Saturday, August 25, 2012

I'm sorry

Socially acceptable ideas that are probably good

All religions are full of holes and contradictions; religion as a whole has done more harm for the world than good.

It's stupid to obsess over celebrities.

No one should be famous for being famous.

Autotuned music is killing music as we know it.

The United States needs to mind its business and stop exploiting other countries.

Racism still exists and needs to be flushed out wherever we find it.

Women are still treated unfairly in a multitude of situations.

There is nothing wrong with two homosexuals getting married.

Capitalism, at the very least, needs to be kept in check by the government.

Video games do not cause people to kill, and it's up to parents to teach their children right from wrong. No game should ever be blamed for any violent incident.

Animal cruelty is disgusting regardless of whether the animal is a dog or pig. We need to start treating animals more humanely.

Global warming, regardless of its cause, will probably gradually lead to unpredictable weather, which will be unsettling for many.

NASA is doing good by checking for Earth-sized extrasolar planets. We might not find anything, but it's definitely worth at least a cursory look.

Things about society in general that are probably good

We have access to an incredible wealth of information with the click of a button.

We have abolished slavery.

Fewer people are sexually prudish these days.

Technology has made our lives easy in many important ways.

We have more kinds of art and entertainment than any other society in history.

Libraries, both physical and virtual, are awesome.

How can anyone not like red velvet cake?

Nature is astonishingly beautiful, especially during snowstorms, on a sunny day, or during sunrise.

A lot of everyday people are good-natured, funny, and doing their best to get by.

It's good that we teach the golden rule to children at a young age.

More people are literate now than at any other time in history.

We have antibiotics now, and people are living longer than ever.

Another message to the SomethingAwful community

Please link to this blog wherever you think it will be entertaining for others to read.

And this one, too.


Video of ants eating a lizard

I decided to have a little fun today by responding to some posts about this blog in a SomethingAwful thread. I don't normally make posts like this, but I enjoy the opportunity when it presents itself, and this was too good to pass up, so here we go.

Note that I am not going to post the names of the authors of the comments, because I'm lazy, and no one cares what your screenname is.

Here is the start of the "discussion" in the thread in question:

I'm going to address this first one out of order, just to get something out of the way:

"Do ultranerds just hate creative writing and music because it can't be quantified? Like, they have to enjoy some TV shows or movies right? How do they exist if they hate anything not set in a specific perfect sense. Like, no interpretations, no deeper meanings, all art must be one leveled and have one meaning. I'd love to listen to their Ipods or check their netflix list"

Ultranerds, niggers, Jews, fatties -- yeah, let's keep perpetuating what makes humankind absolutely abhorrent by generalizing people into predefined categories for the sole purpose of objectification and, ironically, obliteration of empathy. You're not partaking in Nazism here at all, no sirree. How silly of me to forget that it's not what fundamental social detriments you're promoting, it's how direct their manifestations are! It's only okay to dehumanize someone and label them when you're not shackling them and forcing them to work for you under inhumane conditions. They're just words and the other person should grow up and take it like a man, right? Or maybe I'm a fat, irresponsible, Jewish nigger-criminal for making a big deal about those latter groups being attacked unjustifiably.

Anyway, what we enjoy and what matters are obviously very different. Who cares if I enjoy chocolate ice cream, classical music, or hardcore porn? Who cares what your favorite fetish is, or how complex and subjectively fulfilling a movie is? You can do all of that in your spare time, but this blog is not about your spare time; it's about what matters. Very few of the things that I do really, truly matter, but that's part of being human. If you think otherwise, then congratulations on considering yourself special right alongside the other generation Y problem children. You wouldn't be reacting at all if I were wrong about this, and you know it.

It's important to note, here, that while this blog is about what matters, that doesn't mean that the blog itself "matters," or that it's one hundred percent accurate. Pursuit of accuracy does not necessarily warrant proclamations of accuracy, and in any case, if I really were some smug asshole getting off on "being right" and looking down on everyone else, not only would all of the entries here about no one being capable of truly knowing anything for certain not exist, but it wouldn't really be relevant to the importance or accuracy of the arguments themselves. Hitler was a vegetarian; does that mean that vegetarianism is a terrible idea? Chill with the personal drama/character assassination and focus on the arguments; to do otherwise is logically fallacious in spades. Sorry, but my eating babies is not going to make the arguments here go away, so it's up to you to, you know, argue back.

"In my experience yeah. The idea that art can have multiple meanings and is ultimately interpreted by the observer is anathema to them. They also hate anything that doesn't look like it involved a lot of technical skill."

I'm glad that I belong to a "them." What are we like in the wild? Are wild ultranerds different from domesticated ultranerds? Do our mating rituals differ? Please, all-wise Internet smartass, explain to me how people in my made-up category, who are different and should be treated differently from people in your made-up category, fail to understand that art can have multiple meanings.

Wait, what does art have to do with anything again? If we're going to bring the subject up, let's get a few things straight:

1. Art can have multiple meanings.

2. Pictorial symbolism is an inefficient way to communicate. If you want to say something important, then just say it.

3. All communication requires symbolism to some degree. However, some symbols are more efficient than others.

4. There's nothing wrong with captivating people emotionally through art. Just don't call it science, or use it to manipulate people for a cause. Make sure that they're aware that there is potential for manipulation so that they can enjoy the experience while still being in control.

5. I'd rather look at a beautiful landscape painting or listen to lush ambient music than ingest the loads of symbolism in a Poussin or pretend as though lyrics are musical in nature.

"Personally, I have no problem feeling bad for anyone who has suffered a tragedy, regardless of knowing them. And, surprise, there has never been a time when I was forced to choose between feeling bad for one person and totally ignoring someone else in a similar situation. Emotions aren't currency that you can run out of (for the most part)."

Every second, a preposterous number of horrible things occur on this planet; your ignorance of them forces you to choose those horrors of which you are not ignorant. Please stop pretending that you've attended the funerals of Africans who've starved to death, balling your eyes out the whole way. You know damn well that your mother and a starving African are not treated the same by your person.

A sufficiently advanced computer may be utterly incapable of feeling empathy for either individual, but if it's programmed to help those in need when presented with their struggles, then that's what it's going to do. It's not going to reflect on all of the wonderful memories that it had with the sufferer, or frown politely for two seconds while reading about his or her plight in the newspaper.

"loving shallow bitches. People want to have sex with you, so logically you must be dumber than me. Kneel before my superior intelligence!!!"

 Jesus Christ we are having a field day."

IQ test time:

All subjectively attractive people are subjectively desirable company, but not all subjectively attractive people are objectively intelligent.

I'm not going to search for fast cars by inspecting every red car that I encounter on the sole grounds that some red cars are fast; I'm going to inspect cars known for their speed. This doesn't mean that no red cars are fast, and it would be completely idiotic to either believe otherwise or believe that that's what I'm espousing.

"Ultranerds have the BEST ideas on education reform."

My, what a lovely, utterly empty post you have! Would you like to add anything else? Are you interested in helping people to come around to your way of thinking, or do you prefer to keep them against you so that you can feel superior? No interest in discussion, just yelling and harassment? Ah, I see.

But I'm the one with the superiority complex -- you know, the one who doesn't label people or associate them with others due to said label. The one who doesn't make snarky side remarks and instead writes thought-out premises. Right.

I might proclaim the average person to be an asshole, but if you're not the average person and I'm not lumping you personally into a category or calling you ugly for disagreeing with me, then why do you care?

"I love it when it's the ultranerds who aren't even smart enough for the STEM subjects they champion (as evidenced by his rejection of all mathematics beyond arithmetic as unnecessary). How does he plan on having Physics taught in his curriculum without a good basis in maths anyway?"

IQ test time:

Some people incapable of solving complex calculus problems would like to do away with having advanced math courses forced upon the general public using public money, or forced upon a college student as basically a commercial to the TV program that is their major. Some people really good at solving complex calculus problems feel the same way. Some people incapable of solving complex calculus problems want advanced math courses to be forced on the general public. Some people really good at solving complex calculus problems feel the same way.

Incidentally, it's amazing how every single one of you has to make these issues about flinging unfounded accusations at the opposition. Oh, I want to do away with complex math being forced onto people with no interest in it, so I must be bad at complex math. Oh, I'm not smart enough to do complex math, so therefore, people not smart enough to do complex math should be forced to do complex math and waste everyone's time and money, even though they're never going to use a single bit of it in everyday life. Well, you eat your own poo-poo, buddy. Therefore, you're wrong about everything. Take that!

"I woulda given... well, I woulda given SOMEBODY'S left nut to actually have classes on Hammurabi or the Boxer Rebellion somewhere in K-12. Also, dude's clearly never actually taken a class on Psychology OR Poli Sci"

More of the same. If you'd bothered to read more than a few lines from that post of mine, you would have encountered the bit where I stated that anyone interested in any subject should have the freedom to pursue it whenever they want, free of charge, for the betterment of both themselves and society at large. Do you really think that it makes any degree of sense to teach subjects to children if they're uninterested -- especially if the subjects have no practical value in everyday life? Why should my money go toward bored, tired children learning about the Pilgrims? Are the Pilgrims going to fix our political structure? Are the Pilgrims going to cure AIDS? If children are bored in the classroom, we've already screwed up. Maybe you love the Pilgrims, but that's your personal interest, and you're free to pursue that interest however you see fit in your spare time.

And not that it matters, but for the record, I've taken my fair share of Psychology and Political Science courses. I don't care about Sigmund Freud's archaic ideas, unfounded paranoia regarding Iran's nuclear program, how democratization is going to save poor people in Haiti from having to subsist off of selling bananas to tourists, or how four mental disorders belong in category A while another four belong in category B. And I definitely don't care about memorizing acronyms and buzz words for the purpose of passing tests; if the average person off the street understands at least a little about the process of a dominant nation leeching off of another, poorer nation for its natural resources, then it's stupid to fail them just because they've never heard the term "dependency theory" before.

"The philosophy bits are hysterical. Seriously, the reason why philosophy is taught like that is because it's part of critical thinking. The philosophy teachers want you to come to those conclusions on your own, not because the teacher proselytized you onto the One True Way like a loving cult leader.

 Also, any bet this ultranerd's idea of the one dominant philosophy is Objectivism and the not-so-famous person is Ayn Rand?"

Critical thinking should be taught from the first grade onward, and involves analysis of individual scenarios and problem-solving, just like arithmetic. If we give our children math problems, why not logic problems, or ethics scenarios to contemplate? Furthermore, why would ANY of that warrant random people's names being dropped, meaningless isms, and other excess baggage? When was the last time that you walked into a math class where children were learning times tables, and had Zhou Bi Suan Jing name dropped as being an "important person in the history of times tables"? Better memorize his name and understand his "contributions," kids, or you'll be failures at this math thing!

Yeah, or what you're saying is utterly irrelevant to actual critical thinking, which is much more about abstraction, process management, methodology refinement, and meta-cognition than being given five gigantic slabs of historical mush with cute names to memorize. How should anyone be expected to think critically when they're given only a handful of worldviews to read about, each self-contained and closed-off? Why should we be presented ANY worldviews, named or unnamed, instead of be equipped with the cognitive tools to allow us to solve everyday logic problems in an emergent manner, case by case?

"Here's transcendental idealism, Platonic realism, Buddhism, Christian mysticism, Stoicism, nihilism, epistemological nominalism, existentialism, and, uh... Foucault, yeah, Foucault. Don't forget that guy. He said some stuff once, just like everyone else to have ever lived, so that means that you should read about what he said, because, like, you can decide for yourself if it's true or not and stuff. Other people say stuff sometimes, too, but they're not famous, so... yeah, I guess you can think critically about what they say, too, but not in this class, okay? Only Foucault!"

I have no idea where you grabbed Ayn Rand from. Maybe you should read the posts on this blog tagged "capitalism," "Zeitgeist Movement," "value system," and "social transparency." I might as well be the anti-Ayn Rand.

...And the guessing game continues!

"People who fetishize engineering majors and are terrible at math are really common. Most of the time, STEM nerds who sneer at arts and humanities seem to have a habit of being bad at their own major, really. They seem to think that everything else is really easy, so their 2.3 average as an electrical engineer is worth way more than a psych/journalism/literature major's 3.6.

 Hearing a CS major call my math major underwater basket weaving and then end up complaining about having to learn proofs and set theory because they're pointless for him to know is just the most precious thing."

First, do a search on my blog for "set theory," and you'll see that I find it invaluable. Funny, though, that you're so territorial of your major that you don't even realize that set theory is not exclusive to it, and is applicable to the entire universe. Jeez, even the first portion of the second sentence of Wikipedia's article on it -- that silly, transparent site with all those wrong people -- makes this apparent!

You are not cool or important for understanding object-orientation and abstraction.

Just as a fun aside, I'll state that I hold two degrees and maintained 4.0 and 3.8 GPAs at the schools from which I got them, respectively. I will withhold the names of the schools for the sake of preserving my anonymity. I can't remember scoring lower than 100 (and often got a 105 after answering the extra credit questions) on a college math exam, either. Sure, I never got to Calc 3, but it wasn't part of either of my degrees, so I never got the chance to try.

Since I don't want to engage in a pissing contest, though, I'll stop here and chuckle a bit to myself at how bizarrely self-preserving and competitive you are. This isn't Facebook, where my cooler Internet picture warrants you checking yourself out in the mirror for an hour.

Seriously, one more irrelevant ad hominem or assertion that you know more about me than I do and I'm going to have to vomit. Your insipid insights into "why" I post what I do are nauseating, as is your insistence that any of this matters. Hopefully, we can be free of Calc courses for people who will never use what they've learned someday, and if we can't, then we might as well call ourselves the Jeopardy culture.

"His thing about freudian psychology reminds me about somebody who was bitching about calculus. "I don't know why they even teach you about limits. After that chapter you'll never use them again because you learn derivatives."

Except that guy somehow managed to pass calculus."

So did I! Am I cool yet?

"He probably still is in school. Only someone who's still in their "rebellious gently caress-you-all" phase could unironically demand history to be dropped from schools."

I'm quite out of school, and work full-time for a systems integrator maintaining their internal network. I get raises and people enjoy my company immensely. I hold the babies of co-workers and participate happily in potlucks and parties. Unfortunately, I just can't bring myself to give a shit about what I'm doing, because it isn't making society better off.

Look, if you're interested in history, no one should stop you from learning about history. I love reading about Canaanite polytheism, the Migration Period, Paul the Deacon's Lombards, Saami shamanism, Genghis Khan, the history of the Sikhs, the Napoleonic wars, and the life of Franz Liszt. But if someone else doesn't love that stuff, should I pay for them to learn and subsequently forget about it, with society not benefiting in the slightest from the hours that they'd wasted? Furthermore, how does knowing about Napoleon make you a more efficient contributor to society, which is in a resource debt, not to mention a dire need to prevent an awful lot of suffering around the world?

"I loved the bitching about trig then the fucker goes on how physics will be taught if he was the Principal of the Known Universe. Kinda need one in order to full understand the other. Oh, what's that? "Parabolas"? Don't need them.

Also, the comment about "metacognition"? I had to look that up but all it is just making memorization even more rote."

And I love your equating physics with physics as it's currently taught to older people. The entire world is physics; yes, the equations are useful to those who will be doing work in that field, but everyone should at least have a rudimentary understanding of gravity, the presence of molecules versus vacuums, forces, momentum, and maybe some of the simpler laws of thermodynamics. Does any of that require trig? I can and probably should teach it to fourth graders.

Speaking of which, that's another thing: I couldn't possibly consider myself far smarter than the average person if I view most of what I'm promoting as being understandable to small children. It's the memes inside your brains that are the problem -- not the raw hardware.

"He didn't say it, but he plans on changing the curriculum to replace Shakespeare with Animorphs."

Shakespeare is more Lit than English. If I were to teach Shakespeare to an elementary school class learning about gerunds and adverbs, I'd make a huge mess. Early modern English is as useful to us as proto-Anglo-Saxon and Old Icelandic.

"I would wager on Cs/Ds. His comment about junking the "arbitrary base 10" grading system and doing everything pass/fail suggests a guy who's seen "70" on a lot of papers, thought it was good enough, and then gotten pissed off at his parents when they told him to apply himself more.

It's also odd how he sometimes seems to be talking about college, and other times about public K-12. Unless there are universities teaching sex ed or making students recite the pledge of allegiance."

More personal attacks! Love it. I'm sure Bigfoot enthusiasts think you're an absolutely vapid moron when it comes to traipsing around a forest and searching for footprints. Guess that means Bigfoot exists, eh?

I talk about all levels of education in the post because no one should ever stop learning as long as they live, and age should not arbitrarily define what you learn about. Is that a problem?

"Where did you find that ultranerd manifesto anyway? I seriously want to see more of this guys posts. Education reform ideas by total idiots is by far my favorite dumb internet comment thing. It's the easiest way to see a person's entire thought process. Also, that dude's school would be beyond loving boring.


Those would be required skills. What you personally want to do to contribute to society is obviously an entirely separate matter. Are you sure you're adept at reading comprehension?

Most schools are already beyond boring. My goal would be to reform the entire system so that the teacher/student dichotomy is eradicated, friendships with "teachers" are built over years rather than months or "quarters," only first names are used, multiple choice tests are kept to a minimum, practice and implementation are encouraged, correlation with economic success is done away with, stress is reduced overall, extrinsic motivators are eradicated, multiple "teachers" are assigned to one class, classes have far fewer "students" (as few as five, in some cases), and one-on-one time is a must. In this environment, not only would creativity not be discouraged, it would be the entire point.

"Honestly, ultra-nerd's hatred of things like higher maths and rant about proper formatting structure in academic papers lead me to believe he's a pissed off highs schooler with a chip on his shoulder

"Give my paper an F? I'll show you Ms Zukowski!"

Yep, and Richard Dawkins failed Sunday school too many times, so he's nerding out and getting his revenge on those evil Catholics for not being nice to him. The Buddha was terrible at asceticism and was constantly mocked by the other ascetics for failing to properly starve himself, so he gave Hinduism the finger and started his own group. Einstein was always at the bottom of the class when Newtonian classical physics was at the fore, so he got his revenge by coming up with E=mc^2.

See how easy that was?

I would never pretend to be more important than anyone else and am not equating myself with these famous people, but you get the point. Or you probably don't, but oh well.

"I couldn't make it through.

I got to this footnote; "* This is the place where I'm supposed to link you to articles proving that I'm right, but I don't feel like Googling for the obvious."

'I'm correct, just accept that as fact. Accept that I know what's best for everyone and everything. Accept that I should make all decisions for everyone everywhere. And you shall know my name is the LORD when I strike down upon you!


gently caress you. You small minded, myopic, misguided, twatty little tyrant. I bend no knee to your cause.

He's said his opinion. I don't give a Tinker's dam to read anymore of it."

Really? You're going to call me arrogant for stating that it's obvious that the music industry is in decline? Really? You must be the type to require citations and references to the sky being blue, then.

Of course, I don't really think that this is the case, and will instead chalk up your stupid exaggeration to your wanting to fit in online by making fun of any chunk of text you can find that will fit into the pre-agreed upon objective.

Well, there you have it, folks. SomethingAwful somehow manages to live up to its name constantly, while taking irony to heights never previously fathomed by mankind. Goofy Internet memes, Family Guy, and "random" (see: foundationless) humor not only are par for the course, but infest every crevice of signature and avatar space. Internet nerds lambaste those who disagree with them on the sole grounds that the counter-points damage their individual identity as an interesting, unique, and important human being, all the while never proposing substantive counterarguments. They then proceed to proclaim the originator of the ideas to be a nerd (like it really matters who's behind the ideas at all to begin with), even though they're the ones entrenched in banal pop culture references, anonymous socialization, and ego inflation -- all staples of nerddom.

Yeah, yeah, a person's character is irrelevant to their arguments, so I shouldn't bother with attacking the character of the average Internet forums-goer. That aside, though:

1. These people have no arguments to critique, so what else am I supposed to say? They outright refuse to even make the attempt to prove my ideas wrong.

2. This is a lot of fun.

"Hey, that guy claimed that his view is probably more accurate than mine, and my view defines me as a person -- a charming, witty, hive-minded keyboard warrior making important contributions to society through my college courses and affirmations of cultural integration among my peers! I know all the latest, trendy memes and absurdist jokes, I'm really good at lumping people into bullshit categories, and I make money, sometimes. The fact that all of this is utterly meaningless and often detrimental to society in the face of repugnant social ostracization, cutthroat capitalism, and valueless mass hysteria aside, my being called out on it means that the accuser is a failure at all of the above!"

Oh, if only logic were always reducible to convenient if-then red herrings and assassinations of character.

Let's suppose, for a minute, that I'm maintaining this blog just to feel superior to others and look cool. So what? I'm sure a lot of great thinkers were douchebags, but that doesn't make them wrong.

So prove me wrong.

On a final note, I will state that having a whole thread on your forum dedicated to slander, harassment, and aimless trolling just goes to show how little we've progressed as a species. I would sooner praise cowardly Roman denizens for cheering while gladiators get mauled to death by lions than praise the modern, emasculated Internetter who'd be too afraid to watch his objects of scorn get the same treatment, all the while being just as invested in using other people for his own solipsistic entertainment.

I guess failing to make the cute girl at the office laugh after reciting some ultra-obscure Internet joke laced with layers of references would lead one to retreat to a world where acceptance is garnered by ostracizing even bigger losers, like My Little Pony fans. Keep your religion if you want, but I'll have no part in it. How sickening it is that people in this day and age still abide by the "I don't like what you're saying, so you do all of the following unrelated things in your personal life, which makes you a bad person worthy of mockery" mentality. Grow up.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Buddha: Take Two

Reply to these comments

One of the great things the Buddha said that will single handedly dissolve many of your points:

"Do not believe in anything because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything because it is spoken by many.
Do not believe in anything because it is written in religious books.
Do not believe in anything on the authority of your teachers.
Do not believe in traditions just because they have been handed down.

But after observation and analysis,
when you find that anything agrees with reason
and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all,
then accept it and live up to it." 

This is all good advice, but it contradicts some of his other teachings. This could be because, like any other religious text, it was written by multiple authors, all with slightly different but socially compatible agendas. Religions, regardless of their origin points, are fueled by dogma, so any good ideas get drowned out when the fervor gets initiated; there is a lot of "Yeah, yeah, that sounds good. Put that in there, too, and we'll probably get more people to listen to us." Sometimes, what sounds good is good, and sometimes, it isn't -- but none of this matters to those more interested in control than genuine enlightenment.

Keep in mind that the Pali Canon was written four hundred and fifty years after the supposed death of Siddhartha Gautama -- plenty of time for distortion, contradiction, and multiple personal interests to sneak in under the guise of "Buddhism." Even if it's written somewhere that the Buddha said something wise once, that does not justify other written, unwise statements. Hitler said a few sensible things in his time, for instance.

Of course, both the good and the bad came from a whole posse of people, and not from some mystical man towering above us normal peons; this automatically elongates the already lengthy shadow of idiocy looming over those who foolishly venerate a single man for somehow being neurologically unique. Nothing is more intellectually dangerous, and there are strong parallels between veneration of a man who can, according to the texts, never ever arise again with such brilliant (even though they're all either really obvious or incorrect) ideas on the one hand, and a man who is the only son of god who will come only once to bring us salvation on the other. The template, to the modern observer, is cheap, obvious, and a by-product of early civilization. It is the ideal logical fallacy: "You don't agree with this idea? Well, I heard it from this guy who is special. Therefore, I'm right."

It is probably impossible for a single human to be intellectually unique, so even if the Buddha was right to declare a puny list of four assertions the end-all-be-all, that would in no way justify anyone's abandonment of independent peer review in favor of adulation. I don't care how many layers of hell you've descended into for the benefit of mankind; you can't get away with putting together definitive lists and closing them off, never even once imploring others to add to or subtract from them.

It makes no sense to declare that one should not believe something on the grounds that it's written in a religious text, then turn around and also declare that you possess not just truth -- which is elusive and maybe even impossible to attain for humans -- but noble truth.

I wonder what would have happened to Darwin if he'd declared evolution "The noble, indisputable truth of life's procession". All those other scientists with their annoying journals and independent studies can go to hell!

There really is a pretty profound difference between "I know for certain that I am absolutely right about this, but please, come to the conclusion that I'm right on your own" and "This is what the evidence is currently indicating, but let's keep running the experiment and see if something new happens, or if we're missing something." If the Buddha were ever to promulgate the latter, there would be no Buddhism.

Furthermore, the Four Noble Truths are stupid to begin with. They basically advocate the idea that one can achieve freedom from craving, desire, and other forms of suffering through the Noble Eightfold Path. Obviously, we cannot extricate ourselves from our environs while alive, so there is no such thing as freedom from negative sensation without the termination of conscious experience altogether. In the Pali Canon, the Buddha is doing exactly what L. Ron Hubbard did by claiming to know not only why people suffer, but how to end it all and enter into a state of personal heaven as well. In short, he was a sophisticated swindler, handing out pamphlets advertising his -- and only his -- special ability to fix everyone. Capitalism, anyone?

Simple, one-size-fits-all, too-good-to-be-true methods for feeling perpetually blissful should always be scrutinized -- though, again, we should be careful not to project the agendas of the authors of the Buddhist texts onto whoever really was their original inspiration, given the ubiquity of distortion in the ancient world. The real Buddha could have been nothing more than a wiser than average guy with ideas that were great for their time but antiquated today.

1. The Numbered Lists
Numbered lists are a mnemonic device from oral cultures not an exclusive enumeration of dogma. There are two possibilities- that (a) the Buddha, wishing his disciples to be able to memorise his teachings, presented them in list form, or that (b) the subsequent process of oral transmission resulted in this format.

Does this really matter, though? Prior to plumbing, it was necessary to construct wells, but their then-necessity doesn't justify our continued drinking of unclean water.

The Buddha did entertain the arguments of famous philosophers and those of other sectarians and his contemporaries. These arguments are recorded in numerous places in the Pali Canon

This parallels the mythic intellectual hero (as opposed to the real person; see a pattern, here?) Socrates' rigged fights against the sophists: Relative to the morons espousing obvious gibberish, the hero appears wise and all-knowing, which provides further justification for submission to his agenda, and even his deification. This obvious false dichotomy is also a known tactic among physical fighters, and very effective against those with limited perspective.

What the Buddha actually did was suggest that his students become enlightened themselves - to see that things were really as he described them.

And, conveniently for him, they all wound up agreeing with him! No one ever stood up and said, "This is stupid. How is getting acquainted with how my body deals with the world going to end my suffering once and for all? How is it going to help that starving baby bird over there? Where's the absolute correlation between conscious willing and physical consequences?!"

I wouldn't describe meditation as contrived or requiring extensive training: how 'contrived' is simply paying attention to one thing?

Our brains have physical limits to how long they can remain concentrated on one thing at the expense of another, especially when the other thing is your intestines hanging out.

That being said, the underlying cause of pain is getting born! The Buddha fell upon the rather obvious solution when he suggested not getting reborn. 

The way to prevent your rebirth is by promoting the idea that no one should reproduce; if no one reproduces, then the infinitude of "yous" that come and go from each sentient organism's consciousness will eventually cease to emerge. Learning how to sit really still and ignore the world's attempts to engage with you is useful while alive, but it will not prevent your rebirth.

For example, if you have a child, but then go on to become the best meditator ever, this latter change may bring you happiness in moments where you would have otherwise been very uncomfortable, but your ascension to nibbana is rendered illegitimate by the existence of your child, who is interconnected to you and will suffer throughout his or her life. The correct path to nibbana, then, is not perfect mindfulness and higher realization, but the extinction of you, your child, and every other sentient creature -- regardless of how the extinction comes about. Certainly, the planet being instantaneously vaporized by a gamma ray burst has nothing to do with enlightenment or mindfulness, yet it is the real nibbana after all.

the most authentic position of Buddhism is completely indifferent to whether gods exist or not...this point is largely doctrinally irrelevant to Buddhism.

It really, really shouldn't be. The existence of gods has profound implications regarding existence and the nature of cause and effect. If gods exist, then there necessarily is a kind of functionality inherent in the system that we call the universe, for gods are human-like in desire and overall essence. Their existence may not change the fundamental nature of sentience, but it could if there really does turn out to be a reason for all the madness which we call life.

Having observed the paranormal in front of my own eyes as a child, I am tempted to take seriously the anecdotal evidence of others' encounters with non-human beings- the type of experiences which are actually censored by current scientific dogma.

I don't doubt that someone like the Buddha had paranormal experiences, but said person also did not have access to modern scientific knowledge or methods with which to properly and negatively analyze the experiences. Today, if we encounter what we perceive to be an apparition, we can first realize the importance of negatively analyzing the encounter by actively seeking out all those alternatives which potentially discredit the default assumption:

1. We now have evidence that our perception of reality is a filtered aggregate of abstractions constructed by neurons, each programmed to provide us with an analogy of the information they receive from the "external" world. Sometimes, the analogy appears grossly inaccurate, especially when subjected to unusual stimuli. In layman's terms, we may call this phenomenon an hallucination.

2. Humans enjoy pranks and hijinks, and must not be underestimated for their ability to deceive their peers.

3. Given what we know about sleep, comas, vegetative states, mental retardation, other species, etc., it would be silly to assume that a person's soul becomes physically locked away when the brain shuts down, only to become free and fully aware after death and in the absence of that which it apparently needed in order to be conscious in the first place.

...and so on. Anyway, your misconstruction of science as not only an ideology but dogma is counterproductive and ironic. Science is a process, much like the processes of baking a cake and refining oil. The outcome of each experiment must be independently verified by unaffiliated individuals, and if such individuals refine or overturn an idea decades after its introduction, then "science" welcomes the update.

The position of suicide in Buddhism is more complex than you make out. At the same time as the Buddha, another teacher, Mahavira, was teaching a religion, Jainism, that would ultimately espouse suicide as the height of saintliness.

...And Jainism is not Buddhism, let alone the original teachings of the Buddha or his spokespersons. Anyway, if that's really what Jainism advocates, then it, too, is foolish, for suicide is a waste -- save for cases of extreme depression, terminal illness, etc. -- in the face of the source of the problem: reproducing DNA material. If we fail to end all life, then "we" will continue to exist for billions of years to come; we just won't remember any of it.

The universe feels; sometimes, parts of it remember the horror, and other times, they forget, or never experience it to begin with. If you have both stomach cancer and heart disease, the elimination of your stomach cancer may make your stomach happy, but the body is nevertheless suffering somewhere else.

Buddhism condemns violence: suicide is ultimately violence against oneself.

This is more of that goofy absolute rhetoric that I outed in the first post. It's the same as the Four Noble Truths or the Ten Commandments in its defining something as free from exception: What was the value metric used to come to this conclusion? Some things may always be bad, but we have to do the math to determine whether the outcome is negative, zero, or positive before we can say for sure.

Likewise, the trappings of a monk have persisted largely unchanged (in Theravada Buddhism) since the time of the Buddha. Wearing one's robe correctly and shaving one's head are simply part of the practice of renunciation- these things are not arbitrary ritualisations, they are the customs of those bent on renunciation.

There's nothing arbitrary in shaving your head to represent your restrained lifestyle? What if I were to tell my lackeys that they have to wear KISS T-shirts in order to symbolically express the very same lifestyle -- and what if they all were to wear KISS T-shirts, with none questioning the practice? Would that be healthy, independent rationality, or would it be, like Scientology, a manifestation of an age-old human pitfall?

The Buddha stands out among all people who have ever inhabited the earth as someone who could credibly talk about what it means to have a mind without limits.

Good show!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Question of the day

Why should I eat chicken and love my wife instead of eat my wife and love a chicken?