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Emptiness II

Madonna’s Love Profusion just popped up on my playlist. I discovered that the balance between despair for knowing the truth clearly without illusion and the soft, loving gratitude to life portrayed in this song reflects a part of my unnamed mind state.

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Endlessly Rising Canon

This post will serve two purposes. The first is to subtly notify the world that I’ve finally finished Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. OK, so maybe I’ve blown the subtle part. While I found the book very interesting, enlightening even, it was hard to get through all 700 or so pages before I found something else to read. It just didn’t hold my attention. Every few months, I’d pick it up again. After years of episodic reading, I read the last page in the wee hours of Sunday.

The second purpose is to note an odd bit of synchronicity. This morning, I stumbled upon an example of a striking audio illusion that I had seen mentioned toward the end of Gödel, Escher, Bach only a few days ago.

You can find an even more striking example at the Wikipedia article on Shepard tones.

Canon 5 of Bach’s Musikalisches Opfer is an example of a spiral canon which ends a tone higher than it starts. The canon can then be played at that higher pitch and end one tone higher yet again. This could be done ad infinitum leading to ever higher pitches, though we would eventually be unable to hear the music.

Hofstadter suggests that this audio illusion could transform Bach’s canon into a piece which would only sound as though it were ever rising.

Interestingly, Gödel, Escher, Bach itself takes the form of an endlessly rising prose canon which I suppose means that I’m not finished reading yet.

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Sword of Truth

Here’s another for the file of self-deluded martial artists. This man believed that he could perform a ritual that would protect him from his own razor-sharp blade. Result? He nearly hacks off his own left arm.

It’s fascinating what people can convince themselves of.

Warning: if you’re squeamish about the sight of blood, don’t watch. It’s not excessive, but there is blood.

Another example of how faith must be placed in things that are true. The damned hard part is finding out what is true.

I wonder what he learned from this. Will he try to shrug it off as inauspicious spirits? Or perhaps a lack of training? I hope for his sake that when the wound heals and the embarrassment wears off, he can let go of his dangerous delusion.

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Santa Claus Lives!

I’ve heard it repeated in a few places recently that atheists can be happy for theists the same way that parents can enjoy their children’s belief in Santa Claus. If it makes them happy, then we should be happy for them.

Everyone is free to believe what they will, but this comparison sounds more than a little patronizing. That’s probably not how it was intended, but that’s how it sounds. It’s not difficult to imagine the person thinking “I’m happy for those poor believers. They’re so cute when they think God answers their prayers. As long as it makes them happy.”

Personally, I can’t bring myself to be happy for someone else’s mistaken belief. I try to help correct that mistake if I can, without being a jerk. I hope they would return the favor.

My reluctance to play along probably stems from my stance on that old question about which is better: happiness or truth? I would generally rather have the truth than be happy. But that’s a personal preference. Other people would choose happiness instead, and I find it hard to fault them for it. It would be nice to ignore the truth in favor of happiness sometimes.

However, I would never put myself in the paternal position of thinking someone is better off blissfully ignorant in their mistaken beliefs. I respect other people too much. This condescending attitude is one of the things that I most resent about current LDS church practice. The LDS church teaches whitewashed history, presumably because they don’t want to damage the fragile faith and happiness of the body of the church with inconvenient truths.

I will try to be civil and polite with believers, picking appropriate times and places, but I don’t intend to ultimately play along with the charade that Santa Claus lives. I think they deserve better than a well intentioned lie or strategic silence.

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Born Again

I like calling my exodus from Mormonism and religion an “awakening” because that’s what it felt like. Domokun reminded me of Plato’s cave allegory and how well it describes what leaving religion has felt like for me.

Imagine prisoners, who have been chained since their childhood deep inside a cave: not only are their limbs immobilized by the chains; their heads are chained in one direction as well, so that their gaze is fixed on a wall.

Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which statues of various animals, plants, and other things are carried by people. The statues cast shadows on the wall, and the prisoners watch these shadows. When one of the statue-carriers speaks, an echo against the wall causes the prisoners to believe that the words come from the shadows.

The prisoners engage in what appears to us to be a game: naming the shapes as they come by. This, however, is the only reality that they know, even though they are seeing merely shadows of images. They are thus conditioned to judge the quality of one another by their skill in quickly naming the shapes and dislike those who play poorly.

Suppose a prisoner is released from his cage and turns around. Behind him he would see the real objects that are casting the shadows. At that moment his eyes will be blinded by the sunlight coming into the cave from its entrance, and the shapes passing by will appear less real than their shadows.

The prisoner then makes an ascent from the cave to the world above. Here the blinding light of the sun he has never seen would confuse him, but as his eyesight adjusts he would be able to see more and more of the real world. Eventually he could look at the sun itself, that which provides illumination and is therefore what allows him to see all things. This moment is a form of enlightenment in many respects and is understood to be analogous to the time when the philosopher comes to know the Form of the Good, which illuminates all that can be known in Plato’s view of metaphysics.

Once enlightened, so to speak, the freed prisoner would not want to return to the cave to free “his fellow bondsmen,” but would be compelled to do so. Another problem lies in the other prisoners not wanting to be freed: descending back into the cave would require that the freed prisoner’s eyes adjust again, and for a time, he would be one of the ones identifying shapes on the wall. His eyes would be swamped by the darkness, and would take time to become acclimated. Therefore, he would not be able to identify the shapes on the wall as well as the other prisoners, making it seem as if his being taken to the surface completely ruined his eyesight.

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