Sunday, March 23, 2014

We Aren't Really Here

As I lay on my couch watching a talking head on the projection TV, I noticed the pundit had on a blue and red tie.

On the lapel of the jacket was a pin.

It wasn't a flag, like so many wear.

It was difficult to make out what the pin was, so I stood up walked closer to the wall to see more detail.

Approaching the wall, the image of the pin blurred like some impressionist painting from the hand of Van Gogh.

It wasn't possible to make out the detail on the pin because the shimmering dots reflected upon the wall were too few to see the pundits pin clearly.

The pin and pundit were not really there.  The pin and pundit were my minds conception of so many waves of light streaming from the video lamp, bouncing of the wall and landing on my eye.

The universe is like this.

We think in terms of there being an image we can see on the wall.

Our brains resolve reality into models of what we want to believe.

Our mind divides the world into what is inside and outside of us.

When we zoom down from the world of every day experience into the exceedingly, immensely small; we find that the universe is composed of ripples in a field.  A field of existence that extends everywhere.

Like the pundit on the wall, when we look closely, we find that it is not what we think it is.  The pundit and pin are extensions of our own world views.  As are all objects.

Suddenly from the distance I hear the sound of my neighbors Harley.

Its conversion of matter into energy create ripples in the fabric of reality that strike ear drum, sending signals to neurons.  Neurons compare these ripples to previous ripples and yield a model that suggests my neighbor has come home.  Experience layers and reinforces our model of the world.

The bike is not there.

The bike is compose of billions of little ripples in space. The bike is a pattern in space.

Every electron, proton and neutron in the Harley are not little tiny balls of matter moving around.  They are tiny waves in the cloth of space.

The interactions of these waves reach across space and become apart of my mind.

The pin and pundit, TV and bike, even me and you, are patterns of waves.

Our minds trick, very useful for survival, is to categorize these things into discrete objects.  Our pattern tries to maintain its vibrations in space. This is what it means to survive.

I, you, the motor, and pin are mental models, metaphors that help us to exist in the world.  They do not exist separate and apart from one another.

We do not see the fabric.  We see the patterns in the cloth.

At the fundamental base of reality, we are all apart of the universe.  The division between things is not real. Everything is a part of the same thing.  The division between me and you is an illusion.

We are the complex patterns of the cloth, able to understand some small part of the other ripples in the fabric.

Our isolation from one another, from the objects around us, when we look closely at the light reflecting from the wall, do not exist alone.  It is all the same cloth.

Everything is apart of everything else, there is only one thing, the universe itself.

Of course, none of us are able to throw off these ideas of things being separated.

We are unable to see the universe as it is.

We need our story of separateness so that we may live, love, and die.  Stories give us a context, a means of dealing with existence. Our imagined model helps make sense of the patterns that are.  It is in the very fabric of space that we perceive this way.

"We are a way for the cosmos to know itself." ~ Carl Sagan

Sunday, March 9, 2014

American Exceptionalism and Self-Esteem

We citizens of the U.S.A. seem to have a cognitive disconnect between our ideals and our image of ourselves.  We think we are uniquely special and deny how this view limits our potential.

American Exceptionalism

We Forget The One on the Bottom
Many citizens of the United States believe that their country is different, special, and better than other states.  Claiming the revolution of the colonies into a new nation gave it advantages over all others. Stating that the United States has a special place among all nations.  This conclusion is based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire.

Some see this country as the "shining city on the hill", a lighthouse of liberty, immune to the failures of lesser nations, uniquely advantaged to bring knowledge, peace, and stability to the world.

This idea has become to be known as "American Exceptionalism."


What we think about ourselves effects who we become.  Our concept of our own strengths and weaknesses places limits upon our actions.

Self-esteem is a mental model which represents our judgments of our own worthiness.

Self-esteem grows from accomplishment against obstacles.  When we are met with a challenge and overcome it our senses of our abilities grows.  Self-esteem shrinks when our actions fail their purpose.  Defeat can lower our views of who we are and what we are capable of.

People who have high self-esteem believe they can do more.   Individuals with low self-esteem see themselves as unable and try less.  Self-esteem has both positive and negative feedback loops into our actions.  The more we accomplish, the more we try and the easier it seems.  The more we fail, the harder it becomes to try again.

Artificial self-esteem is dangerous.  When self-esteem is not grounded in a reality of accomplishment, it allows us to repeat bad behaviors or take higher risks.

Our View of Ourselves

America has a dysfunctional relationship with its past.  We tend to down play our failures and over focus on our successes.

Many citizens consider pointing out bad actions in our collective history as a nation is an unpatriotic act.  This comes from the belief that admitting error lessens us, makes us appear weak to others.  Showing weakness of any kind has a risk that others might take advantage of.

Yet ignoring our mistakes permits us to have a collective self-esteem that is unrealistic.   It is also easy to err in our views of our own accomplishments, giving us an over inflated ego that stops us from seeing our real limits.

Individuals and nations can not grow if they do not admit their mistakes.  We admire others who can admit their mistakes and become better for it.  We disrespect those who pretend their mistakes never happened.

Selective Imagining of How It Was
Cognitive Disconnects

Over and over we point out to ourselves that we first placed a man on the moon.  Yet we let our efforts towards leading mankind into space dwindle, thinking that they are too difficult and expensive to continue.  In this act, we forget the motivations that led us to greatness and continue to assume we are great without further effort.

Most citizens believe the United States was the main actor that ended Nazi Germany.  Yet most of the fighting and winning was done by Russia, China, India, Britain, Australia, and many more.  All these nations struggled mightily significantly, reducing our opponents ability wage war.  Yet our majority view internally is that we won the war single-handedly and all others who helped matter only on the fringes.

We have repeatedly and frequently manipulated the governments of other nations to meet our own economic aims.  In Chile, Iran, Vietnam, the Phillipines, to name but a few, we have removed those peoples right to self determination.   Usurping their lives for our own selfish wants, desires and needs, we seem surprised when these peoples act against us by revolution, terrorism or even simple disrespect.

It is pleasant to believe that through a quick build up of arms and single speech by one President telling the U.S.S.R to "tear down this wall" we beat communism.  We tend to ignore that the people inside the communism were tired of it and wanted it gone regardless of what we did.  It is against our ego to admit they did the bulk of liberating of themselves for themselves.

We frequently ignore the conditions that permitted us to succeed, preferring to think ourselves as more important than we actually are.  We tend to ignore or gloss over our failures, blaming the victim or other actors.

These failures to admit our mistakes or over blow our accomplishments lead us to a false sense of self-esteem.

Not Everyone Can Win This Race
Raising Children's Self-Esteem

From experience we know that children who get artificial self-esteem are less likely to succeed.  When everyone wins, winning loses its meaning.  Some must win and some must lose for all to grow.

Parents and educators best build high self-esteem in children by guiding them to overcome the obstacles in front of them.  When we help them to see their mistakes and correct them, they do better and achieve self-esteem by their own acts.  This act of guidance yields realistic self-esteem in children.

If we allow children to always think they are special, then they will tend to an over-inflated senses of self.  Helping them to build self-esteem by our opinions and rewards rather than their own overcoming of obstacles betrays the lessons they can learn.

Further egoism, an over estimation of ourselves, trends to unwarranted aggression.  Not only does too high a self-esteem allow us act foolishly, we tend to act more violently.

False Patriotism
Better Child of Our Nature

We ought apply this knowledge that self-esteem should be earned and not just given out freely to our nation as well as ourselves.

While it is pleasant to assume our children are perfect in every way, so to is the idea that our nation is exceptional.

We must earn our national self-esteem so that our views of who we are reflect our reality.

A part of overcoming obstacles is to first admit they exist.

We must come to terms with the idea that it is Patriotic to admit failure or weakness.  We must come to terms with the idea that admitting weakness can make us stronger and not weaker.  By learning from our mistakes we will adapt and grow.  Those other nations who see us admit weakness will err to their own peril as we adapt and achieve more.

As our self-esteem grows through performance, perhaps we can then earn the place of being special among other nations.  To continue claiming it as the natural order without further accomplishments can lead us to decline.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Who Pays for Education?

Some have put forth the theory that by charging money for school, individuals will value it more, try harder, make better educational decisions.   This idea supposes that the individual, if self reliant, will do better for themselves.

If this theory is true, then all schooling, from daycare to high school graduation should be paid for by the person being educated. The earlier a person would start to have debt for education, the better.

Self Financing Education?

This self financing theory of education has several issues to overcome which, to date, it has been unable.

First, ignorance breeds ignorance. Those who are uneducated make poorer decisions. Allowing the uneducated to self direct their education will reduce the net knowledge of the society.

Second, those with unfair advantage will pass it on. If we wanted to build an aristocracy of wealth, then allowing the richest to educate their children better and the poor to educate their children worse will be self reinforcing. In a few generations a society that allows extreme differences in education will cease being a democracy and evolve into oligarchy.

Who Spends on Education?

Third, education is not just about money. Knowledge about art, philosophy, morality, ethics, etc. provide value to us which can not be quantified. Education is about becoming a better person, not just a better earner of dollars. The side effect of being a better person is one ought to be able to earn better too. Money is a side effect, not the primary purpose of education.

Who Benefits from Education?

The entire society benefits when one person graduates from college. Education of each of us contributes to the whole. 

Oppositely, ignorance by one drags us all down. 

It is in our own best selfish interest to have as many people as highly educated as possible. 

Which Economies Do Best?

When I was a child, many states provided college educations for free. Those states that did so boomed; the entire state flourished.

Not all human activity can be reduced to financial currency. The tragedy is that we have allowed it to become so.

The countries with the most social and government support for education do far better in measures of happiness, length of life, and individual prosperity than those who allow education to be market driven.