The Dangerous Value of Emotional Beliefs

March 15, 2010 in Rants by

The danger with emotional beliefs is that they are rarely questioned with reason, and yet they are defended with passion. Their hidden value is their demonstration of how wonderful we humans are.

It seems as if the harder the idea is to hold with reason and logic, the harder it must be gripped with fanaticism. You’d think we’re the opposite – but us humans aren’t very rational.

There is no way of categorically knowing whether there is life after death. I think that belief is a selfish and self-serving notion, and doing good to secure a better afterlife is even more selfish.

I think that there is no life after death. I think we are all part of an organism we call Earth, and we live on through the goodwill we spread during our lives and the nourishment we offer the worms when we’re dead.

That seems to me to be a reasonable reason for doing good, but that’s not why I do good. I do good because it makes me feel good because evolution has a preference for niceness and that’s why it selected me (and you too). The species’ that had a penchant for murder and incest were dispatched by the law of natural selection.

When I share my rather dull and ill-formed thoughts, people get angry about a matter of opinion. Why is that? Because they want to believe so much they mistake that desire for belief.

Actual beliefs are debated dispassionately, emotional beliefs cause emotional reactions.

Samuel Hahnemann: Alchemist

This dude, Samuel Hahnemann came upon the idea of treating conditions with more of a substance that causes those conditions. It spawned from the observation of how vaccines and snake anti-venom works.

It was a meritable musing, but under lab conditions he found that giving someone stinging nettle when they already have a rash just makes the rash worse.

He’d clearly mused for long and hard about how famous and remarkable this discovery would be, and was rather invested in the idea of it being right. When his results showed him that more nettle causes more rash, he decided to mix the nettle with water.

Lo and behold, the lower the amount of active-rash-causing ingredient, the less worse the rash became. He continued adding water until he had mixed it a mind-boggling 1060 parts water and 1 part active ingredient, meaning that for a single drop of pure nettle you’d need more water than there is on earth. This process you and I might call ‘dilution’ Samuel rather ironically called ‘Potentization’.

Actually getting the required level of dilution is so difficult (as it requires de-purifying water and then purifying it again) practitioners of this witchcraft use jars that are merely sat near one another, so that the nettle in one jar will encourage H20 particles in another jar to become nettle-like. They claim water has a memory, it’s absurd. What would cause the water to become nettle-like rather than jar-like or bench-like or Samuel-like? Why wouldn’t the water remember back to when it was being a whale’s urine or Jesus’ wine?

He called it Homeopathy, and it works.

It works on dizziness, headaches, stress, sleeplessness and a variety of psychosomatic skin conditions. The healthy living prescribed by homeopaths also cures fatness and other health problems associated with being unhealthy. It also has no side-effects, because it’s water. It’s a placebo that works quite well, because it’s water. It is water.

Gloria's loving parents

It didn’t work for little Gloria Thomas because placebos don’t work if you’re too young to understand what it was meant to be doing.

Her parents were true believers in homeopathy, and rather than test their belief with conventional medicine they watched her worsen for 5 months and then die from a severe case of eczema that lead to an infected eye that killed her. Ouch.

They were rightly convicted of manslaughter.

In a world where a large portion of medication is side-effect ridden and geared for profit rather than health, it’s understandable that people are looking elsewhere.

But what about the upside?

The upside is: Homeopathy is proof of our ability to fix ourselves with the power of thought.

Consider what this mum is saying about the resurrection of her son (who’s been dead for a year) who she starved to death for not saying ‘Amen’:

“Queen said God told her he would come back. I believe it. I choose to believe it,” she said. “Even now, despite everything, I choose to believe it for my reasons.”

SMH Feb 25th 2010

We believe in emotional things to differing degrees because we feel bad and they make us feel good, mostly because they take control away from us humans (who are fallible and fickle) and gives it to some imaginary higher power, which is always assumed to be benevolent or at least fair. The universe isn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to the dinosaurs, trilobites or the dodo. It has been fair to us (so far) because we’re so damn intelligent.

Back when we didn’t know that the earth was round and that the sun wasn’t a flaming chariot; when volcanoes appeared to us as if the sky had turned to fire; and insect plagues seemed too awestriking to be natural; it was understandable that we invented stories to explain these things.

We invented stories to describe the change of the seasons so we could pass on knowledge about when to plant crops, and we invented stories about the bad places that bad people went for doing bad things. These stories kept social order when the truth was unknowable, they became an excellent tool for power.

But now we have a particle accelerator at CERN that’s cracking the mysteries behind the milliseconds after the big bang, the Hubble telescope measuring space’s background radiation to determine the age of the universe, and IBM is moving around atoms on an infinitesimally small scale as a publicity stunt; the answers are now within our reach.

We are now in a unique age when we can start to take responsibility for our own existence, define our own destiny, and debate our own morals. We can do this with an understanding of how we exist within an ecosystem that is symbiotic, and that our actions have an effect on everything around us.

Although all our atoms were once parts of stars that exploded squillions of years ago, the arrangement of the stars in the sky on the day of your birth does not determine your personality type. You choose how to behave every moment of every day, and those choices determine what you are.

Atoms arranged with a scanning tunneling microscope to spell IBM

If you’re annoyingly possessive with your partner, that’s not because your a Sagittarius, it’s because you love them and are scared of losing them because you secretly think they can do better than you. Perhaps they can. They might be able to go and find someone that is in control of their emotions and takes responsibility for their actions.

If your house burned down and you lost everything that was important to you, you might be inclined to say that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps it did. Perhaps it happened to teach you a cosmological lesson in material detachment, but perhaps the reason it happened is because you like smoking in bed. Things just happen, but you can take something positive from every situation, because that’s a choice.

When you look at the complexity of life on earth, or the enormity of the universe as you gaze at the stars, you might be inclined to feel purposeless, insignificant and pathetically mortal. Perhaps you are. Perhaps instead you could feel blessed to exist within such an amazing system, and become determined to be an important and powerful influence in the world. After all, the odds really were stacked against you or anything like you existing at all, ever. Perhaps your way of saying thanks is to do some good in ways that are of actual benefit to the world. Even if god exists, he doesn’t want you wasting the resources he gave you on shrines and holy wars!

We can hold opinions and relinquish them dispassionately as new evidence comes to hand, knowing that all the time we are becoming more right, continuing our asymptotic journey towards perfection. Detached from value judgments and superstition we will start to get emotional about things that are real and important.

When we start to look at the world as it is rather than as we want it to be, we become more powerful within it. We take control over our lives and the cause and effect of events that happen within it, and with that understanding comes clarity and peace.