For me, this has been a profound realization. For everything – every thing – there is a window. What I mean by that, is that every thing in the universe comes into an existence, and at some point in time, dies. Everything. The window opens for something, and at some point in time later, the window shuts.
The window for something could be a few seconds, or a few days, or a few months or years or decades. Or it could be thousands or millions or even billions of years. But it IS a window, and it WILL shut. No exceptions. This is true for everything, from bacteria to plants to animals (including humans) to planets, stars, and galaxies.
What humans tend to lose sight of is that our point of view and vantage point is simply one infinitesimal snapshot in time. Look around you. What you see is merely a snapshot in time. At another time, everything you see will not be there. It’s only a matter of time. My window is turning out to be several decades. An ant’s window might be a few days or months. A tree’s window might be two or three hundred years. A planet or star’s window might be several billion years.
Even the favorable condition for reasonable human life on Earth has a window. We’re in the middle of something like a 100,000 year window between Ice Ages. And the way we’re bringing on climate change, we may be bringing on a much sooner window than that which will shut down on human existence. About 99% of all species that have lived on this planet have gone extinct. We’re just another species, perhaps with a bit more reasoning and brain capacity, but just another species nonetheless. Things come into existence and then at some point go out of existence. That seems to be the primary rule of the universe in which we find ourselves.
This seems so simple, right? It’s not very deep and profound in that way. Granted. But that’s what makes this realization so profound. It IS simple. There is no other, deeper explanation necessary or even worth wasting time on. Delving into “there’s a reason for everything” is a complete waste of window time. It’s the bullshit of asking why about the goings on in one’s life or even about life itself. Physics is real. Metaphysics (not real) is our insecurity about the reality and the finality represented by physics.
So this is it. I popped into existence, I am given several decades before the window shuts (if I’m lucky), and then I literally no longer exist. What an amazing, exceedingly simple, and yes profound realization! Given the reality of that: what am I going to do with what time remains before the window shuts down on my existence?
THAT is the important question.
I’ve never minded calling myself a liberal. I don’t like wars and heavy militarization. I’m in favor of civil rights for all, all races, sexual orientations, gender identities. I understand how changes in the US tax laws over the last several decades have kept down the poor and propped up the rich. In addition, when I look at scientific evidence and see a consensus by the science experts about something, I’ll go with the science experts.
Regarding the scientific evidence, most liberals will agree with me that childhood vaccinations are good, as one example. And most liberals have accepted that climate change is happening, and that human activity is a major cause. But, in contrast, most liberals will be anti-GMO, and will believe there is something to homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, essential oils, etc.
For example regarding GMOs, there is scientific consensus that GMOs are safe and that GE technology represents one tool that could really help humanity in the coming decades. This consensus is on the same level as the agreement that there is climate change and that human activity is a major contributor. The same level of scientific consensus! And yet, when I mention this, my liberal friends get emotionally charged up and say that I’m spouting corporate propaganda.
Homeopathy, as another example, has zero evidence on peer-reviewed controlled, double-blind studies that it has any positive effects beyond a placebo. Zero!
Sure, it’s fun to hate big, mean, aggressive corporations. And it’s wonderful to take a few drops of some perfectly safe liquid and believe that it’s helping whatever condition. But where is actual reality? Do we want to do what feels good and believe what feels good or what we would dearly want to be true? Or do we want to understand the actual, factual reality?
It seems like the desire to have things that feel good to be true is so strong that people can be literally blinded to the point that real data from real experts are just patently dismissed. I’m not sure if that’s arrogant or immature. It certainly doesn’t sound like people who cling to these pseudoscientific beliefs are being responsible adults.
I speak from experience. I was not too long ago anti-GMO. I’ve taken homeopathics before and gone to the chiropractor. I so wanted all those things to be true. But if they’re not, they’re not. I’ve decided to make choices like a grown up.
The idiotic Republicans like to say “I’m not a scientist” and then hide behind the implication that a scientific consensus is somehow in doubt. Well, I’m not a scientist either, but I’m going to go with the people who are the expert scientists, and trust the work that they’ve devoted their lives to, and make my choices based on reality, not what might feel better.
PS – Want to see the scientific consensus that GMOs are not the dangerous horrible evil that many (embarrassingly, liberal) people say they are? Check out this and this. You’ll see an array of respected, non-profit, non-corporate-sponsored scientific organizations who have made statements about the safety and progressive promise of GMOs.
Growing up, I thought it was crazy some of the stories I learned about in my religious upbringing (Judaism), as well as stories from other religious traditions. Stories like Noah’s ark and the worldwide flood, the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus coming back from the dead, Muhammad riding up to heaven alive and some say on a winged horse, Moses climbing up a mountain and getting the ten commandments from God on a piece of stone.
This all did seem crazy. Even as a kid I thought: how could there be a worldwide flood? How could two animals of every species fit on a boat no matter how large? And how could all those animals survive for a year? And that’s just the Noah’s ark story. Other stories seemed equally implausible. Even still, I clung on to a belief in God.
Years later, I embraced atheism and gave up believing in anything supernatural. Once I experienced that relief (and what a great relief it was), I began reading and exploring. I found the works of Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, and Bart Erhman and others. According to these and other historians, there is no archeological evidence for any of the supernatural stories of the bible. These three men along with other serious scholars and historians, think that a specific person known as Moses and the one known as Jesus probably didn’t even exist. They believe these and very probably other characters or composites of several people. There is not evidence that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, something I was taught from a very early age. Bart Erhman, interestingly, was at first a devout Christian; but after doing much research and seeing the fiction of the bible, he became a nonbeliever.
So, yea, the Red Sea did not part. No one has ever found evidence of dead Egyptians who drowned in that body of water. The bible is a work with literally tens of thousands of contradictions, not to mention stories that have no basis in reality. I never thought of this before, but isn’t it strange that all those “miracles” occurred only in a small time in history and only in a tiny part of the world. Hmm… that is suspicious.
It’s time to call religion what it is: mythology and fiction. It’s not real, and I don’t wish to waste my life moments on it.
Take 13 minutes and check out this history of money in our elections. It’s nothing to be proud of.
Here we are approaching yet another election, and the conventional wisdom is that it is very important to vote.
Well, sort of…
I’m sure many of you would agree that our political system leaves a lot to be desired. It’s full of greed and corruption. The candidate who raises and spends the most money usually wins. Only two political parties get any attention. Our choice is between far right and a moderate. Those of us who are more progressive don’t really get what we want. I would think that there are surely higher quality people to hold office than the choices we get.
So sure, there’s some difference between far right and the middle, which are the two poles we have. But when all the attention is on that limited range of political thought, the difference is not nearly as much as it seems inside that tunnel. There are worlds of ideas out there, outside of what we’re allowed to hear about and vote for, that do not even get into the mainstream public discourse.
At this point I ask this question: if everyone goes to the grocery store and screams loudly about how awful the selections are, yet you continue to buy them, what do you think the grocery store will continue to do? They will continue to offer you the fare that you don’t want. As long as you keep buying it, that’s what will be there for sale.
This is what is going on in the electoral arena. We scream bloody mercy about how awful the system is, how low quality the people running for office and holding office are, etc. Yet if we continue merely to hold our noses and vote for the lesser of two evils year after year after year, nothing will ever change no matter how much we scream. The tide will swing from the far right to watered down middle and back and forth ad infinitum.
One of my favorite expressions is this: if we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten. How will this ever change?
In my own city (Lexington, KY), we have nonpartisan city council races. Since it’s local, there is also less money involved. This brings about the situation in which there are people who are actually high quality human beings with good progressive values, people truly worth voting for. Contrast that with our US Senate campaign (Grimes and McConnell), and the noted difference is enormous.
When you go into the voting booth this November and you vote for Republicrats (one or the other) while hoping against hope that the one you hate more will lose, ask yourself the question:
How will this ever change?
I hear this all the time. A person on radio or TV interviews someone who has been in the military and says, “thank you for your service.” And I say, Why?
I think back through the US military escapades since World War II (which is my lifetime): Korea, Guatemala, Cuba, Indonesia, Congo, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Lebanon, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iran, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya. I’m not sure this list is exhaustive. But, I don’t see one single campaign here that actually made the world a better place. I don’t see that any of it has really protected me or our country. Even going back to World War II, we can say, sure, we got rid of Hitler who killed 6 million Jews. But to do that, the world lost tens of millions of others, scarred people for their lifetimes; and we detonated not one, but two, atomic bombs. At the very least, one has to see that even World War II is a mixed bag. Since World War II, I’ve seen nothing from military actions but making the world a worse place.
Therefore, why would I thank people who participated in these military actions?
Don’t get me wrong. I fully acknowledge that people who have been in the military have made a huge sacrifice. I totally grant that for the most part, people join the military with very good intentions. They have risked their lives, and if they’ve come back not in a wooden box, they have often been changed physically and psychologically in very negative and devastating ways, changes which affect them for the rest of their (usually shortened) lives.
But simply saying “thank you for your service” implies that I believe what they have done has been helpful. What I’d really like to say is “I appreciate your good intentions, and I’m truly very sorry that you’ve had to go through all that hell for no good reason at all.” That’s right. Instead of thanking people for their military service, we should (perhaps in addition to thanking them) APOLOGIZE TO THEM! They go through inhumane indoctrination, travel to awful places, kill people they don’t even know, or get killed themselves, or get physically and psychologically damaged. And after all that, there’s nothing more to say for it than we need to keep doing more of the same! “Thank you for your service” just doesn’t cut it.
Why don’t we thank people who serve in ways that really do help and really do make the world a better place? How about the people who collect our garbage, or people who are working on medical advances, or people who bring us great pleasure and joy from their artistic contributions? Those are some of the many examples of services truly worth thanking.
Take 15 minutes and watch this video from Brandon Fibbs @bfibbs
There seem to be two types of people in the world with opposing views on our existence:
(1) there is purpose, reason for everything; there are no accidents or coincidences; there is physical and metaphysical, soul and spirit, eternal existence.
(2) there is no purpose to existence; luck, accidents, and coincidences abound; there is physical but no metaphysical; I am nothing beyond a body with a brain, a fleeting temporary one-time only existence.
For years, actually decades, I tried on the first type of view described above. Stupidly, I never even considered the second way. I just tried the first way harder, and with many different variations. The culture is so strong about espousing the first way, albeit in numerous, even thousands of variations, that I didn’t even consider that I could ditch all variations altogether. I became more and more frustrated.
Then I began reading some interesting books. First it was books about very religious people ditching their religions. Books like Dan Barker’s Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. And there are many others. Then it was books on science and reason. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris among others, are brilliant, knowledgeable, and convincing writers. Wow. I was blown away.
FINALLY I gave myself permission not to choose any religious variation, but simply to ditch the whole thing! Frustration — gone! What a relief! After trying for decades to squeeze God and supernatural things into the reality that exists — and failing — I finally came to the point of simply going with the reality that exists.
The first set of books mentioned above, those by formerly religious people turned atheists, really showed what inconsistent, utter nonsense religions (including “New Age” variations) espouse. The second set of books, those by scientists and brilliant free thinkers, really painted a picture of the history of the universe we inhabit and my own existence. That whole picture is incredible.
The picture that is painted comes down to this: my entire existence is one huge, enormous stroke of luck and accident. Not only is the notion that there are no accidents or coincidences complete rubbish, everything is an accident. There is no indication whatsoever of anything supernatural like the soul or the spirit or multiple reincarnated lives etc. (See my post on why I don’t like to use the word “spiritual.”) There is no indication whatsoever that there is any purpose to our existence. (I love Lawrence Krauss’s take on this. Krauss says that understanding this frees us to make our own purpose; and that freedom is exhilarating!)
Some 13.8 billion years ago the Big Bang set in motion the universe we live in. Galaxies formed. We live in one solar system among some 100 billion in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is among some 100 billion galaxies in our universe. One planet orbiting one star of one galaxy among those 100 billion galaxies had the conditions such that bacteria formed, after which the long, painstakingly gradual process of evolution brought about — at this point in time — the human species as we know it. Keep in mind that evolution and the expansion of the universe are still happening. Millions of years in the future, if there is life on this planet, it will be very different from what we have now. Right now is just one snapshot in time of a very long, and for all practical purposes, eternal and never ending process.
Along the way of that long, painstakingly gradual process of evolution and natural selection, more than 99% of all species which have existed on Earth became extinct! We live in a moment in time where we have a level of technology and scientific work that have enabled us to figure out much of the history of the universe and our place in it now. For example, a century ago we had not figured out the Big Bang. The true picture of how evolution really works had not emerged until the last few decades. All the previous centuries, humans and their ancestor species had not nearly the understanding about all of this as we do now. Hence, we have much fabled stuff, the prime example of which is the Bronze Age bible.
And so here I am, one person with a life of several decades, of one species (currently not yet extinct), of one planet, of one star, of one galaxy, of one universe, for a cosmically, exceedingly brief moment of time. Oh the sheer luck and accidentalness of it all!
One writer drew the analogy that each of us is like a wildflower that pops up in a meadow. Only a certain set of conditions would bring about that particular wildflower. It looks beautiful. And after a certain amount of time perhaps combined with another certain set of conditions, the wildflower is dead and gone. So I am like a wildflower that just pops up in a meadow for just a wee bit of time. And my days are numbered. I might as well shine in my beauty and enjoy! Certainly the words “This is it – Pay Attention” take on particular importance.
For more on my personal take on this purely accidental, lucky brief moment in the sun that I have, see my post from last year “On Turning 60 and the Joy of #Atheism.”