Friday, August 31, 2012

Next Chapter Preview

Just wrote something that I wanted to share with the community. Tell me if you think it's too brainy to go into a chapter on "Simple Truth". Heck, tell me if you think I'm crazy. Here it is:

I once heard it explained by a scientist how it is that we come to develop views and beliefs that are out of line with reality. The theory goes that because it would be impractical for us to investigate thoroughly every situation encountered, humans have taught themselves how to take shortcuts, jumping to conclusions and clinging to those conclusions for as long as they do not endanger our immediate well-being.

For example, when walking in a field of tall grass and hearing a rustling sound nearby, if one were to take the time to investigate, one might very well become a meal for a hungry predator. Much easier is it to simply believe there is a predator and run away; much safer too - no harm will come if it turns out we are wrong in making the decision to run to safety. The unfortunate side effect of this wise-seeming caution is that we come to favour such shortcut taking in all aspects of our lives; our reactions come to be based on the quickest solution available, rather than the solution which actually solves the problem.

Over time, this methodology perpetuates itself, as we refine our ability to shorten the time it takes in which to "solve" a problem to an ever greater degree. This is where we find ourselves in modern times; having fine-tuned our ability to "solve" all of our problems in a matter of moments, by taking a pill, lighting a spark, flicking a switch, and so on. From a purely evolutionary point of view, our shortcut-taking has worked very well; from a spiritual point of view, it has been disastrous. Instead of dealing with our problems head on, we incline towards creating new and more complex problems in order to solve earlier ones.

There is an old story that tells of an ascetic who lived under a tree with nothing but his robes. One day someone invited him to live in a hut that they had built, so that he could avoid the inclemencies of weather, bugs, etc. Thinking this would help his spiritual life, he accepted. After some time living in the hut, however, he began to be troubled by rats who would bite holes in his robes when he left them in the hut. In order to solve the problem, he procured a cat to scare away the rats. This, however, presented a new problem of how to feed the cat. To solve this problem, he procured a milk cow. The problem with the milk cow, of course, was it needed one to tend to and milk it. To solve this problem, he found a milkmaid to stay with him, and in the end found him falling in love and breaking his asceticism, taking on all of the problems of the household life. This is a very good example of how we try to solve simple problems by creating more complex ones.

In modern times, this is seen all the more acutely. Through trying to avoid simple problems like how to procure food and shelter, we find ourselves caught up in social, economical, political, and even global problems that are all very far removed from the very simple problems they are designed to solve.

If the goal is for the proliferation of a species, approximation and shortcut taking is a tried and tested method with mostly positive consequences - the species flourishes, adjusting behaviours only when they hinder its proliferation. This is how the animal realm works, and many humans as well seem satisfied with this sort of "development" as a positive thing. It is thought to be a sign of advancement that the human species has proliferated so rapidly in a relatively short time. Such thinking is actually an example of the problem; rather than taking the time to look at whether we are actually solving the problem, we see our ability to continue taking shortcuts as proof that we are, and so are encouraged to spend even less time studying our problems and more time finding ways to take shortcuts around them.

As a result of all of this, our beliefs and views don't necessarily have anything to do with reality; they only serve to perpetuate themselves; beliefs in things like creator gods are "positive" precisely because they allow you to avoid taking the time to examine issues like creation. Belief in entities like a soul are "positive" because they allow you to avoid having to understand the complex workings of reality. Once you have the "answers", you are free to spend your time on other things like how to further shorten the distance between reality and desire, like a mouse on an ever shrinking wheel.

In the end, most of our advancements as a species can be seen to be nothing more than shortcut-taking in order to avoid the need to understand reality. It's a completely senseless state of being, and yet it is one that defines our existence as human beings. We seek out pleasure for the purpose of becoming better able to seek out pleasure; we chase away displeasure for the purpose of becoming better able to chase away displeasure. In the end, we haven't the slightest bit of understanding about the nature of either, except that the one is to be desired and the other is to be avoided. Even that "understanding" is based primarily on what allows us to continue our development of habitual shortcut-taking - displeasure slows us down, pleasure speeds us up. There is no rationality to our preference beyond this, nor is there any foreseeable benefit to come from it. We are not just like mice running around in a wheel, we are like mice winding up our own mouse traps until they snap on our necks. Instead of moving closer and closer towards satisfaction and peace, we move faster and faster away from them on our quest for pleasure and from displeasure; less and less satisfied with what we have until death puts an end to the cycle for us.

I don't think it is a good thing at all to take shortcuts. Our propensity towards "whatever works" has rendered the system broken in a very fundamental way, as we never truly understand anything of what we experience, preferring rather to put it to use to obtain more of it, and quicker. We are like children who see a rainbow and immediately run to find an imaginary pot of gold at its end; instead of appreciating reality because it is real, we prefer illusion because it is more.