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As much as you may get upset about the passing of another day, nothing will change. As frustrated as you are about your mood, the slow flow of your thoughts and the obscure reasons by which the universe is governed, nothing will change, precisely as King Solomon predicted.
It would be remarkable if it were possible to experience some long-forgotten era, its nuances, its graces. To experience not simply flat images like we see in movies, but actually the real world of that time with all of its dimensions, allowing one to sense the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of the time. Which time? Any time; it doesn't matter. How colorful were the clothes in medieval ages? It is so difficult to imagine the normal, ordinary sky with normal, ordinary clouds slowly passing above medieval castles, filled with sounds of long forgotten words. Somewhere in the fields a fight is at its climax: the blood is red, the swords are sharp, and the death is real. The problems of medieval Europe are still contemporary politics and don't yet belong to history. Everything is serious and scary; the reality is unrelenting and painful. Somewhere in the depths of the forest, lovers are embracing each other and their feelings are the same as in our modern times, times that haven't lost their romance despite the calamities of the electronic era. Imagination is an excellent hideout for poets, philosophers, and the insane.
It is great to sink into the times of Socrates and listen to the melody of the ancient Greek language that sounds so Oriental to our ears, even though it has become an ancestor to many of our modern words. Look at the broad forehead of Plato, which gave him his name. Do you realize that all of these people once existed? They moved, lived, breathed, spoke, and were an integral part of the routine reality of their times, which even though filled with the colors of existence was probably very boring. It does not exist anymore. Neither does the blackness of night above Athens exist, even though the stars over my backyard are still in almost the same positions as they were 2500 years ago, and the Milky Way is just the same as it was above the ancient columns and roofs that had just been built and freshly painted.
When you look at the sky it is all the same as it was in the Middle Ages, in ancient Greece, and even as it was above some lost civilization that we haven't yet uncovered. Even still, imagination can help us revive the smell of their wine, the taste of their bread, and the strength of their bulls.
One day, our reality will turn into the same pale dance of someone else's imagination, our history and importance relegated to their interests. Sometimes I feel that I breathe the air of these forgotten times, read their thoughts, emotions and dreams as if they were my own. I feel like I am part of all these vanished eras, and that the future has yet to unfold. I feel like I am ready to start my journey to a forgotten, undiscovered country, whose name is 'The Joys of Common Sense'.
Forgiveness as a Free Choice
hether we like it or not, our life is filled with both obvious and hidden conflicts that are usually caused by clashes between real interests and imaginary reasons. Life itself starts with conflict: the first cry of a baby, its face showing a grimace of suffering and protest against the force that pushes it out, is a good illustration of this first conflict of our lives. We spend all the stages of our lives, our youth, our adult years, and even our senior years, in conflict. Our struggles are eternal and remain our closest companions throughout our existence; thus any mature individual is an experienced fighter, while his main opponents are his co-workers and the ones he loves most.
The cycle of struggle includes a constant exchange of numerous punches, until destiny separates the opponents and they find new opponents to fight with. Sometimes people succeed in destroying each other in a more efficient manner; for example, they may kill each other. But here we will not address such extreme cases. The substance of our concern is the endless sequence of minor conflicts that constitutes our entire life.
People fight not only with other people, but also with inanimate objects; for example, when we get hit by a chair or a table we react very similarly to the way we would react to a person in that situation-we curse, threaten, or sometimes even try to hit back. In more advanced stages of our obsession we even talk to inanimate objects; we may beg them and sometimes even threaten them. Most of the time this happens when we communicate with our computers. It is not uncommon to hear, 'Come on! Don't do that to me!' We often address our computers this way, especially when they freeze.
Once when I got angry at my computer I even went so far as to spit at the monitor; that's why I always keep a box of Kleenex at my desk. Sometimes we argue with our computers, and most of the time they win. They win because they don't have any emotions, and being emotional doesn't help when you are trying to win an argument. But being passionate usually helps, because passion is not just an empty emotion. Passion is the pure energy of our soul.
Most of the time we have conflicts with animate objects like pets, or even mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are the only species that we kill on a daily basis. Of course we eat meat-beef and chicken-which is a result of daily killings, but we as consumers are not involved in the butchering process. In the case of mosquitoes we are the active killers; because when we defend ourselves that usually justifies any killing.
Look at the kinds of conflicts we have with God, destiny, fate, or whatever we call the superior force that governs our lives.
We fight the laws of nature. We especially hate gravity; when things fall on the floor we usually say 'damn gravity!' and this is no joke. By saying this we are opposing a basic force in the universe, without which practically nothing can exist. We fight gravity by saying 'why can't we fly like birds?' and we actually are overcoming it-by flying in our dreams. With the advent of manned flight we are now conquering the laws of physics to achieve those dreams.
We also fight the temperature. We are a moderate species, so we do not enjoy the extremes of temperature at either end of its range. Most of all we hate and fight death-the fact that we are all inevitably going to die drives us crazy. In the lengthy, boring process of evolution-from simple one-celled organisms to our present stage of development as well-developed multi-celled organisms with obvious esthetic and spiritual needs-nature has taught us by imprinting in our long- term memory and subconscious that death is a major failure of our life and one that should be constantly avoided and prevented at all costs.
The process of fighting consumes a lot of our energy which we lose in a series of offences and defenses, aggressions and withdrawals, the 'slings and arrows' of outrageous fortune that William Shakespeare has so eloquently elucidated for us. This fighting was vital in the early stages of our evolution as human beings, because a refusal to fight signified unavoidable death. But in modern society the refusal to fight sometimes, although not necessarily, constitutes a death threat. Luckily western culture doesn't kill losers, which is a good thing because some so-called 'losers' that refuse to fight for the illusory values of modern society-like career, wealth, and power-have an opportunity to use their energy for peaceful observation of our world, our universe, and our place therein. These 'losers' are called philosophers. I don't mean the guys that fight their way through academic institutions to get high degrees in philosophy; I'm speaking of the simple people that have chosen a lifestyle of deep thought and observation as a way of spending their time and attention.
That is the true freedom of choice: refuse to take part in most of the conflicts and just forgive the offender, whoever or whatever it is: a table that you get hit by, your neighbor that has stolen
something from you, or your friend that has betrayed you for the thousandth time. Forgiveness of the enemy is the best way to save your energy for a better cause. The fighting and hatred that are always involved in any struggle are very destructive for both parties involved. They hurt both our spirit and our mind; they distract us from really worthy issues that should be explored and given thought to. Moreover, a life full of conflicts could be considered irrational, because in the modern world you cannot really prevail by destroying your opponent; you cannot kill your neighbor without suffering severe consequences, nor can you kill your friend who probably deserves it for betraying you time and time again. Therefore, no matter how hard you fight you will always feel dissatisfied with the results, even in the case of ultimate victory, because modern society doesn't allow conflicts to continue to their natural point of resolution - which in nature often constitutes the killing or destruction of the enemy. In today's world, there is no way to destroy an enemy without destroying yourself. The death I speak of is not merely physical, but more of a spiritual and moral corruption that necessitates our demise.
In order to execute our true freedom of choice we must consider forgiveness of our enemies and opponents, because the one who forgives always has the choice of whether or not to forgive. The one who is forgiven, who always fights, is just an object of aggressive tendencies and therefore enjoys less freedom of choice, because he will always revert to the baser instincts of conflict. For as Sun Tzu says:
'There is no greater misfortune than that of underestimating your enemy. Underestimating your enemy means thinking that he is evil. Thus you destroy your three treasures and become an enemy yourself. When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one who knows how to yield.'
In contemplation and introspection we allow ourselves to embrace freedom of choice, because we are no longer locked into a cycle of hatred and destruction. Through these enlightened philosophical positions we are able to pursue the most reasonable and morally suitable courses of action, which is something we should all seek to do.
Freedom from Fear vs. Fear of Freedom
I can justify this statement by simply analyzing the fact that fear is a major factor that survives across generations throughout the entire span of biological evolution as a result of natural selection. Organisms that experience more fear and are more aware of their surroundings express due diligence and caution in their actions and responses, thereby avoiding more life-threatening dangers. In their aversion they are sustaining their bloodline, or rather their genetic contributions to future generations, and ultimately increase their Darwinian Fitness (pass their genes to the next generation). We can assume that our ability to experience fear is a result of lengthy evolution. Christophe Lambert, in his book 'La sociИtИ de la peur' ('The Society of Fear'), argues that modern society is based on fear. It could be the fear of financial losses, unemployment, or inability to support one's family, but it also can include the fear of solitude, fear of growing old, fear of sickness, and of course the fear of death. Lambert makes a strong statement that modern society provokes most of this fear by imposing competitive values and an intense pace of life. One of his major concerns is television, which he calls 'le `nouvel' opium du peuple' ('the new opium of the people'). Once it started as a very positive feature of life in the early 1950s, extending the horizons and the abilities of common people to acquire knowledge about other nations and about world events, but with time it has become so manipulative that it is difficult for the viewer to distinguish between truth and drama. Lambert mentions that society at the beginning of the twenty-first century still remembers the consequences of attempts to fulfill the utopian ideals of some questionable minds of the twentieth century: Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud.
Nietzsche continued to explore concerns with the existence of God, and therefore finished the work of the philosophers of the Enlightenment and the philosophers of the French revolution. By stating that 'God is dead' he started a deep crack in the once-solid belief in the Almighty. He also created the concept of the 'superman' that provided the foundation for Nazi attempts to improve the human race.
Karl Marx created a utopian economic theory by criticizing the old brand of capitalism of the nineteenth century, but he also made false predictions about the future development of class struggle which ultimately laid the basis for numerous communist states. This almost led to global nuclear war and a complete extinction of the human species.
Sigmund Freud, probably the most innocent of this trio, developed a theory of the subconscious, arguing that most people's motivations are based on aggression and libido. This laid the groundwork for a series of sexual revolutions which occurred in the decades of the `20s, `50s, `70s, and `80s of the twenty-first century. Most likely Freud didn't do much damage on a global scale and was also quite successful in developing methods of psychoanalytical theories. But we cannot ignore the likelihood that his ideas had a certain influence on the rate of divorce and jeopardized the institution of the family by diminishing the value of people's relationships, bringing them down to the 'libido-aggression' level.
Christophe Lambert, once again, brings up the statistics of divorce rates in France, which have grown 400% in the last forty years. According to other statistics, 1 in every 3 marriages in the United States ends in divorce. Solitude, absence of family support, confusing religious beliefs, indefinite sexual relationships, and frustrating and scary media provide a full portrait of our fears in a nutshell.
How is it possible to obtain freedom from fear? The only way that I can see is to combat the factors that create fear, the factors that we have analyzed above. In order to combat solitude we must learn to build our relationships on a mutual basis and not to expect more than the other party can give. This even though (as Lambert argues) the internet is separating people rather than connecting them, because it eliminates personal contact. Personally I cannot agree with this statement, because the Internet today allows video conversations and very intense socialization, even with the most distant parts of the world. So I would argue that we should praise the Internet as a wonderful medium for building great relationships and making new friends, because avenues now exist to meet professional colleagues and start relationships with total strangers, which would not otherwise be possible. We also must admit that the Internet is a safe way to do this, in so far as it is not possible to cause any harm in a physical way through such virtual means of communication.
We cannot diminish the importance of the basic needs of each and every individual to have some sort of system of belief that may or may not be based on conventional religious ideas. It doesn't matter whether the individual chooses to be a believer or an atheist, but it is very important that he build a system of beliefs that he will feel comfortable with and then stay consistent with.
Lambert further argues that the main occupation of modern society is consumption. 'Sex idols' have become a commodity not unlike oil, wheat, and sugar. In the same way that excessive consumption of sugar is not good for one's health and may even cause diabetes, excessive consumption of 'sex idols' is not good for your soul or your family and will eventually leave you in a state of isolation and solitude. Alain Delon, the famous French actor who ruled women's hearts all over the world for almost half a century, now spends his days completely alone in the pleasant company of his three dogs and one cat, as the magazine 'Paris Match' reports to its readers. When he was asked in an interview why he is not happy and why he is alone, he answered: 'I wasn't programmed for happiness. I was programmed for success.' Those two things don't always come hand in hand. Therefore, the world is starting to turn its eyes from the wild promiscuity of the `70s and `80s to old-fashioned family values that we may choose to adopt in order to obtain freedom from fear of solitude and isolation.
It is important to move towards the restoration of the old-fashioned family values that have been destroyed in the wake of industrialization and post- industrialization. Emancipation, which granted equal rights to both sexes, also has a dark side in that it has deprived women of their privileges as the weaker gender which many women would love to restore. Society, in the era of total emancipation, has failed to provide basic childcare and educational services on a level comparable to that which could be insured by active parental involvement. There is a need to build strong family relationships using compromises and by expressing sincere interest in the problems and beliefs of your loved ones. This can provide us with at least a slight hope of not finding ourselves in old age suffering from solitude and isolation.
I believe that by limiting exposure to the media we may substantially reduce our level of fear and anxiety. We don't realize how strongly we are influenced by the images we see on TV. One young woman who resides in a tiny French village was interviewed by TF1 and reported that she experienced a lot of fear. When asked why she felt this fear she answered, 'Avec tout ce que l'on voit Ю la tИlИ on a des raisons d'avoir peur' ('With all this that one can watch on TV, one has reasons to have fear'). If TV is negatively impacting the lives of modest inhabitants in distant villages, what can we expect from people living in the frenzy of modern cities?
Protecting ourselves from excessive exposure to the media might reduce our tendency to sink into consumerism, and therefore protect us from an obsession with consumption as the main focus of our lives. In abandoning consumerism as a lifestyle, we may be surprised to realize how few things a person really needs to support their existence.
When we manage to achieve freedom from fear, however, we will need to find a way to overcome our fear of freedom, because there is really nothing to fear but fear itself. The only question that remains is, are we ready to face the possibilities of a free existence?
Human Nature or just
the Chemistry of our Brains?
Since the dawn of time philosophers and ordinary people have been speculating on human nature. Every succeeding generation approaches these issues with new arguments, because each new generation brings new ideas and speculations to allow a more thorough understanding of our laws, their morality, and their implications in society. For example, a well-known quotation by John Stuart Mill states,
'It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied, and if the fool and pig are of different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.'
We can continue with a long list of similar dilemmas, like 'it's better to be honest and hungry rather than dishonest and full,' or 'it is better to be a poor decent person rather than a rich crook.' But the problem is that it is obviously better to be a satisfied philosopher who can enjoy both sides of life, and it is better to be honest and full, rich and decent. It might be misleading that the categories mentioned above are self-exclusive.
Even though we understand the point that Mill was trying to make, that it is preferable to live a highly spiritual and intellectual life even though it may result in some discomfort or dissatisfaction, this belief is not necessarily an absolute certainty. Ethical truism and spiritual acceptance do not always mean discomfort and hardship. These virtues, along with being their own reward, bear the fruit of not only ethical pleasures but financial ones as well.
It is a very old, deceptive practice to argue that with great knowledge '[comes] great grief', with all due respect to King Solomon, whose statement in Hebrew 'yeda rav, tcar rav' ('great knowledge, great grief') is a little bit outdated.
At the present time we know that our mood and the feeling of satisfaction are ultimately regulated by the chemistry of our brains. Most of the philosophers and great thinkers of the past experienced a lot of stress concerning their discoveries and thoughts that caused them to enter severe depressions. Fools and pigs obviously didn't experience such pressures and therefore looked to be happier and more satisfied.
We cannot agree that the nature of knowledge itself bears on its shoulders some ancient curse of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Modern methods of treating depression show that knowledge itself is not the cause of depression; the cause of depression is the stress that appears as a result of intensive thinking and attempts to analyze complicated concepts. With proper pharmaceutical correction these undesirable effects can be eliminated, allowing the pleasure of that knowledge to be even more intense and gratifying than simple earthly pleasures. Furthermore, the satisfaction that philosophy can give to human beings results in a more profound happiness than anything that ignorance or an illusory happiness could offer as the result of a 'piggish and foolish' existence.
Let's examine human nature in respect to the concepts discussed above. Everything that we can observe, realize, and sense is as subjective as the definitions of good and evil. These definitions are the only facts that can be established regarding these two terms with a sufficient degree of certainty that they have opposite meanings. Usually we can analyze good and evil in pairs, where we deal with two sides while the same action is conceived of as good for one side and bad for the other. It is seldom that there is only one side that perceives a certain action or event as good while at the same time there is no other side that would perceive the same action as bad. When one side is benefiting from some action or event it is usually done by damaging, destroying, or causing some sort of negative effect on the other side. We cannot establish a universal definition of good and bad, but in the initial pages of this work we are trying at least to determine something certain in regards to this matter.
We have to make a very important remark at the outset that usually discussions like this one may have disturbing consequences, because jumping to the conclusion that there is no good without evil in certain circumstances may justify evil actions by arguing that there is no action that could be done without causing some direct or collateral damage to a certain party. In order to prevent making such a conclusion we need to determine what sort of objects qualify to be considered with respect to the terms good and evil. For example: we cannot argue that enjoying the sunshine should be perceived as an evil action towards the sun because the sun is losing energy that is used by us and therefore approaching the end of its existence in the universe. This example demonstrates that we cannot operate with the terms good and evil when we deal with inanimate objects, which is true unless the consequences of these actions could affect other living objects. For example, our impact on the global climate could not be perceived as evil towards the planet or its atmosphere because both are inanimate objects, but it could result in negative effects on other living objects that could become the victims of such impact. So we have to state that the definitions of good and evil have meaning only in respect to actions or events that have direct or indirect effects on living objects. Therefore we have divided nature into two unequal parts, one which includes the whole universe of inanimate objects and a second which includes the tiny portion of objects that we know of as `living'.
It is also obvious that among living objects we can distinguish between good and evil only with respect to the level of evolutionary development of certain species. We cannot claim that washing our hands with soap, which is good for us but causes devastating effects to the microbes that grow on our skin, is an act of evil towards the microbes. Therefore, we come to the conclusion that our understanding of the terms good and evil is applicable only to a tiny fraction of living objects that usually belong to our species or are very similar to ours. To illustrate this statement we can say that it is obviously bad to kill a cat, but there is nothing evil in killing microbes or parasites. Of course, this principle is true only if it doesn't cause any undesirable effects to other living species, such as those that feed on or benefit in other ways from the existence of the 'bad' species.
We then move to an even more obscure area when we deal with good and evil in human society. The philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote with reference to the moral law inside of him, which fascinated him as much as the starry sky above him, but the moral law of Kant might be considered immoral by some aboriginal tribes in the South American jungles. There is no such thing as a standard moral law that could be accepted by all humans. It is very difficult to give a definition of the moral law that lies in the foundations of human nature. It is as hard as giving any definition where there may be objections, according to the Socratic Method, that will always find something that is not included in the definition, and therefore might jeopardize our ability to define good and evil. We also cannot employ the approach of St. Augustine of Hippo who said, in answering the question 'what is time?': 'If no one asks me, I know; but if any person requires me to tell him, I cannot.' These two approaches cannot help us to identify what is good and what is evil in human nature.
Why is it so important for us to distinguish between good and evil? Of course sometimes we accept that there are gray areas in our moral understanding between the absolutes of black and white morality, whereby we accept the eventuality that sometimes good actions or intentions will have evil or malicious results, and that evil actions can possess elements of goodness in them. Nevertheless, most of the time we will try to determine certain events or actions as absolutes, either good or evil. Is this approach specific only to humans? We cannot say that, because in the animal kingdom we can find the same systems of judgment. As an example, imagine yourself fishing. When you put your bait into the water you may see many tiny fish that hesitate whether or not to bite. You can see a real hesitation, as you might see in some scientist solving a difficult problem. How is it possible that in such a tiny, cold brain we can find the same judgment system trying to distinguish between whether or not the bait is food, which is good, or a life- threatening danger, which is evil? This means that the moral law of Immanuel Kant has its counterpart in the early stages of biological evolution and that the ability to distinguish between good and evil is supported by positive natural selection, because the fish that is not able to make this judgment will inevitably die or be killed without any chance for reproducing.
Of course it is more complicated when it comes to human moral standards, but the difference is not as big as one would think. For example, self sacrifice and altruism, which are considered some of the most exemplary acts that can be attributed to human nature, are quite well known and documented in the animal kingdom. We don't find many animals that are ready to die for certain ideas, like some brave scientists that ended up burned at the stake for their beliefs, but we still find a lot of examples where animals sacrifice their own lives in order to protect their offspring or to promote their species' survival. We would argue that self sacrifice in the animal kingdom is governed by instinct and is more common than in human society where individuals are reluctant to endanger their lives for a multitude of reasons.
Do good and evil exist from the point of view of nature? Are these categories included in the structure of the universe? Is a supernova explosion an act of good or of evil? It is neutral, and can be valued by human minds in moral terms only through realization of its consequences.
Do good and evil exist from the point of view of God? No matter what definition of God we choose we always define God as some sort of thermometer of good and evil, with the tools of punishment and reward. Can heaven exist without God? Can God exist without heaven? Can Satan exist without hell? Can hell exist without Satan? In the simplified picture of the universe which we have inherited from our ancestors these categories cannot exist independently; even atheists just narrow these categories but still use the same terms of good and evil, punishment and reward. The problem is that evil empires are considered evil only by their enemies, while they are considered as exemplary by their governors and often by most of their people. Just as when history is written by the conquerors it is only in the eyes of the nations that fell under their power that they are evil, while succeeding generations remember them as the greatest societies that ever existed.
We would like to emphasize that our attempt to define human nature by investigating the categories of good and evil doesn't have any intention of justifying evil acts on the grounds that if evil cannot be well defined then evil actions can be more acceptable. Our intention is to argue that neither `good' nor `evil' can be used as universal absolutes, but rather that they should always be used with reference to the individual or society that is being evaluated.
Let us discuss how we understand our inner sense of `sin'. There are two kinds of regret that we can experience towards our own wrongdoing. The first one is real regret, such that when the same circumstances repeat themselves the individual will never do the same thing again, even if no one is looking and there is no threat of punishment or penalization. Another sort of regret, which is not as genuine, is caused by the realization of wrongdoing through punishment; this sort of regret cannot be considered a true expression of personal moral belief. This includes not only the fear of punishment that might come from society, which Sigmund Freud categorized as the super-ego, but also the fear of punishment beyond material life, like the fear of God's wrath. Even though most such cases are considered to be honest regret, they are not. It is not correct to argue that the moral law described by Immanuel Kant is something fundamental to human nature; at the very least it cannot be considered as fundamental and constant as the stars above.
The moral laws inside us are flexible. For example, a lack of food can easily justify stealing; danger can justify defensive aggression against a threat, even homicide. There is no such thing as a mature or immature moral law; morality just constantly changes with the evolving needs of our body and character. It is also influenced by external pressures. Humans possess a weak memory or capacity to recall past situations, because our memory is based not on an imaging of the scenery as a whole as on video-cassette, but on a multi-dimensional imprint of the event in the brain that can be retrieved by employing different associations. Thus the same events can be analyzed and perceived differently, at a later time, by the same individual in a much different context. Absence of stable memory and firm systems of recognition and realization allow us to change our moral beliefs in a very efficient way, allowing us to adjust our moral behavior in a fluid manner in response to the internal and external pressures that we face. So how can we call moral law a `law' if it is changed as frequently as our need to change it? Most of the time we don't realize that a change has been made, and we feel we are being quite consistent within our code of personal morals and beliefs.
Now let us discuss the question, 'How might God judge our sins?' Is there any moral law so fundamental that it could be attributed to the Almighty? We might argue that by giving us free will God gave us the privilege of judging our own deeds, and thus if we consider our own deeds to be 'good' ones, how can they be evaluated independently by conventional moral standards? We are not sinners in the eyes of God, and only if we judge ourselves does God confirm our punitive ruling against ourselves by assigning us to an eternity in hell.
This is a very malicious argument. This kind of argument endorses situations such as those where a bloodthirsty murderer who doesn't regret his deeds would still end up in heaven because he is consistent within himself, while a good person who for some reason regrets some of his innocent deeds would end up in hell. This is not a very worthwhile system to follow. We have abandoned a simple system of punishment and reward, simply because the truth is much more complicated.
Christian morality is the most developed system of morality that humankind has ever achieved, because it includes a list of recommendations such that, if all living people were to follow them, our world would become heaven on earth. Theoretically Christian morality should work this way, but it never does. The problem is that we try to encourage people to adhere to a fundamental, unchanging moral code, assuming that they are morally mature. We should encourage instead a constant search and constant check of current internal moral values that actually can yield a better human being, rather than a person with seemingly inflexible moral beliefs. We can improve human nature by encouraging this constant search, because awareness of the fact that there is no such thing as a constant fundamental moral law inside of us leaves us responsible for making right decisions every single day, for checking our morals every single hour and trying to follow them, every minute of our lives.
Achieving Peace of Mind
Reading classic literature always calms me down. This is especially true when I read the diaries of famous writers of the nineteenth century. It seems like you have conversed with an intelligent person, who doesn't need to make himself look better than he really is. Such reading is very comforting to me, because the pace of life in the nineteenth century was much slower than it is today. Interests and passions were less competitive then, and the slower passage of time allowed for individuals to expand their thoughts into questions, a practice we seldom have time for anymore. Diaries and other accounts from this period take me far away from the reality of everyday life today, and the only thing I regret is that you cannot find new works by novelists such as Swift, Defoe, and Dickens, or new poetry from such poets as Byron.
I like this sort of detailed work, and you would probably be surprised at the content of the books I pursue, because I tend to read completely useless books on topics such as agricultural reports of ancient Rome, written by contemporary writers of that time.
Reading for me is not just about acquiring information. It is first of all a thought-provoking activity which helps the flow of my own thoughts and channels them into unique and different directions, allowing my mind to figure out better ways of perceiving my surroundings and the world in which I live.
Reading for me is a routine action, and routine actions are very common in nature. Most processes in nature begin with elemental, progressive steps, building towards a desired end. Unfortunately I suffer from a need to be engaged in routine action, anything but reading.
We can achieve only the illusion of peace of mind. This illusion is somehow connected to places, times, people, and images. Alas, if you look at the details you see that situations that you perceive as safe and comfortable in reality are not that safe. This is true not only with regard to personal experiences, but also can be seen in the biographies of successful writers, philosophers, and scientists. The perception of their success deteriorates the more you read, and you may find many disturbing details in their biographies that could have easily jeopardized their success and forfeited their claims to the pages of history.
There are many examples of images imprinted in our minds as ultimate success stories that in detailed investigation prove to be only another illusion offered to us by the media, books, and movies. In many cases we do the opposite, making negative conclusions about some events that actually are not as bad or at least don't have any serious negative effect on ourselves or our lives. For example, we tend to over-estimate the danger of getting killed in terrorist attacks or becoming a victim of airplane crashes when in fact we have a much greater chance of dying behind the wheel of a car. Lucius Annaeus Seneca gave all of us very valuable advice when he said that we shouldn't worry about troubles in the future because they will most likely never happen, and even if they do happen then we can worry about them then. But if we worry about future troubles now and they never happen, then we just poison our lives and lose all hope for happiness.
The state of peace of mind and stable feelings of happiness and self-enjoyment are not all based on the facts of your life. What is more important is which system of beliefs you have in place to cope with different situations. The only way to achieve a stable state of happiness and peace of mind is to learn more about yourself in order to find the true source of your unhappiness. Only through introspection can we purge the negative images that may currently occupy our thoughts.
Seneca can be a good guide for such self learning. His letters to Lucilus include volumes of practical advice which still hold true today, even though much of it has been long forgotten. In modern Western culture we perceive action as a better choice than absence of action, though in many cases absence of action allows one to find more successful ways of balancing one's state of mind.
Avoiding action is perceived in puritanical cultures as the sin of laziness, and doing whatever you have to do without a lot of thinking about the reasons or the results appears better than the state of inactivity. 'No strain, no gain' is a slogan that can illustrate the modern approach. This creates a lot of stress and exhaustion, making people engage in the frenzy of the modern lifestyle: 'Do first, think later. Or even better, don't think at all.'
If you were to ask the majority of people walking down the street what they are doing, most will struggle with this question and then tell you where they were going. Then if you were to ask why they were doing what they said they were doing, most would struggle once more but would be unable to give you an answer, because they in fact do not know why they do what they are doing. For example, if you ask a high school student on his way to school, 'Where are you going?' He will answer, 'to school'. If you then ask, 'But why are you going there?' the answer will most likely be, 'Because that's what I've got to do.' You won't find a very deep explanation of people's actions in more mature individuals as well. Thinking is very rare and a highly prized commodity in today's society. 'Thought is a strenuous art-few practice it, and then only at rare times,' as the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, once mentioned, and this is very true. We don't teach our children to think; we teach them just to act, no matter how illogical it may seem.
People's inability to analyze their motives and actions creates a lot of stress and causes frustration. Thinking is not that difficult, if you are used to doing it; it is just needs to become part of your lifestyle. People generally don't like to think, not because thinking requires more energy (which it probably does), but as a result of the erroneous assumption that thinking is not a useful way to spend their precious time. Therefore, as a result of this assumption, thinking is not highly valued by the majority of the members of today's society.
We have certain amounts of time which are allocated for certain purposes every day. We may spend about 10 minutes showering, 30 minutes or more eating, 2-3 hours watching TV, but we neglect allocating time for simple contemplation. There is no such thing as a special time for thinking; you are supposed to do it if you really need to, while you're in the shower or eating or watching TV, which is not very comfortable because sinking into a deep thought in the shower can make you forget whether you have already washed your hair and therefore you may have to do it again, considerably increasing the amount of water and shampoo you use. Thinking during meals increases the probability of choking and therefore dying prematurely, and thinking while watching TV is almost completely impossible because the specific intent of many TV producers is to distract us from thinking about our lives and replace it with something else that has nothing to do with our daily reality.
The absence of thinking time in our culture is a bad thing. In order to stay self-consistent, humans need some time to review their actions and to adjust their thoughts and beliefs accordingly. The modern world doesn't quite support us in this endeavor or allow us to adjust accordingly, because our culture perpetuates the problem. When you have allocated some time for thinking, sometimes you may come to the very surprising conclusion that most of the actions you have been undertaking in the past were actually not leading you to any particular aim.
Western culture idolizes perfection. This imposes a lifestyle on most people that expects them to be perfect in their personal life, their career, and any endeavor they undertake. The individual then evaluates all aspects of his life in terms of success or failure. We can see this approach even in psychological terminology where modern psychology describes a family experiencing crises in relationships between its members as a `dysfunctional family'. This demonstrates the core values presented by modern psychology; where the family is supposed to function like a machine or a computer system. Therefore the psychology of society today doesn't allow any room for failure, subsequently increasing the pressure on any particular individual.
We are living in an era of perfectionism. You don't meet many successful individuals who value the calmness of quiet thought while observing the sunset, or individuals who find real pleasure in non-material values. I am a perfectionist myself, but I suffer from a most frustrating form of perfectionism which is complicated by an intolerance for routine work. I get easily excited by new ideas, but I find a lot of difficulty in conducting the repetitive actions that usually are necessary to succeed in any endeavor.
Perfectionism causes a lot of suffering, because there is no place for happiness in such an approach. You cannot be happy until you get your work done, but neither can you be happy when you get the results, because the perfectionist is never satisfied with any results. Modern culture is a huge factory that manufactures unhappy souls. I am trying to put an end to this by training myself to not be as perfectionist as I used to be, but even in this simple endeavor I am trying to be perfect and therefore my effort defeats my purpose.
I have always despised non-perfectionists, whom I call in my personal vocabulary 'episodists'. By 'episodist' I mean a person who is not result-oriented, but rather process-oriented. I always thought that this kind of person was either stupid or just some kind of hippy, but now I realize that I was probably wrong. Look at nature. We don't have much evidence that time itself is real and not just an illusion of our minds. So, without time, there is no meaning to any result. Without time, the only meaningful action is to put effort into the process itself. Let's look at nature again. What is the ultimate result of a nice meal? Obviously it is the energy that we get out of eating food, but since energy is not something material, the material result of a nice meal is nothing more than what our digestive system produces, which could be considered neither aesthetically pleasing nor a desirable outcome.
The ultimate result of any blossom is rotting. The ultimate result of any life is death. That is why paying too much attention to results is not very desirable; without anticipation of results you don't have anxiety about failure. Nature is taking care of our ultimate results because we are left in charge of only the process, not the results.
How does one learn how to stop looking at results, to value the simple aspects of life? Take me, for example, sitting in this room writing this book. Rather than focusing my attention on the publishing of the book or the final product of my efforts, I focus only on the fact that I am enjoying writing and sharing my thoughts. It is a pleasant atmosphere, and I am in good company with a sleeping cat, a lazy dog, and the pleasant chimes of the clock. I am not anxious or nervous about how I come across or about any deadline that I must meet. Does this make me a bad person trying to enjoy my life independently of the results? I don't think so.
But still, in the back of my mind I am anxious as to how the book is going to turn out. I can't wait for the time when I submit this to the editor. I can't wait until I get the first copy and see the cover. I am not happy that I cannot see all of this right now, right here. This is a good illustration of my dilemma, whether to abandon the ultimate preoccupation with the results and start to enjoy each and every moment of my existence, or to be like everybody else-a crazy perfectionist who cannot think of anything but successful results.
Natural selection has made us strive for perfection, however unnatural that may sound. Even now we need to eat some animal's flesh in order to survive, and episodists are not very good hunters. If love is an ultimate aim of the development of the universe, why shouldn't I make an effort to escape my anxieties, even for a moment, and devote myself to pure reflection on the outside world, my inner soul?
The way to achieve piece of mind is to come to the realization that we need to understand ourselves, our primal responses. We need to get acquainted with our standard reactions, the way we often overestimate or underestimate ourselves and anticipate our possible behavior in different situations, all of which eventually adds up and makes us much more anxious about the days yet to come. Our fear of the future is not only based on a fear of unfortunate events, but also on a fear of our inability to provide the proper response.
Our previous experience usually provides us with sufficient information about our ability to cope with different stressful events in our lives, but for some reason this doesn't provide us with enough confidence to be able to cope with future events with the same or even greater success. Analysis of our previous performance, however, allows us to achieve peace of mind about future challenges.
One of the problems in estimating our own abilities is the obstacle that can come from the opinion of others that our own evaluation is subjective and therefore cannot be right. Thus we have a deep need for the approval of a third party to provide us with a second, external opinion about ourselves and our abilities. The most amazing thing is that sometimes the source of this opinion could be the very person that we don't perceive as a reliable source of opinions on many other issues. This is a paraphrase of a statement by Arthur Schopenhauer that aims to persuade the reader not to care too much about others' opinions. He was curious as to how many people there are in our lives whom we actually value and whose opinions we respect. Very often the answer would be zero, so why should we worry about someone else's opinion of us? Being objective about ourselves is important not only so that we don't overestimate our abilities, but also so that we don't underestimate them.
We need to learn to build our self-confidence not from frequently-heard phrases like 'I hate doing this,' 'I never knew how to do this,' 'I will never get over this,' or any other sort of discouraging and counterproductive statements. We should rather make positive conclusions about our ability to adjust to new situations, to be flexible and creative, and therefore provide ourselves with the self-confidence to perform in the future at least as well as we did in the past.
Inflexibility is the main cause of failure and therefore anxiety, depression, and absence of peace of mind. Nature supports us to be as flexible as possible because `adjustment' in life, especially among creatures living in the wild, is synonymous with `survival'. If you can adjust to a harsh winter, you will survive. If not, then you die. Pretty straightforward, isn't it? Flexibility in human society is also a valuable commodity. I had to adjust during my life to at least five different language environments, and even though I have never perfected them I was pretty successful in all of them. You don't need to be perfect in order to survive. Moreover, trying to be perfect may exhaust your energy resources and eventually lead to your downfall.
Common sense is another key to reaching a state of peace. But in my vocabulary common sense is not the opinion of the majority; rather it is a sober insight into the problem which is free of pre-judgments and the misleading conclusions of others. I have learned to question anything I see and I am not new to this approach.
I completely agree with Rene Descartes in his 'Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences' where he states, in Chapter Two:
'...but as for the opinions which up to that time I had embraced, I thought that I could not do better than resolve at once to sweep them wholly away, that I might afterwards be in a position to admit either others more correct, or even perhaps the same when they had undergone the scrutiny of reason. I firmly believed that in this way I should much better succeed in the conduct of my life, than if I built only upon old foundations, and leaned upon principles which, in my youth, I had taken upon trust.'
Following this advice of Descartes, I re-examine any concept or belief that I once took for granted, comparing it to my current experience and that of the modern world, especially where that's significantly different from what I experienced as a child and adolescent. I must admit that this old approach benefits me in many ways, because regrettably it is still very rare and therefore it gives me an advantage over others that don't employ this simple approach.
We frequently hear the opinion that most of the things in life depend on chance and opportunity. Many people argue that if or when opportunity comes they will not miss it. But the truth is that such people are not quite sure of what they are saying, as a result of decades of waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. They usually lose hope and just repeat comforting words and phrases in the 'maybe someday...' style. How can you be sure that you won't miss the right opportunity when it arises simply because you've never had one like it before? How can you train yourself to catch an opportunity when it comes along if opportunity is such a rare commodity? As a matter of fact, such people lose their opportunities because they fail to recognize them when they present themselves. I found a way to train myself to seize these opportunities when they arose. It is by taking the initiative to create my own opportunities. That is how I know I will not miss one when it arises, because usually they come at the right time and the right place, as everything which is carefully planned in advance does.
I always consider myself my ultimate source of opportunities. This can be a substantial component to my peace of mind, because if you don't wait for opportunity to come you won't be anxious. You will just know that when you need it, you will find a way to create it. Of course it costs a lot of money, but opportunities have a very special way of bringing even more money than it cost to create them. Usually I end up with something at the end of the day that I can then spend on the next opportunities that I create, and of course on my creation-friendly environment with the sleeping cat, the lazy dog, and the chiming clock.
Marco Polo went all the way to the Far East trying to mix the different pages of history, because medieval Europe doesn't go well with medieval China as they were greatly separated. As I have learned, they weren't only separated by distance; they were also separated in people's minds at that time. Europeans, and their overall spiritual leader, the Catholic Pope, made numerous attempts to create relationships with Tatar-Mongols.
All of these proposals of co-operation in the Crusades were met with resistance. It was like different civilizations were unwilling to relinquish their isolation and culture. Tatar-Mongols would be reluctant in the same way to co-operate with aliens, if these green men should have the audacity to ask for their assistance.
It is not just that individual people were not co-operative; entire civilizations were inflexible as well. What would the world look like today if the Tatar-Mongols had interfered in the Crusades? Here we come to a question of the risk of accepting or declining a certain opportunity. This makes the moments of our lives unequal, because some crossroads are more important than those routine days where nothing eventful occurs. Thoughts like 'what if...' add a lot of anxiety and distortion to our peace of mind: 'What if I went to law school?' and 'What if I....' Creating opportunities for yourself precludes the need to entertain such possibilities.
As a matter of fact, I don't believe in opportunities. Most of the time when I create opportunities for others I can divert them for a limited time. Sometimes it is only days, sometimes it takes years, but sooner or later such people come back to their original state and move on with their path as if there was no opportunity in the first place. Probably I could create an opportunity to divert someone from his chosen path for a period of time which coincidentally would be longer than his lifespan. This doesn't mean that this individual wouldn't have an internal need to come back to his original state of mind.
Now I have to make a confession. I am exactly this type of individual; I always follow my own path. If troubles or opportunities divert me from this path, this doesn't mean that I cease to have an internal sub-conscious impulse to come back and go on with the path. A very important consideration in changing our paths is to analyze what is in fact our chosen destiny, because most people aren't quite aware of their destiny's true nature and direction.
The last thing I would mention that is important for maintaining one's peace of mind is the management of multiple images of the same things that we usually have in our memories and imagination. For example, I have three images of Paris in my head: the first is the one that I had before I visited the city, the second is my actual memory of the city itself, the third is the image that I am constantly recreating from reading French periodicals and recent novels and listening to French news. These are three absolutely different cities. Realization of the multi-imaging nature of our consciousness is a very important step towards establishing a well-balanced mental state. Admitting the existence of these multiple impressions allows me to avoid their inner conflicts and helps me function in a more stress-free manner.
Paris had a magical aura for me as a young man. Whenever I was in Europe I tried to visit it, for the sake of the marvel and wonder it held for my mind. But when I actually visited there it was not as pleasant and exciting, and not nearly as magical, as I had thought. I have to admit that some details of this visit were indeed magical on a personal level, because when I stood in the square in front of the Notre Dame cathedral I was thinking about my beloved grandmother as she stood in this very place over half a century ago, and this had a vivid emotional and spiritual effect on me. And although certain aspects of the visit were disappointing, overall it was still very nice to have a refreshing point of view on the city I thought I knew. So in the end the visit wasn't disappointing at all. Now that I am a grown man and am immersing myself in French culture, I find that I am discovering a whole new Paris through the media and through the people I talk to and hear from. In the final analysis, though I have three very different ideas of what Paris is to me these three images do not conflict with each other in my mind but rather build and grow off each other.
I notice the same effect with the multiple impressions created in my mind by philosophers, writers, and other great minds. For example, I possess two copies of the poems of George Gordon Lord Byron, such as the one that whispers in my ears:
It is the hour when from the boughs
The nightingale's high note is heard;
It is the hour -- when lovers' vows
Seem sweet in every whisper'd word;
And gentle winds and waters near,
Make music to the lonely ear.
And there is another Lord Byron, who fought on behalf of the Greek rebellion and died far away from his home. They are two different Byrons for me, and I need some way to settle them in my head. Some objects or events, some people or places may have multiple connotations for us, and we need to learn to deal with this without allowing them to cause internal conflicts and disturb our peace of mind.
Peace of mind is the most valuable experience that can and should be achieved in our earthly lives. I hope that some thoughts mentioned herein may be of some assistance to you as well as cathartic to myself.
Are We Responsible for
the Material of our Ideas?
Ideas are responsible for organizing matter, at least on the human level of perception. We use ideas in order to adjust our current environment according to our needs. We also use ideas to change ourselves by accommodating to our ideals of self-perception. We are living objects in a material world, and it is accepted by the majority of us that in addition to this material world there are also some concepts that are not material: for example, consciousness, which is the basis for our thoughts and ideas.
In order to enjoy the fruitful discussion of any subject in question we must first of all define the terms we are using. The word `material' is defined for the purpose of this book as anything that is bound to matter and energy in physical terms.
Since the time of Plato ideas have been defined as purely non-material. They serve only as the concepts behind material objects. According to Plato:
'The visible world is what surrounds us: what we see, what we hear, what we experience; this visible world is a world of change and uncertainty. The intelligible world is made up of the unchanging products of human reason: anything arising from reason alone, such as abstract definitions or mathematics, makes up this intelligible world, which is the world of reality. The intelligible world contains the eternal "Forms" (in Greek, idea) of things; the visible world is the imperfect and changing manifestation in this world of these unchanging forms. For example, the "Form" or "Idea" of a horse is intelligible, abstract, and applies to all horses; this Form never changes, even though horses vary wildly among themselves-the Form of a horse would never change even if every horse in the world were to vanish. An individual horse is a physical, changing object that can easily cease to be a horse (if, for instance, it's dropped out of a fifty-story building); the Form of a horse, or "horseness," never changes. As a physical object, a horse only makes sense in that it can be referred to the "Form" or "Idea" of horseness.'
This makes it clear that an idea can exist independently from its material counterpart. Ideas have an eternal nature, the idea of the horse existing long before any real horse ever roamed the earth and continuing to exist after the last horse has vanished from its surface. An interesting question is whether intelligible ideas are entirely products of our mind or if they exist independently. We can easily imagine other intellectual beings that might operate and comprehend the same ideas; moreover, we have already created an artificial intelligence that can deal with the same ideas that we do.
Immanuel Kant, in his revolutionary Critique of Pure Reason, made a successful attempt to analyze the nature of things and their dependence on and apparent independence from human reason. His book looks like a textbook that is entirely based on definitions of new terms invented and introduced by this philosopher.
I always wondered how it would feel to write an entire textbook filled with self-made terms. Or, even better, how it would feel to write a book entirely in a self-made language that would be comprehensible only to the author himself. Despite the fact that such a book might face some obstacles on its way to becoming a genuine best-seller, we cannot discard the possibility that it might still contain very valuable thoughts.
This brings us to another question: how much do we depend on society when creating the imaginary worlds that might be reflected in such a book, worlds that serve as an example of the imprint of our enclosed and self-sufficient consciousness.
First I thought that a human being is an independent creature and should oppose the oppressive nature of any society, even the ideal one. The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau has always been my favorite text: His statement that 'man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains' unfortunately has always sounded as true to me in our day as it was in his. Even the most democratic society in our modern world still restrains the freedoms of its members and not just in cases where this is necessary for the common good. Therefore I always prepare myself to keep a close watch on the society governing my private life and object in any possible legitimate way to its brutal interference.
But lately I have come to realize that a human being cannot be brought up as an intelligent creature without the educational impact of society. This makes society the primary source of our intellect, leaving the human to play only a secondary role. But then I thought again, and realized that the fact a flower cannot grow without compost doesn't mean that we have to give compost instead of flowers as birthday gifts to our loved ones. Society is the soil that is needed to produce us, the beautiful flowers of independent minds.
Moreover, if you use too much compost it will actually kill the flower. The same is true with society. As Seneca observed, once you are a part of the mob it will always make you dirty both directly and metaphorically. Sigmund Freud concurs by stating that the individual will always succumb to the intelligence level of the crowd.
Therefore, I am trying to take everything from society that I can use, and first of all this means the human language. It is the only instrument given to us to express our thoughts. Taking language as a gift from society, I am using it to communicate not with society as a whole, but with individuals, those flowers that we happen to be.
Society is like a household that ought to provide us with all the necessary conditions to thrive. But its role shouldn't dominate our lives. Society is utilitarian and will try to take advantage of all its members for the sake of the so-called common good, which is not necessarily as good as it looks when applied on the individual level.
Ideas are never utilitarian; they exist independently of society, beyond the universe and even beyond existence itself. The only thing that ideas cannot exist beyond is God, because according to a commonly used definition God is almighty and nothing can exist beyond his almightiness.
As we said above, the idea of the horse exists before, after, simultaneously with, and independently of the real physical animal. It is a concept, and like any other concept it cannot be destroyed. So the question is whether ideas can be considered as being material. In order to answer this question we have to determine how to define `material'.
The easiest way to approach this problem is to look at anything that consists of matter as a material object, but is the material object still material in the past or in the future? Can the material object still be considered material if it exists only in our memories or in our dreams? In both cases it will be perceived by our mind in the same way and it will actually exist only through our perception.
Is energy material? Albert Einstein's famous equation (E=mc2[squared]) shows that matter can be transformed into energy and probably vice versa, if you try really hard. So defining energy as material will define, in the same way, all sorts of energy both known and unknown.
Ideas are concepts of the organization of energy and matter that have proved to be material, as we have discussed. Because there is no difference in our perception of these concepts and the corresponding matter itself, we might consider ideas as material to the same degree as anything else considered material. Ideas are even superior to the matter they govern, because the same ideas can govern any other kind of matter in any other sort of physical universe.
As society is a medium for the development of the individual, matter is a medium for the development of ideas, although once they are formed they get a superior position to matter. Let's consider the state of an imaginary universe described as chaos. It seems that the possibility of the existence of a universe without any order proves that matter can exist without ideas, but this is not true because there will still be the idea of chaos itself that might exist independently.
Even though we have defined the terms `material' and `non-material' in the beginning of this chapter, the problem is that nature itself doesn't like to operate within such well-defined boundaries.
I strongly object to any attempts to implant physical principles into the social sciences, like the comparisons between the gravitational influence of mass and economic wealth, for example, that have been made by Dr. Joel Primack andNancy Abrams in their new book, The View from the Center of the Universe. That is, unless the attempts are accompanied by the precaution that they are made only for the purpose of better explanation of the concepts and are not based on actual belief that such comparisons can be substantiated. By making such precautions I am trying to make sure that any following comparisons will not be considered in any way but for illustrative purposes.
When these precautions are not made the consequences can be quite severe, as in the case of Nietzsche's application of the Darwinian principle of natural selection to human society. This in turn led to the development of his own ideas regarding the `Superman' that eventually inspired the Nazi ethnic cleansing tragedy of the twentieth century.
As an illustration of my statement that nature doesn't like well-defined boundaries I would like to remind the reader of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which states that the more precisely the position of a particle can be determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known in this instant and vice-versa.
Moreover, in physics wave-particle duality means that both electro-magnetic waves and matter exhibit properties of both waves and of particles. As a central concept of quantum mechanics, such duality represents a way to address the inability of conventional concepts like `particle' and `wave' to adequately describe the behavior of quantum objects. We don't generally perceive the wave-like quality of everyday objects, not because they don't possess such qualities but because the wavelengths associated with people-sized objects are extremely small. Wavelength is given essentially as inverse to the size of the object, with a constant factor given by Planck's constant h, which is an extremely small number.
If we measure ourselves by our ability to introduce certain changes to our environment through direct and indirect interaction with it, we may claim that this ability can be described as a wave function with its peaks and valleys. For example, my calling someone at the far end of the world can initiate actions far beyond what would be influenced by my physical presence. Moreover, this influence can not only go beyond my presence in terms of space, but also in terms of time-just as this text may trigger some thoughts in the minds of its readers well beyond the time in which it was written. Therefore, this example poses the question of whether there is a real boundary separating the material from the non-material. This separation merely implies the limitations of the human mind, which needs such roughly defined terms in order to operate with some degree of success.
Long ago Socrates showed us that there might be substantial difficulty in defining virtually anything because of the inherent limitations of human language, which in turn arise from the ultimate limitations of the human mind. Nevertheless, let's try to define the term `material' in a slightly new way by arguing that matter is an integral part of the universe that somehow uncovers its presence to human senses enhanced by scientific instruments. Therefore nothing can be considered as material unless we can determine its presence by the use of appropriate technology. But then some distant galaxy which may consist of about two hundred billion stars would be considered as non-material and non-existent only because we don't have an appropriate instrument to detect it. Also, we cannot adjust our definition of `material' by saying that it is anything that might be detected with future means because we don't know what the future holds for us. For example, a couple of hundred years ago no one could imagine that it would be possible to transmit and receive radio waves, which are now considered well-defined characteristics of a material world filled with electromagnetic radiation that was unknown in the past. So, what is considered as non-material in our day might be reconsidered as material in the future.
Ideas as concepts of the organization of matter can be considered as material if we take into account our inability to define the term `material'. But by doing so we may need to rethink our approach toward ideas, because people usually treat only objects of the material world seriously, rather than non-material issues. For example, ideas can kill and cause as much harm as any material object once they influence the minds of an unwary public. So understanding that ideas are material must make us cautious about producing them. Humans are generators of ideas and we have a moral responsibility for the ideas that we dare to bring to our world. We must think of the consequences of such ideas.
At one time I thought that once a philosopher, or any ordinary person, became the creator of a certain idea they could not be responsible for the consequences that came after the idea was let loose on the world. Should Prometheus, who allegedly gave fire to humans so they might cook their meals and keep themselves warm through cold prehistoric winters, be held responsible for the fires of the Nazi concentration camps? Is Jesus responsible for the fires of the Inquisition? Is Einstein guilty of bringing the nuclear bomb to the world? I assumed that it didn't matter what the idea is, even the most innocent one, that a person introduces to humanity; it would eventually be compromised, corrupted, and used for evil purposes no matter how hard its creator tries to prevent it.
But nevertheless people do have responsibility for the ideas that they give birth to. Didn't Einstein know his fellow men well enough to realize what they would use his ideas for? I don't mean his signature on the famous letter to President Roosevelt urging him to initiate the building of the nuclear bomb as a counter- weight to Hitler's plans for nuclear weapon development. It was too late by then to think of the consequences of Einstein's work. Of course, we can assume that the development of nuclear weapons would have been completed even without Einstein's personal contribution to the field. If not him, then someone else would have eventually come up with the necessary equations. The General Theory of Relativity is not exactly a complete set of instructions on how to produce a bomb. Although teaching people things well beyond what they were and may still be ready to handle was his free choice, why didn't he just keep his position as a patent officer for the Swiss government?
People! Keep your ideas to yourselves! Fame and success are very cheap currency. Not every step of progress is good for humankind. Probably this is the reason why we are so conservative about our habits. We sit around the dinner table, we use candles to set a romantic mood, and we listen to the sound of the rain.
An idea, as an emerging concept, is separated from its material incarnation only by two tiny matters: time and probability. Time and probability are the factors that determine when and how an idea will be implemented.
Since the term `time' is more applicable to living things, and because physicists argue that the basic concepts of the laws of physics do not require time at all, then the factor of time in the implementation of an idea can be dismissed. Since we don't know how many parallel universes might exist, we don't know how many different scenarios of the same event can occur and so the factor of probability can also be discarded.
Let's look at a simple video game that has the same settings every time you start it. Once you run it, however, it can have an almost uncountable number of probable scenarios. Video games thus alter our perception of time as an irreversible factor. We can re-run the game an infinite number of times, every time starting from the same initial settings. Does it really matter if we actually run any particular scenario or not? We know that the status of different implemented and non-implemented scenarios is quite the same. For us it is sufficient to know that they all are possible and we really don't need to run them in order to prove that.
The real world might resemble such a video game, but it is even more complicated because the players in real life actually have the ability to alter the settings and thereby make the number of possible scenarios ultimately infinite.
The interesting thing is that the physical basis of a video game is the CD that it comes on and the computer that is able to read it. Both of them have nothing to do with the content of the virtual world represented on the particular disc nor with the scenarios that can be run on the computer. This means that all scenarios co-exist simultaneously as long as the computer disc is intact, and it doesn't really matter which of the scenarios is implemented or which just have the potential to be implemented. It is possible that the physical basis of our universe lies well beyond the settings that can be studied from within our world. But we will discuss this issue in more detail later on in this book.
If we give some consideration to the preceding argument, we will discover that the difference between an implemented and a not-yet-implemented idea is an illusion. Ideas are usually neutral by their very nature. Their materialization is neutral as well. It all depends on what meaning we give to these neutral ideas and their implementations. The Bible story where God appoints Adam to give names to the plants and animals actually illustrates the relationship created between the universe and ourselves as thinking creatures. You may object to anything except the fact that we are indeed thinking beings. As stated so concisely by Descartes, 'I think, therefore I exist' ('Je pense, donc je suis'), and most of us won't object to the idea that we are involved in some sort of existence. It is both interesting and ironic that Descartes used the most seemingly non-material thing, thought, to prove his material existence. This only goes to prove that ideas are indeed material, because ideas are the ultimate product of thought, which is used as a proof of existence of the material world.
The universe is neutral and probably exists independently from our minds, even though this idea was challenged in a dispute between Plato and Aristotle. This famous dispute was about whether a tree makes a sound when it falls if no one is there to hear it. Humans decipher the ideas that govern the universe and create their own, new ideas. Therefore we are an integral part of this universe, even though some weird aliens (if there are any) might compete with us in this regard.
We are ambushed by our own consciousness. We think only along the lines of human logic, which can be as far from the real universe as the settings of a video game are from the computer disc that encodes them.
The universe for the most part has neither ups nor downs, but humans measure everything according to the human scale. The universe lives on without regard to time, but humans measure it in hours and light years. This is as if an ant were to measure human love in terms of its miniscule ant legs: 'they felt love for a million light-ant-legs and kissed each other.' This is what our attempts are comparable to when we try to measure the universe in human terms. We can't think any thought that wouldn't be dictated to us by the conditions of our life. We are the prisoners of our own prejudices about ourselves and about the world around us. But we are the only known creatures that animate the ideas of the universe.
By the way, are there any animals that pay attention to stars? As a matter of fact nocturnal animals can accumulate many more photons of light on their retinas, and that is why they can see only by the light of the stars. If they are capable of that some of them can probably see the light of distant galaxies exactly the way our telescopes do. But having the ability doesn't mean that these animals are particularly interested in such pursuits. I am inclined to believe that the stars do not interfere much with their processes of digestion and mating. If we had their eyes we would have discovered the vastness of the universe a long time before our instruments helped us do so.
The problem is that biological evolution didn't have any such aim as producing creatures with the ability to observe the universe. This ability of ours came to us as a side effect of our ability to hunt down prey and find berries in the bushes. Evolution was worried only about our survival and our offspring. Humans, obviously, were not built for solving the riddles of the universe. Evolution had to bitterly punish those that were trying to gaze at stars while their more practical relatives were hiding in the safety of the caves. But I believe that this is the true aim of evolution: to bring into existence a species with the ability to observe the universe in all its unobservable vastness.
We, as humans, have free will to assign our interpretations to ideas that are neutral by their very nature. Ideas are neither bad and evil nor good and kind. Nor are they smart or crazy. Ideas just exist, independently of space and time, and only once they are animated by humans do we equip them with such characteristics.
It often happens that we are facing the dilemma of which interpretations should be given to certain ideas. Therefore we can distinguish three main approaches that I would like to call negativism, positivism, and neutrality, although they are not necessarily used here in their usual sense. Neutrality is counterproductive, because once an idea gets its material incarnation it ought to be appraised in a certain way. Positivism is very productive, because we try to find ways to use such ideas so that they can benefit us a lot. Negative ways of thinking are even more counterproductive than the neutral approach.
You might ask, however, who is in a position to decide what is negative or positive for the purpose of evaluation of a certain idea. Many would argue that there is no common frame of reference once it comes to defining good and evil, and therefore positive or negative. I propose to use as a frame of reference for good and evil Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. According to Maslow, everything that might help meet our needs is good and everything that prevents us from meeting those needs is obviously evil. Of course this works only when, by meeting our needs, we are not preventing another from meeting theirs.
The basic needs according to Maslow are biological and physiological ones: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc. Then come safety needs: security, order, law, limits, stability, protection from the weather, etc. Then come the needs of belongingness and love, which include relationships at work and within any other social group such as family and friends.
Esteem needs include the overall need to be accepted by society-including self-esteem, achievement, independence, status, prestige, responsibility, etc. Knowledge needs include acquiring and processing new information which is considered by the individual as useful or interesting. Esthetic needs include the attempts of a person to surround himself or herself with things of beauty according to individual taste. Self-actualization needs include realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking of personal growth and peak experiences.
And now we come to the highest needs, the ones met by those very few individuals successful enough to reach this level. They include assistance to others in achieving their self-realization. Any idea that we intend to animate by bringing it into the material world should be evaluated in a positive way, so it can help us meet the needs mentioned above.
I would like to conclude this chapter with the following story that shows how different ways of interpreting a newly emerged idea can shape the fate of a small island nation. Once upon a time, a new star appeared in the sky that was an incarnation of the idea that a new star can appear. There were two small tribes that inhabited two separate islands in the ocean. The first tribe decided that this star was an asteroid that was going to hit their island. They built rafts and left the island, giving themselves to the mercy of the sea. The second tribe decided that the star was a sign that their Gods were satisfied with their prayers and they decided to go uphill to continue with their rituals.
As a matter of fact the first tribe was right; it was an asteroid, but it missed their island and splashed into the sea. Being right didn't spare their lives, however, because the waves created by the impact swallowed them up. And even though the newly emerged star had nothing to do with their Gods, the second tribe was spared because they had made a right decision, albeit one based on the wrong assumptions.
So we can see that an interpretation of the same idea can mean life or death depending on how we interpret it. Of course the second tribe could have been proven wrong if the asteroid had hit their island. We cannot say for sure that giving positive meaning to neutral ideas will always help us to survive, although if we are going to die anyway it is far better to face this unpleasant event on the top of the hill of our self-actualization rather than by seeking safety in the merciless ocean of fear.
Destruction as a Means of Creation
Not every kind of destruction is evil; the destruction of evil is good. Not every type of creation is good; the creation of evil is bad. By echoing this childish approach I am trying to emphasize that the idea of destruction is as neutral as any other idea, although in our understanding it is not quite obvious. We always try to resist any kind of destruction and approve any kind of creation. The word `destruction' has always had a negative connotation in our minds. It is associated with `danger', `death', `injury', and war'. The positive aspect of destruction we call `change'. We deny that any change includes the destruction of a previous order. We suffer less from the destruction of inanimate things than from living ones, because in the first case we believe that destruction is reversible.
We must not forget that the instinct of destruction is hardwired in our nature. But most of the time we keep our behavior in a neutral mode rather than in a destructive one.