Commercialism and celebrations – Superstition

24-26 November 2015 ~ Question of the Day ~ Commercialisation

Do you think commercialization has adversely affected traditional celebrations even though it seems to have ensured their survival?
If the retail industry had not commercialized traditional celebrations do you think they would still be celebrated?
In other words, has commercialization helped ensure traditional celebrations survival and relevance or would they have faded into obscurity without retail support?

I largely agree with OM, and I see all things as related, so have enjoyed where this thread has gone.

It seems very probable to me that the Romans adapted the ancient Sun festival of the death and rebirth of the Sun (son) (after spending three days below a particular rock at midday before emerging – signifying rebirth – resulting from axial tilt of the Earth with respect to the plane of its orbit around the sun – which happens late December in the northern hemisphere, which has shifted slightly due to changes in calendar, and the fact that the orbit of the Earth around the sun is not a whole number of days) and it has become the Christian Christmas.
Here in the southern hemisphere, it is in early summer, so it is a bit mixed up for us.
Similarly with the other major festival, the spring fertility festival of Easter (complete with bunnies as a symbol of fertility), which for us in the southern hemisphere happens in autumn.

So for us down here, it is already clear that something doesn’t quite line up.

Which segues nicely into the notions of faith and superstition.

It seems that there are two distinctly different meanings for faith.

In one sense, faith is simply a confidence, a belief that is useful in particular contexts. In this sense, it is synonymous with the sense of heuristic knowledge, something that works in practice, that one has found useful or reliable in certain contexts. In a sense, it seems that all knowledge is probability bases and heuristically based, so we all use faith in this relaxed probability sense.

There is another sense of faith which is distinctly different, which is reliance on something in the face of all evidence to the contrary. This is the worst aspect of the notion of religious faith that we see in religious fundamentalists of all sorts, Christian, Muslim, whatever. We see the same sort of thing in secular or scientific fundamentalists, that believe that they have some sort of ultimate truth that invalidates all other perspectives, rather than accepting what science seems to be telling us, that at some level all knowledge is based on some sort of best guess, and that the sort of heuristics one find useful depend very much on the specifics of the situation, like how much time one has to think about things or explain things or test things consider cost benefit probabilities, and the degree of accuracy required for the particular application. If all one is doing is building a house, the the idea that the earth is flat is a close enough approximation. If you are planning on flying to the moon, then it won’t work. All knowledge, all heuristics, appear to be fundamentally based in probabilities, even if those probabilities deliver reliabilities that seem to us like certainty.
To put that last idea in a context, the shortest time period a human brain can directly observe is about 1/100th of a second (0.01s). The smallest time period a sub atomic particle can experience is about 10-43 of a second. So comparing human shortest period to subatomic shortest period, is like taking all the seconds that have existed since the universe began some 14 billion years ago, then dividing each of those seconds again into the same number of segments as the seconds since time began, then dividing each of those into a million – and that is how much time is available to the stuff of this universe we seem to find ourselves in during the shortest period we can perceive. Is it any wonder that ordinary stuff appears somewhat ordered and predictable to us, compared to us, it has gone through time almost unimaginable, in the shortest blink we can observe. The smallest thing we can observe with our unaided eyes contains vast collections of sub atomic particles. So while the exact position of any of them, and any time, might be completely random within certain probability distributions, that actually averages out over vast collections, and vast amounts of time (from their perspective) to something very predictable from our perspective.

Superstition is only a superstition when it isn’t a superstition (ie the individual believes it to be Truth).

So it seems that Truth is all illusion, and all any of us really have at some level is our best guesses, our intuitions, our experiences, to help us decide what the context of the moment might be, and what, if anything, is usefully predictable about what might be coming next.

So I don’t have any Truth. I have probabilities, useful and reliable heuristics, none of which is above challenge if faced with evidence of sufficient calibre. So in this sense I completely align with the Ruiz quote Andrew shared “Doubt is a powerful tool. Doubt challenges my beliefs and breaks the spell of all the lies and superstitions that control my world. I use doubt to recover faith in myself, to take my power back from every superstition I believe in, and return that power to myself.”

I spend a bit of every day celebrating the mind stretching miracle that this existence seems to be.
Life seems very precious to me.
It seems worth putting a lot of effort into appreciating and preserving, at least as much effort as one puts into simply experiencing it.

[followed by]

Hi Andrew

The story of science is a long one.
It is a story of ideas, of stories, of ways of thinking about things, where ways of thinking about things that give ever more accurate predictions of the actual results of experimental measures develop hand in hand with ever more complex tools to allow us to make ever finer measures.
The amazingly small chunks of time are where Max Planck’s equations that describe the way black body radiation is emitted from matter take us. In a sense they are the foundational equations of modern Quantum Mechanics, and they are incredibly accurate in practice, and they are not at all “common sense”. They deal with the realm of the very small, and very short periods of time. And they work. All experiments carried out to date are in agreement with them, to amazing degrees of accuracy.

Science is – in core essence, simply what that Ruiz quote you gave is – “Doubt is a powerful tool. Doubt challenges my beliefs and breaks the spell of all the lies and superstitions that control my world. I use doubt to recover faith in myself, to take my power back from every superstition I believe in, and return that power to myself.” In essence I’ve never read a better definition of science.

The amazing thing about evolution by natural selection, as a way of understanding things, is that it gives a mechanism to get from Planck’s randomness, to the sorts of order we observe in living systems, by the relatively simple mechanism of differential survival of variants on a theme, repeated at ever greater levels of complexity, over deep time.
All that it requires to get started on the path to what we see as living systems is a system capable of replication, with occasional errors. RNA (Ribo Neucleic Acid) gives us that mechanism. There may very well have been precursor mechanisms to RNAs, involving mineral surfaces, and Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) but neither leaves any sort of fossil evidence that we are yet aware of, so there is always an element of conjecture in parts of the detail of any complex system from such deep time past. We are unlikely to ever know the precise sequence of events (no video recorders existed at that time, as far as we are currently aware) so there are likely to remain elements of our story that are plausible conjecture. And in a very real sense, the precise mechanisms of the past don’t matter, provided we can find reasonable classes of possible explanations. So long as we can find at least one possible path, then the idea that there was no possible path has been disproved. We may never know which path was taken, and we can be very confident indeed that such paths did and do exist.

And for me, it makes much more sense to think of complex systems evolving (self assembling in a semi random environment based on relatively simple patterns), over deep time, than it does to think of a god springing fully formed into existence with no path from the simple to the complex. And that is not to say that no god exists, it is only to say that if a god or gods exist, then they most likely came into existence through a process of evolution by natural selection that follows some sort of path that is roughly analogous to the path life appears to have taken on this planet over the last 4 billion years, in some realm that has roughly analogous notions to space and time and systems that we observe here on earth.

And yes, it is hard work coming to grips with system complexity, filters, and deep time, and it is much easier and quicker to just accept that it is the work of a god, and if you think about it deeply, putting a god in there really doesn’t answer anything (but then if the person who put the god in there in the first instance had really thought about it deeply, then the idea of god would never have been accepted in the first place, the whole thing about the idea of a god is that it seems to be a useful shortcut that removes the need to think about such things deeply – so it is a sort of logical Catch-22). Yes, the idea of god(s) makes sense if one has little information and little time or inclination to dig deeply into questions of existence, so it becomes stable (in the set of people who come from such tradition traditions and/or have personal circumstances that don’t have the time or inclination to dig deeply into alternative explanatory sets, and to keep on questioning, and keep on going wherever answers to the questions lead). The notion of god is also a powerful tool for political control, because there always evolves a “cast” responsible for interpreting the “will of god”, and that gives a certain simple sort of order and stability to a set of systems that are meta-stable in many circumstances.

So I take Ruiz at his word, and doubt everything that as doubtable, as time and circumstance allow. And of course, I had to have a set of cultural assumptions to start with, some sort of semi stable basis from which to start doubting (asking questions). We all must start from somewhere. We all have the choice, to ask questions, or to accept the stories of others. And we all have no choice but to start from accepting the stories of others – no person has the ability to build everything from nothing in a mere 70 years. The human brain is amazing, and it does have limits.

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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