This blog is no longer being updated. About this blog.


Lately, I have had for a constant companion an emotion for which I have no name. It defies easy description. I can’t even describe it well to myself, distilling my feelings into words and concepts. It’s easier to describe its effects than the emotion itself. Unlike other emotions which wane when examined too closely, it persists dancing seductively out of reach of my analytical mind. Even as I write this, I feel it.

I look at a coworker’s shirt, and the deep shades of blue conjure this emotion. I feel tempted to daydream in shades of blue and lose myself in the womb of my mind.

I lie sleeplessly in my bed next to my wife. I feel my stomach rising and falling in the slow rhythm of my breathing, the air flowing in and out of my lungs. I feel a knowing connection with my childhood self. I remember dreams and fantasies that occupied my mind when I was young.

I am ailing with a persistent cough and congestion, but I am content. A subtle, soft joy fills my lungs as I breathe.

My heart melts at the slightest provocation: the dimples in my daughter’s cheeks, my wife’s skin under my hand, a child’s song, the taste of my morning tea, the sun on my face.

The halls of my mind feel cleansed of the cobwebs and cruft of years of willful neglect. I feel pleasantly empty, like the scent of a kitchen floor that has just been mopped after months of procrastination or the clear view of newly washed windows. It feels like the lack of something that obscured my view.

I feel poised on the verge of… some unnameable, visionary place full of imagination, love, and joy. I feel like I am rediscovering something I forgot when I left childhood and got lost in my fears and my own notions of reality.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments (6)

What Is Real?

When I was very young, not even in school, a recurring nightmare troubled my sleep. A wolf with demonic eyes would stand on its hind legs and chase me relentlessly. I still feel the shadow of fear to this day when I think about it.

I shared my nightmares with my mother. She suggested that I pray about it, asking Heavenly Father to remove the nightmares. I prayed as she suggested, and the nightmares went away. I felt comforted that God was answering my prayers.

I now sit in church meetings as an outside observer. I often ponder on what brings people to sit in church for three hours on a Sunday. There must be some real benefits to induce them. What is real about the religious experience despite the unreality of God?

Comfort is one answer. There is real comfort available in religion. I received comfort when I prayed that my nightmares would end. Mourners receive real comfort when they imagine their deceased loved ones received into a paradisaical afterlife where they in turn will meet their dead when their time comes. It is reassuring to believe that an all-powerful being is directing our lives for our good.

Community is another answer. We flock with birds of a feather. Religion brings like-minded people together on a regular basis and encourages them to become a community. Human beings are communal creatures, and religion helps to fulfill our need to feel connected with others.

Transcendent experiences are a third answer. Adherents of religions throughout the world have real experiences involving overwhelming peace and a sense of connection and transcendence. These experiences fulfill our innate need to find a greater meaning for our life than brute survival and reproduction.

Answers to our questions are yet another benefit of religion. Curious by nature, we hate not knowing the answer to a question. Real, truthful answers are hard to come by, but we can be sated with answers that have the semblance of reality. Why does the universe exist? No one rightly knows, but it’s nice to have an answer that assuages our curiosity as long as we don’t scrutinize it too closely.

Direction is the final answer that I will mention. Without goals to work toward, life becomes a tedium of recurring cycles without end. Without purpose, we languish in a meandering existence that goes nowhere in particular. If our life doesn’t serve a greater purpose, then why live at all? Religion gives us ready-made goals to work for. We don’t have to scrounge around for our own.

Religion provides real benefits irrespective of the truthfulness of its claims. The faithful often cite these benefits as evidence in favor of those claims. A placebo has no curative benefit beyond the patient’s belief therein. The benefits of religion cannot easily be ascribed to the existence of deity. Perhaps belief in something—any plausible lie—will do.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (2)

Red Pill, Blue Pill

Many of you are probably familiar with The Matrix. Neo, the main character of this movie, lives in a virtual world. He believes that it is the real world, but his real body lives in a vat where it is fed nutrients and hallucinations of a world that exists only in a computer and in his mind. Inside this virtual world, Neo is led to a mysterious figure named Morpheus who shows him how to escape the hallucination known as the Matrix:

Morpheus: I imagine that right now you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole?
Neo: You could say that.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, or when go to church or when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind.… Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back.
[In his left hand, Morpheus shows a blue pill.]
Morpheus: You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.
[A red pill is shown in his other hand.]
Morpheus: You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
[After a long pause, Neo begins to reach for the red pill]
Morpheus: Remember—all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.

Essays have been written about this compelling choice between the red pill and the blue pill. Neo must choose between world as he knows it, and learning the truth—essentially between comfort and knowledge of the truth.

The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear. (Herbert Agar)

The tension between truth and comfort has come up several times in discussions here. Truths exist which tend to make us unhappy. How much happiness will we sacrifice to know the truth? Speaking hypothetically:

  • You love ice cream, but it’s going to give you early heart disease, do want to know the truth so you can prolong your life, or do you just want to enjoy your ice cream while life lasts?
  • Some of your friends think you’re terribly boring. They only hang out with you because they like your mutual friends. Would you like to know their true feelings?
  • Your spouse is having an affair that you don’t know about, but you have an otherwise happy marriage. Would you prefer to know the truth, or would you choose to be blissfully ignorant?
  • Your child is going to die tomorrow from a sudden illness that the child doesn’t know about and that you can do nothing to prevent. Do you tell the child so they can spend their last hours knowing the truth, or do you want to spare your child the fear of impending death?
  • Your belief in a loving God and your hope for an afterlife comfort you, but you find little objective reason to justify your beliefs. Do you choose to believe just because you want it to be true?

I have a lot of faith in the truth. I believe that it is usually better to know the truth even if the truth will make us unhappy. I trust that the sorrow that comes from knowing the truth will usually not last long, that greater peace and happiness flow from knowing the truth. Further, leading willfully ignorant lives because we fear knowing the truth doesn’t appear to lead to true happiness.

On this blog, the tension between happiness and truth most often comes up in the context of religious beliefs. Some commenters seem to imply believing in a probably false religion which makes us happy is better than knowing the depressing truth. This is a personal choice, but there are reasons to believe that this strategy does not bring optimal happiness.

For one example, medical science has healed more of the sick than religious faith. Our relatively disease free lives are thanks to science, not religion. Medical science has been advanced by those who were willing to set aside religious beliefs when they contradicted evidence. We are all much better off because of those who defied religious injunctions against desecrating the bodies of the dead in order to learn human anatomy, because of the germ theory of disease instead of believing that disease is caused by spirits or demons as the Holy Scriptures teach, and because of the theory of evolution which permeates modern biology but contradicts the creation myth in Genesis. So you could say that we are as healthy as we are in spite of religion.

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. (George Bernard Shaw)

We are all faced with red pill/blue pill choices. It is our right to decide. I have chosen to err consistently on the side of truth unless there is a compelling reason to choose comfort. I hope that helps to explain why I am critical of what I see as false beliefs, why I can’t leave others’ religious beliefs alone. Truth for me is more important than personal discomfort.

So which do you choose: the blue pill… or the red pill?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (16)


When I was a kid, I used to love to daydream about being really small, like the Borrowers (or the knockoff The Littles who were Borrowers with tails), only a little bit smaller. I would imagine how I would survive, what I would eat, where I would live, etc. In my mind’s eye, I would build tree forts, or burrows below the bushes, or holes in the walls. I imagined harvesting food and re-purposing human trash. Everywhere I went, I could look around and wonder what it would be like to live there as a tiny human being. My everyday surroundings assumed a new, exotic dimension.

My imaginings served no great purpose that I could see. I would never be that small, no matter how much fun I thought it would be, so my daydreams weren’t preparing me just in case I got zapped by cosmic rays or bitten by radioactive spiders. My thoughts weren’t exploring the frontiers of human thought or helping anyone to find meaning in life. My thoughts weren’t for a purpose; they were just for fun.

Now that I’m an adult, I spend a lot of time doing things. I use my thinking time to accomplish something. I only have so much time as a conscious being on this planet, so I have to learn and do as much as I can while I can. I have to do and think Important Things. I have set Important Goals. My dreams have to be about contributing significantly to the world, leaving behind a memorable legacy.

As I took a quick walk across campus (to clear my head so I could finish up some reports), I looked around and remembered those hours spent daydreaming as a child about being a little person. I wondered what I would do to survive if I lived over in those bushes below the pine trees. What would I make my house out of? How would I defend myself from the birds and the feral cats? Where would I get food? How would I avoid people?

I let go of doing and thinking significant things for just a moment. For a moment, I thought trivial thoughts just for the fun of it and felt a weight lift off my shoulders.

Tags: , , ,

Comments (2)

Altered States of Consciousness

When I regained consciousness, I was playing a Gameboy. The orthodontic surgeon had removed all four of my wisdom teeth earlier that day. This was my first and only experience with general anesthesia. I remember a nurse pushing a dose of something into my arm. Then I thought to myself I wonder when this is going to start wor—. I never finished that thought. The anesthesia brought my thoughts to an abrupt halt mid-word. I hazily remember a nurse helping me to my mother’s car. The next thing I know, I’m playing Tetris.

I was OK at Tetris. The highest I had ever reached was level 9 or 10. The blocks start dropping much faster at level 9. I could never last very long after reaching those levels. But I reached level 12 on the game I was playing when I regained consciousness!

I played a lot over the next few days. I soon reached level 18 which is wicked fast. It’s only a theory, but playing Tetris while unconscious must have somehow rerouted my neural pathways to be more optimal for Tetris.


When I was in the third grade, a kid knocked me down on the playground. I hit my head on the asphalt. At least I think I remember it that way. That’s the story my teacher told my parents when they took me home from school. My mom said that I asked something like “Where are we going?” She answered me. Only a minute later I asked the same question again. Repeat ad nauseum. I didn’t regain full consciousness until that night when we were picking up my little sister from an ice show at the university arena.

When I was older, I asked my mother about this incident. She told me that I was never the same after that. I read less after that day. This was a shocking thing to hear, especially since I still believed in a spirit which directed the physical body. My spirit was still the same, so how could my personality change? Who was I before? Would I be smarter, sexier, happier if my head had never hit the asphalt that day?

My mother now denies ever having said what she said.


I have no idea how my next lapse of consciousness happened. All I remember is regaining consciousness flat on my back, staring at the ceiling above the living room couch. I remembered staring at the ceiling for what seemed like a very long time.

While I was staring, no thoughts crossed my mind. Zero. Zip. Nada. I didn’t realize that I was staring. I had no concept of my self. I didn’t interpret what I saw. The word “ceiling” never entered my awareness. I was simply aware of my sensory experience as raw input. I had no desires, no emotions, no self-awareness. You could say that I was a merely sentient being.

It wasn’t until higher brain function returned that I began to interpret my experience and remember that what I had been doing. The experience can only be described as peculiar. I imagine it was similar to what it’s like to be a camcorder.


I had a dream years ago. I saw the mountains which surround the valley I grew up in. I was flying in the middle of the valley. I turned and saw a mile-wide tornado come from behind the mountains in the east. It moved deliberately closer to me. Dirt and debris orbited its center. The debris coursed through the air, but took ages to make a single circuit. The sound of it filled my ears with the terrifying roar of a lion and the menacing rumble of an earthquake. Its terrible power shook me. Nothing withstood its passing. As the dark tornado towered over me, I felt ultimately small and vulnerable. I knew that the tornado concealed a being of alien mind and unimaginable power, that my very soul was in peril. I averted my eyes from the awesome power of the Other concealed in this pillar of cloud. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was to Fear the LORD.


In another dream, I found myself floating in the middle of utter darkness. I heard a far away hiss. The hiss got louder gradually becoming a buzz. The buzz became a yell. The yell became a scream. The scream became a demonic shriek that overwhelmed my dreamtime ears and filled my mind. On the brink of being overwhelmed, I awoke. The shriek ceased, but I was still surrounded in the complete darkness of midnight. For a few heart-pounding moments, my sleep addled mind wasn’t sure which world I was in. I feared that at any moment the source of that terrible sound would leap at me from the darkness.


I fell asleep in a chair. I was a missionary visiting another missionary companionship’s apartment. I woke up and felt and heard a dark, malicious presence skulking around the apartment, threatening the lives of the three other missionaries. I heard it come through the door and dart from one hiding place to another. I realized that I had to warn the others. But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t yell a warning to them. I was paralyzed and powerless where I lay. My sense of dread was unbearable. I struggled to do something. I finally woke up completely and the malevolent presence vanished.


Consciousness is an curious thing. I’ve never done any entheogenic drugs, but normal life has still been pretty trippy all the same if I think about it.

What odd experiences have you had in the borderlands of consciousness?

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments (8)