Heaven and confidence

20 February 2014 ~ Question of the Day ~ Heaven or Nirvana

How do you define “heaven” or “nirvana” ?
What do such concepts mean to you personally ?
What are your beliefs related to them ?

It seems to me heaven is what we create for our selves in terms of the stories we tell ourselves.

The stories from our cultural past of heaven being some place we go to when we die makes no sense at all to me, and I can see how it might be believable to others. Yet for me, the whole notion just doesn’t fit with the evidence for evolution.
To me the idea of heaven seems to have evolved as a mechanism to allow people to cope with the pain and injustice so common in most people’s lives. And as such it seems to fulfil a role of allowing people to hold on to ideas of justice and fairness, even if they see very little of it in their daily reality.
It seems to me that life isn’t fair it just is. It seems to me that we may be able to create conditions that are fair and just for all, and that is certainly my intent.

And I love Lennon’s “Imagine” – that sorta says it all for me.

[followed by]

Hi Eric, Alluvja, Deb et al,

I can’t send you one picture that proves anything Eric.
In my understanding a single event proves nothing, in any domain.
What gives us confidence about anything is repeated experience.
With more complex abstract notions, we gain confidence in their use the more domains we have experience of them working effectively and reliably in.
When it comes to evolution, the five proofs that Cougar pointed to are each simply summaries of vast amounts of underlying data.

I’ve been interested in how things work as long as I can remember.
I mostly grew up on farms, and was allowed to play with machinery that didn’t work, and see if I could get it working again. I learned from that.
I was a keen hunter and fisherman, and as such had to become a keen observer of animal behaviour and the ground I was walking over. I collected quite a few fossils on my walks.
We used to see some strange things on the farm. I once saw a calf born inside out. It had its skin and fur on the inside, and all of its organs on the outside. It rather freaked my father out. He buried it quickly. It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I learned the exact sort of events that can lead to that sort of thing happening. There is a particular time in the development of embryos when they form a tube, and in 99.99+% of cases the tube folds in a way that leaves the skin on the outside, and occasionally something happens and the fold goes the other way, and the skin ends up on the inside, and all the organs on the outside. Of course such a thing can only survive in the womb, as it cannot draw a breath once born, it has no ribs around the lungs.

During my teens I subscribed to both “Scientific American” and “New Scientist” magazines. I read voraciously, books and magazines. I worked as a lab assistant at my secondary school. I bred mice and sold them.

When I started university (40 years ago) I went straight into second year biochemistry studies, again reading from many different disciplines.

So for me, there is no single thing that proves evolution. I have no absolute proof of anything.
All things in my understanding come down to a balance of probabilities.
Of all the different competing possible explanations, which one seems, on balance of evidence and balance of probabilities, to be the most likely and most useful?
For me, the answer is, in respect of the question how did we get here, is clearly, through a processes of evolution by natural selection at many different recurring levels; mixed in with a huge number of random events (thermal randomness at the atomic levels, cosmic rays from the violent death of distant stars, comets, meteors, earthquakes, volcanism, plate tectonics, floods, storms, etc) – a vast range of forces that randomly deal death and destruction at various levels, that introduces all sorts of variation and punctuation into an otherwise gradual process of evolution.

Alluvja said that all things are energy, which to me is not accurate.
It seems clear to me that the stuff of our universe can take two different forms, energy and matter.
Both energy and matter can move (through space and time) and make forms with their movement.
Thus a fountain is made of a flow of matter. The fountain has a particular form, but only so long as water keeps flowing under pressure. At any instant there are particular atoms at particular places in the fountain, and those atoms are changing all the time.
Similarly with our bodies.
Our bodies are sustained by a flow of energy through a large number of different chemical states. Plants capture energy from the sun, and store it in chemical forms as sugars and proteins, made mostly from water and carbon dioxide, a bit of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and a few minerals in trace amounts. (Anything that disrupts the flow of energy and matter through our bodies {our food, water, and air} destroys the form that is the fountain of our bodies.)
Our minds seem to be the same sort of thing carried to a new level. The cells of our brains enable us to learn pattern, to store and recall memories, and to associate experience and action with context, at potentially infinitely recursive levels. As a culture (a large collection of individuals over a large time) we have built up complex language with many different levels of stories that are ever more useful approximations of what is going on in this reality we seem to find ourselves in.
So it seems that our experience of being is a structure in the flow of information, mediated in a flow of electrical patterns, mediated in a flow of atoms within cells, mediated in a flow of energy contained in the chemical bonds of sugars and proteins, …..
So in this sense, we are not energy, we are a pattern in a flow information, within a pattern in a flow energy, within a pattern within a flow of matter. A fountain within a fountain within a fountain.

So it is clear to me that the old cultural notions of soul and spirit were useful approximations in their time, and have been replaced by far more powerful approximations delivered by an understanding of evolution, games theory, computation theory, probability, and the vast array of other disciplines that science has available to any who wish to take the time to explore.
And the old notions are still useful approximations in many respects (they would not have been useful in history otherwise). They are just not as useful approximations as the newer explanatory sets.

I really don’t know what eternal might mean.
It seems that our ideas of time are very much a function of the matter and energy of this existence we call our universe.
It seems that within this universe time had a start point, and it may or may not have an end point.
It seems clear that the forms that we call life had a start point, and from relatively simple beginnings explored ever more complex possibility spaces.
It seems that we as conscious languaging individuals are relatively recent arrivals on the scene.
It seems clear that our individual existences each have start points at the junction of egg and sperm, even though the egg and sperm can trace their existence in a continuum of life back to the first cell on earth.
I have no evidence of any sort of continued existence after death, despite a raft of theoretical frameworks supporting the idea from history. For me, none of them stand up in the light of modern evidence sets.

People used to think that heaven above was a fixed eternal crystalline sphere, and that hell below was eternal and hot.

Now we know that space above us is mostly empty, with quadrillions of stars like our sun, in billions of collections like our milky way galaxy. And that we live on a cooling rock, with a thin skin of solid-ish cool rock atop a seething mass of hot liquid rock, most of the heat coming from radioactive decay of the heavy elements at the core of the earth, that will eventually run out and go cold.
That is a very different explanatory framework from the one that gave rise to ideas like eternal heaven above, hell below, all created by an all knowing and loving god.

So for me, those old notions of heaven and nirvana are in a very similar category to Santa Claus – useful stories for small children, but mostly abused for the purposes of money and power, at various levels. Understandable in a historical context and not supported with the evidence and explanatory frameworks we have available today.

[followed by]

Hi Deb

There’s no problem in using any approximation that is appropriate to the current situation.

For me, with what I am up to, I need to understand what is actually going on to a degree that requires a much more accurate approximation than most people require. That understanding does not require anything before conception, nor does it leave much possibility of anything after death.
That is, as you say, my choice.

What you, or anyone else choose as a useful approximation to reality, is your choice.

All I can do is offer what I see, with all the integrity that I have, the connections, the repeatable tests, the evidence, the connections and interpretations that my mind makes of all of that.
What anyone else does with that is their choice.

[followed by]

Hi Deb

I have a confidence, a certainty (if you like) about many of the concepts that I have tried and tested across multiple domains.
I can see in my own past how I believed certain ideas, and that those ideas were useful to me at that time, and I now see those ideas as approximations to something that is more broadly applicable across a far bigger domain space.

The confidence I have comes from having had a willingness to investigate and test multiple lines of thought. At the same time as I was in the humanist society reading writers like Russell and Wittgenstein, I was also in the theosophical society reading people like Blavatsky and Crowley. Comparing and contrasting, examining evidence, performing my own tests, coming to my own conclusions about the likely probabilities involved.
I encourage everyone to do the same.
I don’t want anyone to take my word for anything. I would be heartened if people trusted me enough to do their own exploration and testing.
I am happy to share the results that I have found.

I am clear that in most cases there are infinite possible paths from any place to any other place, and there are often only a very small set of paths that use least energy or take least time (often only one).

Where I have tried something, and tested it, and it has failed the tests, then I have a certain confidence around that.

So yes, I am very confident that many of the explanatory frameworks that have a long cultural history are essentially inaccurate, based upon false premises, and if pushed into situations outside of their historical context, likely to lead to outcomes that are far from optimal for those operating within those frameworks.

As you say, I am consistent in saying that it seems to me to be unlikely that any framework that is more than a few decades old, is likely to be useful in exploring the options we need to work with over the next couple of decades.

Its not about my certainties.
It is about what works in reality.
It is about evidence.

For me, what is important, is finding systems that work for everyone.
Such systems must be able to support diversity.
The system must meet all of the actual physical needs, then provide as much freedom and information as possible to people, to enable them to make workable choices in life.

I have hundreds of hours flying aircraft, and thousand of hours skippering boats. There is a saying in aviation, “there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots”. If you want to fly, you learn to check everything. You check your own aircraft, mechanically. You check the weather, the landing and takeoff fields. You check your route, what others are doing. You are always working on a plan B and plan C. Always while flying I look for fields I could land in if the engine quit, look for unexpected aircraft, unexpected weather.

Similarly at sea. Using every sense possible to look for changes in the behaviour of the ocean or the vessel. Looking ahead, predicting the safest route through a rough sea, or a calm one (in rough seas underwater rocks are easily visible, in calm seas they are hidden).

So my mind is usually active, searching, optimising, computing probabilities.

As we were lying in bed this morning Ailsa said to me “for someone who is always prepared, you don’t even have an emergency kit”, to which I replied, this whole house and section are my emergency kit.
Later she made a casual remark about something, and in response, my mind created an image for me of a network of GPS sensors, spread throughout the country, measuring their position to millimetre accuracy on a daily basis, with the resulting point cloud showing exactly where the earth was moving and exactly where the strain was building up, and likely to be released as an earthquake. It would take a few years to build enough data to be really accurate, and it is quite doable right now.

That is just what my mind does. It is how I work. It is who I am.

I am concerned about global systems, global threats, as well as all scales between.
The flaws in the existing money based scheme are so glaringly obvious to me, and I am aware that is not so for others. I’m an odd fish. I have been designing and writing computer systems for 40 years. Systems thinking is just a part of who I am. It is what I do. I have an offer of a job paying $300 an hour if I want to move back into a city and do it full time, but I don’t want to do that; because the people who would pay me that money to use my skills to create systems for their benefit are not thinking about the effect of those systems on the whole, on the ecology, on every other person on the planet.

There are several senses to the “everything is energy”.
Certainly, at the most trivial level, everything is energy. Matter and energy are but two forms of the same stuff.
But there is another level that Alluvja keeps trying to use that is not valid.
It does seem to be true that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change its form.
Now if one tries to apply that to saying that anything formed of energy cannot be destroyed, it is not valid.
The form of energy can change.
I used the example of a fountain.
A fountain is made of a flow of matter (which is a form of energy). Shut of the flow, the fountain ceases to exist. The energy that was once in the fountain still exists, but the fountain does not. The fountain is a form of energy. Forms come and go – we see that every day.

The analogy of the fountain is a very useful analogy for all biological systems, which includes the various levels of awareness and responsiveness that can develop in biological systems, right up to our level of languaging awareness.

All I am doing is showing what is clearly an invalid use of logic.

People use logic incorrectly all the time. Even very famous people, like Bell, make logical errors, him in his most famous theorem (he used non-bivalent logic bivalently) – invalidating the entire edifice, even though it is still taught in physics courses across the planet – it is demonstrably false.

I am not saying that we are not made of energy in a sense. What I am saying is that we are a form, within a form, within a form, of flows and matter and energy. The energy may be eternal in a sense, but the form is not.
We are the form, not the energy.
The distinction is really important.
Confusing the two concepts is not powerful at any level.

A fountain is the form made by a flow of water, not the water. The individual water molecules flow through the form, and the form is given by the flow. Interrupt the flow, and the form is gone.
The set of conditions that give rise to the form are very specific. In the case of a fountain it is a shape in stone or metal or plastic, and a flow of water. In the case of people it is an evolved biologic system (DNA, cells, etc) with a brain, and that brain is enculturated in a particular environment, and then it does what it does in response to contexts it encounters. It is a vastly complex multifaceted entity. But deprive it of oxygen for more than a few minutes and it ends – forever. Similarly it needs water and food. It also need much more, in terms of interaction in community to reach anything like its potential.

We are vastly complex entities, and many of the cultural traditions capture many of the key aspects of that complexity in their stories, even if the explanatory frameworks they adopt are clearly falsified in the light of modern evidence and explanatory frameworks.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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