Why are Christians stupid?

Guys are all moronic idiots!

Also, let us not forget the tendency to see the stupidity in people who are unlike us. This is an automatic psychological mechanism to make us feel smarter.

I have met a number of interesting people on Google+. This social network is particularly well suited for meeting people you are NOT already friends with, unlike a certain other social network. It has more of a sourdough effect, growing through contact – you see someone comment something sane on a friend’s post, and you can start finding out more about them (in so far as they allow it). So due to my nature, I have added a bunch of intelligent, curious people to my list of acquaintances. They are almost all atheists, either missionary or functionally. But why are atheists generally noticeably more intelligent than Christians?

The answer is, “because you live in a Christian country”. Most English-speakers do. And in such a country, most people are raised as Christians, in theory at least. (The behavior they actually see while growing up may be somewhat different from the creed. As Mitt Romney’s guardian spirit says in The Next President: Americans worship Mammon, but officially they worship Jesus Christ.) If you don’t have more intelligence than you need to hold a job, you probably don’t spend it on being contrary. You go with the crowd, and stick to interests that are less abstract.  So the people who break out tend to be the smartest ones.

It is easy to test this, because there are countries in which it is not normal to be Christian. In Japan, for instance, only less than 1% are Christians (although some attend Christian rituals in addition to those of other religions – church weddings are popular, and Christmas is almost universal.) You don’t see Japanese suddenly convert to Christianity simply because they are stupid. Clearly it is not the stupidity that does it.

A more relevant example is my native Norway, which used to be a Christian country, in theory. Actually, it still is according to its constitution, but people just politely ignore that now. The elderly are often still Christians, as they were raised that way. But from my generation (around the age of 50-60) and downward, it is more like 10% who are Christian. Most people are agnostic or rather, they are atheists but don’t stir up trouble about it. So does this mean that 90% of the Norwegian population is as smart as the smartest 10% of the US population? Well, Norwegians may think so. We tend to have a ridiculously high self-esteem. But judging from such factors as the frequency of very high education, we don’t excel. Clearly the loss of religion does not come from a sudden surge of intelligence, and neither has atheism made us geniuses.

On the contrary, we are now in a situation where stupid people just accept atheism without thinking, and mindlessly parrot atheist fantasies that are at odds with science. For instance that millions died in the witch hunts (the actual number is a few thousand, not that this is not enough) or that Christianity caused the Dark Ages (the Germanic migrations did, whereas Christianity provided the last refuge of literacy during that time), or that  Christians burned down the Great Library of Alexandria (burning it down was a fairly regular occurrence, even Julius Caesar did it according to Plutarch, and later so did Aurelian; its final destruction happened under Islam. While Christians destroyed the temple, contemporary pagan scholars make no mention of books being destroyed. Nobody knows where and when they met their end.)

Stupid people tend to have a stupid understanding of religion. And so do most smart people, because it is not really something they think a lot about. The main difference is that they don’t just do whatever their parents did, but try to create an identity of their own. In this generation, in English-speaking countries, atheism is often a part of that. In the 60es, Hinduism and Buddhism were popular. Who knows what it will be next time. Happy Science, perhaps? It certainly seems to be a hit among the upper classes of Japan, as a religion that subtly implies that intelligent people are spiritually superior, born to rule and that it is for the best of everybody that they control the power and money in society. I guess we could be worse off than that.

Cause, reason, purpose

“I am glad I studied so hard.” Yes, your studies were the cause of your success. But that does not mean your success was the purpose of your studies. Perhaps you studied because your mother was always making sure you did your homework, while you had no understanding yet of how important it was. As we become aware of purpose and aspiration, we become free agents to an ever higher degree. This freedom is itself a source of joy. We are willingly stretching toward the future, rather than being pushed blindly onward by our past.

In my previous entry I showed how time is actually hidden to our senses, but is reconstructed in our mind to such a degree that we are honestly convinced that we experience it continuously, despite the evidence of our senses.

To continue this topic, I want to bring up something strange and disturbing. It deals with how we, at least in English, merge two very different concepts – two almost opposite concepts, in a sense – into one. And then we apply them where they don’t belong. Or at least that is a strong tendency.


If we look at our own mind, we can see that we have reasons for everything we do. Well, sometimes they can be hard to see afterwards, but generally we always have a reason. However, this word “reason” actually hides two very different concepts. These will become obvious when we look at the line of time that stretches through our life.

The first reason is “cause”, as in cause and effect, causality. It can be said to push us from behind, from the past, into the future. “I started eating because I was hungry” is an example of this.

The second reason is “purpose”, which pulls us from the future toward a goal there. “I stopped eating after one small portion because I did not want to get fat” is an example of this.

In practice, however, we don’t really differentiate between the two. We may not even be sure ourselves which was which. You may say you ate because you were hungry – a cause from the past – but didn’t you actually eat in order to stop feeling hungry, a purpose that was still in your future at the time?

The answer in this example is pretty obvious because dogs, garden snails, even amoeba will happily start eating when hungry. It does not require any awareness of purpose. In so far as there is a purpose, it is not in the animal doing the eating, but is somehow imposed on it without its will. The creature does not reflect on this and then come to the conclusion that, on the whole, eating is better than this gnawing feeling of hunger, so it would be best to take action.  It happens automatically. But in the opposite case, when we choose based on purpose, we don’t have the same enthusiastic support from our instincts. I am sure you can testify to this from your own experience.

But even though this particular case was pretty easy to solve, we can often kid ourselves if we are really motivated to do so, and see a purpose in what was a cause. This is particularly easy for ourselves, but as children we are even more slippery than that.

It is perfectly normal for a child to attribute purpose to lifeless things. Particularly if they move, but even if they just stand there, as long as they somehow get in our way. It is not uncommon to see children get angry at furniture. And pets, who admittedly have their own will, are suspected of quite convoluted plots.


Once we grow up, it seems to me that people tend to favor either causes or purposes, depending on their attitude to religion, and regardless of whether each particular instance is a cause or a purpose. Let me explain.

People who are strongly against religion tend to believe that there can be no purpose. The universe is determined from the start, the effect of one cause is the cause of the next effect, an endless chain of reaction like falling dominoes. Humans are powerless to stop this, because we are matter like all other matter, and follow the laws of matter. We are made of atoms, which follow quite simple rules. Therefore the same applies to us.

Conversely, those who are strongly in favor of religion tend to think that everything happens for a purpose, and this purpose is the reason why the things happened in the first place. The roof tile fell down to teach me a lesson. Since everything has a purpose, the cause is irrelevant: God is every cause, and studying laws of causality is a kind of blasphemy.

I believe these intense opinions come from a lack of understanding of the time axis.

The problem with them both is that they are contrary to observable reality. There can be no doubt that causes and purposes both exist, because we can directly observe them. Even if we manage to define one or the other out of existence, that does not change reality. It will be there despite our protests.

Think of water. It consists of hydrogen and oxygen, and without the both of them it would not exist. Remove all the hydrogen from the water and there is no water anymore. But that does not mean the properties of water are simply an average of the properties of hydrogen and oxygen. When things combine, at different levels we get changes that we call “emergent behavior”. Molecules are different from the atoms that make them, but cannot exist without them. Cells are different from the molecules that make up the cells, but cannot exist without them. And so on.  You cannot predict from an existing lower level what the property of the next level will be. It is not possible. Only when the combination has occurred can you say what it ended up being.

In the same way you cannot define purposes in terms of causes, but this does not mean there are events that have no cause. It is just that at a certain point it makes more sense to define the event by its purpose rather than by its causes, since the causes are no longer obvious but the purpose is. Again, compare this to insisting to talk about hydrogen and oxygen whenever we mention water. You don’t need to remind us what water is made of. At some point it makes more sense to focus on its properties as water, OK? And likewise the fact that water is thoroughly different from hydrogen and oxygen does not mean that it must necessarily be made from water atoms. It is a matter of what level or domain we look at.

So if you have a mental mastery of time, and are able to look forward and backward, you will be able to seamlessly look at causes and purposes without getting needlessly confused. I wrote out some theological implications of this, but did not publish this. Religion has great power to wound or to heal; one like me should not wield it casually. But see if you can remember that the “reason for” an event can be a cause, a purpose, or both depending on who looks at it and from what perspective. Causes shove us forward from the past, purposes pull us toward our goals in the future.

The fourth dimension: Time

Thanks to the mysterious power of the human mind, we are able to remember the past and even anticipate the future. Although the latter in particular is sometimes … not exactly … exact.

In order to consider the things that may go beyond time, we should first consider time itself. It is a fascinating phenomenon. We all know it, or that’s what we think. But do we really?

The world that we live in with our senses is a 3-dimensional world. We do not actually sense time, we reconstruct it by intuition. This is an important point for what I am trying to show, so please let me give it some time…

When I look at my computer screen, I cannot see it as it was an hour ago, or how it will be an hour from now. In fact, I can only see it as it is in this particular moment. Likewise when I hear something, I can only hear what sounds hit my ear at the moment. When I touch, I can only touch what is there right now. I cannot actually feel time. But thanks to memory, I can create the illusion of seeing time. By combining sense images from short term memory with newly arrived sense images, the brain constructs the illusion of movement and change, in other words the work of time.

But of course this illusion is not a delusion. Time really exists. We may not be able to sense it directly, but we reconstruct it inside our mind. What we perceive as time with our mind is very similar to the actual dimension of time that exists in the outside world. Or at least this is what almost all of us agree on. There are some scientists who think that time does not really exist, but they don’t have much effect on our actual thinking, since we all know from experience that time is real.

One time you have too much time on your hands, feel free to Google “Does time exist?”

If there is a consensus, it is that time certainly exists for humans, and presumably for the expansion of the universe and the increase of entropy, but laws of physics otherwise work just fine both ways. Entropy is a fancy word for “less order”, so perhaps we perceive time because the content of our mind becomes more and more messy?

In any case, the fact remains that time is real to us humans, and furthermore, it is useful. Thanks to our mastery of time, we can make cakes, and many other useful things.  Making cake requires not only ingredients, but also time.

While I am baking a cake, the cake does not yet exist, except in the future and in my mind. I cannot see it, I cannot touch it, and I certainly cannot eat it. And yet the cake is not a lie! I am so certain of the cake that I will happily tell people about it and even invite them to come eat it, even though it does not exist. It is not a hallucination, it is anticipation. You may search all over the house and conclude that no, there is no cake. I am quite aware of that, thank you! That is why I am baking it! Your insistence that the cake is all in my head is scientifically true but quite irrelevant, since the cake will arrive in due time if you leave me to my baking.

In order to bring forth the cake, I must follow the law that governs time, which is the law of causality, the law of cause and effect. It is not enough to wish for cake, even wish very strongly. It is not enough to visualize the cake and think positive thoughts about the cake. The Law of Attraction does not attract cakes until someone bakes them. So even though the cake is all in my head, it must also activate my hands in order to become real.

In addition to anticipation, we also have memory, which is why we experience time at all. If we did not have memories, or if they were not conscious, we would not have a concept of time. By all account most of our furry and feathered friends don’t have much of an idea of time. They can recognize things from the past, when they see them (or smell them). But they show no sign of being able to travel in time with their minds. We, however, do this easily. I can close my eyes and wander through the house where I lived a year ago, even though it was razed to the ground late last summer. I my mind I can walk from room to room. Again, this is not a hallucination, even though the house certainly isn’t there. I am not even in the same spot where it stood. And yet I have no doubt to its reality. It is just that it was real in the past, not in the present.

By our mind powers of memory and anticipation we can travel in time, but only with our mind. Our bodies remain drifting on the time stream along with everything around us. Yet when we return to them, we can use the knowledge we have gained from our time travel to steer our bodies toward the destination we desire. Well, if we get it right, which we often don’t. The future is hazy at best. Still, with more and more experience (and purging our tendency of wishful thinking) we can get better at navigating through time.

So even though we cannot directly perceive time, much less travel through it, we can still reconstruct it with our mind and get a pretty good picture of it. That is pretty amazing! Humans are awesome. But it does not stop there. If I am allowed, I will go one step further and visit the dimension beyond time, which relates to time in much the same way that time relates to the other three dimensions. And same as for time, it will all be in my head – until I act on it, at least.

But for now it is sufficient for me to show the nature of time as relates to humans. If you can grasp this, you are close to wisdom. Conversely if you are wise (and some of you are), you probably already know this. More about this next time, if any.


So bright…

I kind of know that feeling. (Picture from the anime “Laws of Eternity”.)

I think there is a tendency, particularly for us men, to think of ourselves as “brighter”, smarter and more knowledgeable than others. This is usually because we easily forget our own mistakes, or explain them away, thinking that we had a good reason for them, or that someone else caused us to make the mistake, or that it would be unreasonable to expect this or that from us. When it comes to others, it is much simpler. They really are that stupid, or coarse, or lacking in character. Savages or degenerates, barbarian or superstitious, they are just hopeless and can’t be counted on. They are not like us.

So when I notice that almost everyone is ignorant and prefers to stay so, I have to wonder whether I am just caught in the same trap as the rest. Do I simply mistake my own collection of illusions for the Truth, and consider everyone else deluded? Certainly they would think so, and without a trace of doubt. In fact, the trace of doubt is one of the reasons why I feel that I have actually “seen the light” as the saying goes.

The other is that in many cases I have been where they’re hanging, I think I can see how they’re pinned. If I have not gone that far in their direction, I have been far enough to survey the terrain. The Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, is not something you casually overlook. Even if you have massive help fighting it, you can hardly avoid noticing it.

Also: When you dream, you do not know that you dream. Becoming aware of the dream is the beginning of waking up. Or in another metaphor, if all you know is night and twilight, the twilight may seem to be day. But once the dawn breaks, it is impossible to maintain that illusion anymore.

And the brightness is not one that conveniently shines only on everyone else. It also painfully drives home my own life up to now and various errors and omissions habitual to myself. And perhaps that more than anything makes it hard to write about, because writing is to hold judgment on myself. If I ignore that part, life will make sure to arrest me again.

In other words, I am surrounded by idiots, and so are the people around me. It is just that my foolishness is the opposite of what they think it is, by and large.

Although it is probably tilting at windmills, I am tempted to try to convey some of this brightness. Although today certainly did not do so.


Exercise, fat or diabetes

You could also go to a gym, but it costs money and people snicker at you if your clothes are more fancy than your skill.

Now that the ice has left the roads here on the south coast of Norway, I once again make it a habit to take a brisk walk outside when it does not rain too much. I generally burn 700-800 calories for each trip. How much is that? If you take a common drinking glass from the kitchen and fill it to the top with pure white sugar, that’s about 800 calories.

Obviously I don’t celebrate my trip with a glass of pure sugar. But I do get more hungry the more I exercise, and so it will always be for us who are in the normal weight range. (The weight range that is described as “normal” for your height in books and websites is actually what I call the “recommended” range, although it was supposedly normal in the 1970es when smoking was common. Today what’s normal extends some 10% higher.)

Walking and other light exercise, then, is not really a means to lose weight unless you are obese or quite a bit overweight. Some people simply have a constant appetite  or eat for social or emotional reason, and the only alternative to eat less is to exercise more. In fact, for some their appetite will decrease after exercise, because the body’s natural system for regulating appetite will begin to function again. But for us of unremarkable shape, moderate exercise will not make us lose weight permanently. We would have to exercise more and more to do that.

So why walk up and down the hills if not to fit into the clothes of last summer or the summer before that? Well, basically it is to remind the body that it is still inhabited. In an effect known as “hormesis”,  the body reacts to small challenges by starting a repair system that repairs not only the small damage caused, but also some of the accumulated damage from the passing of time. There are a few toxins that are known to have hormetic effect in very low levels, among them ordinary alcohol, but the safest and most efficient hormesis by far is regular exercise. It may be slightly habit-forming, but not to the same degree as alcohol.

For me in particular there is a second reason to keep walking. I am diagnosed with “pre-diabetes” since last year, although I may have had this condition longer than that. You see, this is a purely technical term: There are no symptoms, and the health effects are uncertain. (Pre-diabetes usually appears as part of “metabolic syndrome”, which impairs health in ways not related to blood sugar.) The blood sugar is slightly higher than usual, but not enough to cause damage. The problem with pre-diabetes is that there is around 10% chance each year of progress to actual diabetes, which is bothersome, expensive and potentially deadly.

By exercising regularly, I clear out part of the sugar that is stored in my liver and my muscles. You see, people with pre-diabetes and diabetes II produce enough insulin, but the body starts ignoring it. (Or, for pre-diabetes, not taking it quite as seriously as it should.) Insulin gives an order to three types of cells:  Muscles, liver and fat cells. The order is to grab sugar from the blood and store it. Muscles and liver store it as glycogen, kind of “tightly packed sugar” that can be quickly made into sugar (glucose) again. Fat cells convert the sugar into fat, which can not be made into sugar again but is burned at a slow rate in daily life. Fat can also be burned at a high rate by long bouts of exercise at moderate levels.

I am already around 20 pounds less than I was at my fattest, so I know it is not the fat cells that fail to take action. They have plenty of room. But after 2005 I have not been able to digest much fat, so I live mostly on a diet of carbs. (It is that or not living at all, really, so the choice is pretty easy.)  Because of this there is always plenty of sugar in my blood, and my liver and muscles easily fill their storage space. This leaves the poor fat cells with all the rest, and they are evidently not up to it, thus the pre-diabetes.

So basically if you eat carbs, you need to exercise to clear out the storage in muscles and liver. Otherwise diabetes is likely. If you eat fat instead, you still need to exercise to slow down the aging, but the chance of diabetes is small as long as you stay well below your maximum weight. A high-fat diet also raises the risk of angina and heart infarct. So there really is no “silver bullet”, no cure for all. At least not yet. I am sure scientists all over the world are still looking. Until then, I intend to keep walking.


Partly free will

Rihoko in a towel on the bathroom scales.

Snacks and students. We apologize for any other temptations that may occur, but hopefully this journal entry will help you get a more realistic perspective on it. (Also, I actually watched the anime where this picture comes from, and she did not drop the towel.)

In my previous post, I argued that our will must in principle be free, or there would be no point in doing anything or assigning meaning to things others do. (In fact, we probably do assign too much meaning, especially to some people. But more about that soon.)

Now, saying that our will is free in principle is very different from saying that we always do what we will. That depends on something much more tricky, namely resolving who “we” are. The general notion that the human mind is like a pearl, made of the same stuff all the way through, is not supported by observation. (OK, there are some people whose mind is like a pearl: Small and simple. I don’t think any of these are reading this.)

As I said in passing: We are not alone in our head. You may certainly think so, but that only leaves you with a concept of self that is either at odds with itself or running from one position to the other constantly. All of these are valid viewpoints, and just as good as saying we are not alone in our head, I think. Possibly better, if the other phrase creeps you out. Then again, a little bit of creep may be a good thing. As it is, we tend to have a terribly naive view of what goes on in the human mind. Bitter fruits follow from this.

One concept I have mentioned from time to time is the difference between “hot” and “cold” states of mind. Cold states of mind (I rather consider them lukewarm) are the ordinary relaxed situation where everything is familiar and in control. (OK, that may not be ordinary to all, but I hope it is fairly common.) In this situation, we tend to think we are in control of our own body and mental faculties, as they say.  Memory, imagination, logic and so on.

The “hot” states of mind are those associated with primal emotions, such as fear, anger, lust and (surprisingly) disgust. In these states of mind, we view the world in a completely different light. While we may still be in control of our body, the “we” that is in control is not the usual “we”. Rather it has entirely different priorities and sees things quite differently.

One famous experiment is to ask people whether they are willing to put a live earthworm in their mouth for a reasonable amount of money. Not enough to live happily ever after, but worth a few hours work perhaps. A pretty large number of people will agree to this when the deal is talked about in a relaxed office setting framed by bookshelves etc. But once the worm is actually wriggling in front of you, only approximately 5% of the population can actually overcome their disgust. (These 5% are probably dangerous people, but that is beside the point today.)

Another interesting scenario that is not used in research for obvious reasons is sexual intercourse. Generally speaking, a sexually inexperienced woman has a hard time voluntarily going through with sexual intercourse under most circumstance. This problem is in our culture usually overcome with alcohol. Conversely, a sexually experienced man has a hard time NOT going through with intercourse if he has first started in that direction, and this causes even much more problems. (Also, alcohol does not help for that, except in extreme quantities!)

Anger and fear are states of mind even children are familiar with. And unfortunately, adults often react in much the same way as children in these situations, despite their very sincere promises to the contrary before the situation arose. The sincerity when in a “cold” state of mind is not faked, but it is also not particularly closely related to what you will actually do once you get into a “hot” state of mind.

One study showed that a complete stranger in the corresponding hot state was better able to predict a person’s behavior than the person themselves had been while in the cool state of mind.

And that only covers the sudden, intense challenges. There is also the creeping temptation challenge, the eroding of willpower through a long period of moderate temptation.

Here again test subjects (read: students) are available. For temptations are usually used snacks, such as chocolate.  Before the experiment, the test subjects and the researchers make an agreement that the test subject will not eat the snacks, usually with some reward being offered for fortitude. However, if the student is left with the snack long enough, the probability of snacking gradually rises toward 100%. It never quite reaches it (since starving students is illegal) but it keeps climbing. It is not possible to know in advance when a particular test subject will cave in, but when you run hundreds of them through the test, you get a curve that repeats nicely with the next large batch of volunteers. Even though each individually has free will, in practice we can predict how many of them won’t use it! Just not who.

Of course, in a manner of speaking the snackers do use their free will: They voluntarily choose to eat the snacks rather than get the reward. But their decision at the time is largely independent on their decision before (or after) the deed.

Having more than one temptation at the same time makes it harder to resist each of them. If the students get to play computer games, it is easier for them to abstain from snacks; if they have games around but aren’t allowed to play, it becomes harder to resist the snacks than if there were no games in sight in the first place.

Willpower can be built over time, luckily. Unfortunately, it can also be eroded over time.

But perhaps the most important thing we can do in this regard is to build habits. Habits are cobwebs at first, chains at last, as the saying goes. It is pretty easy to understand that if you are a couch potato, you cannot just get up one day and run a marathon. But in the same way, there lies a lot of work behind a life where people can resist temptations or the strong impulses of fear, anger, lust or disgust. Beginning with what is doable and sustainable is the key, unless you have some kind of divine intervention (or human companions that can keep guard over you at all times). Just like there are thousands of barely used exercise bikes in the basements and sheds of first-world nations, so there are thousands of discarded New Year’s Resolutions. If each of these had been taken in use slowly, gradually, cautiously, they might have had more success.

Of course, I don’t mean to diss divine intervention. I’m all for that. But unless you have a pretty close relationship with the Divine, you should probably have a Plan B as well. Just saying.



Free will, what else?

The will is not free in the meaning of “costing nothing”. It is actually quite expensive to use and may be exhausted by sufficient temptation. But it exists as a possibility by necessity – a thing that cannot not be.

I am half amused, half embarrassed on behalf of the people who think hooking the brain up to some kind of scanner can prove or disprove free will. Mostly disprove, it seems. Which is pointless indeed, since free will cannot be disproved. It exists by definition. Just like you cannot disprove the circularity of a circle, you cannot disprove the freedom of will. It is an intrinsic property of will itself, and without it we can no longer talk about will, or about choice, or even about action.

In fact, without free will, we cannot talk at all. After the stage where babies just make sounds randomly, speaking is essentially an expression of will. Even if something is true, we can decide not to say it, and often do. Even if we believe something is false, we can still say it, and this is also quite common. Furthermore, the form of our statement and its tone are also of our choosing. If we then were to say “There is no free will”, this would automatically and by definition expand to “There is no free will and I can’t help saying this”, which – since we have no control over what we say – resolves to “I can’t help making sounds”, which is not a very useful information at all if we already hear you making sounds. Since the sounds we make no longer convey any information about our internal states of mind, except perhaps in the case of screams and moans, we have successfully reverted to the animal stage of communication, and of thinking.

Free will is necessary for a human to be human. In fact, without the possibility of free will, a human would precisely not be human, but rather only human in potential. If the potential for free will was lost, then also humanity. If you cannot even choose what you think, then you don’t actually exist. “I don’t think, therefore I ain’t. I think.”

What we should be looking at instead is how science elucidates the nature of free will. To deny its existence is, as shown above, meaningless and resolves to contradiction in terms, much like the statement “This sentence is a lie.” But what we can disprove, and probably have disproved, is the idea that all choices are enacted by the speech centers of the brain. This is where the “talking consciousness” is located, it would seem. The inner monologue that translates our outer and inner experiences into a narrative, the story of our lives, which is the form in which it is usually stored and remembered in the brain.

It was a peculiar idea in the first place that this specialized brain function should be the origin of our will. I cannot offhand think of any religion or philosophy that has made such a claim. Anyone with more than trivial experience in meditation know how far this is from the truth. Most eastern forms of meditation serve to quiet this narrator function by occupying it with a different task, such as repeating a mantra, counting to ten, or watching closely some sense input like the passage of the breath or the flame of a candle.  As most meditators can attest, this does not suddenly cause the entire mind to come to rest. Rather, there is revealed a frantic activity that is not at all under conscious control, and can only indirectly be influenced.

And you had not really needed to go that far. Even the Christian concept of temptation should ring a bell here. Unless you are following some heretic wild goose and think that temptations come from other people, in plain contradiction to the Biblical claim that we are tempted as we are lured and drawn in by our own desire. What this clearly shows is that the deciding will cannot be alone in the head, otherwise there would not be anyone “else” there to present the desire to the will as an alternative. Likewise when we have the opportunity to do good and decide not to (which is described in the Bible as a sin), clearly there is some fellow occupant of the brain who is presenting the case for doing something, and we reject it.

So whether you’re a westerner or an easterner, unless you are painfully ignorant of the most basic concepts of your surrounding culture, you should be aware that there are processes in your head initiating action before you become aware of them. The later you become aware of them, in fact, the more momentum they tend to have. If a monk becomes aware of a sexual temptation when the compass needle of his mind begins to move away from Heaven, it will be rather easier to resist than if he notices nothing until the “compass needle” of his body has begun moving. By then it is quite a bit harder to stay calm. (Don’t ask me how I know this if you can’t guess.)

In any case, we have free will, but actually exerting our will takes an effort, and will can become tired much like a muscle, and can be trained much like a muscle. There is much to say about the nature of free will and our illusions about it. Oh, so much. But to just write it off as “free will does not exist” is painfully ignorant and shows an intense desire to believe something impossible. If free will did not exist, you could never know it.

My housing karma

Yeah, it still hurts just a little bit. But what counts now is to learn the lessons so as to not make necessary even more “disasters”. Wish me luck with that.

There is a whiny little post up on my even more personal journal, called “Shouting!” It is basically just whining  dressed up in see-through multicultural clothing. Here in Norway we aren’t racists – we just hold people from elsewhere to much lower standards, primitives that they are. ^_^

In reality, I would not lose big money betting that many Norwegians have Norwegian neighbors that keep them awake at night too. A steadily growing portion of the populace is retired, and a pretty stable but rather large portion is on disability pension; neither of these have any particular reason to sleep at night when there is excellent daylight to sleep in. And of course there are people who actually work at restaurants or cinemas or whatever and come home after midnight, it seems unlikely that they will tiptoe to bed one and all. So if you have neighbors in the same house, it is a significant chance that they will wake you up in the night. Even if they are in another house, the marvel of high-powered stereos makes it quite likely that they will keep you awake at least some nights.

Which is an excellent reason to rent a house for me alone if I can afford it, one should think. But ironically, it was my insistence on doing just that which led me to this situation! Yes indeed. Because I was so eager to have a whole house to myself, I rented a rather more expensive place than I had needed to, and so I didn’t have enough money saved up to rapidly find another place to live when the deal fell through.

But further self-reflection shows that it was more than just a wish to have a house to myself. There was also an attachment, to use the Buddhist term. A kind of infatuation. Now those who have seen pictures of the old red house surrounded by green pastures and right by the river may think it was well worth an infatuation. It was a beautiful place indeed, but looking at myself as from a higher place, I see that I was attached to it also because of memories of my childhood.

While different in some ways, the house was of a similar age as the one I grew up in (or a little older), and even smelled a little similar. And living surrounded by farmland was also for the first time since I left home at the age of 15. So there was a certain sentimentality in my decision, one that is not uncommon in my generation, for many of us grew up in the countryside but moved to more urban environments later. As long as one is aware of this and accepts it without being controlled by it, there need not arise an attachment. But when I acted on feelings that were not understood, seeking to regain something that could not, an attachment arose.

One of the benefits of living closer to the Source is that the time between building karma and paying it back is shortened. Or so I have been told. In that case, I should rejoice, for I am definitely paying my karma debt from the attachment I had to a perishable house. Indeed, it has already perished. But as the Buddha said with his last words: “All things that are made of parts will fall apart. Strive diligently!” (Your translation may vary slightly.) So now the house that I was infatuated with has been utterly demolished, and instead I have shouting foreigners. It is certainly better to have one’s karma disposed of this way rather than building it into one’s soul through the entire life, and then have something far worse happen. Not that this may not still happen with some other part of my life. But we’re working on it.

Nor is this the first case of serious house karma payback:  The disastrous move from the original Chaos Node was even more dramatic. At that point I found an apartment for let that was so located that I would be walking each day past the house where Supergirl and her family had lived (back when she was younger). I had tons of happy memories from there, and this influenced my decision so that I started renting an apartment that was only half the size needed for all my stuff. OK, perhaps 60-70%, but I don’t think so. The Chaos Node had been filled to overflowing, as old pictures will demonstrate. Even though I carried a bag out of the house each workday for more than two months, there still was more than I could cram into the apartment and still have any hope of keeping it clean enough for a civilized human, much less tidy. Discovering this caused my supposed new landlord to have a minor breakdown, although we both escaped unharmed. I then had only a couple days to find a new place to live.

So my ability to learn from life’s lesson is so-so, it seems. A quote by the Norwegian church leader Elias Aslaksen comes to mind: “If a man does not use the opportunity to learn from a disaster, the faithful God will make sure to place him in more disasters.” In view of this, I think I have gotten away fairly cheaply. It is better to be kept awake by asylum seekers than by demons. I will seek to take advantage of this situation to reflect on myself and become free from the kind of attachments that brought me here. Then we shall see whether I can act more wisely next time, and also have the blessing of the Light in my choices.

“Learned men”

“You are thinking too much!” -I have heard that occasionally. As the saying goes: “I think, therefore I am… single”.  ^_^ And I believe it is possible to think too much, and read to much, and learn to much. But mainly if it is about the wrong things. If ignorance was bliss, we’d live in Utopia.

If I am allowed, I will write some reflections that put together what I wrote yesterday with something I have noticed while reading the amazing St Teresa of Avila, herself a genius as well as a saint.

I have found myself unable to complete reading her autobiography Life and her famous Interior Castle, because of their structure that reveals ever greater depths of holiness and purity, and I just cannot bear looking too far into what I have (so far, at least) failed to enter myself. I get to a certain point (about a third of her autobiography, actually) and then, well, it feels kind of like peeping. Looking at something that is not for me, at least at the present.  Even so, I have gotten my hands on her Way of Perfection. It seems to have a different structure from the others, with no clear progression that catches up with me and passes me by.

One thing that shows up repeatedly in her writing, and again here, is her respect and admiration for “learned men”. In this context is meant theologians, people who have learned much about the Bible and the Church. I find this interesting: There is a tendency among Christians to praise the simple faith and, if not in those words, the simple mind. This tradition goes back to Jesus Christ himself, who praised the children and those who became like children. But from this admiration of the simple has grown a more thorny stem, of disregard and even mockery of learning and thinking. Catholicism has maintained a balance between the childlike devotion and the learned philosophy, seeking to find a place for each in the life of the Church. But in the Protestant tradition, anti-intellectualism has grown to great heights in some places.

In modern society, this anti-intellectualism has played right into the hands of the left (as if this movement has any particular claim to intellect!) trying to portray religion as a remnant from the Dark Ages. There are indeed Christians (particularly in America, it seems to me) who seem eager to support this view.

Now the “learned men” that St Teresa – and modern Catholic philosophers such as James V. Schall – talk about, these are not people who just randomly latch on to whatever zeitgeist (spirit of the times) is prevalent on college campus at their time. Rather they are such as seek out works of timeless wisdom, Holy Scriptures first and then the words of the great thinkers through the ages, whose thoughts have expanded the minds of the generations that followed them.

C. S. Lewis, another “learned man” of sorts, wrote an obvious truth that deserves recognition no matter what you think about Lewis himself and his religion. He wrote that it is necessary to read old books not because they are truer than new books, but because the fallacies of their age were different from ours. We are easily able to see in old books the mistakes that were commonly accepted and not even debated in their age, but which are glaring to our eyes. But what we do not easily understand is that in our own age, we also have a particular zeitgeist (spirit of the times) which makes us agree on many things without a serious debate, things that from another age (past or future) would look like pure madness.

If there was no other reason – if all holy scripture was just pious fantasy, if all philosophers of the past were simply ignorant barbarians – it would still be a pressing need for some to read the works of the past. If for nothing else, then at the very least in order to return to our own time and see it for the first time.

But I for one do not think the benefit is as limited as that. As I have said before, there is in true genius an expansion not first and foremost of knowledge itself, but of the capacity for knowledge and understanding. It is not that reading them fills our cup, but it makes our cup larger! It is not knowledge itself as much as our ability to look at knowledge in new ways. And if this is true for the great thinkers, then far more for religion properly so called. If the human genius makes our “container” of the mind wider, religion should make it deeper. (This, as I mentioned above, certainly does not happen with all people, more’s the pity.)

The best description I have heard of the fruit of this process is this, that we come to look at ourselves and the world from a much higher place. From this height, patterns become obvious that were hidden close up. And things that loomed so large, are seen as the molehills they are, and the people whose opinions weighed so heavily upon us, seem like ants, going about their own things rather than (as we thought) being preoccupied with us. It is rare indeed (except for the lover and the stalker) that anyone in this world is concentrated on us and our small things. When seen from a very great height, we can breathe a sigh of relief, or even laugh at our former delusions.

If this is the fruit of becoming a “learned man”, then I see no harm in it. But there are many petty minds carrying books they have not fully digested. From these I expect little help. But Light send that they have no hand in supporting the spiritual life of the earnest, for they need the other kind, who can watch over them from on high, so to speak.