Friday, October 26, 2018

Excellent videos on meditation by a skeptic

From the youtube channel "à-bas-le-ciel":

 


It just ain't fair. There I was, looking for someone who would challenge my beliefs on meditation, maybe have a little debate or somthun.

Turns out, not only does this guy mostly agree with my own notions, but he articulates them better than I can.

The gist of it is that the "interesting" experiences in meditation don't mean shit beyond what they are - experiences.

If you're interested in that kinda thang - enjoy!




Here's another one of his:


If I hear him right, he is actually in favour of meditation - as a religious practice - but doesn't see any scientifically vindicated merit to it as a health practice. Now, admittedly I used to think that there are some studies suggesting that meditation can improve some brain states.

Okay, so maybe that ain't so. That's fine. I always thought that those claims were a bit useless, anyway. After all, if a game of table tennis is a worthwhile endeavour that nobody feels motivated to back up by science, then why wouldn't the same go for just quietly sitting around for a while?

I do not claim that meditation has any effect outside subjective experience. I would, however, claim that in my own experience, daily meditation plus a good healthy dose of stoic philosophy, did help me get out of a rut, and does help me create less trouble for myself and others. I have the impression that it became easier, over time, to see things with less bias and to come down faster from an emotional outburst. I have no clue if that works for everyone, or if it can even ever be proven that it works for a few. It's only my impression, is all.

I do think that "getting a little bit of rest" between an impulse and my reaction, is something I achieved through my practice and that, at worst, I am wasting an hour before dawn feeling rather well.

Or I might just be getting older. Well, I guess I can live with that.

To me, the more important part is to not fall for the religious implications assigned to meditation. That there probably is no enlightenment awating just around the corner. That being a bit calmer does not mean that I have some "spiritual achievement", or that I am somehow better than others. It just seems to make my life a bit easier.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Entitlement, privilege, and motivation

When you say that "millenials are so entitled" *), what you are really saying is that they create suffering for themselves and others. And now, you create suffering by doling out your righteous judgment, feeling very much entitled in the process.

Of course, there can be tendencies for certain groups towards destructive attitudes or behaviours.

I think that the motivation with which you say something, and the way you say it, is important. Fundamentally important.

You can spew absolute judgments with hatred, bigotry, resentment and fear.

Or you can carefully try to describe and understand what you see as a destructive behaviour, and look out for solutions.

There's a difference between those two, and I think it is all important, especially in the times of social media and hair-trigger indignation.

It's a difference in tone moreso than content. It's hard to spot. It's easy to hide the one under the cover of the other.

It's important to learn how to listen, without judgment, and then rephrase the message so it becomes more productive.

In my experiene, stoicism, some parts of buddhism, and meditation can help with that goal.





*) etc. etc. ad nauseam

Why Christianity Does Not Work

There is a useful idea of transcendence buried inside christianity. *)

Christianity is an attempt
to transcend the ego,
by projecting the inner demon,
unto an imagined external being,
denying its demonic origin,
and then submitting to it.

I think it is reasonably obvious why this can never work.





*) inside abrahamic monotheism in general.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Group characterization, a.k.a. prejudice

"The pharisees were hypocrites."

"Millenials are lazy and entitled."

"Feminists are ugly, fat, man-hating bitches."

"All men are rapists in waiting."


The moment you put people into those neat little categories, you have already lost.

Thinking in groups, and then pitching them against each other, is one of the worst mistakes human beings make - every one of us, including myself.

And we make it an awful lot.

Why is it a mistake? Because it simply ain't true, that's why. It makes us make bad decisions.

Beliefs that don't accurately reflect reality, can cause bad decisions.

My favourite example is from the New Testament: The pharisees are consistently characterized as hypocrites. But, wait a sec - the pharisees were a group of maybe 2000-3000 people or so... can you honestly say that you believe that that many people were being hypocritical, and nothing but hypocritical, for all their life? While everybody else was superduper honest and good?

The answer is, of course, no. It's a piece of ideological hyperbole, of rhetoric.

Some pharisees sure acted like hypocrites in certain situations.

Just like everybody else. Just like I do. Just like you do.

The categorization of a group as hypocrites, or as "entitled", is simply wrong.

The categorization of a specific action as hypocritical is possibly correct, and can be productive.

Yet, we need group categorization for fast decisions, especially in semergency situations: "Can I trust this guy in uniform?" - "Should I run from this guy who looks like a drug addict?"

We do it more when we are emotionally upset. As long as there's no "clear and present danger", the right thing to do would be to let the emotions settle, and only then engage in thinking and decision-making.

We also do it out of sheer mindlessness, intellectual laziness. It takes effort to correct one's prejudice. It's work, actual, real, hard work, to get over it. And you can't ever say that you've finished your work. Never.

I suggest that we learn to be aware of our neat little categories, and whenever we meat someone from one of those groups, allow them the chance to prove us wrong.

I suggest that we learn to attack actions and opinions, with vigour and even mercilessly at times - but never people.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

How not to convince me

TL;DR: That which is presented without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.

In this blog posting, the author takes on the role of a father, advising his son. His wisdom entails, in so many words, that women are goddesses in hiding, men can be gods too, but men have to work for it. And that work consists of - you guessed it - withholding orgasm. He claims that orgasm "weakens you and opens the door to diseases."

Nothing new there.

The appallingly condescending tone of the thing does not do an awful lot to convince me, but that is the least of the troubles.

In the ensuing reddit discussion, he clarified he was not actually talking about orgasm - but rather ejaculation. That he is well aware of the distinction, and knew of the existence of nonejaculatory orgasms. He said that he used orgasm as a short-hand, "because it was a mere 500 word posting". I'm not buying this, but let's let that one slip.

He said he was not talking about serious illness, but stuff like the flu or herpes. Upon request for evidence, he refused to "give away free data", because he felt offended by my criticism.

That one is highly amusing. The sheer creativity of authors covering up their lack of evidence is truly astounding. I tried it quite a few times, to no avail. There is always some reason why they don't, can't, won't come up with real data.

True, I was very harsh. I'm fed up with all the bullshit that people tout with regard to male sexuality and orgasm, and right now, I'm not in the mood to mince words. It will probably mean that I and this fellow will never be friends, but that's a loss I'll just have to live with.

Here's what I think: He does not have any data. Nor does he have any explanation for how this is supposed to work. Apart from maybe something or other about energy, or maybe zinc.

He has a few personal anecdotes and vague impressions, he's read a few books that propagate old religious superstitions about qi and retention. Books that, themselves, rely on anecdotal evidence and "old wisdom" or "spiritual science", which is just a nice way of saying "crap that someone pulled out of their arse".

The saddest part is that, apart from being uncapable to put his message into clear words, this guy is not a liar or deliberately trying to fool people. I'm sure he absolutely believes what he says. He thinks he is being rational, and giving good advice. He just does not know what constitues evidence, and how to phrase his message so that it conveys a confidence level lower than 1.

Just in case, I know how it feels. You have this big revelation, this truly and utterly deep truth that shook your world and made you well. You want to convey it. Everyone should know this! Everybody will love your message! They just have to understand.

Been there, done that. Got the "stupid" label well on my forehead.

But that just ain't how it works. Son.

If you want to convince me, I suggest you do the following:
  • Use a non-condescending, humble style. You are not an authority. Don't try to act like one.
  • Have at least an inkling of a coherent theory. There is no reason to believe claims without explanation.
  • Caveats are a good thing. Anticipate counter-arguments and possible refutations. That shows that you thought this through before writing.
  • Show your evidence, or at least admit that there is none. Your personal experience is quite fine, it just means that it is not my experience, so there is no reason for me to believe it if those experiences don't match.
  • Whenever you're engaging in speculation, admit to it. There is nothing wrong with speculation, and the status of your claims is an integral part of the message.
  • Whenever you do not know for sure, admit to it. There is nothing wrong with that. It supports the reader's evaluation of your claims.

Please, do not claim healing

Whenever you are tempted to write a blog posting or a reddit comment, or just claim in casual conversation, that your spiritual, mystical, "alternative" method has healing properties, I urge you to stop right there.

You might have a few personal experiences, and if that works for you, fine, great, go on and do whatever you do. As long as you claim general good feelings, improved vitality, you got no debate from me. Thousands of factors go into that, your method might very well be one of them, at least for you, and maybe a few others as well.

All of that changes once we talk about real physical or mental issues, be it the flu or cancer or depression.

The fact is, you do not have a clue whether your method works or not, and chances are it doesn't.

The fact is, you are very likely falling prey to your own biases. You are likely a victim of confirmation and selection bias, probably of loss aversion too. You have not accounted for a possible placebo effect. You are probably not a medical doctor. You do not know all the factors that might play a role, nor do you have any idea how to deal with those in your assessment.

Assuming that what you describe even is a real effect, which is highly doubtful, you do not know the mechanism behind it, and "quantum consciousness" or "qi" probably ain't it.

We all have read about an astounding quantity of bullshit methods: prayer, crystals, reiki, semen retention, invocations of literally thousands of gods and demons. The list is nearly endless.

They cannot all be right.

They can indeed all be wrong.

Your method, in all likelihood, is just as wrong as all the others.

When you claim physical healing, and you do so with the right tone, some assumed authority, and maybe some quote-mining, there is a good chance that you lead people astray. People who are in dire need of real treatment. People who suffer. You give them false hope, and in the worst case, this will lead to their death.

What you are doing is unethical.

Stop it.

------------------------------

On this blog, I have tried my best to avoid any claims of that sort. I avoid words like "healing" in general, because I think it insinuates more than it should. However, we all slip up, so if you still find something like that, please drop me a note (betlamed@gmail.com), and I will review the posting in question.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

You don't have to be a label

Okay, I admit that this fundamental wisdom is quite the deepity - but it hit me like a sledgehammer earlier today, so I'd like to share it:

You don't have to be a bdsmer just to do some bdsm stuff.

I self-identified as a sub for the better part of my adult life. First you struggle, then you get used to it, and at some point you take it for granted.

However, the more I actually practice some bdsm rituals with my wonderful lady, the more they  become just another expression of our love. This makes me question why I should self-identify with the label at all.

bdsm is just a set of activities. If you like to create an identity around those, fine, go ahead, it's not a bad thing per se, and it will bring you in community with a lot of interesting folks - but it's really not needed if you just want to tie your partner to the bed.

No need to be a tantrik either, just to breathe and masturbate. And indeed, do you have to "be a christian" just to believe something, or to attend some church?

Of course, arguably, if you believe that Jesus rose from the dead and saved us all, then you're a christian by definition.

But there is a difference between accepting a label just because the definition fits, and self-identifying with that label.

My hunch is that this latter way of dealing with labels is where all the trouble lies. It is fairly obvious that - while your beliefs sure inform your actions and form your character - you are not simply defined by your beliefs.  You are not a christian, and nothing but a christian - you're a christian and a father/mother, son/daughter, student, hacker, etc.

It is also obvious that such identification can lead to ugly stuff like suicide bombings or flying planes into buildings - or, a bit less dramatically, to vote for a party that does not actually support you or your causes.

Another obvious deepity is that identification with a label does not necessarily make you a suicide bomber. In fact, it might inspire you to do a world of good.

So where does that leave us? Personally, I get ever more wary of labels, the older I get. I find that in many cases, they are - not so much evil, but - unneeded, unhelpful. I don't think we can ever get rid of them, but I think that it makes sense to not identify with any one label too much.