble into that knowledge, but not everybody. I have discovered the magical principle and stated it clearly. Now we can tell people about it before they hurt themselves. Do you see?”

“I see now,” said the chieftain, “and I bow to your wisdom.”

“Apology accepted,” said the shaman. “This is why I am the shaman and you are just the chieftain.”

“That's true. Okay, I can call the tribe together. You can tell them what you discovered about burning. I can have them ready at noon today.”

“Not at noon. We will meet after sunset.”

“Is there some important spiritual reason for that?”

“Yes. I have a painful redness on my shoulders, and on the back of my neck. Obviously, one of the gods is angry at me. And for some reason the Sun God makes it hurt even worse.”

“Perhaps the gods are jealous of your insight about fire and burning and other magical things.”

“You are correct. After all, we now know nearly everything.”


A Guru-some Reality

I built up this edifice
so tough it could not crack.
It took years to make it tough
No way I'm going back.

Even I can't spot a flaw;
it's clear as black and white.
Reinforce our certainty
I got the details right.

Bask now in my confidence,
rejoice in what I've made.
Pay to learn, you stupid ass,
and share in this charade!


Credit Where Due

With cancer, arthritis, a blood clot and so on,
I'm stuck with a certain reliance.
My faith, at the moment, is taken in pill form;
my prayer, for now, is "Thank Science!"



... cyclic thinking goes around
and 'round 'n' 'round and back around
returning thence unto the start
it then begins to think again
but noticing it's wrapped around
it looks ahead and looks behind
in seeking to deduce the means
by which it leaves that endless loop
which doesn't help it since the loop
is built of ever smaller loops;
those wheels in wheels, and wheels on wheels
and wheels with wheels, rotating 'round ...

Yet in the middle, there's a gap —
a lack of axle — oddly blank.
This you spot by purest fluke,
catch a glimpse, then think some more
and 'round and 'round it goes again
but does it stop? How could it know?



As a Canadian who has been living in the USA for 6 years, it seems to me that this country's politics can best be described as carefully orchestrated hysteria. This isn't what I'm used to, but “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Therefore, I am considering the creation of my own political information clearinghouse to help the people here understand just how wrong they are about things that matter, and why they should start seeing the world precisely as I do. After all, I know stuff. I've even read some books.

Without further ado, I introduce my new organization:

Concerned Patriotic People of the Great American National Family Taking Action for Truth and Personal Liberty in Defense of Healthy Informed Reform

CPPGANFTATPLDHIR does not, as yet, have a clear platform. However, it is pretty much guaranteed that it will score well on search engines. And that's half the battle. (The other half, I've been told, is “knowing,” but I don't need to hear that.)

Our initial stance is that some people need to stop pretending they are thinking for themselves. They also need to stop substituting emotion for information. In addition, it might help if they realize that people who disagree with them are (probably) not dark minions of evil.

I should also mention God and Jesus, just to make sure that this article is more accessible (read: findable) to people who might be curious about the new organization. Okay, so that's done.

Oh, and don't forget to support our troops in one way or another.

If you would like to open a chapter of CPPGANFTATPLDHIR in your area, feel free to do so. However, when there's a schism between our chapters (and there will be, you heretic!) you'll have to stop using the name. Of course, the schism might occur because I changed my beliefs, or got caught in a compromising situation with a goat, but that's your problem (and the goat's, I guess).

Our first order of business is to find out why the spell-checkers on most browsers flag CPPGANFTATPLDHIR as a spelling error. This is persecution and it must be stopped — now! Also, taxes are too high. And sometimes my neighbor's car partially blocks my driveway. All this is persecution and it must be stopped — now!

There is work to be done, fellow citizen or resident alien! Let's roll up our sleeves, assuming we have sleeves, and get to work setting right what is wrong (as we see it) and making sure that people live in peace and harmony (as we see it).

If you do not see the total, utter, undeniable necessity of this, well, this is persecution and it must be stopped — now!


Review of Castleville (Zynga Facebook Game)

This article isn't about the usual sort of thing I write about in this blog, but I just uninstalled Castleville and as a former game designer I wanted to comment upon it.

Castleville is, in many ways, quite cleverly designed. It's a happy, sappy time with no real threats. It has charming characters, cute animals, amusing villains. If you have time, you can soak up hours each day arranging and rearranging your kingdom's buildings and landscape. In this regard it's pleasant and inoffensive.


The game is clearly designed to make money for Zynga, the company that designed Castleville. That's fine on the face of it, since I never expected them to do it out of the goodness of their hearts. But if you want to play for free, as the game tempts you to do, forget it. There will be a cost. Either you will be forced to pay real-world money to buy “crowns,” or you will pester your friends endlessly. The game is set up so that you either give them actual money or you advertise for them. There is no way to simply play by yourself.

Believe me, I tried. I spent about two months seeking a way to play more-or-less solo, and without paying any money. There are some very sophisticated games (such as Anarchy Online, as just one example) that only mildly penalize you for not paying in any way. Yes, you can get extras if you pay more than nothing, but the game experience is still complete and satisfying when played free.

Castleville, on the other hand, will pollute your Facebook timeline. It will continually default to informing all your friends (not just your Castleville neighbors) with news of your trivial accomplishments and needs. Yes, you can manually delete these messages from your Facebook timeline, but since your Castleville friends also place messages there this turns into a dull daily chore.

You can opt to not place many of these messages on your Facebook timeline, but this makes it impossible to complete key quests in the game. Eventually you will arrive at a point where progress is blocked because every avenue of exploration requires the completion of a quest that requires you to splatter Castleville messages all over your Facebook timeline.

I have uninstalled Castleville. I don't mind a game posting the occasional message on my timeline, but when it does so to the point that it starts to obscure everything else, well, it starts to look like my entire life revolves around playing a game.

I salute Zynga for the cheerful, fun, silly aspects of their game. The designers (game, systems, graphic and otherwise) did a marvelous job! But they were clearly told to make the game profitable without regard to how much it dominated the player's Facebook existence. And in the long run, that's not a game I care to play.

When I uninstalled it, I gave it 2 stars out of 5. I'd like to have given it more, to show my respect to the designers. I'd give them 5 out of 5. But the implementation of the business model dragged it down to 2 stars.

Castleville currently has something like 7 million “likes” on Facebook. My little review won't hurt them. But if you're considering playing it, consider also how it will take over your timeline. Is that really the message you want to send to others?


Your Inner Ape

Note: A video version of this article is available on YouTube.


In this blog I frequently refer to humans as animals. Well, we are, aren't we? We evolved from apes, and those apes evolved from so-called “lower” animals. Intellectually most of us know this, but it's not a close and personal reality to us. It's a mental play-thing, not an ongoing, obvious fact of existence.

If you do indeed accept our animal nature, then let's also recall that evolution created humans by a process of accretion. Single cells accreted other cells to become multi-cellular organisms. As complexity increased, certain cells became specialized.

Skipping ahead a few million years, we see that our mighty human brains are layered, in a manner akin to archaeological strata, showing the path we took to become the particular animals we now are. Thus, as many readers of this blog will know, we have an ancient “reptile brain” and we have a more recent neo-cortex in a higher layer. (That's the part that lets us think that we're so awesomely awesome.)

Somewhere in all those layers and modules are the bits that we share with the apes. These are the bases of what I call our primate nature. Inside every one of us are the vestiges of our ape forebears. To put it another way: if an ape can do it, we can do it. An ape can find a banana, recognize it as such, peel it, eat it, and later on crap some of it out. So can we. 

It's said that we share 98% of our DNA with certain “lower” primates. So there's quite a lot of ape in us! And that ape does not have our human tendency to define itself by the memes it has absorbed. 


The ape in you or me does not “know” (or think, or believe) that reality is but an illusion and that we could be living in The Matrix, or might be a brain in a vat, or high-falutin' notions like that. It's all quite real to the ape.

It's all illusion, eh? That's what mystics, sages and philosophers have reminded us, and I will not say they're wrong. However, you normally cannot stick your hand in scalding water without flinching or recoiling. Perhaps with training you could acquire an unnatural calm about it, but when we put all that philosophizing and training aside it appears that the inner ape's reaction is the “correct” one. 

The ape does not ask questions about how “real” it is, nor does it care, nor does it exert any energy in finding out, though of course the ape inside the average human is constantly being called upon to expend tremendous energy due to actions of the thinking part of its brain, which induces distress reactions with its cogitations. The ape never evolved an innate defense against this thought-induced stress — how could it have done so in the brief millenia since we became civilized? 

Nonetheless, when the inner ape stops reading articles like this one and gets some decent physical exercise it can obtain a measure of harmony. In such cases the brain returns a large portion of its attention back to the ancient ape, which can get adequate satisfaction with even simple activities, such as rhythmic walking for challenging lengths of time.

This is, to the ape part, quite a good time, and it finds therein a satisfaction that the thinking part never knows. That's because the thinking part is intensely interested in what it shall later be, or was, or might be, or could have been. Meanwhile the ape part merely connects to that which is (as far as it can tell) real. It can simply enjoy, or commune with, that which is, without the domesticated human's habitual grind of resistance. (To put it another way: that which makes us so awesome can also make us miserable.)

The thinking part cannot see what the ape part sees; the thinking part knows about things but is never fully  present to anything but its mental models. The ape part — our primate nature — is exactly when and where it is, to the extent that it has no when and where; it simply is when and where it is. There is no question about when, or where; there is just what is.

Thoughts might arise about what may be, but these are in the thinking part. Primate nature remains with what apparently is.  


You might find it interesting to find a correspondence between the views expressed above — which are phrased in terms of evolution — and the views expressed by ancient mystics who knew nothing about evolution. You may find that it's all part of the same message, in different guises.


This Is Not Inevitable

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
-  From the song Imagine by John Lennon


Can you imagine a different world? Truly different?

I'm not talking about replacing the current people in charge with a different pack of apes. I'm talking about things being really different. I'm not talking about a changing of the guard; I'm talking about systemic change.

You might say: Why ask such a question? Has the author of this blog decided to save the world with a new prescription for happiness? No, no, nothing like that. I'm suggesting we examine how we (you, me, almost everybody) accept certain things — memetic things, that is — without realizing that they're human constructs that just happened to evolve into place, and are by no means the inevitable product of sentience.

Okay, so let's think about a really different world. Get ready. Get set. Imagine!


What if copyright, trademark and patent protection didn't exist? What if the sole treasure a company could hold was the satisfaction of its customers? It seems obvious that without copyright we wouldn't have the big film, music, and book companies that currently exist. And proponents of such companies will tell you that in such a world there would be no movies, no music, no books. We need those giant corporations (or so they'd claim).

Is that true? Of course not. Without copyright protection media would still be produced, though in much smaller numbers and for much more compelling reasons. Some such works might even speak the truth.


Without patent protection, a company would have to compete based on its low cost of production, or by making a better (but more expensive) product. In other words, the same old market forces would prevail. The main difference would be that new companies would start with the same box of toys that established companies have. Proponents of such companies will tell you: Innovation will suffer!

Is that true? Why, yes, it is! Certain kinds of innovation would suffer and these advances would have to be supported in some other fashion. On the flip side, certain kinds of innovation would hugely benefit, as artificial barriers to product development would disappear. (Have you ever reviewed some of the crazy patents people have taken out on dead-obvious concepts? This is particularly noticeable when it comes to software patents.)


I don't know how we could get rid of trademarks, which seem to serve some useful functions. I suppose we'd need an alternative path for verifying the provenance of a particular product.

We pretty much have to do that anyway, since a grey market producer can easily slap a trademarked logo onto an inferior product. In recent news we've heard that some scoundrels are selling a fake version of a useful anti-cancer drug named Avastin™ . Since this is being used on my cancer, I made sure to ask if the hospital is being diligent about their sources. It seems that, at least in this case, a trademark doesn't help nearly as much as people paying careful attention to sources.

Similar issues have arisen with spare parts for aircraft. Lives have been lost because sub-standard parts were represented as the real thing. So trademarks do not automatically confer protection. Their existence is not an inevitable result of sentience.


Heck, while we're tossing things out the window, let's also get rid of ownership. It makes no objective sense to say somebody owns anything. All that means is that people are exercising an agreed-upon degree of control upon something. That's what ownership actually is. And you know what? It isn't inherently nasty, as long as it's understood to be an understanding. Alas, people who own things end up treating ownership like an alteration in reality itself. Let's keep the understanding and ditch the illusion.

A similar mistake occurs with money, which is not intrinsically nasty. Money is a neutral tracker that doesn't care if it accounts for the fortunes of a worthy charity or the dollar bill in a selfish miser's vault. It's not the tool that's at fault; it's the way it's used. 


Okay, you can breathe, now. The crazy man is finished ranting.

It seems that in just a few short paragraphs I've undermined all of Western Civilization. Does that make me insane? Dangerous? Should I be re-educated to free me of these nutty notions? 

Some would argue thus. They cannot imagine the world evolving another system, or if they can imagine it they fantasize that it would inevitably be far worse than at present. They have far too much invested (monetarily or emotionally) in the current way of things to entertain alternatives. 

I am not saying that we must change the way things currently operate. Well, yes, I do happen to think that, but that's neither here nor there. I'm just some idiot with a blog. I don't have a plan to re-make the world. 

The actual point I'm attempting to make is that there are many institutions of modern civilization that we take to be inevitable. But they're not. If we can see our tendency to tacitly accept or even believe in that inevitability, we can gain some insight into our tendency to believe in imaginary realities in general. 

It's easy to see that  (for example) another person's religion is constructed and subjective rather than pre-existing and objective. But what about the humdrum, mundane stuff of our daily lives? How much of that is mere construct?


Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
-  From the song Imagine by John Lennon


Tick Talk Sproing

Significant insight alights in my head
I peer at it carefully, turn it around
Examine it this way and scrutinize that
Full disassembly to get to its core

Grabbing it firmly I twist it apart
Pieces of truth, scattered shards of  “Aha!”
Then, only then, I recall once again
Insights evaporate as they arrived

Years of existing provided a glimpse
Clarity shone with a transient glint
Then with the best of intentions I smashed
Eager to know why my pocket watch ticks



I haven't posted much lately for three reasons...

(1) I've been doing some arcane research pertaining to my rather mystical memetics and the notes are still in very raw form. I don't understand some of them myself.

(2) In addition to my cancer (which is, incidentally, an excellent example of a self-erasing replicator), I have several new health issues sapping my energy. On the plus side, I get to take Warfarin for the blood clot. It tickles my sense of humor to take rat poison as medicine.

(3) Although there are some regular readers of this blog, I get very few comments. This makes me wonder if they're human or just robotic crawlers enticing me to visit a scam site. I get a lot of those. Two of them successfully gave my computer a virus. Bravo, I guess.


Although I hear a lot of talk about memetics, I rarely see it presented as a close and personal reality. It seems that most of the articles I read about memetics are written as if the author isn't affected by them — at least, not very much.

Do they think they're immune? Do they think memes only happen to other people?

In this blog I have often proposed that each of us is a confluence of influences and that “free will” is a misinterpretation of what actually occurs. But I'll admit that whenever I think deeply about this that my mind (okay, my ego) insists that certain famous people really have risen above the memes.

No, I'm not talking about Jesus or The Buddha or people like that — that's a different situation than the one I'm considering here. I'm talking about famous people like Leonidas, who brilliantly upset the plans of Persian emperor Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae. Surely such a person, upon whose actions history pivots, is above mere memes!  Or so argues my ego. But my rationality says no.


My rationality can't seem to explain memetics to the rest of my mind, such that the knowledge becomes internalized. That would be a highly enlightening step forward, would it not?

Is there some way to represent these facts visually? I rarely see memeticists actually depicting the flow of memes throughout history. They just talk about memes. How about a nice little picture so we can see the Big Picture?

Well, okay! I've attempted to make such a picture, and here it is.

I apologize for using color instead of shapes to mark different elements. The meme-o-graph won't make as much sense to someone who is color-blind. If I do another I'll try using different shapes.

I've never before seen a flow chart like this! Maybe I'm not hanging out in the right places on the internet. 

If you study the chart you might wonder why I use the same color for both people and cultures. This is because they are all tsotls. In fact, all meme processing entities (as the chart calls them) are tsotls, though not all tsotls process memes.


It was interesting making the chart, but even more interesting simplifying it. As I sought to line things up and make them tidy, avoiding crossed lines where possible, I found myself moving entire cultures within Microsoft Paint. (Yes, I still use that ancient program.) It might sound like dull work, but somehow it ended up being a kind of meditation.

I'd like to see more charts like this, done by other people, which show how people and cultures express their set of memes, as cogs of the meme machine that is humanity. Maybe, if it's presented clearly, people will go beyond merely talking about memes and start getting what they are about.

And by “they” I mean both the memes and the people.

Humans (and other animals) are more than meme robots, but there are memes that can make us serve them. If you want a chilling example of this, consider what it's like to live in North Korea these days. Then look around you. And within you. Do you think you're immune?


The Ultimate Triumph of the Replicators

A new twist on an old theme! Unless somebody's already done this joke. Which is rather probable.

Well, that's evolution for you: the pieces fit together in a finite number of ways. Sometimes they work. For a while, anyway.

You are invited to copy and share this image as long as you do not change it in any way.

Tags: Cell Phone, Cliff, Evolution, Fondleslab, Meme, Memetic, Replicator, Technology, Teme, Tool


Getting Away from the Serious

It can't all be heavy stuff. After all, why speak of the weighty matters this blog discusses if there are not times when the joy we liberate can be experienced? Or to put it another way, here's a freakin' cat video to melt your heart. If you're a cat lover. If not, well ... have a peanut butter sandwich with jam. Unless you're allergic to something in that. In which case, I can't help you just now.

Ahem, yes. Cat video. Here.


Meet Spot: Ninja Cat in Training

Today my wife made this video of our cat. The video is short and it features a cute cat. Isn't that the perfect video for the internet?


Jesus Bits

Note: A video version of this article is available on YouTube.


I am going to describe myself two ways:  as a “thinking being” (processing perceptions and beliefs in ways we all recognize), and as a “confluence of influences” (explained later).

The “thinking being” part of me is, it appears, based upon my body — particularly my brain.  If, say, I drink a bottle of vodka, or I'm hit on the head with a baseball bat, the “thinking being” part of me will lose awareness as I slip into unconsciousness. If I die, my opinions rot with my brain cells.

If all of my intellectualizing is located in my body, what else is left of me? Am I just my body?

No. The confluence of influences remains.  It is arguably more authentically “me” than the connections my intellect invents by mixing and matching beliefs about reality. That's because I don't actually know much about reality; I mainly know my representations of reality.

I think I know people, but I don't know the actual people. All I know is the models I have of them in my mind. That is all I (or anybody) can ever know of somebody else:  the model one builds in one's mind.  So if Jeff is a friend of mine, Jeff has a model of me in his mind, which he continually updates — especially when interacting with me.

Now note the following:  when Jeff does interact with me, his “copy” of me will affect his behavior. That will in turn affect my behavior.

So when I am interacting with people who know me, I am facing an older version of myself. The model of me in the other person's brain reflects back at me, reinforcing my previous behaviors. This can reinforce any mental image I may have of who or what I am.  So the bits of me that reside in Jeff come back to affect the bits of me within me.

But those external copies of me aren't really me, are they?


Consider the following ...

My computer's printer broke yesterday. I couldn't fix it, so I was forced to go to the store and buy a new one.  The breakdown of the printer caused a change in my behaviour.  It did not select the precise time, nor did it “decide” to break, but it did bring about the necessary conditions.  The printer was an influence; it caused me to behave in certain ways for several hours: I visited several stores and spent money.  So for a time the printer was part of what makes me “me.” (And since I'm writing about it now, it still is, even though it's no longer here.)

There are countless influences out there, both objective things like printers and subjective things like beliefs.  Science studies objective things carefully and these are becoming better understood.  Subjective things, however, get short shrift by many scientists. Some consider them mere imaginings, unworthy of serious evaluation.

Yet if a group of people share a common belief they will tend to direct their behavior in a similar way; they will act in relative unison. One might say they are an “in-group.” One might say they are a gang, or a tsotl. Alternatively, one might say “they have love among themselves.”


A prophet such as Jesus of Nazereth gained millions of followers, each of whom has “Jesus Bits” (mental models of Jesus) in his or her mind.  If old copies of my self can be reflected back at me and thus affect and re-create me, then in this sense one could say that Jesus still exists.

Are these just word games? Arguments will surely arise as people debate about that word “exist.”  They may insist that Jesus exists only if he's like a person one meets on the street.  But that probably won't happen, since (as far as I can tell) the man Jesus became a corpse and does not have a body any more.

The fragments of his existence continue on, however, evolving over time, getting reflected back and forth.  All those Jesus Bits are being bounced around just like my Timothy Bits — the pieces of me inside other people's minds.  But of course there are far more Jesus Bits out there than Timothy Bits.

In that sense, Jesus can be considered much “bigger” than I am.  He can even be considered “more real,” if all of the effects of the Jesus Bits are tallied up.  In fact, the sum of the Jesus Bits can be considered more intelligent than me:  More brains are working on re-creating him than me. (John Lennon once noted that there was a time when The Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.”  At the time he may have been correct!)


The Jesus Bits do not have my intellectual capacity per se. People hold wildly varying views about Jesus, so the Jesus Bits are too contradictory to arrive at the kind of consensus typical of an intellectual conclusion.  Nonetheless, pockets of similarity (such as individual religions) exist, and the people in these pockets can dedicate their creativity to furthering the cause of the Jesus Bits.  Add up all of their creativity and that exceeds mine by a huge margin (until they start arguing, anyway).

The descriptions I'm giving here sound like a bunch of robots running programs. That's one way to look at it.  If this was another century I might have chosen a different way of explaining all this. I might have told parables, for example.

I might find my ego offended by all this.  Am I just a robot?  Am I nothing but an ongoing creation of the world?  Am I simply a sophisticated stimulus-response unit? A pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding machine?

Is that such a bad thing?


When I perceive my unbreakable connection to reality — this ongoing creation of the thing I call “me” — I see the commonality of my experience with that of others. I also see my own lack of specialness, because I have never created anything from nothing.  All that I do is, ultimately, borrowed from an earlier source — including the inventive connections I was carefully raised, groomed and trained to make.

How does one make sense of this “continually being created” phenomenon?  One solution people have found is to identify with the Jesus Bits they carry around inside their minds.  Once they accept (and come to trust) that powerful influence the other (non-Jesus-based) influences seem less offensive.

How do they accomplish this?  Perhaps they can let the Jesus Bits make choices through what may feel to them like a guided intuitive capacity. What is actually happening may just be neurons firing, but the subjective experience is that of receiving direction — guidance — from a part of the mind that one does not monitor intellectually.  Thus, by “turning their life over the Jesus” they find a way to deal with living with uncertainty in this seemingly harsh universe.


Alas, many make the mistake of believing their Jesus Bits are something specific — an actual person, perhaps.  This is a dismal downside of religion, yet the phenomena being addressed by the reality-model (for example: the contingent nature of the self) aren't going to go away.

Jesus Bits make life more tolerable for millions. They also hurt millions. As solutions go, it's not ideal.  For now, though, it's all many people have, and it does the job for them.

Do you ever wonder what Jesus of Nazereth would say about what people think he said?

(The original, very similar, version of this article was written Mar. 22, 2007.)

Christianity Versus Original Sin

Note: A video version of this article is available on YouTube.


Christians say that Jesus died for our sins. But what was the original sin — the one that got all the sinning started?

The Bible says the Original Sin was eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Most people vaguely think that this means they ate an apple and evil popped out of it, rather like Pandora's Box. But note what the Bible says the fruit contained: knowledge of good and evil. If good and evil are merely human constructs, then the tree revealed a bogus distinction. A fake separation. A false dichotomy. Call it what you will.

So in the biblical model of reality, in its creation story, it may be describing the first bogus distinction in the history of humanity.

Note what happens next in the bible story: the first humans feel shame. Now they feel the cost of the sin. They now believe that it is wrong to be naked.

Says who? Says belief, that's who.


When one accepts “Jesus,” say the Christians, one is “redeemed” (freed, liberated). Freed from what? Well, one can be freed from the (original?) sin of false distinctions — I'll explain how in a moment.

One retains this freedom only as long as one is “turning over one's life to Jesus” (who could be just a mental fiction). Thus, one absolves one's self of guilt in direct proportion to the extent that one can “turn it over” to Jesus. In other words: more faith equals more liberation.

The model may be full of fiction, but it nonetheless provides people a way of freeing themselves from “hamster in a cage” thinking such as worry. The more negativity they can “turn over” in this way, the less fear they feel. In so doing, they are better able to operate in the moment, interacting with people without self-censorship, “hating the sin but loving the sinner” (seeing through the programming and appreciating the person as they naturally are).

How else could somebody truly love their neighbor as themselves, if not by noticing that an actual person exists underneath all that programming?


I speak of the ideal case, of course. In real life Christianity, most people have no idea what the stories were actually pointing at, so they fall for the words and miss the point entirely. Or so I say. Others will tell me I'm very, very wrong.

(The original, very similar, version of this article was written Jan. 25, 2007.)


A Reflection on SOPA/PIPA Protest Day (Jan. 18, 2012)

Here's a prediction:

At some point in the next five years, the internet will declare war on some other entity, such as a country. 

Yes, I realize that “the internet” does not have a unified political will. But I am considering Marshall McLuhan's statement “The medium is the message.” There are going to be differences in emphasis between various online power groups, but they will all understand that their existence can be threatened by the old guard with their old-style politics.

They're already threatened by people with big money — that's what SOPA/PIPA is all about, isn't it? And with Wikipedia's black-out protest, and the associated copy-cat protests, they're striking back. It's a minor thing this time, but ... next time?

I predict that SOPA/PIPA will get passed within 4 years, in some diluted form, probably with different names, because the power of money is, well, powerful!  And then the rascally tech-heads out there will find work-arounds, such as underground, possibly distributed, DNS servers. If things get really bad, some hackers will set up a parallel internet, using packet radio perhaps.

It's just the old “copy protection wars” writ large, isn't it? Somebody makes a lock, then somebody figures out how to pick that lock.

Let's see how good I am at being a clairvoyant prophet. I'd rather be wrong, this time. But we'll see.


Kentucky Koan Dog

Story # 1

The old man was asked about having his house broken into by thieves. They had been startled to find him in the front room, asleep in his armchair, alongside his ancient dog, who was also asleep. When asked why he kept the dog, he said, “We'll both die in a while, but if she's awake that might be a while longer.”

Story # 2

When asked,“Does your dog have a soul? Does it have Buddha nature?” the old man laughed. “You can take that up with her.”


Way Clever

A million zillion pieces of stupid
making one piece of intelligent.
A thundering herd of industrious ants
Carrying off your picnic.

Thank you, Mark Ty-Wharton, for the idea behind this one.


How Much Thought?

How much thinking is actually necessary?

An iguana, when it catches a largish fly going by, might have a moment's satisfaction. Its satisfaction (and perhaps ours, too) is a lessening of desire. The iguana has eaten that fly and is less hungry by that amount. If there is no peril the iguana ceases thinking.

But it is not inert! On the contrary, it is alert! It is listening, watching, aware to its surroundings. This is all it actually needs at this moment. So, no thinking.

Inside the Iguana

It is tempting for us humans to see an iguana sitting there and suppose that it is having deep thoughts about the universe. But it's far more likely that it is not thinking. No thought is happening.

Inside that iguana's brain, nothing is being modeled apart from the present moment. It doesn't have to project into the future because it doesn't have to work out:

“Where will that fly be, given its speed and probable trajectory, so I can aim my tongue precisely to that point (allowing for the travel time of my tongue as affected by wind and my general well-being)?”

What, you thought it was easy being an iguana? When they need to think about the future, they do so. And they're darn good at it.

Note: Iguanas do not actually think in English. 

Inside the Human

Of course, iguanas don't have the options that humans do. 

Does our bonanza of options mean we should be thinking continually (or nearly so)? Alternatively, can the thinking actually end when it becomes overly arbitrary? Is the thinking ever … done?

Part of the mind — call it ego or programming or whatever — refuses to accept that the thinking might actually be “done.” It will cheerfully get out of the way for a while, particularly if this results in pleasure. But it does not want to be turned off and called up by some other part. It does not want to, well, die. It cannot let go. 

And yet … “it” does let go, sometimes. We've known moments of peace. Why does “it” always come back?

Some sages seem to be saying that it will always be there. But it doesn't have to co-opt the survival instinct, arrogating unto itself the necessity to live, live, live!

It doesn't clearly see that its abeyance is not truly its death. It does not see that it is part of a larger organism,  which can call upon it when it is needed. It does not trust this process, even though it has seen it happen.

It does not see that I, and it, exist as part of a larger context.

Outside the Human

What does it want with me? Oh, yeah, it's made of memes. It's surviving.

It's just another bunch of replicators, doing what replicators can evolve to do: survive. And if that means invading an organism's brain and co-opting its survival instinct, so be it.

This is survival we're talking about. Yes, even memes about love and puppies must infect countless hosts to have a fair chance of being passed on. The better a meme convinces an organism to identify with it, the better its survival rate.

The Blex

The organism can realize that it is spending a whole lotta time on a one-subject thought. Wouldn't the organism get bored with thinking about the same thing? Apparently not. The organism might, however, notice that the memetic infection is rather costly, despite the rewards it offers.

And such rewards it offers! I'm reminded of the story of Jesus taken atop a high place by The Devil, and shown all that could (in theory) be his!

Hmm. What shall we call “it”, though? I won't call it “The Devil”, because that's a fictional character. I won't call it “ego”, because that might sound like something entirely inside us. What is “it,” really?  It is almost entirely made of replicators from outside the physical organism. It doesn't really matter what we call it, but let's call it something. I call it The Blex.  (Short for The Belief Expanse. If you don't like that name, you can call it The Collective Mind or whatever.)

The Blex's program, if activated, offers rewards of accomplishment, riches, sexual excitement, triumph, victory! All this can (in theory) be yours! All you must do is run The Blex's program!

Note: Let's not blame the outside world for the entirety of The Belief Expanse — The Blex. Many beliefs I infer from my life's “story.” I have nobody to blame for these beliefs but myself, but they all get tossed together into a big belief salad. Your beliefs would infect me if they could, and vice-versa. Hence, it's all The Blex.

How Much Guidance?

Unless we opt to live in isolation on an island, some parts of the program (such as social rules) are necessary; some (like how to make fire or operate a computer) are useful. How do we keep only the parts that are edifying? To put it another way, can we pare down the program load to a bare minimum? If so, who  or what decides which bits continue to guide us?

It makes no sense for the program itself to choose which bits are kept resident, but this is indeed what we do. Constantly. In fact, many times we have become confused and genuinely believed that we were the program. A case of mistaken identity! But alongside all that nonsense going on inside us, there's that other part — that right-brainy part, perhaps — that seems capable of deciding when to call up which bit. 

In times of crisis, what is guiding us? When a seemingly higher ability takes us over, and there's no time to think or even feel but still we do the right thing ... what is guiding us?


It seems to me that in such cases a humble, unadorned, unthinking part of us is choosing which bits of the program are relevant. Call it “right brain” if that works for you. If you want to say, “But that's Jesus inside me, guiding me!” (or Jehovah, or Allah, or Pure Doingness) go ahead; this article's almost over.

Could we to some extent actually live in that highly effective state? How much thinking is actually necessary?