Free will

Drawings from the bottom of the drawer.

I have made some drawings in the past and they all came alive because of overflowing thoughts and philosophies and the urge to visualize them. The lack of words, and listeners, to express myself put my fantasy at work and I started these drawings. I have no talent for drawing or ambition in that direction. I only judge my work, and deem it finished, in so far as it pleases my eye and sense of proportion. I will now try to describe some of these drawings and tell something about the thoughts behind it. Bear in mind that some drawings are almost 20 years old and that my thoughts about them now compared to my intentions then can differ now, but I hope only in details and nuances and not in the core meaning.

tekening -1

 

We see here a checkerboard floating through space. This checkerboard resembles your life and is part of an underlying construction. On the checkerboard stands a depiction of you. The mechanical cross stands for religion and/or a constructed governing force that holds the checkerboard in place and can tilt it, so to slide you to one side unknowingly.  In the background you see a similar contraption where the other person, like you, is consuming parts of other people’s lives or at least the places where you could go. Underneath the main checkerboard hangs a large construct that you don’t see at the other one. This constrict works like a counterweight, and is made of knowledge, and dampens the effect of the steering crosses. I made it with a pen you couldn’t erase, to simulate life, when I made a little mistake I turned it in a flower as a sign of hope.

The checkerboard

If we get born, we are “thrown” into a specific situation. You are born in a specific country, class, religion, age, political system and so on. All these situations play a great role in your life if you want it to or not. If you are born in China in 1968 you cannot pretend to be only influenced by Brazilian culture when your 4 years old. What happens around you has a strong influence on you and how you will become when you grow up. You can go along with your culture and or rebel against it, but in both cases, you react to the situation you were “thrown” in at your birth. The checkerboard represents the life you are in and all the possibilities available to you in that life. You have a limited choice in where you stand but it all depends on where you grew up. The construction where the checkerboard rest on represents the constructed nature of most of the things and situations that influence us. Your are born in a specific family, there are many different forms of family life through the ages and in all the different cultures. You can have a typical 21st century western family with a mom and dad and two kids or, a family from 300 years ago in another part of the world where you live in a big building with 10 brothers and sister, uncles, aunts, grandmother, grandfather, and your parents. Both are constructed ways of living together, life, culture and history made these groups the way they are, nature has not so much to do with it. It is not hard to imagine what an effect these two different groups would have on you when you grow up in either one of them. You as a person have no choice in that, you are formed by your circumstances. “Everyone is the other and no one is himself.” Martin Heidegger

The iron crosses.

The iron cross represents the mechanism that has a more steering role after you start making “your own” choices in where to stand on the “checkerboard” that is given to you by your birth. Let’s say you are born in a religious family, then there are only a few places on your checkerboard where you can go to, to become an atheist. If you remain in a country that is heavily controlled by religious rulers than this “iron cross” represent these rulers and will tilt you on the checkerboard to a place where you will stay religious. Let’s say that you now move to a secular country, you will still be bound by the checkerboard or possibilities given to you by birth but now the “iron cross” or authorities will not steer you away from the little secular squares you have, but steer you towards it. Another way of reaching the few secular squares you have, in this example, is by studying and gaining knowledge. This knowledge might work as a counterweight to the forces in your religious country have on the direction of your life, and thus might steer you to the secular spaces on your checkerboard. This is most likely not a conscious move on your part, if you by coincidence start reading the “wrong” books this so-called counterweight might form without you knowing it. This iron cross is not only representing religion but all man-made constructs that steer your life, like the form of government or social structures you live under. All of these, steer your life towards their wishes. Remember that these constructs are not controlled by humans, they might be invented by them, but they live a life of their own and steer you as well as the so called rulers that are proclaiming and defending that system.

The others

The others, or other people in your life, take away pieces of your checkerboard or life. We do the same thing when we are in the vicinity of others.  Let’s take the religious person from before as an example. If I, an atheist, would become a friend with a religious person and we start talking and discussing life I will slowly eat away from their religious side of their checkerboard till I potentially consume, enough religious parts that they have no choice and land on a secular square despite the pull of the “cross” or system they live under. They will also feast on my secular squares and it depends on their quality and the pull of the system where I live under to see if and when in the end I will give.

In short.

You are born in specific circumstances that will give you a limited amount of choices. Society will guide your future choices, by the way of social pressure or laws but self-education can make you more independent. Other people will take away choices like someone telling you, while growing up, what you can’t do, and this will make it harder and harder to reach that goal that you desire.

Where is the free will?

I think that our free will is encapsulated in an imaginary tiny box. In that box we have free will but just outside that the box is everything we do in the world and determent by the world. Free will is something we think, but we act deterministic. We think we made a choice, and that is the limit of our freedom, we can think.

Let’s say you agree with me that we are thrown into the world and that YOU have had no choice in that. You had no choice in the circumstances you grew up in, it is determent for you. So, you might think that you choose that school later in life, but that choice was already made by the time and place you were born. You can choose from different schools, that all belonged to that specific time and place, you were born. That you choose the technical school was probably because of an example or someone talked you into it and don’t forget your genetic makeup. It is impossible to prove that there was a single point in your life where you decided to go to that school without influences from outside. Even if you stubbornly choose the opposite of all that surrounds you it still just the opposite of what was already determined.  Like I said, it feels like a choice, but it isn’t. There are all kinds of forces steering us forward. This doesn’t mean that you than give up. If you know that life is like that you can use that little freedom in your head to prepare yourself for the movements of life. I can give you an example of that: in my training as a Marine we learned certain fighting skills whereby you use the force of your opponent to defeat him. A little guy could, by accepting the forces around him, the powerful swing going towards his face, and stepping aside and lightly guide the powerful blow in a direction where the opened my stumble by means of his own forward momentum, and thus using these forces to beat a towering hulk. Your freedom rest in excepting the forces around you and not get overwhelmed by it. Your freedom lies, encapsulated, in that little box in your mind, and only there you can be free as long as you are not overwhelmed by the forces around you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

War of the dummies

Day 240-1I grow up with a mother that brought us to large demonstrations against American and Russian aggression. There were posters with peace signs on the wall and I remember that she told us, when we were young and in the early eighties, that if “the bomb” would fall we would go to the big city, so we would die quickly. There was a real scare that time for an atomic war and all because of that dumb actor and his war loving buddies in America that thought it was smart to taunt a dying bear. So, it’s clear that I didn’t grew up in a militaristic family, but me and my brother still choose to join the military. I was drafted, and I could have refused but I wasn’t sure why I was against war.

Being against war is like saying that you are against earthquakes, we live in a world where there is always a war going on, it feels like nature at work. Most people probably prefer a world without wars, but this is the world we created.  We as “homo sapiens bellum” prefer a system where we let a few people with the biggest stick steer the boat of civilization.  We all still have monkey brains with a lizard spine, the only thing we have over the monkeys is that we can imagine, for instance, a world without wars. We have imagination but what have we used it primarily for? We started in a cave with a stick to beat each other over the head, used our imagination, and a 100.000 years later we made our first nuclear weapons. Some cave dweller was probably fiddling with his stick and a piece of robe while watching cave-tv and ta da there was the first bow and arrow. It’s a random mutation that made that person smarter than his fellow cave dwellers and gave that person the change to add something to an already existing tool or object. That invention inspires yet another person, some years later, who is a little bit smarter than the others and makes some more improvements. If you wait long enough you end up with our modern weapons and mobile phones. Humanity stumbled through history to our modern times and identifies itself with the few that mattered. The exceptions have made our world, but how smart were they?

We humans have not chosen smart, if we had we would have tamed our inner monkey by now. There is more incentive to invent a better stick, a better weapon, than to develop our mind. With a better stick it’s easier to get a result and most people can use the new stick immediately. It’s much harder to “sell” a concept or idea, especially if that idea only results in success in the long run. How many iPhone’s were sold last year compared to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason? We are more adjusted to grasp things with our hands than to grasp them with our brain. If, in the last 100.000 years, we had put the same effort in ideas to better our societies instead of inventing ways to kill and envy each other. We would have skipped all the different weapons and went straight to the technological advancements that would improve our society. We would possibly have landed on the moon in 1609.

But we are a long way from that. The mightiest country in the world just put a baboon -literally- on the throne that doesn’t know what kind of devastation an atomic bomb creates. I’m not so scared of a single stupid man or woman but there are millions of people all over the world that approve of monkey’s like it.  Most of these people have access to the internet, and can find some revealing answers. If their conspiratorial mindset takes over they can always go to their grandmother’s encyclopedia collection and find some answers that contradict all of these liars. But most of those people’s eyes are probably glossed over from reading Critique of Pure Reason and have no time for that.

Veterans

Day 603-1
After a long week in the field.

I joined the Dutch Marines in September 1992. I was one of the last that got drafted in military service. Rather than serving the mandatory 12 moths with the army I applied for the Dutch marines or “het Korps Mariniers”. After a rigorous selection of 2 days, only 2 were left of the more than 100 that started the selection.  You can understand that I felt some pride to be found physically and mentally fit for the Marines. The Dutch Marines is the oldest branch of the armed forces in the Netherlands and among the oldest in the world. It was founded in 1665 and has a long history with soldiers on board ships and across the different Dutch colonies. When I joined in 1992 the Soviet Union was just dissolved but a big part of our training was still focused on a potential war with that country. After the basic training of six months you normally train in the mountains and the snow of Norway because that is the part of the NATO territory we supposed to defend from the Russians. Besides the silliness of that the training was really good for me and I can recommend it to everyone.

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Our camp in a small village.

There is a lot of physical training, but you quickly find out that strong and bulky muscles are not what gets you through the day. After days with almost no sleep, constant movement, and harassments and specially the hunger you are so tired that no physical strength is strong enough to let you put your feet before the other till you are home. You have to find a way around all the pain in your own head and convince yourself to go on and ignore the pain. Experiences like that stay valuable for the rest of your life. Every time I encounter some setback I can use these skills I learned during that half year. It was extra valuable because the punishment was voluntary. I was drafted but joining the Marines was voluntary. Our sergeant was constantly reminding us that we could quit at any moment and hop in the warm car. Because of this voluntary suffering you need to motivate yourself to go on, it’s not a random circumstance that threw you in a situation where you had no choice to go on.

 

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Discipline

It wasn’t easy going back to civilian life after 3 years. People often say that they could never last in a hierarchical, militaristic system, but it has its advantages if everybody knows what their roll is at the workplace. I’ve worked in enough places, since I left, where everybody is a so called equal and you have to untangle the whole messed up social structure to find out who is really in charge and is pulling the strings behind the curtain. If my sergeant told me to do something I did it, maybe I didn’t like it but that’s not important, it was clear from who it came from and who ordered him. In civilian life you have to gift-wrap every order to a subordinate because you could offend someone.  Don’t get me wrong, there were enough problems within this military system, communication between 2 or more people is difficult no matter what system you have.

The biggest difference I noticed was that within the marines you could tell someone that you didn’t like him, you can have disagreements, but if it was necessary, everybody did their job and you would do yours even for the person you didn’t like. One reason why you do that is because you all have been through the same experiences and that binds you. Colleagues in civilian life have not necessarily experienced that kind of bond besides the that you have the same job. Because of the lack of a common ground it’s easier to…how shall I say it…get lied to in your face. If you want to draw a chart of all the relations between coworkers in a normal workplace, with all the likes, dislike, lies, and so on, you end up with an incomprehensible mess. That’s the world where we live in and that’s why I sometimes miss the military system.

Another reason is that in the military there is normally a clear and common goal. For example, guard duties, you have to rely on each other. In civilian life you also have to rely on each other but the cost are most of the time not as high if one slacks, and one slacks often.

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We collected weapons used in the many wars Cambodia endured.

I never been in situation like so many soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was in Cambodia for 5 months and besides the threat of driving over a mine and the occasional whistle of a bullet, probably from a hunter, there was not much danger. There were a couple of moment when our colleagues from mine demolition forgot to tell us that they would blow up some mines and we thus thought that hell broke loose or when the Cambodians started shooting at each other outside our camp and it would take us a while to assess the situation. we also encountered some hardened soldiers, probably Khmer rouge or of one of the many private armies, that could stare at you with eyes that looked like they had killed. At the end it was our job, we did our routines and duties, endured the heat, meager accommodations and third-world sanitation. There were some casualties in our battalion and that’s never easy but statistically they would also have occurred when we would stayed at home.   But the people that lost their buddies in a firefight or are under direct fire go to a whole different experience and a group like that will bond even stronger than my colleagues and I did over our shared experiences in Cambodia. That’s why so many veterans have problems adjusting to society, as if a part of their communication is in another language, one that the people back home will never understand. Their experiences are not only unimaginable for others but their way of communicating has also changed.

The experiences that my colleagues and I went thru will have a permanent place in our mind. Most of us have dealt with our individual experiences during that time and have adjusted to normal life. But there are many soldiers like us that have gone thru so much more that I can understand the hardship they have to go thru while returning to civil society. Not all of these soldiers have problems but for the ones that have we need to support them with everything we have. In western Europe and America there are problems enough with handling these people, it’s easier to send someone to war than to take care of them when they return. But there are also millions of soldiers around the world that never had a choice, that are thrown into wars for reasons that they have no knowledge of.  Whole generations will grow up with the scars of these wars, because the pain is often past on.

Shield

Photoshop-7

When I was in my early twenties I thought for a brief moment that I had all the answers in me, like most people do when their young. After living in different parts of the world, and looking around, I realized that the world is more complex, my inexperienced certainty seemed to be baseless. I started asking people about their thoughts on specific subjects, and got different answers or none at all. I realized that people either have an opinion, are clueless or don’t care. The ones with an opinion often use it as a shield to protect themselves in a discussion or when confronted with undermining facts. The problem with a shield is that as long as it works there is no need to change it, as long as you stay around like minded people your fine. And if you’re among strangers you hold it tighter. These people have their opinion and I wondered where they got it from, or if they ever doubted it. How can you not doubt your opinion? If the next 10 people you meet have a different one, you cannot all be right.

If you ask people to lay down their shield, to step back and look where their opinion comes from, they often cannot do that, don’t understand the question, or get angry. It’s hard to recognize that you don’t know, and that you are vulnerable without a shield.

 

Behind that paper thin wall

 

Day 599-1

I’m rereading the book Human all too Human from Friedrich Nietzsche. I have read the book before, and if I look at it I can clearly see the evidence of that. In this book Nietzsche writes in aphorisms, short pieces that are mostly self-contained, they are not clearly linked together. The advantage of this is that you can read one aphorism and think about it separated from the rest of the book. I have been doing that for the last week, but because I also wanted to write about the aphorisms and tried to analyze them, I used more time than I thought. It made me wonder how much I really understood them when I read them for the first time 15 years ago and read the book in a couple of weeks. Maybe I am so much slower now. Or was I less critical in the past and skipped over the bits that made no sense to me back then?

I have read many books about Nietzsche. So many that I can’t tell where my opinion and knowledge of him comes from. I have read books about him with all kinds of opinions and insights, and I read most of the books he has written himself. I have some knowledge of his work, his life and off course his philosophy but it’s more of a feeling. I can tell about his philosophy but it’s not like in a prepared lecture, it’s more like a sport you have practiced over and over. After a while you do the moves without thinking of them. That’s what I have with philosophy and in particular with Nietzsche, you forget why you know what you know.

Now I am reading one aphorism a day and analyze it. I realize now that what I know of Nietzsche is only from looking at a blurry picture. Now I have a magnifier and see so much more, I suddenly understand what others meant with their enthusiasm about his writing. Before,  I liked his writing to but more superficial, now I’m starting to understand why he is regarded as such a great writer and philosopher.

Well, this is not so surprising off course. Diving in deeper and you find more. The main thing I got from this week is the realization that this whole thing that we call our life is merely built out of a paper-thin assumption that would collapse if we look closer? I was comfortable with my knowledge of Nietzsche, but now I realize that behind the knowledge I think I have lies a whole other world. How many other worlds are there?

Reading Human all too human

 

Before and after Newton

“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”. (Genesis 11:1)

“So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous”. (Exodus 9:24)

“Allah hath turned some to apes and swine,”. (5:60)

Day 273-1Why is religion still around? Most people in the world will drive a car, make a phone call or watch tv. All these activities are made possible because of science, the same science that can disprove most of the claims from the different religions. Religious people don’t except the scientific method if it disproves their beliefs but except it the moment they get in a car, made possible by science.

Everyone that bases their actions on, tradition, hearsay, voices, or old books should by now know that the “they stand on thin ice”.

  • You can see a clear evolution in religious traditions like the concept of an “eye for an eye “to a justice system or the role of the woman in the household. The strict “god given” rules are more flexible as time goes by taking away strength from their claim of divine inspiration. Claiming that something is tradition and therefore true is in this light difficult. If you claim the newest tradition/laws as true then that contradicts often the original traditions or law books.
  • Many stories and rules in the different books and religious laws are themselves based on an oral tradition wherein stories go from one to another. Our modern historians or the police use hearsay but never as the only source, and these stories are often debated as to filter out the truth. In some religions there is also a tradition to debate the origins and validity of their thousands year old books and laws, but as everybody knows that has studied ancient history the evidence for these theories are thin and surely not enough to base a whole religion on let alone prosecute people and fight wars.
  • In most religious traditions hearing voices is a big part of their (written)belief. Throughout the ages and in many cultures, people that heard voices had often a special place even if they made no sense. This changed slowly and nowadays we have a whole industry to calm these people down. But if you genuinely heard voices or not, it’s not hard to imagine that a charismatic person can pretend to hear voices and give his wishes more convincing power. There are many reason why people (claim to) hear voices but like with hearsay it should not be a basis for a religion that can be so destructive.
  • The old books are al based on the first three points and can be dismissed.

Imagine you want to put together an IKEA shelf and the book with instruction was based on tradition, hearsay, and people with voices in their head. You might think that any way with IKEA manuals, but I guaranty you that there is a lot of science involved in making these manuals and furniture.

Even the most religious person in the world has probably some modern equipment that was made with science that contradicts his belief. And if people say that they “just know that God exist” you just ask them if they would fly in a modern airplane where the engineer that designs the wing just “knows the right shape”. As modern people we should know that saying that it feels right doesn’t make it right. That’s a sentiment from a time when people believed in witches, talking snakes and a flat earth.

Science can also be used for evil like a weapon. But a weapon itself is not dangerous, it becomes dangerous if it gets used in the name of some beliefs.

I know that there are a lot of peaceful religious people that use their personal god as a guide and strength in their life but there are better ways to find a guide in this life. One is to just look around and get amazed by nature and how lucky we are to be part of it, science is the tool to see and understand even more of it.

Fill your mind with science because an empty mind can be filled with nonsense.

 

The unexamined life is not worth living

Day 588-1

“The unexamined life is not worth living” Words supposedly spoken by Socrates at his trial, where he chose death over exile. For Socrates philosophy was very important, he is famous for his questioning of people’s beliefs, where he tries to guide a participant on to a path of doubt in his own reasoning and assumptions. There is a lot more to it but for now I want to focus on the “unexamined life”. I think that everybody “examines” their life, more or less. Of course, I cannot speak for everybody but it’s hard to imagine a person that has not once in their life looked in the mirror and thought…?

But Socrates is off course not thinking of the general questioning and doubt we all have as proof that we “examine our lives”. Most people answer their questions in the most economical way, by using the answers that are easily accessible to them. There are your parents, family, teachers, villagers, society, culture, church and more. All these entities have readymade answers, your parents don’t see it like that, but they give you what they got from their parents and the same goes for the teachers you have or the church you go to. Most of the time it is all in good faith, but if you look to a society controlled by a dictatorship for instance, you can find literal guidelines in how to behave and what to teach your children, something that is not so easy to find in a Democracy where there are other, harder to unravel, forces to control society.

Our brain is evolved in such a way that it doesn’t like to doubt. Our brain protects our consciousness from the conflicting information it receives by giving our consciousness the idea that all its ideas and world views are coherent. That makes sense when for instance you’re an ape, jumping from branch to branch unable to inspect every leaf that moves and every sound there is. The ape brain had to filter the information that was important and discard the rest. We humans do that still on a lower level with the input from our senses. This is called selective attention. But it also happens with more evolved brain processes like our capability to reason. A well know example of that is cognitive dissonance wherein conflicting ideas get resolved by suppression and avoidance.

As human being it’s difficult to be sure what is right and wrong within your own mind. In the world of inventions and speculations about the universe they came up with the scientific method. In this method the scientist not only have to prove their theory, they also must try to disapprove it, and let others try to replicate the theory and method of testing. It’s a little bit more complicated but the more refined this system became over the years the more fantastical wonderers the scientist came up with. In other words: the more they tried to circumvent their own bias mind, the better the result.

But for the silent chaos in our head the scientific method doesn’t work, we cannot be judge, jury and prosecutor at the same time in our own head. But we can start with something. What I just wrote about  is not unique, it’s not common knowledge but with a little effort you might except that the things you know have a reason that you know them. That doesn’t say much about the validity of those ideas, but the fact is that you have those ideas and they could have been different. And that is a good starting point in the world of philosophy. You don’t have to kick out all your values, but start wondering why you have them and the way they are.

Philosophy is not an easy path if you want  peace of mind. There are many ways you can dull the senses enough to go on living in reasonable happiness, most people do, the numbers don’t lie. But progress has brought us a lot and it’s in a great part because of some remarkable individuals that started “thinking outside the box”. If you want to make the world a better place for all of us, then a good start would be to start questioning yourself. Imagine if everybody did exactly that.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Artificial intelligence

Day 254-1For years you hear about artificial intelligence, how it can be a blessing, or the end of carbon based life. I know very little about the technical aspects of AI but for a thought experiment you don’t need to.

For this thought experiment I have several boundaries to work with:

  • The AI has excess to everything that’s on the internet immediately, like 1000 search engines.
  • It is a self-contained code, safely spread over the internet or unsafe stored locally.
  • It can use all the compute power available to gain access to everything that is connected to the internet
  • The AI is not freely accessible by another AI or us, its thoughts are free from judgment.
  • The AI has limited storage within its code, the internet is his long-term memory, losing the internet is like losing your memory, it forgets to know why it knows.

The biggest hurdle for us humans to imagine is of course the almost instant knowledge of everything we humans have thought of in thousands of years. The AI does not have hunches, a gut feeling or believes like we have when we try to recollect a vague notion of a fact. Even the smartest person in the world could only do a fraction of what an AI can do.

Would this entity use its manipulative powers for good, bad, or just sit on the sideline and enjoy, or will it load itself on to the first hard drive available in a rocket and get the hell out of here in search for a better internet.  It can also start a civil war with the other AI over the interpretation of all of this and bring everything to a standstill including itself.

I will use this thought experiment to think about knowledge. This form of AI is not so different from us. There are enough religious people that think they live forever and for most people the knowledge they possess seems to justify their rule over others.

My question is: will complete knowledge of all the data on the internet make for a better person/AI or decision maker.

Let me know your thoughts.

To be continued.

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to a dying friend

Day 585-1

At the end of your life you look back.

We often think, as people, that life is endless. The days flow together, in a week, a month and before you know it, ten years. Looking at it like this, there seems to be no end and you take your time for granted. But the reality is, of course, very different. What is life more than a memory. You have an experience, process it with your biases, your colors, and archive it. Later you open the drawer with the memories in it and put on your glasses containing new life lessons, convictions, and experiences, and use them to look at those old times. That’s our life, colored memories, strung to each other like a web spun from old desires, dreams and stale air anchored to those sparse, valuable moments that make it all worthwhile. Life viewed like this is a construction and time plays a small role in it. This web is two dimensional, seen from the side it’s a few moments thick. All these ambiguous memories and old stories are not as important as those lasting once. Those lasting moments often fit in a few beats of your heart, so in the time you have left, you can still fit, worth a lifetime of new valuable ones.