In proportion as we endeavor to live according to the guidance of reason, shall we strive as much as possible to depend less on hope, to liberate ourselves from fear, to rule fortune, and to direct our actions by the sure counsels of reason.
― Baruch Spinoza
We must also free ourselves from belief, that is to say, “belief” in things that are not observable, provable or otherwise impervious to reason.
Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.
― Marcus Tullius Cicero
Not much else to say. Much to do though, I think starting with the development and refinement of the mind. First of all by stopping belief in fairy tales.
We do not know — neither the sophists, nor the orators, nor the artists, nor I— what the True, the Good, and the Beautiful are. But there is this difference between us: although these people know nothing, they all believe they know something; whereas, I, if I know nothing, at least have no doubts about it. As a result, all this superiority in wisdom which the oracle has attributed to me reduces itself to the single point that I am strongly convinced that I am ignorant of what I do not know.”
Many people want to find the Truth with a capital T. Some have claimed to have found it. But Socrates knew better. The universe is simply too big and too complex for us to find the ultimate, capital T Truth. Our brains are just too puny — perhaps even too puny to understand the 80 billion neurons that make them up.
But truth does have value as a direction. Moving in that direction has many pitfalls and fallacies, but we can begin the journey.
Those that claim Truth can be found in some Holy Book or above the clouds, should show some of Socrates’ humility. Afterall anything worthy of the title “God” must be greater than the universe, which we understand so little of. And to think we might understand something greater than that? That seems to be the ultimate in hubris to me.
Truth is a direction, a method, a path. And that path begins with honesty and humility, first admitting that we are ignorant of much more than we know.
“By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic “the self-transcendence of human existence.” It denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself–be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself–by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love–the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
People feel correctly, that finding meaning in life involves finding a “greater than human reality” by which they mean some kind of supernatural transcendance. Personally I am not even sure what that entails. But I do agree with Frankl that we desire to be part of something greater than ourselves. Going beyond yourself (self-transcendence) certainly does not have to involve some kind of mythical being. Loving another, being involved with community, or contributing to society are all things we can strive for that take us beyond ourselves. If we want to go further, there is a whole universe to try and comprehend. Anything bigger than that is unnecessary to the hypothesis.
From time to time in my car I listen to what I call “Irrelevant Radio” when I need a chuckle or when I want to hear what the “other side” is thinking. From my perspective, lots of chuckles, but not much serious thinking going on there. One example from a while back that I have no hope of finding in their archived programs, but trust me this was real.
A priest was on and he was talking about how the United States is a “Pagan Nation.” No idea where he got that considering we are 71% Christian and about 90% religious. But what he said next doubled me over with laughter. He said that the USA should turn to the Church so that today we could experience the way that Christians reformed the Roman Empire and lead the world into the “glorious Middle Ages.” Known to the rest of us as the “Dark Ages,” but, whatever.
Even having been raised Catholic, I am stunned at the type of things that go over the air from Irrelevant Radio. I had thought Purgatory was a dead (sorry for the pun) issue, but apparently not. The number of times that it is emphasized that that Devil is a literal real entity running around messing up the world is flabbergasting to me. And much more. I am sure I will mention many of these things here in the future.
I will sometimes relay these things to a friend of mine who was also raised Catholic (we are both “Cradle Catholics,” as the Irrelevants are so fond of saying over and over). Both of us left the cradle and none of that church stuff stuck.
When I tell her something I heard, she will often say, “It just sounds like the lies that someone tells after they have been caught lying.” Indeed.
Which reminds me of Ptolemy’s epicycles. As you may recall these were the extra circles that the planets had to have in their orbits in order to fit the earth centered solar system hypothesis (that the church later became much too fond of.) Whether these circles were delusions, lies, fabrications or just theories, I will leave to someone else. But they weren’t real and when the actual explanation came along, they simply vanished, recognized for the ad hoc, made up stories that they were.
I like the idea of referring to such things as “epicycles.” Sounds nicer and more educated than “lies.” Or even “Stories a Father told me.”
It is said that soon after his enlightenment the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha’s extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?”
“No,” said the Buddha.
“Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?”
Again the Buddha answered, “No.”
“Are you a man?”
“Well, my friend, then what are you?”
The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”
Science and rational thinking are the very definition of being awake. Insisting on evidence is not closemindedness, but rather truly being awake. Dreams of mystic worlds, Deus ex Machina and supernatural explanations are just that, dreams. You find rational evidence when you are awake.
Awaken from your dreams and be your own Buddha.